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Enjoying Shopping With A Toddler. Really.

As the rice paper wrapper melts in my mouth, I am reliving childhood. The sensations- the texture, the taste, just the look of the box awaken long quiet neural circuits. Botan Rice Candy.

The coolest part is that they are wrapped in rice paper, so you just pop them in your mouth and wait for that to melt before you eat the candy. I remember only getting these candies occasionally as a kid, that I thought they were really special. I feel like that's because my grandparents would bring them to Texas from LA or San Francisco. They certainly weren't stocked at the local Stop 'n Go, where we rode our bikes to get candy cigarettes and talk to teen clerk, Kermit (whom I always associated with the muppet). As Texans 30 years ago, we'd had our share of Chicle, but most things Asian were a novelty.

We picked up the rice candy today at Daiso, a Japanese everything store that's a couple of steps up from a 99 cents store, but cheaper and more fun to look around in than Target. Having Turtle home sick for the day, we browsed around just to entertain ourselves. He played with cutesy keychains, ceramic figurines, and wooden trains while I looked at garden supplies, stationery, and arts & crafts stuff. Then we each picked out a treat. I got the rice candy and he got Yan Yan.

Which took effort for me to cheerfully and without comment buy him. It is biscuit-like stick things that you dip in liquid vanilla "cream" which is actually, uh, ? I don't even want to read the fine print. The label does reassuringly say, though, that it "does not contain pig fat". I'm sure people all over the world enjoy Yan Yan all the time. It's just that I didn't even let him have so much as a single M&M until a few months ago and only then because they were already mixed into the trail mix.

We also scored some cat deterrents for the garden we prepped this morning. A couple of weeks ago we started some seeds in peat pots indoors and they are ready for transplanting. This morning we turned the soil in a small portion of the two as of yet unused by us raised beds in my backyard. But that was after we had to scoop out all the cat poop that had accumulated from neighborhood cats helping themselves to our giant litter boxes. We added compost, watered, and then set off on our errands.

We were happy to discover these plastic sheets of spikes that you cover your soil with and the plants can grow right through them. They had Japanese labels that were awkwardly translated to "Don't Cat!" Turtle expressed mixed feelings: "Mom, but then the cats will be hurt" but also "Yeah! Then those cats will not crap in OUR garden!" Which qualified as his first use of the word crap. Gotta note that in the baby book.

After Daiso, we wandered over to the German Bakery. Turtle selected a frosted shark shaped cookie and I enjoyed a slice of coffee cake so brimming with poppy seeds that I'm glad teachers don't get drug tested.

There's so many days when I have to squeeze in a trip to the store after an already long day to pick up something necessary and Turtle is whining and dragging his feet, arguing with me in the store, running away from me, or making us cross the store over and over for false alarm potty trips. Or days when you have multiple errands and every buckle and unbuckle of the carseat feels so tedious and you know everything it taking you three times as long as it would if you could just do it alone.

But today was really nice. We accomplished several necessary errands, he cheerfully walked along beside me, waited in line with me, browsed on his own without knocking things over and making a mess, let me take my sweet time looking at stuff by keeping himself occupied with something else down the aisle, and we talked and laughed together and pointed out funny or cute things to each other. Then we had ourselves a nice time at the bakery and Japanese treats to look forward to for later. It was the closest thing I've had to spending the morning shopping with a girlfriend in a long time. I'll take what I can get these days...

I'm so excited about our "Don't Cat!".


Mourning Mornings

One of the biggest things I'm struggling with in life is the loss of my mornings.  I've always been a morning person, waking up naturally as the sun rises and with energy and enthusiasm. As I'd lie in bed savoring drifting in and out of sleep and just staring at the ceiling thinking, I reveled in the hypnogogic day-dreaminess.  In that state, ideas free flowed into my mind. Problems I'd been wrestling with during the waking hours solved themselves.  My creativity was at its height.  I'd often allow myself to wait for all the thoughts and decisions to gel and then suddenly pop up and run for paper and pen or my laptop to get it all down before I lost it. This is where great lesson plans and life plans came from- the morning.  On a weekend or vacation, when I didn't have to then head off to teach so early in the day, my absolute favorite thing to do is to sit outside losing myself in a great book and eating breakfast under the early morning sun. Just me and the birds chirping and so much quiet.  My ideal version of solitude.  

And now?  Solitude is very hard to come by.  I'm a full time working married mom.  My proverbial pant legs are constantly tugged on by my 3 year old, my husband, my students, my colleagues.  Someone is always there needing something.  On workdays, the blaring alarm goes off too early because I stayed up too late finishing things up or trying to find a few minutes of relative quiet to wind down in before bed.  And more often than not, the toddler alarm goes off first.  I'm jolted out of a deep paralyzing sleep by cries of "mama!  mama!" from the other room.  There's a nose to wipe, a blanket to fix, and then sleep quickly evaporates and we're both up for the day, like it or not.  Or, if I'm a little luckier, it's the sound of little feet pattering along the hardwood floor and our door opening as Turtle comes to climb in bed and join us. Followed by kicking, blanket stealing, head butting pillow "sharing", chitter chatter, singing, and the hypnogogic is rapidly replaced by full wakefulness.  The opportunity to create and solve or to experience solitude is completely lost.  

Morning has always been the best time for me to comprehend and retain what I read and to productively write.  That's when I prefer to research and even to grade.  I'm a superwoman in the morning.  My efficiency is off the charts.  If left alone, I can produce a ton of work between 7 and 10 am.  And then my mind begins to wander and I need a break and I feel the urge to get up and get moving around.  Later in the day, productivity plummets.  I find it much more difficult to focus or stay motivated.  At night, you can forget it.  My husband and I have joked for years that I'm worthless past 9 pm.  We actually have a rule that he can't bring up any topic that I actually have to think about, analyze, and make a decision on past 9 pm.  I just can't do it.  

So having a kid is just killing me in this area, because he is a little early morning riser, too, but he wakes up instantly demanding my full attention and even if I'm not willing to give it to him, he manages to co-opt my whole brain by distracting me with protests.  The only alone time I can ever find is after he goes to bed, which is pretty much the beginning of my worthless time. I've tried to read at that hour, but it's in one ear and out the other, so to speak.  I've tried to grade, but it takes excruciatingly longer for me to get through the pile than it would if I could just do it at 7 am. I try to lesson plan, but it's robotic.  No great ideas come to me.  

If I haven't posted on the blog in a while, you can bet it's because I've had a long sequence of "mama! mama!" mornings.  The only reason I'm getting away with it right now is I gave in to his request to watch a video and I needed to get this off my chest and I don't have to get us up and ready to rush off to work today.  

Losing my mornings has effected the quality of the work I produce and my confidence in it.  It has made me into a scattered tired frazzled person on too many days, a shadow of who I used to be.  The loss of solitude has taken its toll on my overall happiness and sense of self.  If I don't get time with myself to reflect and dream and plan because my brain is constantly hijacked, then who am I?  What do I want out of life?  Who knows.  I don't get to have that conversation with myself enough anymore.  

And I don't think much of this will change anytime soon, but just like with any other type of mourning, I really need to hear someone say that they get it and they're sorry for my loss and that I'll get through this somehow.  Or that they'll send me to sleep in a hotel one night so I can have the morning to myself.  Or take my kid to their house for the night.  

The simpler solution would be that my husband could take his share of turns being the first responder, getting out of bed to take the kid to the living room and wipe his nose and make breakfast, or better yet, take him out of the house to a coffee shop, and leave me locked in the bedroom for a while.  But somehow I have not managed to negotiate this successfully yet. Which makes me feel like a failure on top of the rest.  I think I fell into this trap by being a morning person.  That meant I was usually up first anyway and peppier in the morning and better able to handle the demands of a young child.  So, by default the mornings became my job.  And I didn't mind at first.  But I didn't understand what the loss of my mornings was going to do to me.  So, I've got to come up with a solution.  

How are the rest of you handling these type of losses, or better, managing to save and protect the things you really need?  


Complete Kitchen Remodel - Fast! and Free!

In a fit of annoyance earlier this year, I put our microwave on the floor in order to reclaim some precious counter space in our tiny galley kitchen.  It was kind of weird, but you know how you just get used to things.  We just bent down and put stuff in the microwave.  The bonus was the Turtle could reach it himself and got to have the official job of pressing the buttons.  When other people came over, they didn't quite know what to make of it, but whatever.  

I finally purchased this kitchen island and put it in the dining area to extend our kitchen counter.   

So now the microwave has a home along with the fruit bowls and cookbooks and I've got my workspace cleared.   I was so happy about this that I never even bothered to put anything inside the island yet.  When I went to open it to decide how to finally organize it, I found that Turtle had co-opted it and had been placing various toys in it.  (Oh, so that's where THAT's been!)  I had no idea.  

But yesterday I set about claiming my island, happily filling and organizing it, and then looked over and decided that Turtle's kitchen needed upgrading, too.  

First, I fashioned some stove-side utensil holders out of toilet paper rolls.  

Next, the oven was given a red-hot burner.  

I reused a gift bag decoration to add a vase of flowers above the sink, which is a giant lettuce container set into a cardboard box.  A small plastic bin is attached on the left to hold a sponge.  I can put a little water in this sink and it holds without leaking so Turtle can actually wash dishes in it.  The salad container pulls right up and out for dumping out.   

The sink itself was given a facelift.  Previously just a cardboard front, I cut cupboards in it for increased storage and covered it in reused wrapping paper.  

This up-ended diaper box had been divided with a shelf to make a crude pantry but never decorated.  I added a door to the bottom with rope handle, made from one side of a gift bag, to make a mini fridge and covered the wrest with leftover holiday wrapping paper.  

Turtle's kitchen is adjacent to mine, so he gets to use the hooks on my island for his canvas shopping bag, apron and pot holders.  The apron set was sewn by my sister and given as a xmas gift this year- cute, huh?  

Here's the "after" picture.  Turtle's kitchen is much brighter and cheerier now with all the colored wrapping paper and the flowers than the plain cardboard look it had before.  He has more storage with the utensil holders and under the sink cupboard and he gained a new appliance with the mini fridge.  All in all, not a bad remodel for 90 minutes of my time, a bunch of reused stuff that was lying around the house, and a lot of packing tape!  

He was so inspired that he set about making us a scrumptious meal.  Each person was served a variety of whole produce, eggs, and rigatoni.  Mmmm. Mmmm.  

This morning, Turtle told me he needed a kitchen timer.  So, now we have a play doh container decorated on the sides and with a printout of a real kitchen timer taped to the lid (Thank you, Google image search) and a large jingle bell inside so that when you shake it, the timer rings. As I write this, he is making me coffee with "spices and honey and milk and eggs".  This is his specialty, served in a reused fruit cup cup with half a plastic Easter egg sitting in it.  And muffins, which are play doh blobs in each hole of a mini muffin tin.  I am told that right now they are in the oven and we are waiting for them to "poof up".  

I love that he is working in his kitchen, using his imagination and creativity to prepare meals for us.  And I love that I get to use my imagination and creativity to make and improve his kitchen so that he can engage in this kind of play.  And I really love that I didn't buy and won't be someday getting rid of a $200 plastic play kitchen.  


Put Down That Knife

No, you only have to build a complex machine to cut the tops off, house it in a climate controlled factory, filled with other machines that dice them, soak them in preservative, mix them with peeled and diced oranges, drop them into a blend of juices, fraction the mix into machine extruded plastic bottles, cap them, label them, transport them to a retail grocer, purchase a bottle of it, drive it home, and unscrew a cap to eat them.    

Way easier.  

Now that people are recognizing that whole natural produce is and always was healthier than processed produce and even less recognizable foods created by food scientists, the poor processed food companies are left to craft strange marketing campaigns such as this one and this one in order to compete against regular old food.  

It's pretty pathetic.  


Cardboard R&D

Turtle has a stuffed elephant named "Heffalump" (after the character in the Pooh movie).  I was informed Sunday night that Heffalump needed a motorcycle.  ASAP.  

Huh.  Okay...well, let's see...(how will I pull this off?)...let's go look in the project closet...

20 minutes later, we had ourselves a motorcycle: 

Turtle suggested breaking fat crayons to make the axles.

I made cardboard nuts to hold the axles to the bike.  

It worked well enough that Turtle deemed it wheelie worthy.  

Then we tested it with Heffalump, who isn't the most natural of riders.  But he held on okay for a few laps before spectacular failure of the front wheel...

Luckily, this design is easy to reassemble, so it kept up with another half an hour of play. Then, as suddenly as the idea had been sprung on me to build a motorcycle in the first place, I watched Turtle take it apart and start folding up the body.  "What are you doing?" I asked with more than a little frustration, since I had made most of the major engineering and assembly contributions.  "I need to crumple this.  It's not working very well.  Heffalump is too fat for this motorcycle."

I have to say I love the "I need to crumple this."  I'm thinking of using it at work to reduce my paperload.  

Backtire walked in during the crumpling and witnessed this exchange.  Being the real engineer of the family, he jumped right in with "No problem.  That was just a prototype.  We tested it and it wasn't good enough.  We'll have to build another one someday that fits Heffalump better."  And with that, we did some recycling and the motorcycle was no more.  

But now I find myself wandering the house thinking about how to improve our prototype.  

And I think this small experience held some great life lessons:  When you have an idea, pursue it.  When you want something, try building it yourself.  When things aren't working, don't be afraid to take them apart and try it differently. And, don't get married to your work. Sometimes you need to just crumple it.  


Who Is Spare Mindy?

It was long overdue.  I retrieved the small cardboard box from Turtle’s closet and opened it.   

There she was, swaddled in two layers of clear plastic – Spare Mindy.   

She’d been shipped to me by Fisher Price, who I called in a fit of parental anxiety.  At 18 months, Turtle had become attached, taking her everywhere, chewing on her head, and sleeping with her each night.  That Halloween, we drove back from the pumpkin patch with my sister in the backseat, trying to make small talk with her nephew, quizzing him about the doll’s name.  “Min – daah” he babbled randomly.  "Oh, Mindy!  That's a great name!" his Aunt deftly responded, keeping the conversation going.  And thus the doll became Mindy.  

Prior to becoming a parent, I thought it was ridiculous that parents would buy multiple extra copies of a favored toy just in case one was lost.  Loss is a part of life and I figured that kids needed to learn to get over it.  Plus, how indulgent and consumer-focused, right?  And, I didn’t want to have that five year old who drags around some filthy stuffed animal everywhere we go, so why start now? 

So, it was with chagrin that I found myself calling Fisher Price coveting a spare Mindy.  Who, by the way, is actually named Mia and can only be purchased as part of a set along with her traveling companion Roberto and the nameless red-headed female pilot of the Fisher Price plane. 

But prior to becoming a parent I didn’t understand that your kid can get so attached to a toy, derive so much security from it, and will only fall asleep if it is there.  That sleep deprivation and a desire to control what precious little you can about your day, and especially night, with your toddler can compel you to obtain a spare “lovey” (I hate that term) attachment object (not much better)… Mindy. Parents, you understand, right?

When I started this blog, we were in the throes of separation anxiety and 4 a.m. wake-ups.  A year and a half into all-consuming parenting and 6 months after a major move, I knew I needed an outlet and to try to slowly recapture a little bit of me.  The blog was a place to reflect on my life from a short distance away.  To be able to see myself calling Fisher Price and laugh at the irony.  To grapple with how much parenting had changed me and accept that I had become someone who would not feel better until I had a Spare Mindy in the closet.  Spare Mindy is a metaphor for all the crazy crap you never thought you’d do that you end up doing once you have a kid.  I’m sure I will have thousands more Spare Mindy moments as the years go on. 

Predictably, Mindy fell out of favor some months after I ordered the spare and her status for the past year has been reduced merely to chewed on and mostly ignored airline passenger who occasionally takes the school bus or is tied to a race car careening around the living room floor. 

So, when doing a major overhaul of Turtle’s closet a month ago, I took out Spare Mindy’s box and set her free.  It felt good as a mom to realize that I didn’t need her anymore. 

When I unwrapped her and offered her to Turtle, his response was utterly devoid of emotion and inarguably logical:     “I already have that.” 

Does anyone need a Spare Mindy?  


Apples' Brand Management

I know how to punctuate.  I'm not talking about the computer company.  I'm talking about the fruit.  I didn't think that apples needed brand management, but clearly I am behind the times.  Can you believe these ads I recently ripped out of magazines?  

It's definitely cooler to remove the healthy fiber from the apple, add preservatives, burn a ton of fossil fuels to process and package it, and then toss the packaging into a landfill.  Yup.  Way cooler than crunchy biodegradable old school apples.  And totally equivalent "servings" of fruit. Totally.  

Oh, yes, the "after" is definitely better on this makeover.  Makes the apples appear to be fried in trans fat.  Plus they must douse them in some awesome chemical to keep them from turning brown like old school apples do.  That's what makes them "fresh", because, you know, regular apples aren't "fresh".  

I understand that Capri Sun and BK are employing the best strategies they can to compete with readily available inexpensive healthy apples.  After all, you have to have a compelling reason to buy an apple from these corporations when you can get one from a backyard tree, farmer's market, or grocery store.  So, they've added value by making their form of apples seem "cooler" than the real ones.  

Just what we need is kids who expect and only enjoy apples that have been relieved of their peels, natural texture, and taste (since they are served with caramel dipping sauce).  Or that can be sucked through a straw from a shiny package.  

This reminds me of those anal-leakage inducing Olestra chips they used to have and all of the diet snacks that look and taste like candy bars.  Not to mention diet soda and such.  Way to train the brain to appreciate healthy food!  Eat chocolate bar looking things and chips and drink sweet tasting soda all day so that the only tastes and textures you enjoy are chocolate bars and chips and sweet tasting soda.  That will certainly go a long way toward helping you reduce inappropriate food cravings!  You never learn how to appreciate, enjoy, and even crave fresh veggies and fruits and less sweet foods because you never give body a chance to adjust to them.  It's all ridiculous!

OK, I'll get off my soapbox now.  Especially considering I polished off a diet soda earlier and I just blogged about my recent fast food "binge".  But, please, apples?  Aren't they already pretty cool the way that they are?  


Would You Like Guilt With That?

(I wish it was this kind I was talking about...)

"Hey, Mommy, there's Jack" Turtle yelled during a superbowl commercial today.  Backtire looked at me, "Um, how does he know that?"  "Remember, a few weeks ago when we ate at Jack In The Box and you met us there?  There were pictures of Jack all over the wall and he wanted to know who it was, so..." I explained, feeling crappy that my not quite 3-year old son knew who Jack was.  We returned our attention to the TV only to then witness Jack get run over by a bus.   Turtle had a very concerned and confused look on his face as his newfound loveable character friend was just squashed.  Oh Great!  It was bad enough that we had sunk to Jack In The Box for dinner level.  Now he's been traumatized to top it off!  

After inquiring after Turtle's interpretation of the commercial, I agreed that Jack "fell down because that bus came" and that he simply needed to get up and brush himself off and he would be fine.  All was well with the world, Turtle went back to playing with trains, and I avoided having to talk about the realities of being hit by vehicles.  

The part I didn't mention to Backtire was that the two of us had eaten at McDonald's today for lunch. And another time when we were on our own for dinner a few weeks back.  Oh yeah, and all three of us stopped for fast food over the holidays on a long drive home one night, too. That's at least four times in the past couple months.  

And if I hadn't have blogged previously about eating locally and avoiding sugary birthday celebrations at daycare and generally professed to people my organic-whole-foods-well-balanced-non-processed-water-down-the-juice-he's-never-eaten-candy-we-don't-do-fastfood-except-when-forced-to-on-long-roadtrips-a-few-times-a-year values, I might not feel quite so hypocritical right now.  

On the other hand, I'm sure I'm holding myself to higher standards than anyone else is.  And the plus is that at least I've started to find more balance in terms of not killing myself to try to live up to my crazy high standards without fail.  I've opted for the fast food so that we can stay out and get all the errands I want done and have some fun together instead of feeling housebound, stuck in the kitchen, and frustrated that the to do list is growing.  

Hopefully, I won't resort to fast food often enough for Turtle to start begging for it or refusing to eat other things.  He has always been a great eater, willing to try anything new, and happy to eat raw vegetables and all manner of things good for you. To make myself feel better, though, each time we've done this I've snuck the toy out of the kids' meal and into my purse before he could see it.  I don't need the promise of a new toy each time you eat a meal to hold sway over him.  The food itself is supposed to be the incentive for eating.  

I love that my almost 3-year old son doesn't know what candy is and doesn't expect that you should end up with a toy each time you go out.  Today while grocery shopping he saw a shelf of Valentines Day teddy bears and simply asked if he could hug a few of them.  So, we stopped and took turns hugging a few of them and put them all back on the shelf.  I've never set that precedent that we would actually take toys we see in stores home with us.  I love that when I pour a little juice in the bottom of his cup, he says to me "Mom, now add the water to make it into juice" because that's how he thinks it works.  

I'm going to keep it like this for as long as I can.  But I'll also continue to keep in mind the best advice I've ever been given:  Everything in moderation, including moderation.