Sunday, September 28, 2008

Goodbye Kitty

As soon as I stepped from the car I could hear the hysterics. The sounds of screaming, crying and carrying on were tumbling down the stairs and through the still closed door into the parking lot, daring me to turn around and drive right back to work.

“What is going on,” I say incredulously as I put down my bags and get the full force of our four-year-old ricocheting into my arms.

“Squeak is dead. Squeak is DEAD! Squeak is dead and daddy wouldn’t let me say goodbye,” Ittybit says rapid-fire through a curtain of tears.

“Don’t you check your messages?” her father hissed over the dinner preparations, tired of dealing with the aftermath of the news all by himself. “I called you hours ago.”

But I was stunned by the realization that one of our neighbor’s many cats — an animal that spent most of her waking life pretending to sleep on OUR porch — was gone.

“Squeak is dead?”

“Hit by a car. She didn’t make it.”

“How awful.”

“I wasn’t sure if I should tell her about the cat.”

“Well, I think you did the right thing. I’m not fond of telling kids that their furry friends went to live on farm or just up and ran away. And there’s nothing worse than telling a kid the animal ‘went to sleep never to awaken again’ right before bed.”

I’m not a cat person. But I am, I think, a tolerant person; and as a tolerant person I must admit that there are cats, which, from time to time make me rethink my aversion.

The cats that toy with my affections always seem to be a little more canine than feline. They act like lunatics standing up to and flinging themselves against invisible foes. They beg for morsels of food from my plate or just seem really glad to see me when I return. Even if they’re not really glad to see me at all.

Squeak, however, was the classic anti-cat.
A sweet little calico, she got her name not only from her penchant to 'talk' but the timber of her voice. She was neither timid nor feisty. She was friendly toward the children, and even tolerated our tiny screamer, The Champ, who had also recently started experimenting with affection by pulling furry tails and ears and appendages. She seemed contrary to the very nature of cats: She wasn’t aloof, she didn’t startle easily or seem skittish.

Of course she didn’t drool or bark their heads off with every leaf wafting down from the trees this time of year, but even some dog lovers wouldn’t argue those as a top qualities for their non-speaking companions.

Mostly, she just seemed to like us, not merely tolerate us.

Squeak greeted us each time we returned home by rolling onto her belly in front of our stoop and begging for affection. Even if we were carrying groceries we had to stop and give her a pat, we couldn’t help ourselves. She just seemed to have a smile in whatever she was doing.

I was stunned.

The house was quiet again except for the clanging of utensils in the kitchen and the scraping of rolling toys across the floor. Ittybit was silent, too, drawing a picture to give to Squeak’s owners; an offering of bereavement.

“I can’t believe squeak is really dead,” I said, looking at the picture.

“Maybe tomorrow we can bring flowers and put them on her grave.”

“I think that would be a nice thing to do.”

“And then the next day we should go and buy cat treats.”

“Well … Ittybit,” I stammer. “Squeak won’t be hungry anymore.”

“I know! But none of the other cats play with me. I’ve got to make friends with one of them now.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I'm not ignoring you ... or am I?

If you happen to call out to me on the street and I don’t answer please know it’s not my intention to ignore you. It is much more likely that I can’t hear you above the ringing in my ears from the screaming I’ve endured these last few months emanating from the 20 pounds of boy matter I’m still slinging around on my hip.

The Champ has found his outdoor voice.

And he’s using it every chance he gets.

Now, if you were to consult such highly genteel Web sites as (as I have done), you’d find that this behavior is totally normal for half-pints his age.

The electronic font of parental knowledge, which recommends I try to ignore the blood curdling wails, would also have me know that the shrieks emanating from my son are not meant to annoy but to express joie de vivre.
I for one could use a little less life in my joy, thank-you-very-much.

I’m fairly certain it doesn’t take a French scholar to realize that the high-octave shrieking that starts immediately after a parental-type figure removes the sharp, pencil-like object from aforementioned two-foot tall whirling dervish underfoot, is being reminded that such thefts are not appreciated.

And it probably doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that whenever your family ventures off to explore any cavernous space, such as a museum or library, the shrieking will reach decibels never before recorded by man. You know … just because they can.

It also doesn’t help when people who see this boy’s face as his lets rip some of the loudest exercises in voice projection our planet has ever witnessed, can’t keep a straight face themselves. Some of them even reply in kind, thus creating and reinforcing the game of Who Can Screech the Loudest.

I can’t take the noise.

Of course one can’t get angry at a little person who’s understanding of etiquette can be measured, conversely, by the length of time it takes a rational adult-type person to clean the remaining chunks of food from the “feeding area” once the dog has had first dibs on the carnage.

But what can we do to stop the madness?

Well, so far I’ve employed every tried and true method the Web site recommended:

I’ve attempted to keep to his schedule; running errands when he’s happy and well rested;

I’m trying to only go to noisy places where we can blend in;

I’m introducing the concept of an INDOOR VOICE … even though I’ve had to remind everyone in the family (and even myself) to use it from time to time;

We’re all trying to model a quieter tone in general conversation;

Most of all, we’re trying to keep him occupied.

With a devilish smile, he good-naturedly ignores any and all pleas for quiet. At every step, in fact, he’s laughing at my efforts and going about his merry way, screaming at the top of his lungs.

Perhaps it’s a good thing he’s making me a little deaf. … I’m fairly certain it’s the only way I’ll be able to do what the people recommend as a last ditch effort: “Ignore the onlookers.”

Hmmm. Maybe I am trying to ignore you.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Back to school just another lesson for mom

She wants to be a veterinarian.

That's what Ittybit told me in the car that morning as we drove her brother to the babysitter's house. We had a new routine wherein she doesn't stay with the sitter but rather goes along with me a few miles further to her preschool, and she was getting used to that as well.

Technically, it would be her third first day of preschool. She’s been attending the Marilla Cuthbert Academy for Unspeakably Charming Children since the tender age of two.

“Tell me again, mama. … Am I going to the four-year class or the five-year class?”

She is four going on 24 and she’s got her life planned out already.

Instead of using the word veterinarian, however, she called it a "doctor for animals."

Who can blame her: Veterinarian is hard to pronounce.

She wants to be a doctor who waits tables and makes pies. She wants to help babies and animals that are hurt and in need of sweets. Suffice it to say she wants to help cats who are sick and dogs with “grumblies in their tumblies.”

But she's going to need assistance, she explains. She's not sure if she can fix an animal that has had its foot cut off, an affliction she's sure will be commonplace in her practice.

She's not sure if there will be "antibotices" when she grows up, either. I tell her she's quite an astute little girl, especially given the up-tick in antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

She takes umbrage, and accuses me of calling her stupid.

I tell her astute implies the opposite; that her observations are shrewd.

She's not swayed by my backtracking, but she's excited nevertheless to be going back to class with charming chums and perfectly proper professors.

This time around, however, it's her mother - and not a babysitter - who will get the full weight of the teachers' admonitions when she arrives at school painfully unprepared.

For those of you unaware of the uncommon talents of preschool teachers, let me tell you how incredibly skilled they are at making parents snap to attention not by raising their voices but by raising a single eyebrow.

See, unlike most working mothers of young children, preschool teachers are exceedingly organized. They know exactly what needs to be done in all manner of trying circumstances:

And aside from teaching their young charges to follow simple directions, become accustomed to sharing and social interactions, not to mention recognizing their own names and coloring inside the lines, what preschool teachers do best is teach children how to remind their parents of all the things they are messing up:

Teacher says I should have boots when it's raining;
Teacher says we need mittens instead of gloves;
Teacher says our hats should be attached to our coats;
Teacher says we need snow pants instead of snow suits;
Teacher says my clothes need nametags.
Teacher says you didn't hand in my book order, mom. … MOM? Did you forget my book order?

Mom? Mom? Mom?

I’m forever wondering how it is I’ve managed to raise a child who not only speaks in complete sentences but also points out my failings with such eloquence and grace in each and every one of them.

As my child learns to ask please and thank you, as she learns to wash her hands with soap before meals and keep her hands in her lap until everyone is seated at the snack table; I am reminded that we live like wolves.

She comes home from her first day of school bearing pictures she’s drawn and crafts she’s made. She talks about the things she’s learned. Meanwhile she also wonders why it is we don’t sit politely, hands in lap, waiting for daddy to bring his own plate to the table before we dig in. She’ll tell us that we should use our indoor voices; and that her brother shouldn’t eat with his hands; and that she really doesn’t understand how a person is supposed to eat without a full mouth.

“I think you mean shouldn’t talk with your mouth full.”

“Oh yeah,” she’ll laugh. “That sounds better.”

After she eats however many bites she’s negotiated before the meal, she’ll set her dishes precariously upon the counter above the dishwasher. Then she’ll turn and chastise her father – the chef - who’s moseyed on over to the freezer without clearing his plate.

“There won’t be any dessert for you, mister man if you don’t put your dish away. …”

He laughs, takes his plate and puts it down for the pooch.

“… And I don’t think you should feed those leftovers to the dog … it might upset her tummy.”

“Next year,” I tell her, “you’ll be heading off to college.”

“Will you still drive me? Because I think I’ll be a little afraid of getting on the bus.”

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Family Bed: Babies aren't sleeping with the enemy

He handed me the bib.

It read: “Babies Sleep Safest Alone.”

I took it, thanked him, and used the blue-fringed bit of cloth to clean the toilet.

“Babies sleep safest with mommies who wake up to their needs,” I muttered to myself, knowing full and well that some mommies and daddies are able to do their best jobs as parents when their infants are crying it out down the hall.

I don’t judge. How could I? They know themselves better than I do. They know their kids better than I do, too. By the same token, however, I think parents who sleep with their kids in a family bed — who have made the informed decision to do so — are not endangering the lives of their kids.

My vantage point in this belief comes from being on both sides of the debate. Our first baby thrashed and squawked until she was put down in her own crib next to our bed. She was still in our room, and I would wake up at the slightest sound to check on her in the night. She moved to her own room at around a year, and we all started sleeping through the night again. The doctor assured us, if she needed us we'd know.

The second baby wanted to be held and cuddled and soothed. Perhaps it was the circumstance of a rough recovery from his birth and my inability to get up and down for night feedings that made him accustomed to my constant presence. For the most part he slept soundly in the crook of my arm or on my chest where I could hear him breathe.

I can't report whether either of my kids' sleep patterns are good or bad or normal or abnormal; all I can say SHE still wakes up some nights and finds her way into our room, and HE is he is a BABY. He sleeps like a baby. But he won't be a baby forever.

So ... the long and short of it is this: I've become fond of co-sleeping. I think when done correctly, it can be rewarding. I think parents should consider it one option of many, and decide for themselves which works best for them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t agree. It has come out solidly against co-sleeping for reasons of safety. Joining it in its efforts are the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission and – not so surprisingly – the Juvenile Products Manufacturing Association (the association for people who make cribs).

While acknowledging that co-sleeping is widespread in many cultures, the AAP notes that “what’s often overlooked is that in countries where co-sleeping is routinely practiced, families almost never sleep in beds with soft mattresses and bulky covers. A baby may be less likely to smother when the family sleeps on a floor mat with only a light coverlet.”

However what the AAP overlooks seems mind boggling.

It seems as best as I can tell from reading, the reasoning all hinges on a three-year study in which 180 children (in an age range containing 12 million) died in bed with their parents or siblings. It makes no mention of the circumstances surrounding the deaths: Who was the adult? Mother? Father? Babysitter? Were they obese? Were they intoxicated? Taking medication that causes them to sleep more deeply than normal? Moreover, it doesn’t compare information from the same time frame that shows thousands of children died in cribs.
According to one report, more infants die each year in house fires (many of whom might have been saved if their parents could have reached them) than died in adult beds for all three years of the study.

I suppose it’s just an imperfect world. There are certainly some people who shouldn’t co-sleep. Still, somehow, we'd rather put our overwhelming trust behind manufacturers to keep us safe.

The question I really don't understand is why? Why do we look at the family bed deaths of 180 babies and shake our heads and mount campaigns while thousands die, alone, in cribs and not drawn the conclusion that every sleep situation can be dangerous?

It shouldn't be lost on us that it is the AMERICAN Academy of Pediatrics is in America where we have real issues with societal norms and differences. Nor that the AAP's precautions about sleeping arrangements go beyond the immediate safety concerns into the more social ones as to why it believes parents are co-sleeping in the first place: It suggests that parents who can’t afford to purchase a safe crib should be directed to financial aid; if the parent is sleeping with the child to “offset loneliness” it suggests counseling. It even goes as far to recommend that babies can be buffers when the marriage is troubled, and again recommends counseling.

All of these things make sense when looking at both hard data and anecdotal evidence, especially if you infer that their target audience is the poor, the illiterate or the potentially drug addicted.

But the truth -- especially about safety and sleep -- can't be gotten to in four words.

The real public service is to explain how to be safer in whatever choices we make.

The only problem seems to be that the information won’t easily fit on a bib.