Friday, November 8, 2013

Halloween

What a month! I adore Halloween. Now that he's older, I find it hard to turn down anything Halloween-related.

First, a costume. Lots of boys his age are going as superheroes, but he's not into that. It's not that I keep him from it. He gets genuinely uncomfortable around anything involving danger or bad guys. We tried to watch "Wordgirl", a tame cartoon about a superhero girl who fights crime (and teaches vocabulary along the way), and he rejected it after less than two full episodes. Any time the heroes were tied up or trapped he would pull the plug. I'm hoping to show him Star Wars in a few months, but who knows, he may not be able to handle it, or maybe we can just skip the trash compactor.

Anyway, costumes. I offered Theo some ideas, and he picked Blue, from Blue's Clues. The show is gentle and fun and adorable and smart. It was possible for me to make his costume, and a coordinating costume for myself. As you guys know, Halloween brings out my crafty side.


I don't sew, however, so costuming involves finding the right clothing. In this case I needed a sweatsuit in light blue. In this age of internet shopping that shouldn't be impossible, right? Let me tell you, it was. There was nothing for sale in light blue in his size (also - baby blue, sky blue, electric blue, aqua, etc) and eBay was no help either. I found individual pieces but nothing that matched. I even looked for girls' outfits but everything is frilly or decorated. Grrr. So instead, I had to buy the actual branded costume, but that was another search, as this show was cancelled many years ago and lives on only in reruns. Even when you do find it you still have choices to make - vest and hood only? Cheap lightweight one, or full body fuzzy one that will be very warm in daytime activities?

I opted for the full furry costume because it looked the best, then crossed my fingers and hoped the weather would cooperate. Last year it was blazing hot in October and our afternoon party with the MOMS Club practically required sunblock. The kids stripped off their warm costumes and the chocolate melted. Not exactly spooky fall fun.

Thankfully, the weather stayed cool during the whole Halloween period, even cold, and Theo was perfectly comfortable in his one-zip dog costume. The only other wrinkle was that the costume came in two sizes - 2T, or 3T/4T. Theo just had a growth spurt where 2T was just about too small but I knew with his thin frame he'd be drowning in anything described as fitting a 4T child. I also couldn't try anything on as eBay was my only option. The 2T fit him just barely, and the small hood ended up pushing Blue's face upwards. Not exactly what I had in mind, but it was fine.

I made myself a stripey shirt so I could go as Steve, Blue's owner. I found a near-perfect long sleeve dark green shirt on eBay, then bought a lime green shirt at a thrift shop to cut into strips and iron on.


Overall, the costume choices worked out great. He loved being Blue, doing his impression of Blue's "bow bow bow" bark, which was cute enough to stop traffic. Holding him was like carrying a live warm teddy bear. He called me "Steve" a lot, and I did my best impression of Steve playing Blues Clues with him, putting on that quizzical look and asking obvious questions. At the Trunk 'n Treat (below) he had a mishap with a kid on the playground, and through his tears yelled "Mommy! Oh wait I mean Steve!" He loved it so much, it lasted for days after all the Halloween stuff was over with. It's amusing being called "Steve", by my son, in public, out of costume, and completely out of context.

The City of Orange closes down the downtown area for an event called Treats in the Streets. Stores hand out candy to kids, and there's games and facepainting and treats. We hadn't done this event before, as it's a crazy popular one and didn't seem worth it with a toddler, especially one who is not a fan of noisy crowds. This year we gave it a shot. It involved a lot of effort - parked far away, very busy, long waits for candy. But the costume watching made it entirely worth it. Not only were there cute kiddos and great family costumes, but groups of committed teens and adults dressed to the nines. We got some appreciative nods from families with little ones that recognized our costumes, but the best were the teenagers who had grown up when Blue was the biggest thing on TV. One of them waved timidly at me as if starstruck. Theo was over waiting in lines very quickly, but there were other things to see. Firefighters parked some engines for kids to climb on. There was a petting zoo and some simple carnival games. We had dinner at Watson's Diner, which was crazy busy with event attendees, making it a very long weeknight, but totally worth it.

My MOMS Club chapter holds a "Trunk 'n Treat", where we park our cars at a local park, open the trunks and decorate them, then have the kids trick or treat from trunk to trunk. We also hold a potluck lunch and the kids play on the playground. It's a perfect mini-Halloween for the little ones, and a chance to see all our Club friends in costume. Theo is old enough to remember the event from a year ago, and he got very into it this time around. He didn't need my help to say "trick or treat" and get the candy in such a friendly environment.

On Halloween itself, Theo's preschool had a costume parade and lunch party, with parents invited. They combined all of their classes into one loud and boisterous crowd. When I showed up, parents were taking pics of all the kids sitting on the rug while they screamed "CHEESE" at the top of their voices. When Theo saw me, he tried to leave the group, and I motioned him to stay put. He burst into tears, so I let him come over and hug me. The loudness and stress of the large group was too much for him. After a while I was able to convince him that I would be outside with the other parents and that he needed to march along with his friends. What an adorable event - all kinds of amazing costumes. Lots of the usual princesses and super heroes along with a few neat creative ones, including a little girl dressed as Donald Duck, complete with orange swim flippers. Theo dutifully paraded in line, just barely keeping it together with the kids all bumping into each other. When they stopped for more pics as a group he wanted out, immediately, and I figured he had been through enough. It was amazing how long the pictures went on after that - another solid 15 minutes of grouping and posing and yelling before they sat down to eat, which was another bit of nuttiness. As soon as he was done eating he wanted to leave and I admit it, so did I.

After all that I didn't want to overdo things that evening, so we went trick or treating in our neighborhood. We live in a gated condo complex and we have never had very many trick or treaters. In past years I've taken Theo around inside the complex and it's been enough, even though very few houses have jack 'o lanterns. I stick to my rule of not knocking on a door unless they have some decoration. We were never sure how good of a neighborhood the outside world was for trick or treat but there have always been some decorations so we figured it might be just enough to make Theo (and us) happy. We left our gates and it turns out we live in a very good Halloween neighborhood. There were lots of kids of varying ages walking around, and the majority of houses had decorations. On one street quite a few people were hanging out on porches to hand out the candy, talking to neighbors, spooking the kids just a bit with costumes.

Theo was fully committed to the prospect of getting more candy. He was definitely out of his element, but put his game face on. It was more evidence of his recent shifts in personality. He's been much braver lately, on the playground, among strangers, and in trying new things, and it gets better all the time. It was interesting what did make him afraid. He definitely didn't like those large inflatable lawn decorations - took some coaxing to get him near them, even as we explained they were just big balloons. One house had a strobe light that was pretty freaky. Sometimes even a silly cartoon decoration would push some sort of button. Throughout we reminded him that it was all pretend, which he repeated a bit to keep himself steady. There were no meltdowns or struggles, just gentle coaxing and some hand holding. He had a great time. We did a just a few blocks and it was plenty to wear him out and fill up his bucket. Afterwards, we let him stay up late and have a lollypop while we watched "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown". Halloween bliss.

It pleases me to no end that Theo was able to embrace the spooky side of Halloween and participate happily. As he gets braver we are able to have more fun in all sorts of new areas. Next, we all get to put our brave faces on as we deal with Thanksgiving and Hanukkah all in one weekend!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Boasting

We all know the stereotype.

Here's the latest incredible development in my child's life! He rolls over! She uses a spoon! He says "Uh oh" in the most adorable way! She sings 'Twinkle Twinkle'! He puts his blocks away! She is nice to the cat!

All said as if these are somehow special, unique, nearly impossible occurrences.

If you're a good friend of a mom, you've nodded and given appreciative responses, even as you've thought, "I guess this is a big deal for her." Perhaps in a more cynical moment, one might even dare to consider, "So what? Is she trying to take credit for this? Aren't they supposed to do that eventually?"

The answers are yes, yes, yes.

--

This phenomenon is often chalked up to boastfulness. Yes, there is a level of pride when a child reaches any sort of milestone. It further demonstrates that you are sending them along a healthy developmental path. And yes, I do love getting a supportive smile from others.

It can be easy to forget that it might not be the biggest deal to the rest of the world. If you don't have a child yourself, you should see how this kind of thing can escalate when TWO moms compare notes.

"She uses a spoon."

"That's great! Mine just learned to use a fork."

"Wonderful! We're skipping the bib these days."

"How exciting! We had some success with a regular cup this morning!"

It may sound competitive but at heart, it isn't. It's two moms realizing that someone else can understand the triumph involved. Hidden beneath these simple statements are quite a few layers of consequences. No longer hand-feeding a child means mom can eat her own food at the same time. Bibs are yet another thing to wash and remember to bring everywhere you go (and find moldering in the bottom of your purse). Sippy cups fill up dishwashers and drying racks with endless lids, valves, and straws. Quite often the impulse to help your kids reach new levels of achievement comes from a basic need to be done with the time-consuming trappings of babyhood.

Plus, in many cases, it takes endless working with the child to have them attempt such things. If left to their own devices, how soon would a child decide that a fork is a better idea than using their hands? On this specific topic, I was very lucky, as Theo does not like to get his hands dirty, and as soon as he realized he could eat AND keep his hands clean, he was on it. I never expected that of him, and wouldn't be surprised to hear that a child of four would have to be reminded to not eat mac & cheese with fingers.

See what I did just there? I slipped in a boast, right in the middle of a discussion about boastfulness. Theo used a fork early. But was it really a boast? Again, there are layers of meaning to any milestone, and especially ones that develop early. A child that won't use his hands for food when they're still not very capable with utensils can be its own nightmare. Many times we tried to get him to just use his hands because he just wasn't doing well in getting it with a fork. Now that he's a little older the focus shifts to using utensils well. He likes to turn the fork or spoon over as it goes into his mouth, often with messy results, but so far we have been unable to break him of it.

So much of this type of thing is nature, not nurture, and taking credit is tricky. Let's round up the possible layers of information being delivered in "boastful" one-liners:
  • Child's personality enables certain abilities
  • Child has learned new ability
  • Parent taught child new ability
  • Parent is coping with child's new ability
  • Parent is freed up by child's new ability

And this is just the beginning of the conversation, as evidenced by my second paragraph on Theo's adventures with using forks. I could literally talk for hours about how Theo's personality affects his attitudes and capabilities in eating. In fact, I have.

It can be hard to know what is and isn't good milestone conversation. I have learned not to jump in when moms talk potty training, as Theo trained easily, and I never want to come off as dismissive or unsympathetic, as I know I dodged a huge bullet (more boasting?). But when there's talk about cry-it-out bedtimes, shy homebodies, or stubbornness, I know I have experience in these areas, and that while I have a few success stories, I can definitely commiserate, and continue to need advice and support, too.

When it comes to talking to those who don't have kids, I try to keep it straightforward. If you ask for more detail you'll get it, but there's no reason to dive in with endless histories of how we got to this wonderful point in time.

Here's mine for today: Theo chose his clothes AND got dressed entirely by himself this morning.

Hooray!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fantasy/Reality

As I wrote in my last post, Theo's imagination has taken a leap and now informs much more of his (near constant) monologue. The day after we made the image to go with his flying house story, he suddenly started talking about flying saucers.

"What's a flying saucer?" I asked.

"It flies!"

"Ok, what's a saucer?"

"It's a flying SAUCER," he says, near-condescension in his voice.

I have no idea where he got this from *cough*probablyTV*cough* and after some questioning, I'm pretty sure he has no clue what one looks like or that it has anything to do with aliens.

"It flies around and has a mouth and it eats."

Mouths again. "What does it eat?"

"Little flying saucers."

Cannibalism! "What does a teeny tiny flying saucer eat?"

He doesn't respond to that directly but eventually gets to another bit of info: "The flying saucer has TWO mouths."

"Two mouths?"

"One to eat little flying saucers and one to talk."

"What does a flying saucer talk about?"

"Talks about eating little flying saucers!"

The focus on mouths is interesting, and it seems to be his definition for intelligence/sentience. The other day he spouted a list of inanimate objects around us, and said "they don't move or have mouths or anything." On mentioning this to Greg he reminded me that when I say someone looks like someone else, I'm usually referring to the eyes and upper part of the face, but when Greg does, he's usually referring to mouths and jawlines. Perhaps Theo has inherited Greg's way of identifying faces.

I do think that all this talk of mouths is him grappling with what entities are, what objects are, etc. As most of you know he absolutely loves our car, which we dubbed The Happy Honda. We ascribe all sort of emotions to the Honda and he's always glad to see it. (Which, in Southern California, is a very good thing.) He also has a strong bond to our house and the concept of it. His loyalty to his own world can become fodder for his fears, too. A few months back he went through a fear of something happening to our house. We were getting ready to go somewhere, and he teared up out of nowhere and talked about the house going away while we were gone. This happened two or three times and then vanished, but now we have stories about houses with wings that make sure to come back and tell people where it went.

Along with this fantasy bump, we're seeing a lot more bravery. I think the two go hand in hand. If you can understand what isn't reality, it means you have an understanding of what reality is, what is and isn't possible. He's allowing himself to be pushed further. Coaxing to try things in all sorts of areas, from new foods to daring feats at the pool, is getting better results at the moment.

We read the original Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to Theo over the course of many bedtimes, and while much of it went over his comprehension, he did catch some of it, especially the parts that he's heard in various adaptations. Even some of the wordplay made him giggle. The Disney film frightened him but that was already many months ago, and books are easier for him to cope with. Still, I thought he might not enjoy it but he always asked for more. I tried to continue on with Through the Looking Glass but that was a little too dry. He knows nothing of chess, so it can wait. Now we're beginning the original Wizard of Oz, a story with much more accessible yet impossible imagery, and we'll see how that goes.

Now that he has achieved this level of consciousness about the real and unreal, we can start discovering what sorts of fantasy appeal to him. He still sometimes turns away from cartoons because of threats of violence, however slight. He shied away from a show called Word Girl, an animated show about a superhero with a large vocabulary (gotta love PBS). Even though the villains were cartoony and the dangers slight, his discomfort at seeing people trapped or scared is apparent. He watched only two episodes before deciding he didn't want to watch it anymore.

This sort of self-limitation is helpful, but I know it's important to keep an eye on what entertainment he's consuming. Just tonight he asked for Alice again and I got out Through the Looking Glass. We turn a page and there is Tenniel's Jabberwocky.


"What's that, Mommy?"

Sweet dreams, kiddo.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Storyteller

During dinner the other night, Theo suddenly told this story.

Maybe when people leave a house, the house could dream about flying. It could fly all day, and when it was nighttime, the house could come back down where the empty space was, and when all the people come back the house could talk to them, if the house had a mouth and it could talk to them and tell them about his flying ADVENTURE!

Later, Theo added a bit: While the people were gone on their long walk, the car could also fly away, and come back later and also have a mouth, and tell the people about his flying ADVENTURE!

Theo's imagination has taken a few leaps lately.

Today I helped him illustrate his story. He chose images from basic internet searches and I performed a little photoshop magic at his direction. The result is pretty crazy. These are entirely his own choices. Yes, the Honda has candy in its mouth. Yes, all the people needed to fly too.

I've asked Theo to think about what the ADVENTURES might be. Maybe one day that'll percolate back up. I would never call him the most creative kid, so any chance to indulge is welcome, and the more odd the result, the better.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Get yer pith helmet

Let's finish up my San Diego trip report.

When you get to the fourth day you're a little glad that it's almost over, but you don't want to give up just yet. Especially if you're going somewhere as special as the San Diego Safari Park (formerly known as the Wild Animal Park).

If you've never been it's a huge treat. They have miles and miles of land to let the animals roam and interact as naturally as possible (without letting carnivores thin out the herds). As you can imagine, maintaining all this land and many hundreds of animals isn't cheap, and they monetize it however they can.

Included in the admission is a ride on the Africa Tram Safari, the basic tour of the vast Africa area. From there, the list of specialized tours is long and specialized. You can take the Cart Safari for a more personal experience with a smaller group. You can get a close look at the cheetahs, or feed the rhinos and giraffes with your own hands. You can fly on ziplines above the area or climb through the trees on suspended logs and ropes. You can go behind the scenes to see the vet stations and breeding programs. You can even camp out overnight. There are many more special experiences, and each one come with its own considerable price tag. It's all to benefit this non-profit so it comes guilt-free.

We decided that once we had finished with the Africa Tram we would take the Cart Safari through the Asia area. That, along with the more traditional zoo-style exhibits for smaller animals, would be plenty for us on our last day out before heading home. (I have daydreams of coming back in a few years and climbing through those trees with an older child.)

Theo's love of vehicles translated into fascination with the tram itself. Spotting animals along out tour wasn't too difficult, though sometimes you'd have to get the right angle to spot a baby snuggled with its mother. There were a lot of attempts to get Theo to see things, and for most of it he wasn't super cooperative. He didn't want to sit in a lap or be picked up at stops, and after a bit, we had to just let him be.

The Cart Safari through Asia went much better for him. The very comfy, over-sized golf cart held less than a dozen people. The open sides and lower stance made it much less claustrophobic than the large tram, feeling more like a real safari in a jeep, and bringing us closer to the action. Theo dug the motion of the ride and was more interested in the animals as well. Our guide was very knowledgeable, too, making this tour worthwhile for all of us.

One might think that all the bang at this place was in the tours and large spaces but one would be mistaken. There were amazing things everywhere and we didn't even get to half of it. There was a lemur enclosure with no barriers between you and the animals, much like an aviary. We found a spot to watch the scheduled cheetah run - pretty amazing to see it in action. Theo and his cousin were delighted when we fed the lorikeets, who were lovely and very friendly to humans, though rather competitive with each other.


We happened upon a couple of meet 'n greets with handlers bringing animals out for a talk, including the adorable, fluffy African Pygmy Falcon, smallest of the falcons and no bigger than a sparrow; and the Three-Banded Armadillo, which ran around and around us on stubby legs then curled up into a perfect ball when picked up.

We saw lovely large fruit bats stretching their wings to span 3 feet, cute fennec foxes drowsing cozily, the incredibly small dik-dik, the tiniest of deer - it's these types of animals that capture my imagination.

Just thinking about the end of that day makes my mind groggy and my limbs ache. So. Very. Tired. As made our way out we were half-joking about how we can't wait to get back to our boring day-to-day. Putting ourselves out there is a lot of work. Truly experiencing life often isn't a vacation.

In the days that followed our trip Theo kept mentioning how much he loved staying in the hotel with his cousin, aunt and uncle next door to us. We kept all the park maps and he loves going over them again and again, discussing what we did, what we missed, what we'll do "next time". We're still much too close to even consider planning another one, but it won't be long. Eventually, you forget the hard part and only remember the fun part. I mean, look at this last post, I left nearly all the tough bits out, and it's been less than a month! ;-) I can be a determined homebody, a lazy lump, a complainer and an anxious over-planner, but with notches like this on my belt, I don't think anyone would figure that, and that's a good thing.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Biking, sort of.

On the way home from preschool one day this week Theo asks if we can go on a bike ride. I say sure, after we eat lunch and water the plants, like we always do. Theo starts pitching a fit. I'm very firm, we have to have lunch and water the plants first. He gets the message but is still sulky about it.

After much wrangling, he sits and eats a big, long lunch. Then he wants TV. "Didn't you want to go on a bike ride?"

"I want to watch TV first, then water the plants, then go on a bike ride."

Ok, we watch TV. Time to water the plants. I coax him into his sandals. I figure we can water, and go right into the biking preparations. Theo then pours water all over himself.

Sigh. "Ok, let's go get changed."

Upstairs, Theo wants to play trains, he wants to do flips. Just getting him out of his wet clothes (which he supposedly found very distressing just a moment earlier) takes a solid two minutes. Once he's down to his underwear, I ask him to please go potty.

Pouting, whining, rolling around on the ground.

For a couple of minutes, I just sit there and stare at the floor. We're in the full blast of the air conditioning, just sitting the quiet of his bedroom. Do I want to go for a bike ride? Not really. His posture reflects my mindset. Not dressed, laying on his back, smirking at me - it's like my own lack of willpower is on display. This is the most insidious type of teachable moment - the type that involves forcing myself to emulate good behavior, even though I'm lazy as hell. I fully understand that a bike ride involves not only the energy it takes to push the pedals - it takes the energy to get this stubborn kid through all the paces just to get out the door. I take a deep breath and resign myself to the work ahead.

"I thought you wanted to go on a bike ride! Now you won't do the things that will get us out the door. Let's go, one step at a time. Go potty!"

I had to force the issue by putting him into the bathroom. As usual when he complains his hardest, he really did have to go. Then, more struggle to get clothing onto him, and get him downstairs.

Shoes, sunscreen. Theo is finally getting into the idea and complies easily. We get outside and the heat pounds us. It's already after 2pm. Sometimes we head out without water bottles but today it doesn't seem to be an option. I set up the water and briefly consider bringing a snack, then dismiss it.

Now it's time to set up the bike trailer. Theo loves to jump on me when I try to do anything constructive, so there's more hassle while I get it done. By the time the trailer is ready I'm sweating and feeling exhausted from all the battles, but there's no stopping now.

We get in and go.

"Mommy, I love bike rides."

"Me too," I say, somehow.


---


I figured we'll do a quick ride down the bike path along the Santa Ana River to Angel Stadium. You can bike right next to the Big A itself. I had done some biking lately and felt we could do it. It's only 2 city blocks north, no big deal.

Turns out - it's a big deal. It's hot, and I should have had a snack before leaving. The bike trailer plus kiddo isn't light. There's somewhat of a cooling breeze but I can feel the wind drag on my cargo.

We dip under overpasses and I shift super low to pedal our way out. We go slow, I drink water, we make it to the Big A. I pull over for about 5 seconds.

"You want to go home, kiddo? Or walk around a bit?"

"Yeah Mommy, let's go home."

I make a big U turn, get up on the pedals, and I see stars. I chug water and gear down. No big deal, take it easy, no rush. More stars, heat in my head, pounding heart. We dip down under the next main street and I can't climb us out.

"Hey kiddo, I need a break." I park the bike, let Theo out, take our helmets off, and we sit in the coolness of concrete shade.

Theo is in good spirits, happy to sit with me in this odd place. The path isn't busy at all since most people are smart enough to not exercise during the hottest part of the day. The cars rumble across the bridge over our heads. We have views of other main streets with lots of trucks to gape at. Nope, no complaints from the kid, he was fine where he was.

If I had a snack right now I'd be fine, too. Snack, break, water, go. But without it I'm a puddle of goo. We sit for a bit while Theo calls out the trucks he spots from afar.

I make motions to leave and realize that I can't. I look up and point into the distance.

"Theo, check out that bridge with cars on it, far away. Do you see it?" He does. "That's the street we need to get to, to get off the bike trail and be almost home. I don't think I can do it. We're going to have to call Daddy."

Theo thinks for a second.

"Mommy, did you bring your phone?"

"Yes, I did."

So yeah, a bust, a fail. I'm lucky that Greg is home and available at that moment. Even without him, worst-case scenario would involve walking to find place to have a snack and cool down for a while before riding back. Not too terrible.

I'd like to think I learned a lesson but it's a pitfall of mine. You get so committed to the idea of doing something that you throw common sense out the window just to get it done. I knew I was already a wreck when I got on that bike, and just a tiny bit more effort to pack a snack would have helped. Lesson learned? For the moment. Give me a while and I can get annoyed enough to unlearn any lesson.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

It's Shamu(s)!

Sea World. I hadn't been there since I was a kid, but had some really strong memories of the place. It was a pretty unique experience - and it still stands out, even among so many theme parks and zoos.

It's a place filled with stadiums. There are the obvious shows with orcas and dolphins and the less obvious ones with circus acrobatics and trained pets. Then there are the now classic, amazing exhibits that opened with such fanfare when I was younger - the Shark Encounter, the Penguin Encounter, and the more recent Turtle Reef, just to name a few. I don't think it's possible to do absolutely everything in one day, and with the limitations of young kids we focused on our must-sees very carefully.

Add in the fact that we decided to forego a stroller entirely this time, and it made for a jam packed, long haul.

Oh, there's also a Sesame Street area with lots of climbing and a few kiddie rides. We hit that first, and I'm glad we did. Zero lines, which led Theo to try a couple of spinning rides. They hadn't even started up for the day so he had no idea what he was getting into. It seems spinny rides disagree with him, no matter how many times he runs around in circles at home. That and a quick look around and we were done with Sesame Street land. Later in the day that area looked like a crowding nightmare.

Walking away from it we passed the backside of the dolphin show stadium, where you could clearly see the dolphins hanging out. When the trainers came wandering back there the dolphins immediately jumped up, trying to please them to get treats. The trainers talked to them and petted them, and it was amazing to see the relationship between them, without any glitz or story to get in the way. It's a genius move on Sea World's part to make the backstage totally transparent, letting you know that they have nothing to hide.

Theo's cousin had her heart set on riding a thrill ride so we visited Journey to Atlantis. This ride is pretty unique, as it's a water flume and a roller coaster in one. I hate to spoil any surprises here, but it takes some weirdness to make those two things mesh together. When you walk up to the exterior it's an oasis of strong themeing, and just really pretty. I'd say the ride doesn't have much story to it but the oddity of it was enough to make this ride geek gleeful. We took turns riding and watching Theo, and he got a pressed penny out of the deal. Showing up early has its no-line privileges.

When we were done there it was time for Shamu, so we made sure to get over there in time. Theo's cousin wanted some serious soak zone real estate so we split up, with us sitting at the very upper limits of splash area. While we waited they showed video of a new "Baby Shamu" being born in February of this year. I was surprised that I hadn't heard about it, but that's the thing, it's really not as big a deal as it used to be. I later learned the first Baby Shamu was born in 1985, and man, I sure do remember that. Didn't everyone have a Shamu toy or cup or shirt, when we were growing up?

They still use the name Shamu generally but no longer assign it to any one orca because in our performing set alone there were FOUR OF THEM.


I mean, think about it. You know they must have a few others, older, younger, etc. There were four of these huge monsters doing all the adorable tricks perfectly, with only the most minor of direction from the handlers. It was breathtaking.

I remember seeing it when I was younger that they did a lot of talking and educating, brought a kid out of the audience to talk to Shamu, put a mic up to Shamu so you could hear the noises it made....but they did none of that this time. This show is called One Ocean and it's supposedly about the unity of the world and its creatures but it's really orcas doing tricks. Which is totally awesome. Theo was definitely interested and entertained.

Theo's cousin got a full soaking with freezing cold water (oh yeah, they're from the deep ocean) so count me glad for not sitting there.

We had lunch, where a Night Heron decided to pull up a chair and watch us eat. The park is littered with rad sea birds looking for a handout.

I insisted we see the sea lion show as that's always a good time. And just like my childhood memory of it, at one point a performer got lazy and rebellious, which I just adore. You can definitely see the gap between the fully trained, automatic orcas and the preschooler attitude of the sea lions. They do each trick individually, whether it's waving or scooting backwards, and every step needs a reward. The show itself was cute and pretty clever with lots of pop culture references. And an adorable otter!

Afterwards we bought a tray of smelly fish to feed to some sea lions. Theo and his cousin loved this, as did the gorgeous Snowy Egret who sat inches away for a shot at a snack.

We visited Shark Encounter and Theo was definitely interested in the crazy teeth on some of them. Turtle Reef is spectacular, with some humongous turtles, including a massive one that was at least 6 feet long. Again, good amount of interest.

Greg noticed that Theo did better here in many ways we realized that Sea World has larger breaks between things. It's not a rapid fire arrangement. You have to get to the next place and there's definitely distance between. (Note: Should have gone with the stroller.) The breaks let Theo reset and be ready for more fun.

The dolphin show is called Blue Horizons and features lots of mimed story, aerialists, divers, and birds. Not enough dolphins and way too over the top cheesy. I found myself wishing for the edutainment portions. Still, dolphins, and the kids enjoyed.

We went up in the tower which is air conditioned with comfy seats and just lovely. Cousin and family went to see the performing pets, while we wandered to the dolphin encounter, where you usually get to pet and feed dolphins. At that exact moment they set up a photo op with dolphins where you wait in line to get a picture. Not our favorite thing in the world and Theo wasn't amenable anyway. Posing for photos is a bit of a sore spot, and there was no way I was gambling on a line for it. Instead we headed over to the backstage of the Shamu show where you can walk up to the glass and watch a couple of them swim in a massive tank. We got to see one jumping up and diving back down right in front of us, the water and bubbles swirling beautifully, and all without needing to get wet.

When we reunited it was at the penguin encounter, another thing that was shiny new way back when, and involves architecture that makes me feel very old indeed. We saw the adorable penguins and puffins and we were knackered, but we were right next to the arctic exhibit, so we trudged off to see a polar bear, two beautiful beluga whales, and an incredibly massive walrus, who looked for all the world like an invention of Henson's Creature Shop. Then, home.

We were so destroyed that we forgot to pick up a fridge magnet, another thing Theo loves to collect, though he did get a stuffed turtle which is adorable. I was eyeing some lovely tote bags but never committed and now wish I had. You can't find much at all in Sea World souvenirs online. Bummer.

Day three was a little rough without a stroller, and it was hard to imagine another day of walking at all, but we had the Safari Park ahead of us, and we were up for the challenge.

More later.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

You belong in the zoo...

...the San Diego Zoo.

Before I continue I want to mention that Legoland exceeded my expectations. Large, varied, interesting to parents as well as young children (though I expect among teens only the most Lego-geeky would enjoy themselves). The food was good. For some reason, lines were at their worst first thing in the morning, and the loading procedures would give any theme park fan a heart attack, but it was all very forgivable after seeing Theo's glee at everything we did. They have an awesome splash zone that merits a full swimsuit, and that's what I'll bring for him next time. End review.

The one really big thing we forgot to bring with us was a stroller. It seems crazy, but I don't have it in the car all the time anymore, and it just didn't make it onto the packing list.

At Legoland we rented a stroller and it worked just fine, except that Theo's cousin was a wee bit jealous. We decided to rent a double stroller for our second day out, this time at the San Diego Zoo.

Turned out this was a genius decision. The kids loved riding together. When one wanted out, the other wanted out too, translating into more participation from Theo. There were tons of ramps and hilly parts allowing for speedy downhill runs to make the kids squeal. We covered a ton of ground and shared the duty among four adults. WIN.

We saw endless animals, too many to list, and it was endlessly fascinating, at least for us adults. Theo likes animals the same way nearly all kids do. He's not overly into them, but he enjoyed many of them, especially when you take into account the sheer number of times we said "Look, Theo! Get out of the stroller so I can pick you up! See, in the corner? See his head?" There's a point where you stop trying to get him to see the obscured or sleepy animals, and realize later that he's so full up that no, he doesn't want care about the amazing full view lions you're seeing, and that's that.

I remember as a kid having only a small appreciation for zoos. My memories involve being annoyed that animals were always hidden or asleep. I didn't care at all to look at a sleeping animal. I'm also sure that I had no appreciation for the rarity or the power of the species. You can see that same "so what, I've got all these guys in a book at home" look on Theo's face. As it is, the enclosures are so well constructed these days, you get maximum viewing, all the time, and it's pretty overwhelming.

All that said, he got a kick out of many of the exhibits. Pandas, elephants, apes and monkeys, various birds, big cats, all kinds of things caught his eye and interest for a least a little bit.

Every bit as exciting was our commitment to the penny press. We started Theo on a squished penny diet back at Disneyland and now it came to full fruition. The machines are everywhere at these parks, and in SD they're more fun, because they're operated by a manual crank. We ended up allowing two pennies per park and Theo adored every penny-squishing second, as well as the clanking keepsakes he's now got in an old Altoids tin.

We planned our day at the zoo well, and ended up at the back of the park for the Skyfari, which we called the Skyway after the long-gone Disneyland ride. The Skyfari takes you back to the entrance. Throughout the day we could see the ride above us and Theo was always mentioning it, always asking about it, and always seeming brave enough to take it on. Just like Legoland, I was surprised and optimistic, but as I said last time, it can seem like you're flipping a coin, and you never know what you'll deal with at the very last minute.

Once again he stepped up to the situation perfectly and had no qualms about getting onto the loudly banging buckets and swinging up into the sky. He loved the view, he loved being up high, he loved all of it.



Win, win, win. Baby Upgrade.

More to come.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Deeeeyaayyyygoooo!

Greg has had his heart set on an extended weekend vacation with Theo for a while now. Our date nights and weekends away from the kiddo seem few and far between, but compared to some, we do get away from parenthood fairly often. Whenever we planned another bit of babysitting we would kick around the concept of a family stay at a hotel somewhere, sometime in the future.

I have to say it wasn't at the top of my to-do list. I know I'm not awful at planning or even coping in the moment when things go awry, it's just the prior anxiety and worry that can make me less than enthusiastic. Having a three-year-old can be like flipping a coin every time you encounter new stimuli. Will he be ok with the hotel? Will he drink enough fluids on the hot days? Will he want to participate in anything, at all, never mind actually enjoying things? This kind of chaotic lifestyle makes me a wreck. It's bad enough when it's part of our predictable routine, but when everything is new, and under the pressure of having fun while the day lasts...it's exhausting just contemplating it.

We had let our Disneyland passes expire back in February because Theo had stopped enjoying the place. He had always been picky about rides, but even that short list shrank down to near nothing. Even rides he enjoyed before became a source of fear for him, and just going to the park became a full day of attempted coercion and tears.

A month ago I took Theo to the LA Natural History Museum and the Science and Industry Museum with family. Greg couldn't go as it was a weekday. Theo spent about 10 minutes completely enthralled in the amazing dinosaur exhibit, then spent the rest of the time whining and begging to go home. There were only a few other spots of interest throughout our day there - Shuttle Endeavor merited another 10 minutes - but 90% of the day was temper management.

So when Greg wanted to do four days in San Diego to hit the major attractions I was not super thrilled. We planned it way in advance and were hoping he would be up to the task by the time it rolled around. Getting closer to the date we saw some good signs from Theo, doing things he had been frightened of for the longest time - he rode the train at the mall, he stood on an escalator instead of being carried, he sat on a big kid swing and allowed himself to be pushed. I felt confident going in that we had a much better shot at a good time now than we did back in February.

I don't remember how early on in the plan we decided that bringing Greg's sister (and by extension, Theo's cousin Sadie) along, but we knew it was a good idea to make this an event to remember. Theo and Sadie get along very well, often keeping each other occupied and on track. Having other adults to lean on sounded good, and I think bringing others in can help alleviate the friction of being together constantly.

The original plan included the San Diego Zoo, the Safari Park (formerly known as the Wild Animal Park), and Sea World. After more consideration we decided to get Legoland in as well. Legoland is aimed at very young children. It won't be long before my niece grows out of their offerings, and we figured it might work well for Theo, too.

We stayed at a Comfort Inn which offered attached rooms including separate, closed door rooms for the kids - each with their own bunk bed! The kids were thrilled at the novelty and we were thrilled that they could get to bed while we stayed up a little longer.

On to the parks!

Legoland was a HUGE hit with Theo. We realized it was a good choice from the moment we drove into the parking lot and Theo started pointing out all the statues and signage. "It's made of Legos!" he said over and over, which lasted the whole day.

He was into everything we did. A slow "safari" with Lego animals; a pedal car on a rail high above the ground; a "driving school" which is a Lego version of Power Wheels. No track, all by himself, he's never used one before, now you're driving for real, would he do it?


He did, and loved it, but not as much as he loved the pirate themed Splash Battle.


He got pretty wet on this and was nothing but smiles.

This horsey ride was a biggie which went all by itself, trotting up and down, on a long rail far from us and momentarily out of sight. It also had an age 4 requirement which required a small falsehood (he's 3 and a half and I made a judgement call).


In all of these cases he looked at the rides, in action, and said "I want to do that." Then he did them. No cold feet, no hesitation, and nothing but joy during and after. We have a term for days like this: "Baby Upgrade!"

He chased the vehicles rolling around Miniland's tiny cities, and even had some appreciation for the Star Wars exhibits. The big boat ride was a predictably big hit. We had a near-perfect day and a smooth hotel check in and easy bedtime.

It was all too much to believe. Yes, it was hot, some lines were long, and there were the usual squabbles over the usual things. But the newness of the place and the challenge of the rides came effortlessly and his enjoyment was real, not forced. He was up for this adventure as much as we were, with no trace of his current stubbornness and rebellion.

To be continued.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sense of Self

I went digging around in some old writings today and found this, which I wrote two years ago, intending to submit to some radio request for personal stories. Things have changed a bit since I wrote this, but instead of fuss with details, I'm going to let it stand. I don't think I ever published it, and it was a bit of a pick-me-up to read it today, so here you go.

---

I love going to art museums.
I photoshop for fun.
I enjoy multi-course meals with wine pairings.
I write short stories and poetry.


If you ask me to describe who I am, I think of statements like these. Most are hard-wired into my sense of self, along with “I have brown hair” and “I am 34 years old.”

These statements feel true, but when I say them aloud, I realize they have expired.

I see friends nearly every weekend.
I swear. A lot.
I attend the Coachella music festival every year.
I am ready to go anywhere in 10 minutes.


In the past year and a half, I have learned how to do without these aspects of myself. I discovered after 6 months of parenthood that most of my concepts of who I am and where I am going have become a remnant of another time and a hopeful forecast for some distant future. The list continues to grow with every passing day.

I’m the last person to leave every party.
I can dance until dawn.
I’ll crash on anyone’s couch.
I travel light.


I was ready for parenthood. I actively pursued advice from every mom I met. Everywhere I went, I heard the same reassurances: “This will change your life but it will be worth it.” “Don’t forget to make time for yourself.” “When it gets really tough, just hang in there.” I listened carefully and took their advice to heart, but it was no use. Can you warn a six-year-old about the pitfalls of college romance?

I sleep past noon on the weekends.
I don’t want to bother with gardening.
I don’t care if the place is a mess.
I almost never cook.


They said I’d be tired, but I didn’t understand that I wouldn’t get to truly sleep in for years. I knew I’d have to limit outings, but I never thought that I couldn’t visit people for lunch (naptime) or dinner (bedtime). I knew my outlook would change, but who is this person staying sober in order to leave at 11pm and get some sleep?

What I also didn’t fully understand was that in losing the freedom of independence, I gain the insight of caring for someone else. I draw on other aspects of my personality that have been lying dormant, waiting for the parenthood programming to kick in.

I can be strategic, patient, quick-thinking and perceptive.
I can be resilient in the face of countless pitfalls.
I can take screams of protest and turn them into giggles.
I can teach kindness.


It’s these new descriptors that surprise me more than anything. I miss my old social life and my carefree ways, but I like this new person I’ve become.

I love gardening in the cool of early morning.
I often sing and dance in my living room.
I take slow walks and smell the flowers.


What parenthood has taught me most of all is this:
I can, and will, adapt.

Monday, February 25, 2013

What (sometimes) Works (for me)

Huge Disclaimer Right Off The Bat: Nothing works for everyone. Every kid is different, ever parent is different. Every day is different, every moment is different. Your parenting style may differ from mine and no opinions expressed here are meant to exclude any other opinions. This blog is intended for entertainment purposes only.

Ok, I am actually going to talk about a parenting method that works for me, at least, much of the time. In parenting, a solid 60% success rate* is enough to pass on. *Success rate is arbitrary, fake, and not based on any actual studies.

I know I read this in multiple places but I can't remember where. At the very least it's not just one person's idea so I don't feel too badly in using it here without a reference. It's a generally Good Idea that has been around forever.

My son is stubborn. He's demanding. He can be very emotional. He's also smart. When he doesn't get what he wants and he feels strongly about it, he cries, like any 3 year old. Sometimes it's a real cry, emotions coming uncontrollably to the surface. Sometimes, it's a forced act, an attempt to get what he wants via either sympathy or annoyance.

In either case, we usually try what we call "Let's make a deal." Theo often says through his tears, "Mommy, make me a deal!" Yes, sometimes there is no deal to be made, but usually we can find a way to make both of us happy. It can be as simple as saying "We can go outside AFTER we eat." I'll admit, I will bring up things we have to do, just so that I can then make a "deal" with him that I intended in the first place.

Sometimes it takes more than a simple one-for-one deal. If he got whatever he wanted after every little requirement, we'd be watching vast amounts of television. As it is, we watch quite a bit, and anything I can do to keep him interested in non-screen-based activities (and, gasp, chore-based activities) the better.

Today Theo was dead set on watching TV (like every day) and I had a few small things we needed to do around the house. He seemed completely unwilling to cooperate. I was all set to have a wonderfully frustrating afternoon but then my brain kicked in. "Hey Theo, we've got a bunch of things to do! Let's make a list, and you can choose what we do first. Should I use chalk or crayons or markers?" Believe it or not, this works wonders. He stops crying. He's interested.

I make the list process as fussy as possible, as it's the process that pulls him in. He picked crayons, but he specifically wanted me to use the very large waxy painting paper, so I asked him if we could switch to markers instead. He picked the marker color, too.

"Ok, we need to water the plants." I wrote WATER in huge capital letters, spelling it out and sounding it out for him. "We need to move the laundry to the dryer." LAUNDRY. "And we need to vacuum the living room." VACUUM.

You may think that moving the laundry to the dryer isn't enough to merit its own spot, but believe me, it does. Laundry is an all-day process and each step is its own beast that Theo "helps" with. Besides, quick, unrelated tasks are the best things to put on these to-do lists.

This is the part where Theo says "Put TV on the list." I recommend we set a time to watch TV. He says "I want to watch TV at ten seventy-seven." (Ten Seventy-seven is his favorite thing to say right now whenever numbers are necessary. So I say ok, but we can't watch TV until our list is done, right? He agrees, and I and write 10 77 TV. I realized as we were talking about it that accomplishing these chores will take a while and that we will both need a break from each other when they are done, no matter what time it is. He is delighted to see his addition to the paper, especially since he can totally read "10 77 TV".

Then it's time to choose, and he is suddenly very interested in watering the plants, though that was the very thing I was trying to talk him into doing in the first place. When we get out there he wants to rake so we rake and sweep and use the dustpan, then we water with only a trickle out the hose and make mud (which he won't touch or even manipulate with tools but loves to look at) and I talk about roots and leaves and planting ideas for the spring. When we get back inside Theo gets to cross WATER off of our list. Just the crossing off is enough for him, he doesn't need stickers or anything else. Oh, and a nice serving of "thanks for helping me Theo, I really appreciate it, isn't it a nice day outside?"

LAUNDRY involves discussing the clothes as he helps shove them into the dryer ("I love my blue underwear, Mommy"), then pushing the switch that turns the light inside the dryer drum on and off a few times, then messing with the dials on top and talking about that time Theo pushed the wrong button and it made a huge scary buzzing sound. Then, aha, he gets the dryer running. (BTW the clothes are still in the dryer, many hours later. Timing before dinner did not work out. Folding that laundry is on tomorrow's schedule. It's just his clothes anyway. What did I say about laundry being an all-day process? Ok, maybe two days.)

We crossed off LAUNDRY then Theo spent forever putting 100 pieces of jigsaw puzzle right-side-up in the box, because that's what he does. Meanwhile I picked up everything else in the room. He was very proud of his puzzle tidying, as he loves getting it just right. Then he hid in the kitchen with a juice and his little rocking chair while I vacuumed. The noise of the vacuum is one of his least favorite things and you can see him wearing his stoic face as I get it done. Afterward, he jumps at the chance to unsnap the canister from our bagless vacuum and "get rid of the yuckies." He's gotten very good at all the clips involved, and puts it back when it's empty. He used to wrap the cord too but somehow he thinks that's no longer cool.

After VACUUM is crossed off, he asks for TV, and we've definitely earned it, so I put it on. And wouldn't you know it, after the show is done, he remembers to cross 10 77 TV off the list, too.

Later on I came up with another task - writing a thank you note - and as I got the materials out to get it done, I also wrote it on the list. The crossing-off really is the best part of the whole thing.



For anyone who cares...

List writing tips:

--You have to be enthusiastic. "What are you going to pick? Ooh, here's another idea!" Yeah, yeah, I often don't have the stomach for it either. But if you can get outside your inner frustration for a minute it can be totally worth it. Fake it until you make it. Man, I wish I was better at that part.

--Make sure you have a few things in mind. They can be incredibly tiny increments of things, as long as it is something that can be defined and crossed off when completed. The more finite the better. Instead of "tidy room", I'd say something like "put away puzzles". (Vacuum is a big exception as he's very used to what that entails.)

--Allow him to add one or two things to the list. I haven't successfully gotten him to come up with real tasks but he can definitely supply reward ideas.

--The list can be abandoned or taken up the next day. When we don't complete our list for whatever reason, I like to point it out to him and explain that it's fine, we did plenty for one day. Picking it up the next day can be even more exciting.


When I remember to do this trick it works surprisingly well. I'm worried overuse will sap the potency but I would love to make this a daily thing. Perhaps a slow transition? Hmm.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Donuts and Homemaking

My Mom asked me, out of the blue, to write a new post here. I haven't thought about it for a long time so when I got the request I thought, why not?

Theo just had his third birthday. Here are some photos. We've stuck to the "supply toys and balloons" method for parties and so far it has worked, though next year may require a bit more than that. Everyone had a great time.

After a doctor's appointment that went particularly well, I decided to reward Theo with a stop at a donut shop. I don't think we've ever done it before, though we have picked up donuts for a MOMS Club meeting or two. No, this was a new thing for him. He got to tap the glass at the donut he wanted (white icing with blue sprinkles), I got my usual favorite, double chocolate (sprinkles are incidental, they never seem to sell them without), I got a large milk for us to split and we sat by the window to watch the traffic go by.

My Mom was already on my mind from her request earlier but as soon as we had stepped into the place I felt the familiar flashbacks I always get in donut shops. (If I've told the story before, forgive me, I'm really not sure if I have or haven't.)

Up until I was about 5 1/2 we lived in a cute little house in Glendale. Mom stayed home with me and my baby brother who was born when I was four. We only had one car at the time which of course Dad took to work. Mom didn't have a driver's license anyway. Among my earliest memories are days where we walked to the local shops or the nearby blue mailbox. On big outing days we'd go to the Glendale Galleria, our seemingly massive local mall, all brick and late 70's architecture. I couldn't say what we bought there as I wasn't interested in that part. What I remember is that we nearly always got a treat for making the trip - either an Orange Julius or a Winchell's donut. I loved both, but when you went to Winchell's, you'd sit at one of their tables and have a good view of the Galleria clock.


And here it is. Don't you just love the internet? I was pretty fascinated by this thing.

I'd eat my devil's food donut (that's what Winchell's called chocolate with chocolate icing, no sprinkles) with a little carton of milk and Mom would have a coffee and donut and most probably get a nice mental break as I zoned out looking at the clock.

It's so different for me now, I thought to myself today as I brushed sprinkles off of Theo's shirt. I drive all over Orange County. The Galleria was a 20 minute walk each way, while pushing two kids in a stroller that wasn't designed for two. We get food at restaurants a lot and Theo knows the drill. The snack at the mall was a special treat every time.

Winchell's really was better, by the way. I'm so sorry they left our area. Every time I see a shop with that triangular sign filled in with some generic name, it makes me sad.

Even so, I still get flashbacks whenever I go into a donut shop and smell that lovely sweet smell. Just me and mom and my baby brother making our way through our day. That same feeling I get doing my stay-at-home thing with my son. That need to stop and refresh and feel good about the small accomplishments of the day. We may not frequent a particular shop or a particular snack but we do seek out that moment of rest. If there's an awesome clock or fountain or other fixture to look at, then it's just icing on the donut.