Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tea for Tots

Not 36 hours before we were to attend our very first mommy and me-type class at The Pasadena Waldorf School, Peapod morphed into a fountain of snot. This was not how I'd wanted to present my daughter to her new friends after we'd gotten so lucky to barely squeeze into the class in the first place. But there she was, all kleenexes and glassy eyes, ready for her droopy debut.

I, myself, was excited but sort of nervous. After all, we'd joined the class late, and who knew what to expect behind the doors of this fabled place? I'd read a bunch online about the Waldorf philosophy and heard rumors throughout the Mommy Mill about how hard it was to get into this magical school. It all seemed so sophisticated and civilized for a couple of shmoes like us. But here we were, about to get a glimpse from the inside at last...

Days before, on the phone, I had been instructed to bring a piece of fruit for the fruit bowl. What could this mean? A piece of fruit for every kid? For my kid? Should it be cut up? Organic? What about allergies? Would I be frowned upon if I put it in a petroleum-based plastic bag? After much hovering over fruit bins at Von's, I decided on a two-pronged approach. I brought cut up mangos in a baggie and three whole pears, figuring this would cover my bases. I even made sure the little yellow 'organic' stickers were still on the pears so that the teacher would know that I was trying my best.

About twenty minutes prior to game time, Peapod fell asleep in the car. She woke up moments after pulling into the school parking lot, but by then, she'd maxed out her diaper and soaked through to her pants. So now instead of arriving early and having the chance to acclimate at a leisurely pace, I was hurriedly changing Peapod's diaper on the front seat of the car, her head balanced precariously on the drive shaft. Again, not the way I'd hoped to start our very first day at this fancy school.

Despite the drowsiness, the rogue diaper change and the snot, she rallied and we bounded up the hill together for our first Waldorf adventure.

Immediately, the campus made a good impression on me. It somehow simultaneously projected the air of a summer camp, a farmer's market, and a really expensive piece of real estate. The toddler area was particularly charming and as everyone gathered and class began, I was amazed to notice Peapod settling nicely into the rhythm of it all. Our instructor was soft-spoken and kind. And when she dumped my chopped mangos into the class fruit bowl, she enthusiastically chirped "Mmm! mangos!" which made me grin stupidly with relief.

After an hour or so of kid-lead play, it was snack time. I was a little nervous, as Peapod is not the best eater in the league, favoring instead the scrambled egg toss. But she got with the program like a champ, washing her hands in the little water bins and sitting in the tot-sized chairs with her new friends. What followed was nothing short of remarkable. Our Pied Piper-esque instructor had successfully gotten 8 toddlers to sit in chairs, at a table, and eat fruit from ceramic bowls. Almost as if to show off, she even had them drink water from real glasses. No sippy cups, no plastic ware, no bottles, no bibs and no whining. Had I not seen it myself, I'd have called BS on the whole story, but there it was in front of my very own eyes. A little toddler tea party and Peapod was right there in the swing of things!

By the end of the class, it had become clear to me that I had as much to learn there as Peapod did. Starting with not worrying about whether the organic stickers are still visible on one's pears.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Belly Flop

According to The Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy, any weight you carry one full year after your baby was born can no longer legitimately be excused as "baby weight" and must thereafter be classified as "fat." Since Peapod turns 16 months tomorrow, this applies to me.

Technically I am not carrying any "baby weight" since I weigh the same as I did when I got knocked up in the first place. However, before I can pat myself on the back and eat a box of Ding Dongs, I have to acknowledge that, though my weight is the same, I'm living in somebody else's body. Somebody with a very weird and unsightly bulge around the middle. Sure, it's common to have a bulge, but mine is up high around my mid-section, rather than down below my belly button, where it wouldn't be ideal, but at least it wouldn't be mutant.

I recently pointed out my "new" mid-section bulge to my mom to gauge her reaction. You know the picture is bleak when your very own mother hesitates, then says "yeah... that is kind of weird..." while backing ever so slightly toward the dressing room door.

After this incident, I decided to check in with my mid-section bulge, just to get the 411. The conversation went something like this:

SELF: Hey sooo, whattya still doing here?

MSB: I live here.

SELF: But we agreed on a 12 month lease.

MSB: I signed no such thing.

SELF: Umm... when do you think you'll be, you know, heading out?

MSB: As I mentioned, I live here. Can you pass the fries?

SELF: Sur... No! I'll do situps, you know. I can do, like, fifty situps.

MSB: Not in a row.

SELF: I have an elliptical trainer in the basement.

MSB: Yeah, I've seen it. It's really nice.

SELF: If you need a place to stay, our dog is looking pretty slim these days.

MSB: Do not mock me.

SELF: (Passing the fries) Well, I hear baby-doll tops are in again this spring.

And so the uphill battle continues...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Princess Thing

I know it's inevitable. Like death. Like crows' feet.

And yet I struggle to accept that someday, my unaffected, babbling, tupperware tossing, bubble chasing bundle of purity will beg for Ariel. Or Jasmine or Cinderella or some other poofy dress wearing tart. I haven't figured out yet what I'm going to do about it and time is running out. Peapod is almost 16 months old, so I figure I have about another 12 months or so to work out a plan.

Flat out refusal on my part to buy her any of this princess rubbish will most certainly backfire into full-blown devotion and non-stop begging on her part. But giving in completely, putting up the frilly wallpaper and letting her wear a pink taffeta doily dress to preschool every day seems like cop out.

When did The Princess Thing start? There was none of this when I grew up. In fact, quite the opposite was true -- girls who were constantly playing with dolls were subject to ridicule. And anyone fool enough to show up at the playground in a princess dress would have been quickly laughed off the swingset. But the point was moot anyway because there were no princess dresses -- or scepters or tiaras or fairy wings or glittery shoes -- for sale back then, unless it was Halloween. So that begs the question: where did this hideous phenomenon come from?

We all know the answer is Disney.

Sure, Disney characters are charming and lovely -- their sweet images still dance around in my sepia childhood memories. But it's still their fault. The princess phenomenon is nothing more than an incredible marketing plan, executed on an extremely powerful consumer insight. As a fellow marketer, I must take my hat off to them for their outrageous success. As a Mom, I'd like to punch their whole marketing department right in the face.

But before I commit battery, maybe I should have a look at myself, first. Why do I chafe at The Princess Thing? There's nothing wrong with wanting to look pretty, or with being feminine. And there's nothing wrong at all with playing make-believe. I guess my problem is the attitude that seems to go along with it. The prissy "I deserve this because I am a princess" notion, or the "Princesses don't play baseball/soccer/tennis/in the mud!" attitude is what I loath most. After all, if you approach the world with that attitude, you miss out on all the fun. And, by the way, nobody likes you either, because you're a complete bore and a total pain in the neck.

Yes, I know princess adoration is hardwired into lots and lots of girls. And as a former tomboy, I'm certain that gene has got my number. I just hope that when the time comes, I'll accept The Princess Thing for what it is, just a phase, and be confident that her freshman dorm room won't be decorated in Cinderella posters.

In the mean time, I'll keep rolling her soccer balls, hoisting her up to touch the leaves on the trees, and playing plenty of music for her to dance to. Then when the inevitable comes, maybe she'll know that she's just as beautiful with that bucket on her head as she is in the tiara.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

I Might be a Stalker

Here in Pasadena, we have lots of little neighborhood parks where moms, nannies, dads and kids gather to play and socialize. My favorite one is bright and open, has swings and playscapes, a baseball field, a soccer pitch, picnic areas, bathrooms and relatively few wandering nut bars. But the best thing about it is the people -- they're a peaceful, kidcentric, eccentric bunch and every day they light the place up with friendly chatter that I've heard so far in English, Spanish, German, Vietnamese (I think) and French.

Recently, as I was pushing the baby jogger up to the swings, a pony-tailed mom called out "Hey, is that Peapod?" Of course she used my baby's actual name, as I suspect she would not have initiated conversation with a fellow mom who was not Gwyneth Paltrow and yet had chosen to name her progeny 'Peapod.' I blinked at her while my mind raced -- did we once work together? Were we classmates? Were we locker partners in junior high?

Nope. She knew my daughter from seeing her in various places around town with our nanny. It was the smack upside the head that I needed to remember that in fact my baby girl just might be developing a life and friends of her own. Ah yes, it's not all about me and my big fat head.

So this woman, we'll call her Lynn, and I started chatting while we pushed our girls in the swings. Lynn's daughter, we'll call her Isabell, is just about a month older than Peapod and shares several of the same traits, which make them the ideal playmates. Now I've encountered this 'ideal playmate' before, but he/she almost invariably comes with a deeply flawed mom. This mom will prattle on and on about how you have to get on the wait lists for the best preschools while your baby is still just a twinkle in your eye. Or she'll live on the West Side, thereby making her geographically undesirable. Or she'll have a third eye. But Lynn is cool. I mean, cool, cool. She's low key, non-judgmental, a great conversationalist with a nice sense of humor, and she even does cool things like write and direct plays for a local theatre group!

Obviously I dig her. So at the end of our first chance meeting, I boldly requested -- and got! -- her digits. We issued our casual "see ya laters" and I jogged proudly home on cloud nine.

I waited a week to call her. I didn't want to seem desperate. She seemed genuinely happy to hear from me and even altered Isabell's nap schedule to meet me just 20 minutes later in the park. Once again, we had a great time. In an attempt to keep her interested, I mentioned that I was feeling a little overwhelmed about the prospect of researching preschools and so had purchased an e-book on the subject that was turning out to be pretty good. I asked her if she wanted me to get her email so I could send her the PDF, but then realized that neither of us had anything to write on or with. So she said she'd use her caller ID to look up my number and call me.

That was a week ago. So now I'm wondering if I did something wrong. Did my preschool guide offer come off as too pushy? I've been to the park twice since then and have lingered longer than usual each time, hoping that she might show up. But she hasn't. Maybe she's on vacation. Or maybe I'm her first stalker and she's just savoring the experience.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Dancing Fool

As I've mentioned before, Peapod is a little meek in most kid-centric social situations. But she's got glorious bold streaks in her which include wandering across vast soccer pitches while her Mom is practicing Spanish with her Latina nanny friend, climbing atop wheeled items (strollers, shopping carts, office chairs) and bouncing until her Mom catches her right before she careens onto the pavement, and dancing. My favorite is the dancing.

Her moves include bouncing, swaying back and forth, shaking her dinky booty, stomping her feet and -- this just in -- twirling!

Today, she busted out all her moves in two separate locations. The first was at the Michael Kors store at The Grove. As an aside, I don't recall that guy being such a big whoop until he got the Project Runway gig. I hope he's giving mad props to Heidi Klum wherever he goes. Anyway, the store is pretty hip. It's got mirrored shelving, a huge screen running a continuous loop of lanky girls working the catwalk, and music. Lots of wonderfully danceable, Euro-beat, electronica pop that matches the ambiance. It inspired my Pod of Peas to bust out her moves.

She started by leaning on the wallet display and shaking her booty, which instantly got the attention of Julie, the lovely shop keep who had greeted us. Once she had earned this small audience, she pulled out all the stops, reining in no fewer than four additional women who stopped looking at metallic handbags long enough to twirl with my daughter. And these were women who could really appreciate a decent metallic handbag, you could just tell. I was bursting with pride and hoping Peapod could somehow sense how much joy she had just created, all by her little self.

Later tonight, we went out to dinner at an old Pasadena favorite: La Fiesta Grande. I had forgotten that they always have mariachis perform on weekend nights, a fact that lit up Peapod the moment the first strumming bars floated into her ears. On the down side, she ate about 3.6 grams of food. On the upside, she entertained our entire side of the restaurant, even earning applause from the patrons and musicians at one point. The extent to which she enchanted the waitstaff seemed inversely proportional to the mass of food and dishes they were hoisting on their trays.

So as days go for Peapod, I must say it was pretty great. Which I suppose is true when the world is your dance floor.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Texting is the Worst Technology Ever

Let me just get something off my chest here. I hate text messaging.

Why the texting phenomenon has caught fire like a California hillside, I will never know. Anything that forces us to punch a 0.75 square centimeter "7" key four times just to type an "S" seems like woefully backward technology if you ask me.

I am fully aware that I may not 'get' texting because I am old. But having said that, let's take a peek at what's really going on here, shall we?

Texting is time consuming and inefficient. It's tedious. If you're going to go through all that effort to learn 'texting language' like "U R GR8!" and the ultra-lame "LOL!" and then punch this drivel into a dinky keypad that was designed for dialing phone numbers, isn't it just time to send an email or, god forbid, call the person? Must we cling to some outdated and tiresome technology? Hey, why don't we just start faxing our friends, while we're at it?

The other complaint I have about texting is that, when used by unsupervised toddlers, it allows for the purchase of mysterious services via the internet. I'm serious. I let Peapod play with my phone all the time because secretly I'm hoping that she'll break it so I'll have an excuse to get an iPhone. So earlier this week, she was at it again while I was working at my desk. A few minutes later, I hear that tinny little beep that signals that I have not one, but five new text messages.

Now, my loved ones know better than to text me because they know I am a texting bufoon. So who would send me this junk? Turns out that Peapod used my phone to go online and inadvertently text her intention to purchase some new media service which is apparently $5.99! Sure, a one-time $5.99 fee is "funny-ha-ha." But the negative texting karma I'm generating with this blog post has probably earned me some hideous and ironic $5.99-per-second fee every time I read a text message that I didn't even want in the first place.

OMG! Don't U just want 2 LOL?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bilingual Baby?

We get about 14 metric tons of junk mail a week. I suppose we’re partly culpable for this situation, as we somehow managed to get married, buy a house, remodel said house, and have a baby within one ludicrous span of 18 months. One might say we’ve spent our way into the wheelhouse of the vast majority of all marketers on earth. I hear the only two target markets we don’t fall into are the “Recent Empty Nester Baby Boomers” and the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.”

Anyway, my solution for managing all this junk is to open the mail standing over the recycle bin. Almost everything gets ripped and dumped immediately, and the rest goes in a stack on the countertop, to be, well, ripped and dumped later. Today, a mailer with a big fuzzy green cartoon monster wearing a leather motorcycle helmet and riding in a hot air balloon caught my attention. It probably would have slipped past me, were it not for the leather motorcycle helmet – who wears those anymore? Turns out the monster's name is “Muzzy” and he’s the lead character in what this particular piece of junk mail claims to be “The #1 Language Course for Children.”

Underneath the hot air balloon slinked a phrase that shook me: “Does your child speak only English?”


Well, actually my child speaks only Caveman, which allows her to most effectively demand juice, noodles, music boxes, the remote control, and occasionally a partially used wand of mascara. But I’m terrified that her grunts and squeaks will evolve into only English.

I’m quite aware that growing up as a native English speaker is just about the best advantage one can have in the global economy. And it’s even better that she won’t be saddled with an accent that makes her sound like a cab driver from Queens or a waitress from Biloxi. With any luck, she’ll avoid “like, the California-speaking-like-everything-is-a-question?” tick, and will gain further advantage by sounding more like Ann Curry than a quintessential ‘80’s Valley Girl.

But this won’t be enough, I know it. I’m 38 years her senior and my dim grasp of Spanish and French are already not enough in a world that has zoomed past me into a new millennium. Like it or not, everyone in serious contention for top jobs and spots in top schools is multi-lingual. Everyone. In my last corporate job, which was a coveted marketing position with the world’s largest food company, it was almost as common to hear post-meeting chatter in Spanish as it was to hear it in English. In my short stint there, I worked with compatriots from Spain, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua and Argentina, just to name a few. They found my feeble attempts to learn their language to be quite charming, but it was clear that their proficiency in Spanish admitted them into a cozy and powerful club, while I remained outside with my nose pressed against the glass.

I want more for my Pod of Peas, but will I find the answer with Muzzy? He is, after all, endorsed by the BBC – it says so right there on the brochure. Heck, I don’t even have to invite the leather-helmeted fuzzy monster into my house, since my forward-thinking dear friend already gave us a different brand of Spanish language CDs as a Christmas gift. But doesn’t it seem like wishful thinking to imagine that one can so easily buy the gift of Spanish for their child? After all, I don’t just want her to be able to count to ten and point at a dog and say “Perro.” Any slob can learn that from watching Sesame Street. I want her to speak actual Spanish. With actual other people who speak Spanish.

The question I have to ask myself, is how far am I willing to go? Suficiente distante, espero.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Culture, Baby!

If a family visits an art museum and spends roughly 40% of the time lying on the floor, does it still count as culture?

We traveled back to Michigan to be with my side of the family for the holidays, and managed to squeeze in a trip to the newly renovated and totally fabulous Detroit Institute of Arts.

The visit was filled with moments of pure magic, not the least of which was scoring a parking space literally 30 feet from the front door. It was so weirdly good that I spend the first half hour of our visit wondering if our car might somehow be auctioned off or something before we got back.

My Mom and my 10-year-old nephew, whom I'll nickname Slugger for this blog, were along with Peapod, The Esposo and I for our trip to the DIA. Now, Slugger is about as quintessential 10-year-old-boy as one can get, meaning that his primary interests are sports, video games and, um, sports. We were a little concerned that staring at old, chipped statues of 'Garuda, the Steed of Vishnu' and 16th-century ivory knife holders might wear thin quickly. But as we wandered through rooms gazing at Degas, Cezannes and Rodins, Peapod was happily entertained by the hand rails and recycling bins, while Slugger was happily entertained by Peapod.

Looking at static art on big walls is really a lot to ask of a kid and a toddler, so when Slugger requested a pitstop for some food, the adults were happy to oblige. Two muffins, a tuna wrap and a bag of Fritos later, we were on to our next adventure. We tottered off and soon discovered a spiral staircase that led to The Great Hall, which was decorated with hundreds of strands of glass circles dangling from the ceiling and creating a dazzling explosion of shimmering light.

It was the magic hour -- right before sunset when the sunlight is at it's brightest, boldest best -- and the sun's rays were streaming into the hall creating a crazy light show for those of us lucky enough to wander in at just this perfect moment. Peapod's glee was enormous and it seeped into all of us, including total strangers who laughed as she pointed to the ceiling and made mad declarations in her toddler-speak about its brilliance to anyone within earshot. At one point, all five of us were lying on our backs, soaking in the sparklies, while passers-by tried not to trample on our limbs.

I'm not sure if our visit to the DIA nudged Slugger toward art appreciation or imbibed our baby with a sense of culture, but it sure was a gang load of fun. And when it was time to go home, our car was still safely sitting right where I'd parked it.