Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What a Crock!

"Slow down, you move too fast. You've got to make the morning last." While this advice may have made Simon and/or Garfunkel feel groovy, I don't really see the appeal of lollygagging. I mean, really, multi-dawdling is not going to get kids to school, appointments met, emails checked, blogs blogged. When my daughter is trying to stall for time, she quotes the aphorism: "Slow and steady wins the race"--I have no idea what TV show she learned that from; however, I am more of the mind of my son's response: "But that's TOO slow."

I have no explanation for what possessed me to purchase a Crockpot--more commonly known as, yes, a "Slow cooker." Wow! How life-changing this appliance could be! We could make all sorts of concoctions from "budget" cuts of meat. Except that we are not big carnivores and we shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, neither of which carries any cut of an animal with the word "butt" in it. We can come home from a long day at the office to hot comfort food! Hmmm, we live in sunny Los Angeles and after a day at the office, hot, heavy food is about the last thing we would want. It can make enough for the entire family in one pot! Except that once you excavate through the glop and avoid the gelatinous goo stuck to the sides, there isn't enough that is edible for even a snack. Now we have an excuse to spend more time at Barnes & Nobles and buy all sorts of new books and magazines! But if I see one more Betty Crocker (oh no--is the "crock" from Betty??) "special" slow cooking recipe book at the drugstore check out, I am going to boycott Western medicine.

One thing I did not consider when I bought the Crockpot was just how big it would be. I don't mean "big" like "popular" or "trendy." I mean "big," as in it takes up a lot of room. So much room that it dislodged other appliances from the countertop. When it comes to gadgets, newer is better, so of course the most recent purchase must be displayed. But, alas, this was not a sleek espressor maker; rather, it was a behemoth of white ceramic with a 1970s-looking logo and dial that looks like it was affixed with Elmer's glue by an elementary schooler for a Science Fair.

Motivated solely to avoid the humiliation of this enormous pot mocking me every day in my kitchen, I made my first Crockpot creation. I had done my research and read that Crockpots were favorites for those people who accumulate "leftovers" and make all sorts of amazing concoctions literally by throwing in whatever is in the pantry. I had visions of blindfolded moms groping in the Fridgidaire for celery stalks and half-eaten hamburger patties and throwing them across the kitchen into gleaming stainless steel pots, much like Kobe hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

I am not a recipe-follower; I like to research recipes to get the gestalt of a meal, and then wing it. Frankly, when it comes to cooking, I have the attention span of a gnat. I, of course, am not casting aspersions on the gnat community's ability to focus--there very well may be members of the species that would not benefit from Ritalin. But because I have little in common with the latter hypothetical insects, I had high hopes for my crockpottin' given that the appliance has been sold as a fool-proof meal-making method. In the admittedly few conversations I had ever had about Slowcookers with peers, no one had ever copped to a Crockpot bust.

I chose a weekend morning to try my 'pot for the first time. I bought hand-carved Angus beef cubes, Heirloom tomatoes, organic onions, and if a little garlic is good, the more the greater! I threw in more than a few dashes of smoked paprika, purchased for about $18 an ounce at Whole Foods. I took handfuls of every herb in the garden and threw them in, stems and all! I pictured myself as the new spokesperson for Ginzu knives! Maybe a neighbor with connections in the entertainment industry would get a waft of my masterpiece through the window and insist on booking me on the Food Network! I had found my calling!

I set the dial to "low"and gingerly felt the pot, expecting to get burned. Nothing. Was the pot even on? Maybe our electrical outlets weren't working. Did I plug in the blender instead? Would e coli set in because the food was at room temperature? The sweat was forming on my brow. And I had to wait 8-10 hours? Eight hours means the dinner will be ready at 2:30 in the afternoon! Who eats dinner at 2:30 in the afternoon? Ten hours means 4:30! That's not much better. Either way, I had a sense I would be needing to go higher-tech with the microwave by dinner time. Seriously, which is it: 8 or 10? There is a big difference between 8 hours and 10. Eight is a workday; 10 is overtime. Eight will get you to Hawaii; 10 to Asia. Is the house going to burn down from the appliance spontaneously combusting? The anxiety was building up to such an extent that I was glad I didn't end up boycotting Western medicine over those damned Betty Crockett pamphlets.

I was a nervous wreck by the time the 8-hour mark approached. There was all sorts of bubbling and gurgling going on. I carefully lifted the lid and was immediately pelted with a globule of mush. I had a flashback to second grade when I made popcorn for a bake sale and took the lid off the pot while the corn was popping. What look like freckles may actually be scars from that experience. I carefully stuck a fork in to try this creation--I wasn't trying to make a "stew," but the consistency was definitely "stewlike." And where was my $18 a pound steak? And my $9 of Heirloom tomatoes? All that was left was a cavernous vat of Cup o' Soup! After an entire day of worry and anticipation, I still needed a side dish to balance the goo. Pizza delivery did the trick. And to this day I still think a Nobel Prize should go to whoever invented the garbage disposal.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Sense of Entitlement

When my son was less than a year old, I signed up for a slew of Mommy-and-Me "enrichment" classes through the community center of my former West Side Los Angeles city. For those of you who know about "The West Side," you may already see where this is going. These activities were meant to promote parent-child bonding in a way that is superior to merely spending time and interacting with your child in your own home or in the park. Incidentally, these classes met at the very same park where I could have played with my son for free; however, this was the West Side of Los Angeles, so clearly it was far better to pay money to be able to coo at your child inside the recreation building that was undoubtedly built with an endowment by someone "in the industry." Also, if I recall correclty, to have the privilege of your 6-month-old child participaing in this higher learning, required one (presumably a parent, not the child) to provide proof of residency and submit an application at a precise time on a precise day, lest one ran the risk of being relegated to the "waiting list." What? And have my child wait until he is 8 months to be enriched?? The horror!

This music class turned out to be the first of at least two consecutive classes taught by someone who really was not cut out for the task. The first class, when my son was about four months, was run by a veteran of such classes, Simonna*. Ah yes, Simonna. She came dressed to the nines for every Tuesday at 8:45 a.m. class: Prada heels, D&G cashmere wrap, long, manicured nails. Her specialty was playing the piano which, as you can imagine, is about the worst way to engage anyone in a group, let alone babies with no discernible attention spans. Simonna would somberly sit at the piano, with her back to the rest of us--yes, you heard right, her back to us--so the babies didn't even have the benefit of seeing her fingers move or her facial expressions as she made music. A few weeks into the class, I figured out the secret to her avoidance of children and parents alike. She pulled me aside, remembering that I had introduced myself as being in the mental health field, and proceeded to tell me how she feels depressed and has always found her own children to be annoying nuisances. I didn't expect to be making professional referrals while at Mommy-and-Me. And I was more than a little wary of the city's hiring practices that they selected a kid-hating, depressed mother to help transition infants and women into the joys of mother- and babyhood.

I thought my next foray into this city's Mommy-and-Me activities couldn't possibly get any worse than Simonna. I was wrong. The new instructor's own neuroses made me yearn for the reticent isolationism of Simonna. This instructor was a young, nervous woman named Teacher Elizabeth**. That was how she introduced ourselves to us, "Teacher Elizabeth." Now, it is quite possible that her given-name was indeed "Teacher," much like some boys are named "Dean" who may not ever pursue a career in academic administration. But Teacher Elizabeth insisted on referring to herself in the third person and with this dubious title attached to her name. I do not know why a bunch of over-educated, over-achieving moms, most of whom had credentials that had ceremonial titles connected with them, needed to refer to someone with a CD player and basket of tambourines with an honorific title. Perhaps she was trying to indoctrinate these infants of privilege into the hierarchical civil service bureaucracy system, in case their family fortunes dried up in the next 18 years?

Poor Teacher Elizabeth started the first class by telling us she had no children of her own, and that she liked order. We were schooled on the proper way to disinfect the mini bongo drums if our children were uncouth enough to successfully gum them. Mother and child got a joint repressed-evil-eye from Teacher Elizabeth** if an infant was not quite ready to relinquish said instrument at the conclusion of the appropriate song (for some reason, each melody had a different instrument to go with it, so the majority of the class was involved with selecting and returning items to various color-coded bins).  It was a lose-lose situation from the beginning.

Now, besides her obvious ineptitude, I think one reason I could not make eye-contact with Teacher Elizabeth without rolling my eyes is that I was raised to use ceremonial titles for adults, such as teachers or friends' parents, or professional titles if one of these people had a job where being identified by the profession had life-or-death consequences. For example, it's good for society to be able to identify doctors, firefighters and police officers, because these are professionals who can step in and assist in emergency situations. It is even useful, in the right context, to be able to identify principals and professors, because they can greatly impact one's future by failing or expelling someone. The same logic can be extended to include judges and members of Congress. And most definitely to Mother Nature and Sister Christian.

*This may or may not be her real name. I actually forgot what her real name was, so I can't use an alias since I don't know what name to not use.

**Yes, her real name, although not sure if the "Teacher" part is on her birth certificate or not. If you know her, please tell her my child continues to dislike music lessons of any kind.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hoard, Hoard Again

Being in the line of work I am (psychology), I have conducted many informal self-assessments and have a reasonable sense of my behaviors that would be diagnosed as clinically pathological, and the habits I have that can be categorized as "loveable". So it is with professional confidence that I share a proclivity of mine that falls squarely into the latter category: I like to accumulate food and food-related products. Not to the extent where you cannot enter my home without tripping on heads of cauliflower, but more in the "why buy one when you can buy two or  three?" mindset.

I have very little interest in food that has been prepared or cooked. I like to make some meals and have had success despite my refusal to follow a recipe or use any measuring implements. Rather than have to deal with putting unused raw food into a ziplock bag, I tend to cook however much is included in the pack I purchased. Whereas my husband will meticulously measure a "portion" size of spaghetti for each family member and put aside the rest, I just throw the entire packet in the boiling water, whether it be for one person or an entire soccer team. And for the mounds of leftovers that invariably remain at the end of a meal, I am just as happy to dump it down the disposal and let it do its magic. The satisfaction never dissipates of witnessing machinery pulverize waste until there is no longer evidence that you have wasted (sorry, starving kids in far-away lands....). And I have never been the type of parent who cared too much whether my children ate everything on their plates. So I don't see my issue having much to do with fear of malnutrition or emaciaton. Trust me, these are not problems ever seen in my bloodline.

Rather, I overbuy. I wouldn't have thought much about the number of packets of rice cakes, boxes of Organic Raisin Bran Clusters or pounds of English Cucumbers that I buy if a cashier at Trader Joe's hadn't once asked me if I were preparing for a camping trip. True, he may more have been referring to my slightly unkempt hair and rustic-looking ensemble, composed of layered cardigans and a baggy skirt. And come to think of it, I may have been going through a beefy jerky phase at the time. Perhaps, even though it was mid-day in the middle of a work week, and I had a badge on a lanyard indicating I was in the process of a work day, he thought I was going to grab a canteen and ditch my office in favor of a tent and Coleman grill. For the record, nature makes me sneeze and wheeze, and animals smaller than wildebeast make me nervous.

But, the cheerful cashier had a point. I do not have a family of 12 who require more than a bag or two of bags of capellini in a given week. I do not have a catering business on the side. I live in an urban-ish area and actually live .3 miles from the aforementioned Trader Joe's. Truthfully, I do not believe there was ever a time when I needed Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil when it was not stocked on the shelves. So it is bewildering, even to a licensed mental health professional like myself, why I cannot approach the checkout line without 3 bags of shredded parmesan cheese (in my defense, once in February 2006 TJs was out of this cheese and I had to come back the next day for it...).

And the compulsion is not limited to store-bought food. Sugar-substitute packets, condiments, napkins and plastic utensils are not safe from my paws. I do, however, draw the line at those little packets of salt and the high-sodium soy sauce packets. I am not a big fan of sodium. No matter where I have worked, the top drawer of my desk has been devoted to packets of unused condiments. And they remain unused until the day I switch jobs, when they are promptly thrown away. You would think there might be some sentimentality involved in ensuring that these little packets of spicy perfection are passed on to a worthy soon-to-be ex-coworker. But no. Maybe there is a tinge of disappointment in my never becoming "known" in any job I have had as the seasoning go-to person. I am not one to self-promote, but I have learned the hard way that a reputation is not earned through silence...

Friday, November 19, 2010


I am a multitasker. I'm a firm believer that there are very few things that can't be done simultaneously. Walking and chewing gum. Listening to music while cooking. Checking email while giving birth. Really, what is the point of stretching out activities when the more efficiently you can check things off the to-do list, the quicker you can go to sleep?

One of my all-time favorite books is "Cheaper by the Dozen," written in 1948 by Frank Gilbreth Jr., a real-life father of 12 who was some sort of scientist/efficiency expert. The dad took multitasking to a degree rarely seen in a person with a Y chromosome. The only actual example I can think of involved the father writing foreign language snippets on the bathroom wall so the family could memorize French phrases while on the toilet... or perhaps bidet.  The story covers the 1930s and 1940s, when there wasn't as much "stuff" to multitask--no iPhones or self-parking cars--and his military-style approach to layering activities was done with such spirit it is almost amusing to think that in this day and age such task-mastering would probably lead to a Child Protective Services call from a disgruntled offspring.

My principle particularly holds true when it comes to socializing. We have to eat and drink anyway, so why not combine catching up with a friend with lunch? For the sake of decorum, I would prefer that gossiping while chewing should not be combined... but who am I to judge if the urge to interject a comment is too great to wait until the guacamole has made it all the way down your esophagus?

So when I became a parent, it was perfectly natural to pair infant-rearing with daily-necessity activities. A trip to Whole Foods can be a way to teach about colors and shapes. A drive to H&M (which also has a kids section!) is a legitimate way to access the carpool lane on the freeway. And a gynecologist visit is a great opportunity for the baby to reminisce about old times. 

Once my children were old enough to participate in "enrichment" activities, I found that I made friends with other mothers in the groups. Aha! Who knew that a child could be a means to a BFF end? When the children were babies and toddlers, their playmates were selected purely on the basis of my fondness for their mothers. Kids of easy-going, slightly snarky mothers were frequent playdates, whereas overly neurotic, child-rearing-book-reading moms were lower on the list. If a mom let it be known that she carried hand sanitizer to sterilize objects her child might touch, she was on her own.

My children are several years apart, and we lived on different coasts when they were young, so the mom friends I made on the East Coast when my son was in kindergarten were 3,000 miles away when we were on the West Coast for first grade. I found myself a working mom in a new city where, like my previous home, moms had bonded over playdates in those precious early years when kids had preferences for many things, but not really friends. Luckily, I had a second chance when child #2 entered the schoolforce...

The moms I hung with at drop-off or pick-up at the beginning of preschool became my buddies and we easily mixed among each other's kids and spouses. Multitasking was possible even on behalf of others--what a concept--such as a mom picking up my daughter with hers for a playdate when I had a late appointment and couldn't easily pick my daughter up. Birthday parties (with wine) were a time for us all to catch up and gossip, for the good of the children, of course...

So imagine the rude awakening when my kids matured enough to want to have a say in who they played with! The offspring of the mom who shared my political philosophy was now playing in the sandbox instead of the dress-up area. The child of the mom with the dry sense of humor called my daughter a poopyhead and now doesn't want to play princesses together. The son of the mom who works in the same field as I do is now off-limits because my daughter only wants to be with girls. Her new friend at school has a mom I haven't met because dad is the drop-offer/pick-upper, but the family photo on the wall of the classroom shows an effortlessly chic mom who might be too trendy and edgy to let see the inside of our Craig's List-decorated home. Navigating the pre-school mom-child social dyads is rife with potential minefields. If a child breaks an item at a sympathetic moms home, it becomes a cute story; at an unfriendly mother's abode, a potential lawsuit. 

Recently I was at pick-up at my daughter's school when a woman I had never seen came up to me and asked if I was the owner of one of the cars in the awkwardly shaped school parking lot. Why was she asking? Well, she said sheepishly, she was backing out and she nicked my fender... I was parked at a jaunty angle, she explained (however, she didn't use the actual word "jaunty," that is just one of my personal favorite words and I like to work it in when I can). My car has one or two nicks already (I am from Boston where we park in tiny spots using bumpers in the way they were named... to bump other cars out of the way), but that didn't mean this mishap wouldn't make for future awkwardness at birthday parties and playdates. I asked how old her child was. She told me that her daughter was a good two years younger than mine--well out of possible playdate range.  Crisis averted.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

We've Got Balls

I was in our backyard looking around and thought, "Damn, we have a lot of balls."

We really do. For a family who spends a lot of time in front of the computer, Wii and television, one might be surprised by just how big balls are in our family.

I sent my son--a future researcher if genes are any indication--to categorize and tally the balls in the backyard. He counted 50 spheres in our yard. This does not include deflated balls (such as the flat basketball my son received as a gift from a classmate for his 9th birthday), nor does it include the estimated 25 balls that have been lost in the two years we have lived here. If the neighbors on either side of our house were to count their balls, they would have approximately 25 balls of unknown origins, if you follow the logic.

The balls in my son's tally include orbs that fall into the following categories: Basketballs: 10; rubber curveball baseballs: 10; regular baseballs: 8; soccer balls: 5; footballs: 5; rubber balls with TV characters: 3; ping pong balls (but no table): 3; baseball with team logos: 2; volleyballs: 1; and whiffle balls: 1. This count does not include the indoor balls: 29 autographed baseballs and 20 commemorative baseballs. We like baseball.

All these balls and the thought of them bouncing and scoring goals and plopping into gloves got me thinking about some of the emotional ups and downs that I associate with balls. As a lifelong sports spectator (with very little discernible athleticism of my own), I only have to think about Game 6 of the 1986  World Series and/or Game 4 of the 2004 World Series to reduce me to tears (for very different reasons). As a parent, I get wistful thinking about my daughter maturing from the cuteness of a toddler throwing a ball backwards (so it would drop behind her) to being a competent catcher and thrower as a preschooler.

When my oldest child was about 2, he attended a preschool affiliated with a major research university. I like to think the preschool's provenance was the reason for the inane surveys and reports that the staff would guilt us into scheduling conferences to receive the results. Truthfully, these evaluations were most likely state-mandated, but it is more fun to chalk them up to the occasional silliness of academia. Anyway, at the 2 year mark, I nervously sat with the teacher, a kindly woman whose stability was comforting, although it also meant that she didn't ever, ever deviate from the bureaucratically mandated procedures. Don't get me started. Anyway, I had the usual first-child concerns about whether my child was socializing and responding within the bell curve of expectations. Well, yes, he was. He received 2s and 3s (out of 3) in most areas, including being able to differentiate up from down (3), being able to put on his sweater or jacket with minimal help (2, but this is Los Angeles and there is rarely a reason for outerwear), and seemed destined to be on the Toddler Honor Roll. His quest for excellence, however, was marred by one apparently fatal flaw. He did not show adequate ball-kicking skills. My son was behind his peers in the ball-kicking department. This apparently was a precursor to all sorts of life failures. I asked her to repeat this Achilles' heel (or rather toe) to me--her English was a work in progress and I wanted to make sure I heard her correctly. Yes I had. Well, I posited, we live in the city in an apartment and have never had the opportunity to kick a ball with him. Would that perhaps have something to do with is? Well, yes, given that he is showing no other deficits in coordination, that would explain it. OK.

Ironically, just a few years after being castigated for not providing my son with adequate ball-booting opportunities, I was with my son at the airport when we were approached by a man who identified himself as--I kid you not--a Division 1 College Soccer Coach. He had the cool jacket with "coach" embroidered on it, and was traveling with a large group of gangly young men, similarly attired, so he seemed legit. My son was barely out of diapers and this man told me: "Your son reminds me of a young David Beckham." Huh?? We actually had taken my son to hotshot orthopedists on both coasts because of his tendency to toe-in. And to say graceful athleticism is in the genes would greatly exaggerate the modicum of tennis and ping pong skill that occasionally shows up in blood relatives. But, guess what? When we signed him up for AYSO soccer in 3rd grade--he turned out to be a natural! Who needs to go to a Psychic when a Division I Soccer Coach is available to make predictions?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Garden of Weedin'

I preface this all by stressing that I am by no means a meticulous person. My housecleaning philosophy is to invite only those guests with acute astigmatism (Ok, my father is an ophthalmologist) and a blunted sense of smell. Sort of like a proverbial unobserved tree falling in the woods: if no one notices or is ill-mannered enough to comment, then the clutter does not exist. When visiting friends' homes, I, in turn, encompass the trio of monkeys by neglecting to see, hear, or speak about mess or mold.

Having said that, I also have to confess that, when it comes to weeds in other people's gardens, I take no prisoners. And this is from someone who is philosophically against any sort of scenario that might theoretically involve the taking of prisoners: war, bank robberies, kidnappings. I am the first to admit that I am too lazy and uncoordinated to actually pull weeds from my own garden. No one in my household seems to be aware of the existence of weeds. And I will also, in the spirit of full disclosure, admit that we are too thrifty to employ a gardener.

My distaste for weeds is all the more incongruent given that my favorite flower growing up was a dandelion. I was well into my 20s before I realized that the puffy yellow flowers that morph into soft, but pollen-inducing, powder clouds are considered by the horticultural world to be the enemy of their lawns. I should have known then that I was not meant to live in harmony with nature. My lawn now is overrun with clovers, which I grew up thinking were somehow lucky, but now am told are the scourge of turf worldwide. Hmmmm.

I live on a block where everyone has front--and I imagine, back--yards. It is a pretty town, so it is not surprising that most of these lawns are well maintained. Even the little areas between the sidewalk and street are perfectly trimmed. I found out the hard way that homeowners are responsible for the upkeep of those little rectangles of sod. One day, shortly after we moved in, we came home to sprinklers aggressively watering the entire spread of sidewalk in front of our stretch of block. We were returning from a daytrip, and a neighbor ran up to us to inform us the sprinklers had been on all day. Since I had never actually been at home when the sprinklers went off, I assumed that this extra special watering (we live in a desert after all) was planned and funded by the largesse of our city. "Wow," I said to our neighbor--who is under the impression that my name is "Carol" and insists on using my name to punctuate every sentence he says to me--"this city really takes good care of the grass." The Carol-caller looked at me and gave it to me straight: "You own this land, Carol, and you will be billed for the entire day's worth of water." Whoops.

I tell you all this to illustrate that we live in a very conscientious and responsible neighborhood, where lawns are generally pristine and tended to by "professionals." So it is very curious that every time I stroll down the block to our corner Trader Joe's, I have to squelch the urge to yank what I perceive to be errant growths from these glistening rectangles of sod. The one exception would be the environmentally aware neighbors who insist on drought-tolerant gardens with plants native to the area (which, I say again for emphasis, is a desert). I have looked at such plants online and they are so pricey one could pay for months of overwatered lawns and still not break even. But these ecologically sensitive gardens tend to be wispy and look like the plants are all on death's door. One might think these gardens belonged to abandoned homes if the owners weren't so vigilant about cultivating these oases of faux weeds. I walk by and I just want water and prune. And, of course, weed.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Unplanned Parenthood

When my practical and low-key sister-in-law was pregnant with my
first nephew, I prided myself in making edgy (at least by mid 1990s standards)
baby shower selections. I was in the midst of my hipster days, and rejected the
Babies R’Us  registry and went rogue at Barneys. Or, rather, at the annual
Barneys Warehouse Sale (I was a thrifty hipster), back in the days when it was
held once a year in New York only.

We knew my brother and wife were having a boy, and we were
reportedly all sturdy newborns, so I carefully studied the infant selections,
looking for items that the parents would not buy on their own, so as to make the
gift that much more special. My brother and sister-in-law are down-to-earth
folks in a small New England town—but, I posited, maybe they wanted their
offspring to be super stylin’! The name they had chosen for their son began with
a “T,” so I hit the jackpot with a small linen throw pillow with a
hand-stenciled “t” in a funky font. In another bin, I spotted a pair of bright,
bright red linen overalls—hey, clowns always look stylish—which got me thinking
“what baby doesn’t look good in bright, bright red?” True, at that point I had
never been within 15 feet of a baby, but I could just imagine how red would
bring out the ruddiness—or highlight the eczema--of a winter New England baby.

Fast forward six years and I am pregnant with my own child. Although
I still had no practical experience with babies, I had a Vision as to how the
early years of child rearing would go. Homemade organic babyfood, stylish burp
cloths, a casual-but-chic wardrobe, no television, classic picture books,
gender-neutral toys….

Yes, my destiny was to be Progressive-But-Nonjudgmental-Mom,
spreading edified fairness and self-important self-deprecation throughout the
Mommy World in my Left-Leaning City. I stocked up on primary colored blocks,
organic cotton swaddle blankets, handknit-by-local artisan infant caps… Ah, yes,
while my newborn slept, I could see a future full of just a few well-chosen
European wooden toys (made from reclaimed lumber and carved by rehabilitating
prisoners, of course), singing nursery rhymes in harmony with my Oilily-clad
toddler, delighting for hours in contemplating flowers in the garden, having
picnics in the park (organic finger foods for him, wine and a pesto panini for

Whenever my son showed the slightest interest in anything—Look! He 
pointed in the general direction of a tree! He loves nature! —I would become
inspired to load up on items to stimulate this apparent interest. OK, the dream
of a minimalist childhood was coming to an end…. But who knew there were so many
awesome things to buy a child?? I would bid furiously on Ebay for things I
remotely recalled liking from my own childhood, though at the time it didn’t
occur to me that if I had any memory of it, I was probably playing with the toy
a lot older than infancy… I distinctly remember bidding more than $50 for a
copied VHS tape (yes, this was a bygone era) of the 1970s special “Really
.” Had I not been so hormonally driven (and, to be honest, a naturally
competitive person), I might have calculated that I was well into double digits
when Really Rosie was released. Of course, by the time my daughter was old
enough to like Really Rosie, I had long since lost the tape and ended up
re-bidding on Ebay for the DVD (but paid less than half for it this time around.
The fervor around second children is much more subdued…..).

Pretty quickly, my parenting style began morphing with my personal
style. If an unblemished burp cloth wasn’t available at the time of an outing,
what’s wrong with tucking the stained corner under my baby’s bottom? Why not
have the news on while I feed him? After all, he was in my stomach during the
2000 presidential election and was exposed to so much cable news my husband and
I joked that he might think Chris Matthews was his father. And, seriously, how
annoying (and disturbing) are those nursery rhyme songs anyway? Humpty Dumpty’s
mortal injury, Jack Sprat’s wife’s body image issues, and the cultish possible
pedophile Pied Piper? And my husband can only make it through the first line of
Twinkle, Twinkle before resorting to humming. So why not sing songs we actually
know and can sing without our blood-pressure spiking? Bob Dylan anti-war songs.
Pearl Jam. The entire score of Rent. And my son turned out to have an affinity
for all things Power Rangers. Sock puppets remained ignored; books with peaceful
pictures stayed unread; videos of Caillou and Curious George, unwatched. So,
rather than amassing more animal puzzles and mini gardening tools, we did what
any Type A parents might do for their first (and at that point, only) child:
when in Tokyo, we spent an entire day at  (sigh) the Bandai museum carefully
examining exhibits chronicling decades worth of Power Rangers. He liked the
color blue, which represented the “blue” ranger, so every article of clothing,
plate, cup and toothbrush was blue. Yes, we occasionally tried to inject other
influences: stuffed dogs, a mobile from MOMA, a Disney video… but we usually
followed his lead and let him express himself this way. He is his own person,
and our job is to guide him to incorporate his interests into his ever-widening

Right after my son was born, an elderly neighbor arrived with a beautifully
wrapped box from Saks Fifth Avenue. Saks was right next to Barneys in our
neighborhood. She was a very kind person who said she had selected this outfit
for my son because it was the type of thing she knew I wouldn’t buy myself. I
opened the box and took out a precious, and undoubtedly tremendously expensive,
sailor suit, complete with jaunty hat. Now I am no more a Saks’-sailor-suit kind
of mom than my sister-in-law is a Barneys-red-overalls kind of mom. Alas, it
seems we all like to project our own Vision onto a baby… and it is the child’s
job to prove us all wrong.