I’m Not Babysitting!

This picture was taken some time in 1969, I think. Daddy’s feeding me. Of course, right? Daddies take care of babies.

That’s what I internalized as a young child, anyway.

I didn’t learn until sometime later than Daddy’s involvement in my brother, and my care was a little unusual for the time. He changed diapers. He got up in the night with children. He was there for bathtime and cuddling and putting to bed routines. Well, sometimes the evening wrestling matches with Daddy got us too spun up to sleep, but hey, they were fun!

He did what we accept now as something any parent would do – be involved with and care for the kid. It wasn’t just Daddy being there for playtime, as obviously, he was, but Daddy being there for routine care, too.

However, if he were out and about with us, but without Mom, some man was sure to comment, “Babysitting the kids today?”

That used to drive him up a wall. As far as he was concerned, parents don’t babysit. They care for their kids. Yeah, fathers, too!

This was a time when there were fathers who’d brag they’d never changed a diaper – as if that’s something to brag about. It was a time when plenty of men considered it okay to work, come home and zone out in front of the TV while Mom got the kids to bed.

Dad wasn’t trying to be a feminist, I think. When we’ve talked about it, what Daddy generally says is that he wanted to be involved with us and considered the work of caring for us as part of that.

I consider myself lucky to have had a nurturing father.

Decorating for Halloween

My husband and I have been talking about doing some sort of yard decorating for Halloween since… oh gosh, since we got married, I suppose.

Other than pumpkins, we really never have.

This year, our son decided he was too old for trick-or-treating,  and asked what we were going to do for Halloween. I asked him if there were some parties he wanted to go to or anything like that, or if he had any suggestions.  He didn’t have any ideas, so I asked if he’d like to make some tombstones with goofy sayings on them like Disney’s Haunted Mansion.  He was enthusiastic.  So, when I put it to his father, of course we got an enthusiastic yes as well.

This was goofy, but fun.  We got some foamboard, Peter cut them into shape, we all painted them gray, Peter did the layout and outlines, then Samuel and I painted, coloring very nicely in the lines.

Autism Awareness and Developmental Issues

I had to get my son’s permission to talk about this, but he said he was okay with me talking about it.

There’s a quiz running around Facebook right now that’s supposed to give your “Autism Quotient”.  While the quiz does say it’s not a diagnosis, a lot of the discussion I’ve seen shows that people probably aren’t clear on what a confusing and complex condition autism can be.

We spent somewhere around six years, for instance, getting a solid diagnosis for my son, who clearly had developmental issues growing up.  They were very quick to jump on the High-Functioning Autistic bandwagon among the laymen.  I foot-stomped on the Asperger’s diagnosis, because Asperger’s kids are hyperverbal –one of the things that makes an early diagnosis extremely difficult[1].   If a kid’s talking obsessively about Thomas the Tank Engine at two or three, why’s that’s kind of normal.  So what if he’s memorized trivia to an extreme level of detail.  Just shows she’s bright, right?

My son was not hyperverbal. In fact, one of the first clear indications that there was something wrong was the fact that he wasn’t talking.  He said a few words as a toddler, but he was at least six before he had progressed to being fluently verbal.  Oddly enough, his verbal development exploded with his teaching himself to read.

The testing process was intensive, going to several specialists in the process.  We were lucky enough to speak to an autism specialist at CHaD (Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth) and got this response:

“Well, he’s eccentric, but he’s not autistic.”


We did eventually get a diagnosis that would get him the help he needed in school, mind.  And he did (does) need that help.   But it took about six years to get a clear and definitive answer on whether or not Autism was the issue or not.  And we’re hardly unusual.

Autism is referred to as a spectrum disorder for a reason.  Yes, there are times when autism is pretty easy for a professional to diagnose.   But I can promise you that it can’t be diagnosed from a 100 question test online, okay.  It takes extensive clinical observation and ruling out of other (often similar or overlapping) issues.

If you suspect you might be autistic and think you need help, yes yes yes, go to your doctor and get some referrals to some really good professionals who can help you with this.    There is help available to you.   If you have a sympathetic friend or family member who would be willing to help you, ask for help.  If you suspect you are autistic, it is probable that many of the things you will have to do to get a diagnosis and help will be confusing and overwhelming to you.   An advocate can help you.  (Though this is a Universal Principle of Life, I think.  My son is folding the laundry right now to give me time to write this…)

If you have a child with developmental issues, you are that child’s advocate.  Take it seriously.  Follow up, follow up, follow up.   Talk to teachers.   Follow up at home with coping strategies.   Go online.  Learn about it.

Oh, and don’t forget to have fun with your child.

NIH Fact Sheet on Autism –contains many solid links at the end for extensive follow-up.

[1] I did a LOT of research on the subject when we started to suspect our son was autistic.  This made me less than eager to accept a diagnosis from a nursery school teacher who seemed pretty definite, since I knew that specialists in the field were often stumped.  If a specialist told me I was full of shit and the nursery school teacher was right, fair enough.  Early childhood educators OFTEN spot problems that need following up on, so DO that if encouraged to.  They’re just not qualified to diagnose.

Raising Children

I  don’t like the expressions “raising children” or even “rearing children”.  It implies the end product is children.

If you’re a parent, you’re not aiming for an end product of childhood, but an end product of adulthood.  You’re not raising kids, you’re raising grownups!

I’m not trying to imply that children shouldn’t have a childhood, play, be silly, and enjoy life.  On the other hand, I think it would do most grownups I know a lot of good to play, be silly and enjoy life, too. I think that particular aspect of life is less a developmental stage and more of a part of the human condition.  Hell, I’m in my 40s and I like snowball fights, baking cookies, making up games when playing in the pool, and being absurd as much as I ever did.  Doesn’t stop me from mopping the floor when it gets dirty or doing taxes.

What I do think is that we prolong childhood way too far.

I was thinking about it this weekend when I revisited one of my favorite movies, The Lost Boys. The focal characters were mostly between the ages of 16 and 19.  Even casting aside the whole idea that they were vampires, so probably even older than that, these characters were what happens when you have people whose bodies are adults, but they’re at loose ends because they’re told that they’re children, powerless and don’t have a useful or productive place in society.  All that youthful energy had nowhere to go.  Energy that has nowhere to go more often than not goes into destructive channels.

The mother character gave completely mixed messages to her oldest son that got even stronger when you get to see some of the scenes that were cut from the final release.  Now, on the whole, I think the character was quite a good mother, but merely acting as a product of our society.  On the one hand, she wanted him to look after his younger brother when she couldn’t be there – to be a parent surrogate.  That’s an adult role.  But then she discouraged him, in some cut scenes, from contributing financially to the family in a time of need.  Sure, her reasoning was understandable.  She wanted him to continue his education!   But what she was really discouraging him from doing was stepping up to the plate as an adult and contributing to the welfare of his loved ones.

Given our social and economic structure, I’m not sure how this problem is going to be solved, but we need to and soon.  It’s been going on since the 1950s and we’re going to run ourselves into the ground if we don’t stop it.

An Addition to the Cooking Manual

I added this to the little cooking manual I’m making for my son.  He has an engineer mindset, so I figure that explaining the principles behind some stuff is a good idea.

How to cook so you won’t drive yourself crazy in the process

It’s a good idea to combine complex recipes with easy ones.  Don’t make every dish in a meal time-consuming, or you’ll just drive yourself nuts.

Mise en Place

This is a French phrase that means “putting everything in its place”.  The way to cook so that you don’t drive yourself to distraction involves setting up everything, as well as having a system of putting things away and cleaning as you go.  If you’ve ever watched a professional cook, you’ll notice that s/he doesn’t approach cooking by just randomly doing things.  S/he knows in what order he needs to cook to make sure that every dish is finished at the same time.

The Mise en Place Process

  1. Check your recipes for the meal
  2. This is when you decide in what order you’ll prepare dishes.  For instance, if you make a stir fry and you can cut very quickly, you might start the rice before you start cutting up the veggies and meat for the meal.  Otherwise, you’ll start your prep work, take a break from it when you think you’ll be about 20 minutes away from finishing cooking, and go ahead and make the rice, so that it will be finished at the same time as the rest of the meal.  This step is a thinking step.

  3. Preheat the oven (if necessary)
  4. Obviously this isn’t always necessary.  Not every meal uses the oven.

  5. Make sure you have the necessary ingredients.
  6. Sometimes you can make substitutions in a dish.  Sometimes you can’t.  If you can’t, flip through the recipe book to see what we have in the kitchen that you can make.  In theory, if we’ve made a menu plan for the week, we’ll have already shopped for all the ingredients for every dish we’re going to make.

  7. Lay out any equipment you need to prepare it.
  8. Do you need knives, cutting boards or bowls to hold ingredients?  Get them out now, and lay them on the counter.

  9. Lay out the ingredients you need for the meal.
  10. This means everything – spices, meat, vegetables… Anything you need.

  11. As you finish with a dish or tool, either put it in the dishwasher, put it away, or wash and put it in the drying rack if it’s a hand-wash tool like a knife or pots.
  12. This is the “clean as you go” principle.  You’ve probably never seen a kitchen scattered with every dish in the house dirty and waiting for you at the end of a meal.  It’s nasty and overwhelming and will make you not want to cook.  If you get in the habit of putting away and cleaning up behind yourself in the process of cooking, after-dinner cleanup is no real big deal.  If you’re going to be cooking a big meal, I invite you to enjoy the wonders of a sink full of hot soapy water to make cleanup even quicker.

Also remember if you don’t clean up after yourself[1], you will die a horrible death.

Love and kisses,

Mama Noël

[1] And this includes wiping down counters and the stove.

Dumb Choices

I’ve ranted about this before, though I forget where.

There’s a new marketing campaign to sell more crap manufactured food called Smart Choices.

There’s been some discussion on various forums involving health, fitness and eating where one idea came up that boggled me.  A parent was expressing the idea that it’s hard to combat the marketing techniques with the children.

You have got to be kidding me.

You control what goes in the grocery cart.    You control what you pay for.  Yes, little Knucklehead might roll around on the floor screaming and crying for his treasured Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs.   No, the glares awarding you the Crappy Parent of the Year award from other grocery store patrons isn’t much fun when you don’t placate the child to make him shut up so they can go back to shopping in peace.   I get that.  I’m a parent.  Been there, done that.  Dragging a kid along the floor who has gone Gandhi in protest isn’t fun.

Thing is, little Knucklehead probably isn’t that dumb.  Screaming hurts one’s throat and cold grocery store floors aren’t really all that much fun to lie on.  If you keep saying no consistently, they’ll get the point.

If you can’t handle enforcing a no when it comes to cereal and you’re the one with the checkbook, I don’t even want to think of what it’s going to look like when your kids are teenagers.

Eating Dinner Together, or Maybe Tea

I like the household to eat together when we can.

Thing is, we’re all really busy.  Sometimes we have events going on at night where a big meal is really out of the question.  Certainly greendalekgreendalek doesn’t like to teach on a full stomach, but will often make himself a wrap before going out to teach for the evening.

So, I’ve adopted the custom of afternoon tea on those nights.  If we have to be somewhere too early for a big meal to be feasible, but want to sit down together, I’ll do up a plate of cheese, crackers, fruit and other light but quick to prepare and healthy dainties (for the three of us, this is something that’ll fit on a single dinner plate) and brew up a pot of tea.  We’ve done it the last couple of nights and I think it’s been a success.  We’ll only sit down for twenty minutes or so, but I think those twenty minutes to have a nibble and a cup of tea are a nice way to reconnect.

A friend of mine pointed out a Time Magazine article from a few years ago about families eating dinner together.  Apparently there is a link between eating meals together and how well children do in school and in life.

While we usually do eat together, and are not as overscheduled as many, even we have busy nights.  I wonder if some sort of custom of gathering together for tea might not be a good solution for a lot of people.  You could choose light, healthy foods that you don’t take much preparation, and the cup of tea for the warmth, and you’re all good.  It takes nothing at all to get together, isn’t expensive and is even kinda fun.

The Shaker Museum and La Salette

It’s a truism that people who live in an area tend not to go to the tourist spots.

I went to one that’s not too far from my house today — The Shaker Museum in Enfield.  I’ve held a long interest in alternative communities, especially Utopian communes.  The thing is they really don’t present what the culture really was, why the Shakers came about or any of that.  It’s a fascinating story, but all we get is that the classic view of Shaker furniture was a 15 year period during the “Golden age” of a 200-odd year history.  I mean, that’s true as far as it goes.  By the late Victorian era they were making and selling Victorian-era furniture.  They were not living quite the plain and unornamented lives that their predecessors had.  However, like almost all Utopian communities of the time, there was a serious interest in purposeful lives lived in an orderly way.

I was entranced to walk its halls, though and see first-hand large, airy building this particular community had made for its home.

After that, The Bird wanted to visit La Salette.  It’s a shrine diagonally across the road from the Chosen Vale community and was built on land the Roman Catholic church had bought from the Shakers. Talk about a contrast.  The restrained ornamentation of a Shaker community gave way to a shrine dedicated to an apparition of the Virgin Mary sometime back in the early 1800s to some shepherd children in the French Alps.

There was a garden dedicate to the apparition, a series of statues in the Stations of the Cross ending in a tomb-like structure with a truly grisly statue of Jesus lying dead and blood-stained — rather  shudder-inducing to my general Protestant-trained sensibilities.

The Rosary Garden was kinda neat, though.  It’s a path and garden surrounding a large fish pond.   There’s a chain that surrounds it with iron roses painted in various colors and statues at each Rosary decade.

The varieties of religious expression and what they cause us to create and express is endlessly fascinating to me, even if I don’t join in the game, myself.

Lazy Parents Being Jerks

This Tuesday the US President is going to be giving a speech addressing public school children. Mostly it’s a “study hard and stay in school” sort of speech.

Since the Johnson administration, the President of the United States has done this, barring the Nixon administration.

Now, I’m a Libertarian, so I’m certainly at the opposite end of the current President’s general political philosophy on many, many issues.

But I have a question for you, the parents who are up in arms about our current President giving this speech, and about it being shown in schools:

What is the MATTER with your parenting that you’re terrified of a fifteen minute speech?  My word, people, if you’re that scared, check out what’s going on in the school every day.  I’ve read my child’s textbooks and review his homework assignments.  Don’t you?  Don’t you talk to you children about them?*

You don’t like President Obama? You don’t like schools being used as propaganda machines? Fair enough. Neither do I (Like schools as propoganda.  President Obama, while I often disagree with his politics, seems an honorable man and I expect I would enjoy a dinner party with him). However, that’s been what public schools have been used for since most of your great-grandparents have been going to school. I find it curious that you’re only finding this dangerous and freaking out now.  Haven’t you been talking to your children all along?

You want your kids to understand your values?  Spend time with them.  Homeschool if you’re really that worried.  Turn off the damn television  (a worse propaganda machine than a public school where your child is permitted to live at home with you could ever dream of), have dinner together at night and quit over-scheduling them with all sorts of activities that relieve you of the onerous chore of getting to know the human beings your children actually are.

Will they always agree with you if you raise them “right”?   Probably not.  My parents taught me to think for myself. It worked and no, we do not share the same opinion on every subject.  In fact, I’d be astonished if my parents claimed to share the same opinion on every subject between themselves, even on the big stuff.  Neither do my son and I, for that matter.   But I feel quite confident, because we’ve talked about it, that my son’s opinions are the result of thinking things out rather than automatic reaction to propaganda.

And ya know, I’m okay with that.

*Though, A Children’s Story by James Clavell is assigned reading in my household.

Being in Charge

When I was assigned a task as a child, my mother would not say, “Punkin, go set the table, please.”


What she would say is, “Punkin, dinner’s getting close to ready.  You’re in charge of setting the table.”  She felt, correctly I think, that a feeling of power over a situation is more likely to get cooperative results.

As adults, my brother and I would chuckle about this turn of phrase and tease Mom, telling her that all we learned from that was that being in charge just meant work!

The thing is, there was a subtle and powerful lesson involved that really didn’t hit me until just this morning.  My son had commented that he thought the house could do with some cleaning before we went to the beach, so could we do some?  I handed him a pad of paper, a pen and told him to make a list of what he thought needed to be done.  I also told him I had about a half an hour I could dedicate to it, so he had to be careful not to assign me more tasks than I could do in a half an hour.

The lesson, you see, was that youngsters really do need to feel that they have power in a situation to get things done.  Like my mom, I do try to encourage a sense of independence in my kids, but also a sense of initiative.  Initiative happens best in situations where people (not just children) feel they have the power to effect a situation and Get Things Done.  It’s why I’ll allow my son to plan out a housecleaning session.

I have to laugh a little at this evolution of parenting styles.  My mother’s mother would never in a million years have applauded initiative in a child, nor put them in charge of a thing.   Don’t get me wrong.  I loved her as deeply as a grandchild ever loved a grandmother and feel the weight of her being gone even after more than a decade.  She was gloriously creative, hilarious and delightfully outrageous.  But in Ellie’s World there was a hierarchy and a pecking order.  You damned well were supposed to know your place and in charge meant able to give orders — which Nanny did with enthusiastic abandon to any of her clan over about the age of 2.

I’m sure I’m thinking about that more as Beach Week approaches, and chuckling at the memory of Nanny running around, enjoying her view of being in charge and getting in the way of the people who really were getting stuff done.  I find myself a little glad I never knew the concept of the Designated Control Freak at the time.  I might have been foolish enough to try to explain it to her.

At which point I feel certain she would have taken a drag on her unfiltered Chesterfield and told me to kiss her ass.