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City Living. Sigh.

4 Nov

I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I love Chicago.  I love the energy.  I love the art.  I love raising my kid amid so much activity and opportunity.  I love my neighborhood.  I love being able to walk for 5-10 minutes and arrive at:

  • Lake Michigan – the beach and the beautiful lakefront park
  • The Redline
  • Women and Children First and other great local businesses
  • Several grocery stores (All-organic?  Sure.  Super-cheap produce?  Yup.  Mega-chain?  Yes-huh.)
  • multiple playgrounds
  • Award-winning lattes
  • Our neighborhood branch of the Chicago Public Library
  • My parents’ apartment
  • My brother and sister-in-law’s apartment
And all of this without even mentioning the food.  Oh, the food.  The hardest thing is choosing where to go.  Because all of the following are a 5-10 minute walk from our front door:  Ethiopian, Chinese, Japanese (both sushi and home-style cooking!), Thai, Vietnamese (Pho and those irresistible sandwiches*), Southern, some of the city’s best bars, Huey’s Hot Dogs, Italian, Middle Eastern, and all manner of new american.  We even have a restaurant in the neighborhood that focusses on Dutch cuisine.  Seriously.  And don’t even get me started on brunch.  Bakeries?  Well it depends on whether you want a mexican, Vietnamese, swedish, or coffee-shop style cake/scones/cookies place.  Because we’ve got ’em all.
The list could go on and on.  In addition to all of this is my love of making a life with so many people all around me.  I’ve got an amazing community of friends and we get to do ridiculously fun things together that folks who don’t live in the city just don’t get to do (I mean, Ida and I had a playdate at the Shedd Aquarium this morning – that’s pretty cool, right?).  Free concerts with world-class musicians downtown in the summer, dance classes and performances with incredible artists, and walking to amazing dinner out whenever we feel like it/can afford it.  Some former students from Alma College live upstairs and provide childcare!  I have a sweet life, guys.
If all this is starting (?) to sound a little pep-talk-ey to you, there is a good reason (and congrats on your keen perception).  I need an “I love Chicago.  Really.” pep talk right now.  Because the thing is that I head gunshots two night in a row a couple of weeks ago.  They were close and it was scary.  Nate and I both sat up in bed at 2:30 in the morning, and listened as the sound traveled – getting closer, and then stopped.  3 shots in the course of 4 minutes.  The next night there was a “loud pop” at 8:30 in the evening and patrol cars were everywhere in a second.  And several days this week, there have been shootings (one with an automatic weapon) on a corner two city blocks from me – in some ways a world away, but still close enough to have me compulsively checking Everyblock (from which I have since cut myself off).  In the middle of the day on corner where I regularly pass by at that time with Ida, people are shooting at each other with really scary guns and hurting bystanders.  And I’m noticing a lot of “for sale” signs on our street.  And I’m seeing new people out on the sidewalks.  And.  And.  And.  I hear it too – I don’t like the way I’m thinking about this.
Now, I want to make it perfectly clear that I live in one of Chicago’s very cushiest neighborhoods.  Andersonville is where fabulous gay couples come to raise their beautiful families (and it should go without saying that the gays do an excellent job keeping the sidewalks safe and framed by beautiful gardens).  It’s like Chicago’s version of Florida – where to retire and settle down after your stint in Boystown.  I’m half-joking – lots of other folks live here too, of course.  I live in an exceedingly safe place in the city.  But Andersonville is the cream center between two somewhat undesirable cookies.  That old adage about the city being a block-by-block patchwork of safe spaces and sketchy spots is very true to where we’re located and it feels like the sketchy parts are starting to close in a little bit.  It is entirely possible that this is not actually happening, but through some stroke of chance I have just become more aware of it.
I’m remembering my life in central Michigan in a much sunnier light.  I’m omitting the fact that a friend of mine got stabbed in the face while she was laying in her bed, in her apartment, by a man who broke in and was hiding in her closet.  I’m forgetting about the last time I was in town to teach and a guy with a gun opened fire at a local bar.  I’m re-writing stories to create a totally safe place where, even if only hypothetically, I could be absolutely insulated from the terror of violence.  I’m feeling like I need to get out of the city and make a life somewhere sleepy and secluded.  I hear the imaginary siren song of central Michigan.
I know.  I know that the seclusion had some serious drawbacks.  I remember what it felt like to be so isolated as an artist – sometimes great, but mostly just so hard.  I remember people asking me why I was grocery shopping in the middle of the day with a look of disdain and concern – not being able to imagine anything but a 9-5 work day  and not being able to place me without a child to take care of (“um, I work in the evenings?  This is my free time?”).  I remember the constant frustration of trying to explain that making dances was not my hobby – of trying to help the other adult, professional dancers that I was working with navigate explaining our tours (and their need for time off from their other jobs) to their employers  – to explain the project at all (“no, this is not for a club I’m in/this is not a children’s group/we are not strippers”).  I remember feeling deeply bored and frustrated and irritated at the insular self-protective reflex of suburban living.  I remember more than anything else, the feeling that I just did not fit – that this just was not working.
All of this to say that I love Chicago.  That this is my home.  But I’m having a tough time with it right now.  I wish I could have it both ways – radical togetherness with total insulation from violence.  Real community so long as it doesn’t push me – so long as I never feel afraid or stretched to confront other people and our scary stuff.  Diversity, but with none of the unpleasant clashes that come from smushing together people of privilege with people clawing for enough.  I want an elective buffer that I can enact whenever I feel like it.  I want magic.  I want something impossible – something that makes the other thing, maybe even the higher-order thing, null.  I want something that I don’t believe in.  Because I know that the community and spirit of possibility that I came here for are not free – that they come with this work.  I know that I had a hand in making the world this way.  And I know that I’m going to need to get involved, in whatever small way, in changing it.  I have some growing up to do.  Sigh.
Anybody else out there holding the tension on this?  Any help for a gal who’s struggling?
* that make you think for a hot-second that all of that unpleasantness with France was perhaps worth it.  No.  Fight the selfishness.  But man.  Those sandwiches are really something.

The Scariest Halloween Ever

13 Sep

This evening, Nathan and I were discussing our plans for Halloween.  For some reason, I feel very excited about Halloween this year.  I attribute this to two key factors (in this order):  1.  My saved archives of Martha Stewart’s annual October edition of Living, and 2.  Ida and her debate among pine cone, bee, or bat as her selected halloween costume theme (she chose bat in the end).  Anyway, I have decided to go apeshit over Halloween this year (read:  I have used post-its to denote the crafts/recipes/suggested merrymaking that I plan to enact from Ms. Stewart’s catalogue, purchased $8 worth of second-hand decorations at The Brown Elephant, and……. that’s it).  It’s going to be rad.

This brings us to the matter of grown-up Halloween costumes.  As an adult, I’ve never really gotten into Halloween.  I can’t remember the last time I really dressed up (I usually just throw on some dance costume and go as a……….. dancer).  I think being a performer makes the whole thing kind-of less special.  Plus, I wear crazy clothing on a regular basis for fun already.  In discussing my plans with Nathan, I asked if he would be dressing in costume.  This began a lengthy brainstorming session.  If you’ve ever had a similar conversation with Nathan, you know that he is not interested in generating actual plausible ideas, but is instead engrossed in rapidly amassing a list of things that there is no way he’ll be, but that he finds hilarious (see Baby Name Debates of 2009 for reference – examples:  Bathsheba, Medusa, and Roxsis which I’m pretty sure he made up.  I really hope so.  No one should be named Roxsis).  It was in the middle of this fray that I suggested Aladdin.

We both cracked up for some time.  And then things got real.  Really, scarily real.

N:  “I’ll get a small rug, we’ve got a small rug that I can use, right?  In the basement?  Anyway, I’ll get the rug and I’ll stiffen it somehow.  Something light for sure.  Then I’ll cut a hole in the middle of the rug.  I’ll make paper mache legs in a cross-legged-pretzel-sitting position.  Those will go on top of the rug.  Then I’ll wear black pants on the bottom and an open purple vest on top.  Wait.  What does Aladdin wear?  Wait.  No.  I’ll make the legs out of nylons.  I’ll leave the waist on, and stuff the legs and pin them in the position on top of the rug and then I’ll pull the rug up around my waist, and I’ll make a harness and straps, and I’ll be in the middle.  That way I can wear them like a belt and I’ll wear the rug underneath.  I think I’m going to wear tight black pants underneath (ed. note:  ???).  And I’ll roll-step (ed. note:  yes, he brought marching band into this) around so it looks like I’m floating.  NO!  I’LL ROLLERBLADE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Other fragments:

“I’ll make a paper mache monkey for my shoulder.”

“I need to learn all of the dialogue so that all day, I can speak in only Aladdin lines.”  Ed. note:  I hope this also includes songs.

“I know exactly how I’m going to do this.”

“I wonder if I can wear my costume to work……..”

I think he’s going to do it.  I think my husband, who is also the father of my child, will be Aladdin for Halloween this year.  I think he intends to be Aladdin at his place of business.  I think something really incredible is about to happen.  I’m afraid, but I kind-of like it – very Halloween.

Baby’s First Bathroom Humor

28 Aug

The other day, while Ida was on the toilet, she told me a hilarious joke:

Ida:  Poop comes out of Ida’s butt.

(pensive beat – affirmative and somewhat aloof nods from mother)

Ida:  Macaroni comes out of Ida’s butt.

(maniacal laughter)

I’m not even going to pretend that I didn’t (and do not still periodically) crack up.

A Mother’s Day?

18 May

Sometimes I feel invisible.  Most of the time I think it’s fantastic.  I feel like a superhero with my awesome power.  Ida provides a nearly foolproof deterrent to semi-strangers asking me about my accomplishments or current undertakings (let’s just set aside for a moment the fact that this shield is equal parts Ida and rampant sexism that assumes that since I’m a mother of course my kid is my only concern and that money just somehow magically appears in my bank account).

Sometimes though, it feels like junk.  Sometimes I want someone(s) to see how hard I’m working.  Sometimes I want someone who can talk and wipe their own butt to witness my work, the way that they used to when I was running a business or going to school.  Since many of my current endeavors have to do with mothering and homemaking/homesteading, I’m often the only one who knows just what exactly is the work that I’m doing all day.  Since the other things are modern dance………. that joke pretty much makes itself, no?

Anyway, maybe this is a result of too much internet-half-life-site time and my constant impulse to frame my experiences in terms of status updates (just a sec, I barfed in my mouth), but I thought I’d share what my actual days are like, given that it’s mother’s day (or at least it was when I started writing this little ditty).  So here we go: allow me to present a glimpse into this mother’s day.

I have two types of days:  Days when I am teaching and days when I am not teaching.

They all start the same:

I wake up at 6AM without an alarm clock.  I will forever be unable to sleep-in due to my college years working as a barista and always working the opening shift.  I turn on the coffee pot which Nathan or I prepped the night before.  While the coffee is brewing, I check my email (read: diddle around on aforementioned time-waste-vortex).  Once the coffee is ready, I pour myself a cup and settle back into bed with a book which I read until 6:50.  I read everyday – a variety of fiction and non-fiction, reputable and disreputable.  This is one of my favorite parts of the day.  I semi-ferberized Ida in order to get this time.  I don’t feel even sort-of guilty about it.  At 6:50 I take a 5 minute shower followed by 5 more minutes of beautification efforts.  They are half-assed at best and usually come to a conclusion with some kind of encouraging words to myself  like “not great.”

Ida is up by 7AM and I go into her room.  She is usually naked as the day she was born and jumping up and down in her crib singing or screaming depending on her mood.  I get her ready for the day and ask her if she’d like to use the toilet.  Then we go visit our dog Maude who has gone back to sleep in our bed.  I often worry that Maude hates this ritual as it usually involves lots of mauling on Ida’s part.  Ida and I retreat to the kitchen and I fix her some breakfast while she sits in her high chair.  We listen to the radio and discuss our plans for the day.  I usually load and start the dishwasher and sort-of clean the kitchen (excluding the microwave, which is the site of a very important research project entitled “what will happen?”) while she eats breakfast.

Sometimes after this we do some errands (usually groceries or Target).  Other times we just hang out in the living room  – I eat breakfast and Ida plays or creates unsanctioned murals on the entryway wall that is obscured from my post on the couch.  Sometimes we go for a walk or bike ride to the coffee shop and get coffee and a treat.  Sometimes we go to the park, or out to the yard to garden.  On Wednesdays we sometimes go to children’s story time at Women and Children First (you know, the feminist bookstore just up the street.  I heart my neighborhood).

Ida usually takes a nap around 9AM and sleeps until 11 or 12.  Sometimes if I have to teach a morning class, she (a champion of flexibility) skips this nap and goes to one of the wonderful friends that comprise our ramshackle childcare network.  If she is napping I usually clean, cook, do laundry or occasionally do some writing or dancemaking work.  I was in the habit of doing self-led yoga during her nap, but I’ve fallen off that wagon of late.  I’m now doing a self-led cookie eating thing that I find equally fulfilling.

My favorite household work is cooking.  I like to make a giant batch of something and put meal-sized portions in the freezer, or I like to prep all of the stuff for dinner that night.  I also sometimes put together a meal for one of the lovely folks who take care of Ida while I’m at work, or bake bread or make other staples like stock or yogurt.  I’d say on average, I spend at least 3 hours of every day doing some aspect of food work (shopping, gardening, preparing, cooking, cleaning up).  My other favorite is laundry.  I don’t actually like doing the laundry, but I eat candy and watch television on the internet while I fold it, creating an irresistible bribe for myself.  It’s gotten to the point where I feel a modicum of excitement when the dryer buzzer goes off.  Yikes.   Have you recovered from the sadness of that?  Do you need a moment?  Take a moment.

Every monday I clean the whole apartment (I say “whole” because this undertaking is impressive to me.  I used to triage cleaning, employing a “disaster management” philosophy, but of late, I’ve been more proactive.  I feel that this deserves special recognition).  It takes 3-4 hours and I mostly dislike it.  I try to make it as pleasant as possible and to find pleasure in the aspects I can, but for the most part, I just face my drudgery and try to get it over with.  I should say here that Nathan is more than willing to do this – he would gladly be in charge of the cleaning, but his filth tolerance is much higher than mine (see note below re: living in a van) and I find his work to be unsatisfactory in this department.  Since I can’t seem to make a dollar to save my life, this 1950s style arrangement seems (in our circumstance) to be an equitable trade.  I know how it looks, and if you’d have told me this is how it would all shake out I’d have smacked you in the jowls, but here we are.  Truth be told I usually feel like I got the good end of the deal.  I like my life.  I’m not trapped, unfulfilled or lonely or any of those other things Betty Friedan talked about.  I have a number of theories about this, which I will save for another time.  The only thing I will say here is this: if one more badass feminist pal questions the fact that Nathan doesn’t do much by way of cooking or cleaning and assumes that this means something about me or him and our respective views on women, I’m going to blow a gasket.  You’re telling me I’m a woman and I’m doing it wrong?  That’s suspiciously familiar…

When Ida wakes up from her nap, our day goes one of two routes:  If I’m working, we usually pack up our stuff (my teaching supplies and her diaper bag with lunch, snacks, milk, etc.), get in the car and drive to wherever I’m teaching, dropping Ida off along the way at a kind friend’s house (as a side note, working for a few hours in the middle of each day is anathema to finding professional childcare and basically ensures that you will become a major pain in the ass to your friends and family as you try to get someone to watch your beloved kid).  A few days a week, a friend comes over to my place and watches her while I’m gone.  I’m gone for 2-4 hours on teaching days depending on commute and if I have more than one class.  I am almost always astounded by how challenging it is to get where I need to be on time, teach well, and be a good parent to Ida all at the same time.  I can usually do two of these things at once.  I often don’t eat lunch because adding one more thing to the list just isn’t possible.  Correction, I often eat Wendy’s chicken nuggets for lunch and semi-try to hide what I’m doing from Ida (in the back seat).  Should you feel moved to nominate me for a parenting award, remember that my last name is SAND (like a sand beach) BERG (like iceberg lettuce).

Once I’m done teaching I head home (picking up Ida on the way if she was staying with a friend).  Ida used to take another nap at this point in the day, and I’m mourning this loss.  Now she mostly yells, demands impossible snacks that haven’t been invented, and passionately wants the legos to be both in and out of the basket SIMULTANEOUSLY.

If I’m not teaching, Ida and I usually do something fun in the afternoon.  Sometimes we take a bike ride or walk.  Sometimes we do an art project at home.  Sometimes we go visit a friend or go somewhere cool in the city like a museum or a park.  We like to get out of the house and find that just hanging out at home all day results in double-whammy mother-daughter meltdowns.

Nate usually gets home from work at 4:15.  At this point, if Nate isn’t on deadline for a music project, I sometimes leave for a couple of hours to work/make dances or run errands while he plays with Ida.  Every monday a friend and I go out for coffee and do our self-led Heretics’ Bible Study.  This is exactly like it sounds.  Sometimes Nate, Ida and I do something together.  If Nate is on deadline for a music project, he spends a little time with Ida and then heads back to his studio to crank out the tunes.  I have never met a person as productive as Nathan is when it comes to writing music.  I attribute this largely to his having had to complete his graduate degree in writing film music while working and taking care of a newborn.  His threshold for sleep deprivation and chaos are off-the-charts high.  This coupled with his humongous talent means that he is creating a pretty fat composition roster of late.  Which is great, but at some point, he’s going to need to start recreating for at least a couple of hours a week.  And sleeping for more than 4 hours a night.  I worry about him…

Ida begins eating dinner around 5:30 in her high chair in the kitchen.  We’re working on a plan to regularly have dinner together as a family, but we’re sad at the prospect of losing that time alone together (Nate and me).  Nate often does the dinner and bath evening routine while I cook.  I kind-of hate the dinner-bath rigmarole so this suits me just fine.  I don’t know why.  There isn’t really anything unpleasant about doing these things with Ida.  Maybe it’s just that at the end of the day, it’s nice to have a little break from wiping/picking up/dressing/etc.  She also sometimes tries to bite me when I brush her teeth, so there’s that too.

After her dinner and bath Ida plays a little, we read approximately 90 books and she goes to bed at 7.  I finish making dinner and we usually eat around 7:30.  If I’m rehearsing that evening, I usually leave around this time, leaving something for dinner in the fridge, which Nate heats up right before I’m scheduled to get home.  On nights that I’m rehearsing we usually eat around 9:30 or 10.  Nate has absolutely no time-oriented feelings of hunger, which I attribute/blame on the fact that he lived in a van with 8 guys for a while subsisting mainly on gas station foodstuffs (he was in a band that toured quite a lot).  This is convenient.  And messed up.

I’m not totally sure what happens to the remaining few hours of the day.  Reading?  Television?  Conversation?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Sometimes I craft.  Occasionally I go see dance performances.  The time just seems to elapse.  Maybe I’m relaxing?  Unclear.  I go to sleep around 10 or 11 after reading or watching something Stewart/Colbert/Fey/Poehler on the computer, and usually have blissfully dreamless and uninterrupted sleep.  I’m grateful for this – from what I hear, it’s pretty uncommon for the parents of small children to have a 12-on, 12-off work schedule in parenting.  Ida, if you’re reading this, please don’t mess around with this aspect of our lives.

So there you have it, this mother’s day.  Here’s to you having a great one today!

diaper-free diary, phase 3

17 Apr

Phase 3 was off to a great start!  Ida spent the better part of her first diaper-free morning playing as usual and fielding nearly constant inquiries as to whether or not she needed to use the potty (from yours truly).  She would shake her head no, or sometimes, nod her head yes and walk over to the bathroom.  I had taught her how to pull her pants and undies off (through she often told me that she needed help with this because she had/has a hard time remembering that she needs to pull them off of her butt first and just starts yanking tenaciously at the front of her pants, lamenting the fact that no progress is being made).  I had made a special chart a while ago (just in case) for this week-o-potty fun and each time she used her potty and contributed some material, she got to put a sticker along the row for that day.  She’d wash her hands, have her cookie and go about her business.  She knew the drill and was surprisingly adept at moving through the steps.  I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I couldn’t believe how smoothly the whole thing was going.  I thought briefly about Ida’s first 6 weeks of life (where she only slept while being ferociously bounced, shushed into oblivion, or careening back and forth in her swing – specially designed for toddlers because the infant ones were way too gentle.  And when she only slept for 20 minute stretches).  I thought maybe this was my reward for hanging onto my sanity, albeit just barely.

In the early afternoon on day 1, Ida had her first out-of-potty experience.  We took Maude (our dog) outside to do her business (at which point I thought to myself “I really am managing a lot of excrement these days”).  Ida took one look at Maude shitting in the yard and decided that this was an excellent idea.  With accuracy and speed previously unseen (but quite frankly suspected), she dropped her pants and began peeing in the yard.  Upon finishing, she pulled up her (soaking wet) pants and with a huge smile, clapped for herself and suggested that I should do the same.  In thinking about it, this was no accident, but a carefully planned experiment for Ida.  New undies were selected and the day went on.  She had a few accidents later, and was getting pretty frustrated by bedtime.  She was tired and ready to call it a day.  I was really proud of her for her tenacity and success.  We decided that Ida should wear a diaper at night, so it felt like a little relief to put the diaper on at the end of the day.  I was tired of such a toilet-intensive conversation.

We stayed the course and mostly hung out at home for the next couple of days.  Toileting was becoming pretty routine.  Ida would often have an accident or two in the afternoon (including one hilarious incident where she peed on our friend’s day planner), but for the most part, she was getting the hang of it.  But oh, the accidents.  Though they were few and often small, they were devastating.  It’s hard to describe the specific sadness of Ida’s remorse after wetting her pants.  She is profoundly disappointed by it and often requires some cuddling and cheering up after it happens.  I worried for a minute that maybe I was the one pushing her to do this – that she wasn’t ready.  But I knew she really wanted to learn – she expressed this and continued to express it many times and in lots of ways.  I remembered that my job as her parent is to help her deal with the frustration and disappointment that comes from stretching yourself to reach a goal that seems just a little bit too hard.  I felt good (again, childfree readers may be having some thoughts to the effect of “um?  Are we still talking about learning how to not crap yourself?”).  We were doing a great job.  But such remorse from a tiny person!  It was overwhelming.

The poop was the most difficult component of diaper-free living because Ida seemed a little mystified by how and when this strange event happens.   I often had to really encourage her to spend a little time on the toilet and to push with her abdominal muscles to see if there was any poop that wanted to come out (again, an unfortunate phrase that I’ve adopted).  I’d mimic abdominal pushes with her to help her get the idea.  It’s now been three weeks and she’s got the hang of it.  It often takes a few attempts (she’ll tell me she needs to use the bathroom, sit down and decide she’s all done, repeat several times at 3 minute intervals) but she knows what to do.  I also discovered a few days in that if I put my hand to my ear and said “let’s listen and see if we hear any pee going into the potty” that she would basically pee on command.  What a strange and pavlovian experience.  I’ve avoided the term “potty training” for the most part, but there is some element of rote learning at work.  Ida seems okay with it.

After we’d had a few accident-free days (days 3 and 4 of potty-bonanza), I stopped asking her if she needed to use the bathroom and started saying “Ida, make sure you let me know if you need to use the potty.  Remember, you don’t like to pee or poop in your underpants.”  For the most part, this was a big success.  The late afternoons were always the hardest for her and she’ll sometimes have a tiny accident before making it to the potty.  For the most part though, she’s pretty potty-savvy when we’re at home, letting us know with her signs or by just heading into the bathroom on her own.  We still ask her periodically if she needs to use the potty, especially in the afternoons.

Having decided that Ida was getting a little antsy to get back to the world at large (er, I was), we decided to head to church on Sunday of potty week ( the 7th day).  Ida usually spends some time playing with her friends in the play room and some time in the service with me.  I was a little worried about what the (incredibly cool and loving) caregivers in the play room might think of my diaper-free 18 month old with only signs to communicate her potty needs in a new space.  Throwing caution to the wind (a practice often encouraged at Berry UMC), I just took Ida to the play room like usual, explained our situation and headed to the service.  She did a great job and seemed really proud.  However, when I got there she immediately and urgently told me she needed to go potty.  I took her to the bathroom and discovered that the stalls were majorly freaking her out and that there was really no way for her to sit on the giant seat.  She was having none of it and wanted off the toilet immediately.  Then she peed her pants.  Then I put her back on the toilet.  Then she freaked out again.  Then she peed her pants again.  I felt terrible that she was having such a hard time and was obviously really stressed out about it.  This was not a great moment, and I reminded myself that Ida’s potty-ing isn’t a linear process – that this difficulty didn’t mean that we were doomed, or doing it wrong, or that anything had gone awry.  It just meant that we had a tough moment or two.

Things pretty much kept improving.  I got a little seat that fits on top of a regular toilet for when we’re out and that seemed to really help.  Ida now lets me know when she needs to go, we head over to the bathroom and the minute her little butt hits the seat, she gets down to business.  I hear tell of a fold-up contraption, which would seriously improve my quality of life (insofar as right now I have to haul a toilet seat around on my person whenever I want to step out for more than 30 minutes).

I really enjoyed undertaking this project with Ida.  Watching her learn how to do things and watching her take so much pride and pleasure in such a simple competence is refreshing and fun.  I had fun potty training my kid.  There’s something I never thought I’d say.

Ida. Now Available Diaper-Free! Part 1

10 Apr

Disclaimer – this post is long and probably boring to anyone who hasn’t spent a week eating lunch on the bathroom floor and reading the same godforsaken books aloud over and over again (for really any reason I imagine, but I was thinking especially of the particular case of potty-learning with a small child).

Ladies and Gentleman, it is with great pleasure and no small amount of surprise that I announce some strange and excellent news:  Ida is now a diaper-free toilet enthusiast!  Well, she’s really more of a handwashing-sticker-fancy underpants-cookie enthusiast….. but whatever.  The point is, my kid no longer craps her pants.  At least not on purpose.

Since some of you have asked how this all transpired, I have provided a description of this exciting journey in two parts.  Here’s how it all went down:

When Ida was around 4 months old, I got a little potty from the store, thinking that she might like to sit on it sometimes.  I thought it would be kind-of a fun activity (childfree readers might be having some revelatory thoughts after reading that – the “fun activity” part) and I also had in mind that an early introduction might make Ida aware of what the toilet was for, so as to aid her transition from diapers to underpants in some small way.  I read some fascinating stuff about elimination communication, but I quickly opted for a more, how to say….. half-assed approach.  Basically, phase one was just me setting Ida on her little potty whenever I felt like it and reading her a few books.  We had potty time after her naps for a little while, but then I got lazy about that and we took an extended potty hiatus.  I also used to tell her all about the toilet when I was changing her diaper, or when I noticed the telltale half-smile-with-raised-eyebrow that indicated she was in process with a shitastrophie.  I’d say something like “hey you’re pooping!  That’s what it feels like to poop, Ida!  When you’re ready, you can poop on the potty!”  All I can really say in my defense is that when you’re trying to generate a one-sided conversation for days on end with a being whose primary function is, well, primary functions, the topics tend to get a little basic and weird.  Phase one lasted from about 4-14 months.

Phase two!  When Ida was around 15 months, I started to really hype the potty.  Toileting was getting some serious PR at the Joynt Sandberg residence.  Ida had become very curious about the bathroom my own toilet use, so we’d chat about what I was up to and how I was able to wear underpants rather than diapers with the help of the (glorious, fabulous, fun and exciting!) toilet.  Ida would often express an interest in her own little potty, taking it apart, stacking up all of the parts, stuffing it with toilet paper, and dragging it around the apartment to use as a step-stool to reach breakable objects.  She’d also sometimes point to her potty and then make the sign for “diaper” (a sort-of unfortunate tap on the front of the hips, not unlike some of the dance stylings of the late Michael Jackson).  I’d whip her pants and diaper off and help her sit down on her potty and she’d occasionally (and I think often accidentally) make a deposit.  I’d freak out with the joy of a million unicorns.  Rinse (literally) and repeat.

Eventually, Ida started going over and sitting on the potty while she crapped her diaper.  Then she’d take off her pants and diaper on occasion to do her thing in the potty.  I knew she was getting ready for full-on diaper-free living when she’d request to use the toilet when we were out and about.  She’d make the sign for diaper and I’d ask her “would you like a new diaper?”  She’d shake her head “no” and emphatically make the diaper sign.  I’d ask “would you like to use the potty?”  and with a very smug smile (and a glance around to make sure everyone was watching) she’d nod her head yes.  At a restaurant, a friend’s house – wherever.  I suspect that it had become a bit of a parlor trick for her.  She noticed that the joy of a million unicorns was multiplied by a factor of however many people were in her proximity at the time of her toileting.  She’s no dummy, and may (I’m afraid) have a future in the performing arts.  Heaven help us – another hustling artist is just what this family needs.

Toward the end of Phase 2, I hung a piece of paper up on the bathroom wall and stashed a little box of stickers on the shelf above the toilet.  Ida and I had many talks about how pretty soon, she’d get to start wearing underpants, and how with this new great power, came great responsibility.  “You can’t just freestyle in your underpants – you need to use the toilet for pees and poops” I told her.  She solemnly nodded.

Readers who know Ida can attest to her peculiar and adult-like understanding of the things transpiring around her.   It’s not just me – as in, I’m not just saying that because I’m her mom and I think her boogers are tiny amber gemstones.  It’s real – the kid KNOWS what we’re saying and doing.  All the time.  I’ve taken to enlisting her help to find stuff I’ve lost.  I’ll say “Ida.  Can you please find Mama’s black notebook with the rubber band around it?  Can you find mama’s other grey shoe?”  And sure enough, the kid comes toddling over with the object a few minutes later.  She found an earring once when I asked her to.  I still don’t know where she finds half the stuff I ask her to fetch.

Anyway, I had a plan and it was this:  I decided that every time Ida peed or pooped in the potty I’d offer her the box of stickers.  She’d choose one (this was often a lengthy, non-linear process) and stick it on her sheet.  Then I’d give her a little bit of toilet paper because she insisted that she wipe.  God have mercy if you tried to help her with any part of this process.  Then I’d pull out a stool and she’d climb up to the sink and wash her hands with near surgical precision.  She took the handwashing component very seriously.  Then, I’d offer her a frosted animal cracker.  I still think it’s funny that she believes these to be rare and fabulous delicacies.  I’ve given them the unfortunate moniker “potty cookies”, which always makes me think of my father saying “road apples” when we would visit Mackinac Island in our youth (Greer, if you happen to be reading, you’re welcome).

Once we were on a bit of a roll with the practice paper, stickers and other toilet pageantry, I was kind-of just waiting for a sign that it was time to go sans diapers.  Up until this point, Ida was always in a diaper, but would often keep it dry and clean for a considerable stretch, and would semi-frequently request to use the potty.  But like many of you (all of you?  hopefully?), I had no idea how often she was peeing.  Was it a tiny little bit every 10 minutes?  Did she know when she was doing it?  I wasn’t totally sure what I was waiting for, but decided to take Ida on an undies-choosing shopping trip so we’d have underpants on hand when the mystical moment arrived.

After removing all franchised princess’ pneumonic horses, and spunky latina explorers from the mix, I let Ida pick out several packs of undies.  I had a moment of surprise when she chose boys underpants (while exclaiming “pup! pup!” upon seeing a cartoon monster emblazoned on the butt), but almost immediately thought “why in the world would I care about this?”  As someone who used to tell people when they asked if I was having a girl “well, the sex is female, but we’ll probably have to wait until she’s older to find out about her gender” this moment of tiny panic was pretty funny.  Far be it from me to decide that Ida does not require a tiny flap in the front and sturdier waistband.  Maybe she knows something I don’t.  Anyway, we paid for the undies and spent the trip back home discussing underpants and conducting a thorough examination of their properties.  She was very excited about the underpants and suggested (demanded) that they be placed in an accessible spot so that she could inspect them at her leisure.  I put them in a basket by her little potty and she took to sitting on the potty and slinging dozens of pairs of underpants on each leg, examining each one and admiring their beauty.

Two weeks passed.  Ida woke up one monday morning and uncharacteristically lost her mind when I tried to change her diaper.  She was screaming and thrashing around until I took the new diaper away and asked her what was wrong.  “UNDIES!”  She screamed.  I lifted her off the changing table and she took off at a run for her potty.  She peed, pageanted and then chose a pair of underpants out of the basket.  She was so very pleased.  I was kind-of shocked.  I was not planning on a potty-intensive week and had a pretty full work schedule ahead.  I decided we would just work it out together.  We’d just do our best.  I knew the folks who take care of Ida while I’m at work would be supportive and helpful.

There was a little scuffle when I tried to put pants on her that morning.  “UNDIES!”  It became clear that the underpants needed to be visible and that donning pants would seriously impair her ability to admire their beauty.  Socks and a shirt were sometimes permitted.  Welcome to Phase 3, I guess.

Dislikes #1

24 Jan

I don’t like being scared.  The idea that I would even need to say that (or type that) seems crazy to me.  Isn’t this a given?  A universal truth?  It’s like saying “I don’t like breaking my hip” or “mistaking a rock for a pistachio is a bummer.”  I mean, I enjoy a good chase scene (like those bits in Finding Nemo that are touch-and-go) as much as the next guy.  And who doesn’t like a suspenseful story line (remember when we didn’t know for sure if Julia Stiles was going to be admitted to Julliard for her raw and tortured urban angst ballet?)?  But volunteering to watch someone get stabbed in the shower?  No.  My threshold for horror lies between books 4 and 5 of the Harry Potter chronicles.  I do not pursue terror in my leisure hours for the same reason I don’t spend that time repeatedly stubbing my toe on my ridiculously sharp bed frame.  It’s unpleasant.  I don’t like it.

But for some, bafflingly, this is not the case.  As I write this my dear husband is reading some terrifying story by Stephen King (do NOT get him started on why Stephen King is and will remain history’s greatest author.  Or… on second thought, do – it’s a glimpse into Nathan’s strange perfection).  He will perhaps follow that with one of his other favorite activities – a late-night solo viewing of a horror film (we’re talking obscenely scary Japanese business and the like – the really, REALLY terrifying stuff) .  He doesn’t feel afraid when he reads or watches these things.  He doesn’t feel the need to look in the closet, or double-check that the door is locked, or create his own ghost-busting backpack-dustbuster-hybrid (more on this some other time, perhaps).  Curious….  I can’t imagine what that’s like.  I can’t fathom taking any kind of pleasure in a horrifying scenario.

I bring it up, because the other night some friends were over and we got to talking about scary books and movies.  It was a good time to share what is perhaps (according to Nathan) the origin of my hate for all things horror.

In the summer between 8th and 9th grade, I was in Germany at the end of a 4 week tour with a youth choir.  I was homesick and thoroughly sick of sausage (which, if you know me, is really saying something).  The only thing standing between me and my flight home was one more night with one more host family.  I plastered on my largest, be-braced smile (and what I’m sure was no small amount of Mary Kay makeup), stuck out my hand and said “Gutten Tag!”  A couple of hours of nodding and sausage later, I went downstairs to meet my 17-year-old host sister and her friends who were mid-slumber party and certainly really psyched to add a 14-year-old choir nerd to their festivities.  The decor in her basement room (or lair as I soon re-categorized it) consisted mainly in pentagram posters, drawings of demons, and all manner of Hot Topic wares.  Satan chic.  I’m sure it was much less menacing then I remember it, being that I was an 8th grade DC Talk devote at the time.

All I wanted to do was curl up in my sleeping bag, let 8 hours painlessly elapse, and wake up the next morning.  But they took great pains to wait for me to begin the main event – a viewing of Silence of the Lambs (and by “great pains” I mean “deep slugs” of vodka).  Even pals who enjoy being voluntarily terrorized by books or movies admit that this particular film is especially scary, but I would venture that it’s made even more so by the german language.  Overhearing a deutch conversation about even the most mundane topic can make you feel like a fist fight is about to break out.  So – to break it down – in my homesick and nerdy state, I spent an evening with people I believed to be aspiring Satanists, watching Silence of the Lambs in German with english subtitles (so that I had to LOOK at it the WHOLE time once I had been sucked in by the story).  It was a bad night.  There were many quaking tears and fervent prayers and it was sometime around the revelation that pulleys can be used for great evil that I swore off horror of any kind.

I really don’t feel like I’m missing anything.  Nathan (who believes that if you’re not reading Stephen King, you’re not reading at your full potential) begs to differ.  Hopefully our marriage can survive this tremendous divide.