Remembering Boy Genius


When I began trying to get pregnant in 2007, I found such support and hope in this community.  When things got hard, there were a handful of us who stuck together through it all.  When one of us finally found the desperately, desperately wanted child she had dreamed of, it was a triumph, a collective victory for all of us.  It’s hard to explain how this kind of love can be felt between strangers, but it’s there.  Each of our children had the hopes and dreams and prayers of our little blog family long before they came into being.

Yesterday, time stopped when I read that J and T had lost their sweet Boy Genius.  It just couldn’t be true that this smart, beautiful little soul, who just two days before was stroking his moms’ faces and telling them how much he loved them, was gone.  It is senseless, unfathomable, and devastating.  In their battle with leukemia, this brave little crocodile and his moms captured my heart.  I will be forever inspired by this family.

Caemon, you always have been and will continue to be so, so loved by this community.  Rest in peace, little crocodile.

School Daze

We are focusing our house hunt in an awesome neighborhood that unfortunately also happens to feed into a lower-performing school district.  As a result, we’ve been forced to dip a toe into the dark underbelly of private school admissions in our city.  Let me preface this discussion by saying that if you would have told me a year ago that we would ever consider participating in this kind of madness, I would have fallen on the floor laughing.  And yet.

Our last city had private schools, sure.  If you wanted your kid to attend one, you paid the tuition and enrolled – no big deal.  The private school system in our current city, however, bears zero (and I mean ZERO) resemblance to the one in our last city.  It’s actually more like what I’ve heard described by people who live in New York (albeit on a much smaller scale).  People putting their kids on waiting lists at birth.  Mandatory charitable giving.  Admissions interviews.  Parent essays.  Entrance exams for preschool.  That kind of thing. 

Christopher is about to turn two, which apparently means we are already way behind the curve if we want to get him in somewhere good for preschool.  And getting into somewhere good for preschool is critical, because it will in turn allow him to attend a good primary school and later one of the premier high schools, which will determine where he goes to college, which will determine his graduate school and ultimately, his career.  Here we are, just sitting on our hands while we should be making decisions that will CHANGE THE COURSE OF OUR SON’S ENTIRE LIFE.  Crazy, right?  Of course it is.  And yet.

Last month, we started looking into private preschools for next year, finding out what the admissions process (which, by the way, takes like a year) would entail for each school.  In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that S is (and always has been) way more invested in the idea of sending Christopher to one of these preschools than I am.  In fact, my contribution to the process so far has been: (1) bitching to anyone who will listen about what a racket it is that you sort of have to send your kid to preschool at one of these schools in order to hold your spot for kindergarten and beyond; (2) using the phrase “overpriced fingerpainting” in ways that S finds highly embarrassing.

Of all of the schools, there was only one – a Montessori school that goes through eighth grade – that stood out to me as something I could (maybe, possibly) see working for us.  [There is another private school that’s very diverse and has a ton of two mom families but it is kind of out there for us academically – pretty much unschooling in a school building].  The Montessori program has no LGBT families, but is consistently listed as one of the top five Montessori programs in the country and has some other aspects (child-directed curriculum, focus on social responsibility, commitment to community outreach and corresponding scholarship program) that appeal to me . . . sort of.  Maybe.  Last week, I grudgingly sent their admissions director an email requesting more information and a tour, which happened this Tuesday.

I didn’t want to love it.  I didn’t want to even like it.  I wanted to scoff at the fact that the campus used to be a country club (pool, tennis courts and all).  I wanted to sneer at the toddler cots with their tempurpedic mattresses imported from Italy and laugh at the ridiculous elitism of four year olds taking a French cooking class (in freaking French, for god’s sake).  But I just couldn’t.  The school was AMAZING.  During our tour, we saw third graders reading Tolstoy and using bunsen burners and looking thrilled to be learning.  The preschoolers were collaborative and kind to each other and highly engaged in their work.  The toddlers were snacking on vegetables that they grew themselves in a cute little garden outside their classroom.  The building was filled with joy and light and laughter.  After seeing these kids and how happy they seemed at school, S got so overwhelmed that she teared up.  Later, she asked me, “Is it so wrong that I want this for Christopher?”  And in my heart of hearts, I knew she was right – I really wanted this for him too.

When the school offered us a spot starting in January, we were elated.  It wasn’t even a question – yes, of course, we’ll take it, of course.  Now that the dust has settled, though, I’m left with a jumble of thoughts that I’m still trying to sort out.  Like how I feel about the fact that Christopher was admitted ahead of a zillion other kids on the waiting list because the school does not have any two mom or two dad families (Modern Family much?).  Or how I feel about the fact that enrolling him in this particular preschool could mean that we’ll paying for private school for a verrrrry long time, since the transfer rate is pretty much zero and the school feeds into private high schools.  I also have some a lot of trepidation about the unbelievably high expectations the school has for parents in terms of their involvement in the educational process (can we really commit to no TV or media?  To implementing the Montessori methods at home?  Will S ever be able to go back to work with all of this shit they expect us to do?).  And the cost, oh the cost.  One year of elementary school tuition is only slightly less than what I paid for my entire undergraduate degree at a public university.

Ultimately, I guess I’m mostly excited.  This is going to be a big change for all of us, but I think it could be a really positive one.  Not in a “Next Stop: Harvard” kind of way but in a “won’t he have fun growing those vegetables” kind of way.  Now if I could only get S to stop gloating . . .

Maslow And Mompetition

When I was in college, the lesbian community on campus (like most LGBT college communities, I’d imagine) had sort of a continuum of coolness, with people moving through various stages (cutting their hair, piercing their eyebrows, becoming politically active) in pursuit of social acceptance.  During my freshman or sophomore year, in the height of my coming-out process, I took an intro-level psychology class where we learned about Abraham Maslow’s theory of self-actualization.  I’m over-simplifying here, but Maslow viewed the hierarchy of human needs as a pyramid – ascending from the most basic biological needs, such as hunger, to increasingly complex ones, such as belongingness.  At the very top of the pyramid (the apex?) is self-actualization, which was described to me as something like “reaching your full potential.” 

At 18, it made perfect sense to me to view the college lesbian social scene as something akin to Maslow’s pyramid – the lesbians who were the most self-actualized were the ones who had gone through all the stages and had fully realized their true potential as gender non-conforming, leftist sex magnets.  While I know this comparison lacks a certain degree of depth (to say the least), it stuck with me over the years and I was reminded of it again when I read the blog carnival posts about “secrets” and some of the discussion that resulted from those posts.

I know it seems like I missed the mark when sharing my secrets, but my loose interpretation of the topic was deliberate.  The prompt asked, “what is your deep dark parenting secret, the one you don’t really mention in public?” so that’s what I wrote about.  I’d be embarrassed to admit in public that I got injured on a playground firepole because I was too chunky to fit in the tube slide.  I’d also be embarrassed to admit that I borrowed my mother’s fake hair and pretended that my four month old was wearing a toupee.  These were not my finest moments as a parent.  However, the fact that we occasionally feed our kid macaroni and cheese from a box is not a secret.  If it is, it’s a boring one.

To be honest, I’m sick of the parenting pyramid.  Just like in undergrad, people in lesbian and progressive circles sometimes act like there is only one right way to do things.  We’re all marching up the pyramid, and those who succeed at extended breastfeeding, organic baby food making, cloth diapering, baby-led weaning, and sugar and TV-free parenting are at the top.  The rest of us fall somewhere in the middle – higher than the people who put Mountain Dew in their toddler’s bottle, certainly, but still short of true self-actualization.

Yesterday, I inadvertently managed to piss someone off with a blog comment I posted on this topic.  The crux of my comment was that I’m happier now that I’ve stopped trying to measure the success of my parenting by “other people’s standards.”  I also said that I find it annoying when people (I was referring to a couple I met IRL this weekend, but this goes for bloggers too) feel the need to constantly and self-righteously remind everyone that their kid does not eat sugar or watch TV.  In what was clearly a direct response to my comment, someone pointed out that the reason she has higher standards for her child (meaning no sugar and no TV) is because she has higher standards for herself.  I’m sure it wasn’t meant as offensively as I took it, but my first response was,  ‘Touché – you are not just a better parent than I am, you are also a better person.  Go you.”

Please don’t mistake my frustration for defensiveness.  Regardless of how my comment may have come off, I have nothing but respect for people who want to feed their kids organic and locally grown food and who pick books over TV.  These are my values as well.  What I don’t like is when people – for whatever reason – go out of their way to make other people feel inferior.  When someone makes a not-so-subtle dig about the fact that my son carries around a Big Bird toy (because she’d never let her child watch TV), she’s trying to make me feel bad – period.  For what it’s worth, I personally think what she’s teaching her kid about how people should be treated is way worse than what my kid is learning from Big Bird.  But maybe those are just my different standards talking.  I do set the bar quite low, apparently.

Where I ultimately come out on all of this is that everyone’s parenting is a work-in-progress.  There’s no ‘best’ way to do things, just the way that’s best for each of us and our families.  That said, anyone who thinks it’s ok to make fun of my kid’s Big Bird is an ass and has no business giving me parenting advice.  So there!

True Confessions

This week, the blog carnival is posting parenting secrets – the little things we do as parents that we’d rather not advertise.  I definitely have my share of these stories, but here are a few of the more embarrassing ones.  Enjoy!

The Dog Ate Nana’s Wiglet.  My mother has very fine, thin hair.  While she spent my entire childhood ratting it out with a round brush, she’s recently taken to wearing a “wiglet” (a sort of hairpiece thing) to fill in the gaps.  When Christopher was maybe four months old and my parents were visiting from out of town, S and I borrowed the wiglet, took a zillion pictures of Christopher wearing it like a toupee, and then forgot to put it back.  When the wiglet was discovered in the living room the next morning, I denied any knowledge of how it got there and helpfully suggested that maybe the dog took it because “it looks kinda like a squirrel.”  My mother spent the remainder of the trip self-consciously fluffing the wiglet and saying, “I don’t think it looks like a squirrel.  Does it look like a squirrel, really?”

He Said Barbie!  As I’ve mentioned on this blog (and agonized over IRL), Christopher has been a little slow to talk.  In the past couple of weeks, he’s started picking up more words, some of which are clear, and most . . . not so much.  This weekend, we went to a Halloween party hosted by our local LGBT parents group.  One kid – we’ll call him Noah – is about the same age as Christopher, and I spent a lot of time talking to one of Noah’s moms while the boys played together.  Christopher was chatting it up, and Noah’s mom kept complimenting me on how much his language has improved.  The thing is, a lot of the words she thought she heard him say were not actual words – the party was kind of loud and he repeats with perfect intonation, so it sounds like he’s saying things that he’s really not – not in context, anyway.  I totally did not correct her and I got caught red-handed by S, who happened to walk over right in the middle of my charade.  While S was standing there, Christopher found a Barbie doll in the sandbox and said “baby.”  To the untrained ear, Christopher’s “baby” sounds like “Bobby.”  Noah’s mom turned to me and said, incredulously, “WOW!!  He just said Barbie!!”  Before S could respond, I panicked and said, “I have no idea where he learned that!”  You should have seen the look on S’s face.

Poley Moley!   Two things that amaze me about Christopher are (1) his incredible coordination and (2) his complete lack of fear.   I am one of the clumsiest people on the planet and don’t have an athletic bone in my body, so I find his need to constantly climb things – very tall things – both astonishing and terrifying.  A few weeks ago, we attended a fall festival at a park that has multiple playgrounds for kids of different ages.  Of course, Christopher wanted nothing to do with the toddler playground and bolted straight for the big kid obstacle course with the rock climbing wall and 20’ tube slide.  We go to this park all the time and we usually let him climb and slide to his heart’s content, but one person always climbs up with him to make sure he doesn’t get hurt and the other stands at the bottom of the slide to make sure he doesn’t run off to a more dangerous activity.  On that particular night, however, S was standing in line to buy snacks, so it was just me protecting Christopher from himself on the big kid playground.  When he scampered up the ladder and onto the highest platform, I was close behind him.  But then he zipped into the tube slide and (wheee!) ran out into the crowd below.  To my horror, I discovered that I was too big to fit in the slide and the stairs were blocked by children, so I had no choice but to shimmy down the fireman’s pole – with the grace of an elephant, mind you – while hundreds of people looked on.   Thankfully, Christopher was too young to be appropriately humiliated, but you can imagine S’s reaction when she arrived with the hot dogs and discovered that I had “pole burn” on my hands and was in need of first aid treatment.

For more parenting confessions, click here!

Progress, Progress Everywhere

Since moving back to S’s hometown, we have been living in a very nice house (owned by my boss) that happens to be located in a really conservative neighborhood.  When I took the job, my company generously offered to let us live here rent-free until our house sold, and given the real estate market at the time, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse.  Our house sold, we started paying rent, and we put the “where are we going to live?” conversation on hold for a while.

Since we have always lived in very urban areas, I had no idea what it would be like to live in an affluent, completely non-walkable suburb where everyone is white and Republican.  I guess I always thought I was being paranoid, that it really couldn’t be that different, right?  Wrong.  When we go to the park, people stare and/or glare at us.  On more than one occasion, we’ve heard people talking about how wrong it is to “bring a child into that kind of lifestyle.”  Crazily enough, when we’re together, people seem to think that S is Christopher’s grandmother (really, if you saw us, this conclusion is bizarre and makes ZERO sense, but it’s happened several times).  It’s not just a different world out here, it’s a different universe.

Now that Christopher is getting older and is more aware of his surroundings, we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time for us to move.  Like, NOW.  The problem is that all of the areas where we want to live seem to have lousy public schools.  I don’t want to send our kid to private school – I believe in public education – but that’s the reality in our neighborhood of choice.  We can probably swing it financially – if we only have one child.  Oh, and the neighborhood that we like tends to have old houses with only one full bath.  Which is fine, you know, if we only have one child.

It’s clear to me, now that we’ve started seriously looking at moving, why I’ve been so ambivalent about buying a house up until now.  It just seems so final, these decisions about bathrooms and school districts.  I know it’s not, not really, but it feels that way.  There are the questions that realtors always ask – “how many bedrooms will you need?” – and I know they are really asking “how many children do you plan on having?”  S confidently replies that Christopher is our one and only and three bedrooms should be just fine for us, but I’ve always felt the need to add something like, “but who knows how we’ll feel next year!”  As if there is really still a decision to be made.

This weekend, we went to look at open houses in the neighborhood we like.  Normally, looking at houses makes me feel like I want to crawl under a rock, but this time it was different.  We took Christopher to the playground and people actually talked to us.  It felt like our community, it felt like home.  It hit me that this is where we need to be.  I want Christopher to grow up here, to play in this park with these kids.  I’m finally ready to put down roots and start our life  as a (permanent) family of three.  It feels great.

In other news, while we’ve made no progress whatsoever on the tv watching or the Montessori school decision, it seems that Christopher might be on the verge of something good in the speech department.   This weekend he said “sit here” and “go, car!”   Two words, together, in context!  We were beyond excited.

Meh, Go Ahead And Flush It

Wow, there were some really great posts in the blog carnival yesterday.  It seemed strange that no one was posting on such a provocative topic, and then it finally dawned on me that I jumped the gun and posted a week early.  Oops.

One of the things I’m finding to be a bit challenging in my return to blogland is transitioning from a TTC to parenting blogger without boring the hell out of you.  I have a hard time believing that anyone is interested in reading about our toddler’s fascination with hairdryers or my ambivalence about whether sidewalk chalk is flushable (hey, it’s a rental!).  In any event, here is a sampling of some of the issues we are chewing on over here at Chez Parentis.

Walking The Walk, But Not Talking The Talk.  Christopher’s the strong, silent type.  Which is to say that when we had him assessed for a speech delay by Early Intervention at 18 months, he scored in the 27-30 month range for motor skills and the 12-15 month range for language.  He was not delayed enough to qualify for services and they advised us to “wait and see.”  Since I don’t follow directions well, we went ahead and had a full audiology evaluation to rule out a hearing loss.  His hearing is fine, and he has picked up some words since the eval, but his speech is still lagging and we just don’t know what to do about it.  People are constantly remarking on the fact that he should be talking more.  I know he’s behind, but I also think that part of the problem is that he looks way older than he is (he’s in the 90% percentile for height and wears size 3T shirts and size 7 shoes).  It’s weird to see a kid that looks like a three year old say “baba” for balloon.  Right now, our plan is to wait it out until he turns two (we’re doing lots of speech exercises at home) and to start private speech therapy if he is not caught up by then.  I’m sure he’s probably fine, but it’s hard to read about other kids the same age stringing together five and six word sentences and not feel like you are doing something wrong.

Technology + Exhaustion = Hypocrisy.  We don’t really watch much TV, and there was a point where we were strongly opposed to Christopher watching any TV before he was two (hahahahaha).  I’ll admit it, we climbed up on the high horse way before we knew what we were talking about and it’s come back to bite us in a major way.  TV has become our go-to parenting crutch.  Melting down in a restaurant?  Hey, Elmo’s on the iphone!  Hate your rear-facing carseat?  A headrest-mounted DVD player should help with that!  Our kid does not yet know his colors, but he can identify every single Sesame Street character (even Stinky the Plant) by name.  We try to limit his TV intake to two episodes a day (plus whatever he sees in the car), but it’s hit or miss.  I know we could do better, but good luck getting your kid back to Andre once he’s had a taste of the Dom.  Lesson learned.

Damn You, Nat Geo Channel.  We send Christopher to an awesome Montessori School two days a week.  We initially made this decision because we thought it would help with his speech and socialization (preserving S’s sanity was an added bonus).  Once your kid turns two, our school “strongly recommends” (read: requires) five day a week attendance (C is in the half-day program) to ensure consistency and educational growth.  This puts us in an interesting position, because it seems like if he’s going to school five days a week anyway, we should just put him in the full day program and S should go back to work.  This makes total sense financially, but nobody really likes the idea very much.  S loves staying home with him and is not exactly thrilled about sending him to school five mornings a week.  I love the slower pace of our current lifestyle (one in which I am the only one racing out the door in the morning, the house is always clean, and nobody’s stressed out).  We both don’t want to deny him educational advantages and we really do believe in the Montessori method, but damn, Montessori School is so expensive and the logistics seem like such a hassle.  Of course, I just had to randomly stumble across a National Geographic documentary about the benefits of intensive early education, replete with three dimensional comparisons of the brains of children who have it versus those who don’t.  Argh.

So there you have it – I’m officially a mommy blogger.  There’s a lot more toddler action going on at our house, but these are the big ticket items.  Kind of a snooze, right?

The Opposite of Disappointment

Today’s Love Makes A Family theme is disappointment, a topic with which this blog is well-acquainted.  To say that we experienced disappointment in the time that we TTC and beyond would be an understatement.  We tried for years and never got pregnant, lost a baby at 10 weeks, I nearly died from pregnancy complications, then spent the first week of Christopher’s life hospitalized and separated from him, could not breastfeed and was forced to pump 8-10 times per day, suffered from debilitating PPD and PPA, only to find out that my body is a failure yet again and I probably should stop at one pregnancy.  So, um, yeah.  Disappointment abounds.

At the hardest points in our journey, I have always fallen back on this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. – “Carve a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.”  Sometimes, it was nearly impossible to believe that things could turn out the way we wanted, but still, I held on to the hope that I would one day be pregnant, that we would one day be parents.  I even held a little worry stone engraved with the word “HOPE” (a gift from Mulberry) in my hand during every insemination, every IVF and U/S appointment, when I was in labor, and a couple of times when I was pumping, tears streaming down my face as I watched someone else feed my child from a bottle because I could not.  For many years, the opposite of disappointment was always hope. 

These days, I’m finding it hard to dwell in disappointment for very long.  Hope has arrived and he is pure joy.  Yesterday, Christopher was a ring bearer in our friends’ beautiful fall wedding.  As I watched him march down the aisle holding the ring pillow and clutching the flower girl’s hand, my heart swelled with pride.  He stood at the altar for nearly ten minutes with the wedding party, scanning the crowd the whole time.  When he finally spotted us, his eyes filled with tears and his bottom lip began to quiver – you could tell how hard he was trying to be brave and keep it together.  Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore and raced into our arms, murmuring with relief, “My Mama.  My Mommy.  My Mama.  My Mommy.”  It was like he was saying, “Oh thank god, there you are.  I was so worried.”   

As Christopher happily sat on my lap for the remainder of the ceremony and delighted the wedding crowd with his adorable random clapping and cheering, my heart was content.  Content with things being exactly the way they are, right now.  Perhaps the true opposite of disappointment is not hope, but contentment?