Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mace's Swimming Summer

Mace is 3. At the beginning of the summer, he was wearing one of these to swim:

Or one of these:

We live in Florida, so that means that he needs to learn to swim at a very young age. There's water everywhere in Florida, not the least scary of which is the unfenced, alligator-infested creek that borders our property and is a mere 10 steps from our back steps. So fine, proactive parent that I am (stop laughing), I signed Mace up for swim lessons in June:

And he did fine -- but not well enough to move up to the next class. I was a little disappointed -- I sort of expected him to just catch on and take off -- he wasn't afraid of the water at all (unlike his older brother, who screamed bloody murder throughout each of his swim lessons when he was Mace's age) and I have been completely under-parenting this child. I assumed that since he was getting absolutely no pressure from me to succeed that he would, naturally, succeed. So I won't say I took his failure to advance as a personal failure, but that's only because I know I'm not supposed to say I took his failure to advance as a personal failure.

Between Heidi's house and the Y pool, Mace has been in the water alot this summer. At least three or four times a week. Those of you up north may not think of the last weekend in September as "summer" but that's because your leaves are changing and you are pulling out the super-attractive corduroy pants right now -- it's still 92 degrees everyday here and probably will be until almost Thanksgiving, so we'll be swimming for a few more weeks. Last week at the Y pool, I made Mace take off his back floatie that he likes to use in the Y pool, and he started swimming underwater. He just took off. Yay Mace!

So today at Heidi's, apparently emboldened by his success at the Y, he decided to abandon all fear. I was already a little nervous -- I knew he was going to be wanting to swim without his special suit today so I wore my bathing suit just in case I needed to get in and save him. So I'm the nervous nellie in the video below trying to get him to jump at the right time and in the right place (I don't think that means I'm a control freak, I think that means I was actually parenting for once).

It's one thing to jump off the edge of the pool and basically land with your hand already on the ladder where your mom in her mismatched bathing suit is waiting for you. But it's completely another thing to do this:

Ha! See? It looks to me like my under-parenting approach is really starting to bear fruit. I think I need to write a book to enlighten all the other mommies.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Day at IKEA -- Based on the Impossible True Story

Three weeks ago, Dez made me promise her that we would go to IKEA together this past Saturday. If you don't know what IKEA is, I am truly sorry that your TV has been broken for the last ten years and you've been dropped from the mailman's route. Essentially, IKEA is a gigantic, gazillion square foot store full of products to fill Swedish 270 square foot apartments.

I do so love irony.

Those Swedes are clever clever people (is it appropriate to judge an entire country by the one thing I can identify as originating within their borders?). They have designed a store where everyone is funneled from the front door to an escalator that whisks customers directly to the second floor, lest they be tempted to skip the second floor altogether and wander aimlessly around the first floor and perhaps end up at the registers with (gasp) nothing.

(I told Mace that those buggies were made for tiny Swedish children who eat healthy fish diets and not for big American children who only eat mac n' cheese, but he insisted on squeezing himself in there anyway, "I swedish! I fit!")

Now those clever Swedes actually put a childcare center on the first floor, right by the escalator at the front door, so you can just drop off the younger ones to play for 45 minutes or so. When I dropped Mace off there, the non-Swedish girl at the counter asked me to go ahead and fill out the paperwork but that I would probably have to wait a few minutes to get Mace in because they were full -- they were expecting a parent, now five minutes late, back to pick up a child. The non-Swedish girl did not seem troubled or upset by the fact that the parent was late and I realized after I saw the second floor, why the childcare center workers weren't too concerned about the parent being late.

The poor parent was probably lost.

The store is designed like a maze so that customers are basically herded all the way through the store -- if you deviate from the path, you will find yourself at a dead-end, surrounded by duvet covers and shiny purple curtains. It's kind of like venturing off the traditional church path and finding yourself at a church-in-the-box -- it's very shiny and it seems comfortable, but none of the doors lead you to next place, only backwards. But I digress . . . into some sort of strange spiritual reflection no one wants to hear . . .

Anyway . . . finding a bathroom for your seven year old, who suddenly hears nature calling him very loudly, can be an enormous problem in IKEA. When Casey decided he had to "go" we were somewhere in the northeast quadrant of the media/storage section and needed to get to the bathroom by the cafeteria. To get there, we would have had to go through lighting, linens, kids, kitchen stuff, and a bunch of bunkbeds, if I hadn't spotted a "shortcut" door hidden between media and kids. So I used a map (Casey had picked it up -- he loves maps), plotted a course for the potty and we made it there in about four minutes, which was, as it turns out, about all the time we had, if you know what I mean.

Not only is it easy to lose track of where you are in IKEA, it's also easy to lose track of all of the people you came with. In my case, I lost Flamingo Joe at the door. He went to find a Diet Coke (even though he insists he's sworn off them -- I think the habit of using the excuse of finding a Diet Coke to avoid walking around a huge store for hours is just too ingrained in his system and he reverted to the familiar "out" as soon as he saw the sheer magnitude that is IKEA; he panicked, strangled out "I'm going to find a Diet Coke" and sort of staggered away in the direction of the downstairs snack bar) and we didn't see him again until lunch. I lost Dez and Grandma at the top of the escalator when I made the extremely naive mistake of saying, "Casey and I are going to find the kid stuff . . . we'll meet you back over this way in a little while." The naive parts of that statement are: "back over this way" and "in a little while."

Before Casey and I walked away, I did see a semi-panicked look in Dez' eyes, which I attributed to her constant fear that we (the Flamingo family) are going to forget she's with us, no matter where we are (the beach, someone's birthday party, a restaurant, church, Georgia . . . ), and then leave her. She might would acknowledge she has abandonment issues, but I don't think we've ever actually left her anywhere. It's possible that we did and she's just too nice to tell us that we left her while she was in the bathroom at a restaurant in Dunedin and she had to hitch it home, but I personally don't recall that ever happening.

In hindsight, I realized that Dez was the only one of us who'd been in this IKEA before, so when I separated from the group so soon after Joe had abandoned us, she knew it would be over an hour before we saw each other again, simply because once you get separated in IKEA, you need a pack of sled dogs to drag you all around the store to find your party.

And a compass.

Were it not for text messaging, poor Dez would probably still be waiting for us in the "sample" 270 square foot home tucked away by the bathroom department.

At lunchtime, with the assistance of our cell phones, we all managed to find the cafeteria and ate together. I had picked up Mace and we were one big happy IKEA shopping group again. After lunch, which did include (for at least one of our party) swedish meatballs, we all set off together vowing never to be separated again. Or at least Dez and I were vowing that. As soon as we were clear of the cafeteria and down on the first floor, however, Grandma said, "I'm going to go look at the rugs" and off she went. But the rugs were within caterwauling distance and I had attached a location device (Casey -- he can't stand to be separated from me for more than four and a half minutes) to her, so that was okay, and she came back pretty quickly. We all meandered around the kitchen area together for awhile and picked up miscellanous things here and there -- when Dez told me three weeks ago to reserve last Saturday for the IKEA adventure, she specifically told me to make an IKEA envelope so that I would have some money to spend at IKEA. She clearly does not understand how the envelope system works. Apparently she thinks that if there is an envelope, money magically appears in it. Not true. But I did take $6 from my Toiletries/Cosmetics envelope and bought shampoo and conditioner.

At one point, Grandma picked up a box of small wine glasses (which were roundly ridiculed by both Flamingo Joe and Dez as being "not worth the trouble" of putting wine in). But I was very supportive of the purchase (I cannot help it that Joe and Dez are too uncouth to just get up and get a refill, for the love . . . ) and we placed them on the bottom of the cart that Joe was pushing around. Our other cart had a few things for Dez, a few things for Grandma, my shampoo and conditioner, and one toy each for the boys (purchased from their Family Trivia winnings and Dave Ramsey "commissions" -- but that's another blog post altogether).

An hour or two after lunch, we managed to make it all the way around the first floor to the registers, where we saw the first non-cafeteria employees that we had seen all day. That's not completely true -- I did see an employee on the second floor at one point trying to help someone find their loved one they'd lost in the self-assembly basket area several hours before. Regardless, there were practically no employees in IKEA and no one seemed to miss them -- I didn't hear one person ask, "Well let's ask a salesperson." I think it's because you're just too stupefied to ask anything once you're inside and therefore they don't need salespeople (and I would note for the record, that NONE of the employees was tall or blonde, much to Flamingo Joe's disappointment). I'm betting the county commission or the city council, or whichever governmental entity it was that started drooling when IKEA begain inquiring about putting a store here, is really disappointed that IKEA only brought, like, 40 jobs to the area and not 400 (or, if you count like Obama, 400,000).

Where was I? Oh yes, wandering toward the checkout, where, as Flamingo Joe immediately pointed out, every single thing we had put in our carts (except for the small wine glasses)while slowly winding our way through the store, was conveniently displayed for sale in vast quantities within 20 feet of the cash registers. It's the journey, Sweetie, it's the journey.

So we got in line at checkout and Dez, Grandma, and I had to split up lines because I was paying in cash (yes, out of an envelope) and they were paying with debit cards. When we split up and tried to divvy up our stuff out of the basket, we realized that Joe, who was not in line with us and who we could not see anywhere, still had the cart with the little wine glasses. We had left him with the boys at the wicker furniture right behind the checkout lines, but now he (and the boys) were gone. So while we were standing in our separate lines, Dez was trying to call him and I was scanning the packed checkout area to see if I could spot him. Finally, after Dez checked out and Grandma was in the process of checking out, I saw him buying ice cream for the boys at the snack bar near the door.

Trust me when I tell you that I should have known.

I was still in line, so I alerted Dez to his whereabouts and she headed over to get the wine glasses from him so I could pay for them. Apparently, while hanging out with the boys on the wicker furniture, he saw the snack bar and remembered from his visit there four hours prior that they served ice cream. So he immediately left the cart where it was and took the boys over to the snack bar.

Dez went to find the abandoned cart.

We haven't seen her since.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dental Twilight Zone

Before I post this, I would like to acknowledge to the world at large that I realize I'm not getting any parenting awards this year at the annual convention. I'm okay with that. I take full responsibility for my parenting failures.

That being said . . .

Today was Casey's first visit to the dentist. Yes, I know. He's seven. His first visit should have been at something like three days old if you believe the American Dental Association's recommendations. Or he should at least have gone by the time he turned three, if you believe any of the parents of the children who are actually parenting proactively. I personally believe I have an excuse for not taking Casey to the dentist at the appropriate age: I hate the dentist and all that he or she represents (i.e., shots in my mouth).

When I was Casey's age (possible a year or so younger, but I haven't checked with my mom yet), every single one of my yearly visits (back then the American Dental Association had not convinced the insurance companies that six month cleanings were critical to maintain good dental health) was fraught with fear because the annual visit for the cleaning was always, almost without exception, followed soon thereafter by an appointment for filling cavities. And I use the plural intentionally. My adult mouth is full of fillings from my youth and therefore it could not bring itself to even ask a friend for a referral for a pediatric dentist until this year, when I noticed that our well water was starting to stain Casey's new permanent teeth.

So I asked around and was referred to a dentist who does not allow parents into the exam/cleaning room while the children are with the dentist. His name is Dr. Gerald Copeland. My friend told me that she hates the dentist, too, and she didn't want that experience for her kids, so somehow she found this dentist and her kids love him. She told me they always come out of their appointments smiling. So I put off making the call for a few more weeks and finally succumbed to mommy guilt last week sometime and called to make appointments for both Casey and Mace.

Here's the bottom line regarding our experience with Dr. Copeland's office today:

This ain't yer momma's dentist.

The waiting room at Dr. Copeland's has a bright red VW Bug sitting in it. When Casey and Mace saw the Bug, they immediately forgot why we were there in the first place (to be fair, Mace had no real concept for what a "dentist" is and probably thought the Bug was the dentist) and started playing in the car. We were a few minutes early and there was only one other person in the waiting room -- a grandmother waiting on her granddaughter who was getting a tooth pulled.

We might have waited five minutes or so before an assistant of some sort came out, smiled (I know! Right?? She works in a DENTIST'S office, does she just not know???), and called the kids back. I sort of halfway got out of my chair before I remembered I was supposed to sit there and act cool and relaxed while the children were led away by the nice lady, but it didn't matter because they both just went on back without even looking at me.

So while my children were in the back, I chatted it up with the grandmother. At one point, the dentist himself came out to the waiting area, sat down with the grandmother and updated her on how the granddaughter was doing. And get this -- her granddaughter had fallen asleep while getting her tooth pulled (or possibly immediately thereafter, but still . . . she's at the DENTIST'S office, how could she not notice???).

After what seemed like only ten minutes, but had to be longer, a different smiling assistant/tech came out and summoned me to the back (again with the smiling employees . . . they work in a house of pain . . . what's wrong with them??). I knew now that my day of reckoning had come and I was about to get what I deserved. They were going to tell me what a horrible mother I was for waiting so late to bring Casey in and he already had eight cavities, etc. My children, I was sure, were huddled crying in a room somewhere, gums bleeding, waiting to accuse me of abandoning them to Dr. Pain.

The assistant led me to a room full of oversized stuffed animals, where I discovered my children, covered in stickers, almost bouncing off the walls with happiness, while they rummaged through their goody bags. What the heck? They were at the DENTIST'S! How could they not know?

The assistant then talked with me for several minutes about the kids x-rays and gave them both brushing grades (Mace got a B -- so that's really me getting a B, since I'm the one actually brushing his teeth these days; Casey got a B minus and that's all him; I was fine with these grades while I was there, but then later I wondered: do they ever really sit in that room and tell a mom that her child gets a D minus for brushing? I'm doubting it, and I'm thinking that B minus just might be as low as they go because it's low enough to get your attention, but not so low that you'll be humiliated and not come back). She then informed me that Casey did not have any cavities. I was shocked -- how was it possible that I was not being punished for my failure to properly parent? What kind of game were these people playing at?

And then the dentist himself came in and he was . . . cheerful. And really really nice. And he kept smiling. How is that possible? Does he not know that, as a group, dentists make up a very large percentage of suicide deaths? What is wrong with these people? He answered all my questions and spent quite a bit of time with me and the boys. I don't think he stopped smiling the entire time. It was absolutely surreal -- nothing like the torture chamber I remember from my childhood.

I suppose it's possible that there may be a liberal use of nitrous oxide among both the staff and the patients at this office . . . but even if that is true, I'm okay with that. It doesn't seem to be interfering with anyone's ability to do their jobs -- my kids' teeth were quite clean -- and no one was laughing uncontrollably, so what's the harm, really?

When we left, I didn't even have to take the kids to get ice cream or a toy as a reward for being so good at the dentist's. They just wanted a few more minutes in the waiting room to play on the Bug -- they weren't at all afraid that the dentist would come out and get them again and drill some holes in their teeth.

That's just weird.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Root Beer Poocakes

I’m thinking about starting a sub-blog that relates in a roundabout way to cooking. Seeing as how I simply steal all my recipes from other people, it really wouldn’t be right to call it a cooking blog. It would really be more like a blog about things I wish I could cook well if I had the time and talent. I could organize my posts into categories like: “Total Waste of the 6 Hours it Took for Me to Actually Get This In the Oven” and “What ARE Capers?”

And then there's the "Tastes Great But Looks Like Poo" Category, into which Red Velvet Cake Balls and Root Beer Cupcakes, which I made yesterday, fall. If you like root beer at all, Root Beer Cupcakes are great. The kids really liked them. In spite of the fact that they looked like, well, piles of poo.

If you don’t like root beer, you should do what our dinner guest did and ask for a bag to take your Root Beer Cupcake home because you are “too full.” I’m pretty sure someone at our guest’s apartment complex answered their door last night and then looked down to see a flaming bag that smelled suspiciously like root beer.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ride at Your Own Risk

A week ago, we went to Largo Central Park to ride the rails. I put this event on my calendar at the beginning of the summer when I was making a list of free things to do for the summer. Even though the railroad is open the first weekend of every month and we could have gone in June, July, or August, I didn't think riding the railroad in the blazing heat would be any fun. So we waited until the first weekend of September, when it's not any cooler than the rest of the summer, but psychologically, it felt like fall. As it turned out, the sidewalk where the line forms as well as the train ride itself was completely shaded, so all my careful planning was once again for naught.

Just in case you decide to visit the LCR, here are the Rules of the Rails:

When I read that you shouldn't lean from side to side, I really really wanted to lean from side to side just to see what would happen, but my kids were with me and one of them can read, so that would have been bad parenting. It would be a real shame to ruin my spotless record.

Isn't that just the cutest little train you've ever seen? A bunch of retired guys maintain and run the trains, which are kept right there in the park at the train shed:

Before we got there, I thought that there were probably a couple of trains running on different tracks. In reality, there were at least six different trains running on the same long track. So the line, which at first glance was intimidating because it looked about a mile long, went very quickly and we were on the train within about 15 minutes of getting there.

Mace grinned like that the entire ride. I was hoping Flamingo Joe was trying to calculate how much rail we would need to build one of these in our yard, but he wasn't. He was trying to make his notoriously stiff and creaky knees to stay bent like that.

We were on the Amtrak train.

Our ride took us all around a large section of the park.

Through a tunnel:

Past a lovely water feature:

(I was not happy with the dude in front of me who decided to wave at the random stranger with the camera by the waterfall just when I snapped my picture -- apparently he's one of those people who can't help themselves from waving at strangers from a train. He's clearly living in the wrong era of travel.)

And past The Pier in St. Pete:

Nah, just kidding . . . the train wasn't that long.

I was really impressed, though, with how organized and efficient the event was. Remember, it was free. They took donations (which most everyone gave), but still, for the couple of bucks most people were putting in the box, it was great buy.

I was a little troubled by this . . .

. . . because it scared the children. They were convinced Thomas had been kidnapped from the Island of Sodor and transfigured by a dark wizard into a golf cart, then imprisoned in a plexiglass cage so he couldn't get away. Honestly, I couldn't really allay their fears and I was kind of hoping that the Dark Lord really had gotten Thomas.

So I used it as my excuse all week not to play Thomas videos for Mace.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Sleeping Solution

I have a love/hate relationship with my kids' pediatrician. When Casey was born, his doctor told me that he shouldn't have a pacifier, so I rolled my eyes (behind his back of course) and gave Casey one anyway and then just hid it from the doctor when we were in his office. It was particularly tricky when I needed to give Casey the pacifier to comfort him immediately after he got his shots every few months that first year. The nurse would stick him with the needle(s), he'd start screaming his head off, the nurse would walk out and I'd whip out the pacifier and pop it in Casey's mouth. Then I would have to smuggle Casey out of the office without the doctor seeing us again -- it wasn't easy -- sometimes I had to pretend I was walking and breast-feeding at the same time so that I could drape a blanket over him while we were leaving.

When Casey stopped pooping for a week when he was potty-training, I called the doctor's office on day four and said, "Casey hasn't pooped in four days, is that a problem?" The nurse said, "Don't worry about it, he'll go. Just keep sitting him on the toilet." On day seven, I called again and said, "It's been a week, I'm coming in." When I got there, the doctor told me Casey's large intestine was two times wider than it should be and that I should have come in on day four. I wasn't happy -- mainly because part of the "fix" was me giving Casey enemas three times a day for the next two days.

I attribute Casey's smart mouth to those two days.

You'd have a lifelong excuse for eye-rolling and sarcasm, too, if you'd been subjected to that regimen.

With Mace, I confess I've been a little passive aggressive with the doctor (that was a long two days for me, too). I never hid the pacifier and when the doctor would tell me what all the grave consequences were for pacifier use, I would just shrug, look him dead in the eye and smile.

When I took Mace in five months late for his three year check-up in August, I told the doctor about Mace's strange sleeping pattern -- about how Mace would wake up in the middle of the night and come into our bed and start kicking us in head. The doctor said this (word for word, I promise), "What I would do -- and you don't have to do this, but what I would do -- is put a spot for him on the floor to sleep on in your room where he can see you when he comes into the room. Before putting him to bed in his own room, tell him that if he wakes up during the night, he can come into your room and sleep in his spot on the floor, but that he cannot get into the bed with you or wake you up." The doctor then said that Mace would eventually stop coming into our room at all because the pallet on the floor was not as comfortable as just staying in his own bed. HA.

If you have now, or have ever had, a three year old, you surely see how laughable this proposition is. Get a three year old to walk into your room in the middle of the night without waking you? Get real, man! It'll never happen!

I was so excited about proving the doctor wrong. I was sure Mace would never willingly sleep on the floor by the bed and that I'd end up fighting with him in the middle of the night to sleep on the floor -- what was going to be the point of that? Then I'd be awake -- I might as well take him back to his own bed. Still, I was a little worried the doctor would be right, so I waited over a week before preparing Mace's floor pallet in our room. But this is how it went when I finally set it up:

Nights 1 and 2 -- Mace slept in his own bed all night until 5 am and then came into our room, went straight to the pallet without speaking to us or trying to get our attention and fell back asleep for an hour.

Nights 3 through 8 -- Mace slept in his own bed until sometime between 1:30 and 3:30 and then came in our room, went straight to the pallet and fell back asleep until between 5 and 5:30. When he woke up each of those mornings, he informed me (in a whisper) that he was going downstairs and then left.

Night 9 -- Mace slept in his own bed until 3:30 when he got up, walked straight past our room to the stairs; at which point, I started hollering for him and he wouldn't respond. Joe hopped out of bed and ran after him as Mace walked down the steps (with Joe calling his name the whole way) and into the kitchen where he stood until Joe caught up with him and asked him what he wanted and said "Chocolate Milk" and "Blythe's Cup." So Joe got him chocolate milk in Blythe's cup (I'm sorry Shelya, I don't think you'll ever get that cup back), carried him back upstairs to his own bed where he laid back down in a deep sleep. I'm convinced he was sleep walking.

Nights 10 through 13 -- Mace has slept in his own bed for three nights in a row without getting up until 5:30 or so, when he comes into our room and tells me (in a whisper) that he's going downstairs.

At 5 or 5:30, when Mace goes "downstairs" you do understand that he's going to find Grandma, right? Grandma says that she's already awake at that horrid hour, but she is a giving, self-sacrificing sort and she may not actually be awake when Mace appears in her room at 5 a.m. Joe told her we could fix a pallet on the floor in her room too, if she wanted, and she laughed -- but it was a weary laugh. If we're going to do that, why not just put a pallet in every room in the house and we'll make it a game every morning to see where Mace ended up.

That might not be good parenting.

So now I have to actually thank the doctor for his good advice because it does appear that he was right about the pallet.

And judging by Casey's permanent teeth, I think he may also have been right about the pacifier:

Dang Doctor.