Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I Pretend to Be Well-Traveled

(Somehow I skipped posting this one a couple of weeks ago -- I'm sure someone was crying or pulling on me or I maybe I just got up to pour more coffee and forgot to post.)

This once a month posting thing I'm doing is just garbage, I know.  When I started this blog, I intended to post weekly, but life has gotten in the way of my blogging about life.  I'm going to stop beating myself up about this and hope my children will forgive my lack of documentation about their little lives.  I'm the youngest of four, so you can imagine how much my parents worried over writing down every little thing I did.  Seriously, they only have like 7 photos of my childhood and a few things scribbled in a pink baby book, but I have somehow managed to live a normal life without hating my parents.  

So, anywho, the Darby family is still recovering from a looong trip -- but a trip that has been one of my favorites.  We packed way more than necessary into 10 days but somehow never felt too rushed.  We drove to Memphis then to my hometown of Corinth, Mississippi . . . then to my college town of Oxford, Mississippi . . . and back to Corinth and then to Memphis . . . and then back to Corinth . . . 

  . . . okay, you can take a break here if you need to and scroll down to look at pics or use the bathroom . . . 

. . . and then Clint and I caught a plane to California ALL BY OURSELVES (woo hoo!!!!!!!!!!!) and drove to Pebble Beach and after a few days to Calistoga in Napa Valley . . .AND THEN flew back to Memphis and FINALLY drove back home to Chicago.  I just got out of breath typing all of that.  

Running around barefoot in the Darby's backyard.  Being barefoot outdoors is so foreign to my children.  In the city they would surely contract some sort of disease that would cause their toes to turn green.
Super Mimi!!  Her new fave pose.
Fun at the Memphis Zoo (I still looooove this zoo) with a snake.  I almost wet my pants when I saw this thing out of a cage but it didn't even phase Mimi.  What's wrong with her?
Our sweet friend Emerson and her mom and new baby brother (who I almost stole because he was so sweet) joined us at the zoo.  Em's dad has been BFF's with Clint for about thirty years and she and Mimi were at the same daycare as little ones.  Mimi is still the crazy one and Emerson is still the reasonable one.  It will be fun to see where they are in twenty years . . .

Fun at Bebe's house.
Hotty Toddy, gosh a'mighty, who the hell are we?  Flim flam, bim bam. Ole Miss, yes ma'am!!  And then we lost.  But whatever, still fun to see old friends and schmooze in the Grove.
Mimi and her sweet cousin Anderson. 
Mack had so much to tell Top.  "Abba do?  Dubba dubba dubba.  Ha ha ha ha ha!!!"
What do you get when you have 2 cousins in a red wagon?  I don't know, but it has something to do with trouble.
Mack's favorite toy.
And then Clint and I flew to California.  Aaaaaaahhhhh.  So much fun.  Yes, we did rent a red Mustang convertible.  As one of Clint's co-workers told him, You can take the boy out of Mississippi . . . 
Gorgeous, gorgeous drive into Pebble Beach.  We stopped at this little barbecue spot in a town called Aptos.  IF you are ever in the area, definitely eat here and order the rib sandwich on garlic bread.  My, oh my.  But don't breathe in anyone's face for a few days . . .
Like a little boy in a candy store.
No golf for this girl.  

But that's okay because I had a spa and Carmel to occupy me.  Awwww yeah.

I had no idea how cute this town would be. There was a film festival going on while we were there, and I stared and squinted and craned my neck but saw no one who look remotely famous and fabulous.  Well, lots of fabulous but not famous.

On our way out of Pebble, I made Clint stop in Carmel so we could eat brunch at a place that looked like this:

That served coffee on a tray like this:

And had French toast that was oh so divine . . . 

It was in the 60's and a little drizzly (is that a word?) in Pebble Beach, but I was blown away by how wonderful the wood burning fireplace in our room made me not seem to care so much about that.

And then came my favorite part of the trip.  This.

The drive south toward Big Sur was a drive on my Bucket List that I didn't know I had.

Drop. Dead. Gorgeous.

Just to prove I was here and I didn't steal the photos from Wikipedia.

This one makes me roll my eyes.  Looking to the south while brushing my hair out of my eyes and wearing boots on a beach.  Whatever, Jeri Anne.

My handsome husband . . .
. . . who gets surprised by a wave . . .
. . . uh oh . . .
 . . . mumbling cuss words . . .
 . . . and CRASH . . .
 . . . heh heh heh.
And THIS is why you rent a red convertible when you plan to drive along the California coast.
And through a redwood forest.
I swear a velociraptor is about to pop out behind one of those trees.

After getting many fabulous recommendations, we were able to plan a very successful day in Napa Valley.  The last time we visited I was about 30 weeks pregnant and would have been happy eating and watching TV in the hotel.  Oh wait, that's what I did.  Because of that, I wanted to make this trip awesome, which we did. I like reds like Cabernet Sauvignon the best (Napa is the perfect place) but can definitely appreciate most other reds along with Sauvignon Blanc.  I know that soil and humidity and temperature are factors, but I really don't get it and don't really care.  I just want something yummy to eat with frozen pizza, so if you're as dumb as I am about being a wine snob and about this area then feel free to steal some of my suggestions.

A Dummy's Guide to Napa Valley (by another dummy):

1.  Stay in a really cool bed and breakfast or old hotel in a neat area.  We stayed at Mount View in Calistoga -- the area that is at the top of the valley with the best views.  The hotel was quaint and comfortable, which was all we wanted.  Next time I would like to stay in St. Helena, which was also my favorite place on our last visit, because it has the cutest shops and restaurants.
2.  Use a driver or shuttle service and share the cost with friends.  The drivers can give good recommendations on wineries and on the order of visiting them that makes the most sense.  Do not gripe about the costs -- no one needs to drive after tasting wine.  If the weather is nice, bikes may be fun but even though cops don't give DUI's to bikers, it might not be the safest idea.  

If you don't have a driver, then who else will take a goofy touristy photo such as this?

3.  Try to get suggestions for a winery that is educational, one that has pretty views, one with laid-back and friendly people, and of course some that have really tasty wine.

These are the ones we visited:
Sterling -- I do recommend visiting this one FIRST.  Visitors take a really cool tram up the mountain to the winery, and the line can get really long early.

Our buddies on the tram with us.
Mr. and Mrs. Darby.
Some of the best views of the day.
You go to Sterling for the tram, the views, and the self-guided informational tour.  The wine is not too great, but everything else makes up for that.

We also visited Frank Family -- Clint's VERY favorite wine (and one of mine, too).  Definitely recommend this place.

Another favorite was Heitz -- another one of Clint's favorite wines.  Order the red Zin.  Yummmm.

I also recommend Conn Creek, where you can actually make your own wine.  There is a room in the back that I totally snuck into that looks like this:

You can taste all the wines and then make your own tasty blend.  They had one of their own that was called Anthropology (I think) that consisted of about 9 different types of grapes that is oh so yummy.
We also loved Twomey.  Very quaint with the nicest people ever.  We even got a hand-written thank-you note a few weeks later.  Really?  Who does that?
Twomey was started by the same folks who have Silver Oak, which was also good but a little pretentious at the moment we were there.  Maybe it was the group of overdressed women with way too much make-up and big hair and crazy tall skinny heels that turned me off.  So the wine was good but those women were obnoxious.

Our last visit was at Peju, and I'm so glad we visited this one at the end.  We were exhausted and everything started tasting the same, but we had a few minutes left before it closed -- so why not?  The guy telling us about the wines was also, get this, a rapper.  Hilarious.  So glad he busted out some cheesy rhymes about his wines.  Loved, loved, loved him.  Peju has a wine that is a mix of red and wine that would be so, so yummy with Thanksgiving turkey.
The only one we skipped that I really wanted to visit was Cakebread.  But there's always next time, right?

4.  Last but not least -- eat some good food.  Definitely hit up one or ALL THREE of Cindy Pawlcyn's restaurants:  Mustards, Cindy Pawlcyn's Backstreet Grill, or Cindy Pawlcyn's Wood Grill and Wine Bar.  I made res too late to get into Mustards, but I recommend the burger at Backstreet for lunch and ALL the appetizers at Wood Grill for dinner.
Check out Taylor's Refresher for another fantastic burger during lunch if you can handle the lines.  We hit this place in both Napa AND San Fran the last time we visited, so, yes, it's awesome.
Several people recommended Auberge de Soleil and the Culinary Institute.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

On raising bebes French style. Oh, and my son was kicked out of preschool yesterday.

Since both of my children turned four and two years old in August, I felt it was finally time for their check-ups, um, at the end of October.  My four-year-old daughter measured around the 12th percentile for height and weight while my two-year-old son is in about the 90th.  This equates to Mimi being only about an inch and a half taller than Mack and one pound heavier.  No wonder strangers ask if they are twins.  I really should start saying yes, but the girl is quite precocious.

During this exam Clint and I learned that Mimi is completely healthy.  We also learned that she is quite dominant.

No . . . you've gotta be kidding me . . .

Clint and I smiled with a little pride and a little embarrassment, and the exam continued with Mack.  While he is also quite healthy, we knew a certain question was coming.

"Is he putting together two or more words-- "

"No."  And I completely cut her off.  I then went on to justify my worth as a mother by explaining how Mimi was saying many words by her first birthday and could recite her ABC's by 16 months.  At Mack's age, we were easily having conversations with her.  I couldn't just stop there so I kept telling her how I've worked with small children and was once an English teacher.  I talk with him and read to him and narrate his every move.  Oh, and he has significant hearing loss in one ear.

The doctor didn't seem a bit concerned about my insecurities and told me that he has two things working against him -- since he does have normal hearing in one ear, this shouldn't hinder him much but it could.  We discussed following up with an ENT, but this wasn't her main concern.  She said that the main cause is his dominant older sister.

Oh.  Cue inadequate mommy guilt.  This girl who we've molded to be so entertaining and outgoing could possibly be keeping her brother from talking.

She asked if we'd heard about the book titled Bringing up Bebe, which we had not, and she gave a small explanation.  Basically an American who was trying to raise a child in Paris noticed that French children were calmer than American children in public yet were still bright and happy.  She pointed out how we were constantly giving Mimi attention during the check-ups -- both positive for being funny or negative when she was interrupting -- but when we finally ignored her, she stopped begging for our attention and found a toy to entertain herself.

I always do a little eye-rolling when someone recommends a parenting book to me.  How to potty train, how to sleep train, how to let them cry, how to breast feed, how to introduce solids, how to teach toddlers to read, how to teach toddlers calculus.  I mean, really, who has time to read all these books that each contain overwhelming yet vague strategies?  All of their information contradicts another expert and most of these authors had pretty crappy childhoods themselves from what I've read.  And now this pediatrician wants me to read about Parisian babies?  Really?

But there was something about her that seemed very warm and motherly, so after a week of procrastinating I ordered the stupid book on Amazon.  And it's not half bad.

Let me start by saying that I am only half-way finished, but I think I get the gist.  I'll summarize what I've gathered:
-Americans are too in our children's faces.  We overstimulate.  We feed too often.  We worry too much.  We're too attentive.  We stop our lives as women to transform into mothers.  We do not feel like worthy mothers unless we're exhausted, overweight, and have completely given up the idea of having a normal conversation with another adult until our children move out of the house.
-Parisian children are not picky eaters and eat only at family mealtimes.  They rarely interrupt their parents.  The moms are skinny AND babies are sleeping through the night by 3 months old.  They pause before attending to their children.  Moms do not make a big deal out of breast feeding, forcing the child to read early, or having to go back to work.  It's okay for the mothers to still be fabulous women while still being loving, nurturing mothers.

So far, so good, right?  As I read, I noticed that I once lived somewhat within this realm.  Both of my children slept through the night relatively early -- Mimi around 16 weeks and Mack around 8.  I owe much of this to forcing myself to listen to their cries, going to the bathroom, and then getting some water before actually picking them up.  I tried to calm them and check their diaper before feeding them and eventually they realized food wasn't necessary when the rest of the world was sleeping.  Two points for me.  Clint and I continued going out to dinner when Mimi was small (I didn't cook, so this was sometimes necessary), and attempted to go and do as we always had.  I had a job, which gave me other purpose than being a mom, and it forced me to have more balance.  Mimi was happy with us and happy at day care, and I felt that her life was balanced and wonderful.

Then I got pregnant and hormonal with Mack.  My job wasn't a happy place for me anymore, and I began feeling that maybe I would get more out of my only job being to raise Mimi.  Then I also realized that while she was bright some other children were involved in activities and learning things that she didn't know yet.  This combo turned me into the stereotypical American mom.  Overstimulating, overanxious, worried, obsessive, and insecure.

Sigh.  So I'm re-evaluating exactly what kind of parent I want to be for the umpteenth time.  I want my children to be happy and have fun but also have some healthy boundaries.  I want them to be able to play by themselves or with each other and not always need attention from me.  I want to make them feel important but not that they are the most important.  Because I am important, too.  As is every other human.  In order to do all of this, I must, of course, make a list.  I love a list.

1.  I will be clear about rules without yelling or freaking out.  I will speak to them as if they are actual humans.  Mimi, you WILL stop at the alleys and corners to wait on me before crossing.  Mack, you will NOT throw your food in the floor.
2.  I will not interfere when they are playing quietly by themselves.  Do you do this, too, or am I the only attention-hungry mom?  Mack will be quiet and happy pushing a toy car back and forth on the floor, but I feel like a terrible mom if I'm not in his face asking him to repeat words.  "Wheels.  Those are wheels.  Mack, can you say wheels?  And they're round.  Like circles.  Can you say circle?"  Seriously, Mom, get out of my face and let me play with my car . . .
3.  I will encourage them to play with each other instead of me.  Mimi constantly wants me to watch her do her freakish ballet moves or to tell me a joke that always ends with the punchline, "Banana Pants!"  I just realized I never say to her, "Why don't you show your brother?  Why don't you teach him how to do it?  Wouldn't that be a fun game if Mack joined in?"
4.  I will sit on the couch with a good girlfriend and coffee without interruption from my children.  This one will take a while and may never happen, but I'm making it a goal.  We had a play date at the home of a wonderful friend this morning, and it was a bit crazy at times.  But most play dates that include my children are a bit crazy.  All of our children love each other and had so much fun, but looking back I realize one of the times that the friend and I were able to have a conversation was when we were cleaning up toys in her son's room and our children were running around like banshees in the den.  I kept calling for them to come help, but then I thought Why interfere?  They are finally having so much fun together and letting us be adults.  They can help clean in a few minutes.  Also included in this goal is having an uninterrupted meal and phone conversation.  I realize these might also never happen while my children are awake.
5.  I will hold my children more accountable.  Mack can totally climb up the stairs and walk down the street by himself.  Mimi can get her own snack and milk out of the refrigerator.  Mack can clean up the crackers he spilled on the floor.
6.  I will pause before responding to their every whim.  Mack has learned to throw a fantastic fit, and he continues to throw them because Clint and I always respond quickly to get him to shut up.  Yes, Mack, you can have ANYTHING you want, but for the love please stop freaking out!!!
7.  I will stand my ground and not let snobby North Side moms dictate how I raise my children.  My other Chicago friends know exactly what I'm talking about.  That mom who gasps when my children are too rowdy at the park or find out I haven't enrolled them in gymnastics, Spanish, Mandarin, theater, and the Latin School.  Those moms who love to point out that my child may have offended hers (yet failed to notice how her own child instigated it all because she was too busy talking with her designer on the phone).  That grandmother that yelled at Mimi, that mom who attacked my sweet friend at Little Beans while she was nursing her baby, that mom who accused my former nanny of ignoring a child because she wasn't in his face nonstop.  Those stupid women can shove it.

And on another note, Mack was kicked out of preschool yesterday.

I can say that I'm exaggerating, but I suppose it's true.  He has been attending a once a week, 2 1/2 hour class at the private school that is at our church.  This is the same school I discussed a few posts back, and I even toured it for Mimi.  I didn't feel it was the right fit for Mimi, and now I must face the reality that it's also not the right fit for Mack.  Honestly, it's not the right fit for me either.

I told my mom about this on the phone this morning, and she immediately said, "Wha??" to which I responded, "I know, right?"  When I tried to talk with Clint about it last night, he got all reasonable and devil's advocate on me, and then I shut down and said forget it.  So this is why a girl should just call her mom first.  We need reassurance that we're fabulous and perfect moms and how dare they?!

So anyway, the story goes like this.  The class is called "Time for Twos."  Not "Time for Almost Three-Year-Olds."  Yet almost every child in the room is at least 7 months older and acts more like a three-year-old while Mack acts exactly like a boy-with-a-dominant-older-sister-and-a-slightly-neurotic-mom who just turned two.  I was SO excited about this class because Mack dearly needed time away from me.  Let me get something straight -- I do NOT do attachment parenting.  You can co-sleep and nurse until your toddler is four and never have a babysitter and home school and what-not, but I do not.  Studies show and African tribes and yada yada yada, but I do what I know.  My mother was knocked out when she delivered me.  She barely nursed.  I was in Mother's Day Out (this is a 2 day a week, 9-2:30 type of preschool at many Southern churches) from as early as I can remember.  She dropped me off at the door without tears, and I couldn't wait to play with my friends.  I love my mother dearly and I never had attachment issues.  Stay at home moms in Chicago have no such option as Mother's Day Out (how much have I complained about this?) until the child can attend preschool at three, which I think is just waaay too late.  Other than babysitters, these kids are up their mom's butts until three and then they have to figure out how to deal with it.  So I wasn't shocked when Mack threw a fit each time I had to leave him in this class.

Anyway, the teacher immediately pointed out how Mack was not able to communicate or join the group like the others, and she was constantly trying to make sure he was safe while keeping the others engaged in group activities.  I'm sure I did some eye-rolling the first time we had this convo because, seriously, she expected me to believe she could keep a two-year-old engaged in a group activity?  Moms are required to volunteer once a session, and I did notice that he was more immature than the others in the class because, well, he is several months younger and not talking much.  All of the children played well and explored, and they appeared to act like normal two-year-olds.  The girls played quietly and wanted to be read to while the boys jumped from activity to toy to activity.  I expected Mack to be awful because I was there, but the only trouble he seemed to cause was trying to take pretzels from others and punching buttons on the radio.  I didn't quite see this safety issue that the teacher kept telling me about but whatever.  He didn't seem to be at the others' maturity level, but as a former teacher I know that younger children will eventually learn from the older ones.

She and I had this convo several times, and I continued putting my foot down.  He met the requirements of being a two-year-old, I was not going to show him that his crying will get him out of my leaving him, and he will eventually learn from the older ones.  Yesterday, he was especially clingy and fussy when I dropped him off, and I was having trouble getting Mimi out of the room, which made my stress level ridiculous.  When I returned, he was so focused on him painting that he didn't even notice I had arrived.  Mack was happy to see me and to show me his blobby painting.  He didn't cling to me and he didn't try to pull me out of the door.  He was happy and painting just like the others, so I thought this was encouraging.  I asked the mom who helped that day how things went, and she said he did cry for a few minutes after I left but then played well.  I was feeling we had finally reached a new milestone when his teacher came over to me with a kind smile but then said, "Mack is just not a good fit for this class right now.  Why don't we try in a few months in the spring session?"

On a different day I may have continued my fight, but yesterday was not the day.  "You know what -- you're right.  This is not a good fit."  She tried to justify and comfort and sugar-coat, but I stopped her because I didn't need an explanation.  She was completely right.  This was not a good fit for any of us.  She is a kind person and wonderful teacher who has devoted so much to this school, and while I may not agree with this two-year-old mold, I need to respect her opinion and vision for this class.

I will continue with Little Gym and the occasional YMCA swim class because we totally fit in these places, and I'm okay with that.

In the meantime, I'll just ignore my children, smoke cigarettes, and eat pain du chocolat.  Hey, it works for the French.