Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Jimmy the Spider

The kids are dying for a dog. They talk about dogs, they look at dogs, they run after dogs on the playground, they look at dog pictures, tell dog stories and ask for one several times a week. I am not dying for a dog. Not because I don’t love dogs – I do.

The first love of my life was a St. Bernard bitch, big and lazy. She shed everywhere, slobbered profusely, couldn’t do any tricks, ate the food off my plate if my attention lapsed for even a second, and woke me up in the middle of the night to let her out. Also, she didn’t like children much (except for me), and she really didn’t like them to run. That made her crazy, and she’d growl until you slowed down. I loved her to bits. I used to lie on the floor hugging and kissing her and playing with her paws. When I was smaller, I’d push the footstool up beside her, climb on, grab her collar and ride her like a horse around the living room until I slid off her loose coat. She was brilliant.

However, I just can’t handle a pet in the house right now. I’m barely able to cope with two boys, and I can’t imagine throwing a dog into the mix – with the walking and the feeding and the attention and the training and the commitment and the vet bills. Not right now – but someday yes. In the meantime, I thought recently, I’ve got to get them to stop haranguing me for a dog. I keep saying soon, and the 5 year old is starting to think that soon means never.

The other day, I had Max, the 2 year old, on the counter in the bathroom, changing him. Zach, 5 years old going on 13, was washing his hands next to us. I heard Max yell, “Ah! A Pider!” We looked up and there was a GIANT spider on the far wall. Zach yelled, “Yikes!”

They freaked out (the thing was the size of my hand), until I said, “Hey, guys, what are you screaming about? That’s our new pet Spider! He’s come to live with us. He’s the perfect pet – very low maintenance.”

That calmed them down immediately. They started smiling at the spider, looking at him in a new light.

“What should we name him, boys?”

Zach and Max stared at each other for a minute, and then Zach piped up: “Jimmy!”

So, after that, we started calling him Jimmy the Spider. He had webs set up in every corner of the bathroom ceiling and the game every time we went to the bathroom was to look around and try to find Jimmy to say Hi. Jimmy’s been her for a while – I’ve lost track. In fact, Jimmy’s been here so long now we’ve made up a song:

He’s Jimmy the Spider
The Wonderful, Wonderful Spider
He sits
He stares
He walks around
Sometimes, he eats a fly
He’s Jimmy the Spider

Jimmy’s awesome. I don’t have to feed him, I don’t have to walk him, I don’t need to microchip him and if, perchance, tragedy were to strike and someone were to smash him, I could easily find a replacement.

Friday night, the way kids do, Max pulled on my guilt cord. After a bedtime nappy change he looked for Jimmy. I zipped up Max’s pyjamas, picked him up and told him to say good night to Jimmy.

So he did: “Good night Jimmy. I love you.”

How bad a mommy am I, pretending a household pest is really a household pet? A wave of shame washed over me as I realised, these guys need a real pet. Not one who’s going to die or be eaten in three weeks.

Hmmmm....a dog...

Anyway, the following morning, we noticed there was a second spider in the bathroom. I thought: oh dear, this is getting out of hand. It’s an invasion: I better get rid of these spiders.

Zach looked up and said, “Hey! Another spider!” He Thought for a moment, “We’ll name him Oscar! Now we have TWO pets! We don’t need a dog at ALL!”

On second thought, they can stay.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Operation Preparation

My 5 year old will be having an operation tomorrow. It’s a minor procedure (ear tubes, commonly known as grommets) and, all going well, he should be home in the evening. Nevertheless, I’m in a tizzy. Anaesthesia! Pain! Complications! A strange hospital! Roommates! Disruption! All this is going through my mind, and more. It’s a day procedure, but I’m going to pack a bag and I’m pre-preparing meals for the end of the week, like ANYTHING could happen. I also made sure to discuss the operation with my boy, dispel misconceptions and answer questions. I went through what would happen that day and what was to be expected. It’s been a running conversation, and we’ve had it a few times. I’m glad I did this, because some of the things he thought were going to happen were very funny, and he had some good questions.

Following are highlights from our Operation Preparation chats. This script is a composite of discussions:

Me: Zach, I want to discuss something with you.

Zach: (Playing with a Transformer in the back of the car): What?

Me: You know how you’ve been having trouble with your ears? And your nose was running a lot for ages?

Zach: (Not taking eyes of Transformer) Yeah.

Me: Well, The doctor is going to take care of it. You’re going to have a little operation to put tubes in your ears, and it’ll make your ears feel better and you’ll hear better and everything.

Zach: (Eyes wide, head cocked sideways, brows knitted) Tubes?!?

Me: Little tubes

Zach: How small? Like, the garden hose?

Me: Eh, no, smaller than that. Really tiny, like, you know, to fit in your ear.

Zach: How the heck are they going to get them in?

Me: Don’t say heck.

Zach produces impish smile.

Me: They’ll just go into the hole in your ear and put them in that way.

Zach: What hole in my ear?

Me: The ear canal-that opening in your ear.

Zach: I have an opening in my ear?

Me: Eh, yeah. Take your finger and put it in your ear.

He does so.

Me: That’s your ear canal. It’s an opening into your ear. They just go in there and put the tubes in.

Zach: But how will the tubes get out?

Me: Good question – they will fall out naturally in six months or so...when you’re six years old, they’ll come out around then.

Zach: But I won’t be six for YEARS!

Me: You’ll be six at the end of this year.

We get home: Toilets, wash hands, change clothes, beg for sweets, mommy denies sweets and tries to push fruit, boy refuses fruit and finally, after much haggling, a compromise is reached whereby toast and a banana are agreed upon. Ear tube conversation resumes.

Me: So, Zach, on Wednesday, we’ll wake up very early and go to the hospital.

Zach: What?! You mean they’re not coming here?

Me: Here? No – it’s more convenient to have operations in a hospital.

Zach: Why?

Me: Well, that way they have all the nurses and doctors and beds they need in one place.

Zach: Beds? What are the beds for?

Me: To lie down...eh..you’ll see. When we wake up on Wednesday, I have to shower you. I may or may not put pyjamas on you at home.

Zach: Pyjamas?

Me: They go well with the beds...look, we’ll keep going with this later – finish eating, then homework time.

EXTRA NOTE - COMING ON 28TH MARCH - I’ll be featured on mamapedia.com Voices again on 28th of March with my post, Human Breast Milk Ice Cream. Keep your eyes open for that.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Best Purchase for Young Children is No Purchase at All

Someone recently asked me about toys that are good buys for young children. The March 7th Social Mom’s writing prompt asks: what was the best purchase I ever made as a mother? After having a think about this, I decided that I couldn't in good conscience write a blog post about spending money. Firstly, I have little of it. I could wax lyrical about great products, but I won’t be buying any right now. Secondly, lots of other people these days don’t have enough money, either. As they say, though: the best things in life are free. This sounds like a cliché, but when it comes to raising kids, it’s almost true. Here's a list of the BEST NON-PURCHASES I'VE EVER MADE:

1. Dirt – I used to pay for sand, but when the sand ran out one day, my two boys just sat down and started playing in the dirt under the sand table. I was like: ‘What the Hell – why not?” I have to make sure and bath them after an afternoon outside-- but I had to bath them after a spell in the sand box anyway. Sand is worse, actually, as it goes EVERYWHERE. PRICE: Free

2. A Large Cardboard Box – Because my two year old killed the TV last week (there’s another blog post in that story), my husband brought home a new TV on Friday night. It came in a large box. Last summer, I bought a large piece of furniture, which also came in a large box. Guess what happened with these boxes after their contents were removed? That’s right – hours of play. They ended up outside and the kids hid in them, imagined in them, and, eventually, destroyed them. Price: Free (initial purchase required-unless you go box hunting around town...) Warning: you may have to clean box pieces off your lawn or living room rug. Trust me, this is worth having them entertained and stimulated (read: out of your hair) for a while.

3. Fresh Air - There’s nothing like several hours outside to exhaust them and get them into bed by 7:20 pm. How does my family like to get fresh air? Walks, bike riding, skateboarding, “insect hunting” in the garden with old fishing nets, chasing each other, etc. If you don’t have a bike or anything else, walking will do. Collect stones, weeds, and other interesting tit-bits along the way. Price: Free (If you don’t have outdoor fun gear, secure hand-me-downs or shop in a thrift store.)

4. The Local Playground - I want us outside getting physical exercise as much as possible. Playgrounds are great for climbing frames, area to run, swings, and so on. They make a change from the front garden, and you can picnic there, as well. We were home in Florida visiting family over Christmas 2009, and made the disappointing discovery that the local playground in Broward County was closed two days a week because of cut backs in public services funding. We showed up there one afternoon ready to play and couldn’t. What a bummer. This means that the fabulous public amenities they have in Broward aren’t available to children and adults on those days. Price: Free – unless you want to include your tax dollars that go to maintenance. And, petrol to get there (unless you can walk).

5. A Packet of Balloons - The kind you inflate with your mouth. Having a pack in the cupboard is no less than a lifeline on rainy days. Blow them up and play balloon volleyball in the living room. Or, balloon soccer. Or, balloon catch...you get the picture. The kids get exercise even when there’s snow or ice outside- and you can’t break anything with them (unless you do a vicious spike – but my 5 and 2 year olds aren’t capable of that). PRICE: A Euro? A Dollar? Some Rands?

6. The Library - Raining again? Go to the library. It’s good for you, and often they have more than just books on offer. There are sometimes activities, computers, and in some even toys and play areas. Price: Free or the cost of an annual membership – only €2 at my local library!

I could keep going here, but use your imagination. Sometimes, you do need to spend a little money – but not much. The best toys are the core ones that get kids engaged, and which don’t cost much: Paper, crayons, Play-Doh™, reading books, balls, blocks, buckets, bowls, spoons, shovels, blankets. Some of these things aren’t even technically “toys”, but your kids’ imaginations will make them so.

In closing I’d like to say that, to be honest, one of the best purchases I’ve ever made for young children was part-time childcare – but that was a purchase for me, not them!

If you have more creative ideas for free or almost free activities, please share them in the comments section, here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Free Education, My *ss

Let’s set aside the fact that third level institutions in Ireland have “registration” fees in the thousands of Euros and plan to increase these; and that universities (or our new government to be more precise) may also introduce some sort of graduate tax or other way to make Ireland’s “free” third level education even less “free” than it already is. If we set that aside, you may assume: well, you’re a developed, Western country so you still have free primary and secondary education, like they do in France, Canada and the U.S.A. As mother to a boy who has just started Jr. Infants (roughly equivalent to Kindergarten or first grade in the US) I’d like to say: Free Education, My *ss.
photo by Dean Terry
Maybe I’m looking back on my youth in the U.S. through rose tinted glasses strapped firmly onto my neocortex. Perhaps I don’t remember the cost in the States. Also, I grew up in the US, but am a mother in Ireland, so I don’t know what it’s like to parent school kids in the U.S. on a day-to-day basis. Nevertheless, lots of stuff seemed free in American schools, which isn’t free here. I have to buy my child all his school books, every year. I have to buy the 2 uniforms (sport and regular, with multiple shirts and trousers) plus shoes. (OK, we all have to buy school clothes, pencils and notebooks – but textbooks? In the US we get them for free – though some of them now may still list Reagan as president). Not only is there no subsidised lunch system in Ireland, there’s no cafeteria in most schools: so I provide a cold lunch plus snacks daily. There’s more: I have to pay a fee every quarter to CLEAN THE SCHOOL. Really, the Department of Education doesn’t provide the school the budget to clean—so, we pay for that. I had to buy tickets to see my kid in the school play PLUS make the costume. I pay for his transport. Then, of course, there’s the additional stuff like the book fair, fundraisers, competition entry fees, so on and so forth. The school urged us all to buy a certain newspaper, because if they collected enough tokens from the front page, they could get free sports equipment. People bought stacks.

To top this all off, my school is finally moving into a proper building this year, and THEY HAVE TO BUY ALL THEIR OWN FURNITURE, WHITE BOARDS, etc.  Guess who’s paying for this? That’s right: not the Department of Education - the parents. What does the Department of Education pay for? Teacher salaries and building rental, I think.
The expense of the Irish school system is draining me dry. I walk through the school yard at collection time in the afternoons like a soldier running through a field rife with enemy fire: head down, look at my shoes, go fast, avoid the bullets of other mother’s eyes as they try to sell me baked goods or raffle tickets, or try to get me to sign up for stuffing grocery bags for coins down at the local grocery store. (I’d help, really, but I have a toddler on my hands and don’t know how I’d stuff bags and keep him from throwing the contents around the place.) I end up buying tickets or fairy cakes which, frankly, my *ss doesn’t need (there’s that bottom theme, again.) 
Look, I know you pay either way--either in taxes or straight out of pocket. But when you pay out of pocket, you’re paying from your already taxed income. There seems to be something inherently fairer in a system where taxes are collected and evenly distributed amongst the schools in a manner sufficient to cover needs such as sports equipment, desks and cleaning. And if that isn’t the way it works in the States, that’s the way I remember it working.  Maybe I’m wrong. American moms, set me straight.
I’m just ranting because I’ve come to realise that not only do I need to save for my boys’ college education, I need to save for their primary education, too.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Liebster Blog Award

I'm the proud recipient of a Liebster Blog Award! I was tagged by my fellow blogger and talented friend, Sarah Flynn over at Fairy Face Designs. Thank you, Sarah. As part of accepting the award, I must do the following:

1) Create a post on my blog and add the Liebster blog image. Check

2) Link back to the person who gave me the award and say if  I accept.  Check

3) Choose 3-5 of my favourite blogs, link to these in my post and tell these lucky bloggers that they've been tagged.

The aim of this award is to bring lesser known but good blogs to light. (Therefore, lucky bloggers, please don't go on to tag somebody with, for example, 300 followers.)

I don't keep a blog roll or list on my blog. I just don't want to offend anyone or have them feel left out. I follow A LOT of blogs that cover mainly literature, writing, politics, food, a few design and, of course, many "mom blogs". Lots of blogs are great, the ones I link to here are just a few that I return to again and again for a chuckle, some enlightenment, or that feeling of "Yes, I've been there!"

1. Crumbs - recipes to feed your family - I love the recipes, and this blog has a great look. It's a blog with integrity

2. Fenland Witters - She writes with a lovely voice and can be darkly funny. You'll connect - especially if you have children on the younger side (toddlers through primary school).

3. Kerry On Living - An honest, humorous writer. Go visit her blog and cheer her up, she just took redundancy! I especially like her since she, like me, rarely mops.

Check these ladies out! I do, regularly.

Bloggers, now I've tagged you, feel free to pass the award on to some of your favourites.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Human Breast Milk Ice Cream

Earlier this week, a London shop started selling ice cream made from human breast milk, cream, sugar and vanilla. It was called baby gaga, was served in a chilled martini glass and retailed for £14 GBP per serving. I use the word “was” because a few days after they started selling it, authorities in London confiscated the ice cream from the shop. They will run tests on the ice cream and determine if it’s safe for human consumption (you can read about it here: http://on.msnbc.com/fJdHAp). I think they’re taking a pause in order to consider if selling this ice cream is a good idea or not.

by dondur
This is the inevitable end to a stupid idea. Firstly, most STDs can be spread through breast milk. So can alcohol, drugs, and so on. Heck, I know a lot of mothers who couldn’t even eat curry while they were breastfeeding because their babies would balk at the flavour of their milk, or get smelly poos. What is the lifestyle of these mothers donating the milk? It’s not possible to know.

The integrity of the food chain is important. Food safety is important. Cows, goats and sheep live and give milk in a controlled environment. They’re raised to standards, their milk collected and stored in accordance to regulation. If one cow in a herd gets a serious, infectious disease, the whole herd is often put down in order to prevent contamination to humans (as many in Britain and Ireland know only too well). Humans are not put down when they get serious illnesses. They’re treated. Human lifestyles are not regulated.

Aside from food safety concerns, I have other issues with this ice cream. Mainly, I think human breast milk should be for human baby consumption. Not human adult consumption. Clearly, this ice cream served in a martini glass and priced at £14 per serving is for curious adults, not babies. There are women who have problems producing their own breast milk in sufficient quantities for their babies. They could benefit from the milk these women are selling to the ice cream parlour. There are breast milk banks that take donations, properly and thoroughly test it, before passing it on to women and babies in need. One great benefit of donating breast milk is to premature babies who don’t have a developed suck reflex. These babies could die from Necrotizing Enterocolitis, a condition where tissue in parts of the large intestine may start to die. Drinking breast milk instead of formula improves the outcomes for these babies. There are many conditions affecting babies (premature and otherwise) where outcomes can be improved by drinking breast milk. Mothers with excess breast milk could consider donating to help these babies.

Thinking through all this has raised issues for me regarding the use of cow’s milk. If mother’s milk is intended for human babies, isn’t cow’s milk intended for cow babies? Of course it is. Why do I drink it? Is it wrong to use cow’s milk? I care about animal welfare, too, and used to be a vegan. I gave all that up somewhere along the way and am now a total carnivore; glimpses of my former self shine through when I read stories like this, however, and think about cows giving their milk for human consumption. A blog post on animal welfare is for another day, though. For now, I’d just like to urge mothers to keep breast milk for babies.

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