Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Pleasant Surprise in Being Wrong

Guess what happened last week? Mattias potty trained himself completely.

I think you should know that my experience with Noah led me to say things like,

"It seems that anecdotally girls can train themselves, but boys need a lot of reinforcement"

I was very good a rattling off a long list of all the things I did to potty train Noah. Noah was potty trained by 29 months of age, when he started a preschool-like program that required that he be potty trained. Getting him trained, however, was not without a good amount of preserverance and, frankly, TRAINING MYSELF to read his mind. It took about 3 months. But I we did it!

This summer when Mattias reached the same age that Noah was, I kept thinking of how much work it was to potty train Noah. And I kept swatting away the thought. Later.

Then autumn came, and I felt terrible from all the first trimester morning sickness. Somehow plugging my nose with a clothespin during diaper changes (yes, I really did that) seemed highly preferable to sitting around in the bathroom waiting for him to go.

My mother did some tsk-ing. I responded by making some more attempts to potty train him.

There was always some reason it didn't work or wasn't the right time. I kept relenting in my efforts. I made excuses.

He's so stubborn. He's not feeling well. He's not ready. It's not working. I'm not ready. I'm not feeling well. I still have some diapers to use up.  Now I'm out of diapers but I still have a lot of wipes. None of his pants are very potty-training-friendly. We're just about to go on vacation. We're adjusting from being on vacation. The holiday has him too wound up. 

On and on and on. (That's my mother tsk-ing, too.)

Last week I ran out of diapers again. Mattias was sick. Not ideal timing. Nonetheless, I showed him the empty diaper box, and told him he needed to wear his 'big boy' pants, like I've done before. He protested, like he's done before. Then we put the 'big boy' pants on, like we've done before. UNLIKE before, he told me when he needed to use the potty. He ran to the bathroom himself. He pulled down his own pants. And he climbed on the potty. AND WENT. And then he repeated this behavior all week, day and night.

I was floored. It was like a light switch had been flipped in his brain. He proceeded to have only two accidents total over the course of an entire week. I'm calling that trained. It didn't work like that AT ALL with Noah.

So, who knows why it was so easy this time around. Because I waited longer (Noah was 29 months, Mattias is 34 months)? Maybe I was just lazy and excuse-ridden enough? Maybe Grandma needed to get in an adequate number of tsks? Maybe he's a different kid? Whatever the reason, I'll take the self-training over my long list of potty-training techniques with Noah. I'm happy about this! Also, here's that anecdotal experience where the boy-child trains himself.

However, this also illustrates this frustrating aspect of parenthood (for me), wherein, I'd like to say, Look, I did A, B, and C and Voilà! Success! See! I'm doing something right! But then, I do neither A, nor B, nor C and somehow I get the same result, with a lot less effort. I wonder. I ask myself if I will ever get to congratulate myself on anything parenting related. That's pretty selfish and arrogant, huh? I think sometimes I'm just too goal-oriented and self-centered for the task of child raising.

Monday, January 28, 2013

New Yard Play

In my mind, the yard should be Messy and Wild. It should be a space for children. There should be lots of overgrown plants to climb around and behind and under. There should be secret spots to dig holes and bury treasures. There should be trees to climb and stones to throw (but not while I'm looking, and NEVER at anyone, of course). We've planted 7 trees and many bushes in our 2 years here. Every summer, we've planted lots of vegetables. But the bushes and trees take time. They take patience and care and their own little plumbing line because it's so DRY in Colorado. Sometimes they die, even with the best of care. I live with a future version of our yard in my head. A version where the trees are big enough that lawn mowing won't cut them down.

Because, in reality, the yard is sparse, especially at this time of the year.

It's warm. The door is open between indoors and out. I listen to the boys' improvisational outdoor singing from the table inside:

Twinkle twinkle little star
How I can get a dirty car?

I smile to myself. That was Mattias. I'm impressed by his rhyming ability, never mind the funky grammar. Then:

Twinkle twinkle little star
How I can get a muddy car?

I decide that it's time I have some visual confirmation on the activity at hand. We have guests arriving in 10 minutes. Muddy cars don't sound good.

They're digging in the vegetable garden box. The water drip line has been dismantled and rearranged, but the mud seems minimal. I figure this is small trade-off for some healthy outdoor playing. I suggest we brush off and head inside.

Noah attempts his escape.

Well, at least they're still digging and climbing, even if there are no plants to hide among.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Some photos that made me think

My brother introduced me Nicholas Nixon's series The Brown Sisters this summer. If you've not heard of The Brown Sisters  or Nixon before, I'll give you some quick background information. Nixon is a professional photographer. Many of his subjects are emotionally difficult to photograph: the terminally and seriously ill, people with AIDS, people in nursing homes. I think if you've ever taken – or tried to take – photos of people in these situations, you'll have even more appreciation for his work.

The Brown Sisters is maybe not as painful as some of his work, but it still managed to permanently plant itself in my brain, where I have been unable to shake its impact. The series of photos is four sisters over 36+ years. Nixon takes one photo every year. The sisters are always in the same order. He started in 1975. His wife is the third from the left. My brother, as I understand it, traded some camera repair work for this print from the series:

When I saw the series in a book, I was absolutely fascinated - and I still am!

Looking at these photos was such a great reminder that what makes us interesting (and by 'us' I mean women)  isn't being model thin or photographically beautiful or looking like we just stepped out of a fashion catalog. What's really attractive and interesting about us are our connections with others. Connections with family, connections over time, and even connections with the camera come to mind. I think it takes looking at the series as a whole to really feel the full impact.

I hope you will follow this link and look at all the whole series. It's really powerful.
More recent link here.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Table setting courtesy of Noah.
Like all siblings, there are similarities and differences between Noah and Mattias. Today, I was thinking about the characteristics I have yet to experience in either of my children. Here are some new additions I'd like to experience in my kids (let's presume these could come in Number 3 – OR – maybe the boys will still grow into them?):
  • The Slow and Steady Eater.  Noah and Mattias mostly eat just fine, but they are SPEEDY FAST. I would love to get them (or another child) to sit at the table for longer than 10 minutes without asking to be excused.
  • The About-My-Day-Chatter-er. Well, it's still possible that Mattias might be this person. So far getting Noah to talk about his day is a very tricky business. I'm not very adept at the art of chatting myself, but I'm in awe of those who are.
  • The Sleeper Baby.  The kind that loves to sleep at night. Haven't had one of those yet. I have a sneaking suspicion that it would be pretty rough to adjust to a Nonsleeper if the first baby (or two) was a Sleeper. But I think the inverse would be okay. They do exist, right? Or is it a myth?
  • The Drawing Artist.  I've always longed to have a kid who adores paper and a writing instrument. Such a simple, peaceful activity (in my mind's eye).

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

No Soliciting

The weather has warmed up quite a bit, but it's still a little cold for an outdoor picnic. This is the indoor, mid-morning version of a picnic that Noah prepared:

[oops, sorry, photo removed]

The boys have a natural tendency to seek out warm spots for their play. In the winter sun, the fluted glass on the front door glows and radiates warmth all day long. Often enough the boys play right in front of it, like they are in the photo. I love this door. I love its light. But it does have drawbacks.

You can't really see details through the door but you can see movement. So when some solicitors appeared to be making their way down our street, we abandoned the picnic and headed for other parts of the house.

Yup, we hid, before they saw our movements through the door and realized we were avoiding the doorbell. (I don't always do this.) I think I need one of those No Soliciting signs. Do you think they work?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Minivan Follow Up

Remember how I was spending a lot of time stressing over the should-we-get-minivan-when-we-get-a-second-car? question. Well, I'm throughly convinced that some day in the future, at some point in time, we will get a minivan. But not in the next year or so!

There was a point in our long drive home in our little station wagon from Iowa at Thanksgiving; Fritz was riding copilot and I was driving. Now, if you've ever road tripped with a 2 and 5 year old for several hours, then you probably already know that the copilot position is much more stressful than the driver position. Fritz was getting an especially bad dose of copilot, because we had failed to find an appropriate pitstop along the highway. An appropriate pitstop with kids meets three criteria: 1) space to run around (indoors if the weather is bad), 2) food to eat, and 3) a bathroom. What we had managed to find was a mega hunting killer enabling gun selling sportsmen store. For running around and a bathroom, it was great. It was one of those places with live fish and waterfalls, stuffed deer displays, and vehicles that were labeled DO NOT CLIMB ON. (We saw the DO NOT CLIMB ON signs too late. But I think that's because the good folks at Cabela's hid the signs towards the back of the display. In reality, they understand that kids need to climb around in mini-sized jeeps. How else are they going to sell parents on $5000 mini jeeps if they don't enlist the help of the kids?)

Where the mega sportsman store failed us was food. The grill was open, but they told us it would take 30 minutes to make a pizza. Thirty minutes to make a pizza?! Ridiculous. I packed everybody in the car, and informed them we were going to do something REALLY FUN: we were going to the Burger King Drive-Thru! If you deprive your children of these things in ordinary life, then it seems like a real adventure when they are 500 miles from home.

Fritz groaned, but took his place in the copilot seat.

He groaned a second time at the drive thru window when I started handing him the array of bags, boxes, drinks and condiments to distribute around the car.

He groaned many more times as he retrieved cheap plastic toys from the floor, helped the boys insert their straws into their drinking containers, found condiment-acceptable applications, and mediated french fry proportions disputes.

But he really started groaning hard when it came time to clean up. Now, look, if it had been me as copilot, I would have crushed - or folded - all that packaging down into the smallest size possible and put the trash on the floor under Mattias' feet. But Fritz had a sudden round of car sickness (from all that turning around!) and could only manage to fill a huge bag with uncrushed packaging, which he decided to leave sitting on his lap, barricading the entire copilot space. I'm not sure he could even see out the windshield anymore. I don't think it was helping his car sickness.

"Papa? Papa! Können wir jetzt was gucken?" Daddy? Daddy! Can we watch something now?

Fritz groaned one last time at the prospect of setting up a DVD for the boys to watch on our borrowed car DVD monitors.

After sitting silently in his trash barricaded copilot seat for ten minutes more, Fritz said forcefully,

"ARGH! Let's just buy the damn minivan!"

There's illness common to all architects. I've touched on it before. But for this post, I'll say it like this: we hate to spend money on things we don't like. If we can imagine something BETTER, then it's hard to let go of imperfections. With the minivan, my disease keeps rearing its stubborn head. What I like about the minivan is the car chassis which gives you the ability to freely move (inside) between the front seats and far back seats. The pure interior volume in a minivan is impressive. And it's comfortable. But from the exterior, the aesthetic of the minivan is just...dated. Really dated. And uninspired. When I'm sitting behind a minivan at a traffic light, I find myself mentally re-sculpting the exterior body. Not just making stupid little changes to the shapes of the windows (Boo, Odyssey!), but rather trying to reposition the mass of the body, reveal a little more undercarriage, perhaps? Something. Something to make the damn thing look less – less minivan-ny. Of course it's possible. Of course it is. It's just that by introducing 7 seat SUVs, car companies thought they could still solve the ugly design problem AND make yet more money. Why bother to truly re-design the minivan, if you can sell more by introducing a NEW product?

Our second car presumption has always been that if I'm the one driving the car, hauling around three kids, the car should be very reliable and (probably) new. But why would I spend $30,000 on a design that I can't really get behind? I'd hate to do that. I'd hate to mis-use my buying power. And that's how I see $30,000. Buying Power. And a Stamp of Aesthetic Approval.

But I don't approve.

One of Fritz's students finished his PhD and headed home to Germany. He was trying to get rid of his 12 year old, 2 door car. It was so inexpensive. The taxes and insurance on it are so low. We bought it for Fritz. That means we've joined the ranks of the two car family after 8 years of sharing one car - and Fritz gets the new addition. I think we're paying less than $400 additional a year in taxes AND insurance. Part of me thinks that it's wrong: here we are producing more carbon dioxide with an old, second car. We're driving more miles than we used to. The real costs in terms of greenhouse gases and less exercise are high. But the out-of-pocket expense? Shamefully low. In the end, maybe you could accuse me of short term, near-sighted action: even if the old car only lasts a year, I felt that, at least financially, we'd come out ahead. Additional benefit: with a 12 year-old car, it's allowed to be an ugly car. The Stamp of Approval is faded and less significant. So, it's done. It's over. We are officially a two car family. But no minivan.

Even though we haven't improved the copilot situation, it feels like we've entered some new world of luxury to have TWO cars. I worry about 95% less knowing that Fritz is driving home, as opposed to biking home, in the dark. (Yes, he does have a very good, strong bike lamp. STILL.) Fritz laughs when I tell him this, because he's been biking home in the dark for years. But it worried me. Maybe I just didn't know how much.

I'll remember this feeling of luxury when I'm cramming all three kids and carseats into the tiny backseat.

Also, baby steps: don't want life to become too luxurious too quickly. Next task? Purchasing the seats to actually fit in the back of the car.

Part 1 here.
Part 2 is what you are reading.
Part 3 here.


I might win the Most Grumpy, Self-Absorbed Pregnant Woman of the Year Award. I've taken to reclusion in efforts not to infect anybody else with my mood. I promise that I was not like this with the first two pregnancies - I was the obnoxiously happy pregnant woman twice. (And BTW, I can ONLY use the descriptor "obnoxiously happy" because I'm clearly not that woman this time.) No, pregnancy can be fun! Someday soon, I might reclaim the fun. We'll see.

You know what's not fun? Gaining so much weight. (Feeling like there's nothing I can do about it.) WHY do I have to grow another chin as well as a baby?  I especially dislike it. For some reason – probably because I see it every time I look in a mirror – it bothers me the most, even though it is probably the least mass added anywhere in terms of pure numbers. Also annoying? Sciatic nerve pain. Mine's not terribly bad as long as I keep moving around and switching shoes and doing exercises and so on. But still, ouch! Overall, I just feel like most of my body is atrophying this time around. It's not pleasant. I can't believe I still have over 3 months to go. UGH.

Yesterday I crawled around on the floor extracting legos from underneath the sofa. And it occurred to me, that as gigantic and big as I think I already am, I must not be that big. At some point in my pregnancy with Mattias, I stopped being able to reach toys hiding under the sofa. So, after I lifted myself off the floor, I informed my (three) boys that I wouldn't be able to rescue sofa-hidden legos from vacuuming death much longer. The vacuum attachment fits much better under the sofa than my arm-attached-to-my-pregnant-body. The boys better figure out how to crawl around on the floor themselves. It seems they DO know how to do this because I stitched three knee patches onto pants in the past week. Or maybe they need to just stop placing the legos under the sofa. How does that happen, anyway? Are legos kicked under there? The boys just stared at me when I snapped. Clearly, I've failed in educating all three of them.

Surely, some of my grumpiness is hormones. But some of it is just fall-out from the last seven months. I have no idea how to blog about these Big (Bad) Things in my life right now. Some stories feel like they are not mine to tell; some would threaten the relative anonymity of this blog. Sometimes I think I'm still busy processing what's happened; I couldn't write about the Big Things even if I wanted to. Sometimes I think that I'm just afraid of how my emotions will come pouring forth, raw and unfiltered and ANGRY. Sometimes I think that I can just focus on the Small (Good) Things – I can post about the Small Things.

There's something really genuine feeling about my favorite blogs. I want to be genuine, too. But it's scary. It's scary to be completely honest about your feelings. And if I take the easier route: well, then, every time I sit down to type about Small (Good) Things, it feels false because my head is really full of Big (Bad) Things.

Most recently, I've been thinking that instead of feeling like I can NEVER post about such-and-such, I'll just think of it as, I'm not ready to post about it YET. Maybe things can just come out slowly over time if I can just be patient with myself. That makes me feel less tongue-tied and false. I think it does, anyway.

Also, it occurs to me that maybe I just need to set a goal for myself. Like posting every other day. I mean, there's value in that, right? I'm pretty sure I don't believe in the theory that every blog post should be a work of finished work of art. That's not why I like blogs at all. For polished work, we can get some books from the library, right? So, here we go: another post in 2 days - shall I talk some more about minivans? Hmmm...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


The ultrasound says we're having a girl.

I'm not so excited. In fact, it's three weeks later and I'm still adjusting to this information.

At one point, I really wanted a daughter. But then I gave birth to two boys. And I adjusted my expectations. And I refocused. And I was really, really okay with having a third boy. Have you met mothers of three or more boys? They're an admirable bunch that I would be proud to be a part of.

Also, the longer I've been out of little girl culture, the more foreign it's become to me. And frankly, I've got some serious concerns about little girl culture these days. Princesses? What are those? I don't think we had princesses when I was a child. American Girls? Huh? Aren't most of us (in the US) American girls? WHY were all the little boys at the swimming pool under 7 years of age wearing swim trunks AND swim shirts this summer, while none of the similarly aged girls were wearing half as much swim clothing? I'm not even sure that I own a proper pair of heels anymore. Hmmm.... No, I don't. I wore clothes that were unisex as a child. Well, maybe not everything was unisex. But, do you remember that? Unisex clothing for kids?

I'm not sure I can get raising a girl right. I'm not sure I ever figured out how to be a very good version of 'girl' myself.

Maybe the ultrasound is wrong.

But it looked like a girl to me, too. In Germany, the standard of care during my pregnancy with Noah was an ultrasound at every check up. I got used to looking at those ultrasound images. Also, I'm an architect, I'm trained to think in section. What I'm saying is: I think I'm somewhat adept at reading ultrasound images.

It did look like a girl.

Another observation: there's been a totally different reaction when I tell people I'm pregnant with a girl than the last two times when I told people I was pregnant with a boy. There's a lot more enthusiasm. And a lot more talk about cuteness and beauty and clothes. Maybe that's because I already have two boys? Or maybe it's expected that I want a girl this time? It's especially interesting to me because I've seen (twice) how both my boys gravitate towards vehicles versus dolls. Over the last 5 years I've thrown up my hands innumerable times when trying to de-traditionalize their gendered play. I guess it's nature, nature, nature, I mutter to myself, because obviously I'm trying to nurture them in other ways. So then, to find myself in this position, of being treated differently simply when I tell people I'm having a girl.... It's kind of crazy, you know? Kind of makes one think about the subconscious sides of the nurture argument.