Mind and Media Meet

charlie_and_lolaOur three year old, requesting more videos: Other ONE!

R: Is it time for bed? Let’s see…

Three year old (waving finger at R.): No, no, no, Papa: don’t think.

The videos in question are the brilliant and not-irritating-to-parents, Charlie and Lola, a British series based on the books of the same name about a little girl and her big brother – the most patient big brother in the history of, well, probably ever. Clever and visually interesting, and, crucially, not the usual nerve-crushing fare produced for the under-four-feet crowd. Ahhhhh. Thanks, Lauren Child!

(To have a look, I Will Never, Not Ever, Eat a Tomato, the very first book.)

 

Could You Just…? (Coffee Edition)

ritualDear Blue Bottle Coffee / Stumptown / Ritual / Intelligentisa / name your artisanal-Williamsburg-wanna-be coffee of choice,

You’ve made it: you are super popular. All the kids who hated you in high school because you wore beige corduroys and couldn’t throw a football worth a damn are queuing up in front of your kiosks to get their caffeine. They wait ten-deep on  weekends to get ONE CUP OF COFFEE.

I get that you are above it all though. That you don’t care what they think of if you, even though you obviously do, in your slouchy knit hat, heavy glasses frames and vintage cardigan. You are painfully hip. Point taken.

But could you, just, please, for the love of God, swing by the grocery and pick up some #$(*&#$! Splenda already? I get that your body is a temple. A very skinny, fixie-riding temple. Mine is not. At least as far as artificial sweeteners are concerned. (FYI, Raw Sugar tastes like crushed up maple syrup, so don’t even start with me on that.)

And – oh – before you go back to practicing your I-hate-you half-smile: could you heat up. the. goddamn. milk? In the name of all that is holy, I do not want a room temperature latte. For $4.25, I should be able to get my coffee at the temperature of the sun.

OK. I’m done. Yes, I know I can go elsewhere and that high temperatures caramelize the delicate sugars in the milk and Splenda is probably made out of chlorine, but I live right over there and could you just…? This once? We’re all in this together. Me, you and your beard kicking off the day with your excellent coffee.

Thanks guys. Really. Thanks. See you tomorrow.

The (New) Rules of the Road

A_towerWhen A. was small and sitting facing backwards in her car seat while I drove, I began to curb my cursing at other drivers on the streets of San Francisco. Let’s be honest: the drivers here are the worst. The WORST. And I grew up in Boston and learned to drive on the BQE, so that’s saying something. I swear a lot here. Or I used to. With a passenger unaware of the rules of the road and unable to see their violators crossing my path, I had to take it down a notch: I didn’t want her thinking I was swearing at her. And right, yes, the swearing itself was probably out of order too.

“Dude,” started to permeate my ‘conversations’ with other drivers instead. As in, “Dude, what the [expletive now omitted]…?!” Or just, “Duuuuuuude#$)(#$! [expletive implied by tone and duration]”

Pretty soon, A. started asking in her new small voice, “See dude?” Short of mounting her in one of those rotating artillery nests on the roof of the car, that wasn’t going to happen. (Artillery isn’t for kids, no matter how many lanes ‘dude’ cut across to make an illegal turn.)

As her syntax evolved, her question did too: “Where’s ‘dude’?”

She’s lagging in her understanding of exactly how one should drive a car in heavy traffic (my way) and how rage can be compressed into sarcastic asides, but I applaud her curiosity and interest in the conversation at hand. She will make an excellent dinner party guest and a wonderful best friend.

At the playground the other day, it became clear that I may have to further curb my outbursts. A. was “driving” one of the play structures, spinning the wheel on the side of one of the towers and craning her neck around to the left and right and looking behind her.

“What are you doing, sweetheart?”

“Looking for ‘dude’.”

Hilarious, yes. Also:

They say that children imitate our behavior much more readily than they take the advice we so explicitly lay out for them. This is, in my experience, completely true. And it is a handy tool for revealing the hypocrisy in us all. While she is still just trying to identify this mysterious and always irritating ‘dude’ – before she realizes that ‘he’ is everywhere, not just a representative of the terrible drivers of my adopted city but of my unprocessed anxiety at the errands un-run, the laundry un-folded, the forgotten to-do, the breaths untaken, the pieces unwritten, and that international fame for as-yet-unspecified feats of selfless glory which has eluded me thus far, of all the hanging chads in the life of a full-time mother in a city that doesn’t quite suit her, before A. perceives the length of his reach with her child’s insight – the ‘dude’ has to go.

Because what I want her to see – in me and on the road ahead – is not an obstructing distraction, but a deliberate focus: for the moment, on the fun we’re having getting where we are going and how little it matters if we get there five minutes later. Five minutes is one more poorly-executed song in the car with her and me, our small team crossing a big red bridge on an adventure. I am no new age Polyanna (are there any where I come from?), but this drive – today’s and everyday’s – is so much more luminous and gratifying than anything I’d ever thought it would be that it silences me some days.

So I’m going to goddam well focus on that while I’m the one driving, and A. will come across ‘dude’ in her own time, later, well-equipped with all the joy and resilience and extra singing I can provide today.

And any stray profanity she’s picked up, which can, on occasion, be enormously, cathartically helpful too.

Quick Note to Nannies Interviewing with Me To Take Care of My Three Year Old

Do not tell me you spontaneously learned to read when you were three.

I say this for a couple reasons, neither of which is that I’m jealous.

First, you did not.

Second, that is 100% not true, and no, you did not.

And third, oh right: because I will not hire you. So there’s that.

Lord Almighty, applicants, get some game.

The Long Days

Today was one of them. It started at 4:15AM when R. had to get up for a cross-country flight. It picked up again at 5:28AM when A. cried from her room and rocking and logic (“Sweetheart, it’s still dark outside…”) couldn’t coax her back to daylight savings sleep. A few hours later, finally quiet at my desk with a day of writing and catch-up, order-restoring work ahead, it abruptly changed course again: a call to collect my suddenly illing little A. from the other side of town. It was a hard day for all of us in our little family.

But, as I stagger north towards bed, I’m reminded again of what I tell myself on the days when I can’t seem to write: “I’m glad to have the opportunity to try. I’m grateful for the time.” I feel the same way about these days, even through a fog of exhaustion and headache and frustrated effort: I’m grateful just to be nominated. I had plenty of days of fog and exhaustion and headaches before I ever found R., before we thought of A.. If these days are going to happen – and, no matter how well I engineer our schedules and the inside of my head, they will happen – how much better is it to have them happen with R. and  A., wherever and however they are? Better. Just better.

So onward. To bed and tomorrow.

Christmas 2013: That Guy Up the Street

fake-christmas-treeOK, so we’re at Lowe’s which, even though it’s a hardware store and I have a soft spot for bins of nails and multi-purpose screwdrivers, I hate. I can’t explain it. Maybe it’s the poor organization. Maybe it’s the poor selection of hedge trimmers (which are also disorganized.)

Regardless of their many errors, here’s what today: they have a full fake Christmas tree display up front and center. Pre-lit. Like, a dozen of them + moving inflated cabins full of threatening snowmen and overweight reindeer. I’ll skip the universal, “WTF?” outrage that we’re barely past Halloween, etc. and jump right to the question on everyone’s mind: how am I going to beat the holiday cheer pants off the professional electrician up the street come Christmas time and will it involve my buying several of those trees either to create some kind of plastic winter wonderland diorama on our landing or to fully obscure the front of his house and its outrageous display of better-than-mine tasteful holiday lighting?

Christmas is coming, people. The time is now to plan for universal harmony, world peace and ass-kicking.

What To Say When You Don’t Know What to Say

Something bad or unfortunate has happened to someone you know. Here’s what you say. You say:

“I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how difficult this is. I’m just really so sorry.”

That’s it.

If you can go the extra mile and send flowers, drop off a lasagna or offer a shoulder to cry on over high-quality whiskey shots or drinks featuring artisanal ingredients someone made up in Brooklyn just last week, great. If that is not appropriate – because you are uncomfortable with emotion or marinara sauce or giving 1800-flowers $75 for some tulips you could get at Trader Joe’s for $20 – that’s fine. You have added to the sum of kindness and courtesy in the world and your work is done.

In case you had any second thoughts or objections to that course of action, here are the answers to those: 

1. “I’m not sure what exactly to say so I’m going to avoid the whole thing and say nothing.” Most people don’t say this in as many words but act like they did. Stop it. Just stop. The only truly bad option is to say nothing. Silence is the kind of thing that is remembered, not awkward phrasing.

2. I’m pretty sure I’ll say the wrong thing or in the wrong way, and that’ll be worse than saying nothing.” No. That is incorrect. However profound  your fear of saying the wrong thing, see above: there is nothing you can say that will be as wrong as saying nothing. Unless you are just a terrible, offensive person. Which you aren’t. We both know you’re not. So be a mensch already and say something nice.

3. “S/he is a really a private person and I don’t want to intrude.” Respecting people’s privacy is admirable but overrated. (Unless you are talking on a cell phone in Starbucks, in which case you should seriously fuck off already and respect everyone’s privacy because this is not your living room.) I am a private person and have been on the receiving end of many explanations of why I was deemed too private, too calm or too competent for someone to reach out to me, and here is my answer: compassion is always welcome. I and my kind may not choose to confide in you beyond saying, “Thank you,” when you are nice to us, but your effort is noted and appreciated.

4. Do not be nice to someone having a hard time and expect that s/he will then confide in you. This is not Oprah. No one is walking away with the answer to all their problems or a Pontiac. Try to tamp down your expectation of any particular response or resolution. The nature of having a hard time is that everything is weird. Any response is fine.

5. If that response is weeping and telling you the whole story from the very detailed beginning, it is OK to just listen. You do not have to fix this (and you can’t, even if you tried). It’s also OK to have your own limits and set them calmly and firmly, like excusing yourself for a voluntary root canal. Pre-planning a simple exit like this is fine.

6. Even if you think you can imagine how hard this is, even if you have been through something you believe is very similar, do not bring it up.  Every disappointment is a unique (if unfortunate) flower. Commiseration and comparing notes will come later (at his/her discretion). The universality of pain and/or recovery is likewise not relevant right now, so keep that to yourself. Phrases to avoid: “We all suffer,” “This too shall pass,” and anything beginning with, “My brother-in-law…”

7. Do not assume that everyone already has someone to say kind things to them or that they can be heard enough. You never know. Erring on the side of generosity is always the better choice.

In short, “Do unto others,” etc. If you were in her shoes, would you want a kind card? A supportive word in passing? To be told that you are thought of when things are hard? Yes. Yes, you would. So let’s all make a pact right now that we will step out of our days, our concerns and details, our, “I am really so very busy…” and, “I wouldn’t know what to say…” and just say it anyway. It matters.

10 Tips for Nannies and Babysitters

Mary_PoppinsWe’re just coming out of another round of hiring a part-time nanny/babysitter, and I’m struck again by how challenging and sometimes ridiculous the recruiting and ramp-up process can be. Unless you’re paying a service upwards of $2000 to help you find the right, professionally trained and background-checked match or are on the market for one of the round-the-clock celebrity super nannies who make more than you do, you’re navigating the process on personal recommendations and instinct and then leaving your most precious possession in their charge while you’re not there. Harrowing.

Of course, the match-finding and settling in with a new family can be a challenge for the nanny too, and usually with very little context: kind of a worst case for starting a new job. So with both sides doing their best to find the best fit and then fit in, what are some of the things that a nanny can do to make the process go more smoothly? (I have some thoughts for the families too, also based on my errors and successes – those are for a future post.)

Just a quick caveat: I know a number of these suggestions fall into the category of “basic professionalism” but I’ve been surprised by how often they’ve come up as issues. Maybe it’s because the job feels highly personal and therefore casual, or just because the basics are often overlooked over time so they bear repeating. Whichever it is, I hope this is helpful!

Interviewing

1. Be honest in interviews. This process is already difficult enough without the addition of interviews with candidates who have misrepresented their availability or are really looking for something different than what we’re offering. This isn’t to say you should never interview for a job you might not keep forever: we happily hired a wonderful sitter over the summer knowing she would be taking a teaching job this fall. We loved her and, knowing she would only be with us briefly, we were able to set our expectations accordingly. Just try to be clear about where you are in your search and plans. It’s a good place to start with a future employer.

2. Be someone I will want to hang out with. I know this sounds a bit vague and personal. What I mean is, “Be interesting, attentive and courteous.” Don’t misrepresent yourself, but, assuming you are not naturally an offensive jerk, your best bet is to be sincere, focused and have a real conversation with me at the interview. You’ll be hanging out with me and my child, after all: we want to like you, so show us what there is to like. (See here for more on this point re: hiring. We also heard this from an admissions director of an exclusive preschool recently, so I’m definitely not alone in prioritizing this vague qualification!)

Punctuality and absences

3. Be on time. Bonus points if you can be 5-10 minutes early. Babysitting is not one of those new-industry jobs where showing up approximately on time is fine. This is a job where I am counting on you to show up on time so I can show up somewhere else on time. I will absolutely book enough buffer time to get my little one settled and me out the door and where I’m going, but I will not continue to hire a sitter if I have to book (and pay for) the extra time his/her chronic lateness requires to make sure I get there on time. It is just too hard on my nerves, those ten minutes of wondering if you are going to show up at all! It just starts the shift and the day off on the wrong foot.

4. Texting to confirm your shift ahead of time is a great habit. We’ve recently had two sitters who confirmed by text every time they were scheduled to come. It is wonderfully reassuring. Of course, if you’re the full-time nanny, this isn’t necessary but for one-off date nights or part-time nannies where schedules seem to be constantly shifting and parents may be juggling a couple of different caregivers and two parents’ schedules, it is a huge relief to get a, “I’ll see you at 5PM this evening,” at 10AM that morning.

5. Get in touch the minute you start to feel ill or think you won’t make your shift. This is a personal pet peeve of mine, and it’s now an upfront policy with everyone we hire. Calling ten minutes before you were supposed to be at work to say that you’re feeling unwell and won’t be coming makes me nuts! It’s not that I don’t believe you – I do – but I’m betting you felt ill an hour ago, three hours ago, or last night the way I do when I’m getting sick. Call or text with a heads up as soon as you start to feel sick so I can move things around in case you aren’t able to come. If you feel better in the morning, great: I’ll still be happy to see you. If you don’t, I’m still minimally covered.

To be very clear, it is not a courtesy to follow the logic, “Well, I might feel better in the morning, so I’ll just wait and see and not bother anyone.” Bother me. Period. I would so much rather be bothered now. Really. If you can’t afford to not get paid for the hours and that’s why you’re taking the risk, let’s talk about sick time (or make-up shifts if you’re not full-time).

Communication

6. When in doubt, ask. I would rather answer a quick, “Does A. like mayo on her sandwiches?” than hear that she skipped lunch. I know some parents may differ with me on this, but my policy is, “I would rather field a question now than a crisis (even a small one) later.” All parents want our sitters to be self-sufficient and competent, but, especially early on, I expect to provide some guidance and course correction: it’s how we all ease into new jobs and situations. Caring for my child is a team effort and that means you should feel comfortable reaching out when you need a hand. (I also don’t want you going without caffeine because you don’t know where I keep the coffee. Ask me about things for yourself too.)

7. Related: don’t spare me the bad news. I expect things to go wrong. They go wrong for me all the time! Really. I want to know where and how she got that scrape on her knee or that something weird happened on the bus. Trust me, now that she can talk, she’ll tell me herself. Before that, I’d probably hear about it from someone else, and that is the worst case for employer/employee trust. I will trust you more for giving me the bad news as well as the good.

And, corollary, I want you to consult me immediately when things really go off the rails rather than being shy about bothering me. I trust your judgment, but this is my child, so if you’re stranded at the park with a dead battery at nap time, call me. I can help. Really. You aren’t on your own.

8. Provide notes of what happened and when. This is most important when nannying for an infant: how many ounces the baby drank and when, plus when and how long she slept are essential to a parent’s planning after you leave for the night. (A Post-It will do.) I like to get those updates on my preschooler as well. If she didn’t eat much lunch, I’ll plan a big and early dinner; if she didn’t nap, an early bedtime, and so on.

9. Related, texting during your shift to confirm that things are going well is a nice touch. It’s enormously reassuring to me, as the parent of a child who can get anxious easily, to know that everything is going smoothly or just to know what she’s up to.

10. Be tactful with parents and their guilt about leaving their child in your care. Some parents are super well-adjusted about their career and care choices and bravo to them. But many aren’t. These are some of the things I’ve heard from other moms: “I want him to be happy with you – but not happier than when he’s with me!” “I want her to miss me but not to the point of being unhappy,” etc. You see what I mean? I had one nanny tell me she just skipped telling one parent about missed milestones because the mom took it too hard. The baby would just do it again on the weekend and that was that. Most parents don’t need that kind of extreme care, but regardless, it’s a tightrope for you, the caregiver, I know. Just do your best to help a mom out where you can. Provide details but don’t brag too much about a child’s wonderful days without his beloved mama!

And finally, keep in mind that some people just aren’t a good fit with each other and that’s OK. No harm, no foul. Follow your best judgment, and know that sometimes things don’t work out and you just have to cut your losses and call it a day – by giving plenty of notice in the most professional way possible, of course.

NABLOPOMO Resurrection

Welcome to November, everyone, home to Thanksgiving and that lesser known ritual of voluntary stress, National Blog Posting Month (or NABLOPOMO), in which participants vow to post to their blogs once a day for the month. As with National Novel Writing Month which spawned it, “volume” and “veolicty,” are the watchwords, not, “publishing the most incisive stuff I’ve ever written.” Since I’ve been in the throes of an unprecedented and imposing bout of writers’ block for nearly a year now, that sounds about right for me: writing pretty much anything will be a step in the right direction. Brace yourselves for some oddness. It may be a bumpy ride for all of us, but at least I’ll be back on the horse. Or near a horse, depending on how soon and often I get thrown off. You can stand well out of the way by the stables and laugh in a supportive manner. And bring me cocktails occasionally, as you see fit.

 

Best Thing Ever. No, Really.

microwave_toasterOK, we have to talk about this. Yesterday I went to check out a rental apartment in my neighborhood so that when you come to visit, you will have somewhere nice to stay, and what do you think was in the teeny tiny kitchen? You will never, ever guess. Not ever.

Let’s start with what it wasn’t:

a.) a possum

b.) your aunt

c.) anything not mini

What it was was a microwave oven with a vertical built-in toaster in the hidden side panel. Yes! Can you believe it?

Me neither.

This is brilliant in every way and I am going to need two of these.

Not only does this genius invention combine two kitchen appliances into one – hello, space saver! – but it also streamlines the cumbersome process of me electrocuting myself using a butter knife to get the toast out of the toaster, treating my third degree burns and brushing down my crispy hair, then buttering the toast and dropping it on the floor. In one simple step, the vertical toaster ejects the toast directly onto the floor. Such a time saver. This is the definition of efficiency kitchen.

I am golf clapping myself silly and you should join me.