Why Aldi Is the Perfect Place for a FoodShop with Two Babies

We needed milk today desperately, because it is hard enough for the two-year old to come to grips with the fact that Baby J gets actual bottles and he doesn’t, without denying him milk in a cup, too.  (I have no philosophical objections to letting a two-year old drink out of a bottle; it’s just that he chews the nipples to shreds.)  He was handling the switch very maturely — until J., being a sleepy and reluctant nurser, started to get regular bottles, which creates a situation a little like drinking beer around an AA member. 

So we headed to Aldi, since I didn’t feel up to handling the Real food store.  And it turned out that Aldi is the PERFECT place to take two babies food shopping for the first time:

1) The parking lot is small.  Chances of Old Baby getting run over are therefore smaller, too.

2) The quarter-lock-thing on the carts is mind-blowing to a toddler, especially if he gets to put the quarter in.

3) When the toddler has a meltdown and won’t sit in the cart, it’s okay to let him push it, because there are only ever 3 other people shopping in Aldi.

4) There just isn’t all that much variety in Aldi, so you don’t get distracted and can shop quickly. 

5) Aldi is exceptionally clean, so when the toddler decides that it’s not even okay for you to gently help guide the cart around the corners, and responds by lying down and licking the floor, it’s not as bad as it might otherwise be.

6)Checkout is really fast, so when the toddler is forcefully buckled into the cart, and screaming, it only lasts a few minutes instead of half an hour.

So, we might be visiting Aldi more frequently in the future.

(And the baby?  He slept in his sling through the whole incident.)



What I’ve Been Doing While Away:

Despite repeated resolutions to write more frequently, long absences aren’t unusual around here.  But this time, at least, I do have an unusually good reason:




Baby J. decided to make an early appearance last week.  He’s doing well, sleeping and eating all day like newborns do, and absolutely adorable.  A. loves him to pieces … or would, literally, if we didn’t step in to stop the squeezing!  


Just a Rant on the Train about How to Live

A. and I took a little trip into the city this week for an appointment.  Due to the weather, we decided the train would be safer than driving and trying to park; on the other hand, also due to the weather, the whole trip took more than twice as long as it should have.  On the way home, we were happy to get a front seat to ourselves, where A. had less room to escape and a view out both the front and side window of the car.

Seated behind us was an older woman with a thick accent.  She leaned forward to compliment A. on his handsomeness.  Obliging as ever, he stood up on the seat and began to exude extra charm in her direction, which meant getting that I would end up twisted around as well, looking over the seat to become embroiled in a conversation I could only make out every fourth word of, between the train noises, the toddler noises, and her accent.

It started out harmlessly enough.  How cute he was, how well-behaved he was (which normally I dread … because he takes that comment as a cue to begin acting up; but today, he really was exceptionally good, given that we had already waited an extra hour on the platform because a train was stuck on the bridge), etc.

But then the conversation turned.  “Are you going to have more?”  I explained that we were expecting Baby B. in May.  Then the real comments started: about how good it is to get it all done at once.  I didn’t feel that under the circumstances I should try to explain how we feel about openness to life, or how we hope to have our own baseball team, so I let that pass.  Then onto: “Do you work? Why don’t you work? Why doesn’t his grandmother take care of him?”

Why doesn’t his grandmother take care of him?  BECAUSE HE IS MY CHILD.  I did not wait 28 years to have a baby so I could hand him off to anyone else.  Not the government, not a private daycare, not even his grandmother.  His grandmother has done a lovely job of raising several children: hers.  This one is mine, and I am not giving him away!

It had been a rough day.  The weather was horrible, the trip was interminable, the wait in the office was longer-than-interminable.  We were still in suspense about some test results.  A. had fallen twice in the snow and I had nearly slipped as well several times.  As I have when stressed, throughout this pregnancy, I had forgotten to eat.  A. was well past-due for a nap.  Dimly aware of this background, as well as the fact that we were barely communicating as it was, I refrained from screaming at the woman, “This is my child and I will damn well raise him myself the way I see fit!”  Instead, I weakly mumbled some explanation of why his grandmothers can’t watch him due to work and distance.

I am aware that I should not let some random, well-meaning elderly lady on the train upset me to this extent.  But, since I didn’t scream at her, I am doing it here.  What is wrong with this world, that you need to justify taking care of your children?  He’s not even two.  I fully understand that some families have no option but to have a family member or center take care of their child during the day.  I worked in child care; I don’t underestimate what some of those families are doing.

But why should I have to justify caring for my child to complete strangers?  In a day and age in which almost every variation of “lifestyle” is lauded, publicized, and protected by law, how is it that a mother taking care of her young child during the day needs to be on the defensive on a train ride?

Some Thoughts on Books and Small Children

During our visit to the library yesterday, I found myself in a conversation with another parent about books and toddlers.  A. had been ecstatic to find himself another “Fred and Ted” book.  While I can appreciate a few of the less-tedious Dr. Seuss books, there is no excuse for P. D. Eastman.  And yet, we have “Fred and Ted Go Camping,” a gift that was given to A. when he was born, the giver thoughtfully assuming (correctly) that A. would go camping a lot.  (And he does — his first trip was at 3 months.)  So, we tolerate the camping book, but I was not about to add another P. D. Eastman book to our pile.  (Although we did read it in the library.)

The conversation in the library (the one with the other parent — not the one with A. in which we discussed how Ted’s house was red, and Fred’s house was green, etc., etc., etc.) clarified for me two ideas I have on the topic:

1)   The importance of quality over quantity.  In general, the issue of quality/quantity is one I find myself thinking about a lot, probably because of our very limited space!  It seems that many people feel that having a lot of books around will result in children who like to read.  I think that, to some extent, this is likely true.  We have a lot of books in our small apartment (not nearly as many as we used to – each time we move, there seem to be more steps involved and fewer people wanting to carry boxes of books up multiple flights of stairs, and so we have downsized our book collection by more than half in the last two moves).  A. sees us reading frequently, and will help himself to books (both ours and his) and sit and “read” to himself for long periods of time.  Sometimes all of us are just sitting quietly and reading in the same room together.

However, I think it is also important to read discriminately.  Paper is cheap and there are many books out there that are not worth the time or mental space that they take up.  I can certainly understand that parents who are dealing with a struggling or disinterested reader may find that sometimes stories that are less-than-literature may help interest or motivate a learning reader, and that’s fine.  Children go through a stage during which they can consume enormous volumes of pages, or during which they want to read a lot, but they can only read at a certain level, so they need access to lots of easy readers (this would be an appropriate place for P. D. Eastman).

But simply because A. could have a hundred books (from garage sales, thrift stores, library sales, and the book warehouse) does not mean that he should.  We try to emphasize high quality stories with illustrations that appeal to and help develop a child’s sense of beauty and wonder.  For this reason, some of our mutual favorites include Blueberries for Sal, the Elsa Beskow books, Circle of Seasons by Gerda Muller, and Caps for Sale.  Of course, we have a range of books – no toddler collection of books is complete without  books about farm animals, the alphabet, word books, and dinosaurs.  After Christmas, realizing that his collection had grown beyond the bounds of our storage system, I culled a large “donate” pile from his stacks.  At first, I felt stricken with guilt – I was getting rid of booksWhat kind of mother takes books away from her child?

Yet, I went ahead and donated the pile.  We truly did not have a good storage system for so many books, and this prevented A. from learning to take care of them properly and respectfully.  Too many cartoonish, silly, or sloppy stories that made me unhappy led to my reluctance to read certain ones to him, which created a conflict during storytime.  By minimizing the books that didn’t meet my standards, and keeping only one or two of them which A. seemed to particularly enjoy, we eliminated that source of stress.  And, as was the case with toys, too many books had been distracting him from focusing on any one book for any length of time.

2) This brings me to my second thought on books for young children: rereading.  As anyone who has ever read to a toddler knows, he either has a 30 second or 30 minute attention span for a book.  In the second case, “THE END” is immediately followed by strong indications that he expects the same book to be repeated immediately; this may take the form of actual words, signing “more” or “again,” or grunting and pointing and shoving the book back in the reader’s face.  Some people oblige, some people say once is enough, and some people resort to subterfuge by hiding said book at the first opportunity, possibly one involving graham crackers as a distraction.

I fall into the first category philosophically, but after enough repetitions, have been known to slide into the third.  I do believe that obliging this interest (as long as it doesn’t verge on the obsessive — and I admit I don’t know where that border is; although my own personal sanity comes into play around the 7th re-read) is important in helping a child develop a longer attention-span.   Each time we re-read, A. seems to notice something new.  He delights in the security of knowing what is coming next.   He thoroughly enjoys the book on each encounter, and his pleasure doesn’t diminish from the repetition.  Although I am not in favor of pushing early reading skills, repetition is one of the important steps in early literacy – a child will often memorize a book, then “read” it back, before noticing where each word is on the page, and from there begin the process of decoding.

However, our goal in trying to raise literate children is not simply to have them master the skills of reading – I’d rather have a child struggle to decipher the words, but love the story.  The enjoyment of literature for its own sake is sometimes overlooked today, but I think it is an important one.  Indulging a child’s desire to re-read and savor a book over and over seems to me to be one step towards encouraging this kind of enjoyment.  I try very hard to keep this in mind when A. brings me a huge pile of books, but really only wants to read the top one six times.  I don’t always succeed, but it remains a goal.

Perhaps it seems strange or silly to think this hard about board books (but understandable, I hope, when board books do take up such a large chunk of one’s daily life!)  I certainly don’t feel that my conclusions are the only ones a reasonable person can come to.  As always, things may change in the future – as A. begins to read to himself, I am sure that his tastes and reading level will come into play – and we will try to stay flexible.  But for us, this is what is working right now.

It’s February!

Not usually a particular call for celebration.  But it is FORTY-EIGHT DEGREES.  That is, oh, 35 degrees higher than it has been the rest of this past week … 

We do not live in Chicago and are not properly equipped to live like this.  We have been shut in the apartment, with the blinds drawn to keep out drafts (you wouldn’t be able to see out the windows anyway, because they are frosted over).  It has snowed an extremely unusual amount this year (more in Philadelphia before February than has even been recorded, since they started recording weather in Philadelphia), but the impression that one is left with is that of 3 times as much snow, because it hasn’t melted in three weeks.  Because it hasn’t been above freezing more than a handful of hours in that time.  We had an ice-rink out back, because the gutter above the steps was broken, so water spilled over and froze on the top step.  I’ve surprised myself with my graceful recovery several times now.  The cruelest part of all, is that A. couldn’t go play in the snow … because it is too cold.

However … it is FORTY-EIGHT DEGREES!  Practically sultry.  We are going to go put swimsuits on and go to the park now.

One Word for 2014: Calm

I’m stealing this idea from some other bloggers, taking one word as a sort of goal for the coming year.

Although, as I type this, it seems a bit ironic and/or impractical to take the word “calm” for the year when our first child turns Two and we welcome a newborn.  A.’s brand-new days may be a bit fuzzy round the edges and remembered with a slightly rosier glow than was experienced at the time, but I’m still pretty sure “calm” was not the word for the first few weeks.  Calm is also not the word for a toddler, or for our hectic work and social schedules.  Maybe, however, that is all the more reason I’m drawn to that word this year.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about how it is a parent’s job to “hold the space” for the children, and I was trying to think about how to incorporate this into my one word, but it doesn’t really make any sense unless you use all three.  Thinking about it, though, I realized that “calm” is the kind of space I want to hold, and all too frequently, don’t.  I find myself trapped into thinking that if all the laundry were done, and the kitchen were cleaned, and there were fresh muffins on the counter, THEN we would have that peaceful space.  And a certain amount of clean laundry and muffins ARE necessary for me to feel peaceful.  But those things don’t actually affect A., because if there was ever a child who doesn’t value clean clothes, it is him.  Holding the space is much more of an interior thing — or so I gather.

So, “calm” it is.  Calm with clean laundry and muffins would be awesome.  But I will also try to remember to strive for calm with a disaster-zone kitchen, calm with blocks all over the floor, and calm with a filthy, snotty toddler when need be.  I think I need a reminder sign in every room in the house, but, for now, here is a small reminder of how beautiful calm is:

Sewall, Acadia National Park


What We’ve Been Up To …

I seem to have missed October entirely … and nearly November, as well.  Here’s what I’ve been doing instead of posting:

1.  Moving!  Since about October 25th, we’ve been completely settled into our new place.  We left a huge house with a yard that we rented with another couple for a small apartment of our own about a mile away.  Many different things helped us make this discussion — chief among them, difficulties with the landlord and the need to be in different locations for our various jobs.  Getting used to apartment living again after 3.5 years has been a bit difficult — I’d only lived by myself in apartments before, and it had been awhile.  But we are loving having our own space, A. has settled down and adjusted (although he misses the yard very much), and it has been a great opportunity to continue trying to minimize our “stuff.”  I’m actually quite proud of us, as everything fits pretty neatly and we don’t feel crowded.  


2.  Growing Baby B — which is rather a subconscious project to be working on all the time, but still saps enormous quantities of energy.  Baby B is expected to make an appearance in early May, and everything feels pretty much the same as it did with A. — which means I’m hoping to get a little relief from the exhaustion and nausea around the 5 month mark.  

3. Chasing Baby A, who is becoming less and less of a baby every day.  Toddlerhood is so much fun, though — despite the screaming meltdowns and frustrations of not being able to express himself clearly.  Although, I am actually surprised at home much he can communicate between his sign language, the new words he is picking up, and his enormous pleading puppy eyes.

4. Adventuring — so far this fall we have picked apples, visited the zoo twice, visited the Strasbourg Railroad, gone to many playgrounds (in an attempt to make up for the confines of apartment living), and been to visit various family members.  A. has also been on some hiking trips with his Dada.

5. Planning — even though I’m exhausted from pregnancy and keeping up with the toddler olympics around here, I feel that this year A is starting to pick up on things like seasons, holidays, etc.  Or, at least, he notices them.  So I want to start thinking about what traditions we want to put in place — and not over-commit ourselves to so much that we can’t keep up.


Not Back to School

It still feels funny not to go back to school.  After so many years of it myself, what with college and graduate school, and then several years of teaching, this is my second year not-going-back-to-school.  Although I do start my usual evening work schedule this week.

I am, for once, entirely ready for the summer to be over and to be moving on, in more ways than one.  This particular summer was very wet (read: not enough swimming), full of doctor appointments and hectic schedules; out-of-state-trips (enjoyable in part, stressful in part, and completely destructive of A’s routines such as they were); and just not very much the way I pictured the summer to be back in April …

One of the nicer bits of summerOne of the nicer bits of summer

So we are moving on.  Literally and figuratively — we move house again in October, this time most likely into a little apartment, where we will have our own space for the first time since we were married (well, we will be sharing it with A.).  This is going to require yet another purge and many trips to the Goodwill dropoff …

A. is getting older and bigger, obviously, and though sometimes I look at him and wonder what happened to that tiny baby of last summer, this is my favorite age.  It’s loud, unpredictable, filled with meltdowns and frustrations, but it’s also endlessly amusing.  We could just watch him for hours, as he runs around, moves things from one place to another, “reads” out loud to himself, and adds sound effects to every game he makes up.

Spring is supposed to be the hopeful season, but I always feel more hopeful in the fall.  Maybe it’s the clean slate of ‘back to school,’ or maybe it’s just that ‘life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall,’ (Jordan, in The Great Gatsby — and yes, I know, I quoted this last year, too; and possibly the year before that.  It deserves to be quoted

year).  Either way, this fall is going to be good!

Of Toddler and Adult Attention Spans

People joke about the length of a baby’s attention span.  Even the pediatrician, while emphasizing the need to read to a baby every day, said, “He’ll listen for about 30 seconds, but it’s still important.”  Words like “hyperactive” and acronyms like “ADD” get tossed around a lot when a group of parents is watching and discussing their children at play.

And yet, if you have ever watched a child truly absorbed in a task of his own choosing, you can see that many children really can focus at length on a specific task.  A. will watch an ant crawl the entire length of the sidewalk, go up-the-same-steps-and-down-the-same-slide for twenty to thirty minutes at a stretch, and ask to have the same book re-read five or six times in a row.  It isn’t just him, however; I have seen other children at parks and play places equally fixated on the activity in which they are engaged.


What I have been noticing, however, is that in many cases, these activities are cut short not by the children, but by the parents and caregivers.  A child happily engaged in throwing and chasing a stray ball is being coaxed or dragged into the ball pit.  A child who wants to go down the same slide over and over is introduced to another, bigger, better, slide.  “Did you see this toy?” and “Look at this ball!” and “Let’s try this slide!” are heard over and over again, in the frantically-having-fun voices you hear at theme parks.

I understand this tone when I overhear it at Disney World or in an amusement park.  Families have scrimped and saved for a year or more to splurge on a big treat and they feel the pressure to do everything and see everything, because otherwise they are being cheated or losing money.  (This is one reason I have little interest in high-stakes vacations.)  But I don’t quite understand the frantic tones at the playground.  It’s the playground.  There is no reason you can’t come here every Saturday morning for the next year.  If the child wants to spend a month trailing a stick in the dirt patch under the swing, you haven’t really lost anything.

But then again, I catch myself doing this, too, sometimes, as much as I try to be aware of it and resist it.  Sometimes I know why I am doing it — we need to get into the car, and we just can’t sit here and watch the ant all morning.  Sometimes I’m the one who would really, really rather read Blueberries for Sal instead of Jamberry for the ninth time.  But other times, I hear myself doing it and I have no idea why.  As I’ve tried to become more aware of it, I will sometimes hear myself stop mid-sentence and change tack: “Hey, A., look at the — oh, let’s throw the ball again, can you catch it?”

So why do we have this urge?  Is it because we want other people to see that our child can handle the big slide or the seesaw?  (That’s ridiculous.)  Is it because we ourselves, as adults, get caught up in the fun and since we can’t go down the big slide (well, not if there are other people on the playground, anyway), the next best thing is to force our child to do it for us?  (That’s sad and it seems like there could be some complicated and unhealthy psychology behind that one.)  Is it because we ourselves, not our toddlers, have the short attention span?  (If so, can we blame that on our parents having made us go down the big slide when we didn’t really want to?) Or is there something else going on here?  I’m curious, but I don’t have any real explanations.

I do believe, however, that it is important to give our children the luxury of time.  Time is possibly the rarest luxury in our culture at the moment.  It is hard for me to imagine childhood except as an endless expanse of time with a few interruptions such as being called to wash up and sit at the table for dinner.  And yet, children as young as seven years old are being rushed from one activity to another, with no real free time.  One child I work with once sighed, put his pencil down, and looked up at me with huge, sad eyes, and said, “I wish just had a little time to play.”

I don’t want A. rushed from one activity to another when he is seven — or now, when he is one.  And so, I will continue to try, to read Dr. Suess’s ABC book six times in a row, to sometimes forego a walk in the park so we can just sit in the driveway and watch an ant, to stack the same blocks and to throw the same ball, and to let him use his time at the playground to poke in the dirt with a stick instead of playing on all the exciting equipment. Of such mundane and repetitive experiences are a childhood made, and from such quiet fascinations come the patience and attentiveness to pursue the interests of a meaningful life.