Friday, April 30, 2010

If you Take a Child to School

So, after filling out the necessary ream of paperwork and leaving enough emergency numbers that the president could reach me in a time of crisis, I signed my child up for kindergarten. After handing the encyclopedia of information off to the school secretary, my daughter was “assessed.” Not to be too obnoxious about it, but the child can read, so I wasn’t overly worried about the actual assessment, but what did she get dinged on? Handwriting. I hold my pen like a child using crayons for the first time. I just hold it in my fist and move it around in the best approximation of a letter. I don’t know the “correct” way, so I couldn’t teach it to her. A Catholic school upbringing couldn’t get me to hold a pen properly and I still manage to write (better than my husband anyway), so I truly don’t understand the problem. But there my daughter was, proudly writing her own name for a teacher, and getting in trouble for doing it wrong. Sigh. In a few years, she’ll probably do all her writing electronically anyway, and as long as her thumbs work, her texting skills will be first rate.

After the assessment, I was given a packet of information. It did not contain information I deemed noteworthy, such as what time school starts, ends, and how the lunch process works. It did not provide me with a rough schedule of her day or what types of skills they expect her to learn. And while the supply list was a nice touch, it was actually very short and I have no doubt I have two of everyone somewhere in my desk drawers.

Instead, the packet contained such gems as “Internet Safety and Your Child” and “Ten Steps to Staying Ahead of Lice” with a truly terrifying picture of said vermin in ten times scale. I fully expect to see these on Ms. Pillsbury’s desk on the next episode of Glee. Also among the pamphlets, “Child Care: Making the Right Choice for You.” A little late for that, don’t you think? Wouldn’t that have been more appropriate, say, at the hospital, before I brought her home? At this point, five years in, either I’ve found child care options or I’ve handed her over to the wolves. (Hmm, maybe if my mother had been given one of those before I left the hospital, she wouldn’t have actually left me to the wolves after all!) Subtracting time for gossiping, Web surfing, lunch, and meetings, my daughter’s day will last as long as the average banker. She won’t need child care, she’ll need Red Bull.

I understand that her teachers are trying to provide me with the necessary skills to raising a better, smarter, thinner child with their information on good parenting, encouraging reading, and fighting obesity and I appreciate it. But the list of fun things to do without television was just ridiculous. I would rather starve then take my child to the supermarket for “fun.” Yes, we have been known to go to Wegman’s just to people-watch, but they have a balcony for that! Beyond picking out a cookie and drink, no shopping is involved. I can’t imagine asking her to write a list, pick out ingredients, figure out the price, and then check the total against the receipt (Actual tip!). You’d find my bones in the dry food aisle. And asking them to watch the speedometer as you drive was another howler. Just where is that child sitting to read that particular gauge? Back seat drivers are bad enough, am I really encouraging booster-seat driving?

Other ideas referred us to reading, watching, and discussing the daily news. Since I am not interested in teaching her about murder, fires, vandalism, and politics quite yet, I think I’ll skip that tip. I’ll also pass on helping her build her own dictionary and introducing debate topics at the dinner table. “Are Goldfish a cookie or a cracker? Discuss.” I did, however, enjoy the list of authors every child should read. Any excuse to buy more books is always a good thing.

Overall, the intent was pure, but the end result was just bizarre. The Survival Guide for parents was a nice touch, but I’ve had this kid for a while now. We’ve obviously survived long enough to get her to school, so at this point, I think I’m good. Now, come September, when I send her off for the first time, that’s when I’ll need a little help surviving.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Veni! Vidi! Vici!

We went to see the princesses, and by god, the princesses we did see. So much so, that by the time we saw Snow White (again) my son decided he had absolutely had enough and flatly refused a picture. But my daughter, she just could not get enough. As expected, she wore a different princess dress each day and just loved how many people complimented her outfits, addressed her by title, or bowed to her as she walked past. I don’t think she stopped smiling from the moment we entered the park to the moment we left. Heaven, to my daughter, looks just like Cinderella’s castle.

Now, while my son’s memories of this momentous vacation will be zero (he’s not quite 3), the cost of bringing him (excluding flights) was also zero. He pretty much ignored all the characters the first day, but when we saw Woody and Jessie on the second day, he was primed and ready to go. He ran right into the loving arms of his favorite cowboy and cowgirl and then very carefully gave them his book for them to sign. His one request, to see Winnie the Pooh, was granted by means of a character dinner, and his smile could have lit a room. He hugged Pooh so hard I expected to see stuffing start flying out through the poor bear’s ears.

As for the rest of us, fun was indeed had by all. I left my dignity at the gates and found that I had a far better experience because of it. I happily bought a pair of Tinkerbelle ears to go with my assortment of multi-colored Tink shirts and could have made a blind man squint, but what the hell. I did a conga line with Eeyore as my son danced and clapped along beside me and shook my money-maker at the street party while my daughter carefully copied the dancer’s every move in front of me. I oohed and aahed at story time with Belle, chatted like best friends with Tiana, blushed at Naveen, took silly pictures with Peter Pan and Goofy, and tried to make sure my children had the time of their lives.

I did, however, forget to schedule in time for eating. As a result, my very hungry husband ate two meals out of the hotel market, and my kids had a meal consisting of nothing but goldfish and pretzels. They didn’t mind. He did. Poor guy. He walked the park in a pair of ears that had Mickey’s face with a mini-sorcerer’s apprentice cap on top, engraved to say “Daddy.” The least I could have done was fed him more often.

But kids are funny little people. If the ride was old enough that Uncle Walt could have built it with his own two hands, then my kids loved it. If it was modern, 3-D, and “cool”, they cried. I might have scared them permanently with our visit to Pirates of the Caribbean, and Mickey’s Philharmagic was an absolute disaster, but anything audio-animatronic, from the Hall of Presidents to the Country Bears was a win. My son thought the general forms of transportation around the park, including the tram, monorail, ferry, and train, were part of the amusements, and my daughter just couldn’t get over that the castle changed color every few minutes at night. It truly was the simple things that made them happy. That, and It’s a Small World. I still have that song in my head.

Overall, it was a perfect vacation. And as for rule-breaking, well, let’s just say my children drank 17 juice boxes (just flavored water, but still!) in two days. Rules? What rules?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I Believe! I Believe!

I believe that I will break every rule of parenting before my trip to the Magic Kingdom has ended.

For starters, I have already let my children watch more TV this past week than they are supposed to watch in an entire month. And to make the transgression worse, it has been all Disney, all the time. Thanks to several kind friends, my daughter has her choice of every princess movie – all of which (minus one) she has never seen before. I’ve had my kids on lockdown to prevent germ contamination, bruising, and breakage. Of course, one child managed to fall out of bed reading a book, so this has worked out about as well as expected, but at least I tried. No great outdoors. No playing with friends, just television. Bad parenting? Read on.

I did manage to turn off the television for a little while – to take my daughter to get a mani-pedi. She’s five. A friend even visited us at the salon and marveled at the stripper pink polish my daughter chose. A color so vibrant it can be seen from space has also been accented by tiny yellow flowers. To say she was thrilled would be an understatement; to say I was horrified would be the same.

Also along the lines of creating my own monster, I bought a harness for my son. Yes, good people of the Internet, I will be walking my child on a leash. I’ve taught him to bark and plan on throwing Scooby Snacks to him when he does it at anyone who dares to make a comment within my hearing. My son is two. He’s a runner and cannot be expected to meekly sit in a stroller for days on end. My husband is a worrier and cannot be expected to let my son walk among the throng without inventing RFID technology that can be implanted in his skull. My attempt at avoiding exploratory surgery and endless screaming of “Let me out!” is a harness. I didn’t pretty it up either. No plush toy, or little backpack, or cute character is on this thing. It’s a leash, plain and simple. There are many, many places I want to visit with the Magic Kingdom – the Lost Child center is NOT one of them.

So, I’ll have Jon-Benet on one side of me and Fido on the other, both of whom will be squinting at the sun after almost a full week cooped up indoors. What other parenting sins will I commit on the road? How many strangers will I actively encourage my children to talk to? How many meals will end with ice cream and will be completely absent of vegetables? How many different forms of locomotion will we take totally absent of any type of restraining device? How much sleep will be missed and how much unnecessary merchandise bought? It’s a mystery. And put together, it is all, very, very, bad parenting. But it surely will make a very fun vacation.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Going to War with Walt

Planning for a Disney vacation is like planning an invasion. You need to launch your attack from a well-positioned stronghold. You must make sure your troops are provisioned with food, footwear, gear, and proper identification. Transportation must be arranged and baggage must be properly packed for minimum weight and maximum ease of carry. You must have a detailed strategy in place so that you can storm the castle in the allotted amount of time. Communication plans must be firmly established, and in the case of retreat, a point of surrender must be located. And fun must be had by all.

I’m exhausted already.

To start with, my lists have lists. I have the list of toiletries I still have to acquire. I have a list of things to be packed, a list of things that must go in the diaper bag and the princess pack (more on this later), a list of tickets, confirmation numbers, and information that must be brought with us, and a list of things to do, places to see, and people to meet. I also need to make a list of grocery items to buy upon arrival, a list of items that need to be purchased, fixed, or updated before we depart, and a list of people who must be notified that we are going to be away. That’s a whole lot of lists.

Then there is the packing. Car seats, cribs, and strollers are still necessities of my daily life. The diaper bag is ever present. As we are flying, we’ll need a bag just for airport entertainment and another bag for the laptop. Bedtime requires books, blankets, nightlights, sound machines, and beloved stuffed animals. Obviously, princess dresses are required, but no force on this earth will convince my daughter that the matching tiaras, necklaces, and shoes are optional, so into the suitcase they go. All that stuff adds up and quickly starts taking over space usually reserved for say, actual clothes. Which we’ll need enough of for four people, for four days, adding in changes of clothes due to sweat, mess, or whimsy, plus shoes, rain gear, and hats.

All this crap must be brought to the airport. Some will get loaded at check-in, some at the gate, and some onto the actual plane. My careful packing will be not so carefully unpacked by security. Will then have to board, fly, deplane, hope everything we brought to the airport in Philly finds its way to the airport in Orlando, load everything into our rental car, and find our way to our hotel.

Upon arrival, we have to grocery shop.

Before leaving for the park each day, the diaper bag must be fully stocked. The camera and the extra batteries must be loaded. The princess pack, containing Little Golden Books for the characters to autograph and the heels that match each dress (I won’t allow them to be worn in the park, but I agreed to let her change into them whenever she meets a character), plus small coloring sets to keep both kids occupied while we wait in lines must be filled. We’ll have two portable coolers for food drinks and one cooler just filled with ice and bottled water for the car. Cell phones must be charged, ID tags placed around the kids necks, and a general game plan set into place for each excursion.

Replenish, re-accessorize, restock, and repeat.

I don’t need a travel agent. I need a quartermaster.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

If the Shoe Fits

A few months ago, my eldest sister-in-law shot me an e-mail asking me to blog about the current fashion of high-heeled shoes for small children. I put the idea on the backburner until today, when I had to take my daughter shopping for her summer sandals and found myself confronted with wedge heels. In toddler sizes.

My daughter can trip walking across a flat surface. It has taken her months to walk in her plastic princess heels (elevation one-half inch) without tripping every third step and the whole time, she sounds like an elephant on parade. I’m sure as with anything, practice would make perfect, but considering the fact that the first (and last) time she saw me wearing heels she asked why there were poles attached to my feet, she certainly won’t learn through imitation. Which brings up the question: why should she learn at all? High heels aren’t healthy. They won’t make her smarter, faster, or anything other than taller. And last time I checked, there wasn’t a height requirement for kindergarten.

Obviously, I skipped the wedges in favor of a practical brown sandal, sturdy and well-soled. Magically, that sandal was “way too small” but the same exact shoe, in hot pink, was pronounced perfect. In very short order, she had found five pairs of shoes she deemed suitable for summer. I winnowed the grand total down to three, ixnaying both the thong toe and the platform flip-flops. I’m sure if she had looked hard enough, she would have found a pair of kitten heels for me to veto as well.

Now, I expect celebrities to be stupid. I get US Weekly. I know that they spend more on a toddler dress than I spent on my wedding dress. I know that they have lost all sense of reason when it comes to price point. But even I was surprised to see Dorothy heels on a two-year old. Many big box stores sell a similar version – slip-on flats, covered in ruby-red sparkles, average cost under $12. My daughter had a pair and loved them until she had worn all the sparkle off the toes. But I have never, in my life, seen a pair with two-inch heels (listed for $250) until I saw them on a celebrity toddler. I have since seen this toddler photographed in a wide assortment of heels, befitting different seasons, styles, and colors. Why? Why make this little girl into a little woman? What is the goal of dressing a three-year old like a 30-year old? Won’t she have the rest of her life to get bunions, bad posture, and shapely calves? Do little girls even have calves? Aren’t they just legs at that age? I recently stopped into the Disney Store and found a beautiful Cinderella dress, but the size I wanted wasn’t in stock. Imagine my surprise when I got online and realized it was called “Cinderella’s Wedding Night.” A boudoir dress! For a child whose knowledge of boys and girls is limited to “girls have boobs, boys have muscles.” (That gem was courtesy of my husband.) What next, a Victoria’s Secret collection for the pre-k set?

If your child cannot read the designer name on the tag without sounding out every syllable, then she is too young to wear it. I only learned how to say Mizrahi when he did a line for Target and I’ll never correctly pronounce Hermes. I make an annual pilgrimage to Burberry, but the only item I have is a stuffed bear my SIL received free with purchase. (She could afford the purchase; I could only afford the free bear.) My daughter has no concept of brand except for the ubiquitous Disney one. And that’s the way I like it.

Children are not adults; they should not dress like them. Nothing a small child wears should ever be sexy. Cute, adorable, beautiful, pretty, are all well and good, but when your child thinks “hot” refers to something other than temperature, you are in for a world of hurt once she hits middle school. And as for high school, well, as my husband says, time for the convent.

[Note to Aunt C – start prepping because in a few short years, I’ll be handing over a wad of cash and my daughter and letting you have at it. Five pair of summer shoes! I don’t even have one!]