Friday, September 30, 2011

Preschool is making me itch

I am not, in a general sense, afraid of bugs.

Perhaps that's because I grew up in a rural corner of Rhode Island, and spent much of my youth pulling ticks off various dogs and ponies, swatting mosquitos, and as a younger child, catching caterpillars and feeding them leaves in the hopes that they would hurry up and morph into butterflies before my very impatient eyes.

Still, few things strike fear in my heart like those tiniest of creepy crawlers.

We were having a successful morning, despite a couple of false starts in the wardrobe department, caused by the local news erroneously reporting a thirty degree change in the weather. The Grape, Lila the Dog and I were precisely on time for preschool drop off.

I waltzed him happily to the door, only to be greeted by a sign, positioned at adult eye level, proclaiming, "HEAD LICE."

I opened the door, still processing what this would mean for our weekend, and there was one of the Grape's teachers. "Head lice," I said, in lieu of greeting. It wasn't a question or a statement; it hung somewhere in the middle in a you've-got-to-be-f-ing kidding-me tone. She laughed and said good morning. I regrouped and remembered to engage in some basic social niceties. The teacher told me that an older sibling of a classmate - not one of the Grape's classmates - had lice.

Phew. Weekend from hell pushed to next week.

But probably not averted.

In kindergarten, I brought home head lice from the nun school my parents had enrolled me in, for some strange reason they can no longer recall. (We weren't Catholic.) This is relevant because my friend K.'s mom (who was Catholic) swore that our teacher, Sister Mary, was the source of the nits. She was always scratching her head under that veil thing they had to wear.

My mom, on the other hand, blamed K., whose mother's house keeping fell short of my mom's unattainable Scandinavian standards.

Whatever the source, louse infestation was awful. The prescription shampoo burnt my scalp and the hours of fine tooth combing made me mental. And that was all I had to endure, albeit two or three times, since the outbreak kept circling through the school.

My poor mother had to bomb the house, boil the sheets, wash every piece of fabric and upholstery, steam the rugs and probably delouse the dog for good measure.

And then my younger brother caught them (not from a nun) and the process repeated start to finish, with a few modifications.

I was placed on the kitchen stool and my long blonde curls were unceremoniously hacked into a short pageboy cut.

My mother started buying wine by the case.

Throughout the autumn months, Sister Mary kept scratching her head.

I suppose that when I collect the Grape this afternoon, I'll know whether we've dodged the nit bullet. Until then, I'll be at my desk, fighting the urge to scratch phantom itches and googling whether cats and dogs can catch lice from a toddler.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

September is the most discombobulated month

Before this past Labor Day, I never understood why my friends with school age kids dropped off the radar as soon as the calendar turned from August to September.

What was wrong with them? The weather would be perfect and the kids would be back under the supervision of their teachers for a significant portion of the day. Free time (among those who stay home) should have been abundant. So why were they always so frazzled and unavailable?

Mystery solved.

The French have a word for it: la rentree. Literally, the re-entry.

There are mornings when getting out the door in time for pre-school is not unlike preparing to rocket into the outer layers of the atmosphere. The Grape has been late four times running. Why? Search me. One thing is certain: It's not due to anyone over sleeping. I really have no idea where the hours before nine go, because I'm usually not fully caffeinated before it's time to leave for drop off.

Contrast this with my pre-Grape life, wherein my friends remarked often on my punctuality, and I routinely made it to important breakfast appointments looking professional, alert and generally unlikely to damage my career through frazzled behavior.

I didn't expect the shake up in the normal rhythms of our household caused by the opening weeks of school to be so seismic. And I don't mean the crying and protests, which any preschool parent can expect to endure, and which have already tapered off to perfunctory levels. The real problem is that school seriously screws up our already tenuous sleep patterns.

The Grape naps at preschool, for roughly an hour. He thinks that, combined with his ever-shortening nights (averaging not much more than nine hours this week), should be enough. It's not.

Every day after school, I have a hysterical, delirious little maniac on my hands, who howls that he's hungry, but refuses to eat. Who screams that he wants to go to bed, only to up the ante to nuclear meltdown when I put him there. Who demands to go across the street to the playground, only to loll, half-conscious, yet stubbornly awake, on the little kid swings.

When he doesn't have school, he plays catch up on snooze time. He logged an almost four-hour nap yesterday, scuttling our exciting plans to visit the grocery store and dog park. Sure, I got some work done, but the little guy didn't go to sleep for the night until after ten. And woke up before six. His teachers should have fun with that today. Then of course, if he manages to get a real nap in at school, he'll be prematurely awakened by eager parents who refuse to wait until the prescribed pick up time. But I digress.

Why is this discombobulation such a problem? Because even when my chronically under-rested little scholar is awake after school, he most certainly isn't fit to go in public. Not even on errands, let alone to visit friends or eat out. I can't even manage a phone conversation in the after-school hours, because the Grape is on me like cling wrap when he gets over tired.

I frequently remind myself that enrolling him in school gives me time to work. And yes, pre-school may take the Grape off my hands for almost eighteen hours a week, and I'm sure once we make the adjustment, I will get a lot of writing done. Maybe I'll cut my email response time down to under a week. That would be impressive, right?

But the whole re-entry thing also leaves me more than a little cold with mommy guilt. Disclaimer: I know and appreciate I have a high class problem here, and am thankful to have the ability to make these choices in the first place... But why am I subjecting my child to a school routine, when he doesn't need to go to daycare so that I can work to support us?

During the last after-school delirious meltdown, I reminded myself of three points: First: If I want to write, I need blocks of child care time that exceed his haphazard naps. Because anyone who says they work from home "WHILE" watching their kid is, excuse the bluntness, a liar.

Second: I am happier, and therefore hopefully a better mom, when I have time to indulge my career-slash-dream.

Third: The Grape is an only child who loves being around other kids. He always tells me school was fun when I pick him up. And pre-school is more affordable than hiring a regular sitter - not that fabulous nannies who want to work very reduced hours grow on trees, at least not in Boston. Families tend to hang onto them, for good reason.

I'm just going to keep telling myself all this until everyone adjusts, which will hopefully be sometime before the holiday break. And in the meantime, if I owe you a call, or an email, or if I should have proofread this post, I apologize.

But I'm going to be late to pick up.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why is he awake?

An unsettling premonition has crept up on me in recent months.

No, it's not about the 2012 election, though that keeps me up at night, too. My terror du jour is more localized.

I live gripped by the fear that the Grape will soon require less sleep than I do.

And no, I'm not some self-indulgent freak who needs to spend more than half her life slumbering.

But I don't function well on less than seven or eight hours a night. I never have, and I never will. When faced with more than two consecutive sleepless nights, I find myself reduced to an incoherent, unhinged and generally unpleasant specimen of the human species.

I have a friend from college who thrived on three to four hours a night and still does, twenty years on. I'm insanely jealous, but I'm also mature enough to understand there's no way to train my body to do more with less. Short of becoming a coke head, I suppose.

Not tempting.

Which is why I worry that there's no legitimate way to train my kid to need more z's.

I should have known it couldn't last. R. and I were so pleased when, after a very rocky first half year, we trained the Grape to sleep. We don't have the bedtime smack downs described by many of my parent friends, and while I see the humor in the bestselling Go the Fuck to Sleep, I don't share the author's particular brand of frustration.

But what to do when he obliges us by going down and staying down, just not for the length of time required by other members of this household?

It's not like things are anywhere near dire. The Grape sleeps through the night like a champ. But his nights have compressed in recent months. Where he used to snooze for eleven hours as recently as July, now he conks out for a mere nine and a quarter. He can stay up past his bedtime by two hours, and still wake at the usual time the next morning. More frightening: the loss of two hours doesn't render him an emotionally volatile disaster. Like his mom.

I believe the Grape should take a nap every day. His body needs that afternoon recharge. And frankly, I need him to need it. Once or twice a week, he sacks out for nearly three hours. I have to wake him, groggy, to face the evening so he won't sleep through and wake at midnight, ready to party. But most days, he naps about ninety minutes, and that spell, like the overnight that has my knickers in a twist, is on a shrinking trend. He fights his nap more fiercely lately, and more than once in a typical week, he won't log more than thirty minutes of daytime shut eye.

Why am I worried about this now? I mean, the writing is on the wall. I should try to carry on until the inevitable sad day when the other shoe drops.

But you see, tomorrow he will try to nap at his preschool for the first time.

I predict one of two things will happen. In the rosy/dream scenario, he will see the other children curl up on their cots and close their eyes, and he'll decide that napping is cool. It could happen, right?

In the doomsday scenario, I'll get a call from the director of the school, who will order me to collect my kid pronto, because his refusal to settle down is interfering with the other children's rest.

His teachers tried to reassure me yesterday, when I expressed doubt that he'll sleep for them. They said that school tires the little kids out. They asked, "Didn't he go right to sleep when you took him home from the half days last week?"

Um, nope. He had some lunch, hit the playground, took Lila the Dog for a short walk around our neighborhood, had a snack, had a story and took a comprehensive inventory of his toys. Finally, four hours after his abridged (and allegedly oh-so-exhausting) school day ended, he rubbed his eyes and yawned, and happily went to his crib to sleep.

For almost an hour.

Yup. Tomorrow should be pretty interesting.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Mamma can't run around naked in public, and other childhood disappointments

The Grape has one of those inflatable paddling pools on our back patio. Because we live in the middle of the city, the patio has wooden walls on all sides. One of the Grape's favorite things to do on a late afternoon in the summer is to get naked and splash in his pool.

"Shirt off! Pants off! Diaper off!" he demands. We've been through this rigamarole countless times, but last week, he had a novel idea. "Mamma, pants off! Mamma, shirt off!" he said.

I said no. He insisted. He demanded. He screamed and yelled and threw little plastic boats in my general direction. He ran into the pool and splashed around, as if demonstrating that it's fun. Then he kicked and screamed and cried some more.

After melting down for fifteen minutes or so, he wiped the tears from his now-red eyes and asked, "Why?"

And for a second, I was stumped. I knew he was due to start questioning the reasoning behind matters large and small, but it floored me that the first time the Grape articulated "why?" was because he wanted to wrap his toddler brain around the reason I couldn't join him in his naked gallivanting on the patio.

I could understand his confusion. He's been in the sauna and pool at my mother's house with me, without a stitch on either of us. But her place is in the woods, and our (let's call them authentic) sauna experiences have been taken in the company of women and small children only. I stalled for time by laughing and telling him he was silly, asking mamma to strip outdoors when we clearly weren't anywhere near the sauna.

He ignored this nuance. "L. naked," he added, as if to bolster his case. (L. is his three-year-old cousin, and yes, the tots do spend a fair amount of time running au naturel around their grandmother's pool and L.'s secluded back yard in the country.)

I conceded that L. does indeed spend a decent amount of time disrobed.

"Naked fun!" the Grape pressed, as he pulled at my pants and repeated his specific demands. At this point I snarfed the wine I had poured myself during the first meltdown.

"Yes, being naked is fun," I agreed. "But Mamma can't be naked on the patio. Mamma will just watch you play in your pool."


"Because I don't want the construction workers up on the scaffold across the alley tumbling down to their deaths in shock."

The Grape gave me his does-not-process face.

"Because I don't want to end up on the nightly news?" I could see the teaser: "South End mom arrested for indecent exposure in front of her son. Details at 11."

It could happen, right? God knows the morality police cannot imagine anything so scarring to a child as the sight of the nude female form, and I have more than one self-appointed hall monitor neighbor who might alert the authorities to any breach of adult modesty along their perimeter.

Not that I was considering stripping to my birthday suit and frolicking in a four foot wide baby pool in full view of at least three dozen other apartments.

I ultimately told the Grape that running around naked is one of those pleasures reserved for little kids. Kind of like the baby swings at the playground. Grown ups just don't fit.

The Grape detected an effort on my part to change the subject and melted down once more. "Mamma pants off! Mamma shirt off!" he howled at the top of his very healthy young lungs. It was an epic tantrum.

It didn't stop until R. came home from work, almost an hour later. And I'll leave you to wonder whether I gave in or not.