October 2010

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There was no Family Movie Night this weekend because it was jam packed with other fun stuff: school field trip to a pumpkin patch on Friday, then a two-and-a-half hour nap, dinner and bonfire at friends’ house Friday night, Objectivist discussion group Saturday morning, another nap, Halloween party Saturday night, sleeping in late this morning, and of course, the grand finale: Trick-or-Treating tonight!

After a year of talking about how she would be either a witch, a ghost, or a monster for Halloween this year, Sammy saw the princess costume at the store and there was no turning back.  I can’t really blame her – the dress lights up and everything!  After she decided to be a princess, she insisted that Adam be a prince, which I thought was just about the sweetest thing ever until tonight, when she kept yelling at Adam, “I turned you into a frog!”  Well, it’s still pretty sweet.

I decided to stick with scary and go with the witch.  I intended to do the whole green face paint thing but my nose was raw from the sneezy allergies of October, so I had to count on whatever ugliness I have naturally.

I think the last time I really dressed up for Halloween was about 10 years ago when Adam was in law school.  (He dressed as a judge, and I as a prisoner. Ha ha.)  We’ve enjoyed handing out candy and oooing and ahhing at the kids’ costumes since then, and Sam has Trick-or-Treated the past 2 years, but I think we’re entering a new era of big-time Halloween revelry that I hope will last at least another decade.

There’s candy stuck between my teeth and The Monster Mash stuck in my head. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Accidents

Sam is going through a little potty training regression.  She’s had four or five accidents in the past month or so, including one at school this week.

This confirms my claim from last year that what she was having then were NOT accidents.  I don’t know why other parents talk about regression and accidents so much, and are so concerned about it.  All the potty training materials warn you about accidents as if they are a horrifying thing that will make you freak out and lose your mind.

But having accidents implies that the child normally uses the bathroom, and that there are exceptions here and there.

Hallelujah for accidents!  I never thought I’d live to see the day.

For those of you who are just dying to be updated on my other health quest sagas, here is a quick report.

I’m not going to get liposuction until I’m sure I’m done with pregnancy. Both plastic surgeons I interviewed thought I’d be disappointed if I did it now.  And now that we’re going forward with donor egg, there’s no time, energy, or money for this project.

I repeated the bloodwork to test for lupus and everything remains negative. Since I found out that my fourth miscarriage was another trisomy, it is less likely that lupus is involved in my fertility issues.  And this means it is less likely overall.  Again, because we’re going forward with donor egg, I am limited on what kinds of drugs I can use, so empirical treatment is on hold.  I saw a rheumatologist but she was a terrible doctor.  I couldn’t get a word in edgewise so we never even discussed lupus.  I’m not exaggerating – this doctor never even found out what my pain symptoms are.  She had her own agenda and her own questions and she was a complete waste of time.  She ended up ordering an MRI of my right foot because that was the only place on my body she seemed to hear me mention as having pain.  After speaking with my concierge doctor, we agreed that I’d go through with the MRI since it’s been a long time since I did this, and it might provide some evidence of psoriatic arthritis (another suspect).  There’s not much else we can do while I’m working on getting pregnant anyway.  I just hope that I’ll be able to stay on the new NSAID (diclofenac) through the cycling process, and into early pregnancy if we get that far.  After that I might be in a world of hurt.  But I’ll deal with that if and when it comes.

Lynne is hosting this week’s Round Up at her lovely blog, 3 Ring Binder.

Every time he goes on a business trip, Adam gets Sam a little gift.  He’s made a tradition out of keychains because they have city-specific keychains in every airport in America, apparently.  Sam has quite a nice collection.

But sometimes Adam gets her an additional item, and Louisville, Kentucky brought Sam some Mexican jumping beans.

I don’t know that I’d ever seen real Mexican jumping beans before.  They really do jump and Sam loves them.  Besides the novelty of it, I think this is a great gift for preschoolers because if you want them to jump in your hand, you have to hold very still.  The larva inside the bean jumps to get away from heat, so normally you keep them in the fridge.  When you take them out, you can hold them in your hand to heat them up and make them start jumping.  But if you move around too much, they don’t jump.  It’s a nice way to practice being still.

They also do require a tiny bit of care, so if your child is begging for a pet, maybe this is a good first step.

In just a few days, we’ve moved from, “we’re probably going to move forward with donor egg” to actually starting the process.  I figured out that, because of the timing of our vacations in the upcoming months, it didn’t make sense to try to conceive naturally again.  If I miscarried, we wouldn’t be able to try donor egg until July or August.  I didn’t want to delay that long, so now I’ve started the meds (ironically, birth control pills) and we’re sorting through photos and background information on potential egg-donors. Yikes! Yipee! Holy shit!

When it comes to picking a donor, we benefit from the irrationality of others. Apparently, most people get extremely caught up in the donor-selection process, sometimes shopping around at various egg banks and clinics to find that “perfect match.”  Women seem to want to pick a donor who exactly like themselves, or who they think they would like as a friend.  (You would not believe the wealth of information they collect on these donors – audio interviews and written essays and what their favorite animal is and more!)  But I found out today that these women can donate their eggs multiple times, so that some of them have a history.  The case manager assigned to me (I’ll call her K. because I have a feeling that I’ll be talking about her a lot in the coming months) said that there are superstar donors – women who produce a lot of eggs with no complications.  So, aside from some basic criteria like race and maybe a couple of other things like that, we’re going to narrow the field based on the donor’s history.  We’re going to pick someone with a track record of success.

We’re also going to pick someone who is available soon.  Apparently, some donors have a long waiting list.  At least one that K. told me about has ten people on her waiting list.  She can only donate nine times total (each donation is called a “cycle” and during the process the donor is “cycling”).  That tenth person put herself on this waiting list and may never get this donor.  Why?  What does she think she’s going to get out of it?  I can’t imagine the donor’s genes being more important than moving quickly and having a good chance of success.  There are plenty of good donors that will work with my schedule.

As for genetic health issues, we have nothing to worry about.  Only 3% of the women who apply get accepted into the donor egg program at my clinic.  They screen for everything imaginable.  It’s a much higher quality gene pool than my own, that’s for sure.

Still, after those considerations, we probably will make our choice based on the photos more than anything else.  And I have to admit, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that we could have a baby that might look like this one or that one.  It’s quite a power trip.

There are other things we’ll have to decide – do we do a split cycle (split the donor’s eggs with another recipient to save money), pay up front for multiple cycles (at a discount), sign up for the exorbitantly expensive but partially refundable pregnancy guarantee, freeze embryos for future use, etc.  The options are amazing.  We’ve come a long way since that first test tube baby.

The process is also quite interesting.  It’s a major time investment, as well as financial, but it’s not nearly as intense as IVF because I don’t have to go through both the retrieval and the implantation – just the latter.  I’ll be sure to document the whole process here in great detail.

Here’s an exciting announcement from Diana Hsieh of NoodleFood:

I’m delighted to announce a new project that I’m helping to organize: the hosting of live online events (i.e. webcasts) with notable intellectuals and producers about their work. Even better, our first webcast will be law professor Adam Mossoff speaking on questions about intellectual property!

Yes, I find it exciting because my husband is the inaugural lecturer, but I also think the project itself is a great idea.  Here’s the proposal for Adam’s webcast:

Ayn Rand was the first to recognize that all property is at root intellectual property. The law and history support Rand’s view that all property rights, whether in land, factories, consumer goods, securities, or inventions and books, are made possible by innovators who first conceived of these new values. Professor Mossoff will give a brief overview of the evidence supporting Rand’s view and answer questions about the theory, history, and law of intellectual property.

Dr. Hsieh is experimenting with the pledge system that she innovated to fund these webcasts.  That means that you make a pledge to pay whatever you think the webcast is worth to you, and if there is enough interest (meaning money), then the project will go forward.  Go to NoodleFood for the details. The webcast is on November 15 and you need to get your pledge in by November 6, so don’t delay!

You know all about what kinds of books we’re trying to read with Sam. Now I have something to say about TV and movies.  I already wrote a long post about the “how much” issue a year and a half ago, and there I talked about my general principles in selecting TV and movies for Sam.  (Wow, I still agree with everything I said then.  That doesn’t always happen when I re-read my old posts!)  What I want to write about this time is simply what kind of TV and movies Sam is ready for now, at four instead of two and a half years old.

When Sam was two and a half, she was not ready for movies.  She could not follow a storyline that long or complex.  Now, she can and does.  I’m not sure when it happened, but I clearly recall a spurt of growth when I could tell that she was finally was able to follow some of her longer books.  This coincided with her readiness for movies.  When Sam was two and a half, she watched Little Bear almost exclusively on TV.  Nothing has changed in that department.  She loves that show to the exclusion of everything else.

I’m open to Sam watching all kinds of TV and movies – even ones with bad ideas or themes, within reason.  It’s easier to talk about what I am NOT open to:

  • TV or movies that have fast cuts.  This technique is obviously an attempt to reduce the medium to the perceptual or even sensational level.  I find it particularly offensive in children’s cartoons.  Sam is not allowed to watch Phineas and Ferb, which I think sounds pretty funny otherwise, but I only made it through about 3 minutes before we turned it off.
  • TV or movies that are primarily senseless noise and/or meaningless action.  Sam is not allowed to watch Sponge Bob or anything like it.
  • Anything with scenes of violence or visible suffering such as starving children in Africa.  I don’t mind a movie that deals with these issues in the abstract (there’s that Sound of Music/Nazi thing again), but I don’t want her to see it.  I also don’t care about “violence” in cartoons much since it doesn’t involve real people, but I wouldn’t want her watching nothing but The Road Runner either.  This will change slowly with Sam’s age.  I think it’s fine to see images of violence or suffering as an adult (whereas I don’t think fast cuts or senselessness are good at any age), but not at four.  Sam is not allowed to watch Fight Club or Schindlers List.
  • Anything with a heinous theme or no other redeeming values.  When she’s older, she can try any movie she wants and form her own opinions, but I’m keeping her away from the worst of the worst for now.

Again, I’m trying to limit Sam’s environment to things that she can process.  There are some notable things that I will allow her to watch.  Unlike a year and a half ago, I no longer think Dora the Explorer is inappropriate.  Sam can understand it now.  I’m just glad she has little interest in it since I still think it’s a stupid show.  The point is that there is a lot more that Sam can make sense of now, at four, than she could at two.

I’ll allow Sam to watch anything with sex in it, including body parts.  I don’t mean pornography, just sex scenes and nudity.  (I suppose I wouldn’t let her watch porn.  I guess I’m a controlling mom that way.)  There’s no reason she’d really be watching anything like this, but it wouldn’t bother me if I turned on the TV and there was a sex scene on the screen before I could get Little Bear queued up.  I’ve actually watched a childbirth show with Sam and she saw the whole process of a baby being born.  There was nudity and it was bloody and the woman screamed in pain (which is different than suffering), and Sam understood exactly what was happening and had no problem dealing with it – and this was over a year ago!

I also don’t mind Sam watching “scary” things like children’s movies with dragons or witches or what-have-you.  I’ve found that what I think might be scary to her is quite often dead wrong.  This is the child who fell in love with the Grinch but wanted to fast-forward through the Whos, and who felt more sympathy for the Abominable Snowman than she did for Rudolf.  If a show is too scary, we’ll just turn it off.

In my post from last year, I mentioned that I was coming to like Rational Jenn’s approach to screen time for her children.  In a nutshell, Jenn doesn’t limit their time on the computer or TV at all, but she does only allow them to choose from a huge selection of parent-approved choices.  Contrary to conventional expectations, her children do not sit in front of a screen all day.

I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet when it comes to TV.  Somehow I’ve managed to raise a four-year-old who still doesn’t know how to work the remote.  But Sam just inherited Adam’s old computer.  I’m going to leave it up and running right next to my desk and let her have at it as much as she wants and see what happens.  If she can handle that, maybe she can have that freedom with TV, too.  She’s due for an expansion of her freedoms.  I can tell because she’s becoming defiant again.  But that’s another post…

Something dreadful has happened that makes me realize that I have way too much on my mind:  I forgot to mention that we watched The Princess Bride on one of our previous Family Movie Nights.

Inconceivable!

I have no idea what Sam took away from this movie.  She kept asking us why we were laughing, and I know she hated the end because I cried and she still doesn’t understand the good cry yet.  But I do know she was fascinated by the “bad guy” in black with the mask who turned into the “good guy.”  If I haven’t mentioned it, Sammy is obsessed with good guys and bad guys.  She only wants to watch movies with bad guys in them.  She also likes classical music because it has bad guys in it. (Think about it – half of classical music could be visualized as bad guys chasing princesses through the forest.)

We watched Mary Poppins this weekend.  There was a policeman in the opening scene and Sam was transfixed: “Is that a bad guy?  Does he kill people?”  (She’s still confused by the whole Nazi thing.)  No real bad guys in this one, but she seemed to like it anyway.  I didn’t remember the movie very well, and I fell asleep for part of it.  Some of the musical numbers were fun, but otherwise I didn’t like it.  Wasn’t there a speech by the chimney sweep about how selfish the father was?  I was dozing at that point.  But any movie that gets Sammy screaming, “They’re dancing on the roof!  Look, mommy!  That’s SO funny!” is a hit.

This FMN thing is also a hit.  Sam is just the right age to start watching these movies (as I’ll write about in my next post) and it is pure joy to share them with her.

A friend of mine made some comments about my Family Movie Night post and got me thinking about how we choose books and TV/movies for Sam.  In this post, I’ll focus on books.

I’m a bit ashamed to say that I didn’t start discriminating about the content of what Sam read until fairly recently.  When she was a baby, it was just words, voice, and pictures, so I chose books based on whether they had pictures I thought she could perceive as related to real-life objects.  I also chose books based on whether they were the right length and whether they had the right amount of words on the page – too many and she would lose interest, too few and the page-turning would become distracting and chaotic.

I think this was a good set of criteria for book-choosing up until Sam was verbal. But at that point, I should have thought more carefully about what she read.  Looking back, I think in her early verbal stages (18 to 30 months old or so) I would have looked for a few things:

  • Books with words on one page and a picture on the opposite page.  About 6 months ago (when Sam was 3.5), she expressed confusion about how there were “two Cliffords.”  There was a picture of Clifford (the Big Red Dog) on the left page and on the right page, and she thought there were two Cliffords!  She didn’t understand the temporal advance from left-to-right.  I was surprised that she had never figured that out.  Of course, she learned it (we focused on that for a while), but I would have isolated the skill of matching one set of words with one picture early on if I had thought about it.  (I strongly agree with the Montessori principle of isolating the difficulty, but it is a huge challenge to do it properly. Scroll down to “I” in this glossary of Montessori terms to learn about isolation of difficulty.)
  • Books with a story-progression.  The purpose of fiction books is to tell stories.  Pre-verbal children obviously follow stories.  By the time they are verbal, they need to be challenged with more and more complex stories.  I think this is good preparation for literature (it is early literature!) and also a way of focusing and ordering the mind.  There are so many children’s books (obviously targeted to toddlers and pre-schoolers) that just have no story whatsoever.  There’s nothing wrong with those books – some have great language or pictures or are just fun.  My second favorite book (listed below) doesn’t have a real plot.  But if I could do it over, I would have limited them and focused more on stories.  I think we did pretty well by default, though, since we all like stories so much.
  • Books with more real-life characters and less fantasy and nonsense.  I wish we hadn’t read quite so many Dr. Seuss books to Sam.  Adam and I had purchased a bunch of them for ourselves before Sam was born because we like them as adults.  I don’t think they are entirely worthless, but they are full of nonsense words, nonsense characters, and nonsense “stories.”  They’re probably appropriate later, as silly fun, when the child has a firmer grasp of reality versus fantasy.  But it’s not just Dr. Suess (though he is probably the worst offender).  Why are children’s books so full of senselessness and fantasy – and even animal characters?  I laughed with derision when I heard that some Montessori teachers recommend no books with talking animal characters at all, but now I’m not so dismissive of it.  Again, I don’t think I’d eliminate all of those kinds of books (it would be so limiting!), but I’d certainly be on the lookout for real people in real situations as much as possible.
  • Poems.  We did read a lot of Mother Goose when Sam was about 18-24 months old.  She loved them, but maybe I would have differentiated poems from stories for her by only reading poems at a certain time of day or something like that.  We read her some more advanced children’s poems now, along with adult poems that seem intelligible to her.

Now that Sam is four, we’re looking for books with all of the above characteristics (except the word/picture issue), plus we are more concerned with the themes and messages. We recently got rid of one book that was explicitly altruistic and one that was pure subjectivism and egalitarianism in a sickly sweet, moralistic way.  Those pedantic books with conventional values are out.  But we have no problems with books with themes like “loyalty” or even “cooperation,” even though those are not on our list of top virtues and values.  If a book shows that loyalty is good when it is loyalty to one’s own (objective, not subjective) values in the face of pressure from others – that’s a good theme.  When a book shows that a child who cooperates with others has more success than a bully – that’s a good theme.  And “show, don’t tell” applies here.  Overly pedantic books are irritating.  The theme must be part of the plot, just as in adult fiction.

We also like books with more advanced vocabulary or interesting language, but it’s hard to get all of that in one package.  This is lower on the priority list for now, but I think it will become more important later.

Here is a partial list of some favorite age-appropriate books on Samantha’s shelf right now.  Not all of these meet all the above criteria, but each has at least one special thing about it:

  • Brave Irene, by William Steig
  • The Napping House, by Audrey and Don Wood
  • The Wishing of Biddy Malone, by Joy Cowley (best book ever!)
  • Rickki Tikki Tavi, by Rudyard Kipling and Jerry Pinkney
  • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton
  • The Rusty Trusty Tractor by Joy Cowley
  • The Fancy Nancy series, by Jane O’Connor
  • Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak
  • Buford the Little Bighorn, by Bill Peet
  • Adios Oscar, by Peter Elwell
  • All the Places to Love, by Patricia Maclachlan (second best book ever!)
  • Dr. DeSoto, by William Steig
  • The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf

This week’s Objectivist Round Up has been published and is eagerly awaiting your eyeballs and your mind.  Head over to Reepicheep’s Coracle and give it your full attention.  Come on, you know it deserves it.

We were driving along the freeway on our way to our friends’ house and Sam must have seen a road sign because she said:

Tee-oh.  That spells “to,” right mommy?

Me:  Yes.

Sam:  What does “to” mean?

Me [fumbling]:  ”To” is like when you say, “we can go TO the store and you can point TO the dog, and you can talk TO somebody.”  It’s an action towards something.

Adam:  It’s a preposition.

And because I talk way too much, I continued:

Right now we are going TO our friends’ house.  When we arrive there we will be AT their house.  Right now we are ON the freeway.

And Sam said:

And right now we are IN the car.

Pretty smart, that kid.

While I’m on the subject of family culture, I’ve been meaning to write about our latest chosen tradition:  Family Movie Night.  (Spoilers alert – I won’t give too much away, but scan the movie titles below if you’re concerned.)

Adam and I have been eagerly awaiting the time when Sam would be old enough to enjoy movies with us, and now is that time!  Most Saturday nights, we watch a movie together.  It has to be something that we all are likely to enjoy, so no Barbie movies, even though I think they’re great movies for kids.

For our first movie, we watched the original Dumbo.  We didn’t have anything on hand so we picked a dollar movie from the pay-per-view menu.  Adam and I thought we’d enjoy it, but we didn’t.  I’m not really sure if Sam did either, but she did watch the whole thing.  It was all pretty senseless, and the scene where Dumbo got drunk was positively weird.  The good part, though, is that I finally learned where my favorite song from one of Sammy’s baby CDs came from.

Next, we watched Enchanted.  We all enjoyed that one.  I thought it was a little bit like Galaxy Quest (but not as great), in that it poked fun at a movie genre without being completely cynical.  It took the fundamental values of the genre seriously (well, mostly) while laughing at inconsquentials like talking animals and old-fashioned costumes.  Seeing Susan Sarandon as an evil queen was a bonus, and we watched the fart scene about five times over for Sam’s benefit.  But besides potty humor, I know that the film impacted Sam because she spent many days role-playing with her dolls having a “true love’s kiss.”  Sweet!

Next up was The Little Mermaid.  I’d heard such good things about this one, but I was disappointed.  Ariel was definitely an admirable heroine, but the story itself didn’t do much for me.  It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t live up to my expectations.

Finally, this weekend we watched Finding Nemo, one of mine and Adam’s most beloved movies from any genre.  My favorite part is when Dory and Marlin are inside the whale and she says (paraphrasing), “Come on! Everything is going to be all right!”  And he says, “But how do you know that?  How do you know that something bad isn’t going to happen?”  And she pauses and then says, “I don’t!”  And then they act.  The theme of this movie is motivation by love, not by fear.  And the theme is not something tacked on to some meaningless eye-candy for (what some adults believe to be) mindless children.  The whole movie is integrated around this theme, and it’s a grand adventure, funny, sweet, charming, and beautiful to look at.  If you haven’t seen it, you must.

Some of these movies had some scary parts, but Sam didn’t seem to be bothered by them.  She was definitely sad for Nemo’s mom when she died, and she talked about the queen turning into the dragon in Enchanted for many days in that scared-curious way that kids seem to have.  I’m sure much of the content of the movies was over Sam’s head, but she probably understands a lot more than she can express.

I plan to make reviews of the movies we watch on Family Movie Night a regular part of The Little Things, so, until next time,

just keep swimming.

Family

I just noticed something.  Adam and I have had our cat, Jinx, for ten years now. We got him shortly after we moved in together in Chicago.  As with all pet owners, I’m sure, we have all kinds of unique and silly ways of interacting with him.  We hold him like a baby and he chews on his tail, we sing him a dinnertime song every night (to the Bonanza theme song, “din-dindin-din-din, din-dindin-din-din, DIN DIN!…), and we say “ROLLY-POLLY!” in a really annoying voice whenever he rolls around on his back.

Today I heard Sammy say ROLLY-POLLY and it just struck me that there is now a third person in our house who interacts with this cat in the exact same way.  She is a Mossoff.  It’s not her genes that make her so.  It’s the fact that she has lived in this house with us for four years.  She is a part of the Mossoff culture.  That’s what makes her family.

I’m highly focused on this issue of heredity versus environment because it looks like we’re going to try to get pregnant using an egg donor in the next few months. I’ve also spoken to friends who know something about adoption, either as the parent or the child, about how it feels to have a family whose members do not all share genes.  The more I think about it, the less it seems to matter.  Part of that might be me just trying to see the positive in the situation.  I know that it seemed to matter to me greatly when we had Sam, that she was a mixture of Adam and me.  But in reality, the “mixture” that I see every day has so much more to do with the choices we all make and the experiences we have together, than it does with her hair or her eye color, or even her temperament.

A fourth voice in the house saying ROLLY POLLY would be a Good Thing.

I’m not a big fan of the chain letter, but this one is fun.  We got BOOed last night!  We got a plate of candies and fun Halloween goodies along with a cute poem chain letter.

We have 24 hours to come up with treats for two of our neighbors.  This is the kind of thing Adam loves to participate in, so he’s going to buy some stuff and Sam and I might decorate a couple of our mini-pumpkins this afternoon.  I doubt that we’ll match the beautiful presentation that we received (I wish I had taken a photo before we dived into the candy), but it will be fun trying.

I’m 100% in favor of extending Halloween out a bit, just like Christmas, and this is such a benevolent way to do it.  If you haven’t seen this trend in your neighborhood yet and want to start it, consider this a virtual BOO!

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