PaR Cooked

we need a catchy title….


1 Comment

When My Husband Turned into a Shoe

People have a lot of advice about raising children. A lot.

This is especially true about sleep. All the sleep books that I read were guilty of using scare tactics couched as evidence to convince sleep-deprived parents to stick with a particular method. Using an opposing method either meant that you and your child would become so unattached that he or she would become a sociopath, or you would become so attached that he or she would never ever be capable of independence. Either way you’d be screwed in the long term, and still so sleep-deprived in the short-term that you would be a complete jerk. I speak from experience on the jerk part. Then there are the well-meaning advice givers who parrot back advice from one of the books you recently hurled into a wall. They have the added benefit of telling you long-winded, unsolicited stories about their own children’s sleeping (or lack thereof) habits. As parents we’re almost all guilty of this. I know I’m guilty of this because reliving the trauma of sleep deprivation is very cleansing for me. Less so for the poor schmuck, like you, stuck listening to me.

The thing sage advice givers and slick books don’t tell you is that whatever method you choose probably won’t work forever. Babies grow into kids. Needs change. Expectations change. Suddenly, the dark is scary.  Night terrors happen. Extra books will need to be read. Pre-bedtime extreme dehydration, which can only be resolved by a cup of water that should be from the fridge and served in the Monsters, Inc. cup (which is most certainly dirty and likely missing) because only an ass would bring it in the plain white cup, will need to be addressed.

In our house we sometimes fail to stay ahead of the curve of evolving needs and wheedling.  We give into some request for a short-term gain, but that leads to a long-term loss.

When it got colder here and was dark by dinner it was so easy to give in to the kids demands for extra snuggles at bedtime. It was warm under those blankets and they were finally quiet and still. What could it hurt this one night to stay a little more?  It couldn’t for that one night, but then one became two and two became three and three became a week and a week became a month and a month became an expectation on the kids’ parts that we would always stay with them until they were asleep.

After a while it felt like all we were doing was getting children to sleep or rousting them out of bed in the morning for school. Staying with the kids until they were asleep also meant that I was asleep, which meant that Nathan and I saw each other alone approximately never. It’s not that I don’t love time as a family, but trying to have every household conversation in the presence of the Why-Monster and the Interruptasouras Rex is maddening. Also, never spending time alone with your partner can mean seeing them more as an amalgam of all their annoying habits than as the person you do actually love and respect. So I was a pile of clothes on a chair  to Nathan, and he was his shoes left in the middle of the entryway to me.

Please note: This photo is a dramatization of actual events.

Please note: This photo is a dramatization of actual events.

Finally, we decided enough was enough, and one Friday night over dinner, all Bearenstain Bears style, we had a family meeting. We laid out the plan, which was clear and simple. Read. Brief snuggle. Leave. Children sleep.

The girl mulled this over for a bit while picking her nose. The boy immediately began to look for loopholes. Do you mean every night or just once? How long a snuggle? What exactly do you and Papa need to talk about?  The girl continued to pick her nose.

We held our ground because consistency is important, because children need boundaries, and because we really wanted to finish watching the third season of Sherlock, which we had started long before we got ourselves into this mess.

Now it’s 9:30 on the first night under the new regime. The kids have moved through the stages of denial and negotiating. They are in their beds with the lights off, but they’re still awake.

The music ostensibly lulling the girl to sleep suddenly switches, meaning that she has again stood up in her bed to retrieve the iPod off the shelf. The boy is groaning as he flops from one side to the other. When no one immediately responds he increases his volume.

The new music hits a crescendo and the boy reaches his breaking point. “Does anyone think I can sleep with that wailing music?” he yells, sounding much like a Florida retiree annoyed by the teenagers on his lawn.

We intervene to negotiate the lowering of volume,  the partial closing of doors, and to offer a gentle reminder that the girl is not to play club DJ at bedtime.

There is relative silence.

“Paaaaatito,” comes the forlorn cry from the girl’s room. “Want Paaaatito.” The stuffed duck is procured.

Silenceish.

“Ow. Ow. Ow. Ooooooow,” howls the boy. “My foot. It hurts. I can’t sleep. Ow.”

We can only hope this is a last ditch effort because he can’t help but slur his words.

Silence. Then snores.

One and half hours from bedtime to sleep.

Nathan and I then spend ten minutes alone together (mostly talking about the kids) before I fall asleep mid-sentence. It’s not much time, but it’s enough to make him look distinctly less like a shoe.

This night has been an unmitigated success.

 

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Start of Summer and Christmas Eve

Summer vacation, hot weather, and Christmas arrive all together here.

As with everything here, the end of the year school parties, field trips, and other events came with little notice or time to prepare. It felt for weeks like we were in a constant flurry of making food, packing kids off on trips, or figuring out how to get to the school’s farm, located 25 kilometers outside the city, without a car. It all culminated in a graduation party for the boy’s class that, including a dinner organized by the parents, went on past our children’s entirely graceless exit at 1am.

Then suddenly there was summer, a season we left only five months earlier, stretching long and languid before us. The heat came all at once. Glorious sunny 75 degree days were pushed out without warning by 95 degree scorching heat that left us all feeling like our oven had swallowed us whole. The kids bickered constantly and we adults didn’t do much better. However, living in a city that faces an estuary has its benefits, and by evening when the sun finally sinks low it is almost always pleasant. This is summer, though, and the sun doesn’t sink until after 8pm, which is what finally convinced us to adjust our schedules to something more resembling that of most Uruguayans’. We started taking the kids to the park at 8pm, eating at 9pm and finally putting them to bed between 11pm and 12am. It took some creative darkening of their bedroom to finally convince the girl to sleep past 7am, but now even she has come around to the new schedule.

If Halloween in October was disorienting, Christmas in summer felt almost hallucinogenic. For our family, the highlight of the holidays has always been the lights and decorations that add some sparkle to the darkest part of the year. We look forward to the chance to snuggle in close at home in the cold, but here there is an abundance of light and snuggling only resulted in heat rash.

The shopping mall down the street spent weeks creating a winter wonderland complete with a ride-on train that went through a tunnel in the three story tall Christmas tree. There was an abundance of fake snow, an animatronic Santa in a sleigh, oversized squirrels, and dancing bears swinging to songs about snow and firesides. We took the kids there quite a bit because the train ride was free and the air blissfully air conditioned.

For the most part decorations, especially lights, around the city were sparse. The season is no doubt one reason, but electricity here is also very expensive, so stringing up more than a few lights is a serious financial commitment. While we’d been distracted by the charms of summer, parks to visit, and a new ice cream freezer at the mini market downstairs, we occasionally lamented missing our annual drive through the suburbs to admire other people’s lights. Then, on the night of the boy’s end of year party, we accidentally stumbled upon the decorations in the center of the city.  Driving back to the city with another family at 11pm, seven of us crammed into a car made for five, windows rolled down and sweat rolling down us, we drove up one of the cities biggest avenues and into the blue glow of lights. Strung high above the street reaching from one side to the other were lavish banners of lights. It went on for blocks and blocks, punctuated by even more intricate displays at the plazas. We drove slowly, heads out the windows, gaping and basking in the glow. It was noteworthy enough to merit a photo gallery in the paper, which you can see here.

In the week or so leading up to Christmas Eve firework stands popped up all around the neighborhood. Every few blocks there would be three or four tables laden with bottle rockets, sparklers, firecrackers, pop cracks, and so on.  With each passing day there was a steady increase in the number of loud, unexpected explosions.

On Christmas Eve the city closed in on itself. By early evening the only places left open in our neighborhood appeared to be the Catholic church and the firework stand located conveniently adjacent. Traffic was negligible and the playground nearly deserted, but the heat wasn’t taking any kind of vacation. As dusk settled, we stood on the sidewalk while the kids threw pop cracks.The church disgorged a group of worshippers dressed in everything from flip flops and shorts to semi-formal attire.

It was dark by the time we got home, and families were piling into cars, covered dishes balanced on laps. We lit sparklers on the balcony, an idea much less terrifying in theory than in practice, and watched as apartments and terraces filled with families and extended families. The booms of firecrackers and the pfffts of bottle rockets grew steadier until at midnight the city exploded with fireworks. Our apartment is high enough up and angled in such a way that, if we lean out, we can see coastline from nearly every window and it seemed that every bit of coastline had its own set of fireworks. The explosions, bouncing off the buildings, were deafening and the still hot night air was quickly filled with clouds of smoke. Nathan and I stood at the open windows and other people leaned out their windows or stood on rooftops or balconies to watch.The fireworks went on so long that they finally lost a bit of their magic. We grew restless and turned our attention inside again. The noise finally subsided and the air gradually cleared of light and sound until the city was once again strangely silent and still.


6 Comments

The Long Wait for Spring

I’ve been waiting for spring.  At least that’s what I’ve been doing I wasn’t confused about the seasons and waiting for fall. I know I’m supposed to be worldly, and I totally understand hemispheres and stuff, but it seems my brain simply cannot simultaneously accept snowmen on the bulletin board at school and July or discussions of Halloween parties and spring. Sometimes I get so confused that I end up thinking it’s June, a month that makes no sense in either hemisphere.

At home we’ve now lived in our town on our block in our house for long enough that I don’t have to wait for spring with blind hope and frantic uncertainty. There will be some week in February when, hunched against the wind, I’ll look down to see the bare earth pushed up by the points of snowdrops and I’ll feel my back start to unfurl with anticipation. Soon there will be beams of sunlight foiling the blackout curtains in our bedroom, poking my eyes awake at unrealistically early hours. The irises in Phoebe’s alley, which always bloom weeks before the ones in my backyard, will remind me to clear away the winter mulch from our flower bed.

In Montevideo I’m clueless, so I’ve been waiting for spring ever since we arrived in the middle of July when it was grey, damp, and unpleasant; but never cold enough for everything to die. Some trees held their leaves all winter and a few plants continued to grow and even flower. The kids were singing songs about snow at school and talking about what they did over winter vacation, which somehow only added to my general seasonal confusion.

Many streets and parks in Montevideo are lined with large trunked trees whose branches spread wide over sidewalk and street. It was thrilling to imagine how lush the city would look when more than just a few were fully alive. A month ago buds finally appeared on bare branches. On cold days the wind off the water, while still bitter, felt less vengeful. Two weeks later the buds were still there, still tightly wrapped in a brown outer layer with only a hint of green showing. The kids had spring vacation, celebrated spring with parties at school, and brought home bean germinators. Asparagus, lettuce, and flowers started showing up at the markets. All sure signs of the coming spring.

Days of rain came, which I thought would cause everything to burst open into a mass of green, but only managed to produce a light green haze around some of the trees. Around then I started thinking about Halloween and the girl’s birthday, got confused and stopped looking for signs of spring in every plant I passed.

Then one day last week, when rushing down the block on a sunny day, late as usual to pick up the girl, I stopped short.  Where there was usually sun a patch of gently swaying shade had formed. I looked up into a canopy of bright green fully formed leaves. All up and down the street it was the same. The air plants tucked into cracks and crevices of trees had shot out purple and pink flowers. There were more people outside, as if they too had finally pushed out of their late-winter coverings to run free. From our kitchen window the tops of trees looked like the round, green puffs of children’s illustrations. Here was spring at last.

Here and there were pockets of air heavy with the scent of Jasmine flowers, a smell that no matter how many times I smell it remains unfamiliar and thrilling.  And there was one scent that was familiar, though entirely unexpected: Lilacs.  I thought I smelled them on the walk to school, but seeing no bushes decided I must be imagining it. Then the next day, overpowering the ever-present smell of the guard dogs’ feces from across the street, there it was again, strong and persistent. I looked left and right and then, with nowhere else to look, up into the branches of a huge tree. Among the green leaves and pale brown berries were purple lilac-like blooms hanging down.  Apparently these trees, Melia azedarachs, grow in parts of the United States, but I had never seen or smelled them before. They are a popular tree here and entire blocks are sometimes lined with them, but I pass the standalone one on the way to school most regularly. As I go by I give it a little nod of recognition and take a moment to look up and see the familiar and the unfamiliar growing from the same roots.