An oink oink here, a moo moo there…

Kiddo has long been a fan of farm animals.  The book Moo, Baa, La La La was one of his first favorites, and he’s been pointing out tractors since before he could walk.  For Christmas, Santa brought him the Fisher-Price Little People Farm and Kiddo went straight for it as soon as he laid eyes on it.

Kiddo plays with his new farm

Now his love of all things Barnyard has spilled into his musical taste.  I don’t know when he first heard the song “Old McDonald Had a Farm” but he’s been requesting it by name–or rather, by chorus–every time the opportunity for a song arises.  No matter which other tune I start singing, I can barely get a line in before he interrupts with a stern “NO NO NO.”  If I pretend I don’t know which one he’s really after, he will eventually tell me “yah-yah-yo,”  which is his version of “E-I-E-I-O.”  Heaven help me if I try to get away with just one verse, because unless something really nifty distracts him, he’ll keep requesting it until either my voice or my collection of animals is exhausted.

This, I’m told, is normal for toddlers.  In a world that’s still very unpredictable to them, putting a familiar story or song on repeat is comforting for them because they know what’s coming next.  They feel confident when they can predict what’s on the next page.  (Which mean, I suppose, that I should pick a canonical order for those barn animals and their sounds.)

So I’ve been singing a lot of Old McDonald lately.  In the car on the way to and from daycare.  At night, to help him fall asleep.  On the weekends when we’re playing with his new See ‘n Say.  Here, there, everywhere.  But just when it was starting to get tedious, I figured out how to leverage it.  Yep, I’m not above bribing my son with a rendition of his favorite song.  “Sit down in your car seat, Kiddo, and we’ll sing Old McDonald!”  It works almost as well as goldfish crackers.


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I’m still here

It’s been almost two weeks since I last wrote in this blog.  Since that last post, I’ve had a birthday, spent a weekend puzzling, enjoyed some time with visiting family, and oh yeah, worked worked worked.  This has been a very busy month at my job and I’ve been having a hard time finding any spare moments to write.  I’ve got plenty of ideas brewing that pull from both my “geek” side and my “mama” side; now all I need is time to make those ideas into complete sentences.

So far, I think I’ve done all right with my resolution to be less self-critical.  (I almost added “but we’re only a couple of weeks into the year, after all.”  See how automatic it is for me to take myself down?  Still needs work.)  I’ve also made some good progress on a couple personal projects, and even managed to keep the house tidier than it has been in a long while.  I’ll talk about the projects and organization in another post, because I’m really pleased with how some of it has come out.

I started this writing project as an outlet for myself, and maybe a little bit because I read friends’ blogs and thought, “Hey, I could do that too!”  I had grand ideas about how often I would write, and what kinds of topics I would cover.  Most of those grand ideas went out the window before this blog was a month old.  But maybe that’s for the best.  In the past few weeks I’ve heard from some unexpected sources that they’ve been reading and really enjoying my writing, and it’s been such a boost, right when I really needed one.

So, in spite of my recent reticence, I really am still here, and plan to be here for quite some time.  Thank you, family and friends, for still being here too.

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A shortcut to an easier choice

As parents, the options available to us can be almost physically smothering.  How many blankets or cute little onesies will we need?  How much should we hang onto when he outgrows this size?  What should we offer for dinner tonight to ensure the correct balance of nutrition, variety, and recipient approval?  If you don’t find out what all the options are, you might overlook an important one, but spend too much time trying to gather all the facts and you end up drowning in research.  No wonder some of us feel overwhelmed.

Take the problem of coming up with a name.  When you think about it, naming a child is a huge responsibility.  You’re hanging a sign on this tiny little person that’s going to stamp their interactions with everyone they meet.  Every time they say “Hi, I’m –” they’re putting your selection on display.  And the range of options!  One book I had offered more than 40,000 possible names.  How on earth could we pick the right one?

Clearly, if we were going to have to live with ourselves and our son, my husband and I needed some way to narrow down the possibilities.  And so we came up with a rather arbitrary rule.  Both of our full names share a quirky characteristic.  We decided to restrict the potential name pool for our son to those names that would fit the same pattern.  And just that easily, our options dropped to a mere couple dozen.  Yes, we did end up taking a “short list” of 30 names to the hospital with us, but it was a lot shorter than it could have been, and the morning after our baby was born, he had a name–one that we’re all still quite happy with, a year and a half later.

Studies* have found that people are more satisfied with their choices when they have a smaller set of items from which to choose.  More options means a greater likelihood of buyer’s remorse, and of second-guessing yourself.  But sometimes there isn’t an easy or clear-cut way to reduce your options.  When faced with this problem, we occasionally have to fall back on the time-honored solution of simply Making Something Up.

I faced a similar quandary when I was sorting through outgrown baby clothes.  I wanted to hang on to some of them for sentimental or practical reasons, but we don’t have space for all the ones I had cute memories for.  My arbitrary rule was that I couldn’t keep more of any one size than would fit in the smallest of the storage boxes I’d picked out.  They aren’t very big boxes, but with that rule firmly in mind, I was able to cull down to only my favorite “keepers” and pass the rest along lightheartedly to friends with younger and smaller babies.

It’s actually rather freeing to realize that you don’t have to have a solid reason for deciding one way or the other–that it’s OK to pick something just because it’s more aesthetically pleasing to you somehow.  And if you’re the one making the rule, then you get to be the one who decides how close you need to come to the letter of the law.  I’ll confess, there were some clothing sizes where I exceeded my self-imposed quota, but since I had other boxes with extra space, I was ultimately able to make everything fit in the total space I’d allotted to myself.

When it comes down to it, the important things in the life of a baby are that he or she is getting the necessary food, warmth, sleep, and love.  Years from now, it probably won’t matter which brand of car seat young Junior rode around in, or whether you started solids with avocado, banana, or simple rice cereal.  I’ve found the time spent analyzing minute differences between options could also be spent playing with my Kiddo… and that’s one choice that’s not hard to make.

* Here are some sources describing this phenomenon:


They don’t all have to be home runs

I’m very critical of myself and the work I do.  The bar I set to determine my own success is ten times higher than I’d ever expect from anyone else.  I know that setting this kind of expectation for myself is silly and can be self-defeating, yet I do it anyway.  At least I’m aware of it, right?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer.  Even back then I knew my strengths (some of them, anyway) and I knew this was something I was good at.  Maybe it came from all the reading I did as a kid, and being exposed to vocabulary and wordsmithery well above my grade level.  But I knew this: I was a good writer, and I had a good imagination.  At the same time, I was practical enough to know that you have to be really, really, REALLY good to make a living as a novelist.  (As an adult, having read plenty of books by certain authors who I won’t name, I’ll add “or really, really, really prolific.”)

When I realized that there was another way to earn a living by writing, I got very excited, and I embraced the idea of becoming a journalist–specifically, a newspaper reporter.  My enthusiasm carried me through high school and through most of my undergraduate degree, except that somewhere in there I got the idea that reporters have to be on call at all hours of the day and night, not unlike doctors and firefighters.  Not to mention the fact that the journalism world, at that time, was a) highly competitive, and b) not highly paying.  In high school I’d been a big fish in a small pond; in college, I was discovering that I was not the only big fish around, and that in fact there were several who were much bigger than me, and justifiably so.

I was saved from having to wrestle with the realities of doing what I loved versus doing what paid the bills, because my senior year of college was 1994-95, and this thing called the World Wide Web was really starting to become a Big Thing, and a couple of my good friends from my hometown were working on their computer science degrees.  The year after I graduated with my journalism degree, I found myself going back to college for a few non-degree graduate courses.  Before long, my professor had talked me into studying for a master’s degree.  Apparently writing wasn’t the only thing that I was good at.  So that’s how I ended up here, at this job, rather than somewhere in a newsroom.  I’m grateful, because this path led me to many other happy things as well, such as Husband and Kiddo.

But I never lost that passion for writing, and I really enjoy putting words together to make something interesting, something that means something to me and hopefully to others as well.  Most of my blog entries take me a long time to write, and most of them don’t get published right after I finish composing them.  I like to put a composition away for a little while and then come back and see if there’s anything I can tweak to make it just a little tighter.  Any typos or miswordings that need to be fixed.  Any long sentences (I do have an unfortunate tendency to write too-long sentences) that could be shortened or broken in half for easier reading.  Any parenthetical asides that would be better left out (because I use too many of those, too.)  In short, anything that could be made better… and that’s where I get into trouble.  That intense self-critical-ness (is that even a word?) and the constant striving for perfection tend to make me very nit-picky about what I write, and sometimes will hinder me from actually publishing whatever I’ve produced.

Last night, for example, I worked on a post for quite a while.  I’d actually written most of it last month, but was trying to find a way to tie it all together and wrap everything up with a neat conclusion, and finally get the darn thing out of my drafts folder.  It just wasn’t happening, and I was getting frustrated.  This morning I got to work, re-read it, and decided I didn’t like what I’d settled on last night.  But then I spent a little of my wake-up time (that period of adjustment where I mentally change gears from being a mom to being a software tester) reading other blogs, and something I’ve been hearing for years finally worked its way through to my full attention.

They don’t all have to be home runs.  They don’t even all have to be triples, or doubles, or hell, even be hits at all.  They don’t all have to be 750-word essays full of insights, illustrated with a cute and well-framed photo, and neatly wrapped up with a witty yet thoughtful conclusion.  They should all be good efforts, and they shouldn’t be anything that I’m ashamed to attach my name to, but they don’t all have to be perfect.

(My husband would be applauding me right now, if he were reading over my shoulder, because he’s been trying to get that through to me for years.)

It’s been years since I’ve made real New Year’s resolutions, and longer since I actually published them for others to see.  But I’ll put a stake into the ground this year.  For 2011, I’m going to try to be less self-critical, and less worried about how others see me.  I don’t know how to measure that, and I don’t know whether I’ll be able to stick to it.  I do know that when I lighten up, I have more fun with what I’m doing, and feel better about the results regardless of whether they fall short of my bar.  So here’s to a new year, and a new chance, and not waiting when I have something to say, and not always looking for the perfect words to leave the proper lasting impression.  Sometimes, imperfect is an okay thing to be.

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A step back in time

Last month, we celebrated Christmas by driving to Montana to visit my parents and siblings.  When we returned to Redmond, my husband and I took the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve off from work.  However, Kiddo’s daycare was still open and we decided to take advantage of the opportunity for a few kid-free days to get things done around the house.

The past few days have been a reminder of the first couple months of our marriage, before Kiddo came along.  They highlighted the little changes and adjustments we’ve made over the past 18 months, in some cases adaptions that we hadn’t even noticed until we didn’t need to do them.

Sleeping, for one.  I had to wake up to drop Kiddo off, but I crawled back between the covers when I got home.  I’d forgotten what it’s like to sleep until I woke up naturally, rather than being woken up by an alarm or a crying child.

Leaving the house later that afternoon was another big change.  It took us less than five minutes to transition from sitting on the couch to backing out of the garage.  I was almost amazed at how quickly we managed something that had become a fifteen-to-twenty minute process once a baby joined the party.

Eating at a restaurant was also a change.  I didn’t have to drag in a bunch of Kiddo’s accessories.  I could pay full attention to what my husband was saying, rather than dividing my attention between him and the management of a rookie eater.  We were even able to order dessert!

The house was a little more peaceful for a few hours of the day, and I was able to get more work done than usual.  It was a nice change.

All the same, at the end of the day when we picked up Kiddo from daycare, we remembered why we chose to give up that ease and freedom.  There are plenty of ways that our life has changed for the less convenient, but there are also plenty of ways it’s changed for the better.