Friday, November 29, 2013

Finding Childcare: Reliable? Heartbreaking?

Being a working mom means needing affordable, trustworthy childcare. And that's not easy.

Since I mostly teach online and both my husband I have a flexible, academic schedule (some days, at least), we were able to get through the summer and this semester with an occasional p/t babysitter. Next semester, my husband will be on family leave and he will be the primary care giver. Still, we will need some help here and there.

We searched for sitters on, and local list serves (neighborhood, family and alum lists.) We tried asking friends, but got very few recommendations. Clearly a good sitter is hard to find and families are reluctant to "give away" their sitters. We've tried to buck this trend by recommending ours and hope the good karma returns to us when we need to find someone in the future. (I'll let you know if that works out.)

We met some real doozies - one woman said goodbye to our bambino by knocking his bare arm with her keys and another yawned throughout the whole interview. We also found a few kind women with excellent experience who we really like. offers possible background checks and personal information. To be extra safe, we've photocopied government-issued identification for folks we found elsewhere. also has a good list of questions to ask a sitter, what information and items to leave, and how to best show a sitter around your home. At first, I was taken by women who were native Italian speakers, but had little infant experience, or who seemed like they could be friends. Of course, their experience with soothing, playing, feeding and teaching babies new skills are more important.

It took us almost five months to feel comfortable leaving our bambino alone with someone who wasn't a close relation or friend. Usually, I would work from home in another room while the sitter takes care of our bambino. This means that I wanted to find someone I felt comfortable spending a lot of time with, too. Of course, if I'm not comfortable, why should my baby be?

It was - and is - incredibly hard to hear him cry with someone else and not comfort him. It was - and is - incredibly hard to hear him laugh and not run into his room to join in the fun. The range of emotions is exhausting and not always conducive to working. Still, I've been able to keep up with my teaching and some writing. It has also been comforting to be home to hear the sitter interact with our son and to offer some suggestions, when necessary, as they get to know each other. It has been hard at times to not only share my baby, but also our entire apartment as they move from room to room.

Of course, a sort of Murphy's Law holds true that a baby who won't nap all morning will go down for a sitter as soon as she arrives and wake just as she's about to leave. Money well-spent, right? Theoretically, I can work without having to keep an ear out for my son. Of course, I usually do keep listening and can't avoid hearing him, but I can attempt to relax knowing someone else is responsible for him.

I've started to leave the house to work elsewhere and trust that our son will be ok with our chosen sitters. The other day, I even suggested that the two of them take a stroller-walk. That walk marked the first time I'd been alone at home since mid-May. It both feels good - and productive or relaxing - to be alone, but also alarming when I suddenly don't hear or see my baby close to me. I imagine these emotions will continue for a long while.

Infant childcare costs are astronomical (there are full-time places we visited close to home in Washington, D.C., that cost around $2,000 a month. A month!) Waiting lists sometimes open years after parents joined them. Some centers allow families to put down a deposit and join a waiting list as soon as the mother finds out she's pregnant; others ask for the baby's birth date. Childcare is clearly something to think ahead about.

What tips do you have for finding good childcare?

Monday, November 18, 2013

In Sickness and in Health: Parenthood

Parenthood includes making hard decisions. The bambino and I, with help from the nonna, drove up to New Jersey recently for a short visit. And then the bambino, who already had a little cough, and I developed full blown colds. The yucky, noisy, hard-to-sleep kind.

I was very sorry to have to cancel a reading and an intimate gathering with friends and family. After all, we'd been planning the visit forever and were looking forward to, well, everything. We're finally starting to feel better, after a few visits to the doctor here and in N.J., and lots of (mostly attempted) rest.

I don't know how folks balance it all. Some days it seems quite simple and other days I wonder if I'll have time to eat dinner, let alone spend quality time with my son, attend to my classes and continue to write.

Today the weather is warm - high 60's in D.C. - and the windows are open. Starting to feel hopeful again.

I'll feel more hopeful when I'm caught up on work. See you next week!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Emily Nichols Grossi on Blogging, Motherhood & Food

Thank you to Emily Nichols Grossi for today’s post about writing regularly as a mother. Emily was a student in a recent memoir writing workshop I taught at Politics & Prose bookstore. I was struck by her attention to sensory details and enthusiasm. I’m excited to have the opportunity to share her thoughts with you today.

Emily Nichols Grossi is a Louisiana native who has happily called DC her home since 2007. A stay-at-home mother of two young sons, Emily also writes the blog, Em-i-lis,, teaches canning and preservation classes throughout the DC-area, runs Em-i-lis Catering, is an avid school volunteer and is working on a memoir.

Blogging, Motherhood & Food by Emily Nichols Grossi

It began over shallow bowls of steaming pasta tossed with wilted greens and mascarpone.

Actually, it was born months earlier when I told my friend, Shawn, how I'd informed the manager at Jack Falstaff's, a now-shuttered restaurant in San Francisco, that his crab cakes were utterly sub-par. "Shawn, never waste a dining experience by going to Falstaff's!" I implored. He laughed so hard I thought hyperventilation was nigh, and after recovering he told me for the umpteenth time that I simply must write about food. "Doll, you talk about food with such gravitas, like it's the most important thing in the world."

"How can I do this?" I asked my husband, Tom, as we grated cheese over our bowls of glistening pasta. My youngest son was about to turn two, and I craved an intellectual endeavor to enliven my days. I was happy as a stay-at-home mother but desperately wanted to carve out time to pursue the interests I'd put on hold. Tom suggested blogging.

I was a blog virgin at that point but quickly realized that it would be a terrifically workable format for me: short posts written when I had time. I decided early on that authenticity would be my mantra.  As such, I am frank and share my successes as well as my mishaps. I often write about all things food-related, but as the boys grow, I find myself writing more and more about motherhood too. My byline says it all: musings from a servantless, stay-at-home, cooking-obsessed mom.

Since I started Em-i-lis almost three years ago, I've managed to work lots of writing into stolen moments in and around naptimes, school drop-offs and pick-ups, trips to the pediatrician, potty training and playdates. I am proud to have written every day but three and have felt enormously fulfilled in doing so.

People often ask me why I write so regularly and with such candor. I wouldn't make the time if I didn't love it, didn't feel I simply must get X, Y or Z down in words. Certainly, the love of the craft is part of the why. But I've also found that there is something profoundly illuminative about committing words to page.

Through Em-i-lis, I have come to know myself much more thoroughly. I have found a confidence and a voice and a sense-of-self I'd long sought. I have recorded innumerable, quotidian details of my sons' lives that otherwise I would surely have forgotten. I have become a really good cook. I have met and reconnected with incredible people, and I have realized how honesty and openness can forge the most wonderful ties with them.

Be sure to click through to visit Em-i-lis!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Car Seat Research: Important, Scary (and a little boring)

Our current carseat/stroller combo, the Chicco Keyfit 30, will expire when our bambino reaches 30 lbs. We've found it very easy to use; the seat simply latches into the stroller base and the car seat base. Best of all, our son generally doesn't mind sitting in it. I'm sure we still have a while more that we can use it, but I'm starting to research the next size up so that we can take advantage of sales after the holidays.

My head is spinning. There are so many different options and things to consider. And, frankly, it is all pretty boring. Not to mention scary to think about what could happen.

Here are the facts from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety:

When it comes to crashes, children are safer now than ever. The rate of motor vehicle crash deaths per million children younger than 13 has declined 78 percent overall since 1975. The rate at which children die as passenger vehicle occupants has decreased 59 percent, while the rates at which they are killed as pedestrians and bicyclists has declined by 91 and 92 percent, respectively.

Proper restraint use can reduce crash deaths and injuries even more. Appropriate child safety seats provide significantly more protection in a crash than safety belts alone.

Choose the right restraint for your child’s age and size, and always seat kids in the rear.

All infants and toddlers should ride rear-facing until they are 2 years old or until they reach the height and weight limit of their child restraints. 
Once they outgrow rear-facing restraints, children should ride in a harness-equipped forward-facing child restraint for as long as possible, up to the height and weight limit of the child restraint. Top tethers should be used whenever a child restraint is installed forward-facing.
When children outgrow child restraints, they should use belt-positioning booster seats until adult safety belts fit properly.

We had luck with the first car seat by going out to Great Beginnings in Maryland. We got lots of good advice from a salesperson and could try out the different options in-person. We also got a great price with a coupon from joining their mailing list. (I blogged about the store here.)

This time around, I'm not really up for a little road trip with the bambino to buy a car seat. We hope to find something online and call it a day.

Here are some helpful online resources I found:
Great Slate article: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About #%!@% Car Seats

Very useful FAQs from Car-Safety.Org about weight, height, boosters, airplane travel, and everything else you can think of.

New information about the LATCH system.

What car seat would you recommend? 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Feminist Halloween It Was: Yoda in D.C.

Star Wars family

Feminism and personal history came up the other day in a memoir writing workshop I'm teaching at Politics and Prose bookstore. Some of the women are writing about the contrast between their mothers' risks, their own wider opportunities and their granddaughter's even wider choices. Halloween brings some of these issues to light for our nuclear family.

I feel quite aware of my own opportunities and choices I make as one of two primary role models for our son. There are some easy decisions, like keeping my "maiden" name, and bigger ones, like continuing to work as a new mamma and sharing household tasks with my husband, who works full-time. Leading up to Halloween, there was our bambino's costume to consider.

Choosing a Halloween costume for our infant son, who can't yet show an interest in choosing his own outfit of course, feels less daunting than it might be for a little girl. There are more "boy" costumes that represent a strong, intelligent and, hopefully, kind character or role. There are less frilly and troubling princess costumes and more work-related or super hero costumes for boys. Of course, at this age, babies barely have gender, so really, this shouldn't even be an issue. But it is.

As a little girl, there were times I enjoyed dressing up in shiny, frilly outfits. But I also helped my mom on photo shoots and later in the office filing her images and documents. I sometimes went to work with my dad and saw him meet with clients in his law office. With each parent owning a business, more than one day a year was "bring your daughter to work day."I hope our son, as he grows, is free to try out various more traditionally masculine roles, as well as traditionally feminine. What we don't want to do is force a particular definition upon him. 

Our bambino was dressed as a thoughtful Yoda for Halloween (and earlier in the day, since so many infant clothes are like Halloween outfits, he was Chewbacca and R2D2), and his parents were Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. In the morning, he chatted with me, in baby-Chewbacca fashion, while I frosted homemade Halloween cupcakes and later as I sat at the computer (attempting) to write a Halloween poem. He saw his mamma doing a little bit of traditional work in the kitchen, which she loves to do, and professional, creative work, too. While she was dressed as princess that evening, she was the kind who couldn't have saved anyone with crinoline under her skirts.

Shannon Brugh gets it right in Raising Feminist Sons,
Before my first son was even born, I remember screaming in half-seriousness, “Don’t put my kid in a gender box!!” I was looking around at all the sweet baby clothes—boys in blue, girls in pink—and wondering why it had to be that way. From birth children are told what is for them and what is not—based exclusively on their gender. Puppies for boys, kitties for girls. Trucks and foot/base/soccer balls for boys, dollies and bows and hearts for girls. It was near impossible to find gender neutral (or at least, not gender obnoxious) items for the baby growing in my belly. Before I knew the sex of my baby, people dreamed about my potential girl and the tea parties and dress up we would play. They dreamed about playing in the mud and rough-and-tumble with my possible boy. But never did those two paths cross. What if my son wanted to play tea party and wear a feather boa? What if my little girl wanted to play flag football and never wore dresses? Why would one of these be celebrated and one be whispered about? The whole thing made me insane. Why is it that so many things are already decided on behalf of our kids simply because of an X or a Y chromosome? And, more importantly, can we change that?

Everyday Feminism offers a Framework for Feminist Parenting that includes things like, "respect for choices, gender and sexuality," as well as concrete examples. Now, if only we could all be on the same page and simply call this "parenting." Maybe our grandchildren won't need the word "feminist." If a little girl chooses to be a princess, great. If a little boy chooses to be a warrior, great. It is the parents' job to make sure that these are choices, rather than decisions made for them based on traditional expectations. 

I love how teaching memoir, and my students' life stories, offer some context and questions to my days and our lives. 

Stay tuned as spring semester memoir writing classes open for registration at Politics and Prose bookstore

Thanks to Alanna Michelle on Etsy for the fabulous Yoda hat and robe!