Sunday, September 26, 2010

Play school!

After months of buildup, bigger than a Friends finale (Ava: "What's 'Friends'?" Me: "A show you'll watch on the Vintage TV channel some day."), Ava started school part time in September.

I spent months checking places out, researching online, creating a hyperlinked Excel spreadsheet of possible schools with comparisons of learning approaches, teacher/child ratios, distance from home, and cost per hour. It was, in a word, insane. Or two words: insanely stressful. Mainly because it felt like the choice of where she ended up would decide whether or not she loved school (as I had) or hated it from the start.

It's play-based, which didn't seem rigorous enough in comparison to places that are practically guranteeing that your toddler will be doing algebra, right after using play-doh to make 1/5 scale models of regional architectural treasures.

But I did some searches online, talked with friends who teach little kids, and they raised some good points about play-based programs. Finally, as J. pointed out, Ava really engaged on the tour there, jumping right in with her age-mates in the play area and she told us how sad she was to leave.

Ultimately, I think I liked the Montessori school we initially found more for myself. But since my stuff can't fit in a cubby anymore, we chose and were chosen by the school that worked best for Ava.

Over the past year, because of Ava's excitement about going to school, we used it as a carrot in her potty training efforts. Which is why periodically on the weekends when we used a family bathroom stall while running errands, the folks in other stalls were treated to Ava applauding me and yelling, "Yay Mommy! You did it! You're going to school!" In the end, she potty trained months ago and the school she's attending doesn't have a "must be potty trained" rule, but she has a change of clothes there just in case.

When the first day of school rolled around, I took a couple days off work to be able to fully revel in the experience. First up: a hearty oatmeal breakfast. A friend with two little boys pointed out that it was quite the accomplishment to be able to have that meal in the same clothes she wore to school. It hadn't even occured to me because we're used to her being so neat. With Dylan, we may need a drop cloth and hose.

Half the fun of back to (or start of) school is the accessories. For my pink-loving play schooler, I found an insulated lunch sack and cute stacking bento containers, ice packs and napkin at the local Daiso Japanese dollar store. Packing a tasty, visually appealing lunch (often with a little post-it love note/drawing) is one way of showing her that I care about her, even when I'm not there for school dropoffs and pickups. I got the bento idea and the Daiso tip from the super smart blogger/Bay Area mom behind

J. giving the kids a lift before we headed for the first day of school.

See Ava: that's the school where a chunk of our disposable income is going.
My mom joined us, making for a three-generation start of school shot.
Money shot: whole family in one picture finally. Usually I'm missing because I'm taking pictures.
Ava's 3rd birthday fell on the second day of school so we took balloons and mini cupcakes for her class for lunch. Thankfully, she figured out that every day wouldn't entail such hullaballoo. Like, "It's Tuesday. Where's the marching band?"
Me and my smiley boy, who hung out in my trusty, much-loved Ergo through it all and was his usual good-natured self. As long as he's in the carrier - whether front or back - he doesn't make a peep. Hopefully, in a couple years, it'll be his turn to don a new back pack and head off to playschool.

All in all, Ava loved school from the start and since J. does drop offs and pick ups, I have to be content with hearing second-hand all the scoop on her new friends when I pick her and Dylan up after work ("So-and-so put sand in my hair so he had to go to time out!").

After years of thinking we might just be the childless aunt and uncle, I'm once again pleasantly surprised at how much enjoyment I'm getting out all of this kid-related minutiae. I'm absolutely loving being a mom to these two and sharing in all the tears, tantrums, tenderness and triumphs of their young lives.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pierced ear Ava

1st ear piercings!

In honor of Ava's approaching 3rd birthday, the Body Adornment Dept. (me and her dad) approved her request for pierced ears. The tears and crying didn't last as long as I expected. And Ava again showed a penchant for negotiation that would make an attorney proud. Informed that she could have a sucker afterwards to help w/the pain, she said, "I'd like it now please." Smart girl: get it up front or in writing. Tears aside, moments later, our pierced princess was pleased with her new look. And her sucker.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Tips on doing the 'do (hair do)

A friend is new foster mom to a toddler girl who is African American. She mentioned that she is struggling with doing her girl's hair and finding products that work well. She thought I might find her predicament comical, and I do, but only because I'm familiar with the challenge: African American hair care can be difficult, even for black folks! Have you read any of the hullaballoo about Chris Rock's hair documentary "Good Hair?" Who knew hair care could be a minefield. That aside, as any hair care expert will tell you, getting a good result is all about the products.

I get lots of compliments and questions about my daughter Ava's masses of super soft fine curls. It's gorgeous but takes some work, so for others who might be dealing with the same thing, like my friend, here's how we manage her mop.

The products are the key. Case in point, my husband called me at work one day a few months ago to say, "We may need to cut this girl's hair: I washed it but it's so tangled I can't get a comb through it, she's crying. It's just a hassle."
Me: "Did you put conditioner on it?"
Him: "Conditioner?"
Yeah, that stuff that makes it easy to comb. After pointing him to my plain old Pantene conditioner, he calls me back: "This stuff is the hit! The comb is sliding through like a hot knife through butter!" Dear Proctor and Gamble: feel free to use that in your next marketing campaign: Pantene: like a hot knife through butter!

So my routine with Ava is when I wash her hair (baby shampoo or whatever baby body and hair wash we have. Which one doesn't seem to matter much at this point), I follow with whatever conditioner I'm using (Pantene Nature Fusion Smooth Vitality now). I squeeze as much water out of the hair as possible before putting it on mainly the ends, not the scalp, because the scalp doesn't need it and it can sting if it drips in the eyes.
Chin up, head back - 33 months
Then I just part it in sections if needed and comb it through with one of those detangling combs w/the curved teeth, starting at the ends and working up to the scalp, rinse ("chin up, head back" is our mantra, because of the eye issue), then squeeze hair with the towel to dry, rather than rubbing, which will tangle it up again.

Dollop of Carol's Daughter Hair Milk
We finish up with a dollop of Carol's Daughter Hair Milk rubbed in my palms and smoothed/combed through her hair like the conditioner. Then comes the fun part: hairdos! Ava's partial to wearing hers loose with a headband, which is easy. However it does mean more work the next time you wash, because sitting in car seats, napping, etc. smooshes/tangles the curls again. But that's life.

Dylan has very similar hair texture, so he gets the same treatment, minus the conditioner and hair accessories.
Dylan - 8 months
Slick kid
After a dollop of Hair Milk, we comb through his hair to remove any tangles, then brush his hair slick and he's ready to go.

With Ava, sometimes I wash her hair and simply put it in a big ponytail high on her head (for sleeping ease), and wrap it. Then the next day, I just finger-comb the curls loose in the ponytail or untie her hair and comb through with my fingers. Throw on a headband or clips at the front and she's good to go.

When we do her bath at night rather than in the morning, we wrap her hair tightly with a silky scarf so it'll stay smooth overnight and just unwrap and go in the morning.

My mom usually does tight, braided ponytails on Ava. I'm less keen on all the braiding and usually go for the fastest finish: spiral twists of each section which just takes twirling each segment around my finger all the way to the end. Oodles of options.

And Ava gets involved organizing and fiddling with all the hair accessories (I looked up and saw about 23 elastics on her ankle once), which can keep her occupied while I work. We try to wash it every 3-4 days, depending on what she's been doing and how messed up it's gotten.

Luckily, Ava came out with hair, so everyday since birth has entailed at least brushing and fiddling with her hair, so she's accustomed to sitting still for the process.

Ava - 7 months
Plus, she's become quite the girly girl, so she now asks if I can "make her hair pretty" each day. But sometimes she'll play with some toy or watch a kids show on YouTube on my phone while I comb, part and cajole her hair into place as shown here.

It sounds more complicated than it is. Usually it takes between 5 and 15 minutes to do after her bath. Why bother? Partly, it's because I remember being a little girl out and about with my mom and aunt and seeing some other girl with wild, unkempt hair. "Look at that," my aunt said derisively, tsk-ing and shaking her head. "Now why would that child's momma send her outside like that, looking like, 'Who done it and why'?. She ought to know better. If you're not going to take care of a child, why even have one?"
Ava with wild bed head - about 13 months
More than 30 years later, I still remember that. Ava's too young for that backstory, but when she asks why we need to do her hair, I tell her, "Because I love you and care about you and how you are presented to the world and I want you, and anyone who sees you, to know that you are loved and cared for, from head to toe."

I hope I'm not giving her a complex, but it's true!And as my husband explained, "By showing that we value our kids, we are teaching them what that looks and feels like so that they will recognize when others are not doing that, and hopefully they will walk away." Smart guy, even if girly hairdos are not his forte.