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August 26, 2006

Courtesy of iTunes

I don't know what got me started tonight, but I dropped twenty bucks on cheesy songs from the 80s and 90s on iTunes. I'm alone with the kids, because my husband has his once-in-a-blue-moon Saturday poker night, so I thought we should do some dancing.

I downloaded that "I like to move it" song first. We wore that one out pretty quickly. What followed was a cascade of hilarious (to me) song choices, ending with the Bonnie Tyler classic Total Eclipse of the Heart.

Most of my friends have some sort of benchmark reference with that song. For me, it was being a dorky sixth-grader, and going to school dances and watching all of the cool kids pair up and waddle like penguins while the rest of us wallflowers stood along the edges of the multipurpose room, mouthing all the words and swaying. We'd really emote along with Bonnie's two-pack-a-day vocals, and sometimes we'd get fancy and take turns singing back up, holding our plastic, purse-sized combs for microphones.

In any case, the breakdancers would take over the dance at some point, and the entire room would be full of spectators - but those slow dances always killed me. I was jealous of the girls who got asked to dance at the time. Now, I'm glad I took the time to really work on my lipsynching. If only I would have learned to breakdance, too.

After doing fake cheers to Toni Basil's Hey Mickey and teaching my kids the chorus to Bust a Move (I know, I know) and following up with a rousing rendition of Shake It from one-hit-wonder M.C. Shy-D. I busted the kids up proper with a lipsynched rendition of the Wonder Woman theme.

Inspiration struck as the kids and I started to wear down from our dance party. I got ready to do some Bonnie Tyler singalong, when my son pulled himself up straight, and blushing, asked me if I would dance with him.

I scooped him up in my arms, and we penguined our way around the living room to the gritty strains of Total Eclipse of the Heart - the only time I've actually danced with someone to that song. He nestled his nose into my neck, and we swayed awkwardly. As the song ended (finally, geez, my arms were getting tired. SEVEN MINUTES! Heaven to a horny seventh grader. Tough for a tired mommy...) I lowered him to the floor, and we both smiled.

It was worth the wait.

August 14, 2006

Passing It On - My Favorite Books From Childhood

From the moment I felt my oldest daughter quickening in my belly, I was already making plans and stockpiling favorite books and CDs to share with my kids. I had lofty notions about avoiding all televsion and movies until, say, college, but I was steadily filling a bookshelf next to the crib with classics - like Goodnight Moon - and not so classics - The Giant Jam Sandwich. Some of my fondest memories from my childhood take place on the couch, snuggled up with my mom and siblings as she read picture book after picture book. She kept them all safe, and I gleefully raided her stash of books from my childhood as I prepared for my daughter's arrival.

There is something magical about pulling my own children into my arms and cracking open the pages of a story so familiar that I can recite it from memory. The words fall from my lips effortlessly, and I watch their faces instead, reacting to the artwork, turning the pages with chubby hands and adding their own two cents on every illustration. My kids are fascinated by The Little House - like me, they pour over the simple illustrations, imagining the lives of the tiny figures, and tracing the orchards and roads with sticky fingers. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel is another story that has captured all of our imaginations. I still want to kick mean Mr. Henry B. Swap in the shins on behalf of hard-working Mike. Pirates in the Park still gets me on the edge of my seat - who doesn't love a good pirate story starring a girl named Jenny?

Now that my oldest is seven, and starting second grade, we've finally begun to read the smaller chapter books that enthralled me as a young elementary school student. I devoured these little paperbacks, and searched the library for new series to read. The Littles still tickle my imagination, and we've just finished reading Misty, Stormy and Sea Star. We've made our way through the Happy Little Family series and have read several of the Little House on the Prairie series. I found myself as in love with Roald Dahl as I was in third grade as we read through The BFG and The Witches in one weekend. We've got my dog-eared copies of Beverly Cleary's Ramona books on the shelf.


I've written about our shared love of Trixie Belden
and her crime-solving, horse-riding gang. I have put aside copies of Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Changeling and Robert C. O'Brien's The Silver Crown, Bridge to Terabithia for the years ahead, when I feel like we're ready to tackle some darker themes.

I'm dying to find out if my kids will embrace the March sisters and make their stories their own, like my sister and I did. I'm excited when I see my kids conjuring pirate ships from walnut shells, and imagining life in rural Kentucky. I know that we are creating memories that will linger as they look into their own children's sleepy faces and whisper "Goodnight stars, goodnight air..."


The Lovely Mrs. Davis is celebrating the 37th anniversary of Sesame Street
! She wants to know what books, movies, music or television shows from our childhood we are looking forward to sharing with our own children. Go check out her roundup of children's media memories!

August 13, 2006

He's Got Choo Choo Soul, Too.

Because, I don't know, sometimes I just need to show how this particular acorn is directly under my tree. This is how we do it, Three Kid Circus-style.



Rocking Out to Choo Choo Soul on Vimeo

August 8, 2006

Mother Talk Blog Tour - The Ghost In The House

Three Kid Circus is the third stop on this month's MotherTalk blog tour, featuring award-winning journalist and freelance author Tracy Thompson's new book The Ghost in the House: Motherhood, Raising Children and Struggling with Depression.

I've never suffered from depression, either before or after having children. When I agreed to read The Ghost In The House: Motherhood, Raising Children and Struggling with Depression, I had no idea what to expect. I assumed that I would be reading a memoir, or perhaps a just the facts ma'am book about depression. When it arrived in my mailbox, I ripped open the envelope and joined my three kids out on our deck. I set up a lounge chair and kept a lazy eye on the wading pool while reading the introduction.

Depression is a subject that has come out of the closet, except when it applies to motherhood. Somehow, juxtaposing depression and motherhood - to raise the possibility that there are some things about the work of raising children that may be stressful, or even conducive to illness - seems bad manners. Motherhood is supposed to make women happy, period.

With a dolphin-like squeak, my three-year-old launched her self in my direction, splattering the open pages in my lap with grape-sized drops of water. I snapped at her. Clearly she could see that I was reading, and she didn't need to be splashing. Couldn't she just serenely sit in the wading pool with her siblings? Couldn't they just let me read in peace?

What is maternal depression? Thompson offers this definition:

It's what happens when a mother's depression reaches out to ensnare her child. It's depression exacerbated by stresses common to motherhood, and - most important- it can be transmitted from mother to child via learned behavior, environment, genetics, or any combination of the three.

Most of the women I know maintain that it is "normal." My mother is a woman of strong convictions. We've had many conversations over the last decade about my frustration over the rigors of child-rearing. "Those were the best years of my life," she tells me. "I loved everything about being a mommy."

Yet, when I mentioned that I was reading The Ghost in the House, and began to describe the book, she waved away the conversation. "All mothers struggle. All mothers have stress. All mothers are depressed. They always have been, and they always will be. You just do the best that you can. There's no point in discussing it to death."

So, polite society would rather not hear about stressed out mothers. But who is merely stressed, and who is depressed?

..."normal" is not the same thing as "healthy"... So it is with maternal depression: if it's not a huge topic, perhaps this is because many mothers simply consider its classic constellation of symptoms - chronic exhaustion and/or trouble with sleeping, dysfunctional eating patterns, low libido, anxiety, loss of pleasure in life, constant feelings of guilt, and inability to concentrate - to be "normal."

Oh. Wow.

This last spring, I visited two doctors and a therapist, looking for reasons behind my inability to keep up with daily tasks, my bursts of insomnia, and the foggy feeling that kept me from feeling truly present in my own life at times. All three professionals were in agreement: the rigors of being a mom to three young kids were at the heart of the matter. I simply needed more sleep, more exercise, more time outside of the home.

Thompson's explanation of her term motherstress paints a vivid picture of how "unrealistic cultural expectations, the demands of an increasingly complex society, the inherent difficulty of the work combined with lack of social recognition" affect our stress level. All mothers are affected by motherstress. However, for women who are prone to depression, this motherstress can create the perfect environment for a major depression.

I stood up and dragged my chair farther away from the splashing kids. After telling the kids to settle down (hah!) I buried my nose in The Ghost in the House once again.

...I'm not talking about a bad day, or even one of those bad patches every family goes through from time to time. Maternal depression is a Bad Day that comes for a visit and refuses to leave. Maternal depression can also be described as a constellation of behaviors that are a reaction to a very specific stress: the demands of children.

Thompson seamlessly weaves her own life experiences with depression with the latest research and quotes from the hundreds of surveys, letters and interviews she conducted for this book. The first half of the book not only defines maternal depression, it gives the reader a window into the families affected by this serious illness.

The popular perception of depression is that it makes people sad. Chronic irritability is a less recognized but equally common symptom, and it can escalate up to anger attacks - periods of uncontrollable, hysterical rage. Sigmund Freud's famous dictum that depression "is anger turned inward" may be true in some instances, but when it comes to maternal depression, that rarely seems the case; for depressed mothers, depression is anger turned outward - at the kids.

It was like a mirror being held up to my face. While I've never experienced an anger attack, I have experienced ongoing periods of crankiness, demands for unrealistic behavior - hello, sitting silently and not splashing in the pool, anyone? - and it brought tears to my eyes. I put the book aside and jumped into the middle of the action, getting drenched in the process.

The second half of the book presents the science behind maternal depression, and details some of the coping mechanisms that mothers employ - both the positive and negative. Thompson's writing is engaging, honest and nonjudgemental. Even as she addresses the affects of depression on children, she offers hope and insight from mothers who have recovered from maternal depression. The end result is a rich, multi-layered and ultimately hopeful look at lives affected by maternal depression.

Reading this raised some questions in my heart and mind that I have been afraid to confront. Am I a depressed mother? I am quick to jump to the conclusion that I am not. Perhaps it is merely motherstress. I closed the covers of this book with a determination to address my issues anew, for the sake of my own health, and that of my family.

The Ghost in the House: Motherhood, Raising Children and Struggling with Depression illuminates the illness behind the symptoms, and gives hope to women who have struggled silently, and to the children who are being raised with the spectre of depression in the home. This should be mandatory reading for health professionals who work with mothers, and for anyone who wants to understand maternal depression. I recommend it highly.

This is stop three on The Ghost in the House tour. To read more, visit:

Monday 8/7: MUBAR
Tuesday 8/8: Woulda Coulda Shoulda
Wednesday 8/9: Three Kid Circus - me! hi!
Thursday 8/10: ParentHacks
Friday 8/11: Sweetney
Tuesday, 8/15: Dooce interviews Tracy for AlphaMom

August 6, 2006

Things I Have Been Meaning To Talk About, Part One

From time to time, I am offered the opportunity to try out a product. I usually turn these down, because frankly, I'm pretty lousy at reviewing products. I've decided that in the future, I'll avoid accepting anything unless it truly grabs my interest, because I'd rather focus my writing on more important things. Like ME.

But, in the interest of fairness to the good folks who shared their products with me, I'm going to take the next couple of Sundays to knock out some reviews. Because, in all honesty, I liked this stuff, and I'm just not all that clever at finding a way to weave it into my writing without having sound like a product plug. Which it is.

Let's just say I have NO future in advertising. Gah, enough stalling.

Drumroll, please:

Anywhere? ANYWHERE?

A while back, I received a box in the mail from the good people at Clorox. Perhaps they know that I'm the mother of three grubby little monsters. Perhaps because they've heard tell about my housekeeping skills and they realized that I would be all about germ destruction, In any case, they offered me the chance to test out the new Clorox Anywhere Hard Surface daily sanitizing spray. I pulled it out of the box, and put it on the counter and walked away.

See, I have a thing about harsh smells. The smell of most cleaners makes me sick, and I couldn't imagine that this would be any different. The back of the bottle promised "No harsh fumes" - so I tenatively squirted some on the counter.

And...nothing. No smell. Nada.

Ooooooh.

I glanced at the back of the bottle again. "Gentle enough to use around kids, pets and food."

I stuck my head out the door. "Kids! Come here for a minute!"

Visions of spraying the germ-carrying little monkeys down several times a day flew through my brain. I envisioned a haz-mat tent with misting sprays. After the winter we just had, with the pneumonia and infected sinuses and all, I was all "This! This is the answer to my prayers!"

I cradled the bottle in my arms, and then raised it aloft, while turning in a circle. Birds sang, and a sunbeam illuminated my twirling dance. I lowered it to my hip, and practiced my quick-draw move.

With a heaving sigh, I mouthed "thank you" to the heavens and took aim at my mystified children.

My finger twitched on the trigger. As I sighted along the top of the nozzle, my eyes drifted back to the logo.

Oh man. HARD SURFACE. My childen, although I could argue successfully that they are indeed hard-headed, are not hard surfaces. I stopped short of spraying them outright, and settled instead for gleefully spraying every surface in my home.

Good times.

Guess What "D" Stands For?

The folks over at Aquafresh have launched a campaign to help parents get kids into healthy bedtime habits, and they are enlisting the help of Dr. Seuss, Marlee Matlin and Dr. Laura Jana to do it. The ABC's of a Fun, Healthy Bedtime campaign allows kids who purchase (or, okay, their parents who purchase) two Aquafresh Dr. Seuss products to receive a Dr. Seuss book free by mail. Not only that, Aquafresh will donate 10,000 Healthy Bedtime Kits, containing toothpaste, a toothbrush and a Dr. Seuss book to First Book.

In their promotional handout, they are promoting an ABC routine where A = Aquafresh, B = Books and C= Covers. The goal is to have kids brush teeth, read a few books and then to sleep.

This is brilliant. I've been pawing through this, looking for the magic part where the kids agree that after brushing, after books, they will meekly go to sleep.

See, in our house, we brush. We read. And then we tuck them under the covers. And then they have to pee. Okay. Back to the covers. Then they are hungry. And thirsty. And have to pee again. And want to listen to music. No, not that music. How about another book? Oh, I should brush my teeth again.

They really like the taste of the Aquafresh, it seems. Or maybe they just don't get it that bedtime is nigh.

Perhaps I could conk them over the head with the Dr. Seuss book and then they would lie still and proceed directly to sleep. Perhaps I need to swaddle them with the covers. Or perhaps they mean "duck and cover" - I should hide myself until all demands are exhausted and they put themselves to sleep.

In fact, I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of letter D. What do you suppose D stands for?

1) Downtime?
2) Drinking?
3) Disco Dancing?

If you guessed Dr. Seuss, you would be wrong. Very, very wrong.

August 2, 2006

I've Got Choo Choo Soul, Whether I Want It Or Not.

The BlogHer '06 recap is coming, we swear. Thanks for your patience. - the management

I've written about my love for children's music. I know that there are a lot of parents out there who prefer to introduce their children to their own favorites, bypassing any albums written specifically for children. I am just a sucker for catchy melodies, simple lyrics with a simple message, and the expectation that you will be singing along, probably off-key.

My own childhood memories are peppered with family sing-alongs in the car to campfire favorites and classic American folk music. We listened to the Sesame Street album and the hokey holiday favorites on vinyl. Peter, Paul and Mommy remains one of my favorite albums.

My own kids love "their" music - from the lullabies I play while they were still in the womb, to the latest thing on Noggin or The Disney Channel, they absorb it. From Hi-5 to Raffi, Laurie Berkner to Dan Zanes, Themes from children's television and classics from old movies - we've listened to it all.

The latest obsession is Disney's Choo Choo Soul - featuring a woman named Genevieve. She sings. On a train. With big hoop earrings. It's insanely catchy, and I'm walking around the house going "Chugga chugga pisssssh chugga chugga aaaaah." Trust me. Go watch this and see if you can avoid the tractor beam.

Another favorite soundtrack of my day are the great music videos from the Jack's Big Music Show on Noggin.com. They just load up, one after another, and the kids dance and sing along in the kitchen while I load the dishes in the dishwasher.

I'd like to pretend that we are just listening to all this stuff for the kids - OH! For The Kids and For The Kids, Too are both fantastic kids' albums. And I hear that Meredith Brooks is putting out a children's album, too. I'm putting that one on my must-have list.

The other favorite right now is Sandra Boyton's Dog Train book and CD. That right there is some great, great stuff. Seriously, get your kids a copy of that one, and you'll find yourself nodding along with lyrics such as

"I need a nap, I just can't take any more..." and the ever popular "No, no, no, I don't want to, no, no. Leave me alone."

It is so spot on and hilarious, and performed by some great artists. Sweetney, Mina must have this.

And I apologize to all of you who will now be chugga chugga aaaahing with me.

August 1, 2006

Hamusuta Madness!


Cute little fellas, huh?
See, they don't eat, poop or bite. I can totally get behind these kind of pets.

Hamusuta - The Happy Hamster
Indeed. The box tells us:

"Watch me scu rry across the floor inside my rolling exercise ball."


Realistic Running Actions!
Seriously, they weren't kidding when they put "The Carefree & Playful Pet" up there on the label.

They warn about the choking hazard - which is great. But they failed to mention the danger to get the hamusuta stuck in your hair.

When I saw a couple of these in some tourist trap store on San Francisco's Pier 39 yesterday, I had to pick a couple of them up for my kids. See, we've had sort of a bad track record with hamsters. So when the last of the royal line of Lauck hamsters died this spring, we just put the cage in the garage and ended a mercifully short chapter in rodent ownership. I've been over it for months. The kids never really let go, however, and will occasionally hound me for another small pet.

"We have a dog, you guys. Go pet Donna." You see how good I am at redirecting?

"But Donna doesn't want to sit in a the laundry basket with blankets on her, Mommy."

Let's pause for a moment, while I try to figure out whether it is good parenting to insist that the children tuck me into the laundry basket with blankets and a few snackies. If they handed me the remote, it could be a little retreat. A little day spa in my own living room.

Ahem.

So, yes. Fake, battery powered hamsters. Or, hamusutas. Whatever. They even come with their own plastic ball!

This morning, I popped the guts out of the hamster shell, and installed the batteries. Once the guts were replaced, I flipped the switch and watched the little, rubber-tires turn on the bottom. Once I got it inside the ball, it rambled around the living room while I fixed up the twin, and soon the kids were watching delightedly while the two fake hamsters did their thing.

Seriously, this was the best gift ever. I'm an awesome mother.

Two seconds later:

Clang, crash.

"Aaaaaargh!"

"Mine!"

"Mom!"

"Waaaaaah!"

Click, click, click, click, click.

I marched in there and found my son had taken one hamster from its ball, and had turned it loose on his Matchbox Car track. It was wedged in the ferris wheel contraption, it's furry ass blocking the wheel from turning, wheels spinning furiously above the track.

I dislodged it, and returned it to the ball. My son took it out again, and put it on the floor, where it zoomed under the couch and got stuck again.

"Okay, keep these little **&%$$#@##!!!!!! hamsters in the balls, so they don't get stuck, okay?"

Moments later, they were fighting over possession. I know, I should have bought three, but come on. At ten bucks a pop, and with my kids' flair for destruction, I figured twenty bucks was all I was willing to spend. Then again, I spent at least a hundred for the cage and food and toys and actual hamsters for these same kids, so really, my bad.

When I finally left the room, both hamsters were out of the balls, and being held by my three-year-old. I turned them off, and left her to play.

"Aaaaaiiiiieeeeee!" I looked up to see her rounding the corner, open mouth howling and eyes squinched up in pain as the hamsters apparently were trying to eat her head. She had turned them on so they seemed more realistic (Duh, Mommy) and then decided to snuggle and kiss on them, and the wheels grabbed a strand of hair on each side of her head.

She was standing there with a twitching hamster attached to each side of her brow, with a good six inches of hair tangled around the axels on her happy rodent pals' underbellies. This is the kid who cannot stand to have her hair brushed. She's extremely tender-headed, so this was a nightmare scenario. Leave it to me to buy the scary, child-eating carefree and playful fake pets, huh?

I managed to calm the spinning wheels and disentangle her locks from the wheels before it ripped her hair out by the roots, with much howling and reassurances. I showed her what happened, and put the hamsters back in their balls.

This exact sequence of event happened three times today. Hamsters stuck in ferris wheel. Returned to balls. Stuck under couch. Returned to balls. Stuck in hair. Returned to balls.

I just...wow. I just don't know if I should laugh or cry. Or go lay down in the laundry basket.

a quickr pickr post