Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

My apologies in advance for being absent on the blog. My stories are running, but I am not commenting in any of them because I am out of the country. We are visiting Markos’s cousins in Honduras.

Two Christmases ago in El Salvador, we had the pleasure of hanging out with Markos’s cousin, Mario, his wife Elena — who is Honduran and that’s why they live there — and their three children. I think part of the reason Ari cried when we left El Salvador is because he had so much fun hanging out with them on the beach and was convinced that they had no jobs or school like we do.  

Well, we are going to get a dose of day-to-day life in Honduras, specifically San Pedro Sula, the second-largest city in the country. There is a lot going on in the country politically, including a former president in exile and a national teacher’s strike, so it should be an interesting four days.

After that, we are going to Puerto Rico to visit my mother’s family, including my grandfather, aunt, uncle and cousins. We haven’t been to the island in six years, and Eli has never met her great grandfather. Also, unlike our previous vacations, my mother-in-law and her partner are coming in from El Salvador, and my brother-in-law and sister-in-law are coming in from New Jersey to hang out with us. It will be Markos’s family’s first time in Puerto Rico.

With our families so far away — although admittedly living in desirable places to visit! — we have decided that we are going to start inviting immediate family on our vacations. It’s the only way to fit in a vacation and be able to see our families, too. I’ll let you know how it goes — and post lots of pictures. :)

For those of you who live far from family, how do you balance the need to see them with the desire to go on a “real” vacation?

In other news: my friend Aparna wrote this great piece for the non-profit DC Action for Children about Phyllis Schlafly. Schlafly, by the way, is an anti-feminist zealot who rails against working mothers who rely on day care, or what she calls “stranger care.” As it turns out Phyllis Dearest relied on nannies herself, but they were to be seen and not heard. Don’t you love hypocrisy?

Here is IMHO a welcome trend: there are less teen drivers on the road as parents hold off on their children driving due to the additional insurance costs, according to MSN Money.

That’s it on my end. “See” you in two weeks! What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Ode to Guillermina

On Monday, I pulled off the impossible. I got my kids to remain silent about a surprise “thank you” party for our nanny, Guillermina, or as we affectionally call her, “Llulle” (pronounced Joo-JEH).

Because it is summer and everyone is on vacation at one time or another, a group of us families whose children Guillermina has cared for over the years, decided to have the party at my house on Monday after she was done caring for Eli. I tipped off Guillermina’s daughter, Nayely, so that their family could join us for dinner.

The photo cake (pictured on right) was well-hidden in my kitchen and the balloons were in my car. As soon as I saw our friends Amy and Will drive up to our curb with Ari and buddy Jude, I gave the balloons to the boys and told them to go in and say “surprise!” As soon as Eli saw the balloons, she knew the drill. “It is a surprise party for you!” she burst. Nayely was with them, and had a grin on her face.

“What? We are having a party now?” Llulle asked.

Then the other families started pouring in. Later on, DH and I joked that poor Llulle thought she was going home, and instead had to stay for a party. But it was a blast, and Llulle was visibly moved.

As I have mentioned here so many times before that I am sure I have made you all cross-eyed, I grew up in a working class Caribbean neighborhood in North Miami. My Cuban father worked in a mill just north of us in the suburbs and my Puerto Rican mother was largely an at-home mom to four children, although she babysat kids for money, too.

The idea of hiring a nanny is so foreign to us, it is almost cartoonish. Think of the mother in Spanglish who doesn’t work, has older children, and has a nanny anyway. Needless to say, I did not want to become that woman.

You can imagine how fraught my decision was to hire Llulle six years ago, when I found myself freelancing and without family to lend a hand.

I met Llulle through a mom at the park after Amy told me she had to return to work and would need to supplement our care share arrangement by hiring someone. The mom at the park — who was at the party on Monday — had only used Llulle once and had not checked references since she only needed her one day a week. Nonetheless, I went ahead and met with Llulle, even though I was a bundle of nerves thinking of all those America’s Most Wanted skits where the nanny or person you thought you knew ended up being a total psycho.

Llulle was — is — young, attractive and all smiles. She has always had an upbeat disposition, and upon our first meeting, immediately took Ari into her arms. To my surprise, he did not cry, even though he had spent the first nine months of his life with only me and Amy. He even sometimes cried with Markos, wanting me to hold him instead.

Amy and I agreed to hire Llulle for eight hours a week — two four-hour mornings — while we supplemented with care share, by taking care of each others’ boys.

Those first few weeks working with us must have been a nightmare for Llulle. Amy, too, was raised by an at-home mother and had zero experience working with a nanny. We questioned everything she did and asked that she strictly adhere to a written schedule. (There was no schedule with Eli.) Our husbands, by the way, thought we were nuts.

Just when I’d calm down, someone would make a comment that would set me off again. “Do we know anything about this woman?” my well-meaning mother asked. That left me re-examining my decision. I hadn’t actually checked references — besides that one mom — so I began to wonder what if Llulle was a felon? Should I install a nanny cam?

But as time progressed, I became more comfortable with my choices as a mother and learned to trust the “mommy gut,” which is what I was going on in this case.

My friendship with Llulle deepened. I asked her to stay on for more hours. Even when I was supposed to work, I found myself spending my time talking to her instead. She told me about her life in her native Mexico, and I shared my experiences in Miami. We became friends outside of our work relationship. I attended her daughter’s first communion party and she would invite our family over to dinner. I have even left my kids for overnight stays, which I have promised her will continue. And without fail, she is always at both my children’s birthday parties.

“This isn’t the last time we will see you?” Llulle’s husband asked at the party.

“Wait a minute. Llulle hasn’t told you that you are watching my kids over the weekend?” Everyone burst out laughing.

“She is a better mother than me,” one mom at the party joked with the new family she will work with in the fall. (Their daughter attends Ari’s school and they have another baby on the way. I invited them because I wanted them to see firsthand what Llulle means to us.)

We were all in agreement that not only did we learn to be better mothers because of all the tricks that Llulle taught us — like putting a warm garlic clove with a piece of cotton in a baby’s ear to soothe an ear infection — but never once did we ever worry at work about our children. What a gift.

When Eli was born, I had Llulle help me with her at seven weeks and for 32 hours a week. She was always better at putting down my children for a nap, for example, than I was.

(Photo: Eli’s favorite person at birthday parties.)

If I have one complaint — and this is a good problem to have — it is that I was jealous at how close Eli was with her. But Llulle, being the pro that she is, nipped that in the bud with a very thoughtful Christmas card, in which she thanked me for “letting your children love me as much as I love them.” And as I looked around in my crowded living room on Monday — there were seven families total, including 11 kids — I am glad I did. Llulle will always be a part of our family. There is no way my children — or I — would tolerate not seeing her.

I started a tradition within the group of families. We are all close, and the other families always come to my kids’ parties. I took a picture of Llulle with the kids for next year’s photo cake. It was a great motivator to get the kids to sit for the photo since they all wanted to be on the next cake.

“I want to eat myself!” Jude said.

“I want to eat someone!” another kid shouted.

“I want to eat Llulle,” Ari said.

“I want to eat you,” Llulle told Ari, as she gave him a squeeze.

“I love you,” Ari said. I willed myself not to cry.

“Ari, don’t make me cry,” Llulle said, emotion creeping up in her voice.

The mommy gut. Always trust the mommy gut.


Monday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Sorry for the lack of news items, but I just got back from Chicago yesterday. DH and I went on our own to a friend’s wedding and left the kids at two different friends’ houses. (That’s what you do when you live 3,000 miles from both sets of families!)

The good news is Eli was accident-free on the potty-training front and had a great time with the teenaged daughter of our nanny Llulle. Ari was sulky at first as he missed me, but then didn’t want to leave. He stayed with Amy, Will and best buddy Jude for the weekend and we ended up taking Jude back to our house yesterday afternoon. The boys continued to play as if they hadn’t spent every single minute together this past weekend!

Our friend’s wedding was gorgeous and we got to see my brother-in-law and sister-in-law while we were at it. I spent Saturday during the day before the wedding, window-shopping and getting manicures and pedicures with my SIL while my husband hung out with his brother. That night after the wedding, the four of us stayed up to play Liverpool Rummy. Great times.  

Oh, and before I forget, I do have one news or housekeeping item. MomsRising’s event at the Wal-Mart in Oakland this Wednesday was cancelled. Got that, Bay Area moms? We will not meet up at the Wal-Mart in Oakland this Wednesday. Thanks much!

What is in the news? What’s up with you?


Tuesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Thank you to all of you who have written or called to ask about my mother-in-law in El Salvador. Hurricane Ida hit the country on Sunday and has killed 124 people, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Fortunately, my MIL is out of the country on vacation and was not affected. But I did call her office in San Salvador yesterday and a worker assured me that they are all safe. The hurricane hit a nearby town, but it was poor people living in huts and shanties who were the most impacted. My heart goes out to them. Let’s keep them in our thoughts and prayers.

In healthcare news: I admit I was so happy that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill with a public option that I did not allow myself to get hung up over the abortion restrictions in the bill. But this disturbs me: According to a mom over at the RH Reality Check blog, the restrictions on abortion are so severe that even private health insurance companies participating in the exchange wouldn’t be allowed to cover D&Cs following miscarriages. Forcing women to carry dead fetuses/babies — that they wanted — is just cruel. I don’t know what I would have done if after carrying a dead fetus for three weeks — this happened to me before I had Ari — I was told I couldn’t have a D&C. I was distraught and I needed to move on. Okay, I am getting off my soapbox now.

That said, I will still support this bill as long as it has a strong public option. Granting everyone the right to see a doctor — without going bankrupt for it — is better than nothing.

Attention fellow Twilight fans: Author Stephenie Meyer will be on the Oprah Winfrey Show this Friday, November 13, Meyer announced on her blog. She will be on hand to discuss the new movie New Moon, which is based on the second book of her Twilight series.

This is, literally, horribly depressing: Suicide rates are up in the most economically depressed areas of the country, according to MSNBC.

Wal-Mart is shamelessly starting its “Black Friday” deals early, according to MSN Money. Um, can we celebrate Thanksgiving first?

OTOH, Mamapedia had a helpful discussion on what to tip — or what is a suitable holiday gift — to a nanny, daycare provider or babysitter.

Katy Farber over at Non-Toxic Kids has an informative article on how cleaning supplies at schools are harmful to children. Also by Katy Farber: Children are consuming unsafe levels of the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA), which is in canned goods and plastic plates and cups.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Midday Coffee Break

What’s up?

My heart goes out to the all the victims of yesterday’s South Pacific tsunami which has claimed nearly 100 lives and left dozens missing in the island of Samoa, according to the Associated Press.

In related news, an earthquake in Indonesia has killed at least 13 people and trapped thousands, according to MSNBC.

Elizabeth Smart, who is now 21, will testify against the man who kidnapped her seven years ago, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. This will be the first time she will face her captor after he kidnapped her at knifepoint in the middle of the night.

A nanny at Open Salon wrote a touching essay about the kids she has cared for.

Like I mentioned earlier today, I attended a discussion with Planned Parenthood and some local mommy bloggers. One of the moms runs a blog on teenagers called Tangerine Times. There seems to be a disproportionate amount of coverage on parenting small children so I thought I would pass along the link.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


The Latest NY Times “Trend” Story: Selfish Grannies

After I had my kids, there was something I mourned that constantly haunted me in my darkest hours: the lack of familial help.

Growing up, my paternal grandparents were involved in our lives physically, emotionally and financially. I lived with them and my parents the first four years of my life and then spent every summer with them. My grandmother arranged play dates with neighbors’ kids, threw birthday parties and spent endless hours on arts and crafts. You could say I was sad and even resentful that my own children have not had this same relationship with their grandparents. Just getting my kids to see their grandparents on video ichat is a challenging proposition with the different time zones, everyone’s hectic schedule and Ari’s reluctance to talk.

But I think in the last year I have come around. I am done grieving. The truth is my kids are young and especially Eli is a handful. Even then, my mother-in-law has stayed at our home to watch the kids while DH and I have gone on vacation. My mother has offered to take the kids to Disney World, but again, we have agreed that it is best to wait until Eli is older.

Also, my parents’ circumstances are completely different than my grandparents’. Not only do they work out of necessity, but they also care for the very grandmother who helped them with us. Looking back at all she has done for us, it is the right thing to do. I completely understand that. If anything, I feel bad that my parents — especially my mom — have never gotten a break from taking care of people.

My mother-in-law works, too, and outside the country.

So you could say I had mixed feelings about this article in the New York Times: “When Grandma Can’t Be Bothered.”

Apparently, the latest trend in parenting news are “glam-mas,” or grandmas too busy with their relationships and careers to lend a helping hand. For example, I would hate to be Judy Connors of British Columbia, who was called out as a glam-ma.

“When I heard about the Obama grandmother, I thought I might like to move into the White House, too,“ said Ms. Connors, who is 67. “But I’d hire someone to look after the kids.“

Her daughter, Catherine Connors, a 38-year-old writer in Toronto, is well aware of her mother’s attitude. Whenever she hears about families in which the grandparents love to pitch in, she has only one thought: “This is so not my life.“

It is not new for young mothers to be surprised and hurt, perhaps unjustifiably, at how little their own mothers rush over to baby-sit. Still, stories of intergenerational care like the ones coming from the White House can bring those feelings to the surface — and to a boil….

The elder Ms. Connors, the retired director of a residential treatment program for adolescents, had a few words to say in her defense. “I raised two children whom I love dearly,“ she said. “I was a stay-at-home mom. Then I discovered when I started my own career that there was a whole other world out there.“

I would say, though, I would feel resentful if my parents and mother-in-law were retired and still not helping out. I just can’t imagine them not wanting to get to know their grandchildren. It is probably naive, but based on the example I received from my own grandmother, I harbor all these romantic notions of how I will be as a grandparent. I am always telling DH that I want to live near one of the kids when they do have children of their own.

Are any of you grandparents? How do you balance living your own life with being a presence in your grandchildren’s lives?


Bring Baby To Work In Lieu of Maternity Leave?

In case you missed it, the New York Times wrote a trend story about women who bring their babies to work in lieu of maternity leave:

More companies are allowing women — and some men, too — to bring their babies to work. The advantages are clear: The women don’t lose money by taking maternity leave. They can breastfeed conveniently. And they can bond with the baby rather than worry that he or she will develop a closer connection with a nanny or a day-care provider.

Of course, disadvantages are clear, too. The needs and noises of babies have the potential to be highly disruptive and to stir resentment among co-workers.

Susan Seitel, president of WFC Resources, a workplace consulting firm in Minneapolis, put it this way: “The business of business is business. I think it’s a little distracting to have children at the office.“

Critics also say that both child and job could lose out because the parent can’t be 100 percent devoted to either one.

In the scenarios the newspaper mentioned, the women had their babies and a babysitter at the office. One mother worked 12 hours a day, but took breaks to visit with her two children ages 3.5 and seven months old.

Here is more information on this baby-at-work trend:

The Parenting in the Workplace Institute, a nonprofit group that started in June 2006, has a database of 117 baby-friendly companies of all sizes, among them retail stores, banks, law firms and state agencies.

“This has been going on for 15 years in a limited fashion, but in the last two years it’s really taken off,“ said Carla Moquin, the founder of the Parenting in the Workplace Institute, who lives in Framingham, Mass.

“It’s partly economic concern,“ Ms. Moquin said, because there are many more women in the workplace. “Also, the Family and Medical Leave Act requires companies to give new mothers three months off. Even though it’s unpaid, it’s hard on businesses for an employee to be gone. That, combined with the fact that more people are seeing this as a viable idea, has inspired companies and mothers to work something out.“

The most successful programs, Ms. Moquin said, are ones in which companies have written policies — to designate another employee as an alternate caregiver in case the parent is temporarily unavailable; to specify areas for breastfeeding or changing diapers; and to spell out the ages when children are allowed in the office. Usually, babies are allowed up until 6 to 8 months, or before they start to crawl.

Have you worked at an office where parents were allowed to bring their children? How was it?


“I Don’t Need No Stinking Help!”

My vent for the day: I hate it when celebrities and politicians brag about going at parenting alone. In other words, they don’t need nannies, chefs, cleaners, etc., and somehow manage to work 80 hours a week, keep perfect home and raise perfect children — alone.

Think of Sarah Palin’s courageous move to fire the cook and run for vice president with five children in tow.

Most recently, Nascar driver Jeff Gordon ruffled my feathers with these comments in Us Magazine:

“I respect her and love her so much more, seeing her as a mom,” Nascar racer Jeff Gordon, 37, tells Us of Ingrid Vandebosch, 38, his wife of more than a year and mother of daughter Ella, 14 months. “We live a life where we could have all the nannies and everything at our disposal, and she doesn’t want anything.” No wonder Ella can already say mama, says Gordon. “One day, she will say papa!” The model says her man gives her too much credit: “He is always there.”

Exactly. He must help her a lot as she is pictured in the magazine all skinny, totally made up and so not like the tired moms I see day-to-day. Us should have asked them if they have a — housekeeper? Chef? Parents to help out? No one can do it all and look that fabulous!


Why Is There No Respect for Care Givers?

Because care givers from nursing home assistants to babysitters are in such high demand, I have often wondered why they are paid so little and under-appreciated in this country. Here is a provocative letter from a professional care giver posted on Berkeley Parents Network:

People’s attitudes toward certain professions.
I work in child care and find that people are often politely condescending to me until they realize that I am ‘like them’ – meaning that I am well educated, have a reasonably high family income, etc. Can I ask why? I know that there are a lot of people on BPN who use childcare and I am just curious why childcare workers are looked down upon.

I’ve chosen the profession because a) I love kids, b) I can take my kids to work with me, and c) I can make a (very) little money. My income isn’t pertinent to our bottom line which allowed me to choose something I LOVE. Kids are awesome and I love to spend time with them. The whole experience also makes me a better mom. But, the parents…ooh, my. All are politely friendly (and usually ask within a few weeks of meeting me to be their personal nanny…even tell me that I can bring my kids with me and they will pay me a dollar more an hour than I am already making). Sometimes they make some vaguely condescending remarks. But, those that engage in a longer conversation with me usually ask ‘why do you work here?’ Even my own sister says that she pays her cleaning lady better than she pays her babysitters.

I realize that part of it is ego, but part of it is curiosity. I have always been appreciative of my caregivers contribution to my sanity and lifestyle. I am still on friendly with my old nannys (sic) (I like them as much as my friends and appreciate them as much). Can someone enlighten me as to why childcare has such a bad rap?

I do think it is an elitist attitude certain “white collar“ workers have towards manual laborers, which is what caring for children feels like with the diaper-changing, dressing, clean-up, etc.. Also, we (unfairly) don’t view children as smart, thus feel that occupying them is a waste of a good mind. This is my guess.

Do you think we will ever compensate our care givers what they deserve? Why do you think we take care givers for granted?


Stay-At-Home Moms With Nannies

There has been some interesting sparring at Silicon Valley Moms Blog (Disclosure: We just exchanged buttoned links and I checked out the site!) over SAHMs who hire nannies. Pamela, SAHM to four kids who attend four different schools, was eviscerated for it. Here are a couple of the comments she received:

Is running this site your full-time job? If not, then what on Earth do you need a nanny for? About a decade ago I used to work as a nanny for a rich, pampered stay-at-home mom who wanted me to do what should’ve been HER job (raising her kids) so that she could shop, get manicures, play tennis, etc. I felt so sorry for those poor kids as it was abundantly clear that she loved herself more than them…

Here is another one:

I am not a SAHM. My observation is that-in addition to household/kid upkeep, that many who proclaim thay are”so busy” are actually ensconsed in: shopping alot, volunteering ad nauseum (yes, there is a limit when power wars break out among the PTA moms) and lunches.

I don’t like to be engaged in a mommy war, but like everyone else, I slow down my car to take a look. Rawr!

If I were a mom working full-time outside the home and had no help with my children in the evenings, I would feel resentful towards these moms, which admittedly there are many in California — like Silicon Valley. But living 3,000 miles away from my family and having a husband who lives to work, I can understand why someone with a little more resources would hire a nanny. I do think Pam’s critics made snap judgments about her. But prior to my husband’s first business trip and our finances, I probably would have said the same things.