December 30th, 2010

dangerous wonkiness

Virtually all of the population growth (<-- possibly an exaggeration) in Israel comes from the extremely reproductive very, very orthodox community. I find this a hard thing to think about. For one, the way to get status in this community as a woman is to basically be continuously pregnant. They don't live a long time, and their daughters do a lot of the childrearing. That's bad. The desire to make all these new people is complex in part because there is an ongoing desire to make up for all the people who were murdered and the children, grandchildren, etc. they never had. I don't know that I, as not-a-Jew, can ever really understand it, but I'm certainly not prepared to say anything negative about it. And the extremely orthodox are also extremely reluctant to serve in the army: to the extent that they constitute a larger and larger fraction of the voting public in Israel, it might tend to reduce the likelihood of going to war. Maybe.

Public policy on the subject is bizarre. The men can get paid to study religion full time and, as a result, a large fraction take this choice. Whatever you might think of a state choosing to finance a particular area of study and religiously based way of life, I, personally, take deep offense that there's a "modern" state supporting a bunch of guys who believe what they believe about women. And I don't just mean the reproductive weirdness. They aren't pacifists; one of their big concerns about serving in the army is having to be around women.

"Several months ago the center issued a report that caused widespread alarm: If current trends continue, it said, 78 percent of primary school children in Israel by 2040 will be either ultra-Orthodox or Arab."

I was betting that at some point, even the government would be unable to ignore these demographic realities. And sure enough, they're starting to pay attention. Also, other groups in the country are starting to notice that they're not getting as good a deal and insisting on fairness.

I understand that when you're dealing with a group who believes stuff way, way, way out of the mainstream, accomodating them in an effort to re-integrate them looks bad along the way, but can be justified if successful. All I can say is, they'd _better_ be successful. This kind of thing:

"At a recent Hanukkah concert for Shahar soldiers, held in a cultural center near Tel Aviv, men filled the main hall of the auditorium; their wives and crying babies were in the balcony above."

This kind of thing does not make me happy. And those families are the most progressive in their group.

Gearhead: pre-k edition

I'm never entirely sure whether the way I use the word "gearhead" is entirely appropriate. Here's a paragraph about what I mean by gearhead.

Let's say Jane and Mary are both totally into a hobby. Say, hiking. And let's say that Jane is what I would call a "gearhead" and Mary is not. Let's further assert that Jane and Mary actually hike about the same number of miles, gaining about the same amount of total elevation, in approximately the same region of the country, over about the same number of outings. From every perspective but one, Jane and Mary are indistinguishable as "hikers" in terms of actually "hiking". But Jane is the kind of person who carefully researches different footwear options, including different sock choices. She has opinions (strong ones) about which ones are appropriate under which situations, and at some point, she took a strong dislike to synthetic fabrics (probably after seeing the "after" photos of a piece of technical clothing exposed to the open flame of a very tiny camp stove) and has a real liking for Merino wool and a deep and abiding love for a certain clothing line whose name starts with "I". Jane may love or hate walking sticks. Depending on whether Jane and Mary are day hikers or overnighters or through hikers, Jane may know an unreal amount about exactly how much certain tents weigh, and has probably cut down her closed cell foam pad to 3/4s length.

Anyway. Jane is a "gearhead". Being a gearhead isn't good or bad. It just is. Mary is not a "gearhead", and she probably has a fine time hiking, too, altho I, personally, would prefer to get hike recommendations from Jane, because she'll be able to answer my detailed questions about the difficulty of the hike and what equipment I should bring. Because I'm a gearhead, too.

I recently realized that I'm even more of a parenting gearhead than I realized. Anyone who dug through my parenting articles on my website may be a little surprised to learn this. Let's just say, when I found out that a lot of houses have small children and don't have art boxes, I figured it out.

Here are the gearheady things that we own, that it might not occur to other parents of 1-2 preschoolers to own, but which might help you survive a snow day, Christmas vacation, being sick at home together, etc.

(1) The Art Box: In our house, the art box is a plastic bin. This is because whenever we have a whole lot of small items that are related to each other, we put them in a plastic bin. There are other, arguably better, more aesthetic choices, possibly more functional. The first Art Box was a Crayola bucket-like bin, but it deteriorated and it was too small.

An art box should contain: crayons, markers, paper, construction paper, scissors, glue stick, stickers, paints, paint brushes, dots (daubers, bingo thingies, whatever) and over time it may evolve into a scrapbooking kit. Broken crayons, dry markers/paints/dots/glue stick should all be thrown away and replaced. There should be a secondary location somewhere in the house (basement, attic, closet, etc.) where you store replacements. The art box itself should be stored wherever art is usually committed: near the easel, if one exists, otherwise somewhere near the kitchen table or wherever.

(2) The bookshelf: In our house, it's "bookshelves". But there should be children's books, and they should be accessible to the children. I have friends that wishlisted a fabric sling book storage thing to make cleanup easier for a pre-k-er. Brilliant. If your kids are too destructive to be allowed access to the picture books, store them up high, and store the board/fabric/whatever books down low.

(3) The doll house: In our house, the dollhouse is from Plan Toys, as are the accessories. I was looking for something gender neutral, because it was a present initially for my son, but expected to be used by both children. There are plastic options (Fisher Price has some amazing stuff for really little kids) and there are more explicitly boy-y options (spaceships, fire stations, etc. that are themed as same but have all the basic doll house accessories).

(4) The rebounder: many families get by just letting the kids jump on the bed and/or the couch, but our son was destroying furniture also many of our mattresses are foam and/or futon-style and thus not really fun for jumping. We got a Needak with a 300 pound weight limit, so adults can jump if they want to. It's small, thus discouraging use by multiples. Needak makes a folder, which we got for travel.

(5) Potatoheads: I'm a little embarrassed about this one. It started out innocently enough. One of T.'s caregiver's gave him a Potatohead suitcase with head and basic clothes in it. And Disney has this thing where it's a flat rate for all you can cram in a box, which makes an awesome souvenir from DLR or DW. Unfortunately, we keep going to Disney, and as a result, we have a substantial plastic bin (yeah, one of those) full of potatoheads and accessories. There are _6_ heads in it. Someone very sweet gave one of the kits a basic head for Xmas. It's nice, and it's a great place to start, but you should probably have a minimum of 1 head per kid, plus 1 for the adult providing supervision. 6 is probably overkill.

(6) The horse: If you can afford and are inclined, by all means get a real one. We are not inclined, altho we do take the kids to ride on other people's horses. The first horse was an extremely ancient wooden glider rocker from the nanny's grandfather (old friend of the family). The current horse is a Radio Flyer Liberty, IIRC.

(7) The teaset: This was an accident. I was buying Little Tikes play kitchen and workbench from the consignment shop and got a ton of accessories, including a Disney teaset. It is an unbelievably cheap (and not in a good way) set, but it is the basis of an incredible amount of pretend play. In a family of spectrum-y people, this is somewhat amazing.

(8) The play food: Ditto.

(9) The table and chairs: We got something from Svan that's all Scandinavian modern. If I could convince my son to move it out of his room and into the playroom, I would, but he is currently objecting. Try to find one with an adult weight limit and at least one "chair" with no back, so you can sit at the table, too.

(10) The easel: Gift from one of R.'s sisters. It lives in T.'s room, and it has seen way more use than I ever would have expected. Paper roll in the middle, blackboard paint on one side, dry-erase on the other.

(11) The slide: Our current slide is part of an utterly ridiculous indoor playset from Cedarworks. Our previous slide was a folding plastic thing from Little Tikes. The original idea was to support some gross motor stuff through ugly New England weather, and at the time, we didn't have enough living space to get a Little Tikes playset. When we moved and had a dining room, I sort of engaged in overkill. The plastic option really is the smart one.

(12) Balls: And possibly things like a basketball hoop, but definitely balls. Ideally, at least some of the balls should be so insubstantial you can throw them at the child's head (right in the face, hitting them in the eye) and they'll just think it's hilariously funny. Because sooner or later, that is going to happen.

(13) Musical instruments you are okay with the kids using: a grand piano only for adults is awesome, but probably does not satisfy this criteria (altho if it does, I envy your children). We have a really ridiculous looking cat-themed electronic keyboard, for example, along with a kazoo, a wooden train whistle (replacing the much better sounding but unfortunately more breakable than I had realized plastic one from Storyland), a xaphoon, two small xylophones, innumerable drums (one plastic and electronic, the rest not), a Mozart Music Cube, innumerable plastic maracas like things, an elderly but functional piano. Somewhere around here there was a crappy harmonica. I wish I could find it because I can currently only play the good harmonica when T. isn't around, since he wants to play it, too, and I'm not prepared to share.

As a person who had music lessons as a child and can sometimes read music, I am a huge believer in just letting people noodle around in an undirected way. As long as the instruments aren't too loud, and aren't horribly out of key, most noodling is kind of cool sounding, certainly better than a truly atrocious rendition of a "official" song.

I'll stop at a baker's dozen, at least for now. It's worth noting that this is _truly_ a pre-k edition; if your kid is still immediately mouthing everything, almost none of this is a good idea.

PS: Finger puppets. Puppets. Slinkies. A play parachute. A collapsible tunnel. Wooden blocks. Legos...

ETA: OMG! I forgot playdoh! How could I forget playdoh? Our lives would end without playdoh.

PPS: jigsaw puzzles.

Best Buy FAIL

A couple of days ago, I tried to figure out a way to unsubscribe from Best Buy promotional e-mails. I failed. This is actually sort of remarkably, given how _many_ successes I had before and after the Best Buy FAIL. I sent an e-mail, which I never received a response to, and had no idea if it was successful.

Today, I got an e-mail from Best Buy (not a good sign) saying I had contacted "Chantel" (I'm assuming this is who my e-mail got assigned to, but that may be incorrect). They want me to fill out a survey so they'll know how this experience was for me.

Well, I didn't have _any_ experience involving "Chantel" or, really, anyone else at Best Buy other than whatever is auto-generating messages to me. The _good_ news is that this particular survey included a _real_ link to unsubscribe, which I followed and clicked on the little confirm button.

Even that was weak, however, since it has the 10 days disclaimer on it.


I still liked my recycling experience, and I have no complaints about the bluray player they sold me. And that article that I read recently about the guy who makes a living suing spammers makes more sense to me every day I work on unsubbing from everything.

Retrospective toys for mouthers

P. asked for a list for the even-younger set. This is dangerous, because my youngest is 2 years and 3 months and my memory is crap. Worse, looking through what I wrote down in detail for my website and thinking about it a little, there isn't much about toys and what there is distorted by our collection of diagnoses.

With all that in mind, here are some suggestions:

(1) The bookshelf. In this case, probably all fabric books. Board books dissolve in the face of dedicated chewing, so those may have to be stored out of reach. Get at least one that has pictures of baby faces. Try to get some fabric and/or board books with textural or other sensory elements. Buy everything produced by Sandra Boynton, including the book+cd stuff.

(2) Things that go buzz. There are a variety of vibration toys out there, altho it can be tricky to find ones for mouthers. Some of them have a pull to activate; this can't be a naked string for obvious reasons, but they often design stuff to cover up the string in a colorful and appealing way. If you have a kid with sensory issues and you get toys that go buzz and they reliably freak out when you get out the toys that go buzz, think about contacting early intervention, and think about seeing a neuropsych/psychologist specializing in kids, etc. Everyone will think you are crazy...except the professionals, who will be _really_ impressed.

(3) There will be lots of black and white and brightly colored things in your life. That's as much a warning as a suggestion.

(4) Ducks for the bathtub. I know. Seems too traditional, but there are some positives. You can get ones with a color change on the bottom that will warn you if the water is too hot, which is useful if you aren't good at judging.

(5) One or more baby dolls. It's tricky finding ones that people will commit to being safe for the mouthers, but these really do support pretend play, especially if you get a little bed (or make one out of a shoe box) and practice night-night. Baby-wearers can make or create a sling for their kid to carry the baby around in. Otherwise you can get a little doll stroller once your kid is walking.

(6) Corn popper. The fisher price thing. It is amazing. There are some wooden-toy sort-of equivalents.

(7) A wagon. When they are little, you can roll them around in it. When they are bigger, they do lots of things with it. You can get them in multiple sizes, including doll size.

(8) Fabric blocks. We had the Haba castle ones. They had texture, some squeakers, color and pattern. They were really cool.

(9) Musical instruments: a drum, a xylophone, maybe a keyboard. Definitely a Mozart cube.

(10) Rattles. I loved the wooden ones from Haba, and the silver ones from Tiffany.

Some of the things on the previous list which I didn't mention here work fine with littles, too: balls, collapsible tunnel. And there's a million toys-attached-to-useful-things: high chairs with trays that toys fit into, mobiles attached to cribs and crib plushies which are music boxes with a pull string and some lighting effect, baby "gyms" for mobiles-on-the-floor that are graspable. Get a baby "armchair" (all fabric, but structured). T. loved the Elmo one from Target because it made giggle sounds (and had an off switch, which we loved) and had a face on it. Duplos are surprisingly useless, but a good way to entertain an adult who is watching a kid and bored stiff.

And you may hate me for this, but get Teletubbies videos if you can. You can usually find them on eBay. They were the only thing that held my kids attention when they were very small. (Okay, T. also liked football, but our theory was that they basically looked like tubbies: green field, funny shaped people, wandering around).

I've probably forgotten a ton of things, but mostly, my recollection was that the toy requirement ramped up fast after they were walking; before that, they were happy with remarkably little, and my focus was on other gear.

ETA: There's a huge category of toy designed to deal with the almost-walking stage. I know people who love walkers, despite the epic stigma now attached to them. A. loved the saucer version of that; T. would never put up with anything like that. Neither kid was all that interested in the classic push-toy-to-help-you-walk. We never got a toy shopping cart (altho I continue to think about it). That's a classic, supports pretend play, and is available in plastic and non-plastic versions.

ETAYA: OMG I forgot shape sorters! And bead mazes. And probably a bunch of other stuff, like those things that you push buttons or switches or whatever and stuff pops up and then you push it down and do it all over again. Chicco, Battat and International Playthings all have great stuff along these lines, if you're okay with plastic. Wood shape sorters and bead mazes are easy to find (well, they have metal for the wire, obviously); I don't think you can get non-plastic versions of the pop-up stuff.

Turn Taking Games

We bought a bunch of games months, maybe a year ago as part of a concerted effort the preschool was engaging in to teach T. how to take turns. Something worked. Here are (some of) the games.

Connect 4: The only rule was to take turns putting them in; there was no win condition. Just putting the tokens into the slots is/was apparently very satisfying for both my children; with supervision and a binky in place, A. could play with it even when she was still terrifyingly oral. I've always tried to separate the pieces by color and enforce selection from within color. I usually just grab errant hands that are attempting to put a piece in when it isn't his or her turn, and then I say things like, "my turn", "T.'s turn", etc.

Honey Bee Tree: The issue here is setting up the tree. You have to put all these leaves-on-posts through small holes in the hive/tree, prior to putting the bees on top. Little kids tend to want to (a) participate and (b) put the bees in right away. Participation is tough, because of the little holes problem and if you have fine motor issues, it's worse. By definition, littles have some fine motor issues, and my kids have enough problems on top of that to qualify for services. Some days, I think _I_ should qualify for services. And if you let R. participate, he usually turns the whole setup into a system, and that turns out to work less well during game play (which is why the directions say "randomly"). Again, we completely ignore win conditions; the process of removing leaves is quite satisfying all by itself.

Spill the Beans was purchased at the same time for the same purpose, however, it's been impossible to use in a turn taking fashion (at least for me) and hard to communicate the idea anyway. The kids are somewhat fascinated by it as a toy, but I would skip it if I had it to do over again. They may like it as a game when they are older.

Candyland the board game is an old favorite for first-board-game, and it is great for that purpose for neurotypical kids. There is also a candyland game/toy with a lever and colored plastic shape tokens and 4 gingerbread person shaped cards. You take turns pressing the lever, getting a token, and seeing if it fits on your board. Well, that's the idea. We take turns pressing the lever, but we generally do the cards cooperatively, possibly doing all of them at the same time. That is, rather than putting a token back when it isn't on my card, I check to see if it is on one of the other cards. I think T. would probably understand the actual rules, but I have Issues with competition in general, and his instinct is to just put that token wherever he can.

The process was reasonably successful. In conjunction with everything they do at the school T. is generally reliable about waiting his turn in almost any context (altho I don't push my luck, which is why there are two iPads in the house), altho he might need a physical reminder (such as a restraining hand on his shoulder to stop him, or one on his wrist or hand) if something is within grabbing reach.