Thursday, 20 December 2012


Sasha and Ezra's dad is a nice guy. He always says thank you very sincerely when I leave for the evening. He's patient but firm with Sasha, which I've been trying to emulate more lately because she seems to respond so well to it. He's generous about money, offering to pay me extra when he gets home late (or early) and making it clear that if there are any supplies I buy for doing activities with Sasha he will reimburse me.

But in a lot of ways I feel like we don't really connect. Perhaps part of it is that we're farther apart generationally than I am with Sasha's mom (or Athena's parents). Perhaps part of it is that we have some different approaches to indulging Sasha's very frequent demands to spend as much of her time as possible staring at a screen. Perhaps part of it is that we just don't chat much when I hand the kids off to him and so we don't really know much about each other's lives.

But I think another reason I feel like we're operating on different wavelengths is because I suspect he had very little involvement in the nanny hiring process. I don't think he knows how I advertised myself.

This family and I connected through one of those online caretaking directories, and there were a few things I made clear in my profile about myself that I hoped would be attractive to the right families: one is that I value diversity education and cultural competency (which is all liberal-code for "I am queer," or at least "I'm supportive of queer folks," if you didn't know). Sasha's mom totally got this, but Sasha's dad is a different story. Another thing I made clear is that I am deliberately car-free and prefer not to drive clients' kids around. I have my license and could do it in an emergency, but the main reason I was so clear about this on my profile was less about liability and more about my comfort level with driving. I literally cannot picture myself ever owning a car, much less using one as my primary mode of transportation. Car-free families exist, and our city is particularly bike-friendly; lots of car-free families live here. (The family HB nannies for is car-free; she bikes the kids around on their massive family bike, which has two toddler seats mounted to it.) This not-driving-your-kids-around thing was so important to me that I made sure to reiterate it in every interview I had with families.

This week when we got home from taking the bus to the science museum, I told Sasha's dad as I handed the kids off to him that Sasha had a great time riding the bus and that she was a champ walking to and from the bus stops, which were each about half a mile from our destinations. He nodded and then started going on about how the bus is inefficient and the city is really "spread out and designed for cars," which I personally believe, as a person who has commuted all over the city exclusively by public transportation and bicycle for a year and a half, is total bullshit. He pointed out that he doesn't want the kids in the house all day when summer vacation gets here (which I totally agree with) and then suggested getting me a zip-car membership, or leaving one of their cars for me. I get that he wants me to take the kids to the pool, to a nature reserve, to the park, to a community center, to the children's theater, but those are all places we could get to by bike if we had the proper equipment, or by bus if we have a little more patience.

When I got home, frustrated and unsettled by the conversation, I basically sniffled and sighed to HB about how I wish we had our own kids so we could really do things our way. Nannying someone else's kids, in someone else's house, and trying to meet someone else's expectations, is sometimes challenging and unfulfilling.

At least summer vacation is a good six months away, so I don't have to deal with working around the driving thing quite yet.


Tuesday, 18 December 2012


Until recently, HB and I have never taken care of kids (besides her nephews) together. She goes to her nanny job, I go to mine, we reconvene in the evening to recount the adorable, the frustrating, and the ridiculous.

The approach of the holidays (and the apocalypse) have been throwing everything out of orbit, and consequently our nannying schedules have been different enough from usual that we've had a few opportunities to visit each other during our shifts (with the families' permission).

Last week HB biked all the way to Sasha and Ezra's house with me, and I introduced her to Sasha's mom. While I feel kind of weird around Sasha's dad, I'm super comfortable with her mom and figured she'd be delighted to meet HB -- and she was. "You're totally welcome to hang out any time, you'll have to meet Ezra when he's not napping! And Sasha loves people, I bet she'd love to meet you!" So later that very same day, HB and I met up (Ezra in the Ergo on my chest) and took him, with ponytail and flowery hairclip and baby flannel, to a kid-friendly cafe to play in their kid corner.

A day or two later, I biked to the science museum after handing Athena back to her daddy so I could hang out with HB and her two little charges, Jay and Wren, who are three and one. Afterward we biked them home, fed them dinner, and got them ready for bed together.

This week, since school's out, I took Sasha and Ezra on the bus to the science museum, and HB met us there, meeting Sasha for the first time. (Sasha, for once, was exceptionally compliant and well-behaved, and had a blast.)

We have also done a couple of rounds of evening kid-sitting together, once for Jaden and once for two new charges, Colby and Molly.

The point of all this: I am impressed by how well HB works with the kids. She is patient, respectful, flexible, and attentive -- sometimes more than I am, and I'm the one in school to be a preschool teacher. She goes out of her way to really see things from the kids' perspectives. An illustrative moment (pun totally intended) was when Jay was coloring a picture after HB had said, "We need to clean up and get ready for bed," and when Jay said, "I need to finish coloring this," instead of pulling the crayon away from him (which I did once on a different occasion, and then immediately regretted and felt awful about), she listened to the word "need" and let him finish. When he felt done, he happily cleaned up and got ready for bed.

I'm also surprised and delighted by how well we work with each other with the kids. As a team. Without needing to discuss it, we naturally pick up on each other's thoughts and intentions and needs, and step up to support each other. When one of us announces the approach of a transition time (snack time, bed time, time to go) the other is right there as backup. When the kids run in opposite directions, we arbitrarily pick a kid each and stick with them through whatever activity they're doing, without any confusion or anxiety or need to communicate much about it. Later we just come back together and fill each other in.

I take it as a very good sign that someday we will parent our own (hypothetical) kids together as an effective, efficient team.

High fives,

Sasha Says, ep. 10

referring to a Bratz coloring book: "I can't look at this too long. It's scary. It will give me nightmares."

Sasha, demonstrating a tenuous grasp of major characters, themes, and plot of the Harry Potter books:
Sasha: "Wanna know who's on my top good list? Dumbledore."
me: "What list is Snape on?"
Sasha: "My bad list. And so is that teacher I hate... Trelawney."
me: "What about Dobby?"
Sasha: "Sorta in between my good list and bad list."
me: "And Voldemort?"
Sasha: "He's in between too. Because he was friends or something with Sirius Black and he's on my good list so Voldemort's not totally bad."

"I always see my mom's -- [whispers] boobs." [I assume she's talking about breastfeeding.]

A block from Sasha's house: "Is that your house?"

One of my favorite things is that Sasha doesn't have all of her letter sounds down quite yet. She still says the "T" sound in place of the  "K" sound, and a "D" sound for a "G" sound. So one of the things I love to hear her say is Professor McGonagall's name, which sounds like this:

"Mitt Donadall"


Saturday, 1 December 2012

Sasha Says, ep. 9

"I had a scrape that was really blooded."

Referring to her newly-pierced, currently infected earlobes: "My ears are affected."

"The guy who mows our grass is Haspanish. Wanna know his secret?" She leans in conspiratorially and whispers: "He's cute."

Out of absolutely nowhere: "YMCA: Crazy."

"Don't get into my privacy!"

"I have a couple boyfriends. One is named Q*. And my other one is named Milo*. And my second one — I don’t have a second one."

High fives,

*not their real names

Friday, 30 November 2012


My babies are growing up. Literally: they both seize every opportunity to pull themselves upright to stand, triumphantly, for up to seven or eight minutes at a time.

They both crawl with confident clumsiness and alarming speed toward anything tiny they hope to ingest. Mere weeks ago they just rolled and flailed.

They both have enough hair for ponytails. Well, Ezra has had enough hair for ages, but today was the first time I gave him the pebbles and bam bam treatment. (His mom thought it was great.) I've generally ignored Athena's curls because I have no experience with hair like hers, but her mom asked me to condition, comb, and pigtail it this week, and it's so stinkin' adorable that now I'll probably do variations of this every day she's in my care until she develops enough awareness to pull the hairties out herself.

These two are only two and a half months apart, so it's really interesting to watch them develop at their own rates. They're vastly different little people. Ezra is extremely social -- he smiles easily, laughs ungracefully and uproariously, and will exchange grunts and babbles with delight. Athena is much more cautious and focused in her interactions with the world. I call her my scardeybaby because sudden movements and loud sounds frighten her. I have startled her to tears on more than one occasion by sneezing. Hell, she has startled herself into tears on more than one occasion by sneezing. Ezra thinks stuff like that is hilarious. Today he was busting up because Sasha was tossing the changing table pad around. Athena smiles at her name, but she's not a giggler. She's much more likely to put on a Serious Face, little frown and all, and stare you down with such intensity it's kind of disconcerting.

The best parts of my days are usually getting them up from their naps, when they're all smiles, happy to see me and happy to be alive and growing.


Sunday, 25 November 2012

homemade preschooler gifts: gak

HB and I got ourselves invited to the birthday party of the almost-three-year-old that HB nannies. We wanted to give him a gift that would be handmade and a hands-on sensory experience. So we decided to make gak!

After scouring online recipes and waffling about borax versus Metamucil as one of the key ingredients (borax may be harmful if swallowed), we decided to just go with borax since we had it on hand for making homemade laundry detergent, whereas we would have had to buy a big container of Metamucil just to get less than a tablespoon of the stuff for the recipe. We figured we'd put a warning label on the jar of gak to alert the parents about borax being potentially toxic. Both the three-year-old and his one-year-old sister don't put much non-food stuff in their mouths anymore, so we figured the borax gak would be safe enough. Gak is a good supervision-required activity anyway, since it's notoriously difficult to dig out of carpet fibers.

We used one of the many recipes online for flubber (one of the many aliases of gak). HB had an excellent time mucking about mixing the gak ingredients while I made the jar label, and she speculated that making the gak would actually be an awesome activity to do with kids, as long as they're old enough to keep their hands out of their mouths. The part that took the longest by far was kneading food coloring drops into each chunk of gak before we dropped each into the jar. (We figured the kids would mix all the colors together sooner or later anyway, so we didn't bother to divide the colors into different jars.)

To finish off the gift, we included a Gak Explorer Kit made from objects we scrounged up around the house: chopsticks, straws, and plastic knives slipped into a never-worn lone toe sock.

Maybe you will decide to do this for a preschooler in your life too! And if you're as mature as us, you'll save a chunk of the gak for yourself so that you can plunge it in and out of a salvaged salsa container to simulate flatulence sounds. You will spend a solid half hour doing this and giggling madly after the kid you're babysitting that night has fallen asleep.

High fives,

Wednesday, 21 November 2012


I often take for granted that so many people in my life enthusiastically and unhesitatingly accept my relationship with HB. About a year ago we both started feeling like we were outgrowing the term "girlfriend" as an accurate way to refer to each other. We outgrew "girlfriend" not only because it started feeling too juvenile (especially during the time I was grasping at everything I could to project myself as Adult to validate my role as a facilitator for several groups of teens) but also because so many people hear "girlfriend" and split it, destroying its synergy: girl - friend. HB is neither my casual friend nor described well by binary gender tags. So gradually we weaned ourselves off the term "girlfriend" and replaced it with "partner." It fits us better: the longevity of our relationship, the adultness of it, the consensual equity of it, the queerness and genderqueerness of it.

And, astoundingly, virtually everyone in my life embraces that. Not only do people love and celebrate HB and me, as individuals and as a unit, but for the most part, our friends and family echo our language. When our "girlfriends" started fading out and our "partners" filtered in, we fielded a few questions here and there, but for the most part, people just picked it up and went with it. Even HB's mother, whose cultural context influences her tendency to introduce me as HB's "friend" most of the time, tacitly accepts our relationship and has recently started deliberately including me when collectively referring to her "kids and their significant others."

I am so used to people getting it that I can be completely blindsided and downright hurt when someone casually redefines our relationship by a simple substitution of a single word.

Today when Sasha and Ezra's dad came home, he asked for recommendations of other people who could act as kid care backup if I'm ever unavailable. I suggested my partner, who I mentioned to him last week in a different context, both times with "she" pronouns attached.

Sasha had been dancing around, only half-listening, and she asked who we were talking about. Without missing a beat, Sasha's dad said, "Her roommate."

And yeah, that hurt.

If I had said "husband," would he have translated it to Sasha as "roommate" or "friend"? What if I had said boyfriend? Wife? Girlfriend?

I have no way of knowing how deliberate that translation was. Was it to avoid a potentially awkward talk with Sasha about gender and sexuality and relationships? Was it an unconscious sleight of brain, a mistaken mistranslation? I doubt it was intended to offend me. I doubt he realized that it would sting, that it would feel like invalidation, rejection, refusal to support -- let alone acknowledge -- the reality and legitimacy of who I am and who my partner is and who we are together.

As I biked home, I cycled through a bitter inner soliloquy about gratefulness and ungratefulness. A lot of it sounded like: "I spend eight hours a day three days a week raising your children. I am teaching Sasha to read and to explore and to be kinder. I feed, nap, bathe, and carry Ezra around on my chest. I kiss his cheeks and tickle his belly and sing him every lullaby I know. I make sure the dog gets a walk, and I clean it up when she vomits on the rug. Even though you have never asked me to and have never thanked me for it, I wash all the dishes in the sink. And then with one casual word I feel like my family doesn't matter to you."

But now that I have put a few hours and a solid venting session between myself and that incident, perspective is sliding back into place. Regardless of what, if anything, Sasha's dad meant by editing my words, HB is still my partner and my family. And my life is -- miraculously and wonderfully -- filled with people who know that and who reserve wide open spaces for us, together, in their hearts.


Sasha Says, ep. 8

A week after the election: "I voted for Obama. All the kids vote for Obama."

"Do you know Barack Obama's real name? Barack. And do you know Mitt Romney's real name? Mitt."

Flexing her itty bitty biceps: "I'm so strong the Mandrakes can't kill me!" [in Harry Potter, Mandrakes are plants that, when immature, can knock out a human with their cries, and when fully grown their cries are so horrible they can actually kill humans.]

I texted Sasha's mom a picture of the activity we were working on, and she texted back saying "Tell Sasha I say HI!" When I relayed this to Sasha, she rolled her eyes and said in her most dramatic teenager voice, "Boring." I laughed and started to type a text, and, panicked, Sasha said, "Don't tell her I said that! It's unpolite!"

Me: "It's chilly out here!"
Sasha: "It's okay, we have strength!"

Me: "I missed the goal! Alas!"
Sasha: "Alas, you swabs!"
Me: "Huh?"
Sasha: "You know, like pirates say."

High fives,

Monday, 12 November 2012

Harry Potter Holidays

Sasha had Friday and Monday off from school, so I wanted to make sure I had plenty of activities prepared to keep her busy for two whole days. Since we've been reading the Harry Potter books together, and she loves the hell out of 'em, I thought she would enjoy a load of Harry Potter themed activities.

My criteria for activities was:
  1. It must be fun.
  2. It must support learning.
    (Literacy, science, art, physical activity, music, social skills, problem solving, etc.)
  3. It must be relevant and doable for a single six-year-old who has only read the first two Harry Potter books.
I searched the internet for "Harry Potter activities for kids," but almost everything that came up was kind of pathetic. I tend to shy away from things that restrict kids' creativity, so pretty much any website that started with the words "free printables" was off the table. Coloring a pre-printed owl or doing a crossword puzzle? No thanks. One "top ten" list of Harry Potter games for kids I found was almost entirely composed of screen-oriented activities like marathoning the movies, downloading an iWand iPhone app, and playing trivia online. As much as I love the occasional movie marathon, that's not really a great option for Sasha, since a.) we have enough power struggles over movies as it is and b.) she already vetoed watching the movies because she thinks they will be too scary for her, and she's probably right.

What's a nanny to do?

Make her own activities, of course! Here's my lineup of fun, educational Harry Potter activities, after the cut.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Sasha Says, ep. 7

Referring to her dad's crooked teeth: "You know how my dad's teeth are all piled up?"

Talking about her dog: "She had the fleas."

Flexing her biceps: "I like exercising because it makes me tough!"

"There's something fishy around here."

On the walk home from school, pulling up her shirt to show me what resembles a magenta child-sized sports bra: "I'm wearin' my joggin' clothes because it makes me really fast! Because it makes it so I can't sweat so I'm fast."

We had been having a verbal tug-of-war about something or other, and she decided the best way to win the argument would be: "Yeah, well, my dad is famous." (He's not.) I replied, "That's what Draco Malfoy says." She looked at me in genuine horror and backpedaled: "Actually, my dad's not famous."

High fives,

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Leaf Puppets

The last week or so, Sasha has more cheerful and easygoing than she has been for the last few months. Perhaps she's finally adapted to the school routine, or to having a new baby brother, or to having a new nanny; perhaps it's some other unfathomable combination of variables. Either way, I'll take it. It certainly makes me more excited to plan activities for her, since she's more likely to be receptive to them!

On Wednesday this week I showed up to Sasha's house equipped with a box of googley eyes and a bottle of Elmer's glue. On the walk home from school (which was, mercifully, sunny) I started picking up fallen leaves. I explained, "I brought googley eyes and glue to your house, and so I thought we could collect some leaves and--"

Sasha interrupted, excitedly: "I have a great idea! We could put googley eyes on the leaves and make leaf puppets!"

Pretty much exactly what I was thinking, although it hadn't occurred to me to call them puppets, which implies that we might produce a puppet show. Awesome!

We did step 1: collect leaves, spread all over kitchen counter; and step 2: adhere googley eyes to the leaves and allow to dry. Sasha also got out her gel pens and drew freckles, a mouth, and other details on her favorite leaf.

We'll see if she's interested in using them as puppets on Friday.


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

in honor of the election...

Here is a piece of art Sasha made a couple of weeks ago. She told me she was "definitely voting for Obama" and that she and one of her friends were going to hold a demonstration and march in their neighborhood to "make everyone vote for Obama."

it's a "balloon" duct taped to a stick

On a more personal note, I tend to lean toward Emma Goldman's philosophies about voting -- primarily that it's a bullshit system whereby we are pacified into believing that voting is equivalent to making actual change. The notion that we exercise agency because we get to choose who and what to vote for reminds me a lot of offering a preschooler the red shirt or the blue shirt when you're just trying to get out the door to get more diapers. Yes, it's a choice, but it's a limited and coerced choice, designed primarily to placate one's desire for autonomy and control, and not to actually allow full participation in decision-making processes.

That said, I also recognize that a lot of folks in this country who are affected by who is in office and what policies are put into place do not have the privilege of voting. I also recognize that if I, as an individual, simply abstained from voting to protest the screwed up, coercive political system in the US, it wouldn't change anything. A president will still be elected. Local officials will still be sworn into office. Ballot measures will still become law or not become law. Taxes will still be levied. The only thing abstaining from voting would do would be to exclude me from having any say at all. It would mean someone else picks the red or blue shirt for me because I'm still at the mercy of people with more power than me, and their agenda includes getting diapers and by god we're not doing it shirtless.

So even though our democratic election process invokes patriotic rhetoric about "freedom" and "change" that's more stormclouds than actual deluge, at least my infinitesimally small opinion has been requested. It ain't much, but a vote for Obama is one itty bitty squeak closer to avoiding a Romney/Ryan presidency. At least under the Obama/Biden administration I have a chance of seeing people in the White House acknowledge that trans* and gender non-conforming folks like my partner exist and matter. We have a president who publically recognizes and supports all marriages, not just heterosexual ones, and who has a pretty solid track record of making this a better country in which to be LGBTQ, at least legally. That's a pretty stark contrast from Romney's "I didn't know you [gay people] had families" comment. Yes we do. We have families, both families of origin and chosen/created families. And we, like all people, deserve recognition, respect, and equitable access to resources.

Excuse me while I sign off to spend some quality time alternating between trying to plan Harry Potter themed activities to fill Sasha's two upcoming no-school days, and agonizing over news coverage of the election results.

In hopes of high fives,

Friday, 2 November 2012

Sasha Says, ep. 6

For the past 10 minutes Sasha had been pretending to be a cat, and as I petted her and gave her imaginary kitty food I recited a few cat facts. She abruptly stopped pretending to be a cat, and said in this very annoyed voice, "Please stop talking about cats."

Me: "Are you excited to go trick-or-treating on Halloween?"
Sasha, adamant: "NO."

As I sing the chorus to "This is Halloween" from Nightmare Before Christmas: "I know that exactly same song!"

 "You know what? All food is from the store. But some of it is from farms, and some of it is made in factories. So you can go to the farm to get foods from the grocery store and factories."

"Santa Claus has the same initials as me. If Santa Claus had initials. I don't think he does."

"I know how that song goes. But don't trust me."

"Books are like movies, except books the screen is in your head. I think I like real screens better."

"At the morning meeting our principal did a dance. He was really bad at it. It looked like a cowboy wearing a tie, which is very unlikely."


Thursday, 1 November 2012

Borrowing Kids

Halloween is my favorite holiday. I don't know if it's just that I'm breathlessly in love with fall, or that the holiday has so many opportunities for one-time-a-year artistic endeavors (carving pumpkins! sewing costumes!), or that it has really fascinating historic and contemporary ties to other celebrations like Samhain and Dia de los Muertos. Whatever the reason, I get super stoked for Halloween right around when the first rainstorm slicks the city in October every year.

The past three or four years, October 31st itself has been rather a letdown. I'm in this liminal space between kid and adult that is almost incompatible with Halloween:
  • I'm definitely too old to go trick-or-treating without kids in tow.
  • I don't have kids.
  • I don't like the types of parties that people my age typically attend.
So the last few years, if I bothered to make a costume at all, I couldn't bring myself to put it on for Halloween. Instead, I sat in my room and avoided Halloween entirely. Last year we didn't even get any trick-or-treaters.

This year, Jaden's mom took pity on me and invited me and HB (who also babysits Jaden) to go trick-or-treating with their family and a friend's family. HB and I clumsily, valiantly biked to Jaden's place wearing our costumes and carrying everything we would need for the next 24 hours. (We've been cat sitting for a person whose cats require us to stay overnight, so we've been hauling food and clothes back and forth from our house to the cat place each day for two weeks.) I'm sure we were quite the sight. Totally worth it when Jaden bounced over to greet us and play with our costumes.

Ultimately we were a flock of six adults chaperoning two three-year-olds. Only two of the adults hadn't dressed in costume, which means some houses offered us candy, too! We had a grand time, and the kids did too.

HB and I rounded off our night with hot spiced apple cider and a movie (and unsuccessfully tried to cajole the cats into snuggling with us), and we agreed that when we have kids, we hope that, like Jaden's parents, we will invite kid-loving kid-less adults into our kids' lives. It's rewarding for everyone.

High fives,

Friday, 26 October 2012

Mystery Suprise Secret Color Reveal Playdough

On Fridays Sasha doesn't have any afterschool activities, so I have twice as much time with her as on the other days of the week. She is happiest -- and I am happiest -- if I provide her with structured activities to fill that three and a half hours until her parents and I swap places. If I don't plan anything, trusting the hypothetically boundless imagination and creativity of a six-year-old, we inevitably devolve into a tug-a-war over how many tv shows she ought to be allowed to watch in exchange for however many minutes or pages of academic busywork she is willing to complete. It's a lot of whining and dramatic fake tears and I'm so over it.

Earlier this week while one of the babies slept, I borrowed half a cup of salt, half a cup of water, and god knows how much flour to whip up a batch of playdough. In a somewhat unsuccessful attempt to alleviate that horrible playdough smell, I added vanilla extract, which really just made it smell weirder. So, maybe pick a different scent if you're going to Try This At Home.

While Sasha was at school, I separated out the playdough into balls, molded them into shapes sufficient to receive food coloring drops, and rolled them into balls so the food coloring was hidden on the inside of the balls. The idea was that as you start kneading each ball, the color is revealed! It's Mystery Surprise Secret Color Reveal Playdough!

I made the orange one as an example, or maybe I just spilled food coloring everywhere. Guess.

And then, if you feel like following directions beyond the exciting "what's inside" part which takes one second per ball of playdough, you knead the heck out of it until it's all a uniform color. Then you store each ball in empty and washed babyfood jars, for future use.

Sasha is unpredictable enough that I tend to approach any project I plan with "If she's even half interested it's a win. If she takes it in her own direction, go with it." So when she decided that, rather than fully knead each ball to produce uniform color and store each in its separate baby food jar, she wanted to smash all the half-mixed colors together into a "sandwich," I just cheerfully asked open-ended questions packed with science vocabulary like "hypothesis" and "theory."

"it's a sandwich with green bread"

With our greenish-yellowish-pinkish-orangish-brownish dough, we formed cakes and cookies, made imprints with nuts and leaves we'd collected last week, and played Playdough Monster, which was really just me chasing Sasha around trying to convince her to wash the playdough residue off hands so that I wouldn't "eat them."

That's a "cake" I made for Sasha while she sang Patty-Cake

It kept her entertained for 45 minutes, so I just need to come up with two or three more activities per Friday to totally avert the iPad wars.


Sasha Says, ep. 5

On weeds: "If you're nice to them, they'll be nice to you."

After watching the debates with her parents, who reportedly didn't really talk about their views with her: "I like Obama but I don't like Governor Mitt Romney. He seems greedy. I'm voting for Obama."

"Guess who my favorite character in Totoro is? Miyazaki." [Miyazaki is the art director, which she knows]

Referring to slugs: "They're stretched out so they're thinnyer."

Sasha: "Can I watch a movie? You said I could watch a movie when we got home."
Me: "I really don't remember saying you could watch a movie."
Sasha: "Trust me, you did. I'm a kid, so I have a better rememberer than you."

"Pumpkins are fruits because they grow on a vine. All things that grow on vines are fruits. Take my word for it. If you want to. You can decide if you want to take my word for it." 

"Spiderman got bited by a spider that had chemicals in it, and then he started cobbing web."

"Know why I want to watch Rugrats? Because it reminds me of my boyfriend. Because it has love in it."
Later in the conversation: "I love Q, that's why he's my boyfriend. But he doesn't like me because he's afraid I might kiss him. So I'm not his girlfriend."

High fives,

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Scavenger Hunt Bingo

I've been trying to think of ways to get Sasha out of the house to enjoy these last few warm, dry(ish) fall days, since the rains and the cold are just a storm system away. I whipped up a "Sasha's Fall Scavenger Hunt Bingo" page in half an hour one evening this week. Ecology plus reading fundamentals plus art, all in game format? I hoped she'd think it was fun and awesome, and not stupid or boring or too hard. She can be hard to predict.

Due to a roughhousing injury, Sasha had an abbreviated day at school on Friday. As she started a third episode of Rugrats on the iPad, the dog danced around nipping at us for attention with increasing desperation, and the baby upped his fussing, I tentatively suggested a walk. "Are you feeling better enough to go on a scavenger hunt?"

She considered the question briefly, then said, "I will be, after one more movie." (Movie meaning episode, in Sasha-speak.)

So 20 minutes later I crammed Ezra in the Ergo on my back, leashed up the dog, refused a "one more movie pleeeeease" request and reminded Sasha about the scavenger hunt, and we headed out. (I recommended a sweatshirt or coat but she balked and I didn't push it. She didn't seem cold on the walk, so one point for the "trust the kid to know their own needs" approach.)

She had such a good time with the scavenger hunt that she announced, "When we get back, I'm going to make you a scavenger hunt!" (She did, but by the time she'd finished drawing it she'd lost interest in going back outside.)

The only thing we absolutely could not find was slugs. I'm not convinced she actually saw a spider or any mushrooms because those two included some vague gesturing into bushes, but good enough. Although it wasn't in my original plan, she wanted to collect up the things that were reasonable to bring home; no live animals or pumpkins off the neighbor's porch.

All in all, a successful fall activity. Plus the dog got her walk, Ezra got some fuss-curing fresh air, and I got to totally bore Sasha with a few soliloquies about species of oak trees and photosynthesis and decomposition and adaptation.


Thursday, 18 October 2012


By happenstance more than intention, my partner HB landed the dream nannying position. When I first read about the mom online, before we knew the family needed child care, I told HB, "She sounds like you in ten years!" The family is a car-free, cloth-diapering, music-playing, art-making, urban farming foursome a five minute bike ride from our front door. The kids are three and one. The guy that HB is taking bike mechanic classes from rents out the basement. The kids are happy to play in the mud for hours, pausing to chase the chickens around the yard. It's only 10-12 hours a week, so HB still has time for her two classes, her tutoring job, and her two regular volunteering shifts. But she'll make enough to pay rent each month, which is a huge relief on her savings account.

She was nervous her first day, since it's been awhile since she's taken care of kids those ages. She got the baby's cloth diaper on wrong, and didn't feed the kids enough for lunch, but had a pretty good time otherwise. In the evening, I coached her on typical schedules and needs for each age -- how often to check a diaper, how to space snacks -- and she did great the second day. Today is her third day with the kids.

This week was a trial week. HB got an email from the family saying that they interviewed another well-qualified nanny, but that they would rather HB continue with them. It's a year-long commitment.

At the end of each day, our ritual is to recount our day to each other. My recitation is typically full of naptime drama, progress toward milestones (Athena just started solid foods and Ezra began crawling yesterday), and Sasha's antics; HB's varies widely depending on what she wanted to do that day. But now we spend an hour over dinner swapping kid stories, comparing the goofy things the older kids said, sharing diapering disasters, fretting over parenting decisions we've made. It's new and different and delightful.

Since we want to someday raise a car-free family ourselves, I'm so thankful HB has this opportunity to practice her parenting skills in a context where she'll have the chance to figure out how to propel the kids to parks and museums and community centers by bike, by bus, and by foot. She's going to learn a lot.

We'll be an awesome parenting team someday.

High fives,

Monday, 15 October 2012

Sasha Says, ep. 4

"If my mom was a horse she would have shorter hair."

Singing me a song she composed (clearly on the spot): "I don't have any rights to get what I want, but I have needs, needs, needs."

"Do you know why I like Word Girl so much? Because I am Word Girl. But don't tell my parents."

"Ezra has laughing skill. And pooping skill."

Referring to the playbill/program brochure from a recent children's theatre show: "I got autographs on the flipper!"

Listening to an orchestral piece on the Classical music station: "This reminds me of country music."

Apropos of nothing: "You know what? Ezra was homeborn, but I was born in a birth center."

"When I grow up, I don't want to own a car. Cars are not as good for the environment." [context: Sasha and I have talked about how I choose not to own a car, and that I bike and bus everywhere.]


Thursday, 4 October 2012

consistency & permanence

One of the things I always struggle with when I'm caring for other people's kids is aligning my "parenting" style with their parents' parenting styles. I know all the textbooks say to be consistent, that kids need consistency and rules and boundaries.

Sometimes this means grilling the parents extensively on their routines and approaches to various things and trying my damndest to replicate them. I just had a long conversation with Ezra's mom about sleep training and his bedtime routine, because the more of his sleeping cues I can replicate during naptime, the better he's likely to nap. And Sasha is a perpetual snacker, so we also had a conversation about how best to limit her afterschool snacking so that she'll actually eat dinner, without grooming her for an unhealthy relationship with food and control. (Lord knows she'll get enough of that from dominant culture.)

Sometimes consistency means being consistent to my own rules, even if they're (allegedly) different from the parents' rules. Real life example from a kid I babysat last summer:

Kid: "But my moms always let me have ice cream before dinner."
Me: "Well, your moms aren't here right now so we're going with my rules, and my rule is dinner before dessert."*

Most of the time, I feel like I straddle the line between these two approaches. After all, I figure these families hired me not to be a copy of themselves, but because they trust my judgment and they value having different adults in their kids' lives who will present them with different ways to see and interact with the world.

And some of the time, I resort to the old "pick your battles" standby.

I've written before about the tug-of-war that is Sasha and reading. This week after school, as usual, Sasha asked, "Can I watch a movie?" and I replied, "Yes. After you do your 15 minutes of reading homework." I offered different reading choices, and after waving aside my suggestions, Sasha sat up suddenly and said, "What if you write sentences about what you love about me, and then I read them?"

Good enough for me. "That's a great idea! Get me a pencil and some paper."

She returned with a notepad and a big black Sharpie. Little warning bells went off in my head. Is she usually allowed to use Sharpies? Do I really want to disturb this temporary reading truce for something as relatively unimportant as what writing implement we're using?

She uncapped the Sharpie and started drawing big hearts on the paper with lines in them for writing on. I tried to subtly hand her a ballpoint pen. Nothing doing. She carefully added stars around the borders of the page. Then little hearts that she meticulously filled in. She ate more pretzels. She made faces at the fussing Ezra.

Her stalling skills are truly something to be reckoned with.

Eventually she relinquished the paper long enough for me to write a few sentences. She added unnecessary periods to the end of every line, so that it read "I love. that Sasha. is smart." (I'm sure she's the next e. e. cummings.) With prodding, she haltingly, reluctantly read the first sentence. Four more iterations of that sentence and 12 minutes of reading time to go. She had gotten some accidental Sharpie ink on her hands at this point but nothing too major. Last week she and her friend had done full-body marker art (the phrase "We're gonna have to get naked for this" was reportedly heard from Sasha's room before a parent decided to investigate) and her parents had been pretty blase about it, so I wasn't unduly worried.

She busily traced all of the letters in each sentence; good, she's developing her writing skills, I thought. This is going well. 

While she was thus occupied, I turned around for 30 seconds to address Ezra's increasingly loud fussing, turned back, and Sasha had drawn long lines in Sharpie all up and down her hands, on both sides.

"Sasha. Do you know how Sharpies are different from regular markers?" I reprimanded gently.

"Yeah, Sharpies don't wash off."

I had just sent Sasha to the bathroom to wash as much of the ink as she could get off her hands when her mom walked in. I explained what had happened and fortunately, she's pretty laid back and didn't seem upset at all. She rolled her eyes and said, "She knows she's not allowed to use Sharpies."

Oh well. Kids are washable. And even Sharpie comes off eventually, thanks to our constantly regenerating skin cells.

High fives,

* = (Alternative answer: "Really? And when your moms get home, if I ask them if you're allowed to have ice cream before dinner, will they say that's true?" Usually this results in a sudden and creative revision of the initial statement, such as "Actually what I meant was that they let me pick out the flavor of ice cream I want before dinner, to eat after dinner.")

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Sasha Says, ep. 3

"These sunglasses are weird 'cuz they make my eyebrows bendy."

"I am six and that's all." (meaning not "six and a half" or some other fractional age)

"I only like eating my foot when it has enough dirt on it."


P.S. - Sasha lost her voice this week from a sore throat bug. Hopefully she'll be chattier next week!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

baby shark week

I really love my days with Athena. She smiles, she bounces, she babbles, she eats and naps like a champ.

She just leveled up to 5 months, and she's got the new large motor skills to go with it. Primarily rolling over and flailing. But she can hold her own bottle, she intentionally grabs things, and she is intensely interested in reaching for my laptop and cell phone.

She also just started teething hardcore. Drooling, gumming her lips, biting stuff, batting her ears, the whole bit. I figured I'd be one of those all-natural let's-just-suck-on-a-frozen-washcloth people, but on Day One of teething after two 20-minute naps and significant short-term damage to my eardrums due to Athena's screeching, I unhesitatingly injected the kid with liquid Tylenol. (She thought it was delicious.)

Afterward, I wondered why I was so quick to give in to the medication route. Was it because Athena's mom had set the Tylenol and syringe out on the counter next to her bottles and gave the go-ahead that morning, and I was adhering to her expectations and parenting style? Was it because I wanted to be able to hand off a well-rested, happy baby in the afternoon to her daddy? Was it because she's not my kid? Was it because I hadn't frozen any washcloths and didn't have an arsenal of homeopathic herbs at my disposal?

Will I do things differently or the same with my own kids someday?

I don't know. But I do know that she blessedly slept solidly for her afternoon nap.

High fives,

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

school schemas

On one of our walks home from school last week, Sasha stopped suddenly and pointed to this.

As far as I can tell, it's part of the crank arm of an old latch gate that's no longer used. But of course, Sasha doesn't really have a schema for "crank arm of an old latch gate." She hasn't had much exposure to farms or the countryside or other places you would likely encounter this style of gate. What she does have exposure to, seven hours a day, five days a week, is elementary school.

"Wow! Look at this huge pencil sharpener!" she said.

From a six-year-old's perspective, it really does look remarkably like the manual pencil sharpeners installed in almost every classroom in the school district.

I could have said, "No, you silly goose, you're wrong! It's not a pencil sharpener, it's a gate crank!"

But that would make me kind of a jerkwad -- just another adult who knows better than you, you puerile rugrat -- and it would be missing an opportunity to engage some of those "young child as scientist" skills my professor talked about in child psychology class.

One of the things kids and scientists are best at is asking questions, making hypothesis (however rudimentary), and experimenting. So we talked and talked about the "giant pencil sharpener," speculating about why someone would have a pencil sharpener outside; how it got so rusty; how it works (the crank arm only rotates it about 90 degrees); where you would find a pencil big enough to fit in those holes; who uses it or used to use it.

If we ever find a big enough pencil, we'll most certainly try to sharpen it and see what happens.


Friday, 21 September 2012

Sasha Says, ep. 2

"Do you know that song, 'I just met you, so here's my number, call me maybe?'"

When giving me a "tour" of her neighborhood: "This is the president's house; but not Obama -- George Washington. This tree was built for climbing. This is where famous people live, like the tour guides and realtors. This is Swiper's house."

"You know what? She has no wrinkles because she eats super duper duper pooper ... healthy."

"We are going to buy that house on the corner and put all our extra stuff in it."

 "I have more money than my mom and dad. Way more. I'm super serious."

As she sees her mom get out of the car through the kitchen window: "There's my beautiful mom!" (Suddenly apprehensive) "but not as beautiful as you!"

High fives,

Monday, 17 September 2012

reading recipes

Sasha has been really struggling with learning to read. She still mixes up some of her letters, the most mysterious to me being f and i. She knows about five sight words, one of which is her own name. She drags her feet doing her 15 minutes of reading homework each night.

I remember how frustrating and tedious it was to learn how to read when I was her age. She has the same set of Bob books I had; I hated those books because the stories were so boring, and Sasha seems to feel the same. (In my case, my slow reading was at least partially to blame on my eyesight; my reading improved by several grade levels within two months of getting glasses.)

But Sasha likes stories. She likes being read to. We just finished the first Harry Potter book, and I've promised to find a copy of the second one to start reading to her. I may have her sound out a few words per page of The Chamber of Secrets so that she's involved in reading a more interesting story than "Dot has a hat."

I've been trying to come up with creative ways to integrate letter recognition and rudimentary reading skills into other activities so that it doesn't feel like reading, doesn't feel like a 15 minute timer, doesn't feel like homework.

So today, I wrote out a chocolate chip cookie recipe, packaged up and labeled all of the ingredients and most of the equipment we would need, and biked it all over to Sasha's house. After school, after some regular ol' dollhouse and dress up playtime, and after doing 10 minutes of her assigned reading, we whipped up a batch of cookies. She liked measuring and dumping and cracking eggs, and she loved mixing the dough with her hands!

She wasn't thrilled when I asked her to sound out the words on the recipe paper, but she was a champ at just straight up matching recipe words to container labels, and then recognizing the ingredient in the containers ("that's brown sugar!"). Good enough for a first go.

I wonder, if I wrote and illustrated a book for her that's all about things Sasha can do, like "Sasha can cook! Sasha can kick! Sasha can sing! Sasha can read!" if that would be a more exciting story for her to read than "Mat sat." I'll let the idea bake for a bit.


Saturday, 15 September 2012


Sasha's school does "Popcorn Fridays." But it's so early in the school year that Popcorn Fridays haven't started yet. So when I picked Sasha up on Friday, we decided to make popcorn as an afterschool snack! She asked me if I knew how to make popcorn "from the seeds" (meaning not a microwavable bag, I assume) and to do it "without burnting it." I'm thankful I taught myself this very same skill about six months ago when I decided to give popcorn with nutritional yeast a try, since I had already been eating nutritional yeast on just about everything else that would stand still long enough and had never developed an appreciation for microwave popcorn.

I let Sasha scoop out the coconut oil (after we threw out the burnt coconut butter we first mistook for coconut oil -- they're not the same thing!) and measure and dump the popcorn kernels. This was the result.

We ate it all.

High fives,

Friday, 14 September 2012

Sasha Says, ep. 1

This week, in adorable and hilarious things Sasha said:

"I'm allergic to nonfat milk."
"I'm allergic to poop. No, I'm serious. I'm really really serious."
"I hate all pies. Except for pumpkin pie."
 "I hate bananas."
"I hate coconut."
"I hate throw-up."
"I hate squishy things. Except bacon."
"I like babysitters better than nannies. But not actually babysitters and nannies. I mean the words."
When I pick her up from school and ask how her day was: "I really hate it when you ask me that question."
Standing in the living room with smooth jazz playing, in only her underwear and a fake pearl necklace, hands above her head, pushing out and sucking in her tummy repeatedly: "I'm a belly dancer!"
On why, after a granola bar and a phenomenal amount of popcorn, she should be allowed to have another snack of her choosing: "But these are healthy Cheetos!"
"Do you know where babies come out of?" [leans in close and whispers like it's a naughty thing to say] "Butts."
On the sunny walk home from school: "My armpits are waterin'."


Tuesday, 11 September 2012

an ode to camera phones

Babysitters, nannies, non-primary-guardian caretakers of the world, I want to share a secret with you.

Camera phones. And an unlimited texting plan.

For as long as I've had a phone on my camera I've taken quick, fuzzy snapshots of the kids I care for, usually for the purpose of later showing it to a friend in a "mine are cuter than yours" babysitter pissing contest. After a few momentary bragging episodes, the pictures would get buried in the archive of bad cell phone photos my poor SD card stoically keeps on file.

Very recently it occurred to me that I could do more with these adorable, grainy photos: text them. To the kids' parents.

I experimented with this on Jaden. The first time his mom left me alone with him, she'd only been gone about half an hour when she texted a "how're you guys doing? Sorry, I'll try not to send too many annoying check in texts!" Rather than just say, "We're fine," I sent her a picture of Jaden eating breakfast with all his cars lined up on his table watching him and an accompanying description of what was going on.

She loved it.

Throughout the day I sent her four or five more pictures of other activities we did: art, a science experiment, trying on my glasses. Jaden's mom thought it was the greatest. She thought I was the greatest. As one of my housemates pointed out, this is a win-win for parents: they get pictures of their kids being adorable and hilarious, and the reassurance that they're having a good time and being well cared-for, without having to be the ones doing the diaper changing and tantrum talk-downs, and being easily able to carry on with their meeting at work or their romantic date night.

I now regularly ask parents if they have unlimited texting and if it's okay for me to send them a picture or two each day. They have all said yes. So far, every parent has been delighted to receive a picture of their kid swinging at the park, or licking the side of the stroller, or learning how to throw a ball for the dog, or coated in smashed blackberries.

Seriously, if you want to delight parents, text them a picture of their kid eating a bagel or grinning at themselves in the mirror or petting the neighborhood cat. They will think you're the best babysitter ever. They may even up your pay or recommend you to their friends and not be able to pin down why they're doing it, just that they have a really great, fuzzy feeling about you. And all thanks to your great, fuzzy cell phone snapshots.

High Fives,

Sunday, 9 September 2012

the art of coming out without tripping over things

Now that I've been employed long enough to receive my first checks from my two regular families, I've been contemplating if, how, and when to tell these families about my family. Specifically, that I'm a big ol' queermo and that I share a bedroom and a cat with a person I usually refer to as my partner. I fly pretty silent on most people's queerdar since I have the double whammy of fairly feminine mannerisms and a fairly feminine physical presentation. (I even currently have long-ish hair that is neither a buzz cut nor a pixie cut, my two rotating constants over the past six or seven years.) So it's not like these families would look at me and just know, or even suspect that I'm, you know, "of the gay." (Unless they saw my Yeti legs, which I always cover during interviews with new people anyway because preschool teaching effectively ruined my body hair self-confidence in childcare settings.)

With Jaden's mom, I knew her from her blogging presence on the internet, so I had absolutely no doubts about coming out. Within minutes of meeting her I had casually dropped the "my partner" bit, and not only was she instantly receptive ("your partner is welcome to hang out too, Jaden loves people!") but her kid was obviously acquainted with the term partner because he immediately asked in his adorable three-year-old lisp, "Does yo' pawtnah wike kids?" like an old pro. I gave him a mental high five.

My first day with Sasha and Ezra, I picked up a baby board book off the couch and upon my second or third reading to Ezra, I had it well enough memorized to start looking at the pictures that accompanied the text. It's a book called Everywhere Babies and even though it rhymes, it's the least obnoxious rhyming board book I have yet come across. I was surprised and delighted to see that even though the gist of the story was "babies are everywhere and they all sleep, play, and poop" it actually featured a very diverse cast of characters. Not only did it have what were pretty obviously same-sex couples, but it also showed grandparent-aged caretakers and caretakers who looked different from the babies (presumably fostering or adoptive families).

This was my sign.

This family is probably gay-okay and won't fire me upon revealing my true rainbow sparkle colors.

The next time I showed up at Sasha and Ezra's house, as their mom gave me my morning orientation, I saw my window and I plunged for it. It wasn't even really a window, but was shaped enough like one that I was pretty sure I could make it into a window. It went like this:

The Mom: "Sorry about all the noise, the workers should be done pulling off the roof after today. Ezra really needs a nap but he won't sleep through the noise so you'll have to put him in the stroller."
Me: "Yeah, I wouldn't be able to sleep through that noise either."
The Mom: "It's hard to sleep through sudden loud noises, like when they hammer or drop something big."
Me: "For sure. Last night somebody was going through our glass recycling out front and the noise of the bottles banging around woke us up. My partner got really worried that whoever it was would come in and steal her bike. But the type of person who bothers sorting through the recycling for bottles to deposit for a nickle each is probably not the same type of person who will then break into your basement and steal your bike."
The Mom: "Yeah, those people usually consider it their little job, and go from house to house on recycling day. Your bikes are probably safe in the basement."

Did you see that? She didn't even blink at the casual "my partner, she" bomb.

Of course, my partner sometimes goes by "they" pronouns, but one step of coming out at a time.

I would like to high five the people who illustrated Everywhere Babies, as it is now one of the very few board books that I don't despise on sight, but that I actively like. Good job on the passive diversity education front, Everywhere Babies.


Thursday, 6 September 2012

first day with Sasha & Ezra

Normally when I start caring for a new family, I just want the parents to get the heck out of the house and let me blunder around the kitchen cabinets and kids' dressers by myself. I'm a hands-on learner but I'm clumsy, so I prefer not to be observed in the act of learning. So I was a little nervous that Sasha and Ezra's mom was going to hover for the first week before she goes back to work. But she's so sweet, and so easygoing, that I didn't feel nearly as self-conscious as I thought I would, even when I couldn't get Ezra to take a bottle, and when Sasha had a bout of stubbornness and collapsed on a neighbor's well-manicured lawn and refused to move ever again for ten minutes. I like that this family is totally into the idea of getting me a bike seat or trailer to haul Ezra around (since I won't drive other people's kids around), and that most of their baby board books feature diverse families. I think nannying for this family will work out well -- which is good, because I'm on a reduced-rate trial run for the month of September.

A few of my favorite comments from Sasha, who is six years old, on my very first day of nannying her:

Sasha: You know what I want to be when I grow up? A babysitter. I love kids.
Sasha: I’m going to move out of the house like probably when I’m a teenager. I will buy that house across the street.
Sasha: Do you have a car?
Me: No.
Sasha: Do you have a driver’s license?
Me: Yes.
Sasha: WHAT?! That doesn’t make any sense.
Me: Well, I have a bike; I bike and take public transit everywhere. Cars are very expensive.
Sasha: And they’re bad for the environment.
Me: It was the first day of school, you have a different teacher this year, right? What's your teacher's name?
Sasha: Yeah, Mr. O.
Me: Is Mr. O teacher nice?
Sasha: He's cute!

High fives,

Open Arms

New house, new jobs, new blog!

I will probably write entries while the kids do the vampire thing and sleep in the middle of the day. Since kids are adorable, and I kind of need to project their adorableness to the universe, I figured I'd create a blog. They are all referred to by pseudonyms here, and photos will be rare and never of their faces, because 1.) they're not old enough to consent to having their lives published on the internet, and 2.) I can't consent on their behalf, not being their legal guardian.

I'm naming the blog Hugs or High Fives because I think choices are important, and so is affirmation, and gratitude, and comfort, and human connection.

If you're new to this blog, orient yourself by clicking on the tabs up at the top of the page to read a bit more about me and the kids I high five and/or hug.

Commence caring, connecting, and blogging.