Sunday, July 31, 2011

At the Lakehouse

This is that one magical weekend a year when I get together with around a dozen of my nearest and dearest friends from high school. We all go to a "lakehouse" (in quotes because it's bigger and nicer than our regular home) and spend two days eating, laughing, catching up, floating on the lake, and thinking about how lucky we are to have known such wonderful people since we were 16 (or, in some cases, 5) years old. Most of the spouses have been around for so many years (Keith and I started dating when we were 18, for example) and fit in so well that sometimes I almost forget they didn't actually graduate with us.

This year, I think there'll be 10 kids there: one 5-year-old, and the rest younger. The youngest just turned one a few months ago. It makes me so happy for Eleanor to grow up with my friends' friends. I hope that her friendships with them, at least some of them, turn into real, deep connections and not just a case of "I'll hang out with them while we're at the lakehouse, because I don't have a choice." So far, she loves the annual lakehouse weekend, and is eagerly anticipating this one.

In contrast, we have a 15-year high school class reunion planned for September. Most of us are planning on going, but I'm guessing the reunion experience for me will be very different from the average. Keith has not only met once or twice, but knows and is friends with, many of my high school friends. He was a groomsman in Dan's wedding, and makes running and concert plans with Jen's husband. I'm curious to see what we'll do at the reunion: Will we stake out a table and carry on where we left off at the lakehouse this weekend? Or will we ignore each other, because we're already up to speed, and seek out the people we've lost touch with?

I'd imagine it will be a bit of both. Sometimes wandering off to reconnect with old acquaintances, but always wandering back to the familiar, seeking the reassurance of people who really know me. No explanations or updates necessary. The excitement and the unknown of the 15-year class reunion in the Fall will be fun. But the lakehouse is what I consider to be the real reunion, and the one I'm looking forward to the most.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

I'm Pretty Sure .... You're 3 going on 13

Eleanor now has what I would call her "thinking face." She manages to scrunch down only one eyebrow (neither Keith nor I are capable of this). Her brow furrows, and she usually lifts up her hands, palms skyward, as she asks questions that have her completely baffled. It's similar to the expression in the picture, as she contemplates the intricacies of baseball strategy.

This is the face I pictured her having in the car the other day, as we were driving back from my parents' house. Before I get into the conversation, there's a few things you should know:
  • Grandma Helen always has animal crackers on hand, which Eleanor is addicted to. And she's even upped the ante by getting iced animal crackers with sprinkles. Eleanor runs straight to the cookie jar as soon as we get there, and she insists on taking a few "for the road" when we leave. I've chosen to never buy animal crackers, leaving this treat squarely in Grandma's domain, so she finds it even more exciting.
  • Right now, her car seat is directly behind the driver's seat, so it's very hard to see her while driving. She's always trying to get the driver to look at something and we're constantly reminding her that we can't look at her when we're driving because we don't really want to crash the car.
On this particular car trip, it was just Eleanor and I, so she was disappointed to have no audience in the backseat. When we were only a block or two away from our house, Eleanor piped up.
Eleanor: Are we on our street?
Me: No honey, but we're close.
Eleanor: (big sigh) I'll be sooo sad once we're on our street.
Me: Why? Don't you like being home?
Eleanor: We don't have any animal crackers at home. How come I never ever get animal crackers with icing and sprinkles?
Me: Really? Never ever? Because I'm pretty sure you took some in the car with you from Grandma's house.
Eleanor: (with hardly a pause) I'm pretty sure I didn't.
Me: Oh? I'm pretty sure you did, because I saw you eating them.
Eleanor: (immediately) I'm pretty sure you didn't, because you were driving.

I just started laughing. I was so busted! And her response was so quick. I'm always amazed not just by the vocabulary she soaks up, but also the intonation. She was spot on in her usage and emphasis on "pretty sure." That's my girl!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Happy 3rd Birthday, Eleanor!

In all the talk about lead paint, I never really mentioned Eleanor's third birthday. She turned 3 over a week ago, and her birthday party was last Saturday.

She is such a wonderful, amazing little girl. And absolutely a girl now, not a baby. I think once toddlers start saying things like, "Apparently, there's a sunflower in the vase!" as she did on the day of her party, they really are closer to being a Kid than a Baby. And, in just over a month, she'll be starting Preschool. A clear milestone in the growth of her independence.

Thinking about her birth is even more poignant this year, because I'm also thinking about the upcoming birth in October. Getting excited to meet this new, amazing person who will be every bit as wonderful and challenging—in different ways, I'm sure. It's been such a joy to get to know Eleanor's personality so far. In many ways, being pregnant for the second time seems much more concrete to me because I can really understand that those movements I feel are a person. A person who will one day voice thoughts and opinions of his/her own (probably sooner than I'm expecting, if anything like Eleanor!).

I look forward to every day with Eleanor, and I can't wait to see her become a big sister!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lead Paint Perspective

This is my last lead-related post, I promise. Probably. But the past weeks of dealing with lead paint issues again has been interesting in terms of my response to the whole situation.

When Eleanor had an elevated lead level at her one-year check-up, I was so worried about her. I also spent a significant amount of time being neurotic about how it meant that I was a terrible mother who couldn't even keep her own child healthy. My therapist tells me I have a problem with "downplaying the positive" and I would say that's absolutely true when it comes to parenting. I take for granted anything I do well, as something surely all parents do, not even worth mentioning.

Instead, I focus on my shortcomings as a parent. I look at all of the times I get frustrated or tell her I can't play right now or give short answers like "Because I said so" instead of really addressing her questions about the world. It's so much easier for me to see what I'm doing wrong, instead of what I'm doing right. And the whole lead issue played right into that tendency of mine, and reinforced every negative comment I had ever told myself about my ability to be an effective, loving mother.

It took me a long time to get over that, and to not be so completely ashamed that my daughter had an elevated lead level, when almost no other parents we spend time with had an issue with it. The biggest problem with lead, in a neurotic sense, is that the effects are not always immediate. So I can spend years watching and waiting, attributing any of her possible shortcomings in school or bad teen-aged behavior to being a side effect of the lead poisoning that I didn't prevent. It's all my fault.

But I did get over it and come to terms with the situation. We've done everything we could to resolve the situation, and now I don't spend too much time wondering about the long-term effects, if any, because there's nothing else to be done.

And then, of course, that whole Pandora's leaden box was opened again with this house painting situation. But I've been shocked—absolutely shocked!—at how well I've handled it. So much less neuroses the second time around! To be fair, I'm sure a lot of that has to do with 1) it all started with our neighbor's house, not ours, and 2) at this point, we don't know that Eleanor's lead levels are elevated again. We are hoping that we've done enough to prevent that; Eleanor and I both have doctor's appointments next week. So if either of us get tested and the results are high ... well, at that point I probably might as well call this blog "Lead Ledger" or something like that.

Let's all keep our fingers crossed that it doesn't happen, though. The other big difference between last time and this time is knowledge. Last time, we had no idea what was going on, what we should do next, or even where to go to get this crucial information. We kept running into dead ends, contacting people who never got back to us or couldn't (or wouldn't?) give us the information we needed ... we spent a lot of time getting absolutely nowhere. Meanwhile, during all the fruitless phone calls and misinformation, that loop of "You're a terrible parent!" kept playing in the back of my mind, and every time I was put on hold I had another opportunity to sit and visualize all of the ways my lack of knowledge and inability to protect my child was ruining her life, now and in the future. (Yes, yes I was a lot of fun to be around.)

This, out of all the factors, is what has changed the most between last time and this time. We called the EPA to report the contractors on a Wednesday. Over the weekend, Keith and I cleaned the house inside and out. On Tuesday, lead abatement contractors cleaned the outside of the house and declared it lead free. (Or as lead free as any place in an aging, inner-ring Cleveland suburb can be.) I went from total panic to near resolution in under a week. The main reason for that difference is that, this time, we had the knowledge. We knew what steps to take next, and how to handle things.

This may sound strange, but I've actually found this second experience to help get some closure on the first time. I can apologize to my younger, freaked-out self. I know that you did the best you could. I know that it wasn't all your fault. You tried so hard to prevent the problem, and then fix the problem as soon as it arose. It is okay to blame other people sometimes, because all of that responsibility really shouldn't have been on your shoulders. And look! This time, we handled it so much better. Well done.

Let's just hope there's not a next time.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lead Paint: What Next?

Sorry it's been a whole week. I'm sure you've been waiting with bated breath! It's been pretty hectic around here.

Even while writing last week's blog, wondering what to do, I was already springing into action. As soon as I realized 1) what the contractors was doing was indeed against the law, and 2) that our neighbor wouldn't be held liable—only the contractors—I called the EPA to report the violation of the RRP rule.

I was pleasantly surprised to get the name and contact info for a specific person. Even more surprising, when I called the number she actually picked up! She told me what she would need in terms of documentation; I promised to send pictures and dutifully did so that night. (The picture above is of our neighbor's house and flower bed, which is directly next to our driveway, partly visible at the bottom of the image.) We tried to talk to our neighbor a few times that night, but he was out. Luckily, I caught him on his way to work the next morning and explained the whole situation.

He called his contractors, told them what was going on, and told them to stay away until the situation was resolved. Instead of doing that, they came over and "cleaned up," which involved using a leaf blower (totally illegal and just a really bad idea) and getting paint chips even more scattered throughout the yard. At this point I was so twitchy from silently putting up with them for nearly two weeks, I was gearing up to go outside and tell them myself to stop and just leave the premises. Luckily, I guess they felt like they'd cleaned enough because they stopped of their own accord before I got out there, and then it was blissfully quiet, at least for a little bit.

I called the lead abatement contractor that had done our siding and replaced many of our windows, with whom we were very pleased. He said that he could have a crew out by the following Tuesday (two days ago), and that our yard could be completely cleaned up in time for Eleanor's birthday party (two days hence). Hearing that was a huge relief, because clearly we couldn't have nearly a dozen kids over to play with the paint chips, but I had no idea where else we were going to go on such short notice.

After getting that sorted out, Keith and I talked about what else we ourselves would need to do. We decided that we needed to wipe down the hard surfaces outside (porches, yard furniture, Eleanor's outdoor toys) and clean inside, top to bottom: vacuuming, mopping, and wiping down EVERYTHING—including every single one of Eleanor's toys—to get rid of any potential lead dust. We'd tried to keep the windows closed while the contractors were working, but we couldn't be completely certain that we'd kept 100% of the lead dust out.

My parents very kindly took Eleanor all day Saturday so Keith and I could clean. By Sunday night, I think we'd finished nearly everything. Today, I'm vacuuming and mopping one more time, in case we tracked in any more lead dust from the yard before it was cleaned on Tuesday. We also changed the furnace filter and the contractor vacuumed out the air conditioner.

Oh, did I mention that we're hosting a birthday party with 30+ people on Saturday? And clearing out the former study, painting and furnishing it to be Eleanor's new big girl room, all at the same time? It's been a long week.

That's probably more detail than you needed, but there it is. I felt the need to list and catalog every single step we've taken to minimize the damage, in the hopes that talking about it will make it more effective, I think. I'd like to believe that we've done all we can; I hope it's enough.

The final test, literally, will be when Eleanor and I both go to doctor's appointments next week and get our lead levels checked. Hopefully, all this madness ends there. The contractors first came on Saturday, July 2. It's been a long month, and I'm looking forward to a laid-back August.

I do have to say, without the blog, I'm not sure what would have happened. I only started researching the latest changes in the lead laws because I was writing a rant blog about how frustrated and helpless I felt. If it hadn't been for blogging about it, I'm not sure I would have investigated what options I did have. So thanks to you all for reading and giving me a reason to write!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Clean-Up Time

I think part of what's held me back from blogging over the past week or so is that I've been casting around for positive, light-hearted topics to write about. But really, I'm in a pissy mood so I've given up on going for light and breezy. Just to warn you.

First of all, I'm feeling stressed. Why? Well, primarily because I'm me. Hi! Have we met? If we have, then you already know that I have the type of personality that gravitates towards Stress and Panic and Insane To Do Lists. Or even if we haven't met in person, reading a few of my blog entries should clue you in pretty quickly.

However, I have been working on these tendencies (and will continue to until the day I die, I'm sure. It's on my to-do list!). And there are other circumstances for the increased stress level. Eleanor's third birthday party is a week and a half away. So we're trying to buy presents, organize party details, and clean the house. Except we haven't really done any of that, because we've been focused on getting her new room (the former study/guest bedroom) ready at the same time. It's a lot.

But that's not all! And this is the part that's really bothering me. Our next-door neighbor, whose tan house is visible next to our driveway in the picture above, is getting his house painted. The paint has been peeling for awhile and it's long overdue and it will be great when it's done.

The part that really bothers me is that it is, of course, lead paint. His house was built the same year as ours, and I have no doubt there's lead paint all over the exterior. But see, he hasn't tested for lead paint so he doesn't know 100% for certain that there's existing lead paint.
Plus, no children under 6 or pregnant women live in the house—I guess the fact that we're two feet away from the offending exterior paint is completely irrelevant—so he and his contractors aren't required to follow any lead-safe practices in paint removal.

They've been scraping, sanding, power-washing his house for over a week now. Since July 4th weekend, I've been watching as lead paint chips, large and small, and lead paint dust (which is even worse) coat our house, side porch, yard, etc. Watching from inside the house, running our air conditioner with the windows closed on beautiful summer days.

Our neighbor is not a bad guy. He is actually quite a nice person, and a very considerate neighbor. He even scheduled the workers to start on a long weekend when he knew we were planning to be out of town, because he knows about all of our lead issues. I don't really think, as an individual homeowner, he should have to choose on his own to follow lead-safe practices that will cost him significantly more to get the job done.

I do blame the government. I haven't quite decided yet which branch. But I don't believe that homeowners who live 2 feet from a 2-year-old's driveway/play area should have the choice to release lead paint and dust all throughout the environment. Something is very wrong here. You're telling all consumers that lead paint is very dangerous to a young child's brain development, and as parents we need to spend more than $20k to make our home safe .... but 2 feet away, the same rules don't apply?

For a week and a half now, I've been watching with despair as lead paint chips and dust covers our property that we've spent so much money to have cleaned up and remediated. It makes me feel helpless to ensure a healthy life for my children in even the most basic way. If I can't keep a known hazard out of our immediate environment, what can I do?

In 2008, the EPA issued a "rule requiring the use of lead-safe practices," and it was due to start being enforced in April 2010. (I say "due to start" because I know there was push-back from contractors' associations and it's not clear to me if it's actually being enforced or not.) This required contractors who were disturbing more than 20 feet of exterior paint to follow lead-safe practices in "pre-1978 housing and child-occupied facilities." According to this, the government has just recently decided that the house next door to children and pregnant women does need to be treated the same way, with the same precautions. I can guarantee you that more than 20 feet of paint has been disturbed.

So now what?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I'm to That Point in Pregnancy

We were at Home Depot last week, and I was exhausted. (Was it this past week? One before? It's hard to know, since it feels like we spend part of every week there, lately.) Right at the beginning of July, I remembered that we had been telling Eleanor she'd move into her new Big Girl Room for her birthday. Yet her birthday was only a few weeks away, and we hadn't even started on getting her room ready. Not good. But anyway! That's a different post.

Just believe me when I say we were in Home Depot, again, and I was worn out. Keith and Eleanor were walking about 10 feet in front of me. Eleanor ran back to me so she could hand me something to carry (Thanks, sweetie!) and then she ran back to Keith. I felt like I had a glazed look in my eye, thinking of all the work to be done and how much I'd rather be in bed.

A store worker, relatively young black woman, looked at me and said, "So, when are you due?"

And that's when I officially passed That Point in the pregnancy. The point where I'm obviously pregnant, not just retaining water or still carrying baby weight from 3 years ago. The point where strangers feel free to ask and comment. Last week was the first time it happened, and then it happened again this morning when I went to the campus cafeteria for a muffin.

This is one of my biggest problems with pregnancy. I mean, I'm not a fan of nausea, heart burn, weight gain in general ... we all know there's a lot of physical discomforts. But what discomforts me more is the public side of it. Generally, I'm a very private person. It's very difficult for me to accept that this major event in my life, and the state of my body, has now become a perfectly acceptable topic of conversation with complete strangers.

I know they mean well. People are excited to ask about it; they are smiling, thinking of their own children or grandchildren or nieces and nephews. Is it weird that I still find it a little invasive?

(The belly pic is from my pregnancy with Eleanor, at 6.5 months which is what I'm at now. I haven't done nearly as good with the belly pictures this time around, although I'd have to guess my 6.5 month picture for #2 would be a lot bigger!)

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Photo Challenge: Nighttime


This week's Shutterboo Weekly Photo Challenge word is "Nighttime." Thinking about nighttime in the summer reminds of schedules in general. Or the complete lack thereof. Does any other parents out there get frustrated at how impossible it is to get the kids to bed on time in the summer, or is that just me?

The weekends are always a mess from May through August. Between vacations and camping and birthday parties and picnics ... if we get Eleanor one good nap and to bed within an hour of her bedtime on a summer weekend, we're doing great.

But oftentimes it seems like weeknights are just as bad. It's the damn sunlight! It can be something as simple as walking down the street, enjoying the weather, and talking with neighbors. We haven't really "gone" anywhere or done much of anything, but suddenly we're a half hour behind schedule. Last night, Keith's work gave out tickets to the Zoo. From 6-9pm. Usually (in the colder months) we start bedtime routine at 6:45 and it's lights out at 7:30. Last night, we were not even out of the Zoo parking lot by 9pm, and that was just a random Wednesday night!

Of course, the crux of the problem is that we want to do these activities. We want to talk to our neighbors and go to the zoo and go camping. But I want to keep her on a somewhat normal schedule, to be a well-rested, happy child. Are these two goals completely incompatible in the summer? It often feels that way.

At least, when Keith took the picture above, he was on his own. Eleanor was in bed, asleep, and I was on the couch, thinking about how I should be asleep as well. I love summer. But it's hectic and chaotic and by mid-August when we've had (at least this summer) ONE weekend with no plans since the beginning of May .... I'm longing for the shorter days, cooler winds, and relatively calmer days of Fall. Of course, ask me what's more frustrating in the middle of February when we're all tired of the snow and cold and being cooped up, and I'll laugh at myself for being so whiney about all our summer plans!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Toddler Inertia

I'd meant to blog about this topic with all of the other vacation posts, but didn't quite get around to it. And that's okay, because it's equally as applicable to everyday life: toddler inertia.*

I guess it stuck out to me on vacation, however, because I wasn't really expecting it. I mean, who argues when someone says, "Let's go build (and destroy) sand castles at the beach!" The correct answer, of course, is that Eleanor does. At length, and at great volume, and with various kicks and pouts.

It's one thing when she does it at home. It has become so hard to get her out of the house. Even to do something (pick out new library books, go to the playground, visit friends down the street, etc.) that she said she wanted to do 2 minutes ago. But when it comes down to actual movement, she balks. She stalls. She doesn't want to stop doing whatever it is she's doing at that very moment. Even if she's just playing with a piece of cardboard. Or, as she was the other morning, carrying around a raw baking potato so she could do a "potato dance."

(The key, Eleanor informed me, is that in a potato dance you just jump straight up and down. There is no forward leaping in a potato dance.)

If she's wearing a nightgown, she won't put on clothes. If she's in the living room, she doesn't want to play in the attic playroom. If she's reading books in her room, she doesn't want to go downstairs, even if it's already 9:30am and she hasn't eaten breakfast yet.

I suppose, if I were trying to put a positive spin on it, I could talk about how this shows that she is living in the moment, not always looking to the past or the future. She has embraced the Now so fully that she can't think or do past this very moment. She's already a Zen master and she's not even 3!

Except, I don't really think that's true. I think she's stubborn. Which is why she'll fight to stay put, no matter how boring her current activity and how exciting the proffered one. That is what I learned on vacation. It's not just that she doesn't want to do boring, everyday activities like grocery shopping or doctor's appointments. She also doesn't want to do ... exactly what she wants to do?

A few months ago, I felt bad because I'd pretty much ignored her for the better part of a week while I frantically tried to prepare for the start of the summer semester. So, once my online class was under control, I told her that tomorrow was going to be an Eleanor/Mommy day and we could do whatever she wanted. What did she want to do?

After talking about a few different options, she eventually decided that she wanted me to run with her, in the jogging stroller, to a nearby playground where we could play and have a picnic snack outside. It sounded great to me! I made the mistake of getting excited about our plans. And then, the next morning, I couldn't get her out of the house. After wheedling and cajoling for over half an hour to get her to please put down the book she's already "read" a million times and participate in the activities she has chosen for herself, I gave up. We sat and read the books.

Obviously, sometimes I have to fight the inertia. If we need to be somewhere, I have to suck it up and drag her out the door somehow. But it's the other times, when activities are really optional, that I can't figure out what to do. Won't she be glad, in the end, if we go? Is it really worth the fight? Doesn't she need new people and activities? Or should I just give in and, in situations where it doesn't matter, just do what she wants to at that moment? Even if it is her fifth tuber twirl?

Right now, I think I probably split it down the middle. Sometimes I stand my ground and force her to have fun, dammit. And sometimes, when I'm really tired and it's been a long week, I just sigh and throw my hands up and hand over the potato. No forward progress for that day, just jumping in place.

* For the record, Keith and I disagree about who first coined the term "inertia" for Eleanor's behavior. Because it's such an apt term, we both think it's ours. Of course, I'm the one with the blog, so I think in the end, I'll get credit:) But to be fair, I thought I should mention the disputed ownership.