Sunday, May 30, 2010

Year End Blues

Originally posted on NYC Moms Blog - May 30, 2010
  June is nearly here.  The weather has gotten hot and the school calendar is FULL.  Things are about to be busy, busy busy as they always are at this time of year.  With kids in school June always feels slightly like a heady roll down a very steep hill to me.  It seems like it will be great fun when you lie down at the top of the hill but as you pick up speed you begin to realize that you've lost any semblance of control and the hill is really running the show.
This year our June is jammed with field trips and class plays, dance performances, publishing parties and potlucks as well as two half days off sandwiched between the mysterious "Chancellor's Day" a full day off in the middle of the week.  To top it off my daughter is graduating from fifth grade and moving on to middle school.  So that adds a ceremony and a party to the calendar.  She also has designs on organizing a sleepover.  Put it all together and I find myself caught somewhere between "When will summer be here?" (which is usually what I spend June thinking) and "Wait! Wait! I'm not ready!!" 
So while I'll be packing lunches for field trips and pulling costumes together for performances and signing up for potluck food, taking photos and shooting video of all these moments the whole thing will be laced with a certain bittersweet awareness that life is again moving forward as it does with children.  They grow, they learn, they develop and change just as they should.  It always seems to happen just slightly before I'm ready for it.  
I am grateful in a way for being so busy.  And I'm grateful, too, for all the wonderful years in our cozy little "hippie school".  My younger one still has two more years there so it is not as if it is completely over.  But I will miss having both my kids at the same school.  I will miss being in and out of the classroom, helping at lunch, chaperoning field trips.  Those times have already begun to fade into memory as my kids have shifted away gradually from me and more toward their peers. I'm already at school less often than in years past.  
So bring on the changes, I'll manage.  I welcome all the new stuff that middle school will bring.  But forgive me if I shed a few tears for those days gone by.  And thank you brilliant teachers and administrators for keeping me so busy this spring that I'll just not have much time to shed those tears too heavily into my iced coffee.
This is an original post to NYC Moms Blog.
Jessica Ciosek is a writer living in Soho with her family.  She'll be wearing sunglasses a lot this June.

The Dog Run Is Like the Playground

Originally posted to NYC Moms Blog - May 30, 2010
 Okay, okay.  I was warned.  A dog is a lot of work.  It is like having another kid, people said.  Especially when you live in the city.  And, admittedly, it has been a lot of work.  But he is a sweet guy and I love having him.  But no, it is not like when I had a dog as a kid.  Then you could let the dog out the door and expect he'll show up again sometime later all exercised and hungry.  Of course, I don't think anyone does that anymore, even in the suburbs, but at least there you have a yard.  Here, if you want your puppy to get real off-the-leash exercise, you have to take him to the dog run.  That was the part of puppy ownership I was not fully prepared for.  It's like before you were pregnant and you'd walk right by the playground without a second glance.  Then you got the baby itch and you'd look longing over the fence your eyes all wide, you might even have uttered "awww, look how cute."  Then you had that baby and the next thing you knew the playground was your second home and you started to learn that not all of those babies or toddlers or preschoolers are as cute as they look from the other side of the fence.  That's what the dog run is beginning to look like for me.  
When we first got the dog in October I thought maybe we would go to the run, maybe not.  Then, as he grew it became apparent he was really going to need the dog run at some point.  On advice from our vet we waited until he was older.  Closer to seven months because the dog run can be a dirty place.  When we first went it seemed ideal.  There was some big dog rough-housing that I had to get used to but with support from the other owners I did.  Mostly my worries were that my dog was somehow not being "doggish" enough.  He is a hyper beast and, I thought, maybe annoying to the other dogs.  Everyone assured me he was just a puppy, no worries, he was normal.  It was a lot like the experienced mother in the playground who reassures you your kid will someday stop eating sand.  
Eventually, we started making the dog run a regular part of the dog's day.  In the last two weeks we have even worked out a routine.  After I drop the kids off, workout, shower, eat breakfast, then Ollie and I head out to the run.  And most days it is great. Often the same small group of older women are there who know each other and some of the dog walkers.  There's another guy who's dog is really mellow.  And there's usually a mix of other dogs and people including us.
Ollie plays really well (I cannot believe I am writing this like he's one of my kids or something) with the one of the older woman's dogs, a shaggy black and white guy, very sweet. He also likes a brown dog who comes with a dog walker.  Otherwise he usually finds some dog with similar energy and does that whole dog playtime thing.  If you've never seen dogs play it's kind of like little boys wrestling -- with teeth.  They are playing hard, tackling each other, rolling on the ground but it's all good fun.  What is disarming with dogs are those teeth, sharp and gleaming and kind of always right there in the middle of things.  Similar to when little boys play karate or ninja or something.  They are kicking and chopping and well it all looks like someone could get hurt any second.  Yet they claim they are playing and no one is getting hurt.  It's hard to know, being a girl who only wrestled occasionally when I was young, where that line really is.  So you put your faith in the boys that they intuitively know where the line is and you hope to get some clue that maybe you should step in before someone gets hurt.  
It's the same with the dogs only none of us were dogs when we were young - at least one person in most families was once a boy.  So it's hard to know, especially as a new owner where that line really is -- it all looks a little like it could turn in to blood shed at a moment's notice.  And dogs, as Cesar Millan often reminds us, are pack animals so if something starts getting crazy between a couple of them the others seem to sense it and the next thing you know there's a group after one dog and we the humans can only try our best to break it all up.  
So far we've been lucky.  Ollie has only had two incidents at the run where he was that dog who managed to get on the wrong side of the de facto pack leader.  But all those times the owners of the other dogs stepped in along side me to break things up and restore our tenuous grasp on order.  You know, like it takes a village to raise a kid, all the grown ups work together to help socialize kids on the playground.  Same kind of thing, dog owners work together to make sure the beasts behave.  But then there are those times you get the parent or the nanny who just doesn't want to deal with their "boisterous" child or maybe the adult is not the most well-behaved adult who ever entered a playground.  So the whole playground crowd sort of begins to steer clear of that team.  
Well, yesterday was like that in the dog run.  We went a little later than usual - first mistake.  My dog was a little extra hyper from our tardy arrival, then ornery dog showed up.  He was on the prowl for someone to get after, growling and nosing around indiscriminately.  Well, my dear dog is one of those friendly-to-a-fault kind of guys and he's a puppy.  So who do you think got singled out?  And before I knew it five dogs were chasing him and nipping at him.  He was on the ground curled up.  Honestly, I've seen this happen before at the dog run but usually the other dog owners generally step in and help break it up.  Like in the playground when some kid is treating everyone badly. Not so much yesterday.  No one even got up from the benches.  And well, the mean dog's owner was certainly not making himself evident.  
It reminded me of the time when my daughter was two and some little kid was throwing sand at everyone.  All the grownups kept telling him no.  But there seemed to be no grownup with him.  Ultimately it escalated to throwing toys and still no one was in charge of this boy.  Finally, when the sand box cleared the boy ran off to find his grown up.  She was clear across the park unable even to see the sand.  That's what this dog owner was like - nowhere to be seen.  Well, in the end it was too much for my dog, so I got him out, all the while batting with my bag at the dogs who were still after him.  
Finally, as I was attaching his leash, the mean dog's owner reveals himself by praising his dog!!  "Good girl, good girl," he's telling her as they are leaving.  I could have boiled a kettle with how pissed I was. It's like that dad in the playground who winks at his kid, all proud papa like after he's just stolen three toys and injured a baby.  
The whole incident made we wonder why I ever decided a dog was a good idea.  I was so grateful when I was finally done with playground politics - only to be thrown back in - in the canine world.  And, dogs, of course, never really outgrow the playground!  I must be crazy!!

This is an original post for NYC Moms Blog.

Jessica Ciosek lives with her family and their dog in Soho.             
Posted by Jess C on May 30, 2010 at 06:00 AM in Jessica | Permalink
dogs, dog ownership, dog runs, playgrounds, playground politics, Jessica Ciosek, Jess Ciosek, NYC Moms Blog
Geekymummy said...
Great post! For us the dog park came before the playground, and now the dog park outings are delegated to the dog walker. I miss the old days where dogs were allowed in the children playground, as I've learned that toddlers are a bit of a liability in the dig run.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sometimes Parents Do Know Best

Originally posted to NYC Moms Blog - April 28, 2010
 Never in a million years did I think I'd find myself siding with NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.  For most of our overlapping tenure - mine as a parent, his as the "leader" of the NYC public schools I have whole-heartedly disagreed with him.  His non-stance on class sizes astounds me, his celebration of standardized testing confounds me and his infatuation with charter schools dumbfounds me.  Don't get me started on the simplest things like snow days.  But a recent NY Times article has me agreeing, shockingly, with Mr. Klein.
It seems layoffs of some 8,500 public school teachers are planned for this year (see what I mean about class size reduction? - maybe Goldman Sachs could fund reduced class sizes - sorry - I digress).  It seems Mr Klein has suggested eschewing the "last in, first out" method of deciding who gets laid off - meaning the most recent hires will be the first laid off, in favor of a performance based system of evaluation and lay off. 
Frankly I could not agree more!  

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Art of Parenting

I've always felt like parenting was much more of an art than a science. Despite all the "What to Expects" and T Berry Brazeltons, all the well-meaning grandparents, not-so-well-meaning playground moms, I've always felt that you had to trust your gut when it comes to raising the specific little individuals you are blessed with guiding through this world. After all who besides you knows that your kid will eat a ham sandwich with mustard only if it is on a baggette or that his hot dog must have the ketchup first and then the mustard. And, who but you knows that when your daughter has a meltdown over homework it is not a sign of her intelligence or lack there of but an indication that someone hurt her feeelings at school and if you just patiently help her solve the algebra problem then she'll open up about the friend and you can help her through that, too.

At the end of the day, you're the mom or the dad and really, it's your call about your kids. You really do know best so trusting yourself is always the best move. I've always made the choice, when possible to chose doctors and dentists, other health care providers that honor the concept that in the end, mom knows best - they might have the medical knowledge and can give you options, but in the end parenting is a game of instinct.

It's also why I think it's so crazy when we judge each other as moms, parents. How can we really know what is right for someone else's kid? Sure, we might know how we'd do it if we were confronted with the challenge but how another mom chooses to approach a challenge with her child well, that's just her call, not any one else's.

That is what I found so refreshing about Hope Edelman's memoir "The Possibility of Everything". This was a mom confronted with a daunting challenge, a daughter whose behavior had changed drastically in a short time. Her radar went up and she knew she needed to get to the bottom of it. And the way she chose to do it, travel to Belize and visit a shaman, even in light of her own skepticism, is the greatest demonstration of "trusting your mom gut". She just knew on some level that the traditional Western medical approach to solving her daughter's challenge was not the best route. I applaud that instinct. Instead of worrying about what other people thought, she, along with her husband, made the decision they thought best for their daughter. And it worked! (full disclosure: I am myself a big believer in alternative therapies having benefited miraculously from them in my own life) But in the end, Hope's story is a refreshingly honest story of "the mom gut" and knowing what's right.

I also applaud Hope's brutal honesty. As painful as it must have been, she shares her own frustrations with the situation in such stark, honest detail I felt I wanted to reach through the book and and give her a hug, thanking her for admitting to the mistakes we all make when parenting meets monumental frustration. I think it is this kind of honesty that makes for a truly connecting experience within a family, among friends, for readers and ultimately between us all.

Monday, January 18, 2010

MLK's Monday

When you boil about it, Martin Luther King, Jr. was about courage. The courage to stand up for what he believed in, the courage of his convictions that his approach was the approach that could turn the tide, the courage to know that he might not make it to the mountaintop but that that mountaintop could be reached. And he was right in all his courageous glory. We have an African-American president, have for a year now and we just call him Mr. President like every other white guy before him. Imagine the courage it took Barak Obama to declare he was worthy to be president and ride it on through to win.

All amazing feats begin with and idea but are carried through by courage. And like the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz - we all have it in us - we just don't know it is there.

With a nod to the courage in all of us - may it see us through any challenge, any strife, any doubt in the dark hours of the night. And, most especially, courage to those in Haiti and around the world whose lives truly call for the deepest strength to survive.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday and Haiti

I sat down this afternoon with the idea of posting about the Sunday blues I inevitably get every unplanned Sunday afternoon. I opened my browser, the NY Times home page came up and I was humbled out of my comfortable ennui by a photo of a man, his head buried in his arms praying inside a cracked but still standing church in Port-au-Prince. And I realized how fortunate I am to be able to feel something like the Sunday blues. How lucky to live in such comfort here in the US that I can feel down just for having a dull day on my hands. I sit here with laundry to do, my house just cleaned, a work project I am avoiding and well, just a rainy Sunday afternoon in the city. I don't really have anything I want to do but go for a run, I don't have anything that has to be done today and that seems like something to feel down about. While this poor man has suffered untold loss his family? his home? his entire life as he knew it?

I scroll through the rest of the photos and see people praying, they're hands raised to the sky pain on their faces. I am not a religious person but I pray sometimes, meditate, think a lot about the bigger picture and my role in it. If I were struck with such a tragedy I'd like to know I'd have the conviction to reach to heaven for some salvation. Another photo is of a young boy waiting, his eyes anxious for bags of water for his family. What if I had to send my son to "wait for bags of water" instead of just turning on the tap and letting it run over our hands, into our Brita for not only a fresh drink but filtered of all impurities, too. The next photo shows a young boy his hands raised to the sky not in prayer but as he and a man are confronted by police in the wake of looters. Later a body burns on the streets, a looter killed by a mob. Oh my word, it is a cushy life we live, I should be more grateful.

Still it does not stymie my discontent, I am horrified by the loss, the pain and I feel more down, more useless, more pointless than ever. I should volunteer, should help somehow make it better. We sent money, the kids' school is planning a dance-a-thon next week. Still . . .

Once I read something about how when people lose it all it makes life so much simpler. It becomes about survival and that in itself is simple. I could see that, I don't wish it for myself, my family or anyone else for that matter, but I get it. Watched a movie last night, "The Hurt Locker" and it points that up - a great movie - really intense - beautifully shot by a woman director - about an army bomb squad in Iraq. As the movie progresses a "cowboy" kind of guy joins the squad and we watch how he tempts fate unconcerned with the danger he faces. Then, he ends his tour and goes home and finds the array of cereal boxes in his local grocery store overwhelmingly mundane. He re-enlists because at least in harm's way what he is doing makes sense.

Life doesn't make sense a lot of the time: tragedy, depression, war, loss. And in those times I guess the only logical response is to reach for love. Maybe it is the only thing that does make sense. So tonight I held me kids a little tighter and worked a little harder to make dinner tasty - because that is some form of survival, too, right?

With thoughts, prayers, peace and strength and most of all love to all those affected by the Haitian earthquake.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Who Put the "HE" in Laundry?

Last week I was invited to an event "Bubbles & Bubbly" hosted by WiskHE laundry detergent. It was a fun and really informative event not only about high efficiency (HE) laundry detergent and why it is so important to use it in a high efficiency (HE) machine (I do not have said machine - but you can enter to win one here). But we also got to don the lab coats and the cutest rubber gloves and pretend to be scientists; we learned about the importance of bubbles in champagne - (what a chore to have to taste really amazing champagne for 20 minutes) - and then we listened in on the amazing bubble reader as she predicted fortunes for a few lucky women in the crowd.

But by far, the funniest moment of the night was when a fellow (male) blogger suggested that the whole idea of adding "HE" to detergent was to get men to do the laundry. Ha! In this house, that will be the day! Of course, I'm not too interested in taking out the garbage either - so I guess we are even. Now I have to get back to folding my oft-neglected clean towels.

PS - the WiskHE detergent really does work just as well as regular detergent - even in my low-efficiency, but perfectly acceptable, machine!