Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Striving for excellence or accepting reality

Occasionally I have clients with whom, for whatever reason, maybe even for just a few moments, I identify. And sometimes in these conversations I briefly let down my social worker filter and I just talk to them. I don’t mean that I do this in an inappropriate way. On the contrary, it’s a way of thinking about clients that I believe is essential to providing good services. What I mean is that I let go of a little bit of the “us vs. them” mentality. I think about what I would want or would do, if chance dealt me the same hand it dealt them. I open my mouth and find myself giving the same advice or empathy that I would give a friend.

The other day I was meeting with a mother. She was speaking with me about her daycare dilemma, about the conflict between staying at home with her child and going out into the world and pursuing money and knowledge. This is practically a universal debate among modern women. I did a research project on this issue back in high school, I debated about it with my college roommate who was studying social policy, and flame wars are fought daily about it on the mommy internets. I found myself spouting information about research that shows that high-quality daycare does not harm children or their attachment with their parents. And as I was soliloquizing about this, my client looked at me and asked in a concerned voice, “what do you mean by ‘high-quality’?” I stopped. Awareness of who I was talking to seeped back into mind. I answered, honestly but with a filter, “well, things like not just sitting in front of the TV all day doing nothing else.” “Oh,” she replied, with the same level of concern in her voice. Yes, it turned out, that is primarily what her daycare provider does. My attempt to reassure had backfired horribly. In all honesty, her child is doing great. The toddler is developing normally, is loved, and is certainly solidly attached to the mother in front of me. I finished as gracefully as possible, encouraging the mom to provide stimulation outside of daycare hours but also reassuring her that daycare would not be damaging.

But it left me thinking. Do I believe that this mother should have to settle for the TV babysitter? By saying yes, I perpetuate poverty. Decades of research on Head Start show how important early childhood education can be. But high-quality daycare is a limited and expensive commodity. I turned on my internal social worker and backpedaled to say “it’s okay.” Maybe I was even right. But I know it’s not what I would say if I was having the same conversation with my sister, or a friend. Can it somehow be true both that it’s okay for her child and that it’s not okay for my nephew? Would I do my client a better service by saying “no, it’s not okay, but it’s all you can get”?

On Surrey Biking

You may have noticed our long absence from blogging. Or, more probably, you were on vacation with us and therefore did not. But for those of you not related to me, we're home from a lovely week at the Jersey Shore! Before you ask, no, we did not run into The Situation or any of the other show characters, nor did we participate in any of their antics. We were in God's Square Mile, people! Haha, okay, I crack myself and no one else up.

I intended to blog this while we were gone. I even told Becky I was going to do it. But I didn't, so here it is now. The story of the surrey bike.

Once upon a time we were planning a trip to the shore. We thought, what kind of wacky kid-friendly activities can we lure the family in with? Surrey bikes are pretty wacky. And they come with child seats - perfect! We originally thought for Jen and Sean and us and the babies. But then my parents wanted to try. So off we went!

Even looking at this picture now makes me giggle a little. Note the ominous black cloud in the background. We didn't note it. So, a few minutes after we're pedaling along, looking for someone to take our photo, that cloud starts to drip drip drip. Within minutes it is full-on pouring.

We rush back to the bike shop to protect our toddler cargo. We inquire about the rain policy. No refunds, rental rain or shine, says the employee. Great. Major biking fail. But wait! It's a slow day he says. Come back if it stops, you can finish your time. We run to the big building at the end of the pier to wait out the storm. I carry Matthew, and completely wipe out on the slippery floor. I make sure that he lands in my lap and hardly even notices we fell, and then look up to see at least a dozen people all staring concernedly at me and my tiny charge.

We hem and haw about what to do as the rain pounds down. We snack, toddlers grow impatient. And just as we're seriously considering giving up, the rain lets up, the boardwalk starts to dry, and the sun peeks through. Friendly bike employee graciously allows all eight of us to climb back on board the bike. And then the drips start. Rain is caught in the canopy. No biggie we think, we'll just push it up to dump it off. Cue rain water pouring down on Thomas, who starts screaming. Everyone off again, comfort baby, clear water collection, borrow towel to dry off bike. We're on again, pedaling furiously to the farthest end of the boardwalk we plan to go! Cue flat tire.

We walk the bike, complete with my mom perched at the steering wheel, back to the shop. We contemplate accepting defeat. But I don't want to accept biking fail! Still gracious bike employee granted us another extension and sent us off with a four seater.

By this point everything was hilarious. We took turns a bit and pedaled furiously around once again. The babies grinned, the adults sweated like mad, and bike fail was miraculously avoided. And you know what? Later in the week, most of us cited it as one of the best parts of the vacation. So there it is. Surrey bikes mean family bonding. I guess the Governor's Island Jews had it right.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lazy, Lazy Us

We leave for vacation in...5 days. And so far the extent of our preparations has been some disorganized attempts at making packing lists (I think there are at least 2 or 3 different lists floating around--why consolidate when we can have MORE CHAOS?) Oh, and did I mention that before leaving for vacation, we'll be hosting guests overnight? I think standard etiquette dictates that we have some clean sheets and towels for them. And maybe we might want to take some clean clothes on our trip. And perhaps in light of the guests (including their 16-month-old menaces) coming, and us leaving the cats while we're gone, we might want to think about trying to make sure the house isn't a complete and total disaster. Those dishes overflowing the kitchen sink? We might need to wash those. And given our failed attempt at camping this weekend, perhaps we should put all the camping stuff away instead of leaving it in the middle of the kitchen floor? But wait, there's still camping stuff in the car that needs to come inside and also get put away, not just dumped in the entry way.

Pretty much, we're in no way prepared to head for the beach for a week, but yet this vacation cannot come fast enough. Somehow the house will get miraculously de-disasterified and everything will get packed, despite the fact that both of us anticipate working some 12-hour days this week in preparation for a week off.

So what did we do this weekend instead of cleaning and preparing to leave? Well, we just hit the 4-month mark on the wedding, and panic mode is starting to set in. We hardly left the couch, but we did manage to (hopefully!) finish designing our invitations. And sorted out some other stuff. And designed a photo guestbook. And read the entire internet (that last step is essential for planning a wedding, right?)

So while it wasn't visible progress, and I'm scared for the amount that needs to get done this week, I'm glad for the semi-relaxing semi-productive weekend. And I'm ecstatic about the upcoming vacation. Only 5 more days!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Happy Birthday America

My first (but Becky's like eighth!) three day weekend of the summer has come and gone, sadly, but we did a good job at enjoying it.

Saturday we mostly business, doing errands and putzing around the house. We did make time though to finally visit a new ice cream shop that opened a few weeks ago about a block from our apartment. It has a huge selection of gelato-ish ice cream with a selection of flavors that I think could only be found in New Jersey. They range from tiramisu to flan to sambayon to guanabana. And pretty much everything in between. I got nutella, Becky got Reese's Pieces and vanilla chocolate chip. Verdict: Yum. After our errands we decided to trek to the bottom of the cliff and try out P.F. Chang's for dinner as well. Verdict: Tasty but over-price. And at the bottom of the cliff. However, on the way there we did both get a good chuckle out of the Mexican restaurant fully decked out to celebrate the fourth.

Sunday we got up "early" and made it into Manhattan for an 11am showing of Toy Story 3. Yes, we got to a movie theater by 11am. Shocking, I know. With a one-day-only coupon printed from the internet and the pre-noon matinee price we actually managed to get two popcorns, a large soda, and two 3-D movie tickets - in Manhattan - for only $23 TOTAL. TOTAL. I kid you not. Movie theater popcorn is so evil and yet so delicious, and I want that coupon to come back.

For the fireworks we walked to the our-town-only viewing area. Which meant that we walked past crowds of people jammed together to get a decent view into front-row riverside seats with hardly anyone there. (Admittedly it was pretty full by the time the fireworks started.) We laid out our lovely Air New Zealand blanket and enjoyed a picnic while watching the sunset reflected in the side of Manhattan.

And finally the fireworks came! We had a perfect view of all six sets being shot up and pretty much felt like we were in the middle of it all. A little kid behind us kept saying "This is the best fireworks EVER!" I agree, little boy, I agree.

Monday we figured the only logical thing to do on a holiday in almost 100 degree heat was to go to the beach. Becky and I and two friends loaded up the car with another picnic, slathered sunscreen over every inch of ourselves, and drove to the shore. There were hardly any waves, which was a bit disappointing, but I'm still superly excited for our upcoming vacation. Only four more work days (and enough work to fill an entire month) left...!