Wednesday, September 05, 2007

O to be in England (and other tales)

In the late nineties, I lived in England for a year, getting a master's degree in Russian. (As I said to everyone who asked, "I'm the only person ever to study in England for the great food and fabulous weather.") I'm still good friends with a few people from that year, and one of them paid us a brief visit last weekend while in the country for an academic conference.

She's not Jewish, and has stayed with us before on Shabbos so knew the drill. Our front door (we live in an apartment building, remember) is not Shabbos-friendly (electric lock) but our back door opens directly into the backyard. So I told her to come right in the back. Friday night, right before MHH got home, I heard the doorbell ring. The front doorbell. Hmm--did she forget? Weird. I couldn't buzz her up, obviously, so I propped open our door, and ran down to let her in.

"It IS the right house! I was so worried!"

"Why? Didn't you see the number?"

"I did, but you said that I should come in the back. I couldn't find your back door, so I thought this must not be it!"

"What?" We live in a square building surrounded on all sides by a fenced-in grass yard. How could she not find the back door?

"I couldn't find the back of the building! I was walking up and down the street, and I went in the alley but it was dark, and my bag was heavy, and I didn't know what to do and couldn't find anyone to ask."

I was totally confused. "You saw the number on the house, right? Why didn't you just walk around the building to the back?"

Blank pause. "Well there's no path, or anything!"

I start remembering that she is not only English, but very very English.

"You just walk on the grass."

"Walk on the grass?" Stare of shock and disbelief. "Oh. Right." Pause. "People do that?!"

Ah, England.

I don't miss England generally, but I do miss certain things about it: Cadbury Dairy Milk with Caramel (she brought me two five-packs!), Minstrels (two bags!) and Marmite (big fat jar!) I don't eat Marmite that often, just because I rarely eat toast, but when you want Marmite nothing else will do. (Speak to me not of Vegemite, for it is but a pale wimpy imitation.) I do, however, have a rather strange modus operendi when it comes to Marmite consumption. A little backstory:

I developed my taste for Marmite before living in England, when I lived with a few English people with a penchant for the deliciously tarry goop. Then I went to Russia for the summer. The weather was fine, but there was almost nothing I could eat. I ate a lot of toast. A LOT of toast. And pancakes. With sour cream. Fattening food, but you get sick of it fast, and I lost about thirteen pounds in two months. Two weeks before I left, I was staying in a Moscow youth hostel and met a woman from Britain who was there for a week or so doing field work for her degree. In her bag was... a pot of Marmite. I definitely did not ask her to do this or even hint, but I guess my look of starved longing was such that she took pity on me and gave it to me. For the rest of the summer, I ate pancakes with sour cream--and Marmite. I am probably the only person in the world who thinks that sour cream and Marmite on pancakes is absolutely the perfect combination.

Fast-forward to today. This afternoon, Barak needed some Imma activity (more later on our, ah, behavioral issues these days) and we made carrot pancakes. I ate them with Marmite and sour cream. Then I gave some to Iyyar. He thought they were great.

In other Iyyar news, have I mentioned that this kid climbs? Yesterday I heard him toddling up the hall and remembered that Barak had just been in the bathroom, so went to check that the door was closed. It wasn't, and Iyyar was already in there. As I turned the corner to the bathroom, he was clambering up on Barak's potty stool. By the time I had my hands out to grab him--four feet later--he was standing on top of the closed toilet seat, hands out to clear the reading material off the top of the toilet tank so he could get up there. I had to relocate all the plastic drawers from under the crib, because he's been using them as stepping stools to climb up the crib's sides. And the activity table that we got as a baby gift for Barak, that Barak to this day has never thought of climbing? Yeah, he climbs up on that too. Gleefully.

The transition to toddlerhood will not be complete until Iyyar starts yelling "no!" but we are getting there. Yesterday he threw his first full-on toddler tantrum when I took something away that he wasn't quite done with--not "Hey, I want that back!" but "YOU ROTTEN EVIL MOTHER, I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU JUST TOOK THAT AWAY FROM ME! AAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!" He is still in a big phase of putting things into other things: blocks into bags, toys into bins, puzzle pieces into drawers, anything at all into the garbage can. You really have to watch him with the garbage can--a few days ago he threw out a shoe without my noticing. I was taking out the trash when I saw something suspiciously blue and leathery-looking in there. I would have been looking for that shoe for months, if not years.

And Barak--well, where to start? Let us just say that Barak is in something of a defiant phase. Let us hope, anyway, that it is a phase. "Barak, please put that book back on the shelf." "I don't want to. I'm busy." "Barak, I asked you to put that on the shelf. Please put it on the shelf." "I don't want to." Etc. I feel very strongly that it is not wise to let such behavior go, but naturally do not want to be in a state of constant battle. It's especially difficult because Barak is normally pretty amenable to suggestion, likes helping, etc., and we get on very well--so I don't like escalating things, always counting and using time-outs and leaving him alone in his room while he tantrums himself out. But what else to do? Yesterday we went over to Morah Shapiro's house and, on the way down her high, steep, and treacherous spiral back stairs, Barak decided he did not want to go home and threw a fit RIGHT ON THE STAIRS. There I am, holding a 16-month-old Iyyar squirming in one arm, Barak endangering life and limb on these stairs, and I can't even grab him and bear him bodily homeward. I did get pretty angry, though, and got in his face to tell him so when I finally got him down the stairs.

Parenting suggestions?


Cecilia said...

"(Speak to me not of Vegemite, for it is but a pale wimpy imitation.)"

Can we still be friends after you have slandered the food of my people????


uberimma said...

I like other food of your people! Pavlovas are great. So are scallion pancakes, which I still haven't made. Hmm. Wonder how those would be with Marmite and sour cream...

miriamp said...

"You really have to watch him with the garbage can--a few days ago he threw out a shoe without my noticing."

And that, my friend, is why my kitchen (read: main) garbage can lives on top of a (sterilite, if that's relevant) step stool. By the time they can reach to throw things out, they're a little better about asking first. And they no longer take things back out to lick, yuck. (For example, a disposable that had frosting in it. I really don't remember why frosting was in a disposable cup, but I do remember finding the toddler with it. And I rarely bother frosting anything.)

As for defiant 3 year olds, umm, yeah. I would treat it (not listening) as something that needs to be stopped now, but not as a fight. At least when I'm thinking and not just reacting.

But really, don't see it as a power struggle. Try to remember that listening to/obeying parents is a mitzvah just as much as leaving the lights alone on Shabbos, and just as spiritually important as wearing a helmet for riding bikes is important for physical safety. Then just keep calmly correcting him without taking it personally, and he'll outgrow it eventually, in about 5-20 years. (Hopefully much sooner! My girls are better about this than my boys are. (boys are 10 and 4, and it's much, much worse at 4.))

jasmin said...

Mmmm. Pavlovas! Scallion pancakes!

BTW, Cecilia, when arranging the travels we're doing later this year, the man we were talking to said, hesitantly, "most of the other passengers, and some of the crew, will be Australian. There will probably be a lot of lamb and Vegemite. Will that be OK?" I guess he thought that b/c we're officially American, it would be a deal breaker, and he was greatly relieved when we told him otherwise.

The parenting, well. I can only offer comfort that this, too, will pass, or at least lessen. I won't try to give a timeline, though.

I miss England, though not as much as my mother does. I miss the cubes of "jelly", rhubarb pie with custard, all that green growing, red buses, front doors that don't open right into the living room, cool temperatures and lots of rain, small shops, gooseberries, wellies. Some of these may be just as common in other parts of the US, but since I came straight from England to LA, I couldn't say.

Deborah said...

Marmite?! Bleh! Of course, my only interaction with it (and Vegemite, for that matter--another "Bleh") was when I was 17. It might now be just the ticket.
I have noticed that there is a current inverse relationship between foods my children consider bitter or icky tasting and my liking them. And a similar inverse relationship about ones they really like which I now consider waay too sweet. Maybe it is an age thing.

And about Barak? I find it much harder not to take defiance personally when they are in their teens. Miriam is correct, I think, about trying not to take it personally.

He does need to get to a place where he has integrated into his little being that he is not in charge. And for us, it was (and still is, sometimes) about a power struggle. Young children really do want to know they are not in control--but they don't seem to recognize that need sometimes. In my not very humble opinion,it really is in his best interest to keep on top of this. Everyone will be happier in the long run.

The testing of boundaries indicated my young kids needed more help (and discipline is a form of help!) and/or clarity (and discipline provides clarity!) about what was permissible and not behaviorally. Consistency is key.

And could this be related to needing more Mama time? Just a wonder.

uberimma said...

I figured it was about needing more mama time, too, and arranged my weekend to totally max out the mama time. Iyyar got a lot of time with his Abba. I'm not sure if it helped or not. I asked my babysitter, who is amazing with toddlers and has worked with them much longer than I've had them, what she thought. She said "totally normal three and a half year old behavior--he's getting more independent and testing the limits." Then she said, "It gets worse when they're four." Just what I wanted to hear...