Friday, October 31, 2008

Hugs and kisses

Joris's kissing skills have evolved from him first presenting his head when asked for a kiss, to a slack-jawed touching of his face against ours, to him now pursing his lips together and saying "mmm-ma!"

After the first kiss, he used to turn our heads, so he could kiss the other cheek as well and when he'd given me a kiss he, very equitably, would turn to anyone else in the room and present them with a smooch as well.

In the past few weeks he has discovered that anything can be kissed and can give kisses. It started with his stuffed animals, who will be kissed by him, then give him kisses and then insist on being kissed by us as well, after which they may kiss each other. He has since moved on to kissing plastic toys, toy cars, the cats and, yesterday, the freshly carved pumpkin.

I'm considering it a step up from the eating phase - one time he was playing with a sheep and dog figure in the car. He started touching them together and saying "Hap! Hap!" (bite), followed by "mmmmmm". The carnivorous sheep has now switched to kissing.

Avery, the little girl we watch twice a week, has been practicing "smoochy kisses" where she will purse her lips and plant a big, wet kiss whenever you ask. She is also an expert hugger. Until recently she'd come up to Joris to give him a hug and he would just stand there kind of awkwardly or try to back up, and shrug her off.

But on Tuesday when I told Joris "Tomorrow we are going to play with Avery", he said "mmm-ma!"

"You want to kiss Avery?"

"Ja"

And sure enough, on Wednesday, as soon as he saw her he went over to give her a big kiss.

Later that day, I had put them both in Avery's crib for a few minutes because they like hanging out there and I needed to go to the bathroom without worrying about them climbing up the stairs. When I got back into the room they were exchanging hugs and kisses; first Avery would lean in and give Joris a kiss, immediately followed by a hug, which he now seemed to enjoy and even accommodate. Then, Joris would do the same to her. It was super adorable.

Besides kisses, his trucks and stuffed animals also get hugs where he'll hold them over his shoulder and pat them on the back, like burping a baby. Curious George and Oe-Oe (another monkey) were also treated to bites of his pumpkin butter sandwich this afternoon. The great part was that when I made them talk and tell him "Eat your sandwich" he actually obliged.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Voice

A good friend just sent me a get out the vote video that features celebrities urging everyone to vote. One of the people (I don't actually know who he is) says:

"I'm voting because I want a voice."

In Dutch, the word stem means both 'vote' and 'voice' and stemmen means 'to vote' and 'voices'.

I had never thought about that before, but I really like it. Voting is equivalent to your voice. Vote and your voice will be heard.

I am so excited to be voting in this election. Not only because after living here for thirteen years it is the first time that I will be able to make my voice heard in the presidential election, but also because I am genuinely excited about Barack Obama and the positive changes he will bring to the office of the president, the country and the world's view of the U.S.

So, please, if you haven't already, send in your ballot or go to an early voting poll or plan your visit for Tuesday.

Jacob, Joris and I will be canvassing our neighborhood with the Obama campaign on Tuesday, reminding our neighbors to vote and helping them to the polls, if needed. I'm hoping to have a celebratory drink while watching the results come in that evening (if you want to join us, let me know)!

The polls are looking good for our candidate right now, but unless we actually send in our ballots and go to the polling stations and remind our friends and family to do the same, those polls will not mean anything.

So, go. STEM!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Oo-ah to the power of cute

Joris has been trying to say uh-oh, only he appears to be slightly sound dyslexic and it comes out as oo-ah.

"oo-ah"

"What's wrong?"

(point to floor)

"Uh-oh, you dropped your grape."

"oo-ah"


He has really been imitating sounds and trying to sound out words. He added "moooh" (more) and "doooooh!" (doel - goal!) just in the last day.

There have also been a lot of unrecognizable sounds lately, which he says in a very conversational way, like he totally knows what he is talking about. I guess that's called babbling, which most babies do from an early age. However, our boy has been more of the strong and silent type, so it's rather novel for us.

The following is a conversation I've had with Joris at least five or six times today:

"Mama loves you"

"Dada"

"Daddy loves you, too"

"Boopa"

"Opa loves you, too"

[signs for uncle Dirk]

"Ome Dirk loves you, too"

Sometimes he throws in "gngh gngh" (auntie Chris) or points to our upstairs room, which we guess means grandma since that is where she appears from in the morning when she stays with us.

He also is chatting himself to sleep now occasionally.

"Dada. Boopa. Dada. Boopa. Dada. Gumgle Mmmaga blap blap moognl plp."

Oo-ah cracks me up every time, though. I hope he won't correct himself any time soon!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Laid off - updated

In the middle of the afternoon yesterday at my VoiceBox job the whole language team (there are 11 of us, representing 6 languages) received an email saying the "leadership team is re-evaluating the company's language needs" and we should not come in to work for the next two weeks. We should hear at some point if our services are needed at all anymore.

Which means that the economy's woes have, indeed, caught up with the voice recognition software industry as well and that the company is trying to cut costs any way they can.

Which is all well and good and somewhat anticipated; the product, after all, is somewhat, if not very, superfluous. (When faced with the choice of being able to voice control the air-conditioning in your car or spend that money on, say, a vacation, home improvements or gasoline, I'm betting most people will choose to press the air-conditioning button with their fingers.)

What really bothers me is the way that they went about handling the situation. First of all, there was no warning, no "we're going to have a meeting about costs and your department might need to scale back". Give us a few days to get used to the idea, maybe.

Secondly, it was done over email.
Our supervisor sat in an office a few steps away and could not be bothered to come into the language lounge to tell us to our face.

Third, after having sent said email the supervisor was unavailable for questions and it appeared he had fled the office altogether.

Fourth, our department head, Ralph, was still on vacation and it seems that this decision was completely made behind his back. He has always been the MLL analysts' voice and has stood up for us and I'm imagining he'll be quite upset when he comes back to an empty office today.

Finally, there were five of us at work yesterday when the email was sent. We got the instructions that WE were responsible for calling the rest of our coworkers and getting everybody's timesheets together. Which we did. Because we're nice.

I wish I had the courage and the luxury of telling them off. "How can you treat people like this? Do you honestly expect us to sit by the phone for the next few weeks, waiting for your call to hear if we are allowed back or not? Don't you realize that you are losing so much more than a bit of money by treating us this way? Do you really expect any loyalty after this? Most of us come from Europe where it is ILLEGAL to fire people, even for a crappy, part-time job, without 15 days notice and several months of severance pay. That's right, you'd go to jail. Or pay a crap load of money. Good luck when you realize next month that you need us, but we've moved on and you need to find and train a whole new group of people, which will take weeks if not months to get them to function as well as we do!"

But I won't. Because the sad reality is that, although I'll try to find something else to do, I most likely will have to take the job if they ask me to come back. (My guess is that they'll either eliminate all languages except for French and Spanish or scale back the department to 1 part-time employee per language.)

It was sad to have to tell my colleagues this over the phone. It was even sadder to leave. We were all shocked and more than a bit upset. Maybe we'll unionize, who knows...

So, I'll be trolling the part-time, full time and the nannying ads on Craigslist but it's looking pretty bleak.

I'm trying to think of it as a blessing in disguise. Maybe now I can find something I really enjoy. Something in my field even. Although, again, the sad reality is that my field is hit equally hard by the economic downturn and no theatre in town appears to be hiring for anything I'm qualified to do.

Then there is the whole childcare issue, too. If I find something full-time, what will we do with Joris?

I think my best option is to find another nannying gig and get back on food stamps. This will also give Jacob more time to write. Sure, it won't make me feel like I'm utilizing any of the skills I so carefully cultivated in my 20s, but I'll enjoy spending the time with my favorite little guy. I will feel that, once again, my own ambitions have been put on hold but I can hang on to the thought that Jacob will finish that dissertation soon and get a fabulously paying job, which will enable me to throw myself back into the non-profit world without having to worry about being able to pay the bills.

Any advice from my handful of readers?

_____________________________________________________
UPDATE (Wednesday night)
_____________________________________________________
Apparently there was a company meeting this afternoon at VoiceBox. Over half of all employees got laid off, effective immediately, no severance pay.

I suspected I would not be going back when earlier today I tried to check my VB email from home and found out it was shut down.

Still, except for our team leader, Ralph, nobody has received any official word from anyone (HR or other). I guess it doesn't matter.

I thought that maybe it would make me feel better, knowing we weren't the only ones having a hard time, but I keep thinking of all my colleagues whose whole family income, their health insurance and everything depended on their employment. The guy whose wife just gave birth to their second child. The people here on H1B work visas who will face deportation if not employed, everyone who did not expect to have to worry about their next mortgage payment...

I just told Jacob, I'm not used to being fired - I am the one who leaves employers who then write cards, give farewell parties and ask me to come back. Not actually being told you're fired, but knowing it sucks. It makes me feel like the hours I put in were nothing important - my contribution and therefor me meant nothing to this company.

Anyway - enough. I'm going to watch yesterday's Daily Show and then go to bed.

Monday, October 20, 2008

First verb

Seemingly out of nowhere, Joris uttered his first verb today.

My friend Paola and her little girl Luna were over playing at Avery's house in the afternoon and all three tots were interested in the little ball track that Avery has. Joris likes to hoard the balls - he'll walk around with three of them in his hands - and so I asked him to share with the girls.

He shook his head.

"Joris, can you roll the ball in the track?"

"Roll"

"Yeah, roll. Wait - did he just say roll?"

"Roll"

When I asked him to repeat the word to his dad at the dinner table tonight, he smiled mischievously before saying it again. He then asked "more", which meant that he wanted us to keep asking him "can you say roll?". Naturally, we obliged. He was so excited and obviously pleased with himself for saying the new sound!

I don't want to draw any hasty conclusions, but I think this is a sign that English will (naturally) be his dominant language. Which is to be expected, although I sometimes secretly hope that for the first little while - a year or two maybe - his Dutch will be more prominent.

"Owl" has definitely become the English pronunciation now, as has "no" (it was, and occasionally still is nuh-nuh). The other words are either names (mama, dada, boopa, doo-ta (Joris), gngh-gngh (auntie Chris) and demonic sounding mama (grandma)) or words that are the same in either language (ba(ll), bu(s)) or are unfinished (ba meaning bath in either Dutch or English) and thus not belonging to one language or the other.

Grandma, on more than one occasion, has made the remark that she'd better start learning Dutch in order to be able to communicate with her grandson, but that fear will prove, in all likeliness, to be unfounded. The majority language (the language spoken in the community) will always have the advantage over the minority language (the language spoken by a handful of relatives) and so it's up to me to try to stuff at much Dutch in his little noggin before he will decide to reject the language altogether...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Grandma

Grandma is visiting and Joris was practicing saying grandma last night. He knew it sounded like mama, only harsher in some way. So he'd use his angelic little toddler voice to say mama, meaning me, and said mama in a grunty, loud, Darth Vader sort of way, meaning grandma. We all had tears of laughter rolling down our faces.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hand-me-down magazine psychology

For as long as I can remember my mom has been a subscriber to the magazine Libelle (Dragonfly). It's been around for generations and their target audience is women of any age. I'm sure I looked at the pictures before I could read, I remember first reading the comic strip on the back and later the short letters sent in by readers and, later still, the articles and interviews.

The Libelle subscription crossed the Atlantic with my mom when we moved to Oregon and ever since I moved out of the house, my parents have been saving the magazines and present me with a stack almost every time we see each other.

It's nice to read some Dutch once in a while and whenever I get a stack, I try to pace myself, so I don't read them all at once. Occasionally, I will respond in Dutch if Jacob happens to ask me a question while reading.

The other day, I was happy to dig up an extra edition I had not yet read, that had fallen behind the shoe rack. It had a relaxation theme, with articles on the importance of taking time for yourself (Who has time for that? I thought as I flipped through it) and tips to increase your happiness.

One article "How to raise happy kids" caught my attention, 'cause really, who doesn't wonder and worry about their kids' happiness? It gave some obvious advice, like setting boundaries, giving kids responsibilities, allowing them to make mistakes, etc. but one, rather off-hand remark really got to me. It said "...want 'stel je niet aan' zeggen kan echt niet meer". Roughly translated, it means: because saying "don't overreact / act like a baby" really is not acceptable anymore.

"Stel je niet aan" has been somewhat of a slogan during my childhood. Not only me, but also my brother, classmates and probably much of our generation (and quite possibly generations before us) had this Dutch national mantra flung to our heads whenever we'd object too much, were convinced we'd been wronged, acted silly, pleaded or begged for something, dramatized anything or just plain wanted attention.

Reading the Libelle's opinion that the phrase should be scratched from the modern parenting vernacular made me realize what it has meant to me all these years. Just reading it, it immediately caught my attention and made me cringe. Why? Because amongst all the times it was tossed about when I was annoying or seriously silly, there were the times when I needed someone to listen. Whatever little, insignificant issue it was I was having, it was not insignificant to me a the time. "Stel je niet aan" rejects the idea that a child has an opinion, or rather, is experiencing an emotion worth acknowledging.

So, possibly for generations, Dutch kids have heard "stel je niet aan" when they objected because they thought their sibling was being favored, or when they threw a tantrum on the play ground because another kid took their toy, or when they cried when they did not want their mother to leave them at grandma and grandpa's house. And we've turned out ok - more or less, right?

We're a cynical, aloof, stubborn, suspicious, yet generous and equitable folk.
What will happen now?

According to the Libelle, we should listen to our children and, most importantly, acknowledge, instead of dismiss their feelings. This does not mean that you have to give in to the tantrums and whining, but you should acknowledge their frustration and express an interest in their problem. (I understand you are angry that girl took your toy. How do you think you can get it back?)

I'm trying to imagine a Holland with a generation of kids not having heard "stel je niet aan". Will they turn out to be confident, caring, well-adjusted adults? Probably. But maybe, 30 years from now, the Libelle will publish some contradictory advice like "Acknowledging kids' emotions turns them into over-confident, rude adults, so it's better to dismiss their problems now."

And so, I'm resigned to the fact that even if Joris will never hear "stel je niet aan", we're sure to mess him up in some other way.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

No nap soccer reading poop

Earlier this weekend I thought "I have to make sure to mention this on my blog, it's so cute/funny/amazing". Of course, I now have forgotten what it was. I'd like my entries to have some sort of topic, or overall thought to them, but I have a feeling I often will end up writing messy, unorganized, general updates combined with random thoughts. It will be so today, at least.

First of all, I totally jinxed the good sleep we'd been getting by Joris going to sleep easily by writing about it. We have now enjoyed several days of seemingly endless nap and bedtime routines, songs, wiggling, crying, screaming and just playing in the crib and being laughed at when we'd tell him "It's time to go to sleep now". On Saturday, after an hour and a half or so of the nap circus, it looked like it would be another no-nap-at-all day. He did end up falling asleep in the car on the way to Jacob's soccer game for about 10 minutes, then again on the way home, which was close enough to bedtime. He still needed to eat and be changed when we got home, but he woke up so cranky and after a few bites basically begged us to put him to bed.

Even though it's hard to get him to sleep, at least he does stay asleep for about 10 hours when he finally gives in. (Crossing my fingers to not be jinxing this again.)

So, at the soccer game on Saturday, Joris got a hold of a regular sized soccer ball and ran around kicking it pretty much the entire time. I had to almost bribe him to go check out the small playground and swing for a while. He is getting really good at kicking the ball and can keep it going without tripping over it for quite a while. It's funny to see a little boy kicking a ball about a third his size around.

Joris is starting to recognize letters. It started with the letter S. On his ABC puzzle, when you lift off the S, it shows a picture of a snake and Jacob taught him that the snake says sssssss . After a while he started pointing out s's written in books, on magazine covers, cereal boxes, etc. and saying esss.

Then one day he pointed to an A and I told him it is the letter A. Ever since, we can point out an A and ask him what letter it is and he'll say Ah (the Dutch pronunciation).

He has also recently added H, M and O, although they're less consistent.

And yesterday, he apparently pointed at the Obama-Biden Magnet on the fridge as well as the yard sign and signed Obama, but I'm chalking that one up to the Obama campaigns effective use of color and logo. Also, I changed his ABC puzzle so it now has pictures corresponding to Dutch words instead of English and the O is for Obama (of course) - so he probably is just responding to the O - the same way he signs bird or baby for the letter B and lion for the the letter L.

I have been thinking about not mentioning this interest in letters, because, really, there is no way for me to not sound like an obnoxious, bragging mom who spends all day drilling her toddler. And although I am proud and excited about it, I'd like to think it would be no different than if, for example, he'd be able to speak in 2 or 3 word sentences, paint a circle or eat with a fork instead.

I guess we'll see how long the interest lasts before he is on to the next best thing.

I just spent over an hour trying to get both Avery and Joris down for a nap. They both have little drippy-nose colds and had a hard time giving in to sleep. I'm off to find some answers about how much poop is too much. For the last few days Joris has had 4 or 5 poopy diapers a day. And I'm not talking about little smears - they really are loaded. He does eat at least one of two decent meals a day, but it looks like the output far exceeds the input. I'm fairly certain he does not have any secret stashes of food, although it would explain a lot.

Sorry 'bout the poop talk.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sleep progress

It is only fair to report on sleep improvement instead of only complaining about the hard times. The last few nights, Joris has been sleeping a solid 11 hours straight again, one time even 12 hours! It is amazing how big the difference between 5:45am and 7:00am is.

Jacob has been working some kind of magic when putting Joris to bed. I'm not sure what the exact magic formula is, but it has something to do with Jacob telling him that he is a big boy and will go to sleep by himself, but that daddy will stay and sing him a song while he's falling asleep. Apparently, Joris agrees to this scenario and has been going to sleep easily and without crying. Ok, it's only been a few times now, but it's definitely progress.

Last night, Jacob either left before Joris was fully asleep (it's hard to know because the room is totally dark) or he just woke up after a few minutes, but we heard him calmly, though a little sadly saying "Yep....yep...yep" which also is the sound he now makes when he wakes up and wants us to come get him. It was pretty cute.

I am really hoping the sleep improvements stay.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Overnight

We left Joris overnight for the first time this weekend. Jacob and I celebrated our 10 year date-averary; it's hard to believe it has been ten years since that first, somewhat awkward date.

Jacob's folks came up to take care of Joris for the 22.5 hours we were gone. Fortunately, they had been in town for a couple of days already before we left, so Joris had already remembered how much fun they are to hang out with. We left on Saturday after Joris had gotten up from his nap and returned today just before nap time.

We had reservations at a bed and breakfast on Bainbridge Island, which is just a half hour ferry ride from Seattle. Our B&B was out in the middle of a forested area and the drive up the 1/2 mile long, narrow, unpaved, windy road was quite entertaining. For one, leaves, twigs and small branches were falling everywhere because of some heavy winds that had just arrived, making it a rather adventurous drive. Secondly, we passed signs, buildings and people that made it very obvious that the foresty community was mostly comprised of (wealthy) hippies. "Sacred Grove" was the most intriguing of the buildings and I imagined it to be the destination of the long gray-haired lady in flowy robes that we had passed.

We turned out to be the only guests for the night and the B&B looked very comfortable. We chatted with the owner for a bit and were outfitted with a map of the island and we spent the rest of the afternoon wine tasting, getting blown away on a beach and enjoying some warm beverages in Winslow town. We had an early dinner at the waterfront pub and were looking forward to going back to the B&B to watch a movie before sleeping for at least 12 hours straight.

Unfortunately, upon our return we discovered that a branch or tree had taken out a power line and the place was without electricity with no idea if or when it would return. Rather than kind of reliving our time in the Marshall Islands, we decided to find a place where we'd be able to shower and hang out for a while. One phone call home and, thanks to my father in law and the power of priceline, we got a very nice room at a downtown Seattle hotel.

Joris had a good time with grandpa and grandma, although he did ask for us a few times (Mama, Daddy, car). I think I might have missed him more than he did me. Grandma needed a nap when we got back, so I'm afraid our little guy kept her rather busy.

It was nice to get away for a little bit and the solid 11 hours of sleep are sure to be fondly remembered in the weeks and months to come.

I'm glad that we have successfully completed our first night separation. We now know that we can all survive a night away and enjoy the change of pace.