We (satisficed and) bought a digital piano

We finally got around to signing DC1 up for piano lessons this past fall, about a year after we meant to.

Ze really really likes it.  The first things ze does when ze gets home is hir piano practicing, and sometimes if ze gets up early enough, ze’ll practice piano before going to school.

Unfortunately, the $100 keyboard hir grandparents got hir doesn’t have weighted keys, so you can’t do piano or forte, just one volume.  And there’s no pedals for sustained sound.  Since it seems like DC1 is going to stick with it, we really need to get hir a real piano to practice on.

Well, almost a real piano.

Looking up how to buy a used piano online is terrifying.  Page after page talking about how you need to have a trusted professional with you at point of purchase or you may end up with something that’s only good for hauling to the dump (something you will, of course, have to pay for yourself).  New pianos are confusing as well, though the only terrifying thing about them is the price point.

So… on the advice of one our readers (I think chacha, but maybe it was Ms. PoP), we looked into digital pianos.  They’re new and under warranty.  They don’t have to be tuned every year.  They cost a fraction of what a low grade real piano costs.  And… they don’t sound too bad.

After reading tons of reviews and scouring the piano forum, we decided to get a low-mid-level Casio for $1099. Specifically the Casio PX850 BK 88-Key Touch Sensitive Privia Digital Piano. This piano is on all of the top 10 digital piano lists that I found.  Although it was only #1 on one of those lists, the #1s on the other lists weren’t even listed on many of the lists (if that makes sense).  The only detracting thing on the Amazon reviews is that some people find that after several weeks of intense playing, the keys start to clack a little because the pads wear thin (they should be wool, complains one reviewer), but that seems to be a potential problem across our price range, and probably isn’t one our 7 year old will encounter for a few years.    The piano forums recommend this one as a good learning piano, and while some people have preferred digital pianos, nobody really says anything bad about this piano (while those “preferred” pianos all have detractors).  Everyone seems to agree that this piano is pretty good and is a good value.

We tried to find a place in town that carried it that we could listen and then buy from, but the place in town that said they had it turned out to be out of stock.  They did have the $1699 Yamaha that some people prefer to the Casio (and many people do not), and we weren’t that impressed with it.  We talked about trying to find a place in the city that has a bunch of pianos we could listen to, but it seems like all the shops in the city have a monopoly of one brand– they just carry Yamaha or just Roland etc.  And we didn’t really want to go into the city this weekend anyway.

So we ended up getting it without listening to it from Amazon.  I splurged and got the recommended bench for $44 instead of a slightly less expensive one because someone in the reviews said that one of the settings fit hir 4 year old.

The Casio came in less than a week.  DH spent the evening putting it together, mostly after DC1 slept.  At 10-something, he got DC2 and me to look at and listen to the finished product.  It’s beautiful.  It looks like a real piano, but it’s slimmer.  It feels like a real piano.  It sounds like a real piano.  Plus, unlike that $1700 Yamaha, it didn’t have tons of confusing controls.  Its controls are even more intuitive than the controls on DC1’s old $100 keyboard.  It probably has fewer features, but we don’t need a keyboard that can bark like a dog, we need a keyboard that mimics a regular piano.

We congratulated ourselves on doing a good job picking a piano out (and thanked our lucky stars), even if we weren’t able to check out the piano in person first.  It’s exactly what we need and it’s much nicer than the ones we saw at the local store, even the equally and more expensive ones.  So we’re very happy with our purchase.  DC1 loves it too.  It’s scary spending $1000+ on something you’re not sure about.  Getting it wrong is an expensive and/or annoying proposition (depending on if you return the purchase or not).

So yay for top 10 lists and yay for piano forums and amazon and satisficing.

Have you ever made a big purchase partly-blind like this?  How did it work out?  How do you decide on big purchases?

RBOC

  • True art is not bounded by paper.
  • In related news, DC2 has had hir marker and crayon privileges revoked.
  • Also in related news, we caught hir at DC1’s desk on hir stool grabbing for the forbidden crayon box.  Ze’d carried the stool in from the kitchen.  Suddenly it became clear how ze’d been getting all those things we’d thought we’d placed out of hir reach.
  • The (somewhat) terrifying thing is that ze knows to put the stool *back* (or at least not someplace incriminating) after ze’s used it for nefarious purposes.
  • Ze also drew on my monitor with a pencil.  Twice.  Once after we’d removed the pencils and cleaned the first drawing off.  DH caught hir the second time mid-draw.  It’s amazing how much havoc ze can wreak in (literally) less than two minutes.
  • I had a weird dream the other night that I accidentally sent a (small) can of catfood with DC2’s lunch.  They sent it back in the dream and suggested I meant to send tuna or something.
  • Dear democrats, wanting something to be true does not make it true.  If you think that, you are as bad as the republicans.  You may be better intentioned but you are going to do just as much damage to the country and to the people you care about.
  • Why is it that people set the a/c at 65 and the heat at 80?  Shouldn’t it be the other way around?  (Or just like 76 degrees all year.)
  • St. Andre is like if boursin and brie had a love child.  A very fat love child.  A delicious fat love child.
  • Is it just me, or do stories by SAHM about SAHP (in blogs or the media) always start out with how difficult and terrible their lives are, and then end up with but it’s totally worth it because I got to see my child’s first X, I need to savor every precious moment etc.  [Similar stories by WOHM seem more varied-- either I'm so stressed out without a "but it's totally worth it" punchline... I guess the punchline is generally, "and I wish I were a SAHM," or "but I'm not actually stressed out, I love work and family."  Sometimes with a, "but the only thing I sometimes feel guilty about is how I don't feel guilty for not following the SAHM narrative."]  And yet IRL, the SAHM I know don’t seem to have particularly difficult or terrible lives, other than the occasional financial worries.
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Sometimes you have to get the wrong answer first to get the right one

A good way to start a hard math problem is by playing around with it.  Poking at it.  Trying things to see what does and doesn’t work and to figure out why that is.

For a certain type of math problems, it’s helpful to just guess and then analyze why that guess isn’t right.

I don’t know if you’ve ever played the game Mastermind, but Mastermind is exactly this idea.  One player hides 4 pin colors, and the second player has to guess what the colors are and where they’re placed.  Each turn player two is given information on how much ze got wrong and how wrong it was.  The only way to start is with a completely blind guess.  If you guess right on the first try, the game isn’t very much fun.  That means you won by luck and not by being able to actually play the game.

DC1 had never heard of such a thing before we got the Hard Math book.  Ze was completely and totally frustrated by the first challenge problem (What is the largest possible answer to 782 + ABC =? [with carrying 1s above and above/left of the 7]?) because ze thought ze should just be able to do a math problem.  Even hard math problems were hard because ze was prone to make mistakes, and all one had to do was not make mistakes.  This idea that you have to learn about the problem first and maybe try a few things out was completely foreign to hir.

Life is like that too.  You can plan and plot and analyze situations, but sometimes that takes more time (and provides less information) than just doing and seeing what happens.  Sometimes you get what you want on the first try, but more often, you get clear information on what you need to do better and how and why.

Sometimes you have to fail before succeeding, and it’s the failure(s) itself that is instrumental to your eventual success.

Fractions and bases

So, we’ve been enjoying Hard Math for Elementary School (for somewhat complex definitions of “enjoying” that involve both frustration and eventual pride).

Today DC1 said, “Different bases is just like fractions.”  Explaining a little more, ze noted that when you’re doing fractions with a denominator of 8, the numerator works just like when you’re counting in base 8.

By golly, I thought, ze’s right!

In base 8 you count, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11..

When you’re counting eighths, it’s 1/8, 2/8…7/8, 1, 1 and 1/8.

Adding works the same way too… 2 + 7 in base 8 is 11.  2/8 + 7/8 is 1 and 1/8.

Multiplying won’t be the same because we tend to cancel things out on the bottom, but in a world where we didn’t do that and we didn’t allow improper fractions, I think it would be the same.  So it could be the same.

Anyhow, that’s super cool.  Yay DC1!  And yay math!

Our child, the biter

If you recall, DC2’s wonderful daycare went out of business because they mismanaged a theft and couldn’t meet operating expenses.  As a stop-gap measure, we enrolled DC2 at DC1’s private school’s associated daycare until ze hit 18 months and could enroll at the next youngest Montessori preschool in town.  Doing this was nice because it was one stop shopping for both kids at drop-off and pick-up.

However, although the private school daycare was not a bad daycare, it was also not a great daycare.  The kids weren’t mistreated, rules were followed etc., but it didn’t follow the guidelines for high quality daycare.  It didn’t follow the minimum guidelines either, but instead of a 4/1 teacher ratio for kids DC2’s age, there was a 6/1 teacher ratio.  And instead of involving the kids in setting up and cleaning up like Montessori schools do, generally there was one teacher cleaning up or setting up and the other teacher interacting with 12 kids all at the same time (or with just 1 kid at a time while the remaining 11 were on their own).

On top of that, DC2 went from 4 teeth to 12 teeth during hir duration at that daycare.

The lack of supervision plus the teething plus DC2’s personality… not a good combination.  The main teacher often said it wasn’t a big deal and sometimes the other kid deserved it, which, of course, didn’t make us feel any better about the situation.  They introduced DC2 to pacifiers (ironically at an age that most parents try to remove the pacifier).  Eventually we got enough bite slips that we got called in for a parent-teacher conference with the preschool director and the school director.  Ze wasn’t malevolent, they said, ze just bit when ze was protecting hir stuff or someone crowded hir too much.

The solution we came up with was to offer to pay for a third teacher in the room for a month during DC2’s prime biting hours.  (DH graphed out the bites and discovered a pattern to the timing– mainly when the kids were least supervised.)  $581.31 brought the student-teacher ratio down to 4/1.  The head teacher for the room was ecstatic.  DC2 only bit twice during that time period, once when the third teacher was sick and didn’t show up, and once at a non-standard time when there was a fight over a toy.  DC2 was caught almost biting a few times in addition to that.

Having the third teacher there also made the room much more like a high quality daycare.  The kids became more animated and less likely to stare and crowd any parent who came in.  (Seriously creepy the way they did that, poor neglected kids.)  DC2 also stopped screaming bloody murder when dropped off. It was tempting to continue paying for the third teacher after the time was over (and DC2 did bite a couple more times after that), but at that point we’d already put in our month notice for the change in daycare.

There hasn’t been a single bite at the new daycare.  It is very much like the old daycare.  There’s two main teachers and plenty of floaters.  There are 10 kids and 2 teachers in the room and a third teacher (a floater) is usually there during the main hours.  Kids don’t fight.  When they disagree about toys, the person who has the toy has property rights and the other kid is reminded of that and redirected before a fight can occur.  It isn’t accepted as something that kids will do (and that sometimes results in biting) like at the private school’s daycare.  DC2 happily waves bye-bye when DH drops hir off in the morning, and for a week or so was having such fits when I picked hir up that I wouldn’t be surprised if the teachers thought I beat hir.  (Though part of that was that ze wanted mommy milk right away, but their parking lot isn’t really big enough for me to feel right taking a space during busy pick-up times so we can nurse, especially given that home is less than 5 min away.  DC2, if you weren’t fussing, we’d already be at home and you could be having as much mommy milk as you wanted!  We solved this problem by having me pick up DC1 instead.)

My thought, though this is certainly no randomized controlled experiment, is that good quality daycares have only limited biting because the kids are busy and conflicts are managed before they really become conflicts.  Some kids have greater propensity to bite than others, but it’s still really the daycare’s responsibility to take care of that.  But who knows!

Strategies for not maxing out

Recently Laura Vanderkam had a post discussing yet another book written about the meme that mothers who work full-time are all stress-cases over-doing everything all the time.  You know the one that’s part of the patriarchy’s plan to keep women out of the labor force?

Rather than quitting your day-job and becoming a free-lance writer who writes articles for the NYTimes on how hard it is to be a neurotic working mother, or a book-writer or life-coach telling other people how they can quit their jobs to work part-time telling people to quit their jobs to work part-time… there are less draconian (and less MLM) ways that people can control their stress levels and time use.  This is especially true for the upper-middle-class folks that LV’s blog seems to be mostly aimed at.

We make a lot of money, but my parents did not (and my mom’s dual working parents did not). Still, they were able to spend on things that were important, and one of those things that was important was hiring people to drive my sister and me to places we needed to be during regular working hours when my parents had to work. A college student can take kids to the dentist. Like my grandma always said, “Hire good help.”

Many schools now offer after school care and even before school care.  Most of my colleagues partake of this offering in the local publics, and the after school care at DC1’s private school is so popular that the SAHM complain that their kids want to go to after school care instead of going home with mom.  That extra two hours that you don’t have to worry and you can just pick your kid up when the work-day is done are well worth the $50-$200 we pay every month (depending on the month).

Meal planning can take more mental power than it should, especially when you’re tired and hungry and exhausted from a day at work and need to recharge with food before you can think about food.  Having quick healthy cheap food routines is important. I have a bunch of these standard meals memorized, and the microwave has made things even faster.

The reason I have these standard meals memorized is because from an early age I was taught to do chores, and I started cooking the occasional meal by myself at age 7. Kids can chip in and take off some of the burden. My six year old is in charge of things pertaining to hir. Sometimes ze forgets to bring hir homework or a jacket (or to wear dress clothes on full-dress day), but that just reminds hir next time.

I don’t have to be everything all the time. I can even delegate the mental load for things as my children get older. And they can handle that. Kids are more capable than many of us think.

What are your strategies for not “maxing out”?

Books for 3 year olds

CPP asks:

Can you two suggest some good books for two-three year-olds? Want to buy some for our twin nieces. And if you have a blogge post on this topic, link would be great!

Three is a fun age– three year olds understand things and they can talk and they have great senses of humor.  That means you can break away from books that are just animal sounds and opposites etc. and into things that parents enjoy as well.

Probably our favorite author for this age is Mo Willems.  We especially like Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!, and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, and all the others in the Pigeon series!Knuffle Bunny, while not as much fun for the parents to read, is also enjoyed by the children.

Sandra Boynton is more popular at this age, and is always popular among parents.  Blue Hat, Green Hat is always good for a laugh.  And there’s cute little boxed sets you can get of her stuff.

If You Give the Mouse a Cookie– quite popular among the pre-school set, a bit less fun for the parents.  There’s a big series of these as well.

Llama Llama Mad at Mama is a fun one.  Again, there are others in the Llama Llama series.  Some of these others seemed a bit out of touch for kids with a working mom, but whatever.

As we mentioned in our email to you, 3-4 year olds tend to be dinosaur mad.  You can get any book about dinosaurs, fiction or non- and it will be devoured.  How do dinosaurs do X? is a cute series– even though it’s not really about dinosaurs (real dinosaurs presumably didn’t clean their rooms), it does have drawings and the names of real dinosaurs in it.  Some kids are really into Thomas the Train Engine or Dora the Explorer or construction trucks at this age, but that would be something to ask your relatives about as some kids never really get hooked by these.

And, of course, there is always Dr. Seuss.

If you dislike your relatives (the parents, not the children), you can go a bit more grim.  DC1 loved the Gruffalo, but it creeps me out.  Laura Vanderkam’s kid thinks that I Want My Hat Back is great, but my DC2 certainly does not need permission to use violence against people who take hir stuff (as that is already hir natural inclination).

Beginning readers may enjoy Step Into Reading Step 1 books.  Hot Dog was a favorite of DC1.    Cat Traps was another.  There are a whole bunch of these.

If the kids are wunderkinds, 3 is a good time to start The Magic Treehouse.  But this series is of chapter books, and most kids aren’t reading, much less reading third grade level.  We do have a post on what books a three year old who is reading chapter books would enjoy, but that’s probably not what you’re looking for.  The Magic School Bus is another fun series for the more advanced reader.

You may be thinking of chapter books that parents can read to their children at this age.  The Wizard of Oz is a good one.  Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle another good one.  Frog and Toad is another good one (who doesn’t love Arnold Lobel?)

What recommendations do you have for CPP?

The art of learning not to take things seriously: A deliberately controversial post

First a disclaimer:  We are totally AP parents.  If that infant cries, we pick hir up immediately.  We’re also not heartless– if a student’s grandma dies, ze can take time off and turn in assignments late.  And so on.  This post is not about big deals, but about moderating moderate upsets.  End disclaimer.

Sometimes kids get heart-broken over things that really aren’t that big a deal.  Falling down (but not damaging anything).  Dropping a candy (when they have more that haven’t fallen).  Another kid accidentally pushing them (again with no injury).  And so on, with age appropriate examples.

Yeah yeah, some parenting philosophies say you’re supposed to tell kids how they’re feeling.  And some say that you’re supposed to empathize no matter what.  Sometimes we’ve seen this in action and instead of soothing like it’s supposed to, it lengthens the amount of crying and angst.  (Possibly a misapplication of the philosophy.)

We sympathize with disappointment, to the appropriate degree.  Kiss the owie to make it better and go off to play.  (Occasionally a crying jag can be broken if you exaggerate for effect, OH NOOOOO, the world is going to end… that usually gets a giggle.)

It’s important to fix problems (had to take a break from typing this because DC1 got soap in hir eye), but once they’re fixed, they don’t necessarily need the post-game analysis.

Kids pick up on our cues.  If they’re not sure how bad something is, they look to us.  How upset are we?  How upset do we seem to think they should be?  Is this a quick peck and then you run off to play, or is this something that requires lots of sympathy (even if the kid has forgotten which leg got hurt by this point)?

When we make a big deal out of something that isn’t such a big deal, we may be prolonging the angst and the pain that might quickly have been forgotten otherwise.  When we provide too many cushions, we may be denying our children the chance to grow and to find inner-strength.  Bending over backwards as if to keep a delicate flower from being crushed over a small thing may keep that flower from being able to move with the wind.  Our reaction should be appropriate for the upset.

My mom liked to tell me that I was building my character whenever something didn’t go my way.  I remember telling my mom once that my character was buff enough already, thank you.  She said, and I quote, “Oh ho ho ho.  Very funny.”  Ah mom.

But the lesson is a good one.  Yes, we can recover from life’s little setbacks.  We can regulate our emotions.  We don’t always need to be rescued.  We can grow and find our own inner strength, and build that strength.

Spoiler Alert:  I’m currently rereading Foundling by Georgette Heyer, about a little duke who has been coddled much of his life and yearns to break free.  One day he sneaks out, just to see what it’s like.  He spends an uncomfortable time out on his own, but he also grows a lot too.  He comes back with a greater appreciation for the people who love him, but also with his own inner strength.  Life isn’t always about being protected from any potential upset.

So what brings this up?  Mother’s in Medicine had a post discussing whether or not it was ok to keep your kid at daycare if you yourself are on vacation from work.  The original commenter clarified:

This incident stuck with me because the child was very, very upset each morning, much more so than at a regular drop off. The conversation was about making sure you forge a good relationship with your kids while they are little. Perhaps this mother did need a break; however it seemed that perhaps her child needed a bit of vacation then, too.

Assuming that the reason for the kid’s increased upsetness was mom’s being on vacation and not say, staying up too late the night before (because of mom’s vacation) or something completely unrelated like teething, this kind of thing can be a learning experience for the child.

Mom may take a vacation without you.  She may drop you off at daycare and you may imagine that she’ll spend the entire day eating ice cream and going to the zoo without you (more likely she’s going to do boring adult things).  But she’ll pick you up at the end of the day just like always (or maybe daddy will get you like always) and maybe she’ll be relaxed enough that you can do something fun that evening.  It is highly unlikely that a kid is going to be scarred for life by not taking a vacation when he’s supposed to be going to school.  So buck up.  Mom’ll be back and you’ll have plenty of time to have fun again in the future.

And that’s a good thing.

What isn’t good is mom freaking out and feeling guilty.  Because that teaches the kid that this kind of thing is a big deal, which really it isn’t.  Everyone is much happier when we give reactions that are proportionate to events and don’t make a big deal out of nothing.

Ok, Grumpeteers.  Your turn.

Out of curiosity…

So my kids were not blessed with fast-growing hair.  For each of them sometime before age 1.5 they ended up with awful mullets.  Their heads grow faster than the hair, so it gets short on the sides with the proverbial party in back.  Awful.

For boys, that’s an easy fix.  First haircut and you’re back to presentable.

For girls… there’s either the pixie cut, or there’s the putting up teeny tiny rubber-banded spikes on the side of the head (“Pebbles-style”)… and I think that’s it.  Maybe a person can try to even it out, but it’s still going to be longer in the back than on the sides.

So what do people do with the toddler mullet?  Just leave it?

RBOToddler

  • EC update:  At almost 15 mo, if the potty is in visual distance, DC2 will take hirself to the potty, sit down (the sitting down is what took the most effort– but ze finally no longer gets hir leg stuck in the potty while trying to sit), and pee and/or poo.  If no potty is in sight, ze will just go wherever ze is.  If the diaper is still on, ze will use the diaper while sitting in the potty.
  • DC2’s diaper rash is SO BAD when hir diaper doesn’t get changed right away after a poo that ze got sent home on Friday because of it.  Poor darling.
  • When I mentioned to hir new daycare teacher that DC2 will go potty on the potty if they take hir, the teacher said very emphatically, “Not in THIS room.  We do NOT do pottying in THIS room.”
  • We’re counting the days until we can transfer DC2 to the Montessori that starts at 18 months.  Ze has a slot reserved and everything.
  • We miss the old daycare.
  • It’s unlikely at this point that we will get any money back from our 4.5K prepayment from the old daycare.
  • DC2 had been eating wheat and enjoying it, but we’ve stopped it again on the off chance that that is why ze is allergic to hir poo.
  • DC2 seeks and destroys pens and pencils, breaking them into their component parts.  Ze is very good at climbing and can get them wherever we hide them.
  • At a party the other day, DC2 picked up a nerf gun that had 2 cartridges loaded and another next to it.  Ze carefully removed the 2 cartridges, then loaded the gun with all 3.  Upon learning that we did not teach hir how to do that, an adult nearby said we’d have to watch out for hir.
  • One of my goals is to make sure that DC2 survives childhood.
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