Put a Bib on It

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Santa Claus is (Maybe) Coming to Town

SantaI believed in Santa Claus until I was nine years old. And when I say I believed, I mean I believed.

Each year my brother and I would conceive of elaborate methods of proving his existence, which mostly involved demanding his signature on a Christmas card or singing carols in our beds way past bedtime on Christmas Eve in a vain effort to stay awake long enough to get a glimpse of the big guy. My parents played along, and brilliantly, such that they actually had to sit us down and tell us one Christmas that he wasn’t real, because we weren’t catching on.

Or maybe I just didn’t want to.

I remember with aching fondness believing in a world with magic in it. And while it is absolutely a lovely thing to believe in the magic of how good one human being can be to another, it just isn’t the same. When I was a kid, I needed reindeer to fly at breakneck speeds around the globe, depositing Santa Claus on rooftops so he could leave Polly Pockets and Ninja Turtles and take calculated bites out of the chocolate chip cookies we’d baked for him. That there was more to the world than the mundane was vital to me, and if I’m being completely honest, it still is.

I wasn’t angry with my parents when they told me that they’d essentially been lying to me for years. I was only sad – okay, really sad – but I went on to participate in the charade for my younger cousins, dashing through the yard in an elf costume just enough out of sight that they couldn’t tell it was me. That was fun, too, making magic for them. Being in on the secret.

So why is it that when this was such a fun thing for me, something I definitely wouldn’t change about my childhood, I’m having such a hard time introducing Santa Claus to my daughter? We talk about him, and we’ve been to see him and his elves, but who he is and what he stands for, and most importantly, the magical things he can do, haven’t come up. And I haven’t brought it up. I just don’t know that I can lie to her in such a big way, and the tradition hinges upon my being able to do so. For years.

I want to have Santa Claus as a part of our Christmas, and not just as a nice fella we see at the mall this time of year. I really do. I want what I think most parents want, which is to see their children reveling in the same things that delighted them as kids.

But I just don’t know how.

Last year, I thought I would just not say that he wasn’t real, and that would be enough. But now I know that it’s really my role as a parent to determine to what extent Santa Claus is a part of our Christmas. As much as relatives and teachers and friends talk about him, ask her if she’s been good or what she’d like him to bring her, she doesn’t have the context. I have to give it to her.

And I just… can’t.

All I’ve really been able to decide is what I don’t want to do, which is tell her that she only gets presents if she’s good. We’re working a lot on what it means to be kind, and I want that to come from inside her. A friend of mine recently wrote a lovely piece about the Elf on the Shelf where she said that, “I do not want my children to do what’s right because otherwise someone might see them and then they’ll get in trouble. And worse, because then they won’t get presents. I want my children to do what’s right because it’s the right thing to do.”

While she continues on to say that doing good for the sake of good is a complex thing for a young child to understand, and that indulging in the Elf, or Santa Claus, doesn’t make somebody a bad parent, I’m with her on this one. Besides, it’s not like if Miss E throws her fourteenth tantrum of the day over a diaper change or the wrong color cup or not being allowed to sit with her face millimeters away from Little Sister’s, I’m going to take all of her presents back.

I just don’t know yet, come Christmas day, whose name is going to be listed next to the “from.”

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And Now it’s… Normal

Parenting doesn’t get easier, you just get better at it.A friend asked me last week how motherhood was going. I get this question a lot, so I had my answer ready to go. “Oh, it’s great. She’s so much fun now and she’s getting really big.” Most of the time, the conversation moves on to something else and that’s all I have to say.

Not this time. Not this friend. “No, I mean, how is motherhood really going?”

That’s a great question. We are seven months into this whole thing. She’s seven months into being a person, getting bigger and more alert every day. It’s starting to feel normal. This is us now – we are a family of three. We’re parents. I haven’t had a moment when I’m startled by a baby crying (like, whose baby is crying? Ours? Oh right, we have a baby now!) in months.

So it’s more normal. But it’s also still hard. As I write this I’m running on my fourth night of less than five hours of sleep because teething is hard for babies and harder for parents. The novelty of new baby things has worn off. We cloth diaper and washing and stuffing them was fun for awhile. Now it’s a chore. I want to pause time right this second and keep her this age forever while simultaneously pressing super fast-forward on the next five months so I never have to pump again. Washing what can only be a billion pump and bottle parts every night? I’m over it.

Parenting doesn’t get easier, you just get better at it. I am better at knowing what she needs and when she’ll need it. I’m making fewer tragic mistakes—you know the ones I’m talking about. Scheduling shots the day before you stuff your baby into a Halloween costume, not making naptime a priority on Thanksgiving Day, giving a bath at the same time of day that baby is likely to poop. Yikes. It’s still hard.

But then there are amazing parts. She’s more fun than she’s ever been. She can sit up on her own, which might be the cutest thing in the world. She gets incredibly excited to see us at the end of the day. She gives “kisses” that involve opening her mouth on my cheek and leaving a disgusting amount of baby spit behind. She laughs when her daddy blows raspberries on her belly. She is the only person in the world who appreciates my singing voice.

So, that’s how motherhood is really going.

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The Best Gifts Don’t Take Batteries

The best toys don't come with batteries.I love the holiday season: the happiness, joy and good cheer spread by perfect strangers. The sharing of time and wealth with those in need. The love felt when spending quality time together as a family.

What I don’t enjoy as much is the amount of money it seems you must spend on gifts for others, especially your own children. When did how much spend and the number of toys you put under the tree for your children begin to reflect the amount of love you have for them? Is it just me or does it seem like parents everywhere are trying to buy their children’s love by showering them with more toys than they know what to do with? The more lights and sounds the better?!

To be completely honest, we have fallen into this trap, too, in past years, spending money on toys that are played with for 15 minutes (or less) only to end up in a box not to be seen for another two years. Gifts we felt certain they would love were forgotten about. Toys our son swore he needed, begged and pleaded to have all because he saw a commercial for it on TV. You know the kind: they play songs, light up, flash multiple colors and move and shake with just a touch of a button. Toys that the commercials say will make your child or your baby smart, help them to stay engaged and to love learning. But do they really?

I have never been a proponent of TV or video games, especially for young children, but I have never dug deep and thought about commercialized toys. But marketers have. According to Mothering Magazine, it’s estimated that 565 billion dollars in purchases are influenced by four-to-twelve-year-olds. And a blog I read recently really brought to light many thought provoking questions for me about those kinds of toys: What can commercialized colored stacking cups teach a child that regular old bowls or measuring cups can’t?

So, why do we buy these toys? Because marketers have figured out how to influence children and parents? Or because they are actually beneficial to our children’s development? Does pushing a button and listening to a music box chatter for 15 seconds while lighting up and dancing around really educate our children? Or would providing them with more open ended items such as a tub full of beans and some scoops lead to a more autonomous, exploration driven and fun learning experience?

This year my husband and I have decided to steer away from commercialized toys and gifts and move back to the more basic items. Some presents we are pretty excited about this year for Bryce include tongs, cotton balls, baskets, feathers, wood blocks and ingredients to mix and create our own play-dough together. I think it’s going to be one of our best Christmases yet.


10 Things I Hate About My Toddler

We're both going to need therapy if we survive the toddler years.She tears books. On purpose. I’ve given her magazines to tear to get that sensory experience out of her system and we’ve talked extensively about how our books are special, but I’m pretty sure at this point she does it because it makes me batty. Short of taking all of her books out of her room, which I just can’t do given she’s had access to her lovingly curated collection since she was able to reach them, I don’t know how to get her to stop.

She hits her baby sister. When I was growing up we had a terrier who used to drive moles out of their burrows and play with them until they died. My dad would joke that our dog wasn’t malicious, she just loved hearing the sound they made when she pounced on them. I think this is a lot like that.

She doesn’t believe in naps. Despite the fact that she turns into a gremlin around four o’clock in the afternoon, I just can’t get this girl to nap anymore. I suppose I should be grateful she’s at least willing to play quietly in her room for an hour or so, but when my own personal witching hour coincides with hers? Bad news.

Okay, so that wasn’t ten things. Forgive the provocative title, but with the way I’ve been feeling lately, I’m a little relieved that I was able to stop after three.

There was a moment not too long ago when I was commiserating with a fellow mama of a just-turned-2-year-old about all of the unusual and sometimes out of control behaviors we were suddenly contending with. But I realize now that these aren’t abnormal behaviors. This is our new normal for the next year, at least, and probably a good deal longer. I am not prepared. I’m beginning to think parents don’t really need newborn care classes so much as they need toddler care classes. Or a membership to some wine of the month club.

Miss E is an absolute delight about seventy percent of the time. She tells me stories. She helps me in the kitchen. She problem solves. She sings all of the songs she knows all together, one leading right into the next. Just the other day when she was supposed to be napping, she retrieved her slippers from one of her dresser drawers, put them on, and could be seen leafing through one of her favorite books in bed on the monitor.

And the other thirty percent? I’m concerned one or both of us is going to need serious therapy to repair whatever damage we’re doing to each other.

I’m sure I could do a better job of helping her with her big emotions, if only I could figure out what to do with mine. I always say it’s okay to feel mad or sad, and demonstrate those feelings in front of her – and because of her – a whole lot more than I’d like. We talk a lot about hurt feelings and hurt bodies, we cry and we spend a few minutes apart from each other at least once a day. I try to offer her choices; I tell her what she can’t do but also when she can smack or bite, when she can scream and kick. It doesn’t work often enough to make me feel like I’m not failing her. I feel powerless.

But I try to remind myself that my love for her is powerful, and that it guides me and what I do. At the end of the day I don’t hate a single thing about her, only a handful of the things she does that she hopefully won’t do forever if I keep repeating and modeling and being as consistent as my own erratic heart will allow. And that has to count for something, right?

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A Prescription for Quality Family Time

Last week was rough. Bryce is currently cutting a molar (or three), which has meant restless nights, grouchy attitudes and low-grade fevers. Combine that teething baby with full-time working parents, a 10-year-old brother busy with school and fall sports and two dogs looking for some exercise and what you have is a house of pure chaos.

When Friday finally hit, my husband Geoff and I both fell onto the couch, quickly agreeing that Chinese takeout and a relaxing night in was just what we needed.

But the baby saw things a little differently.

Takeout worked for Bryce, but “relaxing” was not on his to-do list. What was?

  • Moving folded clothes in dressers to the piles on the floor.
  • Pulling hanging clothes off hangers
  • Rearranging kitchen chairs
  • Dumping all tubs of toys onto the floor
  • Reading (or pulling off of the shelf) every book in his not-so-small collection
  • Unloading dirty clothes hamper onto bedroom floor
  • Emptying the diaper basket onto his floor

And when he’d checked everything off of his list, he began screaming on the floor because we told him he couldn’t do what he wanted to do. It was a frightful ending to a frightful week.

When the night finally came to an end and we were snuggled up in bed, Geoff and I spent some time reflecting and thinking about what we needed. Controlled by our schedules and unending demands from work, school and sports, we had neglected the best stress relievers for our family: just spending some time enjoying nature and each other.

So we packed up our whole family the next day, including the two dogs, and spent the day hiking around a local park. We explored dirt, leaves and rocks, climbing structures, and just tried to enjoy each other. It was a perfect day! There were no tears, loads of smiles and plenty of sunshine. I felt like I could see the stress of the week, probably the whole month, just melt away from all of us.

And the perfect ending to that perfect day? Everybody took a three hour nap when we got home. Family and nature was just what the doctor ordered!


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Second Time Parents, First Time Baby

Second time parents, first time baby.I don’t consider myself a terribly fussy parent. I’ll drop absolutely everything to ensure Miss E takes a nap and gets to bed relatively on time – if only because the repercussions of not doing these things reverberate throughout our lives for days – but I am generally inclined to let her be a kid and not parent too closely. Food consumed off of the floor is a more-regular-than-I’d-like-to-admit occurrence. Dirt is our friend. If she can climb it on her own, I let her, even if it’s a knobby wall rated for kids three times her age.

But I am still surprised by what I’ll allow with Little Sister that just wasn’t a part of Miss E’s newborn life. Namely, that she spends a heckuva amount of time alone.

Playing alone has been a big part of Miss E’s life for quite some time now, but when she was a baby, if she was awake, I was by her side. Even if she was contentedly falling in love with lamps on a blanket on the floor, I was sitting beside her, reading or writing or just admiring her. But if Little Sister is awake and content, I’m busy catching up on things that need doing, or spending time with Miss E. I’ll realize of a sudden that Little Sister is awake just staring at the wall in another room and has been for who knows how long, and feel incredibly guilty.

And I’m already ready to move her into her crib, even though we kept Miss E in our room for almost four months. The only thing holding me back is her predatory big sister.

Little Sister also waits. My goodness, does she wait. When Miss E was dirty, she got a clean diaper, straightaway. When she was hungry, I’d stop whatever I was doing and settle myself in the rocker in her room to nurse. But now that rocker is in the basement, because the room my girls share is just big enough for two cribs. Inevitably, they want things at the same time, and too often Little Sister’s howls can be heard reverberating through our tiny house while I get Miss E settled with a snack or a book or, if she’s very lucky, a game. And then it’s the couch and as quick as Little Sister and I can be, with little time for cuddling and mooning over each other.

I try to make the most of the time we have together despite the fact that already I can see how it will never feel like enough. I try to sing to her during as many of her daytime diaper changes as I can, even if she sometimes wallows in her own filth for a few extra minutes while I switch loads of laundry and dish out lunch. I wear her when we’re out and about, and around the house, when I can get away with it. We get a few days a week with just the two of us, when Miss E is in school, and I try to replicate some of her early days – Little Sister and I in our pajamas, napping, reading books with her in my arms. There’s still so much to do, but I make her important, too.

A few nights ago we sat on the floor together after Miss E had gone to bed, Little Sister kicking and stretching and grinning as I sang to her, and I made my husband come and sit on the floor, too.

“You’re missing this,” I insisted, and it wasn’t just her smile. It was wondering over her littleness the way we once did with Miss E, every moment new, every little motion a marvel. Just because we know better now, as parents, that Little Sister’s demands aren’t immediately dire, just because we’ve seen all of these gross motor developments before, doesn’t meant they aren’t just as special. We aren’t first time parents. But this is the first time we’re parenting Little Sister.

And it’s good to remind myself of that, sometimes.

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Should You Read Fairy Tales to Young Children?

Years ago I wrote on the topic of fairy tales for young children as an early childhood “expert,” how they aren’t developmentally appropriate because many young children cannot distinguish between what’s real and what’s not real, but now I’m revisiting the topic as a parent. And I feel a little differently.

I want Ev to know what storytelling is. I don’t want to say I’ll never read him a fairy tale or a fable because I have fond memories of my mom reading to me about Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and the Tortoise and the Hare. There are underlying messages in these stories that I want to be able to talk about with him. Just recently we shared the story of the mouse and the lion, where the lion is going to eat the mouse but decides to be kind and free him, instead. Then later when the lion falls into a trap, the mouse hears him crying and comes to help. Ev and I talked about being kind and helpful and why that’s important. These are the kinds of stories I want to continue to share.

The blog that originally inspired my previous post suggests that children, “like generations before them… understand the stories as they are intended: fairy tales teach us about life…. and the moral of it all is that it ends well for those who deserve it and bad for those who don’t.” I disagreed with the blogger then, but despite the fact that I do now share some of these stories with my son, I also still hold to how I felt: we should be careful and thoughtful when we choose stories to tell our children, or books to read, or even what TV shows we watch.

Parenting is about making choices and doing what feels right for you and your family. For me it’s considering what I know about Ev: I know he is a thinker and a worrier. I also know that he has bad dreams quite often. Stories with ghosts and witches may only confuse him, and because I don’t want him to feel scared or uncertain about storytelling, I avoid those kinds of stories. I won’t be telling Ev about witches who kidnap children or wolves who eat grandmas but I will continue to share stories from my childhood, like the one about the mouse and the lion. And hopefully he’ll remember the  morals.


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