Put a Bib on It

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Negotiating with Terrorists

Parenting a toddler is like negotiating with a terrorist.If I’ve learned one thing about parenting a toddler, it’s that everything you read about parenting toddlers is crap.

Many an article encouraged me to offer Miss E choices to help her feel like she has some control, and to attempt to avoid the inevitable power struggles. Easy, right?

“Would you like applesauce or raisins for a snack?”

“Cheese crackers.”

“You may have applesauce or raisins. Those are your choices. Which one would you like?”

“Cheese crackers.”

At some point during this exchange, one of us will break down in tears and roll around on the floor. It isn’t always her.

Among my favorite advice to parents of toddlers is telling your child what they can do, rather than what they can’t. It made a lot of sense to me. Unfortunately, it does not make sense to my toddler.

“You may use your spoon to eat your yogurt.”

“I use my hand.”

“You may use your spoon to eat your yogurt, not your hand.”

She seems to consider this for a moment, then holds up one finger.

“Just one finger?”

I’m beginning to think that “just” is her favorite word, rather than the more popular “no.” She will splash “just a little bit” in the tub after being asked not do so. The same goes for shaking a toy in her sister’s face, or coloring on something besides the paper I’ve placed in front of her. She will also have “just one more” cookie, please and thank you.

Toddlers are smart, and Miss E has got my number. It’s not enough to know where the boundaries are, or even just to push them. She wants to haggle. She will not be manipulated by my attempts at developmentally appropriate direction and logical consequences. The only success I’ve had following some gentle parenting methods has been to establish a time and place for when she can engage in behaviors I don’t want to deal with all of the time, like screaming. We save all of our screams for outside, which sometimes means I have to remove her from the dinner table and hold her on one hip on the porch, shivering, while she shrieks until she’s hoarse. It doesn’t work all of the time, though, and I worry for when the novelty of screaming outside wears off.

But what else can you do, really? Parenting a toddler is like negotiating with a terrorist. We do what we must to survive until bedtime. Today, juice boxes and unlimited streaming of Peg + Cat. Tomorrow, the world.

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Family Dinner: More Than Just the Food

Family dinner is about more than just the food.Family dinner, with everyone eating together around the table, is important to me. Some nights, though, it makes my life more difficult. You know the ones: no one likes what is being served, the baby is throwing the food, we have basketball practices and neighborhood meetings; everyone just has something better to do. But there is nothing better than eating dinner together as a family.

Eating dinner as a family is good for the body. Eating as a family promotes healthier eating. Home-cooked meals are typically healthier than fast food or restaurant meals, and children are often willing to try different foods when they see others close to them eating them. One of my son’s favorite foods happens to be salad. How many people can say that about their 17-month-old?

Eating dinner as a family is good for the brain. My son’s ability to manipulate a spoon and cup is incredible. He has been drinking from a regular cup (without a lid) since he was about 13 months and has been effectively using a spoon since 7 months. And think of all the language your baby is exposed to as you sit around the table discussing your day with your spouse, other children and the baby himself.

Eating dinner as a family is good for emotional health. For me, dinner time with my family is the one time of day where it is calm (most days). It can turn a sour day sweet by just having the quality time with my family, uninterrupted by emails, phone calls or text messages.

Eating dinner as a family is good for family bonding. Family dinner gives the whole family an opportunity to share what is going on at work, school or in their lives. It is a time where everyone feels love and acceptance.

I grew up in a family where meal time was important. We always gathered every night around the large oak table to eat dinner as a family, and to this day some of my best memories come from the time spent there. Because family meals aren’t just about food. They’re about all kinds of nourishment: physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.

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I Don’t Want to be the Grown-Up

2015-01-01_1420127217Before I had kids, I did the usual stuff. Stayed up late. Slept in. Went out at night at a moment’s notice because I didn’t have to make elaborate arrangements to do so. I worked all day at a job I loved and spent most of my free time doing whatever I wanted.

Mostly, I don’t miss my life before my children, because it was a life without my children in it. But sometimes – the smallest, most shameful times, like tonight – I do.

My husband and I were enjoying our weekly dinner with my best friend’s family, who endured weekend after weekend of co-habitation when she and I were teenagers. I say endured because of all of the giggling that went on and all of the glitter we ground into their carpet, but they have been gracious and kind for as long as I have known them. They have gone on to open their arms to me and mine as an adult, and Miss E absolutely loves them.

I spent the evening doing what I do so often now: trying to eat and talk between reminding Miss E to be kind, to be gentle, to be grateful. Between cuddling Little Sister, nursing, changing diapers, wiping noses. At some point most of the younger folks, including my husband, had gone downstairs to play a video game, but Little Sister was hungry, it was getting late, and I felt badly that Miss E was running wild.

I got as much of a handle on the situation as I could and went downstairs to let my husband know that we needed to get going.

The lights were down. There was laughter and chatter and silly jokes. The glow of the television lit the faces of my best friend, her brother, her cousins, all of whom I’d grown up with. Everybody was smiling. I remembered similar nights in that basement, when we’d stay up too late putting on costumes, playing games, watching movies. There were a couple of times we heard feet on the stairs and someone came down to tell us to go to bed.

Now I’m that someone.

I came out of the shadows like the greatest of buzz kills to collect my husband and say my goodbyes. I kissed my best friend on the top of her head and waited until we were in the car to cry.

It’s hard to have small children. I think I know that it is and then something happens – like not being able to stay and play even for a little bit because it’s more than an hour past bedtime and they’ll make me pay for every minute, because if I’m not minding my kids somebody else has to and it doesn’t feel fair to pass the buck even when they’re willing – and it’s like the bottom drops out of my world. I see a new one, the real one, where I spend a great part of my time doing the really important – but often very tedious and trying – work of raising children. I feel irrelevant and deeply sad. I think that I used to have things to say that weren’t about putting off potty training because I’m too tired to deal with it. I didn’t used to be so tired all the time.

“Goodbye, adults,” they said as we left the basement, their words one hundred percent full of love and frivolity and not meant in the least to hurt.

But I do.

And I really shouldn’t, because it’s not like I would change a single thing about our choices to start and grow our family.

But I still do.

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My Son, the Jerk

dec1At work we talk about “known fors.” Simply, what are you “known for” in regards to your work? Obviously, the desire is that your “known for” is positive, but it’s usually something negative. For example, if you are always ten minutes late to meetings, being late becomes your “known for,” regardless of the quality of work you produce. Everything else about your work ethic could be flawless, but what people will remember is that you are always ten minutes late to meetings.

I am beginning to worry that Ev’s “known for” is being a jerk. Often, Ev is all the things we hope for in a young child: he’s sweet, intelligent, empathetic and compassionate. But lately, he’s being a jerk.

I use the word “jerk” because aside from foul language not appropriate for this blog, I can’t come up with a better way to describe his behavior. He is unfriendly, uncooperative and in some cases downright mean. For example, speaking of foul language, he has started using a very poignant four letter word that begins with the letter “F.” Yes, he picked up that word at home. Yes, we are trying to be more careful with our word choices. Yes, we realize it’s our fault, but in our defense, he’s smart. We don’t use this particular word very often but he knew it would make the most impact.

I was so concerned about his language that I felt I had to warn his teacher, and she dropped another bomb on me during our conversation: he had tried to stab a child two days in a row, once with a plastic fork at lunch and once with a push-pin. Both were in response to those children getting something he wanted. That’s embarrassing. I feel like other adults are making judgments about Ev, and about my parenting.

While he doesn’t always resort to stabbing, lately he does often resort to physical aggression, such as pushing and/or hitting other children. He says “I’m going to kill you,” and has started using finger guns when he doesn’t get his way. All jerk-like behaviors.

It’s ironic because when I was a teacher in a preschool classroom, my “favorites” were the children who acted similarly. I connected well with the children who challenged me and felt confident working with them. I never let them see me sweat and knew a lot of their behavior came down to attention seeking, so I always focused on positive attention. But when it’s my own child, I worry he is not likeable. Maybe it’s because when I am the one interacting with him that I don’t know what to do. I literally can’t think of one developmentally appropriate strategy to use when Ev is using his new “F” word and shooting me with finger guns because I won’t let him have goldfish crackers for breakfast. Or how to respond when Ev’s teacher welcomes him into the classroom and he says, “Go away, I don’t like you.”

I want Ev to be likeable and I want to feel confident about my parenting. I want Ev’s “known for” to be that he is a sweet child who is kind and thoughtful.  And I want my “known for” to be that I’m a good parent. But right now, I’m not feeling optimistic.


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.


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