Put a Bib on It

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Teaching Diversity

friendsSometimes experiences that are innocent and even humorous feel much heavier and serious if I don’t handle properly. One of those experiences happened to Ev and I recently and I wish I was more prepared to know what to say or do. We were shopping at a clothing store and a woman was walking toward us in full Islamic dress, including the piece of clothing that covers the face, only leaving space for the eyes. Ev pointed directly at her and said, “Look! A ninja!” The woman checking us out at the register and another shopper chuckled. But I did not think it was funny; I was stunned—and mortified. The woman absolutely saw him pointing and heard what he said, as well as her family members. When I finally processed what was happening, my instinct kicked in, and I knocked Ev’s finger down and told him it was very rude to point. I then said, “We do not know if that woman is a ninja; some people choose to dress that way, just like you chose to wear what you are wearing.” I followed that by telling him, “Some people take much meaning from the clothes they choose to wear.”

I was literally dumbfounded. I wondered if I should find the woman and apologize. I wondered if I should let him ask her about her attire to learn more about that culture. But I worried that would extend the awkward tension further. In the end, I didn’t do either for worry the situation would somehow get worse. I paid for our shirt and walked out of the store praying Ev hadn’t offended the woman or hurt her or her families’ feelings.

This feels so heavy to me because teaching Ev about diversity, culture—and most of all tolerance of people who are different (for any reason)—is very important to my husband and I. Not only that but kindness. It’s important to us that Ev does what is right and kind always. A very relevant Parent Source e-newsletter was recently about diversity. A key passage for me said, “Children are born with open minds and their experiences help determine how they will navigate through their world. It’s important that parents recognize that although cultural messaging comes from various sources such as family members, the community and the media, family has the biggest impact.” I want to do everything I can to keep Ev’s mind open.

The Parent Source article also listed tips to talk to children about diversity. Many of which I know and do, such as seeking out opportunities to experience diversity as a family and acknowledging stereotypes when we encounter them—mostly about gender roles these days. But when Ev called out this woman, I was not prepared to handle it in the moment.

In hindsight, there is not much we could have done to prevent what happened from happening. His context came from an iPad game he plays called Clumsy Ninja. So I know it was nothing but innocent. Although, pointing and talking about someone is always rude so we need to work on that. But he wasn’t trying to be offensive or unkind. He honestly thought the woman was a ninja. Since then, I’ve shared pictures with Ev showing the garments the woman was wearing and we have talked about it. My hope is that in the future when Ev sees something out of place that he doesn’t understand, that he will talk to me or my husband about it at an appropriate time so that we can discuss and answer questions together.

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Talking or Teaching? Both!

Elli learningOne of the (many) great things about working at an organization focused on early childhood education when you’re a young parent is that you’re literally surrounded by child development experts. I have the chance to ask questions around the lunch table about my daughter’s development and get input from other parents—who also happen to have master’s degrees in this exact field. It’s a pretty lucky place to be.

The other day, I was talking about my daughter’s ever-expanding vocabulary, which fascinates both my husband and me. It seems like Elliot says new words every day and her ability to “connect the dots” is the most interesting to watch.

We haven’t taught her where her nose is, or to show us her feet or touch her hair. But those are all things that she knows the answer to. It you ask her where her feet are, she’ll sit down and try to lift them both in the air to show you—it’s adorable.

As I was sharing this story and my amazement that she knew these things, one of my early childhood colleagues gently said, “Tara. You did teach her that. You taught her that by talking to her everyday and telling her what you’re doing while you do it. When you tell her that you are brushing her hair, you help her learn where her hair is.”

Whoa. We talk to Elliot all the time and I knew it was what we were supposed to be doing. I knew it would ultimately help her language development, and we even use “grown-up words” when we talk to her to help her learn. I really didn’t realize how much she was picking up while we were doing that, though.

I saw it again this morning when I looked out the window and said, “Elliot—look outside. It’s raining today.” She held her hand out like an adult does when they are trying to see if it’s raining or not. “What is she doing?” my husband asked, and I had to laugh. She’s testing for rain—because every morning before we get in the car, we walk out onto the driveway and talk about if it’s warm or cold today, and if it’s raining, I always stick my hand out to show her that it is.

As parents, especially of young children, we don’t always get to see the immediate impact of our parenting actions. In this instance, however, I can see it clearly and it’s amazing.

And it’s probably time to start paying close attention to what we’re saying and doing around her, or my guess is that our little parrot will soon be repeating something we don’t want her to repeat—and probably in front of her grandparents!


Breastfeeding With an Audience

breastfeeding with an audienceThere is nothing quite like having a conversation about breastfeeding with an 8-year-old.

I’d just picked up Little Sister from her family child care provider. The daughter of one of her neighbors was playing outside and began asking me questions as I walked to my car. What was my name? What was my baby’s name? How old was she?

I was happy to oblige. Little Sister, not so much. While she’ll happily eat Cheerios and pears and peas, she largely refuses to drink milk from a bottle or cup. Consequently, I can’t get her settled for the drive home until she nurses.

As she fussed and tugged at my blouse, I explained to the girl that she was hungry and I needed to feed her.

“So she’s going to suck, like, right there?”

She pulled a sort of silly face and gestured with her hand at her own chest.

“She is,” I replied, trying not to make a big deal of it. If you’re a kid and you’ve never seen somebody nurse a baby before, it can seem pretty strange. I still think it’s odd sometimes, and this is my second baby.

But it was her next question that really made me smile.

“Was she born like that?”

“Yes. All babies can drink milk from their mama’s bodies or from a bottle. Some mamas choose to breastfeed and some choose to use a bottle.”

The nuances of supply and latch and the myriad other complications and considerations in that choice seemed like too much to get into, especially as there was nothing for it but to take a seat in my car and nurse Little Sister with an audience. I don’t typically like to regard her meals as teaching opportunities, but I do feel strongly that normalizing breastfeeding is important. It seems like most depictions of breastfeeding in broader culture are usually for shock value: problematic depictions of extended breastfeeding in Game of Thrones come to mind. It’s become normal for me, but this girl had no idea how it worked and was pretty obviously curious in a way only children can be. Even if I was a bit reluctant and embarrassed, I certainly wasn’t going to show it.

Because feeding my baby is nothing to be embarrassed about.


At a Loss for Words

preschooler makes dinnerI never realized how many times I would literally be at a loss for what to do as a parent. So often, Ev does something and I don’t know what to do or even say. For example, the other morning I was sitting at the table working on the grocery list for the week. Ev approached me and asked if he could make “soup” next to me. I didn’t see anything wrong with that so I said, “Sure.”

He proceeded to get a bowl and spoon out of the cupboard in the kitchen. Then he asked if he could get his “ingredients” for which I again, obliged. He started with salad dressings from the fridge: balsamic vinaigrette and thousand island. He continually brought more ingredients out, occasionally asking me for help to take off a lid or squeeze a bottle. He included caramel syrup and honey, two raw eggs and mustard to name a few. He remembered out loud that “grown-ups like salad” and went outside to pick some leaves to add to the “dinner” as he was now calling it. All this time, I was amused and even impressed with Ev’s concoction, not to mention I was able to work on my grocery list and other chores while he was busy. I did assume I was going to have to try it, which I was willing to do (and bracing for).

When Ev was finished, he asked to put the “dinner” in a casserole dish and bake it in the oven. Again, I allowed for it and told him the oven would have to pre-heat and it would take a long time and we should probably just be done. That’s when I realized the activity had snowballed into a territory I wasn’t prepared for. When I mentioned being done, he immediately looked disappointed. He said it was dinner and he wanted us all to eat it. He asked if I could put it in the microwave so it would cook faster. I said yes, put it in for three minutes, took it out and set it on the stove to cool, all the while wondering how I was going help Ev find closure on this without hurting his feelings.

The “dinner” sat out on the stove all day. He worked very hard on it and I could tell he was proud of himself. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him it was uneatable. I did not know what to do. In the end, I did what any self respecting mom would do—and let his dad handle it. My husband explained to Ev at bedtime that we couldn’t eat the “dinner” and it would probably be disposed of by the morning. And Ev seemingly handled it fine.

There is just no way to be fully prepared when you are a parent. In fact, sometimes I feel more out of control than in control. And there is always something causing me to wonder what the best parenting move is to make. I feel pretty confident that my husband and I are both decent parents, but it would be nice if Ev didn’t “keep us on our toes” all the time.

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A Cake Is Just a Cake

Happy-Birthday-EAt a recent doctor’s visit, the pediatrician asked Miss E how old she was going to be at her next birthday, and she explained that she’d just turned three.

“Was Elsa on your cake?”

The doctor’s tone was kind, but Miss E merely gave her a blank stare.

“Or Anna? Who was on your cake this year?”

Miss E looked at me for clarification, and I gently steered the question into more familiar territory.

“What kind of cake did you want for your birthday?”

Given when I’d asked her what she wanted for her birthday the nature of her cake had been her only response, this was an easy one.

“Chocolate cake. With sprinkles.”

The pediatrician smiled and continued with her examination, and I reflected on the brief exchange. Elsa and Anna are not fixtures in my house. This is a tremendous relief, and not just because I found the movie monumentally irritating. There’s not a Disney princess in sight in our house, and not much talk of them, either. While she’s just recently started to recognize Elsa thanks to attending preschool, I feel relatively confident she couldn’t pick Belle or Ariel or Aurora out of a lineup.

Who could she name if not the princesses? Han Solo. Princess Leia. R2-D2. Batgirl. Supergirl. Wonder Woman. The fact that these characters are increasingly beloved to her despite having very little exposure beyond thrifted t-shirts and my old action figures makes me think all the more that we really have some measure of control over what’s being fed into her brain. She loves what my husband and I love, what we choose to share with her, and that can be a lot of fun for us.

So while she wants to be Batgirl for Halloween this year and I think that’s pretty cool, ultimately I really just want her childhood to be about being a child, her play to just be play, her cakes to be cakes. I don’t want to buy all of the stuff and contend with all of the media exposure, because so far not doing those things has been really positive for us and for the way we choose to parent. I often joke that I want to give my girls an 80s childhood, which seems a whole lot less complicated than a 2010s childhood, more about getting messy and real and unplugged. More about just being a kid, and not being a character.

Maybe it’s just Miss E’s temperament and I’m in for a whole new world with Little Sister, but I just don’t know. Either way, I’m not going to be inviting Disney into our lives for awhile yet, if I can help it—and when I do, it will be something I won’t mind watching a thousand times, like Kiki’s Delivery Service.


A Toddler Ate My Baby.

elliponyI wrote recently about how I don’t miss my baby being little. That’s still true, but in the meantime, my baby has been turned into a full-fledged toddler. My husband joked the other night that it seems a toddler came and ate our baby, and that feels more and more true every day.

This toddler stage is… interesting. Just when we got the hang of parenting a baby, our world was turned upside down and we now need a whole new set of skills. Not to mention a lifetime supply of patience.

My daughter wants to talk. So badly. She babbles constantly and recently started using the same inflection and cadence that an adult uses, and it’s adorable. She points to what she wants and this new communication makes life easier in many ways. When she wants to eat, she wants to her high chair, reaches up and says, “num num!” When she wants water instead of milk, she shakes her head “no” at the milk cup and says, “wa wa!” She’s figuring out new ways to let us know what she wants and picking up new words every day.

But my daughter also doesn’t know words that she badly wants to say. Her pointing is pretty vague, so when she points to the fridge, it’s hard to figure out if she wants milk, blueberries, a cold teething ring or if she just likes how it looks. She shakes her head “no” when you put rice on her plate, then proceeds to eat it by the handful. She is desperate to have a spoon or fork when she’s eating, only to set it down and use her fingers instead (but don’t make the mistake of thinking she’s done with that spoon or fork. Because she is NOT!).

She is literally learning something new during every waking moment, and it’s amazing to watch. Sometimes, especially when she’s sleeping, she still looks so much like a baby. Other times, the way she looks like a little girl literally takes my breath away.

Thankfully (I think?) this toddler stage will last for awhile, so we have some time to practice our newfound toddler parenting skills. Which is good since our toddler is doing her very best to make sure that we have to use them all!

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Ready or Not

baby on the wayThe time is almost here! September 29—the baby is coming. It isn’t my first; I feel like I should be ready. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Yes, I have all the material things I need, but am I ready?!

To the women who love being pregnant—I envy you. I want to love it. I really do. I love the idea of it. I love the magic of it (That we can grow little humans from microscopically small eggs and sperm is amazing). In fact, before I got pregnant again I even missed being pregnant and told my husband I was ready to do it all again. Apparently I had motherhood amnesia (where you temporarily forget all the “bad” things about pregnancy, labor, delivery, and newborns, just long enough to want to have another little one). Well, it’s all clear to me again now.

Pregnancy is rough on my body. It was with my first and this time has been even tougher. I spent over five months sick as dog, vomiting in “ideal” places like parking lots and out car windows, three weeks with a very rare infection in my neck believed to be caused by the relentless vomiting that lead to four emergency room visits and three days in the hospital. And let’s not forget, I have a 2-year-old at home. Add all of this to the growing abdominal region (I am one of those women that everyone asks if it is twins—if you know what I mean), a painfully uncomfortable pulled stomach muscle, working full time, and a bladder the size of a quarter and you have the joys of my pregnancy.

You would think with all of that I would be chomping at the bit to get this baby out of me, but I’m not. I don’t know if I am ready. Actually, I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready. I have all those insistent questions bubbling in my head all day long: what kind of personality will he have, how will the family dynamic change, will I ever sleep again, will our marital relationship suffer as we deal the stresses of three children (including a newborn), what if there are problems during the delivery, what if there are other unforeseen issues with the babies health, what if the baby cries all day, what if the other children don’t feel the love they deserve, what if I don’t have enough love for ALL of my children and husband… Ahhhh. I could make (read: am making) myself crazy.

I suppose, there is no choice. The day is coming. Within the month he will be here and I will be living the answers to all of my questions. I suppose, all I can say is, ready or not…here he comes!


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