Put a Bib on It


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Toddlers and Food

foodMy first memories with my great-grandfather are memories of him sneaking me bites of bologna and cheese. My grandpa was a chef and was always cooking for festivals, and as I grew up I got to tag along and learn a lot about cooking. Food and family gatherings have been important in my life and I want to share these experiences with our son.

As we introduce our son to our family culture and traditions around food, we have encountered some challenges and blessings. Eating can be a challenge with a young toddler, but when it comes to the way our son eats, we are blessed! Here are three of our struggles, and strategies we’ve used to cope:

It takes time.
Food with a toddler takes planning because we cook at home more often than we did before. I enjoy cooking, and I want our son to take part, even though it might make the process take longer. We have a small kid’s kitchen beside the pantry for our son to cook along with me. I have even held him on my shoulders while I’ve prepped things and stood him on a chair to wash vegetables and dishes in the sink. As he has grown he also has begun using a spoon or fork which make meal time even longer, but this is an important skill to work through. Chopsticks will be a bigger challenge down the road.

It takes patience.
When we sit down to eat it can take a lot of patience or wait time. Our son doesn’t always like the first bite of something so we might introduce a new food several times. This can be aggravating after spending time preparing a meal. Learning his preferences requires constant observation. Colors, textures, temperature, smells, and hunger level are all factors in his meal and snacks. Allowing him time to develop skills to feed himself and watching for cues of when he is finished have also been important.

It is often messy!
Being messy bothers my wife more than me. When we eat out, the floor can be pretty messy which sometimes gets more attention than we’d like. As we have added new foods, such as noodles, food ends up everywhere. Recently, he enjoys waving noodles in the air before eating them, resulting with some on the wall. But not to worry—everything can be cleaned and our dogs like helping. Although with dogs around during meals, it added to the mess. He enjoyed feeding the dogs a bit too much so we ended up needing to move them during meals. We have a huge stack of bibs which have saved on total outfit changes. We have also learned that when he is done with his bib, he is done eating.

Modeling the behavior we want to see has been important, especially when it comes to making healthy choices and learning manners during meals. There are few healthy choices out in the world for children so staying away from fast food chains and maintaining a healthy meal lifestyle has been important for my family. We  encourage words at meals and he quickly began to say “dink” for drink which was closely followed by “cookie.” But we continue to model “Please ” and “Thank you” and are hopeful that he will be a good model for a sibling.


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Play With Everyone!

play-with-everyoneWhen I was growing up, I loved to play. I think that most kids do. I grew up in the country and had lots of long days playing outside. I have three brothers and although we didn’t always get along, playing together would eventually teach us how to get along with, take care of, and protect each other.

One activity I really enjoyed was Scouting. We played often at Scouting meetings and camp outs—while also learning a lot. Baden Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, spoke of Scouting as a game with a purpose, and I have to admit I grew as a person even without knowing I was learning or developing character. I feel that like Scouting, play lets my son grow and learn to adapt to the world around him.

We took our son to play at the park and at a mall play area. It is so much fun watching him move around and choose where to go, what to do and who to play with. It is wonderful watching him explore with sand and water, although he is a mess when he is finished. He and I don’t seem to mind being messy.

He enjoys everything and everyone. He has a character and spirit that reminds me of my grandpa, who never met a stranger. He says hello and acknowledges everyone that he comes across. I wonder what he is thinking. Maybe “Wow, what should I do first?” Or, “Those kids look like new friends.” He tries keeping up with the big kids running and zooming down the slide, and then goes to greet every new parent and child that comes to play.

Many young children don’t seem to care who they play with—which is great! Thinking about recent events, it makes me wonder when society lost this open, non-judgmental friendliness. As children age, they sometimes begin not playing with others for a specific reason, and become exclusionary in who they play with. I can only guess that the reason this happens comes from experiences and what we learn from our parents. Young children of all nations, colors, and religions look past everything and seem to find the positive possibility of a play partner, new friend, or buddy even if just for a few moments. I hope to be able to foster openness to playing with anyone in my child as he grows up.

I’ve been accused of being a big kid even as an adult, and I hope that I can help shape my children’s learning through play like Scouting did for me. I wish my son never loses his character and continues to play, have fun, and enjoy learning from all of the people that he encounters in his life journey. Differences are something that make us special, and being friends with those who are different from us brings new experiences and learning so that we can all grow.


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Perseverance

toddler-running

Allowing children to explore their world is an important part of their development!

Our son is walking, almost running now and trying to be a daredevil with the furniture in the house. He has started looking right at me, smiling a little to see my reaction and then leaping, falling, and testing my reflexes. When he wants to get into something he is a pretty creative and persistent problem solver. We now have to lock the baby gates because he has figured out how to open them without much effort. He is adventurous to say the least and is extremely aware when I am actively present in the room. He has begun the “dada dada dada” as he’s doing something and I’m ready to  hear the “Watch me dad!” soon before he does something like jump from the top of the stairs.

As dangerous as some of his actions seem he is exploring his world and testing me a little —sometimes a lot. What I find really encouraging is that he is getting better at being a problem solver. He might fail for what seems like days to master opening something or getting to a book that he really wants that slipped under a chair. He never seems to get frustrated and continues to try. I could get it for him, and I do sometimes, but he is learning and it is inspiring to  see his mind working. I want to do all that I can to help him persevere as an independent little person so that he grows up and is able to see things through, meet goals, and ultimately be successful. But even if he can’t always follow through, achieve goals, or win it all that it isn’t the end of the world—we get up and try again.

I’m reminded of the persistence of athletes during the Olympics. Many people remember the Dream Team from the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, but I remember a runner from that year. His name is Derek Redmond and he was a projected to win a medal. During his semifinals he tore his hamstring. He could have stopped, maybe he should have. But he tried to hobble toward the finish. Then a man came running onto the track through the security and judges. That persistent man was Derek’s father, and after he reached his son they gradually crossed the finish line together. I’m sure that it would have been great to win a medal, but a father and son crossing the line together is what life is about. Things happen in our journey, and it’s how we handle these bumps in the road that helps us learn and grow. Derek had worked so hard to get to the race and he probably would have gotten to the finish line on his own but sometimes it’s okay to let someone help out. This is the kind of relationship that I want with my son.


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Why

life-is-precious

…we are reminded that life is so valuable and precious, and we have faith that it will work out.

One of the happiest days of my life was finding out that my wife was pregnant with our son. It comes to no surprise that when my wife was acting strange I was suspicious that we might be expecting again. My wife almost couldn’t contain herself and did her best to capture my reaction on video like many other people. I was speechless and wanted to share our excitement with some close friends. It was such a joy. Parenting has taught me so much and I was about to learn another lesson.

Sorrowfully, it wasn’t the lesson that I had expected. After only one week my wife began not feeling well and knew something was wrong. We lost this precious joy a few days later and were stunned. There were no words, only emotions. We wondered what we had done to have this happen. We started asking, why? Questions of how and why float through my head. I’ve not quite felt the same since. My wife has taken this very hard and time is the only thing that has brought me to the point of being able to write about it. There are few words that can console a soul from hurting.

My wife and I have leaned on our faith as we question and try to understand why something like this would happen. Through this we are reminded that life is so valuable and precious, and we have faith that it will work out. I can’t imagine all the things that my wife has had to endure, and all I can do is love and support her and give her space to feel what she needs to feel.

I remember thinking that being a parent is the most important and difficult thing that I could ever do in my life. Life continues to teach us and we learn through every experience.  I think about what I can learn from going through this. Time helps, but only a little. I keep revisiting in my mind what I could have done differently or done to help. I struggle with the answers, but I know that we will get through this together as a family.


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First Birthday

first-birthdayWe just celebrated the traditional big milestone in a child’s life, the first birthday. Like many first-time parents, I felt there was a lot of stress to make this a special day, but at the same time, I don’t remember my first birthday or many birthdays growing up. My birthday always landed near a special weekend and was a busy time for our family. I don’t want this for my son—birthdays are a day of celebrating getting older and thanking and celebrating his mother as well. It doesn’t have to be a national holiday, but it does need to be special.

For this birthday, we knew it would be more of an event for the parents. We decided on setting some traditions to move forward. Since my wife is from China and our son was born in the year of the lamb, we had some toy lambs as part of our theme and hope to continue this tradition as he grows older. We decorated the house with balloons and flags making the house look like a rainbow. We also decided to have some sort of game to play each year. This year we played a fun game about occupations with items scattered on the floor that symbolized occupations/interests. First, he picked up a little football, and then he made his way through several other items until finally he was drawn to a little green New Testament bible. So maybe one day he will be a missionary, minister, writer, or librarian. We sang happy birthday and had fun with his cake, and even though he was a little sick he eventually made a huge mess for us.  He certainly gained a lot of energy after eating the cake. We finished with opening presents, and while he was most interested in the paper and bags, he really liked his lamb book from grandma.

Sadly the party had to come to an end, but our little boy did seem to have a lot of fun with everyone that day. We took lots of pictures and will have plenty of memories for this first birthday. As a worn out dad from setting things up and cleaning up afterwards, I reflected on the amount of time we are able to get together like this with our friends. I am hopeful that in the future we will have company more frequently, especially now that we have some practice after this gathering!


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Stroller Etiquette

Stroller time!My wife and I enjoy getting out of the house when we can with our son. Strollers or buggies are one of the most useful tools that we have with us when we go out. There is great debate online around forward-facing versus rear-facing strollers, with a main concern being the ability to communicate with your child as you walk. We have a forward facing stroller and make a conscious effort to talk with him and narrate what we see and experience on the walk. Our son generally enjoys riding in his stroller as we explore the world. He must have an interesting perspective at that level as we roam around. If the weather is cold, we go out to large stores and malls.

Some days, however, the experience isn’t so great for the driver of this chariot. It is estimated that 13,000 children under the age of three are involved in stroller accidents each year. I didn’t realize how dangerous it can be. There are specific issues with the actual stroller, such as lack of supervision or not fastening the child. Both of these I have control over, however it didn’t take long to learn that there are no standard driving rules for other strollers, shopping carts, or surrounding pedestrians. In fact, there are times when other people are oblivious of their surroundings and it keeps us on our toes when we go out.

There are a lot of things to think about when we go for a stroll and getting through pedestrian traffic can be difficult. I often open the door for my wife and the stroller, but people quickly get through the opened door before she can navigate the doorway. Although occasionally someone holds the door for us, and we politely thank them each time. Shopping carts roam everywhere and can be a dangerous collision for a child. A stroller isn’t a shopping cart, so I am careful to keep extra space between us and the other “drivers.” I find that it could be easy to have some “stroller rage” from what appears to be inconsiderate people at times, but I try to focus on being patient. There is no need to rush through life with my little one. I want to soak in every moment that I can. Although, I would encourage everyone to share some kindness when you come across your next stroller. If we are all patient with one another, whether we’re casually walking through the park or busy shopping at the store, it will help us all to have a better day!


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Dad Days

Dad-DayMy son is adorable and I enjoy watching him laugh. Even after the long day at work I make it a point to spend quality time with him as soon as I can when I get home. He usually smiles and I feel like I’m a big toy for him: playing, talking and crawling around on the floor. I think it is good quality time which is important to establish a loving relationship. I get extra time on weekends and I usually get to greet him with a smile in the morning. As days and weeks go by I still don’t feel that it’s enough so I have decided that I am going to make a new set of holidays.

Welcome to the very important Dad Days at my house. My plan is for this amazing “holiday”  to happen throughout the year. It starts by taking a day off and making a big deal out of spending quality time with my son. As he gets older, the activities will change, but the importance of having quality parent time and allowing for some big kid time of my own are what matter on Dad Days. I didn’t have much of a relationship with my dad and now that he is gone I can’t fix that. What I can do is establish this relationship with my son so that when he is older we can talk and grow together.

My first Dad Day was on a Friday and we spent most of our day exploring our house on the floor. We also played with the dogs and read books and talked. I’m still unsure what my son is babbling about, but it is great to have eye contact and be engaged in each other’s presence. I only hope that the continuance of this holiday will establish a foundation for when he gets older.