Wednesday, February 29, 2012

You Need More PINK!

I can’t pinpoint exactly when Americans felt the necessity to dress their daughters up like Easter baskets with ribbons and ruffles and sparkles and bows in order to prove they were girls, but I can say that as a child born in 1976, those things were generally reserved for special occasions, and there are plenty of photos of me and my three older sisters wearing earth tones and primary colors, and even [gasp!] blue without any flowers or frilly things with it!  If you know me well, then you know that I hate the color pink.  As one might imagine given today’s society, this became somewhat problematic once I had a daughter.  While there are a few muted shades I can tolerate, especially when sprinkled in with other colors, I usually find myself shuttering, and ultimately fleeing from the girls section in clothing stores.  Particularly the shoe department – apparently no girl can be without a bedazzled flower, rainbow, or glitter on her already pink shoes. 
Don’t get me wrong, I see plenty of little cutie pie girls dolled up in pink floral dresses and I find them absolutely adorable!  I have no problem with other parents choosing to dress their children this way, because that is absolutely their own decision and far from my business to judge.  Worrying about how others dress their children is not something I see as a valuable way to spend my time.  However, when it comes to my own daughter, something about the whole thing makes me cringe.  I dread the day when she will be old enough to choose the things she wants to wear.  The day when she will start to submit to marketing, peer pressure and social paradigms.  She is only 19 months old, and I’m already struggling to devise a way to somehow protect her from this oversimplified “genderfication,” as I personally like to call it.  Even if I can limit her exposure at home to television and Disney princesses, how can I stop it from seeping in through friends at school, sleepovers, etc… without keeping my child in a bubble or making her an outcast?
It is infuriating to say the least, because there is something far greater going on than simply dressing girls in pink.  The notion that girls are only meant to be pretty little princesses has far reaching implications, and marketing, media and society all seem to be on board with the plan.  But whether or not immersing my daughter in a sparkle covered pink world of Barbies and princesses will have an adverse impact on her life is a topic for another post.  My intention is to focus on the color divide that has evolved around our children.  It truly baffles me.
Prior to last month’s addition of yellow, somewhat feminine looking eyeglasses, I can probably count on one hand the number of times strangers referred to my daughter as a girl.  Even if she was wearing hints of pink, the response given far too often after it was revealed that she was not a boy was, “You need more pink.”  You need more pink?  What does that even mean?  I have to dress my daughter monochromatically because you are incapable of uttering an extra sentence to inquire about the sex of my baby?  These people always acted as if I had her dressed head to toe in baby blue, and it was obviously all my fault for leading them astray.  When in actuality, my means of trickery usually consisted of her being dressed in earth tones, primary colors, or even pastel yellows and greens.  My favorite incident occured when she was wearing the rainbow, puffy sleeved onesie pictured below.  She was pulled out of a blue baby carrier, and my other baby gear is either indigo blue or earth tones.  It made me question whether baby gear colors trump clothing in shaping people's perception of gender.  I was unaware that I had to extend the pink rule to my baby gear as well.  In the end, I was always more irritated by the foolish color related comments than the fact that they mixed up her sex. 
Onesie from my favorite "you need more pink" incident
What struck me about the whole thing was that apparently baby boys are permitted to wear ALL but one or two colors, whereas girls are strictly limited to pink, and I suppose by close relation purple.  When did this happen?  I realize it’s been going on for some time now, but it only seems to be getting worse.  The few commercials I have managed to catch that are aimed at young girls practically make my head spin Exorcist style.  There’s usually a few girls playing in a bedroom, EVERYTHING in the room is pink, and there are sparkles literally flying through the air.  What is the reasoning behind this?  Is our society so hell bent on instilling female gender roles from infancy onward, that from day one we have to blanket their entire world in the one color that is associated with women?  Will they not know that they are girls if every single thing they own, from school supplies to dishes, isn't pink or purple?  I’m pretty sure if we opened up the spectrum a bit, girls would still play with dolls and adhere to all the other parameters of their “genderfication.”
For the record, I’m not against playing with dolls, or many other things typically associated with girls.  The division of labor in my home could not be more stereotypically assigned, with me doing the cooking, cleaning, laundry, sewing and daytime child rearing as a stay at home mom.  I adore fulfilling that role and wouldn’t have it any other way.  I think doll play instills nurturing abilities, and pretending to be a princess is wonderful exercise for the imagination.  However, my daughter also plays with cars (which she loves!) among other things, and even at this early age is showing signs of becoming what some may consider a tomboy.  I just wish that everything for girls wasn’t color coded, and especially in the case of toys, that pink girly things weren’t the ONLY things marketed towards them.  Sadly, with media variations expanding by the second, hand in hand with new means of bombarding these images and products at the brains of our impressionable daughters, I only see this problem getting worse.  As a result, chances are my daughter’s favorite color will be pink.  If that’s the case – so be it, as long as it makes her happy. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Hippies Would Disown Me

A couple weeks ago, one of the pages I follow on facebook posted a question for their followers on what things they are hiding so they aren't kicked out of the crunchy crowd.  There was even a blog carnival on this topic a week ago.  It got me thinking.

We are hiding key parts of ourselves so we aren't judged.  Things we are ashamed of for no other reason than having a very judgmental crowd of people look down on us.  And the thing is, most of those that would judge the decisions we make that set us apart from the truly crunchy crowd do the same things we are doing.

So I asked my friends, asked on the facebook page, and a lot of the answers were shockingly similar.

These are my top reasons the hippies and crunchy crowd would disown me in a heartbeat.

1.  Shopping at Walmart - This one is highly hidden, yet when asked, is admitted freely.  I shop at Walmart for everything.  I live in a smaller town, and we only have 3 grocery stores, but Walmart has everything I could need in one trip.  And when you shop with an almost five year old that wants everything, the faster the trips, the easier it is on me.  I also used to work at Walmart.  Just with those two admissions, I'm out of the crunchy club.

2.  Television - The television in our house (for the most part) runs all day long.  I can't have quiet no matter what I'm doing, so most of the day it's music (our laptop is hooked through our TV since we don't have cable or a DVD player), but our daughter watches movies, I watch trashy TV shows, and the TV is rarely turned off.

3.  Ina May Gaskin - This one is more in with the natural birth crowd, but I am not a big fan of Ina May.  I believe she has done a lot for pregnant women and birth in this country, but I don't think she is the all knowing and powerful midwife she has been set up to be.  I don't agree with a lot of her practices.  And with that, my birth credibility is out the window ;)

4.  High Heels - I love my stilettos.  I will always love my stilettos.  I don't care if they ruin my hips, my ankles, my posture, my back.  I will wear them until the day I die.

5.  Tin Foil - I cook with this all the time.  The bottom of my stove is lined with tin foil to catch drippings.  I use tin foil to cover food in my fridge if I don't have a lid for it.  Tin foil is my best friend.

6.  Disposable Diapers - I used only disposable diapers with my daughter.  Yes, this was before I became the crunchy nut I am, but I never once considered cloth.

7.  Baby Led Weaning - We started our daughter on solids at four months old (three months adjusted). We fed her with a spoon from bottled Gerber baby food until she was almost a year.

8.  Babywearing - We had a crotch dangler that we used all the time with our daughter.  Bought it for $20 at Walmart.

9.  Toilet Paper/Paper Towels - I've thought about going to family cloth, but I love flushing toilet paper and not dealing with it, and I love using paper towels.  The idea of switching is an idea just to save money, but I do love my disposable paper.

10.  Video Games - My house is like a fun house for geeks and nerds.  We love Nintendo, and own almost every system they've ever made.  Our daughter knows how to play most Nintendo games, knows most of the characters, and we are proud of that.

11.  Fast Food - Our daughter loves Happy  Meals.  We love fast food.  We eat it less often now, but it's still a splurge and it's still delicious.

12.  Vaccinations - We don't vaccinate, but I love people that do.  Especially those that research the decision and made the choice themselves.  I can't ever say what is right for another family, and this topic is one of them.  It is none of my business, and if you are with the crunchy crowd everyone thinks it's their decision to make for you and it isn't.  Vaccinate your kids if you want to and have researched your decision.  It is after all your decision to make.

13.  Disney - Our daughter loves Disney, as do we.  Her room is decorated with Disney Princesses, she has a princess castle, and has memorized every line from Beauty and the Beast.  And I'm not ashamed of that.

14.  Artificial Dye - We don't eat this anymore, only because of how much our daughter has changed while being off, but I used to love it.  Candy is delicious and I love it.  If our daughter hadn't changed when coming off, we would have gone right back to eating fake food and loving it.

15.  Nestle - The Nestle Boycott is one of the main staples of being crunchy.  We won't buy anything Nestle even if it's from one of their partners, but if someone gives us stuff that Nestle made (especially Wonka candy which is my weakness), we will eat it.  I won't throw it out.  For Halloween, our daughter got a lot of Nestle candy, and I enjoyed it right alongside her.  No shame.  I didn't buy it, but I will enjoy eating it.

Just because you lead a crunchy life doesn't mean you have to hide the parts of you others in your circles wouldn't agree with.  And the thing is, I'm pretty sure there are no true crunchy types and no true hippies that don't do at least one thing others wouldn't scoff at.

Lead your life.  I still say I'm uber-crunchy and hippie, and the parts that don't truly agree with that are just my flair for the dramatic.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

5 Revisions I'd Like to See Made to the Parenting Phrasebook

As someone who has had a love of words and language for most my life, I pay attention to how we use language, how we use specific words to describe things, or how one’s use of language reveals not just a specific thought, but how one views herself and her particular situation. For example, when I hear on the playground a parent disclosing that they are in the midst of the “Bedtime Battles,” I can’t help but wonder to myself if this particular parent views all of parenting as a war, where their child is the enemy and the aim of each day is to gain the upper hand. Comparing parenting to fighting a war makes me sad; I think of all the moments in those relationships that end up lost because the attention is on “staying in power”. I’d like to see the comparison drop out of use. There are a few other words and phrases I’d like to see drop out of use:

1) Naughty. As in, “You’re being kind of naughty right now.” Generally used when the child is not doing what the parent wants or is not listening to the parent or doing something else the parent considers disruptive. Yet, it doesn’t describe the child’s behavior that is frustrating the parent: essentially it’s a judgment and label used for the parent’s convenience. When parents label a child in such a way, they are in no way working with the child. Did the parent get down on the child’s level, make eye contact, and specifically say what the desired behavior is? As in, “I know you would like to keep playing with your toys, but we need to leave now, which means we need to put your shoes on. Can you help me find your shoes?”

Labeling a child’s behavior also negates the child’s experience. Alfie Kohn in Unconditional Parenting points out that when every time a child “misbehaves” or exhibits challenging behavior, there is a valid complaint on the part of the child, whether it’s that the child is hungry, over-stimulated or tired (especially in younger children) or that the child is upset about something and doesn’t feel safe expressing their emotions. Telling children they are being naughty may be effective in shaming them to give parents the desired result, but it’s not sustainable parenting because it doesn’t get to the root issue causing the “naughty” behavior. Doing a little detective work to get to when the child's behavior started to go south, however, can go a long way to getting to the source of what happened. So can teaching your child self-awareness by asking how s/he feels when s/he engages in such behavior or if s/he can use her words instead of acting out.

2) Good. As in, “What good children” where it is essentially saying the children are being well behaved. It seems harmless in this context, but it’s still a judgment. It also infers that by “good” we mean the children are being quiet, polite, and don’t require much attention from the surrounding adults. Because good is also a judgment, it can be seen as praise, which can be just as manipulative (if not more so) as punishment or shaming.

When it comes time for children to differentiate themselves (called rebelling in some circles), the "good" label becomes an easy thing to test, as in, "If I get bad grades, am I still good? Shoplift my clothes? Skip school?" On the flip side, children are less likely to take chances, push themselves, challenge themselves or take on big projects, because they're scared they might lose the "good" label.

3) “I’m your parent, not your friend.”

Friends listen to each other. Friends talk to each other in a respectful manner. Friends share their feelings with each other. They accept and respect each other. Friends are always on each other’s side. They guide each other through difficult situations and tough moments. They offer perspective when a friend is about to be untrue to her values. Friends celebrate each other’s triumphs. Friends work and play together. Friends ask for – and take – each other’s advice. They laugh and cry in each other’s company, where it’s safe to be vulnerable. In the friend relationship, the relationship has to work for both parties, and both people are equally important. In healthy friendships, one friend does not manipulate or take advantage of the other, because it would be disrespectful. In arguments, friends can say, “My feelings are hurt,” or “I feel frustrated,” or “Let’s work this out.”

Parents – traditionally – judge, approve, disapprove, punish (whether it’s spanking, giving time outs, shaming, or putting their kids down, etc) reward, manipulate or bribe (but frown on being manipulated or bribed by their children) and are full of “teaching moments” and corrections. Traditionally, the parent-child relationship privileges the parent and the parent’s experience. This is convenient for the parent, but in the long run, it doesn’t contribute to building a strong relationship with the child, since it mainly is about having the child behave.

Some parents are more interested in having their children behave, and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, just that it has limitations. Many seem to think that if they are “friends” with their children, somehow they will spoil their children or their children will not behave because in being friends their parenting has slipped down the slope towards Philistine permissiveness. Yet if parents brought some of the qualities of their friendships into the relationships with their children (enjoying each other’s company, laughing together, respecting each other’s autonomy), they could have their children behave and a beautiful relationship with their children.

4) “Distinguish between the child and his behavior. Make it clear that it’s not the child who’s bad, it’s the behavior.”

Right. Because young children have the intellectually advanced self-awareness that this distinction requires. Adults struggle with separating what they do from their self-worth or their achievements (or lack thereof) from their self-worth, so it’s unreasonable to expect children to be able to separate their behavior from their self-worth. And if children are then told that they themselves are “good,” it’s just their behavior that’s “bad”? What a muddle, to be a good person who does bad things and what a challenge, as the ability to hold two contrary ideas in one’s mind at the same time is also rather an advanced mental task.

For purposes of behavior and child rearing, I’m all for dropping the uses of “good” and “bad” (aka naughty) altogether. No one likes having themselves or their behavior judged. We can use non-judgmental language instead in such situations, by simply explaining that the unwanted behavior is disrespectful to, devalues, or hurts another person (or thing). Children feel shame beginning at around two ages of age (some even say as early as ten months, but I can’t find the research that substantiates this); they already feel bad when they do something that displeases or disappoints us, but rather than add to it, why not just give them the tools to correct their actions, and in the long run, be accountable for their actions?

5) “Because I said so” or “Because I’m the parent.”

Granted, there are times when we need our kids to do what we say, and even cases where they need to do it immediately, whether it’s to get out of the street because there’s a bus coming or to hold our hands in a busy subway station where they could easily get lost; however, when these phrases are used outside of emergency-like situations, they are nothing more than authoritarian bullying. They teach a child that whoever is bigger is right just because they’re bigger. It’s an oxymoron to tell your child to stop playground bullying when you bully them at home as a discipline tactic. And it’s okay for children to question authority, to learn how to negotiate, to compromise, to ask questions. Parents aren't doing children any favors by teaching them that authority figures are infallible.

In Robin Grille’s Parenting for a Peaceful World, he cites a powerful study, where children raised in authoritarian homes where parents taught children to blindly obey, grew up to be the adults who didn’t say anything when the Nazis came to power in Germany. Children who were taught to question, however, were more likely to be compassionate and empathetic and put their lives at risk to save or hide perfect strangers. In such a situation, who do you want your child to be?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Letter To My Preggo Self

Today I'd like to share some wisdom with my first-time pregnant, anticipating the birth of Agent E, confused, overwhelmed self. Following are just a few things it would have been nice to know in advance.

The birth class at the hospital will be pointless. Still, you attend out of obligation and hang on every word. You even drag your husband with you, with pillows. (Why do they ask you to bring pillows? It's not like they have nap time halfway through.) You come away with a list of things to bring to the birth, including but not limited to a giant ball to sit on, music (with your own boom box), and more pillows. Then you go into labor at 2:00 a.m., three weeks early, before you pack your hospital bag. So, you throw your cell phone and a few pairs of underwear in a backpack and consider yourself ready. When Baby #2 comes along, you plan what you are taking right after you pee on the stick.

Take more pictures of your pregnant shape. Yes, you will go on to do this two more times, but each growing baby deserves its own photographic evidence. Then back them up; your computer will crash when your daughter is a few weeks old and you will lose some beautiful photos forever.

You have already decided you will breastfeed, and that's great! However, you seem to think it will be quite simple since you've read a few chapters of a (lame) pregnancy book. Trust me; you do not have the first clue what breastfeeding is really going to be like. You know those breastfeeding classes you have seen advertised? The ones you have been kind of giggling at and making fun of? Take one. I'm serious. Take. The. Class. Plus, you still have some unresolved negative feelings about nursing from what you've heard from friends and the media. Get over it, and get to a La Leche League meeting. Your future self will be most grateful, and someday write this about your breastfeeding experience and how far you've come.

About that pathetic pre-birth reading list . . . you could really use some new material. Go ahead now and buy a copy of The Baby Book. While you're at it, pick up a copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding as well. Read them both from cover to cover. Now do it again. Stop reading pregnancy magazines, mainstream parenting magazines, and online message boards. You're just making yourself crazy.

Buy some cute newborn clothes and pajamas. Everyone will tell you it's not worth it, they outgrow them too fast, and to buy 3-6 month stuff instead. However, you will birth a tiny baby who will be completely swallowed by every article of clothing you have. Luckily, some nice friend (who's been there, three times) will give you some clothes that actually fit, and it will be much easier to dress her for the first two months.

You will debate the merits of crib style and mattress firmness as if the fate of the universe depended on it. And you will end up co-sleeping. Congratulations: You just purchased the most expensive cat bed and stuffed toy receptacle ever. Actually, that's not 100% true. Eventually you will discover if you remove the front it makes a great sidecar. Agent E will sleep here until she's almost three. And you will kick yourself for taking so long to figure this out.

That Baby Papasan chair you get as a baby shower gift? The one you open and think, "what in the heck will I need this for?" All three babies will spend many, many nights sleeping in there when stuffy noses, earaches, or tummy troubles require them to sleep upright. It will end up being one of your most used baby items.

The CIO sleep book you also receive as a gift? Exchange it for a copy of The No-Cry Sleep Solution. Or take bookstore credit, buy yourself a fancy latte and a muffin at the in-house coffee shop, and get some quiet writing time in while you can.

Do get a good supply of those thin receiving blankets. You will use them for many things . . . to lay the baby on, wrap the baby in, as a towel, as a burp cloth, to put under the baby for diaper changes, to cover the baby while sleeping or nursing . . . everything. Skip pretty, fluffy blankets, and definitely pass on the crib bumper (see above).

Don't buy wicker baskets. Not for putting toys in, not for storing little baby washcloths, not for anything. I know they're in all the catalog pictures, they look cute, and they have those pretty liners with the tie on the front that matches the changing table pad cover. And when you find them on clearance at Target it will be hard to resist. But . . . babies try to eat them, toddlers destroy them, and preschoolers use them as footstools. Someday you'll be pulling shards of wood out of your 15-month-old's mouth. Forget sweet and buy big, ugly, plastic bins from the get-go.

Most importantly, when E arrives, after you get through the blurry post-birth hemorrhaging fiasco, unravel the swaddling and pick her up. Hold her to your body. Do this as many hours a day as you are physically able. Someday you will regret not focusing on this skin-to-skin time until your third baby comes along. Do it for E. And for J, too.

What would you tell your first-time pregnant self?

Thanks for reading and have a blessed day.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Comfort Corner

As my 2 1/2 year old blossoms more and more into his own personality and every day becomes more vocal in what he wants (and doesn't want), I'm finding that I need to expand my repertoire as a mom. For example, I'd noticed that when he got really upset, his urge to throw or rip things was very strong and that caused a lot of problems because the more destructive he got, the harder time I had keeping my cool, which meant the more upset he got, and, well, you get the idea. A lot of my friends who have kids of a similar age have been using time out, but I found that didn't really appeal to me at this time. The idea of getting into a power struggle with him and getting him to sit still in one place or in one location at a time when he was so viscerally, physically, and emotionally upset just didn't seem to be worth the effort. I also felt like time out (time away from me and my attention) would be mostly about punishment and I didn't really feel like I needed a punishment as much as I needed a tool to help him calm (and me) down when things got really crazy emotionally. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remembered reading a year or two ago about "comfort corners" and that seemed more to fit the bill of what I had in mind. A couple of google searches later, and I decided that it was exactly what we needed.

What is a "comfort corner"?

A "comfort corner" is a parenting tool used to help your child learn how to calm down and to seek "comfort" when things are going tough. (Here's my favorite description of it!) It's about building a physical space completely designed to trigger a calmer emotional space. The most helpful article I read about suggested you think of it as a little oasis or a space where your child can get back in touch with themselves and their emotions. Going to the corner is not a punishment, so it makes sense for them to have things they love there. Comfort corner is about helping your child to recognize when s/he needs some self-care. It doesn't have to have much, just some comfy pillows and whatever items help trigger "calmness" and "safety" to your child. Think of your favorite place to calm down when you are upset. For me, it's my bedroom. In my bedroom, I can read books. I can lay in my bed under my soft blankets and I can watch movies. Those are all things that trigger "serenity" in me. A "comfort" corner serves the same purpose for your child, but because the child is still learning how to calm him or herself, the comfort corner is a more public space than an adult would probably choose. Your child might not know exactly how to use the space at first (especially if they are young, as my son is) so it's not a place where they can go alone to give self-care until they are older. You can use the comfort corner as a tool to teach them how to recognize when they are spiraling out of control and what they can do to help themselves calm back down. So, for example, your child is throwing an outrageous fit about wanting juice when you have told her/him that he has had enough juice for the day and s/he needs to drink water, you can say to him/her, "Honey, it sounds to me like you are very upset. Let's go to the comfort corner and see if we can find something to make you feel a little better and then we can talk about juice versus water." Once in the corner, you work with him or her to find an activity that creates calmness. Once calm, you can either talk about what triggered him or her, or if it already feels resolved, you can move on. This sounded like exactly what we needed so about a month ago my toddler and I built a comfort corner in our living room where our Christmas tree used to be.

How do you "build" a comfort corner?

From the beginning, I wanted the comfort corner to "feel" like a space my son could love. I involved him in its very construction. Together we decided what pillows and blankets to put in there and which stuffed animals to leave in there. Knowing that my son loves to read, but can be destructive when angry, I decided to leave the book tubs just outside the corner, but within reach for when he is calm enough to do reading. Together we placed a soft cloth"taggie" ball in there that we'd gotten him when he was just a tiny baby and a blow up penguin that bounces back up when he gets pushed down. The rule is that he can (and does) go into the comfort corner at anytime and take anything he wants out or can even spend time in there when he's already calm, but when Mama thinks he needs to spend time in the comfort corner he needs to stay there until we both agree it's time to move on to another activity. (Because of his age, he does not currently go to the comfort corner alone. In a year or two, that will probably change, but for now this seems to work best.) To introduce the comfort corner as a positive thing, we first went in there only when he was in a good mood to read books, snuggle, or just play with stuffed animals. It was few days before I suggested going in there when he was upset.

What do you do in the comfort corner?

In the beginning, I really wasn't sure what we would "do" in there when he was upset that was so radically different from what we were doing already out of the corner, but slowly three basic activities have arisen.

The first involves throwing the soft, cloth ball around. We do this when the issue is that his urge to throw is causing him to throw dangerous things a little too often. The rule is that the ball must stay within the corner and strangely, it does seem to take the edge off of his urge.

The second involves the penguin. When he is very, very angry with me, I encourage him to physically work out his emotion by playing with the penguin. I never tell him to hit the penguin, but I do say. "Hey, sweetie. I think you have a lot of big emotions, let's see if we can get penguin to lay down so we can tell them to him." The physical energy needed to get penguin down when he keeps popping back up, often gets my son in a different space. Then, if he gets to a giggling place quickly with the penguin, I try to help him find words for his emotions while he's playing with the penguin. If he doesn't get to that giggling place, but does get to a little bit calmer space, I then get him to look me in the eye or snuggle with me and I try to help him voice what he is feeling. Julian has already written about this kind of "time-in" before.

The third is, by far, my son's favorite. It is a "love pile."

The love pile is simple. My son sits on some comfy pillows and I give him a hug and a kiss, tell him I love him, and then have each and every one of his comfort corner stuffed animals do the same as I pile them up one on one on top of him. He stays still and asks for "more" until we run out of stuffed animals or until he's ready to get up and go. I find for him that it gives him the sensory feeling of being surrounded and loved and it also gives him the realization that if he is feeling that he needs more love and attention, all he needs to do is ask for it. More and more often lately, I've noticed that he often pre-emptively asks for a love pile before the melt-down could occur. He recognizes in himself that he needs a little more attention and he gets it in the form of the love pile. He's even started practicing giving his stuffed animals love piles when they are sad or upset. It's a beautiful, beautiful sight to see my little toddler kissing his stuffed doggy who "fell" from the table and telling him to come to the comfort corner for a love pile. It's become such a positive activity that even Daddy sometimes jumps into the love pile with my toddler when he's having a bad day, too!

So what has the comfort corner done for us?

The comfort corner really has become a place "apart" from the rest of the house. As soon as I enter the comfort corner, I know that whatever it is that I wanted to clean/do/accomplish is officially on hold. My son recognizes this and he also knows that whatever he was upset about is temporarily on hold until we calm down long enough to work it out (of course, I say this, but like all things with a two year old there are some days where this is more evident than others!). When I suggest the comfort corner, I am always careful to keep anger out of my voice and to remember that this is a place of reconnection and a space where my primary job is to teach my son how to choose activities and words that will calm himself down. It takes me out of the "topicalness" of his usual meltdowns and reminds me of the bigger picture.

Actually, since installing the comfort corner, I have found more and more that the fits that I thought were about "not getting his way" or specific "things" were really more about my son really wanting to be heard and paid attention to. Often, I let myself get busy or distracted and instead of voicing his needs to me in a way I understand, he was throwing fits over "other" things. If I addressed his deeper need by taking him to the comfort corner and showing him how to do things to calm himself down, the need to scream went away even if I did absolutely nothing about the topic he was originally screaming about. That is worth the price of creating the comfort corner just on its own.

Thanks for letting me share. Maybe if you try a comfort corner in your house, you can let me know how it works for you. After all, I'm just flying by the seat of my pants here! I'd love to hear your ideas, too! I'm sure the comfort corner will evolve in amazing ways, the longer we keep it around the the older my son gets. I'd love to hear how one works in your home!


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Decisions Never End

We decided a few weeks ago to homeschool our daughter for at least Kindergarten, and then go with whatever works after that.  We've decided to be flexible so that things change according to how she learns and what we feel needs to happen.

However, I had a day filled with anxiety the other day when confronted with planning what we are going to do.

My husband works at the High School, and he was talking to one of the administrators that told him that by the age six, your child has to be enrolled in a program, not just signed in with the school district.  I lost it.

I had to research all the different programs here, worried that we were going to pick the wrong one, trying to figure out how we would incorporate the unschooling atmosphere with an official program, and trying not to lose my mind with worry about if we were doing the right thing.

After a few hours of this, one of my friends let me know this was wrong and all she had to have was registration with the school district.  Utah doesn't require any particular curriculum, so no programs are necessary, which helps a little bit.

Except that I'm back where I started.  Do I want to continue with unschooling, or should I register for an online program to monitor how well she is doing?  If I don't go with a program, will I fail at this?  If I do go with a program, will I fail at this?

I thought for sure that when we decided to homeschool that the rest would be easy.  This has definitely been a lesson in how parenting never ends, and the decisions are always there.

I question a lot of what I do as a parent, and when I don't feel something is working I change it accordingly.  This has shown me that I truly have no idea what I'm going to need to do, and either I need to prepare or just let things go.  The next few weeks will be telling to my personality and how we want to go forward.

Do any of you use a particular program for homeschooling, or do you go with the flow?  How does this work for your family?  Do you ever worry it isn't enough or it's too much?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What Snacking in the Subway Gets You

One day this week, as my children and I sat on the subway platform waiting for a train, my son asked for a snack. I hadn’t packed anything. We had just had lunch at home before leaving, and we were going to Trader Joe’s for groceries. Given that my son and I usually snack our way through most grocery shopping trips, I didn’t think I would need snacks. I said all this to my son. He asked for a snack again. Later in the week, I would realize that he was in the midst of the kind of growth spurt that demands constant food and sleep, but in the moment, all I could do was rummage through my bag for any left behind or forgotten snacks.

To his delight, I found a package of seaweed. I opened it up for him. He sat on the bench contentedly eating his snack, and we waited for the train.

Then, just as he neared the end of his seaweed, he dropped the tray on the ground. He hopped off the bench, bent down, picked up the remaining seaweed, stacked it neatly in the tray, and got back on the bench to finish eating it. As he did this, I felt the eyes of all my fellow passengers watch him – and me – for what he would do, and if I would let him eat it. Because I have been criticized more than once and had more than one finger shaken at me for exposing my child to germs and potential plague when he drops a cracker on the ground. I know that while I think my son is adorable picking up after himself in public, no one will compliment him on being a responsible 3 year old and for not littering our public spaces.

So I knew it was coming before the woman even opened her mouth.

“Are you sure you want your child to eat that, after he dropped it on the ground?”

I gave her my standard canned response of how we spent a year traveling around SE Asia and if she wanted to scare me about the potential health threats of a New York City subway platform, she was going to have to work a little harder. I threw in – as I often do – how even his US doctor says that in terms of my son’s health and immune system, there is nothing better that we could have done for him than take him traveling around the world.

She didn’t say anything for about a minute.

“Listen, it’s not my place to criticize and I’m a parent too, but it’s not about the germs. It’s about the toxins, the lead people track on their shoes, the rats and the rat poison they scatter in the stations. It’s about limiting exposure since toxins accumulate over time and can cause long term health issues.”

I told her I understood, and I appreciated her concern. I told her I was well aware of environmental toxins and health risks and the repercussions of accumulated levels of toxins over time. I told her we made very conscious choices about the food we ate, the water we drank, the products we used on our bodies, the products we cleaned our home with and limiting plastics within our home. I told her precisely how long my son was breastfed. I also told her precisely how well read, researched and educated I was. Which was when I realized that I sounded like a bitch even to my own ears.

And while I’m rarely at a loss for what to say, it is true that in the moment of a confrontation, I don’t think of what I actually want to say until much later. In this case, it was all of fifteen minutes before I realized that I was just trying to say that my husband and I make very conscious choices, so that when my son eats the three sheets of seaweed he dropped on the subway platform, I don’t have to panic about his potential toxin exposure. I was trying to say that I want my family to live consciously, but to also live our lives. I don’t want to live my life from a place of fear of what might happen when. Nor do I want to tell my hungry child that he may be holding food, but he cannot now eat it.

Though I had to admit, she had me on the lead and the rat poison. I haven’t spent much time thinking about the lead people track on their shoes or the rat poison that they use in the subways.

The interaction left me in a tangle. It’s easy to feel judged and criticized, especially given her delivery, even if she was well intentioned. But I have to admit that I admired her for speaking up for what she believed in; that while I may have thought there are millions of parents far more worthy of her tirade, she did speak up out of concern for my son’s health and well-being.

On the one hand, we want to be tolerant of other people and that they do things differently. The world is a diverse place and people raise their children in a variety of ways. Most of us want the same things for our children – that they be happy, healthy, well educated, successful and productive people whom we enjoy being around. And there is more than one way to nurture the growth of children. Yet, accepting differences can sometimes slip towards complacency. It’s easy to not have the difficult conversations when you’re “being accepting.” Most the time we can assume how people raise their children or how they are with their children is none of our business, and there are times when speaking up or intervening in someone’s child rearing habits can save a child’s life.

This woman also had a very valid point; one I hadn’t even been aware of. And I had to admit even to myself that my defensive reaction actually had very little to do with her and more to do with the fact that a stranger criticizing my children or my parenting is not a rare occurrence. Many people do stop to tell me how beautiful and aware my 7 month old daughter is or that my son is very considerate wanting “to help” and hold the door open for them. But even more people tell me that my son might get hurt on the tall slide or that if I let my son walk up to ten feet in front of me, I’m guilty of negligence, or my son shouldn’t be out with me, but should be in school instead. If my son breathes on the window of a subway to watch it fog up? As if no other child on the planet has done such a thing and survived? It’s a matter of seconds before the plague warnings start coming my way. On this particular outing to Trader Joe’s alone, I would also be told to buckle my son into his stroller and that my daughter wasn’t wearing enough clothes (It was 45 degrees. She was wearing her hat and boiled wool jacket.). I get told so often by a stranger that I am doing something wrong with my children, that by the time this woman sat next to me on the subway platform, I just wanted to make the stop sign with my hand and say, “I don’t even want to hear it.”

I read a lot of parenting books, but I haven’t read the book from the Tiger Mom or the book about French parenting because I don’t need anyone else telling me that other people are better parents. Parents are so inundated with opinions of other people or thoughtless criticisms that when we do hear something that we might actually need, we’re so worn out from feeling criticized, we don’t actually hear it. Thoughtless criticism becomes noise like snow on an old TV set. It gets in the way of us trusting ourselves as parents and trusting our children. It gets in the way of us following our instincts because it causes us to doubt our values and our selves.

On the walk home from the subway stop, we came across a mother pushing her almost three year-old son in his stroller. He had gorgeous curly hair long enough to blow in the breeze and a big smile on his face. He wore a thin jacket and no shoes. I laughed at the glorious sight of his bare feet in the late afternoon sun. Then I asked his mother, “How often do you get criticized for his bare feet?”

“All the time,” she said. “Then when he actually wears shoes, I get criticized because he’s not wearing mittens, and I just want to shout, ‘But he’s wearing shoes!’”

Which is the detail that is often forgotten: our children are children, and just because they are smaller than us, we can’t make them do something they don’t want to, not when we’re trying to teach them to be accepting and the best way to do that is to accept them and the way they experience the world.

My son pointed to the boy’s feet. He shouted, “He’s not wearing any shoes!”

“No, he’s not,” I said. “Isn’t it fantastic?”

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Raising a Pink Boy

My son likes pink.

There, I said it. My son likes pink. Actually, he loves pink. He loves fairies and princesses and crowns and jewels. He often laments that he wishes he could wear dresses and grow his hair out and put on makeup. He doesn't particularly dislike being a boy, but he is fascinated with all things girly. And who can blame him? Being a girl is pretty cool.

Most outfits designed for baby boys have either a construction vehicle or a baseball bat on it. I held out on imposing gender roles on my son for as long as I could, dressing him in "boy" outfits only when everything else he owned had either poop, pee, or _______ (insert other gross/unknown substance here) on it. One of my favorite things to say to people when I got on my soapbox was "What if he grows up to like tutus and ballet slippers?" Well, you know what? He does.

Obviously, his affection for things that society associates with being female can, and does, lead to questioning my son's sexual orientation by other parents, however far in the future that may surface. Though no one actually comments, the silence that follows my son's declaration of how much he loves to garden while wearing the princess heels he's borrowed from his little sister speaks volumes. It stuns me that, in our society, we still assign gender roles and stereotypes, especially so early in our children's lives. Of particular interest is that no one questions my three year old daughter’s likes and dislikes, whether they have to do with “girl stuff” or “boy stuff.”

But that's not what really bothers me. When I became pregnant for the first time, I promised my baby that I would love him no matter what he chose to do in his life; no matter what profession he pursued; no matter how many piercings he put in his body; no matter what shade of orange he colored his hair; and no matter whom he chose to love or spend his life with. My wish for my son, for both my children, is only that they spend their lives feeling happy and fulfilled with whatever choices they make. For now, in part at least, my boy is happy idolizing fairies and wearing pink.

What bothers me is that, as liberal as I pride myself on being, as progressive and open minded as I am regarding nearly everything, I have had moments when I feel embarrassed by my son's penchant for the girlier things in life. When we are out and about and his adoration for pink, ruffles, high heels, makeup and whatnot comes up in conversation, I often have to qualify it with, "But he also loves art, and cars, and is fascinated with wizards and magic." And why? Because I fear the inevitable judgment that my son is not "normal." I certainly fear that people will judge me, but ultimately, I fear that people will judge, and thereby abuse, him.

I fear that while the other boys in our neighborhood are off playing stickball, or punching each other, or comparing their packages, or whatever it is that "real boys" are supposed to do, my son will be off playing princess with the girls, and that he'll be ostracized by the kids and whispered about by the parents--especially those "real men" whose sons will never, ever be gay (yeah right). I fear that, if my son does turn out to be gay, he will be left out, made fun of, or worse, emotionally and physically assaulted by homophobic jackasses. He comes home from school with stories about kids making fun of his likes and dislikes already--and he's not even seven years old!

But what I fear the most is that because of my need to prove to people that my son is "normal," explaining his girly interests away as whims of age or passing obsessions, my child will grow up feeling like he has to do that, too. I fear that I will fail at teaching him to proudly display himself, as whatever he is, to anyone, at any time, without hesitation. I fear that I will harm his self esteem, his sense of self worth, his sense of self--because I believe that all those things should be fostered and nurtured at home, with the people he loves the most--his parents.

I fear that his girly embrace means that he is unhappy with himself, with who he is, with being a boy, and I worry that he will be faced with years of feeling out of place and uncomfortable in his own skin. But then, who says that princesses and fairies and liking pink are girly?  When my daughter plays with trucks and cars, I don't give it a second thought. If I am too embarrassed to accept my son for who he is, how can I expect him to accept himself?

Inside our home, we embrace my son's interests and cultivate and encourage them, no matter what gender they are assigned to. It pains me when he asks me why boys can't wear makeup and I don't have a good answer. Why can't boys wear makeup? I try to explain that in our life, in our town, boys generally have short hair, and girls have long hair. That mommies wear makeup, but daddies don't. That usually, boys wear pants and girls wear skirts. "But Mommy, you're a girl, and you wear pants!"

My smart boy. My lovely, unassuming, untainted boy.

So I find myself explaining why some things in our society are acceptable and why some things aren't. I talk about what our society's expectations are, and that, right or wrong, it's what we're dealing with at the moment. I don't want my son to be ridiculed. But I don't want to teach him that it's OK to be one thing at home and another in public. And frankly, I do believe that men can wear skirts, and women can shave their heads, and everything in between. I feel as if, in my wish for my son to be accepted in society, I have betrayed my ideals.

Does it matter that he does indeed adore art, music, cars, and trains? That he is fascinated with obscenely gory things like death and loves to hear stories of people getting dismembered? That he likes to dress up as a knight and a wizard and a train conductor? That he bites his nails and loves dirt and thinks farts and burps are hilarious? He still watches me with utter fascination as I put on lip gloss, and when I cheerily put my daughter’s hair up in pig tails, I know he is jealous.

Should we be exposing him to the traditional young male role models? I have a hard time finding anything boyish I can expose my son to that isn't based on some type of violence or that doesn't engage in mindless, slapstick activity--and that's a soapbox I've been standing on for a long time. Power Rangers? Sponge Bob? Even superheroes like Spiderman and Superman have to kill and/or hurt people. A couple of years ago, I bought my son a foam sword for his birthday. Sure enough, he wanted to "kill people" with it. When I threatened to take it away, he compromised with "killing dragons," instead. Though I think that's pretty cool in spite of myself, I'd rather he stick with Tinkerbell. Wouldn't you?

I'm so sad as I write this because my fears always feel very real to me, as if they're already happening. I adore my son and while the thought of him being hurt by an outsider is too awful to imagine, the thought that he would be hurt by my failures and inadequacies is much worse.

So, I've made a decision. No more explaining, no more qualifying. My son is who he is, and we will unabashedly and proudly display him for the world to see. Pink, blue, gay, straight--whatever. I don't care what people think. I will no longer make excuses or feel embarrassed--and if I have to get into fights to defend my son until he can do it for himself, I will.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Breaking the Silence


Chris Brown and Rihanna, Whitney and Bobby…while domestic violence seems to be deservedly discussed more than usual these days, there will never be enough awareness.  Most survivors keep quiet when faced with the ignorance that often surrounds this issue.  We may be more inclined to repost violence related issues on social networking sites (along with fellow women's rights advocates), or get into heated debates on the topic, but nobody ever REALLY shares what happened to them.  I was reading the detailed description of Rihanna being beaten, and I realized she had no choice in what the world would know.  Most of us don't want the world to know, and then the cycle continues - nobody talks...nobody notices...and society as a whole ignores the needs of the women involved.  It’s taken me 16 years to tell my story, and now, as a mother nearly twice as old as I was when I was that scared, manipulated 19 year old girl, I’m done being silent. 

I wish I could say I’d left it all behind and it didn’t affect who I am today.  I wish I could say that the nightmares were gone, that I didn’t still have random “sightings” where I’m convinced it’s him when it really isn’t.  I wish I could say that I didn’t have PTSD breakdowns, complete with flashbacks, every time I see someone get hit, strangled or held at knifepoint in a movie, leaving me sobbing in a bathroom.  Over the course of 16 years, these things have subsided dramatically, and the panic attacks are just about gone, but everything still lingers.
People often hear about domestic violence and their most immediate response is to question why the abused stay.  I’m not going to begin to explain the complexities of the masterful manipulation I endured, or the details of how I ended up with him because my big heart just wanted to help him.  If you haven’t been through it, I don’t think anyone could ever understand what being beaten, spit on and raped (sometimes at knifepoint) on a daily basis does to your confidence, or what it does to a person to live in fear that the next time he strangles you or lightly drags a knife across your throat will be the last time.  If you’ve never TRULY feared, begged and pleaded for your life, it’s difficult to convey.  However, perhaps I can shed some light on what it’s like to try to leave, and maybe, just maybe, I can stifle some of the ignorance surrounding this issue and that immediate assumption that these women should “just leave.”
For starters, I was quickly disconnected from family and friends in the manner that many abusers do, which was aided by the fact that we had no phone.  Eventually I lost my job as a nanny, because rather than help me when they saw me come to work with bruises, they fired me without notice and sent me off to be with him 24-7.  My boyfriend had no car and I worked 45 minutes away, and while I understand their apprehension, I loved their daughter probably more than they did, and I was never late since it was my only time away, despite the fact that he would often keep me up all night on purpose as another means of control.  I was crushed when I was fired - losing my utopian alternate life, and having to say goodbye to a little girl that I loved dearly, without any warning.  I remember crying to him that I lost my job and him saying, “remind me to be nice to you tonight” and a few hours later, having to drive us home from a friend’s house after he broke my nose, since he didn’t know how to drive a standard transmission. 
When I think back to the times I really tried to leave, a lot of attempts ended up in the deadbolt room.  There was a bedroom where we lived that oddly enough had a deadbolt on the door.  A broken one at that, so it could be locked and then he could put the knob in his pocket.  Let’s just say good things never happened in the deadbolt room.  But during a specific escape attempt, I remember being locked out of the house in the middle of February without a coat, because I fled as quickly as possible.  Since I had informed him I was leaving, I was outsmarted and my keys were removed from my purse before I left.  My shirt was torn all the way down my back, because that’s how hard I pulled to get away, and that’s how hard he held on.  I actually had quite a few shirts that met their demise that way.  So I stood there, bare back in the cold February day, while being mocked and laughed at on the other side of the door - so much for leaving. 
Another time I was supposed to go visit my parents.  Instead I ended up locked in a cluttered closet for over 24 hours, crying, terrified and hungry in the darkness, feet and fists sore from trying to get out - never knowing if I’d be released or just left there to rot and die.  Consequently, my parents were understandably upset that I never showed up, and yet I couldn't tell them why.  Their disappointment and my shame played beautifully into his agenda of keeping me isolated (in addition to literally locking me up in isolation).  But the most significant memory of trying to leave him was what came back to me so clearly when I was reading the details of the Rihanna/Chris Brown beating, and it was what inspired me to write this.  The time I got away set a number of things in motion that allowed me to get away for good.  However, the beating that preceded it was witnessed by about eight of his friends (all male), and NONE of them stopped him, NOBODY helped me, and they all just stared…
We were in the parking lot of this apartment complex, and we were getting ready to leave and saying goodbye to his friends when some more of his friends pulled up and he got out to talk to them.  Eventually he got in their car, and I saw him lean over and snort some coke.  This was something I never did, and he actually didn’t either (he had in the past, but not while we were together).  I did not want to see what his already explosive anger would be like on coke, and I was livid that he did it.  I immediately went to start the car, and he jumped out of their car in a fury.  The passenger window was still down all the way from when we were saying goodbye to the first set of guys, and I had an old two-door with giant doors/windows.  He screamed that I would never leave him and reached in for the keys from the passenger window.  I swung both legs around from the driver’s side, and tried to kick at him to keep him from getting the keys.  At that point, he grabbed my ankles and pulled me through the window, so my back and head slammed to the pavement from the height of the window.  He then proceeded to kick the living shit out of me IN FRONT OF ALL OF HIS FRIENDS.  They did nothing.  They stood and watched.  They didn’t even ATTEMPT to stop him. 
When it was all over I was “allowed” to leave alone for the first time.  I picked myself up and got into my car.  I remember going to a gas station payphone and calling a dear friend at the time, who was my ex who lived in another state.  Since I was ripped away from all my friends and family, this guy was about all I had left who he didn’t know about and hadn’t cut me away from.  That day set in motion events that led to a plane ticket sent so I could go live with my ex and his parents, and to this day I’m still grateful and feel that I owe them my life.  But not everyone has someone like that, and not everyone is so lucky.
So the next time you’re inclined to think, “Why don’t they just LEAVE!?” I hope you will remember my story.  It is not so cut and dry.  I didn’t even have any children with this guy, and we weren’t married.  I also had the advantage of moving halfway across the country for some time, in order to prevent any follow up harassment and potential for going back to him.  As it was, years later he was still stalking me at my job, but enough time had passed that I was invulnerable to his manipulation.  But my point of all of this isn’t just to help people understand the difficulties of leaving, and it’s not some public display of trying to cope.  I’m a wife and a mother now.  I am so far from the person I was at 19, and yet, I still carry her with me.  I still say “I’m sorry” way more often than I should, and could probably stand to work on my self-image.  But I realized tonight when I decided to write this that despite all the positive changes I've made in my life since that time, I’ve been contributing to the problem.  I’ve been silent.  Nobody wants to talk about these things, and my hope is that if one more person comes forward, it will make it that much less taboo to discuss. 

I’m the woman you see at the co-op bagging produce in her little mesh bags and wearing her baby – not someone you’d envision getting beaten bloody on a daily basis.  But we’re here.  We exist.  We have stories, and we need to share them and support one another.  We are your mothers, your sisters, your friends, your coworkers, your daughters and even your grandmothers.  We bag your groceries, teach your children, serve your coffee, and even serve in congress.  Survivors are EVERYWHERE, they are just often silent about their struggles.  People shouldn’t be dismissing them based on their inability to leave a dangerous situation, they should be trying to HELP them. 
When all of this happened to me we lived in a duplex with thin walls and as I mentioned, no phone.  I used to scream and plead with the people on the other side of the wall to call the police.  They never did.  EVERYBODY has the power to change this when you suspect something may be wrong.  Don’t just sit back and watch it happen, thinking it’s none of your business.  I intend to teach that to my daughter one day, and I only hope that she will understand it all.  That she will be empowered and not get into the same kind of trouble.  It breaks my heart hearing about all these young girls tweet about gladly and willingly letting Chris Brown beat them.  I just can’t even wrap my head around that mentality.  I spent at least 10 years trying to come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t my fault.  I’m still not entirely sure I’ve convinced myself, but I do know I’d never wish it upon myself no matter who the guy was.  It makes me question the future for my daughter, and makes me realize there’s a tough job ahead in getting her on that road to empowerment.  It all starts with breaking the silence.  The more we speak up, the greater the chance that people will listen.  So I ask you to please share my story, so one more voice can be heard and the awareness can spread.
“In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders, of every glove that laid him down or cut him
‘Til he cried out, in his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving
but the fighter still remains”
   - “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel

Thank you for reading my story