Thursday, March 29, 2012

Traveling With Little Ones

We just returned from a vacation, one of many we've taken during our time living in Europe. (For Momma and the Senior Agents, this was our tenth country. It was Agent A's eighth.) After two years of traveling more than we did during the rest of our lives combined, I think we have finally figured out a few things. 

Take (at most) two large suitcases. The "rule" in our family is Hubby must be able to move all luggage by himself, and I corral the zoo children. We can get everything we need for one week for the five of us, including diapers, toiletries, and snacks, into two bags. The biggest space saver is limiting clothes. Even if you normally wash everything after one wear at home, on vacation you can wear pants and shirts twice. Really. Plan for one outfit every two days, perhaps an extra for babies/toddlers or those likely to get particularly messy (cough . . . Julia . . . cough). Just pack enough socks and underwear for every day, and the rest will work out fine. I'd much rather use the extra space to pack some comforts from home (e.g., for the Agents, some story/coloring books, one or two DVDs, a few favorite stuffed animals, or a blanket).

Limit carry-ons. Do you see the folks who board the plane with ginormous bags and wonder how on earth they are going to fit them in the overhead compartment? Yeah, don't be one of those people. I carry a messenger bag and Hubby takes a backpack, which also holds our laptop. Agent E carries a small backpack, too, but no carry-ons for Agents J or A . . . they're too young to keep track of them and that means they become our carry-ons. Include entertainment and snacks for the little ones, but don't go overboard. Crayons and paper and a few pages of stickers work great. No need to transport an entire art studio.

Consider ditching the stroller. Especially if you are visiting a major city where your main mode of transportation will be metro stations (read: lots of steps, escalators, and small passageways) it may be easier just to play pass the baby. This is one of those times it would have been nice if babywearing had worked out for us. Of course we had moments when the stroller would have been useful (like the couple of times Hubby carried a sleeping Agent A around for over an hour), but for this particular destination it would have been more hassle than help.

Beware of the words kid-friendly. We've learned that when establishments declare themselves "kid-friendly" or proudly proclaim "kid's welcome" usually what they mean is a family of four with kids about ages 8 and 10. Most places do not have infants and toddlers in mind. Or large families. Proceed with caution.

Free can also be awesome. Some of the greatest fun on our most recent trip included visits to the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, and several of the Royal Parks—all 100% free.

Underplan. On paper it will look like you aren't doing much. Trust me; you'll be lucky to get to most of it. Using our most recent adventure as an example, we spent one entire day simply going to the park, checking out the very cool Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground, visiting one museum (where we also had lunch), and then (after a rest at the hotel) walking around Harrods for a short while and getting dinner. And that took all day, from 9:00-ish until 7:00-ish. With the five and under crowd, it really is about the journey.

Take a break. It doesn't need to be long, and you don't necessarily have to nap. But going back to the hotel at some point, even if just for an hour to space out watching cartoons or simply to be able to take off your shoes for a bit, makes a huge difference. The one day we didn't do this, Agent J fell asleep in the booth while waiting for our dinner. (Yes, Julia dozed for over an hour in the middle of Planet Hollywood.)

Lower food expectations. If you have visions of sampling local cuisine at trendy cafes and mom and pop restaurants or enjoying an elaborate meal, pop that fantasy bubble right now. Eating out with children on vacation is just like eating out with children at home: depending on location this can be upbeat and fun or stressful and hectic. Accept the fact that some many most meals may be fast food (gasp!) or quick visits to sandwich shops on route to a picnic in the park.

Cut other parents some slack. Every once in a while an article will pop up in my newsfeed with the following theme: A proponent of gentle parenting witnesses another parent being less than nurturing with their child/children in a typically frustrating setting (e.g., waiting in a long line at airport security with a hungry, fidgety two-year-old). Judgment then ensues from random commenters. But you know what? We've all been that parent, and none of us would want that one moment to be interpreted as the parenting style we live each day. Plus, you know why Normally Attached and Sensitive Mom likely went a little berserk? Probably because Normally Attached and Sweet Little Toddler didn't respond to the, oh, 15 times the parent tried to distract, empathize, offer a snack, or any other myriad methods. Give her a pass, please.

Do you have any specific travel tips? Great experiences? Horror stories? Share in the comments.

Thanks for reading and have a blessed day.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Balancing Your Beliefs As A Consumer

Navigating through life as a consumer and a mother can often be difficult, especially while trying to make the most eco-friendly, nontoxic and conscientious choices for your family.  I find I struggle with this often, juggling my values and beliefs - trying to figure out which are the most important as I attempt to find a way for them to coexist with my status as a consumer.  It gets even trickier when frugality and determining necessity due to a lack of money come into the mix.  Compromises are inevitably made almost every step of the way. 

From packaging, contents and the potential toxins or waste production those may involve, to the manufacturers and other companies they have connections to, everything is taken into consideration to one degree or another before I make a purchase.  I won’t buy a personal care product without checking its toxicity on the Cosmetics Database first, and if something is only available in a plastic clamshell, then I ask myself if I absolutely need it or can it be avoided?  I was furious a few weeks back when I didn’t catch until after I opened it that the supposed homeopathic hypericum and calendula cream I purchased contained parabens.  When I recently viewed a flow chart of organic food companies and the mega corporations who own them (many of which have ties to Monsanto), it left me with such a feeling of helplessness.  Unless I want to take my family completely off the grid, making our own everything from clothing to soap, growing or only purchasing seasonal foods from local farms and canning what’s needed for the winter…compromises must be made.  It’s a sad commentary on our society that this is an absolute as a consumer if you are trying to lead a more natural lifestyle. 

With organic bananas packaged in plastic bags, recycled toilet paper whitened with dioxins, big box stores like Sams Club offering organic spinach in big plastic containers, Walmart selling Stonyfield Organic….what’s a mother to do?  For me personally, I decided that avoiding toxins in our food, personal care products, and even my daughter’s toys was at the top of my list of priorities.  I spent far too long trying to conceive my daughter and am battling too many hormone issues to be able to ignore that desire.  Whether it be paying the extra .50 a week to buy our milk in non-chemical leaching glass, or trying to eat almost 100% organic, for our family (and my husband agrees), there is no compromise here.  With only one income and lingering debt from fertility treatments, this is no easy task.  It is literally the only thing we spend our money on - the one, single “extravagance” so to speak that we allow ourselves.  It is far too important to us not to do so.  What price do you put on not getting cancer, or watching your child with cancer?  What price would I pay not to have gone through three years of fertility treatment hell to conceive our daughter?  What price would I pay to be able to keep my uterus beyond my 30’s when the time comes that I can no longer tolerate the pain?  Some may disagree with this line of thinking, but with infertility, childhood cancers, hormone related issues and diabetes rates all on the rise, and previously unfathomable occurrences like girls hitting puberty at age SEVEN becoming more common every day, I find it impossible not to see a correlation to the toxins saturating our daily lives.  Will avoiding exposure ensure that none of these things will ever be a problem for my daughter?  Absolutely not, and I’m under no delusions that this is the case.  Are exposures to toxins the only things responsible for all of those problems?  Certainly not, but the bottom line is that at least I can say I tried to do all I could, and that’s what’s important to me. 

Perhaps others are motivated to avoid all things corporate, or their desire to reduce their carbon footprint is their driving force to limit their purchases to local ones.  If that’s their number one passion then more power to them!  I think everyone needs to find their own balance as a consumer.  I’m also not saying I don’t try to do all of these things, and there are certainly other ways I try to eliminate my waste as a consumer, like bringing my own jars to the co-op or using my own bags for produce and even fresh bread.  I also do my best to keep costs down in other ways, like making as much as I can from scratch, or using family cloth for #1 so we don’t go through pricier toilet paper as quickly.  Despite all my efforts, it just seems to me like it is getting more and more difficult to avoid everything, to justify every purchase in every way, and it becomes even harder still when money is thrown into the mix.

One of the things that got me thinking about this topic was realizing the irony of how I purchased the shop lights and grow bulbs that I use to start my seedlings at Walmart.  Having to start over with a new garden this year, and faced with more purchases ahead to make that possible, I am in the same position I was many years ago when I bought those lights – if I want to continue to feed my family in the way I always do, then there is no money to spare and I have to find the materials I need to build the garden at the cheapest cost possible.  Does that mean I may have to make a few purchases there?  Sadly, the answer is probably yes.  Will those purchases, in addition to the grow lights, enable me to continue to grow my organic seeds into pesticide free food for my family, with the closest locality possible?  Absolutely!  It also happens to be the only place around here that carries Calgon water softener at a reasonable price, which I need to keep my cloth diapers from stinking with hard water build-up.  So yes, I purchase the Calgon there in order to not pollute the earth with disposable diapers…compromise, compromise, compromise….  But as my husband pointed out, every time I make an eco-friendly related purchase like organic food at a mainstream store, I vote with my wallet to tell those corporations that this is the direction where consumerism is heading.  This is why large corporations like Proctor and Gamble are acquiring companies like New Chapter Organics, because they can see things heading that direction already.  I suppose the double edged sword of wanting more nontoxic and organic products in the common marketplace at a lower price is that means more nefarious corporations will be involved in the dissemination of those products.

Some may condemn me for shopping at Walmart for any reason, just as I might cringe when I see a child sucking on a toy made of PVC or a TV remote full of flame retardants.  But as much as it might make me uneasy to see that, I try not to let it show, and I try not to judge.  I think every person as a parent and as a human being needs to find their own way of making it all work.  I think we all have our own concerns, and our own ways of prioritizing those concerns.  It doesn’t make us superior because something in our lives may motivate us to care about one thing more than another.  There are so many things to try to keep track of these days, and so many hidden evils to navigate around.  The best thing we can do as consumers is try to keep ourselves educated and aware, in order to make informed decisions at the stores, even if in some cases it means a compromising one.  Most of us try our best to do what we can given the means at our disposal, and that’s all we can really ask of one another. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Children's Shows and Bottles

Lately, my daughter has been more of a mom to her baby dolls, and I think it's adorable.  The only problem is that she has decided to stop nursing them and gives them bottles.

I asked why, and her response, "Dora gives the baby bottles, so does Super Why."

I almost cried.

We talked about how babies drink milk from their mom's breasts, and she knows that and used to do that all the time, but she just kept going back to how the people on her shows didn't, so that must be how it's done.

I understand that breasts are seen as mostly sexual objects now, with only that function.  That doesn't mean it's right or I agree with it, but I understand.

I just have a huge issue with shows made for children that show artificial feeding as the norm.  In the US, yes more women use bottles and formula than breastfeed, but that doesn't make it right.

I try very hard to teach my daughter that breastfeeding is normal and natural, and love when she is able to see it since I probably won't be able to show her myself.  I want her to be completely comfortable with her body and everything it does.  At almost five years old, she is enthralled with things "important" people do, and that is seen as the coolest thing in the world to her.

Watching Dora (shudder) and Super Why with her and then watching them with bottles just makes me want to write nasty letters about how they are, from the very beginning of children's lives, showing that bottle feeding is the normal thing to do when one has a baby.

I am in no way saying that bottle feeding is wrong, just that by showing bottles automatically on children's shows, you are making another generation that feels breastfeeding is weird if only from the early experiences they have.

After each time she sees this, we talk about why people sometimes need to use bottles, but babies drink milk from their mother's breast.  I hope this is enough, because I am being ambushed by everything around me.

How do you deal with the ads, pictures, images, and everything else children see that make bottle feeding seem superior and more normal than breastfeeding?  Is there really any other way to combat this than to talk all the time about how the body works and to show women feeding their babies the natural way?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

On Letting Go

I’ve just registered my second child, my lovely little girl, to start pre-K in September. When she goes, our entire world will change, much as it did when my son, now in first grade, went off to school. Though we have (many) challenging periods, I often find myself on the verge of tears at the thought of my babies growing up, and so quickly.

I sometimes struggle to remember my son’s infant days. From the moment I saw him everything about my life was different, and I am a better human being as a result. But sadly, even before he was born, I had already begun letting go. It started with my pregnancy, which I gave over to tests and results and being poked and prodded by strangers with cold hands. It continued with my labor and delivery, which I gave over to lawsuit-fearing doctors and students, and pitocin and magnesium.

I spent my son's whole first year in this state of letting go. I have difficulty explaining it, but everything I did, from formula feeding to using swings and jumperoos to the car seat cradle my son spent an inordinate amount of time in, served to take me further and further away from my baby.

So many times I have wondered, now as a breastfeeding, baby wearing and attached parent, how much easier my son's first year would have been for both of us had I just breastfed him, or worn him, or read his cues a little bit better. So many times nursing calmed my daughter and I remembered being in similar situations with my son, where no amount of holding or rocking or binky or anything helped him the way nursing would have. So many times I have wondered how many painful, raw diaper rashes we could have avoided with my son if only we had cloth diapered him.

Now that my children are growing, I really understand how short this period of time is, how little precious time we get to truly be with our children. And so much is becoming clear. I always had such a hard time reconciling my feelings for my son with what I was actually doing. The need to attach was always present in me, but I didn't listen to it. I took the mainstream advice, the road everyone I knew at the time was taking, and it did not serve us well.

There's a small amount of time that we have as parents to start things off the better way, and give our babies the tools to deal with life and its ups and downs, with grace, humility, and love. I do my best to give my children those tools, as we all do—but I wish I had more time to make up for what I lost during my son's first year. I wonder if any of the battles we are having now would be different if that first year would have been different.

I’ve had no choice but to move on. I've had to mourn the time we lost, and move on to what we can do now. I am trying to fill each day with experiences and events that I hope my kids will remember forever. And yet, no matter what I do, how many pictures I take, or how many pages I scrapbook, I feel the days go by, the time slipping through my fingers with an almost cruel finality.

Perhaps because I am feeling this loss of time, both past and present, so profoundly, I wish I could tell the newer parents, the ones that can’t wait for their kids to learn to talk, to be potty trained, to go to school—all exciting and wonderful milestones; if only they didn’t come so quickly—how fleeting these first few years are. Should I tell them that each time that one of my children acquires a skill or learns something new, as excited as I am, my heart breaks a little? Sometimes I wish that I could magically extend my arms to reach around my son and daughter forever—so that they be protected and loved in my embrace no matter where they go. I’m trying desperately to hold on to this period of time when I am still attached to them somehow.

For me, attachment is about being close to your child. It's about teaching, about guiding, and about compassion. I’ve found that attachment doesn't have to be all or nothing. Ultimately, it’s not about how long you baby wear or breastfeed or co-sleep.

I bristle at the idea out there that in order to be an attached mom, you have to come last. Not true. I am not harried, nor have I left myself on the back burner—in fact, I take great care of myself. It took some time, but making myself a priority has been the best thing I could have done, and it allows me to be even more attached to my children and more attuned to their needs, because my needs are being met.

I also think we have to be realistic about expectations and just how joyful attachment and parenting in general are “supposed” to be. I’ve always had the most difficulty remaining attached to my children when I feel that whatever is happening in the moment is falling short of my expectations. When I let go and relax, things turn out alright for the most part.

I read Glennon Melton’s “Don’t Carpe Diem” a couple of months ago, and though a lot of it resonated with me, it also served as a reminder that I want to strive to be more positive during my day-to-day grind. In general, I want to be able to take the difficulties in stride, and recognize that most things are just a phase. I’ve talked before about my temper and the difficulties it presents for me, and I find it easiest to control myself when I keep things in perspective. I've made a point, in the last six months, to decrease outside stress and noise and focus on myself and my family, and it's made a huge difference for me.

The only thing that remains constant in life is that time always passes. My husband will eventually come home, my kids will eventually go to bed, and I will eventually get through the day, no matter what happened or how frustrated I got. As tough as things can get with small children, I don’t ever wish that we were anywhere instead of being right where we are now—together, appreciating and loving being together. Again, all that takes time, and it is the gradual realization of all these little things that helps during the bad moments.

Sure, there are unglamorous things involved—leaking nipples, boogers, butt-wiping, and the like. Honestly, for me, those things are par for the course. It makes me sad to hear moms lamenting about what important jobs they had in the corporate world before children, and the current feeling of having been reduced to nothing but a heinie-wiper. I wish we didn’t find this type of work, the work of mothering, to be so demeaning. There’s nothing demeaning or shameful about raising another human being. And well, yes, these little beings are going to need their nails clipped, their snots wiped, and you will have to get down on your hands and knees more than once to clean up the mess they’ve made on the floor.

When the day seems never ending and my frustration has reached its peak, I’ve started to give myself a pep talk. “Hug your babies and keep them close. Time is fleeting. Savor it, cherish it. Appreciate the challenges as much as the joys. This precious time will be gone before you know it.”

And then I’m off to wipe someone’s heinie.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Tiger Moms and Other Food for Thought

Two hours after I said I hadn’t read The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and that I had no interest in it, I passed by it on the shelf at the library, and suddenly I couldn’t help myself. I grabbed it. It’s one of those books, I found, that isn’t much different than a train wreck; even though I abhor authoritarian parenting, spanking, threatening and public or private shaming children, I just couldn’t help myself.

For much of it, Amy Chua is righteous, arrogant, and stubborn (and this is putting it mildly); she also makes sweeping generalizations about Western parents (as if we all parent the same way) and makes it clear that she looks down on us all. Considering she is a Yale Law Professor, I find this aspect of her book sloppy and unforgivable. It also reveals that she’s out of touch with the amount of traffic in parenting blogs, websites and books. Given how much debate occurs over all things parenting (co-sleeping vs. crib, time outs and bribes vs. absence of rewards & punishments, academic preschool vs. play rich environment, independent play vs. parent dictated play, etc.) one cannot lump all Western parents into one basket. We make ourselves dizzy with all the debate and research on all the facets of rearing children.

Much has been made of Chua’s book and her claim that her results are undeniable; her eldest daughter is a talented pianist and is now attending Harvard. Her younger daughter rebelled, but still loves the piano, is a straight A student, and plays tennis. Her daughters claim to be happy. Many critics state that many could learn a thing or two from Chua’s strict and shaming methods.

I hesitate to follow in their footsteps, however. Chua states repeatedly that Chinese parents emphasize (demand) respect to all authority figures. If a child has an argument with another parent, teacher or employer, the parent is to take the side of the authority figure. Yet, what does this teach children long term? It teaches them not to question and to not to trust that their concerns, complaints, or experience is valid. Qualities that we value such as innovation and creativity aren’t necessarily going to come out of children taught to never question or speak up to authority figures. Not to mention that never questioning or speaking up can contribute to angry rebellious or passive aggressive children (which Chua’s younger daughter demonstrates).

My other concern about Chua’s approach is it relies heavily on external rewards for its success. Once her girls get the taste for achievement, she hopes, then they will want to achieve more, essentially because it feels good and they then feel good about themselves. Receiving external accolades can certainly be fun, yet it can be hard and exhausting to sustain. And some of the most difficult and satisfying work doesn’t come with rewards, awards, medals or approval; it comes with the ability to keep working despite repeated failures and lack of results. It comes after being able to take risks – which kids raised in such high-pressured to succeed environments are less likely to take.

For me the saddest moment of the book comes when Chua is struggling with her younger daughter. When she mentions it to her older daughter, Sophia simply says, “It’s a stage. It’s awful to be thirteen – I was miserable.” Chua then admits she hadn’t known Sophia was miserable at thirteen, just like her mother hadn’t known she was miserable at thirteen. Like Chua, I too want my children to succeed and have opportunities, but more importantly, I want to feel connected to my children. I want to know when they are struggling and I certainly want them to feel safe to express their vulnerable selves in my company.

Despite all of Chua’s insistence that she is a strict Chinese mother, I don’t know that I necessarily agree with her. Her drive for her daughters to succeed in music to me indicates she is much more an American parenting institution than she realizes; she’s a stage mom.

Yet, from Chua, I realized a couple things. One is we all know we’re not supposed to judge other parents, yet we still do it – even the people who say they don’t do – simply because we’re human beings and human beings are judgmental creatures (and what would happen to the media industry without judgment?); I tend to judge parents like Chua because her methods make me uncomfortable. I keenly remember the moments of my own childhood that relied on shaming or my parents’ strict authoritarian beliefs. While my parents now admit they parented in such a way because at the time it didn’t occur to them they could do it differently and even if they had wanted to parent differently, they didn’t know how, Chua does it because she has legitimate concerns about raising children. She may be on the opposite end of the parenting spectrum from me, but I have to agree with her about there being more worthwhile things to do than watching television, that to master something requires practice, and that you can achieve what you want, but it comes from work and a belief in yourself, not genes or talent (though genes and talent help).

Other parenting books for thought and discussion:

Simplicity Parenting; Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids by Lisa Ross and Kim Payne

The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally by David Elkind

Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn -- and Why They Need To Play More and Memorize Less by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Diane Eyer

The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is Still the Least Valued by Ann Crittenden

Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl

The Organic Family Cookbook by Anni Daulter

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Accepting the Mother I Am

Here's something that I don’t readily admit: I make a lot of mistakes with my children. I lose my cool, I bribe, I second-guess myself, and I clean my house while they watch TV.

I know my children well. I know when either of them needs a cuddle. I know that they don't like to be hassled and asked questions right when they wake up. I know my daughter will cry if the lights are too bright first thing in the morning; I know my son will be upset if we are out of his favorite granola bars. With nearly seven years of mothering under my belt, I know what my kids want without words; I understand their idiosyncrasies and habits like no one else. I know which cry means what, and I empathize with and I feel their pain. But with other things, I sometimes feel like I’m still groping in the dark.

I’m a perfectionist, and I tend to expect a lot of my kids. I expect that my son won’t forget his eyeglasses at school yet again. I expect that he’ll stop doing something after I’ve asked him to stop ten times. I expect my daughter’s appetite will be the same every day, and worry when it isn’t. I expect that this time, she will eat her yogurt without spilling it on the table, without getting up at least a dozen times.

I expect even more of myself. I expect that, as it often does, life will remind me that my kids are just kids. I expect that I will find a balance between child rearing, housework, and marriage (some days I do, some days I don’t). I expect I will stop wasting time, hiding in silly tasks to avoid thinking about the big things.

I expect I will learn to control my temper.

The one thing I have the most trouble with on a regular basis is my temper. It’s awful and it’s the hardest thing for me to admit or talk about. My anger comes on in a flash, goes on like a switch, and is gone just as quickly. Unfortunately, what’s transpired in the interim is harder to get rid of. It goes against everything I try to do with my children in terms of parenting and disciplining them gently.

I wish so much that I could learn to breathe, refocus, and not be angry, for good. My anger is hard to let go of because it makes me feel strong and in control (the irony is not lost on me here—when I’m angry, I am absolutely not in control—my anger is). It’s my security blanket, the one thing I know I can go back to at any time and feel like myself. I grapple with it every single day of my life and am working so hard to let it go.

Most days are great. But some days are bad, and as many excuses as I make for allowing myself to react in anger (I’m pregnant, I’m sick, I didn’t get any sleep, my kids are being difficult, etc), the only person that can make this better is me. I don’t run from it. I talk to my kids about it and I don’t hide my struggle with it. I’m lucky and grateful that my family is loving and forgiving.

Time and time again, my children teach me invaluable lessons. They trust me, and so they believe whatever I tell them. My son knows that I will always be at school to pick him up; my daughter knows I will always be outside the bedroom door whenever she calls out “Mommy.” I have been “one of those mothers,” with “one of those children,” everywhere—the supermarket, the doctor’s office, the playground. No matter how dirty the floor is, no matter how loudly I’ve yelled at them, my babies hug me, and kiss me, and say, “I love you.” They are always happy to see me, and always want more of me.

At night, before I settle in, I go into my kids’ room. If my son’s head is off the pillow, I move it back; if my daughter’s leg is hanging off the side of the bed, I ease it onto the mattress. I fix his blankets, tuck her in, and whisper sweet words into their ears. I stroke their soft hair and little hands, still so much smaller than my own. I marvel at their even breathing, their peaceful, warm, sleeping little bodies.

I have to accept the mother I am: imperfect, sometimes impatient, a yeller. Even though those negatives are what stick out in my mind during my worst moments of self-evaluation and criticism, I mother with so much more than that. I love, I cherish, and I agonize. I worry, I nurture, and I appreciate. I give thanks for and am in awe of my children every day. Late at night in the dark I think of all the things I could have done differently and all the things I did that I wish I hadn’t.

I’ve realized something: like life, parenting is a journey, and a work in progress. I’m going to make mistakes—many of them. I will feel a tremendous amount of guilt every time—there is no doubt about that. I feel a sense of hope that I’ll know better with each kid.

Then one of my kids looks at me, looks into my eyes as intently as I look into hers, and I know that she adores me, just the way I am. You could say it’s because she has no choice, but I say that maybe she loves me with my flaws. Maybe my imperfections are teaching my kids more than perfection ever could. Maybe watching me make mistakes and learning from them will teach my children tolerance and acceptance, and maybe they will allow themselves to make mistakes, and learn from them too.

I’m not the mother than always speaks softly. I’m not the mother that doesn’t get angry, get moody, get disappointed. I’m not the mother whose children don’t scream, whose children eat all their vegetables, whose children always listen. But I am the mother who is loved by a precious little boy and girl. And that is the best mother I can hope to be. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Why I Want My Children To Love Fairy Tales

This is a touchy subject for a lot of people.  The Disney Princesses get a lot of flack, though for good reason when you're old enough to analyze them for the bad examples they seem to be, but in our house, we love them.

I grew up with the Disney Princesses.  I grew up learning about fairy tales, reading books about them, wanting a happy ending so bad that that's all I planned.  Meeting the perfect guy, which I did, getting married, again yes, and I always envisioned having lots of kids without issue, which hasn't happened.  You'd think that would tarnish the way I view fairy tales and happy endings.  I got part of mine, but the other will be forever out of my grasp.

I try very hard not to push my fears and insecurities on my daughter.  I have a lot of them, most having to do with my losses and infertility, and it's hard.  I'm a partial helicopter parent because I'm terrified I'm going to lose her too.

But this won't change the fact that I want my daughter (and hopefully my children) to grow up with the same beautiful view of the world that I had as a child.  Things didn't turn out how I wanted, but that doesn't make the idea of a fairy tale ending any less beautiful and enchanting.  In fact, I think the loss we have gone through has made me realize even more than we need these stories in our lives.

I won't hide the bad parts of life from my daughter since she's already seen more loss than most people by the time they're my age.  However, I will try my hardest to instill in her the knowledge that life can be happy after bad things happen.  I'm in the midst of the bad, so it's harder to see the silver lining, but that doesn't mean it isn't there.

Fairy tales for me are a way to escape the tragedies of life and look towards the future.  Yes, looking deep down Belle fell in love with her kidnapper, Cinderella didn't do much to change her surroundings besides getting married, and Ariel lied to her dad and ran away.  But my daughter doesn't see that.  I don't see that.

To her, they're beautiful stories with happy endings.  To me, they're examples of how life can turn around.

They will always be in my house, even if just to show that sometimes life really can end with a "Happily Ever After."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Talking To Kids About Sexual Health

I got into a pretty interesting debate a few weeks ago about teens and sex, more specifically birth control and whether or not it should be available to teens without parental permission. I am not going to go too far into that debate right now but I would like to touch on a subject that came up during this debate regarding sex education.

For the record I whole heartedly believe that teens NEED to have access to birth control and information about sexual health in order to stay safe, and I believe that forcing kids to seek parental permission limits their access to these resources. Would I like my teens to come to me to discuss these things? Of course, but I accept the fact that they may not feel comfortable doing so.

That being said, the person on the other side of this debate brought up a fair point: Can you really expect a teenager to have enough awareness and reasoning skills to make an informed decision about their medical care?

My basic answer is that if a teen has enough information and initiative to seek birth control before having intercourse they probably have a good understanding of the stakes they are dealing with. My longer answer is that we cannot and should not leave the answer to this question up to chance.

Will my teenagers come to me to talk about their sexual health? Maybe, maybe not. Will I take the time to sit down with them and talk about sexual health? Absolutely. And not just once, not when they reach a certain age, not with partial information or half truths designed to ‘shield’ them from reality or ‘avoid temptation’. Right now my son is 2 ½ years old, and I have already started this process. If he doesn’t choose to talk to me about this stuff as a teenager, I will at least know that he does in fact have the information he needs to make good decisions and I hope that I will have the faith needed to trust him to do so whether I am there with him or not.

Some of you may be asking yourself what I could possibly be teaching a toddler about sex. Right now we focus a lot on using proper names for body parts. There are no cutesy nick names here. Not only is this an important part of creating open and trusting communication about these issues but many advocacy groups maintain that children who know the proper names for all their body parts are less likely to be sexually abused in their life time. I am also very careful to take all of my son’s questions seriously and provide clear answers as much as possible. Because I am a labour doula my son has a lot of questions about what I do when I am away and ‘going to help a baby’ just doesn’t seem to cut it all the time so we watch birth videos, we talk about how babies grow in their mother’s uterus which is in their tummy and when the time comes the mother needs lots of love and support as she works really hard to bring baby out. We talk about breastfeeding, about how women have breasts that make milk for their babies and men don’t.

We also talk a lot about personal space. About how we need permission to touch other people and we teach that no means no. We don’t only talk about these things, we practice them. When my son doesn’t want to be picked up, we do not pick him up, when I am feeling too touched out to nurse him, I explain that my body is my own and he can ask me again in a little while. When we play tickle games or any other kind of rough housing we routinely check in with each other to make sure everyone is having fun and when someone says ‘stop’ we stop, no questions asked. This may not seem like sex education to everyone, but I believe that a healthy sex life starts with being empowered and expecting nothing less than respect for your autonomy. And in a culture that tries to tell us that victims invite assault by dressing and acting certain ways I want to make for damn sure my children know that people make decisions for their own bodies and that ‘No’ means ‘No’ even if you're 'just playing', even if 'they said yes before', even if  they 'thought it was part of the game', no.matter.what.

As my son gets older I will continue to answer all of his questions honestly, we will continue to teach him that his body is his own. We will continue to talk about anatomy, not only his own, but also that of the opposite sex. We will talk about gender. We will talk about attraction. We will talk about love. We will talk about health. We will talk about responsibility. We will talk about these things as they come up, not as one sit down serious talk but as a series of discussions over the course of his life. So that when the time comes, and he is faced with decisions he may not feel comfortable coming to us with, he will at least have a lifetime of lessons to draw on to make decisions for himself.

Of course, my plans to educate my own child does not mean that every teenager seeking birth control will have as much information or as much support. Not every parent is equipped or willing to take this kind of proactive approach. So the question remains, even if I’ve prepared MY teenager to make informed decisions about his sexual health, does every teenager possess the awareness and reasoning to make these decisions without a parent’s permission?

That’s a tough question to answer. By and large I don’t think teens are given much credit, we are so filled with dread over stories of rebellious teens and all of the ‘trouble’ we got into when we ourselves were teens that imagining your own child as a teen can be terrifying. But in my experience, teenagers are just people, some are more responsible than others, some are more impulsive than others, but they are all at their core good people. They are not aliens from outer space who speak a totally different language, there is no secret method of management one needs to learn to ‘handle’ them. They are people, on the cusp of being self sufficient and functioning members of society.

If we as a society have not come together to ensure that these kids can make important decisions for themselves by the time they’re getting a drivers license or their first job then we have failed them. End of story. Where some would argue that we need to restrict access to sexual health services until the knowledge fairy comes on a kid’s 18th birthday to magically implant the wisdom to make informed choices, I would argue that we need to make sure every child in our society is given an honest and comprehensive health education so that when someone asks ‘Does a teenager in your community possess the awareness and reasoning to make decisions about their health’ the answer can always be ‘yes’.

Reading From the Parenting Nightstand

On Amazon alone, there are more than 80,000 books about parenting. I haven’t read all of them. I also haven’t read the much talked about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom (I admit, I heard the story about how she kept her daughter at the piano until her daughter chewed the piano keys in protest, and I got scared.) or the much talked about Raising Bebe (I read the reviews though and that seemed enough). But I have read a lot, and I read a lot that the people I respect and admire recommend. So here’s some of my all time favorite list; I’ll post another list next week of more of my current favorites ( and if you have a favorite that’s not here, put it in the Comments!)

Parenting for a Peaceful World by Robin Grille

I think everyone should read this book – it’s by far my most favorite book and Grille is my personal hero. He goes into parenting practices of the past and explains the evolution of how one generation improves upon the other, and he does so in a way that is compassionate without placing blame on previous generations for child rearing ideas that now would be considered abusive or just plain whacko. He also links shifts in parenting to shifts in philosophy and world events (ie why the Holocaust started in Germany, not France or England). It's absolutely fascinating and eye opening.

Unconditional Parenting; Moving From Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn

My other all time favorite book that I refer to regularly. I love it because it applies to all ages, all kids and all parents. Kohn gives us the tools to raise kids who behave, are respectful, who follow their inner values, and are intrinsically motivated. When I recommend this book, I often receive a doubtful look, as if Kohn's ideas are too good to be true, but I find he's dead on. I'd even consider it common sense; in a relationship based on rewards, it only works if kids want the rewards (or the bribes), which leaves parents constantly looking for a new trick to sway their children - and that doesn't sound fun for any one. Raising kids with love and reason, however, grants both parents and children with a relationship they can delight in.

Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort

Often parents are told that they should ignore parenting books and advice for the simple reason that they know their children, they know themselves, they know their situation and values, and they therefore have enough to go on and should just trust their instincts. While I believe this to be often true, I also know that there are times that we think we're following our instincts, and what we're actually following is our own hard wiring - which isn't necessarily a good thing for some of us. Our children do something, and we react only to realize a moment later that our reaction doesn't reflect the kind of parent we are or want to be. Aldort points out that this is true for all of us and it doesn't help to beat ourselves up over these moments, but it does make a difference to get to the root of our reaction, for the sake of our own growth and development as parents.

You Are Your Child's First Teacher: What Parents Can Do With and For Their Children From Birth to Age Six by Rahima Baldwin

I read this book when my son was two, and it’s the one book I wished I had read before he was born, if only because of her insistence that you trust your instincts and your connection to your child. It’s a fantastic reminder to just relax and BE with your child – rather than rushing them off to some overpriced nonsense that advertises to increase your child’s aptitude for music, math and the arts and have them reading by the time they are done with diapers.

NurtureShock By Po Bronson and Ashley Merrill

Not necessarily a book that needs to be read before the arrival of baby, but definitely by the time a child enters pre-school. My husband teases me how I have my instincts about things, do a bunch of research until I find the people that agree with me, and then armed with their book in hand, I feel empowered enough to talk back to the people that suggest I’m off my rocker. This is why I love Bronson and Merryman: they did all the research that I didn’t have to to know I’m making the right choices for my son (and baby to be). I have a huge pet peeve when adults accuse children, toddlers and even babies (!) of being manipulative or lying, (especially when kids are actually just asking to have their basic needs met), now I can confidently talk back and point out that they probably are – because they learned it from their parents. They also deal with why praising backfires, and why the evaluations for giftedness are actually off.

Bright From the Start by Jill Stamm

I’m not one of those moms who wants her children reading by the time they turn three or is especially focused on future academic achievement. Mostly, I want to encourage my child’s natural curiosity and creativity, and Stamm offers the tools for this while also explaining developmentally what’s happening in the baby’s world. I find the more I understand the developmental phases, the easier it is to not take some of the difficult moments personally, since I know that whatever my child is doing is exactly the appropriate thing for him to be doing.

The Philosophical Baby by Alison Gopnik

I’ve long been a fan of Gopnik’s brother Adam and his New Yorker articles, but after this book by Alison Gopnik, I’d honestly do anything to be a guest or a fly on the wall at a Gopnik family Thanksgiving. Gopnik illustrates that babies are more conscious than we think they are, and even more conscious than adults are. They are busy little scientists and explorers, and while I was always in awe of my child, this book left me even more so – and just marveling at my son’s mind and in profound respect for his process.

Ice Pop Joy by Anni Daulter

Cookbooks or even cookbooks for feeding children don’t usually make lists of parenting reads, but Anni Daulter’s Popsicle cookbook makes the difference for me in my parenting life on an almost daily basis, given my son now eats between 1 and 4 a day. Consequently, this is the book I give as Christmas gifts and to new moms at baby showers.

In both of my pregnancies, popsicles were the mainstays of my happiness. I still get weak knees at the sight of a Trader Joe’s Key Lime Popsicle. My son shares my addiction, though my son also has a profound love of green juice (that green juice full of spinach, wheat grass, and algae. It sounds disgusting, but he loves it.) I, on a whim, one day took his beloved green juice, threw it in the blender with some pineapple and filled the Popsicle mold with it. Then, the next day when he asked for a popsicle for breakfast I felt like the best mom ever. Except for the fact that I had a rather limited repertoire.

Then I found Anni Daulter’s Ice Pop Joy. She has recipes for popsicles with yogurt, fruit, vegetables, tofu, even chocolate and all of them are kid-friendly. By kid-friendly, I mean all have some nutritional value and have enough sweetness to taste good, yet are not full of the kinds of sugar that send kids over the edge (I know many doctors say sugar intake and hyperactivity are not related. I don’t know that these doctors actually have children. If my child has 3 ounces of orange juice, he turns into a demon. He’s sugar sensitive, so we’re happy for recipes that use agave nectar or honey.) Those who have children with food sensitivities will find the recipes easy to amend (replace wheat germ with flax seeds for example).

My son loves the Breakfast Pops (Almond butter, bananas, yogurt, walnuts and wheat germ) though he will eat any of them for breakfast, even the Harvest Pops (apples, butternut squash, dried cranberries, wheat germ). Many of the recipes feature vegetables many kids won’t usually eat, spinach, zucchini, or yellow squash. Your child is sick? There are popsicles that boost her immune system and keep her hydrated. She also has tidbits of nutritional information sprinkled throughout that I refer to when I'm making things besides popsicles.

Friday, March 9, 2012

What a Busy Mom Needs

My youngest child is a little over two months old now. I found the postpartum period incredibly easy this time around--perhaps too easy. Physically, I bounced back almost instantly. I was up and around, preparing the house for guests the morning after. I may have given the

impression that things are completely back to normal, but they are not. Despite my quick recovery, I am still balancing the needs of a newborn and three older children, household duties, and paid freelance work. It can quickly become overwhelming. I have been thinking about what I need, and I decided to share it here. I do not claim to speak for every busy mom, but hopefully some of you can find commiseration here. Maybe friends, family, and partners could also learn a thing or two about the kind of support a mom needs.
I need a friend who will listen and allow me to vent without judgment. When I talk about struggles I am facing with my child, I do not want to hear about how lucky you are that you have a "good" baby. I do not want you to informally diagnose my child with some mental
disorder or suggest I abandon my parenting style. I just want someone to listen. I would be happy to do the same for you. And when I don't have time to hang out, please don't take it personally. Weekends are often the only time my whole family can be together, and we really need that.

I need family members who love and accept me, imperfect as I am. Your opinion means so much to me, so try not to be too disappointed if I fall behind in my day-to-day tasks. I am doing the best I can. There will be time enough for chores when my babies are older. When you plan a get-together, please consider my children. Everything goes so much more smoothly when their needs are met. I might be intensely emotional around you, and I apologize, but know that this
is because you are one of the few people I trust enough to open up to. If I parent differently from you, I do not mean it as an insult. I am just doing what I feel works best for my kids. I know it sounds silly, but I really just want you to be proud of me.

Most of all, I need a partner who will support me, not just in word but in deed. I appreciate that you value my thoughts and opinions, but what I really need is for you to act on it. If you want me to be an attentive mother to our children it will require a lot of my time and energy--especially when they are little. Please support me in this effort by picking up some of my slack around the house. Keep up with the messes you make. Do a load of laundry or pick up a broom now and then. Sometimes, I feel emotionally depleted at the end of the day. Please know that I love you and that I am not intentionally ignoring you. Even when I am not up to being intimate, I still very much need
your affection. The rest will come in time.

To all of my loved ones, thank you for listening and for always being there. To my fellow moms, you are not alone. I hope you find everything you need.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Do You Want Obedient Children?

The term obedience makes me a little squeamish. I don't want to raise obedient children. Before you get into a lather, let me clarify: What I am talking about is the idea of first time, every time obedience as a parenting goal. I'm not saying I never pull the Momma Card . . . it happens. Of course I protect my children from danger and of course I want my children to listen to me . . . but within the context of a mutual respectful relationship.

What I take issue with is the culturally constructed concept of obedienceEven for—make that especially for—young children. The idea of first-time, unquestioning submission. (Because I'm the parent. Because I said so. Do this or else.) The thought that we must "demand" respect from our children and anything less means they are running the show. (Guess what? If you must demand it, you ain't got it.) The crazy notion that our job as parents is to prepare our children for future disappointments (life isn't fair!) by making sure we tell them no and not waiver (because otherwise surely they will end up as entitled, spoiled brats.) The belief that obeying your parents wishes equates to obeying the will of God.

Not that some days it wouldn't be nice (in the short term, anyway) if I had more compliant offspring. But I know that's not my long-term objective. I don't want blindly obedient children. I would never expect or desire my Agents to sheepishly do what I say simply because I (or someone else) told them to. I do not want them to listen to me only because they fear me. (And face it, most "obedience" in young children is really fear of consequences.) I want them to be able to question things they don't understand or disagree with.

(I also cannot help but wonder: What happens as an obedient child grows? Do they continue to do as others tell them out of "obedience and respect for authority"? Because I'm sure that whole blind obedience thing works out swimmingly when children confront peer pressure. Or become the target of a bully. Or cross paths with, oh, a pedophile.)

So what do I wish for my darlings if not to comply, obey, and contort their wills to my mine? 

As a parent, I want to have a positive, secure, loving relationship with my children. I want to be an example for them to emulate. I want them to grow into compassionate, open-minded, loving, confident, kind individuals. I want my children to be grace-full. Nope, that's not a typo. I don't mean graceful in the elegant ballet dancer sense, I mean full of grace . . . to know that they (and others) deserve grace. I want them to know about second chances. I want my children to listen to me not out of fear, but because they have genuine respect for my guidance. When I hear my children speak to my grandchildren, and think oh that sounds just like me, I want to be smiling, not cringing.

Looking for inspiration? Food for thought from some of my favorite writers:

What about you? What traits do you hope to instill in your children? Is obedience one of them?

Thanks for reading and have a blessed day.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

6 Things I Didn't Know About the Flu Until This Week

My family has been hit with the flu. My son spiked a 102 temperature last Tuesday evening and life has not been the same since. I had no idea just how intense the flu could be (or how long it could last). Here's some of what I have learned this week.

1. Some flus make you sick for a long time and that is just normal!

Flus are different than colds in that there is usually almost no build up before you get sick. Colds come on slowly; flus hit you like a freight train. Symptoms last for a full four or five days and often include: chills, headache, muscle aches, dizziness, loss of appetite, tiredness, cough, sore throat, runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and weakness. This can mean that you and/or your child will have a temperature over 100 for multiple days in a row (if it is over 100 for more than three days, however, with no break, it is recommended you call your doctor). After those days, a cough and weakness remain for up to two weeks afterwards. All of this is normal and does not mean anything else is wrong.

2. You are contagious for a long time.

This is where I want all moms to listen up. Unlike most colds and viruses where the common belief is that once the fever is over, you usually aren't very contagious, with flus, you are contagious until all the symptoms end. This means that you stop being contagious when you stop coughing completely. For most healthy adults this is about a week after you catch the flu. If you have a small child with the flu or if someone in your family has asthma (like I do), it means that they might have the cough longer and may be contagious up to two weeks! So, if you suspect your family had the flu, keep everyone at home or make them where masks in public for your brief forays. No one should be inflicted with the hell my family just went through!

3. Cold humidifiers are awesome.

Okay, I knew this before we caught the flu, but I loved already owning them. They do not create hot steam and so are much safer to have around small children. However, they do moisten the air and help open swollen breathing ways just as well as they hot ones do and they seem to last a lot longer than the hot air vaporizers. They are, however, a little more expensive, but I feel like the cost is totally worth it.

4. A flu can make you feel like you are going to die, but there is really nothing a doctor can do for you.

We did not go to the doctor, but I did call mine because I do have asthma and I do know that my son has the genetic possibility of having it one day. (I did not become completely symptomatic until age 14.) I nicknamed this particular flu the "Brown Plague" because it was almost as bad as the "Black Plague," but it wasn't going to kill us. However, here are a list of symptoms that mean you should take your child to the emergency room with the flu: fast breathing or trouble breathing, bluish or gray skin color, not drinking enough fluids, severe or persistent vomiting
not waking up or not interacting, being so irritable that the child does not want to be held, flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and cough. As my 2 1/2 year old, thirty odd pound son did not want to be put down during the entire five days, nursed (and slept) like a new born (up every two hours or so), and only vomited twice (on two very separate days for two separate reasons), I figured he was still healing healthily enough and we avoided the emergency room. This was probably a good thing as I'm not sure my husband or I were really healthy enough to be driving.

5. Elderberry May Kill the Flu

Obviously, I did not know this one at all or I would have had elderberries on hand. Apparently, it is well documented that elderberry kills flu viruses if you take it from the very beginning. This study says that people were "symptom free" after two days! I don't have personal experience, yet, but you can bet your knickers I'm going to be buying elderberry when I get back to the health food store!

6. The Flu Can Have "After" Effects

This is mostly for people with compromised immune systems or weak lungs. If you have asthma and you catch the flu, you can develop a rattle when you breathe like I have and you can develop plugged ears. These are after effects that can lead to serious complications, so you have to take care of them. The Neti Pot can help with both of those, but it is also recommended that you take something to thin the mucus. Mucinex is readily available, but there are more natural alternatives with less weird commercials. However, as a national drug chain is far closer to my house than the health food stores I can use in this area, I cannot tell you with any experience if any of those work. I just started using Mucinex tonight . . . we'll see how it goes.

7. The Flu Can Make You a Better Mom

Okay, so not every minute of the flu makes you a better mom, but I found because I knew that I was crabby already, I was able to be extra careful and not be impatient with my son. Because I wasn't feeling well, I didn't try to get a million things done and I was pretty grateful for what I did manage to do! I also had an easier time forgiving myself and letting myself turn the tide while I was sick because I knew that I was not at my best and so it was easier to forgive and move on. I tried to take snapshots of the good moments when I did get to snuggle a little closer with my usually very independent toddler, and I tried to push the bad moments into the fog of "The Brown Plague." You can survive the flu and be the mom you want to be during it; you just have to be forgiving of those moments when you were sick.

Oh, and it's okay to watch way too much tv when no one can move. Really. It is.

Thanks for reading,