Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Perception Changes Everything (Asterixed Addendum Included!)

This morning Joaquin and I had the chance to read a new book. The back cover waxed warmly that this book was an expression of the unconditional love a parent has for their child, and I was looking forward to sharing it with my little boy. The first pages started out fairly typically. "I love you when you are happy, sad, helpful, busy, good" (to paraphrase). But then one page stopped me cold. "I love you when you're good, I love you when you're bad."

I couldn't say the "b" word in front of my son. I closed the book.

We went for a walk, and the book stuck with me. I thought about unconditional love, and what it really means to me. The book had stated that the parent loved the child when they were good. Hmmm. This statement seemed to assume that children are not always "good", that they are perhaps only good in moments. What a disappointing way to look at kids.

And then for a parent to read to a kid that they love their child when the child "is" bad?I don't like the sound of that either. Sure, sometimes children make mistakes and do things that we adults don't like. They damage things or make a fuss or pester or do other such activities to the point where we want to say "please stop now, little one, before I lose my mind!". But does that make the child "bad"?

I can remember being told at different times that I was a bad kid. It's a gut-wrenching thing to hear as a kid. It makes you sick to your stomach, or angry, and can leave you feeling misunderstood and rejected. How could someone say that and still call their love unconditional? Sure, the parent might feel that they "still" love their child, however, the language of that statement implies that the child's "Badness" is something that should, in fact, warrant a withdrawal of love. In short, a "bad child" isn't worthy of a parent's love.

We are definitely not reading that book again. I don't even feel like I want to pass it along to someone else.

I didn't start out this way, I must admit. Like many folks, I grew up in the mindset of the "don't let children get one over on you" mentality. There's a real focus on behavior when we think like that. Kids can do things to make themselves real nuisances to us and other children at times. And when we focus solely on what they are doing, we tend to give them very little benefit of the doubt. It's easy to label children as "good" and "bad" when we don't look very far into what the child is feeling, which could be a lot of different stuff: angry, bored, nervous, anxious, scared, left out, frustrated, excited, powerful. All of these different feelings are neither good nor bad, but can look like havoc to someone outside that child's body.

Over the years, I've softened, and like to take the approach that Alfie Kohn describes as ascribing the best possible motives for what a child is doing. That's roughly paraphrased, by the way, but I think we're all on the same page as to what I'm getting at. When we take a step back and see that maybe the child wasn't trying to hit another kid with a toy, but was trying to throw it to them, even if it was a block and a lousy choice, our ire dissipates, and we are better able to help children through those challenging moments if we aren't upset ourselves. It's easy to toss a kid into time-out or label their behavior; it's a lot harder to stop and comfort the hurt child, and ask, "Hey, what happened? I see that Susie got hit by this block." and then, listen without our own prejudices.*

Some parents can get into a trap of their own making, where they see something and make a decision about what happened, and subsequently refute the child's answer. "No, you weren't tossing it to Susie. You threw that block at her. I saw you." When a child is told that their motives are bad, they do internalize it. Which makes it more than likely that the next time Susie gets hit with a block, it may be deliberate. Children believe us to be all-powerful when they are young, and work hard to meet our expectations, even the lowest, most negative ones.

A while ago, I had a child over to play. Later on that day, I noticed that one of our popular play items was missing from the shelves. After conducting a thorough search, I told Joe about it. "Do you think that kid stole it?" he asked.

Well, I could have thought that. It would be easier than thinking beyond the basics. "No, I don't think so. The kids were putting toys into baskets and bags and I think it went home with him by mistake." A few emails later and sure enough, the toy was found.

But the best part about it was that, by not choosing to ascribe the baser motive of theft to the child, it helps to keep my relationship with him secure. He stays in good standing in my eyes. And if another mistake like this is made later on, as it could well happen again, both the boy and his parents know that there won't be any hard feelings about it. Therefore, those mistakes are more likely to be corrected.

I believe wholeheartedly that we all do better when we give kids a reasonable benefit of the doubt. It keeps our relationships open and intact and does indeed foster a sense of unconditional love between adult and child. I like to think of kids as always being good people, even when what they do sometimes causes us trouble or worry or anger. Just like a lot of adults, kids aren't always proficient at figuring out how to articulate their needs or how to get those needs and desires met. But by being patient with them, asking questions, and believing their answers, we make the road to come easier to travel together. And it's heartening to hope that Joaquin will want to travel that warm and loving, safe and secure road with me in the long run.

*Alternative to the Clumsily Passed Block:

Okay, just so no one thinks I'm living in FantasyLand, let me just say that, yes, sometimes the block is a Missile of Anger. At that point, I usually forgo the investigative "huh, what happened?" questions and just describe what I saw. "You really hurt Susie with the block. She's very upset. Let's go get an ice pack." (Making some amends here.) I don't ask if the block was thrown on purpose, because then I tempt the child to lie, and that is pretty stupid for me to do. For so many reasons, right? Plus, I already know the answer, so "if" it was deliberate is a moot point.

Once we have attended to Susie -- and no matter what happened, we always attend to Susie first-- we continue. Here's what it might sound like.

Adult:"I could see that you were really angry when you threw the block at her, but hurting her doesn't solve your problem. What were you so angry about?"

Child: "I was mad because Susie said my tower was stupid and little."

Susie: "I don't like when you hurt me. I don't want to play with you right now."

Then we can explore the safe alternatives for dealing with those emotions, and cool off, without blame or shame. Kids can cool off playing in a different area or different activity nearby to avoid conflict with their peer (or with us), or can return to the same activity if both are ready and desirous of it.

For what it's worth, as I read more and more studies, I'm discovering that punitive action actually lessens the chance that the child will "learn" from their mistakes. Parents may be convinced the punishment worked, but it sometimes only buys short-term obedience and fails to encourage children to consider other people's feelings. Many (not all, but a significant number) of children that are punished for their negative actions end up doing the same things, only covertly. In short, they make sure not to get caught. This is a big contributor to school/peer bullying, and can lead to the kind of secret bullying that teachers and parents don't catch. Children are smart, and know that getting caught gets them into trouble, so they take measures not to get caught.

I also think there is a link between this sort of bullying and the fact that isolation is a hallmark of domestic abuse. Punishment can teach kids to focus on themselves; when we show the child the hurtful consequence of their action on another person, we are more likely to foster empathy and to reduce the recurrence of the child hurting others. When we expect the best of our children and give them tools to problem solve instead of punishing, we help foster a sense of their place, and positive impact, in the world and in our hearts. Not to mention a trust of our reasonable, positive expectations.

Not everyone will agree, but that's just what I (and a hefty, large handful of researchers) have come to conclude. All families are different; this blog is just about how our family does things. That's all.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Notes from the Teething Front

Anyone listening closely can hear on the wind my ceaseless lament "Damn Teeth! Damn Teeth! Damn Teeth!" sung like a wailing wall mantra. The invasion of molars has been a slow one (I'm kinda wishing for a surge!), and there are backup teeth waiting for action starting to take shape under the gums. If it wasn't for Motrin... well, we just won't go there.

In the wake of our cranky-for-three-months-now-already toddler (it gets better with the drugs, thank heavens!), I've been taking a mental vacation whenever I can. Last night found me loading up TMZ for the first time, horror of horrors. At least dial-up is too slow for the video, or who knows what depths of shlock I would've found myself wading in. Shallow waters, these.

Here are some mindless tidbits and observations that only a mom of a fifteen month old teething kiddo would find interesting:

Semi-Pro: It took us not one, but two attempts --and oh, the late fees-- to watch this, but I laughed so hard. I know this movie is one of those sexist guy movies with limited plot and some really cheap, predictable jokes, but it was such a great use of time on Saturday night. And Sunday afternoon. Will Arnett as the foul-mouthed lush of a sportscaster was excellent. Will Ferrell as Jackie Moon, the One-Hit Wonder of Flint, Michigan is hysterical, and the other guest cameos fill in all sorts of blanks. Yes, the women are more or less marginalized as sex objects or sluts or Funky Black Mama, but frankly, I read my Bitch magazine so I've got points in my favor to balance all that out. Sometimes, a girl just needs to put the thinking on hold for a while.

Balthazar Getty and Sienna Miller:Ewwwww.

New Hot Handbags in US weekly (where I go for all the news, don'cha know?): U-G-L-Y UGLY. And people pay how much for these ugly 80's nostalgia knock-offs? I'd be hiding that fact, folks.Maybe I'm too Portland, used to the beat, cool bags by Queen Bee, or maybe I'm too in love with my new diaper bag, but c'mon girls, demand something better. And the faux gold Tar-jhay knockoffs? Oh, kill me now...

Brad and Angelina Did It In Vitro: Wait, do you see something wrong with that sentence? Kinda like, if they did it in vitro, then they didn't actually "do it", know what I mean. At least, not that time. But I'm sure that they did since they are--

Stars Talking Publicly About Their Sex Life: Listen, Kyra, Angelina, any and all of you-- I don't know you so, please, keep it to yourself. Really. You don't open up the paper and have to hear about what I'm going to do with my guy, right? I don't care how sexy or wonderful or understanding your fella is, call a friend and brag to them. For more of my feelings on this subject, see "Balthazar Getty and Sienna Miller" above.

Okay, have to stop here. Joe's heading out for cribbage at the pub while I watch the wee one here. Why, oh why, can't So You Think You Can Dance be on tonight. Guess I'm stuck with PBS.

And I was trying so hard not to think.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Brewfest and the Best Iced Coffee

Brewfest '08 was such a success on our part! This was a celebration of Joe's and my fourth anniversary, and we shared it with our good friend Lissa and a rotating game of cribbage. Whenever one of us left to get another "taste" of beer, another person took their place in the game. So we all won.

For those of you who think that Brewfest is the LEAST romantic place to be on an anniversary, let me fill you in. We chose to have our handfast on the morning of a Brewfest day. We exchanged vows, snogged publicly, and had our reception with beautiful three-tiered cakes made by Teresa, who is now making cakes for Pearl Bakery.( By the way, if you ever want gluten-free, dairy free cakes, she can do it. Just google Teresa Ulrich cakes, because, not only is she our friend, she's awesome. One day I'll tell you about the cribbage board cake she made for Joe's 44th birthday.) We then headed down to the Brewfest, and later sampled our homebrew. It was a 3 Parties in One Day sort of Wedding. So, for us, Brewfest is terribly romantic.

Our favorites this year: New Holland's "Dragon's Milk" stout (which sold out before we left); Widmer's "Full Nelson" Imperial IPA-- to be honest, I can't stand the average Widmer brews, but their Brewfest Offerings are always satisfying, and this unique IPA is testament to the Widmer days of old, very complex, full-bodied and delicious; and of course, no IPA fan would be happy without a sip of Russian River's "Pliny the Elder", a straightforward hoppy Imperial IPA.

I also had a sip of the coffee stout that Surly Brewery offered. Which leads me to my recipe for the Best Iced Coffee.

1. Brew up four cups (eight if it's a french press) of the best coffee you have. I like Peets Decaf Mocha-Java; it costs a little more, but it's water processed and sooo worth it. I also like to use a french press, but if you don't have one, drip will be fine. Once brewed, pour 2 cups of coffee into a glass measuring cup and sweeten to taste, then add a little extra sugar. Stir in and cover.

2. Let all coffee cool for half an hour. Then, pour coffee from original carafe (unsweetened) into an ice cube tray and freeze. This should use up the two cups of coffee. Put the coffee that you poured into a measuring cup into the fridge.

3. Once coffee-cubes are solidified, you can make your iced coffee. Use about 4 cubes to 1 cup chilled coffee. I like a big bunch of soy milk in it, but you can make it however you want. You'll have more cubes left for later iced coffees, and can make the amount you want.

Here's a fun variation on your ho-hum iced tea, this will make 4 glasses of Iced Tea, enough for a tea party. I like Herbal Teas for this, or a nice black-currant tea.

1. Boil up a quart of water. Use 8 tea bags in a quart measuring cup and pour hot water over them. (If you are saying "Egad, 8 tea bags, feel free to half the recipe).

2. Cover and let steep as long as the package says to. Then remove tea bags and chill.

3. When ready to serve, put ice in a pint glass, pour in one cup of tea, and add fizzy water (eg- Pellegrino Water) to the glass until cup is full.

Now you have a nice fizzy drink for you and your guests.

Okay, and now I have to go to bed, so---- The End.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Here's a fun recipe I invented a couple of years ago. At least, I think I invented it, as I hadn't heard of anyone else making this. If you like guacamole but want something more sophisticated, think avo-chevre. By the way, I'm not sure if I'm making the argument that crackers are more sophisticated than chips, but I'm pretty sure that cracked pepper water crackers are step up from Doritos at a dinner party. This is a great, easy dish to take if you are in charge of appetizers and are looking for a delicious dip that only takes minutes.

This is also a good appetizer if someone in your party has a hard time tolerating lactose, like I do.

Here's what you need:

plain chevre
fresh-ground pepper
food processor

These ingredients will make one small serving, enough for about 3-4 people. If you eat a lot, then double the recipe.

In your Cuisinart (or whatever name is on the side of your machine), scoop out the avocado, sans pit, and pulse for just a second to chunk up. Then, add about 2-3" of chevre from the package, or about 1/4 cup. I use the Silver Goat Chevre available at Trader Joe's. It tastes great and is much more economical than the overpriced stuff you find at other markets. Pulse this until smooth, stopping every few times to scrape ingredients back to the center of the workbowl. Cut a wedge of lemon, remove seeds, and squeeze juice directly into mixture, add a few pinches of salt and a healthy grind of pepper, then mix again. At this point, keep tasting and tweaking to get the flavor you want. Add lemon, salt and pepper slowly, so that you don't overdo it--once it goes in, you can't get it back out. If you're feeling wild, cayenne will add a little zing, but please, a teensy bit at a time!

When it's done, the mixture may be a bit soft and saucy. Scrape the avo-chevre into the bowl you want to serve it from and chill to firm it up; bring out a few minutes before serving. Great with crackers, crudites and, of course, tortilla chips.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Princess and the Pea

Okay, I'm not really royalty -- yeah, the Queen of the Castle, but other queens will know that the subjects are very demanding-- but I woke this morning with my tender flesh bruised and sore. Turns out I'd been sleeping on Joaquin's pacifier and that pain in my hip was from hoggin' the bink. Ah, well...

Today was a long one. I could give you my every thought on exactly how 24/7 being a work-at-home mama is, but I'll spare us all. Suffice it to say, by 4:30 I was walking kiddo around the neighborhood in the hopes that he'd nap. He'd been grousing at me for a while and I figured I'd get while the gettin' was good.

Twenty minutes later I could be spotted on my porch, sipping a cool and refreshing summer drinky-poo and reading my book. Kiddo was out cold in the stroller; I'd wheeled him into the shade in the driveway. A quiet moment all to myself and a book written nearly a hundred and fifty years ago! What could be better? It made me forget all my woes of being the Queen and having a demanding, unruly subject who isn't exactly toilet trained. Barbarian!

Nighttime will be falling soon. Hopefully Joaquin will have a good night. And hopefully, I won't be sleeping on any pacifiers.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Hi Lurkers

Before I get all "Momsy" on ya'll, I thought I'd mention that I'd love to hear from you if you're lurking about and/or checking on this site. I'm not sure where people hear about The Skyteahouse from, so if you are kind enough to respond to this invitation, be sure to let me know how you came to visit this crazy little casa.

All right, time to roll up the sleeves. The other night Laura ( a dear gal from a mom's group I'm connected with) asked me about fingerpainting. Some ideas came to mind, and I thought it would be nice to share info. If you have some other ideas, please leave them in the comments section as well.

Little ones tend to do best with some basic materials. I'm a fan of paint, and discovered that Crayola makes a very washable gel-type fingerpaint that comes in a tube. We picked this up and I have to say, I liked it a lot, mostly for the easy cleanup factor. The colors (three primary and green) are not as bright as some other fingerpaints, but what I'm going for is mostly experiential and not product-oriented in the least. I just strip kiddo down to his diaper, tape a big piece of paper onto the oilcloth that we have on the table, and put down a couple of squirts. Joaquin tried to pick it up, then smooshed it around. His forearm made some really interesting prints-- it left a feathery pattern as he moved it down the paper toward himself.

Here's something to consider: some kids don't like the texture of fingerpaints or other art supplies. That's okay. The important thing is to let them explore at their own pace and initiative and not to force them to touch anything they don't want to. Also, it really helps to do art time with very young children when they aren't tired. There are times that even the prospect of smearing paint can feel like too much for them when they'd rather be reading a book and snuggling, and cleanup can just push them over the edge. Also, strapping them into a high chair will limit the amount of mess, and confine it much smaller space.

Some fingerpaints work best when you use a special slick kind of paper, and moisten the paper. These are the nicer kinds, and you can pick them up at places like Columbia Art Supply or ArtMedia. These paints are prefered for art pieces that you want to keep or give to grandparents.

Other things you can do to help give kids some sensory experiences on the cheap:

A bin filled with smaller-sized beans. We have black, red, pinto and yellow split peas. Joaquin eats them on occasion and they go right through, but aren't big enough to choke on. Besides eating them, he likes to scatter them, dump them, scoop them, etc.

Fill bin with dry oatmeal or cornmeal. More to clean up, but also non-choking, nice sensory play. Be sure to include scoops (old containers are fine), measuring spoons, funnels, or collanders.

Some kids are happy to smear their food. If you are still using purees, or are just as free and easy as we are with food, let your child explore, smash and smoosh, pinch and tear their food apart during the meal. They really learn, and it's sometimes easier to feed them while they're distracted.

I also like to double over a fleece blanket on the kitchen floor and put down a pan of water filled just 3 inches with some bubbles on top. Use a gentle dishwashing liquid. The blanket keeps the floor safe from slippery falls and fleece helps keep the floor beneath drier than other fabrics. A big spoon, a whisk and some smaller pans/containers are enough to keep my boy busy while I get dishes done.

There are more in my head, but tonight's Joe's night out. Excuse any typos, drop us a line, and have fun with your kid.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Using Your Village Wisely

Yesterday my son was overboard with the teething, whining and miserable. We both needed a break and some distraction, so we headed out to Laurelhurst Park's wading pool. My hopes were high; I'd packed the mandated swim diapers, a couple towels and a change of clothes. I was looking forward to sitting down and relaxing. Joaquin was so excited he could hardly stand having to wait in the stroller for me to put on my slippahs. (Okay, you mainlanders call them "flip-flops" but to me they're still slippahs.) Our fun had begun.

Joaquin played at the edge of the wading pool. Some kids came by and were playing some splashing games. "There's a baby right behind you," I said to one girl, who was a mere inch from backing up into my kiddo. She moved over and their play continued without much of a break. I don't mind if Joaquin gets splashed incidentally-- hey, it's the public wading pool, and kids get splashed. Some children ran by, splashing him. He was unfazed, but when they ran by again, a bit faster, I stood between my son and the runners, more to make sure they wouldn't miss seeing a smaller person and knock him over. He continued to get splashed as they passed. This was fine.

Then, an older boy appeared. He looked at least eight, possibly ten. When he got in, it was an immediate change of energy. "SPLASH FIGHT NOW!" seemed to be his M.O. He promptly turned to a larger girl and initiated the fight. She seemed to be about his age and game, so that was no problem. Let them Splash Fight on the far side of the pool. They took turns using their arms and cupped hands to fling water at each other. Then the boy turned around to a small three year old girl and Wham!, drenched her. She looked stricken and got out, going over to her grandmother. Their fight came closer. I looked around the pool for his parent. No takers.

I stood up and told the kids "The little kids over here don't want to get splashed. You can play that way over there." I pointed to where they were and sat down. The girl wasn't striking out at any young children, but I had my concerns about the boy. His voice kept getting bigger, he was so excited. The fight moved away, and I told the 3 year old that "you can come back. We aren't splashing over here."

Her grandmother replied, "She said she was worried the baby was going to get splashed."

"Well, we aren't splashing over here." I reassured her, also making eye contact with the boy. Their play fight was moving toward us again. Another second, and both Joaquin and I were soaked.

I stood up. "Listen," I said. "We aren't going to splash over here. You can splash over there." Pointing, again, to the far side. Broken record lady, I was, but I was trying to provide positive redirection, and where the hell were the parents?

Two seconds later, the boy, bigger than any other kid, turned around and splashed us.

"Where's your mother?"

"She's over there, but she's in a class."

(I'm trying so hard to be fair.)"Listen to me. The little children don't want to be splashed. You need to play over there, or you'll have to leave." Firm, steady tone. Nothing threatening, but I spoke loud enough for everyone by the pool to have heard.
I didn't want to be accused of threatening, but no one else seemed to be doing anything at all. It was silent at this point, you could have heard a pine needle drop. All the while, though, I'm thinking "Where the Fucking Hell were the parents?!?"( know, language, but really, c'mon, you'd be asking yourself the same question.)

The play resumed away from us for thirty seconds and then, a minute later, not only did the fight meander our way again, but the Biggest Boy There turned and looked at my teeny kiddo and scooped up two handfuls of water to drench myself and my kid.

But the tension was too much. The grandmother stood up. "You just don't get it!" she yelled at the boy. "WHERE'S YOUR MOTHER?!" The boy responded with the same "She's in a class over there..." (Mom was at a picnic table talking in a group with some other new moms) and the next thing I heard was the grandmother yelling at the whole table.

"THERE'S A BOY OVER THERE WHO IS CONTINUALLY SPLASHING THE LITTLE KIDS EVEN THOUGH ALL OF THE PARENTS HAVE ASKED HIM TO STOP." This was what I heard. Revisionist history, truly. What other parent had asked him to stop? I had been the lone person to stick my neck out.

The mother came over and called her son out. A smaller splash fight sprang into action and suddenly, the Parks and Rec Wading Pool Person jumped in. "You know," she told the girl who remained (pretty much everyone had cleared out of the pool besides myself and Joaquin, "that's not what the pool is about. We aren't going to splash here."

Who taped your mouth shut earlier?, I thought.

The girl's mother, who was sitting next to me, by golly, got up and gathered up her kids to take them home. Was she kidding? She watched this whole thing and didn't once talk to her daughter, who wasn't splashing little kids, but was certainly involved?

Oh My God.

The pool almost instantly filled with little kids. This was vindication, but at what price? I'd had to be the Big Bad Bitch of the Wading Pool, which enabled someone else to be the Slightly Crazy Bitch---sorry, but screaming at a group of women just makes you look nuts. I'd planned on walking over, asking the mother to come aside, and quietly explaining that her son needed some help from her, and Crazy Grandma had killed any chance of that happening in any human sort of way. We played for another ten minutes before getting changed and leaving to meet a friend. As I walked away, the mother of the Big Boy glared at me.

I had a big think. Was I being overprotective? I hadn't minded the passing splashes, I hadn't minded the kids running around by us. I was concerned about the big "drench'em" fights. And why not? If I was one year old, wouldn't I want my mom to protect me from a tsunami?

I was a good mom, but a social pariah. Oh, well.

What I want to say to that mother, the mother who glared at me:"Listen, lady, you were relying on your village. You didn't know any of us, yet you relied on us to watch your son. To make sure he was safe and sound. Doesn't that include our kids, too? When you shove your child into the village, be grateful. We aren't your babysitter. You aren't paying us anything, but you are expecting something from us. So teach your child to respond to the village, to listen to its elders. To respect the other adults. We are here to help all the kids, not just yours. And when we bring him back to you, accept it, try to make amends, and we can all move on."

Late last night, I couldn't sleep. Still feeling bad about being the Big Bad Bitch. Joe, as always, though, was perfect. As we walked to Belmont Station this afternoon, I told him about the Village, and he said, so simply--

"Sometimes they run people out of the village, you know."