Monday, September 29, 2008

Some Random Mama Thoughts... no particular order.

Political Persuasions

I have been wanting to write something about certain concerns regarding some of the candidates that are running in the November elections. After a few rough drafts, I came to one of those bigger questions about this blog, namely: what is my goal in all of this writing? It is, primarily, to offer this mother's perspective, in all it's humor and honesty, and to share some of my experiences parenting. Many of us have very strong feelings regarding our choices of candidates and the future of the country. I know I certainly do. But I need to put that aside to be able to keep together the community of mothers that read this blog. So, for those of you who know me and were waiting for my particular view on these matters, I will have to disappoint.

I've said this before, but I think we do much more good coming together than tearing apart. And there wasn't a whole lot of "complimentary" going on in those rough drafts.

Kid Food For Thought

Lately, I've been pondering our propensity to serve "kid" food to our children while we adults actually eat well. Have you looked at a kid's menu at a restaurant lately? Grilled Cheese, Mac-n-Cheese, Deep Fried Fish/Chicken Strips, and the ever-present PB&J. Oh, and they all come with fries or tater tots. When I was a kid, the menu had other things on it: Salisbury steak, spaghetti, meatloaf. You'd never find peanut butter and jelly or hot dogs on the kids menu. We ate better, maybe. And we certainly ate a more sophisticated --and far less deep fried-- diet than our children are being offered now.

Taking a cue from these menus, a lot of families "serve separate" at meals. That is, their children are not given the opportunity to cultivate their palate, but are instead fed the standard "kid accepted" meals. When children are first born, the conversation between mothers is all about sleep. When did they sleep, for how long? You know the drill. A child's eating preferences quickly replaces sleep as a subject for one to wring their hands over.

Of course, when our babies are first eating, we do fuss. It's not in our culture to feed a baby steak. No, we get our babies food that is appropriate; some of us are radical enough now to skip the rice cereals while others go gung-ho on the cereal. However we do it, eventually they grow out of the baby food phase. This is great on one hand and a challenge on the other. What do we feed our kids?

Everything we eat, but slightly modified. For example, smaller portions and pieces. Less rich sauces. Lighter on the seasoning. I'm not suggesting blackened salmon for a one and a half year old-- too much everything. But we can serve healthy snacks without buying into the constant crackers and empty calorie foods that are part of the kid culture. Our son gets a breakfast of yogurt, fruit and scrambled eggs. Lunch is often refried beans with cottage cheese and corn, or hummus and some other fruit or vegetable. He readily eats a good variety of fruits and steamed veggies. We do serve him a few crackers a day, but take care that they aren't straight sugar. Health Valley makes a nice oat bran graham cracker that we all like; they are small and he has 4 or so a day. He likes pretzels too, and multi-grain crackers, but again, moderation.

I'm not concerned about his weight. I'm more concerned about setting him up for diabetes later on in life. I myself am insulin resistant and had gestational diabetes. My son is at a higher level of risk and that's why we have to do our best not to create a habit of snacking on empty carbohydrates. We are trying to set familiar patterns now, so that he can make good choices later on. If we snacked the way we are conditioned to let our children snack, would we be healthy? It's a question worth keeping in mind when we shop for our kids at the store and when we put food on the table.

Here's one way to do it: make a meal and offer at least two foods you know your child likes. Be it bread and blueberries or a pasta and meatballs (so what if they skip the salad this time?) they won't go hungry. Avoid custom made meals, instead, offer a healthy snack if kids are hungry directly before meals --this will ensure that they don't fill up on just any old thing, and make mealtimes more pleasant because the kids aren't tired and starving, just possibly tired-- and serve the meal with as little fanfare as possible. Parents regularly do themselves in by trying to hype up a food they don't think their kid will like. Kids are smart; they can spot a con job and know that you are desperate for them to eat. Don't go there. It gives them the idea that they have leverage which to negotiate. And negotiating when everyone is tired and hungry can just become a meltdown (of the parental or juvenile kind) waiting to happen.

That's my two bits. Feel free to comment. I'm hoping to keep a running dialogue on the subject as it's a big issue with parents.

One Last Thing

When you are cleaning out your container drawer, or just bored for a new something to do, match your lids and containers up and bring them out. Let your kids build a tower or two. This is Joaquin's new favorite, and we love it. Great rainy day activity for older kids, too, to match up the tops and bottoms. See how tall they can build that tower up!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Beyond Threats: Moving Past "All or Nothing" Situations Toward Respectful Resolution

These days, Joaquin and I are spending a lot of time at the park. Today, while we were playing, I overheard an all-too-familiar phrase come out of the mouths of several different parents, all of them strangers. What were those popular words?

"You need to (blah blah blah) or we're going home right now."

One father was standing by the slides. He had just issued this edict to his 2 and 1/2year old daughter, who was laying on the slide as other children were waiting to come down. Clearly there was something about the situation that had to change. Most of us would agree that the little girl did need to come off the slide and let other children enjoy it too. Dad had asked once, twice, then used the Big Scary Threat in his demand for compliance. Not only was he taking the slide away from her, he was taking the entire park away from her. I walked on, not wanting to witness the fallout. Either it would be tears and screaming or Dad would be the purveyor of empty threats and this game would be repeated later.

Despite my unwillingness to watch the drama, I have compassion for this father. He, like so many of us, grew up with these all-or-nothing "I demand mindless obedience" high stakes threats. There are generations of us who were controlled by the idea that, if we didn't 'hop to' and do what we were told, we would lose something we desired. And, to a degree, it did work. Most of us decided that there was a hefty price for disobedience, and listened to our parents. At least, in front of them.

But we also felt that our parents were big meanies. Just because we followed orders didn't mean we felt our parents understood us. Sometimes we would try to explain or reason with the adults, only to be brushed off and reminded that we needed to listen. Our feelings were swept aside. The adults ruled supreme, whether we liked it or not. Many of our parents taught us that deviating from their rules was being defiant, and deserved punishment. We weren't given tools to have empathetic conversations with our children because we didn't have them with our own parents. And so we continue that same relationship dynamic with our children.

So, I thought about some ways to move through those moments when our children seem to be too autonomous for our comfort, doing as they like instead of as we would prefer, without threatening. My focus is on respecting our children, modeling empathy, showing real compassion, and a sense on the child's part of being understood. Let me make it clear, the child does not have to "understand" and agree with our reasons for asking them to do something they do not want to do. We are adults and can live with it if they don't blithely agree with our view. What is important, however, is that we take a moment to try to see the situation from the child's view, and speak to their feelings with sincerity and compassion. We want to let our children know that even when the world seems unfair, their feelings are always acceptable and we are their ally.*

Let's start with our little girl on the slide. Our more conventional Dad sees the problem as: "My daughter isn't following directions." The little girl, however, sees the problem as "I want to sit on the slide and I don't want to move, because: I might lose my turn/ I may not be able to come back/ I just don't want to move, I like it here."

Let's take a moment to see if from a little person's perspective. Little children can get very confused by concepts that seem very basic to us. Young children are encouraged to "take turns", and that "whoever is using an item first will pass it along when they are finished with it". This little girl was most certainly not finished with the slide. The socially accepted "rules" for different environments are still to be learned for many children, and only become concrete with repeated adult assistance.

Here's another piece of this puzzle to consider: children from very young to even five or six need a lot of help with the concept of "sharing". It is a really big, fuzzy word. Sharing could be taking turns, counting out a fair share of an item, moving over to make room, or even getting out more of something. When we want our children to share, giving them a clear concept of what we want them to do will help. And don't expect altruism. If you ask a child to share their playdoh, they may very well pinch off a small amount and think this is fine. "Sharing" is too vague a word. Give them some guidelines.

Our little girl in question doesn't want to move. This is where dad can apply a little empathetic language to the situation. He can walk over to his young daughter and notice what is happening."I see you really like sitting here on the slide. You really want to sit here." Here, he acknowledges her feelings without judgement. Now he can point to the top of the slide, where the children are waiting. " All of those children also want a turn. They want to have fun on the slide too." Now he's showing that their feelings are also important. Then, it's time to give his daughter a choice. "Your turn is over now. Do you want to slide down, or shall I carry you off?"

At this point, she may or may not move. If she doesn't, dad can always help her up. She may then become upset and insist on sliding down. Let her. It's easier this way, and to a child, sliding down means saving and keeping her pride intact. She might get up and go on her way, or want to climb back up. Parents, this is where our ability to become our child's ally can really kick into high gear. Dad may need to physically remove his daughter, but he can give her a lot of compassion while he does it. "You really wanted to sit on the slide! It just didn't seem like long enough, did it? Sometimes it's no fun to have to take turns! Sometimes you feel sad/mad when you have to wait for a turn." Pour on the empathy!

To finally resolve the situation, dad can offer to wait for another turn with her or ask where else she might like to sit. "Hey, I want to sit down too. Where should we sit? How about the swings? no? How about the bench? no? hmmm...where do you want to sit? My lap? no? What the top of that tree? no? How about that garbage truck? Should we go sit in the garbage truck? oh, you're right, we would get so stinky!.... " Using a sense of humor to change the mood can help profoundly and get a few giggles.

Or not. Sometimes our kids are just too tired, hungry or frustrated to appreciate our efforts, and seem stuck in the angst of the situation. Then, maybe it's time to go find a place to have a snack, or go home and rest. At this point, we are the adults, this is our decision, and we don't need to make it a "consequence" (a/k/a-Punishment) for our child's very real feelings. "I'm tired, honey," Dad says. "I'm ready to head back. Tell me, what do you think we should listen to in the car?" Dad and his daughter say goodbye to the park, maybe tearfully, and then he can lovingly tell her a story or just continue with more empathetic language, whichever his daughter needs. Off to the car, pick out a cd to listen to, and home for rest or lunch or whatever everyone is needing.

That said, I'd probably be wanting a beer and hoping naptime came sooner than later. We are all human, and all that empathetic work can be draining. We all blow it from time to time, but we have to keep trying. My point in all this is that, while we must be our child's parent and not necessarily their friend, we do have moments when our children can discover that they have a friend in us. That we don't need to be the boss of them inasmuch as we can take their hand and support them through some trying times.

And when you are two and a half, leaving the slide can be a trying time. But you don't have to necessarily leave the park. And if we do go home, our we've made an effort to show our children that their feelings matter to us, that we understand their hurt, and that we wish for them that it didn't have to be that way.

When our children are older, hellbent on living their own lives, this is all we will be able to give them. So why not start now?

*I want to point out that we can be a child's ally without condoning behavior that is wrong. Even when they get themselves into trouble, we can acknowledge what they did is wrong while getting help for them and listening to their thoughts, troubles and feelings. And hopefully, help them feel encouraged to move past those mistakes and make better decisions in the future.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Carrot Cruncher, Joe

Last night found me out at Hopworks with a group of witty, wonderful moms. We were there to spend time together, to eat, drink and be merry, and found ourselves dishing about our families and, of course, our husbands.

Husbands are funny things. They are smart enough to keep our finances afloat, yet occasionally do something pretty lamebrained. They are sensitive enough that we chose them, and then sometimes we wonder "How can you not hear the kid crying?!". I could give a slew of examples, but suffice it to say, so it goes.

They probably think they get the short end of the stick with us as well. It used to be "How was your day, honey?"; now a more likely greeting is "I'm in here cooking dinner. Can you change his diaper?". Not to mention the whole boob thing: the baby has a backstage pass and daddy has nosebleed seats. I'm sure it's not what he bargained for, but a lot of guys don't complain.

So, I got a bit carried away last night, sharing all those funny little "I can't believe he..." that we ladies like to exchange. Only, when I got home, I began to wonder if I wasn't working up material for my latest one-woman show What a Bitch,(and So Am I). I went to bed thinking a little equal time balance was in order, so that a more realistic picture is drawn.

Joe is pretty darn wonderful, I have to admit. Even when I'm not entirely happy about the state of the house or how long he takes in the bathroom to get out the door (far longer than I do), I have to hand it to him. He is a loving father, a dependable and caring partner, and it's largely due to him that my life is as stable and secure as it is.

I'm not just talking about money here. I mean, it's a blessing to have a solid, leak-free roof over one's head and food in the fridge. But it's so much more than that. He's been willing to listen when I mulled aloud my frustration at being soley focused on the inanely boring tasks of motherhood, and a great sounding board as I began to craft some goals for the next few years. He's always willing to lend an ear and a hand when I need to vent about a particularly difficult day or when Joaquin needs more than I have left to give. Joe jumps in, even after his own hard day at work.

He's also been there for me the way only a best friend could be. My family is not the easiest one to understand, or live in, and without writing a (long, sad, terribly depressing but somewhat hopeful) book on the subject, suffice it to say, there are a lot of guys who would have said "Shuddup already, wouldya?". And yet, he is always willing to listen and to give me feedback, to be angry with me or hold me.

We all have our highs and lows, and lately, I've been traveling through a real valley. I feel like apologizing to all my friends: I know I'm not myself. It's hard to be in the moment and really enjoying life on some days because of some temporary, difficult distractions. It's a challenge to want to give of myself when I feel like I need more support than I have.

And Joe can't do it all, but he very patiently does what he can. And we put our feet forward and take it a step at a time. And what needs to get done eventually does get done.

When Joe and I first got together, we went to a park, hopeful with the idea of flying kites. It was a beautiful summer day and there was no wind. I don't think we cared in the least. Instead we sat and read poetry, walked through the shady spots of the park and picked blackberries, and talked a bit about ourselves and our families. I still remember something he said that sticks with me even to this day: "All I can do is be the best person that I can be."

That's truly his motto. He tries. He tries really hard. The man I fell in love with could keep up with his garden, worked on his house, had just tried out kiteboarding, and had a hopeful spirit. He even went to see his a favorite band on 9/11, a few days before we started dating. I was surprised, but he said that when bad things happened, we needed to celebrate life even more. That we couldn't let the people who do bad things get us down.

Three years later, we celebrated our love with a handfast ceremony in our backyard. It was our wedding. We exchanged bands, vows, and I took the carrot cruncher, gardener of food and words and my heart, as my partner. He took my hand and has never really let it go.

Things have changed. The excitement of kiteboarding has been replaced by quieter ventures like working on cribbage boards and the thrill of restoring old neglected boards to some of their former beauty. We haven't been able to keep up the garden at all this year. The kitchen, however, just got a new floor, and his spirit is still hopeful. We strive for balance; he's taken on more parenting and I'm starting to live beyond the pull of a baby's need for his mama. I'm grateful that he's into this for the long haul and feel anchored and buoyed at the same time. It's a nice feeling.

I love this guy, Carrot Cruncher Joe, farmer of my heart's dirt.

And now he and the kiddo are home. Time to go make lunch for the man I love.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Setting My Intent

Lately, I've been lamenting the loss of writing time. My personal life has pulled on my attention lately, and let's face it, sometimes zoning out in front of the tube with a beer is a bit more relaxing than having to, say, think.

Yesterday, however, I got my big chance to sit down and touch the keyboard for more than the scant 10 minutes or so I've been getting lately. Summer is winding down, and it was time for me to write the welcome letter I'd been planning for a while. Little Suzy Sunshine will be back at my home again, and well as Evan Everbright, and I like to just go over some of the things the parents might want to know, or be reminded of, now that they've spent the summer with their kids and their brains are probably toast.

You would think it would be an easy task. "Please pack an extra change of clothes, blah blah blah." Oh, the horrors. No, that's not my kind of writing. I can't just ask for an extra change of clothes, I have to get all flowery about it.

"Be it a little accident or a rainstorm, it’s helpful for the kids to have their own clothes to change into."

Nor could I just say "Please call if you will be late picking up your child." No way.

"The end-of-day transitions can be trying for some children; knowing when they are to be picked up will help me ease them out of their play and be as ready as possible to say “hello!” to you."

What about snack times?

"...snacks are allowed at any time a child feels hungry... if we have been so busy playing that I see a need to eat or rest, I will step in. Children sometimes need guidance to pull away from their play and take care of their needs. My goal is to do this as seamlessly as possible, by incorporating it into their play whenever I can. This could mean a picnic in the fort... "

Or what about the fact that we have art and some free play choices available?

"...I believe strongly that the best opportunities to learn and create are emergent, when the children lead the play or craft and I support them by providing whatever materials and guidance they may need to reach their end result, be it building a fort or working on a collage."

So, all this fancy-shmancy writing aside, I thought today about what had really happened. In writing this document, I had shaped what I wanted for the next school year. I had put down onto paper a pleasant vision of what I am hoping for, and made it more tangible.

In many spiritual practices, this is often call this "setting one's intent". Sometimes it's a prayer, sometimes it's a scrap of paper thrown on the fire, sometimes it's a mantra we recite to ourselves so we don't forget. It's a way of knowing what kind of change you are hoping to affect, and then focusing your mind on working toward that goal, keeping your intentions focused and present as you proceed through life.

So I'm hoping that I can keep those cozy images present on the hard days, when nothing feels like it's gelling with the kids, and on the easy days, so I can remember that a little vision goes a long, long way. Amazing how far a little writing time can go, too.