Tuesday, April 10, 2012

It works!

You know those moments when you think you're going to have to be the kind of lame, nagging parent you never wanted to be? And then, as you're standing there trying to think of a different way to handle things, the problem resolves itself? Yep, I had one of those moments today.

My 7 year old daughter and I were picking up her brother from preschool. He got in the car and saw the carton of apple juice on her seat. "Hey, I want some apple juice!" he said. "NO!" she says, snatching it up. He starts to cry at her response. "Mom, Cora's not sharing," he says. This is where I decide to comment on what I see instead of telling them what to do (Thank you, Teacher Tom). "You're right. Cora's not sharing. That's not very nice." He continues to cry. I say nothing. A minute later, Cora gives him the juice box. He snatches it and gives her a churlish look. "Wow," I say, "Cora shared with you even though she really didn't want to! What do you say?" He stops crying and smiles. "Thanks, Cora."
Deep sighs of contentment all around.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

TV Reality Check

In addition to my many hats I wear during the school year, in the summer I am also a part-time nanny. The kids I watch are the same age as my kids, and the same gender, so it is a good fit for us. Sometimes I just watch the young boy and when he and my son are engulfed in play I must admit I kinda zone out.
Last week when I delivered my little charge home to his mom, she mentioned that she didn't want her boy watching Fireman Sam. She didn't like how one character was portrayed as "the bad kid" and his single mom as a man-hungry ditz. I knew for a fact that her son had watched this show at my house. I felt embarrassed but also defensive. I muttered something about how they had changed that character in the later versions of the show and went home, feeling like a first-year teacher who let the students take over the class.
I remembered how strict I used to be about what my kids watched. I still forbid them from watching shows with violence, sexism, sexual innuendo, frightening scenes, and just plain idiocy. Over the years my standards seemed to have slipped. I recalled the episodes of Fireman Sam the boys had watched. Several of the characters were portrayed as dumb or ditzy, particularly the single mom. They were the butt of the jokes in the show. This is nothing new for TV-land, but it's certainly not something the "old me" would have allowed.
At the same time, I feel proud of what I haven't let slip in. Most Disney films, action flicks, and Saturday morning cartoons are strictly regulated. The cable shows they are allowed to watch are mostly on PBS and Discovery. When we do watch the network TV shows, we ridicule the commercials endlessly, pointing out how the product being sold is not really as cool or fun or delicious as it is made to appear.
In other words, they don't have a free pass to watch whatever they want or whatever is on. That is the most important thing for parents to remember. I don't think it helps for us to judge each other's parenting based on what shows the kids are allowed to watch. You have to decide what works for your family and your values. Previewing and being able to say no are the only hard-and-fast rules.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Soggy Bottom Town

It's March in Seattle. It's raining. Raining like a tidal wave today. The puddles were enormous. I can hear the traffic on the wet roads through the closed windows even now. I watched the traffic while my little guy played in a puddle earlier. The cars sped by much too quickly, much too close to my house, and much too loudly.

I've been watching great movies set in warm, sunny places but they only seem to make me sadder. I know, summer will come and I will take it all back, but right now it seems idiotic to live in a place this cold and wet when it is possible to live elsewhere.

Look, here they are in California, ignoring the sunshine, whining about their marriage. Here they are in Italy, in Venice (!), regretting their life's mistakes. Meanwhile the sun is pouring down on them like a giant golden goddess and they don't even notice. I guess sunshine doesn't fix everything. Not in movies, anyway. Here and now, it would work wonders.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Reading About Parenting

Sometimes I wonder if reading books about parenting actually makes me a better parent or just a confused parent. After a few pages I start to second-guess my every instinct and wonder at the long term consequences of every action. But then I read something really helpful and feel so excited to make progress on something that was bothering me.

My current reading is Siblings Without Rivalry, another book by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. The book is not new. It was published in 1987 but has been republished 4 times. I guess that is part of my litmus test for parenting books. Is it just a new fad or something that has been around a while and used with success over generations? At the same time, some of the old parenting books should die a sudden death. What to Expect When You're Expecting? Complete rubbish. Dr. Spock? So outdated.

But back to Siblings without Rivalry. The books starts with the same principles as their other book, then moves on to real problems siblings have: property rights, physical violence, and resentment. This little gem was in my reading today:

Insisting on good feelings between children creates bad feelings.
Allowing for bad feelings between children leads to good feelings.

Next time my two are fighting and feeling mad at each other I will do my best to remember this.

Friday, December 10, 2010

"Mom, I'm bored!"

Summer in Seattle is absolutely glorious. The sun is shining, everything is lush and green, there's the beach nearby and the mountains, and the lakes. Each day we breath in the endless possibilities, run out to greet the limitless world, holding hands and smiling.
Then there is fall and winter, which are basically one long, dark rain storm. It can get a person down. It can make a kid cranky and bored. Which is why, after a couple weeks of whining by a certain six-year-old, I resorted to this:

The events calendar.
Each month I print out a blank one, along with a sheet of clip art, and have the kids decide what we will do and when. I can cater the clip art to things that are available that month. For example, this month we are going ice skating, making Christmas cookies, and having a bonfire on the beach. Then there are our regular monthly activities: game night, pizza night, movie night, library day. The kids get to decide when we do things, which they love, but I get to limit how many things we do and what kind. Win-win.
That six-year-old loves going over to the calendar and counting how many days until our next special event. Since we started doing it she rarely complains about boredom! Ye-haw!
What ideas do you have for fighting the winter doldrums?

Thursday, December 2, 2010


After my complaint last month about how toys enter my house, I thought I'd give you a peek at one of our favorite toys around here. It came to us as a hand-me-down (the best way to get toys) and contained the classic tinker toys, plus a compatible set of plastic parts. Here they are, if anyone knows what they are called or who makes them, please let me know.

From this sundry we make all kinds of fabulous things, from cars to space ships to flowers and flags. The wooden dowels require just a slight amount of pressure and pinching to fit into place so the kids (ages 3 and 6) can do it themselves. My daughter prefers fanciful, detailed creations

while my son prefers simple dramatic shapes.

We leave the big box out in the living room so they can access it any time. I think they have played with them every day for the last three weeks. Gradually all the pieces get spread throughout the house and we have to round them up every week but then it is like discovering them all over again.

I love that these toys leave plenty of room for the imagination and mood of the kid. The teacher in me (and my Occupational Therapist mom) knows that they are great for fine motor skill. Plus, there is no wrong way to play with them or put them together. They just feel nice in your hand. Solid, you know? Real. I like that.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Melt-Down Miracle

I knew we were pushing it last night with my three-year-old. We decided to have a bonfire on the beach after dinner. He ran and played and laughed for over an hour, then started asking to go home, actually asking to go to bed. We promptly gathered up our things and got in the car, but it was too late. His fatigue had given way to a melt-down. He was asking for more hot chocolate, which we had finished off half an hour before. As he cried, "I WANT MORE HOT CHOCOLATE!" I tried to tell him it was gone but we would soon be home. He cried even louder, tears streaming down his face.

The phrase "emotional crisis" flitted through my brain. I decided to try a different approach. "I hear how much you want it!" I said, over his crying. "I wish I could make some more appear!" And that was it. He stopped crying immediately. He had been heard.

This remarkable little moment was all thanks to How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids Will Talk. I just taped a copy of page 27 to the bathroom mirror this week. The jist of it was to make sure the child knows his feelings, however silly they seem to us, are heard and accepted. I know this goes against instinct for a lot of us. When we hear a kid say something so ridiculous, we want to explain the real reason, "You're just tired. You need to go to bed." But this seldom does anything to stop the melt-down.

Some of you may even remember being punished for crying. The adult doesn't think hot chocolate is worth crying about, so tries to force you to stop being upset. One can only wonder at the long term consequences of this kind of parenting.

I know that for me, this little four step technique has been a wonderful tool for making our lives more happy and peaceful. Sometimes I switch to two steps, if the melt-down is already in progress. The technique can be used for kids as young as two and a half, probably up until adulthood. So here it is, page 27, reworded a bit:

Helping Children Deal with Their Feelings

1. Listen to the child quietly and attentively.

2. Acknowledge their feelings with a word or phrase.
"Oh. Yes. I see." "I hear how much you __________"

3. Help the child name the feeling.
"That sounds frustrating!"

4. Give the child his wishes in fantasy.
"I wish I could make the banana ripe for you right now!"

If you do this in public (because, of course, that is where you child has her loudest, most ridiculous melt-downs, right?) people are going to stare. They are going to look at you like you're crazy. But then it's going to work, and they will see just what an amazing parent you are! Ta-dah!

I should mention that there is a lot more to this book than dealing with emotions. The authors also masterfully cover how to get more co-operation from your children, plus how they deal with punishment, praise, and autonomy. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Toys Coming out the Wazoo

I remember reading a statistic when my first child was a newborn that said the average American kid gets over 100 new toys a year. I remember being appalled and the sheer vulgarity of the image: pristine plastic dolls and cars lining every surface of a child's room. I know our culture was materialistic, but I was darn-sure MY kids were not going to be.

Now that I am a parent of a school-age kid and a preschooler, I see the statistic a bit differently. I think it may actually be a little on the low side for my kids. You see, what you don't realize as a non-parent or new parent is how these toys come into your possession. It is not as if you are going to Toys R Us every weekend and buying some shiny new plastic crap that little Bobby just can't live without. Most of it gets into your house without you even knowing it. Then you look around and see the floor strewn with flower erasers and Lego men and bouncy balls and wonder what the heck happened.

It starts out subtly. Your parents bring a gift when they come to visit. Sometimes your friends do, too. It is out of love and genuine interest in your child, so of course it a welcome gift. Sometimes, when you go to a store, you buy them a little something so that the shopping trip goes more smoothly. They are entertained, and you get a whine-free trip through the market. At their birthday parties, of course, they get gifts from each guest, plus ones from their families. Great!

Then you have all the other stuff.

The toy vending machines cleverly placed at the front of the restaurants, pet stores, and grocery stores you go to. You can only say "maybe next time" so many times before you actually have to let them buy something.

When your child goes to a birthday party (like, every FREAKIN' weekend!!!), there is the little party favor bag, which may contain two or three toys.

At school they get toys from friends and prizes from teachers. A girl on my daughter's bus last year gave her a little toy almost every day.

They find stuff on the playground and take it home.

I have had complete strangers meet my kids and five seconds later produce a toy from their pocket or house.

Or they go on a playdate and like a certain toy so much the other parents say they can keep it. (Try saying no to your kid after that!)

It seems like everywhere we go there are little things for the kids to keep. One of my friends' daughter is now so used to this she will actually ask, "What do you have for me?" when she meets someone.

All this "stuff", as you can imagine, really piles up. I feel like we're up to our eyebrows in toys nobody actually wants or needs. But then, throwing any of it away is a heinous crime. The kids see the pea-sized ball of play-dough in the garbage and shout, "Who put this in here? I NEED this!"

All toy culling must therefore be done under cover of darkness, preferably less than an hour before the garbage truck comes. One can also donate things to charity, which I do regularly. I also have the rule about not buying any new toys unless the kids give something else away. It actually works. That is, until they go back to school, a playground, or another birthday party.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Girl with Her Head in the Clouds

It's three days before the end of summer and my husband and I can't wait for school to start. Our lovely six year old is driving us completely crazy. Her creative energy is about to peak, resulting in turning our entire house into an elaborate game of make-believe, where everything is something else and must therefore be moved from where it usually resides. Cleaning up is impossible because the game never ends, you see. While we beg for her to do simple tasks like removing her shoes from the maple tree in the yard, she floats around in her own little world.

I was exactly the same at her age. I procrastinated and meandered about any job I was given. I could make raking the grass take three hours. Putting away my clothes, toys, dishes, or anything else I would start with determination but soon get side-tracked into an art project or story-telling session with my dolls.

I craved creative outlets so badly I could turn the most mundane task into a long, rambling adventure, much to my parents' chagrin. So while I am as frustrated with my daughter's behavior as my husband is, I understand it a little bit more. I can't really reassure him that things will change, though. Right now I'm sitting her blogging while the dishes sit, half-done in the sink. I was afraid that if I waited until I finished, the idea would be gone. I literally stopped mid-wash to run over here and start typing.

And so I know that my daughter's seemingly ever-changing focus is really extreme focus on one idea. An idea whose shape and outcome is still evolving. Although I can't visualize it, I still try to manage and direct it as best I can. Away from the TV and china, toward to muddy yard and wooden fence. I wish I could give her more tools to help her finish her idea. She keeps asking for hammers, nails, and wood. She'd also like a stage built in the yard (which is 20' x 20'). She would like a chemistry set with a real microscope and she would like a guitar. Yes, my dear, I say, I would, too.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Homes Like This

This is how you live in a townhome: downstairs, make breakfast, upstairs, get dressed, downstairs, work on your stuff, upstairs, do laundry, downstairs, make lunch, upstairs, play with kids, downstairs, do dishes, upstairs, more laundry, downstairs, upstairs, downstairs, upstairs, on and on until even though the book you're dying to read is right upstairs (or downstairs, as the case may be) you just can't bear to go up (or down) one more time and you sit and stare at the wall instead, wondering what will happen next.
But that is not the worst part. The worst part is when you get ready to go out, get everything you need and go downstairs (two flights), only to discover you're not wearing socks, or the kids aren't, or someone has a diaper so full you really can't go out in public. Then those two flights of stairs back up seem like the most annoying 24 steps you've ever taken.
Yet there's this: no one lives above us. Or underneath us. We can run around and jump and scream and our neighbors can barely hear it. Our kids can act like kids. And that is the one consideration I can't do without. So if I stare longingly at your one-floor house, your kitchen that looks onto the yard, or your first floor bedroom, you now know why.
So what are the pros and cons of your type of home?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Art Space

I realized recently that the way to not go crazy was to make new spaces for all the activities we like to do at home. So instead of trying to use the dining table for card-making, painting, sculpting, scrapbooking, crafting, and-- oh yeah-- eating, I'm making art nooks.

First, a craft desk for myself. It meant buying a new dresser and selling the old (all on Craigslist, and I made $10!) so it would fit in the hallway. Then I bought a desk ($20) and stuck it in the corner of my bedroom. There was just enough space. That room also gets a lot of light so it's not working out too badly. And I can CLOSE the DOOR and block out all the screaming and shouting of the little ones. Hallelujah.

I got the kids an easel ($20 on Craigslist) which is currently standing in the little space between the table and the deck door. One side has a chalk board and the other a white board, though we just clip paper to it and paint pictures. A little IKEA side table we've had kicking around fits perfectly under it so we can pull it out when they need it and tuck it back in when they don't.

I took some beautiful pictures of the kids using it but they have totally disappeared off my computer so you will just have to imagine it. There they are, painting away, while I sit at my clean and tidy kitchen table, contemplating tonight's project. Ahh. I feel better already.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Summer Sundry

Can you tell that school is out? I've had just enough time to sit down and breath a bit each day. The rest of the time is taken up with children and their many needs. I also took a trip to Kansas for a few days to attend my grandmother's funeral. It was a poignant visit, celebrating her long, rich life, and missing her greatly.

The garden needs tending and we have been enjoying fresh peas, green onions, and some cilantro. Digging in the dirt is wonderfully therapeutic.

I've also been reading through Shona Cole's lovely book The Artistic Mother and taking to heart her contention that doing art for myself will make me a better mom. My first task is to create a work space. I'm carving out a corner of the bedroom and already finding projects there. All the sewing, painting, making I've laid aside because I didn't have a work space are promising many hours of contentment.

I love how summer's long hours of daylight call me away from my usual activities and into the tidying, creating, and organizing that makes me feel ready when the fall arrives.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Losing It, Part II. Your Own Children

If you are a parent you've probably noticed all the TV shows and self-help books out there to help you with disciplining your child. Most of them are similarly anti-freak out. They suggest that you quell your anger and deal with the child in a calm, rational tone. I, however, firmly believe that a good explosion every once in a while helps mom or dad stay sane and the kids stay good. I'm not talking about hitting or threatening your child. That is wrong. All I mean is a few seconds of completely irrational screaming and hollering about the injustice of it all. You don't call them names, you don't swear at them, you just say what is wrong in the loudest way possible. I mean, you can still feel guilty afterward if you like. In fact, that is probably a good deterrent. But don't beat yourself up about it. You are only human.

From a sociological point of view (hey, that minor is finally paying off!) our rage at children who repeatedly break the rules helps reinforce social norms. They learn that some things are sacred to adults-- getting to spend time alone, choosing when and how you are touched, being heard and acknowledged. Something that seems like such a small act to them is huge to you. And without the drama, they'll never know that.

The arguments against parent rage usually fall back on the argument that we would never treat strangers the way we treat our kids at times. True, we don't tell the clerk at the video store, "Don't you DARE answer that phone when I'm talking to you!" (even if we want to) but the clerk hasn't ignored everything you said all day long, laughed in your face when you were mad, or rolled his eyes at your very helpful suggestions.

In short, it is the incessant violation of social norms that finally drives parents to the edge. After six days of gentle redirection, "We ROLL the ball in the house. We don't throw it" and being ignored, we finally shout, "I don't EVER want to see you throw that ball AGAIN!" And guess what? Your little darling throws it again. KABOOM! You lose it. Fire shoots from your eyes and your arms reach out seven feet to crush the ball and send them, crying, to their rooms.

Is throwing the ball in the house the worst thing your child has ever done? You reacted less violently the being bitten on the leg. But it is the constant, never-ending need for social normalization that sends any sane person temporarily over the edge. Hopefully there will be someone there to pull you back up. Or you just do it yourself. You breath deeply. You close your eyes. You start again.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Losing It, Part I. Other People's Children

People always tell me how calm or mellow I seem. I do have a pretty long range of patience, which makes child care a nice fit for me. So when I shouted in the face of the six-year-old girl I was watching last week, I did everything but blame myself. If I lost it, I must have been really provoked.

The notion that adults must be icy-cool in even the most infuriating situation is, to me, unfathomable. Getting angry is a gut reaction, a primal instinct probably stemming from a need for self-preservation or protecting one's kin. This was certainly how I felt. You see, this girl (I'll call her Katie) decided to lock me in the garage when I went to get something from the car. At that same moment, I heard my two-year-old crying on the other side of the door. Then I heard Katie walking upstairs. From deep within me, came a shout, "KATIE GET DOWN HERE AND OPEN THIS DOOR RIGHT NOW!" When she did, I shouted at her, asking if she thought it was funny to lock me out when my little boy was crying. Her eyes were the size of baseballs. She turned completely white and ran up the stairs. She wouldn't speak to me the rest of the time she was at my house. Of course, I told her mom what happened and we talked about it. I wasn't really worried about it. I felt justified.

At the same time, I would never condone violence against a child, no matter what they have done. That includes spanking. I tried it on my daughter once and always regretted it. (For a discussion of spanking, click here). I do think a little ten-second shout of frustration can be just the wake-up call the child needs. In this particular case, Katie had been testing my boundaries for days, seeing if she could just ignore me and my rules. I gently guided her, so she thought I was a pushover. People have made this mistake before. Sometimes I get the opportunity to correct that assumption and sometimes I don't.

In my experience, school-age children will often test the limits of a care-giver or authority, especially at around two weeks into the relationship. They do something they know they shouldn't, something that any other caregiver or teacher would punish, to see what will happen. When I recognize this situation, I let loose, just for a few seconds, to let the kid know they've crossed the line. It always works. To see a normally calm, nice person flip out at you is a shock. Like a pacemaker to the heart, it gets everything back in line, where it should be, especially when it is followed with reconciliation.

The reconciliation is key. After I calm down, I talk to the child about what happened, why I was upset, and what they should have done. We hug or high-five, and go on about our day. I can say, Yep, I lost it, and they can see why. And we go forward from there.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wiggle Your Waggles Away

After reading Teacher Tom's post about movement in preschool I started thinking about how much movement kids are do at home. I'm thinking that kids with bigger houses than mine have playrooms where they can move. Or a yard on the same level as the rest of the house. They don't need to do most of their moving inside, in the main living space, but mine do. After all, I live in Seattle, where it is often too cold and rainy to venture out (for me, not for them). So we play on the furniture.
I know many parents have rules about the furniture and enforce them well, but I am not one of those parents. The only rule I can consistently enforce is "No feet on the table". Everything else is up for grabs. My kids jump on every piece of furniture I own. When they want a snack out of the cupboards they get a stool and climb up on the counter. Yep. Icky dirty feet on the counter.

They regularly watch TV upside-down on the back of the sofa. This looks like a wonderful back stretch, doesn't it? Beds are for jumping on in our house. Sleep is just for those too tired to jump.
The stairs are rolling, sliding and bumping down. Often face first. Even when they were very little.
I know. You're horrified. I am a permissive mother. Although my kids have regular bumps and bruises, they've never had broken limbs, concussions, or stitches. Not a single one. In fact, they may be less likely to get seriously injured because they have so much practice time with balancing, shifting weight, and judging their own strength. I watch them carefully, of course, but I never, ever ask them to sit still. Those wiggles are not just going to go away on their own, I figure.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Wondertime, I Miss You

The March issue of Family Fun magazine just arrived so I'm sitting here ripping out all the pages that have ads on both sides. While I understand the necessity of advertising revenue, the shameless self-promotion of Disney Inc really pisses me off. The rrriiiiippp as I tear out the pages advertising the Disney channel's new family comedy or Disney Cruise Line or Disney Mobile Magic ("Put the magic of Disney Parks at your fingertips!") is so satisfying. The ads for ADHD meds (the highest grossing market for child pharmaceuticals) are another pet peeve. Rrrriiiippp. Soon I have pared it down to a few extremely ugly "craft" ideas and one or two "helpful hints" for moms.
I never signed up to receive Family Fun magazine. I had a subscription to Wondertime, another magazine owned by Disney, which met its tragic demise when the economy took a downturn last year. My subscription was automatically changed to Family Fun. The infinite superiority of Wondertime was immediately obvious. Not only were their crafts beautiful, their big, colorful photos and long, thoughtful articles always engaged me. The recipes were delicious. Their frequent contributor, the hilarious Catherine Newman, is one of my favorite mommy bloggers. I read each issue from cover to cover and laughed and cried and felt empowered.
Obviously, that is the kind of thing Disney abhors.
Otherwise my beloved Wondertime would still exist. Disney, why must you crush everything that is beautiful?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Chore Chart

This is "from the archive": my idea for how to avoid nagging your kids about what they need to do and actually make it fun.

Rewarding 3-5 Year-Olds for Good Behavior
(P.S. It’s not bribery!

Bribery is a crime. It happens when someone offers something so enticing, so desirable that saying no just isn’t possible. Ten thousand dollars to lie about someone’s whereabouts. A pony if you tell me where you put my keys. See, it’s not possible to say no, especially when the requested behavior is so easy to do. Bribery is not a policy I condone. So when I tell you to reward your preschooler for good behavior, that’s exactly what I mean—a small token of your appreciation for accomplishing something that’s a little bit hard to do. You know, those things kids are supposed to be doing by themselves every day, but sometimes don’t.
The chore chart is a simple way to create a positive interaction. After all, those preschoolers are just too busy playing, exploring and building to stop and do something as mundane as putting their toys away. Even if you remind them a million times, it may not get done.
The goal with the chore chart is to get the behavior you want without the whining and foot-dragging you don’t. After using this technique for just a week, my daughter started clearing her dishes from the table after every meal without being reminded. She even did it when we forgot to do the chore chart.
Your child, like almost every mammal, can be trained to respond to positive reinforcement. Eventually, you drop the rewards, but the good behavior continues because it is now routine.
For preschoolers, these behavioral inducements should be something fun, small, and temporary. My local toy store has a wall of trinkets for $1 to $2. I pay an average of five bucks a week for whine-free, blissful tooth-brushing, dish-clearing, and room-cleaning.
So here’s how it works:
1.Make a chart or list of jobs the child needs to do to earn the reward. The number of jobs to do is the same as the child’s age, ie. 3 jobs for a 3 year, 4 for a four-year old, etc. Write a short phrase or word and put a picture next to it, then laminate (see directions below for easy laminated wall chart). Using an erasable marker, kids get to cross out each job as it is completed. Visit www.trendenterprises.com for markers.
2.Always make it clear what the reward will be. It can still be a surprise, as long as the child understands the scale of the surprise: I’ve got something in this envelope for you when you finish your jobs.
3.Be positive. Praise the child for what she has accomplished toward the goal instead of nagging about what she hasn’t done.
4.Don’t sweat it. If your child forgets to do a chore or chooses not to, don’t worry about it. The opportunity to remind your child why he needs to do the chore will arise, and you can use positive language to do it. You didn’t do all your jobs today so you don’t get a surprise tonight, but I bet you will do a better job of remembering tomorrow.
Three- to five-year- olds love to be independent. By remembering to do the chart herself, your child already feels positively rewarded. You can up the ante by having her show you the completed chart (and reacting appropriately) or gathering the family around to see her get her reward. That kind of public recognition is something you never get with bribery. It’s so… secret. Your child’s good behavior, on the other hand, should be shared with everyone.

Easy laminated wall chart:
1.Take a 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper or card stock and draw or paste on pictures to represent what your child needs to do.
2.Write a short phrase next to each picture, like brush teeth, comb hair, or make bed.
3.Starting at the bottom of the page, put a strip of shiny cello-tape across the paper. Firmly press the tape in place.
4.Place another strip of tape above this one, overlapping slightly, and press it firmly in place.
5.Repeat the process all the way to the top of the page.
6.Hang on the wall using a thumbtack.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"Read it Again, Mommy!"

As an avid internet shopper, I try to grab good deals wherever I see them. So when I saw Children Just like Me on Amazon for one cent (plus shipping) I instantly bought it. It was used and published back in 1995, but I felt sure it would soon be a household favorite. When my five-year-old saw the cover she was less than intrigued. She said "oh" in that way you do when a package comes in the mail and doesn't contain chocolate or clothes.

Over the next couple of days I would pick up the book and sit on the couch, thumbing through it. Today, my daughter came over and sat next to me. As I felt her peer over my shoulder, I just began reading. In the book, each child from a geographically distinct part of the world has a full page profile with detailed color photos of their family, home, school, toys, food, and more. The kids talk about these things in their own words. Cora was soon hooked. We read about kids from South America, Alaska, and Eastern Europe. Tomorrow it will be Africa and Asia, Australia and Western Europe.

Although it is tempting to just buy popular TV characters and fad book series, I find that after reading those books once or twice, my kids have lost interest. The books usually lack originality and, often, substance. They teach a simple lesson or new vocabulary words. Once these things are learned, the books cease to have value. That doesn't mean I don't buy these books or appreciate them as gifts-- I do, but I know they are not going to be favorites. What I really look for now is a book that touches on something so huge, so abstract that the kids get something new out of it each time they read it. Sometimes these books are slow to catch on. If the kids don't seem interested at first, I just keep trying. (This is also why I can't get these books from the library. They can't sit around waiting for our attention for six months!)

Children Just Like Me seems to capture a certain message about childhood without preaching about it, which is why it is so addictive. In the same way, I hope my other recent purchases will help give my children some perspective. I bought James Herriot's Treasury for Children and Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods. I'm also awaiting the arrival of Material World: A Global Family Portrait, a series of photos of families and their belongings arranged outside their homes. I'll keep you posted on how those go. In the meantime, I will be answering the call of "Read it again, Mommy!" with glee.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Co-op Moms: The Sisterhood

Last week I got together with seven other moms from Cora's preschool. Although my daughter left the preschool eight months ago, the other moms and I still regularly communicate. We are still using the Yahoo groups listserv to send messages to all the families involved last year. Many of us are also Facebook friends. If your children go to a traditional school, this may sound strange to you. I didn't really understand how different co-op preschools were until I overheard some moms talking outside our children's kindergarten room. One asked the other who her child was. A few moments later they realized they had been in the same preschool class the previous year. For me to not recognize a parent from Cora's preschool I would have to be unconscious. In the course of one short year we became extended family. These other moms became my sisters.

How did it happen? The co-op preschool model is unique in that, in exchange for the parent's time and effort, we get some of the best preschool education around. Plus, the tuition is incredibly cheap. Parents must stay with their child at school one day each week. During that stay they man a station and help the kids in that area. They must also fulfill a "job" such a treasurer, or secretary. They attend required monthly meetings in which a parent educator paid by the sponsoring college or university teaches them about (surprise!) parenting. The school's business is also done at these meetings.

As we all know, parenting is a difficult business. The support I received from the co-op families last year was better than therapy. Seeing other moms and dads going through the exact same issues was so comforting. Over the course of the year, many struggles brought us closer. One mom went through a nasty divorce. Another lost her father. Triumphs like the births of two babies gave us cause to celebrate. Because we all depend on each other to make the co-op work, any issue like this always meant we had to pull together to bridge the gap. We gave rides, babysat, covered each-other's school duties and cooked meals. We supported our fantastic teacher, Lauren, and in return she gave our children a loving, nurturing environment.

Even though our children are at nine different schools this year, our history with the kids makes us still feel close. At drinks last week we laughed and laughed, commiserating over the new year's struggles, celebrating each child's latest triumph. Looking back, I couldn't imagine a better way to take my children (or myself) through the preschool years.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Telling the Truth

Like many parents, I try to tell the truth to my kids when they ask a question. Sometimes that means explaining something I'm not mentally prepared to explain. Like when my daughter pointed to the condom machine in the truck stop restroom and asked, "What's that?" Thank goodness I got to practice (and observe) some of the more important conversations in the parent education courses I take.

As part of the co-operative preschool model, all the families enrolled in the system take monthly classes led by experts in child development and parenting. Unlike, oh, I don't know, Jo Frost (Supernanny) they all have children themselves. Whatever situation you ask them about, they've usually been there. From these great educators, and special guests like Amy Lang, I'm learning how to answer questions like the one my daughter posed. First, I gave simple, short answers that related to things she already knew. I tried to stay calm and listen to what she was really asking. Here's how it went:

Cora: Mom, what's that?
Me: A condom machine. It sells condoms.
Cora: What's a condom?
Me: A piece of plastic that stops someone from getting pregnant.
Cora: Where does it go?
Me: Over the penis.
Cora: Oh.
Me: Did that answer your question?
Cora: Yeah.

Whew. We made it. She could have asked me lots of other questions. But she didn't. At five years old she just wasn't making the connections that we do. Since we already talked about how babies are made, I wasn't leaving her hanging there, I hope. Of course, this was just a small piece of the ongoing conversation about sex. Just like our conversations about war, religion, race, and hundred other topics. As of now, I still vow to tell the truth about those things too. Just not Santa or the tooth fairy.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Such a Person

"He's such a boy." Every time I hear these words I am filled with anger. Since my son first began to move around on his own, people have said this to me, usually when he is being aggressive or destructive. I never know how to respond. A dozen biting remarks leap to my tongue, but I don't utter them. I know it is more important that I never think that way about him.

Now that he is two and a half, he picks up on most things people say to him. Before long, I think, he'll be wondering what this little phrase means. And that is the most agonizing of all. He shouldn't have to wonder what it means to be a boy. He should just get to Be.

My son has always been a sweet, loving person. He hugs and kisses without restraint, he says "I love you" "You're my best friend," to everyone he is enjoying playing with. He says sorry with genuine remorse and is brought to tears when his sister is in pain.

This kid is also obsessed with anything that has wheels. In the stroller he leans over the side to watch the wheels go around. He does the same to his play cars, and with such seriousness you would think he were an engineer. He also likes to dress up in his sister's princess dress and serve tea. His dad and I encourage him in all these things, because they seem to be good for him. He is a happy child, and that's all that matters to us.

Parent Map recently published an article citing two doctors (and their extensive research) who seem to agree. They say nurture, more than nature, determines gender-specific behavior. According to the article's author,
Boys and girls are different at birth – but those
differences are much smaller than you may think.
It’s how babies are treated that sets them on the
path toward more gender-typical behavior, magni-
fying those small differences until we become the
monster-truck/chick-flick stereotypes of adulthood.

My concern for my son is that he not feel forced into a self-image that doesn't suit him. We see the long-term psychological effects of poor self-image all around us-- in eating disorders, depression, and self-destructive behavior, to name just a few. I don't mean to be overly dramatic, but I think the less my son has to think about whether he is behaving like a boy or not, the better.

So anyone with a great idea of how to politely but effectively respond to the comment, "he's such a boy," I'd love to hear it. Or any other thoughts you have on the subject of gender, let me know.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best Ideas for 2010

Call them resolutions or a wish list, these are the things that have been tickling the edge of my consciousness the last couple months. Will they become part of my life this year? I don't know, but I hope at least one of them becomes part of yours.

The Washing Line.
You know in movies set out in the country or in the distant past, women are out hanging clothes to dry on a washing line. The sun is beaming down, the shadows play across the surface of bright white sheets--that may be a Downy commercial, actually. Anyway, drying clothes on the washing line has this old world quality to it. Plus it saves energy. I know my dryer runs almost all day when I am doing several loads of laundry and if I could cut that energy use down, I'd be happier.
Here's the catch-- my neighbors will never go for it. And I'm pretty sure my landlord will tell me I can't put one up. But if we just start talking about washing lines, how great they are, maybe our neighbors and landlords will come around.
My in-laws in England dry almost all their clothes on a washing line and their clothes look amazing. Shirts that they have had for years look practically brand new. I think the dryer really wears out the fabric quickly. So think about that.

The Fondue Pot.
Is there any snack more delicious than sweet things dipped in melted chocolate? Yes. Savory things dipped in melted cheese. You don't really even need the pot. Just make the fondue, put it in a microwaveable bowl, break out the toothpicks, and serve.

Chocolate Fondue
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla
Fruit, pound cake, angel food cake, or marshmallows for dipping

Cheese Fondue
1 cup milk
1 pound Monterey Jack cheese, grated
2 tablespoons flour
1 t salt
Ham, sausages, potatoes, tortellini, veggies for dipping

You have your choice. You have your recipes. Let the yummification begin.

Amnesty International.
I joined this group back in college and was a fervent supporter for years. I really liked being able to directly help people who really needed it. I wrote letters on behalf of wrongly imprisoned folks-- peaceful protesters and such-- and asked their governments to give them a fair trial or let them go. Usually it worked, not because of my letter alone, but because thousands of people from all over the world had written. It felt really good.
Amnesty has dropped off my map lately, though, and I mean to do something about it. A few airmail envelopes from the post office and a little research on their website and I will be back in the hell-raising saddle. Yee-haw.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Bit of Christmas Whimsy

Last night, as the clouds rolled in and dusk prevailed, we finished up an early supper and got bundled up for a much-needed bit of exercise. Jim had heard there would be lights and caroling, hot drinks, and merriment along the path at Greenlake. We parked by the community center and set off on the very crowded path. People and dogs were holding and sometimes wearing strings of lights. The path was lit on either side by simple luminaries in white paper bags. My two-year old walked up to the first light on the right side of the path, stopped and bent down to look at the candle. We walked a few steps to the next luminary and he stopped again. He repeated the process for about the next 15 lights, establishing the fact of their sameness. I laughed and walked slowly on with him, content to let him satisfy that need. My five-year old charged ahead, as she likes to do, eager to see what was coming up next.

As we moved away from the lit parking lot, it got very dark. The huge evergreens in the park blocked the light from the street and most of the noise. The lake was quiet and still, a thin crust of ice over the top. Yet the path was filled with people, their anonymous forms filling the space between the lake and the trees with human sound. After about half a mile we came to a group of carolers and stopped to listen. The air was crisp and cool and the lights of the houses across the lake spread straight over the water's surface like drips of paint. The songs ended and we applauded in our mittens and gloves. I marveled how, in this place filled with strangers (and possibly friends, who would know?) we gained a new holiday tradition and breathed in just a bit of the whimsy that makes Christmas so special to me.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Think Like a Man, Part 2

As you may know, I have challenged my female readers to "think like a man". Not because men are superior to women, but because I think some female ways of thinking are damaging to our selves: putting others first, expecting others to know when you need to be rescued, etc. Part of this may be biological necessity, but I think part of it is rooted in our American culture.

Look at stories like Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. In Disney versions of these stories, the female main character is a passive, helpless thing, relying on others to not only help her, but tell her what to do and when to do it. A girl entrenched in these stories as an adolescent gets a very clear message: you must wait to be rescued. If your life is empty, if cleaning up someone else's mess all day is less than fulfilling, wait, and your prince will come.

Now I know some people will say Disney movies have changed. Today's princess hero is nothing like that. Ariel, of Little Mermaid fame, goes after her chosen man, after all. She is proactive and assertive, they say. But she is still pinning all her hopes for happiness on a man! She is willing is give up everything to marry a man she barely knows. How many young women have taken this lesson to heart, only to find out ten years down the road that the romantic ideal they were chasing was just a fantasy? They are still not fulfilled.

In order for women to start "thinking like men", they must stop waiting for their prince to come. I want my daughter to seek out what makes her happy, to explore all the possibilities of what her life could be, then choose the best possible path for her. I hope she never gets the Disney message, a cultural diatribe written in pretty sparkly letters. Yet there is another message out there, rising up over the horizon, that tells girls "think for yourself". And I think if all of us, working together, can make this as loud as the other is pretty, the message will come across.

How did you teach your daughter to think for herself?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Blog Effect

About once a week I like to hop over to typepad.com and read Soule Mama, a blog by a mom who knits, sews, and home-schools her four children with grace and ease (or at least that is how it seems). Usually I feel peaceful, calm and inspired by her photos or posts. But last week I found myself weeping as I viewed her tribute to her youngest child on her first birthday. The photos of the gifts from the siblings, made with such love and care and beauty, made me so sad. I had long envied Soule Mama, but now the startling evidence of her seemingly superior lifestyle was right there in front of me.

Suddenly my life felt hectic, ugly, and completely at odds with my values. While my kids were stuck inside watching TV, hers had been out gathering wood to make blocks and knitting balls for the baby to play with. I can't even imagine the horror on my kids' faces if they got these gifts this month. My daughter dreams of a Playmobil box with hundreds of shiny plastic parts under the Christmas tree. Both kids fall asleep to the sound of traffic on the busy road just beyond our door. That morning I read her post, Soule Mama made me seriously doubt my earlier contention that life in the city is better in the long run than what I had growing up.

Although a blog empowers us by letting us share the real details of our lives, it may also be the great humbler. Reading blogs, I am now regularly reminded how unoriginal my ideas are and how different my life is from the many I have imagined for myself. That is not to say I am disappointed with my life, (my husband and children are amazing and wow me with their special gifts every day) I am only disappointed with my inability to be all I can imagine.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cloth Napkins Could Save the Planet

Ok, maybe not all by themselves, but using cloth napkins helps a little. Today I took a load of them out of the dryer and wondered once again if I should keep using the older ones. My husband and I got them for wedding gifts: one pretty white cotton set and one rich gold set that matched our dishes. They both look pretty shabby now, and out of shame I did buy some maroon ones a couple years ago to use with guests. And my mother-in-law just gave me some pretty blue ones.

Yet I still can't bring myself to throw out the old ones. Every time I look at them I think about how much wood pulp we've saved by not using paper napkins. Who knows, there could be a whole tree out there not cut down because we wipe our mouths with these stained rags! All joking aside, I really have gotten a lot of use out of those 16 napkins. If you figure two uses a day, roughly 300 days a year, for 11 years, that's 6600 uses! So it's like not buying 6600 paper napkins. It takes a little work to wash, dry, and fold them, but that is the extent of the effort needed. I even have a small hamper in the kitchen to stuff the dirty ones in at the end of the meal because I am too lazy to take them to the upstairs hamper.

Then's there's the money we saved. I feel so smug walking down the paper goods aisle in the grocery store, watching those poor saps stuffing jumbo-size packages of Brawny into their carts. Now if I could just figure out a way to save on toilet paper...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Super Cinnamon Rolls

These super-fabulous breakfast treats are adapted from Bread Machine Magic, by Linda Rehberg and Lois Conway. This is the way to make them without a bread machine. The buttery-sweet glaze is far superior to the sticky, over-sweet frosting you usually get. I also added a touch of whole-wheat flour for a slightly more nutritious version. Makes 12 rolls.

For dough:
1/3 cup luke-warm milk
1/3 cup luke-warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 egg (room temperature)
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter (room temperature)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup sugar

For glaze:
5 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar

For filling:
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Put milk and water in mixer. Add yeast and 1 cup of the flour. Stir and let sit for 2o minutes until foamy. Add egg, butter, and salt and mix thoroughly. Attach dough hook, then stir in the rest of the flour and sugar. Mix for 10 - 12 minutes. Put dough in a warmed, oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let sit in warm room for 45 minutes to one hour. The dough should be high and doubled in size when ready.
Meanwhile, pour the melted butter into a 9x13-inch pan. Sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the butter and set the pan aside. In a small bowl, mix the filling ingredients and set aside.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. With a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 9x18-inch rectangle. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and brush over the dough. Sprinkle the filling ingredients over the dough next. Starting with the long edge, roll up the dough and pinch the seam to seal. With a knife, lightly mark roll in 12 even sections. Slide a long piece of dental floss under the roll and under the first mark. Pull the ends up and across each other on the mark to cut the roll. Place the rolls in the prepared pan, making 4 rows of 3.
Cover the rolls with a towel and let rise in a warm oven 30 minutes. Take out the rolls and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and immediately invert rolls onto a large platter or serving dish. It may take a few seconds for all the glaze to come off the pan. Let rolls cool at least 30 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Think Like a Man

Women think: If someone looks like they need help, you should jump in and help them.
Men think: If someone needs help they will ask for it.

Women think: If he really loves me he will know what I need without me having to ask.
Men think: If she wants my help she will ask for it.

In my classroom I always try to pair up boys and girls together for group work. They communicate better and get more done than same sex teams. I don't know why. It is just something I noticed. As friends, co-workers and classmates, men and women work well together. But when they move in together, get married, etc, something strange happens. Women start expecting their men to act like women. They think: this person is my partner and most intimate friend. I expect him to act like all the close friends I have had in my life (which were women). Although he may be the love of your life, he will never think like a woman.

Women tend to relate to each other by sharing joys and triumphs, likes and dislikes, failures and sorrow. Over the course of the relationship a woman will look for opportunities to offer her help to the other woman. This is the ultimate show of affection for a woman. When her best friend offers to take her out to lunch, sit and talk for an hour, or watch her kids for her, it is her way of saying how well she understands what her friend needs at that moment. Women come to expect this of their friends, so much so that they never have to ask for help.

Let me say that again. Women get used to NEVER having to ask for help from the people they love.

I won't pretend to know how men relate to each other. It seems very complicated, with many unwritten rules and mores. Kind of like cricket. But I understand how a man shows his respect and admiration for his friends. He does this by never offering to help. He believes his friend to be capable of handling the situation on his own. If the situation is drastic his friend may ask for help and he will gladly give it.

Of course, you see where I'm going with this, but let me lay it out for you anyway. The woman, valuing her husband as her beloved best friend, either offers to help him or waits for help to be offered. In the first instance, she is disrespecting her husband by suggesting he cannot handle the situation. He is too dumb, lazy, incompetent, or in some other way incapable of handling the situation so she needs to jump in and save him.

In the second instance, she is stupidly waiting for help that will never be offered. The only way for the woman to get the help she wants is to ask for it directly. She should think like a man! Or at least remember that her husband loves and respects her enough to NOT offer his help. Yep. Strange though it may seem, those are the rules on his planet.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fries, Anyone?

I recently finished reading Michael Pollan's 2001 nonfiction work, The Botany of Desire. In the last chapter Mr. Pollan drives out to a potato farm to see how conventional potatoes are grown. The farmer he interviews gives a detailed (and terrifying) list of the pesticides and herbicides needed to grow his perfect Russett Burbanks. I thought I'd compile the information here for my readers.

On one field, in a single growing season, the following are applied:
1. Soil fumigant (kills all microbial life in the soil)
2. Lexam, Sencor, or Eptam (an herbicide to kill weeds)
3. Thimet (an insecticide)
4. More herbicide
5. Ten weekly sprayings of chemical fertilizer
6. Bravo (a fungicide)
7. Monitor (a deadly chemical known to damage the human nervous system)
After Monitor has been sprayed, the farmer forbids anyone from entering the field for several days.

If, like me, this list is making you feel a little queasy, you may want to avoid McDonald's fries. They are made from Russett Burbanks grown on farms exactly like this one. So are Ore-Ida fries in the freezer section, and basically any fries from fast-food chains. The only way to be sure you are getting pesticide-free potatoes is to ask the farmer who planted them (like at a farmer's market) or buy certified organic.

If you have children, be especially cautious. Studies have shown that these kinds of chemicals show a far greater presence in children because their bodies are smaller. They are basically getting a much stronger dose of poisons. And because their brains are still growing, the herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides may interrupt or interfere with vital development.

Overall the conventional way of growing potatoes is not sustainable. It damages the earth and poses many health risks for people. By purchasing and demanding more organic options, you can hope your next order of fries is not served up with a side of poison.