Thursday, December 16, 2010

To believe or not to believe....

Each year around this time, I would have a few parents wander into the preschool and sit down to ask me, "How can I tell my child Santa Claus is real when I don't believe in lying to my child."

I always appreciated this type of question because to me it meant that as parents they were questioning the choices they made each and every day on behalf of their children.
I personally believe that the mark of a "good" or effective parent is one who questions even the most seemingly benign things in society and says, "is this really right for me, my child, or our family?"
So it is interesting that I find myself asking myself the same question as the holidays approach. The same question I answered year after year quite confidently.

I value my relationship with my son and telling the truth is the cornerstone of any relationship, I truly believe that. But I also want him to develop his own ideas about the world, what he believes in, etc... without giving him what I believe is fact for me (although I do secretly hope he adopts many of our family values, like say buying organic and forgoing antiperspirant :)).

So what did I tell those parents for so many years?
One of the things that was not understood by many of them is that their 2 year old will not tromp up to them and demand to know if Santa Claus is real. In fact many young children (0-7 years old) will create their own fantasies that are real to them and adopt those of society even without our help. The reason for this is that young children live in a fantasy and imaginative realm. They are not capable of abstract thought yet, you know, the kind that makes you question ideas and think about them from many different points of view. The kind that helps you distinguish between fantasy and reality.

This is why I never believed in teaching religion and in particular God to young children. It is the reason television is so harmful at this age also. I do believe you should pass on the traditions of your family even religious ones if that is of importance to you, but to expect a young child to be able to understand anything other than the routine of celebrations and yearly rhythms attached to these religions is expecting way to much of such a young person and frankly, it will not happen.

But back to St. Nick... forming what I want for my family has been a bit of a challenge. There are of course some things that I believe are absolutely wrong when it comes to our American traditions and therefore are easy for me to leave out of my child's life. Those include:

1. Linking Santa Claus or any being real or fantastical (including God) to a big brother is watching you mentality. Some of the songs this time of year bug the hell out of me. You better watch out! You better not cry! Are you freakin kidding me? My child can cry whenever he needs to thank you very much and it will not change our expressions of love (including gift giving) towards him one teeny bit. It is called UNconditonal love for a reason.
Oh, and have you seen this? A spy in your home meant to teach your children something about behaving in ways that are not a pain in the ass to the parent? No thank you. I could go on about this forever, but let me just say one thing. I want my child to act in ways that are altruistic, kind, truthful, and loving because he knows it is the right thing to do and because of the effects of his actions on OTHER people. All this teaches is that it is important to make sure you are not caught because all that matters is what happens to ME and what I might not get if I do get caught.
So when the presents have been handed out, then who cares if I beat my little sister up the other 11 months out of the year? Although I am sure parents who use the elf also have many other form of sugar coated control in their bag of tricks for the rest of the year.
These tricks are manipulation and a really bad choice when choosing building blocks to a long term trusting relationship with your child. If you don't trust me, read more about it here and do some research on behaviorism, it will knock your socks off.

2. I really don't believe in teaching my child that the way Americans do things is the only way the world believes. For example Santa supposedly delivers presents to children all over the world who are waiting for him. There is even a Santa tracker on the computer for which you can see which country he is in on Christmas Eve (don't get me started on the computer and young children thing) BUT, not every country celebrates Christmas AND those who do celebrate St. Nick in one form or another do not all celebrate him on December 24th and 25th. In Germany for example, St. Nicholas day early in December is a bigger deal with shoes being left out for goodies to appear. Even certain Christians in our country have a problem with celebrating the birth of Christ in December when many believe it has been proven he was born in the summer.

3. With any gift giving holiday, the holiday will not be all about getting stuff in our family. It will about memories and time spent making things. We will give very few purchased items, we will spend a good deal of time passing on our values of handmade, eco-friendly practices with gift giving and holidays. Recycled, homemade, wooden, fair trade, and non commercial will be at the top of our thoughts. When our son was just born, we sent a very detailed gift letter to our closest friends and family. I will gladly share it with anyone interested since many have asked, but be prepared, it is a single spaced detailed rant :). It has helped us tremendously to pass on our values with regards to raising our child.

Now all that being said, I do not also believe it is the adult's right to thrust the realities of the adult non fantasy world onto such little children. Children have something we have all lost as adults. The see magic in everything. Each day is filled with wonder and awe and that should be preserved as long as they need it to be.

So in writing this I have come to some conclusions about our family and how I would prefer to celebrate this holiday each year.

1. One gift will be put out unwrapped on Christmas morning. I promise you, my young child will not ask who it is from.

2. No gifts will have tags that say "from Santa".

3. We will not take our child to see Santa Claus unless he asks us too and even then, we will have to talk first. I really have never understood why we force this scary man on the very youngest children. How many of you have that screaming child on Santa's lap photo? I wish I had mine to show you. Not to mention, going to see Santa is all about the getting and he usually asks the question, "have you been good this year?" To that I say, "bah humbug", my child is good by nature of being a person. Was he a pain in the butt from time to time? Sure, we all are, but that will not affect how we treat him.

4. We will read books about Christmas including ones like The Night before Christmas (although I draw the line at any book that focuses so much on getting stuff or being "good" vs. "bad"). There is amazing literature out there and poems and songs that create memories. I don't want my child to miss out on any of these. Harvey Slumfenburger's Christmas Present by John Burningham being one of the most amazing for sure although as my mentor Bev Bos says, "it should be read in July and all year long too". Without too much digress, this is a book about going to the ends of the Earth for another person, it is not preachy, and who couldn't say Harvey Slumfenburger a thousand times and not smile :)!
It will for sure be part of our traditions.

5. I will not lie to my child. If he asks me who bought a specific present, I will tell him the truth to the best of my ability. If he asks me if I believe in Santa Claus, fairies, the Easter Bunny, etc... I will say yes, I believe in their spirits. And when the time comes for him to ask us if Santa Claus is real, I will respond in the exact way I told each of my parents in the preschool to respond:

"What do you think?"

Isn't that what parenting is about anyway; creating an environment where children feel safe to tell you their thoughts and feelings? I want that for all children.

So tell me your thoughts, how do you navigate this road with your children?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Graveyard Explorations

I may just be giving you yet another reason to call me crazy, but many times if I cannot find a park for my son and I to explore, we will stop at a cemetery (actually if there is a cemetery nearby, I will likely pick it over the park if I am to be truly honest).

I love cemeteries. I used to take my preschoolers each year on Day of the Dead for some graveyard explorations. It is much more than a love of the dead though, I really think it is important that these places be spaces children experience.

In working with parents together on this issue, I have faced many criticisms and am familiar with them all. Instead of dealing with all of those, let me tell you why I love it.

1. Children have wide open space to run. They bring an exuberance to a quiet place that I think would leave many of those who lie beneath us smile.

2. When you are there, you see lots of names and I use this to remind me of the people in my life with the same name and what they mean to me and my family. A nice reminder to cherish those I love. I do not force this on children of course, but you would be surprised how children have their own way of doing this.

3. As they get older they ask many questions and what I ended up realizing was that cemeteries are not sad places, but places full of love. During one of my field trips many years ago a child asked me, "Why are there two pictures on there (a grave marker)?" I answered, "because some people love each other so much, when they die, they want to be buried together." The child responded, "Teacher Tracy, I want to be buried with you!" Ok now, lets take a moment to process that. Oh my goodness! This moment still ranks as one of the most special of my life. I know I have never received a better compliment.

For all of these reasons and more, I adore cemeteries, but if you do visit them with children, try to keep these things in mind:
1. Don't use words like sleeping, past away, etc... when referring to the dead. Children do not understand those words or concepts. Use "dead" and if you need to define dead, it means one cannot breathe, eat, sleep, talk, cry, poop.... you get the picture.

2, Don't insist that children be quiet or in anyway show reverence for the dead. This is not how young children are designed. I make an effort to be away from anyone who is grieving or from any funerals taking place and then I let the children explore as they need to.

3. Answer questions honestly, simply, matter-of-factly, and without too much woe. By this I mean treat death as simply a fact of life. Everyone dies one day, but were are not dying today. I do not mean that you should not acknowledge any feelings of concern your children show, you definitely should as you would with all their feelings, but also allow this topic to be something you feel confidant about discussing with them.

Today, my son and I had to run an errand near the memorial park where my grandma and great grandma are at rest. Both of them are in a wall in the mausoleum. So we stopped. It is a very large and there was LOTS to explore. In some ways it was like having a huge arboretum or garden all to ourselves. I got to introduce my son to my grandma. He waved at her as if he knew exactly what was going on. Makes me think children understand these issues on a deeper spiritual level that we, as adults, are further removed from.
Another opportunity for my child to teach me.
I hope you enjoy the photos.

First time at a cemetery and he did what every other child does when they hit the grass running.

"Look!" And notice, not a soul around. Well maybe a few we can't see.

There were fish in there too.

Cemeteries are a tractor lover's paradise!

On our way to the Mausoleum...

Playing in an out of the columns near my grandma.

He found running circles around this ramp to be the most fun!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Becoming Tracy....

Side Note: I am stealing a little bit with that title from someone who has become a good friend, my go to person on all things green, and someone whose work on her blog I highly admire, my friend Sarah. She makes me laugh, cry, and I believe we may have been separated at birth we have so much in common.

What does it mean to become more of myself? I have always seen myself as growing, learning, and in process if you will. I believe that the day you stop growing as a person should be the day you say goodbye to it all.

In my study of child development, education, and my other passion, the environment, I have often felt overwhelmed. As if there is so much to learn and not enough time. A few days ago we watched Food, Inc and I felt like I would never be able to eat again, much less trust my government to do something simple like, ummm... keep food from killing people. Since then I have even entertained the idea of forgetting it all and living a life as an ignorant, smoking, fast food addict in front of the television all day. I mean it would be easier after all.

But then, there is my son. All of these years of reading, changing, therapy, inner reflection, tough decisions, paying more for the items I purchase, questioning practically everything that most of society takes as blind truth, and standing up for what I believe in even when it made me feel lonely, isolated, and even suicidal was for him. And it continues....

There are so many things I want for him, so many things I am falling short of providing for him, so many days when I feel like I know better than my current actions....

And then there are days when I am reminded about how much I do know, how much I can pass onto other new moms.

Today I was at a park with a friend and we started a discussion about sharing. We talked about the nature of young children and how important it is to not force directly, but to model the virtues we want our children to have. To not constantly take toys out of their hands and force them to share, to stop forcing them to say "please", "thank you", and "I'm sorry", but instead to be grateful ourselves, to show our gratitude, compassion, and love to and for others.

It is in these moments that I realize how much I know to be the right, but more importantly how much I need to continue learning and to make sure I am always doing my very best.

Hopefully one day my son will be able to say that he is grateful he had me for a mother. I know I am always trying to live up to deserving the incredible responsibility of that role.

Friday, October 15, 2010


When I first saw this word, I had a little chuckle, mostly because I thought it was extremism and emotionally charged. I know now how emotionally charged it is, because all those emotions overcome me on a pretty regular basis.

Many years before I had my child, I did not really think twice about circumcision, it was something that you just did or the child would be dirty and have possible problems down the line and after all it was medically necessary, and at the time the virgin in me thought about how disgusting it would be to have sex with an uncircumcised man!

I mean after all, I am an American and American culture is nothing if it isn't completely sex oriented. Breasts are for sexual pleasure, mothers who don't cover up when breastfeeding are considered exhibitionists, the penis, testicles, and breast have hundreds of names associated with them to avoid saying the real word while elbow is never heard as anything but well... elbow. Any pictures of a penis I saw were circumcised.

But somewhere along the way, circumcision came up again in my study of child development and this time it did not make any sense to me. Something felt wrong. I could not picture any baby going through such a horrid ordeal (with or without anesthesia) only days or even moments after coming into this world.

This is not a place where I want to discuss all the reasons that are out there for keeping your child intact (although there are many), but instead to talk about the hurt it causes me.

I cannot hear about a baby boy coming into this world without praying for it to be left alone. When I know a parent plans to circumcise it is almost impossible for me not to send out information in an effort to beg them to reconsider, and when I have read stories about parents who had wished they known more beforehand, I ache for what that must feel like.

I am eternally grateful for the crazy amount of research I do on all things child development, because if for no other reason, it saved my son from a senseless, shocking procedure.

Even if you take the infant genital cosmetic surgery (as I like to refer to it) out of the picture, even the act of strapping a newborn to a table to me seems like the cruelest thing one could do to a baby who has just emerged from the warm, dark, and quiet space of the womb.

So I am proud to say I am an intactivist. What has happened to us as a species that we can still allow this? Please let it end!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The part I really didn't understand......

That statement of "just wait until your a mom" that I heard over and over again probably applies the most when I think about the bond I have with my son.

I used to always say to parents, "you are the expert on your own child". I believed this, but the level to which that has rung true for me with my son is at such a deep level that I could not have understood before being his mom.

The other day, I caught myself saying the exact statement I heard so many times.
"She doesn't understand because she is not a mom."
You can substitute parent or dad for the previous noun as well. The point was, this person I was referring to held a bachelor's in child development. While she had very little actual experience with children, it was a very similar situation to the one I had been in with parents at the school where I directed and taught.

So I have spent the last week or so really thinking about what I meant, why I ultimately believed my current statement to be true and what it was about being a mom that holds so much weight in regards to understanding children, children's issues and parenting. This soul searching was the least I could do, I felt like I owed it to the poor child development major for whom I inflicted this statement upon after despising it myself for so many years.

I think one thing that it comes down to is the relationship I have with my child personally and hopefully the relationship each parent has with their own children. No one understands his language and gestures the way his father and I do. No one sees every little expression he makes every second of the day. No one stares at just him when he is seeing something new for the first time. No one else can hold a completely non verbal conversation with my child and know exactly what he is thinking.

I know all the parents out there have wanted to scream out loud at one time or another, "Did anyone just see how amazing this child is?" or "Isn't he the funniest, most beautiful child you have ever seen?" We all now the joy of witnessing our children do something for the first time ever. Or the love and satisfaction you feel when you can meet your child's needs so completely they melt into your arms.

I have to tell you this relationship with my child makes me a better teacher, friend, and person. It makes me look at all children differently. It makes me notice more the little things all children do to communicate with us. It makes it impossible to hear another child cry and not want desperately to be there for them. It makes me even less tolerable than before to the injustices against them.

And I as much as I would have said that I understood all this before I was a mother, it was on an intellectual level that I understood it, not on the emotional, hard core, straight to your soul level on which I now GET IT.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Respect... it is not just for adults! (Part 2)

The other day I was driving my car down the road and I saw a sight that is all too familiar nowadays.

A mother pulling her child on a leash. You know what I mean, the "harness" designed to keep your child "safe".

Usually when I see this, the parent is at the very least walking behind the child or next to the child. This particular mother was actually pulling her child while she strutted, yes strutted, down the street in her huge Pretty Woman style sunhat and high heels. Her child was struggling to keep up and even tried to stop to look at a flower before being yanked away.

I almost turned my car around to have a little "discussion" with this "Mother", but I didn't and instead drove away feeling profoundly sad for this little girl. It made me wonder what adult personalities will be available to my son as his peers in his adult life. What issues will this child take away from this experience and how will effect her when she is a parent? Adding a cute dog, bear, or ugly character to the back of the harness does not fool the child out of knowing exactly what is happening to them.

Later that day, when we arrived home for naptime, I saw on my freecycle group, this posting:
OFFER: Toddler harness and leash
If your toddler is wearing this red Elmo harness, he can't run away as soon as you let go of his hand. I admit it is embarrassing to have your kid on a leash what with the public staring at you in horror, but if it keeps the kid from running into the street, it might be worth a try! (It didn't work for us; our kid found a way to wiggle out of it)

Oh boy, I have so much to say about this I don't even know where to begin!

1. Let me start by saying that I absolutely understand the fear of losing a person who makes your entire life worth living, a person whose entire well-being rests in your hands, and a person whom without you never thought this amount of love was even possible. I take all of those things very seriously and I do understand that a parent would do anything to keep there child safe. So unlike before, when I did not have my own child, I now understand the rationale behind the purchase of one of these items.


2. You are still dealing with a PERSON, a human being. I mean for goodness sake, I have seen many adults act more foolishly around a busy street than a lot of children. Why not put your husband in one of these too? I am not even all that fond of pulling an animal along on a leash, but your child? Some feelings just go so far beyond words for me.

3. And it doesn't even work for a child who is determined to get out of it!?!??! Are you serious? I am in deep admiration of that little kid who wriggled his way out of his Elmo Harness. He gives me hope that the human race, even the young sector will not stand for being treated horribly.

4. HOLD YOUR CHILD'S HAND! If you are a parent who has the child always dashing towards the street any opportunity he gets, I have some information for you. You are stronger than your child is. While it is your job to keep them safe it is also your job to keep him safe in a decent, respectful way. Hold their body if you have too while listening, explaining, etc... but I am sorry...
The leash is unacceptable.

5. I have an inkling that this product that is aimed to illicit the worst fears in parents in order to get them to open their pocket books also has an underlying appeal. I believe that it is an attempt to make a parents job "easier". By that I mean, the parent will not have to pay as close attention to the child. If I am right about this, then it makes me even more livid.

If you really don't want to share your outing with your child, get a babysitter.

Children learn about the world by exploring it slowly, curiously, and sometimes dangerously. They deserve our attention and our explanations. It is also our job to learn from them all that we have forgotten from our time as children. Stop and smell the roses with your child, have conversations, be present, and for goodness sake, stop treating children like dogs.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"I'm so glad to see you, let me take home a piece of your scalp."

My son gets so excited to see other children! Seriously giddy! He chirrups with delight. He shrieks with excitement while tightening both legs into a locked position.
Lately at some point, it results in at minimum a soft tap on the head and at full force, a bang and grab of any hair or lack there of that is accessible.

And of course I love to witness, participate, and encourage his excitement! It is actually my favorite part of toddler hood, being witness to his joy as he finds the things in life that interest him.

I must say 100 times a day with as much awe as before, "A bus!, A truck, ooh another doggie!"

Herein lies the rub.

I want him to express his feelings freely. To not hold back! To love with all his might, express his anger as strongly as he feels it, and even to cry until their are no more tears left to feel inside.

But I don't want the fallout of that expression to be the hurt and tears of another precious little baby.

I have tons of experience and training in helping children through this stage, but I have got to tell you this is where handling things as a PARENT is different.

Suddenly it is not only about being a teacher and handling an issue.

It is about:

*worrying other parents won't understand that this is very normal behavior
*knowing how it feels when your precious baby is hurt by another
*knowing that your child is curious about reactions, dominance, and how that all plays out and wanting him to get the right attitudes towards it
* not wanting my child to think I don't trust him by reacting every time he gets too close to a child, but also wanting to stop another from getting hurt (boy is that a fine line)
*making sure he has enough outlets for aggression and activity which I know to be important for children and boys especially

and mostly...
*wanting my precious boy to be loved by other children and adults in our lives

Boy, being a parent sure makes things a bit more complicated.

To all those whose children are getting the brunt of mine's learning curve here, we BOTH love you so much! Thanks for hanging in there with us, we are hitting lots of pillows right now!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Breastfeeding Exposure!

This past weekend I attended a "nurse-in", a demonstration to raise awareness for the laws surrounding breastfeeding in public after a mom was asked to leave a store for nursing her baby.
It was more than that to me and so many of the people who attended. It is about raising the bar when it comes to normalizing breastfeeding. It is about making it a beautiful thing in the eyes of the general public and it is about transitioning from the mentality that a woman needs to cover up to being celebrated and looked upon with awe and admiration.

There are so many reasons why I believe nursing in public is necessary and important, but the most significant to me is a reason I have heard against doing it.

Actually, there are many arguments against it:
That it is an intimate thing- sure, sometimes it is. So is kissing my husband as we walk through the park following our son. I don't know about you, but when I witness moments like these, it makes me feel all warm inside because I know I am witnessing the best part of humanity. And sometimes, nursing is just about filling an empty belly.

That is is disgusting- um, NO. And it taste pretty sweet actually.

But the one that always triggers something in me is:
That children might see it- I sure hope so!

Children NEED to see breastfeeding because they learn through example. So many of the children in my preschool (both boys and girls) would pretend nurse their dolls because they had seen mothers doing so. We did not have any play bottles in the doll area which was a conscious decision on my part. They get enough of that in the media and on the street, but because of the mentality of needing to cover up, they don't see nursing quite as often, especially if their own mother is unwilling or unable to nurse.

I think this needs to change. If it changed, mothers would not get complained about and asked to leave stores for making others feel "uncomfortable", dads would not be embarrassed or ashamed to have their wives nurse in public, and more babies would receive this perfect food to nourish their tiny bodies.

I once read an article about the country of Mongolia where breastfeeding is celebrated. It is seen as such a good thing, shop owners will put chairs out in front of their stores for nursing mothers because they believe they will get more business, people feel free to kiss a nursing baby on the cheek during the act, and the others are often verbally praised for the act.

When a mother is able to breastfeed, gets through all the bumps in the road to continue to nourish her baby with the best food possible, and then gets over the American mentality that it is somehow gross to do so in public, I want her to be cherished, not just simply tolerated.

Other than actually giving my son my milk, one of the benefits of nursing my baby has been my niece and nephew witnessing their cousin being fed. Before I began nursing, I am pretty sure neither of them knew it was even possible to feed a baby this way. My niece even asked me what I was doing the first time she witnessed it. She now nurses her dolls often my sister tells me and the thought makes me all teary eyed. I hope one day, she will be feel just a slight bit more confidant about her ability to nurse her babies and she will see it as a wonderful, irreplaceable gift.

I know I do. So go out and nurse your babies and don't cover up!

Another fabulous take on children witnessing Breastfeeding.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Getting There

One thing I did not anticipate is how much I would enjoy riding public transportation as a mother.

In my professional life, I was always so busy. So much of my day was about getting things done, finishing a project, scheduling a meeting, holding the meeting, following up on the tasks, etc... Even when I was teaching the children, it was always difficult to just be in a moment because there were always other children who wanted you, other activities to get out, etc... I felt like I was running against the clock most days with never enough answers to questions and rarely a moment to take it all in. Who knows, maybe this was something I should have made more of a priority in my career - I know it will be in the future.

However, when you go from forty-five children to one child and from ninety parents to two, you are suddenly thrust into a lot of down time. Sure, there are still days when I feel like I can't get anything done because Elijah is needing me or following behind me undoing, but in general, A LOT of down time.

It is important to me to pass a love of nature and duty to protect the environment on to Elijah. When you combine that with down time, and with a child who really does not like to be strapped down to a car seat you get: THE BUS.

We ride the bus as much as we can around our big city. Mostly it takes us to the aquarium since the grandparents gave us a yearly pass, but it has taken us other places as well. I never felt like I had time for public transit before, it was too slow and I needed to get there.

Elijah loves the bus. Not only the ones we are on, but all the others he sees out the window. His favorite seat is in the back looking out the window at everything and he loves that his mom (and sometimes even dad) are right there holding him. There is no car seat restricting him and he can cuddle, use mommy as a jungle gym, nurse and see as much as he wants cause mommy isn't driving. Come to think of it, these are all the things I love about the bus too.

But... there is more. I love that Elijah meets all kinds of people, see all kinds of diversity, and gets doted on by most of the people who sit next to us. He has been the audience for an accordion player as well as the held a conversation with a German-speaking man who when he got off the bus told me, "Thank you for bringing him on here today, he makes my heart happy."

To that I replied, "mine too sir, mine too!"

I think this must be one of the greatest things about motherhood, that it forces you to understand so clearly how the journey is so much more important than the destination.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The burden of parenthood....

Everybody who is a parent understands the pure joy of having a child in their lives. The joys of parenthood are discussed openly and are undeniable. Being that it is so unbelievably wonderful (most of the time), it makes my particular burden so bearable.

This post is not meant to be a negative whining account of parenthood, but simply an acknowledgment of something I struggle with everyday.
What is this burden I speak of?

It looks something like the following stream of thoughts that run through my head:
"Elijah is not eating ALL of the food I have put in front of him, has he changed his mind about liking all these healthy foods?"

"We didn't read today, I'm not creating a lover of books!"

"I got frustrated and snapped at his daddy. I am such a bad example of a happy marriage."

"Elijah isn't being exposed to enough ________ (animals, nature, music, etc...)"

"I walked past that piece of trash without picking it up. Elijah will never be kind to the Earth!"

This endless desire to be the best mother I can turns itself into a negative stream of thoughts a lot of the time. Thoughts that do not help me or Elijah and most of the time leave me frustrated.

This is my burden: to be the best I can without worrying so much and to remember that Elijah needs me present in each moment so that his memories will be filled with happy times with his mama.

This is the most important thing I can do for him.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Yes, I'm paranoid...

Another thing those parents were right about when they said I would understand when I was a mom...

Cutting grapes.

Yes, I used to think that all those parents who cut grapes into fourths were out of their minds and way too paranoid. Isn't cutting them in half enough? Geez people, I thought.
It wasn't until I was a mom that I realized that cutting them in half does not change the diameter of the grape and they are still a choking hazard and it is not until you envision your little child choking on something you gave them that you cut the grapes in fourths.

I even cut blueberries, the small ones :).

For those of you who don't know about this website, blog, and magazine... it is hands down the best resource for parents out there. Dont live your parenting years without it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Popular Practices Examined... Part Two(Spanking)

Disclaimer: So this will likely not be a gentle, dont hurt anyone's feelings kind of post (but then again, are any of them?)

While in Maui(a beautiful place with beautiful people), I ran in to some not so beautiful acting locals in a general store. There was a young man with two teenagers and a very young child. I did not even notice the child at first because the others were so boisterous, but then I heard a very hard whack and a child scream and fall into tears. Then I heard another whack and another. I couldn't see the child yet, I just heard his very sad cry that was bringing me to tears as well.

Then the party of four emerged from the aisle towards the cash register. The dad (I use that term loosely), was paying for his goods and telling the store clerk how spoiled his child was, while the child obviously humiliated and in pain was rubbing his bottom and trying hard to hide his face and tears in the pant leg of his father. Apparently though crying is also a capital offense in his family so after telling him to stop crying several times, he raised his hand again to go for another. If this is how this child is treated in public, what happens at home?

I couldn't take it anymore so I jumped in and not so gracefully as I would have liked. I shouted, "Hey, just because you are bigger than him doesn't mean you have the right to hurt him."

Lots of mind your own business comments ensued from the teenagers and father, but the comments that disgusted me the most were:
"This is my child" from the young man and from the store clerk, "he needed it".

So lets start with the first one:
When one decides to place their penis in another woman's vagina, that automatically gives him the right to hit and humiliate any person that happens to unfortunately be the result of that sex. That is interesting determination.
I am sorry, but No. Children are not property. Most people would argue that even pets are not one's property to do as you deem fit.

and the second:
He needed to be physically hurt and humiliated? When has that ever worked to teach anything more than anger, resentment, violence, and revenge? If you don't believe me, you may want to check out the volumes of research on this topic.

I am really not OK with the term spanking at all because I believe that it exists simply to make hitting another person sound acceptable in conversation. Many justify spanking as a form of discipline. Discipline comes from the word disciple which means "to guide". I am having a hard time imagining Jesus guiding others by hitting them. I am trying to envision having any of the people in my life who have been a guiding force hit me. In fact, I have very strained relationships at best with any person who has ever "spanked" me.

While I may attempt to intervene on the behalf of children in a more helping, positive way in the future, I urge you all to step in and stand up for children who are unable to help themselves. I could tell it truly shocked this dad that I even thought his behavior was inappropriate and it probably made no difference at all (especially with the way I handled it), but maybe, just maybe one of those teenagers or that little boy will think twice before hitting their own child one day.

It is time for this practice to end once and for all.

"There never was a time when a major social problem was solved by beating a child. And there never will be such a time... For centuries adults have injured children and have lied about it, and other adults have heard those lies and then merely turned away,"
-Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop, 1989

Friday, June 18, 2010

Schooled... why public school is not for us.

I often tell people when the discussion comes up as to where Elijah will go to school (as if most people have that figured out at 11 months old) that Elijah will not go to public school. I am then usually bombarded with how the schools in their neighborhood have high test scores or that their particular school is amazing. While I have no doubt these claims are accurate, they do not impress me.

I do not see public school as the devil. It definitely serves a purpose and for many children it is a safety net. It was for me. My public school teachers were the reasons I survived my childhood and one of them in particular still serves the role of a mother for me.

So why no public school for my child? Oh, where to begin...

1. The Curriculum. The phrase "Inch deep and a mile wide" seems to fit perfectly and that depth they speak of is not filled with entire accuracies either. If you don't believe me, pick up a history book. On top of that, it is monumentally boring to do ditto sheet after ditto sheet of stuff no matter how old you are, much less when you are 5! I do not want a child who hates learning or even one that tolerates it.

2. Lack of Play. If you are reading my blog, I probably do not need to convince you of the benefit of play in a child's life, how it is the ONLY way they learn anything, or that play is not 15 minute recess on a blacktop twice a day with one ball for 30 kids (if you are lucky). Ok, yes, some schools have more than that and maybe even a few blades of grass.
To get what I am looking for though, take a look at this and this company.

3. Extrinsic Control. Other than a life of love, the one thing I want more than anything for Elijah is to be internally motivated. To do things that matter to him with passion and to do what is right because it matters to him and not because he will get some reward for it or especially because he is afraid of what might happen to him if he does not do it. It is much more difficult to maintain that in a child when eight hours a day is spent in a rewards/punishments based, praise based, grades based system. I will get more into this in another post, but put more simply... I don't want Elijah to have to try to understand why he was demoted to the red card for talking to his friends during spelling.

There are so many other reasons that public school is not for us. These are the most important. And while there are excellent teachers out there who create amazing programs and who certainly make a difference, it is the system that is flawed. It is the politicians that have passed bills that do not allow those wonderful teachers to flourish to the best of their ability. And while things might one day change, the pendulum has swung so far in this direction, I don't see it coming back in my child's lifetime. I just can not let him be a casualty.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Popular Practices Examined... Part One (television)

I have been exposed to a whole new world of popular practices with babies since becoming a mother. While I have spent a lot of years in the field of early childhood, my everyday exposure and philosophies surrounded around the topics crucial to the 2-6 year old age range a majority of the time.

For many years now I have done parenting workshops on various topics, but without a doubt one of the topics I was most passionate about was television viewing and young children. Young children are defined as birth to eight years old by NAEYC.

For those who have not heard me give this workshop before (or many times before:), the research on screen viewing by young children is scary. It is not only about the content which most parents get and attempt to regulate by not showing violent shows, etc... It is also about the medium, the screen itself. The thousands of mega pixels that flash before the eyes of your children to make a picture on the screen, actually affects their brain.

For those who are not familiar with the brain, there are three components (triune brain model) that control different types of functioning.

*There is the Neo-Cortex which is responsible for higher level thinking, language, conscious thought, problem solving, sensory perception, and reasoning. It is part of the mammal brain only and really defines us as human in many ways.

*There is the Limbic System which is responsible for behavior, emotions, long term memory, and olfaction.

and then there is the:
*Reptilian Brain or R-complex which is the basic fight or flight level of the brain responsible for rage, protection, and basic survival mechanisms.

When children watch television, the screen they are viewing places them in the reptilian part of their brain where they are incapable of the the other levels of functioning. Their heart and respiratory rates increase and they are simply taking in input and analyzing it for no more than basic information. Have you ever noticed the blank stare on the faces of people watching TV? Is it any wonder people call it the idiot box?

Now I have heard many people say, "but my child learns so much from educational TV". This is not possible because higher level thought is not possible. They will be able to repeat what they heard, but the actual processing, understanding, and assimilation of that information is not happening.

Now here is the scary part, when your brain is put into reptilian functioning, it does not come out of it from 30 minutes to 3 hours! So if say, your child watch a bit of Sesame Street in the morning just before a visit to the museum or even a play date with her friend, it is likely she will not be able to take in any beneficial input or experiences due to the assault that just happened in the form of big bird.

Don't get me wrong, I think Sesame street, Mister Rogers, Lassie, even some (dare I say) Disney are decent programming, but it is just that... programming your child's brain and with a price to pay that is pretty hefty in my opinion. All of the topics Mister Rogers discusses are much better learned from life and books than from a screen.

I have spent many years spending time with children: some of which watch television, some of whom do not. It is very obvious to me the children who do even a little bit of viewing. You can see it in their creativity, in their imagination, in their play. I can give you examples that would make that reptilian brain spin.

Even the American Academy of Pediatrics says zero television viewing before the age of two which I consider to be a very liberal recommendation. They recognize the importance of infants having facial contact and the importance of language coming firsthand from another human being. As Dr. Sears puts it, "the best toy for a baby is its parent's faces." Still, programs such as babyTV, baby Einstein, and Nogin still exist.

When I was working with preschoolers, I thought TV viewing was only happening as they approached toddler and preschool years and beyond. Maybe the school had parents with a certain philosophical bias against television. However, what I am noticing as I get into the mommy world is that many people of new infants are choosing television, DVD's, and computer viewing for their babies! This really scares me. Actually, it terrifies me! Screen entertainment is a slippery, addictive slope. The more a child watches, the more they want. The more they want, the more advertising they are exposed to, and the more likely the imaginative world of fairies, gnomes, knights, and faraway lands cease to exist.

For those of you who still think you need the electronic babysitter to get anything done around the house, I promise you those shows are working against you. The begging, pleading, and whining for shows, character toys, special foods, and chemical filled bath products are just a stones throw away. Not to mention the fact that your child will be able to entertain themselves less and less.

Sure a baby requires a lot of attention and time, but as they mature, they play for longer and longer periods alone, look at books for longer and longer time frames, and are generally becoming more and more creative and independent. The television is slowing if not stopping that process dead in its tracks.

For more research and info on this topic:

-Endangered Minds: Why Children don't think-- and What We Can Do About It by Jane Healy

-FAILURE TO CONNECT: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds -- and What We Can Do About It by Jane M. Healy

-Parenting Well in a Media Age: Keeping Our Kids Human by Gloria DeGaetano

-The Plug-In Drug: Television, Computers, and Family Life by Marie Winn

-Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander

Monday, April 26, 2010

They will guide us...

I am very lucky to have a huge group of friends to look towards for support in my parenting philosophy because when you group all the things I believe together it equals a way of parenting that is not all that common.
That being said, I (along with most of my friends) have lots of mainstream voices in my head. These voices are people whom I love and appreciate, but whom really do not understand why Josh and I make the decisions we do for Elijah. Some of them do not even try to understand our decisions, yet offer their advice or comments all too frequently.
The area where I am feeling the most pressure lately is in leaving Elijah. As he gets older (yes, he is the ripe old age of 12 months now), the pressure increases. Others want to babysit him or in their words give me time off. I genuinely appreciate this gesture as being a mama is exhausting as we all know, but I am not ready and neither is he.
My neighbor keeps making comments to me that basically amount to the fact that I will never leave him and he is just a big mama's boy. I think even a few months ago these comments affected me more than they do now. The reason is Elijah. He teaches me. Over the many years of watching other parents with their children, watching the ways other parents left their children (some for the first time in my care); I realized that one of the biggest hurdles parents have is trusting their children. I always told myself I would trust my child, that he knows what he needs. I learned this first from the famous Bev Bos and second from seeing it ring true time after time with the children in my care.

Still, once I had a baby so many doubts came back. I had learned enough times and it made sense to me the value in responding to a babies cry, but I doubted myself when Elijah only wanted to nurse to sleep. The fears overtakes you. Won't I make him dependent on nursing to sleep, I thought. And now with leaving him, he is VERY attached to mommy and for a while daddy would never do, but slowly Daddy, Grandma, and even Grandpa are starting to be wonderful "meeters of needs" also. With time, he was ready, ready to trust other people in his life. Of course for the first nine months, he only wanted me. I mean he had spent more of his life inside my body than out. His only food came from me. It made sense. I just needed to see the relationship with his daddy begin to develop and then I was reminded that if I trust him, he will do it when he is ready.
Now, he stays with Daddy while I run errands and while no one else will do when he is tired, hungry, hurt, or scared, one day that will change. I plan to enjoy it while it lasts.
I pledge to continue trusting Elijah when I am not sure, he will guide us.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Respect... it is not just for adults!

In the past few catalogs I have received from this company (I assume simply because I gave birth to a child), I have seen this advertisement for a "ThumbGuard".

It has made me made me laugh, made me angry, and made me cry. Until finally, it made me write.

It makes me laugh because the pure thought of someone paying for this seems so absurd. Can you really imagine having your child walking around with this on their hand? Can you imagine the child or the parent explaining it? It also makes me laugh to think that this company thought this was a good item to carry. Ok...I guess the laughing is not all that genuine.

It makes me angry for all the reasons above and because it is just rude and disrespectful to do something like strap a piece of hard plastic to a child in order to stop them from doing the one thing that brings them the most comfort. Yet, a single dentist can design this and many other doctors can place fear in parents over what could happen to a child's teeth, and parents line up to pay seventy-five whopping dollars to destroy a little piece of their child's spirit.

It makes me cry for all the reasons above, and because I can picture being that child scared, sad, tired, or in this case... humiliated to save her from an overbite. Who is she gonna go to for comfort? The parent who bought this for her? I think not.
For those who are left with the question in their minds of how to stop a thumb sucker then, I say to you:
Therapy is way more expensive than orthodontics.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Wooooo Wooooo

Today, Elijah heard a siren and right after he said, "Wooooo Wooooo." It was so precious. He was communicating with me, and every new opportunity to communicate with my son is a gift. After working with parents for years and teaching communication with children, my own son's first attempts at communicating with me are priceless.

But it also made me a little sad. He was, after all, repeating a sound he hears on at least a daily, if not hourly, basis since he was born. The sound of the great LBC. The place we call home. A 700-square foot condo that we own with absolutely NO outdoor space to call ours. No balcony, no porch, and definitely no yard.

For such a long time, the ideal that I have held for children and childhood and myself has been a meadow full of climbing trees, with a stream running through it. I picture a tree house, a few chickens, and maybe even a goat. I worked hard to create this at the preschool. A tried to create a haven away from the city life, away from even suburban life, for the children to just be.

And now I have my own child and he is growing so fast. To steal some words from Tom Hunter, "What will he remember from the time he was a child?" Where can he play free, run, climb, jump, and explore? Where can he do this without the fear of polluted water? Where can he hear the birds chirp and the grass rustle rather than the sirens blare? Where can he dig without finding cigarette butts and trash? Where can we be outdoors without long car rides?

Of all the things I want for my child, nature is among the most important. Does this mean I sacrifice being close to my friends and family, and those who know me best? Do I sacrifice diversity, progressive thinking, and like-minded people?
I guess time will only tell. The problem is he is growing up now...
Woooooooo Wooooooo

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sensory experiences and Play....

This one is for Susan....

There is never a day that goes by that I am not grateful for the amount of education and experience I had with children and child development before giving birth to my own child. It has served me well and (so far) I am not finding that having my own son has made me abandon any of my previously held beliefs about children and the environments I believe are best for them. If anything, they have gotten STRONGER! And get this, I have even more of them! Oh geez, they just keep coming I tell ya.

So while I am thankful for the knowledge and beliefs I have, being a mom in this situation can be downright lonesome and isolating from time to time. For example, this morning we attended a baby sign language class through our city. I really love the idea of exposing Elijah to another language and since we have no native speakers of any other language in our household and I have taken sign language in the past, this seemed like a good way to do that. But I got to tell you, I should have just bought a book with signs in it to refresh me. This 45 minute class was full of the same old thing I see everywhere when people relate to children. Lots of "yays and good jobs" abounded. While expressive faces on adults can be authentic and natural when talking to babies and children we love, usually what I see in these classes is an exaggerated enthusiasm. People bouncing around like they do on that Barney television show attempting to constantly entertain children with happy faces where everybody is friends and it is never OK to feel like bored for an instant. Can you hear the valley girl accent I am affecting?

For those of you who don't understand why I don't believe saying "Good Job" to children every time they breathe without dying, I will have to save this for another blog, but in the meantime, here is an article to aid you in understanding where I am coming from.

But back to the classes offered for children. I realize this may sound a little like a detached or cold point of view, but so many of these classes are loud, fast paced, and hyper cheerful to the point of being fake. I don't want my child surrounded by that at all. I want him to be a part of authentic people and experiences. This is something (forgive me for those currently enrolled) that Gymboree frankly does not offer. Who said it was developmentally appropriate to hang a baby or toddler from a bar or have them doing a forward roll anyway? I want him to explore his world, but AT HIS OWN PACE. It literally tears my heart out when they hand my child an instrument in music class and then tear it away from him 3 minutes later because the song is over. Children need long periods of uninterrupted free time to explore and without too many restrictions. This is the only way they truly learn anything.

It is lonely when all the people who get you and understand why these things are important have older children who could care less about playing with Elijah. Most(thank goodness for you Jennifer) new moms usually do not understand the way I prefer to play and relate to my son. I can't seem to find any friends or connections in these classes, maybe because I can barely get through the class itself without pulling my hair out.

I have started a class for Elijah for this exact reason. I want an environment where he can touch things as much as he wants, where the adults sit back and observe the child's pace, where songs are sung slowly and at a tone where the children can understand the words and see the actions. I want an environment where the children's voices are heard more than the teachers. I want one where the people in the class are treating their children with as much respect as all human beings deserve. I don't want any child being treated like a doll or much worse, a pet. "Good Rolling, Fido!"

Sensory experiences are important, children need to engage all of the senses to truly learn, but overwhelming a child with sights and sounds causes irritation to their senses. Unfortunately I think many of these classes are attempting to be live television sets. This only causes a dependency for things to be loud and obnoxious in order to grab a child's attention. Maybe their is a vicious cycle here?

Instead give them the gift of true play (play is defined as free choice of an activity) and save your money (these classes are outrageously expensive) and give your child a container with flour and water, I guarantee you their brain and personality will be better off!

Some sensory ideas you can bring into your own home (sorry I took so long to get here Susan): Email me with clarification on any of these.

Cornstarch (Flour)/ Water: Cornstarch cleans up much easier than flour so I usually go this route, but flour is a whole new texture when wet. Plus you can make your own playdough.

Rice/Beans/Pasta with containers: Save all those scoops, plastic containers for use with things like this. Cooked Pasta provides a whole different experience and if you are really ambitious, color the pasta for a rainbow effect. You can add sequins or glitter here too.

Soil/Water: I use organic soil when I work with children. You can add seeds or beans to this with older children and plastic cups for planting.

Shaving Cream: For any child not putting everything in their mouth, squirting some of this on a table with combs and food coloring in spray bottles is awesome!

Plain old water: with animals, cups, funnels, food coloring, basters, any clear item from the kitchen, the possibilities are endless.

Play Sand: There are so many different kinds of sand these days, some mold into shapes with compressing. My favorite is this and this. There are even recipes for the moon sand online.

Flax Seed: OH MY! This is one mom won't want to leave for just the little ones. The seed is so silky smooth I could keep my hands in it all day, after playing with it for a week or so, add warm water and you will not believe how great it feels. Warning: Very difficult clean up :(, but so worth it.

Salt/Ice: I put out ice cubes for sculpting into different designs, add spoon and some salt. You can also freeze food coloring with a little water and paint with the frozen ice cubes.

Flubber: Here is the recipe. I put this out with green strawberry crates and scissors. I make it in much bigger quantities of course.

There are so many other ideas like making your own clay, paint, coffee grounds, fresh cut grass, gelatin molds, etc, etc, etc....

The possibilities are endless. If you are in the neighborhood, come by our playgroup and then I do all the clean up. :)
Happy Playing!

Friday, January 29, 2010

No, he does not sleep through the night...

Today I was reading an article about breastmilk production and cue feeding, basically the idea that you feed your baby as much and as often as the baby requests, even if that happens to be in the middle of the night at 6 months old.
This article was exactly what I needed at this moment in my life as a mom....

I have been feeling so conflicted lately. Elijah was about 2 months old when he began to sleep for longer and longer periods which around 3 months even peaked at 11 hours straight. Most would consider this a parents dream and he must have needed it at the time. But shortly after that, the periods of sleep started to lessen and my child started to become more demanding about his needs at all hours of the day and night until at about 5.5 months when he began to wake up every hour and need the breast to put him back to sleep. In this last month, the sleep has increased a bit to every 2-3 hours waking during the night. I have been so wrought with guilt. What am I doing wrong? Doesn't my baby need more uninterrupted sleep? If he didn't eat so much at night, he would sleep better and eat more during the day, right?

But what were the options to get him on this plan... let him cry and refuse to feed him was the only one I could think of. That was not happening. I believe strongly in the signal of a babies cry and was not about to ignore him. I always tried other things first, lying with him, helping him find his thumb, sending daddy in, or even giving him my fingers to suck on. These work sometimes, but ultimately nothing puts him back to sleep like a warm breast full of milk.

So many people even so called experts and my own holistic pediatrician warn against feeding a baby this old at night, fearful of the habits it creates. It is hard to ignore that pressure and the questions that come with it. As a mother, I am always questioning whether what I am doing is providing the absolute best for my child.

This article talked about prolactin, a hormone that all mothers have until about 3-4 months postpartum that in addition to the baby sucking, helps produce milk. After 3-4 months, the prolactin goes away and the only thing keeping the milk supply up for this growing baby is the babies sucking.

Maybe this is why babies wake up? Maybe it is not because we are "spoiling" him? Maybe my son knows intuitively that he needs more milk.
I know so many people who say they had to stop nursing cause their milk dried up, that suddenly didn't seem to have enough milk for their babies. I wonder if there is a correlation between this and night nursing? I wonder if there is a correlation between this and moving a baby into their own crib in a room away from mom?

I also know that every baby/mother dyad is different and that many can continue to nurse exclusively just fine while sleeping through the night. I am sure that is why the idea that all babies should be able to exists. Maybe all babies can't do this.

The AAP recommends at least one year of breastfeeding, the WHO recommends at least two years. I want to make it to at least two years for Elijah's health. I believe it is the best thing I can do for his health. I also believe babies are designed to sleep with their mothers, in most other countries they do. I believe babies cry for a reason. So why all the internal conflict around nursing him at night? Ultimately I am sleeping fine, all I have to do is roll over. He and I barely wake up.

I don't have all the answers and I don't know how I feel about this when he is one or two, and maybe I am creating a bad habit.... but I do know I love my child and listening to what he is telling me is the only way to build a relationship of trust between us.

So once again, I am led me back to the conclusion that I need to trust my child, he will teach me. Cue feeding it is.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Is he a good baby?

I am always a bit perplexed by this question. How does one judge whether a child is inherently good or bad? What information are they after?
I, of course know what they mean is, "Does he sleep through the night?" "Does he cry a lot?", but I wonder why so many ask this. Is it that they don't know what else to ask or that all the other forms of the questions seem too personal. Maybe people truly think that a baby crying is a bad thing.

I think it implies a few things when one asks this question:

1. That not all babies are inherently good. Really, what could a 2 day old, a 2 month old, or really even a 2 year old do that would be considered bad? I choose to believe that all people are born inherently good and that it takes quite a bit to turn a good person into a bad one, primarily brain chemistry. Even those who commit acts that one would consider "bad" have reasons that lead up to these eventual actions that have very little to do with the core of the person.

2. That it is an infant's job to make life easier on its parents. Something is really backwards in this thinking. Is it overwhelming to bring a new little baby into your life, believe me I know this, and it is nice when that parent can feel like they have some answers and some help.  It is so important to have a village because all the baby can do at this point is exist and its entire purpose for months is simply to learn about trust. It should be the job of the parents to simply get to know their baby, respond to his/her needs consistently and fall in love with this new little life. Other people can take care of the house, the jobs, etc...
Too many parents get exhausted at this point by doing too much, not sleeping when the baby sleeps, and I really believe this always ends badly... and usually at the babies expense by trying to get them onto our schedule as soon as possible. Wrong!

....but probably the most disturbing underlying message a parent receives is...

3. That when a baby cries, it is a bad thing. As author Jan Hunt puts it in her book, The Natural Child:
"Crying is a signal provided by nature. It is meant to disturb the parents so that the child's need will be met. It makes no sense that nature would have provided all children with a routinely used signal that serves no good purpose."
Yet new parents who are trying to adjust to this little person who cannot talk and can only cry to get their needs met, are constantly asked about how often the baby cries or hear from other parents, "oh, he is so good, he hardly ever cries."
To me that is as absurd as saying, "oh my preschooler (teenager, best friend, etc...) is so good, they hardly ever talk to me."

I trust nature so much and when I don't have the answers, I try so hard to just see what makes sense in the world, the way nature would do it. I have learned so much about little babies lately, way more than my child development knowledge could ever have given me simply by having a baby. He teaches me. So I will continue to try my hardest to look at his fussing and his crying as much as his smiling and his laughing as his attempt to build a relationship with me and to bring me into his world. What a honor!

And please don't ask a new parent this question instead try, "what can I do for you?"