Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's with kids

New Year’s has been a blah holiday for us since we brought kids into the family. My column in Thursday’s Ledger-Enquirer (which I'm just now linking to due to some holiday madness) includes some suggestions for family-friendly New Year’s rituals, some of which we’re going to try implementing this year to add a little festivity to a holiday that normally just reminds me that it’s time to get back to work and chores and face a long stretch of uneventful winter.

Here are a few additional resources for your own family New Year’s planning:

Find background here on foods considered lucky (and traditionally consumed on New Years) in different cultures.

A few New Years craft ideas are here and here.

If you want to teach your kids the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne but don’t quite know them yourself, go here.

Friday, December 28, 2007

3-year-old on skis

After a few days of low-key winter sports including snow hikes in knee-deep snow and sledding with Uncle Graham pulling saucer-riding Will down a gentle hill, we finally made it up to Beaver Creek and got Will on skis for the first time. He was soon skiing "all by myself" on this slope, which while it might not look like a slope had just enough incline that Will was cruising solo at high enough speed to make me slightly nervous.
Owen, sporting sun glasses for the first time in his life, enjoyed looking on from his daddy pouch.
After our hour on the "slopes," we visited with some reindeer. Notice Uncle Graham interrogating the not-pictured reindeer keeper about the size and origins of these reindeer (we learned that females are about 200 pounds smaller than males -- just small enough to make them pettable for a sometimes animal-leery kid like Will).

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas, Christmas and Christmas again

By the time we hit our third Christmas with my parents in Colorado yesterday (after a Christmas with Nana, Papa and Aunt Alicia in Atlanta Saturday and a Christmas with Rob’s grandparents Sunday), Will had begun to have his fill of unwrapping gifts. He opened a few presents yesterday, but wanted to play with each one and lost interest in acquiring more, so there’s still several under the tree (and a couple that my mom and I abducted for his four-year birthday after realizing that he had PLENTY of new toys).

And all Will really wanted was one little helicopter (which Santa, fortunately, delivered).

Here’s his Christmas Eve letter to Santa, which we laid out on the hearth with some cookies and hot cocoa. The only intervention on my part involved jumping in after the helicopter request and suggesting that we should just ask for one toy since Santa already had his sleigh loaded (I was afraid of a plea for one of those giant $300 battery-operated plastic cars that kids occasionally drive recklessly around the park as Will watches in awe and I watch mortified).

“Dear Santa,

I love you and I hope you bring me a helicopter. Hi Rudolph. Ho ho ho. Each little hoof.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Big stuff

“Mom, when can we get an SUV or a truck or a van?” Will asked me yesterday.
I told him we were sticking with little cars, in part because they use less gasoline, which is better for the planet -- the animals and the trees. (Modest four-door sedans also happen to match our budget better -- but I didn't get into the economics of the matter.) I brought up "The Berenstain Bears Don’t Pollute (Anymore)" book we’d checked out from the library a couple weeks ago.
Environmental arguments don’t hold much water for Will though: “But I only like big stuff like fire trucks and SUVs and recycling trucks. The only small stuff I like is ambulances and football players and jeeps. That’s the ONLY small stuff I like.”

One day when he’s quite a bit older I need to have Will watch this 20-minute “Story of Stuff” online movie, which a friend led me to this week. It’s actually a better reminder for adults, as we head into the last “I-don’t-have-ENOUGH-Christmas-presents for everyone” shopping weekend of the season, that maybe we do have enough “stuff” after all.
Annie Leonard delivers her fast-paced lecture with a bit too much pep for my taste. But the basic message about the state of our consumption-crazed nation is a good one to take in this time of year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Santa's lap

I decided to avoid standing in a line at a mall and paying $15 for a single photo with Santa this year. Instead we snuck over to the Phenix City public library for the first time ever after hearing that Santa would be making an appearance at the children's story hour. Santa appeared with a beard a bit less authentic looking than the professional guy at the mall and I took some less-than-professional-looking photos of the boys and Santa. But it was such a relaxed experience that I hope to find free Santas from here on out. This one even gave out loaded stockings -- and we got a little Night Before Christmas reading and sweet refreshments to boot.

I'd whisked napping Owen off for the event in his pajamas, with no intentions of having him lap sit, but he seemed to like jolly old fellow just fine so he got a turn in too:

Will was a little puzzled by the absence of a sleigh though. He asked me how Santa got to the library and decided that he must have just walked this time. After all, there was no evidence of reindeer. He just sauntered on in, hauling his sack of stockings himself.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The 25 days of Christmas

We’re counting down to Christmas on a couple different wonderful advent calendars this year, but that doesn’t seem to help Will understand that we’ve still got a week to go to the big day. This morning he insisted that today was Christmas and for a moment he seemed to think that if he could just argue his case with enough passion, then it would indeed suddenly be Christmas and poof, the presents would appear under the tree. Yesterday Will threatened to wear his underwear (his favorite blue car pair) “all the way to Christmas” – backwards of course (he remains backwards underwear boy). I wouldn’t have been too disturbed by that proposition if indeed Christmas were today. But with a week to go, I was glad to steal that precious pair during bath time and bury them in the dirty laundry.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Contraption parenting

I remember reading some attachment parenting books by Dr. Sears before Will was born and envisioning myself deftly maneuvering through the house, Will in sling, while I cooked and cleaned and did various household chores. As it turned out, Will and Owen were neither huge fans of the sling (although Owen loves a front pack ride). And no matter how I tote a baby it’s usually a matter of minutes before I simply need two totally unemcumbered arms and hands to get that next thing done. I also have a little sciatic nerve that starts complaining after too much baby-lugging.

So rather than becoming a full-fledged attachment mama, I’m more like a contraption mama. I cart Owen around the house and set him in various cloth and plastic devices for a handful of minutes, providing him with toys and/or talking to him while I work, until he starts to squeal for a change of scene or I need to do the next thing – at which point we find a new contraption and a new mama task to carry out. (Since Owen has recently begun flipping himself immediately from back to tummy -- where he stays for only a minute or two before the neck strain is too much for him and the fussing begins – laying him on a quilt or play mat is a short-lived solution).
It makes for a ridiculously cluttered house and a rather inelegant way of making it through the day with a baby – slings have a lovely aura of simplicity by comparison – but it’s how we survive the day, both of us relatively happy and functional.

A couple weeks ago, Owen graduated from his contraption of choice for the prior couple months, a consignment sale bouncy seat, when he started leaning forward like so (he was attempting some precarious toe-touching too).

And just when I thought I’d clear an extra few square feet of clutter out of the house, I wound up borrowing this slightly larger rocker-recliner thing from a friend to replace it.

Oh contraptions – I just can’t give them up.

Here are some of ours, almost all inherited from friends, and eagerly awaiting the day when I pass them along to another home with a new baby:
An exersaucer:
A high chair for toys and for sitting up tall like the rest of the family at dinnertime and during carol singing by the tree. (We won't actually start feeding Owen in the thing until we've officially reached the 6-month mark a few weeks from now.):

Owen’s new favorite, and the least obnoxious by far, is a simple boppy pillow for sitting support.

And an unphotographed swing that doesn't get too much use anyway, and which Owen has recently learned to "pump" sans battery power.

What are your favorite contraptions?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Cookie workshop

This week Will and I wrapped up a four-session cookie bake-off that we carried out over the course of two weeks. One of my fondest childhood memories of the holiday season is the platter of Christmas cookies we sampled each night. My mom typically made at least six varieties. This year I used her recipes for sugar cookies, magic cookie bars and fudge. And I found this classic gingerbread recipe online.

We had fun with each variation of cookie making (Will helped with all but the fudge). But as much as Will enjoyed the rolling pin and cookie cutters, I think I’ll be abstaining from all baking that requires cookie cutters until at least Valentine’s Day. These cookie projects turn into two-hour marathons and I’m exhausted at the end.

At the end of a gingerbread man cut-out session, I let Will invent his own recipe with a remaining scrap of dough. He chose to add water and flour to it, roll it out and then beat it on the cutting board like so.

Of our four cookie varieties this year, my personal favorites are probably the magic cookie bars (really more appropriate for adults because they are evil, sticky-gooey goodness) – in part because they required no rolling and cutting. In making the graham cracker crust for them, Will discovered the joy of smashing graham crackers to smithereens with a rolling pin.
Here’s the recipe, in case you’re looking to gain a few pounds:
Magic Cookie Bars
1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs mixed with ½ cup melted butter
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup coconut
1 can Eagle brand milk

Pat graham cracker crumb-butter mixture into a greased 13x9 pan with a fork, then with fingers. Then sprinkle the walnuts, then the chocolate chips, then the coconut over all. Pour the can of Eagle brand milk over all. Bake at 350 until brown around the edges – about 30 minutes. Cut into squares right away, but don’t take them out until they’ve cooled.
Any favorite Christmas cookie recipes to share?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Rethinking childbirth

This evening’s screening of “The Business of Being Born” (at 6:30 at the Columbus Public Library) should be worth the trip.

I’m stuck at home alone with the boys tonight so I won’t be there. But I’m eager to see the documentary, with Ricki Lake as executive producer – not because it contains some footage from Lake’s home birth, but because it’s garnering attention as an exposé of the state of maternity care in the U.S. (ABC News Australia called it “The Inconvenient Truth” of Childbirth, according to the film’s Web site, where you can also watch a preview of the film .)

As a preview to tonight’s screening, I interviewed LaGrange doula Kristin Pittman (via e-mail and phone) about her own experiences giving birth to four children and now supporting other women as a doula. Read the interview in today’s Ledger-Enquirer here.

Kristin offers a fascinating look at a range of childbirth experiences through one woman’s eyes. Although she had hoped to have all of her children naturally, her first two births wound up being medicated hospital births (and both led to hospitilizations of the babies within their first week of life), her third child was born naturally in a hospital with an obstetrician and a doula assisting, and her fourth child (now 21 months old) was born in an inflatable pool in her bathroom at home (with the assistance of a midwife).

There wasn’t space in the print edition to include the stories of her first three births, but they are well worth reading. Take a look -- and pass her story along to any mothers-to-be you know so they can think ahead about the sorts of choices they may be faced with in their owns labor and births.

Kristin's first birth story:

My desire from my very first pregnancy was to give birth naturally, with as little intervention as possible. I have always believed that women were perfectly designed to give birth, and our bodies will do just what they need to do if we trust in the process. There are, of course, times when medical intervention is necessary, but it’s my belief that it should not be used routinely, as any intervention into the normal process of labor and birth comes with risk, and can interfere with what the body is naturally doing.

In my first labor at the hospital not all of the staff was supportive of my desire for natural childbirth, and my confidence was quickly undermined. My first nurse’s response, when my husband informed her of my plans, was “Oh, first baby huh?....You’ll see…” I had a
very difficult and slow back labor, with a posterior baby. After many hours of laboring and terrible pain, I started giving in to interventions and pain meds. Every intervention seemed to come with another, and I ultimately delivered my baby girl with the assistance of forceps. She had a pretty rough transition and was not very alert and responsive and was taken immediately to the nursery to be worked on. Right before discharge we found that she was not only very jaundiced, but dehydrated as well. We ended up having to admit her to Children’s Hospital (in Akron, Ohio) the night after we brought her home due to her dehydration and jaundice, where she stayed for 3 nights. I felt confident that Cadence’s troubles were due to the many interventions, drugs and her difficult labor and birth. I also believe that if I had had the proper support, my labor with Cadence may have not been so difficult. If I had had someone who knew (which the nurses did) that my baby was posterior and suggested to me that there were things we could do to facilitate her getting into a better position (and things that we SHOULDN’T do ~ namely break my water ~ which would exacerbate the situation), things MAY have gone very differently. A doula would have been wonderful for me during that labor. At the time, though, I really didn’t know much about doulas.

Her second birth story:

In my labor with my second baby, I was again coping very well at home and actually coping well at the hospital…until my OB arrived. He had been called in (at around 2 in the morning) for another patient, next door to me, who had been slowly laboring all night and suddenly went from 2 cm to complete and baby flew out! Needless to say, he missed the birth. Since he was there, he came into my room to check on me. I had not even been officially admitted yet, because I was still in the “monitoring” stage, seeing if I was progressing, before deciding if they would keep me there or send me home. He decided to check my dilation and as he was checking, he asked the nurse to hand him a “hook.” I knew immediately what he meant ~ the amnihook, to break my water. I said “No!” The nurse started telling him that I hadn’t even been admitted, and that my birth plan said I did not want my water broken, etc. He asked for the hook again, she hesitated, I screamed “NO!” ~ and he proceeded to yell at the nurse, tell her “I’M the doctor!” and go into a tirade about how he “HAD” to break my water because of some scenario (both my husband and I believe he said something about the cord). So as I’m saying no, my nurse reluctantly hands over the hook, doctor breaks my water, and there is meconium. What does the doctor say? “See? That’s why I had to break your water.” (Never mind that he couldn’t have known about the meconium before breaking my water…it was just a convenient excuse after the fact. We will always believe that he was (a) fired up after missing a patient’s birth, and (b) ready to just get my labor moving along and done since he was called there in the middle of the night.) He had scared me to death -- made me think something terrible was wrong and that my baby was going to die. So here I was, traumatized, crying, and a very basic part of my birth plan had been violated. This baby was also posterior, but up until this point the back pain hadn’t been near as bad as it was with baby #1. When my water was broken, however, the pain intensified dramatically.

A few minutes after this incident, my OB came back in the room, sat down next to me, held my hand, and told me something along the lines of “I just want what’s best for you.” And then he said: “Don’t question me in front of the nurses.” I was so traumatized at that point that I was speechless. I once again asked for an epidural because I was so overtaken by the sudden intensity of the pain once my water had been broken, I couldn’t get focused again.

Once again, my posterior baby remained posterior…and maybe if his water had stayed intact, and I had been able to use position changes (if I’d had support from someone to assist me in what to do), he would have been able to turn and have an easier labor and birth. Micah was delivered with the assistance of vacuum, and he aspirated his meconium. It’s possible that he would have aspirated anyway, but I will always wonder if his water being broken before it was time contributed to it. It’s also possible that his difficult birth and his position coming down the birth canal could have contributed to him swallowing and aspirating the meconium. Micah was transferred just hours after his birth to the NICU at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital (in Cleveland, Ohio) due to the meconium aspiration. He required some oxygen that night and observation for the next few days.

Her third birth story (with a doula, this time):

By the time I conceived my third child, I knew I wanted a doula for my next birth. I needed someone who would provide that continuous emotional and physical support, with her trust in the process of normal birth, along with knowledge and experience in natural childbirth. I was more dedicated than ever, after having two newborn babies hospitalized, to doing what was best for my babies (and myself) and doing everything in my power to minimize risk. And I knew I needed someone by my side who could “hold the space” and assist me in following my body’s cues and allowing it and my baby to do the work they were meant to do. As much as I love my husband, and as wonderful as he is during labor and birth (and all other aspects of parenting), it’s a difficult role for a husband to “doula” his wife. Husbands are emotionally invested; it’s difficult for them to see their wives in pain. It’s difficult for them not to worry. They are distracted by the enormity of this huge life event. A doula is there ONLY for the mother. She does not have the distractions of monitoring and medical tasks or an emotional stake in the event. She can remain focused and objective at all times. There is great power in women helping women through childbirth.

So I hired a doula. She made all the difference. She came to my home as soon as I was ready for her to come during my labor. The moment she arrived and placed her hands on my back, I felt a sense of real calm come over me. We labored at home for several more hours, until I decided that I was ready to make the transition to the hospital. Once I got into my room in the hospital, I was able to get in the labor tub and relax for a bit. While in there, I felt lots of pressure and knew my baby was coming down. I did get out of the tub and up onto the bed in a kneeling position to give birth. Hannah came flying out! (Anterior!) She was born less than an hour after I got into my room.

I believe that the difference in Hannah’s labor and birth were due to more knowledge and more support for my plans and wishes. I was free to move the way I wanted and do what felt right, with no tension around me or pressure to have this intervention or that…no timeline. Hannah was able to maneuver into just the right positions for her journey through the birth canal and her birth. Her water remained intact until she started coming out (when I was in the tub). This made a difference in her position and in my level of pain.

After Hannah was born, we had no health issues with her. She had no drugs in her system, and she had a very gentle birth.

Here Kristin discusses some of the positive aspects of home birth AFTER the delivery of her fourth child, Ethan (now 21 months old). See the print edition link above for details of the labor itself):

I was allowed to hold my baby immediately (my husband put him right on my chest) and stare at him and touch him, as my husband exclaimed that it was a boy! There was no one to take him out of my arms and rush him into an isolette under bright lights to “examine” him while I sat empty-handed, longing to hold this life that I had carried inside me for 9 months.

My children were able to see their new baby brother immediately (I had meant for them to see the birth, but at least a couple of them had fallen asleep by the time he was born ~ 11:15 p.m. ~ but we did wake them up right away to come see him), in their own home…They all got to hold him and have pictures taken and then they got to go to sleep in their own beds, with Mommy and Daddy and new baby brother just down the hall.

I was able to climb into my OWN bed with my baby and initiate breastfeeding immediately. I was allowed to wait for my placenta to come in its own time as well, with no tugging on the cord (and no early clamping of the cord). I got to clean up in my own shower and again climb into my own bed, with fresh sheets placed on it by my midwife and her assistant, while Daddy did his own bonding.

My midwife’s assistant made me a sandwich to eat shortly after the birth, while my husband and I relaxed in bed with our newborn. We were given plenty of time alone with our baby. When we had said goodbye to our midwife and her assistant, we settled into our own bed and had a peaceful night of rest, between feedings of course, with no interruptions from strangers. The next few days were so comfortable, being in our own home, our own bed, with our whole family together, and close friends and family visiting here and there.

Another question that didn’t make the print edition:

Do you have a sense, in the work you’ve begun to do as a doula, that more women are beginning to seek out natural childbirth or home birth experiences?

I do believe more women are seeking natural childbirth. At a time when we are seeing our nation’s c-section rate rise each year (preliminary data for 2006 shows a rate of 31.1%, up from 30.3% in 2005), I think more women are looking for ways to not only stay out of the operating room, but to simply bring their babies into the world as safely as possible.

And here Pittman shares her wishes for all women (a nice note to end on):

What I wish for all women is factual information, informed consent, informed refusal, respect for the laboring woman’s wishes, no agendas, no coersion. No more putting mothers and babies at risk in the name of hospital policy dictated by malpractice insurance carriers, as a result of our litigious society. Women deserve options and the freedom to give birth the way nature intended and freedom to listen to their bodies and do what their bodies are telling them to do.

Learn more about the movie and watch a preview here.
Learn more about BirthNetwork – in Columbus or in your area

Other resources:
Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association
DONA International, a doula association
Childbirth International
Association of Labor Assistants & Childbirth Educators
BirthWorks International

For more information about Kristin Pittman’s doula services go here.

Leave a comment and share lessons learned from your own labor/birth.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Closet carolers

Rob decided at the beginning of this month that we should start singing a Christmas carol or two a night around the piano. He plays guitar while Will and I (and sometimes even Owen) make noise on the piano. (We happen to have the most basic songbook ever so that for the first time in my life I can actually keep time on the piano.)

Of course, we’ve only actually gathered for carol singing a few times so far (and we wouldn't dare take our dissonant act door-to-door). But I also sing carols to Will on request throughout the day. His favorite – The Twelve Days of Christmas -- pacifies him while I brush his teeth or put his shoes on for school.

But yesterday morning he had a different request while I was brushing his teeth: “Sing the tidings song, mom.”

I had to think. And then I started in with “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” (good tidings we bring, and all)

After school, tidings were still on Will’s mind. “Mom,” he said from the back seat, “Ally and me don’t want any tidings. We don’t need any tidings when we’re in the living room playing football.”

“What do you think tidings are?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

And so another fumbling answer: “Well tidings are nice things that you say to people: like merry Christmas or happy birthday. It’s wishing good things for people. So when you sing “good tidings we bring” that means we’re bringing nice things to say -- or saying nice things.” (In fact, according to my Webster's Dictionary a tiding is "a piece of news" so my response could probably use some tweaking.)

“Well Ally doesn’t like tidings. He said they’re bad words. But I said, no Ally, they’re nice things…We don’t need any tidings. But sometimes we say Ho Ho Ho.”

The whole scene made me think of that scene from Ramona the Pest when Ramona starts wondering about the “dawnzerly light” in the Star Spangled Banner.

From my own childhood, I remember thinking that the three kings were from a place called Orientar.

And the misinterpretations persist for me. Just this week, as we looked at the songbook’s lyrics for “Up on the Housetop” I realized all my life I’d been thinking those were reindeer paws making noise on the roof – not reindeer PAUSING while Santa does his chimney jump. Of course! I thought to my brilliant self. Reindeer are hoofed creatures after all. And it only took me about 30 years to figure that one out.

What carols or song lyrics have your kids (or you) puzzled over?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Keeping honest

My Q&A with Columbus psychologist Christine E. Daley in today’s Ledger-Enquirer examines how to instill honesty in your children and whether even the “white” lies parents tell their children can be harmful. Go here for the interview with Daley (a licensed psychologist with Columbus Psychological Associates and a school psychologist by training).

Further reading:

For some suggestions about how to approach issues of honesty and truth-telling in an age-appropriate way for children, try these links:

Age 2

Ages 3-4

Ages 6-8

To read the Parenting magazine article that provoked this column, go here.

Daley also recommends these books on honesty, and specifically about talking with kids about death.

On honesty and lying:

For parents: “Why Kids Lie - How Parents Can Encourage Truthfulness” by Paul Ekman

For kids: “The Berenstain Bears and The Truth” by Stan and Jan Berenstain

“Don't Tell a Whopper on Fridays!” by Adolph Moser

On talking about death:

For parents: “The Grieving Child - A Parent's Guide” by Helen Fitzgerald

For kids: “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf ” by Leo Buscaglia, Ph.D

“I Don't Have an Uncle Phil Anymore” by Marjorie Pellegrino

And to ease your mind about any Santa Claus tall tales you’ve told this month, here are some research findings cited in “Benefits of Belief,” an article by David N. Miller in the December issue of Communiqué, a publication of the National Association of School Psychologists:

Child development research (Bowler, 2005) suggests that children have a secure belief in Santa Claus at about age 5, followed by a period of doubt at about age 7, and disbelief by age 9. One study of children who no longer believed reported mostly positive reactions when they ultimately learned the truth, suggesting that this "rite of passage" is a benign transition (Anderson & Prentice, 1994).

Belief in Santa Claus, as argued by some, can have the following benefits:"Encouraging children to believe in a benevolent Santa may foster traits of kindness and cooperation." (Breen, 2004, p. 455)

Dixon and Hom (1984) found that first-grade children increased their donations to children with handicaps after hearing a story about Santa Claus.

Slotterback (2006) found that children's requests to Santa Claus for gifts for other people increased in 2001 and 2002 after the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

Researchers have seen the myth of Santa as a vehicle through which children can be taught a variety of important social lessons. For example, the practice of leaving a snack out for Santa and his reindeer conveys to children the importance of generosity and reciprocity (Bowler, 2005).

The ability of young children to engage in magical thought and fantasy such as that surrounding Santa Claus can promote both creativity and cognitive development (Green, 2004).

A belief in Santa Claus has also been described as potentially useful for enhancing children's moral development (e.g., "He knows if you've been bad or good..."), for reinforcing good behavior, and as a symbol for hope (Breen, 2004).

Belief in Santa Claus also allows the opportunity for parents and caregivers to teach the importance of expressing gratitude for the gifts they receive (Froh, Miller, & Snyder, 2007).

Ultimately, a belief in Santa Claus may give children "a sense of mystery and wonder, an altered view of the passage of time, a taste of magical thinking, an exercise in imagination, and a chance to practice kindness" (Bowler, 2005, P. 242). Even when children reject the material reality of Santa Claus, as will inevitably occur, the deeper truths and moral lessons the myth has contained, as well as a number of hopefully joyful memories, may remain powerful and active as children grow up (Bowler, 2005).

Material adapted with permission from the National Association of School Psychologists, 2007.

(Gerry Bowler, cited several times above, is author of “Santa: A biography”)

More on toy safety – and cosmetics too

If, as Santa Claus, you believe in making gift lists and checking them twice, here is a little tool for the paranoid parent in you. It’s the web site, where I have decided NOT to sink hours investigating every single plastic toy in our house but instead to focus on the few baby toys that I watch Owen mouthing on all day long.

This is because every time Owen has something plastic in his mouth, which is quite frequently now, I can’t help but think about lead for a fleeting moment. And then I do nothing about it. Partly because he’s mostly got infant toys inherited from Will and I don’t even know how I’d look them up at this point. Partly because I know paint in old homes (we happen to live in one) is a much bigger danger in terms of lead poisoning -- and I still haven’t decided how paranoid to be about plastic toys. But if I’m seeing plastic in the mouth and thinking lead, obviously I’m still a bit worried.

So with a few minutes work, you can buy yourself some peace of mind and check out products on your Christmas list. I’ve discovered that these stackable rings are free of toxins, for example. Down side is there’s so many products out there that there’s plenty that hasn’t been tested and inventoried on this site. To do a quick scan for potentially problematic toys in your house, skim through the toys listed by type and just note which toys received ratings other than low for overall toxicity (they’re highlighted yellow).

Right now I’m wondering whether I really need to discard Owen’s Gerber NUK pacifier just because a similar looking NUK pacifier gets a medium toxicity rating on the site because of chlorine or polyvinyl chloride in the packaging it came in, which we long ago discarded. (PVC in packaging seems to be one of the most common toxicity issues listed on the site.)

Want to worry some more? Go to this site and check out just how many of the toothpaste, baby shampoo, and other cosmetic products that you buy for your kids contain potentially problematic chemicals, according to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Safety Base. (They list plenty of safer alternatives.)

Then say a little prayer or do a little yoga, and forget about it all.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Snapshots from a Christmas parade

We made it downtown for the annual Christmas parade today, where Owen, roused from a stroller nap by the big bass drum in a military marching band, watched bewildered and Will, enjoying the first parade of his life, stayed mesmerized. Highlights for Will included several fire trucks, some horse poop (much more interesting to look at than the parade of 50-some horses that left it behind), a big inflatable snowman that Will dubbed "Frost" (he's on chummy terms with all decorative snowmen this holiday season) and of course the big red-suited guy himself("but those reindeer aren't real" Will noted.)

I was more captivated by the oversized slice of pizza playing electric guitar over the banner "Our hope is Jesus" (too intrigued in fact to remember to get a photo).

And there were other Christmas parade staples like this crucified Jesus (well in advance of Easter)these Star Wars fanatics

and this death sleigh

But at a parade I most enjoy watching the little spectators:

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Honey for a cough

The next time your child’s coughing keeps the whole family up at night, you might be glad to have read this. It’s one of those rare mainstream medical journal articles that points toward an alternative, non-medicinal treatment for an ailment as superior to the standard pharmaceutical one. The article in the December issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine looks at the “Effect of Honey, Dextromethorphan, and No Treatment on Nocturnal Cough and Sleep Quality for Coughing Children and Their Parents.” The findings (in a partially double-blind randomized trial that involved 105 children ages 2 to 18 with upper respiratory infection) suggest that kids given a single nocturnal dose of buckwheat honey fare a bit better in terms of their cough symptoms and difficulty sleeping than those given a dose of Dextromethorphan (the active ingredient in cough suppressants like the Triaminic in our medicine cabinet) and significantly better than kids given a placebo.

In case you’re interested, their honey dosage chart looked like this: Age 2 to 5: ½ teaspoon; Age 6 to 11: 1 teaspoon; Age 12-18: 2 teaspoons. Remember, honey is NOT recommended for children under 1 (due to the risk of infant botulism).

And for those of you who don’t want to wade through the whole article but would like to understand why something like honey would relieve cough symptoms (which your grandmother may have told you long ago anyway), here’s an excerpt of their theorizing:

“Honey has well-established antioxidant and antimicrobial effects, which have been suggested as the mechanism for its efficacy in wound healing and may help to explain its superiority in this study. Buckwheat honey is a dark variety of honey, and darker honeys tend to have a higher content of phenolic compounds. These compounds have been associated with the antioxidant properties of honey that may have contributed to its effect in this study. Further, its topical demulcent effect may contribute to its benefits for cough as postulated by the World Health Organization review.
Another explanation for some of the beneficial effects of honey was recently described in a provocative review by Eccles.
This article argues that the sweetness of liquid preparations used to treat cough accounts for a significant portion of the treatment effect and also explains why studies have shown that antitussive preparations containing DM are not significantly superior to sweet, liquid placebos. This hypothesis is based on the suggestion that sweet substances naturally cause reflex salivation and may also cause the secretion of airway mucus and lead to a demulcent effect on the pharynx and larynx, thereby reducing cough (particularly dry, unproductive cough). For productive cough, Eccles suggests that these secretions could improve mucociliary clearance in the airway via an expectorant mechanism.”

Of course honey’s a staple ingredient in plenty of home remedies, although I’ve never done much beyond sweeten some tea with it when I have a sore throat.
Any believers in the power of honey out there? What honey remedies do you swear by?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Phone calls with a 3-year-old

Before he left, Rob told Will he’d be in Kentucky this week. That didn’t mean much to Will, since we’ve never traveled to Kentucky with him. So Rob explained that Kentucky was the football team he and Will had watched Georgia beat – that he was going to the state where that football team was from.

That was some muddy clarification. Now Will has decided that Rob is off attending a weeklong football game.

“How’s the game?” Will asks as soon as he gets on the phone with Rob. And when he doesn’t get a straight answer, he tries again: “But how’s the GAME?”

Here are some other excerpts of things I’ve overheard Will tell Rob on the phone over the past couple days:

Describing Owen's fever: “I think Owen had my bug but I think he was fighting it off. Mom was changing Owen’s diaper and it was wet and he had a fever. But then she was changing it again and it was off. It keeps turning on and off.”

Denying he lives here: “I’m not in my house. My house is down the other way but my neighbor is here.”

Assuming dad, who is actually quite safe in his hotel room, is still driving to the conference on day three of his absence, and worrying about the obstacles he might meet along the way: “Are you driving? But what if you see a shark? … But I don’t want to go to Colorado and see a shark. But what if a lion comes?”

But Will’s biggest concern has been whether dad will make it back for Christmas, which Will keeps assuming is imminent (as in: “Is Christmas tomorrow?”) ever since we got our tree and started the long march of the advent calendar. I’m starting to realize why my mother’s parents never got the tree up and decorated until Christmas Eve -- although the truth is I kind of enjoy the prolonged excitement.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I need a conference

I’m on day two and a half of a five-and-a-half day stint as a solo mom while Rob attends a conference in Kentucky. Can you tell I’m counting the hours?

Owen decided to spring his first genuine feverish illness on me (not counting his post-vaccination reactions) several hours after Rob’s departure, so I’ve been checking and rechecking his temperature over the course of the past 24 hours as it vacillates between 100 and 101 (it makes me nervous when little bodies start overheating, even just a tad). Fortunately his only symptoms were rosy cheeks and a little dip in his energy levels -- and finally this morning we’re back to normal land.

Really it’s the evenings that get me when Rob’s away. It feels like it takes a solid three hours of quick thinking to pull off all the dinner and bedtime rites and rituals for both Owen and Will on my own (although Will’s proven himself more self-sufficient and generally helpful than I sometimes give him credit for – so far anyway). But still I’m worn out by the bedtime-for-two dance -- and then, once their lights are out, I get to face the mess that is our house.

I’ve decided that there should be spousal recovery conferences held on the week following any supposedly important conference that pulls a wife or a husband out of the family unit for five days. Said recovery conference should take place at a more exotic locale than that of the first conference (since it was the attendees of the first conference that made the decision to leave home in the first place). The first day would have to include an introductory vent-the-past-week-while-downing-your-favorite-beverage gripe session just to purge any lingering stress, followed by a more peaceful session of beachside silence (no talking, just the sound of the waves), followed by a three-hour-long massage, followed by the first unhurried shower you’ve had in months (forget the drought, forget the chores). Then maybe some live music or a good film at an actual theater.

Granted I’m nursing so I can’t attend this year. But whenever I get Owen weaned, I’ll be there.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Tree hunting

I have a certain nostalgia for those December weekends in Colorado when my family would load up in the car, drive out into the middle of some forest service land with our tree-cutting permit and trudge across snowy hillsides in search of the perfect Christmas tree. Of course perfect for us meant scrunched up enough against a neighboring tree that we could cut the thing down guilt-free, assured that we weren’t detracting from the overall health of the forest. And that meant we usually got a rather scraggly Charlie Brown sort of tree.

I’d like to do that again one of these days with the boys, but for now we settle for a much more simplified, commercialized form of do-it-yourself tree cutting that still feels a lot more fun than buying a pine from some far-away tree farm out of a parking lot. For the past couple years, we’ve gone tree cutting at Lakeside Christmas Tree Farm in Crawford, Alabama, where we enjoy a tractor ride over to the little tree plantation, grab one of their little hand saws and hunt for the tree we want. They’ve got rows and rows of Leyland cypress and Virginia pine. We found a few Eastern red cedar (the one Christmas tree that’s actually native to the Chattahoochee Valley) left over from years when they were more popular and got one of those. They have a sort of perfect Christmas tree form and we don’t mind if the needles stick us just a bit as we’re decorating.

We decorated the tree while we drank cocoa and sang along to Perry Como Christmas carols, another relic from my childhood. Will’s method for ornament hanging involves ignoring those pesky hoops and hooks and simply placing the ornament on a branch, where it either finds a little balanced place to rest or tumbles straight to the floor. Already our tree seems plenty full of ornaments but I’m looking forward to gradually building up a big collection of Will and Owen hand-painted, hand-glued ornaments – the kind of crude eyesores that you treasure most.

Two Santas and an elf relax after a hard day’s work.

Friday, November 30, 2007

the yuck bug

Last night, for the first time I removed the tired old covers from our sofa and gave them a Woolite washing. This was the highlight of an afternoon and evening in which Will got a little five-hour mystery bug featuring bad sore throat, two bouts of profuse vomiting (the first of which soaked the couch), and then… Recovery. He’s completely fine today, although we’re holed up in the house making sure that the thing really has left his body.

Low-light of the evening was of course looking into Will’s terrified eyes during the second-go-round of throw up (which I was able to catch in a 13X9 pan that has since undergone multiple vigorous washings). The last time Will vomited he was too little to know what hit him, too non-verbal to express his dismay (in fact I’m not even sure he was crying that much). This time post-expulsion he emitted a higher-pitched shriek than I’ve ever heard out of the little guy and then shouted “YUUUCCCK!!!” I think he might have repeated the refrain a couple times: shriek, YUCK, shriek, YUCK – and I was thinking yes, you have captured my feelings about stomach bugs precisely.

By the way, if you’ve got a Pedialyte-resistant drinker like Will, be sure you know about Pedialyte freezer pops. When he was about 15 months old, Will wound up dehydrated in the hospital after a severe case of rotavirus and his stubborn refusal to drink the liquid stuff (we were trying and largely failing to force it down his throat via syringe) was largely responsible for landing us in the hospital. It was there – too late – that I learned about the Pedialyte popsicles that Will loves so much he asks for them when well (we decline these requests of course).

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Holiday gift guide

Today’s Ledger-Enquirer includes a holiday gift guide for children – actually a compilation of proven favorite toys suggested by about a dozen mothers I contacted. Go here for the guide and then view some of the featured items below:

Captain Feathersword sword

Grab ball (modeled by Owen)

Go here to view the BoBo Brooklyn kids capes.

Some more mom recommendations I received that didn’t make the print edition:

Two baby favorites:

Buzz the Bug Baby Toy

Bendy Bug flexible rattle with clacking rings

Other ideas:
Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, and Hi Ho! Cherry-O board games “for learning about taking turns and about winning and losing,” as one mother of now-grown children said.

One of Will’s all-time favorites is a Shure wooden puzzle box, which contains four emergency vehicle puzzles. It was a birthday present from friends, but I found one online here for $14.95. A sure bet if you have a fire-truck-loving, puzzle-doing kid like Will.

An idea from a press release I received this week: Filo Lacing Set by Quercetti (which won a Parents' Choice Award this year). Here’s a description: The Quercetti Filo Lacing Set, for ages four and up, allows children to draw with the included laces to create brightly colored designs, undo them quickly, and then draw something new. A special board holds the laces firmly in place while children push the lace into the self-locking slots. The set includes four brightly colored laces and retails for $19.99 (or $14.99 on Amazon).

Also, here are some Web sites with an assortment of classic, wooden and imagination-inspiring toys:


Hand in Hand: Fair Trade & Natural Children’s Items

The Wooden Wagon

Live and Learn

The Vermont Country Store

Try eBay or a local kids consignment store as a way to buy recycled gifts and get a bargain at the same time. Rob and I also had a great time in the IKEA children’s department in Atlanta last weekend. We got puppets, masks, a little indoor tent and a ceramic tea set. (But don’t tell Will!)

Shop safe:

Finally, if you want to avoid dangerous toys go here for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group report “Trouble in Toyland: The 22nd Annual Survey of Toy Safety.” Jump to page 33 to view examples of potentially dangerous toys.

Now it’s your turn. Any more toys to recommend that your children have loved? Any favorite stores or Web sites for shopping?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

R.I.P. Elderly Balloon

Next time you’re hosting a birthday party for your kid, try this experiment. Buy a pack of 18 or so ordinary balloons. Blow them up, hang them up, give some out to the party guests -- but then don’t throw away the ones that get left behind. Conduct a little experiment in balloon life spans with your birthday boy (or girl). Some will lose their air over the first several days. But others will linger and linger. And linger.

Here’s our last lone balloon from Will’s August 31 birthday (which did get postponed until September 5, thanks to a nasty diarrhea bug).

This little perky pink air vessel was our longest survivor at exactly 9 weeks old. We must have sensed that its demise was imminent because Will and I decided to take a photo of it last night. About one minute after this shot was taken, Will found a way to pop the thing -- and exhibited no regret.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Are we rushing kids?

Here’s a couple education-related items that are interesting to consider side by side:

The first is a YouTube video presentation “Shift Happens,” created by Karl Fisch, technology director at Arapahoe High School in Colorado (scroll down in the blog post to view the video). It looks at how radically our world is being transformed by computers, technology and globalization in general (plenty of eye-opening stats) – with the implication being that teachers of students today can’t even anticipate the problems their students will be facing and the job descriptions they’ll be filling and that their schooling must be focused on making them flexible, critical, creative and technologically literate thinkers.

Then there’s this article by Susan Johnson, a behavioral and developmental pediatrician in Colfax, California. Johnson considers how children’s brains develop and makes the argument that young kids are most effectively building their minds as future readers when they are doing things like jumping, running, engaging in imaginary play, skipping and walking on balance beams than when they are trying to learn to decode words and apply phonics rules before they are developmentally ready to master such skills. (It’s all about developing integration between the left and right hemispheres of the brain through physical movement -- an integration that eventually makes fluent reading possible).

In our rush to educate our kids for a changing and technologically driven world, maybe it makes sense to remember that we are first tactile, physical beings -- and that young, young kids still need playgrounds and free play more than desk-sitting, letters drilling and educational computer games.

What do you think? Are we pushing kids to read, write and use computers at too young of an age? Or do you feel the urgency to have your child practice those nuts and bolts of formal schooling as early as possible?

Monday, November 26, 2007

An id called Ally

It occurred to me today that Ally (of imaginary friend duo Puff and Ally) is sort of like Will’s id. They are both boys exactly the same age, and of late, Ally has become the kid that does the things that Will’s learning not to do – or that he at least knows he shouldn’t do:

Last night, for example, Will shouted out, “Ally just sprayed the wall!” Will, who’d gotten his hands on a spray bottle in the bathroom, showed us a spot on the bathroom wall, where Ally had done the misdeed. It looked dry enough, so maybe it really was just invisible Ally spraying his invisible spray – but it was hard to imagine that Will hadn’t been tempted to do a quick authentic spray himself.

Often there’s no denying that Will’s crossed the line, and as we embark on a conversation about why he needs to avoid repeating action X in the future (“patting” Owen with a bit too much vigor, for example) he’ll try to divert the conversation to Ally, who inevitably has committed a similar and often slightly worse crime. “Yeah, but Ally is always hitting people,” he’ll say, shaking his head in disapproval.

And sometimes Will likes to point out how he has advanced a bit beyond Ally. We’ve been teaching Will to recognize the 5, 6 and 7 on the left hand side of his alarm clock (He’s mastered 5 is an S; 6 looks like a G and he’s working on 7 as an upside down L – and for a week now he’s celebrated the fact that he got up on the 6 or 7 – “Yeah, but we don’t get up at 5,” he says with a smile.) Today when he got up at 7:05, he marched into our room and started discussing the fact that: “Ally keeps getting up at 5. I keep telling him not to but he just eats his oatmeal.”

Poor Ally. He can’t do anything right.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The feast

So the Addingtons decided to make Thanksgiving a little simpler this year. We ate off paper plates and only had 15 dishes to choose from. Count 'em: Deep-fried turkey, ham, chicken stuffing with gravy (a recipe that requires a full dozen eggs), squash casserole, Granny’s famous macaroni and cheese, green beans, creamed corn, creamed potatoes, broccoli slaw, cranberry sauce, cornbread muffins, peanut butter pie, pumpkin pie, cheesecake and brownies.

If you want a sampling of everything on your plate, you have to stick with 2 tablespoons or less of each item – and save dessert for round two.

But perhaps the most sinful offering is the fried turkey, which is about 10 times as moist as traditional bird. It takes 5 gallons of peanut oil to fry a turkey, so you don't want to make it a staple in your diet but we've all managed to survive an annual indulgence. For the past two years, cousin-in-law Bragg (looking slightly glum on the left here) has graciously fried the bird for us. This time he slipped on some spilled grease as he was trying to manage a little pot-fire and nearly overturned the whole pot full of bird and boiling oil on himself. Luckily just a little patch of arm got some minor scalding, but his wife (Rob's cousin Jessica) was plenty shaken by the little dance with death he performed right before her eyes. She swears this will be our last fried turkey EVER. But Bragg’s already shopping for bigger “safer” pots in his mind.

Will inhaled cornbread muffin (see cornbread-stuffed cheeks below), ham, green beans, stuffing and peanut butter pie and left the rest for scavengers like me, who feel obliged to spare good food from trash-can doom. This is a little bit of Thanksgiving morality I picked up long ago from my dad.

Owen, who I think may favor my dad just a bit, already has a big appetite. Here he is anticipating the day when he too can eat real food.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The salivation begins

For the second time in my life I’m actually contributing a tiny something to a Thanksgiving feast. I’ve spent nearly all my Thanksgivings as an adult at Rob’s grandparents’ house in Marietta, Georgia, where this year about 10 of us – if you include nursing Owen, who feasts in his own tangential way – will gather and overfill our bellies. For most of those Thanksgivings Rob’s grandmothers have supplied the entire meal straight from their kitchens. Now that one of those grandmothers is in an assisted living facility, the younger generation has finally started contributing just a bit.

Still spry ol' Granny, who’s in her late 80s now, will cook up much of the meal. She’s one of those fabulous cooks whose magical recipes are all “a little bit of this, a pinch of that, pour in some of this and voila! – DELICIOUSNESS.” To date all of us younger, less seasoned cooks have failed to master her dishes. So she’s still doing her famous green beans, mac ‘n’ cheese, creamed potatoes and stuffing.

My contribution’s puny in comparison: just an old fashioned pumpkin pie and some made-from-scratch cornmeal muffins. But it made for a nice morning at home with the boys, anticipating the feast. I managed to make the pie crust unassisted while Will concocted his own pumpkin pie with puzzle pieces as the chief ingredient.

Together we whipped up the pie filling and the cornbread muffin ingredients and Will enjoyed some quality time with his favorite kitchen tool: a hand-held beater.

“I like to beat,” he said. To avoid mass spillage, we let him do some of the "cooking" in the sink.

As we poured some evaporated milk into our pie filling concoction, he announced: “Cows come from milk.” I thought about it a minute and decided he was partially correct.

After our cooking session, Will decided it would only be right to eat a cornmeal muffin for lunch, so we counted our muffins and our feasters tomorrow and decided we could spare one muffin. I served it up still warm with the requested sides – a piece of deli turkey laid over it like a blanket and some grated Swiss cheese all around.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

NO!!! logic here

If you’ve got a nay-saying tantrumer on your hands, check out this “Argue with me!” article by Jay Heinrichs at It’s an interesting and amusing look at how one dad has molded his once-upon-a-time tantrumers into deft debaters. It gives me hope that we can harness Will’s strong-willed opinionated spirit and help him become a master lawyer or just a generally persuasive speaker in a decade or two or three. I say he’s still a good year away both from grasping logic enough to be able to piece together a compelling argument in the midst of some of his powerful emotions and from letting go of some of his completely bizzare notions about what he’d like to do.

I may start asking for some good arguments when we’re debating a little issue I don’t mind giving in on, but inviting him to use his barely-three-year-old logic on us would probably end in frustration all around in some cases. (Do you really want to tell a sobbing kid who’s just had a bedtime accident and is now insisting that he wants to keep wearing his wet underwear – yes these are the beautiful ones with cars that inspired him to forego his nighttime diaper in the first place -- that he needs to use better logic to persuade you that he should keep them on? In fact, Will’s already doing about as well as he can in the logic department on these rhetorical debates. “They’ll dry out!” he says to me, eyes pleading. The logic’s creeping in – but so much illogic remains.)

Heinrichs -- who points out that, even with each other, many adults choose to avoid arguments rather than embrace them as opportunities for healthy, lively communication -- is working with a 5-year-old daughter and a son somewhere upwards of 7 and teaching them to employ the old Greek rhetorical devices of logos, ethos and pathos in their debates. “To disagree reasonably a child must learn the three basic tools of an argument,” he says. When his kids tell him about a dispute with a peer, instead of the old “Use your words,” advice he’ll say, “See if you can talk him into it.” And he makes a point of letting his kids talk him into things that are reasonable too.

I kind of like the idea of envisioning every butting-of-the-heads with Will as just another teaching moment, one more tiny step on the long, long road of teaching him the art of disagreeing reasonably.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Going native

Today we enjoyed the first performance of Will’s pre-school career. He and about two dozen other 3-year-olds – each of them dressed in sponge-painted beaded white oversized t-shirt garb and feather headbands – sang a rousing rendition of one little two little three little Indians. Will was one of the very last to mount the stage. As I watched for him I began to get a wee bit nervous that stubborn one had refused to join the program. But at last, one kid from the end, there came little Will.
Only, where were his pants? All the other kids had trousers beneath their oversized Indian garb but Will appeared to truly be going native. He had some shoes sure, but no socks, no pants just the upper costume. I started praying silently that there were shorts beneath that T-shirt – and there were. Earlier that morning, in the excitement of playing in another teacher’s classroom, Will had lost sight of his most basic needs and had suffered the second urinary mishap of his school career. So some kind teacher bagged up his entire outfit (shirt, underwear, pants, and socks all managed to get wet) and suited him up in the first pair of shorts they found.

By the time we met him for the Thanksgiving program and subsequent feast, he seemed unfazed by his slip-up. He remembered to sing at least the first two verses of his long-practiced Indian song, just looked around at the crowd for the final verse and then downed some chicken nuggets, mac ‘n’ cheese and an entire frosting-covered turkey cookie that gave him a good enough sugar high that I had to drag him giggling and breathless to the car.
Will and Owen after the show:

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Will as Wendy

Lately Will, who’s never seen an episode of Bob the Builder, has nevertheless had Bob the Builder on his mind. His classmate and buddy Creight, who was a builder for Halloween, has apparently lured Will in for some Bob the Builder fantasy play of late. Over the past week, Will has announced to me several times: “Mom, Creight is Bob the Builder. And I’m Wendy.”

The first time he told me this, I couldn’t help but ask, “Oh. Is Wendy a girl?” (I’ve never seen Bob the Builder either.)

“No. Wendy’s a boy,” Will said.

I kind of like the idea of Will playing out a TV-inspired fantasy with only his own images in his mind. So, next time you see Will, don’t tell him that Wendy looks like this:

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Gratitude schmatitude, my kid's got attitude

Today as I picked Will up from pre-school I couldn’t help but feel a little gush of happiness as I looked at a big T hanging on Will’s stuff-to-be-taken-home clothespin. On it was written “I am Thankful for ‘My mommy and daddy and Owen.' ” Oh, how thankful I was for Will and my family right then even if it was just a simple little preschool project. There were surrounding T’s with kids thankful for food or for a particular toy and plenty of others with family listed too – but I loved that Will had chosen family.

So I said something along the lines of how nice it was that he’d said he was thankful for us – that I was so thankful for him too.

“Yeah,” said Will, his nose squeezed up in a grimace, “but I said, ‘I’m not thankful for ANYTHING.’ ”

And then I knew. Will (who I’m sure is plenty thankful for all of us but is also still his stubborn three-year-old self, often quite determined NOT to play the game exactly as you wish him to play it) probably had to be coached to that perfect little “mommy, daddy, Owen” answer.

It got me thinking that it wouldn’t hurt for Rob and I to be modeling gratitude for him a bit more than we do. Often we’re too tired to thank each other for all the things we’re doing to help each other through the day. I’m not too into begging Will to thank me for every little task I carry out for him. That would feel too artificial – too drilled in to actually mean anything. I thank Will pretty frequently, I think because I never take anything he does for granted since he’s such a little primitive ball of fire (you almost want to thank him when he DOESN’T pee on the wall). But my appreciation for all of the work Rob does to keep our family and our house happy and functioning is more likely to go unarticulated. So I’m going to say some out-loud thank yous a little more often -- and mean them.

Of course, the gratitude that matters most is the kind that values people for who they are rather than for the specific thing they're doing in a particular moment. Here’s some quick thoughts about how to “practice” gratitude (and how it leads you to feel generally happier) from this UC-Berkeley Greater Good Science Center web site – devoted to “the science of raising happy kids." Among other things, they recommend having kids reflect each night before bed on a few things that made that them feel happy that day -- just a little piece of developing the "emotional literacy" that helps make for a happy child. Nothing earth-shattering, but sometimes we need a little kick in the pants on the basic stuff too.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Santa's prep-shop

My mom’s the kind of prepared person who Christmas shops all year long, picking up items she thinks a family member might like as she happens upon them. I wait until December. This week I got inspired to at least start thinking a little earlier when a friend sent me a link to this newsletter by an organization called TRUCE -- Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment. It includes a thumbs-up list of toys that promote creative play and a thumbs-.down list of toys that glorify sex or violence or “make children depend on screens for play.”

On the thumbs-up list is a doctor’s kit, which I discovered this evening after watching Will play doctor on Owen and I today. Inspired by a morning visit to the dentist and a doctor’s trip to get a flu shot yesterday (yes, we bit the bullet and got Will the shot just this year, for Owen’s sake) – Will decided to take our temperatures using a segment of train track. He then punched little holes in our stomach (which he promised to fill back in immediately) with one of the plastic links that hangs from Owen’s floor mat/gym. So I started thinking about a doctor’s kit as a gift from Santa. But when I looked online at the various plastic boxes full of plastic doctor tools I wondered if I really wanted to welcome another twenty plastic toys into our already overpopulated plastic-toy collection.

So I started musing about how to create a doctor’s kit of my own. I know I could convert a lunch box and add things like band-aids, gauze, cotton balls and nail files. And a repurposed plastic hammer for checking the old knee reflex. The sticking point is the essential stethoscope. I even checked out real stethoscopes on e-bay but they’d probably be long enough to trip Will up. So we’ll have to see if we go with ready-made plastic doctor kit, a yet to be determined doctor kit made by Mama but purportedly sent from the North Pole – or perhaps no doctor’s kit at all. (It’s not like Will was complaining about using his train track thermometer, and when you have to make toys and household objects serve multiple functions there’s a lot more envisioning and imagining going on.)

Still I can’t help but want to play Santa a bit. Big jolly red guy has me trapped in his marketing magic as much as the next mom, but I am going to try to keep things modest this year. Beyond the possible doctor's kit I’m thinking puppets and the makings for a homemade puppet stage and maybe a dress-up item or two (courtesy of a thrift shop if I can swing it). I’d like to make a tradition of putting a little more creativity into my gift giving for my kids at least. (Adult relatives can expect the old lousy stand-bys -- a cd, a shirt, a book, a gift certificate when all else fails. They know the drill.)

And when Will sits on Santa’s lap come early December and asks for a nice big plastic monster truck or some such thing, then we’ll have to start deciding whether to indulge his one request or just let him know that even Santa’s out of stock on some things.

See page 8 of the TRUCE newsletter for some ideas for homemade "Shoe Box Gifts" designed to inspire creative play. By the way, TRUCE is affiliated with a larger organization called Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Check out their website for plenty of interesting information about kids and consumerism as we head into the most over-commercialized season of the year.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Coloring beyond the lines

My 90-year-old grandmother, who majored in art at Ohio Wesleyan some 70 years ago, once told me that she never gave a coloring book to my mother and my two aunts. She wanted them to draw from their imagination. (Now one of her daughters is a prolific painter and the other two both make hobbies of arts and crafts).

In general I keep coloring books hidden away in a closet and hand Will blank paper instead. And yes, some people might say, that his little creations like this

are nothing but colorful scribbling. But he’ll tell you differently as he describes sea creatures and identifies their body parts on the paper. In case you can’t decipher Will’s drawing, here’s some of his commentary that I jotted down as he drew: “This is a submarine with a baby fish that you can just bring inside… This is how the big fish is dying. He has to go up out of the water and breathe and when it breathes it has to go back under water and when it goes back under water for a long time it dies and little bugs start eating it.” He also told me that the picture contains a sea animal that is bigger than a whale, can hold its breath under water even longer than a whale and can eat even more than a whale -- until he gets a tummy ache.

Last month as Will and I watercolored birthday cards for Rob while we were at Hunting Island, I took the cowardly not-a-real-artist approach and painted a boring lighthouse scene straight off a throw pillow in the cabin there, while Will created this masterpiece:

There I was, 30 years older, and wishing I could present Will’s card as my own. Next time we sit down to paint I’m going to force myself to draw from my head and see what ghastly creation I come up with as I scribble-paint like an inspired kid again.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Not so harried hairy mama

There is little I love more than a lazy weekend at home. Okay, so it’s never lazy here, but at least we finally attain something like borderline sanity. It’s the simple things (most of which didn’t even seem photo-worthy at the time):

Rob hangs out with both boys on the couch

while I tackle a few loads worth of clean but unfolded laundry. The piles sit in laundry baskets or in the dryer for days sometimes and then when I find the inspiration to finally put it all away, there’s typically a lone-sock epidemic that looks something like this:

The smaller the sock, the greater its tendency to roam solo, I’ve found, so Owen’s tiny feet have added extra chaos to my disorganized laundry-doing. (And no, those two red ones don't make a pair: One is Owen's; one is Will's.) I've actually reserved a special place in one of Owen's drawers for lone socks waiting to be reunited with their mate. It's been a long wait for many of them.

Owen joins me on the bed for some folding, and we play peekaboo with each of the larger articles.

Will and Owen and I have a picnic in our front lawn while we watch Rob, up on a ladder, replacing some rotting trim. We talk to our neighbor and her granddaughters, also enjoying some autumn lawn time, and Will does some hammering and ladder-climbing himself.

Rob and Will play tackle football on the living room floor as they watch Georgia crush Auburn. It’s the longest TV watching Will ever does but it’s at least three times as aerobic as typical playtime.

Rob and Will rake leaves in the front yard and then sit a while in the pile they’ve created.

We take a family walk around the lake at Cooper Creek Park and Will does about a mile of it on foot. We let him set the pace: He and I running in 20- and 30-yard bursts until Will calls “STOP!” and we look back at Rob pushing Owen in the double stroller. “Dad, you’re kind of slow,” Will says each time. “Mama, let’s run again.” And we do.

On the drive back from the park, Will proposes a game of I Spy. He and I take turns spotting the typical colors. Then he decides to let the game evolve. “I spy something bricky. It’s that house!” “I spy something baby. It’s you, little guy (pointing and laughing at Owen). “I spy something hairy. It’s you!” This time he's pointing at me.

Throughout the day, all three of us periodically work on eliciting Owen’s beautiful laughter. Brisk head-rubbing on the belly is a sure-fire technique:

Quiet time ends with a nap one day:

And no nap the next, but miraculously we survive the whole sleepless day cheerfully – a first.
And just before clean-up time (and the launch of bed-time rituals), we agree that Will can sing one last song for us as he and Daddy play guitar. Master-staller sings a seven-minute half-comprehensible ballad about Winnie the Pooh being chased by honey bees, strumming his guitar all the while.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Creativity 101: Don't go to school for it

Today Rob and I had our first parent-teacher conference of Will’s fledgling school career at Wynnton Preschool, where Will has been enjoying himself so completely of late that I’ve nearly been having to drag him from the classroom come pick-up time. Today his teacher (who he loves deeply) gave us the run-down on how Will is doing using a checklist that included everything from letter recognition and articulation to fine- and gross-motor skills. Then she mentioned that lately all of the children in the class have been enjoying pretending that they are dogs. How wonderful, I thought to myself. Will and his 3-year-old peers, without the teacher’s direction but also with her tacit support for their fantasies, have created for themselves a community of dogs. (Last night at home Will decided to be a dog at clean-up time and he worked fairly efficiently as he navigated the house on hands and knees, occasionally picking up objects with his teeth.)

I’m already dreading the day when the teachers start telling Will not to be a dog. And start telling him, instead, precisely what it is he must memorize for the upcoming test. Last night I stumbled upon this talk on creativity (and whether schools kill it) by Sir Ken Robinson – on the recommendation of this creative mom blogger from Maine. It’s a 20-minute listen, but it’s interlaced with plenty of humor, and Robinson makes an important point about the disservice we do to children when we over-compartmentalize knowledge and focus on one side of their brains while neglecting the rest of their minds and bodies -- until finally we’ve sucked all of the creative juices out of them, or labeled them ADHD when their bodies refused to submit to the drill. Take a listen. It’ll make you want to get up and dance.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Night dreams

Will woke up the night before last and wanted a hug from me because he’d had a nightmare about a goat. He blamed the “goat book” he’d been asking to re-read throughout that day for making him have the dream – actually a far from scary little library book called “Seven Loaves of Bread” that happens to include an innocent enough goat as a not very major character.

Last night as bedtime approached nightmares were again on his mind and we had ourselves what seemed like a scene from a postmodern play…

Scene: 15 minutes before we launch our bedtime routine, Will sits playing with the cards from a memory game on the floor as I work on the computer nearby.

Will (looking up at me with his hand covering his ear) whispers: Mommy I hear my dream.

You do?

Yeah, is it time to go to bed?

Almost. Is your dream calling to you? Is it saying,” Come dream me?”

No, it’s coming to dream me.

Is that a good thing?

No, because I don’t like dreams.

Why don’t you think of a fun dream to have?

I don’t have fun dreams. I only have night dreams.

(Here I suggested some fun dream topics, but he didn’t seem interested. Then I couldn’t help but ask:)

What does your dream sound like?

Will does a sort of heavy breathing – 3 deep huffs: "huh, huh, huh.”

That sounds like a .... nice dream. (Mom fumbles for positive interpretation of slighlty spooky ghost-breathing. )

No, it’s a nightmare.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Baby care, 70s style

For my own amusement, I’ve been skimming over the contents of several information sheets my mother-in-law received from her pediatrician in Decatur, Georgia, at Rob’s routine baby and toddler checkups. Circa 1974-1975.

Here’s a sampler:

Back then there was no starving the baby on nothing but mother’s milk for 6 months. No, you’ve got a little diner on your hands and you need to move onto solid foods and juices fast.

At 4-6 weeks: “You may now begin giving your baby cereal and fruit at breakfast and supper. The cereals should be started in this order: Rice, Oats, Barley, Mixed and finally Hi-Protein cereal. It makes no difference in which order you start the fruits. When starting a new food, you should ALWAYS start only one food at a time and continue this same food for four consecutive days. Give 1-2 teaspoons the first day and increase the amount daily until the baby takes as much as he wants.”

At 2 ½ months: “Continue giving cereal and fruit at breakfast and supper. At lunch, start the baby on yellow vegetables first and then the green vegetables. Offer four ounces of juice – mixed half and half with boiled water – one or two times a day after naps.”

At 3 ½ months: Continue cereal and fruit at breakfast and supper. At lunch give either a yellow or green vegetable and start adding the sinlge meats like lamb, beef, liver, chicken etc.

At 5 months: “Breakfast: cereal, fruit, egg yolk. Lunch: mixed meat and vegetables, hi-meat dinners, soups, desserts. Supper: a single meat and 1 or 2 vegetables. Continue offering juice 1-2 times a day.”

Bring on the cow's milk:

At 6-9 months: Begin offering your baby whole milk from a cup or glass.

Breastfeeding, what’s that? (We don’t mention breasts or nursing in these information packets, thank you):

At 9-12 months: "Continue to offer milk out of the cup and STOP the bottle by age 12 months. A baby does not need as much milk now and the intake will automatically decrease if the bottle is stopped somewhere between 9 and 12 months."

From the BAP era (Before Attachment Parenting); when slings were foreign and playpens were P.C.:

“Now is the time to begin putting him in a playpen, before he discovers the thrill of moving about on his own. The playpen will keep him out of things but near you, in or out of doors. The firm floor helps in learning to sit, the bars are good for pulling up and the top railing gives him support for his first steps.”

And here’s a little car safety gem:

“When riding in the car with your baby, restrain him in some manner. Either put him in a car bed placed lengthwise of the car or, if he’s in an infant seat, fasten the seat belt around it. In case of an accident, your baby is probably safer in his car bed or with the seat belt around him, than if you held him in your arms. Don’t just lay him on the seat beside you!”

But best of all, some 70s-era advice on catering to your husband as well as your children. And yes, these information packets are addressed specifically to moms. After all, dads wouldn’t need to know anything about baby care since they are busy being breadwinners and watching sports and lounging in their arm chairs and the like:

“So many girls tend to get all wrapped up with the children that they forget about, or neglect, their husbands. He needs you, too – often more than the child does. He may have had just as hard a day as you. You’re a lot more likely to be taken out that nite (sic on the spelling) if he’s greeted with a warm smile and a kiss rather than a cross word and tears.”

(Ahem. If my pediatrician attempted to lecture me on my duties to my husband, and called me and all mothers “girls” in the process, I might just save the cross words for him.)