Friday, August 31, 2007

Happy Birthday Cake

Sure you get presents and you turn a year older and folks make a general fuss over you, but for Will, it’s the cake that defines a birthday.

This morning as I wrapped my aging boy in a big wake-up cuddle and told him he was 3 years old today he said, “But when is my birthday?”

And I knew that the obvious answer, “today,” was not was he was looking for. He wanted to know at exactly what time he was going to be able to devour his cake.

“Do you mean when will you get to eat your birthday cake?” I asked of the son I know too well.

He nodded, eyes hungry-dreamy with anticipation.

Luckily nasty stomach bug finally decided to make a permanent departure last night so we decided a little icing-free cake consumption would be okay even if it doesn’t fall under the BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) diet recommended for restoring little upset tummies to normal. We’re holding out on the decorated owl cake (which I’m imagining may look nothing like an owl by the time I get my novice hands on the cake decorating kit I’ve borrowed) for the small birthday party with friends that we postponed to next week.

So for our little just-the-family party today, box-mix cupcakes were the order of the day. And partly because Will loves to cook, and also because I was exhausted mom last night, I decided to let Will make his own birthday cupcakes with me. He enjoyed the project, but was talking throughout about when we would be able to eat the cupcakes.

I’m not foolish enough to think I can get away with cooking cupcakes before a toddler’s eyes and then expect him to wait several hours to sample them, so I told him we could split a cupcake and have a little tea party with his stuffed animals and then eat a WHOLE cupcake after dinner as part of our birthday celebration with daddy. One and a half cupcakes in one day is like a dream for sugar-deprived Will.
But Will didn’t want any part in the waiting-while-they-bake portion of the project. He wanted to sample his half-cupcake “NOW” even if it was, as I pointed out, just batter and looked like no cupcake he’d ever eaten before and would taste yucky besides. So for the first five minutes of cupcake baking, Will had his birthday cry.

And then he found peace with the fact that some things have to cook a bit, and we enjoyed a nice day together, filled with puppet shows, sheet-fort-building, play with Baby Suey (Will’s baby doll whose diapering and sleeping needs today coincided with Owen’s exactly), refusals to talk to anyone on the phone who wanted to sing him a birthday song because “I am too busy” (which I believe may be code language for “I’m feeling shy”), an early morning walk to the park that helped revive our sanity after a week cooped up in the sick house, and some indoor tackle football with daddy.

But the real bliss for Will came at the moment when, relatively ambivalent to the still wrapped presents beside him, he got to sink his teeth into his sweet fluffy cupcake – and eat it ALL.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Talking to tantrumers (and spanking debate follow-up)

After things got a bit heated in the response to my blog on “the spanking debate” (See the post from August 24), lactation consultant Jennifer Fletcher sent me an e-mail disclaimer about her stance against paddling and spanking, both in the home and in schools. See an excerpt from her note below. (By the way, Psychologist Julie Rose's letter to the editor on the same subject drew much more heated and more numerous responses. To read that verbal battle go here and click on "We're still doing this?")

In my response to one of the comments on this blog, I had discussed my attempts to both talk to Will after (and sometimes during – although that’s always futile) a tantrum and to encourage Will to say to other kids who push or hit: “Stop. That is not nice.” Jennifer had some good advice about choosing words that are effective when kids are angry or tantruming:

Here are her thoughts:

In reading a little further in your Blog space I noted that you try to encourage Will to use his words by reminding him that hitting is "not nice." Well, here is something to think about. When a child is really angry, he could care less about being "nice." He is angry, frustrated, and purely pissed off. Being told that something is "not nice" may tend to make it just exactly what he most wants to do, because at that moment he isn't feeling very nice at all.
With my boys I used to say, "I bet you're really mad!" or "Boy, that's a mad face!" Sometimes I would have to resort to, "THAT WON'T DO!" (They knew what that phrase meant!) Sometimes I would say nothing at all, just remove them from the situation. And I would never, ever make them say, "I'm sorry" unless they really did feel some contrition. Otherwise the words become entirely meaningless. Just something to think about from one who's been there.....

With each of Will’s tantrums I still struggle to find the right words. I try to offer him a couple explanations for why he can’t have the thing he so desperately wants in that moment (this is usually the problem) but it’s quickly apparent that he has absolutely no interest in logic. Rob and I are learning to respect his need for a good cry here and there. We try to acknowledge his frustration, offer our rationale for not letting him have a cookie for breakfast(as one example), perhaps offer an acceptable alternative (which never interests Will) and then let him know that we won’t keep discussing it since it only seems to be making him madder. Usually if we’re able to leave the room, he calms down faster. Then he’s not confronted by our power, which of course is the root of most tantrums – the desire to have power when you cannot. We do try to choose our battles, let Will make choices and comply with his reasonable requests. But when tantrum boy rears his ugly head, I am always searching for the best way to discuss appropriate behavior after the tantrum simmers down (this is the only time for real talking with Will, and for most toddlers I presume.)

A good while back, I tried Harvey Karp’s recipe (from “The Happiest Toddler On The Block”) for mirroring your toddler’s frustration by getting down on their level and trying to vocalize their frustrations with the same level of rage they seem to be feeling (“Will is mad, mad, mad…. Will wants to…..” hitting fists on floor for emphasis. Then following up with a more soft-spoken explanation of why they can’t have the thing that you totally understand that they want.) It’s a nice enough idea but I couldn’t pull it off. Will was neither comforted nor amused by my primate-like empathy and I felt like a goof and a lousy actress. Anyone else tried that trick?

I’d also really love some ideas about how to talk to your toddler about what to do (and what to think) when another child hits them or pushes them. Anyone have thoughts on that one?

And finally the disclaimer from Jennifer Fletcher regarding comments to that August 24 post: Since she commented on an earlier post regarding co-sleeping safety, she was concerned she might be mistaken for the Jennifer who weighed in in favor of paddling. Jennifer Fletcher says: “I am 100% opposed to corporal punishment in any setting, but most particularly in the schools … So do whatever you need to do to assure your readers that Jennifer Fletcher, RN, IBCLC could never condone violence against our precious little ones.”

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Mother Will

It’s been at least a few weeks since Will let me know that the baby ducklings that had been growing in his pregnant belly had finally made their way out. (That day he checked the scale to see how much weight he’d lost postpartum).
There’s been little talk of his ducklings since then, but today Will, still battling a bit of tummy trouble, decided to play nurturing mother – this time to Winnie the Pooh.
I walk into the living room, Owen in arms, and find Will on the couch, his shirt raised on the left side with Winnie the Pooh suckling comfortably on Will’s unsuckable chest. (He’s got Pooh well positioned, in a textbook “football hold.”)
“Mom, I am nursing Winnie the Pooh,” he says matter-of-factly.
I try to catch the moment on camera, but Will seems to take the view that nursing is not a public event, so he quickly changes mama tasks and starts walking Pooh around the room.
“I’ve got him up on my shoulder in case he needs to get a burp out,” Will says. “Mom, I’m patting him.”
Next Will, who has emptied an entire laundry basket of clean clothes onto our living room floor (yes, I let him do this), finds a waterproof pad and lays it on the carpet for some Winnie diaper changing. He goes to a closet and finds a poster tube, which will serve as the wipe dispenser.
“And I try not to get any poopy on me. Sometimes I do,” says Will, as I wonder if he’s trying to clue me in on the origins of his stomach bug.
He finishes the invisible diaper change and announces, “Mom, it’s stinky in here.”
“Is that because of Winnie the Pooh’s dirty diaper?” I ask.
“Yeah, and I need to get some spray.”
He’s thinking of the Lysol he watched me spray in the bathroom this morning. (I’m not normally a big Lysol user in our own home, but with diarrhea comes extra vigilance and general paranoia.)
So Will gets out a second poster tube and starts spraying our whole living room.
I’m wishing I could find my own tall tube of invisible non-toxic disinfectant and clear the house of all sick germs with a few presses of the finger. And I might add in a little magic ingredient to spray my mama-son back to wellness again.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Big beautiful balding baby-man

I’ve noticed over the past week that Owen’s growing body fits perfectly in my arms now. He’s no longer that fragile infant, slightly awkward to hold. (At 7 weeks, I’m starting to pull out the old 3-6 month outfits already.) He and I are beginning to really talk to each other more. He makes wonderful expressive bird-like word-caws as he works his arms in engaged little circles. And he’s attending to life a bit more each day, staying awake for the first half of a walk around the park and tracking his big brother as he moves around the room.

Will notices it too. “Mom, Owen’s watching me!” he says with excitement. We take a picture to document the fact that Owen is looking at Will – and not just because we’ve set Will in his line of sight.

Will takes the cliché, “they grow up so fast,” and runs with it:

“Mommy, Owen is a big man. He’s not a baby anymore.”

And if you look at the hair line on the back of Owen’s head, you’d almost say it’s true. Admiring Owen’s top-bald head in the mirror yesterday, I remembered this Saturday Night Live “commercial” marketing baby toupees for male infantile baldness . No toupees for us though. We think our balding boy’s quite beautiful.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sick house

Life with two little ones is a rollercoaster ride. Especially when the oldest decides to contract a little stomach bug.

Two scenes from our day to illustrate the point:

Scene one: Stuck at home this morning, I’m wondering and worrying about whether come tomorrow morning I’ll be canceling Will’s little Wednesday birthday party or just madly disinfecting the house, from floor to ceiling, including all the toys in between. Will, oblivious to my thoughts, gets a sudden hankering for a granola bar. Nope, not so gentle on an upset tummy, I tell now sobbing Will in a couple dozen different ways before I recognize he just needs a good ten minute cry with no adult reasoning to interfere. Meanwhile, Owen’s crying inconsolably in my arms. He’s a sensitive little guy who often seems compelled to join in when he hears big brother wailing. And me? Yep, I’m on the verge of tears too. A triple tantrum in the making.

Scene two: Just an hour later, Will is as energetic and jubilant as ever, tummy troubles forgotten for the moment. He’s wearing a backpack with a jump rope attached and speeding on his Nemo scooter around the circle that links our living room to office to kitchen to dining room to living room again. I’m soothing Owen to sleep with the steady fuzz of radio static. Will wants me to play. “Chase us!” Will (also speaking for Ally and Puff) says with a grin. So I pat Owen’s back as I trot behind his big brother. Soon Owen is sleeping peacefully on my bobbing shoulder undisturbed by Will’s happy screams. And I know: This is harmony. It may look crazy, but we’ve found our rhythm again.

Until the next bout of diarrhea that is…

Friday, August 24, 2007

The spanking debate

I was disheartened to read in today’s Ledger-Enquirer, that corporal punishment is still used in Georgia and Alabama schools. Somehow I was thinking by now it was illegal here. You can read Wednesday’s story about a Harris County boy who was suspended (after his parents opted against a spanking or paddling) for throwing grapes in the cafeteria and other misbehavior, along with today’s story, which spells out policies for various school districts around here (all of which allow limited use of corporal punishment) and includes a chorus of comments from readers expressing approval for paddling in schools.

While I’ll be the first to admit that I’m often lost as to how to best discipline our willful Will, Rob and I have made a very deliberate decision not to hit him. On occasion when Will gets in a resistant mode he will start flailing his arms, and hitting at our legs or arms. We remove him from the scene and then talk about hitting. One of the first things I point out is how it hurt me to be hit and how no matter how frustrated we get, mommy and daddy never hit. We use our words.

I’ll admit that we might be able to scare Will out of hitting in the short term if we wailed on him every time he started to hit. But in the long term we would be teaching him a lesson: It’s okay to use physical force when you don’t like someone’s behavior. It would be a lot more difficult to explain to Will a year from now why it’s not okay to hit little brother Owen when he messes up your railroad track or your block tower. I know Will’s going to work through some aggression as a toddler trapped in that primitive state where you aren’t able to do many things for yourself and yet desperately want to assert your independence. But I want to model nonviolent ways of coping with frustration so that as he matures we can build toward a peaceful house. It may require some creative approaches for venting frustration (I have a friend whose father insisted that his sons could only wrestle, not hit each other, when they were angry. So they wrestled through their younger years, then tired of it and just got along like great friends for the rest of their years in the same house.)

A hitting-free household may sound like a pipe-dream for a mom facing life with two testosterone-filled siblings. We’re not there yet, but I like the challenge and I’m hoping with some deliberate, loving discipline we can make it happen.

Check out this website to find out which states have banned corporal punishment (I counted 29 of them) and for statistics about how frequently it is used in states that permit it.

Here are a couple quotes from this American Academy of Pediatrics article entitled “Guidance for Effective Discipline”:

“Spanking models aggressive behavior as a solution to conflict and has been associated with increased aggression in preschool and school children.”

“Although spanking may result in a reaction of shock by the child and cessation of the undesired behavior, repeated spanking may cause agitated, aggressive behavior in the child that may lead to physical altercation between parent and child.”

“Spanking is not more effective as a long-term strategy than other approaches, and reliance on spanking as a discipline approach makes other discipline strategies less effective to use.”

And for some insight on alternatives to punishment, check out this book by Alfie Kohn: "Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason." (It's influenced my parenting, although we still resort to carrots and sticks some of the time.)

What do you think? Is it ever appropriate to spank or paddle a child – and should school administrators be allowed to use corporal punishment as one among many discipline tools?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Farewell, noisy surgeon

Today in his final hour before bidding us farewell and heading back to Berkeley, Uncle Graham performed surgery on Will’s knees. They had both been badly injured, the first when Will fell off a “train” (of chairs) at school and the second when Will fell of his “motorcycle” at home. And the wounds were serious. As Will examined one knee he held up a finger and said, “Look there was a jet ski in my knee!” Soon he found a jet ski in the other knee as well, and Graham decided to become surgeon.

“I think what we’re going to do,” he said to Will, who was lying on the couch in injured patient position, “is take a little piece of your ear to use as cartilage. This ear has a lot of cartilage. See how it moves?” He wiggled Will’s ear. “And sometimes you have to take a little piece of your body and substitute it for another one. And this knee’s not doing so well.”
So Graham injected Novocain into both the knee and the ear and performed cartilage replacement surgery. Then he put invisible casts on both of Will’s legs, making Daffy Duck-like noises as he squeezed the casts on tight.

Will kept insisting the casts were falling off so that Graham would replace them again and again and repeat the silly sound effects.

Will loves his Uncle Graham and his noises.

A bit earlier in the day when I reminded Will that Graham would be flying home to California today, he looked at both of us somberly and said: “Then he can’t make noises.”

“Do you mean you won’t be able to hear his noises?” I asked. Graham’s noise repertoire this week included the sounds of fake flatulence, whale calls (through a cardboard gift wrap tube), loon whistles and other bizarre sound effects.
Will nodded yes, still sad.

“Will you miss his noises?”

“Yes I like his noises. I really like his noises.”

Uncle Graham looked down at Will and said, “I like your noises too.”
Later as Graham and Will smothered each other with kisses for their final goodbye before Will’s nap, I got weepy (as I tend to do whenever I say goodbye to my family after a visit – Colorado and California are both too far away). I situated Will in my lap so he couldn’t see my face, patted my eyes dry and tried to control the little waver in my voice as I read his naptime story.
Because of course in the end I’ll miss Uncle Graham’s noises too.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Eat your vegetables, kid

Here’s a link to my column in today’s Ledger-Enquirer about luring kids to eat their vegetables. Below are some recipes mentioned in the column. Happy healthy eating!

Sunshine soup (my cousin April’s recipe with lots of flexibility, no precise measurements and just a pinch of magic)

April says: ‘Sunshine soup could be any kind of stuff with lots of carrots added in to make it yellowish orange - and nothing added that would turn the orange brown - like greens. I just cook onions in a generous amount of oil or butter (I usually use coconut oil) and then add a whole head of cauliflower cut up small and several cups (maybe three or four?) of sliced carrots, and Herbamare (a salty seasoning), and cover the veggies up with water - you could use broth instead. I put the lid on the pot and cook until everything is soft enough to blend. Then blend the heck out of it. You could even add some grain to make it creamier and thicker and more filling - quinoa or rice or millet would be good - I suppose millet would be the sunniest. I frequently blend any soups that we make because Jasper tends to eat more if it is blended. And then I can also add a bit of raw or lightly cooked greens - kale, romaine or whatever.”

Zucchini brownies: (This was also posted on July 27 and includes notations by my friend Grace about how she altered the recipe – but in case you missed it…)

3 cups all purpose flour

1/4 cup cocoa
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups grated zucchini
1/2 cup butter or margarine
softened 1 3/4 cup sugar (I used less - about 1 1/4 cup)
1 cup vegetable oil (I used less - about 3/4 cup)
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla (I used more - about 1 1/2 tsp)
12 oz chocolate chips (I used less - just enough to cover top)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (I omit since we don't use nuts in our house)

Combine first 4 ingredients in bowl, stir well. Combine zucchini and butter; add to flour mixture. Stir well. Combine sugar, oil, eggs, vanilla; add to mixture. Stir 2 minutes. Pour into greased 15 x 10 inch pan; top with chocolate chips (and nuts if you are using). Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes (I found it took longer to cook). Test center to see if "cake" like. Yield: 32 brownies.

You’ll find more kid-friendly vegetable recipes at this site and at "the"

If you have a vegetable recipe (or any recipe for that matter) that your kids gobble down without complaint, please share. Any favorite kid cookbooks or cooking-with-kids Web sites to recommend?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Big and heavy

Will cooed “I love you” to Owen from morning to evening today – and planted lots of kisses on him too. This after a several-day stretch in which Will was often patting Owen with excessive vigor and doing excited punching dances as he stood near him – none of which was malicious, just reckless and slightly nerve-wracking to watch as a paranoid mother. I was wondering if it was a precursor for worse big brother behavior to come. And I think Will was wondering too.

Unsolicited, he offered a version of this vow both after breakfast and before bed today: “I love Owen. I’m not going to do anything that’s not nice. I’m not going to ever hit or kick. I’m only going to do nice things.”

It’s as if he’s been mulling the possibility of throwing a kick or a hit Owen’s way, but he’s found just enough restraint within that impulsive toddler body to avoid intentionally striking out at the little guy who has in many ways disrupted Will’s life but who has also brought his big brother a lot of happiness and a newfound sense of responsibility and competence.

It’s nice not to be the small man in the house anymore.

And Will feels bigger to both of us. I’ll comment sometimes on how heavy he seems after not having picked him up for a couple weeks both before and after Owen’s birth.

A couple days ago, as I hefted him into his seat for breakfast he asked me: “You know why cause I got so heavy?”

“Why did you get so heavy?”

“Cause I’m a big brother.”

Monday, August 20, 2007

Indiscretion Uncle: Lesson 2

Today Will came home from pre-school with a construction paper-bound book entitled “Manners Matter.” Each page contains a little Buzzy Bee suggestion for how to be a generally nice and well-mannered young kid, accompanied by a coloring page illustration of the concept (which is both filled and surrounded by the colorful and industrious scribbling of Will). The concepts include “Be Kind,” “Be Loving,” and “Be Helpful.”

Then, after his nap, Will got another anti-manners lesson courtesy of Uncle Graham. Let’s just call it “Be Obnoxious.”
Will learned not one but two ways to create the sound of flatulence. Method A with mouth to elbow and Method B with mouth to hands. Luckily Will hasn’t figured out how to match Uncle Graham’s volume (he sounds like a cross between a loud train and a beastly super-gassy dinosaur). So nice to think that soon sweet Owen will be old enough that Will can begin passing this sort of useful knowledge along to him. And I’ll be left to try to maintain my sanity as the only female among a chorus of gassy males.

On the serious side: I like this editorial in today's New York Times contemplating children’s play and children’s toys in light of the recent lead-paint/magnet recalls. Here’s a quote: “Parents are in distress, but there may be an answer that is better than despair and less expensive than a wholesale conversion to an American-made inventory. It requires a leap of faith, a basic trust in our children’s rubbery and hungry minds. Might it not be possible, for a young child, anyway, to fend off her inevitable molding into a loyal consumerist, and to delay the acquisition of acute brand-recognition skills? Maybe she doesn’t need a talking dump trunk or Barbie with the Malibu beach house. Let her flail on a saucepan with a wooden spoon. Give her paper and crayons. Let her play to her own narrative, not Dora the Explorer’s or SpongeBob’s.”

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Indiscretion uncle

This weekend we had our first getaway to Lake Rabun with Owen. We picked up my brother, "Uncle Graham," who survived a red-eye flight from San Francisco, in Atlanta and headed for the mountains.

There we enjoyed a respite from the brutal South Georgia heat, played in the lake, and listened by night to the hum of cicadas and by day to the sounds of Graham and Will discussing everything crude under the sun.
If grandparents are notorious spoilers, I'm beginning to think that uncles may be notorious defilers. Graham, who is 28, admits that he is basically a toddler in size 10 shoes. So just three days into his visit, he and Will have already had plenty of conversations about pooping and nose-picking and the like -- all of them punctuated by laughter. Even among his adult friends Graham has earned the nickname "Indiscretion Buddy."

"Don't say that! Don't show him that!" I find myself saying to devilish Graham, who shoots me a playful grin as he shows Will a digital photo of himself with a quarter stuffed in each nostril, or as he talks to his fascinated nephew about the joy of nose-picking.

Here, he and Will are doing some body painting with Lake Rabun mud. It's part of a "poopy game" they are playing. I'll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that Graham's already planning a well-rounded education for Will, who this week will be learning table manners at preschool ("Manners matter" is the theme for the upcoming week there) and "anti table manners," as Graham has dubbed them, at home.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Monster patrol

Will’s bedime rituals and night-waking problems are so ridiculous and complicated and problematic for us that I’ve been avoiding discussing the issue here for a good while. It’s probably the most obvious place where Rob and I feel like we’ve just mucked things up as parents.

I’m not going to bore you with the whole long story. But here’s evidence that Will’s weird when it comes to bedtime (and that we’re equally weird for complying with his requests):
We went through a little sleep program (courtesy of Marc Weissbluth’s book “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child,”) that involved putting Will back in his bed every time he got up, even when it took dozens of repetitions (130-something was our record on our first night following the plan for treating "Jack-in-the-Box Syndrome"). Finally we resorted to locking the door for five minutes so Will could cry things out for a bit and then he would agree to be put in bed. Will got to the point of asking us to lock his door and then lying on the carpet beside the door so he could peer through the little crack down the hallway and (“see what you are doing”) until he fell asleep. Once we heard the deep breathing of sleep, Rob would gently push the door open, pick Will up and put him in bed. Until he woke up the next time that night.

Finally this week, we’ve made a deal with Will. If he will stay in bed, rather than fall asleep on the carpet, then Rob will stand guard outside the door for 10 minutes. He sits on a chair there, doing crosswords or napping – but so far no monsters, or cows or coyotes have made it past him. And so far Will is sleeping quite well. The guard-the-door trick is an idea borrowed from my dad, who used to sit outside my door guarding me from spiders when I was around Will’s age. Nighttime fearfulness runs in the family, and I remember being greatly comforted by having my dad as nightwatchman in the lighted hallway outside my door.
Now during the day Will’s started doing the same thing for his imaginary friends. He makes a bedroom out of our living room by lining both entrances to the room with cars that serve as the “gates” to the room, and then he parks his little chair beside one gate and reads a book.

“Dad, remember how you sit in the chair when I go to sleep?” he asks Rob. “I’m going to do that for Ally and Puff. I’m gong to make sure any monsters don’t get in.”

Problem is sometimes mom forgets (or chooses to ignore) that the living room is actually Ally and Puff's bedroom. And that gets me and Owen both in trouble.

“Ally and Puff, wake up!” Will shouts when I try to sit on the couch with Owen. “There’s a monster in the room. Go away monsters!” He is pointing at me and his brother too.

Truth is sometimes I do look and feel a little monstrous, after a couple days without a shower and who knows how many nights of broken sleep. But I try, no matter how exhausted I am, to be a friendly monster.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Owen speaks and dances

Today, at his 5-week mark, Owen started talking. For the first time he was looking up and making those sweet vocalizations that will one day become words. I’d forgotten how invigorating it is to round that corner from a baby who only vocalizes frustration (crying, fussing and maybe grunting as he works on a poop) to a baby who starts singing more harmonious coos with eyes that say, hey I’m intrigued, maybe even a little delighted by this world I’m beginning to know.
In fact, Owen’s vocalizations have captured us all along. Often when he is half asleep he lets out little Chewbacca-like grunts and groans that inspired Rob to nickname him Chewie. He also does a little fast asleep sucking or chewing on thin air that makes the name doubly appropriate. (The bad nicknames don’t end there though. Rob and Will also refer to Owen as O-Dawg and O-Brother from time to time.)

I know they’re not supposed to show up until about 6 weeks, but today Will and I were also pretty sure we caught a couple genuine smiles, no gas required. Of course the smiles that delight Will most are still the gassy red-faced ones, when Owen, working to create yet another messy diaper for us to change, gets a look of cross-eyed consternation and an accompanying grimace that actually passes for a sheepish smile. Will watches that worker’s smile and throws his head back and laughs and laughs. And then I smile too.
Here’s a photo from this evening, when Owen was dancing to the Okeelee Blues Band.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pacifier waffling: The suckifier makes its debut

In the midst of a long day juggling Will and Owen – which included stubborn Will acting out when it was time to leave a friend’s house, a few bouts of Owen and Will crying in unison, no overlapping naptime, and general Owen fussiness – I decided yesterday to finally break open the pacifier package that Rob bought before Owen was born. We’d decided we might try the tool after struggling so much with Will and after reading a few books that made me feel like very judicious use of the devices in just the first few months of life could be okay. I’d been putting it off until now, because I’ve generally been able to figure out what’s bothering Owen and find a way to calm him down.
Yesterday, though, we were getting into a pattern of nursing too frequently (and spitting up and having gas because of it) and I knew it was because Owen just wanted some good sucking time. He frequently tries to gnaw on his knuckles but doesn’t have the control yet to find his thumb.
“He just needs to suck,” I told Will, who was following me and crying Owen around. “I think I’m going to try the pacifier.”
Will was immediately excited by the idea. He asked impatiently about when Owen could have his “suckifier” as I set some water boiling to disinfect two straight-from-the-package pacifiers.

I wasn’t sure what Owen would think. I’d waited until much later to try a pacifier with Will, at some moment when I was desperate, and he never took to the thing. This time, following a suggestion from Harvey Karp’s “Happiest Baby on the Block” (in which you employ a little reverse psychology: put the pacifier in the mouth, then gently tug it away, which makes the baby want it all the more) Owen took less than 30 seconds to get quite happy with his suckifier.

I almost hate looking at him with it – he looks so unnatural with a big plastic plug obstructing his mouth. And I was feeling a tad guilty again: Now I’m pacifying son #1 with 15 minutes of TV a day and son #2 with the suckifier. Except with this pacifier there was such peace. I let Owen suck himself to near sleepiness for five minutes, then gently removed it from his mouth and carried him to his bassinet, where I patted him some and he had a nice nap.

I’m swearing to myself, and making Rob join me in the vow, that we’re not going use the suckifier until nothing else works. I don’t want to plug up Owen’s only form of communication and I am beginning to know his cries and his needs. I’m also going to plan to pull the plug on the ol’ suckifier entirely, assuming we do stick with some occasional use of it, by the time Owen hits three or four months. I’d rather not be dealing with the thing all the way into toddlerhood and I’d rather Owen learned to get himself to sleep without it early on.

Today I found that my own well-washed fingers work about as well as the pacifier, so when it’s practical I think I’ll use them first. But I’m tempted by the idea of having a pacifier for some situations – if Owen starts screaming in the stroller on the way home from the park, for example. Still, maybe it’s not worth flirting with a device that could become addictive for both Owen and us. I think there are probably plenty of babies out there who need a pacifier more desperately than Owen, and it may be better to avoid the thing entirely in our case. Or maybe I need to lighten up and let the boy suck??

Some downsides I’ve found on long-term pacifier use: From this Dr. Sears Web site: One study reported in Pediatrics showed that babies who used pacifiers in their first six weeks tended to wean earlier (this one scares me – I’d like to nurse Owen for at least a year, but I also imagine that most pacifier babies get much more time with their “paci” than Owen will). A few studies have reported that babies using pacifiers get more ear infections, probably because sucking hard on a pacifier disturbs the pressure in the ears. This Mayo Clinic site says: “Babies who rely on a pacifier as a way to self-soothe have a higher risk of developing ear infections. Pacifier use is directly related to ear infection problems in babies, especially those between 6 and 12 months of age. However, there's no evidence that thumb sucking increases the risk of ear infection.” ) Karp says not worry about ear infections for babies under four months because young infants can’t suck hard enough to cause much pressure to build up. Really longterm pacifier use can become a dental problem too – if your 4-year-old’s still walking around with binky in mouth, he may develop an overbite.

Of course, for nursing moms it’s also important to avoid pacifiers until babies are well established in breastfeeding – preferably at least four or five weeks old – to avoid “nipple confusion.”

If you’re considering pacifier use, go to this University of Michigan Health System site for tips on when and when not to use it. They advise against using pacifiers to help your child fall asleep, for example. You’re likely to end up losing sleep in the long run as you go pacifier hunting throughout the night.

So we’ve been sucked just a little ways into suckifier land, but we’re not in deep yet. Owen has yet to put mouth to pacifier today. And I, always the wishy-washy mother, am still straddling the fence – to suckify a little only as "needed” or not to suckify at all?
Anyone with thoughts on the matter? You might just bring me some clarity.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Acrobatic songwriting: Spinning, spinning, spinning

This is our weekend morning ritual: Will and I rise and eat breakfast first thing while Rob drinks coffee and strums his guitar. Owen is not one for ritual yet so he may or may not be sleeping. Soon Will joins Rob with his own mini guitar and they play and sing a round of “Going down to Okeelee,” the one and only song of the Okeelee Blues Band, which features Will and his daddy. (The word “Okeelee”is a Will invention.)

Yesterday, a while after breakfast, Will decided to “write” his own song, as he does on occasion. Here’s the scene. Will’s italics, Rob’s regular, I’m the scribe, Owen’s the sleeper:

Excuse me mommy and daddy, I have a new song, but I don’t know how it goes. Ally and Puff know how it goes but they went to the show.*
(This prompts Rob to start asking Will about the last song he “wrote,” one we forgot to write down. They soon remember it together):

Horsey, horsey what can you do?
Pig, pig what can you do?
(There were more animal refrains, but they stop here and get back to the present song.)

This is a spinning song. It goes, ‘spinning, spinning, spinning,’ but I don’t know the rest of it. Ally and Puff know the rest of it but they’re not here…Now they’re back. They’re ringing the doorbell. They might have to sing the spinning song. It just goes ‘spinning, spinning, spinning.’ It’s a booky.

It’s a boogie? A song you can boogie to?

No, a booky.

You mean it’s a bouzouki song?


(And yes, bouzouki is a word. Rob recently acquired a hybrid banjo-bouzouki from the late, great Columbus luthier Mac McCormick, but he and Will just call it a bouzouki to keep things simple.)

Rob goes to get his bouzouki so he can accompany Will. Will becomes conductor. And his “songwriting” becomes much like gymnastics or jazzercise.

Go fast. (Rob complies with a fast-paced tune.) You have to kick while you do it too (kicking one foot in the air.) Then you have to fall (falling to the floor). Then you have to spin balls up like this (picking a small cloth ball and throwing it up with a back spin on it).
First you have to go slow, then in the faster part you sing it loud. In the slower part you don’t sing.

So Rob plays at a mellow pace while Will does more acrobatics.

Now it’s the fast part. (Rob obeys with some speedier pickin’ and Will starts running around with the ball.) You got to play basketball.

Sing it Will. I’m curious how it goes.

Spinning, spinning, spinning. Watch me spin. (Now he’s spinning dangerously close to the fireplace and we’re inserting “Be carefuls”.)

It needs some more lyrics than that. Maybe something about ‘spinning can make you dizzy.’

Spinning, spinning, spinning. I’m dizzy.

I’m afraid you’re going to be like daddy – lyric challenged – where you have a little idea but then you can’t develop it.

(Now will starts spinning in a sort of yoga “cat” position, hands and feet all on the floor as he moves around in a circle. And I am loving this developing three-dimensional song. It’s the kind of whole-body “singing” we should probably do more often with kids.)

*Ally and Puff are two of Will’s three primary imaginary friends. See August 2 Silly Will post for more on them. I need to get myself a couple of invisible friends to pin the blame on when I get writer’s block.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Police those toys

As a follow-up to my plastic toy rant on August 3, I wrote a column for today’s edition of the Ledger-Enquirer that includes more specific information about lead safety concerns in children’s toys. Go here to read the full column.

In it, Patty Davis, a spokesperson for the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, recommends going here and signing up for recall announcements. Since the commission announces about 400 recalls a year, spare yourself an e-mail overload by choosing the categories that concern you (child and infant products is one option).

For information about lead paint in homes and getting your children’s blood lead levels tested go to this EPA site or this CPSC site.

Also, in a comment after that August 3 post about the Mattel toy recall, Kevin, who’s a much more conscientious consumer than me, recommends this Web site for finding made-in-the-USA products. If you’re shopping for kids, they sell mostly Holgate and Maple Landmark wooden toys.

An afterthought: After that August 3 plastic toy tirade, my mom started defending plastic to me. “Everything in moderation,” she says. And she’s probably right. In fact, as much as I favor Will’s little wooden farm man, woman and cow, he tends to spend a lot more time with his other little plastic people and animals. They’re colorful and easy to maneuver and they inspire lots of creative play in him. So most of his toys are plastic, and most of them will be staying, although I still do intend to clean out some of the lesser-loved junk at some point. I'm also feeling inspired to buy a couple wooden toys for Will's birthday, and I’ll be on a more vigilant lookout for recalls from now on.

Friday, August 10, 2007

TV time?

I knew it would happen. We’ve been largely avoiding television with Will since his birth (except for some occasional weekend golf-watching with his dad). Now with a newborn in the house, a two-week break from pre-school, and a Georgia heat wave that’s got us cooped up inside almost all day long, I’m beginning to cave. Just this week, I started letting the poor kid watch 15 minutes of something a day (part of his Spanish-language “Muzzy” video, one of two Winnie the Pooh videos he loves, or the tail end of Sesame Street.) I guess at 15 minutes most moms would consider me a TV Nazi. After all, Will’s nearly a year past that 2-year-old birthday, at which point the American Academy of Pediatrics stops advising against any television-viewing for children.

But I love to watch Will at work in creative play, and when he’s lounging on the couch mesmerized by the television screen I start feeling little twinges of mama guilt. And I found that it was easier to do no television with Will then to work on limiting it.

If Will had his way he’d sit glued to the tube for over an hour. But that’s part of what made me give in: I don’t want to create such a television-starved kid that he thirsts for the stuff like it’s ice-cold lemonade in a long stretch of dessert. Or maybe that’s just an excuse.

In many ways, life with no television was simpler than life with 15 minutes a day. We had to go through a couple tantrums when I turned the television off early this week (I do warn him and wait for the end of a little segment so he’s not jolted out of the story). The past couple days, with some discussions in advance, he’s accepted the limit peacefully. I never suggest he watch TV, but he never fails to ask. And I’ll admit, that little 15-minutr break is nice.

It’s probably just a matter of time before we’re up to 30-minute daily doses (and while that doesn’t seem unreasonable I’m not looking forward to it either). But whatever I do, I want to keep Owen’s eyes off the TV entirely for a couple years if I can.
I know. Good luck, you’re thinking. But it never hurts to set lofty goals.

And studies like the one cited in this article (which was first spotted by Seattle mom April – see her comment on the August 6 post), are just fuel for the fight. (In summary the study of Baby Einstein, Brainy Baby and other videos for infants seems to indicate that video viewing can actually decrease language learning: “Every hour babies spent watching videos, they understood an average of six to eight fewer words than a baby who didn’t watch the programs… Babies who watched the videos scored 17 percent worse on language skills assessments than babies who didn’t.”)

The study doesn’t implicate toddler TV-viewing so much (the impact of the videos on 17- to 24-month-olds was neutral). And there are plenty of experts out there who come down on both sides of the fence when it comes to limited television viewing for older children.

Here’s a quick article by Atlanta mom Caroline Wilbert contemplating just a little TV time with her 2-year-old daughter. She talked with Susan Linn, instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the associate director of the media center at the Judge Baker Children’s Center in Boston and the author of “Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood.” Linn says it’s best to keep the TV off for the older kids too.

Still, if you’re like the 90-something-percent of parents out there who do let their children watch some television, I wouldn’t worry. You’re probably just a more relaxed, less obsessive and generally saner and more practical parent than me. And your kids will thank you for it.

I’m the product of a home with tight TV limits, and although I think that helped make me an avid reader, I’m also something of a pop-culture idiot because of it. So I know there are downsides too. I don’t recommend my own little 15-minute-a-day plan to anyone. I’m just trying to survive and compromise as a new mother of two.

What's your take on television for children?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Fixing the record Barry Bonds broke

Rob likes to get abstract on Will here and there. In fact we both find amusement in trying to explain things that are probably over his head just to see if we can do it and how he’ll take it in. So on Monday Rob, who is only a pseudo-baseball fan, told Will that Barry Bonds was a baseball player who would soon be breaking the all-time record for home-run hitting. He even tried to add in some Hank Aaron history.

Will looked at me with concern and said: “Oh, he’s going to break my record.”

He was thinking of the old-school 45 record-books (including favorites Cinderella and Goldilocks) that his Uncle Graham found for him in a used record shop in California.

We tried to explain that there are records you can see (like his beloved Cinderella record) and records you can’t see. Will knows about home runs from attending Columbus Catfish games and he shoots baskets with surprising accuracy at a mini-basket attached to his bedroom door, so I said it would be sort of like if Will made so many baskets with his basketball that he made more baskets than anyone had ever made before.

Will kept right on with his own line of thinking: “Some day I’m going to drive a big truck and fix that record. I’m going to raise that bucket up and fix it.” (He’s talking bucket trucks here, an obsession for Will that is second only to fire trucks and trash trucks.) “I’m going to use my hammer to fix that record. Then I’ll connect it together.”

Yesterday when Rob announced to Will, that Bonds had indeed broken the record, Will was still determined to protect his beloved 45.

“I’m going to put it way up high so Barry Bonds can’t get it. A bucket raises way up high. ‘Cause he'll break the record.”

I launched into a second fun but futile round of explaining what it means to break those abstract, sporting records. But Will remains a determined repairman, still using the tools and trucks of two days ago: “But I might drive a bucket truck and raise up and then I’d get that big ladder and I’d fix it. I’d put it way up on the roof so he can’t get that record. Then I’m going to fix it with that hammer.”

He was sounding like a broken record. So we surrendered and let him fix it.

Endnote: Rob’s family is full of Braves fans so they probably wouldn’t mind if Will found a way to undo the record-breaking of Barry Bonds. His Nana and Papa were at the April 8, 1974 Braves game when Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Brothers for a month

Today Owen turned one month old. Will thinks that should count as a birthday. We’re celebrating with an unusually peaceful day at home (and a nice visit from a friend who has a new daughter just 15 days older than Owen and an older daughter just one day older than Will).

I’ve been waiting for Will to get resentful of all the time and attention Owen sucks out of us. My former teacher shared a funny story of her older son asking after a few weeks with his new little brother, "It's not much fun. Can we sell him back?" (at which she promptly arranged for her husband to come home so she could play with her older son in the snow). Another mother of two once told me that her oldest son liked to call his newborn sister “yucky baby” for the first few weeks of her life.
But Will’s still hanging in there as the proud big brother of “baby Owen” for now. He smothers him with kisses and likes to lie down beside him and contemplate his face whenever Owen’s hanging out on the bed, in my lap or on a quilt on the floor. When I change Owen’s diaper, Wll stands on a chair beside the changing table and pats his little brother’s chest, “Good job, baby Owen,” he says, “I’m proud of you.”

Will still throws his share of mini-tantrums (there was one this morning when he decided he didn’t ever want to wash his hands after using the potty again – luckily he’s since forgotten that vow). But they’re never directed at Owen. Only once has Will admitted, “Sometimes Owen makes me mad.” But when I probed further he wound up deciding that really it was just that “Sometimes mommy and daddy make me mad.” I think Will may appreciate having at least one member of the household who never tries to tell him what to do.

I know it’s coming. Just wait until little Owen is up and crawling and able to mess with some elaborate play scene Will has created with his toys. But for now I’m enjoying these two little boys who are learning to love each other. Just this week I think I’ve begun to notice a little more interest in Will in Owen’s eyes. And Will is almost always happy to have Owen in his company. He likes to check in on Owen when he’s napping, peering (sometimes quietly and sometimes much too vocally) into his bassinet. And he loves to discover his brother opening his eyes. He shouts with joy in the morning, “Daddy, Owen is awake!! Owen is awake!!”

Postscript: Of course after writing the above draft of this post but before I’d actually gotten around to posting I had these slightly less benign Owen, Will and mama encounters:

First: Will (to Owen in my arms): Roooaaar!!! I’m a lion. I’m going to eat you up. ( He does a refrain of the roar and the threat to me. ) He’s in good spirits, obviously just having fun, but you can’t help but want to psycho-analyze the moment.

Later as I’m unloading laundry from the dryer, I watch Will hold his large paperback copy of “Make Way for Ducklings” over his head as he stands in front of Owen lounging on a reclining mini-mattress in our kitchen. He gets a glimmer in his eye, looks at me and says “I’m going to hit Owen with this book.”
I’m pretty sure it’s his idea of a joke, he’s not really intending harm, just interested in my reaction. But I am there instantly talking about fragile baby Owen. And soon all three of us are reading the book, Owen agitated by it all, me thinking I’ve probably just taught Will a great way to scare me out of housework and into engaging with him. But here we are – and what’s a mom to do?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Talking death at an early age

Will has a deep-seated fear of animals visiting our house – especially when he’s sleeping. So I’m generally wary of introducing anything fearsome into his mind. Yesterday when he asked to read The Story of Babar (originally published in 1933), I skipped right over the part where Babar’s mother is killed by a hunter. (Do they write these kinds of children’s books anymore?)

“Hey, you forgot to say the hunters killed his mother!” Will protested.

“You’re right,” I admitted and retreated to the first page to read about the incident in full.

Then Will launched some of his story-telling with his imaginary friends as main characters: “One time a hunter killed me and Ally and Puff,” he said.

“Do you mean he hurt you?” I’m interested in knowing what he meant by kill, but not so eager to offer up an explanation of killing.

“Yes. And then we woke up.”

“Oh…” I’m relieved that he’s come up with this impermanent sense of death for now. And who knows -- maybe that is how it works.

Our first encounter with hunters and killing was much more real – and yet obviously still puzzling to Will. While we were visiting friends who live on a large swatch of property in rural South Georgia, one of their friends came over for an evening round of wild hog hunting. He came back to the house with a dead boar strapped to the back of a four wheeler, and Will wound up viewing – and even touching -- the hog’s body up close. He talked occasionally over the next couple weeks about how that big pig never moved.

I’m still fumbling for the explanations of death and killing that would be appropriate for a boy Will’s age. For now, when I spot a flattened tree frog or squirrel in the road, I try to point the stroller, and Will’s eyes, away. Sure it could be a good illustration of why we “Look both ways before we cross the street.” But I’d rather stall on the gruesome stuff a little longer.

Hospice Net offers lots of insights about discussing death with children at this site (including how children tend to view death at various stages of development and whether it’s wise to bring children to funerals – obviously not the dilemma I’m facing with a simple reading of Babar). Here’s a quote that jives with Will’s story of being killed and then waking up: “Studies show that children go through a series of stages in their understanding of death. For example, preschool children usually see death as reversible, temporary, and impersonal. Watching cartoon characters on television miraculously rise up whole again after having been crushed or blown apart tends to reinforce this notion.”

Any ideas or stories about navigating discussions of death with kids?

Monday, August 6, 2007

Baby talk: What makes the words boom?

Here’s the news on baby talk: There’s a lot less magic involved in how children master language than you might think. As described in this article, researchers have recognized for quite a while that the word acquisition of the average baby and toddler follows a pattern something like this: Sometime before the first birthday baby produces that first word – “dada” perhaps. A month or so later comes a second word. And then up to age 14 months words pop out here and there. (Remember when you were still able to keep track of your little toddler’s new words in her baby book?) Then there’s an acceleration of words and after your tiny talker is saying about 50 words – BAM, a language explosion hits, sometime around 18 months. (By the way, these are all averages so if you’ve got a stubbornly quiet 2-year-old, don’t worry. You might even have a genius on your hands. Many sources report that Albert Einstein didn’t start talking until 3 and was still speaking hesitantly at age 9. So what’s coming out of the mouth is not necessarily an indicator of what’s inside the noggin.)

Scientists used to hypothesize that there might be some special brain mechanism that triggered the word spurt. Not so, says University of Iowa psychology professor Bob McMurray. He argues that the language boom is just the result of a lot of quiet, under-the-radar work your toddler has been doing to learn word meanings ever since he was a baby. (He’s basing his theory on some fancy computer modeling that seems to help us realize what should have been obvious all along: Kids are learning all the time but not all of that learning is immediately evident to us as observers – and listeners.)

The implication for parents: Talk and read as much as possible with your little ones (no Baby Einstein videos necessary) starting from a very early age. And go ahead and put your adult vocabulary (minus the profanity) to practice with your kids. As McMurray says: “Children are soaking up everything. You might use ‘serendipity’ to a child. It will take that child maybe hundreds of exposures, or thousands, to learn what ‘serendipity’ means. So why not start early?”

Although I assume 3-week-old Owen isn’t really working on word comprehension much at this point, he and I both seem to enjoy our days together more when I talk about what I’m doing. There’s at least a connection through the sound of my voice. And it makes some of the chores of newborn-raising and general housekeeping feel less like monotony to me.

For Will, who has hit the “why?” phase and become an incessant questioner about all details of life, long-winded, happy-to-explain answers are the best medicine. And when he wants it, which is most of the time, we repeat those answers and elaborate on them for as long as he remains curious --or until we’re able to steer him toward yet another topic. I’m learning from him what it means to love learning, all over again.

Any insights on the langauge learning or the general jabbering of your own children? Or stories from your own childhood?

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Newborn in the great outdoors

When Rob suggested that the boys and I accompany him on a trip up to Callaway Gardens, where he would attend a talk at a forestry conference for an hour and a half and then meet up with us for an outing on Robin Lake beach, the idea sounded daunting. Juggle a nursing newborn and a strong-willed toddler in a public gardens in Georgia’s oppressive August heat, and with no secondary adult help for nearly two hours? But it sounded better than another day at home. Sometimes I get a little stir crazy.

I’ll admit that in the early part of the morning when I was in the midst of nursing Owen, and Will announced that he needed to poop, I began to regret our plan. (Half-hungry, crying Owen gets forced into the front pack while I hold Will up on a too-tall toilet in the handicap stall of a public restroom.)

But then we settled into things: Owen sleepy in the front pack while Will and I wandered through the backyard wildlife habitat demonstration garden and across a bridge over the lake, finding things on a nature bingo sheet: a blue dragonfly, some fish in a tiny stream, turtles, ducks, spider webs, bird feeders, and yellow and pink flowers (black-eyed Susans and some showy exotic I couldn’t name). We couldn’t shout BINGO! until we saw some crows by the road after picking Rob up from his stint at the conference.

Then I enjoyed the most relaxing two hours I've spent since we became a family of four. Owen and I sat together under the generous shade of a tree, he asleep in his car seat, with a light breeze sweeping up from the lake. I read and wrote and nursed Owen once, looking down now and then at Will and Rob wading in the water, digging in the sand – even walking across the beach toward a cove in the lake for a little father-and-son paddleboat adventure. We even managed a whole-family abbreviated game of miniature golf, while Owen dozed more in the front pack.

So good for us all to get outside. I’ve noticed that Owen craves it. When he’s fussy indoors I can step outside and the crying comes to a halt. Maybe newborns were happier in humanity’s more primitive days, before we started cooping them up in houses for the first weeks of their life.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Recalling all toys

By now you’ve probably heard about Mattel’s recall of nearly 1 million Chinese-made toys – including plastic Big Bird, Elmo, Dora and Diego characters -- because their paint contains excessive amounts of lead. (Go to for the full story and to for a list of recalled toys.)

We don’t own any of the affected toys, but the news has almost inspired me to do my own mammoth recall of all the cheap plastic toys in our home. I don’t know how we’ve managed to accumulate so much junk: plastic party favors, plastic miniature animals and people, plastic cars and plastic trucks, plastic scooters, plastic Legos and plastic balls. My favorite toys are wooden, but they are sadly outnumbered by the ugly stuff in our house.

Here’s photo evidence from today: Will and a friend play with a large plastic scooter and plastic push toy as they hover over a jungle of little plastic toys they emptied out of a bin and played with earlier. Our house is small and our living room doubles as play room. Until clean-up time arrives each night, we tend to live in this kind of chaos.

Last year, as I read “You are Your Child’s First Teacher,” by Rahima Baldwin Dancy, a book that lays out the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, who founded the first Waldorf school, I found the idea of giving children only crude wooden toys – dolls whose faces left much to the imagination, rather than highly detailed anatomically correct Barbies for example – enticing. But Will’s play world was already littered with so much plastic that I never did anything about it. (We do have a loosely enforced ban in our house on all things battery-operated, flashing and otherwise extraordinarily obnoxious.)

Today though, as Will took the plastic orange head off one of his plastic golf clubs (from a set which cost something like $5 at Wal-Mart, I’m ashamed to admit), stuck it in his mouth and pretended it was a harmonica, I got a little nervous. I thought, that’s got to be a made-in-China toy, produced by some unknown manufacturer that may be a lot less likely to issue a well publicized toy recall than toy giant Mattel. Will handed the spit-covered orange “harmonica” to me so I could have a turn making music, and sure enough there were the three words: “Made in China.” With 80 percent of all toys made in China, that was no surprise.

Time to go outside and start carving wooden dolls and boats out of fallen tree limbs.

Still, while I like to dream romantically about a plastic-free house, if you come visit me anytime soon you’ll probably notice that I haven’t found the will power to toss 75 percent of Will’s toys (there’s probably that much plastic in our toy chest) to the curb. Just imagine the tears. Slowly and sneakily though, I may start withdrawing at least a few of them here and there.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Silly Will: Episode II

“Mom where does a wedding ring go?” Will asks, as he holds up a ring (a birthday party favor) with a giant plastic blue rhinestone at the center.

I help him put the ring on his left ring finger. “Are you getting married?”


“Who are you marrying?”

“I’m going to marry Puff.” (This is one of three imaginary friends Will often plays with and tells stories about: Puff, Alley and Tit. They’re all boys – no imaginary animals in this crew -- although Puff’s name was inspired by our singing Puff the Magic Dragon together at the piano.)

“Can we get my wedding clothes?” he asks. “I’m going to wear a black wedding shirt.”
He finds a black shirt with a brilliant turquoise floral imprint in my closet and puts it on. Then he announces he needs shoes, so I tell him he can select a pair of mine if he likes. He picks some turquoise flip-flops that happen to match the shirt quite nicely.

“I look like a girl,” he says. “Puff looks like a girl too.”

Turns out Alley and Tit will be getting married soon too – “a couple days before my birthday,” explains Will, who turns three on August 31.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Co-sleeping safety: Take two

As a follow up to any paranoia I may have stirred up (mostly in myself probably) in regards to co-sleeping after Sunday’s post about the infant suffocation deaths in Detroit:
Jennifer Fletcher, a registered nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant for One Baby Place at Doctors Hospital wrote this in an e-mail:

I am glad you are tackling this topic. Of course, we know there is unsafe co-sleeping, and there is 100% SAFE co-sleeping. You may already be familiar with the work of Dr. James McKenna, but if not, please, please get to know this fellow. He runs an infant sleep lab at Notre Dame University, and he is, in my opinion, the absolute final authority on safe co-sleeping. The fact that the tragic deaths you heard about on NPR occurred in the Detroit area raised a red flag for me. Perhaps entirely erroneously, I think of Detroit as a kind of gritty urban area---lots of poverty, lots of unsafe or sub-standard housing, lots of large families where toddlers and pre-schoolers perhaps share beds with infants. Again, this may be an entirely unfair stereotype, but I would want to know a great deal more about the circumstances of these deaths before I would be willing to alter my opinions about the benefits of co-sleeping.

Also Lindsay C., mother of 11-month-old Cannon, offers up her experiences co-sleeping plus some good websites with info on how to co-sleep safely including this one: See her comment on the July 30 post.

For an in-depth review of research related to co-sleeping, SIDS and other fatal sleep-related accidents (with McKenna as co-author), go to The review is boldly entitled: “Why babies should never sleep alone: A review of the co-sleeping controversy in relation to SIDS, bedsharing and breast feeding.” Here by “alone,” McKenna means in another room. He suggests that bottle-fed infants should not sleep in the same bed as their mothers (see his quote in this July 25 article that ran in the Ledger-Enquirer:, that nursing infants are safe sleeping with mothers who take certain precautions, and that all babies are safer at least sleeping in the same room as their parents.

Among the findings cited and arguments made:

“After all, mother-infant co-sleeping represents the most biologically appropriate sleeping arrangement for humans and is both ancient and ubiquitous simply because breastfeeding is not possible, nor as easily managed, without it. The increased sensory contact and proximity between the mother and infant induces potentially beneficial behavioural and physiological changes in the infant.”

“Three major epidemiological studies have shown that when a committed caregiver, usually the mother, sleeps in the same room but not in the same bed with their infant the chance of the infant dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is reduced by 50%.”

“… the overwhelming number of suspected accidental overlays or fatal accidents occur not within breast feeding-bedsharing communities but in urban poverty, where multiple independent SIDS risk ‘factors’ converge and bottle feeding rather than breast feeding predominates.”

And while we’re on the subject of SIDS, there’s been interesting news on that front in the past week too. Researchers in Seattle say that hearing tests given to 62 infants in Delaware show a unique pattern of partial hearing loss among those babies who later died of SIDS. If hearing loss can be established as a definite indicator of SIDS it could mean a major breakthrough in preventing the syndrome among infants at risk. Go to,1,2214491.story?track=rss for the full story, which ran July 28 in the Los Angeles Times.