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.