Thursday, May 29, 2008

The baby can clean

Somehow I keep omitting Owen milestones on the blog as they come and go. He started crawling on hands and knees a few weeks back, for instance, and it was a Friday and I just never got around to documenting his leap from snaking around the house to powering along on all fours. He was, after all, nearly 10 months old – about two and a half months behind Will on this mark (which I attribute partly to the fact that he sleeps so much more than Will that he has less time for learning new skills, partly to the fact that he is generally more content with life as it is and so was less eager to move away from wherever I plopped him down, and perhaps partly to the fact that as second child he suffers from more parental neglect and received less come-on-and-crawl-to-me cheerleading than Will did).

In any case, sometimes it’s the smaller milestones – the ones we make up together and that you can’t look up in a book -- that get me more excited anyway. Yesterday, for instance, Owen learned to clean up. (This was partly because, with Rob away for the night, it was the first time in a while that I’d really invited Owen to join Will and I for our nightly clean-up ritual.) Owen took great joy in throwing blocks or puzzles or small plastic animals back in their respective bins while Will and I cheered him on. And it was an infectious joy – I haven’t enjoyed cleanup time that much in months. Will, meanwhile, did some of his most industrious cleaning ever.

It is so useful having a little one for Will to “teach” and model for. In his quest to be a big boy and show his little brother how it’s done, Will more and more frequently falls into compliance with my parental desires without my even having to ask. (Makes me think back to this June 2007 story about elder brothers having higher IQs -- with researchers hypothesizing that this was due in part to the learning elder siblings do as they tutor, model for, and act as surrogate parent to their younger siblings.) Maybe, in the interest of general household cleanliness as well as Owen’s IQ, I ought to rent a younger sibling for Owen once he’s a bit older so that he can act as tutor/model/surrogate parent too. Or maybe a puppy would do?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

No boo-boo drugs for me

So I admit it: I regularly kiss Will’s boo-boos to make the pain go away even though I know it really just feels good to him to get some love and attention after a spill or a crash. I’ll even put band-aids on sore spots without a hint of blood if Will insists that he’d like a band-aid. But I always tell him, you don’t really need a band-aid if there’s no bleeding and it won’t really stop the pain, but you can have one if you just really want one. To avoid band-aid waste I try to talk him out of it first. One day, after I couldn’t entice him to take it off, he even wore a band-aid smack in the middle of his forehead to school after a mild bump on his head the night before. He looked like he’d suffered some horrendous head injury.

But I would never buy Will this. It’s Obecalp, a placebo “owie” drug for those times when a kiss doesn’t quite make it feel better. (Promise me you won’t follow the link and buy the stuff). I heard about this one yesterday in an NPR commentary, in which family physician Douglas Kamerow pointed out that Obecalp – that’s placebo spelled backwards in case you wanted another reason to groan -- teaches kids that it’s OK to lie and that medication is the first place to turn if you have even the most minor physical ailment. Not to mention the fact that this mommy inventor is profiting off of her sham of a medicine.

Do you have any tricks – honest or dubious – for comforting wounded kids?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Blaming ceiling fans

Yesterday, Will rocked our living room rocking chair right to the floor. After a crash and a scream, I came running to find the rocker tipped over and Will spilled onto the floor, holding his head. As I asked Will what had happened – had he stood up in the chair, had he rocked so vigorously that the chair had flipped over? – he denied all likely scenarios, insisting instead that he had been rocking “very slowly” and the ceiling fan had blown the chair over.

Finally I stopped trying to suggest his “truth” wasn’t plausible and we talked together about how in the future he would be less likely to fall out of the chair if he didn’t rock too fast and never stood up in the chair – all lessons he accepted willingly as long as I wasn’t trying to assert that he’d committed one of these blunders in this instance.

Then today, when I asked Will not to climb into our two-compartment laundry hamper (I’m afraid the thing’s going to bust at the seams when he squeezes into one side), he looked at me with a grin from his cozy hamper nest and said, “I didn’t climb in. This shirt pulled me in.”

It’s hard not to smile at his inventive little lies. We try to model honesty for Will by always telling him the truth ourselves and by not punishing him for his transgressions when he admits to them. But he is quite frequently emitting bald-faced lies, many of them fun and fantastical, and a few of them aimed at denying devilish or stupid behaviors. This is, of course, where he’s at developmentally, so I don’t hammer him with long lectures about honesty but I do find myself wondering just how to respond when he starts blaming ceiling fans and dirty laundry and imaginary friends.

Here are a few tips on teaching honesty (bearing in mind that many experts agree that kids don’t understand the difference between truth and lies until at least 4 or 5).

When did your kids start sticking to the truth -- or are you still with us in fantasty land?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Kid talk

Yesterday I had the opportunity to eavesdrop -- and occasionally participate -- on a 40-minute-long conversation between a 3-and-a-half-year-old and a five-year-old. As I drove Will and his friend Simon up to a pirate birthday party in Harris County, I realized what fun it is to listen to kids talk to each other – their ideas bouncing strangely off one another as both are so eager to share their own stories. Will and Simon discussed whether an airplane Will spotted was really a spaceship, whether people kill trees by shooting them or cutting them down with swords (or using chainsaws as I proposed) and what sort of pirate treasure would make Simon's younger brother, Alex, feel better since he couldn't go to the party. While Will shared stories about his playground play at school (delivered with wholehearted enthusiasm and tolerated by an obviously not-so-impressed Simon), Simon shared stories of killing aliens every night, digging for pirate treasure in his sofa and shooting bad pirates. Often Simon would ask Will after making a statement, “Is that funny?” And Will would invariably laugh and say, “Yeah, that’s funny.” Occasionally when Will was in the midst of a long obscure tale that I thought Simon probably wasn’t understanding, I’d start to ask Will a clarifying question so Simon would know what he was talking about. Will would brush me off with a quick, “Mom, I’m talking to Simon!” So I learned to be quiet and enjoy the soundtrack of two boys talking it up.

(By the way our pirate party hostess, Shannon, had plenty of clever ideas if you’re thinking of hosting a pirate party any time soon. She printed maps, with individualized directions to help each child find a treasure hidden in various locations on a hillside.
The loot included cross-skull flags; hand-painted foam swords adorned with plastic jewels; and animal cracker boxes painted like treasure chests, each containing a bag full of play gold coins among other goodies, . And there was a pirate-themed cake and piñata too. Will has been playing with his pirate paraphernalia and periodically shouting “Argh!” ever since.)
Here's Captain Cavan, newly 3:

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Raising tomato-kids

Here’s an article for those of you who are trying to raise children without spankings and time-outs – relying instead on compassion, patience, questioning, natural consequences and the theory that little people are designed to unleash stormy emotions and make mistakes (and be allowed to learn from them). Writing for, Erin Liles compares raising kids naturally (and without lots of external controls imposed by parents) to raising home-grown organic tomatoes. It may be stuff you already know, but if you’re in the throes of deciding how to manage your strong-willed children (and really, aren’t most young children strong-willed at least some of the time?), it’s a nice, reassuring read.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Preschool pedicures

Yesterday, in the middle of a painting and coloring session Will decided he wanted to paint his nails with marker because “some people do that at school” (meaning some people -- we'll assume they're girls -- come to school with painted nails). Perhaps if I weren’t such a slacker when it comes to toenail aesthetics, nail-painting, would seem more mundane to Will, but he’s never seen me in painted nails so I’m sure it adds to the intrigue.

I started to protest his nail coloring plan, and I did point out (in a purely informational tone, not a ridiculing one) that typically women and girls paint their nails. But Will was eager to take on the project and I thought, well the markers are washable – what’s the harm in it? So he painted every one of his fingernails and toenails red. I didn’t want him to get the marker in his mouth, so we washed the hands almost immediately -- but only after I agreed to take this photo so he could show his dad what he’d done. I told Will he could keep the toenails painted if he’d wear his easily washable crocs for our walk to the park. Of course as soon as he started swinging he kicked off his crocs, leaving some rather feminine looking toenails on display for all park-goers to see. Rob was more than happy to wash that nail job off in the bath.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Library picks

On our last trip to the library, Will picked up this book, which I am by no means recommending to you.

“Mom, this is so cool!” he said about 15 times in a row in what was most certainly NOT a library voice. "Look at all these bad boys."

I wasn’t too keen on the book, which features lots of knights wielding axes and lances and the “LEGO” brand named stamped across the cover, but Will's desire to get the book was way too intense to veto. It’s a good reminder to me that my idea of a quality book doesn’t necessarily matter all that much. Will studied this book many times independently and he asked about words as we read so that by the end of the story he had learned about chasms and lances -- and shudders and gulps – and found great satisfaction in reading the book repeatedly with Rob and me.

So I let Will pick a few things that tempt him when we go to the library. But he tends to want every book he touches – even though he doesn’t necessarily enjoy them all that much once we’re home. So I try to do a good bit of the book-finding myself. Now that I’ve exhausted the Caldecott shelf at the library, I’m starting to keep a library list – this is my equivalent of a shopping list for the library. As I hear about books I’d like to read with Will, or find recommendations in an article or on a blog, I’ll jot them down, and look up the titles on the library’s online catalog to see what’s available there before we go. Then while Will browses through books, I can go straight to a few titles I think we’re likely to enjoy.

On a recent trip, I picked up five titles recommended in an article entitled “The Unheralded Classics” in the March issue of Cookie Magazine – which featured “The 33 Best Children’s Books You’re Probably Not Reading Yet.”
Here are two (billed as books for 4- to 6-year-olds) that we especially loved:

"The Gruffalo" by Julia Donaldson Will thinks this story of a clever mouse and his invented Gruffalo (that just happens to be real) is really funny. We’ve read it again and again.

"Amos and Boris" by William Steig I love this story of life-saving friendship between a whale and a mouse – and Will does too.

How do you choose books at the library? Any recent favorites for my library list?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Boys' trip

This weekend Rob and Will and Papa (Rob’s dad) went camping at FDR State Park. I love to camp, but this time I was glad to hold down the home fort, spend some quality time with just Owen (and some quality time with just myself when Owen was napping). We’re all thinking of making this boy’s trip an annual tradition. And I’ll get my camping fix in the fall.

I asked Will to describe the highlights of the trip for the blog. These are the moments he chose.

1) “That tree that was blocking the bridge.” (Will and Papa took a tiny hike and came to a bridge obstructed by a fallen tree. Will remains fascinated by the scene.)

2) “Burning up the fire” (this would be the campfire, into which Will enjoyed throwing sticks and over which they roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. And as you can see, Will can get pretty excited about a marshmallow.).
3) “When Daddy jumped to get wood for the fire.” (Rob jumped up so that he could pull a dead branch off a tree since fire wood pickings were slim. Will loves to jump as high as he can -- and to see his dad jumping high, and grabbing trees no less, was especially thrilling).

What about going fishing, I asked? (They’d rented a little boat at Callaway for some fishing – and did some shore fishing at the lake near their campsite too.)

4) “Yeah. Casting off. I was very good at that.” (And a good thing. Because Will was very bad at casting the line out when he first practiced in our front yard with his new kid’s fishing pole Saturday morning. He kept sending the line and hook straight behind him. Rob, Papa, Owen and I were all ducking, dodging and praying.

Footnote: Will didn’t even mention catching this fish as a trip highlight – perhaps because by the time they reeled the fish into the boat, Will was a little frightened of the thrashing fish-out-of-water. They were just fishing for sport, though, so the slightly tortured fish was soon back at home in the lake.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Return of the imaginary troublemaker

This week Will’s been pulling his ancient “Ally did it!” trick out of the bag. It was way back in November when I last recorded Will’s habit of blaming his imaginary friend Ally for evil deeds. Ally shaped up for a long while, but apparently his mischievous instincts have returned.

Yesterday I caught Will in the act of spitting on the top of Owen’s head, while Owen sat playing with blocks, oblivious to Will’s antics. I could see the light of intrigue in Will’s eyes, and I’m pretty sure I could read his thoughts: “I wonder if I can make this spit land right there in the middle of Owen’s head. I wonder how Owen will react? Bulls eye!”

I instinctively admonished Will immediately -- I don't remember my words but I was letting Will know how inapprorpriate it is to spit on another person and asking him how he'd feel if another person spit on him. And Will, knowing full well that I’d seen him, shouted in protest, “I didn’t do it! Ally spit on Owen.”

He’d pulled the same stunt on Rob, just a couple days before, then got more insistent about Ally being the culprit when Rob said: “Will, I saw you do it.” (I can’t even remember what the transgression was that time but Will got all worked up, protesting his innocence, shouting that Ally had done it and on and on.)

So this time -- since I was fresh off a new chapter in the “Ten Greatest Gifts” book, currently in a section where Steven Vannoy talks about guiding kids through questions not admonishments -- I decided to change course and play along with Will.

“How do you think we can help Ally learn that it’s not okay to spit on Owen?” I asked him.

Will thought about it and decided we should tell him together. First, though, Ally had to go the bathroom, then Ally had to wash his hands. And then, when Will decided Ally was ready, we went over to a little patch of thin air together and told “Ally” that it’s important to be kind to Owen and that we don’t spit on people in our family.

Will did most of the talking. “Spitting is yucky,” he told Ally.

And we’ll see how it goes from here on out, but as of yet neither Ally nor Will has spat upon the nearly hairless head of Owen again.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

No more pins

Finally, after three and three-quarter years, I have arrived at a good cloth diapering system that’s fairly easy and affordable. On a tip from a wise comment-leaver (thanks Rachelle, wherever you are), I bought a few Bummis Super Whisper Wrap cloth diaper covers. This was right when I was about to abandon cloth because I was afraid of sticking diaper pins in Owen, who remains as squirmy and flippity-floppity as ever during diaper changes. Now I can use my standard Chinese pre-folds with these Velcro covers that can be reused multiple times before washing (and then washed with the cloth diapers). Just fold the diaper up, slip it into a little pocket on the front of the diaper cover and wrap the boy up in it. Now that he’s mobile it’s actually almost easier to get on him than the disposables for me. Four or five diaper covers is plenty for my stock of two dozen cloth diapers. I do diaper laundry (actually a very simple affair) every five days or so, use disposables at nighttime and occasionally for outings and wonder why I ever bothered with pins.

I bought a size too big so Owen could continue wearing the diaper covers for a good long while, so his 10-month-old waist is now bulked up enough for 18-month pants, but he doesn’t seem to mind.

(Rob and I had tried some of the deluxe all-in-one pocket diapers -- Fuzzi Bunz was the brand – after a friend passed on the couple of pairs that hadn’t disappeared when she moved to a new house. At first they seemed miraculous. “Man, we’ve been living in the dark ages,” Rob said when he first snapped one of the fleece-lined fuzzi-buns on Owen. But since the covers and inserts work as a package and can only be used once, you’d either have to spend a small fortune buying plenty of the things (they cost around $18 a pop on websites I checked) or do laundry every other day and perhaps cancel out some of the environmental benefits of using cloth. I'll admit, though, that the fleece interior and the tight-fit make them look like a luxury diaper next to Owen's current get-up -- and they'd be a better nighttime option. So if you're just investing in cloth diapers and imagine you'll be using them with at least a couple kids, they might well be worth the investment.)

But if you know of anyone wondering how to go cloth on a budget, the whisper wraps make for a nice compromise (especially for older babies who aren’t having poop explosions several times a day). If you want to know how I clean the things or other logistics, just ask and I’ll share all the dirty details.

(You can buy Bummis Super Whisper Wrap covers here and shipping’s free – I sound like a commercial, but I've got no ties to the company. For Chinese pre-fold diapers, try searching e-bay – that way you can save money and buy recycled. The things never wear out.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A few of our favorite things

After reading my Mother’s Day column in Sunday’s Ledger-Enquirer, one of the teachers at Will’s school gave me a book that I’ve been enjoying so far: “The 10 Greatest Gifts I Give My Children: Parenting from the Heart.” The author, Steven Vannoy, talks about the importance of maintaining “forward focus” with kids – always thinking about what’s going right for them rather than constantly nagging them and pointing out what they’re doing wrong or what they shouldn’t be doing. Of course, it’s not exactly a revolutionary idea to ask “What’s the best thing that happened to you today,” as Vannoy suggests, but since I’d just read the suggestion I decided I’d try it on Rob and Will at dinner tonight.

“What was the best thing about your day?” I asked Rob first.
He looked at me quizzically, then told about his most memorable moment of the day when he stepped on a fire ant hill out in the woods on Fort Benning and had to strip down to his boxers as he tried to swat more than a dozen biting ants off off himself. That was the best thing that happened to you? I asked. “It’s all a matter of perspective,” he said half-wisely, half-facetiously. He added later: “It was the part of the day that I felt most alive.” And it did make for a good story. (Although he didn’t really want me to share it. When he learned it was going on the blog he pointed out that this was the first time he’d fallen victim to fire ants. “I kind of pride myself on keeping out of ant hills. You’re going to make me look like a woods doofus.”)

Then it was Will’s turn. “I have five things,” he said. And he proceeded to list all of the VERY recent activities he’d enjoyed: snapping beans with me for our dinner, picking herbs with Daddy for our dinner, stirring the sautéing chicken for dinner, scrubbing the kitchen floors with me during Owen’s nap. “Playing by myself” even made the list. And then he reached back to a highlight from his morning from school. “And my last thing is…” and, here I have to paraphrase but it was a lot of information about plotting with his friend Creight to have Creight come for a sleepover at our house. “He can have one of my vitamins in the morning,” Will said. “I don’t mind.” And he told us: “Creight said he could stay without his mommy and daddy.” (Will’s initial plan for the sleepover, which he’d mentioned to me last night, involved having Creight come sleep in his bed and letting Mark and Ginny, Creights’ parents, sleep with Rob and I in our bedroom. I’d pointed out that we’d probably be a little overcrowded if we tried to do that.)
One of my highlights for the day, which I recounted for the family, was watching just how totally amused Owen was after he peed on me and himself during a diaper change. He laughed like he’d played a wonderful trick on me, and it was such a charming laugh that I actually started to believe that indeed it had been wonderful to get peed on.

So I’m not so sure Rob and I were very good at modeling “highlights” of the days – with our stories of being bitten by fire ants and getting peed on, but it all made for interesting dinner conversation – and at the risk of getting formulaic, I’d like to make favorite things about our day a common dinnertime topic from now on.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Plant a garden, save the world

Ever since Will’s birth I’ve been a wanna-be gardener. Even back when I was writing about other people’s stunning gardens every week for the Ledger-Enquirer, I never found much time to stop writing and mothering and actually garden myself. So Rob’s become the green-thumbed master of the outdoor landscape while I wind up catching up on laundry and dishes and cooking and other interior domestic chores, including attending to crawling Owen who would love to swallow grass and acorns and pollen cones if we all tried to garden outside.

But I WANT to be in the garden. So last week I was telling Will about my plan to become a big gardener next year and to finally start gardening together as a family (this year Will and Rob did the honors in our tiny vegetable garden – which we shifted from the center of our lawn to some border plantings along the fence after the original garden became our cat's giant litter box). But next year surely toddling Owen will be a little less likely to inhale every chokable object in sight while I’m distracted with seeds and soil and such.

And the same day after I'd announced my mid-year resolution to Will, I read -- thanks to links in the blogs of my cousin April and the always inspiring Soule Mama -- this article by Michael Pollan (author of The Botany of Desire and Omnivore’s Dilemma) and I got exponentially inspired to have a big vegetable garden in the not-too-distant future. Now I think that next year’s vegetable garden is going to be a much more ambitious whole-family project.

If you’ve been looking for a little nudge toward planting a vegetable garden (which is surely a great activity to involve the kids in) here it is. If you’re already a gardener, you’ll just be all the more inspired. Pollan starts by posing the question “Why bother” trying to play a personal role in solving a problem as humungous and daunting as global climate change – and then he comes back with a powerful answer that’s too multi-faceted for a quick synopsis – but it does center on growing your own food in a backyard garden as a key step individuals can take.

Here are a few out-of-context quotes to whet your appetite for the whole article:

“…the climate-change crisis is at its very bottom a crisis of lifestyle — of character, even. The Big Problem is nothing more or less than the sum total of countless little everyday choices, most of them made by us (consumer spending represents 70 percent of our economy), and most of the rest of them made in the name of our needs and desires and preferences.”

“Planting a garden sounds pretty benign, I know, but in fact it’s one of the most powerful things an individual can do — to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness: to change the cheap-energy mind.”

“...If you do bother, you will set an example for other people. If enough other people bother, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand. (Just look at the market for hybrid cars.) Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in the culture. Driving an S.U.V. or eating a 24-ounce steak or illuminating your McMansion like an airport runway at night might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience. Not having things might become cooler than having them. And those who did change the way they live would acquire the moral standing to demand changes in behavior from others — from other people, other corporations, even other countries. All of this could, theoretically, happen. What I’m describing (imagining would probably be more accurate) is a process of viral social change, and change of this kind, which is nonlinear, is never something anyone can plan or predict or count on.”

So here’s to viral social change. Read Pollan and pass it on (to your friends via e-mail; to your kids outside in the dirt). Happy gardening.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mothers Day

Mother’s Day has always been a day of gratitude for me – for my own mother, who continues to be a major influence in the person and the mother I’ve become; for my wonderful grandmothers who were (and are) both wise, funny and authentic women in their own way; and, now for my Will and Owen, who have taught me to love life and all its gifts deeply all over again;for Rob, who helps keep me sane, keeps me laughing, and generally makes it possible to survive the whole motherhood thing intact; and for Rob's mother, who taught him to be the kind, caring, loyal person he is today.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you and your families – and especially to my own mom, whose guidelines for living are the subject of this Mother’s Day column I wrote for today’s Ledger-Enquirer.
A footnote: This morning I caught the last half of an interesting radio interview with Karen Armstrong, a former nun turned scholar of world religions and author of "A History of God," among other books. You can listen to it at the Speaking of Faith Web site. She referred to that same simple golden rule (which we teach children but too often forget as adults – and which was a central tenet in my mom’s unofficial guidelines for living) a couple times in the course of the interview. She recounts a story of “Rabbi Hillel, the older contemporary of Jesus who'd been approached by a bunch of pagans who said they would convert to Judaism if Hillel could recite the entire Torah while he stood on one leg. And Hillel stood on one leg and said, ‘Do not do unto others what you would not have done unto you. That is the Torah, the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.’” And she later adds that Jesus himself “teaches a version of Hillel's golden rule, but He says, ‘Do unto others as you would have done unto you.’” Armstrong returns repeatedly to compassion as a core virtue across religions and says at one point “Our future depends on learning to listen.” Compassion, she says “means ‘to feel with.’ Not to feel sorry for, but to say, ‘If I were in his position, maybe I would feel the same.’” So there you are: If a rule is golden enough to reach across religions it must be worth teaching to your children and relearning yourself.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Tall and happy mommy

Today Will and Owen and I enjoyed a Mother’s Day tea together at Wynnton preschool. As we were posing for this photo, Owen took a well-aimed swipe at my cake and sent it tumbling onto the table.

Then I got to open a mother’s day card featuring Will in profile, a nice keepsake that his teachers had to create for him. (Go here for instructions on how to make a Victorian silhouette like this.)
And then came the real prize: this picture of me colored by Will, which I am planning to frame.

Below the picture Will’s description of me was typed: “My mommy is tall and happy.” I loved those adjectives – happy, because it feels so true recently, and tall, because, well, no one’s ever called me that in my 5-foot-3 life.

“Look, I see my brown eyes,” I said as I spotted two faint brown circles in my rainbow of a face.
“Yep,” Will said. “And this is your hair. And here’s your beautiful neck. And here’s your beautiful shirt.”
I was feeling like a very colorful and beautiful mom -- which was nice while it lasted. When I showed my portrait to Rob tonight, he looked skeptically at the descriptive phrase beneath rainbow me and said: “Hmmm. I don’t know about tall and happy. I think it’s more like stumpy and grumpy.”

But we’re not hanging Rob’s portrait of me on the wall.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A little something for the tooth fairy

This morning, Will began talking about how many teeth Owen has, and that apparently got the tooth fairy on his brain. Soon he had a plan for a morning project.

“I’m going to make a sign for the tooth fairy. It will say: ‘This is where Will sleeps. He’s the little kid.’ "

I asked him if he thought the tooth fairy would have any reason to come to our house in the near future (obviously Will’s not quite to tooth-losing age yet). Usually, I told him, the tooth fairy comes to your house when you lose a tooth and often she leaves a little something for you – maybe a couple quarters – in exchange for your tooth.

But Will thought it was about time for the tooth fairy to be on the receiving end of things: “I want to give her the surprise,” he said. “Maybe I could even give her a little present. I could give her a little bit of money so she can buy what she’s going to buy.”

And then, he got to worrying more about whether the tooth fairy might not find him if she did come to our house:

“But I want her to know she needs to go in that room. I’m worried she might wake Owen up when she comes and she doesn’t know where to go so we should leave a sign on my door.”

We could do that, I said.

“Is the tooth fairy a boy or a girl?” Will asked suddenly (this was after using the feminine pronoun to refer to “her” throughout our conversation to this point).

Well, what do you think the tooth fairy would be? I asked, hating to push my female interpretation of things on him just because that’s what I pictured decades ago when I was losing my baby teeth.

“She seems like a girl to me,” Will said.

Then he went back to eating his oatmeal and we never did get around to making the tooth fairy sign.

So if Owen wakes up tonight (and he will), I might have to blame some bumbling toothfairy -- come to claim her surprise money but waking up babies instead.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Just call me granola head

I had a request yesterday for my granola recipe, which is another relic from my mother. She made the stuff throughout my childhood and still eats it today. Back in the fall when I did an interview with Sally Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, she suggested that oatmeal (particularly if it's made with oats that have been soaked overnight, which I have yet to bother to do) as a gentler breakfast option for the digestive system. But I’m kind of a granola addict, so I just cut back to every other day and join Will for oatmeal on the off days. (Will, by the way, is addicted to oatmeal – a relic of the long-ago era when he was afraid to poop and I was trying to make sure he had enough fiber in him that he wouldn’t get himself constipated. Now he insists on oatmeal every day).

So now that I’ve whetted your appetite with tales of Will’s potty training, here’s the recipe. It’s perfect for me: not too sweet, but if you’re used to the store-bought stuff you might want more honey.

Mom's granola

8 cups whole oats
1 cup wheat germ
1 cup sesame seeds
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
*1 cup roasted, ground soy beans (roast on cookie sheets in oven; grind in blender)
1/2 cup coconut
1/2 cup honey
*3/4 cup canola oil
1 cup raisins

*(I omit the soy beans now, partly out of laziness, partly because I'm not sure I want to be eating too much soy. And when I heard Canola oil actually wasn't so good for you, I switched to just a half cup of olive oil. I like it fine but there is the faintest hint of olive oil in it -- so vegetable/canola oil's probably a better bet for flavor.)

Mix all dry ingredients (except raisins) in a 13x9 pan. Mix honey and oil in a small bowl then stir it in with the dry ingredients. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes (rough estimate), checking and stirring every 10 to 15 minutes. After it cools, add the raisins (or any other dried fruit you like).

Will likes to get a spoonful or two thrown in with his oatmeal or Cheerios now and then – but mostly this is a breakfast for mom in our family. (Rob likes it fine for a leisurely morning but most days he thinks it takes too long to chew the stuff down.)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Breakfast for boys

Every morning of my life I have woken up ravenous. I can’t relate to you people who get nauseated by the thought of food upon first waking. The minute I open my eyes, I feel that rumble in my belly, a pinch of dizziness in my head and I am ready to chow down.

I'm too lazy for cooking eggs at the crack of dawn, so usually I grab a quick bowl of homemade granola or join Will for some oatmeal. Now it seems my breakfast habit (and perhaps specifically my cereal-for-breakfast habit) may have landed me two sons, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. The study shows a link between high energy intake around the time of conception and the birth of sons.

A similar phenomenon has been seen in deer, horses and cows – all animals which I enjoy comparing myself to, by the way. And the old evolutionary theory behind it all is that if well-nourished females produce more males, those males typically produce more offspring (at least in animal populations where sex-outside-of-marriage is not frowned upon), which theoretically makes for a healthier overall population.

Here are a couple excerpts from this University of Oxford article reviewing the study:

“The study focused on 740 first-time pregnant mothers in the UK, who did not know the sex of their fetus. They were asked to provide records of their eating habits before and during the early stages of pregnancy. They were then split into three groups according to the number of calories consumed per day around the time they conceived. 56 per cent of the women in the group with the highest energy intake at conception had sons, compared with 45 per cent in the lowest group. As well as consuming more calories, women who had sons were more likely to have eaten a higher quantity and wider range of nutrients, including potassium, calcium and vitamins C, E and B12. There was also a strong correlation between women eating breakfast cereals and producing sons…”

“Although sex is genetically determined by fathers, mothers appear able to favour the development of one sex of infant rather than another. The mechanism is not yet understood in mammals, but it is known from IVF research that high levels of glucose encourage the growth and development of male embryos while inhibiting female embryos. In humans, skipping breakfast depresses glucose levels and so may be interpreted by the body as indicating poor environmental conditions and low food availability.”

There was a time long before Owen’s birth when I thought it might be fun to have a boy and a girl. But, if I could do it all again, knowing what I know now about the joy of mothering Will and Owen, I’d say wholeheartedly: Bring on the breakfast!

If any of you have tales of trying to rig the gender of your baby at conception, I would be fascinated to hear them. I know many people go way beyond putting baseball bats under beds. Here's hoping no one starves themselves in their desperate pursuit of a baby girl.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Watching the meltdown

I've been meaning to write a post on this book, which is full of insight about the ways we can live our lives more peacefully by attending to the present moment and learning to recognize the ridiculous games our minds play as we stew about the past or worry about the future or indulge in other ego-obsessions.

But there's no good way to summarize the way reading Eckhart Tolle has impacted me already since I've read the book, which has an admittedly grandiose, self-help-book-style title but nevertheless is full of a simple, profound -- and accessible and applicable -- sort of wisdom. Instead I'll give one example about a passage in the book that happens to deal with how we can be present with children who are in the midst of their own ego-obsessed, power-hungry tantrums or emotional fits. Will is still prone to these (especially when he is tired), although they come much more rarely and a bit more gently than they did in the past.

In the past I had chosen one of two paths for dealing with one of Will’s emotional thunderstorms and sometimes a mixture of both over the course of a given tantrum:I would either a) calmly explain my position several times while Will shouted back at me until I realized the futility of our "exchange" and said I would wait to talk to him until he was feeling ready to talk. Then I would basically ignore him as I cleaned the kitchen or went about my business while he continued his emotional meltdown or b) try comforting Will, keep talking with him, even try restraining him in a tight hug if he got into a hitting or throwing mode.

None of this proved very effective and Will's anger often continued to escalate.

And then Tolle offered me a slightly more effective approach. He talks a lot about the "pain-body" that we -- as children and adults -- carry around with us, individually and collectively. It's a pair of words that's sort of off-putting to my ears, but the basic concept is that we all travel around with an accumulation of suppressed, negative emotion -- and that our pain-bodies feed on and seek out negativity. The pain-bodies in young kids, who are of course egocentric by nature, often trigger tantrums, especially in sensitive children.

Here are some excerpts from Tolle about how to cope as a parent: "When the child is having a pain-body attack, there isn't much you can do except to stay present so that you are not drawn into an emotional reaction. The child's pain body would only feed on it. Pain-bodies can be extremely dramatic: Don't buy into the drama... If the pain-body was triggered by thwarted wanting, don't give in now to it's demands. Otherwise, the child will learn: "The more unhappy I become, the more likely I am to get what I want." This is a recipe for dysfunction in later life. The pain-body will be frustrated by your nonreaction and may briefly act up even more before it subsides...A little while after it has subsided, or perhaps the next day, you can talk to the child about what happened. But don't tell the child about the pain-body. Ask questions instead. For example: What was it that came over you yesterday when you wouldn't stop screaming? Do you remember? What did it feel like? Was it a good feeling? That thing that came over you, does it have a name? .... Do you think it may come back? ... All these questions are designed to awaken the witnessing facutly in the child, which is called presence...The next time the child gets taken over by the pain-body, you can say, "It's come back, hasn't it?" Use whatever words the child used when you talked about it. Direct the child's attention to what it feels like. Let your attitude be one of interest or curiosity rather than one of criticism or condemnation."

And it's this last sentence that has helped me make a nuanced but important change in how I cope with a tantrum. I no longer choose between ignoring and comforting/reasoning. I simply make myself a scientist of Will's meltdown. I observe him and actually feel a deep interest in him and his suffering as I do it. And I notice Will getting uncomfortable under this kind of quiet attention, almost as if by really watching him, I am helping him to watch himself.

He may continue to yell for a minute about whatever it is that's making him mad, but when it seems appropriate I will say quietly, "Are you ready for me to talk yet?" Usually he says no the first time and continues to rant for another minute or less as I observe him quietly again. Then when he seems to be ready I'll ask the question again. "Are you ready for me to talk yet?" And usually he says yes. Then I offer a calm, succinct reason for why I couldn't let him do or have the thing he wanted -- and maybe suggest another thing that he or we might do to move him out of focusing on the current power struggle. And usually he wants a hug and feels ready to move out of his negative space much more quickly than he ever did before. And Will is able to reflect on his tantrums well after the fact and talk about his hopes that these stormy moods will one day lose their hold on him entirely.

I was telling my dad about the shift Will and I have made and he reminded me of an old Zen saying he'd shared with me long ago:

"The best way to control your cow is to give it a wide, spacious pasture." "The second best way to control your cow is to try to control it." "The worst way to control your cow is to ignore it."

My dad was quick to point out that "purposeful parental ignoring" of a tantrum really falls under the second best category of trying to control through ignoring. But I have come to realize that "watching" Will is much more effective than purposefully ignoring him -- even though it might seem like a subtle difference.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

You're invited to a bad-boys party

Yesterday we celebrated my mom’s birthday (a day earlier since she was flying home today). Will was a bit disturbed that we didn’t have a theme for Grammy’s birthday. “What kind of animal birthday are you going to have?” he asked her once.

Will has been plotting the theme and the gifts for his next birthday ever since he turned three – although his ideas change of course. Yesterday, he announced “I’m going to have a cake with bad boys and race cars with eyes.”

These are his current obsessions. “Bad boys” is his term for spider man and bat man – superheroes who he’s learned about from friends at pre-school but never seen on television. “Race cars with eyes” is his term for all the anthropomorphized toy vehicles inspired by the movie “Cars,” which I’m pretty sure Will doesn’t even realize is a movie. (For now, I’ve chosen to omit the fact that there are movies with these cars and “bad boys” as protagonists so that he can keep playing with the concepts according to his own imagined script. He doesn’t ask; I don’t mention it.)

And I have from now until late August to figure out how to convince Will that it might be fun to try something other than a “bad boys birthday party.” Although it might be worth it to hear the reactions if those invitations get sent out.
What horrid, inventive or otherwise amusing birthday themes have your kids tried to talk you into?