Category Archives: children

Diapers, Be Gone!

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Watch out ladies … I’m about to rejoin the ranks of those women who are free to carry a purse again! No more cumbersome diaper bags permanently attached to my shoulder or slung over my back; instead something sassy, something fun, something … small?

Little M– has completely embraced all aspects of potty training, or as we refer to it, staying clean and dry. Friday night, we told her she was wearing the last diaper she would ever wear, that we were throwing them all away (aka putting them in a bag for her younger buddy’s parents) the next morning. The next morning came about an hour and a half earlier than it normally does, and when I asked her if she wanted a clean diaper to go back to sleep, my sweet 25-month-old put her little foot down, refusing the diaper while running to pick out panties instead.

M– is about three months older than A– was when she was potty trained. Big sis had been ready for awhile, and I was excited to be able to stock up on newborn diapers instead. A– had been going potty every night before bath time since she was 12 months old. No lie. So we knew she was ready. It was July of 2010 — a great time to throw a toddler in panties.

On the other hand, M–, who had just as much access to the little potty, was completely uninterested in it. Wouldn’t even throw a glance its way, much less sit on it. I waited for her cues. Then, for her birthday she received a sticker chart from her godparents. She immediately started telling me whenever she had to go. Within two days the entire sticker chart was filled out. But … we were just hitting the holidays full swing! So we put off the big “potty training” weekend. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long.

All day Saturday, she stayed clean and dry. Once she realized she would get a “special treat” after putting her business in its proper place, she was a champ about running to the bathroom whenever we asked if she was still “clean and dry.”

Saturday night? No problem. I woke her sometime around midnight when I went to bed. She was a bit cranky, but after she did her business, she fell back asleep easily. I laughed to myself about how much I stressed about that part of potty training with our eldest.

Sunday: two small accidents, when she was busy playing. One didn’t even warrant any cleaning, other than changing her clothes and wiping her down.

Monday: clean and dry all day.

Tuesday? Out of the house running to big sis’s dance class and preschool; so far, so good.

We are really proud of our big girl. And yes, I’m mourning (a little) the end of an era. But I’m excited about saving money on diapers each month. For her, I love seeing that bright smile spread across her face each time she’s earned that “special treat.”

Perhaps mama can celebrate by finding a “special treat” of my own. Something small, stunning and on sale.

Cheers to milestones, and happy new year!

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The Last of the Firsts

My first birthday

For me, May 18 is the last of the firsts. It is my birthday. Twelve days from now, it will be May 30, the first anniversary of the death of my father. It is my first birthday without my Dad.

This is a milestone all of my other family members have already reached — including my husband, whose first birthday without my Dad after my Dad’s death was the day before his funeral. While my birthday is a happy day, it — just like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter all before this day — will feel a little hollow this year.

Thirty-five years ago, my Daddy became a dad.

Through personal experience, I realize Moms become Moms over the course of their pregnancy, more so than actually birthing the baby: you realize your additional responsibility to eat healthfully, exercise and reduce stress; you feel the flutterings and movements and hiccups and rib-shots which cause you to already appreciate the life you are growing (and shaping and molding, to eventually set free). You already worry about baby’s future, you over-research and over-analyze every decision: from BPA-free bottles, to crib mattresses to car seats. Becoming a mother is a gradual, but definite, process. The birth is “just” the curtain-call, if you will.

This isn’t to say expectant Dads don’t have concerns or worries, or that they don’t plan for the future and try (as best one can, as an expectant parent) to realize what the future entails. They do. It is just to say that becoming a parent, from my perspective, is more active for the pregnant mama than it is for the “pregnant” daddy.

Even though expectant Dads can feel the baby’s kicks by touching their partner’s swollen belly, or see baby’s foot move across Mom’s belly in response to Dad’s voice … Dads don’t really “become” Dads until the baby arrives. Until the baby looks like him. After Dad cuts the cord, holds the baby, changes the first diaper, spends his first sleepless night, and then drives home from the hospital with his baby and his wife sitting in the backseat, that is when the reality of becoming a father hits.

I have heard my Mom’s side of my birth story many, many times. I would love to hear my Dad’s side of my birth story, or “when he knew” he was a Dad just one more time. (Who am I kidding? Thousands of times.) Though I know his rendition would probably be shorter than the paragraph I just typed.

I was a C-section, and I know in the 70s, Dads weren’t allowed in the OR. Even my Dad (she says possessively and proudly) as an EMT and firefighter, had to wait for the news second-hand. (I remember thinking at a young age: That is ridiculous!)

I wonder what he was thinking, 35 years ago today. Was he worried? Did he secretly yearn for a boy, an heir to his name? Did he ruminate about “being ready” to be a Daddy? Did he hope I’d follow in the family tradition and join the fire department? Was he excited to one day teach me to sail? What were his dreams for me? His hopes? His fears?

My first boat ride?

In truth, he was probably quietly and calmly waiting: smoking his Salem regulars, drinking a few Pepsi-colas. Maybe the Reds were playing. Maybe not.

In the end, I am certain I lived up to some of his expectations. I am quite certain I surpassed others, those he couldn’t possibly have foreseen. (By that, I mean the tattoo, the piercings, and taking nearly a dozen years to earn my bachelor’s degree. Sorry, Dad!)

My Dad didn’t offer unsolicited advice. He didn’t scold, lecture, or try to talk you (me) out of doing something stupid. Perhaps because he grew up with four sisters, three daughters (and later, three grand-daughters) he knew not to engage in a losing battle.

But he was a quiet, calming force. His praise was infrequent, but solid. His sense of humor was predictable, yet alarming. His hugs were awkward, but … they are sorely missed.

I have tried (and failed) to live this year without regretting the past. I miss him more than I ever thought possible. Losing him at such a young age, and to such a ferocious disease, has forced me to look hard at the decisions I make and how they impact my family, particularly my husband and our daughters.

Matt and I met almost by chance. He didn’t have to move to Cincinnati. I didn’t have to introduce myself at the company Red’s game. Considering we had never met during the previous four months of working for the same company, it’s unusual that the very next morning, we (almost literally) ran into each other walking into work. (He swears he didn’t plan it. I know I didn’t — I am far from punctual.)

But my Dad died of cancer almost certainly by choice. Or, rather, a series of choices.

I have spent many of the last 353 days talking to our daughters about making smart decisions. It seems that’s the only ability we have: to make informed, smart decisions about the things we can control. And then leave the rest to chance.

If you knew my Dad and you have a few moments, my birthday wish is for you to share a happy memory you have of him. And my wish for you, is that you live your life understanding your decisions impact those who love you most.

I’ll start. In my parents’ room hangs a cross-stitch, that says something like this:

Any man can be a father; It takes someone special to be a Daddy.

I never doubted that my sisters and I were some of the lucky ones. And I don’t doubt it for my children, either.

I love you, Daddy. Happy Becoming-a-Daddy-Day.

And Mom — none of this is to discredit you or the amazing job you have done. Thank you for everything, from morning sickness, to C-section and beyond. Happy Becoming-a-Mommy-Day, too. I love you.

“Daddy and his girls” — though the subjects differed as time went on.

Daddy’s Girls: We were pretty darned cute, if I do say so, myself.


Review of Bringing Up Bebe (or, What I Could Do Differently)

In the spirit of a friend’s blog, for this post I will depart from my normal rambling to share my thoughts on a book I was most anxious to read.

When word of Pamela Druckerman’s new book, Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, hit, I started literary drooling. I’m an admitted sucker for any parenting book comparing American families to other cultures (almost as much as I’m a sucker for all mommy-blogger rants about things like the value of stay-at-home-moms, or drama between Hilary Rosen/Ann Romney last week).

For example, in January, 2011, I was super-attuned to all media when Amy Chua released her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. And therefore a little disappointed when, during her interview with Diane Rehm on NPR, she seemed to back off her own argument. After I read her entire book, I realized the WSJ article that started it all was just a tease. Which is why I wait to weigh-in — not that my opinion will cause great waves of conversation — until after I’ve read the entire book, instead of during the media blitz when the book is first released. (Interestingly, Chua gave Druckerman’s book a rave review, of course featured on the back cover.)

I will admit: when I read the tease about French kids eating well-rounded meals including braised leeks (not chicken nuggets) and the mamas being able to enjoy their conversation and their coffee while their children happily played together without requiring adult intervention, I was intrigued.

Disclaimer: I don’t pretend that a book will solve my problems, just as I don’t believe any culture has it completely right. But I certainly am witness to every parent having his or her strengths, and if I can begin to harness a variety of those strengths, I may be able to better myself as a parent. It follows that the end result might be that our daughters become better people too.

But, I’ll be honest: I’m doing my best as a stay-at-home mama, but some days my best doesn’t feel nearly good enough.

I struggle with meal-times (ie, my oldest’s constant diet of plain pasta or Annie’s mac-n-cheese, some vegetables, most fruits, lots of milk, oh, and cheese sticks — let’s not forget those!), I sometimes repeat myself to the point that I despise and/or ignore my own incessant pleas, I yell when she runs toward the parking lot, not necessarily because I think she is going to get hit by a car, but mostly because I’m terrified she’s going to drag her nearest friend with her if she does. (That sounds cold, let me explain: I’m pretty sure my daughter will stop at the end of the sidewalk. But what if she stops, but her friend doesn’t? Ohhhh, the ‘what if’s’!) And, that being said, why can’t she just walk alongside me like her friend would walk alongside HER mama, if my girl wasn’t giving her girl CRAZY ideas?!

The French, apparently, raise their children to eat full meals, often served in courses, which Druckerman posits allows their children to not only be well-behaved during mealtimes, but also offers a variety of palatable food for their overall nutritional benefit. In terms of behavior, the French also expect their children to adhere to a few strict rules, like no hitting (the cadre) but then offer their children much independence when it comes to other decision-making. It’s still unclear if one’s child running into the parking lot would fall into the “cadre” or “independent” category, however (for me, at least).

Have I mentioned I sometimes carry my big girl upstairs to her room — whining and wailing, wrestling and flailing — for a time-out, all because she pulled a stunt when lunch was T-minus 10 and counting? Of course, I blame the fact that she was hungry. But maybe if I had a more scheduled lunch hour/routine (like the French) I could have prevented said meltdown.

Also, I have caught myself rushing over to grab an object out her hands, ironically saying, “We don’t take things out of people’s hands!” and then handing said object back to her friend/sister/cohort. (What?! In my defense, when two kids are pulling, pulling, PULLING on an object and I’m afraid one of them — again, most likely the other child — will be hurt, that’s when I’m most quick to step in.) French parents, apparently, are more likely to let kids resolve these types of struggles on their own terms. Though, again, I’m not sure where tug-of-warring with pointy objects falls.

What did I learn? To be honest, many of the book’s “teachable moments” I’ve already witnessed in my own experience, if not firsthand, then second. If I remember to explain things ahead of time, like in the car on the way to an outing or appointment, then often our conversation will resonate with her when the moment is ripe, and she will act accordingly. It’s much more effective to parent with a sixth sense, than to change a behavior in progress. (Especially at age 3 — and a half! — when it’s just so important for them to exert their independence. We poured three different cereals into her bowl this morning for breakfast.)

As far as food goes, it seems French kids sit through entire meals at restaurants and eat them without external stimulation and without parents having to chase their kids around the table. Druckerman attributes this to a couple things: the French only feed their kids at meal time, and one afternoon snack; while if you follow me around, you’ll notice my bulging mom bag full of healthy snacks for my kids to enjoy every couple hours. By the time it’s meal-time, in other words, French kids are hungry and interested in eating a full meal. Druckerman admits this is easier to affect in France without the peer-pressure of playground snacking. Personally, I would like to see more scheduled wholesome meals and less snacking for my kids. But I think I’m not certain I can affect that change now, at ages 3 (and a half!) and almost 18 months. Maybe in a year.

Also, in France, kids are exposed to a variety of food from a very early age at their government-sponsored daycares (called creches) where the mid-day meal is served in courses, first raw/cold vegetables, then a protein like fish, then a cheese. This is, of course, what all the best parenting books recommend — pureeing your own meal to expose your kids to a variety of vegetables and fruits, sauces and spices, rather than cook a separate meal for your children. Personally, I diverged from this ideal with my oldest sometime around age 2, when her diet started mimicking that of any Kids’ Menu in American restaurants — peanut butter, chicken fingers, grilled cheese — even though we rarely eat out and typically avoid the kids’ menu when we do. Honestly, I attribute it to snacking throughout the day — the kids and I both get accustomed to “finger food.” (Sigh. Another reason to reduce the snacking.)

Our family does enjoy some similarities to French child-rearing. First, we encourage patience. One of the first signs I taught our babies (behind the food favs — more, eat, drink, milk — and the manners favs — please, thank you) was the sign for “wait.” Even before I was juggling two kids, I wanted our daughter/s to know I heard and understood the request, but I was not immediately able to fulfill it. I think our girls do a good job of understanding we are not at their beck and call, though they certainly test our own patience at times.

One way Druckerman attributes the patience factor in young French children is by having a set snack-time every day (4:30 p.m.) when they often indulge in something delicious, typically either baked goodies or chocolate. Mothers bake every weekend with their children, using measuring tools their little hands can grasp (like yogurt cups), but the children do not sample the batter or beg for a cookie as soon as they’re out of the oven. Instead, they know they will be enjoying their creation at 4:30 that afternoon. (Sure, like all children, they sometimes require a reminder. But it’s in the form of a gentle and loving, yet stern, comment from their parents, and the children acknowledge … and OBEY!)

In terms of manners, the French apparently insist their children not only say “please” and “thank you,” but also address every adult they encounter with “bonjour” and “adieu” — and if I had written this blog post in its entirety BEFORE returning the book to the library, you would know why.

Druckerman referenced two major philosophies that seem to influence French child-rearing. The first I was privileged to spend an entire semester studying shortly before I was pregnant with our first child: Emile, or On Education, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. I won’t copy my papers into this post, but I do recommend checking it out, especially if you focus on your child’s knowledge based on personal experience.

(My apologies: The other primary influence was a woman whose name I cannot remember — there was a hold on the book at the library. I believe this particular lady’s books, however, though commonly found on every French parent’s bookshelves, were not translated into English.)

Some things I personally disagree with: nearly nationwide use of epidurals during childbirth, not encouraging or supporting breastfeeding, most moms returning to work within three months of their baby’s birth. Though with the wonderful way the creches were set up for the children, there was certainly more incentive for women to return to the workforce.

One thing I love, though, is how French mothers seem to retain their own identities beyond being a mother — something I’ve personally struggled with. As one reader put it, “You don’t stop being a woman when you become a mother!” This seems to carry over professionally, as well as in terms of the parents still being a “couple.” For example, there are no two-hour bedtime routines getting more milk, giving one more kiss, or reading one more story — the kids know it’s not only their bedtime, but also their parents’ “adult time,” and that’s the end of it.

In short, I definitely consider this book worth the read, and yes, also worthy of the purchase. (I’ll edit this post once I make mine.) Druckerman retains not only an unbiased journalistic approach to her endeavor, but also her sense of humor. Which of course is ultimately what every parent needs, no matter which continent you’re on.


I take it all back!

Last week, many of you followed (and commented on! Thank you!) my journey of knowing when to say “when” — while in my 20s that would have referred to closing my tab; now it refers to deciding when to go with the “Big V” (as one friend so elegantly put it).

While we/I am no closer to a decision on that front (I can see your surprised faces from here) this week has been a good reminder of why two, just might be perfect.

Enter Exhibit A: the toddler who falls asleep quite contentedly in her own bed, but then somewhere between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m. makes her way to our bed so she can practice her kickboxing moves on my ribcage and/or face. At least she manages to be polite, even in her sleep. A couple of nights ago, she was calling out, “No, thanks!”

Exhibit B: the teething 1 yr old who has gained much confidence, enough to climb on anything, and thus has managed to fall off of a chair AND a bed within 24 very brave hours.

Exhibit C: the grumpy mother, whose patience runs out after the 4th time of asking her toddler to please (insert ANY simple request here). I swore I would never be that parent. Today, when I wasn’t up against the clock so much, I put my foot down, firmly (with a little inspiration from the French, but that’s a future post). And we were only a half hour late to our playdate. Down the street. My street is very short. Literally a 30 second walk from our house. 30 MINUTES late.

Exhibit D: the husband asleep on the couch tonight, after getting up early to run into work, then working a full day, then running home from work, then participating in a conference call for school for an hour while his family eats dinner in the other room, then scarfing down his soup with just enough time to rush the kids upstairs for baths/bed. (Thank you!)

Some weeks go by in a blink, nothing too unusual or crazy. And some weeks just feel like so. much. work. This week has been the latter.

I take it all back, folks. I’m going to need some more rest before finding the strength to make such a big decision. G’night. I’ll be thinking of you at kickboxing, here in a few.

PS — To my new subscribers, I hate to try not to whine, so please forgive me if this post reeked of it. Next one will be better, I promise.


How many stuffed animals does one family need?

In a mega-frenzy of cleaning last week, I attempted to straighten up the “Stuffed Animal Corner” in the baby’s room.

Yes, my in-laws were coming for the weekend.
No, they didn’t say anything about the Stuffed Animal Corner.
Yes, the pyramid of animals in the corner has survived intact for almost six days.
Yes, this is quite amazing!

Which leads me to the following conclusion: maybe I don’t need to put a toy hammock on our Christmas list. Instead, maybe I need to start sneaking the plush lions and tigers and teddy bears out of the house, one by one, until we have a more manageable number of stuffed animals. Say, 20.

In the past, we have tried to reduce our stuffing. But either through nostalgia tempered with guilt (Aawwwwwww, this was her first bison…) or poor tactics (toddler witnessing the event, Yikes!) I haven’t been able to pull it off just yet.

In fact, when I was dusting off the wagon for trick-or-treating last night, I found a bag in the garage I had completely forgotten. It contained about a half dozen random stuffed animals we had previously removed from the playroom and girls’ rooms. I smirked to myself as I remembered stealthily retrieving “just a few” of the animals from the nearly full bag, until only the ones that had no emotional significance to either me or my children remained.

Yes, my name is Mama, and when it comes to repeated failed efforts to de-clutter our stuffed animals, I am the problem.

But I HAVE been able to slow the influx of our plushy doll and animal kingdom.

When well-intentioned friends and family travel to exotic locales, and consequently would like to bring us knick-knacks and soft toys from these incredible destinations, I request children’s books instead.

(Sidebar: we appreciate any time anyone thinks of us when you are away from home. But books are better than “dust-collectors” (as my aunt would say) or stuffed toys, of which we have too many!)

In fact, books are the perfect souvenir. The child receives a book they would not otherwise be exposed to — for example, Don’t Call Me Pig! A Javelina Story (Arizona), or Maddy: the Alaskan Moose (Alaska) or Deep in the Swamp (Louisiana).

A book (or two, or three) is the perfect size to fit in your suitcase. A book brings joy and with it, a love of learning new information about an otherwise unknown locale, to its recipient. (Seriously, javelinas? I learned so much.) And a book belongs on a bookshelf — so mama knows precisely where to put it.

If you’re looking for gift ideas for little ones (my apologies, but it is almost that season) bring them a book from a region to which you’ve traveled (or lived, if you’re traveling to bring the gift).

And now, if you’ll excuse me … I must go rearrange my kids’ plush toys … in alphabetical order.

PS — this post is incomplete without the teeny-tiniest of disclaimers. A certain retailer has nailed the market by selling a stuffed animal to ACCOMPANY the book, and donating the money to kids’ education. In my opinion, this is nothing short of awesome, and I completely support it. Personally, I will never get rid of our Lorax, our Cat (whom we gave a Cupcake), etc. (the stuffed animals, or the books).

PPS — For the record, we already have the On the Night You Were Born Tillman book (two copies, actually — one upstairs, one downstairs) but no polar bears. The book is outstanding. We don’t have any of her other books. Now if only said retailer also could provide a storage system for both!


Loving the new changes

Hi all!

I’ve moved. No, no … my family and I are still safely tucked into our corner of the Midwest. But I’ve found myself dreaming more and more of WordPress Land, and I’ve finally taken the plunge. Thanks for seeing me through this change (It’s scary!) and thanks also for your patience as I explore and reorganize my new blog during the small chunks of time I find.

I’m hoping to utilize all the fun tricks I was missing (or simply couldn’t locate) at my old blogging-grounds. Like that cool, look! I’m editing as I type this one. Yes. That felt good.

Here’s a tease for all the folks who realize my last post was written the day before I gave birth to our second little girl. Madalyn Kay arrived on November 26, 2010, at 10:20 p.m., 8 lbs, 8 oz. and 21 inches long.

 

Maddy Kay's serious face (2 1/2 months old)

 

I suppose I would wear a similar expression if my mama dared to leave me in this position just to grab a few cheap pictures. But seriously, can there be anything cuter than a naked baby?? Laying on top of a handwoven blanket from my lovely and talented aunt in California? (Thank you; thank you!)

Even if her head looms larger than life?

And, since I hear some children stirring from their always-treasured naptimes (I always treasure them; not sure whether they do), I’ll leave you with this one:

 

Ava and Maddy Kay, playing with penguins (A: ~ 2 1/2 yrs, M: 2 1/2 mos)

Maybe next time I’ll remember to remove the red-eye before posting.

In short, I’m loving the move to WordPress. And more importantly, I’m loving being the mother of two. Adorable. Girls. (except when all three of us are having meltdowns, but that’s another topic entirely…)

Happy reading! See you soon!

-K