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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas, lies, and Santa stories

I apparently hit some nerves with my recent post about changing my mind on the topic of Santa.

I posted this on the API Speaks website where I am a contributing blogger and I got a link back from another site talking about how she never lied to her daughter and is glad for it (even though her daughter told her she wished her parents had not told her the truth). I also got several comments that said they didn't agree with me. Not surprising. It wasn't long ago that one of those comments would have been written by me. 

I suppose I should have been more specific about what I plan to tell Annika. I wasn't specific purposely because I have only recently had this change of heart and I don't know exactly what I'll tell her.

Generally, (since I know myself and my propensity for research and details) I will likely tell her the historical viewpoint of Santa and Christmas. I will talk to her about  what other cultures believe. I will read varying Christmas books to her and find classic Christmas videos to watch with her.

And then with a sense of mystery that engages her creativity and magical spirit, I will tell her that Santa that is real but I will do so in a way that helps her realize that he is magical and that he is not real in the sense that we are real.

Many parenting booksI've read talk about how play and fantasy are important to childhood development. It makes sense. Play acting and fantasy are how children relieve stress and work through issues that are too complex to understand.

To me the Santa fantasy is a good idea because it encourages the childhood version of the idea that sometimes dreams do come true and even though something seems impossible, doesn't mean it isn't true.

I remember not only believing in Santa and loving the mystery, I also remember fantasizing about unicorns, witches, elves, and being able to fly.

One of the reasons I changed my mind about Santa is because I have read plenty of parenting books that have made me realize that adults too often treat children as small adults. Many parents I've run into seem to think that children should understand everything the way they do.

But children aren't small adults who have come to understand the world through mature and experienced eyes. Children are still learning about the world. Fantasy helps them understand and learn what the world is like without it being too harsh and practical.

For instance, what does the Santa fantasy help them understand?

A place where the possibilities they have been dreaming of can come to fruition. A deep and unconditional love for all human beings. Flying reindeer.... oh wait.

Maybe some kids don't need that particular fantasy. All parents have to make that decision for their families.

But fantasy and magic are a part of our world, even if some adults have forgotten it.

Hell, a little part of me still believes in unicorns.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas everyone

I've been missing all week, busy with new ventures and Christmas preparation. Ok, I've just been feeling lazy. But anyway, before we head out to do Christmas with my family I wanted to share some pictures of Annika's first Christmas where she actually knew what was going on.

It took her a minute to understand the concept of unwrapping gifts, but it didn't take long. I think she gets it now.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas shopping brings out the feminist in me

When Annika was an infant I decided not to let Annika be one of those babies whose sex people were constantly trying to guess because of gender neutral clothing. Even though I did not rush out and buy a ton of pink frilly clothes, I gladly accepted and dressed Annika in the ones that were given as gifts. When buying stuff I tended toward purple and red, still pretty girly colors I suppose.

But even so, I consider myself a feminist, a strong female and a mom who will always attempt to avoid defining my daughter's gender for her. I have been trying to pay close attention to the type of toys I buy for Annika. She has balls and trucks, crayons and paper, chalk, baby dolls, animals and Legos. Pretty standard stuff for a 19 month old. And other than the baby dolls, very gender neutral toys. Anyway, a lot of boys have dolls too nowadays.

On the other hand, I don't want her to feel like she can't be girly if she wants to. I just don't want it to be thrust upon her. I am not particularly girly and sometimes I wish I was a little bit more.

When I made her Christmas list I did not think anything of the items I listed: farm animals, play kitchen, table and chair set, play dishes and play food, and a Big Wheel.

I knew in the back of my mind that there were a few other items that I wanted to get her, but these were the main things I wanted to get her. These were not items I just randomly chose by the way, but items I have picked specifically because I have seen her play with them at other people's houses and seem to enjoy them tremendously.

Then I began shopping. Big Lots was my first stop to see where the prices on play kitchens started.

I saw a nice little kitchen cookware set with a pot, a pan, and a steam kettle. It was only $7, so I threw it in the cart. That would go nicely with her play kitchen.

Then I saw a housekeeping set. What caught my eye in this was the tiny broom. Annika loves brooms. She always wants to sweep with our big broom and when we visit my parents she plays with the little chimney broom they keep by the fireplace. So I snatched it up for only $10.

On my way out of the store I was feeling good about my purchases and then it hit me.

Everything on the Christmas list except for the animals and the Big Wheel were Little Fucking Susie Homemaker items. WTF!

Ok, now I'm confused.

Does she like these items simply because that's what is developmentally appropriate? Or does she like these items because that's what everyone else has and so that's just what she's been exposed to? Or does she like them because she sees me using them?

When I got home I inspected the two things I purchased. The cookware I can live with. The pots and kettle are red and shiny and very basic. The name of the set is simply 6 pcs Kitchen Cookware Set.

But looking at the housekeeping set I'm pretty nauseated by the packaging and marketing and I'm considering returning it out of sheer feminazi principles.

The whole damn thing is swathed in pink. The picture on the front is a blonde little girl dressed in pink smiling happily holding the sponge and mop. But the worst part is the name. Just Like Mom's.

Yeah, and it's on stickers on every item in the box too.

Why does it have to be Just Like Mom's?

Why can't it be Just Like Dad's?

But really, why can't it just be named, Housecleaning Stuff or some other neutral name kind of thing?

And while we're at it, why can't the picture be of a boy holding the damn mop and sponge?

I'm particularly sensitive to marketing like this because a few years ago when I was in school (the second time around, so not that long ago) I did a paper on gender roles in the media.

I'm not going to go all manifesto on you but the gist of all the research was that the media is still very behind the times on how women are portrayed, particularly in the areas of advertising and sports. Even more specifically, in advertising, cleaning products are way behind the times and still portray women in these roles almost 100 percent of the time. The studies also noted that it is likely that gender roles are influenced heavily, if not completely defined, by what we see in the media.

I'm not writing this thinking that most people who are even semi-literate aren't aware of this nowadays, but apparently this shit still sells. And even worse, I can't believe I have become numbed to some of it.

I'm also not foolish enough to think that one Christmas toy will set off a chain of events that will leave Annika wearing hair rollers and an apron most of her life.

I know that Annika will likely be influenced by what she sees in the media, but I also know that she will be even more influenced by what she sees me do.

If I buy into this tired stereotype, then what am I telling my daughter? That it's okay to allow our society to continue to accept this sexist attitude towards women and girls?

I've also read that women, (specifically women in my age group) actually have somewhere around 80 percent of the buying power in a household. (In my household I have 100 percent. Hmph.)

So what does that tell me? Well, it tells me that even though I certainly can't control what advertisers do, I can control the messages that come into my home. I don't want that drippy, sweet passive imagery to invade my household and my daughter's view of the world.

So yeah, I'm going to return it. Now if I can just find the damn receipt.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Managing the space/time continuum of toddlerhood

Lately I've been wishing that time would stand still for a few minutes every day.

I haven't been watching Heroes this season, but I watched the first three seasons religiously and my favorite character, hands down, was Hiro Nakamura, the guy who could manipulate space and time. I loved the idea that he could move through time and stop it when it suited him. Well, that and he's just freakin' adorable.

Since Annika has made the leap from infancy to toddlerhood I have been missing the infant days. Not just because it was slower, but because now I can see that Annika really will grow up. During the infant stage she needed me so much and was so helpless that it seemed like it would last forever. (Believe me, sometimes I wanted to speed time up.)

So since I am not Hiro Nakamura, what I have been doing to manage my own space/time continuum is trying to take mental snapshots when I get the chance.

I want to remember the way she laughs and holds her head close to mine when she is feeling warm and fuzzy.

Instead of getting frustrated when she wants to spend 20 minutes running around the car and trying to open it with my keys, I let her. I revel in the magical wonderment of keys and locks instead of tapping my foot and wishing she would just come inside with me so I can make dinner.

Last week I started taking baths with her again. I know this is a practice of many folks with their infants, but Annika always hated baths until recently so it was in and out for her with as little fanfare as possible.

But yeah, now she LOVES the bath. So we get in together and she keeps the water running filling her cups with it and dumping it on herself while I lounge in the deep end, amused by her fascination with pouring.

She has been learning so much lately. Every day she says even more new words and she is starting to say things that I didn't even know she knew! That is the magical wonderment of parenthood.

Additionally, with it being Christmastime, I have been thinking about traditions and wanting to make the right choices when it comes to memory-making for Annika.

I have been thinking that I want to make the month of December all about slowing down time, spending it with her and ensuring that her memories of Christmas are not just about presents, but about spending time with her loved ones.

Well that and believing in a fat guy who can fit down a chimney.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Yes Annika, there is a Santa Claus

Before I was a mother I always knew that if I had children I would never lie to them, that included Santa. I always figured that kids needed to know their parents told them the truth.

After Annika was born it remained a no-brainer. I always planned to play down the Santa part of Christmas and just tell her that it was a story when she was old enough to start asking questions.

Last year when Annika was an infant, I had this argument with a friend who couldn't believe how heartless I would be to deny my daughter the fantasy of Santa.

This year Annika is still not old enough to talk about it but something has changed in my way of thinking. I am now pondering the possibility that maybe she would like that fantasy and if done right it could really make for some wonderful childhood memories.

I was seven when I realized solidly that there was no Santa. I was floored. The way I found out was a pretty rude awakening.

There's a back story, so bear with me. My little brother was born at home by accident, my mother's labor had progressed quickly while she slept under the effects of a sleeping pill. When the panicked emergency calls went out, the first responders were firefighters. So they attended Chuck's birth, which was in May. Since he was her fourth child my mother didn't need much help and spent her final moments of labor ordering several sweaty firemen into the bathroom to wash their hands.

That Christmas Eve those sweaty guys showed up with the fire chief dressed as Santa in order to give my little brother a Teddy Bear.

I snuck out of bed and crouched by the bannister watching in awe as Santa held my baby brother in his arms. I was so excited! Santa was here and my older brother and sister were sleeping through it!

I could not wait to hold this one over their heads.

As I watched my parents wave goodbye to Santa I realized Santa and his elves were not getting into a sleigh at all, but a firetruck. Hmmm, I thought that Santa looked familiar.

I was confused. But I came to the awful conclusion that Santa wasn't real when my mother confirmed that those men were from the fire department as I listened to her relay the visit to someone over the phone.

Maybe I had already suspected it. I've always been a logical person. I do remember questioning just how Santa could make all those visits in one night.

But when I think back on it, I loved the fantasy. I remember listening for the reindeer hooves on the roof and insisting that I HAD heard them. I remember wshing I could visit Santa's toy factory. I wanted to be an elf.

Even though I eventually figured it out I am glad my parents promoted the story. If anything, I wish they had hyped it more, not less.

I've heard parents debate this topic, reasons that affect how new parents handle Santa almost always involve the way their parents handled it. It seems that the only angry memories involve parents who did not promote the Santa story. I have yet to hear any adult say, "Yeah, my parents LIED to me. Boy was I pissed when I found out there was no Santa Claus."

I only hope that when Annika does figure out the truth it will come gently.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Annika dancing

In my last post I wrote about Annika dancing to the First Impressions videos. Yesterday morning I caught her in the act. Enjoy!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Theories on TV and Annika's favorite videos

When Annika was a few months old I read an article about a study that said rates of autism were higher in children who spent more time watching television before the age of 3. (That link is not the same article I read, but it is based on the same study. I couldn't find the other article.)

The article I read was alarming enough that after I sent it to Toyin we made a die-hard pact that Annika's eyes would not come in contact with the screen until age 3.

I have realized since that this is an alarmist attitude that many new parents take based on their own upbringing and some trendy social attitudes about restricting TV and food.

I have some baggage about TV. I was raised with the idea that television rots your brain. My siblings and I were always looking over our shoulders at the possibility that the TV would get turned off unless our dad was watching with us. We weren't allowed to turn on the TV unless we asked. And even if we had been given permission to watch, there was always the possibility that our mom would come storming in and turn it off without warning.

Toyin has less baggage about TV. I think he has a pretty good attitude about TV watching even though he admits that it can be an obstacle for him. Growing up he and his siblings were allowed to watch plenty of television once chores and homework were done, but most of it was educational.

Our overreaction toward TV watching lasted until about 10 months, I think. I don't really remember when we decided that we had overreacted. (Probably sometime after the hormones began to dissipate.)

After I decided to loosen my controlling mindset about television, I started showing Annika Youtube videos. Here's where I posted a couple of my favorites.

Toyin and I have disagreed about a lot of things when it comes to parenting, but we have always been on the same page when it comes to TV.

We like to watch TV. We want Annika to enjoy it, but we don't want to use it as a babysitter. We also don't like the idea of her seeing overdone flashy cartoons that have no educational value. There will come a time in her life when it will be hard to control all the fluff, but for right now she doesn't know the difference so we figured whatever she watches should have some educational value and should reinforce whatever she is in the process of learning.

With this in mind, a few months ago, Toyin did some research (he's so much better at that than I am) and bought a series of videos called First Impressions. Boy does she LOVE them. They are a series of videos that teaches kids about animals, colors, shapes, body parts, letters, sounds, numbers, opposites, seasons and food.

So far she only watches three of them: animals, colors and body parts. Her favorite one is animals. Annika is huge into animals. I took her to the zoo a couple of months ago and once she got started feeding the deer and goats, I had a hard time convincing her that there was even more fun just around the corner.

What we like about these videos is that they are not flashy. They are so un-flashy that we make fun of some of the dorky kids on the video. Some parts look like they were filmed in the 80s and 90s. The are super duper simple. Annika dances during the intro music, which is a nice bonus because it's cute and fun to watch. But mostly what we like about these videos is that they reinforce things we are teaching her.

If you're looking for some good videos for your toddler, these are great. They range in price from $3.99 to just under $20. They are simple and they will reinforce stuff you are teaching your kiddo, without the expense of constant commercials flashing in front of their faces. If you think about it, it's probably cheaper to buy something like this than the expense of your toddler begging for all the crap in the advertisements.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It doesn't feel like divorce ... to me

Now that Toyin and I have moved into separate apartments, my fears about how Annika will feel and react to the separation are beginning to manifest in my head.

I've gone through a divorce and this separation feels nothing like it. To me, Toyin and I splitting into two households feels more like moving away from a roommate. When I got divorced, even though I knew it was the right move, it was still difficult. This is not difficult.

Our relationship will continue on with no hard feelings and without disruption.

When I got divorced I was uprooted from a life that I thought was going to be permanent. Marriage isn't supposed to be temporary. Neither is parenting. Neither is having two parents.

So, I'm guessing that somehow our split feels to Annika like her parents are getting divorced even though she does not have the skills to articulate that. (And she doesn't know what a divorce is.)

My biggest problem here is that I don't know what that feels like. I wonder if it will be difficult for her even though it is not hard on us.

I am unusual in that I did not deal directly with divorce much as a child. My parents are still married. Growing up, all of my closest friends had parents who were still married. (Church friends mostly in case you're wondering.)

What knowledge I do have about what it feels like to have divorced parents is based on adult friends talking about divorced parents and watching children of my adult friends deal with their parents' divorces or non-marriages.

Examples of things I've witnessed include: wanting their parents to get back together, poor self-esteem, feeling like they don't have a father, ill-conceived neuroses, and inconsistency between the two parents.

I realized that the examples I've included are mostly based on my own worries that I will be the cause of such problems simply by not being married to Annika's dad. But looking at my list I realize that most of them are either baseless in our situation or something I will have no control over.

Her reaction to the change seems pretty minimal.

The only change I've noticed in Annika this week is that she hasn't been sleeping as well as usual, but she has a history of bad sleep patterns. And there are other contributing factors like, she has a cold this week, not to mention that we haven't been eating all that well because of moving.

So far she has called out during the night for Da Da and Baltar (the dog) several times. But she has also shouted out "back," "shoes," and "move" as well.

So I wonder if our separation will be a blip on her radar or if she will be scarred for life. Likely it is something in between, and I'm hoping that it is closer on the spectrum to the blip and not the scarred-for-life.

I am doing my best to stay relaxed about the possibility that this could screw Annika up, especially since that fear is based on a general notion in our society that somehow children who come from married parents are better off than children who come from divorced parents.

But this isn't a divorce. Divorce typically comes with lots of bad feelings, fighting, judges, courts, financial disputes and immature behavior by the parents.

None of that is happening in our case.

I've think the best thing to do is relax, don't project potential problems, thereby causing them to happen, and observe.

Even though it's only been a few days since we have been staying apart, things are going well. Toyin ate dinner with us when he picked Annika up last night. He even brought cookies.

It doesn't feel like a divorce to me or Toyin, so I am telling myself that it probably doesn't feel that way to Annika either.

Keeping my fingers crossed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

This was the plan all along

A few people have made comments to me about being sorry that Toyin and I split up so I figured it was necessary to explain a little more about our situation.

We dated for a while almost five years ago. When we broke up, we maintained our friendship. We also had intimate moments here and there (obviously) but it was pretty clear early on in our dating life that we were not compatible.

When I got pregnant Toyin agreed to move to Austin and support me for the first year so I could stay at home with Annika. We agreed that it was the ideal first year for her and we were fortunate enough to be able to afford it.

For the past six months we have been working out some details and we also continued living together because we had a lease.

But we are finally ready to go our separate ways and become regular single parents.

So far so good.

While living together, we functioned as a couple in many ways, which means that we fought like couples do on occasion. We had a lot of the same issues that many couples do, but without any motivation to fix them since it was a temporary situation.

I'm not going to get into any gory details, but lets just say that if we really were a couple, we'd definitely need some counseling if we were going to stay together.

This is a good move and it is a significant step in our family and in our co-parenting relationship. I can already feel a lot of pressure lifting and I think Toyin and I are headed toward an even better friendship than we had before.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Guest post: Great Expectations

Today's post is a guest post by Camille. She blogs at www.theeclecticmom.blogspot.com

I once knew the perfect mother. She was amazing.

She absolutely beamed the glory of motherhood. Her children clustered around her, happily playing and singing, simultaneously gleefully independent and decidedly attached.

Her children were balanced, joyful, and inquisitive, and they rarely fought or bickered because she had invested a great deal of time on conflict resolution. Each child, while having different needs and wants, felt that he or she was valued and nurtured, eliminating the need for strife and anger.

With her infants, she intuitively knew what each needed. She eschewed the lowly pacifier, knowing that an infant needs its mother, not a piece of plastic. She was the pacifier. She co-slept peacefully each night, with her infant nuzzling her in his sleep, nursing when hungry without waking her, as nature intended. She woke each morning refreshed, knowing that she was doing the best thing for her children, being as attached as possible outside the womb.

She cooked delicious meals every night from her own garden, and the kids ate only healthy food, virtually all organic, with nothing processed and very little sugar. She sewed her children's clothes, and they took nature walks every day. These children embodied the love of learning, eyes glistening with wonder at butterfly wings and spider webs.

She devoted time each day to playing with her children - crawling and whinnying on hands and knees; kneeling shoulder to shoulder building massive towers that would immediately be knocked down; sitting primly at the tea table, munching homemade vanilla wafers and sipping chocolate milk. She worked out a clever schedule that allowed her to exercise every morning, get the housework done, dedicate one-on-one time to each child, allow for group game time, and in the evening spend couple time with her husband.

She had infinite patience. Not because she was a particularly patient person (although she was more patient than most), but more because she had read all the books on raising children and knew the research. She knew that by being an attached mother, her children would grow to be well balanced, independent people, and she was simply the guide to that endpoint. They would grow that way naturally, as all children would if raised with respect and love.

Then something happened that changed all that.

She had her first baby.

You see, this mother was me, and she existed only my mind. Once my first child was born, reality took hold with a clenched fist and a hiss that whispered in my ear, "It was all a delusion! A delusion! Now we'll show you what parenting is really like! Bwaaaaahahaaaa!"

This first baby was not just any baby, but a high-needs baby like few mothers have ever seen. This child could have been the kid on the picture of Raising Your Spirited Child. He rated a 5+ on every scale in the book.

This was the child that you avoid at the playground, that you glance at over your shoulder when you're grocery shopping, and that you look at with pity and disdain, wondering what the hell that mother was doing to raise such a brat. (Yes, I said it.)

As an infant, his shrieks could be heard from miles around, especially when he was being walked around the neighborhood at 1:00 in the morning because that was the only thing that would console him. His anger was legendary when he wanted to suckle but kept getting milk, so the dreaded pacifier was instituted (thus pacifying the entire family, which resulted in a recurrent phrase being heard, "Oh God, where's the f-ing pacifier?!" and which in turn resulted in the family owning something like 30 pacifiers when that phase was done).

He would lose his voice from screaming - deep, gut-wrenching screams that would leave me in tears right along with him, wondering alternately "What am I doing wrong?" and "What the hell were those books talking about?"

So life started. My wonderful, chaotic, fabulous, real life that I wouldn't change for the world.

Attachment parenting saved my life and certainly my first child's life. Was it hard? Oh yes. Were there lots of times I thought it wasn't working? Absolutely. Were there times I wanted to throw in the towel and Ferberize everybody? Probably, but I was too tired to try anything new, and my kids wouldn't let me.

As I wrote in another post, my kids knew best. They knew what they needed and I just had to give them that. Thank goodness they demanded my time, my energy, and my presence. If I'd had easy babies, I might never have realized just how valuable - no, necessary - being attached is.

You want to know what one of the most surprising things was about having a baby, and then another, and then a third? How far apart my ideal image of myself was from my real self. That was a shocker. Yes, I'd seen my sister go through raising a challenging toddler, but I knew I'd do better. Heck, I even gave her advice (completely welcomed, I'm quite sure).

I simply wasn't prepared for my lack of patience, my first week of each of my babies' lives when I felt completely disconnected, my inability to accomplish the most simple thing sometimes, and my lack of interest in much of the little-kid play that they enjoyed so much. I did a lot of things right, though. I loved them like crazy, I was attached as could be, and I respected them deeply. When I failed them somehow, I always always said, "I'm sorry" and meant it. But I did a lot of things wrong. Really wrong.

I can now look on what I expected to be and bust a gut laughing. Obviously, none of us can possibly live up to the Great Expectations that we, and society, place on us. What we must realize is that our failings make us real to our children, and that's actually better than if we were perfect. Who would want a perfect parent? How could any child live up to that?

Will our kids remember that we weren't perfect? Nah, they wouldn't think we were even if we were. What they'll remember is that their mom is happy, connected, joyful, involved, and loving. And we all do that in myriad ways.

Oh, and that first kid? He truly is amazing, as are his siblings. He's loving, brilliant, funny, happy, well balanced, and laid back (most of the time anyway). Despite my imperfections.

Camille is an attached mom to a tween, a preteen, and a teen and blogs about parenting, homeschooling, and staying sane amidst chaos, clutter, critters, and crises at www.TheEclecticMom.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Moving helps unclutter my mental baggage

Moving is a pain, but every time I do it I am reminded of a few things. One, I keep stuff I don't need. Two, I have unfinished projects that sit for way too long. And three, my house is always dirtier than I think it is.

I have decided that this time I really am going to use this move to clean up my act. Literally.

In doing so it will aid me in cleaning up my act mentally.

Recently I have been paying way more attention to how my outer life manifests what is going on in my inner life.

If I look at the above three things and compare those to my mindset I realize those aren't just problems I have with my house. They are the messes in my mind as well. Those messes need some attention.

One, I hang on to shit. I've always told myself that I don't hold grudges. I don't for the most part. But I do hang on to some things with some people. It's time to not only forgive, but also to really forget.

Two, I have unfinished thoughts that need action. It's time to stop putting off those tasks that bug me late at night when I can't sleep.

Three, I don't take care of my body like I should. I put off working out, I don't fix my hair, I keep wearing the same jeans even though they accentuate my flabby belly and make my ass look flat. It's time to start taking care of myself.

My goal for this move is to get rid of some stuff, finish some projects, and clean myself up.

Moving is a good time to reflect on what can be done to clean up your life. I intend to do just that. Not just for myself. But also for Annika.

I've been noticing lately just how much she has started copying everything we do. It's really trippy. I don't want to teach her my bad habits. I don't want to pass on to her my bad habits and my mental clutter.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksmoving Day

I've never been much of a morning person. Typically I awake with a sense of urgency mixed with dread. The exceptions are holidays.

Maybe it's because growing up my mother's two favorite methods for rousting her four sleeping children were: walking through the house clanging pots together and getting a big glass of cold water and threatening to dump it over your head. It only took once for that to become an extremely effective method at getting me up for the day.

Or maybe it's because I've spent most of my adult life waking up late to hurry to a job I don't like.

Whatever the reason, I hate mornings, that is, unless I've got a good reason to allow myself to stay in bed.

This morning I awoke at 8 a.m., our typical waking time.

Since it is Thanksgiving, the sense of dread and urgency isn't there. Plus, I put clean sheets on my bed yesterday along with a big fluffy pillow that I've been using in my living room, so my bed is even more comfortable than usual.

I decided to let Annika sleep, which means I can't get up. She will wake up soon as I roll out of bed most of the time. She stays pressed up against me most nights and then nurses off and on starting around daybreak.

So I read my e-mail on my iPod touch. I played a game for a while. Then I began thinking about holidays.

I generally hate holidays. They are overblown, overcommercialized, and anti-climactic. It seems like they never reflect the original intent. It also means that I have to spend time with my entire family all at once. (Need I say more?)

When I think about the first supposed Thanksgiving -- which from my vague memory of elementary learning was a story about Native Americans sharing food with the settlers -- I figure it was probably less idyllic than was taught.

Instead of the two groups coming together for a huge meal complete with a dripping turkey, corn on the cob, mashed potatos and warm steamy pies, I imagine some sweaty brown-skinned men and women crouching on their haunches while peering curiously at some half dead hungry white folks who are cursing each other for dragging them to this god forsaken land.

I imagine the brown folks handing the white folks some tough, dry meat and maybe
some roasted corn, (things that kept well and travelled easily in leather bags) to the starved settlers and whispering in wonderment as they gobbled down sustenance.

Then I think about the huge heart attack inducing meals that we feed ourselves every year and then settle in front of the TV with alcohol and call it a day.

I guess it's all about context.

Most days, average Americans aren't literally starving to death. So on days when we are thankful, we stuff our faces. Hey, nothing wrong with that. I really do enjoy a hearty meal.

My point is that what I'm really thankful for today is a cozy bed, a cuddly daughter and the big meal that I will share later on with my cranky dysfunctional family.

As I near the end of this post I realize that my headline, while catchy, shows that I did not stay on topic.

Yeah, we're also starting the move today. So, we'll spend what's left of the morning loading and unloading stuff. By the end of the weekend, I'll be completely vaulted into single motherdom.

Gobble. Gobble. Gobble.

I'm also thankful for a really strong man to move my stuff.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Becoming a single mom for real

It's finally happening.

Toyin and I are moving into separate apartments at the end of the month.

We will finally be single parents.

I have mixed feelings about it. It will be really nice to have my own space again. Nobody to complain about my knickknacks or my taste in decorating. Nobody to rationalize purchases to. Nobody to cook dinner for. Nobody to pick up after.

But there will also be nobody talk to late at night. There will be nobody to take over if I am feeling frustrated.

With this move also comes the freedom to date again. Toyin and I never made a solid rule about that. If either one of us had met someone we wanted to date, the option was there to do it. It's not like we were faking being a couple just for Annika's sake. But it would have been weird. So neither of us ever made much of an effort.

Honestly, I had no desire to go out on dates or try to form a relationship with anyone. Toyin did not feel the same way, but he wasn't nursing or holding a baby 18 hours a day either.

I think he's missed the single life more than I have. It's not that I want to be in a relationship with him, but having our unusual little family life has made it a lot easier on me. For that I will always be grateful to him.

He will still be around. He won't be a typical one-night-a-week/weekend dad. I know he will swing by to visit Annika even on nights when she isn't going to stay at his house. I will do the same. We will forge ahead in this co-parenting relationship even though we aren't going to be living together anymore.

We will still discuss parenting methods. We will communicate with each other about Annika just like parents who live together. I think we will always be friends.

In some ways, I think, this is a better way to parent.

I know the standard belief is that kids need parents who are married; who live under the same roof.

But I know lots of people who stay in dysfunctional marriages and do more harm to their children than if they had just gotten divorced.

I wrote in a previous post about parenting with the end in mind. When I think about how Toyin and I will parent Annika together even though we live apart, I try to imagine how Annika will see things. I like to imagine Annika as an adult telling her friends that she had the best of both worlds.

"Sure, my parents weren't married," she'll say. "But they were always friends. They never made me choose between them. They always talked to each other. They were great parents."

Of course, if we succeed at this co-parenting thing and Annika turns out great despite having parents who don't live as a couple, she probably won't notice anything. It will just be her normal. That's really all I can hope for.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Regretting my regrets

Before Annika was born I had regrets. I regretted staying with my ex-husband as long as I did. Hell, I regretted ever marrying him. I regretted not finishing school sooner. I regretted financial decisions. I regretted not working out more. I regretted haircuts.

Then when I got pregnant I philosophized about how all those bad choices had led me to the place I was in the world and if I hadn't done things just exactly the way I had, maybe, maybe just maybe, Annika would never have been.

Instead of regrets, those bad choices were now stepping stones that led me to give birth to this beautiful and perfect child of mine. She is something I will never regret, not even if she turns out to be a drug addict or a serial killer. She will always be my beautiful perfect child.

But now I have something new to regret. And I wonder if I even should. Ever since I started blogging regularly, I have wished many times that I had started sooner.

When Annika was growing inside my body I had such powerful emotions and as a writer, I wanted desperately to capture it all and share it with the world. I was feeling emotions that I didn't even know existed.

Yeah, I'm one of those women. I loved loved loved being pregnant. Even with the weight gain, hemorrhoids (gross I know), heartburn, achy legs, nausea, tiredness, brain fog, and swollen feet (my god they were like grapefruits), I loved it.

A powerful life force inside of me burned with a fury and I couldn't get enough of the feeling. Carrying my child was spiritual and divine. I had found the meaning of life.

I would sit down and try to write but I could never really figure out how to express what I was feeling. It always sounded so cheesy. I would expound wildly about how my emotions were like the universe and the sun and moon and stars.

Then I would read it and go, "who is this person?"

Then I realized they were just hormones. Yeah, the same ones that give me bloating and crankiness once a month. Yep, those hormones. And no one tells you that they take a few months to dissipate after the baby is born.

I thought I would continue feeling that way forever. I thought that pregnancy had made me into a new woman.

And while that woman was a softer person who seemed to understand children better, was friendlier and happier, I had lost my edge. I worried that I would never be able to write the way I used to.

So the first few months after Annika was born I continued trying to write about those things that I wanted to share with the world, but they always ended up being too personal and really only things that I wanted to share with Annika.

Plus, I could never concentrate long enough to write coherently and do it consistently. I can barely manage it now.

As I analyze the past two and a half years I realize that what was most important was and is concentrating on Annika and just being a mom.

And maybe the reason I couldn't form coherent thoughts often enough to write consistently is because that my emotions being transformed onto paper were less momentous than Annika learning how to crawl or making baby noises like her first "words," 'Ab' and 'Way."

Maybe the reason that we moms become less physically desirable and lose some of previous desires, and become foggy and tired is because the universe is telling us that concentrating on our little one is the only thing that should matter right now.

Hmmm, maybe it's not just hormones after all.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Peer parenting: A classic coach tale

Last week as Annika and I flew to New York we sat next to a man and his 5-year-old son. We got to chatting and as usually happens with parents of older children, (or even sometimes people who have no children at all) he began giving me unsolicited and rehashed parenting advice.

First I want to say that he was a very nice person and his son was absolutely adorable. He shared his crayons and paper with Annika since ours was stowed. Poor planning on my part.

But as we chatted, the dad gleaned that I am a stay-at-home mom and within minutes he began telling me that even though his ex-wife stayed at home with their kids, he insisted that his children go to daycare because it would teach them socialization skills. I had a hard time not rolling my eyes at this typical misguided information.

It was apparent from the beginning that this man believed wholeheartedly in old-fashioned parenting.

The first thing his son told me was how a friend of his had hit him recently. As the boy talked, his father began shushing him and telling him that he was fine, "It didn't hurt that bad," he told him. I wondered how, considering that he wasn't even there, he could know how badly it hurt and why on earth wouldn't he validate his son's feelings, which was obvious he was looking for.

So I did.

It was really simple. All I said was: "Wow, it sounds like that really hurt."

"Yeah, it did," he responded. "And her mom didn't even make her apologize."

"She doesn't sound like a very nice friend," said I.

"Nope, she's not," he said.

Then, after that, he dropped it. I wondered how many times this kid had brought up the topic to his dad, waiting for his dad to tell him he understood only to get shot down.


Now I know that I'm sounding super judgmental here. But my point is not to get all down on this guy. Because, really and truly, he was a nice guy. He was super sweet and friendly. He asked me about myself. He gushed over how cute Annika is. He offered to switch seats with me if I wanted to. He commiserated with me when she cried during the pressure change. He talked about how much he loves his children. He told me that he loves spending time with them. And I believed him.

Really I'm just using this guy to illustrate something I think about a lot. That is, parents should seriously consider just snatching up standard parenting advice and really think about it in the context of their own childhood and the context of their own children.

Since becoming a parent I have realized that there are so many things that people parrot as sage parenting advice that is just garbage.

Like the fairy tale that children need to be with other children to learn how to socialize. (Have these people read Lord Of The Flies?)

Or that children need to learn how to be independent by not holding them or ignoring them when they cry.

Or that tantrums are just "bad" behavior.

I spent three hours with this man and his son. In that time frame he told me that children should be in day care, co-sleeping killed his marriage (that's an exact quote) and that he picked his sons' names with the intention that the names should be cool so his boys wouldn't feel weird and so that when they grow up women will think they are cool and it will help them get laid.

I actually laughed out loud when he told me that last part. Then I realized he was serious and I had hurt his feelings. I asked him what his wife thought about that and he said she liked the idea. I have a pretty good feeling that she was lying and I wondered if she had been high while they were dating.

The point is, this guy is pretty typical in that he is rehashing a bunch of crappy parenting methods like telling his kid how to feel and trying to make him conform instead of boosting his self-esteem.

I don't understand why people don't at least attempt to improve upon their parents' parenting. I mean, I don't know anyone who thinks their parents were perfect. Matter of fact, most people I know will say they hate it when they do or say things that sound like their parents. It seems to be more normal for people to talk about having a screwy childhood and feel badly about a lot of things that happened.

I've said before here that I think my parents did plenty of stuff right, but they also did lots of stuff wrong. I don't know anyone who thinks their parents did a perfect job raising them, so why not try to figure out what stuff messed you up and then try not to make the same mistakes? That's all I'm doing.

I've picked out some of the stuff my parents did right. But when I think back on the things I hated about my childhood, I figure, I've got a duty to Annika to try and make sure I don't repeat the same mistakes. I'm not saying that I think I'm doing a perfect job. And I know that I will likely repeat some of the mistakes my parents made. But I'm going in with my eyes open.

So, yeah, back to the guy on the airplane.

As we flew along, he drew pictures for his son so he could color them in. As the boy colored, his dad nitpicked about how he wasn't staying in the lines. He bought him chips from the flight attendant as a treat, then he yelled at him for stuffing too many in his mouth. Then he told him he'd had enough and offered to let Annika finish the chips, which I declined by saying that I didn't think it was fair to take away the kid's food.

Toward the end of the flight, the captain got on the intercom and told us that we were stuck in a holding pattern and we would be in the air for an extra 30 minutes.

I thought my seat buddy was going to have a heart attack. "Oh my god!" he bitched. "That sucks," he steamed. "Now my dad is going to give me junk for having to wait."

I wondered if it was at all possible that he might see how he was repeating some of the same patterns with his own son.

I highly doubt it.

As we taxied to the gate he called his dad and apologized to him for making him wait.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


We've been in New York City this week for a wedding. Here's a snapshot of us at the wedding where Annika stayed up way too late, danced her booty off and got almost as much attention as the bride and groom.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Look past the color of my skin

It's probably going to sound weird for a white woman to complain about people seeing only skin color when they look at her, but that's just what I'm going to do here.

Yesterday I was chatting with another mom who is the mother of a bi-racial child. She is Brazilian, her husband is white. She has tan skin and curly hair; her son has bouncy blond curls and blue eyes. Even so, it was obvious to me that he was spawned from her genes. His face is a tiny replica of hers.

While we were talking I asked her about their ethnicity and we got to talking about bi-racial families. She said her mother was much darker than she and when she was a baby people used to think her mother was the nanny even though they had similar features.

"They only see the color of your skin," she said.

I nodded knowingly.

I had been telling her that I have been asked numerous times if Annika is adopted. This only happens when Toyin is not with us. I wrote in a previous post about how this happened to me at a relative's funeral, even though the man could clearly tell that Annika was bi-racial, he still assumed I was not her biological mother.

"I think she looks just like you," my new friend said smiling at Annika. I agreed, yes, Annika does look a lot like me. More and more each day.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Scattered mind, focused heart

Yesterday morning as I was cutting red globe grapes in half and de-seeding them to take with us to the park (yes, I know, that was a stupid move to buy seeded grapes, but they were on sale), I was also posting stuff to sell on eBay, in between getting Annika dressed, helping her eat breakfast, turn on a video watch while I got us ready to embark on the day, and nursing her in between bouts of "mamamamamama."

I've always thought I was a good multi-tasker until I had a toddler. I am beginning to understand my mother a little better.

My mom has a very short attention span and for years I've suspected that she probably has some sort of ADD or ADHD. She thinks so too, although she's never gotten a proper diagnosis. While she may have some sort of attention deficit, I suspect that part of my mom's scattered-ness is just the leftovers of being a stay-at-home mom for over 20 years and who didn't take consistent breaks.

What I mean to say is that yesterday I felt scattered. I feel that way a lot, but yesterday, I realized it later in the day as I was trying to write this post and I couldn't finish it. My brain was feeling like it was being ripped in several little parts and I spent the rest of the day trying to put it back together.

When you have a toddler if they want attention, it is impossible to do anything else for more than a couple of minutes. And they want attention a lot. Especially amongst people who practice attachment parenting.

Then I began thinking about a recent discussion on an online parenting group I'm part of. The topic was whether or not stay-at-home moms should be using a breast pump so they can take a break from their babes.

I am not going to rehash the discussion. But it was basically about whether or not stay-at-home moms need to have long enough breaks from their babies that they would need to pump milk.

This discussion got me thinking about balance and finding middle ground.

Some women who have chosen to be stay-at-home moms say that they never want a break from their kids. I think those women are in the minority in our society, but among my social network they are more likely to be found. I don't hang out with women who put their kids in daycare, confine their babies to playpens, or leave their infants lying the floor while they do housework.

My group of friends believes in giving lots of physical touch to their infants. We hold our babies and sling them up as many years as they want it. We gives lots and lots of hugs. We don't tell our kids to suck it up and be a big girl or big boy when they get hurt. We hold them and let them cry and we tell them how much we love them. We validate feelings. Many of us sleep with our babies and cuddle them all night long. I know Annika can't sleep without a warm body to cuddle with. She has gotten to the point where she will sleep on me if I am talking on the phone, watching TV or reading on my iPod Touch. But if I move away from her, she wakes up. She likes closeness.

I know that women who go to work and put their kids in daycare still have a taxing job being a mom. But in some ways, I think that's the easy way out. There are some days when I think if I don't get a solid chunk of time that doesn't involve Annika that I might go crazy, because my brain needs a break so I can focus on my own needs and yes, my own wants too.

It doesn't mean I don't love her or that I see her as a burden. It especially doesn't mean that I don't want to be with her most of the time. I want to be clear on that. I love being with her all day. I love knowing that I'm not missing out on anything. I love knowing that her dad and I are her primary sources of interaction.

But needing a break, to me, is part of being an aware parent and being there for her. If my brain can't ever focus on what makes me whole, what makes me, well, me, then I have a harder time focusing on her.

So, stay-at-home moms do need a break. We don't need a lot of time. But we need a break to be creative, to write, to paint or draw. Sometimes we just want to get out of the house and go to a movie or get a hair cut.

I know this isn't a topic that has been hashed to death. But here's the thing. Being a stay-at-home mom isn't anything like going to work. It's not really a job. So I think that's where the disconnect lies. You always hear people say that being a parent is the hardest job you'll ever love. But it's not a job. It's better. It's being a parent.

I am lucky in the respect that I haven't been around too many people who give me hell for being a stay-at-home mom. But I have been told a couple of times that I should, "get a job." Or, "you have it easy. I'd like a break."

Let me tell you, the problem with this attitude doesn't lie with me, or other folks' perception of me as a stay-at-home mom. The problem lies with their perceptions of their own lives.

People who aren't happy with their own lives look at stay-at-home moms and say they have it easy because they don't have to "go to work."

Then stay-at-home moms go, "But we DO work."

I don't need some internet calculator to tally up my financial worth by figuring out how many hours a week I take care of a child and do housework and walk the dog and shop and cook.

Here's how I see it. Those people who complain that we have it easy are jealous because they see how rewarding our lives are. They think we have it easy because we make this job look easy.

We LOVE our jobs, that's why it looks easy.

I don't need validation from a boss or a paycheck to tell me that I am doing a good job. All I have to do is look at my beautiful and happy child and I know that I am doing a good job.

So am I scattered? Sure. Plenty. Do I love my job? Yes. Do I need a break sometimes? Hell yeah. And when I've had a break, I come back home to my baby girl and I love her even more because I've missed being away from her. And I can recognize it because my brain is put back together again.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What happened to Halloween?

When I was a kid on Halloween we went trick-or-treating and we had candy for days. If we planned things right it would last us until Thanksgiving when we could gorge on pie and cake for a few days. Then Christmas rolled around quickly with lots of candy canes, chocolate covered cherries, cookies, pies and popcorn balls.

I mean, Halloween is supposed to mark the beginning of a holiday season and the candy is supposed to last. Right?

This weekend was Annika's first real Halloween. I mean, last year I dressed her up and took her around to some houses mostly so I could get the candy. She wasn't on solid foods yet.

But this year we got dressed up and she ran around with other kids for candy. We let her dig into it during the trick-or-treating and then brought it home with us so she could enjoy it for as long as it lasts.

But apparently this is not the standard any more. I guess now people just let their kids eat it on Halloween and that's that. No more until next Halloween.

It just seems kind of sad to me.

Don't get me wrong. I totally understand the logic behind this. You think your kids will just remember holidays where they get to binge as fun and wonderful because they get to eat all that candy for one day.

But they don't forget that they didn't get all of their candy. And I don't think most kids remember it the way their parents are hoping they will. They just remember the candy and wish they had more. And when they get more, they will eat as much of it as they can, even if they don't really want it. Because they have been denied. And because they are being controlled.

It seems so obvious to me that this attitude toward candy is just another driving force behind binging on the holidays and then denying ourselves the rest of the year. And does this really work?

Maybe it is only obvious to me because I have been reading and thinking so much about unfooding lately. You can read those posts here and here.

I also think it is sad because I have recently realized just how much control was exercised over me as a child and it continues to haunt me and define my behavior.

I know that I don't want to do this to Annika.

Some parents will probably say I am a horrible mother for allowing my child eat all of her Halloween stash.

I'm sure that plenty of mothers would be mortified to know that when Annika asked for candy this morning after breakfast I gave it to her.

But here's the thing. After trick-or-treating the other night, she only ate a couple of pieces of candy. Then we went home and went to bed. She ate a few more pieces the next day. And a few more pieces the next day.

She'll probably eat a few more pieces tomorrow. But will she have eaten any more than kids who get to binge on Halloween? Probably not much more. And it will have been spread out over several days.

So to me, that seems better. It seems more logical. And it seems much nicer to her.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Evilness all ablaze with sweet berry flavor

Last night in my car, I switched on NPR. They were running a story about an Iranian blogger who got arrested a year ago in Iran for being a blogger or something.

I'm not really sure. You know why? I switched stations to listen to music.

There was a time in my life when I would have gotten all irate and
when I got home I would have gotten online and read more about it, then sent off a message to some of friends about it, then signed a petition to have him freed.

Not anymore. My head is way too filled with other things like schooling and healthy meals for toddlers and autism and vaccines and avoiding the swine flu and potty training and playdates.......

Are you tired yet?

So, after I switched stations, I thought, "WTF. I used to DO this for a living." Report the news I mean. Not be an Iranian blogger.

So I switched back, determined to get my panties in a wad over the injustice in the world. By then they were talking about some wine being ablaze with the flavor of blackberry currant.

I clicked off.

A year ago, I was still an avid newshound. Even when Annika was latched onto my breast 24/7, I still couldn't wait to get my news fix first thing in the morning along with my coffee.

Two and a half years ago I worked for a newspaper. I was so on top of what was going on in the world I could have told you how often W took a shit.

And now that we have a president in office whom I voted for and whom I like, (not to digress, but I was actually a Hillary supporter initially).

I don't follow the news.

Can someone please tell me what it is about becoming a parent that makes you stop caring what is going in the world? Can someone please tell me why I have absolutely no interest in the news anymore? I mean, okay I do have an interest. But I have lost touch. I don't even know where to begin anymore. I miss it. And I miss the old me.

But I like the new stuff too. And I also like the new me.

Ironically, the new me is a lot like that NPR broadcast. First there is the old me who gets all fired up about politics and war and evil oppressive dictators. Toyin used to have to monitor the television so that Fox news didn't stay on too long. He was afraid my blood pressure would shoot up so high that I might have to be hospitalized.

Then there's the new me. All saturated and drippy sweet with mommy life.

Somehow I've got to find a way to fuse the evilness of the world with blackberry currant. I think this post is a good start. Now for the news.....

Monday, October 26, 2009

Unfooding myself

A couple of posts ago I wrote about choices. I've been thinking a lot about my choices lately. And with choices comes letting go of limits I've put on myself.

For years I've wanted to lose 10 pounds. I'm not counting pregnancy and post pregnancy weight here, just the basic weight that I am.

I hover around 140. I'm 5 foot 6 inches. I think that I would look and feel better if I could hover around 130. 125 would be even better, but I'd be happy if I could get that damn 10 pounds off as it seems like they are all right in the middle of body.

Overall I'm pretty happy with my body shape. I'm probably rare in that my goals are actually attainable, but for some reason, I simply can't get there. It's so close and yet, for the past 10-ish years, I've never managed to get down there.

I've gotten close. Sometimes I'm really good about eating right and exercising for a couple of weeks and I get down to 135. I'm not going to sit here and say that I've tried really really hard, counted calories, jogged, lifted weights, yoga-ed, spinned, boxed, tai chi-ed, you-name-it-ed. No, the truth is, I haven't tried that hard. The truth is, if I had tried that hard, I could probably lose that little bit of weight.

So why haven't I?

I really and truly don't know, but my brain keeps coming to this. Maybe I simply don't want to.

Maybe I'm happy with myself the way I am, gut and all.

Wait, I better check my birth certificate. Am I really an American woman?

It simply can't be! What? I'm not supermodel skinny! Can I be happy with my body even though it isn't perfect? Yes. I can. Because I choose to.

So, yeah.

The headline. Unfooding myself. Let me get to that before I start telling you how wonderful I think the rest of my imperfections are. (Tongue firmly planted in cheek.)

I'm a member on Sandra Dodd's Yahoo group called Always Learning. It's an unschooling listserv. I joined it a while back when I had heard about unschooling and was curious.

I wrote to the group last week and asked them about unfooding. I got some killer advice. One woman said she likes to keep a bowl of Dove chocolates in her kitchen so she can have it any time she wants it. I'm totally going to start doing that.

Another woman said she doesn't think of desserts as separate. They go on the plate along with the rest of the meal. I made brownies over the weekend and when I served Annika dinner the other night, I gave her the brownie along with her meal. She ate that first, but she ate the rest of her dinner too.

The point is, I have choices. And I'm going to stop putting ridiculous limits on myself. It's stupid to constantly tell yourself that that you can't have chocolate because you want to lose 10 pounds. But then after you have limited yourself for several weeks you buy a box of chocolate cookies and eat the whole box on the way home from the store and blame it on PMS.

Yeah, I've done that.

More than once.

Last week when I went shopping. I bought a box of cookies. I didn't eat it on the way home. But over the course of the next three days, Annika and I (mostly I) ate them all. I didn't feel guilty about it. I ate them whenever I wanted to. I did not save any for Toyin and I'm not even sure he knew they were in the pantry. (Sorry Toyin).

Then when they were gone. I made brownies. We ate them all over the weekend. And you know what? I don't want any more chocolate.

I can have it whenever I want it. I can. And I will.

Oh, and I weighed myself this morning.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Parenting the Chris Rock way

One of mine and Toyin's favorite inside jokes is a line from Chris Rock's bit, "How to Maintain a Relationship." (Warning, this video is not for people who are easily offended. It's pretty typical Chris Rock stuff).

Our joke stems from the part where he is talking about how men don't actually need to talk back when women are talking.

"You gotta just act like you're talking. 'Get out of here. Go on! l don't believe it. You don't say! Really? Get out of here! Go on. l don't believe it. I told you that bitch crazy.

"You gotta throw in, I told you that bitch crazy, you know why? 'Cause every woman's got another woman at her job that she can't stand."

When Toyin and I watched that bit, we cracked up because we had a pretty typical couple issue in that when I was venting, he wanted to fix fix fix. Toyin is the master solution maker. But when I was upset, that's not what I wanted. I just wanted someone to listen. More importantly, I wanted someone to understand.

Shortly after we saw that Chris Rock bit, Toyin and I were walking into a Lowes one afternoon. Walking in front of us was a couple in their mid-forties. She was talking and talking, clearly irate about something, although not at him. She was venting. They walked closely, indicating an intimate relationship. He held his hand on her shoulder in a loving manner. As she talked and waved her arms about, he nodded and said in a nurturing way, "mmmm, hmmm."

Toyin and I laughed and looked at each other and he said, "I told you that bitch was crazy."

What we saw that day was a man who was simply listening to and understanding his woman. He wasn't trying to fix anything.

Well, kids need that too.

I recently wrote a post about how I started reading Tears and Tantrums by Aletha Solter.

I'm just about done and it is eye-opening!

Solter points that when children cry or tantrum, parents are in one of two camps. They either punish, or they soothe/attempt to find a fix.

I have been in the soothing/fixing camp.

But Solter says that neither one of these is a good idea and soothing away the tears is just as detrimental to the child as punishment.

Why? Because they don't feel understood.

Additionally, if you try to fix it, or you ignore, or punish, you are not letting your child release her/his stress.

And just like adults, they need to release stress.

Since reading T&T, I am actually encouraging Annika to cry when it seems like she needs it. Solter gives some recommendations to parents in the book, which I'm not going to write down because this is one of those books that you should read yourself as this is one of those ideas that really doesn't translate well through retelling.

But if you don't read it, a simple solution here is: next time your kid is having a tantrum, just remember, "I told you that bitch crazy."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Choosing to parent with the end in mind

I have choices.

That has been my mantra all week.

I have choices about what I eat, what I wear, when I sleep, where I go, what I spend my money on, who I hang out with, what I read, how I live my life.

The first several are no big deal, but that last one, well, that's the doozy.

Since becoming a parent I have realized sooooo sooooo much about why I think the way I do and why I live the way I do has so very much to do with the way I was parented.

This is not a parent-bashing post. My parents did lots of things wrong but they did lots of stuff right too.

They are not/were not perfect. My siblings and I have spent a lot of years being mad at them for all the stuff they did wrong. I think that is pretty common, although, we always thought we were the weird ones.

One thing my parents did wrong was not give enough choices. I think that is also very common. I don't blame them for it. My mom and I have had lots of talks about our childhood and her early days of parenting. As she puts it, "By the time you (me) came along, I was just trying to get through the day."

I have one kid and I feel that way a lot. There were/are four of us.

Mainstream parenting says that children should do what their parents say. I know plenty of people who think their children should just obey them. I know people who teach their kids not to touch their stuff, to eat what is put in front of them, to go to bed because "I say so," to hurry up, get to school, do your homework, eat your dinner, go to sleep. They punish, give rewards, spank, yell, blame, time-out, control, force, and just generally reckon with. And the next day it starts all over again.

It's how most people think parenting is supposed to go.

I was telling Toyin the other day that I hoped by the time Annika is a teenager I hope and pray (and I ain't a religious woman) that we do enough stuff right so that we are close. I hope she doesn't hate us and rebel in ways that would do long-term damage.

I don't think that's "normal."

Imagine a world where you start it out as an infant, and your cries go unanswered a lot of the time. Then you begin to explore the world and you are constantly told no. Don't do this. Don't do that. Don't touch this. Don't touch that.

Then the punishments start.

Your life is structured for you. You have very few choices about what you do on a day-to-day basis.

Then you finally hit an age where you begin to have a little independence.

No wonder teens are rebellious and angry!

I think it's a sad state of affairs in this world where "normal" means that teenagers spend all their time with their friends, feel alienated from their parents and avoid talking to them.

The teen years are a time when kids should be looking to their parents for guidance on a lot of things that are going to affect the beginnings of their adult life. That's a time when I hope and pray that Annika will feel close enough to me to discuss with me and Toyin things like sex and drugs and college and career.

So, anyway, I have choices. Yeah, I digressed the hell out of this post. But that kind of stuff has been on my mind lately and it all ties together. Watch me now.

I have choices.

I spent the first part of my life being told what to do all the time. Then I spent the first part of my adulthood parroting back what I thought I was supposed to do.

It would have worked if I had liked it.

I got married. I got a job. I bought a house.

I have none of those things anymore.

I hated it. It sucked. I remember thinking, "Is this it? Is this what life is supposed to be?"

I got rid of all that stuff and now I am not married. I have a kid. I don't have a job (that pays). I don't own a house.

I like my life so much better.

But I am still working on making choices to make my life better. I still struggle daily with the idea that I *should* be doing things a certain way. I struggle with the idea that I should eat a certain way, dress a certain way and behave a certain way. My inner voices fight all the time. It's fucking exhausting.

My point, and I do have one, or do I? Is this.

Giving a child choices teaches them how to live and how to ensure they are living the way they want to. I recently saw this quote somewhere online. It's from Stephen Covey's book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: "Start with the end in mind." I haven't read this book, but now I'm thinking about reading it.

I like the idea of parenting with the end in mind. When I was pregnant I used to imagine Annika as an adult. I imagined her to be tall and beautiful. I imagined her to be strong, independent, happy, courageous, curious, friendly, intelligent, and loving.

I imagine her this way because this is the way I hope she turns out. I am curious about the semantics. What will her humor be like? What will her fashion (or lack of) sense be? What kind of work will she want to do? What kind of music will she like? Will she travel? What hobbies will she take up?

These are the kind of things I will leave up to her. But I think the other stuff is up to me and Toyin.

So, I parent with the end in mind. I want Annika to know that her choices will define her life.

Somehow, I got through a lot of life before I figured that out. I thought my life was being controlled by some outside force. Then one day I woke up and realized that my life had turned out exactly the way it had because of all the choices I made. I made a lot of good choices. But I made a lot of bad choices too.

So, I have choices.

I have choices.

Friday, October 16, 2009

As the mother of a bi-racial child, this makes me furious and scared

I am white. My daughter is half black. And when I read this story this morning my heart raced with rage and fear.

Wait... what year is this?

A judge in Louisiana denied a mixed race couple the opportunity to get married in his court because of fear for any children they might have.

"He came to the conclusion that most of black society does not readily accept offspring of such relationships, and neither does white society, he said.

"'There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage," Bardwell said. "I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it.'"

That is utter BULLSHIT!

My family and Toyin's family love Annika dearly and neither one of them has ever once expressed concern for her race.

What really gets me is that another part of justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish Keith Bardwell's, reasoning is that interracial marriages don't last long.

Uh, last time I checked lots of marriage's don't last long, whether they be white, black or whatever else.

What really gets me is that this asshole thinks he has the right to deny the Civil Rights movement and flout the law against discrimination.

Why is this jackass still an employee of the UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT?!

Oh wait, it's ok. He's really not a racist. He still lets Black folks use his bathroom.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Babies on drugs flinging poop

This was my Facebook status tonight:

today Annika kicked @Lorien's baby gate several times. Hugged Rafi. Didn't want to hug Rafi when parents were looking. Came home, ran around saying nononononono. Wanted to nurse. Wanted to read. Nursereadnursereadnurseread. Now's she asleep. Toddler life.

After I read this, I thought, "Man, it's like being on drugs."

This is why I believe wholeheartedly in Attachment Parenting. That right there.

Can you imagine being that confused and disoriented all the time, only to be yelled at, spanked, shamed, and then be put to bed and left crying yourself to sleep?

I think that most parents look at their kids like little adults. But they aren't.

Yes, they are little tiny human beings. But they don't have the cognitive skills that (hopefully most) adults have.

It's like those science monkeys who can practically have a conversation with people using sign language, but after you finish playing backgammon with them, they get pissed off and throw poop at your face.

I mean, if I let her, Annika would probably throw poop at me and laugh. It's not because she's mean. It's because she doesn't understand that poop is filled with bacteria that could make you sick. And it's gross.

Annika likes to say poop. She thinks its funny. She also likes to say shoes. She also likes to say food, then when I give it to her she says nonono and throws it on the floor.

It just seems like it must be sort of wacky in their heads. That's all I'm sayin'.

Rant over.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Enter Tantrum

Annika's has been such a sweet and happy-go-lucky kid for the most part that there was this little part of my brain that has been continuously whispering soothing thoughts in the back of my head when I see other children throw tantrums.

"Nooo, not our Annika," a Gollum-like voice hisses into my brain when our playgroup friends demand toys and yell at other children.

"Annika is a gooood gurl. She will never act like thaaaat."

Well Gollum voice, go to hell, because damnit, my kid is normal and today the fit hit the shan, so to speak....

Annika threw a full-on tantrum on the living room floor that lasted a good three hours.

Ok, ok, it was really only about two or three minutes, but geez, did it feel like a long time.

I just started reading Tears and Tantrums: What to Do When Babies and Children Cryby Aletha Solter, because, quite frankly, I did see this coming. I just hoped I was wrong, or that the little mini-fits she was having were the worst it was going to get.

Before I started reading T & T, I thought that allowing tantrums was a bad thing. And honestly, I think that sometimes there are fits that are really and truly manipulative. I know that makes me sound very non-AP, but I'm starting to realize that there are no hard and fast rules for anything and when it comes to children there are subtleties that only the parents will pick up on.

But this book defies all laws of nature and everything our parents told us (and we all know that they are right about everything) that tantrums are actually a good thing.


Yeah, it's like a sneeze, says Solter. Because see, toddlers are still learning how to control their emotions and when they are upset, confused, frustrated, angry, in pain, tired, cranky, irritated with you, bored, anxious, impatient, you-name-it, they don't have the words or the power to fix the situation.

So what do they do?

They lie on the floor and flail their arms about and roll around and cry and scream and look at you like you're the devil. Then rush into your arms for a hug. Then push you away.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

So yeah, the above is pretty much the scene today when Annika awoke from her nap and I abruptly got up to answer the phone while she was still lounging at the breast.

Normally, I would do one of two things. I would either hold her close and say, "There there, it's okay. What's wrong? How can I help you? What do you need?"

OR, I might, depending on the situation or my mood say something like, "Oh no. There's no need for that behavior."

But today, since I started this book and I was curious about the advice, which is to simply let it happen and stay with your child while it happens.

I did just that.

For one, she raged longer than normal.

And two, when she was done. She hopped up off the floor happily. Patted Baltar, while cooing at him. Then she came over to me and gave me a really long hug and kissed me.

It really seemed to make her feel better.

In addition to letting the child clear out her feelings, the theory behind this methodology is that if you punish or soothe the tantrum away, you are not validating your child's feelings. This could potentially be the beginning of a life of unexpressed emotions. Distrust is another problem too. If you don't validate or allow expression of the feelings, the child will not trust you to really hear her/him.

I'm not totally sure how I feel about this idea. I like it. I hope it's correct. But I'm not completely convinced yet. I'll have to wait and see if this method continues to work so well.

I also plan on reading more about this subject. I'd love to hear suggestions for more material.

And now, for the best part.

Because I'd rather leave you with an image of Annika dancing, not throwing a tantrum. Plus, it's cute as hell.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Monkeying around with food

Today I was visiting with my friend Sonya and, as women do, we got around to discussing our eating habits and weight loss. Naturally, since we are also parents, this discussion morphed into our theories on how to teach our kids about food.

We both have a fondness for starchy and cheese laden foods, as well as sugar. Knowing that too much of these kinds of foods are not good for us, we have already begun to come up with ideas on how to thwart bad eating habits in our children.

It seems like with food, everyone knows what they don't want. For instance, Sonya and I agree that we don't want our children to attach emotional rewards to certain foods, as we do.

We know that we don't want our children to overeat or to eat things that will give them long-lasting health problems like high blood pressure or heart disease.

But the conversation got me to thinking.

What do I WANT for Annika. Not just what do I not want, but how to I want her to view food?

And just what is the best way to go about helping her learn the best way to view food?

Personally, I seesaw between being puritanical about food and binging. I don't like cooking and I lack the creative sense for making it look good. Therefore, I will eat whatever is put in front of me as long as I can stomach it and I am hungry.

My ex-husband, who was in the Air Force, used to tease me about my laziness in the kitchen. He once told some friends that if I was stranded and I had all the makings for a three-course meal, but I had to cook it, and my other option was an MRE (acronym stands for meal-ready-to-eat, those freeze dried camping thingies, also used for military) that I would choose the MRE. He was right. At the time anyway. I think now I'd take a stab at the cooking.

BUT, I also have certain go-to foods when I am depressed, anxious, bored, lazy, lethargic.... You get the point.

Food can be emotional for me. It seems that it is for a lot of people. Maybe everyone? I don't know about that. But I'd like to think that food doesn't have to be overly emotional. I guess that is what I want for Annika.

Sure, I'd like her to enjoy her food. I want her to be able to find enjoyment in all areas of life. But I don't want her to attach certain emotions to certain foods, like for me, when I get depressed I need chips and salsa. (When I went through my divorce, I practically lived on them. I am NOT kidding.)

But, back to my conversation with Sonya. I found that our goal is essentially the same -- to have children who make healthy choices and don't have weight problems or other health issues caused by eating habits -- our approach differs somewhat.

I tend toward the idea that with food, less is more. And more is less. In other words, little to no regulation of food is a good idea. This idea is otherwise known as unfooding.

Sonya's approach is to make healthy food attractive to her son.

I've realized that these are both good ideas and I want to find ways of making healthy food more attractive to Annika so that she doesn't struggle with making choices based simply on what tastes good, but what is the best choice for her health and how it makes her feel physically.

In order to learn how to make choices, one must HAVE choices. And food should be something to enjoy just like anything else.

This is what I struggle with. How to balance the enjoyment of food without overeating?

Annika doesn't seem all that interested in real food. She'll still nurse any day over eating regular food.

Lately I've been thinking about ways to give variety and make food attractive, like making monkey platters (the name is from unschooling/unfooding mama, Sandra Dodd) and using Bento boxes. From what I've heard, variety is key with little kids and also it helps give them extra choices.

So for now, I'm looking for ideas on how to put some variety into Annika's diet while also giving her healthy food choices.

A sad and pathetic first attempt at a monkey platter. She seemed to like it anyway.