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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.