Category Archives: parenting

where the grieving mom gets a little ranty and a lot sentimental

Because google is taking its blog reader away from us, I have recently found myself transitioning over to another reader, and in the process, taking a look at what I haven’t read lately. One blog I came across was from a mom blogger (not part of our LGBT TTC community) I used to occasionally enjoy, though I can’t say I was a regular reader. I found her snarky, funny, and typically enjoyable to read. So I set about reading this post that spent a couple of thousand words complaining about her annoying children, and I found myself feeling sicker and sicker and sicker. I wrote a bit of a ranty comment (which she hasn’t yet approved–probably a good thing) when I probably should have slunk away instead of being some sort of wet blanket at the snarky mom party. But I didn’t.

There’s something about taking a long time to become a mom, seeing the hell people go through to get their kids that makes a person more sensitive to this sort of thing. There’s something about losing a child that makes this sort of whiny snark-fest even less tolerable. I found myself yesterday looking at a few of these other similar blogs, people who openly dislike being mothers, who make a living on talking about how shitty their kids are or how justified they feel yelling at them, and after my incredulous head shaking stopped, I just felt sad about how much these moms are missing because they seem to be missing everything.

But then I consider this blog community, you readers out there who waited and read and cheered as we worked toward making BG, who cheered one another on and held each other up through positive pregnancy tests and postponed inseminations and failed cycles and miscarriages and births of healthy and less healthy babies, and I am so very grateful to be amidst a group of women who just get it. You get how sacred our children are, and even on your worst days when parenting is just shit, you remember what your blog sisters have endured, and you consider them in your writing and even in how you treat your kids. It’s pretty remarkable, and having been the recipient of so much kindness and generosity from this community, I just want to thank you for being really fabulous people.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under blogging, parenting

the problem with carrots

Every good diplomat knows that in negotiations, one can make use of carrots or sticks to bring a reluctant party to agree. Most often, carrots are quite effective, for they keep the negotiation positive, allowing both parties to be pleased in the end. Unfortunately, overuse of carrots, as we are learning, can come back to haunt the diplomat.

In our current situation, BG often has to do things he would never in a million years offer to do. He has to undergo the removal of very sticky bandages, take nasty medication orally, sit still through ultrasounds and x-rays, and very occasionally, he has to be poked by sharp needles. These activities are on few people’s lists of favorite things to do on any given day, but add nausea, general feelings of ick, and the fact that our little guy is stuck in a single room most of his days, and these activities become the fodder for daily U.N. summits.

Enter the carrot.

The most challenging issue (mostly because it happens a couple of times a day) is the taking of oral medication. There have been times when poor BG has had five or six medicine droppers plus chewable pills that he has to take in one sitting, and while most of the meds have been spruced up with some sort of corn syrup-based artificial cherry or grape flavoring, there remain a few that are nasty no matter what. The trouble is, those  meds still have to go into BG’s mouth and down to his belly. We started with chocolate chips. As you know, before this, we could count the number of times the boy had had chocolate on one hand, but when it comes to curing cancer, you’ve got to do what it takes, so chocolate it was. It would work pretty well. Then we tried M&Ms because we had a big bag, and well, why not. Soon, however, BG was introduced to the world of Lindor truffles, and before we knew it, he wanted nothing to do with the M&Ms. The only thing that would get those meds into his mouth was the shiny, crinkly wrapper of a truffle. Again, we had to get them in. You can’t just not give a kid his chemo, so if this was the particular carrot that was going to do the job, we would buy big bags of them (it doesn’t hurt that these are highly caloric, and we need the boy to gain weight too).

While chocolate was probably the most effective carrot, sticks have occasionally been necessary. Once in awhile, when things are dire, we have had to warn BG that if he doesn’t do “x” that someone may hold him down again as has happened on a couple of occasions in the past. More often than not, though, sticks are more like, if you don’t stop stalling and take your meds, I’m going to sing or play a song you don’t like or put on a wig. Yes, a wig. I got him to take a bunch of meds once because I put on an afro, which he hated. But honestly, the sticks are not as effective as the carrots typically. The carrots keep everyone happy.

Unfortunately, the carrots can get old. Even chocolate soon lost its appeal because his mouth hurt from his chemotherapy, and he was simply not interested in most food. BG already had a strong interest in medical supplies and had been given a few syringes and such for medical play. We soon realized, however, that the supplies could be powerful bargaining chips, so we and the nurses began using them. We used them to get him to take medications, to get him to succumb to dressing changes, to keep him happy when he had to go in for surgery, to encourage eating and baths–for nearly everything we needed him to do without a fuss.

Now let me insert here that the supplies have been amazing. BG is learning so much, and they are providing him such empowerment as he undergoes a series of events each day over which he has almost no control. They have become his favorite toy, and when he masters one new medical skill, he wants something more interesting, more advanced. It’s no surprise, too, that when his providers see this interest, they want to encourage it because, quite frankly, it’s all pretty positive. To have a child who can tell others what is happening to him, who is able to assist in his own care is something very special because it means he’s generally fairly happy.

Generally. Until he doesn’t get a medical supply.

I think you can guess where this is going. BG’s desire for more medical supplies has resulted in more than one fit of anger or disappointment or frustration because a nurse wasn’t willing to give him something harmful. He has begun to realize that when we have new nurses who don’t know him well, he can often swindle them into giving him many more supplies than he would normally receive. He insists on keeping each of his oral medicine syringes, and has started to make demands. Obviously, this is not acceptable. Somehow, and likely because he is ill, we let our boundaries slip, and our son is now hoarding and demanding carrots.

Last night was the capstone when one of our favorite night nurses was with us. He came in to see BG and looked through our son’s medical box to see what he might bring him as a reward for taking his medicine without any prompting. He looked and then came back awhile later and told BG, “Well, I looked and looked for something but I couldn’t find any medical supplies you didn’t have, so I brought you something else instead!” He held up a fabulous caricature he had drawn of BG. J and I were so thrilled and heartened that he had done this for him, but this soon changed as our son yelled, “NO! Take it away! I don’t want it! I don’t like it!”

I have heard that disappointment in a child’s actions is a pretty devastating feeling to endure as a parent, and J and I learned first-hand just how awful it is. When the nurse left (and he was so very gracious, and just laughed the reaction off), I’ll admit that I cried. Granted our son was tired and ready for bed, was on his last day of chemo, was struggling with so much more than the surface revealed, but in that moment, he was ungrateful, and his greed for more supplies overtook any social graces this three-year-old may have acquired. So I cried because I felt like I had failed as a parent in something J and I had done so well with prior to this experience. Our son wasn’t a kid who demanded things, who always wanted more because we had taught him to be happy with what he had, to repurpose things, and certainly not to expect that others would always come bearing gifts.

That is the tricky part. Our boy is in the hospital. He has cancer. When people come to visit, they are compelled to bring things. People send things. When nurses see a cute boy who wants to emulate them, they bring him things. Hell, we regularly bring him little gifts because something has to make this time more bearable, and little (and big) surprises have that sort of effect. While I’m not sure there is anything wrong with the people in his life wanting him to have things to keep his mind off of what is going on, the gift-giving coupled with the medical supply thing may be creating a set of unappealing expectations.

Obviously, we have decided to set some new boundaries. We’re back to medical supplies being true carrots and carrots alone. He has more than he needs in his medical box (seriously–he could draw labs, administer chemo and other IV drugs, bandage wounds, and basically start up his own oncology practice), so we’ve decided he needs to be happy with what he has, and only when he has to do something extra difficult may he have a medical supply as a reward. When gifts arrive, we’re holding onto them a bit until the right moment when they’re needed to break up the monotony of hospital time or to turn a rough day around. We’re working toward making the feeling of victory of getting through an unpleasant task reward enough as well. That takes a little doing given our recent history, but it actually works. Just today, BG remarked a few times after doing something without prompting or without fuss that he’s a grownup now. He even opted to throw out some of his overflowing medical supplies, and he gladly helped his favorite nurse prepare medical supplies for use on another patient without asking for any himself. He can get this, and I don’t think he’s too far gone for us to reinstill this sense of not constantly needing more, but it may be a challenge along the way.

As always, any of your sage wisdom is welcome here. This is new territory for us, and shaky territory at that, so we welcome ideas when it comes to maintaining boundaries in extreme circumstances such as these.

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Filed under Boy Genius, parenting, Uncategorized

hard lessons

Today, I broke my son’s heart.

I know we all do this from time to time, that it’s unavoidable, but given the choice, I’d rather never do it again.

BG was playing with his medical supplies, as he often does now. He has a segment of an IV tube, and he loves to flush saline or water through it. It has valves and things he can attach, and very cool clamps that are just like the clamps on his tubes. As he was playing, I was doing something of my own, and he commented that the clamp on the play tube and the clamp on his tube were the same. “They’re both blue!” he exclaimed.

I agreed that they were, and then the nag in the back of my head pushed her way through and said, “But just remember that you only play with your play tubes. Only the nurses can handle your tubes.” It was such an off-handed remark, but I looked at him and saw the saddest expression creep over his face. His lip was quivering. He was trying desperately not to cry, and I knew I had just squashed his spirit. I tried to tell him I was sorry, told him that it was so neat the clamps were the same color, told him I knew he wouldn’t mess with his own tubes. He kept trying to fight off his tears, and as I looked right into his eyes that are made of Pacific Ocean, they started to fill and fill and fill until he fell into my arms sobbing. I held him and held him and listened to his sobs, felt his devastation that I hadn’t, for a moment, remember the kind of boy he is.

Of course my son knows not to play with his own tubes. He has been paying such close attention, and while he wants to emulate the nurses, he knows the boundaries. He knows how important it is to stick to his play tubes. 

Oh what a cad I am. I feel awful, and it teaches me a valuable lesson that the nag in my mind needs to be silenced more. At the same time, I wonder if this gave him a valuable moment to release some of the pain he has been feeling about being here. Maybe he got to let go a little. I don’t know. I just know that I don’t ever want to do that again.

Even in the hospital, in the middle of a battle with cancer, we face daily parenting struggles: how to get him to eat, how to maintain rules and boundaries, how to offer help when he needs it without coddling or causing regression, and, most of all, how not to trample his spirit in the process. It’s all hard, but sometimes, it’s just the usual hard of parenting a three-year-old.

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Filed under Boy Genius, parenting

graduation day

Million Dollar Baby Sleigh Toddler Bed Cherry

Today, we bought our son a big boy bed. He only started sleeping in his crib when he was about one, and once his sleep started to regulate, we didn’t want to mess with anything, so we were in no hurry to move to a toddler bed. There was this idea that we would convert his crib to its toddler bed setting a couple of months ago when he was turning two, but again, we couldn’t mess with what seemed to be working.

However, BG has been expressing more and more interest in big boy beds  (and lifting him in and out of his crib is getting more and more challenging). We had on hand a bed rail, so we decided to go for the transition today. Unfortunately, when we did, we learned that the rail we had was not at all intended for a toddler bed, and as a result, it was fairly dangerous (any attempted roll out of the bed may well have taken the mattress too). Also of concern was that the boy still had three sides to pull up on, so he was still standing and walking in his bed. Something was going to have to change for these moms to be comfortable leaving our boy in the bed.

So we called a local baby store, put a toddler bed rail on hold, and then went to pick it up. While there, we took BG to a sale area upstairs where we spotted two toddler beds. BG laid in one. He liked it. It was only sixty dollars more than the rail. We hemmed, we hawed, we asked what colors they had, and within moments, we were leaving, receipt in hand, heading home to free our little sedan of a toddler, a carseat, and an extra mom so that one of us could return for a big boy bed.

While J was gone getting the bed, BG helped me disassemble his crib. We said goodbye to it a few times and we talked a lot about the big boy bed that was coming. He talked about which animals he would want in his new bed. He talked about having good dreams in his new bed. It was heartening. He had expressed a good deal of concern earlier in the day during the conversion of the crib to its toddler setting. He thought we were getting rid of his crib, and this worried him so. But having seen the option of a real bed, he was no longer distressed and instead was enjoying helping me.

When his new bed came, we assembled it, put the mattress down, and I gave BG a quilt my mom had made me when I was a baby. He loved the blanket, helped me tuck it into the bed, and then he laid down. He got under the covers, and yelled enthusiastically, “You LOVE this bed!” (He’s still working out his pronouns.) He got in and out of it multiple times, telling us, “BG like in and out of bed!” He put his favorite bear in the bed, his pillow, and the blankets he used in his crib. He placed his water bottle in the spot next to his pillow where it always is, and everything seemed in place. But then came his bonding doll, Wink. Wink has been with BG since infancy. I used to carry the doll around in my shirt and put it back in his bed. This was the first sleep friend he had, and he has continued to stay by BG’s pillow. But today, BG got to decide what he wanted, and when asked about Wink, he said, “No. No Wink. Put Wink in garage.” The garage is where his high chair went. It’s where we just put his crib. It’s where all of the symbols of his babyhood have gone. My wife and I agreed Wink would go to the cedar chest where we store our boy’s keepsakes. BG gave Wink a hug and a kiss. He asked us to kiss Wink. He gave him one last hug and kiss and said goodbye, and he watched my wife put him away. We told him he could have Wink whenever he wanted, but he was ready to say goodbye.

Do I need to tell you that this made me cry? I’ve done a lot of that today.

My wife and I have long said we would let our son tell us when he was ready to take his next steps. He told us when he was done with his high chair, and recently, he told us he was ready to move on from his baby bed. I’m so proud of him when he does this, yet it always takes me my surprise a little. I’m always caught up in the emotion of it all, in having a son who has left his baby self behind and has emerged a boy. I find myself in these moments simultaneously mourning my baby and celebrating the awesome kid he has become, and I know this is so very natural for parents to do. I am quickly learning that one of the hardest things to do as a parent is to watch one’s child grow up, yet this is also one of the most fulfilling and inspiring aspects of parenthood. I really don’t know what will come next, what big transition will come knocking on our door, but I can guarantee I’ll be crying in my wife’s arms, marveling at the wonder that is my son and wondering why on earth he has to grow up so fast.

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Filed under Boy Genius, milestones, parenting

the mommy contest

So many people have written lately on just how judgmental other moms can be, and Jen has written a great post on letting go of that tendency to be an “Extreme Parent.” And while I could say plenty about that drive for perfection, I’m most interested in contemplating the results of conversations like these.

We have this tendency as parents to be really sensitive about our choices, but we also have tendencies as parents to be judgmental of others’ parenting decisions. As a result, we live in this parenting culture where instead of supporting one another through the hardest job we’ve ever undertaken, we become adversaries. Mary might feed her kid nothing but Super Deluxe Extra Fun Meals from her favorite fast food place while Jane feeds her kid a completely raw, vegan, orange, liquid diet. These two meet, and inevitably both parents feel sensitive about their choices, judged by the other, and even a bit (or more) judgemental of one another’s choices. What is this phenomenon? Why can’t our parenting choices just be our parenting choices?

It seems to begin with pregnancy: who you choose for pregnancy care, the type of birth you hope to have, the type of birth you do have, whether or not you circumcise your boy, what you name your child, what you do with the cord blood, and so much more. And from there, it just escalates and grows to include how we get our kids to sleep, how and what they are fed during infancy, what sort of diapers they wear, where they sleep, who cares for them, whether they go to daycare, what kind of preschool they attend, and on and on and on.

But why does this happen? Why does Jane care so much about the brand of diapers Mary buys, and why does Mary care so much about where Jane’s kid sleeps? How does that affect them?

Honestly, unless they’re living together and parenting together, it doesn’t.

I suppose my theory is this: Parenting is hard. When it comes down to it, while we may all have theories, hypotheses, assumptions about how this should work, we won’t know the outcome for a number of years. We’d like to think we are making the best choices for ourselves and our families, but we’ve got media and family and other parents throwing other ideas at us all the time, so there’s a certain amount of uncertainty and thus even insecurity that comes with parenting. But we have our values and our research and our observations. We have what we know about our kids and our families. We throw all of that together, and we come up with what we think is a pretty good way of parenting our kids.

And then somebody else comes along, and maybe they seem like they’ve got it together better than we do, or at least they talk that way. This makes us question ourselves. We get a little defensive, and we look for something to judge, and we look for ways to elevate ourselves, and the cycle continues.

(Please, at this point, if you’re finding yourself reeling, saying in your mind, “What the hell is she saying? I would never do this!” know that I’m generalizing about our culture of parenting–primarily in the U.S. I am by no means saying this is true of every parent.)

Unfortunately, all of this has created a culture of constant competition. We can’t just be moms in support of one another anymore. Instead, we have to size one another up, and while we’re at it, see where we stand too. It’s exhausting, and it’s damaging, and I wish we could all just stop.

What will it take for us to find that support, to be those supportive moms? Is it even possible? Clearly we can’t all go to group therapy to learn to stop being so codependent, but maybe I can be more mindful. Maybe I can take a step every day to show another mom that I support her in her choices (so long as she’s offering her child love and meeting the child’s basic needs–I’m not saying I need to pat abusive parents on the back here). Maybe I can just be open when I hear a different approach than I would take. Maybe I can show interest in how that mom is using those approaches or how they’re working out. Maybe if I find myself reacting to something another parent does that doesn’t jive with my parenting, I can just stop that reaction and realize that I am parenting my own kid, and that parent is parenting her own kid, and clearly we’re making the best decisions for our kids because, after all, we’re supposed to be the ones who know our kids the best. Right? Right? I doubt my efforts will change the world, but perhaps we all just need a little more compassion from one another, a little acceptance that it does take all kinds of parents to raise the different kinds of kids we’ve been given.

I see this at work to some degree in this moms’ group I’ve joined. For the most part, the moms there share similar parenting philosophies, but there are certainly variations, and when there are, the majority of people respond with a spirit of curiosity. They ask questions and discuss how things work. They encourage one another. The group isn’t perfect, and there are those defensive, judgmental, sensitive moments, but I’m beginning to see what’s possible, and while certainly imperfect and far from mamatopia, it’s pretty fascinating, and heartening.

Now, talk to me about this:

Do you think it’s possible or even realistic to think we could move past a culture of mommy competitions? Or are we all just doomed to continue this cycle forever?

Are you supportive of other parents’ choices even if they aren’t choices you would make yourself? Are there any steps you think parents should take to forward a more compassionate, empathetic culture of parenting? Is there any benefit to this competitive culture–something I’m not seeing?

I really look forward to seeing your responses, and I encourage you to ask other parents you know what they think too.

 

And finally, a disclaimer: I am not writing this in judgment of any one person, group, etc. I am openly critical of this cultural trend, and I am writing to explore potential answers. Please do not take offense if you regularly enjoy Super Deluxe Extra Fun Meals or follow a raw, vegan, orange, liquid diet. Likewise, please avoid emailing death threats if your name happens to be Jane or Mary. These were merely hypothetical examples and were not meant to offend any group, dietary choice, or naming preference. Thank you. 😉

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talk to me about timeouts

(There is a poll embedded at the beginning of this post. If you’re on a reader, click through!)

I will begin by saying that I have, and still do on occasion, use timeouts with our son. In fact, my wife and I have used them with regularity for one issue in particular, but I don’t think either of us finds them particularly effective. They just seemed to be the only answer we had. I don’t think we’re alone in this.

I grew up with the occasional spanking in my house, with “go to your room” and later with grounding or removal of privileges (my bedroom door when I got caught by the police after sneaking out in the middle of the night). J’s experienced much more severe physical “discipline.” Neither of us would ever even dream of laying a hand on BG, and I will not hesitate to say that this is one issue on which I do judge other parents. Causing a child physical pain is an archaic, ineffective, and ultimately harmful way of disciplining a child.

And since spanking and hitting with wooden spoons and rapping of knuckles has finally gone out of fashion, the majority of parenting lore would have us believe that we’ve been left with just one tool: the timeout. There are certainly different variations on this: standing in a corner, going to one’s room, sitting in a timeout chair (why don’t we have dunce caps anymore though–that could be an interesting variation). There are different rules about how long to leave kids in timeout or how silent they have to be or what they have to say to get out, but it’s all pretty much the same. A child commits an “undesirable” behavior, and the child is either sent to or taken to timeout where the child stays until the child has served his/her time or the parent or child has calmed down.

I’ll tell you my own reasoning for using this: we sometimes simply need to remove BG from a situation where he has decided to test really serious boundaries (i.e. harming the animals), and he has to be removed because otherwise, he continues to chase after them in an effort to harm them again. In these moments, my wife and I also need a moment to calm down because seeing our son with a maniacal look on his face while he uses all of his might to pull the cat across the kitchen by the tail makes us both very upset (and makes us scared that we’re raising the next George W. Bush). So we place him in his room, close the door, and say “No pulling the cats’ tails. Never ever ever!” (or something like that). And we walk out for a minute or two. He is typically not crying, and he usually just busies himself in his room or his bed until we “release” him or he decides to come out. We usually ask him why he had a timeout, and he always answers spot-on: “Pierre’s tail” or “Bite Mommy.” And then we ask him for an empty apology (because we know full well he doesn’t mean it at this age), and we all hug make up.

But none of this really works. Lately, instead of sending BG to his room to chill out, we do this “timeout right here” thing, where I just hold him in my arms for thirty seconds to a minute, and we all calm down. Sometimes we talk about the event that led to the timeoutrighthere while he sits with me. We have a variation of this at the table where if he is throwing food or putting his feet on the table, we just scoot him away from the table for a moment to reset. We’re all still there, still interacting with him; he just doesn’t have access. While I’m not sure if we’re having more success with this, it is decidedly less punitive and more literally a “Let’s take a moment to reset so that we aren’t encouraged to go down that same path.”

I’ve started reading about this, and some of the articles are so quick to classify timeouts as just as abusive as spanking. Some can’t seem to do anything but generalize and assume all children who are given timeouts are expected to sit far away from the rest of the family in total silence until they’ve done their penance, and that all timeouts are likely to make children feel utterly alone, isolated from the rest of the family, and will ultimately create adults who are stifled and unable to express their feelings. I have a problem with any sweeping generalization like this, but in most generalizations, there will be a speck of truth. That’s what I’m looking for.

I tend to react negatively to parenting trends that are themselves overly reactionary. I like strategies and philosophies that are well thought out, well researched, and that simply make sense. And that, dear readers, is why I’m turning to you. I’m interested not in a debate so much as information. What do you do when your child engages in behavior that is…um…problematic? (I hesitate to choose the wrong word here, but I think you know what I mean: boundary testing, breaking things intentionally, throwing food at you after you have asked/begged/pleaded/insisted that they stop, hitting, biting, pulling of tails, etc.) And what do you think of timeouts? Do you use them? If so, why and how? If you don’t, why not? And for any of you, what is your favorite research on this issue?

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sick kid ettiquette

A few years back, before we had BG, we had a friend with a toddler, and we would watch said toddler from time to time. Once, I was scheduled to watch her daughter, and I came over to find that her child was very, very sick, but only after my friend left! Of course, anyone who has cared for a baby or toddler with a cold knows that it’s virtually impossible to avoid coming into contact with the illness, between the nose-wiping, the child sneezing or coughing on you, the child wiping snot all over you, it’s just not possible. So of course, I got sick. And I was furious with this friend. I was teaching at the time. I had to miss nearly a week of classes, sacrifice pay, and get terribly behind all because my friend wanted to go to some event.

Nearly every time our family falls ill, we can trace it back to small children. I realize that we may very well be contracting these illnesses at the grocery store or the gas pump or the letter carrier for that matter, but it always seems small children are at fault.

But it’s not really the children who are at fault, is it?

 We have a member of our family who brings her child to family functions coughing and sniffling and snotting it up all over the place and then lies to us, telling us her child has allergies. A few days later, our family is laid flat by some suspiciously similar “allergies.” I know this family member doesn’t want to miss out, that she doesn’t want her child’s seemingly mild illness to get in the way of her plans, but honestly, I wish she would just keep her at home.

This is not uncommon though, is it? I know we all have to take our kids out in public when they’re sick from time to time. I had to do it this week to get medication for my wife because she was too ill to take care of our son. So we went out quickly. I kept him close to me in the cart, covered his mouth each time he coughed, and I wiped down our cart with antibacterial wipes following our trip. I know I wasn’t able to eliminate all germs he spread, but bringing him with me was unavoidable.

But when it is avoidable, why do people do this? Why won’t people keep their sick kids–or for that matter, their sick selves–at home? Why do they need to share their latest contagions by letting their kids drool all over playground equipment or library books? Why?

I don’t think I need those questions answered, but I would be interested in knowing what you think. What should sick child ettiquette be? Would you lie about your child’s health if it meant you were able to attend an important event? What do you do when your kid is sick and you can’t just stay home?

 

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parenting: it’s personal

My wife and I were just having a conversation about parenting–this was before I saw the responses to my last post about television. We were agreeing that nothing in the world does a better job at showing one’s values and who one is as a person than parenting choices. This is why, we postulated, that when parents discuss their own choices, people who have taken different paths are so inclined to become defensive about their own choices. Those decisions are so utterly personal that any potential of someone else attacking or disapproving of them seems either threatening or condescending or is otherwise unwanted.

In my post about television, I was talking specifically about one child (mine) and two parents (my wife and I). For our family, a family who does not watch much television (although my wife and I enjoy it plenty after our kid is in bed), TV is not a necessity. My wife and I spent a good amount of time working in media reform, studying western media and its effects on children. We’re academics, and all of our choices about our parenting stem from research, observation, and finally our own values. We are choosing to limit our son’s access to visual media until he has stronger reasoning skills, until he has the ability to process it without simply taking it in as another reality, until he can question what he is seeing. There is nothing wrong with this. Fortunately, we live in a community that supports similar choices. Unfortunately, we live in a larger society where no TV generally equals freak. What can I say?

But when I say I’m not judging others, I’m not. My sister shows her daughter a fair amount of TV. She’s a very spirited three-year-old, and my sister is a single mom. Showing her daughter educational videos has been necessary at times. I’ve turned television on for my niece at my house because for her, it works fine. But when we saw what this did to our son (who was actually well-rested when he watched), my wife and I didn’t like it. Shouldn’t that be enough? We didn’t like how our son behaved when he watched television, and we didn’t like the constant begging for it every five minutes after showing him. We didn’t like it when his books and toys were suddenly not enough. Nothing else had ever done this to our son. That’s a pretty powerful force, and in our opinion as his parents, this is not something to be taken lightly.

When I equate this to our choices to feed our son what we consider “healthy” food, I am doing so because this is yet another very personal parenting choice based on our research, observations, and values. We have seen what happens when people with my genetics eat foods that are overly processed and high in refined sugars. They become morbidly obese–every last one of them. We would like to avoid that in our child. This is our personal parenting decision. We don’t like how our son’s personality responds to sugar, nor do we like how his body responds to low-nutrient, low-quality food, so we aim to feed him real, wholesome foods as much as we can, much as we aim to make the media he consumes as high quality as we can, and, at present, in the form of print and music.

As parents, we are charged with the task of determining what our kids consume, from the food they eat, to the media they view/hear, to the toys they play with, to the social circles they engage in. It would be so nice if we could be supportive of the choices other parents make, but that’s sadly not the culture we live in. If there is anything I’m judging about parents, it’s that. I’m so tired of mothers looking one another up and down and searching for something to be cruel about. It’s hard enough being a parent, but to be a parent in today’s hostile mother culture, where we see this beautiful role as something to compete over, is just really beyond me. So yes, I judge the hell out of that.

But show your kid TV or not, feed your kid sugar or not, let your kid play with his food or not–these are your choices, with your very own reasons behind them, just as ours are ours. There is no need to get the two confused.

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Filed under food, media, parenting

the monster’s mom

On Tuesday, I took my son to storytime at the library. We haven’t been in awhile, and since J has started teaching again, we’ve got long mornings to fill with activities. We’re also dealing with transitioning to one nap still, so BG was tired when it came time to go to storytime, but we made it a little late, and as usual, he enjoyed the songs and seeing all of the kids.

I don’t know if I’ve talked much about this storytime, though. It’s in our present town where there are lots of a certain type of mom. For them, storytime is an opportunity to put their babies/toddlers in their boutique baby wear, to show off their own latest $500 jeans, and to chat loudly while their kids run wildly around the storytime room (or rest in their identical Bjorns).

BG was excited to go toddle around the library, and I was glad to have the opportunity to let him do so. The kids’ area in our library is nice and big, complete with big soft blocks to play with. I hate the things (how can they sanitize these?), but BG loves them. When we made our way to the kids’ area, BG spotted a little girl on the floor, and immediately walked over to her and hugged her. He didn’t know her, and she looked up at him like, “Hey little Dude! You move a little fast for me!” Her dad, fortunately, did not find my son threatening, and he even laughed at his smooth moves.

We continued our toddling, and BG interacted with another little boy his age playing with the blocks. BG, tidy as ever, insisted on helping the boy put them away (little boy wasn’t interested in this). I quickly identified with the mom because she kept telling her son to be gentle. She was nervous about his erratic behavior and kept apologizing to me saying, “We’re working on being gentle.” I reassured her that we had the same issues, that it was hard for them to learn gentleness when they’re just so excited about things. It was a nice encounter, and I wish I would have spoken with her longer because she wasn’t one of the traditional moms there. Unfortunately, BG took off, and I had to chase him, so our conversation didn’t go any further.

A few minutes later, we made our way back to the kids’ area and those dreaded blocks. By now, a little girl–probably around two and a half–was playing with them and making stacks. As far as she was concerned, the blocks were hers, so when BG came and took one, she yelled at him, “No, Baby!”  He just saw that they weren’t in their bin, and he wanted to put them away, but each time he grabbed one, this little girl told him, “No!” and then tried to grab them from him. I kept trying to redirect him, but he was fixated, and in a split second, BG was grabbing for the little girl’s hair. He hadn’t yet managed to pull before I released his hands and pulled him out of the way. The little girl was fine, although she was annoyed that he had gotten into her space. Still, there were no tears, no sounds of protest, no sad or hurt face on her part. She was fine and about to busy herself with her blocks again. Honestly. I was telling BG that we don’t grab hair when the little girl’s mother, who was ten feet away or so chatting with her friend overheard me, ran over, picked up her daughter, sat down, and started rocking her and glaring at me, as she stroked her daughter’s head. I told her, “He grabbed her hair, but he didn’t pull. I was sitting here. She’s okay. Sorry about that, though!” She glared and glared at me, then looked at BG as though he were some rabid dog who attacked her child, and curled herself around her daughter (who again was fine, not crying, not whining–probably just feeling confused at her mother’s unusual attention), and rocked and rocked. Her friend also swooped in, and as she did, I picked up BG and told him we had to leave. The friend, who was bedecked in her own ridiculously expensive attire, gave me that fake grin that these women give, and out of her mouth dripping with venom came the words, “It’s okay. We understand.” But as I walked away, they were sitting there, “comforting” the child who was still fine and struggling to get back to her blocks, whispering to each other, and glaring at me and BG.

Oh this sucked. I got BG into his stroller, and walked out of the library as quickly as I could. I put on my sunglasses, made my way onto the sidewalk, and I burst into tears. I cried all the way home. I cried when my wife called to check in on us. Suddenly, I have become the mom of the monster child who hurts other children.

And yet, my son is the biggest lovebug ever, as evidenced by his need to hug the little girl he saw. He generally attempts to hug all new children he sees because he is so very affectionate. Unfortunately, he is also very tactile, and he has had this tendency to either grab or pull hair for a long time. Typically, my wife and I are his victims, and we have tried so many strategies to get him to stop. We have such a peaceful household, and we never play with hair pulling or biting either. We have tried various means of reprimanding, time-outs, separation, and more, but the fact remains that he is an id-driven 17-month-old who doesn’t quite understand that these actions hurt people and that this is something he should care about enough to discontinue his actions.

I just have this fear, especially after reading and hearing other people talk about their opinions of the kids who bite/pull hair and the parents of those kids that we’re going to end up loner parents, that even in our new community, we’ll never find people who want to be a part of our lives because our kid will have a reputation and because somehow that reflects on our parenting or our values or who we are. Like somehow we are biters and hair-pullers, and we’re just breeding more. I wish there was more support in our culture between parents, that instead of blaming and competing with each other, we would work together to find solutions for this very normal behavior. Because in all of my years around kids, I have learned that this is in the range of normal, that most children do indeed outgrow it, and that it just takes time and patience and persistence on everyone’s part.

So what would you do in a situation like this (beyond apologizing)? If you have a child who pulls hair, how do you work with that child to discourage the behavior?

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Filed under Baby Genius, parenting

the ole stink-eye

When one lives with a Baby Genius, one is always learning, especially now that said Baby Genius is getting older and more vocal and developing a personality. Take today, for example. I have been doing this crazy scoring marathon for the state university where eight hours a day, I am sequestered to the office reading essay after essay after essay. It is mind-numbing. Some of these days I do this for eight hours straight, but some days I have a split shift, where I work four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening, freeing up time to be with my family in between. Today was one of those days, so J and I decided we would go out for lunch after the lunch hour to this great little pizza place near our home.

The thing is, we’re both a bit fried from this week already. She has BG all day long except for nursing times, and my mind is on bad student writing. Therefore, it wasn’t until we had nearly arrived at the restaurant that we realized we had forgotten any food for Baby Genius. No problem, J reassured, as we got into the restaurant. We’d order up some avocado to keep Baby Genius occupied while we ate.

So we entered the restaurant, got BG a high chair, and proceeded to settle in. And then the yelling began. Baby Genius had discovered how lovely his voice sounds in a restaurant echoing through the room at its highest decibels. He got louder and louder. He was having a blast. Meanwhile, J and I were looking at each other and at BG wondering who this kid–yes, kid–was. Where was that quiet little baby who just looked around the restaurant from his car seat?

Our waitress, a visibly pregnant woman, took our order as we played BG’s favorite restaurant game: Throw a Toy on the Filthy Floor (usually followed by Try to Suck on the Disgusting High Chair). We had forgotten to bring any toys (strike two against us), but in his diaper bag, we found a grand total of two toys: a set of plastic keys and this fabric rattle thing that he loves. We took a ring off of the keys to make it seem as though there were really three toys. He would throw them on the floor (ew), and I would pick them up, clean them off, and hand them back. In the meantime, he would yell at the top of his lungs and grin, but we were rolling with it because it was nice to be out of the house as a family. An old man came by and ogled the baby. He couldn’t believe how cute he was. He was smitten, and we were appropriately proud. Things were going okay except for the shouting. To ease any tension that may have been arising about this, I finally picked BG up out of his high chair to see if this would quell the yelling for a bit, and it did.

Then our food began to come. J prepped some avocado while I got the baby situated in his (giant) high chair again. We both breathed a little easier knowing that soon our blood sugar would rise again as we nibbled on some spinach salad and appetizers, all the while feeding BG some tasty avocado. But Baby Genius has decided he’s no longer a fan of avocado. He is a fan of manipulating spoons covered in avocado and of slouching in his way-too-big high chair, and, as we learned today, he’s a big fan of yelling in restaurants, but actually eating avocado? Not so much.

J and I, despite our best efforts to roll with it all, were both starting to tense up. We could feel eyes on us from every direction. Suddenly we were those people with that baby. There were no children in this place–only couples, most of whom were likely touring wine country (oh, how I hate living in this tourist town), so even though this was typically  a very casual, family-friendly pizza place, at this moment, it was not.

Soon our pizza came, and this threw us over the edge. There were too many plates on the table. There was a hot pizza in BG’s reach. He was yelling even louder. The dirty looks from the tables-for-two were getting angrier. I picked the baby up out of his chair and held him against me while he blew raspberries against my chest and shouted into my cleavage. J asked the waitress, who smiled sympathetically at us, for some take-out boxes. We quickly packed up our stuff, paid our tab, left the waitress a nice, big tip, and headed out to eat at home. As we stood up to leave, I saw it: the ole stink-eye emanating from at least four sets of eyes. I could feel the collective sigh of relief as we walked out the door. Because we were both already so fried, and because we were flustered, I don’t know how much of that was perception and how much of it was real. I only know that it felt bad.

J and I debriefed in the car, as we tend to do. We both admitted that for the first time ever, we had felt embarrassed of our son. We just wanted him to stop shouting and let us have lunch without calling attention to us. Admitting this made us both feel terrible. We love our boy and how boisterous he’s becoming. He is curious, and when he finds something that amuses him, he does it over and over. This is one of my favorite traits of his; it’s something we celebrate and encourage, so long as it’s not harmful. The more I processed this, the more ashamed I was that we let any of this get to us at all.

But the truth of it all really came down to this: we used to occasionally be annoyed with loud children in eating establishments. We would try to be understanding, but because the child was never our own, it would be jarring to hear a child yelling or crying or otherwise carrying on like, say, a child. We vowed at some point before we had Baby Genius that if our child started getting loud or throwing a tantrum that we would get our food to go and then leave, which wasn’t such a bad plan. It’s just that we had never had to implement it, and once we were in that moment, it was a bummer. Who knows–maybe there was a little karma at play.

I never wanted to turn into a person who felt like she needed to apologize for her baby’s babyish behavior, but I also don’t want to be oblivious to other people’s public experiences. This is a hard line to walk, and I imagine I’ll eventually toughen up and ignore the stink-eye and the disapproving grumbles.

But until that toughening up transpires, we’ve decided that dining al fresco is the way to go. At least that way, the shouting won’t echo.

So tell me, those of you with older babies and toddlers, how do you handle dining out, if you do it at all? And those of you who don’t yet have kids, how would you handle it? We’re definitely interested in others’ thoughts/experiences here!

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Filed under Baby Genius, parenting