Sunday, January 31, 2010


This was my schedule today, a Sunday:

7:30 – get up, make breakfast for self and River, finishing packing the stuff we need for our first excursion
9 a.m. – leave for gym. Exercise. Shower with River. Get us both ready and dressed for party. Drive right to party.
11 a.m. – birthday party. Eat, play, talk.
1:30 p.m. – drop River off at home. Change clothes. Put finishing touches on carrot salad.
2:30 p.m. – arrive at baby shower ½ hour late. Eat, play, talk.
4:45 p.m. – pick up books on hold at library, get home, pick up Mark, River and another batch of carrot salad. Drive right to next engagement.
5:30 p.m. – playdate with River's friend and dinner with his parents. Eat, play, talk.
7:30 p.m. – Get home, put River on potty, read him stories, put him to bed.
8 p.m. – really sit down for the first time all day.

It’s not usual, yet, to have a birthday party, a baby shower and a playdate/dinner all on the same day. And only someone as prone to overscheduling as me would throw a trip to the gym into the mix (though I’m glad I did, given how much I ate at each event). I had a fun day with lots of great people. But all through it, I was thinking to myself that this is too much. I don’t have a moment to rest, much less to attack the list of tasks I had for the weekend. Yesterday was filled with chores and work, today was filled with social engagements. There was really no down time during the weekend, and now the workweek has begun again.

This is partly a consequence of working. The only time I have to meet up with people is on the weekends. So that small period of space becomes jam packed. It’s also a consequence of my lifelong tendency to avoid a single clique. I choose friends from many different social groups, which means I end up with a lot of different appointments to see these people, since they don’t all socialize together.

River doesn’t have a single extracurricular activity or standing appointment and I’m already feeling overloaded. What is it going to be like when he joins a team or wants to consistently pursue an interest? I’ve been letting my spiritual time go, since there is usually a social obligation on Sunday mornings. The lack of that peaceful time of reflection is starting to get to me. I’ve been making working out a priority this week, but I still find meeting my exercise goals a challenge. I’ve been meaning to get River back into swim classes, but other events keep popping up on Saturday mornings.

Anyone else been there/done that? Any tips for how to avoid the path of overscheduledness before it’s really even begun? Any tips for how to prioritize social events when I want to say yes to them all?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Freaked out by birth control

Much as my womb is not screaming out for another, it’s getting closer to that time to think about number two. Now, when I look at someone’s sleeping newborn baby, I may think, “That’s sweet.” Or “That might be nice.” I suppose that’s progress. Though show me a picture of a screaming infant in the middle of the night, or one breastfeeding for four hours straight and I’ll probably have entirely different thoughts.

My current supply of birth control (NuvaRing) runs out at the end of February. So I was wondering whether or not to order another three-month supply. I wouldn’t want to start trying any earlier than May, but it might not be a bad idea to get my hormones back to normal, to get a sense of my cycles again, etc.

So last night I start googling some things about birth control. And I start to wonder why anyone uses it (of course, rationally, I know why and I’m glad it’s available). Is my less than raging sex drive a result of the Nuvaring? I wondered. Could that be the cause of the higher than usual anxiety levels I’ve been feeling lately? Does my birth control have anything to do with the fact that I walked over five miles yesterday and gained weight? Am I going to face a huge weight gain after going off of it, like some people posted about on the internet? Are my chances of cancer, blood clot, heart problems significantly higher? What happened to the wife of the man who is suing Nuvaring’s maker for her death? Holy crap.

So now I’m back to my usual discomfort with chemicals in my body that aren’t entirely needed. We managed to avoid pregnancy for a good 15 months or so after River’s birth (OK, I was only ovulating for 4 of these, but still). If I go back to my anal-retentive cycle tracking (which I probably will since we’d like to increase the odds of a girl), we should be able to play it fairly safe. That is, as long as I don’t have a bunch of international flights to throw my cycle to the winds.

I still don’t know exactly when I’d like number two, but am thinking the first half of 2011. I still don’t have Mark’s 100% approval. I’m still not progressed far beyond the rational planning stage. I don’t have the immediate longing and desire I did for the first. Nevertheless, it might be time to start getting ready. The things I read, plus the cost savings of not having to pay for birth control lead me to think I’ll skip this reorder.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

the steps add up

Yesterday, I ran. A bit. A couple of 2-5 minutes stretches. I know that is a big-whoop to a lot of people – to all my friends and acquaintances running 5Ks, half marathons and marathons. But I suck at running, always have. Really don’t like it.

I’ve got a goal, 11,500 steps per day. I drove to work yesterday and so my feet moved less than 2,000 steps during the day. I felt like crap and considered using that as an excuse to not meet my goal. But I pushed myself to the gym and pushed myself to meet it. If I ran, I’d get there faster and could go back home to a delicious dinner of chicken, roasted potatoes and slow-braised carrots. So I did it. And it felt good. Unbelievably, I want to do it again.

I’ve gained six pounds since I started an office job and I want to lose them. I literally sit on my butt for eight hours. Sometimes I think I can feel it expanding beneath me. Only one pair of dress pants fit me well now and it gets embarrassing to wear the same pair of pants to work every day.

I’d also like to lose a bit more than the extra six. The time to begin thinking about baby number two is coming closer. After gaining 60 pounds during the last pregnancy, the last thing I want is to get pregnant starting off with a couple of extra pounds.

While I’ve been feeling bad about the extra weight, the fact that I was able to run made me realize that perhaps I’m not in terrible shape. I just eat too many sweets on a daily basis. We’ll see if regular exercise can make up for them. If not, I’ll have to cut down on the treats. But I find that even harder than running.

preparing for a new baby

One of my several friends who is expecting within the next five months asked me what I thought she needed. She wanted to be parsimonious, but to be prepared. I had asked a friend a similar question when I was pregnant and I really found it helpful to have a list to work from. My friend was so happy she said she was going to register directly off this list.

So in case it’s of use to someone besides her, here is my list of what is useful to get for a first child and what can be skipped:

A friend urged me to get this book. I was sceptical, but I found it at the library, and it actually does really go through what's useful and what's a waste of money. It also helps with recommending brands, so you don't have to do all the research on 50 different items.

For us, the best purchases were:
1. A good swing. The Fisher Price Papasan ROCKS! It was the only way we could get River to sleep during the day for the first 9 months or so.

2. Swaddles. We had the swaddle mes. Also a good sleep aid.

3. A few outfits that have the little hand covers so the baby doesn't scratch himself.

4. The Fisher Price Rainforest jumper. Also a lifesaver from age 4 months on.

5. I resisted the infant car seat, but then a friend lent me her Graco Snug Ride and the stroller frame. This is the ultimate in easy portability. It's lightweight, fits easily into the car and allows the baby to go from the car to the stroller to the house without waking up. After borrowing it for a few weeks, we bought it. The car seats appear for free on Freecycle frequently and can be bought cheap on Craig's List. Unless you want to do some serious running, I think this stroller is sufficient until the baby grows out of the infant seat. At that point, you might have a better idea of what the baby likes. For example, River really loved being upright and looking around. Other kids might prefer reclining and relaxing.

6. The Ergo carrier. Really good from a few months to toddlerhood.

7. Baby Bjorn bibs - these are hard to find and are so superior to anything I've seen in the stores and Baby Bjorn little potties.

8. Diapers and wipes are a good thing to register for because they will be the main expense in the first month. Pampers seems to be the best.

9. My Brest Friend pillow - more practical than the Boppys b/c you can attach it with the belt and move around while the baby is nursing. Pretty handy for doing email while breastfeeding.

10. A good supply of magazines and DVDs for late nights!

11. For travel, the Baby Bjorn travel crib is far superior to anything else out there (at least it was when I bought mine). And it's worth the cost - lightweight and truly sets up and can be taken apart in less than 2 minutes.

12. A large supply of BumGeniuses. I'm sure other brands are just as good. There are downsides to using cloth, including much more of a stank in the house. But these got us from age 3 months or so until we finished with diapers at 25 months and I think we ended up saving a lot by not buying diapers. If you do use cloth, a kitchen size covered garbage can and these liners will do the trick. It took us way too long to figure this out.

13. A baby bathtub - first a small one, than a ring that the baby can sit upright in, but can't fall into the water.

14. A couple of nursing bras

15. A good digital ear thermometer.

16. A pump and related equipment if you plan to pump. I hear the hospital has some available and perhaps it's better to try there. But I was never offered the opportunity to use them.

Mistakes were:
1. Taking a hand-me-down pump with a weak battery (I didn't realize the battery was weak until I handed it down to another friend. But that may have been once cause of my inability to get much milk pumping).

2. Buying a new co-sleeper. It was only used for a few months and we could have bought one used for a fraction of the price.

3. Things like foam for the floor and a gated playpen. Total waste.

4. Not waiting until the birth to buy a baby carrier. I think this is one of those things that it's worth buying from a store, getting fitted, and making sure it works for both mom and baby.

5. Baby Bjorn carrier. Kills the back.

6. Any type of thing we thought he might sleep in during the day. Nothing worked but the swing.

7. We didn't buy a ton of clothes or a ton of toys/books for the first months. But if we had, it would have been a waste.

8. Nursing clothes. Ugly, cheap and a button down blouse can do the same thing.

Leap of faith

We are one week and two days into no daytime diapers. So far, we’ve had just a few half-accidents at home. I call it a half-accident if he starts to go, realizes it, and announces it in time to finish in the potty. And we’ve had one accident in public. But that was when we kept him out past his bedtime. He was so tired while kneeling on the floor that his head fell back against the sofa and his eyes were closed. I think he may have fallen asleep. When I put him on the potty shortly afterwards, I saw his pants were wet. Since we accept that he doesn’t have any control when he’s asleep, I’m not sure whether to count this one as a true accident or not. There have been no pooping accidents during waking hours, though that hasn’t been an issue for a long time.

I admit there have been times during the week when I’ve been really tempted to put on a diaper, a plastic cover, something. First, it was visits to the library that freaked me out. The carpeted floor there doesn’t help and I was sure an accident would bring on lots of disapproving looks. But we’ve made it to the library several times, no problem. Then I worried about taking him to participate in research studies. Again, peeing in front of the researcher wouldn’t make a good impression. But we did that twice and no problem. Finally, I was tempted when I took him to the gym. I used to be able to leave him in the gym for up to two hours. Sometimes I’d even run out and go grocery shopping. But with the risk of an accident, I knew I’d need to stay close by. In fact, I’d probably need to pop in after the first hour and see if he needs to go. The gym childcare, which used to cost a few dollars, is now free. I value being able to leave him there and I didn’t want to upset the caregivers with an accident. But again, I took a deep breath, decided to trust him, and let him go. Again, no problem. I’ve worried about accidents in the carseat, but it hasn’t happened.

I’m learning that the hardest part of potty training is probably more of an issue for the parent than for the child. River does his business. He has an occasional accident here and there. But overall, he’s doing just fine. But it’s us, as parents and caregivers, who fear the accidents, who fear the public embarrassment, who fear the censure.

I admit, I’ve been less than enthused about the prospect of a potty training toddler (other than my own) spending a lot of time in my house. I really don’t want another kid’s urine on our newly finished hardwood floors. At the same time, if a parent provides enough opportunities to go and is ready for an emergency (a quick towel on hand will clean up even shiny hardwood floors) the chances of an accident may not be all that high.

At the times I’ve been tempted, I’ve thought of perhaps putting on a diaper only for a few hours, during this potentially inconvenient or embarrassing time. Then I thought about the message that would send. That diapers are OK sometimes when it’s not convenient to use the bathroom. That I can’t trust him to get through an hour or a few hours on his own. And I decided it’s not worth it. I’d rather take the risk. I’d rather he have an accident or two, if necessary, so that he understands what happens.

It’s really a leap of faith for parents to put away the diapers and say – no more, I trust you, little toddler, to listen to your own body. I wonder if perhaps he would have been ready earlier. If I took too long to take the leap. The signal I was waiting for was some advance notice of having to go. We got that just a month or two before we got rid of the diapers, so I don’t think we waited a very long time after he might have been ready. But I am surprised at how much of the process has to do with me, Mark and other caregivers letting go and having faith.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Monday, January 25, 2010

the impacts of infant sleep

One of the chapters in Nuture Shock, about the importance of sleep, really struck me. It made me appreciate once again River’s solid 12-hour per night sleep plus 2-3 hour nap. It also made me realize that him getting sufficient sleep must remain a priority as he gets older, even if that means cutting out seemingly important activities. Looking back upon my high school and college days, I did not get enough sleep and the results were horrible. I don’t know how my parents could have forced me to bed though. I guess that’s a challenge for a future decade.

While the book covers primarily toddlers through high school aged kids, I had the feeling that babies with poor sleep patterns would likely experience the same effects. Why would their brains be any better at functioning without sufficient rest? Now an article appears saying that early sleep problems do have longer-term effects.

The authors theorize that early sleep problems stem from parental behaviors, but don’t specify what they are. I suspect that having a child in the bed or in the room would be one of them. For us, River’s waking was directly correlated to his proximity to me, especially when I was breastfeeding. He’s been out of our room since the age of three months and has been a pretty great nighttime sleeper since then. But every so often, when we are traveling, we go back to being in the same room. And suddenly, I again get awakened at odd hours of the night.

When I was pregnant, I found the literature about family closeness, body heat and security to be convincing. I decided to not make any decisions at that time, but was open to the idea of co-sleeping for a longer time if that was what worked for us. I soon saw that no one slept well as a result.

And that’s the big question. Are the benefits of the closeness greater than the costs of the lost sleep and its impacts on both parents and child? I’m tempted to say no. Because I don’t see any reduced parent/child closeness among the families I know who don’t co-sleep. But I do see the effects of sleep loss on those who do.

I think this will be an interesting field of research. I’d love more hard data on the effects of certain parental practices. But I’m already convinced by the importance of sleep. That is something we will continue to focus on.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My little patriot

One of the down sides of using hand-me-downs, especially as a child ages, is that your child can be presenting an image that is very different from the one you would have chosen if you had picked out the clothes yourself.

Never has this been so apparent to me as now, when River regularly wears a black leather snap down jacket with a huge American flag and the word AMERICA in red capital letters emblazoned across the back. When we pair this with a purple Minnesota Vikings hat, he really looks like he could be walking down the dusty, snowy streets in the rural heartland.

This was a freecycle find. And I’m not complaining. It has saved us from having to purchase an expensive winter coat this season. When they are only going to be good for one season, the cost seems even more exorbitant. Nonetheless, I’m plagued by a reaction that ranges from laughter to strange amusement to embarrassment to a struggle for acceptance as I watch him toddle down the street in his uber-patriotic garb.

I’m still not willing to buy a coat. Winter won’t be here all that much longer and we’ve inherited some nice lighter weight jackets. But next week is the bag sale at the designer kiddie consignment store. If one is willing to stand in line before the store opens and survive a veritable mob of bargain shoppers, you can take home a whole bag of designer clothing for $10.

The setup doesn’t allow much time for careful selection. I usually head for the section with the rough size I’m looking for and grab whatever I can, waiting until I get home to discover River’s future wardrobe. But I must admit, if I would be able to score a winter jacket next week, I would definitely not mind passing this jacket along to another tot.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Verbal streak

This is such a fun period. In the past months and weeks and now days, River’s vocabulary has been growing at an astounding pace. Now he has a pretty impressive range of communication, with the ability to use verbs, to be specific about what he wants, and his favorite – to point out and comment upon everything he sees.

For me, it’s a wonderful window into his mind. I can see that cars, trains, trees, dry leaves, people, vehicles, lights, birds, dogs, animals, the sky, sun and moon, food and noises make him the majority of his thoughts. Now that he’s found the power of communicating, sometimes his thoughts run more quickly than his ability to speak and the words blend together in a jumble of eagerness to leave his mouth, causing us to laugh.

One side effect of this is that he gives his high-pitched eager commentary in the same way when we are in public as when we are home. So when we went to the tiny local natural foods store this evening, he was a babbling away in Spanish – Pears, River wants pears. Oh carrots. Let’s get carrots. The squash is heavy. But River is strong. Yogurt! A little yogurt. For River. Ok! River wants to eat the banana. Can we take off the peel? Pay for it? Eat it please?

The cuteness of the high-pitched dialogue in such an unexperienced voice would probably draw attention regardless of the language. But I think that people end up staring a bit longer when they realize he is not speaking English and he doesn’t look foreign. Several people smiled kindly at us, others looked with curiosity.

I’m proud that he’s able to communicate in another language and I hope that people seeing what a 25 month old can do with Spanish will encourage them to try a second tongue for themselves or their children. At the same time, I’m a little worried about what is going to happen when River intuits these looks. Will he feel ashamed? Will he lower his voice? Will he be hesitant to speak Spanish? Will he wonder what the heck his mom is doing?

The best I can do is to build the language base as much as possible before that happens and to do my best to find friends and environments for him where he can speak Spanish safely. It will be an inevitable challenge. But in the meantime, I’m enjoying the innocence and the beauty of him exploring his local environment in a foreign language.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

No presents

I feel pretty strongly that birthday parties have gotten pretty crazy and that there is too much emphasis put on spending money and receiving presents and goody bags, over having fun and celebrating as friends. I figured I’d try to do my share by keeping our parties small and requesting no presents. When I request no presents, I mean it. I’d really prefer that people not bring presents. When they don’t, I think that is great.

So why am I having a hard time following my beliefs when other people request no presents? We were recently invited to a small party (only 2 kids invited) that we ended up not being able to make. The mom requested no presents, or perhaps a used toy. This child is one of River’s buds, so I wanted to give him something, even if it was used. I wanted, on behalf of River, to express a sentiment of friendship and appreciation. We ended up buying him a $3 gift (token, but something nonetheless) on our roadtrip.

We’re invited to another party next weekend, that will be held at a play center. It’s being held jointly by two sets of parents. One little girl is sweet and she came to River’s party (and appropriately, she didn’t bring a present). I don’t know the little boy at all.

I think the idea of a joint party is great. The parents can split the costs of the rental facility. But one of my first thoughts was – what do you do about presents? Do we have to buy one for the kid we don’t know? I wasn’t going to, but wondered if it would be uncomfortable.

Then the invitation came and it said no presents, they just want their kids to spend time together with friends. My sentiments exactly. So why do I feel so uncomfortable about not bringing something?

Am I afraid that everyone else will bring a present and I will be embarrassed? Do I feel guilty that they are spending money renting a place that River would normally have to pay $10 to enter and feel a present would be a contribution to that? Do I want to express the fact that we like this little girl?

It does help to remember that they came to our party, they followed my request to not bring a present, and my opinion of them has nothing to do with that. In fact, I respect that they honored my request and I really respect that they are focusing their childrens’ celebrations on friendship rather than on material things. But still, strangely enough, I’m finding that I’m struggling a bit to step back and say, OK, we’ll go without a present, and we’ll show our friendship and appreciation by being there for her special event and spending time with her.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

lactation failures

One of those things that is not talked about, but should be.

While I didn't have a "failure," I had real challenges. Which included the milk taking so long to come in that my baby's lips were chapped with dehydration. And which included feeds that took between an hour and 4 hours, probably becuase the flow was so low. And which meant that I was not able to pump more than a few ounces at a time, which would have made continued breastfeeding very difficult if I'd needed to return to work.

I think it's good to encourage people who want to breastfeed to not give up too early. But we also have to acknowledge that a copious milk supply does not come to all. Failing to acknowledge this can lead to consequences for both the mother and the baby (as in the case of one breastfed infant who starved to death.

great quote

"You're not better than anyone else, but nobody's better than you." (said by Joe Biden’s mom to him when he was growing up)

household help benefit

This is a very interesting proposal, suggesting that employers of scientists offer household help as an employee benefit. The article contains a lot of good information about the continued imbalance of household responsibilities by gender, with the average female scientist spending twice as many hours doing housework as their male counterparts.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bye bye diapers

River has been doing quite well with the potty at home recently. In the past few weeks, he has been giving us advance notice of when he needs to go. When we ask him if he wants to go potty, he’ll often say yes when he has something. So I think it’s about time to try to get rid of the diapers entirely during the daytime (sleeptime is another matter. He still supersoaks them regularly. I read that kids can’t hold it at night until their brain starts producing a certain chemical, so we’ll leave that one on hold for a while).

I took him out of town over the three-day weekend, during which we used disposables. I noticed that he was much more willing to pee his pants in the disposables compared to the cloth. I’d repeatedly ask him if he needed to go potty, he’d say no, and then I’d later find a full diaper. That doesn’t happen with the cloth diapers, probably because it’s so uncomfortable to wear all that pee against the skin.

It’s a little risky to make the jump right after a couple of days in disposables. I expect we'll have at least a few accidents. But I'll give it a month and see how it goes. I'm most concerned about excursions in public. That is really where we're making the leap b/c he's been doing quite well at home for a while now, but we always put on a diaper when we go out. It doesn’t help that the library story room floor is carpeted. The plan is to give him an opportunity to go before we leave, bring along a towel (to clean up accidents), a plastic bag and a spare pair of pants. Perhaps I’ll also carry the Bjorn potty along, since he’s still not comfortable going on a big potty seat.

I wanted to make the transition clear to him. So when he woke up this morning, I told him he was a big boy now, so we’d be saying goodbye to the diapers in the daytime. I asked him to help me put the diapers into a bag to put away. He did so, we filled the bag, and I carried it out of the room. It took about two minutes.

I think removing the diapers (we left the power diapers for sleep time) is as much for our benefit as his. Without them there, we can’t resort to them if we start to struggle a bit. It means we all have to be committed to helping River make his big boy transition work, because there is no fall back.

Monday, January 18, 2010

interesting article on women’s return to work in Germany

A colleague of mine, who works full time, recently said to me that she thinks she is more patient with her son than she would be if she stayed home. Because she sees him less, she values the time more and utilizes it better. She told me how she took her son to the doctor’s and the stay-at-home mothers she saw there seemed tired and frazzled, having to deal with their children’s antics constantly.

I think it’s probably a similar situation for me. If I was home all the time, I think I’d need to distract or diver River a lot, both to get things done and to have a little time for myself. When I have the time I need to work and to have some time for myself, I can spend more of the time I have with him on quality interactions. Of course, sometimes I have to cook dinner or get something else done, but I’m usually calm and patient. As long as I only have one tantrum per day max to deal with, I can handle it.

It seems in Germany too, more women are wanting this space for themselves and their professional achievements. I used to work in Germany. Women were given a lot of power and able to rise to high levels. But that was generally only if they didn’t have children. It was hard for women to have children and remain in the company. The expectation seemed to be that they would stay home for at least the first three years.

At the same time, Germany has great parental leave laws that allow either parent to stay home with pay for quite a long time (a year?). A good male German friend of mine stayed home with his daughter for the first 9 months while his wife went back to work. She liked her job better than he did. He took a professional break, becoming a full-time dad. Then he put her into daycare and started his own company.

It’s interesting how the Germans have so many more resources for choice at their disposal, yet struggle culturally with women balancing it all. And when there is that cultural struggle, that will be present in the hiring managers, which can affect a woman’s ability to find the job she wants.

Lessons learned from day three of road trip with toddler

1. It got easier with each day. I must have been learning something, or we must have learned to mutually accommodate each other. It was a constant that I was exhausted at the end of the day though and didn’t get much personal time.

2. I realized that I can be in charge for 24 hours a day for a few days in a row. I can do it at the sacrifice of personal time. Also, it helped that I didn’t have any household responsibilities to take care of. If I was taking care of him and responsible for normal household duties, I think I’d end up spending a lot of time distracting him so that I could get things done, and the quality of our time spent together would be significantly lower.

3. I noticed several intellectual advances this weekend (successful counting five objects, singing almost the whole ABCs, telling me I did in fact have keys (the car keys) when I said I was locked out of the house). I wonder whether this came from the intense time together and the variety of new exposures, or whether I was just noticing because I was spending more time with him.

4. When there is only one adult around, it’s especially challenging to make use of the down time (ie. nap and sleep times). With two adults, one can stay with him while the other gets some exercise, goes to the store, or does whatever they want to do that requires adult focus. With one, I’m forced to sit around and then to include him in my errands when he is awake. It’s tougher that way.

5. It’s refreshing to get away, to let the emails build up, and to not be concerned with the day to day stresses and pressures. Even if getting away includes taking care of a toddler all day. It’s nice to focus on what is important.

6. I’m glad I did this. He got out of his usual groove and I think it stretched his mind and range of experiences, even if he won’t remember anything. I will remember all the special moments with him, and I explored some new areas.

7. I’m very, very grateful for a loving husband who shares responsibilities and makes sure we both get the personal time that makes us sane.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lessons learned from day two of road trip with toddler

1. Places where kids can run around and touch stuff are priceless.

2. A good nap at the normal time makes things much easier.

3. It’s very easy to fall into an all white-carb all the time diet. Pretzels, pancakes, bread? OK, whatever keeps you happy.

4. My tolerance for Barney music is fairly high (at least compared with my husband’s). But it is not infinite.

5. I have pretty high expectations for a toddler (friends said they didn’t take their toddler out to dinner for four years). Perhaps I should be happy that I can take him out to dinner and not sweat it if he doesn’t behave perfectly.

6. The small moments – jumping together on the bed, singing the ABCs together in the car, exploring a particularly intriguing science exhibit together – are the most special.

First trip to a science museum

Today River paid his first visit to a science museum and LOVED it. We were the first people to arrive when the museum opened at 12, so we initially had the place to ourselves.

In the preschool room, River got to put chocolate chunks into pretend cookies and count the pieces. He got to play with unusual shaped large soft blocks and he got to look at shells under a magnifying glass. He was thrilled to sit on a chair and to experience the backwards motion that happens when two people push their feet against each other. He saw what happens to liquid when it is spun rapidly, he saw how water erodes particles, he saw how a ball reacts to vacuum pressure and he got a close up look at starfish and crabs. He smiled so much in the hour and a half we were there. It was one novel experience after another and he was so enthusiastic, he threw a nice tantrum when it was time to leave.

My only regret is that I was reminded that my knowledge of the principles behind many of the exhibits is lacking. I hope I’ll have the chance to rebuild that knowledge as he goes to school or begins to explore and ask. I’ll appreciate the opportunity to learn this time and I’ll value the information more. I find myself very excited about his future education. Not only am I looking forward to him acquiring knowledge about what surrounds him, but I’m looking forward to learning along the way too.

what makes a good hotel changes with life stages

I’m sitting on the hard floor of the hotel bathroom waiting for River to take his nap. I’ve been here for well over an hour and it’s just recently become quiet. So I’m hoping he has fallen asleep and will thus be in a good enough mood for us to be able to enjoy dinner with friends tonight.

When I was young and poor and adventurous, my idea of a good hotel was someplace really cheap and reasonably safe. If there was free breakfast, that was a bonus. I didn’t care so much about location as I only came to the hotel to crash. I was exploring the rest of the day.

When I dated Mark long-distance and we had to meet up in countries located halfway between us, I started to value a little more of the romantic element, as well as privacy. Now, a Jacuzzi was a bonus. Mark wants central location, so I started to get used to being able to walk from the hotel and easily get to all of the local attractions.

Now, traveling with a toddler, I’d say location is definitely key. There is a lot more freedom if one is able to walk out the door and see and do things, rather than have to bundle the kid into a car. Now, the big bonus is either an extra room, or a situation in which I can feel safe leaving him alone in the room and hanging out in a pleasant lobby. If neither of those are possible, than a bathroom or a closet sufficiently large enough to put a travel crib in is a bonus. Since I have neither now, the entire room is River’s and I’m relegated to the bathroom floor. Oh well, as long as there is a nap and I have a little bit of quiet time, I guess I’m OK with ceramic tile.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lessons I’m learning from day one of roadtrip with toddler

Yes mom, this is Buddha. Remember zen?

1. Toddler may well be psyched to see the wolves, but he will not last beyond a small fraction of a one hour tour.

2. Time outs in the crib work well at home. But I am struggling with how to discipline while on the road. Especially while out in public on the road. Instead, I take in many disapproving looks when my toddler doesn’t listen to me and I spend much of the day chasing him.

3. Singing songs together in the car on the way to a destination is very special quality time.

4. If naptime doesn’t happen, you are screwed, no matter what you do.

5. Have a supply of water, snacks and Hot Wheels on hand, at all times.

6. Having a second room is a huge bonus. If that’s not available, a B&B with an attractive lobby is a good substitute.

7. Free homebaked goods, hot beverages and a Jacuzzi can soothe the stresses of the roughest day.

8. DO NOT OVERPLAN. Lower expectations. Yes, we’ll see wolves. But no, I won’t be able to actually listen to anything the tour guide says. Many people have pressed me to slow down my pace in the past. Perhaps my toddler will finally force me to change.

Nothing makes my day more than a kid-friendly cafe

We’d had a long napless day. I didn’t get a chance for a real lunch and it was looking like I wouldn’t get dinner either. I didn’t think River would last through a meal.

I went into The Chocolate Café in Lititz. River seemed happy when he came across a selection of life-sized stuffed dogs.

“Are these toys?” I asked an employee, as River pulled them out.

“Yes, and we have some cars and trucks over here,” she said.

She made my day. It was OK for River to play, to roll around on the floor and to be a kid. This meant that we could actually have a meal without the struggle of keeping him in a seat and occupied for an hour.

The waitstaff didn’t seem to mind stepping over stuffed animals, cars or a mobile toddler. I was so grateful. The fact that the food was delicious and healthy was a bonus. Thanks to those establishments that make it easier to enjoy a meal and to relax a bit by providing a space for children to be kids.

Disciplining a Two Year Old in Public

When we have discipline problems at home, I use SuperNanny’s usual method – a warning, followed by two minutes in time out (in his crib, so he can’t get out or get into anything), followed by an explanation of why he was in there and a hug.

But what to do when one is not at home? I had issues with River not listening to me today. I won’t make empty threats because I think that will make things tougher in the long run. If I threaten something, I have to follow through. I could make a naughty area, but it’s hard to explain to a two-year-old that they have to stay in one place, and then to enforce it while other people are looking (and perhaps 2-year-old is screaming and annoying said others).

Without any effective discipline measures, I felt like I was receiving a lot of disapproving looks. At one point, when he threw a piece of coal on a tour for a second time (after receiving a warning) I left the tour with him (which was more of a punishment for me than for him) and put him in a time out on a bench. He couldn’t get down from the bench, so he did stay there. But he called out “Down! Down! Down!” for almost the entire two minutes and I’m sure people were wondering why I wasn’t responding.

I’m sure many others have dealt with this before. How do you keep your toddler in line when you are in public? How do you enforce the home rules (Ie. you must listen to your mother) outside the home? How do you deal with the reactions you get from others?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

future handyman

A few months ago, we got a Home Depot workbench on freecycle. It was a nightmare to pick up. Our car broke down on the way to go get it and another pickup fell through as well. But the lady giving it away was very patient with us.

I’m glad because it’s so fun to watch River play with it. He has entered the stage of more imaginative, creative, complicated play, in which he tells me his remnant of bread is a boat in the ocean or he’s summiting a mountain as he climbs the giant bean bag.

He used to not do much with the workbench. But last night, he put on the goggles, took apart the bird house, helped me drill it back together, then used the wrench and screwdriver to pull up bolts and unscrew screws.

It’s such a joy to see the development of real skills. And with my handy brother 20 hours away, we need a handyman around the house. It would be great if River wanted to learn those skills!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The fear of loss

I watched a disturbing, but intriguing and well done film tonight about a man who tries to reenter civilian life as an organ player after serving time for killing a young boy. Among the scenes were the mother, coming out from the café where she’d left her sleeping son in a stroller and not finding him. And a scene with the man, coming out from school and not being able to find a boy he was caring for. Both of them caused such feelings of anxiety.

I had one brief moment like that. While we were in the library and I was in the midst of the self-checkout of books, River ran away from me. Initially, I didn’t worry too much. It’s a safe place and there is only one way out and I was near that exit. Yet, when I was able to get away from the counter, leaving my purse and books there, I didn’t see him. I looked up the stairs, around the area and towards the exit, but nothing. I paused, expecting I’d hear his voice, but nothing. Minor panic set in. If I went into the library, he could run out the exit without me seeing. So I went to the exit first. But there was a huge crowd of people attending a film festival and the area was packed. What if one of them was evil and grabbed him? What if he’d gotten out the series of doors to the street?

I thought about asking the library staff member near the exit if he’d seen a toddler come by. But I was too ashamed. That would be admitting that I’d let him out of sight. I imagined a scene in which he was missing and I’d failed to enlist help immediately because I was too ashamed. It was brief, but horrible. Finally he came out from some bookshelves, happily toddling over to me in his overlarge leather jacket.

The fear of the world was lifted in the embrace of love. What a horrible thing to lose a child. A couple of minutes is terrifying. I really feel for anyone who experiences it for longer.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Parental involvement extending longer these days?

We are renting our two rooms in our new house to help pay the mortgage. We’ve had a couple of people in their young 20s come take a look (and one of them lived with us a few months). When the first guy came with his parents, that seemed reasonable, as he was from Germany and had never been out of the country on his own before. But recently, two more American 22 and 23 year olds have come by, both with their parents.

I think of myself at that age and my parents had no involvement at all in my rentals, housing or jobs. I was completely independent. Perhaps life would have been a bit easier if they’d helped to ensure a safe, convenient rental. At that same time, I wonder how and when these young adults are going to become independent if they still rely on their parents at this age.

A friend of mine told me that a recent graduate who she hired came into the office with her mom to wrap up some logistical details. Her mom started to ask the boss if her daughter would have certain days off, because they had family vacations planned. While this office happens to be very flexible about time off, no one appreciated having to promise the time off to an employee’s mother.

“We’ll see,” the supervisor said.

“But it’s a family vacation that has already been planned,” the mom said.

“I kind of thought it would be useful for someone to tell her that it’s just not cool to bring your mom into the office,” my friend said. But perhaps this is the new generation.

Were your parents still guiding you in your 20s? At what age do you plan to set your children out on their own?

Mom and toddler roadtrip

1/12/10 mom and toddler roadtrip

When I found out that I have MLK day off, I immediately wanted to take advantage of the three-day weekend. I don’t have another paid holiday until the end of May. Mark is still tired from the holiday travel. I didn’t mind. I figured it might be fun to take a road trip with my baby, and dad will appreciate the gift of a few days of silent time alone at home.

I was so excited by the prospect that I couldn’t concentrate the first day at all. Instead, I scanned websites, trying to figure out where to go. A place in Vermont that provided free childcare while I skied looked great, but I was nervous to drive snowy mountain roads alone in our unreliable car. I was attracted to the warmth of more southern locales, but the drive was too long and the flight too expensive. I started to look at nearby options, but I felt the number of places I hadn’t been to already was growing steadily smaller. And it had to be interesting to a two year old.

I decided first upon a Wolf Sanctuary I’d heard of and wanted to visit for a while. I tentatively thought of some other nearby destinations, but upon contacting friends in the area, I changed directions. Right now, the itinerary for our three day excursion includes visit to a wolf sanctuary, a science center, a color crayon center and visits with three friends. I’m splurging on a suite in a bed and breakfast the first night (this is the only room where they’d accept a child, though they gave me a discount since I originally inquired about the cheapest room). On the second night, we’ll stay in a chain that gets good reviews and has an indoor swimming pool.

I find that I’m really excited about the trip, almost as much as if I was going to do something like hiking or skiing. I’m looking forward to the nice hotels, to trying new restaurants, to seeing friends, to spending quality adventure time with my baby, to creating memories, and hopefully, to exposing him to fun new experiences.

I imagine him sleeping well and me having quiet time to myself in a large comfy bed at night. I’m fighting hard against my natural tendency to overschedule and I imagine he’ll behave just fine through the morning activities and lunch, then take a nice nap in the hotel that will allow us to check in early enough for naptime. Of course, these may all be illusions. I might end up being an exhausted wreck at the end who gratefully brings River back to dad at the end.

I think what I’m most excited about is that since our last trip as a twosome (to Panama, when he was six months old), he is now able to take in the trip for himself. He can walk, explore, appreciate new sights and experiences and share some of his thoughts and impressions with me. It’s now more of a joint endeavor. And that makes me very eager to go.

Lessons from Nurture Shock

These are the lessons I am learning from the book Nurture Shock. I might discuss some of my thoughts on them in more detail in future posts.

1. Praise effort and specific actions. Don’t praise children for being smart or just amazing beings.

2. A full night’s sleep is very important from the earliest days all the way through high school.

3. It’s important for parents to speak directly to their children about race and to tell them that their doctor/teacher/Santa Claus etc. can be of any race, just as we make such statements about gender.

4. Offer a child who is lying both immunity and a clear route back to good standing, along the lines of “I won’t be upset with you if you XXX, and if you tell the truth, I will be really happy.” Recognize the influence of parents' own white lies.

5. Testing for intelligence isn’t accurate until 3rd grade. Before that, you are getting kids with good backgrounds.

6. Pay attention to poor examples of sibling behavior portrayed in books. If possible, allow eldest child to learn how to fantasy play with best friend before having another child.

7. Both permissive and oppressive parents have poor results with teens. Best are those most consistent in enforcing a few rules over key areas, who also explain why the rules are there. These parents support their child’s autonomy in other areas. It’s not damaging to argue, but it’s important that child feel heard, be able to win some small battles.

8. Allowing a child to choose an activity may increase motivation.

9. Don’t let kids watch educational TV because it increases the rate of physical aggression almost as much as watching violent TV. Let child see resolution of arguments between parents. Reduce the number of daily peer interactions to reduce the compulsion to rank high among peers.

10. Early developmental advantage is real, but many kids do catch up and show no long-term consequences. Adopted kids who are typically developing catch up to American-born peers within three years, even if their age at adoption was up to 10.

Has anyone else read it? Do you have thoughts on the research presented or the lessons given?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What do you do about yelling?

A corollary of the toddler behavior mentioned below has been a decent amount of yelling this week. If he’s demanding something, we’ll normally insist that he ask for it with a please or por favor before we give it to him. We tell him to speak in a lower voice. But in general, we’re kind of at a loss on how to deal with the yelling.

I’ve seen Supernanny list “no yelling” as a rule. Yelling then becomes grounds for a time out. I think that makes sense, but I find yelling a little more challenging to deal with than other behavior. If he throws a car, I can give him a warning. If you throw a car again, you’ll be going to the crib. He knows what that means and usually stops. But it’s hard to give a warning for yelling because once he’s done it, he’s usually in a state in which he’s not really hearing my warning. And then I wonder, where is the line between misbehaving and him expressing his feelings in his Neanderthal way?

During the terrible tantrum, I did give him a timeout and it wasn’t too specific. A kind of general misbehavior timeout. Two minutes later, when I took him out, he had completely calmed down and we had no further issues. Perhaps he just needed some space and time to cool off.

But since the times when the yelling occurs tend to be more stressful moments, Mark and I would like to have a unified strategy in advance. Any tips on how to react to yelling at this age (25 months)?

A Case of the Oedipus Complex

We’ve had a little taste of what toddlerdom may be like in the past week, with a couple of tantrums, some irrationality and some yelling. I’ve had a tantrum or two to deal with myself (I probably got the worst one, which lasted a good two minutes). But Mark is really getting the brunt of River’s treatment. Not only does River favor mom, but lately he has been overtly rejecting dad, refusing to do things when dad asks him, but doing them for mom, throwing a fit if dad tries to help him with something. Last night, dad offered to read him a story, normally River’s favorite thing to do. Not only did River say no, he chased dad out of the room, screaming no and hitting him. That is quite bruising to Mark’s psyche, making him wonder why he’s unloved and what he is doing wrong.

I asked the doctor about it and she said it’s just the good old Oedipal Complex, a normal stage of development, she says. “River thinks you belong to him. So he’s probably OK with dad when you aren’t there. But when you are together, he gets very defensive and is probably resistant to dad hugging you. You are his in his mind and dad is a threat.”

That was an accurate description of what it’s like. Just this morning River got upset when Mark hugged me and immediately demanded an “abrazo,” (hug) for himself. We do regular “family huggies,” in which all three of us participate in a bear hug. Those are generally acceptable to River because he’s often in my arms at the time of the hug. And they allow Mark to be part of the family too.

If there was anything I could do about it, I’d prefer for River to show more affection for his father. He puts in a lot and it’s really not fair to him to feel so rejected. It also tempers his enthusiasm, which is not high to start with, for a second child. It’s not nearly as rewarding to put in the sacrifice if you are not getting the special moments in return. At the same time, it’s touching that River sees his relationship with me as so important that he’ll do his 33-pound best to fight off any threats. But it is a little disturbing to think that anyone owns me.

The doctor said this could last a year. In the meantime, I hope that Mark and River can get out for more one-on-one time, so that they can create positive memories together without me being there to cause River to think there is a threat to his bond with me. This evening, Mark made a point to be engaged with River immediately upon coming home, and I made a point to go out for a walk and leave them alone together. I was glad to hear River’s peals of laughter as Mark chased him and to see him sprawled across daddy’s tummy going over flashcards.

Anyone else been through the Oedipus complex? Any tips on making it through?

My Buddy

I’m having so much fun with River these days. He’s capable of imagination, of mischief, of games, of remembering. When he plays with me, I see love and admiration shine through his eyes. This evening he played a game of trying to lick my feet. I’d move my feet out of the way and he’d go after them again, sometimes tickling them, as he giggled heartily. I tried to think ahead 15 years and how he won’t want to be anywhere near my feet then. But why think ahead to what won’t be instead of enjoying what is? Right now he idolizes me. I can see how parents can get high from that. Because there is no one else in the world who has that high of an opinion of me.

He heard me fart for the first time. “Salio gas,” I said, meaning gas was expelled. “Salio gas,” he repeated with a mischievious grin. “Salio gas,” he said again, looking at me as though I was his buddy, conniving with him in fun and gentle misbehavior. These are the beautiful moments of parenthood.

No more doctor visits for another year

We had our two year checkup today. Everything looks good. He’s at a solid 90th percentile on all the physical indicators, the doctor said his development is going well, and that parents of her other patients would probably be envious at his good sleep, good eating, good health and good development. She thought the idea of introducing a third language next year was a good one. Really, there are no worries at the moment, which is such a relief. Having lost a filling for the first time today and having to walk around with a gaping hole in my mouth for 26 hours, I’m reminded of the importance of appreciating things before they break.

River got a final two shots. It was still painful to watch him get the second one. The second seems so much worse than the first because the first can be interpreted as an aberration. For me to allow someone to come at him a second time seems harder to explain.

When I asked when we should return, the doctor said in a year, for the three-year checkup. So, knock on wood, if we are able to keep the good health streak and avoid any sick visits (we haven’t had any so far), the doctor from now on is going to be only a very rare occurrence.