I bought my eight-month-old daughter Kenzie a bathing suit for the summer. I naively thought that we would be taking our then three-month-old swimming in the ocean. The closest we got was dipping Kenzie’s toes in the waves in August. She did not seem too impressed. Luckily for her, my husband and mother had stricter rules about sun exposure. And luckily for us, the suit still fit when we stuffed it into her Christmas stocking because we had gifted her with Waterbabies swim lessons at the local athletic club.
At the first lesson, we stood poolside introducing ourselves and Kenzie to the four other parents and their babies. I have to admit that I wondered how Kenzie would react to something that was like bath time, but a bit chillier and a little deeper. She did not cry, which was a relief. From our perspective - and we were probably reading a little too much into the situation - she seemed like she was enjoying it. Who wouldn’t enjoy their first taste of chlorine?
Mommy Making It Work
Because I’m in the news business, I found out about the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting pretty early on – and the fact that it was likely first graders killed.
I have a kindergartner who was at that time sitting innocently in a classroom similar to the one in Connecticut. My first reaction was to get my husband, who works way closer to the school than me, to drive over there and get William. Just have someone in the family lay eyes on him.
Then I realized that would be a knee-jerk reaction and may upset the child (and hubby), so I settled for watching the clock until his school day was done and I knew he’d be with home safely with grandparents.
Of course, William’s day was very ordinary, with exception of him finally getting the girl he likes in class to agree to be his girlfriend (which, folks, does happen this early for my ladies man. This is his third one since 3K).
I wondered the entire 30-minute commute home how I was going to talk about it with William. He’s 6. Same age as most of the kids killed. Being with grandparents, though, there was a good chance he’s seen nothing but Disney or PBS and won’t know a thing about the shootings.
So I got home and threw myself at him for hugs and kisses – which he definitely thought was strange, considering I usually walk in the door from my gnarly drive complaining about dumb drivers and poor growth planning by highway muckety mucks.
Adventures in Work (and Parenting)
My husband, Tom, is a high school teacher, which meant we got the summer together to enjoy our baby daughter, Kenzie.
But all vacations come to an end, and I soon found myself home alone with Kenzie. I will admit the first week was a little hard as we adjusted to a new routine. Tom and I didn’t want to play the Pass the Baby game when he came home from work, so it was on me to become a little more independent and help Kenzie to do the same. One of the first things I did was become more comfortable cooking with her. I set her activity stations up in the kitchen so that she moved from the jumper to the bouncer to the high chair as I talked and made silly faces at her while chopping vegetables and rolling out pie dough. This was great, as I learned I could cook great tasting foods like chicken pot pie, curry soup and yummy bars while maintaining the good spirits of Kenzie. I had to admit, however, that this was not too challenging as Kenzie is a pretty happy, easy-going monster.
After a week or two of this, I knew we needed something else that took us outside of our apartment besides our daily runs and walks. We soon found ourselves at Little Pesaukees, a local playgroup. I was a skeptical, since Kenzie was still learning the fine art of sitting up unassisted and had a fountain of drool streaming from her mouth. We arrived baby-late and quickly settled onto the playmat. The babies gurgled and gnawed on toys while toddlers rambunctiously hopped around them. This was a laidback group where all parents seemed to welcome talking with other parents, and not just about baby “stuff.”
Lessons in Parenting
I recently read a letter requesting advice on Salon.com and the response horrified me. The letter-writer was asking how to deal with the eleven-year-old child of a friend who exhibited all kinds of inappropriate behaviors: grabbing things, yelling, demanding to be the center of attention — and it only got worse with any attempt at redirection or remonstrance. The child’s father reportedly did nothing to curb the behavior.
The response was to upbraid the writer for calling the child a “brat” (fair enough), but went on to defend this behavior, which the writer had described as “bullying,” and which seemed to be an accurate term based on the examples he gave. It accused the writer of squashing the joy and spontaneity of childhood with his negative attitude and seemed to recommend that parents let their children raise themselves.
First of all, the term “bullying” should have sounded an alarm bell with the responder. Bullying is an important issue with school age children — pay even a little attention to the news and you will see reports of unhappy children who have been driven to extremes, even suicide by those who have bullied them. If this child feels comfortable attempting to bully an adult, what might he be doing to his peers? To defend bullying behavior is irresponsible.
Second, why the extremes? The response seems to suggest that it is not possible to enjoy childhood in all its spontaneity and innocence if you curb or correct a child’s behavior in any way. Why on earth not? It is a parent’s responsibility to do so, not only for the sake of those who come into the child’s path, but for the child’s own health and safety.
Lessons in Parenting
Like most of our transitions, weaning was a slow process for us. I put my son on “scheduled” feedings at around seven or eight months, but I wasn’t terribly strict about it and it was based mainly on the six or so times a day he tended to eat anyway. The process began in earnest at around thirteen months when we finally weaned him from nursing in the middle of the night.
My husband and I had been trying to wean him from night nursing for several months, but always seemed to get derailed: My husband would be tired, or I would be tired, or my son would be teething. Part of the problem was that it really had to be my husband who got up to calm him down — which could take quite a while — and the poor guy just couldn’t keep up. If I got up with him, he would just cry until I nursed him. I wish I could offer up a clever trick or hint, but the tables turned when he finally allowed me to get up and rock him back to sleep without nursing. Once I saw that was possible, I was on a mission: No matter how much sleep I lost over that week, I made sure we successfully brought the all-night diner to a close.
I started getting serious about the next phase of weaning when the time approached for thinking about a sibling for my son. I was afraid that all the breastfeeding would keep me from being able to get pregnant again. I started cutting daytime feedings. First, I cut any feedings that he tended to reject periodically, like the post-nap feeding. I tried to soften the blow by offering to read to him, a favorite activity of his, thinking that would give him the chance to wake up slowly from his nap, as he used to do by breastfeeding. My son went happily along with this new routine and didn’t even seem to notice that a feeding had been cut.
Mommy Making It Work
Kindergarten is more of a boot camp for parents than kids.
I figured that with all the rules and requirements daycares have these days, I’d be beaten into shape and ready for my oldest to enter real school this fall.
Boy, was I wrong.
While daycares have silly rules about the lunch box going on one shelf while the sippy cup must be on another and the shots that have to be up to date and how, if they sneeze, they have to stay home for a week – well, all that’s different in kindergarten.
With 20 screaming, unruly five-year-olds in one room, who cares about sippy cups?
Instead, kindergarten can be a maze of confusion, for the kid and for you.
A red flag should go off when you forget one check mark on an online form and your kid is suddenly NOT enrolled. And you knew nothing about the grave importance of putting $10 on a lunch card so your kid can get a slushy on slushy day. Because believe me – if your kids DOES NOT have money for the slushy, THEY WILL take the slushy off his tray. And they don’t tolerate tears.
It’s like workplace boot camp. At five.
Adventures in Work
Three months ago, we had our baby girl Kenzie, or should I say she has us now.
We had decided at some point during the pregnancy that I would stay at home with her the first year. We felt lucky to be able to make this choice. But in the spring, right before Kenzie was born, I started a part-time job with an area nonprofit that I wanted to return to, in no small part because it is hard to accept a job offer without explaining that you’ll be out of commission in about 2 months time. It did also help that I like the job.
I work as a parent aide. A parent aide supervises visits between parents and children and provides families with needed supportive services. Each family’s circumstances and challenges are different, which means that I had quickly learned to have no preconceived notions of how a family visit might go.
My first day back, I joined another parent aide during a visit with a family that I would be taking over the following week. I was there to observe the mother's interactions with her kids and give her suggestions to help her improve her parenting skills. But watching another mother parent her children felt different now. Before Kenzie, I used my years of experience working with kids as well as education, common sense and current parent research to inform my help. Now as I watched the mother diaper her baby, I knew that if I was at home doing this with Kenzie I would be making silly faces and making fun of how gross she was in one of those silly voices people are overcome with around babies. It was even more tangible to me how important that child-parent bond was, even during the most repetitive, dirtiest parenting tasks.
I let my children have a lot of power over my feelings.
On Friday, it fell to me to escort Rosie through the process of brushing her teeth. At age 7, Rosie puts brush to mouth but since we insist that she use a red disclosing solution, some adult has to attest that she has adequately scrubbed. Our kids accept the solution. I would not. The solution feels viscous. It has a strong power to stain. We have a spot on our hardwood staircase where John, unable to remain in place while brushing, left a drop that was not immediately removed.
Rosie and I do not have a lot of space to share. Our bathroom measures 7 feet by 8 and one-half feet. The door opens inward. The previous owners of our home built a 13-inch closet in to the corner between the bath and the sink and a small window on the right cancels some of the space. The aqua tile is cracked in places and the matching banana-hued bath and commode shout 1960s.
She always fights me when it comes time to start. Friday is no different. She turns away from me and then pushes her chin toward the ground. I think she wants to sit down and talk. On a day when I work late, this is one of the few times when she gets to have me alone. Susie likes to expedite, but Rosie grits her teeth. Her neck muscles flex, her eyebrows constrict, and her nose hikes up. She hold her elbow above her shoulder and arcs her wrist. She is sawing across a gum that lost a tooth last week. It makes me anxious.
Lessons in Parenting
Kenzie joined our family just over two months ago. As new parents, we made sure we were ready for her: The nursery was set up, the diaper bag packed and the car seat installed. It was, nonetheless, a little surprising when they let us leave the hospital with her. Of course there have been numerous funny moments since then: helping her try to find her thumb to suck on, watching her grandparents and aunt take an endless number of pictures of her over the course of 10 minutes to capture her smiling face, waking up and realizing that she slept through the night.
Besides the importance of remembering my sense of humor and to laugh at myself, here are a few things I have learned since becoming a parent:
People love to touch babies! Maybe I’m not bubbly enough, but thankfully I never ran into a problem with people wanting to touch my pregnant belly. A newborn with strangers is a little different.
Mommy Making It Work
In December, I wrote about my attempts to get my then freshly 2-year-old daughter Alli potty trained, mostly because – now on my second kid – I was sick of changing diapers.
If you read that story, “Potty Training Boot Camp,” you could clearly sense my determination to get her in panties and into the world of big people. But in the end, after she peed all over my house and ended the eight-hour ordeal by pooping in her hand instead of the singing toddler potty, I gave up and said in the blog, “One lesson of potty training: The kid has to want it. Not just the parents.”
Boy was I right. I tried one more time, with a slightly less strict “Potty Training Boot Camp 211” during spring break in March and, lo and behold, Alli still wasn’t ready.
But Memorial Day weekend, a month shy of turning 2 1/2, I was vacuuming my bedroom when Alli triumphantly walked in and announced that she had poo-pooed on the potty.
Lessons in Parenting
Recently, my son got to meet his cousin who lives overseas and who is just over a month younger than he is. Despite the fact that he attends numerous playgroups and sees several babies regularly, it was interesting to see his reaction to his cousin’s presence at his grandparents’ house, at our house, and other places. At first he was suspicious (after all, he was chased down and hugged against his will at their first meeting), but mostly he seemed perplexed by the idea that this little person kept showing up over and over again. This deepened for a short while to what I think was genuine distress. Aside from his cousin who is several years older, he’s never seen kids at his grandparents’ house and the separation anxiety that was already causing him to suddenly tear up if I even left the room led to the idea that maybe he could be supplanted.
Fortunately, he didn’t seem to hold this against his cousin. In fact, after a couple of weeks, they were taking turns chasing each other through the house and sometimes even sharing toys. But anytime his grandparents were around, my son held out his arms to be picked up and at home he slept poorly, as if worried his cousin would suddenly show up to claim all the attention.
Then his cousin disappeared for a month to go traveling with his parents and things went back to normal. When he came back, my son eyed him with a thoughtful look, then went up to hug his cousin. This time his cousin didn’t want to be on the receiving end and a chase ensued, but a couple of days later they had worked it out and were hugging each other, although with toddlers this ends up looking a little like wrestling.
Lessons in Parenting
It wasn’t until after my son was born that I committed to attempting to raise him bilingual in French and English. Not being a native speaker myself, and being the only one in the household who would be able to speak French to him, I was naturally a little nervous about the responsibility. However I knew quite well that research has indicated time and again that when it comes to learning a foreign language, the earlier you start, the better. In fact, one study determined that children learn all the sounds they need to produce in a particular language by the age of one.
There were lots of questions to debate: When would I speak to him in French? How much of the time? What happens when we are out in public? When relatives are around? The one thing I was sure of was that I was not going to sacrifice ever communicating to him in my native language by speaking only French to him.
Before I devised a plan, when my son was a few weeks old, I did a nominal amount of research about raising a bilingual child. It seems that most households fall into one of two categories. Some households have one parent speak exclusively in one language to the child and the other exclusively in another language. This works well, I would imagine, in households where each parent has a different native language. In other households, the parents speak one language at home and another in public. Neither of these options really fit our situation, so I decided that I would speak French to my son during the day, while my husband was at work, and English to him in the evenings and on weekends.
Lessons in Parenting
Attachment parenting has been getting a lot of press lately: Time Magazine recently profiled Dr. Bill Sears, identifying him as “guru” of the attachment parenting set; The Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik was interviewed a couple of months ago about her parenting style, which includes long-term co-sleeping and breastfeeding, two of the major tenets of attachment parenting. The third major component, as identified by Time, is babywearing, and of the three, it is the one that really didn’t live up to the hype for me.
Babywearing has ended up being only an occasional thing for me. I thought it sounded great at first - a way to keep baby nearby and still have my hands free to do the occasional chore. However, the biggest hurdle to my babywearing, especially immediately postpartum, is that I just didn’t want to do it.
Lessons in Parenting
As I sat through the session of my birthing classes devoted to breastfeeding, I was surprised to find that the first half hour was devoted to stories of people giving women a hard time for breastfeeding in public. One woman was thrown off an airplane for feeding her child to keep his or her ears from popping in preparation for takeoff. Another was asked by a security guard at the Smithsonian to stop breastfeeding. Two recent pictures of mothers breastfeeding have caused an uproar. One is the Time Magazine cover from a couple of weeks ago depicting a young mother feeding a three-year-old who is standing on a chair. The other is of two mothers in the military feeding their babies in uniform.
The Time Magazine cover appears to be trying to provoke a reaction. The young mother is wearing a tight-fitting tank and skinny jeans, staring directly at the camera, a hand on her hip; her son is latched onto one breast and is also staring at the camera. What I see as the problem with this photo is that no one breastfeeds like this. Mother and child don’t seem to be making any connection with each other and, although I have no experience breastfeeding a child that old, I can’t imagine anyone would choose to breastfeed while striking a runway model pose. Sadly, an opportunity for helping people understand that some mothers and children continue with breastfeeding until this age because it works for them is lost because people can’t get past those poses.