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A Quick Reminder

When our Bug was little, I wrote an article about not talking about your kids.

Not because it’s annoying to other people (alright, a little bit because of that). But mostly because our kids are people whose privacy should be respected.

Today, I was reminded why I wrote that article.

Old Habits

I still slip into the bad habit of talking about my kids. The other day, I even went so far as to talk about them in front of them.

It makes me cringe to think about it. Our oldest is smart and observant, and he listened as I compared and contrasted him with his brother.

How was he not going to notice? I’m ashamed of myself.

The Consequences

So today, I shouldn’t have been baffled when the Bug did his best to live up to the picture I had painted of him earlier in the week.

We were having a social-distanced get-together for ice cream with distant relatives, some of whom we’d never met.

Suddenly, our Bug was behaving totally uncharacteristically. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why.

He Explains

When we got home, he was still behaving strangely. He looked up at me with his big beautiful eyes and said, “Mama, I’m shy.”

At first I was miffed. But then I remembered the conversation he had overheard earlier in the week.

That’s when I realized that his weird behavior was on me.

All he wanted to do was try and live up to the description he had overheard me give of him. He’s a sensitive and sweet boy; of course he wants to conform to what he thinks his mama wants from him.

So Zip Up, Mama.

It killed me to see my son try and fit himself into a mould I’d made for him. A mould that, though perhaps true in some ways and at some moments, was too simplistic to be accurate.

It’s the same lesson I keep thinking I’ve learned: Zip it, lady. Stop it. Just don’t talk about your kids.

But I can talk with my kids. And in the morning, I think the first thing I need to say to my son is, “I owe you an apology.”

Power Trippin’ No

50. Just Say No: Write about the power you felt when you told someone no.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

“No.”

Such a tiny little word, and yet! And yet how powerful!

I’ve come up with lots of different ways to say “no” these days. As a mom, I think it’s important to have a variety of ways to destroy your child’s happiness.

“Now’s not the time, love.”
“Not likely.”
“Never in a million years.”
“Heck no!”
“What, do you think I’m stupid or something?”
“Ix-nay.”
“Let’s all have a big tall glass of nope.”

It feels like I have a whole arsenal of “no” weapons, ready at a moment’s notice!

A Bit Carried Away

At one point, though, I realized that perhaps it was getting a bit excessive.

This dawned on me when my three-year-old threw himself on the floor and screamed when I told him, “No, you can’t play the piano.”

That’s normal, you think. Any three-year-old would throw a fit about something like that.

True, but hear me out.

I have fairly high noise tolerance. This piano has survived lessons from four kids: it’s not like it’s delicate. My kids aren’t that rough. We had just finished one activity and hadn’t yet moved on to another. He had washed his hands and everything.

Could It Be That…

Perhaps I was saying “no” too much??

But how can that be?! I must be FIRM with my children! They can’t have everything they want!

This is true. They cannot have everything they want. But not everything has to be a battle. After all, we got the piano for the kids to enjoy!

So after watching him scream for a minute, I thought to myself, “Do I really care enough about this situation to worry about seeming inconsistent if I change my mind?”

The answer was (you guessed it!), NO. No, I didn’t care that much.

“You know what, love? Why not? Of course you can play the piano. Go ahead.”

Picking Your Battles

His face immediately cleared, and he clambered up onto the piano stool and started plonking away. He didn’t last long, and soon became interested in his trains.

Noise gone. Happy child. Happy mother.

That was a battle that didn’t need to happen. Others definitely need to happen (like reasonable bedtime, brushing your teeth and OMG STOP EATING TOOTHPASTE HOW DID YOU FIND IT GAAAAAAH).

But when we’re all cooped up at home together, and things are tough enough as it is, picking your battles is an important skill to learn.

It’s also good to realize that sometimes…

“Yes” Is Powerful, Too

(Or, if “yes” feels too permissive, try, “What the heck? Knock yourself out, kid.”)

A Judicious Use of Silence

Today’s prompt got me thinking about how I’m trying to learn to BREAK silence, rather than keep it. But in an effort to lighten up a bit, here’s one about staying silent.

43. The Sound of Silence: Write about staying quiet when you feel like shouting.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

“Ma-MAAAAAH!! HE HIT ME!!!”

Before the pandemic, this cry would elicit an almost immediate response from me.

“Don’t hit your brother!” for minor infractions.

“Go to your room!” for slightly more serious crimes.

“THAT’S IT, I’M TAKING AWAY [insert favorite toy here]!” for the most grievous offenses.

But as the pandemic wore on…

I became inured to the call, impervious to their cries.

Don’t get me wrong, there are certain things I will not tolerate (just ask me how I dealt with a biting habit).

But when it comes to the whiny, peevish cries of, “He pushed me!” “He hit me!” “He took my toy!”… At this point, I am basically deaf to them.

A Newborn’s Cries

You know how parents learn to understand their newborn’s cries? One for hungry, one for sleepy, one for fussy, another for gassy…

It’s actually pretty easy to tell when your child is seriously upset or injured. Just by listening closely to their shouts, I can tell whether my 5- and 2-year-old are actually in pain, or if they’re just kvetching.

So now, when they kvetch, I say nothing.

Blissful Silence

After the initial outcry, when they realize no response is forthcoming, they usually simmer down.

They’ll move on, either play something else together or each move on to his own thing.

It’s only when the outbursts become more frequent and reach a fever pitch that I then intervene.

And then, it’s usually to throw them outside, down to the playroom, or to their respective rooms.

And enjoy a few more minutes of blessed silence.

And maybe a cup of tea…

Defining “Work”

15. Eavesdropper: Create a poem, short story, or journal entry about a conversation you’ve overheard.

https://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/

This morning, while my boys were having their breakfast, I overheard the following conversation:

“Papá went to work.”
“And mamá went to work.”
“What? Mamá doesn’t work!” (Laughter.)
“[Giggles] Mamá doesn’t work, yeah!”
“Mamá doesn’t do any work!”
“No, mama doesn’t do any work!”

Uproarious laughter. As if they had said something extremely witty.

I had been slicing an orange and I appeared (somewhat menacingly) next to them at the table, orange and knife in hand.

The dark, glowering look on my face (paired, perhaps, with the knife) must have been enough to tell them that Mamá was not happy, because they immediately fell silent.

“Let me make one thing very clear,” I said through clenched teeth. “Mamá does work. She may not get paid. She may not leave the house. But let me assure you that your mother does, in fact, work.”

Awed silence.

Then, a tentative question. “But Mamá… What work do you do?”

What work do I do? What work does any homemaker do? The list of the tedious, thankless jobs I do ran through my head. Scheduling, meal planning, shopping, cooking, tidying, cleaning, washing, folding, ironing (occasionally), wrangling, finding every lost item in the house, activity planning and coordinating, and so many, many more.

So in answer to my son’s infuriating question, I said, “I am CEO, operations director, head chef, chief medical officer, and various other positions, all in the home.”

Puzzlement. I added, “If anyone asks you what your mother does for work, you can tell them, ‘She works in the home.’”

Another little voice piped up. “Mamá, you’re not going to poke me?”

I looked at my younger son in confusion. Then I remembered the knife. I dropped my hand to my side.

“No, of course not my love.” Sweet smiles spread across their faces.

As I went back to slicing my orange, I couldn’t help but feel that I had inadequately addressed the situation. How does a homemaking mother teach her male children to value and appreciate what she does? How do I help them understand that what I do is not to be taken for granted?

How do I teach them not to assume that every mother does what I do? Not to assume that I work at home because I am a mother?

Heavy questions. I sighed. “Just another Thursday morning,” I thought to myself.

Let’s be Honest: Parenting is Tedious

Yeah, I said it!

PARENTING IS TEDIOUS!

C’mon, you all know it’s true. Yes, we adore our children. Yes, we share precious, unforgettable moments with them.

But let’s be real: those precious moments are balanced by an equal number of mind-numbingly dull interactions.

Most of our time as parents is taken up with negotiating somewhat healthy food into our children’s mouths, cleaning up after them and listening to them tell long, rambling stories that MAKE NO SENSE and HAVE NO POINT.

*Sigh*

Endless Needs

As a very wise (and honest) friend once said to me, the tedium of parenting comes from endless kids’ needs coming before our own.

As parents, we have to prioritize the survival of our children: clothing, feeding and getting them to school/daycare. Or just getting them through the day.

As a result, our needs come second (if at all).

I really admire those parents who can continue with their pre-kids activities with apparently as much dedication as ever. In my experience, while some things must continue (work, for instance), something always must give way in the face of our children’s needs.

I guess that is the sacrifice of parenthood.

Guilt Again…

In our family, we have each given up something in the face of parenthood. In my Chico’s case, it’s doing the sports he loves. For me, it’s been a career.

This is where the Mom-Guilt-Monster raises its ugly head.

I think: but if we don’t model self care and prioritizing of our interests to our children, how will they learn to take proper care of themselves?

I haven’t figured it out yet but I’m hoping we’ll all learn to strike a balance.

And in any case, even if we think we have everything right and we’re doing everything perfectly, I bet you our kids will grow up to complain to their therapists about us, anyway. Ha!

Picture Day Pitfalls

Last week we saw the poster up on the front door at school and got the flyers in our cubbies:

Picture day! Hooray!

The Bug and the Bear were pretty excited, and we went clothes shopping on Friday afternoon.

We picked some cute plaid shirts, some nice trousers, and the boys got to choose some fun items, too.

We have a rule in our house. The boys choose their clothes on a daily basis. I only require that they dress appropriately for the weather, but then they have full autonomy.

However, on special occasions, Mama gets to choose.

Since they usually get to pick, I rarely run into problems when it comes to special occasion dressing.

Normally, I give them a choice on those occasions. We’ll lay out some nice shirts and trousers for them to pick from.

For Picture Day, however, I was adamant. Bug was to wear his lederhosen.

Yes, lederhosen!

They’re beautiful, green leather, Bavarian lederhosen. They fit him perfectly, and come with a sweet coordinated plaid shirt embroidered with edelweiss.

For the Bear, we put him in a little Bavarian checked button-down shirt with a jaunty boiled-wool hat given to him by his aunt and uncle.

They look so handsome. Their shirts are pressed, their hair is combed… But then…

Remember, everyone:

NEVER EVER LET YOUR CHILDREN EAT THEIR BREAKFAST IN THEIR PICTURE DAY CLOTHES.

Or, if you do, don’t serve scones with strawberry jam.

lonely-in-the-playground

Lonely at the Playground

How often do you see parents reading at the playground anymore? Or chatting amongst themselves? Or even looking at their phones?

Not much, I’d guess.

I’ve spent a few months in the US, and the experience of going to the playground is entirely different here.

In Germany, parents would congregate in one area of the playground. Grownups would stand around chatting with each other, occasionally helping a child out, kissing a booboo or intervening when children’s interactions came to tears.

Otherwise, though, parents mainly talked amongst themselves, leaving the kids to do their thing.

Here, it’s completely different.

In the last few months of visiting various playgrounds in our new town, the only parents I have chatted with have been almost exclusively Germans. I’ve only had a nice conversation with one American Mom.

Most of the time I find myself sitting on a bench by myself, watching my kids play.

The other day, I realized what’s happening.

Parents aren’t interacting with each other because they’re too busy entertaining their kids.

Longing for playground socializing

As a newcomer to the area, I thought taking my kids to the playground would be a great way to meet other parents. Not so.

Small chats do happen, and people aren’t unfriendly. But most folks are so busy with their kids that they won’t stop long to talk.

At first it made me wonder if I was doing something wrong or somehow neglecting my children. Then I looked around and spotted my boys, one happily playing on the slides, another dangling upside-down from the monkey bars. They were fine.

They didn’t want or need me to entertain them. And frankly, I wasn’t much interested in the monkey bars.

So now I bring my book

Perhaps it makes me look antisocial, sitting there reading. I try to glance up regularly to look around and see if there are any other parents hankering for a good old-fashioned playground chat.

If you see me reading at the playground, don’t worry about interrupting. Chances are, I’d welcome the opportunity to meet someone new.

Lessons My Kids Teach Me

Three times in the last month, my Bug has had a major freak out over a minor boo-boo.

The first time, he completely lost it and went into full-on meltdown mode when I tried to clip his toenails. Normally, this is a non-issue. He’s fine with it. But this time he freaked out, started screaming, crying, howling and kicking his legs around.

The second time, a large scab on his knee came part-way off and was tugging and pulling uncomfortably. We sat down for me to look at it. When I told him I needed to cut it off so that it wouldn’t hurt him, he completely lost it.

Today was the latest episode. He got a splinter in his hand. He trustingly gave me his hand to look at. When I told him that I would have to take it out, he balled his hand into a fist, snatched it towards his chest, burst into tears and wouldn’t let me near it.

He was paralyzed by the idea of being hurt.

Of course, there’s not much I can do in these situations. Either I wait for him to calm down (which takes forever, if he does at all), or I would have to hog-tie him and pin him down in order to do what needs to be done. Not an option, as it’s probably illegal.

As you can imagine, these incidents are intense, frustrating, and pretty traumatizing for both of us. And even though I try to stay calm myself, I feel rage building inside me the longer his freakout lasts.

And then, just like that, it’s over! The splinter is out, the scab is removed, the toenails are cut–all painlessly.

Someone throws a switch in his brain and he’s suddenly back to being 100% fine. Yes, there are tear tracks down his face, but he’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The child that moments ago was shrieking bloody murder is now gazing at me peacefully, a big relieved grin on his face.

But I’m still mad.

I cannot throw that switch and suddenly go back to all-fine-mode. I’m angry that he nearly burst my eardrum with his shrieking. I’m mad that he didn’t trust me not to hurt him. I’m ticked off that something so simple has become such a drama.

But he remembers none of that. He has moved on to his next moment. Probably a cool leaf, a comic book, or a funny fart noise.

Do all children live so totally in the moment? Or is it just mine? And how can I learn to do that?

How can I learn to let the frustration, the anger and the stress melt away to nothing? To move on so quickly to happier thoughts?

Is my inability to do this part and parcel of being a grownup? Is it some of the magic of childhood that we adults lose?

Or maybe, just maybe, I can learn to do as he does with practice. Maybe I can learn to take a deep breath, look back into his enormous, teal-green eyes and see that the bad moment has passed.

A good one has begun.

Favorite Parenting Books

Oh, what the heck. I do not like to be called a “Mommy blogger,” but I’m going to go ahead and give some recommendations for our favorite parenting books.

When our first son was born, I often turned to forums like babycenter.com for advice. I read online articles and discussion boards. None of them helped assuage my anxiety.

Finally, as I wrote in an earlier blog article, I decided to quit the internet, and to use just a few trusted resources. Here are some of them.

Favorite Parenting Books for Pregnancy

Getting email updates is fine (especially if they’re funny), but nothing beats a well-researched book.

The Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy

  • What we liked: It’s packed full of research-based information, well-organized and easy to refer back to.
  • Not so hot: It’s pretty dry reading, but that’s about the only negative.

From Tiny Tot to Toddler: This is a free guide provided by the Quebec government to expecting parents, and is therefore not available outside of Quebec. The link might help you find out how to get a copy. It is FANTASTIC.

This is often referred to as “the bible” by healthcare providers in Quebec. If you have any questions about your pregnancy, or your baby, they often ask, “Have you checked in the bible?” It is CHOCK full of really useful information.

  • What we liked: EVERYTHING IS IN HERE. You can look things up by symptom, name, stage, etc.
  • Not so hot: Because it’s government materials, they provide ONLY official recommendations, and might frown on practices like co-sleeping, or other more “folksy” remedies or recommendations.

The Birth Partner, by Penny Simkin

Penny Simkin is a well-known US-based doula, and her book is for those accompanying pregnant moms. My brother gave this book to Chico to read while I was pregnant, and he found it extremely informative (especially the part about “very rapid labor”…).

Favorite Parenting Books for Newborns

Once the little one comes along, you’ve got a whole new set of questions. We continued to refer regularly to Tiny Tot. We also found What to Expect the First Year very useful.

  • What we liked: Well organized, easy to refer to, and often addressed the concerns we were facing in the right time frame (it’s organized by month).
  • Not so hot: It’s quite categorical, and can make you feel like you’re doing something wrong if you’re not doing what they say. It’s also got a LOT of information, which can be overwhelming, but I think that’s a common pitfall with these kinds of books.

With our Bug, we didn’t need to worry much about sleeping issues. He was born an olympic champion of a sleeper. Our Bear, however, gave us a bit more trouble on the sleeping front, and so we consulted:

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth

  • What we liked: It gives pointers that you can put into practice right away, and offers a variety of ideas and potential plans for getting your kid either into a good sleep pattern or back into one when they’ve gone through a transition.
  • Not so hot: It’s heavy on data and statistics, which is reassuring but also dry. That’s why there’s a handy “how to use this book” section at the beginning.

Favorite Parenting Books for Food and Feeding

BLW (or baby-led weaning) is all the rage right now, and we did refer to the book for some information. It’s Baby-Led Weaning by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. We did not end up going whole-hog, but did a combination of BLW and old-fashioned spoon feeding.

Again, Tiny Tot was an amazing resource for beginning solids. It has a whole guide for what kinds of foods to give, including portion size recommendations, etc. It’s got a chart that you can use to tick things off as you keep adding foods, and great suggestions for what to try, and how to prepare it.

Favorite Parenting Books for Behavior

As our Bug got older and we started facing the famous “terrible twos” and “threenager” phases, we looked to some books for advice on behavior management.

Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp

  • What we liked: It provides actionable things that you can put to use IMMEDIATELY, and you will see immediate positive results, if you’re willing adjust your behavior and try something new.
  • Not so hot: It’s SO AMERICAN, and kind of makes you feel like an idiot. But whatever, it works.

Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay

  • What we liked: It challenged us to think differently about how we approach situations, and was also immediately effective.
  • Not so hot: It’s coming from a very Christian background (assuming churchgoing, etc.), which is fine with us as we are Christian, but might not appeal to others. It also assumes that Mom is staying at home full-time with the kids, which is a bit frustrating, but again, does not invalidate the precepts of the book.

Oh Crap! Potty Training, by Jamie Glowacki

I’ve learned that potty training is a polarizing topic among parents these days. We had the attitude that potty training is taught, and that our son was ready to be taught when he was a little over two years old. We did not subscribe to the wait-until-they’re-ready theory, and wanted to help our son out of diapers as soon as possible, for our sanity and for the environment.

  • What we liked: This is a no-nonsense guide, with a healthy dose of reality and a great sense of humor. Her style really fit our parenting style, and when we approached potty training as a fun, teaching-learning activity, it made it relatively smooth.
  • Not so hot: I have trouble thinking about what is not so hot in this book. Other people I have spoken with don’t like the pressure they feel to get their kid out of diapers, or worry that the pressure of potty training will have an adverse effect on their children. In my mind, if you’re pressuring your kid to potty train, you’re not really following this book, and you’ll have an uphill battle to face.

The Best Parenting Advice Ever…

Usually comes from your doctor, close friends and/or family, and your own instincts. These books might give you information and tools, but you’re the one who decides what to do with them.

second_pregnancy_syndrome

Second Pregnancy Syndrome

Second Pregnancy Syndrome (or SPS as I like to think of it) is definitely a thing.

During a first pregnancy, you’re in a honeymoon period. Whether you feel sick or fantastic, you’re constantly aware of your pregnancy.

You get weekly update emails from websites like babycenter.com or pregnantchicken.com (these were hilarious and a personal favorite).

When people ask you how far along you are, you can tell them exactly how many weeks and days.

You have time to lie around the house, feeling those little movements that make your heart glow, and do all the nesting you want.

Your baby room looks ah-maaaaa-zing, like something off of Pinterest.

When you get home from work, you can collapse into bed without a care in the world.

Fast Forward to Your Second Pregnancy

This is an entirely different ball game. And it’s not as much fun.

You may still feel sick, or perhaps you feel fantastic. But you’re definitely TIRED. The fatigue of the first trimester hits you like a mack truck coming full speed out of the fog.

You think, “Ok, I’ll lie down and take it easy.” But as soon as you lie down, a little voice says, “Mamaaaaaaa… Let’s plaaaaaaay…”

Oh Right. You have a Toddler.

Your first kid is likely somewhere between 20 months and 36 months old. This is a notoriously difficult age: the Terrible Twos.

Any kind of change is a huge drama to your toddler. And at this point, your toddler’s emotional brain is hugely over-developed. So everything is ALL ABOUT THE EMOTIONS. They’re overpowering. They’re overwhelming. They lead to meltdowns and tantrums at the drop of a hat.

You’ve got to manage a tantrum, or somehow go through the mechanics of your routine without being sick all over your kid, or falling asleep in your chair.

Second Pregnancy Syndrome Symptoms: Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That

The symptoms of Second Pregnancy Syndrome are as follows:

All that time you had during your first pregnancy? Gone.

Regular nap time? Dream on (unless you’re lucky and your toddler still naps).

Knowing exactly how far along you are? HA! “What? I’m pregnant? I’d have forgotten if I hadn’t just barfed in the kitchen sink.”

Reading weekly email updates comparing your foetus to fruit and vegetables? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Doing your stretching, pregnancy exercises or labor breathing practice? See above.

Preparing that perfect baby room? Dang, this kid will be lucky if he/she gets a bed to sleep in!

Some Solutions for SPS

It’s not all bad news, though. There are ways to combat SPS, and to make life during a second pregnancy a little easier to handle.

1. Convert your toddler to a big girl/guy

Kids at this age love to be helpful, and to feel like they are trusted with responsibilities. Make your little one feel like a big girl/guy by asking for his/her help. Whether it’s help making breakfast, tidying up, getting dressed on their own like a big kid, or brushing their teeth, every little bit helps.

You can even take it a step further and potty train your kid. According to Jamie Glowacki (potty training expert and the “pied piper of poop”), 20-30 months is the ideal time to potty train your kid. We took that to heart and seized the opportunity to potty train and get one kid out of diapers before another one starts out with them.

We found that potty training our son gave him confidence, made him feel proud of himself, and spurred on his desire to be a “big guy.” He now climbs into his car seat on his own (hooray for not having to pick up 15kg of toddler while pregnant!), no longer sits in a booster seat, brushes his teeth on his own and gets himself dressed. All helpful.

2. Ask for help

No one is going to judge you for hiring a regular babysitter to watch your kid while you take a nap.

If your toddler isn’t in daycare, look into options. If you’re working and your toddler is in daycare, find a reliable babysitter who can come in on a regular basis to help out. Sometimes it helps just to have someone play with your kid while you throw some dinner together.

Get your partner involved. Work out a schedule whereby you can both be home at the same time in the evening (prime toddler meltdown hour), so you can work together to get that kid to bed before you collapse.

If you have family around, ask for help. Even if it’s your overbearing mother-in-law (I cannot speak from personal experience here, but I’ve heard they exist), bite the bullet and ask if she can watch your toddler for an afternoon a week, or maybe even do one overnight a week.

3. Remember to take care of yourself

This is the hardest one, and I’ve definitely failed at it.

Being diagnosed as dangerously anaemic reminded me that I need to eat better and take care of myself, not just my big guy.

Do what you can to eat well, and get plenty of rest. If possible, try and get in a gentle walk a few times a week. Getting outside will help both you and your toddler (and you can’t really do anything but gentle walking when you’re with a toddler).

It’s so much easier said than done, and I’m still struggling with this one. As moms, we often worry about everyone’s well-being but our own.

Remember: when you’re pregnant, it’s not just your well-being, but also that of your baby. So just do it: lie down for that nap instead of putting on a load of laundry. It’s good for you.