Archive for the ‘parenting’ Category

This past Friday my girls and I went to Harvest Farms with the Northern Colorado Home School group.  They have a corn maze, a place where you can feed and pet various farm animals, a barrel train, and wagon-shaped sandboxes that are actually filled with corn.

L wanted to play in the “corn box,” so we found one that wasn’t too crowded.  There was another little boy who appeared to be about two years old.  A retired woman, who I suppose was his grandmother was sitting on a nearby bench.  The little boy threw some corn at L, and his grandmother told him to stop.  A few minutes later, L and E started throwing corn, and I started telling them to stop.  The grandma interrupted me to mutter something about it being good for the children to socialize.  I nodded in agreement, but was a bit puzzled.  What did that have to do with throwing corn?  Fortunately, the girls found better things to do with the corn.

“What school do they go to?” Grandma asked.

“We’re actually here with a home school group,” I replied.  Then pointing to L, I added.  “She’s just in preschool.”  What I meant was L is just starting out the adventure we call school.  I think Grandma understood it as preschool wasn’t important.  In a rather tragic voice, she said:  “I retired from thirty years of early childhood education.”  I’m not sure I have the number of years right, but it was a significant amount of time.

The little boy had been playing with a bucket which L wanted.  L patiently waited for the boy to lose interest in the bucket, which he did.  L then had the bucket next to her but wasn’t actually playing with it.  At that moment a girl about her age from the next “corn box” came over and said:  “Can I have that bucket?”  L was focused on something else and didn’t answer the girl right away.  I worried that the girl would just take the bucket while L wasn’t looking, so I said:  “L’s been wanting to play with that bucket for a while and would be sad if you took it now.”  The girl nodded and went back to her box.

“She might have had a chance if she’d said ‘please,'” Grandma said.

“Huh?” was my intelligent reply.

“You should have told her if she doesn’t say ‘please’ she doesn’t get it,” Grandma said, the ire rising in her voice.  When I didn’t say anything, she went on.  “Come on now, it doesn’t sound good to say ‘Can I have this?’  You need to teach children how to be polite.”

At this point I was genuinely confused because the girl who asked for the bucket was not my daughter, and in my mind she asked politely enough.  I started to say something to that effect as in, what is the problem here.  I really wasn’t getting it.  There were more words exchanged but I don’t really remember.  I just knew I wasn’t tracking with Grandma, and she was getting more and more peeved-sounding.

“So is that the way you home school?  Is that what you are showing your kids?  Is that the kind of socialization you’re giving them?”  This time she’s sounding genuinely angry.  I’m still confused.  She goes on with more of the same, and she’s clearly upset with me.

“Are you trying to pick a fight with me?” I ask, which she quickly denies, then continues with her lecturing, which is making no sense to me whatsoever.  I can tell by her tone of voice that she’s criticizing me, but I can’t figure out what exactly she’s criticizing.  It took me forever to realize the little girl who asked for the bucket didn’t actually use the word “please.”  But her tone was congenial enough I can’t imagine that’s what’s making Grandma so upset.  I make a few more attempts to understand her, to ask questions, to explain myself (if only I knew how), and these attempts are met with more and more aggressive interrupting (which I read in a book is the equivalent of verbal shoving) and angrier and angrier sounding accusations about what a poor job I’m doing with home schooling because I’m obviously not teaching my children right.

Finally, I gave up.  “I don’t want to talk anymore.”

“It’s because you know you’re wrong, that’s why you don’t want to talk to me!”

I couldn’t think of anything to say to that.  Right now, two responses come to mind:  1.  The aggressive response:  “No, it’s because you are engaging in very antisocial behavior.”  2.  The assertive response:  “No, it’s because I’m feeling attacked and I don’t converse well when I’m feeling attacked.”

Instead, awkward silence reigns.  She’s not moving, and I really don’t want to drag my daughters away from their play, which they are clearly enjoying.  I do my best to focus on playing with them.  Very hard to do when someone is burning holes in your back.

Finally Grandma spots the barrel train in the distance, and calls to her grandson.  “Look, the train is here.  Let’s go ride the train.”  He seems reluctant to leave the “corn box.”  She insists, and shows him the train.  He allows himself to be picked up.  While Grandma–who is about three feet from L at this point–is picking him up, she says:  “You don’t want to play with these home schooled kids anyway.  You’ve got better things to do.”

They leave.  My heart is pounding.  I’m really bothered that she said the last thing where L could clearly hear her.  Even if I was doing the worst possible thing to my child by home schooling her, it’s not as if she made that choice.  She doesn’t deserve to be insulted over what her parents have chosen for her.

I explain to L that this lady was very rude and had bad manners, and not to pay attention to anything she said.  Maybe I made it worse by saying something.  Maybe L didn’t hear her at all–she really can be focused on her play.

L glanced at her leaving with the little boy.  Then she’s worried that Grandma is going to hurt the boy.  “What if she kills him or something?” were her exact words.

“I’m sure she loves the little boy very much.  She won’t hurt him.  She just forgot her manners today.”  I go on to explain that sometimes I forget my manners too.  I want to leave the “corn box” too, and I suggest a visit to the petting zoo.  L obliges and we have a wonderful time there, until the animals get a bit too rowdy, but that’s another story.

I’ve heard stories about people being criticized for home schooling their children, but I figured that was back in the day before home schooling was cool, like when my husband Erik was being home schooled and parents had to worry about visits from the truant officer and social workers and family and friends looking at them like they’ve decided to move to the North Pole.  Now, pretty much all my friends have considered home schooling.  Many of them do send their children to school, but it’s clear that out of all the legitimate education options out there, home schooling is definitely one of them.  Some people have expressed guilt that they’re not home schooling.  It’s almost becoming the new standard in parenting excellence.  So, I was shocked to have been on the receiving end of such harsh criticism over my decision to show up at an event with a home school group.  That really was all the information Grandma had about me.  For all she knew, and as young as L is, I could have been just checking out my options, and to be honest, I haven’t completely ruled out formal school at a later time.   If I was riding the fence about home schooling, I’m sure this exchange would have put me more firmly in the home school camp.  While my children may forget to say “please” every time they ask for something, I don’t really want them behaving like Grandma did that day.  I hope she wasn’t like that while she was teaching school; I hope she was just having an off day.

I’ve only been officially home schooling for a month or so, and I already have a war story.


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Car seat insanity

I have long wondered about the common decision many parents take of limiting their family size to two or three children.  This is a change from the Biblical times where men and women competed with each other over who could produce the most children.

I have two daughters, and the younger one has already changed from the baby bucket style car seat to a rear-facing convertible.  My older daughter has outgrown most types of convertible car seats.  She is now ready for a booster seat.  But far from settling the issue, there is a myriad of choices of booster car seats out there—everything from a five-point harness seat to a backless seat that holds the child in using only the vehicle safety belt.

When L outgrew her convertible seat, or to be precise, when E absolutely would not fit in her baby bucket any longer and needed to move into L’s convertible seat, I took a quick look at the car seat section of Wal-Mart and found that legally speaking, the simple booster with no back was all L would need.  It was a good price, so I picked one up.

It didn’t take long for me to begin to feel uneasy about L’s booster seat.  If she fell asleep in it, she could slump almost completely over to the point where the safety belt wouldn’t do her much good if she really needed it.  About that time, a good friend of mine was on TV because she and her son had been in a nasty car wreck and they attribute his survival without so much as a scratch to his booster seat.  That’s when it hit me that there’s a lot more than meets the eye with the car seat business.  My friend being on TV sparked some email discussion in my Mom’s group.  Needless to say, some of the other moms were extremely knowledgeable about the safest way to transport their precious children.

I decided to purchase a Britax car seat for both of my girls.  It was a good thing I thought of this at tax time because those car seats are quite pricey.  They exceed American safety standards, and as I discovered when I installed them, they come with some nice features that make them a bit more convenient to work with.  They are also extremely comfortable for the child—the Cadillac of car seats.

The Britax Decathlon, the logical choice for E, works pretty much like the convertible seat it is replacing, only it can handle a child up to 65 pounds.  The Regent, the one I wanted for L, however, needed to be tethered in order to be usable to its top capacity of an 80 pound child.  So, before I could order it, I needed to know if I could modify my vehicle to tether a car seat.  I spent one day on the phone tracking that down, and found a shop that specializes in vehicle ad-ons to do the work.  Once I got the tether bolts put in I ordered the car seats.

They came in within days of placing my order.  Then it was time to install them.  The Decathlon arrived first, so I installed it first.  It may be a Britax, the Cadillac of car seats, but it is still a car seat.  That means wrestling it in is a more accurate description than installing it.  I bundled the girls up and let them play outside while I wrestled.  Once I got it installed properly, I knew it wasn’t going anywhere.  E would be snug as a bug in that thing and well protected.  Then came the Regent.  It wouldn’t fit in the middle because it is so huge.  After all, it can accommodate up to an 80 pound child.  So I had to take out the Decathlon, wrestle in the Regent in its place, then re-wrestle in the Decathlon right next to it.  Again I bundled up the girls and took them outside, and that worked great until E came to me completely soaked.  It had rained recently and E had crawled into a super saturated sandbox.  So I had to take her inside and change her.  By then L complained of being cold and wanted to come in.  I turned on a movie for them to watch while I finished the wrestling outside.

The Decathlon went in the middle seat pressing against the Regent.  I guess since I’d already installed it once I knew what to expect.  The seats are now side by side pressing against each other, barely fitting into their allotted space.  The empty seat to the side, the one that’s supposed to lean forward to allow someone to get into the seat in the way back won’t lean forward properly because it’s blocked by the Decathlon.  Oh well, it’s not often we need access to that way in the back seat anyway.  Still, it’s annoying because the whole point of trying to get one seat into the middle was to preserve that access.  The car seats are in, they are tethered, and they are not going anywhere.  And don’t ask me to take them out anytime soon either.

And now I know why couples limit their family size.  There’s only so much car seat wrestling a sane adult can do before saying “Alright already.  Enough is enough!”  They didn’t have car seats back in the Bible days.

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My daughter has been really enjoying watching DVD episodes of Dora the Explorer. It’s a really simple concept, but absolutely perfect for a preschooler. Each episode is quite predictable. Dora and her monkey Boots have to accomplish some task, and there are always three places they have to go and things to do along the way. Dora asks her map to show her which way to go. The map will say something like: “You have to go over the snowy mountain, across Crocodile Lake and then you get to the Gooey geiser.” Of course, Dora and Boots always succeed in their mission and get to sing the “We did it!” song. Dora and Boots talk about their favorite parts and “ask” the viewer about his or her favorite part. Dora ends by saying “We couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks for helping.” The show is as interactive as a show can be. It also teaches a few Spanish words in each episode.

I have found Dora to make a great template for playful parenting. It turns out just about any task or favor I ask of L can be turned into a Dora-style adventure. Sunday night we picked up the living room as a family because all the toys had gotten scattered all over the floor. L would go after groups of toys and put them in their appropriate boxes. She would ask her map where to go, and Erik or I would answer something like this: “To get to the Lego box, you have to go past the tea set box, around the tool box and then you get to the Lego box.” L would follow those directions, deposit the Lego into its box and pick up the next toy. The game would start all over. We had her putting away stuffed animals and books in her bedroom that way… “You have to go down the long hallway, past the bathroom, and then you get to L’s room.” We got the living room picked up that way and it was so much fun for everyone.

It worked the same way yesterday when it was time for L to get her teeth brushed. She has an Elmo toothbrush. L did not want to brush her teeth and even when I started having Elmo talk to her, she moved dangerously close to a complete meltdown. Dora to the rescue. “OK, to rescue Elmo, we have to first go down the hall, then into the master bedroom, and then into the bathroom. Hall, bedroom, bathroom.” L was on it and Elmo got rescued and covered with toothpaste and L’s teeth got brushed.

Getting playful with my daughter, especially at the end of the day when I’m running out of energy, can be a challenge because it calls for a lot of creativity on my part that I don’t always feel I have. But because the Dora adventures are so formula, I really don’t have to think too hard to send L on Dora-style missions. L loves it, and I haven’t had to wrack my brains to come up with something original.

Today I went to a Mother’s Circle meeting. Three children from the same family had all brought their colorful umbrellas as it rained all day. L saw those umbrellas and wanted one of her own. “Can I have an umbrella, Mom?” I told her we’d go buy her one at the store. For the past couple weeks L has been making pretend umbrellas out of Legos and other toys, so I knew her desire for an umbrella predated her seeing the other children’s umbrellas. Anyway, we found her umbrella at Target–it’s a Dora umbrella, and she spent the rest of the day playing with it inside the house.

I’m usually more reluctant to buy a merchandise product like that but I was happy to buy the umbrella. First, I feel I owe Dora a lot of gratitude for the fun we’ve had using her template. Second, I’m inspired to dream that one day a mother will buy her own daughter an umbrella, or a towel, or a lunch box… with Juniper Kangaroo all over it.

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A couple weeks ago my husband started bringing Tintin volumes home from the library, and I’ve been devouring them. I grew up reading Tintin comic books–in the original French! Tintin is pronounced to rhyme with the sound you make to imitate a baby crying, not like a tin-tin can! And Tintin’s dog is named Milou, not Snowy. But European snobbery aside, it’s been lots of fun getting reacquainted with Tintin, his friends and enemies, and his adventures.

I remember Captain Haddock’s short temper and weakness for whisky. I used to laugh at all the multisyllabic words he used to express his frequent outrage at the large and small insults and injuries he encountered on every page. My favorite Haddock outburst took place in The Red Sea Sharks when Tintin and Haddock got the upper hand on a ship where they were being held prisoner and Haddock learned through a scheduled rendezvous that the African people in the ship’s hold were destined to be sold as slaves. The rendezvous was with the dealer. Captain Haddock just let loose on the slave trader and shouted after him as he was leaving. When Tintin told him the trader was out of earshot, Haddock got a megaphone and continued with the name calling. I remember as a child finding the words Haddock used to express himself to be absolutely hilarious. I mean, how can you keep a straight face while reading words like “ectoplasm” and “bashi-bouzouk?”

Reading these adventures as an adult, I realize that Herge, Tintin’s creator, intended to portray Captain Haddock as the stereotypical foul-mouthed sailor. Either by choice or because profanity wasn’t so accepted in the literature of the 30s and 40s, Herge did not have Haddock use actual profanity. Instead, he would draw an angry-faced Haddock spewing out strings of fifty dollar words or well-alliterated but otherwise meaningless phrases. Phrases such as “ten thousand thundering typhoons!” (“Mille million de mille sabords” in French), “Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles!” and “Band of bashi-bouzouks!” As children, my brother and I would laugh over the outbursts and when our parents were out of earshot, would call each other the multisyllabic names Captain Haddock threw out so freely to anyone who so much as looked at him wrong. As an adult, I still laugh over the outbursts, and I better understand the picture Herge was painting. In real life, the words would be much different, and not repeatable in polite company. But who can argue with “orangutan?”

I generally have greater respect for an author or film director who manages to realistically portray a situation that would be rife with profanity in real life without actually using swear words, or at least only using a few of the milder ones than for a creator who puts all the dirty words into his work. I happen to believe it takes greater intelligence and creativity to come up with alternate words that still get the message across than it does to put in the curse words you hear all the time. I watched A Walk to Remember which dealt with teenagers on the edge of delinquency. The directors wanted it to be a PG movie, which meant that most of the profanity such teenagers normally use had to go. And yet it was clear to the viewer that these characters were a bunch of foul-mouthed troublemakers–at least they started out that way. The movie wouldn’t have been nearly as pleasant to watch had the actors used the exact same words real life delinquents use. And the Tintin series wouldn’t be as funny had Haddock used words an actual foul-mouthed sailor uses. Herge’s use of multisyllabic words to portray Haddock’s angry outburts was truly masterful.

At one point today, I got frustrated with something involving my daughter L and started to raise my voice at her. I caught myself and instead exclaimed: “Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles!” That got her laughing hysterically, and made me feel better too. Profanity cannot give you that kind of lift no matter how much you try to justify its increasing inclusion in books, movies and songs. So, whether a character is meant to be comic relief like Captain Haddock, or a serious character with deep disturbing problems, an author takes the high road by choosing to not use profanity.

Thundering Typhoons! Where did the ectoplasmic time go?

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This morning I conducted what is becoming a monthly ritual in our household: the trip to the post office with the brown manila envelope in hand. Normally the girls and I walk to the post office, then stop by the park on the way back home. Today, the weather was bad, so instead I loaded the girls into their car seats and drove down the street. The post office has a big window facing the street. I parked the car there, left the motor running and went inside to mail off my manuscript. This one is My Baby Sister and its destination is the publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux. I’ve revised My Baby Sister a total of five times, making this manuscript the one in which I’ve invested the most effort. It’s also the one I believe in the most. I think it’s good enough to go somewhere and I’m going to persevere with it until it does. F, S & G will take around three months to decide if they want it. I’m hoping to choose a second publisher to submit it to well before that in the event that F, S & G rejects it. But other than that, it’s time to give My Baby Sister a rest, forget about it, and start working on my next project. If I need to resubmit it to another publisher, I can take a fresh look at it.

Once I returned from the post office and unloaded the girls out of the car, the day took on a more normal stay-at-home mom flavor. Both my girls have the sniffles, so we took it easy. We rolled a ball back and forth to each other in the living room, I let L watch a sesame street movie while I took a shower. I added some rye flour and water to my sour dough bread starter. I swept and mopped the kitchen floor. Recently we replaced our fridge and the floor was showing signs of the large appliance switch. I folded three baskets of clothes, finally declaring myself officially caught up with the laundry. While folding the clothes, L got silly and started putting various pieces on her head. She saw E take off her slippers and socks and put the slipper on her head, and thought that was a riot. I pretended to make a big deal out of it, “What? A sleeper on your head?” This only made L giggle all the more. Who would have known that minutes before L was crying in my arms over some upset?

I’m a techie at heart and actually have my household chore task list entered in Outlook. I’ve set the tasks to recur based on my ideal for how often certain jobs, like cleaning the bathroom sinks, get done. But the task will only regenerate when I’ve checked it off as done. This means that when I invariably fall behind from the ideal, once I do accomplish the task, I’m automatically caught up on that task and won’t see it again until the time I’ve set for it to recur. Each day I make a little game with myself to see how many overdue tasks I can check off. Today, I got to check off two.

For lunch the girls and I shared one of the pints of yogurt I made yesterday. I get two shares of raw milk which translates into two gallons a week, half of which I process into yogurt. Lately I’ve been skimming the cream off to save for ice cream, but this time I left the cream with the milk. It is such an improvement on the taste and quality of the milk and yogurt to leave the cream in. I dream of the future when we will have a family cow who produces enough milk that when we want extra cream, the leftover skim milk is considered waste–something to feed the pigs, not consume ourselves. In the mean time, I have many pints of creamy yogurt to enjoy.

I contemplate what to fix for dinner, and settle on soup using a turkey stock I made up shortly after this past Thanksgiving. I will throw in the leftover whole grains we’ve eaten for breakfast, the chicken, a pint of sauerkraut my husband and I fermented ourselves last month. Of course, I’ll start by sauteeing some onions, carrots and celery in a stick of butter, sadly purchased from the store. I think again about our future milk cow, who will give us enough cream for me to make butter.

Many diaper changes happen before and during dinner preparation. I’m late on starting and want L to go to bed early so I feed her a couple painted hard boiled Easter eggs just in case. I also let her chew the chicken meat off the bones as I cut up pieces for my soup. Surprisingly, she’s still hungry and does have a little bit of her soup, but only after Erik agrees to add some rolled oats and banana slices. As I’m sitting down to enjoy my soup, it becomes obvious that E needs to go down to sleep right now, so I move to the rocking chair to nurse her. As soon as E is asleep, my husband Erik and I help get L to sleep. We then sit down for some private time and E wakes up. Erik gets her settled back to sleep but then he can’t put her down without waking her up. So I prop up a Tintin comic book to read while I consume three bowls of soup. Erik is reading another Tintin book while holding E. The soup, by the way, is delicious. Adding sauerkrout to soup gives it an incredibly rich flavor. I make a mental note that in a pinch stock and sauerkrout alone will make a decent soup–more nutritious than boxed mac & cheese.

Before I know it, it’s time to start thinking about my own bedtime, and maybe I should clean up the kitchen so it’s nice for tomorrow. Nah, I’d rather be blogging. Or working on one of my writing projects (I have more of those than I really have the time for). It’s during the evenings after my girls are asleep that I can usually count on some concentrated time to write. I say usually, because both girls often wake up at night fairly often and need to be soothed back to sleep. Still, there have been enough uninterrupted evenings that it’s not unreasonable to hope this one will be like that. Then I have to decide between writing, catching up on housework, spending some quality time with my husband, or any number of other possibilities that get put on hold day after day. What will it be tonight? Whatever it is, it will involve homemade ice cream.

Such is the life of a stay-at-home aspiring author.

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