Monthly Archives: July 2013

Respecting the process

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We went to the market today, and baby saw the bouncy castles. We had checked them out before but she wasn’t ready. Today, she said she wanted to go in.

I paid, she took off her shoes, and then asked me to hold her. And we stood there. We looked in. She talked about it. I coached her. I coaxed her. She peered into the opening, and then backed out again.

Finally, somehow, she felt ready and climbed in, with a tiny encouraging push from me. She jumped for maybe 1 minute – loved it – and came out.

After watching for a while longer, with lots more encouragement from me, she seemed ready to go in again. She was right by the entrance, but didn’t move. Looked in. Backed away. Asked me to hold her. Talked about the other children inside. Asked questions about what was happening.

Finally, as she was peering in the entrance, a sweet girl inside (she had played with her once before) came over, said she wanted to help her, and pulled her in. To my huge surprise, baby went willingly! She jumped for about another minute, and was done. We left.

This process was extremely challenging for me emotionally. I had to remind myself that she and I are separate people, and that the point of this activity is her personal development and fun. I wanted urgently for her to just get in there and jump because I felt she would enjoy it. At some point, I realized that that was completely outcome-oriented rather than process or relationship. How am I treating her during this time? Am I shaming her for not being ready to go in, or hearing her concerns and celebrating what she does? Am I focused on her emotional well-being and joy (she did love jumping!) or on having her rack up accomplishments and demonstrate particular social skills? Am I focused on her experience, or my ego?

In the end, we both came away happy. She jumped; I celebrated her jumping and her fun in doing it; and we were a team in making it happen, rather than in conflict with me pushing her.

Though we have had other, much more challenging moments today, I’m glad with the outcome of this one.

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On the road with a little

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Friends, I am about to be a published writer. On Tuesday night at around midnight, just before we headed out on our vacation, I sent an inquiry to a local magazine asking if they might be interested in my writing for their next annual issue. I didn’t know when it was to be published; in fact, I assumed I had missed the deadline since it was a summer publication. Writing to them was on my “to do” list, however; and checking off that list before a trip is a genetic necessity for me; so I wrote.

When I checked email on Thursday, I saw their reply: we love your ideas! Can you write up the first two by Friday?

Gulp. “Yes!” I replied. “How many words?”

My next two vacation evenings were spent trying desperately to get my daughter to sleep at a decent hour; and, when that failed, drafting, editing and completing two 600-word articles starting at about 10:35 each evening until midnight. (Important note: my husband would undoubtedly have made time for me to write, had he not been in a different country attending a yoga retreat at the time).

I’ll let you know more about the results in a while. One of the articles was about traveling with a toddler. As we near the end of this trip, I have a lot more insight than I did when I wrote it a few days ago. Here, unsolicited, are the tips that didn’t make it into the article.

  • It doesn’t hurt to think of the toddler first when making plans. Everyone needs to have fun on a family vacation; but if the toddler isn’t having fun, no one will. Ensure that your location and schedule allow time each day for lots of activity combined with quiet and rest.
  • We have found it worthwhile to include at least one of the following activities each day: playground; running on grass or down a nice trail; playing at the beach; or a non-pressured get-together with other kids.
  • Pack even lighter than I told you to in the article. How do I have too many clothes yet again for myself, and not enough for her?
  • Have a plan. Book a hotel, know what activities you want to do, when they happen, and how to get tickets. Be able to go straight to where you’re going. We have discovered our uncanny ability to not do this, and while we luck out a lot, we also lose time as we try to plan on the fly.
  • Snacks. Lots of them.
  • A first aid kit: include a thermometer. She came down with a cold one night, and I complete freaked out.
  • Make the little things fun. My daughter’s biggest delights on this trip have been saying “We’re going to Saaaan Fraaaaan Cisco!!”; exploring every corner of our hotel room, including trying on the bathrobes; running along between our hands; putting things into little bags; and, apparently, “shopping for mama” as she picks items out of stores for me. An attitude of fun has made things fun.
  • Also: don’t do work during vacation. Which I’ve done. And am stopping.

Happy summer vacation to all of you!

Parenting Win: Thank Yous

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So, as parents, we don’t always make the best choices, but I think we’ve found one that works.

We don’t make our daughter say thank you. Or please. Or “sorry.”

Following from my beloved Alfie Kohn, we don’t push her to say anything that she doesn’t feel authentically. We want her to mean what she says, and not have to pretend – lie – whatever you want to call it, by saying something she doesn’t mean.

Of course, we also want her to say thank you, please, sorry, and every other polite word that is so essential to positive social intercourse. But, more than that, we want her to authentically mean them, to recognize when they are needed, and to want to say them. We don’t think that she will get there by forcing it.

Instead, we are using two main approaches: modeling, and meta-think-alouds.

We do our best to mean and say all the polite things we want her to do. I know, all parents do this. I totally acknowledge all of you reading this! And I want to commend all of you, because I think it’s a super important element. I see Alya imitating the behaviour of others more and more, and I really really really want to be someone worth imitating.

And what’s a meta-think-aloud? For me, this means calling Alya’s attention to the effect of actions on others. We talk about how our actions affect others, including her. And we talk with her about how her actions affect us, and affect her, and affect those around. I’m pulling a bit from Kohn and also Mayim Bialik, in believing that as she starts to see how her choices affect others, she will make kinder choices. We’re trying to make the moral choice the logical one, for her to automatically look for the consequences of her actions, to help her see the how and why of the right thing to do, and to feel the impulse inside herself to make that choice.

The result? Well, like life, it’s a work in progress. However, we’ve been so touched to see how often she spontaneously says “thank you!” to us when we do simple things for her. And she’ll be so specific – thank you for making me food, for getting books from the library, etc.

And sorry! She says sorry a lot too, and it’s very very sweet and spontaneous. The sorry part, honestly, is a bit problematic because sometimes she says it when I’ve gotten upset about her behaviour (am I scaring her into saying sorry???); and also, do I want to raise a female who apologizes all the time? Um, no. So yes, that one is more in progress. But overall: feeling like a win.

And frankly, the other part that can be a challenge is that if we are constantly drawing her attention to the impact of her actions on others, could she forget to tune in with her own impulses and emotions? We also make this something important that we do, however, so I hope we are balancing these two approaches.

One other great result: she makes conversation. At the dinner table. And includes us all in it. “What’s your favourite food, mama? Dada, what’s your favourite?” Melting with love, we are!

Pre-Travel Angst

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I can’t avoid it. WHY???

We head on vacation tomorrow. Yay!!! Vancouver, then San Francisco. Totally spontaneous, one of the major benefits of my unemployment + airmiles.

And we thought we were on top of things. Totally! We were wrapping stuff up. We wouldn’t over-do it. We were almost packed. We would have all day Tuesday to clean the house and get to bed on time.

Yeah right. It’s after midnight and I’m still on the computer.

Why oh why do I need to cram so many tasks into pre-departure??? This time it was writing, getting witnesses on, and copying 4 end of life documents for me and my husband. No, not a lawyer – no money for that now, but these will hold the fort until we can get a lawyer to review them. I’ve looked at enough stuff online to feel comfortable with what we wrote.

And also a huge pile of work/ moving his things/ financial wrap-up for husband.

For me, a bunch of work-search related items, plus writing. As in, sent off my first writing inquiry tonight, including writing a bio about myself. Because it cannot wait!! And getting a new cell phone and transferring numbers over. And getting a new quote for house insurance. And I still have one more bag to pack. The shirt I was sewing? Didn’t happen.

Really, I don’t know if the madness can be overcome. Because honestly, it feels really really good to be heading on vacation with piles of loose ends wrapped up.

But the flip side is heading on vacation – which starts with an early morning 5-hour drive – exhausted. Not not good. Plus the stress I feel in the build-up days. I was unduly irritable at Alya several times today. I got over it. I did. But I experienced it. The “I can’t handle it” frustration of her not going to bed so I could finish my massive list. So … I slowed down and started making food with her. We peeled fava beans and ate them while she made a “house” with husband. And now she’s asleep.

And I’m going to bed. Thanks for listening. I’m calm now, and can’t wait to go on vay-cay-shun!

Staying Home

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I’m now heading into well over one month as a stay-at-home parent. I don’t want to comment on whether it’s going well or not, but here are some things I’ve noticed.

  • I generally love it. And Alya seems to as well.
  • Not setting an alarm clock = totally wonderful
  • Not having to make/pack lunches + a bag of baby stuff for the day = wonderful too
  • Not stressing out about work situations = a welcome relief after many months of hard work
  • Figuring out how to fill the days = sometimes still a challenge, sometimes magically easy.

I still want to have a general structure to our days. We don’t. I expect I’ll be working again at some point, so maybe I just haven’t taken the time to create the home schedule I know we would enjoy. Or maybe I’m just lazy. Or obsessed with my still-long to-do list. Or maybe, schedules are over-rated. In any case, our days look like:

  • Wake up when we want to, often around 8.
  • Get breakfast … eventually.
  • Read, nurse, play, some crafts.
  • Eventually (usually) leave the house. Maybe the park, library, groceries … Some days lately we’ll end up out for most of the day once we leave.
  • Very occasional visits with friends. Not often enough.
  • Bedtime varying from 5:30 – midnight; naps sometimes.
  • Lots of books. Loooooooots.
  • And not enough cooking. I’m hungry and she eats too much bread.

I do try to engage her in what I’m doing, but sometimes she’s not interested, and sometimes I’m just not doing much.

And finally: fitting in other work while looking after a child is very hard, and possibly counter-productive. I sometimes try to get small tasks done, check email, etc. Maybe it’s because she is still readjusting to having me home, but I don’t get much time to myself (1 minute? sometimes more if she’s absorbed in something & I’m beside her). Getting tasky also detracts significantly from our bonding, and when I get out of the “being home” headspace, I’m more irritable and enjoy her less. Is the lesson to embrace what I’m doing when I’m doing it?

I am intensely curious to hear how other people organize their at-home days. Do you fit in other work? Multitask? Play a lot with your child or encourage independence? Set up activities & preschool-like work? Get out a lot and play with other kids?

The Dentist …

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Alya’s first trip to the dentist today left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

She doesn’t like invasions of her personal space. At all. She has put restrictions on kissing and hugging, even by her parents, and we do our best to respect that and inform other people about it (i.e., “Alya doesn’t like to be touched.” combined with fending off an invasive hand).

And her mouth: don’t go there! We do brush her teeth, but have chosen not to employ “hold her down and force it open” methods.

So, she sat in my lap in the chair. The hygienist rushed right into “can I look in your mouth?” instead of taking the time to talk our girl through the different interesting things in the room, and discuss the equipment. It was all very smiley and happy, but not very connected. No slowing down and listening to my daughter.

The Dentist was fine, but it was the same. He did not insist on getting in her mouth (I clarified that this was the case before we came) but was a bit touchy, and did not pause. Flatter, ask a question, move on to the next question. I know my daughter, and I think I know a bit about kids. You need space, time, and sincere connection to get some kids to respond. And sure, he’s busy, not time for that, but it still didn’t work.

So no, he didn’t see her teeth. And his advice for next time: don’t prepare her. And when I said, that based on her personality, I thought we needed to, he was a bit short: he works with all kinds of kids and personalities, and he knows what to do. So, his idea is that we go on a random drive and then walk into the dentist’s office? I cannot see that as respectful of my child, at all. I see that as a betrayal.

And on the other hand, I do know that she can build up anxiety in anticipating a non-welcome event. Yet we’re here to talk her through that, and help her develop coping strategies.

What would you do? What have your experiences been with dentists?