Category Archives: parenting

The Cutest Cookie Monster Ever

My kid is picky eater. He has no go-to foods. He won’t eat the same thing for two meals in a row. And he is very adept as saying, or more often screaming, “No!” when you get too close to him with a forkful of food. So, getting him to eat–and I would say eat healthy except that I’ve had to lower my standards–at mealtimes is always an, umm, adventure.

But lately things seem to be getting better. I think that daycare is helping the whole mealtime drama. All the kids have to sit down at their little pint-sized tables for breakfast, lunch, and two snacks, which are given on a precise schedule. So, the routine is definitely helpful, but more than that I think just seeing all the kids enjoying their turkey hot dogs or pasta with red sauce makes him want to do the same.

My husband and I have been trying to make a bigger effort to have us all eat together–versus what we normally do, which is feed the kid, put him to bed, and then figure out what we’re going to eat. We’re hoping that we can model the good eating behavior he seems to be picking up at school.

So far, I’m not sure we’re being successful. Our child has yet to eat any of the same food as we have prepared for ourselves. And he in no way has showed any more interest or patience in sitting in his high chair while we enjoy our meals. In fact, he is increasingly becoming intolerant of sitting in the high chair, which is a Stokke and about the least looking high chair you can possibly get. Basically it’s an retro-styled adjustable chair that you strap your kid into so he can sit at a big person’s table. Instead, he prefers to crouch on one of our dining chairs, fork in hand.

Point in case was the other night. After his fork flew across the table, we decided that it was time to let the kid loose, even if he hadn’t eaten a bite, if we were going to be able to finish our dinner without losing it with all the screaming, crying, and carrying on this kid was doing.

No sooner did his footie pajamas hit the floor than he was pitter-pattering into the kitchen. I hear the cupboard door to our snack stash open.

He came toddling out of the kitchen with one of those 100-calorie packs of Nutter Butter cookies. He gave them to me and said, “Cookie.” Except he says cookie iwith a French accent so it sounds more like “koo-key” rather than “cuh-key.” I took the bag, said mercy, and put it on the table.

Pitter-pat, pitter-pat, pitter-pat back into the kitchen.

He returnd with a package of Oreos. He toddled over to my husband and handed them to him. My husband took them graciously, said thank you, and put them on the table.

Pitter-pat, pitter-pat, pitter-pat back into the kitchen.

This time he returned with the whole box of cookie packs.

Not exactly how I had hoped dinner would turn out, but it was admittedly entertaining. Even if we couldn’t laugh out loud for fear of encouraging him.

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Filed under cooking, daily life, feeding, parenting, toddlers

Vive les French Parents!

For me, there are few things not to love about the French. And I’m not talking solely about food or wine. So, I was psyched to read an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about the joys of French parenting. The headline says it all: Why French Parents Are Superior.

If you’re not a francophile like myself, an article head like that seems so, well, French. After all, the French are known for their high estimation of their cultural worth and an annoyingly condescending nature. (Part of why I love them, I have to admit.) But having spent a significant amount of time in France, I can say this article is pretty much spot on.

My first real experience as an adult observer of French parenting came when I was living in Paris in my early 20s. I was invited for dinner at a 30-something couple’s apartment. They had a preschooler and an infant. Around 7pm, the mother announced that it was time for the children to eat. The preschooler quietly and politely ate her meal. However, the baby was completely uncooperative. Screaming, fussing, and totally refusing a bottle. After about 15 minutes of futile attempts to quiet and feed the infant, the mother said very matter of factly that she was going to put the baby to bed for the night. I remember thinking, “Without dinner?” And then the French logic kicked in. The mother said, “This is the time we eat. If the baby doesn’t want to eat, fine. She can go to bed. But this is the time we eat.” (Only it was in French.)

At the time, there were so many things that were foreign about that whole scene. At that stage in my life, I couldn’t imagine having kids. In fact, I was ridiculously weirded out by especially tiny babies. And then there was the whole French-ness about it. I mean, I had never heard of an American mother doing such a thing. In fact, all I ever heard about was how new moms were always up at all hours of the night, breastfeeding or fetching bottles.

But there is a simplicity in the French parenting ethic that somehow completely escapes us as American parents. Maybe we just try too hard. The French have that sort of breeziness about them that allows them to do things like wear totally mismatched clothing and still look chic. Maybe it’s the same with parenting.

Unlike the article’s author, I have not spent the last three years studying French parenting principles and techniques. But I do agree with a number of the points that the writer makes about what makes French parenting effective:

  1. Family is about the parents first then the children.
  2. Independence is a virtue in a child.
  3. Structure and routine are paramount.

But I’m not fully subscribed to a couple of the writer’s other theories. First, I whole heartedly believe that discipline is alive and well in French parenting–and I dare say it is dealt much more swiftly and severely than most American parents can imagine. I’m not talking corporal punishment; rather, I’m saying that it seems like most French parents have a much lower tolerance for misbehavior than American parents. Maybe the word I should use is strict. I use a wonderful woman from my French mommy class as an example. At around a year old, she was sending her son to stand in the corner every time he did something she didn’t like. (She was inspiration for starting timeouts at around 16 months with my son.) There’s something that sounds a little horrible to me when I write that, but her kid is a fantastic, super well behaved kid. Obviously no permanent damage done.

I think the writer was also onto something when she talked about the French concept of educating a child. However, I still think she missed the mark a bit. For as much as the French are about education, they are arguably even more obsessed about the idea of formation. Formation is really about a curriculum or training. It’s about mastering a certain topic area or skill. And that’s really the ethic that permeates French parenting. It’s not just about teaching their kid stuff; it’s about training them to behave appropriately in any given situation.

With all that said, I wonder what the real French moms in my French mommy group say about us wanna-be French mamans.

 

 

 

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Filed under daily life, discipline, family, parenting

When Children Attack

I witnessed one mom’s complete mortification today. It was painful to watch.

I was in the daycare bathroom at the gym, changing baby’s underoos, when I heard the two nursery monitors telling a child to sit down and take a time out. Normally when that happens, things  quiet down as the kid sulks off to the naughty chair. But the two women kept talking very sternly and repeating no-no-no. A diaper change and hand washing later, I could still hear the scolding that was happening on the other side of the door. Something was up.

When I opened the door, I saw a little girl, probably around 4 years old, sitting in a chair. At that moment, her mother walked in with one of the nursery monitors. The one monitor started to explain that the little girl had hurled part of a toy at the wall, so hard in fact it left a dimple and a small streak on the wall. Then the other monitor jumped in and said while that was obviously a big problem, the other problem was that when the little girl was told to go to time-out, she repeatedly told the monitors to shut up.

I was feeling so uncomfortable being in the middle of all this, so I was just trying to pack my kid’s stuff up and strap him into the stroller as fast as possible. But I wasn’t out of there before I heard the second monitor giving the mom a serious talking-to about how that type of behavior is unacceptable, the nursery often has babies as guests and the chucked toy could’ve hurt one, and if it happens again her child will no longer be welcome at the gym daycare.

All of that was spot on, but I still wanted to die for that mom. How completely embarrassing. And not in the getting-yanked-out-of-exercise-class-to-change-your-kid’s-diaper-because-his-drawers-are-stinking-up-the-place kind of embarrassing, which actually has happened to me. That’s a strike-you-to-the-core, make-you-doubt-yourself-as-a-competent-parent kind of incident.

I didn’t know that mother. I had never seen her or her children at the gym before. But I couldn’t help but thinking, “That could be me.”

I am paranoid that my kid is going to be a hitter. He’s already smashed one kid on the head in the Stride Rite store over the summer and then more recently whacked another kid in our French group with a toy. Of course, on both accounts, I apologized profusely to the parents and children and scolded baby quite seriously.

But sometimes when I’m course correcting his behavior, he looks at me and cracks a smile. Other times, he’ll give me a little smack on my arm or leg. I’ve read that it’s a phase and that all children go through that. I also understand that my kid at this age is not really being intentionally defiant and more just reacting to my knee-jerk emotional reaction to whatever he did that was bad. But how can I be sure that I won’t end up with the violent four year old who gets kicked out of the gym daycare?

As parents, there are limitations to our control over what our kids pick up and what they don’t. We can model excellent behavior 99% of the time, but it’s always possible that what our kids retain is that 1% of our not-so-good behavior. My best friend, for example, recently learned that she needed to figure out a way to deal with the inevitable rush-hour road rage after she figured out her three year old was saying a**hole instead of something in Spanish. Whoops.

For me, I know I need to think more about my interaction with my dog. There are just those days where his chewing the corner of a couch pillow, stealing baby gear out of the stroller, or digging up my freshly mulched garden sends me over the edge. And the next thing I know, I’m yelling at the dog and swatting at him. Not really model behavior for someone who is hyper paranoid about having a kid who hits.

For now, my kid laughs when all this dog drama goes down. Usually it’s because, at some point, the dog gives chase and there I am, trying to discipline the dog while running up stairs and around furniture. No doubt I absolutely look like a stark raving idiot, so I guess I’ll give my kid props for appreciating the ridiculousness of my losing it. Now if I only can get a similar sense of humor.

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World’s Worst Mother

There are moments in a mother’s life that simultaneously confirm that her baby is smarter than she thinks and also is possibly much smarter than she thinks she is. Mine happened the other morning after my dog dug up a planter for the fourth time.

I had spent the entire Saturday before in my back garden, mulching, planting spring bulbs, and replacing plants that had fallen victim to my dog in one way or another. The day after I finished, my dog ran through my freshly mulched flower bed, trampling three mum plants that had yet to bloom. Later that night, he dug up a planter, leaving a heap of dirt on one of my benches and all over my deck. Press repeat two more times and I was considering permanently chaining my dog to the picnic table.

So, the morning of my incident started out as usual. Got baby up, let the dog out, and proceeded with our normal morning breakfast routine. As I started filling the coffee pot, I looked out and saw the dog standing on my bench, elbows deep in my planter once again. The broom that I had been using to clean up his messes was just a stick with a straw nub and all the straw parts were strewn around the yard and deck.

I saw red. I flew out the door, hurling obscenities at the dog and basically chasing him around the backyard because I was literally going to wring his neck. I finally grabbed him by the scruff, dragged him into the house, put him on his leash, and then tied him to the kitchen table. I armed myself with another broom and marched outside, muttering wicked things under my breath the whole time I was  cleaning up. I could not imagine beginning my day with such a disastrous mess in my yard, so I was determined to clean it all up before resuming the morning routine.

And baby was cool with that. He was wandering around, playing with his toys and having a pretty good time. Especially with the door that leads to our back deck. He’d open it and close it. Open it and close it. Open it and close it. It was great fun until I finished sweeping up the dirt and headed inside. I grabbed the door handle, turned it, and pulled. Nothing. It was locked.

I won’t say a wave of dread washed over me because it felt more like a Niagara Falls of dread inundating me. This couldn’t be happening. My kid is 16 months old. Figuring out a lock is not something he can do. (Or is it?) In my rage, I had flown outside sans phone or keys. I mean, who really takes all that when they pop into their backyard for a couple of minutes? And then I started to feel stupid. I was imagining myself having to walk over to one of my neighbors’ houses to ask to use the phone to call the police. I had decided I would feel less stupid asking the single dad next door than the lesbian couple on the other side of us; he might be able to relate, right? And then I started thinking about what would happen post police. How would I get my lock fixed? What were the repairs going to cost? And worst of all, what trouble could my kid get into inside on his own, completely unsupervised while all this was happening?

I took a breath and kneeled down. There was my little man smiling at me through a thin pane of glass and pulling on the door handle to let me in. I looked at him in a pleading way and begged for him to let me in. (Like he even knew what I was saying.) But by the grace of god, the lock toggle was still very interesting to him, so he continued to fiddle with it. I heard one click and lunged on the door handle. Perfect timing; the door was open once again.

All’s well that ends well, I guess, but I was seriously having a heart attack the whole time. I am still amazed that my toddler got the lock unlocked. What are the chances that he locked it in the first place? But I learned that I can’t take anything for granted anymore. So, I went out and had a spare set of keys made–that was a process in and of itself because apparently my door doesn’t have a normal lock–and hid them outside for the next time something like this happens. And lord knows with the busy body I’m raising, something like this is bound to happen again.

While I can laugh about the whole thing now, I felt–and still feel to some extent–like a crappy  mom. My kid was basically free range while I was flipping out on the dog. And it could’ve been disastrous. It was confirmed as a really bad situation when I recounted the whole incident to my best friend and all she could repeat was “no, no, no, no” at every turn of the story.

But it pays to have a lot of mommy friends on days like that. Because just as I was feeling like I was the world’s worst mother, another mommy friend texted me to say that she was the world’s worst mother. Somehow she locked her son in the car along with her cell phone and the keys. Again, it all turned out okay thanks to a stranger with a cell phone and AAA, but that didn’t help her from feeling any less guilty.

So my question is, do we as mothers hold ourselves to unreasonable standards? Has stuff like this happened all the time through the ages and we moms just take it personally because we feel like we should be SuperMom? Or is there a generation of women out there today that is just juggling too much in their daily lives that consequently their parenting skills are slipping (myself included)?

Always in retrospect, there’s the woulda, coulda, shouldas of any situation. If I could do it all over, I would’ve have grabbed my keys, and I could’ve also pocketed my phone, and I definitely should’ve just propped the door open to keep baby away from playing with it. But is it realistic to expect moms to think that proactively and preventatively on a daily basis? I mean, I know my friend and she’s not only a great mom but a vigilant one to boot, so I don’t take her claims of being the world’s worst mother seriously. But I know she does. And I definitely can relate, worst mother ever to worst mother ever.

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Three Lessons for All Moms

I recently had lunch with three mommy friends that I’ve known since elementary school. (It seriously makes me so proud to be able to say that we’re all still friends after all these years.) Lunch with these ladies, who are all either two or three times more experienced at the mommy thing, is always enlightening if not totally entertaining.

Part of what makes it so fun to continue to get together is its a chance to take stock of what’s changed.

For example, one of my mommy friends ordered an unsweetened ice tea to go with her lunch. Another friend looked at her, shuddered, and said, “Whoah, unsweetened? That’s hardcore.”

That just about sums up how exciting the mommy life is. So long gone are the days of sneaking out of dances to meet up with boys. Or trekking through the woods at night to a bonfire kegger. Or backpacking through nine countries in eight weeks. Hardcore is now defined as living without the little luxury of a lump or two of sugar.

But what hasn’t changed is the uniqueness and humor with which each one of these women approaches life, and especially the responsibilities and realities of mommyhood. I’ve learned (and laughed) so much from their own stories of success and failure when it comes to keeping it together with kids. Here are three gems that I can’t resist passing on:

Lesson #1: You can avoid extraneous meltdowns. When my friend had her first child, she came up with a rule to keep the crying to a minimum. The rule was simple: You can cry if there’s blood. I didn’t even have kids at the time that I first heard this mom logic, and it still struck me as a brilliant idea. Now that I am a mom, it’s pure genius. I can’t wait to start pulling this one out. Take that minor bumps and tumbles, we’re saving tears for bigger drama!

Lesson #2: It’s okay to keep a secret. This trick of the mommy trade kind of traces back to the old adage of “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.” My mommy friend, for example, doesn’t tell her kids when the fair is in town. In fact, she doesn’t even drive down the street next to the fairgrounds during that week. (It didn’t even occur to me that I could do this as a mom!)

She’s totally figured out that life can go so much more smoothly without the questions, begging, complaining, and crying that go hand-in-hand with kid-magnet activities like county fairs. This isn’t to say that my friend doesn’t take her kids to places like fairs; it’s just that she’s gotten savvy to fact that she can totally circumvent the annoying and/or exhausting build-up to the event.

Two caveats: This technique works better with the not-yet-literate set and is by no means foolproof, as my mommy friend can attest. Her child started inquiring about the fair after a play date with another child whose parents weren’t keeping the same secret.

Lesson #3: Never forget to make your kid feel special every day. I had a little exchange with my friend’s four-year-old son the other day that I thought was so reflective of the type of my mommy my friend turned out to be. Her little boy said, “Do you know what the most beautiful word in the whole world is?” I, of course, said, “No, tell me.” He said, “Thomas.” That was of course his name. And what he said was, of course, so very true. That’s totally what every kid should be taught. Every day.

So, thank you to my friends for sharing these pearls. From the practical to the sweet, I feel so much better prepared to navigate mommyhood thanks to you.

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Filed under daily life, moms, newbie parents, parenting

My Inner White Trash Mom

I don’t know whether it’s the fact that it’s summertime or that I’ve taken refuge at my mother’s house for the season, but I’ve started to notice that my parenting standards are slipping.

Bedtime was the first routine to go. The first couple of missed bedtimes I justified by saying to myself that we hadn’t seen my parents in awhile and we were in a new place. Things would settle down and we’d be back on our old routine. Not so much. Twice in the last week we’ve been out to dinner at baby’s bedtime. (Thankfully sans meltdowns.) Not to mention that I’m so not a co-sleeper mom and yet three times in the past week, I’ve tried to have an all-night struggle with my baby. (I have regretted that decision every time as I found myself hanging off my queen-sized bed at 4am.)

Cleanliness also has been debatable since we’ve been home. Whereas at home baby gets a bath around 5pm every afternoon, at Mimi and Grandpère’s, baths are much more fluid. (No pun intended.) We’ve been so busy that it feels like I’ve been in almost a rush to get him into bed at the end of the day, bath or not. But the other day, I found an entire lock of hair encrusted in some sort of baby food. Seriously, how did I miss that?

Yes, that is a Dorito

But I’d say where I’ve been doing the worst in recent days is in baby’s nutrition.

I consider myself totally that mom who tries to buy organic for baby, who thinks about balancing fruits and veggie servings every day, who doesn’t get more adventurous with snacks than Goldfish or an occasional Wheat Thin–two of baby’s faves.

As a total aside, I’m a big fan of HappyTot foods; love the foil pouch, random mix of flavors–seriously, spinach, pear, and mangoes?–the thicker consistency (no need to add oatmeal or rice cereal), and the fact that it includes the so-called super grain salba, which has the awesome powers of omega-3. But these days, this type of wholesome food is only a tertiary part of his diet.

This past week’s menu has been pretty much an incarnation of Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. While baby’s still sucked down tons of milk and chowed on at least some of his his normal breakfast, lunch, and dinner foods, his appetite has been decidedly more geared toward a number of treats:

Last Thursday, baby ate French fries.

Friday, he ate a lemon wedge, a carrot with ranch dip, and part of an onion ring.

Saturday, he ate watermelon, salami, and macaroons.

Sunday, he ate soft-serve, vanilla-chocolate twist ice cream with rainbow sprinkles.

Monday, he ate gingerbread cookies for breakfast and Doritos.

Tuesday, he ate barbecue-flavored pretzels, a grilled cheese, and part of an Arnold Palmer (half lemonade, half iced tea).

Wednesday, he ate animal crackers.

Taking stock of his intake definitely makes me feel a bit like a white trash mom. The collective nutritional value of these menu items is darn near zero. But then part of me thinks that it’s summer at grandma’s house, so why not have a little fun and indulge. We’ll make up for it with an extra gummy vitamin or two.

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Filed under babies, co-sleeping, daily life, feeding, food, health, hygiene, infants, parenting

I’m Not Stupid, I’m Just Still Pregtarded

Last week, work took me to San Francisco for a housing trade show. (This is also why I went radio silent on my posts.) In my pre-mommy days, I used to absolutely love, love, love these types of trade shows because I could work them like no other. I had nearly every minute of my waking hours programmed with meetings with new and long-time sources. It made for some really long days, but I would come home with a boatload of story ideas and a fat stack of business cards, each name and company affiliate already committed to memory by the time my plane landed back in D.C.

But that was then and this is now. And now, my mommy brain doesn’t work like that. It can neither process nor retain anywhere near the volume of information that it used to just a year ago.

An embarrassing case in point: I was standing with a long-time source/friend when another source happened upon us and stopped to say hello for a few minutes. I immediately recognized this person and was actually glad I had run into him by chance, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember his name. And it wasn’t like I had only met him once or only talked on the phone with him. No, this was someone I saw fairly frequently over the years at events like this and while his face was more than familiar, I was drawing an absolute blank when it came to his name. After chatting for 10 or 15 minutes, he left and my friend said to me, “Who was that?” All I could say was, “I don’t know; I can’t remember.” I spit out like five facts about this person and his company, but the one really important piece of information–his name–was not in the list. My friend looked at me with disbelief, and said, “You carried on a conversation that long and you don’t know him?”

I tried to explain that I did know the person, but it’s really hard to convince anyone that you know someone when you can’t conjure up a name. So, I just came clean and said that ever since I had baby, my brain hadn’t worked quite right.

Pregnant women always talk about pregnancy brain, so when I was a mommy-to-be, I was completely prepared when I started spacing out on stuff all the time. I chalked it up to the fact that your brain can’t function at full capacity when you are growing another human inside of you. In fact, I used to call it “placenta brain.” (Although someone recently had one better; he said his wife became what he called “pregtarded.” Love that.) But I had no idea that it would be more or less permanent.

Now, being unable to remember sources is so not a good thing when you’re a journalist. And realizing that’s where I am made me wonder whether I’ll ever really be as good at my job as I used to be.

This question also got me thinking about all those stories you hear about working women who get passed over for promotions after they have kids. My initial reaction to those stories always was: “That’s so unfair!” But could it be possible that placenta brain rather than management bias was more to blame in some of those cases? I mean, how realistic is it to earn a promotion on past performance when going forward you’ve got very real limitations on how much time and effort you can put in?

It sounds awful to suggest that, but when I really look deep, I can’t say for sure that my job performance post-baby has not suffered in some way. I mean, some days I feel like I’ve still got it. But other days, it feels like I’m running just to keep up. (And then there are still other days where I think I might be sucking at both my job and being a mommy.)

And then it sort of occurs to me that maybe why some of these women get so ticked off at not advancing in their careers post baby is because they’ve been getting the shaft all along. Maybe pre-baby they were killing themselves to be a superstar, with the hope that someday all their hard work will pay off in a big promotion. And then baby comes and they realize that someday is today. They know it’s impossible to keep up their pre-baby pace–working moms just can’t stay until 10pm working every night anymore–and they’ve also got some perspective on what’s reasonable when it comes to work versus what’s possible given the realities of babies’ needs. Working at break-neck speed just doesn’t pencil without some real advancement; these women need more incentive to make dealing with the BS of an office worth spending time away from their babies.

But now that my brain won’t go back to working right–I’m convinced that once you go pregtarded, you can never go back–it’s hard to see how I will be as smart, fast, or competitive (my company’s internal tagline) as I used to be. Although I’m sure, in reality, my brain is probably functioning at the same pre-baby voltage, I know its power is being divided to more outlets, reducing it’s end capacity. So, while it’s a relief to know that I haven’t just spontaneously lost a bunch of brain cells, it’s a little depressing to consider that I maybe have peaked in my career given the amount of stuff–spouse, baby, pets, house, job and all the detours that come along with them–I have to process on a daily basis.

The good news, then, is while I may not be as driven and strategic as I once was thanks to my plaguing case of placenta brain, the one work aspect that does improve post baby is efficiency. It is an upside to realize that even if I’m doing less great work, I’m getting more of it done in a shorter amount of time.

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Filed under babies, daily life, first year, parenting, post-pregnancy, pregnancy, stay-at-home moms, working mom

Dads on Duty

Today is Father’s Day and being as we’re a military family, I can’t help but think about all the military dads (and boy do we know a lot of them) who didn’t get to spend today with the people who most love and adore them–their kids.

Every day I am lucky enough to be able to see my baby’s smiles, hear the patter of his hands and knees as he crawls across the floor, make him giggle, and hold him close at night. How far away those simple pleasures must seem to those deployed dads when they are in places where it can often be hard to see the good in things or people. I bet some days a diaper blow out or two sounds way better than anything they’ve got to deal with.

During the past two years, my husband has been gone a lot for military-related activities. He missed out on a lot of my pregnancy, a lot of the new baby lovefest, and a lot of baby’s firsts. It’s definitely been frustrating for him at times even though it doesn’t exactly come as a surprise. I mean, missing out on birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions is pretty much in a soldier’s job description.

But despite all that he’s missed out on in the name of duty, he has still managed to grow so much as a dad. He lives more deliberately, with a greater sense of purpose. He’s simplified his needs and reshuffled his priorities. He’s learned to celebrate some of the littler things in life. And his emotional range has expanded to include new varieties of joy, pride, and heartache. In some ways, you might say he’s become a better person. All because of baby.

He never needed to change for me, but it’s been interesting to watch his transformation. It’s clear that he’s had an idea in his head of what kind of dad he wants to be and has been working very hard to deliver on that despite the challenges and limitations that come part and parcel with being a soldier. And for that, I am grateful.

So, with that said, my thoughts go out to all the military dads who inevitably had a pretty lonely today, as well as their families who miss them so much. Here’s to their ability to be as good of dads on the home front as soldiers in the field. Happy Father’s Day!

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Everything I Know About Child Rearing I Learned from My Dog

I have a bad dog. He jumps on the furniture; he clobbers guests when they walk in the door; he barks uncontrollably at random objects like brooms and mops; he pulls on the leash; he howls in his crate every time I leave the house; he steals things from the baby and then eats them; and, if you haven’t guessed, he doesn’t listen all that well, if at all at times.

Student or sage?

Part of it is his age–he’s still a 10-month-old puppy–and part of it is that he’s just a hard-headed Doberman. (Sometimes he’s even a butt head, as one dog expert calls him.) But because he’s still incredibly lovable despite his foibles, I spend the time and the dough nearly every week to work with a trainer–Rachel Jones of K-9 Divine–to help him become a better dog. Better is of course the key word.

While Zus still has a ways to go before becoming a certified canine good citizen, the training totally helps. I really feel like once he’s through his teenage years, rife with rebellion, I’m probably going to have a really well trained dog on my hands.

But we’re not there yet, so there’s still a lot of work to be done. But in pursuing this obedience training, I’ve learned a thing or five about dogs that I think have made me a better parent.

  1. Schedules are a sanity saver. Yes, my dog has a schedule. It’s not as strict as baby’s, but there is a framework in place. Like baby, Zus has a wake-up time, scheduled activities (usually a Kong stuff with treats and peanut butter or a bone), naps/quiet time in his crate, exercise and play periods, and meals. Having a routine solves a bunch of issues, but the biggest one is that it keeps the dog occupied so he’s not doing stupid stuff like eating baby booties out of boredom or anxiety. I totally believe the same is true for children. While I don’t advocate a super strict routine, a stable one really goes far for my wee one. He learns to know what to expect, so there are fewer meltdowns over taking a nap or eating dinner. And when the dog/kid isn’t melting down, the likelihood of mom melting down diminishes rapidly.
  2. Parents have to be on the same page. When training a dog, especially in the early stages, it’s critical that joint owners subscribe to the same training method. For example, it’s not fair to expect a dog to respond correctly to both owners if one says “sit” and the other says “sit down.” The owners need to use exactly the same commands and also adhere to the same rules (is the dog allowed on the couch or not?) to really be able to give your dog a shot at being obedient. Similarly, parents need to figure out what the house rules are and both abide by them if their children are to respect them. It’s not going to work all that well if one parent is a stickler about naps and the other could care less, for example.
  3. Practice makes perfect. My trainer says it takes an average dog about 100 times of responding to a command correctly to truly master it. I don’t know how long it takes for children–sometimes I feel like its fewer than 100 repetitions and sometimes I feel like it’s 10x more–but my theory is that if you want your children to do something without a struggle every time, parents need to keep modeling the appropriate behavior. (I saw this in action on Super Nanny, an ABC reality series where Super Nanny Jo Frost helps desperate parents regain control of their children.) For example, you don’t try to reason with a child about going to bed. You go through the bedtime routine, then it’s lights out, and then if they continue to get out of bed, you take them by the hand and walk them back to their beds. Repeat until they realize that they aren’t going to get to stay up.
  4. Most of the time I’m the problem. There have been points in my dog training career where I’ve gotten frustrated with my dog because he was failing to obey my commands. However, what I learned was that most of the time he wasn’t obeying my commands because I wasn’t articulating them correctly to him. For instance, the dog wouldn’t immediately sit down when I asked him to do so. Turns out, without realizing it, I was telling him to sit down twice without giving him enough time to complete the action after the first time I gave him the command. So, several weeks later, he wouldn’t respond to me until I said the command twice; I had unknowingly created a habit. I imagine that parents can often assume that their kids know what they, as parents, expect from their children. But I would venture a guess that maybe that’s not always the case. So, I think as parents we need to not only be explicit in our direction but also patient in allowing our kids to process it and react before we jump all over them. Otherwise the original message lost because we’re interrupting its transmission.
  5. Don’t get emotional during conflict. Admittedly, this is not one of my strong suits. In periods of high stress, my dog really knows how to push my buttons and I have definitely lost it. But I backed off on yelling at him early after I realized that when I yelled at him he sometimes peed on the floor out of a mixture of excitement and fear. I had enough baby spit up and poopy diapers to clean up that doggy piddle was just too much, so I figured out that if the dog stole something and I wanted it back, the best thing to do was not to yell, chase, or try to tackle the dog to get it back. I simply turned and went into the kitchen, got a treat, and nonchalantly walked over to wherever he was and in a very nice voice asked him to sit down. Inevitably he dropped the stolen object and I gave him a treat. It’s classic positive reinforcement technique, and I believe that it’s pretty effective with people, too. Basically, you ignore the bad behaviors and reward the good behaviors.

This definitely isn’t rocket science, but I totally found it interesting that responsible dog training had so many similarities with good parenting. I am not suggesting that children are like dogs, or should be treated as such, but I do think there are some fundamental communication skills that are applicable across relationships with dogs and humans.

I think it’s safe to say that at this stage in the obedience cycle, I’m pretty sure Zus has taught me at least as much, if not more, than I’ve taught him.

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Why Time Is Never on a Mom’s Side

I saw this newspaper clipping on a friend’s Facebook page yesterday, and I couldn’t resist the urge to write about it. (Read the article and you’ll understand.)

But in case the print is too small, I’m going to summarize: Basically someone without kids writes in to an advice columnist asking why her stay-at-home mommy friends never have time to gab anymore. She asked:

“What is a typical day and why don’t moms have time for a call or e-mail? I work and am away from home for nine hours a day (plus a few late work events); I manage to get it all done.”

I bet more than a few stay-at-home mommies want to deck this chick after reading that. The columnist’s response was classic. I personally loved the part where she talked about how moms not only do all the errands-type stuff single people do, but do it all while carrying a kid and the requisite accoutrement to ward of every mishap from a blowout to a meltdown. But her conclusion was a kicker:

“[Having kids] is also a choice, yes. And a joy. But if you spent all day, every day, with this brand of joy, and then when you got your first 10 minutes to yourself, wanted to be alone with your thoughts instead of calling a good friend, a good friend wouldn’t judge you, complain about you or marvel how much more productively she uses her time.”

I agree that perhaps this advice-seeker needed to be put in her place mommy-style.  But if I honestly think back to my single days, I probably wondered something similar. However, I wouldn’t have dared openly ask the question. Even I knew a comment of that sort would warrant a mommy-slap that would make any head spin.

I can definitely identify with the columnist’s first explanation of why moms never have enough time to do much more than just cover off on the basics–everything takes three times longer with kids. How true. Most of the time, as a mom, yes, you are trying to accomplish many of the same simple tasks that baby-free folks can handle during their lunch hours or on their ways home from work. But those tasks are so much harder when you’re lugging baby and gear.

Going to the post office, for example, totally stresses me out. So does going to get clothes altered. These are regular errands, but with a baby, they are not simple in-and-out stops. They are major outings that require moms to bring all manner of food, clothing, and shelter for baby, not to mention entertainment. That’s a lot of work for a book of stamps or a pair of pants.

But it was the columnist’s second answer to the advice-seeker’s question that was an a-ha! moment for me. While there is the whole question of logistics when going about daily life with baby in tow, there is this whole other major undertaking going on, one that’s so big picture, it’s often overlooked. It’s the fact that, as moms, while we’re trying to make sure the mortgage is paid, the fridge is stocked, and the animals are fed (along with the gazillion other things that make our lives liveable), we’re also trying to raise good, caring, productive people for society.

That’s the biggest challenge in the world. And I know that I definitely forget that as I’m melting down because I can’t find my keys, the baby’s crying, the dog won’t get in his crate, and I know that we’re going to be at least a half hour late to wherever I was supposed to be at that moment. I focus so much on the feeding, bathing, diapering, and entertaining of baby that I admit I often forget that I’m also teaching him how to be the person he eventually will be. (Just writing that makes me get a little misty.)

When I think about how big of a task that is on top of handling the myriad of minutia that fall under the category of life maintenance, no wonder moms have no time to spend a half hour gabbing with a friend about things like office gossip, new crushes, and fad diets. (Thank god for texting.) That half hour is critical brain rebooting time. (And by rebooting, yes, I really mean showering.)

But all this to say that I’m really glad this advice-seeker asked such a seemingly stupid question about what moms do all day. The answer was a nice reminder of not only all the little jobs I do, from walking the dog to getting the oil changed in the car, but also of my most important job–to raise a healthy, happy, curious, creative, and kind little boy. When I think about that I guess I can live with the fact that I didn’t cross everything off my to-do list today.

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Filed under babies, daily life, education, family, infants, moms, parenting, stay-at-home moms, working mom