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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