Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fall Fun


The weather outside has been so nice lately, and all the fallen, crunchy leaves have been so much fun to play in.  Between all the outdoor fun we've been having, and Fall, eerr - Halloween - Parties, we've been a busy bunch. This is just the beginning of my favorite time of year. I love the colors, and the smells, and the sounds of the weather. I love all the foods, and candies. Is it just me or is anyone else craving chocolate like no other? Maybe its the season, or maybe its because I'm pregnant. The verdict is still out.
Here is some of the fun that we've been having with the lovely weather, and the fall season:

Kisses from her best friend, C.K. She loves these! They are just the cutest together. 





Playing with the fallen leaves.


All dressed up in her butterfly costume for the Academy's Fall Party at Dell Osso Farms 





I know, sorry the picture is very blurry. Eleanor wouldn't sit still to take the picture, she just wanted to play. . .play. . .play! Here she is at our StrollerFriends Halloween Party we went to yesterday.  She had a blast!






She LOVED this playroom. So many toys, so little time.  I couldn't get her to leave even for food. She did not want to sit still for anything. She is a busy little butterfly. 



Monday, October 26, 2009

MotherFit


I started "ghost-writing" for my fitness instructor/friends blog, MotherFit, and am really excited about it!  Of course, I want all of my readers to know about it, and check it out too.  Its still new, and a work in progress, so bear with us.  

Come on over, follow us, and exercise with us, at: 

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Desperate Housewives: And the Case of Free-Range vs. Helicopter Parenting

Confession: I watch Desperate Housewives.  Ugh, I know, you don't have to tell me. There are so many reasons why I hate the show, yet I still watch it. I'm not sure why.  Usually its just background noise while I'm doing something else, but tonight it caught my attention.  Here's why: The character Gabby, who is portrayed as a self-centered, vain woman, has two daughters.  In the opening scene her oldest daughter is playing with friend in another room (do you get where this is going yet? Or wait, the title probably gave it away, darn), while Gabby pours herself a glass of wine in the kitchen.  You hear a crash, and Gabby runs in to see Juanita and her friend in a suitcase (I always preferred those egg crate mattresses wrapped in trash bags, myself) at the bottom of the stairs.   Gabby berates her daughter for doing this, telling her that she she'd told her not the use the nice suitcases, and that furthermore, she shouldn't be doing it at all. Cue in the hovering, overprotective mother of Juanita's friend who screams at Gabby for not being in the room watching the girls (5 years old? but looks more like 7 or 8) at all times, and therefore put the girls in danger of killing themselves.  Said mother tells Gabby her daughter is no longer allowed to play at her house anymore because she can not ensure her safety while there, and for that matter, cannot go to Jaunita's birthday party that weekend (and then goes off to tell all the other mothers in the neighborhood of the horror, and the cancelations for the party start flowing in).   

Ok, so I could feel my blood pressure begin to rise at this point.  I'm probably turning a pretty shade of red, as many thoughts are running through my mind, and I want to scream at said hovering, overprotective mother that is only a fiction character, but really is so much more than a fictional character because I know these women actually exist. This show is now a nice reminder of that. My husband actually paused the show here,   I looked at him, and we both started laughing. He was hoping I hadn't been paying attention, but he could see the look of indignation and horror written all over me. Yes, Desperate Housewives has gone into the land of "Free-Range" parenting vs. "helicopter" parents.  Now, I'll spare you all the nitty gritty details of the show, but leave it to be that Gabby then went and spent thousands of dollars on all sorts of fancy party tricks, and dropped in on a park playdate where all of Juanita's friends were, and let it slip in front the kids that they would be having all sorts of amazing things there that none of them would get to see, how sad that they would all be missing the clown, monkey, bouncy house, face painting. . .etc. etc (I know, her manipulation is horrendous, I don't condone it, just relating the facts of the story). Of course the kids then HAD to go the party, and the mothers were forced to let them go (Great, now the kids get what they want when they want it, despite what their parents have decided? Yeah, thats a great lesson to teach.  Although, its not a lesson the show is teaching I'm afraid, just a portrayal of the typical American family where the kids run the roost - just not out of their parents site). 
The party turns out not so stellar, Gabby and another friend are there, but when they sit down to talk the monkey turns on the clown and the kids all run screaming, "the monkey's killing the clown!" Of course, the parents are all horrified, and Gabby is deemed a horrible, neglectful mother, and her attempts to make things better have only backfired. (Of course, if you watch the show, you know exactly why, but I won't go there for the sake of this discussion). 

What I really loved about the whole thing, was at the end Carlos (Gabby's husband) tried to comfort her, telling Gabby that "hey - look at this way, when the monkey started attacking the clown and all the other kids started screaming and running towards their mommies, what did Juanita and her sister (whose name I can't remember) do? Juanita zipped herself up in the bouncy house, and her sister played dead."   The moral, he explains is that Juanita and her little sister had learned how to be independent and resourceful because they had a "neglectful" mother who didn't hover over them all the time (yes, he used those words).  Now, of course all of us free-rangers know Gabby isn't really a neglectful mother, but knows that she gives her kids the freedoms to become who their own individuals, with self-confidence, and like Carlos so aptly says "resourcefulness." The kids know how to get themselves out of situations because they have the skills and/or confidence to do it.  Unfortunately, Gabby might not be doing it on purpose, because of-course, they had to go and make her look like she WAS being neglectful by drinking wine instead of watching the kids play, and bringing a monkey to the party who when it was tired, she forced the owner to have it keep playing  so it "would be the best party ever"(oh yeah, I let that out earlier, oops).   Even if she wasn't being "free range"  on purpose, there are a whole slew of us out there that ARE doing it on purpose because we know the benefits it gives our children. So, while the show might not have gotten it all right, at least they did a good job of coming out in favor of the "free-rangers," (even if they don't know the term), and making all the other hovering parents look like fools. Well, thats my take on it anyway. :) 

It still makes my blood pressure rise just a little bit knowing that this is exactly the kind of thing that could happen to me.  I could be branded the neighborhood "bad mom" and have all the kids banned from playing at our house, like Gabby. Or like other real moms I've heard of,   I could have CPS called on me because my kids are playing in the front by themselves, or God-forbid, riding their bikes on their own around the neighborhood.  If something bad were to happen to my child I could be blamed because I was known to be "neglectful." I guess those are the risks I'm willing to take so that my children can grow up to be independent and resourceful, able to think on their own, and make decisions without me. I don't want them to feel like they HAVE to have me around because they can't anything on their own, only that they want me around because they like my company. :-) I can play with the best of them! But I will back off and let them play on their own because I know there are valuable lessons in that. Lessons that can't be learned with me there all. the. time.  

I found an essay/blog on child safety, and basically what I've been talking about for here in this post (letting kids play on their own), and thought it was a really good read. Check it out here

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Adventure Playground

While reading FreeRangeKids blog earlier this evening I stumbled upon an amazing playground in Berkeley which one of the other readers posted. And, while it isn't close, isn't out of driving range either.  This is the type of playground that I can't take Eleanor or Annabelle to until they are much older, but I'm already tingling with anticipation in thought of taking them there. 

Remember when you were little and you created a lemonade stand and sold friendship bracelets so that you could earn enough money to buy some wood and fort building supplies all on your own? Remember getting together with friends, sister, and cousins and designing the blue print for said house/fort that you were going to build? And then, remember actually getting the supplies (from who knows where now, because  the money from said "business" could not have earned nearly enough money), and building, eer, beginning to build said house/fort? Well, maybe you don't because those are my memories. But man, those are great memories!! Every child should have memories like that. I hope, no - I don't hope - I know that I can create an environment for my children that enables them to be this independent and this creative in their playing adventures.  So, in the process of learning how to build and paint, we will definitely be taking a trip to Adventure Playground in Berkeley.   
What I love best about this park is: 
  • parents have to sign a waiver before letting their kids play.  You know its got to be TONS of fun if theirs a waiver to sign. :) 
  • there are actually kid designed and created forts at the park, and the staff encourage the kids to built and paint and play as creatively as possible. They can even use a hammer and saw. Its amazing.  
  • They have a zip line. Who doesn't love a zip line?
  • The concept for Adventure Playgrounds originated in Europe after World War II, where a playground designer studied children playing in the "normal" asphalt and cement playgrounds.  He found that they preferred playing in dirt and lumber from the post war rubble.  He realized that children had the most fun designing and building their own equipment and manipulating their environment. Its true, from my childhood memories, these kinds of activities are some of my favorite. 
  • Adventure Playground creates opportunities for children to learn cooperation, meet physical challenges and gain self confidence. What more can a parent ask for? Isn't it what I've been saying the job of a parent is - to give their children opportunities to become responsible autonomous individuals with great self-confidence (man thats a mouthful!)? This park seems to be able to provide all that in bucketfuls. 
  • I love that in their description they specifically tell parents: "We do ask that you do not help children onto the wooden seat. If they cannot do it themselves, they are not ready to ride yet."  I wish that as parents we could tell parents specifically "we ask that you not do your children's homework for them.  If they cannot do it themselves, they are not ready to be in this classroom." I still don't understand how parents think that doing their children's homework isn't doing their child serious harm . . . but I digress.
  • You can drop your children off (7 and older) and leave while you go explore Berkley. :)  Can you imagine, an afternoon without kids, while they are off having a ball, and being creative and independent (and yet safe - did I mention its very safe?), and you get to browse through used bookstores, and sit in quaint coffee shops reading to your hearts content? Or maybe thats just me. 




Friday, October 23, 2009

National Novel Writing Month Looms

I'm just putting this out there for everyone who is interested in writing, as well as for motivation for me (if I tell the world my goals, I can't let the world down, can I?!). Here it is: I've been wanting to write a novel for a long, long, long, long time.  I've had many attempts at it, even going so far as taking a research trip in the U.K. for it, only to have said novel crash and burn (not literally, on the computer of course), and then only months later the backup was destroyed when my closest flooded.  It was a perfect storm of disaster for my novel. RIP Vale of Mist. I still think about the characters, setting, and plot with fond memories.  But, I put too much heart and soul into that book to try to re-create it. No, I have moved on.  I have been attempting to write a novel in tribute to my beloved Grandfather who was more like a father to me than anyone else.  I want to write the story of his conversion to Christianity during WWII (he was an engineer in the army), as well as his my grandmothers love story. My grandma has given me letters she wrote during the time of their courtship, and I have spent the last several months pouring over those letters, making mental notes, and dialoging about all of the many ways I could go creating the perfect set up for the book.  I started writing about 2 pages of it, only to have the computer I was working on that crash and burn (I don't have a very good track record with this sort of thing, as you can see).  
Next month is do or die.  If you didn't know, November is National Novel Writing Month (click here to check it the website), and there is not many more days left in this month before November commences. I must say, I am a little terrified.  I'm terrified of writing a novel that just will not measure up to my expectations, but I'm more terrified that I won't meet the goal: 50,000 words.  I WILL do it. You heard me say it here first. I cannot fail my faithful readers. :-) 
In honor of my beloved Grandparents for who this book will be dedicated, and who, bless their souls, took me in to live with them when I was 12-13 (some of the toughest years of my life!). I miss you Grandpa! 
Look how cute they are in their 1946 get-up.  They were only 22 here. 



Aren't they just the cutest couple? They were still 100% in love with each other till the end, and I find that so amazing. Their love and respect for each other has always inspired me. 
If you have a novel that you would like to write, please join me in my quest to write at least 50,000 words next month.  We can write our novels (or at least, get a good start at it).   NaNoWriMo (as it is fondly called), is how the author of Water for Elephants got her start, its actually where she started that book.  It could just be a springboard to publication for you as well! 

10 Things I Can't Live Without


10.) My Couch: It is big and comfy, and I can meld into it for hours. A perfect perch when I'm feeling lousy, which I've been feeling for the last couple of days.  It is a jungle gym for Eleanor, as she has mastered climbing onto it and off of it, which keeps her entertained for a long time. Its perfect.  

9.) My boppy total body pillow:  Its back/knee/belly support is amazing. After a long day running around chasing Eleanor around the house/yard/playground/gym (or wherever else we are), its pillow-wonderland to wrap around myself and fall into dreamland.  Its the only real way I can semi-sleep on my belly. I can still lay on my back without it being uncomfortable or cutting off my oxygen supply, or blood supply, but I miss sleeping fully on my belly. Its really the only way I slept pre-pregnant. 

8.) My computer: I don't know what I would do if I couldn't have access to adult conversation throughout the day.  I don't teach everyday (just one two hour class one day a week), so I don't have adult interaction besides my husband my days.  I am a part of many different online communities, my favorite of which is the FreeRangeKids blog. Many of my other parenting boards I'm feeling very out of place at now, most of the mothers there I have nothing in common with expect we have children, but our philosophies about most everything childraising d related are polar opposites.  But, at FreeRangeKids the people there understand me, we understand each other, and reason and common sense prevail. I couldn't live without it, because before I found it I was feeling like "the worst mother in the world." Thankfully Lenore Skenazy (blog/book writer) was already was given that title! :) 

7.) TUMS: I've been having the worst heartburn lately. Miserable, terrible, disgusting, no good, heartburn.  I have a tub of Tums on my night-stand on in my purse. They are a godsend. 

6.) Dreft: Eleanor is enchanted with anything outdoor related, sticks and stones, and leaves, and bark, and bugs, and if its dirty its especially fascinating.  Because of this obsession with the dirty outdoors her clothes lately have been, well, filthy. Dirt stain, and dog drool, and sometimes I find, well I don't know, and probably don't want to know, stains on her. Dreft is an amazing detergent (and spray stain remover) that gets out everything, - really, everything. If she were an only child, it might not be as important, but because I want Annabelle to still have new looking clothes, and not trashy looking hand-me-downs  (and NO, no one is paying me to say this), this product comes in very handy.  I really couldn't live without the stuff. 

5.) Water: I know this seems like an obvious one, but really I can't get enough of the stuff. Which is great, because I'm suppose to be drinking a lot because I'm pregnant.  It seems like my body has got the memo my brain has for once, and this brain/body-clicking thing is great! But really, honestly, I've been drinking water like there won't be any tomorrow so I better get it all in today. Just in case, you know? 


 
4.) My family: There's really not much more to say than I have an amazing family, immediate and extended.  I don't get to see them enough, and I miss them a lot. I wish they all lived closer, as my closest is my sister an hour and a half away



3.) My husband:
He is an amazing father. I don't know how single mothers do it, I really don't.  I love having him home in the evenings to help clean her up from dinner, and help clean UP dinner, and to play with her, and give her a bath, and put her jammies on, and read her a story and put her to bed.  I love my evenings that I have because of him. I know not all fathers are as hands on and interactive as he is, and so I thank God everyday I have the wonderful husband I do that provides so well for us, and did everything he could to make it possible for me to be a stay at home mom, and is on the same page with me in parenting style, without even really needing to discuss it too much.  I know, I'm gushing, I'll stop - but really - I couldn't live without him. 

2., 1.) My daughter: She is so full of life, and energy it constantly amazes me.  She laughs all. the. time. I love it too, when she gets particularly playful she'll scrunch up her nose, shut her eyes, and go "Mmmmmm" with a goofy grin on her face as she blindly walks towards you.  Hilarious! Without her I wouldn't know what real joy is, or what real unconditional love is.  I can't get enough of her quirks and antics. I love seeing the world again through her eyes.  Everything is so much more amazing, and exciting when you share it with a toddler.  I love the age she is right now.  She is so independent, always striking out on her own whenever she can, and refusing to hold my hand now as we walk. But at the same time she is so full of love. I'll be cooking dinner, or cleaning up and she'll spontaneously run up and grab my leg,  give me big kisses (on the legs), and give me little pats.  All with a little hum on her lips. Melts my heart everytime.  


Sunday, October 18, 2009

My Snuggle Bear

Blissfully reading one of her favorites "Mr. Brown can Moo!" by Dr. Suess, her in toy bin. 

Yes, her play area is overflowing with toys.  We're seriously contemplating taking a bunch out that she doesn't play with as much, since it gets really chaotic in our small living room with all the toys.  But how cute is she snuggled up in her toy bin? 


After coming back from our trip last weekend to "the tournament" Eleanor snuggled up on a big duffle bag with a pillow. 
I've been doing so much writing lately I thought I'd throw in some fun pictures to keep you interested! :) 

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thoughts on Kindergarten (thinking ahead)

On one of my parenting boards (again with the parenting boards, I know, I'm obsessed), there was a mom who asked about a homework schedule for her Kindergartner.  This brought up the thought . . . homework, in Kindergarten? Really? Whatever for? This then began the discussion of what Kindergarten is like in today's world.  Really, I never even went to Kindergarten myself, so I couldn't say much about it anyway.  
One of the posters is in fact a Kindergarten teacher, and responded with this thought: 

"Honestly the state demands so much of kids and teachers these days that time out for a proper nap is just impossible.  If we took a half hour to an hour out of the day we would be missing a major chunck of the curriculum.  At our school we did do what we called "rest."  I turned on classical music and the kids found a quiet spot on the floor and rested for 15 min.  Most of the other teachers tried to phase out their rest time but I tried to get it in every day. They needed it!

As a teacher, I am so sad about how kindergarten is run these days. I strongly believe the full days along with the intense curriculum is just too much.  In a addition to homework, we had to use the state grade level workbooks (workbooks for kids who can barely write!) and I had to give them benchmark exams in each of the content areas every quarter. Insane!" -AnyaBella

Insane is right! I can't imagine sending my child to a Kindergarten where they are given so much homework each night that a working parent is hard pressed to find time to help fit that into their schedule (really, I could do a whole 'nother post on just homework, but we'll stick with Kindergarten for now). Kindergartners don't go to bed at 9:00-10:00 like their older siblings with more homework, they go to bed between 7-8 - since they need more sleep (a good 12 hours would be ideal).  When is there time for homework between being picked up from daycare, and coming home and eating dinner? Especially when homework in K really means its "mom-work." When is a working mom suppose to find time for that, and with helping older siblings with their even harder homework? Anyway, I digress. . .

What does research say about 5-6 year olds and pen and paper, workbook type work?  Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School by Edward Miller, Joan Almon, and David Elkind says that: 

"Research shows that children who engage in complex forms of socio-dramatic play have greater language skills than non-players, better social skills, more empathy, more imagination, and more of the subtle capacity to know what others mean.  They are less aggressive and show more self-control and higher levels of thinking.  

Long-term research casts doubt on the assumption that starting earlier on the teaching of phonics and other discrete skills leads to better results.  For example, most of the play-based kindergartens in Germany were changed into centers for cognitive achievement during a wave of educational “reform” in the 1970s. But research comparing 50 play-based classes with 50 early- learning centers found that by age ten the children who had played excelled over the others in a host of ways. They were more advanced in reading and mathematics and they were better adjusted socially and emotionally in school. They excelled in creativity and intelligence, oral expression, and “industry.” As a result of this study German kindergartens returned to being play-based again."  

So, even though the knowledge that play-based education in Kindergarten has been around for decades, has yet to have an impact on what we are doing in schools today.  We (and by we I mean the evil bureaucracy who has the gall to make laws about education) are pretending like all that research is wrong.  Instead, they seem to think  its all about the tests, and how good our students perform on tests, tests. TESTS. As a teacher I hated this. As a parent I absolutely loath it, and I don't even have school age children yet! I don't want my 5-6 year old child forced to sit in a desk and learn phonics, and write in workbooks, when she could be learning SO much more just by doing what kids do best: playing. Really, did you read the research? Kids who play do better at reading and at math than those that had phonics and numbers shoved down their throats early on. Interesting, no? Who would have thought that something so simple as play could be so darn important? 

So, while I may not be all for home-school throughout the Elementary school years, I am leaning more and more towards home school for my kids up through at least Kindergarten.  However, my problem with home-school is that they aren't getting the social interaction that is SO vital to growth and learning, and playing with others is where so many learning opportunities come in.  Yes, playing with siblings and mom is good, but its not enough, not in my book.  So, what's a mom to do? Can I start my own home based Kindergarten with other disenfranchised moms who what a structured day for their child, but where our kids get social play, and they get read to (or be read to), and a real nap time, and they get to play with their hands, manipulating with play-do, and paints, and blocks, and all sorts of other toys?  They would also spend a lot of time singing songs, and making up their own games, and teaching them to each other.  They would explore nature, and go on long walks through the woods (or just the park, or around the lake), and wouldn't be confined to a classroom all day. In fact, we would play outside most of the day, and spend only a small portion of the day in quiet time inside reading, and napping, and coloring (I would even have letters of the week, and do fun hands-on arts and crafts with the letters, so they'd still be learning "phonics" just not with workbooks. Ever.  I hate workbooks.  Otherwise, we would be outside learning by exploring, and playing.  Really playing.   I could even make it a "full-day" Kindergarten or working parents, or half-time for others that only wanted half-time. Whatever works for you, would work for me! :) And I promise, the only "homework" I would "assign" is that you read with your child every night before they go to bed.  Just a little. I wouldn't even make you fill out a reading-log (I've also read all about the horrors of reading logs, which is too bad, because I assigned them as a teacher. Oops, my bad.) 

If this sounds good to you, I would be more than willing to lead this type of Kindergarten when my daughter gets to that age (I mean, I am a credentialed teacher, and have experience teaching and all - it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility).  Heck, I would start it up now if I could!  Or maybe a Kindergarten like this exists and I just don't know about it yet.  If you know about a Kindergarten like this that exists, please let me know!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Halfway There


I can't believe I'm already half way through already! Its crazy how fast time goes by. Although, I'm betting I'm over halfway there now, considering I went 3 weeks early last time. . .  and I feel like I won't go much longer than that this time too.  I had the same feeling with my last pregnancy (that I wouldn't go the full 40 weeks), and I was right.  I guess we'll just have to wait and see if I'm right again this time! 
I've been feeling really good lately. I have a lot of energy now, and am getting a lot of stuff done around the house finally. I've gotten into my organization mode, and have been getting Eleanor's room ready to add another person to it.  Annabelle has been getting more and more active, and I can feel her kick constantly now. Its nice because last time the placenta was in the way and while I could feel Eleanor kick, it was few and far between, and not nearly with as much force as with Annabelle.  I chalk this up to the placement of the placenta this time, which is high up and in the back, so there isn't an extra cushion between her little feet and toes and my stomach.  I feel like its going to be very soon when other people are going to be able to feel her kick. I can't wait to share those movements! 

Here's what one of my pregnancy sites has to say about the halfway point: 

How your baby's growing:

Your baby weighs about 10 1/2 ounces now. She's also around 6 1/2 inches long from head to bottom and about 10 inches from head to heel — the length of a banana
Its amazing how quickly a baby grows from nothing into a fully formed, albiet teeny tiny, person. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Vinny

Our local library has recently been remodeled, and I've have made it a priority to get there every week, not just for me - because I really don't need the library that often, I can't read a book that fast these days - but for Eleanor. She loves books, and she loves people. Amazingly, you can find both at the library. Its a hit.  

Today she didn't want to read, she wanted to roam, and so I let her. Luckily, they have this great big padded area surrounded with huge comfy chairs, and benches, complete with awesome pillows in the shape of books, pencils, and erasers which make her roaming safe, and keep her from leaving the area to grab books off the plethora of bookshelves (a favorite game of hers). Its ingenious.  So, I sat on one of the benches surrounding the padded play area and picked up a book "Mr. Worrier," which was something to do with a child overcoming OCD.  I started reading it (man, what a sad kids picture book, I do not recommend unless your child does in fact have OCD) and a little boy, Vinny who was maybe 4, and had been sitting next to his mother opposite the padded play area from me, came bounding over to me, snuggled up right next to me and asked me to read to him.  Of course, who could resist such childish charms? Not me, anyway.   I begin to read (not the Mr. Worrier book, thankfully he'd brought another with him), when his mom comes over "No, no Vinny, you just can't go up and bother people like that, its not okay," and tried to literally drag him away by the arm.
          "Oh, no, it's alright," I said, "I really don't mind, honest, my daughter doens't want me to read to her, and I came here to read, so really, its okay. He's fine." She didn't seem to buy it, but she let him stay anyway. I guess she couldn't resist those puppy dog eyes of his and his please of, "Please, mom, but I want her to read to me."  I don't know what magic I possessed for him, because his mother said she could never get him to sit still for her to read to him. I just know that those moments were magical.  I cherished every moment of reading, and re-reading that Piggly Wiggly rhyming picture book while his tousled tow-head rested on my shoulder, and his warm little hand wrapped into mine. Those moments with Vinny mean more to me than he or his mom will likely ever know.  

 Its moments like that where I can see through the crystal clear innocence of a child's heart that I feel Gods presence wrap around me like a warm blanket.  I know He is there in everything, but for me He is there so much more clearly in the trusting innocence of a child.  His mom tried apologizing again, and felt I should know that he has "social issues",  so that she wouldn't be so embarrassed by his behavior. I wish we all had the "social issues" that made us so trusting of a complete stranger that it wouldn't seem odd to just run up and snuggle next to them and explore the world through books or whatever other medium with them, without worry or fear of what they or anyone else would think. I wish we all had the  "social issue" of having an open heart and mind towards everyone we meet. If only we were all so lucky as Vinny. 

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Bossing Has Begun

It was like any other day. Nothing special, nothing out of the ordinary. Unless you consider the fact that Daddy had a day off of work, and we announced it "pajama day," but other than that - it was just another day at home. Until suddenly, something went very wrong. I stood there in the kitchen, cutting some dried mangos for a certain child to snack on, minding my own business, when all of a sudden a little hand grabbed onto my gray running (more like walking, now) shorts and began tugging with all her might.  At first I thought she was trying to pants me. Its all the rage at the high school my husband teaches at, apparently. Then I realized, doh - my 15 month old doesn't want to see my bare butt (smart kid, who would?), she wants me to go somewhere! So, I let her lead me.  I was pulled from the counter, and then taken all the way around the kitchen table, and then out the kitchen to the living room (which I was then confused at, because why did we go around the table? Just for fun, taking the scenic route?), and taken to "my" spot on the couch, and was gently pushed into the couch. I asked her, "Do you want me to sit down?" To which she nodded vehemently. So I sat down, and she immediately told me,  "Up!" with her arms upraised, just in case I was confused. Ok, so I gave in and pick her up, call me a sucker - but I was pretty impressed at this point at the clear directions I'd been given, clearly I'm raising a born leader.  When I picked her up, she snuggled into my arms and I think my heart completely melted. She's been awful snuggley latey. 

This same bit happened a couple more times while attempting to make dinner.  The rest of the times, however, were attempts to take me to the kitchen window so I could pick her up and show her our dog outside. Of course, I gave in and she saw him several times, and excitedly grunted and pointed, and said a lot of "dada dada" which I know means "doggy" to her in this context. 

In related news, earlier in the day while on the couch (I maybe went for too long of a walk and felt a bit, er, in pain - don't judge!)  Eleanor came over with her xylophone to make music with me,  and after a bit of a duet going on, she decided it would be better to play it on the ground at my feet. Cool. Then she realizes that it would make a great stepping stool, and can maybe get up on the couch? Uh oh. Yeah, she can get up on the couch on her own with the aid of the handy dandy xylophone now. Thats okay, she can get off of it all by herself too, so no big deal.  Just another more step for her gaining even more independence from me. I know, I should be thrilled, but it still makes me a little sad. Sue me. 

Today, then, was no ordinary day. It was a day filled with new discoveries (climbing!), and new powers (realizing she can pull mom wherever she wants her to go!) for a little fifteen-month old who likes to get dirty (you have no idea the scrubbing I've been doing to get out those dirt stains from yesterday, and then again, her pajamas today from playing ball with C.K.).  Then again, no day is an ordinary day with a toddler running around. 

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Case Study of Free Ranging

As every other weekend this month, husband, toddler and I travelled for miles, and hour after agonizing hour in the car we finally arrived at "the tournament."  October is the month of death for our school. Each weekend, it seems, is another tournament, in another town 3 hours from home. Its torture.  Luckily, the town we visited this weekend was quaint, and we had some very enjoyable moments eating at delicious and adorably decorated diners and eateries with friends (eer, one friend - but she can count for a couple she's so fun!).  Today, Eleanor and I actually got to attend the games (Friday we were too late, Saturday, the games were too late and I had to leave early to our hotel to put her to bed), eer - I watched the games and we let Eleanor get the wiggles out by running around behind us. We tried holding her, but it just wasn't going to happen. Plus, I've been reading about all the benefits of independent play, and play with other kids. And lo, and behold, there were several other kids only slightly older than her to play with. Perfect! I stood on the sidelines to cheer and kept on eye on her behind me, watching the game and turning around fairly often to make sure she was still there, and doing okay. I really wasn't worried because we were surrounded by either parents of students (whom we knew), or parents and siblings or friends of the other team (and since they are all part of our private school system, I felt confident no one was going to try to run off with her, or hurt her) and there wasn't anything she could do to kill herself or seriously hurt herself with. So, I took the hands-off approach, and watched to make sure she was okay and would know where I was if she needed me, but stayed at a distance and let her do her thing. It was really a case study in how other people react to free-ranging parents.  Lets look at what happened in the couple hours by the football fields. 
  1. Eleanor picked up a large stick and started carrying it around, drawing in the sand, poking the dirt, and generally having a lot of fun. I knew she had it. I was fine with her playing with her. What could she possibly do? Poke her eye out, maybe? Not likely.  I trusted she'd know not to stick the stick in her eye, and she can't really run yet so running with the stick and tripping and having it stab her through the eye seemed unlikely. I mean, even if she could run I still wouldn't have minded her playing with it. Its a stick for crying out loud. A stick. We've all played with sticks.  Anyway, I turned around awhile later and noticed one of the moms of a player taking the stick from her. "WHAT are you doing?! She's FINE and mostly importantly, HAPPY! WHY are you taking it from her?!" I wanted to scream. But I held back. I mean, I am an adult, and all.  Besides, she was only trying to help, I suppose. She picked it up again, and awhile later the same mom went to go take it from her and noticed I was watching so looked over at me with question. "Its okay, she can keep playing with it," I told her. And she held off, but I knew she was thinking how dangerous it was. Really, it was just a stick - but it was so much more than that to Eleanor. It was a pen, or a tool, or a whatever the heck she wanted it to be. She was learning, and using her imagination, and having fun on top of it. What more could a parent ask for? So, if you ever see my daughter playing with a stick - its okay. Let her keep playing. I know she's fine, I'm not worried, so please don't be either. 
  2. Awhile later, she was playing with a group of boys aged 3-6 who were kicking a soccer ball in a large goal. This was literally right behind us. I was not more than 25 - 30 feet from her, and was standing up on a bench, so had a great view of her whenever I turned around (which, again - why must I say this? - was quite often).  Amazingly, I turned around and noticed a student - maybe 16 or so - reaching down to pick up Eleanor. Oh no! Alarms and bells and red flags should be going off, right. Someone is trying to kidnap Eleanor! And I'm watching! Ha ha. Fooled you. Of course he wasn't kidnapping her, and I was never worried he was. I knew right away what was happening. He thought she shouldn't be playing away from her parents. Oh, where, OH where could her neglectful parents be?! He must have thought the worst. He turned around, again, I'm watching the whole thing, and starts looking around for us, I'm sure. Although really, I'm thinking - how does he think he's going to find us in the big crowd of people he was looking at? She's not wearing tags, like a dog would - and its not like she could have told him where we were. I'm not sure what he was going to do with her if we really had been neglectful parents. Turn her in to lost and found? Probably had someone over the loud speaker announce a lost child. Anyway, I caught his eye and let him know she was fine and we were right there the whole time. It was okay. It really was. So, if you see my child having fun, playing independently (or with other children as in this case) and you don't immediately see a parent hovering nearby, its okay. I'm around, I know what's going on. She's fine, you can chill out and leave her be, I just don't hover over her like a helicopter. I like to give her breathing room to explore, and play, and get to know the world around her on her own. I've heard it does wonders for kids self-esteem, self-confidence, and brain development.  You should try it. 

Friday, October 9, 2009

Letting Go and Letting God

I've been having lots of discussions on my various parenting boards that I post on about, parenting, well, what else? More specifically, I've been thinking and talking a lot about what it means to be a "free range parent" (remember my post awhile back about being terrified of kidnappers, and needed to chill out, and I fount the book, Free Range Kids, by Lenore Skenazy? You might want to check out her blog to find out what free ranging is all about before you read too much further of my post) since I've actually been reading the book, and reading her blog/website more and more.  I've posed questions on my boards about what we can do to encourage our children to be independent, self-confident, self-reliant individuals. To me, that is the most important part of being a parent. I want my children to grow up and be able to live on their own and succeed at life. I want to know that I've given them the tools for a successful life. Doesn't any parent? To me, thats a no brainer. BUT, it seems like in our society, in our day and age, the answers I've gotten from other moms shows me that the paranoia and fear of all the known and unknown dangers is paralyzing us, and keeping parents from letting their kids grow and learn, and explore the world on their own. I mean, parents have told me that they aren't comfortable leaving their child safe in their crib, napping, while even going out to the mailbox to check the mail, or gardening in their own back yard, because. . .well, "what if. . ."  What if something happens and I can't get there in time??  If something bad happens to kids we immediately jump to blame the parents. Where were the parents? Obviously the parent was at fault for not keeping any and all dangers at bay.  Is that really our job as parents; to shield all dangers from our children's lives? Obviously, safety is important, and taking the necessary precautions to keep our children safe is key (lock the house at night, lock cabinets with chemicals, use car-seats, and seat-belts, etc. etc. The list is long, and teaching our children how to be safe is even more important.)  However, it seems now that safety, or rather the prevention of any possible danger, is keeping parents these days from letting their children learn to love exploration and be excited about the world we live in.  Really, parents are being called neglectful, and having the cops called on them for letting their children play in their front yard unattended. There used to be a time when that was the norm, and now you will be hard pressed to find kids of any age riding their bikes, or playing in their neighborhoods. Most kids don't walk or ride their bikes to school, and many school districts have even banned students from walking or biking to school. Why? Because we are afraid of what might happen wen we aren't there, and we are afraid of what others will say about our parenting, or even afraid of legal action against us if something does happen to our kids.  Thats the world we are living in now. Really. Truly. It amazes and sickens me. 

So, all this led me to some serious thinking.  Who are we to think that we are, or even CAN be, in control of everything? Are we God? Clearly not. Then why do we think we can control everything in our kids lives? Why would we even want to? Why don't we want our kids to experience life, and really learn and explore it on their own? What are we really afraid of?  I really think that this paranoia, this fear is because we have learned not to trust.  We don't trust anyone but ourselves to be in control. We don't trust in God (yes, I went there). We don't trust in our kids.   I asked parents when they would be comfortable trusting their kids to stay home alone and many said never. Kids should never be left alone (when they are adults they can be alone).  So, if we can't trust our kids to be home by themselves, and they never have experiences of being responsible for themselves when they are young, how are they ever going to be adults that are responsible, and know what do when their parents aren't there answering questions, and doing everything for them? 

Why can't we all learn to let GO and let God take over control of our kids lives instead of always trying to be in control of things that we were never meant to be constantly in control of anyway?  Yes, we can still be scared, but as we send them out the door to play with friends we can say a prayer, and ask for God to keep them safe, and trust in Him, and and in our kids, and beyond that we can't do anything else. We can't try to be in control of the rest of the world, and what other people are going to do. Skenazy has asked us free rangers to help her in a movement because "We need to start changing things, before the next generation of kids grows up without ever experiencing one cartwheel without adult supervision (and a snack)."
I don't want to live in a world paralyzed with fear of what might happen, or might not. Yes, we live in a dangerous, scary world. But is that all? Is there no beauty and magic, and love and grace in each other and the world? If we are always fearful or each other, and our kids, and ourselves, we will never be able to meet the potential in each of us that God is so graciously given.  We can never see the true amazing world that we were given.  Can we agree to say, that yes - my child will get hurt growing up. They will encounter problems, and troubles, and even get hurt along the way.  But being able to face those troubles, and problems and overcome them is so rewarding. We learn so much from making mistakes. I will go so far as to say that without mistakes we don't learn. Children, in their nature, love to learn and explore, who are we to stifle that love of independent exploration and learning (i.e. making mistakes)? 

Please help be a part of the movement to change things, and to learn to trust more in the goodness of our fellow man (or rather, be smart in who you can trust - the creepy guy who is winking at your daughter, maybe not, but the sweet mother with 2 kids surely can't be so bad) rather than think that we are all out to get each other. (And if you have to, turn off the TV and stop listening to the news that sensationalizes all the evil, and sad and terrible things that can happen to each other, and our kids.  Those stories seem more prevalent than they really are because they are constantly plastered on the TV.  We are living in a statistically "safe" time period, safer than the '80's and 90's, as safe as the '60s, and the crime rate has steadily been decreasing.) 

 Be a part of the movement to trust our children, and trust that letting go and letting them experience life and make mistakes is vital to giving them the ability to be self-confident, self-reliant, responsible, happy children that will one day grow up to be the leaders of this country.  

Be a part of the movement that says I can't be in control, but I can say, "God, I know I'm not in control, but You are, please help me to be more trusting and to let go, and let You take control." 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Adventures in Finger-Painting

I was reading the other day on my birth board, parenting boards about introducing finger-painting to our little tots, and it got me thinking that Eleanor is old enough now to actually have fun with the paints, so I thought I'd give it a try today to see how it went.  I first decided that the best place to do it would be the bathtub, because I really wanted to let her go wild with it, and I didn't want to be paranoid with getting paint on things I didn't want paint on. I thought outside, maybe, but we have a big dog, and I knew he'd try to get in the way, and really didn't want to be washing a toddler and a dog.  One is hard enough on its own! So, bathtub it was.  I prepped the room with lots of old grungy towels, throwing the shower curtain up out of the way, and pulling the floor mats out of the way "just in case." I pulled out a bunch of small plates to put the paints on for her to play with, grabbed several pages of white paper, the paints, stripped her down to her diaper, plopped her into the tub, and let her go wild! I started with yellow and she must have thought it looked yummy because the first thing she did was plop that finger full of paint right into her mouth.  Apparently paint doesn't taste good, because she spat it out and immediately started crying. She must have been thinking "What were you thinking, mom? Are you trying to KILL me? waaaahhh!!!"  Once I was able to clean out her mouth, and convince her the paint wasn't food, and look - you could put it on the paper and tub walls and make pretty shapes with it - she was pretty happy.  I mean, REALLY happy.  There were ten colors in the box we bought, and she went through about 8 of them.  I'd give her a plate of one paint, she'd go through it, look over at the other bottles and beg for more. She'd point and grunt and look at me, and grunt and babble some more, and really point while looking at me  and babbling as if saying, "Helloooo? Anyone home?? Yes - YOU, mom, don't you realize I want that color of paint in that bottle that I can't reach? Please, seriously, do something to help me out instead of looking at me like an idiot. Pleeeaasse???"  
Here is some of the damage that was done: 
And she sat in one of the plates of paint just for fun
And her true masterpiece: 
And after the insanely job of cleaning up (just turned on the shower hose, which is detachable for us, and it all washed down the drain, just as easy as that. Plus, Eleanor loves water so the cleaning up was almost just as much fun as the finger-painting), she had tons of fun drinking the water that dripped from the faucet. 


If you have a toddler you should definitely give finger-painting a try if you haven't already! I'm thinking of making this a weekly activity.  Now that she is getting so much older, and able to do activities like this, I'm in need of other fun stimulating activities to do the other days. I've got the Library as another weekly activity, and Sabbath school/church on Sabbath. . . now the other 4 days need something "fun" about them!