Tuesday, August 31, 2010

my five tricks for saner parenting

1) Taking a day off (despite the guilt and shouldn't weekends be family time?) to head up to Minneapolis, in high healed sandals, NO nursing bra and otherwise as dressed up as my wardrobe currently allows, for a two and a half hour lunch date with a girlfriend before some shopping in Uptown.

2) Approaching parenting as work, which it of course is,  but not just as exasperating overwhelming tiring work (which, granted, it often is), or as in the jobs we may get just to get paid (whereas this one doesn't even provide a paycheck), but as work where I can apply my skills and background; practice all I learned from my decades in academia, working with other people; flex those muscles, improve even, as a patient, attentive, enthusiastic, empathetic pedagogue, care taker, therapist, and so on.

3) Co-parent with friends. As in arranging play-dates together where the kids can play and the moms (and the occasional dad) can talk. Be they at each other's homes, downing coffee. Or as trips to the park, pool, Arboretum, library, the great college campus spaces in town, and so on.

4) Living in a small town with charm where there are safe sidewalks; easy and quick to get to things; and where the people who work at the library, in the Co-op and at the bakery, and even at Cub KNOW my daughter, and interact and play with her.

5) Not rushing dinner to be done right when husband gets home. Mixing cocktails and throwing together appetizers for all to sip and munch on while (somewhat more) leisurely preparing dinner, or at least somewhat more peacefully. While perhaps having somewhat of a conversation before it's all about the food that's on the plate in front of us, ready to be eaten.

Monday, August 23, 2010

summer snapshots

As I've just made a vow to reflect a little more on the precious moments of everyday parenting, here's a couple of snapshots from this past weekend:

.. taking Lilly to the Como park zoo and conservatory and seeing her expression of wonder and fascination when she saw real live giraffes for the first time in her life (and also seeing the excitement in my husband's face when he saw a wolf, his favorite animal as a kid),

.. Lilly's glee upon returning to the city pool this weekend (finally recovered after a month of sickness), jumping up and down in the water, splashing and pretend swimming,

and then there are all the moments of endearment that happen on a daily basis:

.. how she wakes up in such a good mood most days, miss chatterbox cafe from the first second, pointing out her foot, or my hair, or the sun, or her teddy bear, as if greeting them upon seeing them all again for the very first time,

.. how she'll then announce she needs to go potty, which I'll take her to do, upon which she'll describe to me what's she's doing; peeing, tooting, maybe pooping. Then bending over so I can wipe her cute little bum, standing up afterward and looking me in my face to comment on how good she is at going potty.

.. after which she'll pronounce it time to make coffee and breakfast, upon which we'll stumble into the kitchen together, she taking out her little coffee pot as I get mine going,

.. how she'll pull up a chair to the kitchen counter when I make lunch for us, snacking on mozzarella cheese and pickled cucumber, describing the sandwich food I've spread out for us,

.. how she'll run to meet papa at the door when he comes home with more thrill than I've ever seen a child greet Santa Claus,

.. funny little things she'll do, like cover herself in tattoos of stickers, or put marker lids on her finger tips, stretching out her fingers,

.. how she'll pull out her books and study each page, describing what she's seeing, reading some by memory of how she's heard us read them to her,

.. how she'll trustingly reach up to grab the hand of my good friends when we're at one of their houses for play dates with their kids,

.. how she'll walk around with her baby doll Millie, talking to her, hushing her, making food for her,

.. how her face breaks into big smiles when she runs fast or bikes on her trike, praising herself for how good she is at this,

.. how she walks into the local bakery where Julie works, ordering "Julie's bread" (Brick Oven's artisan sourdough bread),

I could go on, but I think that's enough gooey comments to soften the political edges of this blog, for now.

my family

According to my toddler daughter Lilly, this is a replica of us:

I'm the gazelle to the left, with Lilly next to me, and then her papa Leighton to the right. She's way into dinosaurs (to the delight of her papa, who in addition to wolves and monkeys, also LOVES dinosaurs, as witnessed professionally here and more privately here ).

Now, we all have horns of some sort. But I, big mama, am the gazelle. The most graceful? Beautiful? BIG? As in big presence in her life (as a stay-at-home mom)? Or as the firmest disciplinarian? (apparently I'm not the GC but the BC in this family, according to this post and my response).

mama blogs

I was talking with a fellow mama this morning about how much we appreciate being able to talk honestly with one another about the challenges of parenting (and not just the amazing, cute, sweet etc. etc. big and little things); how being around moms who always appear as if all is fine and dandy in their world makes us feel uncomfortable.

I like to use my blog as well as a space for honest outlets. But this fellow mama told me about another approach: Amanda Blake Soule, a mama of four who in her blog, SouleMama, likes to focus "on the beauty of everyday life." In her Snapshots disclaimer, Soule explains that her writing presents the reader with exactly that: snapshots. The precious ones. Because this kind of blogging is a sort of meditation to her that helps her remind herself of the joys, beauty and blessings that surround her on a daily basis; that it helps her to see and look for those things, people and moments which bring her joy. That it helps her get through the days of parenting (just as, she adds, a reassuring phone call to a spouse or a friend can do, or the promise of an evening of creating in peace, or the mindful mantras taped to a mirror and repeated as necessary,  "and yes, sometimes by eating a pint of ice cream, locked alone in the bathroom at 9 o'clock in the morning, breathing deeply and trying to restore some sanity with which to continue the day mindfully, and with patience."

I like this approach too. Maybe I should try adding a little bit of this meditative practice into my own approach to parenting.

Though I do really enjoy reading blogs that I can relate to well, like SuburbanSnapshots by the mom of a toddler girl my daughter's age.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

angry housewives eating bon bons

Lilly's resistance to naps has been overcome by sickness. At first, she'd wake up from a cough or congestion after less than half an hour. She still has a fierce cough and an endless stream of snot, but she will nap and often around two hours. It's an amazing feeling. And so needed. Especially now that I'm also sick. So as soon as she's asleep in her bed, I take refuge in my bed to rest and read: Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons (2003). It's so good! I love it. Set in the late sixties - early seventies, it's about the growing friendship between five women. From different parts of the country, they get to know each other when they end up living on the same street in a residential neighborhood of Minneapolis. They are all mothers of young children, so there's much to identify with, and compare and contrast, about friendship, gender roles, motherhood, parenting, and more; attitudes to race, homosexuality, war.

These are not the trapped housewives critiqued by Beddy Friedan in The Feminine Mystique (1963). They are stay-at-home moms, just as I am, with a knowledge of the lack of gender equality. One is a highly politically active demonstrator and feminist: her husband is the one who helps out the most with the kids, but she's also the one who's fought most for gender equality. Another finds out she's cheated on by her husband. A third feels she lives a secret as she keeps covering up--even to her husband--for her dysfunctional upbringing by a non-existent father and an alcoholic mother. A fourth became a widow at young age. And the fifth is the daughter of a pastor (who verbally abused her), married to a doctor (who verbally and physically assaults her); she has a growing awareness that she is indeed angry and most certainly the victim of unfair treatment. And not just from her husband.

The book takes its title from this husband's derogatory remark about the book club the women found, and it's through this book club they bond. The book is told from the different women's perspectives, each taking turn to host book club meetings (they skip "hostess" in favor of "host," convinced by the activist's argument about the discriminating implications of such gendered terms, though one member takes offense against the feminist turn against the semantics and the feminine). Here they talk, about the book and their lives, while they drink martinis, smoke cigarettes, and eat savory food that they all contribute to, potluck style. They share lots of good laughs and some cries. They find community and a sense of belonging; they find themselves. 

I'm not even halfway done yet, and so while Lilly's still napping, I'm going to go curl up in bed now with my book! Check it out; it's worth it!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

temper tantrums: how do you deal with them

I bond with the moms I can share the hard times with. I feel out of place when I'm at the play-ground and all the moms there seem so happy, leaving me with a "have a good rest of the day now" as they cheerfully gather their kids to go home. Lilly's reached the terrible twos with its awful temper tantrums, and any outing involves the risk of a body flung to the ground, "no!" She doesn't want to go. Or she insists we go.

Returning to the yoga mat and heart-to-heart conversation with good friends help me regain perspective and some inner calm as I set and maintain the boundaries, over and over and over again. and again. Hold the space for her while she throws herself on the floor, screaming, throwing, kicking. Reminding myself of Catherine Newman's hilarious portrayal of parenting a two-year old in Waiting for Birdy, or Thelma Harms's wise "12 Building Blocks of Discipline" which emphasize realistic expectations from toddlers, that we don't overreact, and that we be patient with our children and ourselves. That we express love and catch our children "being good" as much as we correct. Other building blocks include setting up a safe environment and sensible limits, that we strive to perform predictable behavior and communicate clearly with our body, intonation and words.

But it's hard. It's hard at the house, it's hard at the mall, it's hard at the play-ground, it's just plain hard everywhere.

Friday, August 6, 2010

summer of sick

Whereas my husband and I took turns writing and being with our daughter, Lilly, last year, it's been me all summer while he's submitting job applications and working on his thesis that's due November 15. Starting out, I was so excited to have full days with her again and not just a couple of mornings (with one of those at the library for a lap-sit class, the other alternately at yoga or watching my friend's daughter while my friend went to yoga) and three afternoons (mostly filled wit me attempting to help her nap, then recovering from that, were she to nap, before making dinner). I pictured more time in the garden, playing around in the yard, and hanging out on our porch, going to the beach at the various city lakes, swimming at the pool, attending a music and movement class for my daughter, BBQs with friends, etc.

We've had quite a bit of time in the garden, more so before it got so buggy. And after she stopped running out into the street or our neighbor's yard all the time, that got to be pretty good. Except for that stretch of time when she would gleefully pick stuff that wasn't meant to be picked (we're still working on that one, but it's getting better).

And we've definitely spent more time on the porch, except when it's too hot and muggy (still need to pick up a good vent to circulate the air). But when it's nice out, it's my favorite place to hang.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

personality types affect women's approach to childbirth

Susan Maushart, author of The Mask of Motherhood, discusses how women who delay motherhood may have a harder time adjusting than their younger peers. As a first-time mom at the age of 35, I can relate to this. I landed a tenure track position when I was 26, completed my Ph.D. when I was 27, obtained tenure and promotion before I turned 32, and had my first sabbatical the following year. I was able to accomplish many things, yet I always complained that there wasn't enough time in the day to do all the stuff I wanted.

As a new mom to an infant, I discovered the brutal reality of no time in the day to do anything for me by myself.

But now a new study reported here by the guardian.co.uk, suggests it wasn't just my age and the time I had had to pursue a career and get comfortable with my own space and routines that made motherhood hard for me; my personality type also seems to have something to do with it.

Apparently, high levels of "extroversion," "agreeableness" and "neuroticism" seem to accelerate the desire of a woman to have a child. Conversely, high "conscientiousness" and "openness" are associated with delaying childbirth.

(Photo: Alamy)

As someone who valued being well-organized and self-disciplined to get where I got, and who vowed never to let traditional gender roles confine me, I can see how I fit this study's findings:

"Those who scored highly on conscientiousness tended to follow the rules, to be reliable, well-organised and self-disciplined. Openness reflected an individual's tendency to unconventionality and intellect. Open-minded women tend to enjoy being unattached, free, not tied to people, places, or obligations – and may be rebellious."

the spirituality of parenting

Public radio's Krista Tippett recently interviewed rabbi Sandy Sasso for a program on Tippett's Speaking of Faith show titled "The Spirituality of Parenting." I highly recommend it. For a transcript of the interview, click here, or to download, listen to the program and find more resources, including a discussion guide to continue the conversation, click here. Below is a blurb about the program from the program's website:

"How do parents and grandparents nurture the spiritual and moral awareness of the children in our lives? Rabbi Sandy Sasso has written books that help children and adults of many backgrounds discuss religion and ethics together. The spiritual life, she says, begins not in abstractions, but in concrete, everyday experiences we are already encouraging in our children — for example, reading."

A friend and fellow mama recommended these books to me when I mentioned the program to her: Parenting Beyond Belief, god bless the gargoyles, and The Three Questions.

cuddles from mom make braver babies

Yesterday, I took my two-year-old daughter over to a friend and her six-year-old son to attempt a playdate between the two, and an opportunity for my friend and I to talk a little. Despite the age difference, it went fairly well. He got to demonstrate several of his acrobatic feats, many of his favorite toys, books, and movies, and all the while he talked up a storm in his high-pitched voice while climbing sofas, shelves, kitchen counters and tables. I was amazed at his frenetic energy level, and how calm my friend stayed.

She, on the other hand, was impressed by my endurance when I told her about my daughter's frequent need to nurse and be near me, say in bed at night, or when I'm in the bathroom for my morning routine or in the kitchen cooking.

Yes, it really can get taxing to nurse a 2+ child, especially when she likes to twist herself around me as she pulls on a wad of my hair and moves her head in any and all directions while still sucking. But I also cherish our physical closeness, and with me as her harbor, she's always displayed a fearless sense of physical adventure when we're out and about and among others.

Now there's evidence that "Maternal affection - how much mom cuddles her baby- makes a big difference in how mentally stable that child will be later in life."

 (Photo: B. Coila)

A new study reported here in the examiner.com "looked at 482 people over 34 years and found that babies who received a high level of maternal affection had significantly lower rates of anxiety, hostility, and general distress when they grew up."

Furthermore, "a 2004 rat study in Nature Neuroscience introduced the concept that maternal affection changes the structure of DNA in the hippocampus of the brain. In that study, this change in the brain make the offspring braver and better protected from stress as adults."

"The take-home idea behind all of this is that moms may actually be changing their babies' brains for the better with every cuddle, hug, kiss and nuzzle. So don't worry about spoiling your baby with too much affection. Instead, remember that you're building baby's brain with every cuddle." (examiner.com)
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