Monthly Archives: August 2012

Literacy’s Highly Underrated /f/ Word

“Would you like green eggs and ham? Would you like them, Sam I am?”

“There’s a wocket in my pocket!”

Dr. Seuss was a genius, pulling young children into his colorful, adventurous stories by playing with words. It turns out, the ability to hear sounds in words and manipulate them is one of the most important skills for literacy development. This makes him doubly cool in my book- his stories draw children in with whimsy while simultaneously reinforcing part of the very skill that will allow them to someday read books on their own.

Rhyming is just one component of phonological awareness. It also includes being able to hear individual words within sentences, break apart compound words, segment syllables, blend sounds into words and hear individual sounds within a word. (Moving in difficulty from larger chunks of sounds to the individual sounds and then being able to manipulate those individual sounds.)

With all the focus on learning the names of the letters of the alphabet, one might think this was more important than the sounds in words for literacy development. Amazingly enough, one could technically learn to read without knowing the names of letters. However, if one has difficulty hearing the sounds in words, reading will be incredibly difficult and require special instruction. In fact, the inability or decreased ability to detect sounds in words is a main component of dyslexia. “The best predictor of reading difficulty in kindergarten or first grade is the inability to segment words and syllables into constituent sound units.”* It is truly the sounds that matter. They provide the foundation.

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Two boys on a beach. On a beach! Where’ my ____? (Did you say leech or peach or something else? I say margarita.)

To be able to read a child must be able to assign a particular sound to a letter, and eventually to a group of letters. This is a completely arbitrary task for kids who can’t do this. They either become gifted sight word readers (unusual) or very frustrated (more common). Therefore, a child is typically not ready to read if they can’t hear individual sounds in words. For example, they should be able to discern that the word “cat” is composed of three sounds: /k/ /æ/ /t/. Blended sounds (like /bl/, /dr/, /br/, /sl/, etc…) are harder to break apart and will come later. English makes all of this more difficult because it doesn’t assign just one letter to each sound. Instead, we have /f/ represented by f and ph, and all the other ridiculous spellings like -ow, -igh, and -ough.

(A litte side rant. I have had several clients and friends tell me their kids’ teachers denied that dyslexia even existed. This makes me fume because it means many kids with less persistent parents don’t get the help they need. Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. It most definitely exists. I have diagnosed it, worked with kids with mild to severe challenges, and taught them phonological awareness only to see them begin to read after years of intense struggling. If a teacher or someone else tells you that dyslexia isn’t possible for your child, seek other opinions. They are wrong- it’s certainly a possibility. If you suspect your child has difficulty with phonological awareness, please seek help from a speech-language pathologist. The sooner the better. Early intervention can make an enormous difference. Early treatment can be what allows your child to view reading and spelling as something they can do and enjoy. Otherwise, sadly, reading runs the risk of becoming a massive, painful, seemingly impossible, embarrassing hurdle. But, it’s never too late for good intervention to make a difference.)

Kids who are typically developing will naturally improve their phonological awareness skills. So, this isn’t something I would recommend parents rush with kids- the progression happens with time. Because hearing sounds in words is a precursor to reading, I think some parents who highly value early reading skills might want to speed things along. There’s really not much point in that. Just like you can’t make a baby crawl until they’re ready. Once they’re crawling, sure- encourage them. Give them plenty of opportunity. Put them on hills and on grass. But, seriously, don’t move their arms and legs to try to force the issue when they can’t even hold their head up yet.

So, with that caveat, how do you celebrate phonological awareness while reading to and playing with kids? (Celebrate? What?! Well, I guess I want to promote the idea that this is just as worthy of cheering for as walking. Playing around with these skills is the language equivalent of encouraging a kid to walk on uneven ground.) Learning the alphabet letter names is cool and all, but kids get inundated with it from the alphabet song, Sesame Street, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and tons of other shows and books. Apart from the rhyming books, there are not many popular mediums that focus on actively playing with sounds.

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I’m on a beach holding a worm. It’s not a worm, you silly, it’s ___? (Kelp! But you want to say something else, right?)

To help fill that gap, here are some ideas for fun ways to integrate activities that promote phonological awareness into your play and reading times:

*Play rhyming games. Oh, trust me, I know how old this can get. But it is soooo good for your kids! Charlie loves this one that (I think) he made up: “I have a friend named tenguin who loves to play with his penguin.” “I know a girl named Zoga who continuously does yoga.” Charlie and all willing adults and peers in his vicinity take turns making up the rhymes. We have been playing this game for a year and a half. We are patient souls and usually trapped in our car. I think Harry and I usually cut him off after about ten or twenty rounds of rhymes these days but he’d probably go on for hours and we just can’t take it anymore. (Grandparents, come visit soon!)

*While reading books that rhyme, pause and allow your child the chance to guess at what word rhymes with the previous phrase. When your child can guess correctly, they are likely using the stories context (pictures) as well as the words they’ve heard to choose a correct rhyming word. For example, “Would you like it with a fox? I would not like it with a fox. Would you like it in a [pause]…” They will see the pictured box on the page and with this cue, as well as the previously heard “fox”, kids at this level of development with phonological awareness will be able to guess correctly.

*With kids as young as two, you can start playing silly word games that help them focus on the differences in words. Miles loves little games like “Bear is going to eat your toes! Bear is going to eat your nose!” in which a stuffed animal playfully goes after his body. I can pause and let him pick the body part. I can throw some completely made-up word in to make him giggle even more. “Bear’s going to eat your flippity-flop!” I’ll pause, look at him, and then say “Flippity-flop?! What’s that?! Maybe he wants your blippity-blop. No? Slippity-slop? etc…”

*Develop a sense of rhythm through music, musical books, books with rhyming and books with cadence. Sing, dance, shake a rattle, shake your bootie. Songs that provide opportunity for children to fill in a word, like “Old McDonald” are really enjoyable for them. “Old McDonald had a [pause]”. After hearing that song a lot, both our boys like to fill in that gap as early as 18-months. You can build on their listening skills by throwing in your own silly make believe animal and crazy noises every once in awhile. “Old McDonald had a zlug.”

*This website has about a million other activities at various levels.

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Doesn’t feel so very far, until it’s two hours in a car. Rhyming here, rhyming there. Thank goodness we’re done. Soaking in the sun.

If you don’t know where your kid is at with these skills, start with the easiest activities. Keeping an eye on their level of frustration is also a good guideline. If they’re having enjoying themselves, laughing at times and a little bit challenged, you’re probably at an appropriate level. If they’re frustrated, back up a little bit or provide them more examples. Truth is, many of these skills will probably come one way or another if your child doesn’t have any developmental challenges. Again, I wanted to share this information not to get people to try to rush the process and get their kids reading by three, but to help you understand the foundation that needs to be in place before you begin reading activities.

Last warning. I am not an advocate of “drill and kill” types of activities and there’s always the chance a well-meaning parent, worried about literacy, will take playful activities and make them obligatory- something that needs to be checked off each day. I think this should be fun and if it’s not, take a step back. If you’re stressed about your kids learning these skills, I suggest that you might have concerns your child isn’t learning what they should be or with as much pleasure as others. Seeking professional help might give you the ease you need- either because your child is getting services to help them develop these skills or you were told all is progressing as expected. If you have a four year old who doesn’t find rhyming fun, doesn’t make up rhymes, and doesn’t seem to “get it”, I highly recommend having a speech-language pathologist screen or evaluate their phonological awareness skills.

One of my next posts will be about teaching kids how to read. If you have any specific questions you’d like me to address, please leave them in the comments section.

*Lyon, G. R. (1995). Toward a definition of dyslexia. Annals of Dyslexia, 45, 3-27

Julia’s Lesson

This week, and Wednesday in particular, the food blogosphere was filled with posts honoring what would’ve been Julia Child’s 100th birthday. Lots of people cooked her recipes, shared them online and wrote about how she’d inspired them. This short article includes some hilarious clips of her with whole chickens sitting in a row and a burnt souffle. I have enjoyed what I know of this legendary woman. I admire her no nonsense approach and willingness to fight for a woman’s place in many male-dominated scenes, all the while taking herself lightly. But what I like most is that she encouraged more people to enjoy cooking. I am sure that in some tiny, indirect way she is responsible for helping me learn to love making food.

My journey with cooking has been relatively short, with the biggest exploration period occurring after I had children and became a stay at home mom. Feeding kids four to five times a day will lead one to either embrace or disdain cooking. (Or buy a lot of processed food. Lord knows, we’ve bought our share fruit bars, bunny crackers and the booty of pirates.) I don’t recall cooking or baking much of anything while I lived under my parents’ roof. We were never expected to and I don’t think I had much of an interest. I had a few close girlfriends in high school who could bake pretty well and I was intimidated by their skills. My mom faithfully cooked us dinner every night, almost always putting out a “rounded” meal of meat, veggies, starch and fruit. (Bless her. The amount of work and commitment to satisfy three growing children and a tall active husband, all while running her own business, astounds me.) It was very special and unusual for us to go out to eat. We packed sandwiches for every long outing and vacation lunches were almost always pulled out of the packed cooler. I really appreciate that I grew up with this example. While my parents were primarily committed to the budget, they inadvertently spared us a lot of fast food and provided more nutritious meals.

I very clearly remember my trepidation when I was asked to cook dinner during my first months as an exchange student in the Netherlands. I only knew how to cook from recipes and wasn’t even really comfortable with that. So, give me a recipe written in Dutch (which I was still very new to), different standards of measurement , someone else’s kitchen and you get a seriously nervous 18 year old whipping up a barely edible plate of spaghetti for a family used to regularly consuming amazing gourmet meals. (Oh, what I’d give to spend a few months in that home now. Mussels every weekend! Delicious wine! Outstanding company. Aaaahhh. I had no clue how good I had it.) While they ate the meal and were incredibly kind, that family and my future host families never asked me to cook again. Word must’ve traveled through the village pretty quickly.

Harry and I spent the first half of our marriage eating a lot of pasta doused with jarred sauce, frozen gyoza over rice covered with jarred teriyaki sauce, canned soups and other frozen, prepared meals that one could buy in bulk at Costco. We rarely cooked anything of substance from scratch. We made salads, but always bought the dressing. I made occasional cookies or brownies that weren’t from a box, but admittedly even home baking was rare.

The stats on American food consumption let me know that chances are exceptionally high that many reading this eat like that now. Maybe not all of the time, but most of the time. I truly do not judge you. I’ve been there and I understand how high the first few cooking hurdles can feel. And how disappointing it is when you trip over one, ruining an expensive piece of meat or vegetable dish you labored over.  I also know that many people are stretched to the max these days and it’s hard to imagine cooking delicious ingredients as something possible when you’re living paycheck to paycheck. (If this is the case for you, have you seen this? Maybe it provides some encouragement.)

Prior to having Charlie we got a lot of our higher education debt paid off and felt a little more financial freedom, so we went out to eat a little more often and began exploring places with fresh ingredients put together in unique ways. Our friends began to cook better. We began to try more complicated recipes when we had friends over. We were developing our taste for freshness and depth of flavor. (I consider this period the beginning of our “palate cleansing.” I really think we needed to be free of all the additives, obscene amounts of sugar added to food, preservatives and other chemicals to fully appreciate the nuances of fresh food.)

Then, we moved. We left the diverse, delicious beauty of Seattle’s food world and entered suburbia, surrounded by chain restaurants. Time and again we were disappointed by our meals coming from those places. We stopped going, saving our pennies to only eat at more expensive places in Boulder. I also longed for fresher ingredients for cooking. My master gardener father-in-law built me raised beds at our new house and mentored me through my first seasons of vegetable gardening. I had vegetables coming out of my ears, thanks to him. Colorado heat and sunshine were helpful, too. (My cherry tomatoes are still not ripe, folks.)

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Our Colorado home softened with some veggies. The first planting: cool weather crops in front.

Then the economy crashed, Harry had started a business that didn’t provide us any income and I only worked part-time on-call. His job hunt ended up taking months. I worked as much as possible, we depleted our savings and had to borrow money from family. It was a stressful time yet we knew that we were very privileged to have a wide safety net that eased our burden. We had tightened our belts as snug as they could get. Clearly, no more restaurants or outings for entertainment. We stopped buying juice, alcohol, meat, coffee, and lots of other “extras” like chips. I wanted to prioritize healthy food in our budget and not eat Ramen noodles. Plus, we had a child to think of and I wasn’t about to feed Charlie tons of junk. So, I began to cook a lot more. The first year of our vegetable garden yielded enough vegetables for us to not buy any from mid-summer until mid-fall. Additionally, this forced me to expand my zucchini repetoire from sweet bread to actual meals of substance. (Zucchini fritters, zucchini gratin, zucchini fritatta, grilled zucchini…need more ideas?)

This marked the beginning of my journey as a home cook! I am really proud of how far I’ve come and everything I’ve learned. I still get nervous trying new techniques and dishes, but I’m much more willing to try my hand at them. I’m also able to wing quite a few dishes now, building a meal from what we have on hand. Hitting that point has been incredibly satisfying because I waste less food, spend less money and get to experience cooking as more of an art than a science. I really love that creative outlet in the midst of what could otherwise be a monotonous “task.”

Julia's LessonMy first rustic tart: Kim Boyce’s apricot boysenberry galette. I even made the apricot jam for it- my first! I procrastinated starting the dough for days because I was so nervous.Two hurdles jumped! Woo-hoo!

Earlier this week, inspired by that fantastic tomato sauce I’ve mentioned before,  I created my very own stovetop lasagna dish. I realize that this isn’t some amazing invention, but I’m proud that I was willing to attempt something completely new to me without a template. It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t  been forced into a corner a bit. I had fresh lasagna noodles on hand but didn’t want to turn the oven on because it was hot in our house. I have no idea what I was thinking buying fresh lasagna noodles in summer. It was a definite impulse buy. Seattle’s having a heat wave. Unlike the rest of the nation, this is our first steady set of days in the high 80s and low 90s. We all get excited, people skip work to soak in the sun. But, after a few days we bitch and moan about how hot it is and long for the cold, gray days of fall so we can drink our delicious hot coffees without sweating. I’m not kidding. I join the chorus now and then.

Anyways, I had everything needed for a roasted vegetable lasagna. My garden is finally starting to donate produce on a regular basis. So, I poured two jars of my favorite strained tomatoes into a big pot, added several large globs of butter, salt, pepper, very finely diced onions, garlic, zucchini and some basil (all from the garden- yay!). I let that simmer while I mixed ricotta with an egg, parmesan, chives and basil from the garden (double yay!), salt and pepper. Then, I rolled each noodle with the cheese filling. Plopped those suckers into the sauce, topped it with some mozzarella and let it gently simmer away until Harry came home. Miles must’ve told me fifty times how yummy dinner was while he covered his face and body with the sauce because his bites were so huge. The whole family loved it. Charlie wanted to know the name, so I called it lasagna roll soup. That needs help, but the dish was a success!

I probably wouldn’t be this adventurous with guests, but I am hoping to get past that. I need to channel Julia’s attitude on a more regular basis. Just why are so many of us fearful to enter the kitchen? I think there are a lot of companies, particularly Big Food, who are heavily invested in making us think cooking is too hard and we “deserve a break.” The advertising messages are sometimes subtle, often not. But they all say essentially the same thing: Cooking is really difficult, not fun, and a burden. Let us make it easier for you. I bought into these lies for a long time. Additionally, I really didn’t believe I had it in me to cook or bake well because I hadn’t practiced in my younger years and had experienced enough flops to feel frustrated by it all.

Below are some cookbooks and websites that I have found helpful during my cooking journey. If you feel bound to the ideas that cooking is too hard, too time consuming or too risky, I hope these help you feel a little more excited and prepared to dive in. Remember Julia. She started without any professional experience, just a love of delicious meals, a desire to learn and a commitment to improve her skills. By the end, she could even handle a burnt souffle with grace. We can see our flops as a failure or choose to be proud of ourselves for trying. The first steps on the journey are the initial reward and the food keeps giving after that. When your kids happily eat vegetables and shout praises about your food, that will be a nice pat on the back, too.

Bon appetit! (Say that like Julia. If you didn’t, try again.)

Resources

Cook’s Illustrated cookbook: The recipes in this cookbook do not concern themselves with nutrition. Not even in the slightest. I like that it shares why certain techniques or recipes were more successful than others during recipe testing. It helps new cooks understand why something works well. There are thousands of recipes, so if you don’t own a cookbook, check this one out from the library and see if it should be your first. It will guide you very gently through all of the basics, like how to grill a burger, make salad dressings, or fry an egg. It also shares a wide range of other interesting dishes, like how to make a simple Indian curry or thai stir-fry. It’s a great launching pad and reference to have on hand. The more comfortable I get in the ktichen, the more likely I am to pull it out for some brief recipe guidelines that I can tweek to my own liking or ingredients on-hand.

In Praise of Leftovers: This food blog launched right when my cooking interest was sparking. Sarah is friends with many of my friends, so I followed along. She first introduced me to the idea of cooking from bits and pieces left on my counter and fridge, helping me move away from recipe dependency. It was her guiding hand that helped me understand I could throw some random raw veggies alongside soba noodles, toss them with a delicious homemade sauce and be thrilled. This was the beginning of my realization that if I had the pantry stocked appropriately, it would always take less time to cook at home than to go to the store, return home and “prepare” a frozen meal or even to buy something already made. She also introduced me to the emergency fritatta. I cook fritattas as a basis for using up aging veggies quite frequently.

Michael Natkin’s Herbivoracious series on making food pop dramatically changed how I approach seasoning. Reading this helped me really begin to understand why certain dishes were so wonderful and others were lacking. I began to use much more salt, including salting my pasta water. (Do it, people! It’s not about keeping pasta from sticking, it’s about taste. Make that water taste like the sea. And buying good pasta will help a lot, too.) I also appreciated his kitchen confidence post.

I love fish but it’s scared me a lot as a home cook because it’s frequently expensive and it’s often delicate. I have found Becky Selengut’s Good Fish book and online videos to be detailed enough to make me feel comfortable. Under her tutelage I’ve successfully shucked oysters, seared scallops (one of my favorite foods), cooked clams, and taken apart squid. Bonus: if you follow her recommendations, you can be sure you’re eating sustainble fish.

Food 52 has a whole series on kitchen confidence and frequently posts interesting recipes and different tricks of the trade. I found today’s post on various pestos an inspiring read. If there’s one thing that grows well in Seattle, it’s kale.

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Cover this with a little bit of fat (oil), vinegar and salt and it will taste divine.

Using Language to Reduce Meltdowns and Tantrums

I am a woman who often likes control and has battled a lifelong tendency towards perfectionism. The more tired or stressed I am, the more calm and collected I want things to be. My first time trying something new usually stresses me out because I don’t want to mess up or not do as well as I’d hoped. The first hurdle is always the hardest for me and then I usually glide along until I hit a new, bigger one or see the finish line. I’ve learned that this part of me is quite rooted in anxiety. I am also self-classified as a “highly-sensitive person”, which plays itself out in a variety of ways, including me being very aware of how everyone around me is feeling and anticipating problems and needs before they arise. There’s a lot more to say about all that, but now I just give you this hint of my background to help you understand a bit of why I have even thought of these things to begin with.

So, toddlers and young children who are tantrumming stress me out a bit, particularly my own. Especially when we’re not sleeping well at night.

Having had a lot of experience with children, and having studied child development- mainly communication skills- I foresaw a few of the developmental hurdles that would be particularly challenging as my first baby turned toddler. I knew turn-taking could be really tough. I also knew delayed gratification and waiting for certain toys or food would be hard. Lastly, I knew how frequently a child’s lack of understanding could cause a communication breakdown which would usually result in that child getting upset or tantrumming.

Using Language to Reduce Meltdowns and Tantrums

( Don’t let his sweetness fool you. He doesn’t want to share. Not even with the monkeys.)

So, when Charlie was six to nine months or so, I started modeling language for him to help him understand the concept of taking turns. I wanted to provide the words and concept before the problem had actually come to fruition. The scenario would be something like this:

Me (while holding drumsticks, ready to show him my awesome skills): “Mama’s going to drum!”*

Charlie watches and eventually expresses an interest by babbling or trying to grab the drumsticks or squealing with excitement.

Me: “Ok! Charlie’s turn!”

Charlie gets to drum away.

Me (pick up maracas): “I’m going to shake my maracas.” Oh, yeah.

Charlie stops drumming and requests the maracas.

Me: “Ok, first mama, then Charlie.” I shake them a little longer, making him hold out a bit, but keeping the interaction positive and successful. “Charlie’s turn! Can mama have a turn with the drums again?”

We trade. You get the idea.

Basically, I made taking turns fun. I emphasized the words “turn” and “first X, then Y.” And I would model this language for him a lot. Babies and toddlers need tons of repetition to learn something. You will be bored with it long before they are. (Have you hidden a book yet because you just can’t read it again? We have several that go into hiding for a month or two.)

Later, when Joey wants to play with Charlie’s trains, Charlie can understand that Joey wants a turn and then he will get a turn again. I can remind him with that language he’s heard over and over again, “First Joey gets a turn, then Charlie.” He doesn’t think the world is going to end when his train leaves his hands. Because kids think this. They crumble to pieces thinking they have lost their favorite train forever. And life without Thomas would be so, so sad. It’s like how I feel if you take my chocolate truffle, except I know I won’t see that truffle again. Please don’t do this to me.

I would bet that teaching the “first, then” concept has probably been our most effective language-based** tantrum reducer. Young children have such a hard time understanding that something is still going to happen even though something else needs to take place first. Plus, waiting is really freakin’ hard. So, they hear playground!, get totally excited to go and then absolutely freak out when you try to get them dressed first. You can remind them, “First clothes on, then playground.” It also provides awesome leverage for when kids hate getting changed, dressed, into car seats or strollers or other strapped in devices. “First car seat, then FUN (toy, food, music, high-five)!” “First diaper, then soccer!”

This is best taught in playful ways, just like turn-taking, and integrated into all your normal everyday situations. “Oooh, first we get to eat carrots (as you set them down), then I’m going to cut some cheese slices!” It can be as simple as playing with blocks (“First I’m using the red block, then I’m stacking the blue block”) or airplane (“First, on my feet, then, up in the air!”).

Please don’t get me wrong. I may not like tantrums, but I also understand that there is a time and place for children to experience disappointment and have to learn boundaries. I don’t try to shield my children from all challenges. I don’t think I’d be doing them any favors by sparing them disappointment and obstacles. But, I find that normal life scenarios bring up plenty. People get sick, budgets constrain, weather prevents plans, toys break, mom doesn’t let you use the chef’s knife, food doesn’t taste as we hope, etc… None of us need to add extra challenges during regular, routine moments like leaving a fun place or getting into a car if a little talking through it at their level will help.

Additionally, we have expectations for our boys. They both clean up after themselves and help out around the house and yard. Even at two-years old, Miles knows how to clean up and actually has been able to (to a degree) for a year! He doesn’t always want to, but he can do it with most of his toys and will usually come around if we structure it right. (“Let’s clean up so we can go ride our scooters before bedtime!” We have to be willing to have that awful, sad moment of him not getting to go ride his scooter on occasions that he doesn’t pitch in, but you can bet that’s all he needs to do it from them on, at least for a week or two.) It’s all about motivation and consistency.

I’d probably be very rich if I could guarantee this will work 100% of the time. It won’t. You know that, I’m sure. But, if children are well-rested and well-fed, this strategy will help mitigate and decrease the number of less than pleasant moments that make you want to pull your hair out and wear earplugs.

*Maybe you’re wondering why the heck I am not using pronouns talking to babies and young toddlers. Pronouns are pretty confusing to little ones- they really don’t understand them. I’ve found that their comprehension is aided by using proper names for the first year, often first two. If you’re keyed into your child’s understanding, you’ll know when switching back to “I” and “you” isn’t a problem for them. And, please, for the sake of all our ears, switch back. Nothing’s weirder than somebody talking to a four year old this way.

**Best ways to prevent tantrums: feed your children healthy food on a regular schedule, make sure you children get the sleep they need. These are pretty hard to argue with. Meals, naps, and bedtimes are ridiculously sacred in our house.

A Hiatus to Grieve

Even though my first post was just a few months ago, I began the process of writing this blog five years ago. Truly. Since becoming a mom I’ve pondered sharing how my professional training in speech-language pathology has enhanced my experience of motherhood. I’ve probably drafted fifty posts in my brain. I’ve discussed it a bazillion times (I think my oldest considers this a real number) with my very patient husband and close friends. It just took me ridiculously long to get over my hurdles of perfectionism, anxiety and self-doubt and take the giant leap.

My primary hope for this blog is that it brings anyone who interacts with children on a regular basis more pleasure in that experience, as well as helping build a better relationship for the dyad through opening up the communication pathways. I hope to relieve some of the stress by providing a few strategies that help with communication struggles. I’d be thrilled if storytimes transformed from a struggle to a joy. Same with mealtimes. Basically, it boils down to this: I know how incredibly hard caring for children day in and day out can be and I am hoping to lighten the load.

My goal is to post weekly but I don’t want to be a slave to the blog and start posting inane contributions just to keep it going. I value your time. I value my time. But, I do feel that pressure. So, the fact that I haven’t posted in several weeks stresses me out a bit.

It’s not that I haven’t written. I have actually spent hours writing. Most of that time was spent angrily venting my thoughts after the Aurora shooting. Coming so close on the heels of the Seattle shootings (Cafe Racer is close to our house and the other spot downtown was close to where Miles and I were at the time), and being in my homestate near the homes of several college friends’ parents, I felt this deeply. I dropped more than a few f-bombs and sat on it for a week, realizing this is not the place for that. There are many excellent journalists who have shared my viewpoint far more articulately with much better research. So, I took action instead- signed a few petitions and emailed legislators.

But even prior to the shootings I was questioning aspects of this blog and feeling hesitant to write. A friend of mine, whom I deeply care about and respect, wrote this about parenting advice. I completely agree with her point about grieving and it was something I needed to read at just that time. I was wrapping up several weeks of dealing with increased anger and impatience towards the boys and Harry, unable to pinpoint why. Her post encouraged me to sit with it a bit and I ended up balling in Harry’s arms a few days later, crying about a variety of things I’d bottled up for far too long. But I needed to think awhile about the rest of her post and why I was hit so hard by it that I didn’t want to post here.

Basically, the last thing I want to do is make “parents everywhere feel like shit.” I know the judgment facing parents.I have sat in that boat, wondering why someone would act a certain way or horrified by a parents’ harsh words towards their kid, and considered that adult less because of it. Now, on my better days, I still think those thoughts but it’s tempered with more grace, compassion and understanding. I realize that I have no idea why someone might be acting that way. Given how much privilege I’ve experienced, chances are their life is much, much harder than mine. I also know that I don’t even come close to knowing it all. There are so many aspects of parenthood that are so ridiculously hard, to think that we have all the answers would be idiotic. Lastly, I am deeply aware of how lost sleep can turn a well-meaning loving mom into a mean ogre. After having Miles, particularly in the first year(s) when we were incredibly sleep deprived, I became the craziest looney on the block. Dr. Harvey did not help me. I was losing my marbles. I was really quick to anger with Charlie, who was at that lovely irrational age of 3.5. I was haunted by all the advice against letting younger babies cry but knew how desperately we needed to be sane. But I could only talk with a few very trusted people about it because of fear of judgment.

So, today’s post is simply to ask that you help keep me in line. If you’re feeling judged or inadequate because of something I write, please let me know. I do not want to go there. My desire is to be a place of inspiration. If you need encouragement in communicating with your little one in a certain way, please let me know. I might have some ideas that may help. This is not to say that I don’t have strong opinions about issues. I do. Oh, yes I do. But, my hope is that you’ll know when my opinions and advice are perfect for you and when you can leave them behind. Or maybe you just need to chew on things for a little bit and re-evaluate later.

In the meantime, I am taking my friend’s advice (I see the irony) to continue grieving while disregarding her advice to not take advice (and in my case, share it). My comment on her blog included this: 

 I really agree with the spirit of this- a parent’s healing needs to be a progression and grieving happens as a life-long process. One thing I notice about parenthood is that my grief, as it comes in waves, absolutely (deeply!) impacts my parenting style. My anger can surprise me with how quickly it will swell and then be directed at my kids. This shock sends me reeling to my books or favorite articles for reminders and ideas that get me through until I’ve had the time and space to properly understand the trigger. Parenthood just doesn’t allow the luxury to reflect during a moment. Those tips can help buy time.
I feel like I am a pretty good judge of what to take or leave. Some of it is crap. Some is fantastic. Some is neither here nor there. As far as development stuff goes (like language), I love learning about child development. My degree in speech-language pathology has made parenting much more FUN. Understanding development better has made my experience much richer. I know how to meet my boys at their level. I can connect much better with them. I wouldn’t have this without a stronger knowledge base. It’s 100% enrichment.
There’s definitely a difference between knowledge and advice. Knowledge allows a place of empowerment from which one can grow and flex along with the relationship’s journey. Advice will sometimes be more rigid and wrong for some, and sometimes be just fine.

I am remembering my own issues and talking more about them, instead of shoving them aside. I am taking steps to care for myself better. I am reading the stories about the theatre victims with amazement at those people who acted out of tremendous love and courage that night. I am reading the stories about Seattle’s Cafe Racer reopening, with the owner embracing a commitment to continued community for that spot. I am smiling and saying hi to the people I pass because it’s a lonely, lonely world sometimes. I am chasing my children around the house while wearing a colander on my head because we all need a laugh. I am letting Miles harvest carrots that are one inch long because he thinks it’s fun and it helps me hold my garden more open-handedly. I am inviting people into my home even though the toilets might be gross and the kitchen floor hasn’t been mopped since June. I am going to keep writing. I don’t want my anxiety of potentially offending someone to stop me from sparking any good that might come from sharing ideas. And I’m thinking about the next nugget of knowledge I’ll share with you.