Category Archives: Babies and Toddlers

Pie on wheels

Hands down, the best purchase I’ve made since having kids is our cargo bike. She’s been my right-hand gal over six months now, helping me transport the boys to school, haul groceries, fetch library books, and complete other supremely routine aspects of my life. With her assistance, the monotonous became an adventure. (Yes, she’s female. I still need to name her, though. The boys once suggested Rudolph, and as much as I appreciate the story parallels, I couldn’t embrace Rudolpha or Rudolphina. Suggestions welcome! She’s black with red bags and strong as a horse. Lucille? Annie? Cherry Pie? Rhubarb? Oooh, maybe Rudy!)

Now, cue Mary Poppins singing “Let’s go fly a kite” except substitute “Let’s go ride a bike.” Nearly every time I hop on I sing that song (in my head, though I’m probably a decade away from singing out loud.) Bike rides bring out my inner musical like just about nothing else. The only conditions that block the earworm from entering are arguing boys, super wiggly passengers, busy streets, rude or inattentive drivers. (Stop texting, people! Sheesh!) Otherwise, I am ridiculously happy on my bike. I often feel sluggish in the afternoon before going to get the boys but one ride picks me right back up.

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Rain and wind didn’t stop us! I’m not sure we would’ve braved the weather if we hadn’t committed in advance, but we ended up so glad we participated. It was such a fun morning! (Thankfully, the wettest day in over a year happened the NEXT day.)

My first time carrying a bike passenger happened during an exchange student year in The Netherlands. I was eightteen, a recent high school graduate and away from home for the first time ever. Every few months the Rotary exchange students would gather at someone’s village. We’d dance, freely speak our native languages without judgment, and repeatedly consume four ounce glasses of Heineken. We usually ended our nights biking in small groups to homes of kind people willing to host tipsy, homesick foreign teenagers.

One of those nights a Dutch girl (stranger to me) needed a ride to her place. The back rack of my bike was open and I must’ve agreed or couldn’t argue sufficiently given my state. Either way, it was naive of me. Probably her, too. We didn’t get far. I lost my balance as I biked over a canal bridge. Wobbling and shaking, I dumped both the bike and my passenger on the street. I’m glad my Dutch wasn’t stellar at that point, because I was spared comprehension of most of the cuss words she threw my way. I’m certain I confirmed her belief that Americans can’t ride bikes. (I wish I had tallied the number of times I was asked if I could ride a bike during that year. There must be a lot of American tourists dumping bikes in canals or having near misses with trams.)

Thankfully, both my Dutch and my biking skills improved that year. I learned to navigate my way past the Amsterdammers blocking paths without stepping off my bike. I rode 10km from my village, Monnickendam, to my school in north Amsterdam with a group of friends. As I recall, there was always headwind both ways. (Listen up, young whippersnappers!) Biking became second nature and my passport to freedom. Heck, I even learned to adequately transport people while tipsy!

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Most, but not all, of the bikes on the ride. Notice Madi’s bike on the top left with the bike teeter-totter strapped on, aka her “sail” on the windy day.

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Cargo bike decks act as portable tables, too. After consuming his 3.14 pies, Miles resigned himself to apples and cheese.

Biking with my boys has reminded me of the free spirit and sense of adventure I felt while living in Holland. Last Saturday, our family celebrated Pi Day with a big group of other families on a Kidical Mass bike ride. Charlie and Harry biked themselves. I carried Miles, his balance bike, twenty-something blueberry turnovers, apples, bread, cheese, a towel, and water bottles. It felt easy, which was definitely not the case six months ago and such a great realization. (I’ll write another post about my journey towards comfort with this bike.)

For the past few years I was scared to death of biking with the boys in the city but missing riding more and more. I was the quintessential Wendy, willing but wary. I began searching the internet for inspiration from Seattle families. Madi, the Queen of Seattle family biking and author of the soon to be published Urban Cycling, inspired me to start seriously considering a cargo bike. (Check out her Instagram photos. The woman could carry a small house on her bike. Oh, and her pictures from Pi day are here!) Each little glimpse into her world encouraged me to be more courageous. If she could tackle Seattle’s hills, relatively poor (but improving!) cycling infrastructure, rainy days and less than biker-friendly driving culture with two kids on board, I could get there, too. It was a slow warming period, but with her help and the support of Seattle’s Family Biking facebook group, I jumped on board.

In honor of the freedom wheels bring, full-circle moments, and opportunity to indulge in buttery pastries, I was excited to celebrate the day with a special treat on board. Here’s a very minimally adapted turnover recipe from Dorie Greenspan. Hers calls for apples and are a bit larger. I made mine smaller because I didn’t want any tiny riders to be pie deprived, nor did I want to double the recipe.

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Hi-vis jacket courtesy of my road biking days made it easy to spot the pies. Did the trick this rainy, windy day! The Green Lake wading pool hosts bike rodeos in the off season.

 

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Flaky Blueberry Turnovers

Slightly adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s turnover recipe in Baking, makes ~20-24 hand pies

Dough
  • 1 cup full fat sour cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 sticks (12 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Filling
  • 1 to 2 jars thick blueberry jam (I used St. Dalfour Wild Blueberry)

Aesthetics

  • 1 large egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water, for egg wash
  • Turbinado or Demerara sugar (or other coarse, thick sugar), for sprinkling

To make the dough, stir the sour cream and sugar together and set aside. Whisk the flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter pieces into the flour, using a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingers. Work the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse meal. It is better to have an uneven mix than an overworked dough, and keeping the butter cold is important, so don’t worry about being too thorough. Using a lifting and tossing motion with a fork, gently work in the sour cream. The dough will be very soft.

Divide the dough in half. Put each half in a piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic to shape each half into a rectangle. Don’t worry about size or precision. Wrap the dough tightly and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour, or for up to 2 days.

Remove one piece of dough from the fridge and roll it into a rectangle about 9 x 18 inches. The dough is easiest to work with if you roll it between sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap. If you want to roll it traditionally, make sure to flour the rolling surface. Once it’s rolled out, fold the dough in thirds, like a business letter. Wrap it tightly and refrigerate it. Repeat with the second piece of dough, and refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours or up to 1 day.

Once the dough is sufficiently chilled, position the oven racks to divide the oven into thirds, and preheat the oven to 375℉. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats.

Roll out one piece of dough to a thickness of about 1/8 inch, and cut out 3 1/2 inch rounds with a large cutter or the edge of a tartlet pan. (You can change the size and shape of cutter you use. Obviously this will impact your total yield. It may also change the baking time, so plan accordingly.) Repeat with the second piece of dough. Gather the scraps together, chill them, and make additional turnovers to get the full yield. (The turnovers made from scraps will still taste good, they just won’t be as light and flaky as the first round.) You’ll get 8 to 10 rounds from each half of dough.

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Place one teaspoon blueberry jam in the center of each round. Moisten the edges of each round with a little water and fold the turnovers in half, sealing the edges by pressing them together with the tines of a fork. Use the fork to poke steam holes on top, and transfer the turnovers to the baking sheets. (At this point, the turnovers can be frozen. After they firm up in the freezer, wrap them airtight and store for up to two months. Bake them without defrosting, adding a few minutes to their time in the oven.)

Brush the tops of the turnovers with egg wash and sprinkle each one with a pinch of sugar. Bake for about 16-18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 8-9 minutes. When done, the turnovers will be puffed, firm to the touch, and golden brown. Gently transfer them to racks, cool to room temperature, put them in a sturdy container, and secure them in your bike bag.

 

#TBT All consuming

He was absolutely delicious. I wish I could return to his scrumptious Michelin man stage this very moment, nuzzle his bulging belly, squeeze his rolls, and play peek-a-boo with him. I need to borrow a baby. Stat.4704873437_be4cd61b9c_z

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He was the cutest pot of soup to ever exist. He made a damn fine sous chef, too. Those rolls are just the results of breast milk and a serious love for pureed peas, folks. Apparently I produced top notch cream. Now,  he’s nearly five years old and there’s barely any sign of chub on his body.

My baby enters Kindergarten next fall and I’m in the midst of significant inner turmoil about it. I don’t believe in full-day Kindergarten unless it incorporates an enormous amount of play. Sadly, none of our local public schools do that. (Despite what the research says regarding executive functioning and what countries with the best outcomes are doing. Grrr.) That’s why we home-schooled Charlie for Kindergarten. Why should Miles receive less? This brings me enormous angst. We’re not ignoring our beliefs, even though it’s scary. So that feels right.

Knowing there are enormous changes ahead, whatever they may be, I find myself treasuring our alone time more than ever. The way he lays his head on me when we snuggle up to read. His newest compliment, “You’re the best cooker!”, that I’m lucky enough to receive every time I hand him a favorite food. His ability to enter any room and light up it with conversation about the most everyday things simply because he’s so happy to chat at length with any adult who will listen. During yesterday’s bike ride home from school he told me, “We should visit Italy, Mama. Leonardo made a horse out of steel and it still exist-is. [I adore this language error.] First he made one of clay but it melted. His friend Charlie told him he should build one out of metal, so he did. And IT STILL EXIST-IS!!!”

To witness a couple of my favorite videos of his giggles, visit:

The amazing powers of a tissue and fake sneeze

Worse than a chalkboard (don’t watch if you’re a dentist)

On trust

In the comfort of his home, within sight of his Mama and Papa, his confidence and abilities shone. He wasn’t even two, but he used complete sentences to convey the utmost importance of the airplanes flying by, the blue cheese he craved and the trucks he needed to drive around blocks he’d lined up. Utterances were constant, play was complex. There were puzzles to be completed and playgrounds to visit. He’d cry if surprised by the jet-loud roars of our food processor, so I’d try to prepare him for it’s use or wait until he wasn’t around. Otherwise, he rarely showed anxiety at home. It felt easy to respect his needs.

Though aspects of his development were advanced, he wasn’t challenging himself physically as much as his peers. He didn’t walk until he was 15-months. Likely the perfectionist in him, genes courtesy of yours truly, waited until he would not stumble. Slow and steady, calculated and predictable. He observed his toddler buddies ride their balance bikes, climb ladders and zoom down big slides. He developed pretend play routines instead. His playgrounds were bakeries and kitchens, chocolate shops and coffee shops. These themes probably also had something to do with his mother.

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Outside of our home, loud noises, new people or unpredictable kids made him nervous. Hiding behind us or begging to be held, I quickly learned to expect a tug on my pant leg. “Mama, pick me up!” was repeated incessantly until he was safely in my arms. We couldn’t leave him with anyone besides his familiar grandparents. Even with them, we had to sneak out after they provided ample distraction. Every other place we dropped him off paged us back to rescue him. They could never get him to stop sobbing.

At a friend’s son’s second birthday party, he didn’t leave my lap. As things wrapped up, moms encouraged their tots to gather on porch stairs for a picture. I plopped my boy down in their midst, ignoring the discomfort I read in his tense body. I backed away to see if he’d adapt, but of course, his lower lip proceeded to curl downward and he sobbed. I knew he would. I only tried to make him participate because I didn’t want to disappoint my friend and I felt like I needed to show the other moms I at least tried. I retrieved him from the stairs feeling pangs of anger and humiliation. Why wasn’t my kid like the others? Why couldn’t I just chat with the other moms while he played?

This was the first of many times I’d realize my expectations for him in public were different than they were at home. Simply because I wanted him to reflect a certain way on me.

After months of holding him up while other kids jumped into play and rarely getting to drop him off somewhere for a break, I grew to resent this pattern. I also started to worry. Would my little boy always be this needy? Did I baby him too much? Is attachment parenting a surefire route to timidity?

Eventually I began redefining my hopes and expectations. I was learning a new way that I needed to trust his natural development. Just like he learned to walk and talk, roll and and hold a spoon, I needed to believe that his emotional journey would progress in it’s own meaningful way.

4739917866_8b6102c4c6_zIMG_3084Thankfully, as years passed he grew more comfortable without us. He attended preschool with ease. He remained hesitant to participate in most activities beyond that, particularly if they were physical, and we respected his wishes. As a five and six year old, this meant kindly saying no to offers to go to rock climbing birthday parties, join soccer teams, or play at bounce houses.

I began to accept that he may never play a team sport. I began to embrace that he savored his time doing math problems and building towers more than playdates. I grew to love that he preferred to play with girls, engaging in complex play routines instead of climbing trees. I started to let go of my fears of him regularly feeling lonely and isolated.

There was grief in this process. I longed for aspects of motherhood that I didn’t think I would ever experience with him and that was disappointing. I simply began to walk more firmly in the knowledge that it would be far more devastating for him not to be true to himself. Or not believe he’s accepted for who he is.

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My boy keeps surprising me. This past year he jumped right in to his new school despite having only one friend in his class. He eagerly participated in physical games at recess and in PE. He tested for his yellow belt, even choosing to continue sparring after being punched in the face. He happily attended a rock climbing birthday party. Harnessed in, he grabbed the holds and climbed right up without hesitation. As he neared his limit and needed to rappel for his first time, I saw how scared he was. I anxiously anticipated him melting into a pool of tears and loud sobs. Instead, he worked through the fears with with just a little encouragement from the coach. I could not believe it. Any of it. I went to that party envisioning us watching all the other kids from the sidelines, while he felt disappointed by his fears. Instead, he kept climbing higher and higher, confidence growing with each summit. I picked my jaw up off the floor.

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Carried by World Cup excitement, he agreed to soccer camp. It was a huge hit and he begged me to go again before summer ended. At his request, he also played on a team this fall. Despite being the new guy with the least amount of experience, all he wanted was to be on the field. He even enjoyed playing goalie. Balls whizzed past his face by request! It has been wonderful to be shocked by his growth.

I know little to nothing about what’s coming ahead as a parent. These changes in him may swing the other direction. I can certainly count on parenting being unpredictable. Generally, it seems the challenges will surround my ability to grieve and accept. My ability to deal with my own expectations and fears. My ability to cope with the noise, chaos and mess that my energetic (may-as-well-be-on-stimulants) monkeys leave in their wake. Hopefully my ability to make a mean batch of cookies will temper it all a bit.

Every few months something happens in which I have to consciously examine whether or not I’m respecting their journeys and honoring their paths. How much do I believe in their natural emotional development? It seems that only my fears speak against trusting it.

 

Here’s to independence

photo1 It’s been a few weeks, but I’m still thinking about the Fourth of July. I’m not alone. Tonight at bedtime Miles proclaimed, “Fourth of July is when I shoot Fluffy out of my bottom!” Fluffy is Charlie’s favorite stuffed animal, a white cat that survived my childhood but probably won’t theirs. Clearly, it’s going to be exciting here next year. Consider this an invitation to our potluck.

This year we decided to embrace the crowds at Seattle’s biggest Fourth of July event. More significantly, we opted to forego bedtimes. Fireworks are shot off from a barge in Lake Union at 10:15pm, while thousands crowd the shores of Gas Works Park for viewing. (My favorite comment of the night was Miles’, “Fireworks are rockets that shoot lasers!”) We forged our exit with the masses around 11, and then walked a couple miles to get home. Charlie stayed up past midnight, Miles conked out in the stroller somewhere along the way.

For years I would’ve rather gouged myself in the eye with a hot poker than keep them up late. Our exceptionally sleep-sensitive kids would undoubtedly attempt to continue partying throughout the night (the kind of partying that comes with wailing and the need to suck), only to wake at 5:30am for the day. This happened 99% of the nights they missed an hour or two of sleep. Lest you think this ridiculous night-waking would cease after one night, oh no. It would continue for at least a week, likely two, until we got them back “on schedule.”

For some perspective, these days Miles typically heads to bed at 7pm and Charlie around 7:30 or 8. They both usually rise around 6am, 7 at the absolute latest. Every time we’ve tried to push their bedtimes later, they’ve woken up earlier. So, while not worrying about the bedtime schedule was indeed fabulously freeing, the really magical part was that they SLEPT IN next morning. We considered opening a bottle of Champagne. It was 8am.

Until this year we’ve endured Seattle’s very late hours of darkness on Independence Day cringing with each firecracker that popped by our windows, hoping to Jesus that our boys would continue sleeping while simultaneously cussing (in our minds or with each other) at the teenagers setting them off at 2am. The trauma of years of significant sleep deprivation will make one a teensy weensy bit anxious about explosives detonating nearby. Even if the kids slept through the bangs, WE certainly couldn’t. No luxury of earplugs, of course. We needed to hear our babies cry! So, instead we lay in bed with deer-in-the-headlights expressions on our faces, patriotism dwindling by the second.

photo3 By the way, the next time you hear someone giving a parent a hard time about maintaining a schedule, recommend trying this:

1) Lay in bed at 9:30pm. Just as your eyelids start to droop and you fade away, have a partner yell loudly in your ear, simulating a wailing baby. They must yelp for at least ten minutes while you bounce them, pat them, rock them, or walk with them. To be fair, though, it really should be at least twenty minutes. Once they’re quiet, hold them and rock them for at least another ten. (It might feel awkward doing this with an adult. Use a dog or a stuffed animal if you prefer. Or simply remind yourselves, this is all worth it to build empathy!) Next, set them down carefully. Don’t sneeze, fart, burp, sniffle, step on a squeaky floorboard, trip over a toy car, or move your fingers away from their body too quickly as you gently lay them down. If make any startling noise or jostling body movement, start again from the beginning.

2) Repeat the entire routine again in two hours, this time taking time to warm up a bottle and feed the “baby.” (Unless you happen to be randomly lactating, which is odd enough that you should get that checked out.) Once the “baby” is asleep, set your alarm for 2:30am and try to fall asleep even though you know you’ll get two hours more shut-eye at best.

3) At 2:30 complete a half hour of simulated diaper changing, bouncing and shushing. The stuffed animal option is probably best for this.

4) You’re not done yet. Treat yourself to a final wail at 4am that continues until 5. At this point your mind will be racing because you know that you probably only have a half hour left to sleep. You’ll battle with yourself for awhile as to whether or not you should try to sleep more, thus wasting precious time. Eventually, you’ll convince yourself that this will be the day they’ll sleep later, and just as you close your eyes, your partner must babble loudly and immediately demand breakfast. (You now have two children. Just so this this experiment is highly effective.)

5) Repeat this routine nightly until you experience deep compassion for parents of babies who don’t sleep well. If it takes you more than a few nights, borrow someone’s kids to care for during the daytime hours, too. All screentime is off-limits. Grocery shop, do laundry, and cook at least once.

Now you probably get why I’m still thinking about the holiday. My husband and I gained a little independence this Fourth of July. It feels like we just might’ve made it through.

Enter in

In my last post, I mentioned the (fading) tendency for many parents to avoid discussions about any topic that is potentially controversial or dangerous, apart from the obvious “Stranger Danger” talk, which is commonly accepted as suitable for young children’s ears. I have written about talking with kids about race and sex before, but I wanted to follow up. Partly because I keep hearing well-intentioned comments like, “Kids just need to know we’re all special and unique”, and partly because reading about the White Man March made my blood boil–writing here let off some steam. Hordes of parents thoughtfully, respectfully, proactively educating their children about differences among people is the march in which I want to participate.

A study mentioned in NurtureShock’s chapter on “Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race” shared that even in a liberal-leaning city like Austin in 2006, most white parents weren’t talking about race. Not because they didn’t believe it was important, but because they were afraid of saying the “wrong thing.” So, instead of commenting specifically on racial differences, these parents fell back on safe phrases like “everybody’s equal” and “we’re all the same under our skin.”

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One type of ornamental cherry tree blossom–feel free to help me develop my specificity here!

Not all families have the luxury of ignoring specificity. If you’re a family with two moms, it won’t be long before your child takes note that your family structure is less common and inquires about it. Or perhaps an older child will bring it up at the playground first, catching you off guard. Either way, those moms will talk thoughtfully with their child about all the possible combinations of people that may comprise a family. This conversation will continue throughout their lifetime, too, because it’s importance will grow. The same goes for families whose members are of a minority ethnicity, whose child has a disability, who practice an uncommon religion, who are vegan, etc… In fact, I would surmise that conversations about differences are common practice for families who find themselves in just about any type of minority group.

Parents in exceptional situations learn to speak directly to their children regarding the societal attitudes that impact them. This necessity for specifically educating children is even greater if their particular minority group is feared or hated. Those parents know there is an inherent element of risk in just being who they are. To be silent on the topic is to risk allowing their children to internalize the stigmas, face isolation and experience deep pain, let alone experience worst case scenarios like the Trayvon Martin and Matthew Shepherd tragedies. Black parents will have very frank discussions with their sons about how they must carry themselves to avoid danger. White parents do not have to do this. I would not worry if my husband or boys got pulled over by a cop. I would if I were black. Those in the majority groups have the luxury of deciding whether or not to enter the conversation. This is one of countless examples of how majority privilege plays out.

The problem with discussing race and other differences vaguely (“We’re all unique, like snowflakes!”) is that, like adults, kids are not difference-blind. Young children are quite observant of all human characteristics, particularly those that are different than themselves. Even babies as young as six months show they are sensitive to new facial features by staring at pictures of people from unfamiliar ethnicities longer than pictures of people familiar to them. Later, as children age, they become “developmentally prone to in-group favoritism.”¹ This is why by age five and six, most kids begin to prefer playing with the same gender, or at a minimum begin rejecting anything stereotypically associated with the other gender. “I don’t want the pink cup. I’m a boy!” The same goes for race. Even in racially diverse environments, children will begin to naturally segregate into their “known” group whenever possible. Again and again, this happens unless a specific conversation takes place.

Consider how babies and toddlers learn concrete vocabulary. Prior to speaking their first word, babies will understand many words and phrases. They are soaking in all the labels tossed at them during walks, story time, playtime and mealtime. The first time parents realize their child truly knows a word is magical. Baby might have casually heard the word milk and began kicking their legs excitedly and babbling. Parents naturally tune into their child’s ever-growing vocabulary base and begin to stretch it. “Milk? You’re hungry? Ok, time to eat!” Similarly, once parents realize their child understands the word for flower, they will begin labeling specific flowers. Meanwhile, the child’s brain is busy mapping all these new words, figuring out the semantic relationships–what is a category and what is a subcategory, what is a noun and what is an adjective? Eventually they understand that flowers have some things in common (petals, stems, leaves) but that their shapes and color may differ. The same thing needs to happen for kids to understand the differences among people. A tulip does not lose it’s beauty nor value by being labeled more specifically. Nor does a person lose their beauty or value by being labeled appropriately. Rather, understanding differences, and the reasons for them, provides opportunity for greater appreciation.

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Another type of ornamental cherry tree blossom (at the University of Washington quad)

So, I choose to enter the conversation.

Choosing to enter the conversation means I didn’t dodge the awkwardness when my then two-year-old commented that our visiting black friend has “dirty” skin. Instead, I stepped right into the heart of it. (Remember, this is not a mean comment coming from a little kid. My white son knew his fingers got darker after playing in dirt. He knew that his skin is dirty when it’s dark brown, so he was simply applying his truth to someone else.) I said something like, “Oh, Natalie’s skin isn’t dirty. She has brown skin all the time. People have all sorts of different skin colors, and ways their faces and bodies look.” Since Natalie was in touch with what kids need, she asked him if he wanted to touch her skin. She rubbed it to show she didn’t have dirt coming off. By doing this, she invited him further into the conversation.

As my boys age, we talk with increasing detail about differences found in people. I provide my children with the proper labels for ethnic groups, for referring to people with disabilities, for talking about people who are overweight, etc… We began with the most common people groups of the United States and move towards deepening and broadening their understanding over time. They know that many of their friends are multi-racial and how that happens. They know that others were adopted from other countries. They know that some friends have gay parents. Having these conversations makes it acceptable to discuss that someone looks different, acts different, or has differences in their family. Because we all do.

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Sometimes knowing what term is correct can be tricky (black vs African American, Asian American vs Amerasian, etc…). Asking friends if they have a preference will quickly clear up confusion. Questioning politely, with your child present, models to your children that this is a safe topic when handled respectfully. It helps to keep stigma at bay and maintain open lines of communication. In general, stick with teaching your kids the most correct terms you know and be open to the understanding that they may change. Soon enough your kids will inform you if you don’t stay on top of it. (“They’re not Oriental! They’re Asian!” has been groaned by thousands of forty year old white children to their parents.)

Older kids can be invited even deeper, learning about how places of origin often determine skin color, facial features, height, etc… Every time we have this discussion, I find a world map and the internet quite useful. We have talked about how America was initially inhabited by Native Americans and then looked at pictures, read books, etc… We have talked about many people came to America from different places and that’s part of why we see so many different types of people, whereas some countries remain relatively homogenous. The lesson incorporates race, geography and history.

Choosing to enter the conversation means that I share developmentally appropriate details about racism and how various people groups, including kids, have been treated poorly because of how they look. With my first grader, it means educating him on a handful of details about slavery and Jim Crow laws, as well as introducing him to a few key brave people who fought to change these laws. It also means letting him know that plenty of injustice remains and talking about how we can help.

Choosing to enter the conversation means that I don’t rush my boys along when they pass someone in a wheelchair and stare or inquire about it. If the person in the chair appears open to converse, I will sometimes engage them in our conversation by introducing myself and letting them know my boys have questions (which is already obvious to them, but it helps break the ice). Once this led to one exceptionally friendly woman demonstrating everything her electric wheelchair could do, including moving it into a full stand. My boys thought she was bad-ass! She enthusiastically answered their questions. In fact, I think she was touched. She was seen. She was heard. Her differences were acknowledged as worthy of discussion. My kids weren’t shushed as she passed. We welcomed her presence.

Choosing to enter the conversation means that I talk to my boys about different family structures. Some parents are divorced. Some parents are both dads, some are both moms. Some kids are adopted. It means we talk about how some people don’t think all of these families are ok, but that we do and why.

Choosing to enter the conversation even means I don’t lie to my three year old when he sees a Diva Cup in it’s invitingly brand new bright pink and purple box on the kitchen counter and asks if he can have some candy. He says, “What is it? Can I suck on it? Does it taste good?” He thinks it’s some sort of cool lollipop! I don’t give him all the details, but I tell him it’s something women use to catch blood from their vagina. (Yup. I’m saying these things. To a kid under four feet tall. It was embarrassingly awkward the first time, but now it feels pretty easy and even quite comical.) “Women bleed every once in awhile because this is how their body works. It’s what allows them to have babies.” There is no reason for this to be an off-limits topic, so I enter in. (Random side note: Why does Diva Cup include a little lapel pin saying “Diva” in their box? Are we supposed to wear it while we’re menstruating so people treat us a little kinder? Should we also have one if we’re gassy?)

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Another type of cherry blossom, plus the incredible Diva lapel pin that you, too, can wear while menstruating! (Some restrictions may apply.)

Engaging in these conversations takes some thought and practice. It felt very uncomfortable at first because it hadn’t been modeled to me. Even now, every time I encounter a brand new topic I feel awkward and fumble quite a bit, especially if a stranger is involved (“Look, mom! That person is ROUND!”). My ability to formulate bites of information appropriate for their level of language comprehension has improved with practice, but I’m also growing more comfortable with the novelty of these discussions and feeling embarrassed in public. (“Mom, what’s that on her face?” “Mom, look at that person’s bottom!”) There is room for fumbling, asking questions, figuring it out together. My primary goal is to respect all the people involved.

As strange as it feels in the beginning, these conversations are best started with kids as young as two and three, because by five and six kids already have clearly divided categories upon which they’ve placed their own labels. Simply by observing the world, those older children have already divided people into groups. Having the basic knowledge of proper vocabulary can also help them understand what holds all these groups together, as well as what separates them. This allows them to have a conversation about them in a respectful manner. They can begin to connect the categories that were once divided because they now know how they fit onto their vocabulary map. It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s true.

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1 NutureShock, pg 53 (forgive my lack of APA documentation--this is my lazy footnote attempt)

Giggle therapy

This morning I enjoyed time with a friend and her absolutely scrumptious ten-month-old girl. That’s a dangerous age. If “we” weren’t “fixed”, we just might’ve made an impulse baby tonight. I received those precious uninhibited smiles, chubby hands repeatedly hit my hat off my head, and about every five minutes she let me hold her for two seconds.

I find it sadly ironic that we can summon our creative, silly side best when we’re refreshed, yet parenting young children almost guarantees you’re rarely not exhausted. Parents desperately need humor after a night of hourly wake-up calls. We are far more likely to resemble Frankenstein than Barney. Well, maybe that’s not sad after all. At least not for us.

Anyways, this post is dedicated to those of you who are bone tired and in need of some inspiration for connecting with your baby. A few giggles just might help you remember how fun and cute they are (or will be soon!) even if they’re not allowing you an ounce of shut-eye.

Peek-a-boo, with yourself or toys, probably works so well since babies don’t have object permanence in the early months. (When penguin is gone, she’s gone. Oh no. But, look! She magically appeared again!) You can shake it up by not being predictable with your actions. Babies love suspense! Make them anticipate with your pauses, eye contact and body movements. Next, pair silly noises and you’ve hit baby giggle jackpot. By the time both boys reached toddlerhood, we probably accumulated fifty versions of peek-a-boo games.

While you watch the clips below, you may notice that my husband and I often wait for the (incredibly adorable) baby to make eye contact. We’re checking in for interest and fatigue level, but also allowing him to control the routine a bit. If we wait until he looks, we’re ensuring he’s interested. He can give himself breaks, too. Or completely call it off.

These links all take you to videos on vimeo. (I wish they could be embedded, but I’d have to pay extra for that, which isn’t happening at the moment.) The videos presented show forms of peek-a-boo and building suspense with eye contact. Since I’m done having babies, if you have one that needs a laugh or your back is tired, I have open arms! This ranks up there with spotting orcas for me.

Hiding, ball-spitting hand

Tummy time peek-a-boo

The crazy disappearing cow

Squeaky thighs

Suspenseful leg eating

The Never-Ending Sex Talk

During lunch this week Miles threw out, “Mama, how did you made me?” This question came after a morning of typical activities three year olds and six year olds do while inside. They played in boxes, battled with light sabers, hurt each other with them, cried and screamed, listened to books, and made a million silly noises. Nothing super serious. Even the books were Dr. Seuss. The question felt very out of the blue. For goodness sake, he just turned three.

As you might already know, we are very open about bodies in our household. I was able to tell Miles, without hesitation, “Mama and Papa made you.” I greatly prefer this response to “God made you” for a variety of reasons, but mainly because I’m not trying to dodge the knitty-gritty of it all. This isn’t an existential conversation. Those will come later. Then, get this. In the sweetest voice ever he said, “Thank you for making me.” (He does this. He thanks people all the time for things they did for him, often for events that occurred weeks prior. It is an amazingly charming quality.) Someday he’ll probably know that we debated long and hard about a second child. His comment felt more touching to me because of that bit of our history.

Next Miles asked how we were able to keep his head on. Then how we put his skin on. I adore him so much I could eat him up. His curiosity is going to serve him very well. Anyways, I gave him a brief, “Oh, we didn’t do that, it all happened inside my belly.” I didn’t even dawn on me in the moment that he was probably thinking we put him together like Legos.

Charlie quickly piped in, “Miles, you were as small as a tadpole! And you had a tail. But the tail popped off! And you had these funny eyes. But maybe that was just the book. And then you got bigger and bigger and bigger! And then mama was pregnant and she had to go to the hospital to have you. Then you were born!” We might have a little reviewing to do to fill in some gaps for Charlie. But he definitely knows about sperm! Clearly, this education is a long-term commitment. Hopefully the continued discussions will help minimize shame and stigma.

Not too long ago Miles went through a phase of asking me repeatedly if I had a penis. I’d go through the routine: “Nope. I don’t have a penis. Boys and men have penises. Girls and women have vaginas.” He’s asked his grandparents. He’s asked some of my friends. And I’m pretty sure every time he sees me naked he’s looking to see if I have grown one overnight. Once after asking me, he beat me to the response and said, “You have a fonus!” Then he totally giggled.

Most of this open labeling of bodies and bodily functions has led to really hilarious, wonderful interactions, winning me over despite my initial hesitations. I wasn’t thrilled the first time I had to explain menstruation because they walked in on me in the bathroom and saw blood. That’s an awkward situation, especially when your pants are down. The openness can be embarrassing in public, too. Like when I was in a busy, downtown bathroom and Miles was loudly asking “What’s that? What’s in your underwear? But why? Why is there blood? Do you have an owie?” But, I swallowed my pride a bit and we got over that hurdle. I’m so glad we’re opening the lines of communication with them this young. I can’t imagine how heightened the embarrassment must get when kids are older. FOR US! Probably them, too.