Tag Archives: family

One little conversation

When my twitter and facebook feeds erupted rainbows last Friday morning, I sobbed. Then for a solid hour I was glued to the screen, scrolling, “liking” and commenting endlessly to celebrate. I’m a relative newbie to the fight for civil rights, fleeing chains of conservative Christianity in the past two decades, but damn, it still felt amazing to win. How deeply it must have resonated for people who have been denied the right to sit by their loved one’s side in the hospital, listened to decades of hateful slurs, told they were less than, and had their worth questioned. Snot and tear city.

My boys built forts and played with Legos that morning, unaware that lives just changed. I’m trying to capitalize on natural opportunities for conversations about hot-button topics, such as sexuality, race, discrimination and violence, so we chatted over snack. I told the boys about the SCOTUS decision, homophobia, and discrimination. I didn’t use those words. I simplified it. They’re five and eight.

“Some people don’t believe that people who are the same sex should be able to marry. Some people also treat these people really horribly and tell them that they’re not ok as who they are. This has meant all sorts of awful things have happened, including people being bullied, people not being able to support each other in the hospital nor make important decisions together. Now, the government has said that this can’t happen anymore. Anyone who loves each other can get married.”

They’re not surprised by a same sex family. Their community includes a few gay family members and many friends who have parents in same sex marriages. (It’s been legal in Washington State since 2012.) We also have a history of discussions about various family structures. As far as I can tell, my boys think nothing of it. But I wanted them to know that this law was hard won, a HUGE deal, and critically important for many people in our nation.

Because we used to attend church and occasionally still encounter conservative Christian beliefs, I also made sure to specify with them that some Christians will say God doesn’t believe gay people should marry, nor be gay at all. But, Harry and I don’t believe this. We think God cares about loving people and fighting for those who aren’t being loved.

We finished by specifying many of their friends who have same sex parents, our family members who are gay, and I reiterated the fact that now anyone can marry whoever they want in every single state of our nation. That was it. A ten minute discussion over lunch. How much did they process? Who knows. They seemed more interested in their peaches than our talk. It doesn’t matter, though. This isn’t a one time deal. Short, simple discussions will be peppered throughout our life, evolving in complexity as the boys grow.

Later that afternoon, while Charlie and a friend played in the Seattle Center’s International Fountain, I scanned the crowd struck by how many different races were represented around the circle. It hit me that just like I grew up with it legal to play at a park with kids of different colors and found the alternative terrible, my children will look back at the USA prior to this law and rightfully acknowledge how horrible and ridiculous it was that it took us so long.

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I love the rainbow. It is stunning after so much black and white.

Will this decision be among the first dominos that topple the devastating effects of hatred against the LBGTQ community? Will teenagers stop needing to flee home because they know their parents would hate their truth, possibly even beat them for it? Will stories like Matthew Shepherd’s horrid murder become less and less frequent? I believe yes. There will be pockets of hate. The road is long and bumpy, but I believe yes.

My hope and prayer is that if my boys ever hear anything hateful spoken, they will speak up for love. This is an important piece of why we are not silent. We fight discrimination, bias and stigma one little conversation at a time.

If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend watching this beautifully produced short on Jim and John. Thank you, John, for your deep commitment to this fight. You are astoundingly courageous. And SCOTUS, it’s friggin’ overdue, but you deserve a thank you, too. America is truly a little closer to being the Land of the Free this Independence Day.

 

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Shelter

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

Brené Brown

“Can we listen to ‘I see trees of green’?” Miles inquired at breakfast, singing the line as he requested the song. The boys were sitting at the table with their oatmeal, I was packing lunches, Harry was making the two of us some eggs, and Miles took a break from eating to sign along to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” At the end he made certain we knew that, “The sign for ‘world’ goes like this [hand gesture], because the world is round.”

As breakfast progressed, the best series of songs ever requested by a child in our household unfolded. We played James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” once Miles elaborated enough for us to figure out that “I feel nice” includes “I feel nice! So nice! I got you!” That was followed up by “What the World Needs Now is Love” and “My Girl.” “Baa Baa Black Sheep” also entered the mix; it wasn’t all nursery-free. More signs, more singing, more moments that made me wish we had a hidden camera in our household so I could watch this on repeat when I’m sad, nostalgic or otherwise needing to smile.

My episodic memory is so horrible that writing is one of the only ways I’ll file this away with most of the details accurate. Even a few hours later and I was dependent on Harry’s recollection for all the songs. I would be a horrible witness. (OMG!. Finally listening to Serial. Late to the party, but so glad I showed up. DO NOT TELL ME ANYTHING.) But I do not want to forget this morning. I want its sweetness seared into the depths of my cortex.

These beautiful, not-to-be-missed moments seem brighter to me now than they have for months. A crucial part of this season of struggle for our family is how we let it refine us. Harry and I are acutely aware that our stress can be handled countless ways. We hurt each other at times, of course, but thankfully we also call out to each other for support in our dark moments. It could easily go the other way. Blame, shame, anger, and guilt could do us in if we didn’t bring our more upsetting thoughts into the light.

IMG_5324I am raw. I cry often. Much to my embarrassment, this seems to include every time I walk through one of Seattle’s beautiful parks filled with gigantic, blooming trees. I depend on spring’s flowers. I am also, on occasion, acting like a caffeinated dog stuck outside during a lightning storm. No shelter in sight, I chase my tail until I collapse. This is not a particularly helpful strategy.

After, oh, round seven or so of time between jobs, I am finally realizing that this is one of my coping patterns. In my unhealthiest moments, I detour around my productive strategies for dealing with anxiety to a manic search for something tangible and “stable.”

I spent a ridiculous number of hours looking at homes on Zillow this week. Questions about the Seattle market? I’m your gal! Want a home on San Juan Island? I can hook you up! I’ve been sick and weak from a lovely GI episode (FeBRUTALary!), laying in bed drooling over gorgeous homes with views of the waters the orcas visit. Even if we could buy a house right now, it would be an idiotic move. Yet I chase that dream like it would bring reprieve. How can you weigh the importance of a dad choosing work that doesn’t demand relentless hours or suck his soul dry just to receive a higher income? How do you know whether it’s better to choose home ownership and a more affordable town than the city and community you love?

Yesterday, I spent hours fighting way too many regretful feelings that staying at home for over five years was a poor choice for our family given the ups and downs of a contract-based business. I went to that extremely unhelpful Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda place. If I had worked, we would have more money. I should’ve trusted that the wee boys would be fine with someone else and we could’ve bought a house. If only, if only, if only. The standard privileged modern mom’s dilemma. I’ve faced it before, just not as deeply. Was not working worth it? How much do I value on staying home with kids? Would greater financial stability, nice vacations and a home of our own be better for our family? How do I weigh these factors?

My questions about those things remain, for sure. I wish someone could tell me with certainty all the ways my boys are better off, but ultimately it’s a moot point. Mostly, though, I think I’m deflecting fear that our next income might not allow us to live as we have in the past, as well as anger that returning to work as a Speech-Language Pathologist requires jumping ridiculous, expensive hurdles. I didn’t anticipate a cake walk, but thus far the Washington State Department of Health is giving the DMV a run for their money.

This season has been painful for me, but I am beginning to value the questioning process that is birthed from the anxiety. We are in a refinement period, redefining what is important to us, reminding ourselves of our core values, savoring the laughter, passions, and love we share as a family. We’re going to come out of this with a clearer vision. This is a tiny but important step in accepting that I can not fight the storm. Maybe someday I’ll figure out how to stop chasing my tail, too.

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Sugar, ah, honey honey

Moments of my life are an incredibly odd, barely-anyone-is-in-the-audience musical. I frequently have a song in my head related to what I’m thinking about. Sometimes it’s my own snazzy made-up tune, other times it surprises me from the basement of my brain. Harry “benefits” from these songs quite regularly. He’d thinks it’d be funny to highlight my antics on a YouTube channel. Today’s post has me singing The Archies, “Sugar, Sugar.” Feel free to join me in your own at-home musical now or thank me for the earworm later.

I’ve realized that if you scroll through my blog recipes, it’s a little deceiving. I am quick to post favorite sweet recipes, the treats that punctuate our life, and less apt to share what is sustaining us between those moments. I’m basically showing you our exclamation points while leaving out the text. And those exclamation posts are rolling in sugar.

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Random soup I actually took a picture of simply because it was beautiful. This is an example of my CSA stone soup approach – purple potatoes in the base, some cooked quinoa I had in the fridge was tossed in, plus roasted romanesco and cauliflower thrown on top because why not.

There are various reasons for this pattern here. I typically follow recipes for desserts and they last long enough that I can sneak a picture or two without much fuss. In contrast, I’m a very practical cook. During peak produce seasons our meals are made from whatever the farm boxes and garden have provided. I throw a bunch of vegetables together in a pan and roast them, make a curry, piece together a soup, make a vegetable-rich pasta dish, or lay out various picnic-style nibbles, like cheese, eggs, bread, salad and fruit. Some of these meals feel worthy of sharing here, but I rarely think about photographing what I’ve cooked prior to us consuming it, let alone writing down the steps for how I made something. So, it doesn’t happen and I forget what I did a few months later, making up another soup instead.

I’m here to set the record straight. With a treasured soup recipe and an itty-bitty commentary on sugar.

In general, I like our approach to sugar. I don’t demonize it. I view it a lot like I view alcohol. We remain mindful that it can become addictive, over-consumed and lead to significant problems, but as an occasional treat it’s fine (for us). Basically, the only time I embrace sugar as a main ingredient is in desserts. I bake about once a week with whole fats and usually some percentage of whole grain flours. These desserts are rich and satisfying, so we rarely end up eating five cookies or three muffins in one sitting. Rarely.

Unfortunately, it takes dedicated label reading to ensure that sugar remains solely in desserts.

If you run into me at a grocery store and see me cursing at yogurt or a loaf of bread under my breath, it’s because I’ve just read the label. I am concerned that sugar has invaded the ingredient list of almost everything one finds on a shelf in grocery stores. It’s being used liberally in places few would expect it, turning savory, would-be-healthy foods into candy. Pasta sauces, salad dressings, crackers and dried fruit are being pumped with sweeteners. Now I’m occasionally even re-reading ingredient lists of things I buy regularly to confirm they haven’t changed. I’ve noticed that as popular brands get bought off by bigger companies, sugar gets added or increased.

Our everyday food routine is pretty simple and mostly sugar free. We drink water and things steeped in water. We rarely buy juice and almost never purchase soda. Our regular breakfast rotation includes oatmeal and eggs. One weekend morning we eat buttermilk pancakes that are sweetened with maple syrup (there’s no sugar in my batter, unlike boxed mixes). I make a maple syrup and brown sugar sweetened granola somewhat regularly. Weekday lunches for the boys include simple vegetarian sandwiches, a hard-boiled egg for Charlie, some cheeses, sliced fruit and veggies. Harry and I usually eat leftovers from a big dish of whatever I make Sundays (chili, soup, etc…), a salad or a sandwich. Our dinners are typically quite basic, too. Rice and roasted veggies, soft tacos, pastas, salads, soups and occasionally meat or fish with vegetable sides. Last night the boys ate quesadillas and frozen peas heated in butter while Harry and I finished off leftovers. This isn’t unusual. It’s the simplicity that helps us maintain the pattern.

This particular soup has nourished us for many winters. Years ago a relative handed me a newspaper clipping with the recipe and I risked it, despite hesitations with the lentils. It was my first exposure to red lentils and I wasn’t yet familiar enough with Melissa Clark to know that I could trust her taste. I immediately loved them ten times more than other lentils, so I’ve been making this soup multiple times a year for six years. I’ve tweaked it a bit along the way to suit our desires: thickening it up a bit, adding more carrots. We like it this way, but I also appreciate that it’s a very forgiving soup. Fewer lentils, more carrots, more lentils, fewer carrots. It can all work out. Just add broth or water if it’s too thick for your taste. The flavors will be nice either way. It’s a hearty, nourishing soup with enough lemon to remind you that spring will come.

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This is an “Oh! I should take a quick picture and blog this” shot. It’s really delicious. You’ll just have to trust me more than the picture.

Red Lentil Soup with Lemon

Slightly adapted from Melissa Clark’s NYT recipe         Yields 6-8 servings

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 white or yellow onions, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • A pinch or two of cayenne, ground chili powder or paprika, more to taste
  • 1 quart (4 cups) chicken or vegetable broth (plus more broth, or water, if too thick)
  • 2 cups red lentils (rinsed and picked through)
  • 3-4 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • Juice of 1 lemon, more to taste
  • Fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped, to garnish (optional)

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and garlic, sauteing until softened and golden, about five minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and spices. To prevent burning, stir constantly for a couple minutes until the spices are fragrant. Add the broth, lentils and carrot and bring to a simmer. Partially cover the pot and reduce the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook about 20-30 minutes, stirring here and there, until the lentils are soft.

Puree at least half of the soup using an immersion blender, regular blender or food processor. (Be extra careful with hot soup and blenders.) Taste for salt and texture, adding salt, pepper, broth, water and/or further blending as desired. Stir in the lemon juice. Top with cilantro or parsley and maybe a drizzle of olive oil or dusting of chili powder.

 

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.

Prepared

WE PULLED IT OFF! My sister and I successfully threw a surprise party for my parents’ 50th anniversary! We delayed it a day because of their trip to the mountains, which really worried me initially because we had already bought our plane tickets and started planning the party (ack!), but probably helped keep them in the dark. The party was attended by many of their dear friends, some of whom they’ve known four decades or longer. Most of the couples they raised kids with were present. Even my dad’s best man was there. We celebrated them well.

My sister and I were so nervous that someone was going to spill the beans. I wouldn’t let my boys talk to my parents on the phone in the weeks prior because I was worried they might tell them we were visiting Colorado before school ended. I didn’t even let the boys in on the secret until we were on the plane. Everyone acted the part, lying as necessary, and my parents’ socks were sufficiently knocked off. Their response ranks high among my absolute favorite memories of them. Shocked expressions, followed by tears of joy shared with each new person they noticed and hugged.

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I arrived at a new level of ridiculous while planning food for this party. I actually flew with little jars containing various types of salt and other spices, as well as two pounds of smoked salmon. If we had driven, I probably would’ve packed chives from my garden and some of my favorite flours. I didn’t want to spend gobs of money to purchase the relatively small amounts of seasoning I needed and was reasonably doubtful I’d find a bulk section at the local store in Loveland, Colorado. I might need a spice travel belt.

I thoroughly enjoyed making food for friends who had nurtured me through the years. Many of them have known me since birth, changed my diapers, babysat me, fed me generously at countless celebrations and holidays, hosted me for sleepovers, etc… One taught me piano for a decade, another coached my basketball team. It was such an gift to be alongside so many special adults from my childhood while celebrating my parents.

My sister and I made a lot of finger-friendly food, my parents’ friends brought lovely appetizers as well. There were Beluga Lentil Crostinis, prosciutto wrapped asparagus, bacon wrapped dates, delicious cheeses, salamis, pickled grapes, pickled carrotsminty spinach dip, caprese kebab bites, marinated herbed olives, and many more nibbles. For dessert I made Deb Perelman’s amazing update to the rice crispy treat (I don’t like the classic version, but these make me swoon) and Dorie Greenspan’s White Chocolate Raspberry Brownies. I just might have to share that recipe here next, because they were phenomenal. It’s raspberry season, and you want to eat them.

My attempt to bring a little Seattle to the party, and the reason I packed salmon and Maldon in my suitcase, were these amazingly creamy, crunchy, briney, tangy toasts with smoked salmon. I actually added these to the menu in the week prior to the party, after discovering the recipe in Bon Appétit while waiting my turn at the hair salon. (If you don’t know this by now, I am pretty much always thinking about food. Even when I should be thinking about intentions for my very rare once-every-three-to-six-months haircut, I’m thinking about food.) This delicious bite is courtesy of Renee Erickson, the owner of The Walrus and the Carpenter, one of my favorite Seattle restaurants. Following her recommendation, I bought Loki hot-smoked salmon at the Ballard Farmers market a few days before we left. I nestled it in my suitcase between shorts and socks.

I did a few things differently than called for because of the number of people we were feeding and limitations on time. The recipe I’m sharing reflects those changes, making these more friendly for a big party. Renee’s original recipe calls for country-style bread slices, as well as frying the capers. I’m sure fried capers as exceptionally delicious, but these remain seriously tasty without that step.

PS- If the only pickle you’ve had came from a cucumber, you should remedy that. Stat. The aforementioned grapes are a great place to begin, as are these onions, which contribute nicely to hamburgers, salads, and countless other dishes. (Plus, aren’t they’re pretty in pink?)

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Smoked Salmon Crostinis with Pickled Onion and Capers
Slightly adapted from Renee Erickson’s recipe in Bon Appétit, yields about 16 crostinis

  • 1 baguette, thinly sliced (approximately 1/6 inch thick)
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1/2 small red onion, very thinly sliced
  • 2/3 cup Champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1 cup crème fraÎche*
  • 1 pound hot-smoked wild salmon, flaked**
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Toss the onion and vinegar in a small bowl and let it pickle at least one hour. (This step can also happen a day or two ahead of time, just keep them covered and chilled in the refrigerator.)

Preheat the oven to 350℉. Toss the sliced baguette rounds in a bowl with the olive oil and sea salt to coat (or brush the oil on with a pastry brush). Place the rounds in a single layer on baking sheets. Let them bake about ten minutes, until crisp and golden. Let cool to room temperature.

Spread each toast with a dollop of crème fraÎche. Season with a tiny sprinkle of salt and pepper. Top with flakes of smoked salmon, drained pickled red onion, several capers and a few snippets of chives. If you love to gild the lily like I may have a propensity to do on occasion, drizzle these with tiny bit of high quality olive oil and place a flake or two of Maldon salt on top. Totally unnecessary, but never regretted.

These are best served room temperature (which is also great for parties). You can set them out an hour in advance and they’ll be perfect.

*If you don’t have crème fraÎche at your store or you’d prefer to try homemade, this is a reliable recipe. You could also substitute plain full fat greek yogurt, full fat sour cream mixed with a bit of heavy cream, or just sour cream.

**If you aren’t lucky enough to have wild salmon at your markets, or can’t find hot-smoked salmon at all, use whatever smoked salmon you can get your mitts on. Just taste it prior to placing it on the toasts. Depending on the brand (and especially if it’s canned), you may want to toss the salmon with a little kosher salt and pepper. You may even consider mixing it with a tiny amount of brown sugar or maple syrup, or a squeeze of lemon juice. (Just a smidge! Taste and adjust as necessary.)

 

 

 

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

Respecting his journey

He was just two. Toddling about in tiny shoes, saying “titty-tat!” with his sweet, high-pitched voice. Tired of diapers, and cloth ones at that, I responded eagerly to my friend who was determined to potty train her same aged son in one weekend. “Yes!” I’d do it, too. We’d be in it together. It’d be grrrrreat.

As a therapist I had enough experience modifying behaviors in young children to believe that given good teaching, shaping behaviors was almost always possible. I was pretty confident.

I tried. For weeks, I tried. He wore nothing but underwear, I cleaned up accident after accident. My friend’s son did great. He was nearly accident free within a few days. This spurned me on. I was so ridiculously determined that I carried his portable training potty with us in our car. You see, he was scared of the big toilets. Automatic flushing ones were terrifying. So, why not carry a toilet with us?

This really should have been a signal to me. When you’re carrying a toilet around in your trunk, that just might be a sign. I should’ve raised a white flag of surrender. Waved the toilet paper in the air and trusted he would come around on his own time. But there was more at play.

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I didn’t realize I had gone too far until I found myself getting angry at him. I wasn’t voicing it (I only had one kid still- so much more emotional capacity back then!), but I was feeling it. Deeply frustrated, increasingly mad. Eventually it hit me. This was all because of pride. I was committed to the process because of how I perceived it would reflect on me as a parent, not because it felt like the right thing to do for my child.

I was worried this would make me look like I wasn’t a good teacher. Like I somehow wasn’t an on-top-of-it mother or my son wasn’t smart enough. We were flawed because he wasn’t potty trained at two. Oh my.

That potty training attempt was my first taste of the desire to push my child faster than he was ready emotionally because subconsciously I put my pride on the line. I’ve since encountered it with childcare drop-offs, riding a balance bike, tree climbing, running down hills, swimming, riding a pedal bike, teaching him to read, wanting him to participate in a choir, wanting him to want to play sports and attend soccer camp. At least monthly, I am reminded that this is not my journey.

There is a narrow divide between encouraging, trusting in their resilience, drawing upon their bravery and pushing them too quickly, forcing them into activities, putting our own hopes, fears and expectations on them. Tuning into why I’m upset something isn’t happening keeps me on the right side of the divide.

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A few times I have handled letting go of expectations well, though usually after hitting my head against the wall for weeks. The first was when he learned to ride a pedal bike. Christmas morning, weeks prior to his fourth birthday, he woke up to a bike with a big red bow and no training wheels. He had developed great balance with his pedal-free bike, so even though he was young, this was what people encouraged us to do. We took him out that afternoon and he got the hang of it quickly! In our eyes, it was beautiful and couldn’t have gone better. But, he wouldn’t ride again for months.

We would ask and ask and ask. He’d say no. We didn’t want to put training wheels on because it felt like backsliding and we thought he’d come through again. Finally, we gave him room to voice his fears. While we were focused on how well he’d done, all he could recall was a fall that happened at the end of the day. He was scared to bike because he didn’t want to crash. I asked him, “Would you like to try training wheels on your bike to get used to pedaling and braking?” “Yes.” “How many times do you want to practice this way before we take them off again?” “Ten.” Alrighty, then!

After we listened to him, it was that easy. He practiced those new skills ten times and off went the training wheels. He was still very nervous, but found a lot of comfort in the stories Harry and I shared of our own bike falls. I told him about my latest tip over while at a stop sign on a steep Seattle hill in clip-in shoes. Harry told him about his mountain biking accidents. We shared how the falls often hurt, but we always felt like the fun of biking was worth the momentary pain. We normalized his experience- everyone falls, it hurts, most people think it’s worth it.

The same progression happened with swimming. He participated in group swimming lessons when he was four. The only skills I saw improve were techniques to make his classmates giggle while they waited at the wall. Last spring he told us he didn’t want to take swim lessons again, adding, “I will teach myself how to swim.” I believed him. I was also happy to not spend our money on honing his pooltime comedy routine.

Every time we went swimming, he made decent progress, taking little steps that would get him closer to swimming. Finally, after our vacation in June, during which he got more water exposure than usual, he would put his head under while plugging his nose and played lots of water games comfortably. He was probably a little too confident since he still couldn’t float. My concern about his false sense of confidence let me know it was time for more lessons.

A friend told me about private swimming lessons working well for her daughter with a similar disposition, and I thought that would be the best option. No surprise, he didn’t want to go. I told him, “I know you’re nervous, but we believe you are ready to learn more. You’re doing so well now and they’ll help you feel comfortable with the next steps so you can really swim. Pools will be so much more fun!” He wasn’t sold. “I know you still feel scared, but the teacher will listen and help you. They won’t make you do anything you don’t want to do.” Still not buying it. “We believe learning to swim is really important. It lets you have more fun but it also helps you be safer around water. We think it’s important that you’re safe around water. We will keep doing lessons until you are and you can take as long as you need.” Sold! This time he needed the understanding that this wasn’t negotiable but he had permission to go at his pace. He was not excited, but willing. By the end of the first lesson, he was swimming the crawl stroke with his face in the water.

It is difficult for me to determine when I’m taking too much control of his journey or when I need to exert more influence. Our history is teaching me that examining my own hopes and fears is a critical first step, along with listening to him and reflecting his emotions. Normalizing experiences and providing opportunity to practice has helped tremendously, too. But ultimately, it’s about trusting. Believing in his resilience, in his need for security, in his desire to learn. Month by month, I am learning to respect that his journey will often be different than my hopes for him, but if I stay on the right side of the divide, it’ll be just as interesting and rewarding.

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