Monday, April 30, 2012

Feeling the Shift

Some days it feels like nothing happens.  Other days it feels like everything happens.  And some days you can kinda feel your world shift, even if just a little.  Thursday was a shifting kind of day.

After dropping off the little guy at his morning nursery program, the babe and I headed over to her "new" school...that's right, we paid a visit to the local elementary school.  At the end of August, the babe will be officially entering kindergarten at our neighborhood public school.  I am excited about moving beyond private preschool, but intimidated by the prospect of her joining the world of the "big" kids.

The orientation went well.  I think we both felt good about it and neither of us ran into any speed bumps (she had some time with her future classmates in a real classroom while the grown ups chatted with the Principal).  I had a good meeting with the school nurse about the babe's food allergies/Epi pens and can say that overall, I was impressed with the people.  Sadly, I was not impressed with the physical building and am glad the babe can't see the public elementary school I attended in Canada as a youngster.  That said, if I had to chose, I would rather be impressed with the people than the building.

The orientation ended with a little tour of the neighborhood in a big 'oll yellow school bus.  When I asked the babe what her favorite part of orientation was, I bet you can guess what she answered.  Yup.  The school bus ride.  While the babe was fascinated by everything about the bus, I spent the whole ride wondering why school buses don't have seat belts.  I really don't understand how it is so important for me to carefully buckle my kids into their car seats yet they are able to flop around school bus seats as if they were on solid ground.  But I digress...

The babe is growing up.  She is heading to kindergarten.  I am growing up.  My oldest daughter is heading to kindergarten.  But what really made the day monumental was that my folks put their house on the market and sold it in a day.  This is a house I lived in.  This is a house I have visited for the past 18 years.  And this is my folks downsizing and moving on from our "family" home.

The combination of kindergarten orientation with the prospect of losing our family home made it a "growing up" kinda day for little old moi.  And while part of me wanted to buy the house, move back to Ottawa and enroll the babe in a nice Canadian elementary school, the other part of me realized that time passes and things change more on some days than others.  You just gotta roll with it.  And maybe shed a tear (or two).  


Monday, April 23, 2012

Steak, Margaritas and Poop

To eat: Six ounce Fillet Mignon (cooked medium) with blue cheese crust served with garlic mashed potatoes and a side salad.
To drink: Two margaritas and some water.

That is a pretty ideal meal in my world.  It is a meal I don't get at home.  And sadly, it is a meal I only get when my family and I venture out for dinner together every five or six months.  Last Saturday we decided we would take the chance and head out to the Outback for a family restaurant dinner.   

There are numerous reasons we never go out to eat with our kids, and they include:
  • The babe's food allergies make it scary
  • The little guy acts like an animal
  • My husband and I barely get to look at each other, let alone talk
  • I have to eat WAY too fast as any second the scene could dramatically change and we will be leaving with take out containers instead of enjoying our hot meal
  • It costs a lot of cash and I don't find it a particularly relaxing experience.  Quite the opposite, I'd say.
We should have known it wasn't the best idea after we wasted half an hour trying to encourage the little guy to have a poop in the potty before we left.  He hadn't gone all day and I was in no mood to deal with a blow out in a public bathroom.  As such, we went back and forth with him, knowing it was a losing battle.  We were all pretty cranky by the time we decided to give up and get in the car.  We were also fed up with talking about poop.  As we headed out, I selfishly mentioned to my husband that I would be happy to stay home and save the money we were about to spend for a date night for him and I.  Apparently that wasn't fair to the kids (what a nice Papa they have).  

Sadly we had to make a pit stop at the park near the babe's school as we had left her jean jacket there the day before.  Jean jackets aren't cheap and I really wasn't ready to permanently part with it.  Sadly that meant dealing with DC traffic and the always stressful Connecticut Avenue, which added a nice chunk of drive time for us.

We made it to the restaurant in one piece and managed to dodge quite a few potentially nasty children losing it type scenarios (example: my daughter is so competitive she was getting upset when my husband beat her at the tick tack toe game on the children's menu).  Our food arrived and everyone seemed to be doing OK.  The little guy, who has become a terrible eater lately, managed to eat all his burger and start demanding "more burger" from our poor waiter.  The babe seemed more into her apple juice than her chicken.  And my husband and I managed to polish off everything put in front of us, although in a seriously rushed fashion (I am a slow eater and eating fast really irks me).

Then it was time to take my juice consuming daughter to the bathroom (the ride home is a trek). We settled into one of the two stalls and the babe proceeded to have a good pee.  When she didn't immediately finish up, my heart kinda sunk.  "Oh No.  She's not doing what I think she's doing, is she?" I panicked.  The babe is extremely comfortable doing her business pretty much anywhere....public or private bathroom doesn't seem to phase her (probably because she's five and all).  The line of people grew outside the door and I could tell the babe (and the person in the next stall) was in for a long session.  I tried to encourage her along in a positive way, realizing everyone is the bathroom was listening to me babble on like a loon.  After a few minutes I realized I couldn't chat anymore.  I needed her to focus, and I told her so.  I know you can't rush a pooping five-year-old, but man oh man, as people started leaving the bathroom out of annoyance, I also started to feel pretty annoyed.  And I knew the little guy and my husband were probably starting to feel the same way.

By the time we made it back, we had been gone for over 25 minutes, which is longer that we had taken to "enjoy" our meals.  The babe seemed pretty clueless about the whole situation but my husband and I automatically exchanged looks and discussed on our way to the car how we keep forgetting how stressed out we get going to restaurants with our kids.  

Now maybe us parents need to chill out a bit, or maybe our kids don't get enough practice in public eating establishments, or maybe we should move to Europe so our kids can see how well behaved all those kids are in public.  Regardless,  I am fine with another six month break before we try that again.  It just doesn't seem worth it to me, and if that makes me a negative, crotchety Mama, than so be it.  I can wait for my steak.       

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ready For Those Lightning McQueen Undies?

The little guy has been making some progress on the toilet training front.  He will use the facilities a number of times a day, and sometimes he will use them without being prompted by a concerned parent.

As we drove home from picking up the babe at preschool yesterday, the little guy announced he had to go potty.  He had not pooped all day and I had been waiting for a blow out.  I was so excited I almost lost track of the fact I was driving the car.

Luckily we were close to home and I managed to get him on the toilet in time.  He spent the next 15 minutes doing his business while the babe and I clapped every time we heard a fart or a poop hitting the water of the toilet bowl.  We are clappers around here. 

My husband, good man that he is, has been taking the little guy to the potty first thing in the morning to help him get used to this daily ritual.  This morning the little guy's diaper was pretty dry and my husband felt it was time to try out the underwear.  After they did their potty thing, my husband put the little guy into his Lightning McQueen underpants.  My husband was pretty psyched and was feeling as if we had turned some sort of potty training corner. 

He suggested we send the little guy to school in underpants.  While I appreciated my husband's enthusiasm, I did not want to put my son's teachers or a co-oping parent through the "accident" scenario.  I put my foot down and said that the little guy was just not ready.  I believe in my kid, but I have been down this potty training path before, and I am all too aware of the harsh realities of mastering bladder control.

So we agreed he could hang out in the underpants until it was time to leave for school.  As I was making the babe's lunch downstairs, I heard my husband call out, "honey, he peed on the comforter."  I am not into saying "I told you so," but come on now, honey, I told you so (and thanks for admitting you were wrong about that one)! 

As I write, my comforter cover is in the dryer and my comforter is in the washing machine.  I support progress.  But I don't support my son wearing underpants while hanging out in my bed.  So is the little guy ready for those fancy Lightning McQueen undies?  Not so much.  Not. So. Much.


Well folks, guess who is the newest (and only) "staff writer" for the neighborhood newsletter?  That's right.  You guessed it.  Moi.  Pretty cool, right?

I thought I would share an article I wrote for the spring edition:

Raising Responsible Children

My husband and I were recently discussing how we could encourage our kids to take more responsibility for their actions. As we picked up Cheerios from the dining room floor and scrubbed food marks off the walls, our conversation focused on how to determine the appropriate level of discipline and instruction necessary in dealing with our three- and five-year-old children. How do we raise responsible children while promoting our family’s version of the “happy medium”?

A few days after our discussion, I received an invitation to a lecture, “Raising Responsible Children,” at Concord-St. Andrew’s Cooperative Nursery School. The speaker, Robyn Des Roches, is a certified parent educator with the Parent Encouragement Program (PEP) based in Kensington, MD. Having taken a few parenting classes with PEP last winter, I knew I should take advantage of this timely opportunity.

The discussion started off with a review of what responsibility means in today’s society. While responsibility used to mean obedience, it now refers to “a process of making choices and then accepting the consequences of those choices.” Ms. Des Roches explained that every child needs to belong and to have a sense of purpose. By providing our children with positive and constructive roles around the home, we are able to harness the enthusiasm young children naturally have and take advantage of the ages when they are most motivated to help (between two and four). Children used to have a lot more stake and responsibility in the day to day operations of the home and by giving them valuable roles, we are giving them a sense of self worth and ownership.

According to Ms. Des Roches, the real goals of family work are competence, contribution, cooperation, confidence and independence. While we as parents are not exactly “lightening” our work load by getting our children involved, we are encouraging our kids to develop these amazing qualities. We are helping them see outside of themselves; an important skill, no doubt.

Here are a few basic guidelines parents can follow:

• Never do for a child what he can do for himself

My three-year-old son loves to help get the oatmeal ready for breakfast every morning. The day of the lecture, I had gone ahead and made the oatmeal before he came downstairs to help (I was running late). When he saw I had made everyone’s breakfast, he proceeded to have a melt-down of epic proportions. I had stolen his thunder. He loves to help out, and I took away a job that made him feel independent and useful.

As parents, we should be focusing on the process and effort, not the final product. That means we can throw our ideals of perfection out the window (adopt the “good enough” standard), and allow the process to become fun, not something we have to do.

After the oatmeal debacle, and still running behind schedule, I made another parenting faux pas. I jumped in to tie my daughter’s shoe laces because she was taking too long. She could do it for herself, but I took over the job because I am faster.

Ms. Des Roches discussed how parents should be encouraging their kids to help at every opportunity, even if it slows everyone down. Not to blow the shoe laces out of proportion, but by taking over a task my daughter is mastering, I was sending her a message that she wasn’t good enough (although at the time I was truly just in a rush and running short on patience).

Parents should teach their kids to make friends with mistakes. We are not perfect; nor are they. It is only natural to want to shield our children from unhappiness, but kids need to be allowed to experience struggle and negative emotions. Learning how to deal with these difficult emotions and scenarios allows them to become stronger.

• Use consequences (instead of punishment) and problem solving

As the old saying goes, experience is the best teacher. Let your kids make mistakes and allow “natural” consequences to teach. Consequences should be related, reasonable, respectful and helpful.

I’ll be the first to admit that I find it much easier to yell off a list of random punishments in the heat of the moment, but in the long term it is best to allow the kids to learn from their experiences in a more logical and less emotional way. For example, if your kids are playing around at bath/bed time and not cooperating, a natural consequence is that there is not enough time for stories before bed. They made their choice and have to live with the consequences of their actions.

• Allow time for training

Sometimes I forget that my kids weren’t born knowing how to do everything. I’ll be the first to admit that I can have a pretty unreasonable level of expectation when it comes to the skills and abilities I think they should already posses.

In reality, kids need to be trained how to complete a task. As Ms. Des Roches explained, it is up to us as their parents to choose the right time for this training, use routines and to break tasks down into smaller parts. I was surprised to learn that it takes a child two years to master a skill. Considering my son just turned three, perhaps I should be lightening up a bit.

• Beware of power struggles (don’t come on too strong)

It is helpful to change up jobs once a week and to offer choices in how and when to tackle a chore. It is not whether our kids will do the job, but how they will do it. This allows them to feel like they have a choice and helps us all avoid power struggles.

Instead of using non-specific praise (like good job!), we should try to express detailed appreciation for help provided (thank you for loading the dish washer!). If our kids know exactly what they did well, they will be more encouraged to do it again.

Leaving the lecture I felt slightly less overwhelmed by the heavy responsibilities of parenting. While I would not say any of this is easy, it certainly is helpful to have a few guidelines to follow when dealing with the daily challenge of raising responsible kids.

Next time we’ll have our children pick up those Cheerios and scrub the dining room walls.

To find out more about the Parent Encouragement Program (PEP) or to register for classes, please visit or call 301.929.8824.

Friday, April 13, 2012

I'm Going Back to Cali...

I recently received an email confirmation for my upcoming stay in Beverly Hills.  It had all my information and it appeared as though I was going to have a lovely 4 day visit.  But wait a minute, I haven't been to California since I was pregnant with the babe.  I called my husband and asked if he had made plans for a romantic get away to the City of Angels.  I think you can guess the answer to that question.

The crazy thing is, the reservation was at a hotel I had stayed at numerous times back in the days when I used to wear suits and travel on business.  I had a rush of memories and was struck with a pang to board a plane and head out West...alone.  I can't explain how much I miss being able to do that.

After a few phone calls, I learnt that the reservation had been made by a travel agency in Australia and they had incorrectly typed in a rewards number linked to my name.  I sadly cancelled the reservation.  No Beverly Hills for me.

As I was bringing the little guy up for a nap yesterday (which he ultimately chose not to take), I told him I would read him a story because I hadn't had a chance the previous night as I was at my leadership training class.  I told him I had given a presentation and got to be a teacher (which was true, I had to give a presentation with a partner on co-parenting).  He looked at me all confused and said "No.  But you're a Mama."  I looked at him and smiled and told him I indeed got to be a teacher and that I actually do things like write.  He didn't believe me.  I realized it was a losing battle and I didn't need to try and prove myself to my 3 year old.

Sometimes when I am feeling run down and beat up and like my kids take me for granted, I want to put on a suit, leave the house, go to a meeting or something, and see how they deal with that.  I want my kids to see that I am capable of being more than just their Mama.  I want them to see a Mama who made the choice to stay home but who also tries to maintain some sort of existence outside of serving their every need.

I think this will be easier in the Fall when both kids are at school 5 days of the week (yay!).  I am pretty excited about having the opportunity to try and kick off some sort of freelance career.  I love getting to hang out with the little guy so much, but we are both ready to change it up.  He is ready to be with people his own age 5 days a week, and I am ready to ease out of the role of full-time child care provider. 

We are now on the official countdown to September.  I am not going to be boarding a plane to LA anytime soon, but if I can start pursuing more projects outside of the responsibilities of my family and home, it will be good for everyone.  Eventually I will be getting on those planes again, but it certainly will not be simple like it used to be.  It may, however, be more appreciated, by both myself and my kids.  Because there's nothing like leaving, but there's nothing like coming home.

How Was Your Spring Break?

The past week I have fielded many questions about spring break.  The most popular question being, "how was your spring break?"  I have been smiling and responding, "long."  Depending on who I'm speaking to, they seem to either get it, or they don't. 

Lot of families take advantage of the 12 day chunk and travel.  We are not one of those families.  We were here, out of our routine, for 12 long days.  And that is why I have been responding the way I have.  Because 12 days with 2 little kids out of their routine is a long time, no matter how you slice it.  If that kind of thing doesn't phase you, than you are a better parent that I.

That said, we were lucky enough to get a spot for the babe at a very cool art camp at The Children's Art Studio that ran Monday through Friday.  She loved it and I loved that she had something to focus her endless energy on for a nice 5 day spread.

By this past Monday, I was, however, wondering why Easter Monday really needs to be a holiday.  It seems almost like cruel punishment to drag a break out like that.  So by Tuesday, we were all rearing to go and jumped back into our routines with gusto.

The babe was psyched to see her peeps at school (yay!).  The little guy was psyched to play with his nursery school buddies (yay!), and I served what will probably be my last co-op stint at his school (which made it easier to face since I wasn't exactly in the mood to play with 12 kids after having spent 12 days with my own 2 kids).

I don't think I will ever be the kind of Mom who enjoys things like spring and summer break, and I am OK with that.  One thing's for sure, it certainly makes you appreciate the value of your regular routine. 

And now that I have survived spring break, I can start stressing out about the summer.  Because summer, my friends, is just around the corner.    

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pass the Almonds, Please

About a month ago, I took the babe in for a food challenge.  Our allergist, Dr. E, believed the babe was ready to try her first ever nut.  The almond.  The beautiful, tasty, and seriously missed (by me) almond.

For 5 years I have not had almonds in the house.  And for 5 years I have missed those tasty little buggers.

When the day came, the babe and I packed off to the allergist office for our 7:00 a.m. start time.  We had our books, games, crayons, DVDs, and of course, a container of pure almond butter made in a dedicated almond only (i.e. peanut and other tree nut free) factory (not so easy to find, and in case you're wondering, it's called Barney Butter).

To say I was nervous would be an understatement.  To say the babe was nervous would be a serious understatement.  But we were there on a mission, and we were both in it to succeed (thankfully, the babe had passed her previous 3 food challenges).  On a side note, my feisty girl can really amaze me; at times I truly wonder how a 5 year old can be so strong.  Dealing with life threatening food allergies at such a young age has shaped her and caused her to deal with issues other kids her age couldn't imagine.  You've gotta respect the hell out of that, at least I do.

And guess what?  After six hours of gradually increasing amounts of almond butter and more vital checks than I could keep track of, it was determined that the babe can now eat almonds.  She has outgrown her allergy.  And I can not explain how thrilled I am. 

We are making so much progress, and by knocking off almonds, we can now look at knocking off a few other nut candidates over the next year.  While it is unlikely we will ever be able to say good bye to the dreaded peanut allergy, there is a good chance that the babe, over time, will continue to outgrow her tree nut allergies.  And that is progress my friends; THAT is progress.

So here's to almond butter and jam sandwiches. Because frankly, soy nut butter just wasn't cutting it for her anymore.

The Ice Cream Truck

Dear Ice Cream Truck that shows up at the park at 4:00 p.m. AND 5:00 p.m.:

What is wrong with you? 

Why do you come to a park filled with children right before dinner time? 

Don't you know that your products are filled with crap which will mess with our kids bodies? 

Don't you know our kids are going to be fed their dinners within a few hours, if not before? 

Don't you know that you create a "have" and "have not" situation every time you show up at the park? 

Don't you know you cause moral dilemmas for parents who struggle to do the right thing for their kids? 

Don't you know that parents don't want to deal with kids on a sugar high at the end of a long day? 

Don't you know that there are always kids on the playground (like my kids) crying because they can't have the crap you're selling and other kids can? 

Don't you know that all the food dyes in that crap you're selling can make kids even crazier? 

If you are going to come by with your little sing song van, at least have the decency to come after the lunch hour.  Because even a mean mommy like me would consider OCCASIONALLY buying your crap for my kids every once in a while.

I used to call you the music truck when you drove around my old neighborhood, now I have another name for you and I can't write it here.

I am glad there are parks you don't frequent, because those are the ones we'll be at if you keep showing up at TP every day.