Friday, February 29, 2008

The work of children is play

Here's another great piece about the importance of play for children... Is it just me or does all this cutting-edge research about play seem to be sort of intuitive? I mean, isn't the kind of play they're advocating just what children used to do naturally when they were hanging out with their parents all day on the farm? I'm no historian, in fact I'm getting most of my information from my foggy recollection of Little House on the Prairie episodes, but it seems like basically children need to be able to do the things that came naturally to kids growing up about 200 years ago: run around outside, dig in the mud, garden, take care of animals, sew, build with wood, help with cooking and take care of younger siblings. If you think about it, typical preschool centers seem to be a virtual replica of the natural habitat for children so many years ago (playground, sandbox, crafts, blocks, play kitchen and dolls).

In so many ways, it seems like we are trying to recreate a simpler time in the midst of our complicated, two-income, commuting, hyper-plugged-in lifestyles. Home-schooling is becoming a more and more popular option for parents, a raised awareness about where our food comes from has led people to seek out local farms or even try their hand at gardening. I hear that the latest trend for the uber-hip is to keep your own chickens and urban bee-keeping is on the rise.

Sometimes I fantasize about a "simpler" life. A life where my kids are free to roam, climb trees and fall into ponds when they're not helping me churn butter or sew a new frock. But then I remember the privileges of my life lived in the 21st century in the suburbs. Today it is cooooooold. Too cold for frolicking outside without serious winter gear. Our plan is to go to the mall where there is a small replica of an airport made of that squishy foamy plastic that gymnastic mats are made of. Maybe I will get a grande skim latte so that I have something to sip while I watch the kids pretend to be pilots and baggage handlers. It will be very safe and very warm and there is always the possibility of a fabulous sale and a new frock.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Who's the Picky One?

Ever since I whipped up my first mouth-watering batch of baby cereal four years ago, Emma and I have been engaged in a cold war over food. Actually, no, it goes back further than that, to when she was about four months old and she would purse her lips together tightly and turn her head away if I so much as unbuttoned my shirt. She preferred the expensive stuff out of a can to what I was manufacturing for free. I remember feeling like I was feeding a drug habit, having to buy those cans of formula constantly. My milk went away after about a month of trying to get her to prefer me to a bottle. I felt like I had failed Breastfeeding 101 and that was just the beginning of me worrying about Emma's eating. I went on to be a total disaster at spoon feeding as well. Trying to get a bite of anything into Emma's tightly closed mouth was like trying to open the bathroom door when Charlie has locked himself inside (don't ask). Now that Emma is able to, ahem, "verbalize" her preferences, it is an ongoing "discussion" about why she can't have another chocolate chip granola bar. Why goldfish are not an appropriate lunch. Why we can't have cereal for dinner. Meanwhile, I've got Charlie who asks for extra broccoli and will eat just about anything that is put within grabbing distance of him.

Emma is growing and thriving and all of that, so it's not like she's malnourished. When you look at what pediatricians say children actually need to consume nutrient-wise, she's doing okay. But I still worry about what she eats. I worry that if I deny her snacks like granola bars and goldfish that I'm going to give too much importance to these seemingly innocent foods, and she will be 35 years old some day, sneaking teddy grahams in the middle of the night. Then I chastise myself for giving in to the demands for snacks because, not surprisingly, she doesn't eat anything for dinner if she's had one of her favorite snacks earlier. If I do cave into her demands for snacks then there's still a debate about why she can't have more graham crackers, more Dora yogurt, etc. It's seriously a constant discussion about snacks at my house and it starts first thing in the morning when she appears bleary-eyed next to our bed at 7 a.m.

I think what it comes down to with Emma is control. That's definitely a lot of my problem as well. We both want to control what Emma eats and it's no surprise that she's winning that battle. After all, you can lead a preschooler to asparagus, but you can't make her eat.

So, what's the answer? Do I eighty-six all snack foods? That's probably what I need to do. I've been trying to make Emma-approved family dinners several nights out of the week so that not every dinner ends with her crying and me feeling like a failure. But, I can only eat pasta so many nights a week. Does anyone have any kid-faves that you think Emma might like to eat? I would love to get some ideas. Here are the things she will take a few bites of (if the planets are aligned and she hasn't already gorged on goldfish that day):
  • Tortellini with tomato sauce

  • Cheese pizza

  • Scrambled eggs

  • Apples

  • Applesauce

  • Carrots

  • Peas

  • Yogurt

  • Grilled cheese

  • Cereal (Raisin Bran is her fave.)

  • Oatmeal

  • Quesadilla with guacamole

  • Bananas

  • Pineapple

  • Cantaloupe

I might be forgetting a few things...but those are the old stand-bys.

Is this a decent list? Am I actually the picky one here?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Child's Play

I just heard this story on NPR after dropping off my kids at preschool. I had what NPR often refers to as a "driveway moment" where I sat in my driveway and listened to the whole story (using up precious kid-free minutes). It's a really interesting piece about how children's play has changed since the inception of television and toy advertising over 50 years ago. Click on over to read/listen to the story. It turns out that when my kids are using whisks and a laundry basket to play pirate ship, they are really learning self-regulation. Who knew?

Saturday, February 16, 2008

What do you do all day?

Someone on a mom listserv I read asked this question the other day: What do other stay-at-home-moms do all day? She went on to say that she had really enjoyed her first year as a SAHM, but that she was burned out and tired of never getting to do anything for herself. One of her children was needing her attention constantly. She gave the example of trying to read a book while her children played. She said her son, not wanting to be left out of the exciting grown-up book-reading action, would sit next to her and stare at the words on the page as she read. I've been trying to think of how to respond to this other mother, to give her some reassurance or words of wisdom. But I think the problem is that I have had the same question running through my head since my first was born 4 years ago.

I remember when Emma was just weeks old we had just moved to Las Vegas and I was totally friendless and a hormonal train wreck. I looked outside at the desert landscape, which looked like what I imagine the moon must look like if the moon had lots of strip malls and tanning salons. I looked down at Emma strapped into one of the various contraptions I had painstakingly chosen months before, after waddling up and down the aisles of Babies-'r-Us, spending as much time deliberating over take-along swings and pack-n-plays as I did my wedding china. I looked at her belted into her bouncy seat and thought, what now? From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I couldn't wait for this baby to be here. I loved her intensely. In those early weeks, if I found a few hours of sleep to string together, I would dream about Emma. I would have nightmares of losing her in the covers of the bed, dropping her from some great height, falling down the stairs with her in my arms. I would wake up in a crazy, hormone-induced sweat seconds before she started crying, my body and her body still somehow magically linked. I would stumble down the hallway of our Las Vegas corporate apartment to her crib, feeling my way around rented furniture in the dark. That's a good metaphor to describe those early months of motherhood--feeling my way around in the dark. I remember standing with her in the apartment, bouncing her back and forth and both of us looking into each other's eyes and crying. Both of us thinking, what do we do now? I remember calling my sister one day after spending most of the day breastfeeding on the couch and rotating Emma in and out of her various parking spots (swing, bouncy seat, play gym, repeat). I asked my sister, "What am I supposed to do with her all day?" "Just hold her and try to get her to smile," was her simple answer. Oh, okay. Well, duh. Why didn't I think of that? So, I did that and eventually she did smile (a small miracle!) and that was when I think things started to get better. It's much easier to play to an audience who is acknowledging you in some way. I got the hang of Emma and she started to trust that I wasn't totally incompetent. I learned to use a sling to carry her around and I realized that it soothed both of us to simulate her being back in the womb.

Cut to four years later...I now have two kids and I am a somewhat seasoned mom. I will eagerly reach for a friend's baby so that I can feel their warm, sack-of-potatoes body and remember how my own children felt, how my own journey as a mom started. I think my sister's wise advice about holding my kids and trying to get them to smile still applies. I think I also have to do things that make me smile as well. On Friday we had a play date with some good friends and then we went to the playroom at a local museum. I smiled a lot that day and so did my kids. I smile when I take ten minutes to read them a story or to do a puzzle with them on the floor. I also smile when I get to read the newspaper at "the big table" while we eat our lunch together. The kids ramble on about motorcycles and princesses to each other and I read about Obama or maybe Jenna Bush's wedding shower. Today I smiled a lot while we were at a birthday party at a house in the middle of the Virginia countryside, next to a small mountain. It was a beautiful drive through rolling hills and vineyards to get there--a long way from the desert of Las Vegas.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day Reality Check

Here's a tip for you: If you want to have a quaint time with your kids making Valentines by the fire like in Olden Times, don't give your kids Blow-Pops the size of their heads beforehand, and don't--I repeat, don't-- attempt to put a fair-weather-potty-goer like Charlie in big-boy underpants while making these Valentines. And unless you are just insane, and asking for all kinds of trouble, DO NOT try to make dinner while all this is going on.

The scene I pictured in my head when I did my Valentine's Day Craft Research and found a fairly simple Valentine for us to make did not quite happen last night. Instead there was a lot of yelling and jumping and peeing on things. The Valentines turned out okay...mostly because I was furiously gluing hearts and leaves onto lollipops after the kids went to bed, hoping to finish everything before Project Runway started last night.

Today when I was distributing Valentines into the cubbies of Charlie's classmates, I discovered that overnight most of the hearts had come un-glued from their lollipops. That means most of the kids will get random lollipops with sad little construction paper leaves glued on from some anonymous kid. Through the process of elimination, the moms of Charlie's classmates will probably figure out that Charlie is responsible for the deconstructed flower Valentines. I'm sure it will be apparent to the moms of these kids that Charlie, though he is brilliant in so many ways, is not capable of cutting out leaves and gluing them onto lollipop sticks. It will probably also be apparent to the other moms that I, while somewhat competent at many things, am not so good at the crafts. So much for all my Martha Stewart fantasies of impressing everyone with my homemade Valentines. Next year sign me up for those Dora and Bob the Builder valentines from Target. This mommy has better things to worry about.

Here's wishing you a happy Valentine's Day filled with lots of store-bought goods and glue-free surfaces!



Monday, February 11, 2008

A daddy, a mommy and two preschoolers walk into a restaurant...

Yesterday Emma told her first joke. You want to hear it? Here it is: "What does a pirate say when he has to sneeze? Arrr arrr arr choo!" We all died laughing. I know it is not really the funniest joke ever, but it is an exciting "first" nonetheless. I sort of stopped caring about "firsts" once both of my kids began toddling across the floor on their own, but maybe I need to be keeping better track of these things.

Another "first" for us this weekend was going to a restaurant as a family and actually eating our food. It was amazing. We were seated in the "family" section of the restaurant which meant we were surrounded by strollers, babies snoozing peacefully in their little bucket seats, babies not snoozing so peacefully, and toddlers acting like, well, toddlers in a restaurant. We were all drinking our water, only one of us spilling slightly. Brandon and I were talking about something we saw on Bill Maher the night before (grown up political discussion at a restaurant with the kids? unheard of!) while Emma and Charlie sat perched on booster seats on opposite sides of the table eating chips and drinking their water. Then the waiter brought our food and we all ate! Can you believe it? I can't. The next thing you know I will be going to museums and actually stopping to look at the art or going to the library without chasing a running, screaming little person through the Non-Fiction section. Where have my babies gone? After dinner I couldn't help but feel the same bittersweet combo of feelings I have felt with every other first as a mom: extremely proud of how my kids are growing up but also mournful of the babyness they leave behind every day. I passed a baby snoozing peacefully in a bucket seat on my way to take Emma to the bathroom and thought to myself, now that mom is really lucky.

Arrr, matie....I am never satisfied. The grass is always greener on the other side of Mommytown.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

DIY Valentines

Who says Valentine's Day has to be a Hallmark holiday? (or a Dora holiday or a Bob the Builder holiday)? This year, my plan is to bypass the pre-packaged Valentines-as-savy-marketing-tools and take a few minutes to make some cards with my kids. In case you are craft-challenged, here are some fun ideas to get the creative juices flowing...

Or you can do what generally happens at my house when I try to make my kids do a specific craft... just surrender the fantasy of anything turning out to look remotely like what it's supposed to and let the kids go crazy with heart stickers, glitter, and pink, purple and red markers.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Zen and the art of Dishwashing

I enjoyed this article that was in our paper today. It's a good reminder that our lives as mothers are filled with the poignant masquerading as the mundane.

Hope you're having a good Monday!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Super Loser

I might possibly be the only person in America not watching the Super Bowl. Even NPR, which I was listening to tonight as I made dinner, did a story about what a loser you are if you're not watching the Super Bowl. As evidence they cited the fact that one of the only other things on TV tonight was a marathon showing of "The Biggest Loser." Next, NPR aired a re-run of some show about star gazing (which I listened to until dinner was ready).

Just as with anything involving a ball or a helmet, I'm perfectly happy to sit this one out.

Speaking of super about that Super Tuesday coming up? Here's a a cool way to figure out what you're looking for in a president. You just answer a few key questions and the magic website tells you who should vote for.

Night night....I'm off to write and then maybe watch a little Miss Austen Regrets. Happy Super Bowl!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Tah dah! Brandon's Blackberry Cake!

As you can see, I am not a professional, but much love went into this cake. It tasted pretty good too! Happy Saturday, everyone!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Birthday Pizza. Birthday Cake.

I’m in such a good mood today. It’s raining and cold outside and my only plans for the day are to wrap Brandon’s birthday presents (Happy 33, Brandon!!), make a birthday cake, make birthday pizza, hang out with my kids and maybe sneak off to the bathroom or my closet to do a little writing. A new character just came on the scene in the book that I am writing and he is the new breakout star. I had no plans for him to arrive, but he walked through the door yesterday and now things are really cooking in my story again. I love when that happens. Who am I kidding? That’s never happened to me, so I am just thrilled that this character has decided to grace my book with his presence.

I thought I’d share my recipes for birthday pizza and cake. Not that you asked, but I think it’s fun to get new ideas from time to time so I figured you might too. So, here’s a recipe for pizza dough. Don’t be scared of making your own dough…I’m so not the baking/measuring type, but I can do it. It really is exciting to see your pudgy little dough grow to twice its size in the span of an hour. At the end of the process you will want to carry your little dough around with you and show it to people you will be so proud. Then after you make the dough you can sit back and relax or you can start the process of making the chicken and roasted garlic for my “famous” (in my family at least) Roasted chicken pizza with peppers and potatoes. I invented this pizza based off of my memory of a pizza we always used to eat at a place called Cipollina’s in Austin. I honestly can’t remember much about that pizza except that it had pepperoncini and potatoes and chicken—a crazy yet fabulous combination of foods. So, the rest of the recipe I made up, but it works and it elevates pizza to birthday status. Click here if you want the recipe.

Here’s the recipe for chocolate birthday cake. It is the cake my mom always made for me on my birthday and it is the way chocolate cake should taste in my opinion.

Now I just have to decide how to decorate the cake. Emma wants it to be a Dora cake. Charlie is really pushing for a Spiderman scooter cake. I’m not sure if those things really sum up Brandon in a cake. If only I were a talented enough cake decorator to convey in icing just what an awesome father, husband and guy Brandon is... actually, maybe a Spiderman scooter cake is the way to go. Happy birthday, Brandon! I hope you have a wonderful birthday today filled with pizza and cake and all the things you love most.