Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Not to brag, but I did a guest post on Mammalingo today. The word I invented is "facebrag." Click on over to Melissa Sher's awesome website to see the definition.

Are you a bragface? If not, surely you know someone who is. Please share your facebragging experiences in the comments. I'm dying to hear. Now it's back to basking in the glow of the perfectness that is my life. (sigh)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Big Boy Bed Redux

I can't believe I am already having to write about my two-year-old, Teddy, needing a big boy bed. It feels like I was just posting about him being born and singing the praises of the Miracle Blanket. It feels like I was also just posting about my 5.5-year old, Charlie, needing a big boy bed, but that was over two years ago.

Right now I'm about two seconds away from swaddling Teddy up in a Miracle Blanket and tucking the whole package into his big boy bed sheets. This transition to big-boydom has not been what one would call "smooth."

Teddy started climbing out of his crib a few weeks ago. For a week or so, we weren't sure what to do. He didn't always climb out during every nap or bed time, so we left the crib up and crossed our fingers every time we put him down. I considered getting a crib tent, but when I went to Babies 'r Us, it turned out they didn't sell crib tents anymore. I could've ordered one online, but then I would've had to wait several days for it to arrive and it seemed like after that many days of freedom, it would be cruel zipping Teddy up into a crib tent every night. Plus it just seemed a little wrong to use a crib tent for a 2.25-year old. If this had happened six months ago, I totally would've gone for the crib tent. But two and up seems like big boy bed territory.

Last week, Teddy started climbing out of his crib constantly, so I just decided to take it down. Now he's sleeping on a mattress on the floor while he awaits the twin bed we ordered for him. Incidentally we ordered matching twin beds for Charlie and Teddy (they share a room) on Overstock.com for half what they would've cost most places. Plus, the shipping was free. Plus, they can be turned into bunk beds should we ever trust Teddy to be alone in a room with a ladder.

Hang on, I have to go put Teddy back in his bed. He's "napping."

So, now Teddy has total freedom to roam around his room. He is using this freedom to pull books off the shelf and not nap. He is really living it up. It has only been about four days since we got rid of the crib, and none of those days has been alike in terms of sleep. Most days he hasn't napped, but he has gotten a lot of reading done. Yesterday he napped and then was up bugging Charlie until almost eleven o'clock at night. I really don't think he's ready to give up his nap yet because before all this big boy bed nonsense, he was a champion napper and equally awesome at going to bed. Right now, it seems as though he's not successful at going to sleep in his big boy bed unless he is absolutely delirious from lack of sleep. If he's not super exhausted, then the books on the shelf call his name.

Does anyone have a formula for how long it will take to get him back to being the fabulous napper I know he is deep down inside? How long until the allure of getting out of bed wears off? With my other two, I still was able to use the crib for naps until they basically didn't need a nap anymore, so this is kind of new territory for me.

Any other big kid bed training tips you can share? In a way, this feels kind of like potty training in that we are going to have to go through a few weeks of torture before he gets it. Is that true?

I thought of Teddy and his big boy bed when I heard this story on NPR yesterday. It's about how important it is to teach children self-control. Interesting stuff. Basically, a child's self-control is a big predictor of success later in life. It's much simpler to teach a preschooler self-control than it is a teenager or an adult. Maybe this big boy bed drama is an opportunity to teach Teddy a thing or two about self-control.

Last night Charlie came downstairs at around ten o'clock and told us that he had figured out why Teddy kept getting out of bed. "It's because his bed doesn't have walls on it anymore," Charlie said standing there in his snowman p.j.s. Charlie, ever the logician, was right. We need to teach Teddy to act as though there are walls even though the walls are gone. This would seem completely impossible, except that our other two children miraculously sleep in their big kid beds even though no one has chained them to their fitted sheets. There is hope for Teddy. I think.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Homemade Valentines

I used to google ideas for valentines and then try to make my kids do the craft exactly as prescribed. See here for proof that I used to do this. Then, I got fed up and just started buying valentines at Target. I didn't want to go through the battle of making my kids do valentines. It was just too painful for both of us. Oh, the control issues. That's another post.

This year, I decided to get back on the homemade valentine horse. I checked my inner Martha Stewart at the door, and decided not to have any kind of agenda for the valentines. Now, even the two-year old is making valentines on his own without me micromanaging things. As usual he benefits from me screwing everything up the first time with the other two kids. Below are some pictures of what we did. Don't feel like this is what you need to do for your valentines. Hopefully these pictures will inspire you to make your valentine masterpieces, and soon you too will be finding glitter in your children's nether regions.

red and pink cards and matching envelopes
colored paper
Heart stickers
rubber stamps
old valentines
labels or table of friends' names

The obligatory glitter plate. You know the drill: Glue, shake the glitter, shake card over glitter plate

Charlie's school sent home these labels for him to cut and paste his friends' names. Brilliant! You could also write the names on heart stickers or labels and have your child stick them on.

Charlie's valentines. Note, the recycled dump truck valentine. Great way to use old valentines!

Teddy's Valentines. He's two and he did these beauties by himself. He dipped a rubber stamp in some glue and shook some glitter on the glue. Easy!

Emma's valentines. She loves to write personal notes in hers. One of my favorites is to her friend Josh: "You are smart and that is a gift." And then she drew a picture of Josh's brain inside of Josh's head. Romantic!

I hope these ideas help take some of the pain out of homemade valentines. We have really enjoyed making these this year. I think most importantly the kids got a lot out of thinking creatively about what they love about their friends. These may not make it on the cover of a magazine, but who cares? That's not the point. Happy Valentine's day, everyone!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Battle Hymn of a Rabbit Mother

The other day Emma and I were driving to gymnastics, our new Saturday ritual. I decided to schedule this activity on Saturdays instead of a weekday so as not to have to haul two extra kids to the gymnastics place once a week. I love this arrangement. It allows for Emma and me to have some one-on-one time together (a hard thing to come by in our family of five), and I can sit and really focus on watching her gymnastics class/read a book/zone out rather than corralling two younger children for an hour.

We were stopped at a red light on the way to gymnastics when Emma asked me apropos of nothing, "Mommy, what's a tiger mother?"

I laughed and tried my best to explain what a tiger mother was without totally freaking her out. I told her I was born in the year of the rabbit and was therefore not a tiger mother.

For those of you who don't know about the book by Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, it's a memoir of sorts about one mother's experience with raising kids the "Chinese way." Here's an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal piece by Chua detailing what Chinese children are not allowed to do:

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

The gym where Emma takes gymnastics is like a three-ring circus. There's Emma's "level 2" class, which is learning how to do cartwheels, how to walk backwards on the balance beam. Meanwhile the girls on the gymnastics team are practicing their floor routines, flipping their bodies powerfully across the big blue square in the middle of the gym. Another class practices the vault, another the uneven bars. You can see the evolution of how a donkey kick leads to a handstand, which leads to a handspring, which leads to a standing front flip. It's rare to see such a vivid example of how hard work and practice (and a touch of talent) can pay off.

Watching the class, I'm reminded of what the Tiger Mother said in her article: "What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up."

In the car on the way to gymnastics Emma told me she doesn't want to continue to level 3 gymnastics. She thinks it's too hard and she's not "good" at it. She has said similar things about soccer and ballet and we didn't continue with those activities. Since Chua's article was fresh in my mind, I reacted more like a tiger and less like a rabbit. I told her that she was going to stick with gymnastics, that she hadn't given it enough time to be good at it. That things that are worth having sometimes take hard work and practice. "Things are always hardest at the beginning," I said, channeling Chua.

Chua has gotten lots of flack for her book and Wall Street Journal piece. I completely agree with her critics who find her parenting "strategies" borderline abusive. She calls her girls "garbage" and "lazy" if they disrespect her or do not get straight A-pluses in school. She threatens to give away her little girl's dollhouse piece by piece if she doesn't perfect her piano piece. She's extremely hardcore.

It's a shame, though, that these sensational details get most of the press when a lot of what Chua is saying about the "Western" parenting style is valid. We do quit too easily. We place so much stock in our children's self-esteem that we treat them like these privileged, fragile little deities. We worship their accomplishments to such a degree that they are growing up with nothing to shoot for, nothing to work for. If they aren't enjoying themselves, then we scurry to make things more entertaining, more palatable for them. I know not all "Western" parents are guilty of this, but a lot of us are, me most certainly included.

Is there a happy medium? Some sweet spot somewhere between calling your child garbage if she brings home an A- and praising the crap out of her all the time? I'm still working this out in my head. I'm starting by not letting Emma give up on gymnastics so quickly. I'm also starting to work with my kids on their math skills more at home. We've always focused on reading together because I am a reader and it's just something I enjoy doing with them. I have never placed much emphasis on math, though, and I'm trying to change this. I am not calling them lazy or garbage while we work on our addition and subtraction, rest assured. We are making it fun, and they are actually enjoying themselves, although that is not the point. The point is getting better at math. If it happens to be fun, then that's just a bonus. I am incrementally trying to raise the bar a little bit, to give my kids something higher to shoot for.

Try as I might to be a tiger mom, I will always be a rabbit. I am a softy, too sensitive for my own good. It's my nature to swaddle my kids with kind, encouraging words, protect them from anything uncomfortable or difficult. I want their lives to be easy and fun. But I now see that there is an unintentional consequence to this kind of mothering. If they are never forced to work for their achievements, how will they ever develop self-discipline, stamina or a work ethic? If life is presented to them as easy and fun-centered, how disappointed and ill-equipped will they be when they find out that life is not like this at all?

When I told Emma she was not quitting gymnastics so easily, she didn't question me. She almost seemed relieved to have this particular issue off the table. It must be exhausting being a "Western" kid sometimes--so much depends upon your happiness. It must be a relief to discover you're not the center of the universe, unless of course you discover it too late.