Season of losing, you giving to me

Wow. Yesterday’s post was both wonderful and horrible. I’m thankful for such an outpouring of love and support for me and also for the other commenters, but am horrified by how many things are going wrong for so many people right now.

Since I posted yeterday, another big huge crying-in-the-conference-room thing went wrong in my own life that I’d love to rant about but know would absolutely come back to bite me in the arse if I put it on the internets, and then my friend’s best friend had her third miscarriage in a row, this one at 5 months.

I remember going through a period like this last year, in which I felt like I was being stripped of all the things that were important to me. It was rough, but it felt like every place that was emptied, God filled that space and strengthened me. So maybe this is another time, for me and for everyone else, of being stripped down to the essentials and being honed.

Now something I really feel creepy about talking about: A couple of people have emailed me to ask about donating money to me, with a tip jar on this site. I’ve always been really adamant about this site and this community being free. And I’ve always felt kind of creepy about a tip jar. Now that I have to buy furniture to sit on, though, I’m tempted. If I did it, I’d leave it up for 2 days, max, and then we’d never speak of it again.

What do you guys think? And, please, be honest. Would you think I’m a horrible, avaricious person? Cheesy and cheap? Or would it not bother you because you’d just ignore it and move on with your day?

I think in the long run, it would be a bigger help to me if you’d email your local newspaper and request that they run a regular being-a-parent column by me. If you do that, would you let me know and then I can pitch them? I would love to be Moxie full-time, but don’t want to do it out of your pockets.

Personal day (primal scream)

This week someone I thought was a good friend betrayed me and won’t talk with me about it, one grandma had to put down her beloved dog that she got right after my grandpa died, and the other grandma just got diagnosed with leukemia. I’m exhausted from crying and not sleeping (although I figured out last night that a double-dose of Rescue Remedy and rubbing a lot of magnesium oil on my feet quieted my head enough to let me finally conk out).

I’ll be back tomorrow. Primal Scream here for you today.

Raising white men in America

I mentioned in passing yesterday that I think there’s a special responsibility when you’re raising white boys to be men in America. (Maybe in other countries, too, but I can only speak to America as here and Mexico are the only places I’ve ever lived.) A couple people asked in the comments and by email for me to expound on my thoughts.

As with everything, I’m not an expert. But when my first child came out and was a boy, I started thinking about what my job was in raising him. I’d been prepared to raise a strong girl, but hadn’t put as much thought into how to raise a truly strong boy. Once I started thinking about that, it occurred to me that I also had the responsibility to raise a child who was going to have some understanding of race and ethinitcity in America and wasn’t going to take undue advantage of the system.

The first part of this is raising kids who are happy with who they are, who know what makes them special, and who are willing to work hard but also know their own areas of competence. If you really know who you are, then you don’t need to think less of anyone else. You all have seen it on the internet–the people who attack (obviously or passively) are the ones who aren’t sure about themselves.

With the next step, I have a huge advantage. We live in New York City, so we bump into (literally) people of all races and ethnicities all day long every day. We ride the subway and bus, and interact with people wherever we are. When you have the chance to see people who look different from you and from each other, it’s easy to show your kids that people are people. Knowing people of other ethnicities is the best way to lessen interpersonal racism, because you know they are people, not just  categories.

I’m not sure how I’d work it if I lived in a place in which there wasn’t as much opportunity for one-on-one interaction with people who didn’t look like my kids. I grew up in a neighborhood that was overwhelmingly white but my parents had a variety of friends from different backgrounds. And they had the idea that we should know about more places and people than just the ones on our street. That openness informed the way they chose books and toys and TV shows for us to watch and helped us navigate things later on.

I think the bigger challenge than helping your kids avoid interpersonal racism is dealing with institutional racism. In my opinion, institutional racism is far more evil and hard to fight. The biggest problem is that, for white people at least, it’s invisible. It just looks like The Way It Is, and unless someone talks about it with you, it can be hard to understand that the status quo isn’t necessarily fair or just, and is putting some people in a position of superiority to others. Then once you know that, it’s even harder to figure out what you can do not to reinforce that system.

So, what’s the best way to smoke something out? Talk about it. And talk and talk and talk. In an age-appropriate way, of course, but when you see any kind of bias going on, talk about it with your kids. This election cycle is a bonus of teachable moments if your kids are 5 or older. (Both on women’s history and on race and ethnicity in America.) The news (at least here in NYC) is also an unfortunate object lesson if you’re willing to talk about why a kid with a candy bar gets shot for being in the “wrong” neighborhood.

I sometimes worry about saying the wrong thing. But then I think, as long as I’m keeping my eyes open and listening to what’s going on and helping my kids learn to distinguish appearances from reality, whatever we say is part of the process. It’s not like you can just swallow a Don’t Be Part Of The Problem pill and everything’s fixed. Human beings are born to make classifications and divisions, and unpacking that takes a long time and a willingness to keep up the conversation even when it’s not happy.

I learned a heck of a lot about institutional racism from reading blogs of people who write a lot about race (some of them are about transracial adoption):

Anti-Racist Parent

American Family (and her entire blogroll)

WOC PhD

Dawn

Peter’s Cross Station

If you start with any one of these blogs and start reading and following links, you will read some important stuff by some thoughtful people. And if you’re white like me and my kids, you will probably read somethings that make you feel uncomfortable at best. That’s part of the process. You need to know. So do your kids. I know they have more practical suggestions than I do, but then, I’m still trying to find a path through it myself.

Thoughts?

NYC meetup

How about it?

Sunday, September 7 at noon. (The weekend after Labor Day weekend.)
Central Park toward the middle of the park but closer to the west side, just below the 72nd Street Drive (Terrace Drive). There’s a green space bounded by fences, and with a bowl effect (so the kids won’t be able to run away before we can get to them because gravity will slow them down). Close to bathrooms, and with background music (house and disco) from the rollerbladers.

To find the spot: Walk in to the park from 72nd Street on either side. Walk toward the middle, and follow the music from the rollerbladers (they’re below the bandshell). There’s a big ridge to the bordering the bladers on the west–the spot is right over that ridge. It is west of the rollerbladers, the bridge, the bandshell, and the mall. It is east of a huge pile of enormous rocks and the bowling/croquet fields. It is north of Mineral Springs Cafe and the Lilac Walk. It is south of the 72nd Street transverse.

Q&A: special needs child

Katie writes:

“I have a 3-year-old son with autism and figure at least some of your readers have experience with special needs. My boy was diagnosed as having moderate autism just before he turned 2, and I am so proud of how far he has come. (I could write a whole separate e-mail about all of the therapies and interventions he has endured.) He is very verbal now and, though he is in a special preschool class, I believe he will be mainstreamed into a regular classroom by elementary school and be almost indistinguishable from his typical peers.


My dilemma is whether I should ever tell him about his autism. He hears me speak of it often now; I have no qualms about telling someone he is on the spectrum, partly because it explains some of his behaviors that new friends may find odd, and partly because I am so proud of all the progress he has made. But he is getting closer to the age when he will really pick up on what I’m saying when I speak to others about him.


I don’t want to completely ignore it or act as if it never happened or make it into this big secretive talk–“Son, let’s sit down for an important talk about something terrible about you.” It is a part of who he is, a part of his past and present. I guess what I’m looking for is wisdom from others who may have gone through this before. Do I stop mentioning it so much? Do I wait for him to ask me something down the road? Do I phase out the word “autism” as his symptoms show up less and less?”

Hmm. On the one hand, I feel like he’s going to know there’s something different about him. On the other hand, you don’t want him to grow up thinking there’s something less about him. So how do you balance the two–acknowledging that he’s got some things that are different about him but also letting him know that he’s great the way he is?


I wrote that first parapgrah three weeks ago, and have been sitting on this post ever since, trying to figure out what to write. The fact is, I don’t know what it’s like to have a special needs child. It would be disingenuous of me to talk about it, I think, because I’ve never had the experience of parenting a child who isn’t always going to be received easily by the world. (I definitely think I have a special responsibility in raising two white men in America, but that’s a different post.)


I’d love to hear from moms and dads of kids who don’t fit neatly into the boxes that we expect kids to fit into. Not just kids who have autism, but kids who have any other kind of developmental issue, kids who have chronic illnesses, kids who look different.


How do you manage their “issues” (treatments, therapies, medical inteventions, etc.) while still loving and respecting them as people? How do you straddle the line between living your experience as the parent of a special needs child and honoring their experience as a special needs person? What if the “special need” is something that isn’t recognized by the larger world (like being a highly sensitive or spirited person)?


Please talk about it. If you want to link to other supportive areas of the internet, please do. (If you type in the http:// before the www part of the address it’ll automatically hyperlink so people can just click through your comment.)

Q&A: The one where I feel like a shitty parent

Alisha (who clearly needs her own podcast, just for her email subject alone) writes:

Is there some fussy-farting-limits-testing-booshity thing that happensaround the 7 month mark? Because the boy and I have been going ten
rounds lately and he’s kicking my parental ass.
I don’t know if it’s the teething (it looks like his bottom eye teeth
are coming in. I thought the top ones came before the sides?) or some
sort of developmental thing (he’s 32 weeks but he was 2 weeks late so
developmentally that’s 34 weeks? He’s starting to sit unassisted for a
few
seconds and crawling is imminent, although I’ve been saying that for
weeks) or if I’m just being punished for being smug, but my son is back
to non-sleeping. It started a few days ago – a little extra rocking
here, another round of Lullabye there. Small stuff that was easy to
dismiss. Clearly a month of cushy snoozing (five minutes of rocking and
he was out until 5 am; easy breezy naps) made us soft. Now he’s taking
forever to settle and once he is asleep it doesn’t last. The minute his
head hits the mattress he flips onto his back, grabs his blankie, and
shoots us a self-satisfied grin.

FOOLS!!!

That’s
what the grin says, I swear it. You can practically count the
exclamation points in his eyes. Lather, rinse, repeat (two to four more
times) and you’ve got yourself one pissed off mama.

It’s
the joy – the exalation! – that makes me so crazy. It feels like a
giant F- you to my parenting skills. We did CIO at 4.5 months and after
16 miserable, worthless days ended up with a baby who was terrified to
go to sleep. Then we instigated a rock/jiggle/hum routine that worked
wonders – until now. I’ve tried leaving
him to cry again which sends him to Shitsville in a large, wailing
basket.
I’ve said fuck it and gotten him up which leads to a grouchy, bleary
eyed babe and a difficult day. According to the books (here
we go…) he’ll nap better if he sleeps longer at night so I should
ignore him until 6 am. (Actually they say he should be sleeping until 6 am which makes me want to punch them in the nose.) There’s no way: his diaper is practically deteriorating by 4:30 (the outside actually squishes, it’s so full) and I defy anyone to get a baby back to sleep after an early morning wipe down.

I’m
trying to convince myself that this is just a phase (maybe he’s transitioning from 3 naps to 2?) but there’s an
awful lot of You’re Not The Boss Of Me happening lately, which is great
developmentally but panty-twisting, mommy-wise. (We’ve introduced solids and he’s starting to
refuse the bottle. Sure, the nipple is good for chewin’ and have you
ever just opened your mouth and let the liquid spill out all over
yourself?
Apparently it’s awesome. Awesome enough to do over and over and over and over.)

Excuse me while I take a moment.

Is this crap normal?

Oh, this sucks. I’m so sorry, although your email was super-funny and I thank you for that.

It sounds like a whole bunch of developmental, movement, and teething stuff all combined into a big ball of suck, plus the 37-week wonder week. Also, it sounds like your son may be really smart, and that’s leading him to testing his independence a little bit earlier than usual. (Just like in that movie with L.L. Cool J in which they’re training the sharks and then the sharks get smarter than the human are and attack.) It’s tough with the smart kids, because lots of times they don’t sleep as much or as well as the norm, and they get frustrated when they’re aware of things but can’t make their needs or will known.

At this age, he’s probably too young even for sign language (you could start with the signs and he might understand at this point but probably doesn’t have the physical skills to make them himself yet). And sign language likely won’t help with the sleep. But talking him through every single thing that’s going on all day might. Verbalizing feelings for him, like saying “You’re angry!” when he’s clearly mad, and stuff like that. I know people think a 7-month-old is too young to communicate, but their receptive language kids in so early, and you might as well err on the side of attributing more maturity to your kid than less.

But back to the main point, which is that the books are full of crap. OK, not necessarily pure crap, but the stuff in those books works for a certain subset of kids. And it’s not working for your son, so for your purposes, the books are crap.

If it makes you feel any better, I got 6 emails since Wednesday about naps, so there’s something going around. And there isn’t anything in your email that’s jumping out at me as obvious that you could fix. If you’ve checked the usual things (propping the head of the crib, cutting out solid for a few hours before bed in case it’s indigestion, temperature check noises check, etc.), then it’s just time to open it up to sympathy. You’re doing a great job.

Readers, it’s Friday. And yet none of us will have a weekend because our kids will be up at the same freaking time as usual on Saturday morning. Sympathy for Alisha, primal scream for yourself, or pie recipes all appreciated in the comments.

Q&A: Controlling Toddler Meltdowns?

Sarah writes:

“I discovered a few days ago that if I yell, sternly, ENOUGH!!!, when my18-month old starts spiraling into a tantrum, he stops, stunned by my
loud and stern voice, and returns to a calm state.  On the weekend, he
was about to meltdown in his stroller, and I yelled ENOUGH and it
stopped him dead in his tracks, I have to admit I was quite pleased.
Today he started to melt down because I wanted him to stop playing with
something that was dangerous and so I yelled ENOUGH again, and again,
it worked.  But today instead of being pleased I started to wonder if I
was scaring him into submission, or “training” him like one might train
a dog.  I have no idea how to deal with tantrums.  I have read your
posts and I understand that it’s ok to comfort an 18-month old through
the tantrum without giving into their “want”.  But if I can stop it
before it becomes full-blown, isn’t that preferable?  Or, am I using
old tactics that we’ve learned since are harmful to a child’s
self-esteem? 

This is part of a broader issue, which is that I just want my boy to be
happy, and I know my husband feels I am on the verge of spoiling him by
rarely saying no to him.  Do (good) parents yell at toddlers, as I’ve
started to do to halt bad behaviour, or is that a total no-go?  I feel
at a total loss.”

I’m going to say that this is not a good thing. On the one hand, it is kind of just a distraction method, right? You’ve shocked him into being quiet. But really what’s happening is that you’re yelling at him to get him to stop yelling.

I absolutely appreciate the urge that made you yell ENOUGH! in the first place. And I think we’ve all been there with the kneejerk, instinct-level reactions (your preschooler smacks you and you reflexively smack him back, your elementary schooler calls you a name and you respond with “it takes one to know one!”, etc.) because none of us are perfect and it’s just human nature to react when you feel attacked, even by a little kid. However, the goal is that you make discipline policies that are well-thought-out and are going to help your kid (and yourself, too) learn mastery of themselves and increase connection with you.

So, as a policy, yelling is a no-go, because it’s just punitive (and is experienced as violence, for sure). It’s not teaching anyone anything good–it’s teaching your kid to be afraid of you and it’s teaching you that brute force is the way to run the situation with your child. And in the long-term it’s not helping you guys individually or as a pair.

Honestly, I’m really starting to feel like toddler tantrums are just another developmental blip for us to ride out, like the 4-month sleep regression or that stage when they only want to eat things they can feed themselves. I think tantruming, on a kid-by-kid basis, is “normal” behavior and no matter what we do it’s going to pass. And maybe for some kids there’s something simple you can do to get them to stop having tantrums or to get them through that stage faster, but not for all. Which means that you try some stuff, but not with the goal of finding The Cure, just with the goal of helping you all deal with it in a way that honors all of you as people.

The bigger thing I think you need to look at is how you and your husband are approaching discipline. At all ages, but especially at this age, it’s about setting boundaries, not about getting kids to obey. (I really hate that word obey.) When kids obey, they’re doing it because they fear punishment, not because they’re making the choice themselves. I think we can all (or most of us) agree that the goal is to raise adults who have an internal sense of right and wrong and the power to make good decisions for themselves and others.

This young toddler age isn’t about having them make good choices, because their ability to actually choose and then carry out an action is limited, and when they get an urge it’s super-hard for them not to do it. But it is about getting them used to boundaries, and that they aren’t going to be allowed to do certain things (like hurting a pet, running into the street, sticking forks in electrical outlets, etc.), that they are going to have to do certain other things (like brushing their teeth, having their diapers changed, etc.). Another aspect of boundaries is learning that they will be loved, that no one is going to hit them or yell at them (which is why kids who are abused have problems with boundaries later), that their opinion matters, that they’re part of a community.

So it sounds like your husband sees setting boundaries as “saying no to him,” while saying no sounds too punitive to you. So maybe sit down together and talk about setting boundaries and how you want to do that. Three great references to get your head around the concepts of setting boundaries are Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child, Lawrence Cohen’s Playful Parenting, and Faber and Mazlish’s How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. (If you can only get one, get the Ginott.)

For practical, minute-by-minute tips on boundaries and dealing with tantrums at this young toddler and preschooler age, I don’t know anyone else better than Sharon Silver. I’m hoping she’ll drop in and comment on this post. (OK, I just clicked over to her site to find the URL to link, and started laughing because her current headline is “Stop Reacting – Start Responding – We’ll Show You How. Do you find yourself yelling at your toddler or preschooler because you’re frustrated and you don’t know what else to do?” Ha! So yeah, let’s hope she drops in.)

We need data points on nursing to sleep

I’ve gotten some emails recently from moms who have been nursing their babies to sleep, but are getting lots of pushback from other people about how they need to stop or their kids will “never learn to fall asleep on their own.” I know we all know this is ridiculous, since no one goes off to college with their mom along. But I thought it would be helpful if we had some data points about what would actually happen if you just went with it.

My oldest needed to nurse to sleep, and abruptly stopped at around 11 months. He still wanted to nurse at bedtime, but couldn’t fall asleep that way anymore. Instead, he wanted his dad to rock him. (That lasted for a few months, then we went into a few months of someone lying down next to his crib, then that was over, and he started going to bed on his own, which shocked and delighted me at the time. You know how with that first kid it all seems so endless?)

My second kid never could nurse down to sleep, so he’s no use as a data point for this question.

I’ve heard of several other kids who stopped nursing down of their own accord somewhere in the 10-12-month neighborhood, but I’m wondering if this is common.

So, if you nursed to sleep at bedtime until your child gave it up on his or her own, how old was your kid?

If you pushed the weaning for that feed yourself, I’m glad you did what worked for you, but your results aren’t useful for the data we’re trying to get on this post today.

Also, you can give info about naps if you want, but I don’t think naps and nighttime sleep always have much in common timewise.

Are you ready for school?

I’m certainly not. But it’s coming again whether I like it or not. So with that in mind, I thought I’d post some back-to-school stuff.

First, Julie of the National PTA (Parent Teacher Association–this is what we call the groups of parents in each school that support the school here in the US) sent me this:

“Summer breakis here, but PTA is already preparing to help millions of families head
back-to-school this fall by conducting a special webcast event. They’re
going straight to the source and asking parents across the country how they can
help!  This year the PTA is offering a new swing on how parents can ask
their questions. Parents now have the unique opportunity of submitting video
questions through the PTA You Tube page!

Questions
should be kept simple and short.  Remember creativity is a plus!  Questions
can be submitted conventionally via e-mail to forum@pta.org
OR can be posted as a video question on the PTA
YouTube
channel (select “Send a Message” in the “Connect
with nationalpta” box.  You must have a YouTube
account
to send a video message). When submitting questions on e-mail
or YouTube, the following must be included:

  • Your name,
  • The ages of your children,
  • The name, town, and state of your school and/or
    PTA,
  • Your e-mail address and phone number, and
  • Subject line: “Back-to-School”

By sending an e-mail or posting a video, you’ll be
granting PTA the right to publish your response, which may be edited for
grammar, length, and/or clarity.

The
PTA wants to know your questions! Deadline for submissions are Friday, August 8, 2008.
Keep in mind, even if you do not submit a
question the PTA still encourages parents to watch the webcast to pick up handy
tips on preparing their children for back-to-school!
The webcast
will be available for viewing starting August
18th
. http://www.visualwebcaster.com/event.asp?id=49642

So feel free to submit questions, or just go back and watch other people’s questions.

Second, an idea I think could really have legs. Were any of you as pissed off as I was to have to run all over the globe looking for exactly the specified school supplies on the list that the teacher handed out the first day of school, especially since you were supposed to bring them in two days later? I don’t know how WOH parents were supposed to have the time hunt exactly the right glue sticks down, and I certainly don’t know when SAH parents were supposed to. Especially when you’re already dealing with all the the back-to-school stuff, from kid tension and fear to new routines.

I was more than annoyed about it, and made many statements to the effect of “We sent people to the Moon almost 40 years ago, so why exactly can’t we just order school supplies on the internet??” Well, someone else must have been annoyed by that, too, but they actually did something about it by starting an online store just for school supplies. The idea behind EZSchoolSupplies.com is that schools and teachers can register their supply lists, and then parents can just buy them on the site and have them sent. Plus, the site gives a rebate back to the school in the form of a check or more school supplies. Any public, private, or charter school can participate, as well as any group, organization, or team. (I’m immediately thinking about how this could be used to help underfunded schools in the US or organizations that could give supplies to underfunded groups in other countries..)

As I see it, the only problem with the site is that not enough schools are using it yet. I typed in my zip code, and there are no schools there yet. So I’m going to email the PTA and harass encourage them to use it. If you all can email or call your PTAs to let them know about it, it could end up saving a ton of gas, time, and headaches in school supply shopping, and potentially do some real good for kids. (You can also enter your kid’s favorite teacher into the contest to win $1000 in free school supplies on the site.)

What other school-related things are coming up on the horizon for you?

I have talented friends

I’m feeling cranky today and am trying to think of happy (and cool) things, so I thought I’d brag about some of my real-life friends.

My friend Kiri runs Kirstinflo Designs and makes happy, one-of-a-kind handbags out of vintage tablecloths. She gave me one for my birthday and it makes me smile every time I look at because it just reminds me of that Donna Reed-esque time when women wore dresses and pearls and served “luncheon” to their friends on card tables set with a printed tablecloth. It’s also huge enough to carry all of the crap I routinely lug around with me, plus I get compliments on it all the time. Check out her Etsy store to see what her bags look like.

My friend Harris writes The Japanese Food Report, a website in which he chronicles his explorations into the world of Japanese food that goes waaaay beyond sushi and tempura. He spends a lot of time in Japan getting people to tell him how they cook things, as well as shadowing chefs at Japanese restaurants here in NYC. The post up now is about steaming sea bass Japanese style, something I never would have thought about doing, but his description and instructions (and photo!) made me think, “I can totally do that.” Another recent post I loved was about buying a Japanese knife.

And my friend “Mintyfresh” writes the blog Pepperknit, in which she writes about her astronomical number of knitting projects and all the delicious foods she cooks and consumes. She’s an excellent writer, but it’s her photos that bring her blog to life. She’s in Singapore right now visiting her parents, and I’ve been loving her latest posts about food in Singapore: the first real meal is the most important, the gluttony continues, going on a roti hunt.

Who do you know who does cool things?