Release the old

Thanks for all the answers yesterday. This is such a tough stage, and I'm going to have to focus more on emotions than I have been, I think.

Since today is the last day of 2008, I wanted to do something to commemorate that.

So for today, please put down a belief you have about yourself that's been holding you back. Type it here, in the comments section, and it will be anchored to 2008 forever, so you can go into 2009 being free of it.

My belief that's left in 2008 I already shared with you: That I'm a comic figure just trying to make it through the best I can.

If you've got a replacement belief about yourself, we'll put those down tomorrow so they can come into 2009 with us. If you don't have a replacement belief yet, don't worry-it'll come to you soon enough>
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Send help–my older son is turning 7

I'm not dead! Just having all kinds of crazy good things happen, some annoying things, and a whole lotta not near the internet.

I need help with the 7-year-old thing. I know this isn't so exciting for those of you in the baby stage, except that we already figured out that all of this is connected: 4 months, 8-9 months, 18 months, 3.5 years, 7 years, 14 years, etc. (I know my 35th year has been a doozy, personally. And 28 frankly sucked.)

But here I am with one kid still in the throes of 3 /2, and the other one closing in on 7. I feel like I'm in the middle of a big "Mom I hate you!" Sandwich. Sulking, bad attitude, resistance to any plan no matter how much fun, constant fighting with his brother, and just being someone no one wants to be around.

It's demoralizing. I know it's going to end at some point. The younger one will grow out of his phase, and then eventually the older one will grow out of his phase. But when? Anyone with older kids, how long does the 7-year-old phase last? Months? A year? Until I just can't take it anymore?

And remind me of some of the coping techniques we used for younger kids to breathe through it, please.

Commiseration/Support

It's Christmas Eve and that can be a complicated time for families. Especially when you have young children to deal with. So if you need to vent, or ask for help, or want to offer support or funny stories, please post here. (People not having problems, please check in to help people with issues.) I'll be back with a regular topic on December 26.

I'll start with an *extremely* minor quibble: My mom is determined that we're all going to go to the carols service at her church, which kicks off with a bell choir concert. I hate bell choirs (apologies to any readers involved in bell choirs, but they're nails on a chalkboard to me) and really can't do that. Nor can my brother or future SIL. So now we have to figure out how to negotiate that.

Your turn.

Travel horror stories

Oh, friends–the dog ate my post! I was writing one in my head last night on the airplane to my parents' (only 3 hours delayed!) and then it never made it into the computer and now I've forgotten what the topic even was in my travel-induced stupor.

Has anyone had any horror stories or funny stories about travel lately?

I'll start: So last night after a series of snafus including their thinking I didn't have a ticket, and my almost not getting a seat on the flight, we got on. It was a small plane (maybe 80 seats) and we had one flight attendant, who was an exact cross between Steve Urkel and George Jefferson. From the way he made the announcements to the way he walked down the aisle, it was uncanny. And then he engaged me in a bizarre and really funny conversation about pretzels vs. peanuts that I wish I could remember verbatim.

Anyone?

Q&A: grandparents moving abroad

Kate writes:

"In one week, my in-laws are moving abroad. This is not a temporarymove; they bought a house there and have shipped their worldly
possessions across the ocean. They are moving to a country that we
visit regularly, though not terribly frequently, and to which we have
many connections–familial and otherwise. We are actually seriously
contemplating following them, but we don't know when, anywhere from six
months to six years, say.

I am happy for them, although I haven't come to grips with the
fact that I am losing free babysitting. My husband is pretty devastated
(but out of the purview of this arena).

My 4.5 year old daughter, who to this point has had this set of
grandparents living 5 miles away, is starting to realize that the hour
is nigh for their move. She's heartbroken. We went to a big send-off
for them today, and while she was fine at the party, beforehand she was
SO upset about them moving. She knows where they are going, that they
will be in the same country as her cousins, that we will try to visit
them soon. But she realizes that we won't have the casual drop-in
relationship that she has now.

They will have a U.S. VOIP number, so we will of course let her
call whenever she wants, time zones permitting. Unfortunately, they're
not terribly tech savvy, so I think it would be like pulling teeth to
get them to use Skype or some sort of internet video system. But maybe
they'll change their tune.

In the meantime, is there something we can do to make this easier
for her? (My 2.5 year old son also claims he's sad and is going to miss
them, but I am not sure how much is him and how much is feeding off of
her. He is also close to them, but doesn't quite have the long view
that she does.) We just don't know what to say.

P.S. We are also, for a variety of reasons, driving them to the airport next weekend."

Oh, this sounds so tough.

I wish I had some answers, but my parents have always lived too far away from us, so I don't have anything to ease the pain of the separation. My kids miss my parents, but it's not a new situation, so I don't know how to help the transition.

It seems like it's the transition that's the problem, as she's upset about it now. Kids adapt, and in a few months she'll be used to not having them around, but it's the sadness of the separation that's the problem right now.

Do any of you have any experience with loved-ones moving away when a child is old enough to know that the separation is going to be hard? Is there a way to ease this? Or is it just something that is going to hurt a lot, and the parents just have to be there to help pick up the pieces?

Another feeding kids post

Can we talk about food for kids yet again? But this time for older kids.

I'm feeling in a distinct and pernicious rut. My children are old enough to eat real, adult food, but they just seem to refuse to eat things that aren't the old stand-by foods (burritos, pizza, Cowboy Supper –hot dogs and baked beans–and homemade baked chicken nuggets that they help me bread).

Frankly, I'm sick of it, but demoralized that when I make the effort to put together something better they just turn their noses up. It doesn't seem worth it to put together something decent if I'm the only one who will eat it. But I'm not going to do the two meal thing.

I guess I'm looking either for ideas that will bridge the gap between homemade chicken nuggets and  braised monkfish with asparagus risotto. Last Sunday I roasted a chicken (it was amazing) and the kids barely even touched it.

So I need ideas, or assurance that at some point they will eat what's offered. (At this point they just refuse and go without eating, pretty much, and don't seem to care.)

Q&A: Managing your reaction to danger

"True Christmas confessions" over at my personal blog today. Feel free to submit your own, and branch out to Hanukkah or any other holiday that's on your mind right now.

Kristie writes:

"I think I need a reality check. My daughter is a year old, and I just found out that my parents wanted to buy her a walker* for Christmas. I put an end to that plan, but am now living in fear of what other things people might give my child. All the talk about lead paint and contamination, small pieces that are choking hazards, etc.

I realize that I can't protect her from everything, but I'm starting to get freaked out about everything that could go wrong. Intellectually I know I should just relax, but I'm not sure I can. That scares me, because it makes me feel out of control and almost crazy. Can the readers help?"

* This is the old-school thing that a kid sits in and the feet touch the ground, and it has wheels, so the kid theoretically learns to walk while assisted by the contraption. They've pretty much been proven not to help anyone learn to walk, and to be death traps if a kid wheels to the stairs and then falls over in the walker.

I think the first step is to cut yourself some slack for worrying. As a parent, it's really your job to worry. Evolutionarily speaking, if parents didn't worry, we wouldn't have survived as a species, and a monkey would be typing this column and having a running joke about Trained Human Assistants to replace pacifiers in the middle of the night. (Ah, opposable thumb jokes–Are they ever not funny?) If worrying wasn't hard-wired into us, dingos would have stolen our babies long ago.

So worrying is your job, and it sounds like you're doing a good one! Now, the trick is to make sure it's not getting out of control.

People can give you all sorts of advice and basically blame you for getting into a worry/anxiety cycle, but I think a lot of out-of-control worrying is caused by something being biologically a little off with our bodies. especially at this time of year, it's super-easy to get out of balance. I have a couple of suggestions that should be easy to implement to give you a better body balance so you might be able to assess the dangers more realistically:

1. Stop eating so much sugar. Sugar. corn syrup, et al. really screw with your system by causing glucose/insulin reactions. All that stuff messes with your hormones and causes mood changes and anxiety cycles. It also depresses your immune system pretty seriously, making you vulnerable to illness. If you can keep it at a decent level and only have one Christmas cookie instead of five, you might find you feel better in general.

2. Take some magnesium. Lack of magnesium is a big culprit in anxiety. You can pop some magnesium supplements, but it's actually absorbed better through the skin (the tops and bottoms of the feet are particularly good places) so if you can find magnesium oil and rub it on your feet every night before bed you might notice a big change in anxiety levels. (I order my magnesium oil from Joan at www.health-and-wisdom.com and have had great experiences. Joan's also a font of knowledge about minerals.)

3. B complex vitamins. Excellent for mood. You can buy a bottle of the sublingual drops at any pharmacy or Target for a couple bucks. (They taste like gross orange drink, but do the trick.) If I'm feeling down I can feel my mood lift within 10 minutes of taking some B complex drops. Taking a regular daily dose helps keep me on an even keel.

4. Sleep. Easier said than done, but if you're staying up just because, force yourself to go to bed earlier and you may see a big difference in mood.

5. Hang out with other people who are more realistic about worrying. If you hang out with people who are freaked out about every little thing, it'll rub off on you. So see if you can cultivate some friendships with people who are concerned about safety but not consumed with it. There are lots of us out there.

You notice I haven't said anything about the actual dangers. That's because there are so many of them. You just take each one as it comes and try to strike the right balance between protecting your child and allowing him or her to learn by doing.

Readers, whaddaya got for Kristie?

Q&A: What’s in a name?

Today's question is from a reader who wishes to remain anonymous. This one made me laugh, but only because it would piss me off to be on the receiving end of it:

"What do you say to family members who just aren't that dumb, but are acting like idiots?

In our family, we have four last names: MyLastName, Husband'sLastName, StepDaughter'sLastName and just to make things fun, we gave the last two kids in the family a hyphenated last name that is both ridiculously long and difficult for strangers to pronounce, MyLastName-Husband'sLastName.  Apparently we hate the kids.

Naturally, my in laws deliberately ignore everybody's actual last names and address everyone as Husband'sLastName, which is particularly confusing for StepDaughter, who will pick up invitations and cards and say "But…that's not my name."  She's old enough to know the difference.  For the record, her last name is neither long nor difficult to spell, nor has it changed recently.

I'm considering sending everyone a card with the correct names on it so they can keep it by the phone or something and stop with the "Oh, really?  I had no idea" crap.  Other ideas?  It's easy to say "Oh, gosh, it just doesn't matter," but eventually it does, as evidenced by my stepdaughter's reaction to her mangled name.

Second problem: One of the youngest babies has a very long name.  It's a beautiful name, and we love it, but it's also four syllables long and kind of overly formal for a teeny weeny little baby who still poops in her underpants.  Because of this, we have assigned her a teeny weeny little nickname.  It's a little old fashioned, but other than that, perfectly acceptable and very common.  We're not calling her Fifi Trixibell or Kal El, is what I'm saying.

I assume you won't be shocked when I tell you that the inlaws now refuse to use this nickname and insist on calling Not-Fifi by her full unweildy name?  This is not surprising, right?  And I know.  "She's a baby, who cares?  Why give her the name if you don't want people to use it?"  Well, because Not-Fifi knows her nickname.  She loves the sound of it, responds to it, and giggles when people say it over and over.  Not-Fifi does not know her full name.  It has as much meaning to her as Asparagus or Albuquerque, so I have to say, it kind of annoys me when my inlaws try to get her attention by using (to her) a nonsensical word.  They're starting to act like they think she's slow, since she 'doesn't respond to her name', despite our repeated suggestions to use her nickname if they want her to give a crap.

Third…I am just tired of this.  Calling people by their correct names is just not difficult.  It's Basic Respect 101.  A few of my inlaws have names that I don't care for or have unusual spellings, but I use their chosen names and spell the darned things correctly.  How big of a stick is it going to take to get them to return the courtesy?

Oh!  Bonus!  I just found out that in all the years I've been in this family (if my tenure with this family was a child, it would be in high school by now), they have never bothered to actually, uh, LEARN my last name, as in they still can't SPELL it.  Because my last name is half of the new kids' last names, this means that by extension, they don't really know the new grandkids' last names, either.

I think my head just exploded.  Sorry about the mess.

I know the standard patter of "Oh, it's no big deal, you can't change people, just ignore it," bla bla bla, but this is just full on ridiculous, and I think I'm about two years past ignoring this crap. What I need to know now is how to approach them, and if there is a place on the human skull that, if thwacked briskly, will knock the sense back INTO someone?

I'd rather be anonymous for this, so you can sign me:
Rumplestiltskin May Need Bail Money"

Here's the part in which I make this all about me: I am so glad I revealed my first name to you guys, because you'll understand when I say I really do know what it's like to have your name constantly messed up. My last name is a big hot ethnic mess that is completely phonetic in the language it's from but makes no sense to Americans or anyone else, really. And I didn't change my name when I got married.

So I had a different last name than my husband when I was married, and my kids have their dad's last name, so I have a different last name than they do. Now we're a four lastname household: mine, the kids', and the the cats' (Alex Rodriguez and Princess Blossom Pepperdoodle Von Yum Yum).

Plus, the whole "How do you pronounce Magda anyway?" issue. (After a long discussion with a linguist friend I finally figured out that I'm not sure Australians have the vowel sound that I use when I pronounce my name! If I could figure out how to record and upload a sound file I'd put it up so you could hear me say it.)

I've always chalked people screwing up my name up to their not really being aware of name issues. Just like I never really thought about what it was like to rely on wheels to get around the city until I had a stroller with me all the time, if your name has nothing particularly daunting about it you may just not be aware that other people's do. (I get called "Monica" ALL THE TIME because it's a normal name people hear when I say my name.)

So now back to Rumplestiltskin's problem: I think it's possible that the relatives, first of all, just don't get it. If they have a more common naming situation, they may just have problems processing the more complicated situation. And it doesn't mean that people who get your name wrong are deliberately trying to hurt you (for the first year or two, anyway.)

Add a little overlay of resentment for any number of reasons (I got a ton from older women in my family for not changing my last name, and I'm guessing there could be all sorts of things going on in Rumplestiltskin's family with a stepdaughter and twins and hyphenation and all kinds of stuff that seems to bug other people for no reason). And maybe some anger that they can't control things like they'd want to. And you have a recipe for naming hijinx and passive-aggressive games and heads exploding on all sides.

Basically, I think this is one of those situations you just have to breathe through. It's disrespectful and crazy-making, but it's also just a symptom of bigger issues of power and intimacy within the family. So if you're going to go head-on about this, you need to be prepared to deal with the rest of the iceberg that's under the surface. And it's probably not worth it, unless you're losing sleep about it. (The exception is that I think you do need to go to bat for your stepdaughter because it's clear that it is starting to bug *her*. If you can put it in those terms–"but it's for the children!"–it may click with the relatives.)

Also, it's not going to hurt or confuse your daughter to be called something else by extended family. Kids grow up with different nicknames on different sides of the family all the time, and they just figure out "oh, that's what Grandma calls me even though my name is X." When she's 30 you can have a conversation in which you confess that it made you crazy when they called her that, but she probably won't care, or will just chalk it up to "the older generation."

I hate to sound all Pollyanna-ish about things, but this is a chance for you to be generous with people who may or may not deserve your generosity, and a chance to model for your kids that they know who they are even when other people can't process it. Take a few deep breaths, relax, and smile, even while you're muttering curses on the inside.

Signed,
Monica

Naming stories?

Q&A: playdates

Sorry for the late post–I was off doing class parent duties (yeah–I know; I'm not sure how it happened either…)

Kate (one of many) writes:

"What's the deal with playdates? At what age do you start dropping off the kids and not having to stay and make polite conversation? If the kids know each other from school but the parents don't, it can be a little awkward. And how do you navigate different rules at friends' houses?"

I think this varies regionally. And by birth order of child. For my younger one, since all his friends were younger siblings of my older one's friends, we did drop-off from a super-young age, and just called it "can you babysit him while I go do X?"

Once they're in Kindergarten, I'd guess kids all over the world are being dropped off for playdates. Before that, I think it varies from region to region. Some of those differences are probably attributable to different expectations of independence regionally, but I'm also guessing that the demographics of the caregiver situation might have something to do with that, too. (In areas where there are more parents home they probably stay, whereas babysitters maybe don't stay as often?)

As far as the rules of the house go, I'd say the parents need to open that conversation up at drop-off in front of the kids. So, for instance, if you know you have a rule at home that generally doesn't fly other places (like kids being allowed to jump on the couch or something like that), you probably want to address it when you get there with a little, "Now pumpkin, even though we can jump on the couch at home, I'm betting no one can jump on the couch here" then look to the other parent for confirmation.

Otherwise, just ask at the beginning of the playdate if they have house rules, and remind your child to abide by the house rules. I'm assuming most kids have been somewhere else (if only a grandparent's house) and understand that different places have different rules, so it shouldn't be hard sell for the kids. And we're hoping the parents can be sanguine about differences and not get defensive about different rules.

How do you guys navigate the rules? And at what age did/do you start dropping off for playdates? (Don't forget to put demographic info about where you live.)

Q&A: teething

It's been a long time since we talked about teething! I got a question from Allyson about her 4-month-old:

"Little Miss has pretty much stopped wanting to nurse during the day, and always has her hands in her mouth and seems extra-cranky. I know it's too early for teething, so what's going on? Is there something wrong with my flow? Is she losing interest in the breast? I was hoping to breastfeed for a year."

Yeah, it's totally not too early for teething. The average time of popping a first tooth is around 6 months, and they don't just come out of nowhere. It takes a long time (for some kids days, for some weeks, for some *months* between the first under-the-gum movement (and pain) and when the tooth actually pops out above the gum. So she seems right about on schedule.

Also, everyone needs to bear in mind that kids are all different. There are some kids who have teeth in their mouths when they come out of the womb! My second son started teething *in earnest* at 6 weeks*. He had two teeth under the surface about to pop through at 10 weeks. So you never know.

I wrote about all the symptoms of teething long ago in the past in this post. Here's the list:

"Some common symptoms of teething are:

* biting hands or anything that comes near their mouths
* crying out in yelps of pain
* drooling
* runny nose or congestion from drooling
* "smokers' cough" from the drool going down the back of the throat
* spitting or throwing up from drool going into the stomach
* "drool stool," which is shards of drool in the poop (I know, and it's truly stunning when you see it)
* rash around the mouth
* rash around the anus
* acidic poop (sometimes you can even smell the difference) and a burned monkey-butt look after pooping
* tugging or pulling at the ears
* not wanting to nurse
* biting while nursing
* flash fevers (fevers that come out of nowhere and are gone in 30 minutes to an hour)

Are there any I'm forgetting? Some kids never have any of these
symptoms, some have a few, and some lucky children (like mine) have all
of them."

So, yeah, I think it's teething. Try the homeopathic teething pellets if you believe in that sort of thing (or are willing to spend $4 on a potential cure). And just try to get as much milk into her as you can while she's drowsy, because that seems to be the best time to feed a teething child.

This, too, will pass.

Stories?

* Which bit hard because he was sleeping for 8 hours in a row before that. Seriously. Eight (8) hours, from a few weeks old. Everyone, take your Omega 3 supplements during pregnancy.