Oddity: I’m on TV tomorrow

But in only seven cities in the US. I'm still kind of baffled as to how this happened, but my kids' dad and I ended up talking about our co-parenting blog on the test run of The Huckabee Show on Fox. Tomorrow, September 1. 10 am in Boston and Minneapolis, 11 am in Tampa, Noon in NYC and Detroit, and 1 pm in Dallas and Atlanta. The show was completley apolitical, so no fur of any kind flying in any direction. If they put the clip up on the show website I'll link to it Thursday.

Freaky.

Q&A: Helping child with losing deceptive nanny

Anonymous writes in on behalf of a friend:

"A friend of mine is in the middle of a nanny nightmare. Short story: trusted nanny of two years, f/t, has traveled w/family and has even been living w/them for the last few months while between apartments. They just found out this woman has been lying to them for months – dropping their daughter off at a daycare center for hours at a time (center run by her SIL so no paperwork) every week. Also told them she was taking her to "the pool" which turns out to be at her boyfriend's house, where little girl watches TV (it was an explicit part of the written contract with the nanny that the girl not watch TV) and eats candy.

My friend is trying to decide what if any recourse they have (they fired her and she's moved out) to make sure this doesn't happen to other families thinking about hiring this woman, and also what to tell their daughter. It all came out because the little girl told them (she's been trying to, for months, but they couldn't map what she was saying about "playgroup" to the reality that she was being left alone at a daycare). They don't want their daughter to think she got this nanny in trouble, or that if she lies that she will be kicked out just like the nanny. Any ideas?"

Whoa. This is a really tangled web. Wow.

They definitely need to get the word out about what the nanny did to other parents in the community. I don't know how big an area they live in, or what kind of parent networks they have, but they need to start telling the story as much as possible to make sure this doesn't happen to any other family. They are really, really lucky that the worst that happened to their daughter was TV watching and eating candy at the boyfriend's house, and another child might not be so lucky.

Now, as for the daughter, I think it's a shame that she's going to lose a person who's been with her for the last two years, but they clearly can't continue to have contact. They certainly don't need to let the daughter know that she was the one who ultimately uncovered the deception. They can say that they found out that the nanny was not doing what she was supposed to do, and this "finding out" doesn't have to ahve anything to do with the daughter. So I wouldn't be too worried about that.

The problem is that it's a little tough for a 3-year-old to understand that a paid caregiver is a paid caregiver. The best angle I can think of to explain the firing of the nanny that isn't going to make the little girl afraid that she could be sent away if she misbehaves is emphasizing that the nanny was doing something unsafe. Remember last year when I had to fire the nanny who was 30+ minutes late picking up my kids three times in two days and then didn't answer my calls so I didn't know where the kids were for a long couple of hours? The way we explained that to my kids was that what the nanny did was dangerous to them. My younger son was 4 and understood that, so it might be worth a try with the 3-year-old to say that what the nanny did was dangerous to her, so they needed to make sure that their daughter was safe by having someone else take care of her.

I am so sorry they are going through this. The betrayal and guilt and anger and sadness must just be so intense for them. I hope that they find another, quality nanny that they can really trust right away.

Does anyone have any other suggestions for how to make sure the daughter understands that she's not going to have to leave for misbehavior?

I think it would also be good if people could share stories of really great nannies/babysiters they have so we can remember that there are truly quality people out there who care for children.

(If any of you remember our Nanny B, who moved away last summer, she's happily working with kids and doing theater across the country in an area that's more her style than NYC and we still talk to her often. We had three great babysitters–after the big firing incident–last year and hope to see the two still in NYC often this coming year.)

When your groove just comes back on its own

I have said this in real life to four people this week, so it's making me think it's something I need to say here: You turn normal again when your youngest one is 5.

I have no idea why 5 years old is the magical age. I did not believe it myself when a former boss told me that "everything gets OK again" when your youngest one turns 5. At the time, my younger one (who is veeeeery intense–not highly-spirited but some different variety of human anyway) was 2, and I could not imagine a time when he would not be sucking a ton of energy from me.

But I noticed a huge switch in the two months after he turned 5. I've talked about it with his dad, who noticed the same thing. It relaly is lke having two people now instead of children who need to have everything done for them.

In conversation with other parents of kids who've just turned 5 it seems to hold true for most of them. It's an energy shift that happens, similar to that energy shift you probably noticed when your child went from a baby to a toddler, only this one seems to be less work somehow.

And the end result is that your child is far more competent and masterful, and you notice more energy and emotional space.

Has anyone else noticed this and want to confirm it? Is there anyone who is in the Red Zone with little little kids who need to talk about that lack of emotional energy?

I think it's often easy to focus on how physically tired we are (even when our kids are techincally sleeping through the night) that we forget about the toll the constant on-dutiness takes on us.

Thoughts?

Q&yourA: Bilingual babies

Kjersti writes:

"Can any of your readers talk about raising children bilingual? I'm American but my husband is not. His mother is about to move in with us to help take care of our 4-month-old son when I go back to work in two months (I know this is going to be a whole new set of issues for another email). She'll speak to our son in her language (my husband already speaks that language to our son). I'll continue speaking to him in English.

I know his language development is likely to be a little slower than for babies who only hear one language. I guess I'm just looking for some kind of reassurance that he will eventually become fluent in both."

I do have to turn this one over to you, readers. All I know about bilingual language development is what I've read and seen. All three of my cousins were raised bilingual, and as adults they have varied preferences for first language, but all are fluent in both, and the kids in our playgroups who are being raised speaking both seem to be doing fine in both.

But I know there have to be plenty of you out there who can give better ideas of timelines and things to watch out for.

Can anyone help Kjersti with what to expect?

Q&A: Should she get a pet?

Karen writes:

"Should we get a pet? My son is 2 and goes crazy when he sees a dog or a cat when we're out walking."

Number 1: It cracks me up when people just flat-out ask me questions about their lives.

Number 2: No. You should not get a pet.

OK, that wasn't really fair. Pets can add so much to your life, and to your child's life. They teach unconditional love, responsibility, and caregiving skills. There is really nothing cuter than a little kid curled up with a dog or cat. (Unless it's my 5-year-old leading a cat rodeo in my apartment this morning at 7 am, which one cat was willingly participating in.)

But they're also money pits, between the food (and cat litter if you have a cat, water supplies if you have fish, etc.) and vet bills. (It's going to take me at least another 3-4 months to recover financially from a vet emergency with one of my cats in June.) And do you have time to walk a dog twice a day? Because you're the one that's going to have to do it. Or clean out the bird cage or rodent cages.

My cats are another part-time job, basically. I think it might be different if there were another adult in my house who'd take some responsibility, or if I lived in a house and could make them go outside sometimes. But there are times when the cats are the final factor that almost push me over the edge of being able to deal.

Readers? What say you? Should Karen get a pet? Do you have a pet? If so, would you do it again? Why or why not? If you don't have a pet, do you wish you had one?

Positive pregnancy and birth stories

I almost don't know what to do with myself now that the big summer NurtureShock discussion is over. I've got something cooking for after US Labor Day, though, involving a special guest, so stay tuned. It's going in a completely different direction, and should be more fun than it is challenging for the upcoming Busy Season.

Anon writes:

"I am newly pregnant–9 weeks–and am not in a good place. I realized I only know one person who had babies easily. Everyone else close to me has had miscarriages or seriously traumatic births that endangered their lives or the lives of their babies. I am just so worried that something will happen to my baby or to me.

I know this doesn't make sense. Obviously humans wouldn't be here if pregnancy didn't work most of the time. But I just don't know enough people who didn't have truly hellish experiences to be able to talk away my fear. Help."

I think that a certain amount of worry is the job of pregnancy. Worry that prevents us from engaging in risky behavior (and by that I mean skydiving or drinking heavily, not eating soft cheese) is good, and worry helps us pay attention to our bodies and learn to trust our instincts, which is a necessary skill for parenthood. So a manageable amount of worry is normal and good during pregnancy.

But this sounds like too much. Like it's taking you over and putting you into that endless loop of anxiety. In addition to making your next 31 weeks horrible, this amount of worry doesn't serve any purpose. You'll be exhausted by the end for no reason.

If something horrible is going to happen, your worrying will not prevent it. And letting go of the worry will not cause it. Sometimes bad things happen. But good things happen more often.

Readers, can we flood Anon with positive pregnancy and birth stories? Maybe if she reads enough she can use those to push out the overwhelming negative in her thoughts. I know a lot of us have good stories. It would be especially helpful to have stories of healthy pregnancies after miscarriage or infertility, or birth stories that ended in health even if things didn't go as planned.

I'll start:

#1: Depressed, sick, cranky, and bloated the whole pregnancy. Induced with castor oil (NOT RECOMMENDED), long painful labor, baby came out fine!

#2: Depressed, sick, and cranky (but not bloated) the whole pregnancy. Went into labor on my own, long annoying labor, baby came out fine, a full pound smaller than his brother!

Now you go, please.

Q&A: Baby sleeping too much?

Melissa writes:

"I have a question about my baby that I almost hesitate to ask, but here goes…

First a little history:  My daughter was born at 36 weeks gestation by
urgent c-section. (breech, low amniotic fluid, cord wrapped around her
neck). I had been monitored at the hospital for decreased fetal movement
earlier in the week and then we had the 36 week ultrasound where we
found she'd need to be born that night!  It was kind of a terrorizing
experience with a happy ending. She is now a beautiful, round, healthy
girl of 6.5 months, 18 lb, 27" long.  Pardon all the info, but I'm not
sure what's relevant.

I'm a first time mom who is slowly shaking off the terrifying
circumstances of my daughter's birth.  Please pardon me if I'm worrying
about something silly.

My question is about sleep. Not your typical question, but how much is
too much?  How did your (and your readers') kids typically sleep at this
age?

My girl started sleeping through the night at 10 weeks. She is breastfed
for the most part (I work 2 days a week and can't pump enough for her
so she gets 2 bottles of formula each if those days.  Also, she eats a
meal of rice cereal (1/4 cup) at lunch and a veggie and a fruit at
dinner (around 6 oz total) every day.  Now that she seems more satisfied
with the additional solids, she is sleeping between 12 and 14 hours a
night.  Also? If she sleeps 12 hours, she takes a morning and an
afternoon nap of 2 hours each.  If she sleeps 14,
She takes an afternoon nap of 2 hours.  She will also usually take a 30
min catnap around dinner.  This means she's sleeping around 16.5 hours a
day!  Can that be right?  Really?  She is cheerful and active when shes
awake (wants to roll in one direction, sit up, walk while holding my
hands or endlessly eat-no interest in rolling the other way or
crawling.)  Everyone I've asked brushes me off and tells me they wished
they had my problems, but I still feel like this is really weird.  Is
she bored of me when she's awake?  Is she healthy?  I just need some
data from other moms or dads."

Thank goodness we have the technology to do emergency c-sections. I'm glad you're both here.

Now, I think this sounds like more than the average amount of sleep for full-term babies by an hour or two. But still, bear in mind that there's variance in normal. My older one slept consistently about 90 minutes less per day than my younger one did. He just doesn't seem to need as much sleep, and he gave up naps a year earlier than his brother did, too. 

I do think that preemie tend to sleep more, based on anecdotal evidence from the preemie babies and their parents that I've known. One of my friends just had a full-termer after having a 35-weeker, and she was shocked at how little this second one sleeps compared to her first, who was basically asleep all day and night for the first year. So my suspicion is that this is a result of her early delivery.

The bottom line, though, is that if she's happy and engaged and eating and pooping and smiling and grabbing for things and understanding you when you talk to her, the amount of sleep she's getting is fine for her.

Data points from other parents of early babies? And if your kids slept a lot when they were babies, have they kept on sleeping more than the average as they've grown?

I love Percy Jackson

Scroll down for today's topic.

I just wanted to make a recommendation for those of you who have 8-12-year-old readers, or who love adventure novels yourself, for the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. My 8-year-old read the first book (The Lightning Thief) and started talking about Greek gods and goddesses, and using words like "satyr" and "herculean" in casual conversation. Then he asked for the other four books in the series, which he raced through, and then he asked me if I'd read them so we could talk about them together.

I've enjoyed these books thoroughly. I had zero interest growing up in Greek mythology, so I was almost completely ignorant of it, but after reading the PJ books I have a firm grasp of which gods and goddesses did what and when, and a bunch of the stories. I also loved that Percy doesn't have to reject his mom (who's really strong and clever, even though she's not an Olympian herself) to fulfill his destiny, and that there are loads of heroes, small and big, male and female, humanoid and not. The series also teases out the idea that everyone has flaws and what makes you a hero is recognizing your flaws and choosing not to give in to them.

I was having dinner with another mom friend and she expressed wonder that our kids are ripping through these 300-page books with such dense vocabulary. I just think good storytelling sucks people in. And Rick Riordan is a good storyteller.

He's starting a new series based on the Percy Jackson characters, and the first one's coming out in October. I just preordered it, but may end up fighting with my 8-year-old about which of us gets to read it first.

Has anyone else read the PJ books? Which is your favorite? (Mine is The Battle of the Labyrinth.)

Why is it so hard to be a Kindergarten parent?

(Just in case you were on vacation last week, my ex-husband and I have started writing a blog about co-parenting after divorce called When The Flames Go Up.)

Today's topic is Kindergarten. Specifically, why it's so hard to be the parent of a Kindergartner.

I know a lot of districts have gone back to school already, so some of
you are in your first or second week of Kindergarten. My kids don't go
back until September 8, but I notice I'm getting more and more tense as
it's time to go back.

I'm wondering what it is that makes Kindergarten so difficult, for them and for us,
especially since a lot of our kids have been in preschool or daycare for
at least a year before entering K. You'd think it would be the same
thing just at a new venue, but so often it's not.

* I think one big factor is that it may be our first big encounter with
The System. Daycares and preschools tend to be small, nurturing places.
They deal with toddlers and preschoolers and are sensitive to their
fears and individual needs. Part of their job is to guide us as
parents–if they notice things with our children they let us know and
give suggestions to help, and many preschools run regular parent
education programs to help deal with common issues.  Kindergarten isn't
like that. Your child is one of many (even if you luck out and have
small class size), and you're swept away by a system that has little
room for individuality. Teachers are under pressure to assess kids and
make sure they're hitting an ever-accelerating set of benchmarks, so
they don't have the time and freedom preschool teachers do to help kids with
emotional issues. The Industrial Revolution brought us cheap
automobiles, but it also brought us timetables and testing in Kindergarten.

* Kindergarten may be the complete wrong balance of independence during
transitions. Some Kindergartens require parents/caregivers to stay and
read with the child for 20 minutes at drop-off, which can be hard on
kids who do better just saying goodbye and having a firm separation.
Others have a firm goodbye at drop-off, which can be rough on kids who
need more transition. It's a crapshoot whether your Kindergarten's
goodbye system will match your kid's needs.

* Your child is growing up. A Kindergartner is in elementary school. Not a
baby, not a toddler, not a preschooler. Even if you think you're ok
with it, it can sneak in and make you really melancholy before you
identify it.

* More responsibility. Your child (in the US, at least) probably
has homework now, which will add another hour of work to your life every
night, at least. Plus lunch (or worrying about school food), clothes,
and all the other stuff. Allegedly your child is taking more
responsibility for gear, but that actually falls on your shoulders,
predictably.

There are probably a ton of other factors, too. What do you think?

If you've already gone through Kindergarten with your child, how did it
go? Was it more difficult for you than previous years were? Why do you
think that is?

If you're in Kindergarten now or about to go in, how's it going? What are your fears?

If you've taught Kindergarten, what do you observe from that side of the experience?

My Kindergarten mom story:
Those of you who were reading me back three years ago may remember that
Kindergarten was extremely hard for my older son. At the beginning I
thought it was just part of the normal adjustment to Kindergarten (and
my having gone back to work full-time), but I soon realized that it had a
lot to do with the teacher, who I don't think should be working with
children at all. I got some criticism *here* for disliking her, which
still hurts. (There's another NYC blogger whose son went through the
same cruelty and incompetence at her hands the next year, so I know it
wasn't just me.) I still have a lot of hurt and anger toward her,
especially in light of that article saying that a good Kindergarten
teacher sets kids up for success, and resentment at the principal and
administration who stonewalled us. My son is slowly, slowly coming out
of his fear of teachers and school, thanks to two truly wonderful
teachers, a kind and down-to-earth aide, and the miracle principal of
his new school. But I don't think my son's ever going to see school as a
fun nurturing place, like he did in preschool before we had that
teacher who shouldn't be teaching. I don't know if I'll ever stop
resenting that school for taking that away from us.

My younger son is starting Kindergarten at this same new school this
year, and I have every reason to think that his teacher will be
wonderful, based on the other teachers we've had at the school. And I
know that the principal excels at conflict resolution, so even if there
is a mismatch it'll be fixed. But I still feel a stomach clench when I
think of Kindergarten. I am trying not to communicate that to him so
that he can go in with a positive attitude. But I don't think I'll be
able to relax until school's been in session for a few weeks, even if
his teacher is the ur-Kindergarten teacher.

You?

Q&A: teaching table manners to toddlers

Here's an emotionally-neutral (I hope) question for today. Anna writes:

"I would love to hear suggestions on how to begin teaching table mannersto toddlers.  I've followed my mother's advice to let my son (now
18-months) enjoy his food — it's flavors, textures, smells, etc. —
which has worked well in developing a wonderfully adventurous (for now)
little eater.  He'll try everything from snow peas to curries and
certainly does have fun at meal times.

Lately, however, I've noticed his younger playmates seem more adept with
utensils and family and friends are starting to expect better table
manners from him when it comes to cleanliness and eating without his
hands.  He can use fork and spoon but he usually casts them aside
quickly and dives into his pasta, yogurt, whatever, with both hands!

How to I start to teach him how to use utensils consistently without making meal times a drag?"

First of all, I think your mom is a super-genius for encouraging you to let him experience foods with all of his senses. I'm betting that probably has a lot to do with your not getting some of the eating pushback that a lot of other toddlers start giving around the 16-20-month mark. Since he's able to explore, he's not trying to exert control by refusing to eat.

With that in mind, I'll suggest that you make table manners a fun game. Some kind of Simon Says thing, or follow the leader, in which you use a spoon and he follows by using a spoon. Or singing a special song for each utensil while he's using it (similar to the "clean up, clean up" songs every preschool in the world uses to signal to kids that it's time to clean up). Or contrast "monster eating" (if he watches Cookie Monster) with "people eating" and let him take turns doing both.

In other words, if you can make it a fun new thing that becomes part of the experience instead of something that's taking the place of the way he's been eating, he'll take to it with more enthusiasm. Eventually, he'll figure out that forks are more efficient than hands (sometimes). And he'll be positively rewarded for using utensils and staying cleaner, so he'll just migrate that way in his behavior.

Also, try not to just him completely against other kids. Bear in mind that some of them have probably never been allowed to feed themselves (how many times have you seen parents holding a toddler's face and shoveling in the food so the toddler can't control it?) so they don't even know that food has more dimensions, and for them using a spoon is wacky rebellion.

It'll all come eventually. But probably not until he's at least 3. So think of it as more fun and more learning about being a person in society, and not enforcement with a pass/fail rate.

Anyone else have anecdotes or tips or comments?