Let’s push ourselves upstream

Have you ever noticed how stressed out everyone gets in August?

People just get tense and on edge. Ready to judge in a heartbeat, ready to be defensive instantly. Online, in real life. I've been hearing about nothing but meanness and hurt feelings for the last week.

I had a post all ready to go this morning, but then stepped back and it just seemed too aggressive to me. Like August Stress is getting to me, too, and I was looking to scold or start a fight. The second-to-last thing I need right now is for someone to be mean to me, and the last thing I need is to be mean to anyone else. So I clicked "Delete" on the whole post.

I feel like we should all do some kind of affirmations right now, to calm our nerves, make it all feel less high-stakes, give ourselves and each other the benefit of the doubt.

What would help you feel that relaxed-but-happy feeling of being in the zone right now?

Where's your happy place and how do you get there?

What kind thing could you do for yourself?

What kind thing could you do for someone else?

Discusion of NurtureShock, Chapter 10 “Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn’t”

Today's the last week!

We've been talking about NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman allsummer. One chapter every Friday. Go back and read all the previous discussions, and add to them. The first week we talked about Chapter 1 about praise.
The second week we talked about Chapter 2 about sleep.
The third week we talked about talking about race with
your
kids.
The fourth week we talked about why kids lie and how
we're
inadvertently promoting that.
The fifth week we talked about
intelligence testing for preschoolers for school placement purposes.
The sixth week we talked about how having siblings socializes children. The seventh week we talked about why teens lie to their parents and engage in risky behavior. The eighth week we talked about how to teach kids self-control. Last week we talked about what makes kids act violently. This week we're talking about language acquisition and development in infants and children.

This chapter, entitled "Why Hannah Talks and Alyssa Doesn't," got back to the research and synthesis that made me love this book from the first few chapters. They start with the results of study showing that babies who watched more of the specialty infant videos (like Baby Einstein) were delayed in language acquisition compared to babies of the same age/socioeconomic group/etc. who didn't watch those videos. Yikes. Not at all what we've been sold about those videos.

They followed that up with:

  • The reason the videos didn't teach language was that there was no matching of voices with faces. A big part of babies learning speech is watching the mouths move as they hear the sounds, and that didn't happen in BE videos.
  • The idea of exposing babies to other languages early to keep their brains primed for sounds not contained in English turned out a) only to work with live people speaking other languages, not on video, and b) to impede their solid learning of English.
  • While hearing many words throughout the day increases language acquisition, more important than the number of words heard was how often and well the parent responded to the child's moves. Kids who were responded to more often and more consistently ("Hannah" in the chapter title) babbled more, understood more words, and developed language more rapidly than those who were not responded to as frequently ("Alyssa").
  • There's kind of an art to "object labeling" (teaching babies words) that isn't hard to figure out, but parents who do it well have kids who acquire vocabulary much faster than parents who do it poorly.
  • Wow. A whole section of the kind of stuff that made me zone out back in Psych 102 in college (sorry, Professor Gonzalez) about specific structures that scaffold vocab development, and "shape training," and I really really really hope I did the best I could have at that stuff with both my kids even though I didn't know what I was doing.
  • An interesting ending to the chapter in which they tie it all up by saying research is pretty much debunking Noam Chomsky's theory of an underlying grammar sense that kids are just born with. Some research with identical and fraternal twins shows that only about 25% of language acquisition is natural variance in kids and the rest is how they're taught the language by the people around them.

What a fascinating chapter. Even though I kind of zone out at the details of all the different kinds of structures and phonemic detail, the issue of language acquisition is fascinating to me. I think about the way my own kids developed language and, am not surprised that my older one acquired words much earlier and more rapidly than my younger one did–I was super-responsive to the older one, but had to divide my attention in two by the time the second one came along. Once the second one started speaking, though, he acquired tons of vocabulary as a result of being around more other talking humans constantly who responded to him.

It also now makes sense to me why the "Signing Time" DVDs teach sign language when Baby Einstein doesn't teach spoken language: The Signing Time DVDs show the "speaker" saying the words (so you can see the face) and also making the sign at the same time, instead of disconnecting the two of them.

It also explains why I acquired soooo much more Spanish so quickly when I lived in Mexico City and committed to watching the same hour-long telenovela all 5 days of the week. Telenovelas are big on close-ups of people's faces while they're talking, and repeated speech. (For an explanation of the cultural significance for the whole family of telenovelas in Mexican and Mexican-American cultura, check out my friend Juan's sweet piece on watching them with his dad.) Six years of studying the subjunctive mode didn't do much, but by the time I watched the entire run of "Lazos de Amor" I was using the subjunctive without even thinking about it.

This chapter also made me recommit to my kids' language acquisition even now. My older one's read all the Percy Jackson books, and told me I should read them, so I've been working my way through (book 3 really dragged for me, but 4 is back to being exciting). It's hitting me after reading this chapter that talking to him about all the Greek mythology and cool words he's acquiring is going to help him more than just reading them would.

And I'm also going to keep going with reading the bedtime book to my 5-year-old that's just almost past his reach. I'd been feeling bad that we kept stopping to talk about why people said things and what some words meant, but now I'm thinking that may be good, and better than if he understood everything without my help, because it's about the interaction instead of fluid storytelling.

What did you take from this chapter? Did it make you think about your own or your kids' process of acquiring language?

Q&A: I’m so incensed I can’t even think of a good title for this

Let's talk about institutional sexism, shall we?

Kay writes:

"I am so angry and upset today by a parenting-work issue that I feel the
need to write to someone. This morning when I got to work, I found that
my department had pretty much decided to shift a significant amount of
teaching (I'm a full-time college professor, based in [location redacted]) to the
5-7pm slot. When I pointed out that I have to pick up my son from
childcare during those hours, a colleague replied that my 'preferences'
would be taken into account but that the time change seemed necessary,
for reasons that I don't agree with but won't get into here. What this
boils down to is that I will effectively be excluded from involvement in
a high-profile course that I designed and ran for several years
pre-baby, which will in itself have a not insignificant impact on my
career. I'm really furious at my female colleague describing my need to
leave work by 5:30 as a 'preference'. I'm already excluded from a lot of
more informal meetings, seminars, social events etc that happen after
hours, and since I returned from maternity leave I feel very much out of
the loop – I work with over 40 colleagues, and only one other is a
woman with children; many of the men have children, but all without
exception have wives or partners who work part-time and do the bulk of
the childcare. My husband does a lot, but he is full-time as well.

I guess my question is: should I just admit to myself that choosing to
have children means that I cannot do my job in the same way? Should I
suck it up? I love my job, and I'm really, really good at it. I find it
very hard to accept the extent to which having children has placed me on
the sidelines. I have the impression that most women with children in
my profession deploy a 'don't rock the boat' policy, and my colleagues
pretty much expect me to do likewise. But as this email suggests, the
result of this for me is that I end up filled with unproductive anger
and bitterness. I would love to know how other Moxie-ites deal with
this. Have other professional women managed to reach a zen-like state of
calm about their career prospects – or lack of – post-children? Or are
they fighting in the trenches? And more prosaically, how do people who
use childcare deal with employer expectations of late working hours?"

This makes me want to scream.

It is 2010.

People have children. Children grow into adults. If we don't want our species to die out, then we *all* need to be invested in helping parents raise their children in the most efficient, humane way possible, *while still using their natural talents to contribute to their fields*.

I am sure that this child-free female colleague doesn't realize that in hurting another woman she's hurting herself. Nor do the men who free-ride on their wives childcare to advance their careers realize that by staying silent and letting the workplace require work that could be scheduled at other times, they are hurting their female children (at the very least) and all of society.

I'm feeling extremely lucky about my work situation now, but I *know* some of you are dealing with this same crap every minute and have some great things to say. And I know some of you are *not* dealing with this and could add some useful comments about how things go where you are. And I'm wondering if those of you who are doing the childcare for partners to be in the workforce could make an effort to make your partner aware that not everyone s/he works with has this backup, and if there's anything that can be done in their workplaces to make things more equitable.

Talk to me.

Q&A: “Late” walker

Anon writes:

"I'm getting concerned about my son. He's almost 14 months and isn't walking yet. He crawls, and pulls up, and he can hang on and kind of sidle around furniture, but he can't walk on his own yet. All the moms in my baby group keep telling me 'He'll do it on his own time,' but it's really easy for them to say when their babies were all walking before a year.

At what point do I mention this to my doctor?"

This question honestly made my heart hurt.

The range of "normal" for starting to walk is 9 to 18 months. Let me repeat: 9 (nine) to 18 (one-eight) months. Think about that: A 9-month-old is almost a different species of creature than an 18-month-old is.

Also, I'd like to submit that my grandmother started walking at 8 months, and one of the kids in my moms' group from my older son started walking at 20 months. So even outside the range of normal can still be normal, if you get my drift.

There are two ways I want to go with this: One is that I think it's way easier to have a kid who walks on the later side of normal. Mine both started walking at around 14-15 months, so we basically skipped over the drunken sailor stage of bumping into things and having poor spatial judgment that the earlier walkers went through. By 18 months they were all walking equally well, except for the kid who didn't walk until 20 months, and by 24 months who even remembered anymore who walked when.

The other way I want to go is that milestones are only guidelines. If you're worried about your kid (and there's definite worry in this email), there's only a limited amount of usefulness in checking off stages on a list of milestones. A better guide is to pay attention to the way your child interacts with you. Is he engaged? Receptive? Does he understand and respond to what you say (in words or not)? Is there something that makes you think there's just something different that you can't put your finger on? Those are the things you should pay attention to.

I have never, in writing Ask Moxie or in talking with parents in the same room, heard of a parent who was taken totally by surprise by a delay or special issue with their child. A parent who pays attention knows there's something going on, even if they have no idea what it is, if there's something not on the usual path.

So if your child is happy and engaged, since he's moving well (with the crawling and sidling), it sounds like you can relax and stop looking at the numbers and let him walk when he's going to walk.

If, however, you're focusing on the walking because there's something else going on that you just can't put your finger on, put the walking out of the picture for the time being and see if you can find other clues, and bring those to your doctor. And if s/he doesn't listen, keep gathering clues and get a second opinion.

Can we hear from people about when their kids started to walk

The crucial top

As you may have figured out, I, for a long time, wasn't allowed to talk about the divorce or my relationship with my kids' dad on the internet.

As you can imagine, this was pretty hamstringing to me, as the whole point of writing on the internet for me is to help people pull apart and process what they're dealing with while I pull it apart and process it myself. I felt like I was learning so much but couldn't do anything with it, even knowing there are a ton of you who wanted some data points about how to be a parent with someone you're not together with (and even more of you who were just curious, which is totally OK).

So a few weeks ago I proposed a radical idea to my kids' dad: What if we blogged together about co-parenting. No airing of grievances. No crowdsourcing dispute resolution. Just talking about the process, and how hard it is, and how sometimes silly it is, and how it's not actually ripping our guts out and stomping them into five gazillion pieces, as I thought it would 3 years ago when we were still a long way from being legally divorced.

And he said, "I've actually been thinking the same thing."

So here it is: When The Flames Go Up: A blog about co-parenting after divorce.

We're both a little freaked out about doing this, so be kind.

Discussion of NurtureShock, Chapter 9 “Plays Well With Others”

We're talking about NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman allsummer. One chapter every Friday. Jump in whenever you'd like. The first week we talked about Chapter 1 about praise.
The second week we talked about Chapter 2 about sleep.
The third week we talked about talking about race with
your
kids.
The fourth week we talked about why kids lie and how
we're
inadvertently promoting that.
The fifth week we talked about
intelligence testing for preschoolers for school placement purposes.
The sixth week we talked about how having siblings socializes children. The seventh week we talked about why teens lie to their parents and engage in risky behavior. Last week we talked about how to teach kids self-control. This week we're talking about what makes kids act violently.

This chapter, entitled "Plays Well With Others," irked me. A lot. I felt
like the whole thing was a series of hit-and-run accidents. They
dropped bomb after bomb but didn't really parse them out or help situate
them, so I ended the chapter feeling confused and not sure what to do
with the information. Which made me sad, because I've really enjoyed the rest of the book so far and have found it to be just about exactly the right amount of information on each topic to make me think more but not to make me obsess.

In the order in which it's presented in the chapter, here's what they told us:

  • There are three kinds of aggression kids perform: physical aggression, relational aggression, and verbal aggression.
  • Kids who watch educational TV programs acted more relationally aggressive than did kids who didn't watch educational TV, or who watched things traditionally thought to be "violent" (like Star Wars and Power Rangers).
  • Educational TV watching increased the rate of physical aggression as much as watching violent shows did.
  • Kids who see their parents fight  are stressed out if the parents don't show them how they resolve the conflict. If they see their parents fight but then come to a resolution, they did not display symptoms of stress or more aggression.
  • Spanking kids and using corporal punishment increased rates of aggression in kids EXCEPT in African-American families and white Conservative Protestant families, in which kids who were spanked showed less aggression over time.
  • Bullying is bad, so parents are getting excited about zero tolerance, but that makes kids afraid of the adults and secretive.
  • People think that aggressive kids are kids without social skills, but the kids who are most effective at being aggressive are the ones with the best social skills (think Mean Girls).
  • Parents who stop their kids form being aggressive may be stripping their kids of social tools.
  • Kids spend so much time with each other instead of with multi-generational groups that they're in an echo chamber, and this feeds aggression and lack of perspective.
  • "Progressive Dads," who are very involved and competent with their kids, actually have more aggressive kids than do "traditional Dads" who are involved more at their partners' direction. This seems to be because Progressive Dads know they don't want to discipline the way they were disciplined, but don't know how to stay consistent for disciplinary effectiveness.

Do you have whiplash? I do. And I have NO IDEA what to do with this information.

I'm not going to start spanking my kids as discipline. (I am a white
Protestant, although conservative theologically but not.) Of all my reasons for not
spanking them, fear that they would become more aggressive didn't even come
into play. So I don't really have any idea what to do with the studies
that show that in some US subcultures spanking increases aggression while
in others it doesn't. I can understand that Bronson
and Merryman were kind of tripped out by this, but it seems like it's
missing the point, both of studying spanking and of studying aggressive
behavior in kids. And I really can't judge because there just wasn't enough about it here.

I also couldn't really figure out where they were going with the
discussion of social kids and aggression. Were they saying we should work
harder to get the social kids not to be aggressive? Or that we shouldn't
worry about it because aggression is another tool humans use in daily
interactions? I couldn't figure it out.

Of all the chapters, this is the one I really wish they'd turned into an
entire book, mostly because I think they'd *really* be able to look at
all the aspects of the aggression issue to figure out if it's something to
be avoided or something we should accept. As it is, this chapter just
seems raw and unhelpful.

If Bronson and Merryman's people are reading, please consider exploring this mish-mash of a chapter in a long form that lets you tease out all the information instead of just tossing it together.

Did anyone feel this chapter was more comprehensible than I did? What did you take from it?

Primal Scream Thursday

I actually had two requests for another Primal Scream day, so here we go.

I'll start:

  • The pyriformis pain is dissipating, but now I'm exercising every morning and that's making me realize how out of shape I was. My left side is so much weaker than my right that I almost fell over doing Hoe-Downs this morning.
  • Big client meeting this morning so I'm wearing a jacket and today it's 95 degrees and a zillion percent humidity.
  • My 5-year-old had to have his toe lanced yesterday because of a big infected blister.
  • My dad got really sick yesterday because his doctor faxed in the wrong prescription to the pharmacy.
  • A bunch of other minor annoying stuff that's feeling big but is really just 20 small things.

Now you go. Post whatever's bugging you, big or small. This isn't misery poker.

If anyone wants to follow up, like the woman whose husband left dangerous things lying around where their toddler could pick them up, or the woman whose husband wanted to come home drunk from the bar and hold their baby, I know we'd appreciate hearing from you.

Q&yourA: Finding professional clothes for larger mom going back into workforce

Toni writes:

"I’mworking on a new degree and will be back into the workforce in May 2012. During
the time that I’ve been a SAHM, I’ve become pretty severely physically
disabled and as a consequence, I’ve gained a fair amount of weight. I’m
already worried about being able to find an employer once I get through school
(you can’t miss my disability – it limits my range of movement
quite significantly), but a story
in this week’s NY Times Magazine reinforced my concern about being able
to find appropriate professional clothes. I’m doing my best to bring my
weight back down (I was always fairly athletic, so being overweight to this
degree is a change for me), but chances are I’ll still be plus-sized when
I re-enter the professional workforce. I’m really discouraged about my
prospects for finding decent-looking professional clothing. I don’t mind
shopping online – in fact, I love it – but having to pay to return
clothes that don’t fit is frustrating, especially when I don’t have
the option to go to the store and try on the clothing before purchasing
something.

I may be
fat, but I don’t want to look frumpy too. If you or any of your
contributors know of good places (aside from Lane Bryant) to find nice
plus-size professional clothes, I’d appreciate any and all suggestions."

This is a great question. I know you're not the only woman who needs to look professional above a size 16.

You'll have an easier time if you're going into an industry in which you
can look competent and presentable (slacks/skirt and top, dresses)
instead of one that requires that you wear suits every day, from a cost
standpoint. (Everyone who telecommutes, stop cackling smugly in your
yoga pants.) But if readers have ideas of good places to shop for both
these levels of formality, that will help.

Who's got the hook-up for Toni?

Q&A: Giving a 3-year-old medicine

Update on my back: As I suspected, it's psychosomatic (totally went away while I was on vacation and then returned within an hour of being back in the city) but is also real: muscle cramps in the pyriformis region. Treatment: Start actually doing T-Tapp again instead of just talking about it (funny how talking about exercise doesn't actually do anything for your body) and a really painful massage that worked out all the cramps. I'm still not pain-free but the pain seems to be moving out of my body by the day.

And now for a parenting question. BlueBird Mama writes:

"I've run into a big challenge around medicine with my 3 year old.  He doesn't get sick very often or have to go to the doctor often, but when he does require medical care or medicine, it's a nightmare.
We've improved his loathing of going to the doctor and getting his ears/nose/mouth examined by getting a doctor kit and playing doctor at home a lot.  We even take the doctor kit to the doctor's office and she lets him examine her first.  So that's getting a bit better (though he still hates going to the doctor and bristles at the mere mention of it).  But I honestly found it easier to give medicine to my cat (who had very sharp claws and didn't like it very much) than I do to my child.  I try reasoning with him, I try bribing him (which I normally avoid like the plague), I try offering choices (spoon or little cup? plain or mixed with juice?), I try letting him be in control (you can take it now or in 15 minutes; you can hold the spoon yourself, etc.), I try making it a game, etc., etc., etc. ad nauseum.

Oh, by the way, he can detect the flavor of medicine if we try to sneak it into milk/juice/whatever.  A spoonful of sugar does not make the medicine go down easier in his case.  Maybe if we could
manufacture medicinal jelly beans?  In any case, every time we've ever had to give him medicine his whole life, we end up holding him down and squirting it down his throat with one of those syringe things.
Well, at least that worked last fall when he had croup; this time around he's figured out that he can close his throat and spit the medicine back out.  Awesome.

This is an infrequent occurrence (thank goodness!), but sometimes medicine is necessary.  I absolutely hate administering it to him under duress–but I really don't know what to do. Unfortunately,
infrequent as it is, it now has become a *THING* for him– he immediately starts girding for battle the minute he knows there might be medicine involved.  I know it must be a control issue.  I mean, I
know medicine tastes yucky, but this is a child who happily eats anchovy pasta and willingly tries new foods, so I don't think he's experiencing the kind of agony a picky super-taster with oral issues
would.  Maybe the croup episode (which involved an over night stay at the hospital) traumatized him (he didn't seem traumatized at the time, but you never know)?  Do you or your readers have any tips, tricks,
sage advice?  Will he grow out of it?  Am I going to have to sit on him to get him to take his antibiotics in high school? Aaarrrggghhhh!

Feeling Like a Mean Mommy"

Yeah, I don't know. I can't even give medicine to my cat (who made a full recovery from his near-death experience).

This is also why I miss the Tylenol suppositories you could give to your infant children. No muss, no fuss–just up the chute and it was all copacetic.

It sounds like you've tried almost everything, so I'll just give you the couple of suggestions that popped out at me, knowing that they might not help any more than anything else you've tried:

  • Find a pharmacy that will put flavoring in the medicine. It hides the taste better than juice does, and maybe the fake bubble gum flavoring will somehow work a miracle.
  • See if you can catch the episode of "Penguins of Madagascar" in which Skipper runs and hides because he's afraid of getting a shot. (Private ends up volunteering to take the extra shot for him until the monkeys point out that that could make Private sick. I don't want to spoil the rest, since I know you probably hang on the edge of your seat as much as I do for PoM.) You can talk about how Skipper has to get the shot, so he's brave and just does it.
  • Get him some kind of doll who gets medicine when he does. (A doll with a washable face, obviously.)

The bottom line, though, is to remember that 3-year-olds are really NOT rational yet. It's very very hard for them to see that there are things they have to do, so they should get them over with as quickly as possible. That seems to click in with kids some time between 5 and 8 (in my experience), depending on the kid. So this isn't going to be something you deal with forever. At some point you'll have a kid who complains like crazy about taking medicine, but ultimately holds his nose and slams it back like Gretchen Wilson shooting whiskey.

Is anyone really good at giving kids medicine who has some good tips? Or does anyone else want to share your medicine-giving failures?

Parenting in Public

A few weeks ago I was having an exchange with Elita at Blacktating aboutdifferent perceptions of parents, specifically black parents vs. white
parents, when people see us in public. She had a lot of interesting
points to make about how white parents can
"get away" with a wider set of parenting behaviors in public than black
parents can.

That started me thinking about Parenting In Public for all of us.
How many times have you felt forced/nudged/shamed/coerced into
parenting in a way you don't usually because you were in a public
situation? I know I have, and it still happens now that my kids are out
of the toddler tantrum stage.

The PIP issue that used to bite me on the ass every single time I went
to the playground when my kids were a certain age was sharing. As it's
enforced in the United States for middle-class white kids, I loathe
sharing. Basically, this is how it's supposed to go: My kid is playing
happily with a toy and another kid walks over and wants to play with my
child's toy, so I'm supposed to prompt (and force, if necessary) my
2-year-old to "share" by letting the other kid play with my child's toy. In
adult terms, that would be similar to my sitting on a park bench
canoodling with my boyfriend, and another woman walking up and my gladly
saying "Go for it" and letting her make out with him until it was my
"turn" again. Right*.

(First of all, I think it's confusing and downright cruel to a little kid
to force them to hand over their own things like that (older kids can
certainly understand the concept of taking turns, but they also
understand not asking for turns from a total stranger, so the whole
dynamic is different anyway because there's a reciprocal relationship
established with anyone you're likely to be asked to share with). But
also, since I'm raising my kids in the US, I feel it's vital that they
understand the concept of private property, so that they don't infringe
on other people's property, and part of that is encouraging them to
value their own property.)

Anyway, I abhored feeling like I had to cave and let some stranger
toddler "take a turn" with my kid's toy. So I'd just try to stay out of
the situation by not bringing personal toys out into public, or making
some lame excuse for not forcing my kid to she ("He's coming down with a cold" or "He just got that toy from his grandma").

But there are some situations you can't avoid, like a kid having a meltdown
on the train. I know it's because he's tired and is under some kind of
stress so I just want to let it go and give him a hug when he calms down and lets me. But all eyes are on me and I don't
want to be the Pushover Yuppie White Mom Who Lets Her Darling Run Over
Her. Or the other times when they've been at it all day and I am *done*, and know that now I'm Pitiful Single Mom Who's Mean To PrHer Kids to all the watchful eyes.

Parenting is hard enough without all the baggage of race, ethnicity,
economic status, class, and all the other ways we judge each other (for
better or worse). I feel like I am *finally* starting to be able to let
some of that go when I look at other parents. I wish, though, that I had
the strength to not even notice the looks I get in public so that I
could focus on the actual situation with my kids. We are *never* not going to judge other people based on their behavior, but I wish that I had the strength just to handle a situation exactly as I would if we were at home, without noticing how others react to us.

I can't be the only one. What are your least favorite Parenting In Public situations? On what
grounds do you think you get judged? Are there situations in which you
know you judge others prematurely?

* Yes, I realize that in my example I've made my hypothetical boyfriend my property. I think it's OK. He's hypothetical only, so he doesn't mind being dehumanized a little bit.