Category Archives: My Favorite Things

Favorites of 2007

If you’re going to the big Amazon.com supersale today (even magazine subscriptions at $5 off-who knew?), click through from here. It won’t cost you any extra, and it helps put a few pennies in my pocket. Thank you.

I’m setting this to autopost at 5 am my time, when some of you are probably already out at the stores, but I’m still asleep (I hope). Heh.

I’d love to talk about some of the things that we’ve been enjoying this year. I’m going to make up a bunch of categories for my favorite things, and you can make up your own, too.

Favorite music: I’ve been listening to pretty much nothing but four albums (are they still even called "albums"?) this year. As I’m typing this I realize they’re a totally random assortment, but I’m a random kind of person, so there you go. Here they are:

Free to Worship by Fred Hammond. I’m a crazy Fred Hammond superfan anyway, but
the lyrics on the songs on this particular album have been really important to me
in this last year. It seems like every time I’m struggling with something, I find something new in his words that expresses exactly what I need right then in the clearest, most lyrical language. And his songs are all bass-heavy and danceable.

Your Man by Josh Turner. (Or download the MP3 version.) I call him "my cowboy singer." I love his voice, and his songs are throwbacks to a time when men were honorable cowboys who just wanted to work hard and play hard. Sweet and goofy and earnest all at the same time.

Out of the Woods by Tracey Thorn. (or download the MP3 version.) I’ve loved her voice ever since she was in Everything But The Girl ("And I miss you like the deserts miss the rain…"), and was delighted when this CD came out earlier this year. These songs are so personal and achingly romantic, bleak and hopeful at the same time. Watch the videos for "It’s All True" and "Raise the Roof."

Brazilian Hits and Funky Classics by Jorge Ben. A compilation of Jorge Ben’s hits from the ’70s. Lots of that rhythmic, groovy guitar that Ben did so well.

Favorite parenting book: Hands-down, my favorite parenting-related book of the year is Erica Lyon’s Big Book of Birth. My review is here. Doctors should hand this book out as soon as a woman sees the second line or a positive beta.

Favorite pants for boys who rip through the knees every time: The jersey-lined nylon workout pants (real name: mesh-lined windpants) from Children’s Place. Soft on the inside, but the nylon is far more durable than cotton pants or jeans. No more ripped knees!

Favorite airline: JetBlue kept me happy every single time I flew them this year. The Bliss lotion they give you on the red-eye is great, and their coffee is good, too. 26 real TV channels doesn’t hurt, but bring your own headphones, because their free ones can be spotty. They’re the nicest airline for kids that I’ve flown, probably because everyone’s so anesthetized by watching those 26 channels of TV that the flight attendants have time to be nice to kids.

Favorite dinner: Bi bim bap. We found the recipe in Bee-bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park. It’s super-easy to make, and kids can help stir together the marinade, and even crack the eggs and do the vegetables. My kids have decided they like chicken better than beef, so that’s how we do it now.

Favorite lunch: Carnitas tacos from the gourmet taco cart near my office. Drool.

Favorite exercise: The winner and still champion…T-Tapp. Only I’m doing even better since I saw Teresa Tapp herself when she was in NYC last month. The ways she explained the Basic Workout Plus increased the intensity for me geometrically. And she’s almost freakishly nice. If I lived on the UES I’d go to Donna’s Monday night class every week.

Favorite paint: Benjamin Moore’s Aura. Water-based, low-fume (seriously), and covers anything in two coats. I was skeptical, but went from deep red to Cameo White in two coats! Perfect for kids’ rooms. It’s way more expensive than regular paint (I think it’s made of ground up truffles and Faberge eggs), but IMO worth it for the ease of application, great coverage, washability, and fewer fumes.

Favorite movie: I go to movies to escape, not to think about issues, so my favorite movie of the year was The Bourne Ultimatum. Completely and utterly unbelievable in so many ways, but I couldn’t look away.

Favorite timesaver: Google documents and Google calendar. You can share documents and calendars with other people (whether or not they have a Gmail email account) and cut out a billion steps in the editing and collaboration process.

Favorite made-up knitting pattern: Legwarmers for under my puffy coat. One pair takes two skeins of Lion Woolease (for easy washability) or woolish yarn of your choice. Use US size 8 (5 mm) double-pointed needles.
Cast on 44 stitches. Work a *K1 through the back of the stitch, P1* rib for 2.5-3 inches. Increase 16 stitches evenly across for a total of 60 stitches.
Work body in mistake rib: Row 1: K2 P2 across. Row 2: P1, *K2 P2* across, end with P1. Repeat these two rows for the length of your shin plus a few inches more so you can get that Flashdance scrunch.
Decrease 12 stitches evenly across for a total of 48 stitches. Work a *K1 through the back of the stitch, P1* rib for 2.5-3 inches. Bind off loosely.

 

More on PPD and Q&A on breastfeeding in front of a 3-year-old

Jillian wrote me to add to Friday’s post on PPD after weaning:

"I wanted to add to your "trifecta" of massage, omega-3 and exercise.Add: High potency B vitamin pill, like a B100 or Stress B. Consider
adding 500-1000 mg of magnesium citrate pills per day as well.

Many
women who have been pregnant and nursing, and on birth control as well
(!), have become borderline deficient or downright deficienct in B12
and B6, among the Bs, as well as in magnesium. B vitamins are
absolutely required for the body to make serotonin. Low
serotonin=depression. Many women who suffer from PMS are B vitamin
deficient as well. You can google or pubmed this stuff, but I looked
into it extensively. I also found my PMS, cycles and moods to improve
considerably with a B100 (on top of my high potency multivitamin)
daily, plus 500 mg mag citrate.

You can safely take a B100 on
top of a multivitamin that provides tons of B, because B isn’t absorbed
that well. It’s what makes your pee green when you take vitamins,
actually."

Very good to know. Thanks, Jillian.

And now a question from Anon:

"I can’t seem to find any info on the subject of breastfeeding in front of a 3 year old. Do you think it is it healthy to my 3 year old’s psyche to let him see me breastfeed his baby brother?

We are expecting in November and I never thought this would be an issue but my husband thinks it is weird that I still bath with my toddler and now he thinks it is "unhealthy" to let him see me nursing the baby. My son is now noticing that my anatomy is different to his and is starting to be curious about it and it kinda freaks my husband out a little. I weaned my son from the breast at around 13 months so I doubt that he remembers anything about nursing. I just wondered what you thought about it."

I can appreciate that your husband might have some qualms, because our society is so geared to thinking of the breasts as sexual and not functional. But he just hasn’t thought it through logically: If it caused psychological damage to watch a baby being nursed, then every older child of a nursing mother across the world would be psychologically damaged either from having watched it or from being sent into another room every time the baby nursed (talk about a recipe for sibling rivalry!). Moreover, there are tons and tons of kids who were still nursing at the age of 3 and have no psychological problems. So your husband can turn his worries from nursing to all the other stuff that’s going to happen when the new baby comes in November.

(This is the point at which I plug the book Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish. If you’re having another child, if you do absolutely no other prep, read this book. If you already have more than one child, read this book. If you have siblings, reading this book might help you understand your relationship with them better and could help you improve things between you. If you’re an aunt or uncle or interested adult in the life of siblings, read this book.)

On a related topic, it’s very healthy for your son to learn, in a factual way, about the differences between boys and girls. His noticing that you and he have different parts is great, and any factual, age=-appropriate explanations you give him are going to help him. It’s also going to be healthy for him to learn all the normal things about babies–how they’re fed, that they pee and poop, that they cry and need to be soothed, etc. It’s all giving him more information about the way humans work.

It sounds like your husband may be very concerned about the inappropriate sexualization of your son. That’s a really valid concern, especially in our society (Bratz, anyone?). But withholding factual information about basic differences will actually backfire by making him more vulnerable to information coming from other sources. A kid who knows the facts and has all his questions answered honestly to his age level is going to be much better equipped to live in a world that sends some really confusing messages about our bodies.

Comments?

Q&A: toddler understanding “no”

Dawn writes:

"At what point does a child understand
‘No’?  My 13 month old son is very very active, a climber and so
curious that he gets himself into places and things he really
shouldn’t. I try the calm ‘no’, I try a louder ‘no’, I distract him,
take him away from the object – (the tv, the phone, the dog dish) but
he beelines right back to it. Over and over and over. It’s really funny
sometimes but we try not to let him see us laugh of course! Eventually he gets frustrated and starts to grizzle. I don’t give in
but am I expecting too much to think he does understand the meaning
when I say no?  He does sometimes seem to get it, and will stop or
move off to other activities. I know he is not being ‘bad’ because he
has no malicious intent but is just into everything. He seems to
understand other things, like go get the ball, or do you want a cookie
😉  Advice?"

Good question, Dawn. Actually, a few good questions:

  • At what age do most/many (certainly not all) kids understand that when you say "no" you want them not to do something?
  • At what age do kids care that when you say "no" you want them not to do something?
     
  • At what age is it reasonable to expect kids to comply with your requests for them not to do something?
  • What are some ways that are as effective or more effective (depending on the age) to get kids to stop doing something?
     

Feel free to give your own answers to these questions, or other related ones you come up with, in the comments section.

I
think that a 13-month-old certainly understands that "no" is something
you say when you’re excited. It’s the sign that the child has gotten a
reaction from you. I’m not sure that at that age the child actually
understands that "no" means you want them to stop doing something. (If
you use pain to punish your kids, then yes, they will stop doing things
when they hear the word "no" but only because they associate that word
with pain and they want to avoid the pain, not because they actually
understand the meaning of the word "no.") In fact, I think sometimes
they take "no" as encouragement because it elicits such a funny (to
them) reaction from you.

It seems to me, based on my observation of my two kids, that
the real understanding that "no" means you want them not to do
something kicks in some time between 18 months and two years. Or so.
However, that still doesn’t mean that they’ll actually stop when you
say "no." It totally depends on the kid. My 5-year-old still sometimes seems
unable to stop when I say "no," and needs me to put my hands on his to
move them away, or walk him away from the temptation, or replace the
sharp stick with a bagel, or whatever. My 2-year-old sometimes stops,
but sometimes looks at me like, "Ha ha, Mama! I know you want me to
stop, but I am not going to!" So from my n of 2, I’ll say that understanding the meaning of "no" is necessary but not sufficient.

I
started writing this answer a few days ago, then asked Co-worker S, who
has a 5-year-old and an almost-2-year-old, what he thought. He agreed
that the ability to really understand "no" happened after 18 months but
closer to 2 years. He also agreed that understanding "no" and complying
with it are two very different things. "Sometimes it’s just not in
their best interest to stop what they’re doing," he observed. It’s
funny because it’s true.

So I’d say that "no" may be understood by 2, but not necessarily
complied with until later on. Some time between 2 and 60, I’d say.
(Although my dad still doesn’t do everything my grandmother wants him
to do, so maybe it’s even later than 60.)

Now, on to the reasonable question. I think it depends on what it is
that you want them to comply with and your general attitude about
obedience and self-discipline and discipline in general. If it’s
something really serious, like not sticking a fork in an outlet or
running into the street, you need to be more serious about enforcing
your rules.

As with the rest of life, follow-through is everything. You can say
"no" all you want, but unless you actually engage with your kids, you
aren’t teaching them anything about appropriate behavior and how to use
self-control. I know a dad who used to ignore his 5-year-old, so the
child would escalate and escalate and escalate his bad behavior as the
dad just said, "Stop!" Finally, the dad would explode in a ball of rage
and overreact to whatever it was the kid was doing and dole out severe
punishments that always left the kid crying. It could all have been
avoided if the dad had just engaged with the kid from the very
beginning and stepped in to stop things before both of them got out of
control.

If you’re reading this and wondering what I mean by engaging as a way
to stop bad behavior, click over immediately to buy Haim Ginott’s
masterpiece Between Parent and Child. It breaks down how to focus
attention in a way that makes you partners with your kids in helping
them learn to resolve situations for themselves, instead of engaging in
a control game that leaves you both worn out, angry, and hopeless.
Other books that people absolutely rave about (not surprising, since
both are based on Ginott’s work) are Faber and Mazlish’s How To Talk So
Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk
and Lawrence J. Cohen’s
Playful Parenting. I think both these books are wonderful and I learned
new things from both of them, but if you only have time for one, go
with the Ginott.

But back to Dawn’s 13-month-old. At that age "no" is tricky, because it
doesn’t really connect with them yet. Instead, you’re probably better
off telling the child what you want him to do, instead of what you want
him not to do. It’s human nature to focus on what someone says, even if
they’re trying to tell you the opposite. If someone said to you, "You
don’t look fat in those pants," it would be a compliment, but you’d
start to wonder if you usually looked fat in pants and it would
probably end up making you feel bad. In contrast, if someone said, "You
look really slim in those pants" you’d just think about how great you looked.

Toddlers (and people older than toddlers) respond the same way. Instead
of saying "no" when your child tries to stick a fork in the outlet, try
"Put the fork on the table." That gives the child something to do and
provides a distraction. Instead of "Don’t hit the dog," try "Clap your
hands together and jump up and down."

You may be thinking that you want to teach your child appropriate
behavior, and if you don’t tell them what not to do they won’t know
what’s wrong. But a toddler has no impulse control anyway, so even if
they know something’s wrong they can’t actually stop themselves from
doing it yet. It’s more developmentally appropriate (and gives them a
greater chance of success) to tell them what you want them to do and
helping them do it.

I was going to get into Hedra’s "safe, respectful, and kind" idea now,
but this post is already too long. So please do two things: 1) Go read
the safe, respectful, and kind post and be ready to comment on how it’s
going in your family when I open that topic up next week, and 2) Tell
us about when you feel your kids were really able to exercise
self-control, and what worked best to help them guide their own
behavior.

Book Review: The Dangerous Book For Boys

Review of The Dangerous Book For Boys

I adore this book.

The Dangerous Book For Boys by Conn and Hal Iggulden is a compilation of stuff boys (and girls, too, age 8 or so on up) should know. Things like Morse Code, how to make a battery, the rudiments of English grammar, how to tie knots, insects and spiders, how to build the best paper airplane in the world,the fifty (U.S.) states, making a periscope, Latin phrases every boy should know, fishing, etc.

I’m not sure there’s anything more I can even say about it that reading the table of contents wouldn’t cover. It’s just awesome. My 5-year-old is a little young for it, but he’s been scrutinizing the drawings of the Seven Wonders of the World and asking me all sorts of questions about them. He keeps flipping to the chapter on making a pocket light and reading slowly through the instructions. He’s looking at the chart of naval signal flags and puzzling out what makes them different from each other. He’s excited about building a treehouse from the instructions some day.

I think I’m going to start giving this book as a baby shower gift for people who are having boys. I’m definitely giving it to my dad for Father’s Day. And there are at least three adult male friends of mine who are getting it for their birthdays this year. I usually pass on review books I get, but I’m keeping this one for sure, and my two boys will probably end up fighting over it in 40 years.

This may be the worst book review ever, because I’m just speechless with delight at the book itself, and there’s nothing I can possibly say about how perfect it is. I dare you to get it and not think it’s fabulous. (Oh, and I just looked at the Amazon review, and it turns out that Conn Iggulden is extremely hot. Bonus points for the book, IMO.) I dare you to get it and not spend three hours reading it before you fork it over to your child. Now I’m going to go so I can read through the "Books every boy should read" chapter.

Book Review: The Big Book of Birth

Review of The Big Book of Birth

Full disclosure: I know Erica Lyon, author of The Big Book of Birth,
personally. She taught the newborn care class I took before the birth
of my older son, and the sibling preparation class we took before the
birth of my younger son. I know her to be a funny, sympathetic, and
super-knowledgable woman.

Which is why it’s no surprise to me that The Big Book of Birth
is such a stellar book. Seriously, this is the book I’ve been wishing
for years had been written about birth. I wish I’d been able to read it
before I had my first, and you can bet that this is the book I’ll be
recommending here on Ask Moxie and giving to all my pregnant friends as
a shower gift. Here’s what I love about it:

It’s unbiased. Erica
covers all the current options for birth–location, pain management,
interventions. She gives positives and negatives of each option
(including some stuff I’d never heard of) and includes stories from
women who experienced the things she discusses.

It’s practical. She
acknowledges that birth doesn’t go the way we plan, so we need to be
informed so we can make the best decisions possible within the
available options. And no judgments about what options you choose.

It’s inclusive. This
is the only book about birth that I’ve seen that gives both practical
and emotional tips for both the mother and the partner. It’s not just a pat on the head for the partner, but a real resource. The sections on
counterpressure/massage during labor alone are worth the price of the
book. And it’s all written in an accessible (but not patronizing) way.

It’s smart. I haven’t
read any other analysis of the increase in the number of c-sections
performed in the US that looks at so many different factors
and–surprise!–doesn’t lay it all at the feet of ignorant women or
money-grubbing doctors. She’s really looked at the total landscape of
health care, the birth industry, societal attitudes, and women’s
choices and illusions of choice to do an analysis that ultimately helps
the reader prioritize a number of different factors.

It’s encouraging.
Rather than scaring you about how dangerous birth is or patronizing you
about how easy it is, Erica emphasizes that it’s hard and long and can
be scary, but you can do it and the baby will come out one way or
another. I mean, you know it, but reading it throughout the book really
helps it sink in that this is a job you can and will do.

Of all
these positives of the book, the one I think is most important is the
lack of bias. Anyone who’s read two books from the
pregnancy/birth/parenting section knows that everyone’s pushing an
agenda. It would be silly to say that Erica has no agenda–she does.
It’s just that her agenda is to make sure every woman is as
well-informed as possible to make the choices that are right for her
and her baby (and partner, if any) within her own circumstances. And
that’s an agenda I wish more birth professionals would embrace.

If you haven’t had your baby yet, I highly recommend buying
this book. And I found it interesting even after having given birth to
two babies.

Q&A: teaching self-confidence

Karla writes:

"i recently ran into an old highschool alumni at the mall.  I couldn’t remember her name.  I called a good friend of mine (from highschool), and we started flipping through our old year books to see if we could remember this girl’s name.  We began talking about who we would be friends with now, had we not felt the need to be friends with the not-so-nice, rebellious, back-stabbing, cool kids.  We didn’t even have that much fun in highschool, because we spent so much of our time competing with and comparing ourselves with everyone else.  Oh, the stress!  I know that these feelings are usually
outgrown, but still….I would LOVE for my kids to not go through that pressure-ever.  I hope that they are more self-confident (and therefore simply have fun and not care about being "cool".)  I know most of our kids are younger, but I think that teaching self-confidence STARTS young.  What books can you suggest and what advice do you offer for teaching kids to love themselves starting right now?"

My older son is only 4 1/2, so I don’t have any kind of proven track record. For that I think we’d have to look to parents of older kids, and I’m hoping that some of them (Lisa V? Carosgram? NumNum? Kathy?) will add in their opinions. But it’s my suspicion that what gives people self-confidence and the courage to avoid being swayed by popular opinion is feeling understood and valued for who we are.

If we can listen, really listen, to our kids, and avoid putting our own expectations on them as much as possible (aside from normal expectations of civilized conduct) and value them for who they are, then they’ll feel that they’re fundamentally OK just as they are. That turns into self-confidence as they grow older.

I guess I kind of knew that, but my latest rereading of Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child (seriously, why isn’t every new parent given a copy of this book before leaving the hospital?) just really hit me with the idea that all any of us ever wants is to be valued for who we are. Not told we’re a "good girl" or "smart kid," but really understood and seen as unique. The book has influenced a lot of the way I (try to) interact with my boys, and even my husband. Instead of generic praise that puts my expectations on the boys ("You’re such a great kid") I try to praise their specific behavior and qualities ("I felt so happy when you drew that picture for me" or "You really know what will make your brother laugh."). I’m certainly not perfect, or even all that good, at it. But that’s why I try to reread the book at least once a year, to try to get the more useful patterns to become my first instincts.

Another book I’ve found immensely useful is Lawrence Cohen’s Playful Parenting. It helps me focus on keeping interactions strife-free so they can be learning experiences and opportunities for my kids to learn self-control without feeling like I’m backing them into a corner. Instead of arguing with my son about putting on his pajamas, I can turn it into a silly pajama race. It’ll take the same amount of time for the task to be completed, but arguing puts both of us in a bad mood, while the race makes both of us feel silly and relaxed, and sets up the next night for stress-free pajama racing.

I’m hoping that by knowing that I appreciate them for who they are individually and what they do, and by feeling that most of our interactions are positive and that they don’t have to be afraid of me, they’ll feel confident in their own worth and ability to solve problems and make decisions. (And maybe they’ll even be able to write sentences that don’t run on.)

What do you all think? What are the central principles you’re trying to get across in your communications with your kids? How are you teaching them to be true to themselves?

Q&A: book for raising babies

Claire writes:

"My question is one for your personal opinion – I’d like to know if you’ve read the Babywise series of books (and any of their friends) & if you have your critical opinion or alternative recommendations? I’m currently 5 months pregnant & want to make sure I’m prepared as much as possible for the challenges new babies are, but I don’t want to fill my head with useless twaddle.

I guess the reason I’m torn is that so many of my friends swear their sanity was saved by that book & indeed their children are really comparitively angelic (though still well within the bounds of
normal) compared to the few people I know who run a laissez faire attitude to babies doing whatever they do. Those friends don’t seem to be getting any sleep or routine & they are having a freak out & not so much fun.

I’m not a 100% do it by the book sort of gal, but I would like to know if there’s a book that you can recommend that’s perhaps a bit more scientific than some Ezzo dude’s opinions & aprocrypha, but will still enable me to try to have a balanced happy moderately routine friendly baby?

I’d love to hear what you have to say about this & any books you can recommend for preparing for parenting – birth is the least of my worries :o)"

I despise Babywise, and there are huge numbers of people who have been hurt (and their relationships with their children hurt) by Ezzo. For the full critique on what’s wrong with the Babywise approach, you can check out http://ezzo.info

Basically, any book that tells you to fight biology by never allowing a child to go to sleep by feeding (among other things) is completely full of it and is making tons of extra work for the parents (and let’s be
real, it’s the mothers who usually have this extra work, rarely the fathers). Nature already built in this wonderful way to get your baby to sleep, and if you mess with it by imposing some ridiculous schedule about the baby always having to "play" after feeding or only eating at specified times then you are messing around with the way babies are hardwired. Of course people who "do Babywise" have these calm, placid babies, because the babies’ spirits have been broken. They’ve been taught to ignore their own hunger cues and other needs, and just to wait passively until the parents decide it’s time for the next thing to happen.

I think there are some religious communities that value "breaking" children. If you don’t belong to one of these communities, then Babywise is something you want to stay far away from.

There is no other book I recommend as a parenting "method." Your method should be 1) trust your own instincts and 2) give your baby what s/he needs by paying attention to your baby and responding. Yeah, it’s confusing at the beginning, but the good news is that babies don’t remember much of the first few weeks. All they remember is that someone was there holding them and snuggling
them and feeding them when they’re hungry. All the other stuff is just a blur. So you don’t have to be good at reading your kid until a few months into the whole deal.

Babies and kids like predictable routine, but most babies, if paid attention to and responded to, will fall into a routine that works for their bodies within the first few months. Of course it evolves over time as they get older, but if you stick with the routine as it evolves, you’ll have a predictable, somewhat structured day and your baby will trust you and the world. There are days you can’t seem to get
it together to go through the regular routine, but letting everything slide into a big mush of a day ends up letting everyone descend into chaos. (I’m not talking about the first 8 weeks or so, when everything’s pretty much chaos anyway–cut yourself a break and just focus on getting enough water and sleep and the routine will kick itself in soon.)

One really important thing that I think most BDTD parents will recommend (even if they never consciously thought about it at the time) was going outside the house every single day, no matter what the weather (hurricanes and blizzards excluded, of course). If you go out every day at approximately the same time, even if it’s to go to a cafe to get an iced coffee for yourself or to the grocery store to wander
the aisles looking at all the new breakfast cereals, you will add more structure and more emotional space to your day, even if your baby is teething and nothing else is going right.

IME the secret to having a structured, balanced routine is simple–watch your kid and follow his/her routine. If something seems to be off, troubleshoot instead of blaming yourself. Is it a developmental spurt going on? A physical spurt? Teething? Something the child ate? A change in sleep needs? Stress from the environment around the child? Do what you can to change the problem or wait it out, and you’ll be back on track.

Raising children is hard. Really freaking hard. A predictable routine makes it a lot easier, but imposing a routine set by someone else who’s never even met your child makes no sense and can be counterproductive. People often joke that kids should come with an instruction manual, but they do–it’s their cries and their smiles and their facial expressions. Trust yourself, trust your child, and eat lots of
chocolate, and you’ll both come out of it with no major trauma.

Now, I read a lot of books, so of course I’ll recommend some books to you. (And yes, I’m working on a full booklist to put up later.) Here’s my caveat: Don’t become a fanatic about something anyone else says. Almost any routine is going to work better than no routine for a baby. So of course the people who follow Babywise will have better-adjusted kids than people who are tossing their kids Ritz crackers from the couch and watching endless reruns of "The Real World." But a routine based on your actual kid is always going to be better than any routine in a book, so don’t look to books to tell you what to do. You’re your child’s parent, and you and your child together have everything you need already.

Books I don’t recommend:

  • Babywise and all of it’s siblings. Ezzo has no child development experience, early editions of the book cause Failure to Thrive in many babies, and the alleged Biblical basis of the ideas in the book are misinterpretations at best and deliberate blasphemy at worst. http://ezzo.info
  • Anything by the Pearls. No. Just no. Although I doubt anyone inclined to follow the Pearls is reading me anyway.
  • The Baby Whisperer. Hogg’s not a malevolent nutjob like Ezzo, and she does have some good tips on certain topics, but the idea that all kids have to follow the same sequence of events every day? Not sound. Also, if your child doesn’t go down to sleep from being awake by 4 months, nothing bad will happen to anyone. This book will make you feel inadequate and make a ton of extra work for you. If you’re going to read it, borrow it from the library or a friend instead of spending good money, and keep your common sense with you as you read.

 

Books I do recommend:

  • The Wonder Weeks. Of course. The best part of this book is that it tells you what’s going on and why your child is cranky or not sleeping, but it doesn’t tell you what to do. Information but no dogma is my favorite combo.
  • Between Parent and Child. It’s about talking to your kids, so it’s way too early for dealing day-to-day with babies, but reading it now will help you understand kids better in general and help put you in the right frame of mind for dealing with tantrums and all the stuff that starts to happen at the end of the first year.
  • Happiest Baby on the Block. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the 5 S’s are going to be helpful to settle most kids because of the way babies are hardwired biologically. Maybe not a whole book’s full of content, but definitely worth borrowing and reading before you give birth, or at least watching the DVD.
  • The Mother of All Baby Books. Common sense in a fun-to-read format.
  • Your Baby and Child. Just a straightforward resource, in a brisk, keep-a-stiff-upper-lip style.

 

Books I recommend with hesitation:

  • The Baby Book. I love the medical and developmental parts of this book. But those first few chapters can be so guilt-inducing, even to those of us who tend toward the attachment style already. Read the first few chapters with a critical mind, trust your own instincts, and remember that all this "the mother has to bond instantly with the baby" stuff is written by someone who’s never been a mother. But the medical and developmental stuff is great, non-alarmist, and balanced info.
  • What to Expect the First Year. I just really don’t like the "what to expect" books in general because they’re beyond pedantic and alarmist, but if someone gives it to you you can look stuff up in it if you’re in a good mood. If you’re worried about something in particular, though, keep it on the shelf so you don’t scare yourself unnecessarily.

Q&A: how to be a buttinsky

Amanda writes:

"Here’s a question that I think I already know the answer to, but I’d
love your perspective.  I’m not a mom.  I’m an aunt with a wonderful
brother, great sister-in-law, and an absolutely adorable nephew who
turns 1 this week.

I have a pretty good relationship with my
brother’s family, since we share elder care responsibilities and I see
them nearly every day.  I was very distant from my brother until the
last few years, when we grew closer through caring for our elderly
parents, so we’re just starting to have a real adult friendship.  My
SIL is a stay at home mom whose first language is not English, and she
doesn’t have many friends here.  I offer to babysit for them often, and
I’m pretty much the only person they trust to take care of my nephew.
To give my SIL a break, I try to spend about an hour a day with my
nephew so my SIL can have some time to relax or be by herself, and I
babysit for 2-3 hours about every other week so they can have some
couple time alone.  I’d be happy to babysit more, but my SIL doesn’t
like to be away from the baby.

My question is whether there’s ever an okay way to offer unsolicited
advice to a parent, especially since I’m not a parent myself.  I love
my brother and SIL, and overall they’re doing a great job with my
nephew – he’s happy, healthy, and growing.  I frequently defend their
parenting decisions to my judgemental mother, who thinks it’s
absolutely scandalous that my SIL co-sleeps with my nephew, still
breastfeeds him (she sees it as "spoiling" him, and he’s not even 1!!),
and that he’s never gone down for a nap by himself in a crib even
once.  My SIL’s never read books on Attachment Parenting or anything;
she’s just going by instinct and has done really well.  Since my mother
projects silent disapproval quite enough for the whole family, I’m
pretty much my SIL’s cheerleader, assuring her that she’s doing a great
job, etc. 

I do have some concerns and ideas,
though, and I’d like to share them with my brother and SIL, but I don’t
want to come off as a know it all or a buttinsky or alienate them in
any way.  For instance, I’m a little worried about his verbal
development, and since I’m an elementary school teacher, I have done a
lot of reading on the subject of language acquisition. So far, he has
said no words, not even "Mama".  I know that verbal development can be
slower in boys and can also be delayed when an infant is exposed to two
languages, but my brother and SIL don’t talk to him very much at all.
When I take care of him, I talk to him while I’m doing things, and he
loves to walk around a room with me and point to things while I say the
words for them.  In the short time I have with him, he really soaks it
up.  From what I know about language development, naming things,
repeating words, and having word rituals (like saying, "Do you want to
nurse?" every time you nurse) is really important for language
development, but they don’t do this.  They don’t have friends with
children the same age and aren’t into reading parenting magazines or
Web sites.  Is there any way I can share my ideas or suggestions with
them without alienating them?

Also, I’ve bought lots of board books, cloth books, and other books for
him, but they very rarely read with him – maybe once or twice a month.
They say he has no patience for it and wants to squirm and play all the
time, but I feel like they’re already giving up on reading to him and
both they and he are missing out on something really special.  When I’m
with him at their house I read to him as much as I can and, sure, he’s
squirmy sometimes.  I figure that’s just natural, but that he’d be less
squirmy if they had an enjoyable, snuggly, reading ritual, like reading
every night before bed with Daddy or something.  But how can I bring
this up?  (Or can I at all?)  Aside from buying them lots of books in
English and Spanish and reading to him in front of them, I don’t know
what I can do or if I should just butt my nosy self out.

So far, I’ve steered clear of offering any "assvice" whatsoever beyond
modeling this kind of language development stuff myself when I am with
my nephew in front of them.  But the older he gets, the more worried I
get that his little brain is really missing out on verbal stimulation,
and I worry that I should speak up now or I might regret it later if I
see he has verbal difficulties later on.

On a much more acute
and serious level, I’ve worried a lot about how much my brother and SIL
fight (verbally).  They’re newlyweds, they face a language barrier,
they have a new baby, and they’ve had a lot to adjust to.  They love
each other and adore my nephew, but they’re still learning to
communicate well and they are developing a really disturbing habit of
having scary, loud, screaming fights.  My mother had reported how loud
and scary their fights are and how awful it is that they fight in front
of the baby, but I blew off her criticism and told her to mind her own
business because she seems reflexively critical of them.  But one day
when I was stopping by, I happened upon one of these fights and was
horrified — I could hear them out on the street, with the baby crying
in the background.  I stayed outside for a few minutes wondering what
to do, but when the earsplitting screaming continued despite the baby’s
terror, I rang the doorbell.  When my brother opened the door, I smiled
and said something cheerful like, "Hi, everybody!  Sounds like you two
could use some time alone to talk, so how about me and Joey go for a
walk in the stroller?" and they were cool with that.  Afterward, I
wanted to say something to them, but again I didn’t want to be a
buttinsky. 

The backstory is that my parents were alcoholics and my brother and I
suffered through countless horrible screaming fights between them.
Neither was physically abusive, but the emotional abuse and sheer
terror of growing up around that much fighting really had a negative
impact on me (and I’m sure my brother as well).  So I really worry
about the baby and don’t want him to have to grow up like that.  I
think stepping in to take the baby for a walk that day and let them
cool off was okay, and I will not hesistate to do so if I come up on a
fight like that again, but is there any way I can raise the issue in
general?  Their marriage is not my business, but when I think back on
my childhood, I wish some other adult had stepped in and told my
parents to cool it, get into counseling, think of the children,
whatever. 

Any thoughts you have on this would be very much appreciated!"

I think you’re a caring person and a wonderful aunt to put this much thought into your nephew’s situation, and that your SIL is lucky to have you as an ally.

I wonder if a lot of the lack of verbal interaction your brother and SIL have with their son is a result of the problems they’re having between the two of them. Sometimes when a couple is having relationship problems they throw all their energy into the child as a substitute for interacting with and pouring love into each other. But sometimes feeling bad about your romantic relationship makes you pull into yourself and not have as much to give to your other relationships. I wonder if that’s much of the reason your brother and SIL aren’t as verbally interactive with their son as they should be.

Whether or not the silence is stemming from relationship troubles, the silence isn’t the biggest problem. A child can grow up happy even with a limited vocabulary. But it’s pretty tough to thrive when your parents are in constant discord. If you feel like you have the energy to throw into trying to nudge them gently toward improving their son’s life, I’d focus on helping them get their relationship back on track.

It sounds like there are two forces working to cause their problems. The first is that they have a child. I think people really underestimate how much strain having a child puts on a relationship. Even couples that have been together for 15 years before becoming parents will experience a total shake-up and reevaluation of their roles and priorities. Another dirty little secret of parenting is that it might bring you closer during the first few weeks you bring your child home, but almost every couple is having some problems 6-18 months out.

Including my husband and me. We suffered the strain, just like everyone else does, and were fighting all the time when our older son was an older baby. I didn’t want my son to grow up in a household with constantly fighting parents, so we needed to make some hard decisions.

We ended up buying the book Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix, reading it, and doing the exercises at the end of the book together. It saved our marriage and made us a lot stronger as a couple. The concept behind Hendrix’s Imago relationship therapy is that the reason we’re attracted to the specific person we’ve committed to is that that person has characteristics, both good and bad, that we were conditioned to respond to in our childhoods. That means that when things are good, our partner can make us feel better than anyone else does, but when things are bad, our partner can hurt us more than anyone else can. The goal of the exercises in the book (and in weekend workshops run by Imago-trained therapists, if you want to do it all in two days with someone else guiding you) is to help you figure out what the hurts are that you each have, and how you can help each other heal instead of hurting each other (either on purpose or inadvertently).

Every time I mention this book (either online or IRL), someone jumps in to say that they did the book or did a weekend workshop and it changed their relationship for the better. It’s not a "miracle," because you do actually have to do the exercises for things to improve (about 2 hours each, 10 sessions total–we did them every Wednesday night after our son went to bed). But if both of you want to find a way out of the mess you’re in, this book will give you a framework to start putting things together again. it would also be helpful to read even if your partner doens’t want to cooperate. (The book refers to "husband" and "wife," but Hendrix has a special note at the beginning of the book stating that the method applies equally to same-sex couples, and many of the weekend workshops are either welcoming of or specifically for same-sex couples.) At $10, the book is the cheapest, best DIY couples therapy you can find, whether you’re having mild problems or are on the brink of divorce.

It sounds like the common background of a scary childhood is the entry you can use to discussing your brother’s problems and offering him the book. You can approach him by saying that you both know how scary it was to grow up with parents who were fighting and that you wish someone had butted in to say something to your parents. You know you’re risking making him angry, but you couldn’t live with yourself if you didn’t point out to him that his fights are going to have the same effect on his son that your parents fights had on the two of you. You know he doesn’t want his son to grow up with that, so you hope the Hendrix book can be helpful to them. I hope that he won’t get too insulted about your mentioning it, because you both went through this traumatic childhood together and know how awful it is for a child to be in the middle of constant fighting.

The second force against your brother and SIL is that they’re isolated from peers. They may have lots of friends, but unless they have friends with young children, too, they’re not going to feel like they have real peers who can understand what they’re going through. It doesn’t seem like much, but it can be incredibly stressful to be the only people you know in your situation. They need other parent friends. In addition, your SIL needs at least one mom friend who speaks Spanish.

How they’re going to make these friends is the problem. You’ll have to look around to see where parents of toddlers can find new friends. Parenting groups or classes, classes for your nephew, church or other religious organizations with parents’ groups, library storytime, the playground, etc. If they’ll go to these places they could meet friends there. If not, you might have to get a little creative, and set them up the way you’d set up a single friend with your attractive neighbor. Find another couple with a baby of similar age, and tell your brother and SIL that this couple needs some kind of help or advice or something like that and wants to meet them. (Can you tell I’m not that great at setting people up?) You need to think of some pretense for meeting and hanging out that will entice your brother and SIL to do it.

I think getting your SIL to make some mom friends who speak Spanish isn’t going to be as hard a sell. If she’s with your nephew all day she’s bound to crave some adult company, and she’s probably hungry to speak her native language sometimes. The problem here is going to be finding them. You could look up your local chapter of La Leche League (I know I always mention LLL, but it’s a great local resource even if you’re not going to the actual meetings) and call the leader and ask her if she knows of any mothers’ groups in Spanish. You could see if any local Hispanic cultural associations have playgroups. Or you could try Googling your city name and "madres" or "niños" to see if any groups pop up. Once you’ve found a resource, you can offer to go with your SIL or do whatever she needs to help her clear her schedule to go.

I think that an improved marriage and more social contact with other parents will have the natural result of making your brother and SIL more receptive to casual suggestions about interacting more with their son and reading to him. It is extremely frustrating to try to read to a kid who just wiggles away or tries to chew the book apart, but it’s a normal stage you just have to press through. If they are feeling less stressed in general, and are getting some positive feedback from other parents about a more interactive style, they’ll probably just instinctively fall into better patterns with your nephew.

Whether or not feeling better about themselves and their relationship makes them start giving their son more verbal and mental stimulation, you’ve done the best thing you could possibly do to help your nephew by helping his parents be happier. And as he gets older he’ll probably want to spend more and more time with his reading aunt Amanda.

A great website plug

(Scroll down for today’s Q&A.)

So I got this email a week ago with the same "I thought your readers might want to know about this" line that I get sometimes from people wanting me to pimp their products on Ask Moxie. Sometimes they’re things I already know about and was planning to mention anyway, and sometimes they’re things I see no use for so I don’t mention, and sometimes they’re scary things like trying to get you guys to sign up to expose your parenting style to ridicule on national television.

But this thing was cool. Way cool.

It’s called Amiglia.com, and it’s a website that is basically an interactive family tree. Each person in your family has a profile page with photos (you can upload easily from Flickr or your hard drive) and stories and recipes and music. You connect the people so they make a family tree. You can upload tons of photos and tag and edit them so they go together in albums (like "family reunion 2005" or "cousins" or things like that). You can send a general email to everyone in your family tree through the program. It reminds you of whose birthday is coming up. You can set it up so the tree is viewable by the public or only people with the password, and allow anyone with the password to upload to the site or only you. There’s also a cool toddler game (it has sound so turn your speakers off if you’re at work) that’s like a talking photo album slide show.

Last year at my huge family reunion (125 people) we were talking about how cool something like this would be, but the one we envisioned wasn’t half as robust as this one. I’m in love.

Here’s the best part: They’re in beta now, so anyone who joins now gets a free membership. (I think the listed prices they’ll charge once they officially roll out were absolutely reasonable anyway.) So go join now.

Q&A: signing with your baby

Bonnie writes:

"What can you tell a new parent about baby sign language? My daughter is three months old, and she watches us so intently that it feels like time to start signing with her, even though she won’t be able to use those signs for many months yet. What’s your experience? Can you offer any tips for starting out? Good resources for parents?"

All anyone wants is to be understood. And babies are just small people, so it makes sense that they’re trying to communicate from the day they come out. They do whatever they can–from crying to coughing to snuffling to making little grunting noises–to tell us when they’re hungry, wet, scared, angry, tired, or just in need of a snuggle.

And they start to pick up our language and signals right away, too. My second son was a champion nurser from the get-go, so since we had no latch or supply issues, I decided to work on communication right away. Starting the second day he was out, whenever I’d latch him on I’d say "nurse" clearly. After a few days of doing this consistently, when he started to fuss I’d ask "Nurse?" and he’d calm down and wait for me to put him on. He knew I understood what he wanted, so he calmed down.

I think those early efforts at communication started a feedback loop. Once he understood the word "nurse," I started adding in the sign for "milk." I had absolutely no expectations that he’d understand the sign until he was at least 5 or 6 months old, or that he’d be able to make the sign himself until 8 or 9 months. But I think he just got into the habit of paying attention to the way I was communicating with him. My mother swears he signed "milk" to her when he was three months old. (She didn’t know I was signing with him yet, but remembered the sign from when my older one used it.) The next day my dad told me he saw it, too, and the day after that my husband saw it.

So I think if you feel like she’s watching you intently right now, you might as well start the signing. Your daughter will probably not sign back right away since she probably doesn’t have the motor control necessary (except for "milk," perhaps, which is pretty easy), but that doesn’t mean she won’t understand pretty soon when you sign to her.

If you start signing to her this early, I would do only one or a couple of clear, easy signs, and I would be as consistent as possible. I’d suggest milk to start. Maybe add in bath (if she really likes baths) in a few months. Then you’ll figure out what to do next. (Bed, more, and all done are good things to consider, as is the sign for whatever kind of pet you have.)

If you start signing later on (8-9 months or later) you can start with one sign or a couple at the same time. Some people love the Signing Time videos and/or the Joseph Garcia Sign With Your Baby Kit. Others of us are waaaay too cheap for that fancy stuff and just find our signs on an online American Sign Language dictionary. Or you could buy or borrow (from the library) a paper ASL dictionary.

When you do start signing, make sure you’re having fun with it. There’s plenty of evidence that signing helps babies communicate so they’re less frustrated and can make their needs known, so they throw fewer tantrums. Kids who learn sign also tend to speak earlier (probably because they’re used to the give and take of specific communication). But not all kids get into signs. My older one only ever learned a few signs (milk, more, bath, all done), but he spoke on the early side. I think he just wanted to go right to the talking (he’s still a real jabberjaw) so he had no time for signing. In contrast, one of his friends had over 30 signs that she used regularly by the time she was a year old. Their language development seemed to be about even, but she just had a heavier balance of signs to words than he did until they were over 2 years old. So, as with almost everything, it has a lot to do with your child’s personality, and you shouldn’t get tied up in knots about it if your child won’t sign back.

So, yes, go ahead and start signing with your daughter. As long as it’s a fun game and way to increase the closeness and communication you have, you might as well do it. Just don’t tell any doubting relatives until your baby starts signing back.