Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Resolution Fulfilled

Back at the start of the year, I wrote a post about how I intended to enjoy 2012.  This was predictably followed by two months of sickness and depression.  However, it's time I updated that resolution to note, for posterity, that I am, indeed, enjoying myself hugely.

I never want to suggest that my life is all sunshine and rainbows (as much as I appreciate how fortunate I am).  There are certainly plenty of down moments, like my recent patch of insomnia, the fact that we are still failing to get my son's naps right, or even the moment today where my son shoplifted a water pistol from Michael's.  I had told him in the store that we weren't going to buy it, but I only saw he was still holding onto it when we got out to the car park.  I marched him right back into the shop and talked very firmly about stealing until he finally put it on a shelf, and we were able to leave with only the merchandise we had paid for.

Anyway, while this space is for me to write about the challenges of parenting, I want to balance it out by recording that I am having a great time with the children lately.  This is probably my last year as a stay at home Mum, one of the few years I've got with really small children, and I'm not pregnant or on any medication.

It helps that we're in that glorious stage of weather before it gets too hot.  I've been taking my daughter for little walks, we've been to the beach to splash on the sandbars at low tide, we've got into the habit of having a picnic at the playground on Thursdays, we're doing bike rides as a family with the kids in a chariot, this Friday we're going to a water park, my son and I do colouring and puzzles and similar activities together while my daughter takes her afternoon nap, my daughter attends babygarden at the library and zoo-tales at the zoo, both children have gym class Wednesday afternoon which is a riot....

Life is good.

So yes, while I fret about how to tackle the latest child problem, let it be known that I am indeed making the most of these amazing moments and loving that I am able to experience them.  Even the simplest things, like cuddling my daughter after dinner today, taking turns to blow in the other's face and giggle.  My children might cause me an awful lot of work, but the playtime is more than worth it.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Philosophical Reflections on Soccer Club

Today was my three year old son's last soccer practice (except we've been calling it football, just to confuse the issue).  We signed him up for this because a friend of his was doing it, because we wanted him to be doing some kind of sport activity (something not covered at school) and because football is so deeply rooted in British culture and we wanted him to have some experience of it for when we go back to the UK to live.  Obviously, they weren't doing actual football games, just little games to practise various skills: red light, green light; tails; egg hunt; sleeping giant.

Unfortunately, things did not go well.  While my son certainly enjoyed parts of every session, he wanted us to stay with him at all times, and every week we tried to find a happy medium between sitting on the sidelines and keeping him feeling happy and secure.  I got frustrated as I found myself in the role of helicopter parent, repeating what his coach said, and guiding him through each activity.  For the first few weeks, there were several other parents in this position, but by the end, I was the only one (the others having dropped out or successfully weaned their child).

We ended up leaving early most weeks (if only by five or ten minutes), but the main reason we didn't give up was my own obstinacy.  I felt we should set him an example of finishing what we started.  Either that, or we've just put him off the idea of football and team-based sports altogether.  I'm going to cross my fingers that it's the former.  At least for this last session, I was able to spend most of it on the sidelines, while he followed the coaches' instructions.

I have had a good deal of time to think about all the reasons why my son lacked the confidence to leave us cheering from the sidelines: specifically what the club was doing wrong.  My ire was sparked by the first session which seemed hopelessly disorganised.  Email communication was poor to the point that we showed up on the first day, with no idea where we were supposed to go (games for all ages are going on simultaneously across the school pitches) and it took us fifteen minutes to find the right place, at which point we had to join a huge line to sign in. 

By the time we got to join the session, twenty minutes after it had started, there were something like thirty children in the group with just three coaches trying to organise them.  Said coaches, all youthful volunteers, were operating under the illusion that every three year old automatically knew what dribbling was.

Fortunately, the following sessions only had a dozen or so children to two coaches and were less chaotic, but while they diligently led the children through the activities, there was very little attempt to foster a sense of team.  Half the time, the coaches forgot to introduce themselves at the start of the class, and at no time did they ask any of the children their names (excepting one week when we had a different coach). 

Consequently, nobody ever really got to know each other, and I think this had a big impact on my son wanting us with him.  He needed somebody he knew there, and he didn't know the coaches or the other children (his friend, who had similar difficulties, gave up after a few weeks).  I remember when I was teaching toddlers, the importance of getting the children to learn each other's names was something I discovered and utilised early.  I have actually just emailed the organisers about this (as nicely as possible), because I am trying not to be the person who grumbles about something instead of trying to fix it.

Of course, today, it finally occurred to me that I should have been taking positive action all along instead of blaming the poor inexperienced souls who were willing to give up their Saturday mornings to coach the next generation.  I could have encouraged my son to go up to the Coach every session and introduce himself.  I could have talked to the other children there, asked them their names, and guided my son into interacting with them.

I did none of these things because I am a shy introvert with rotten social skills.  But I want to improve myself and have my children do better, so starting off these good habits will benefit all of us.  It's too late for the soccer club, but next time we do something like this, I resolve to be more pro-active.

The other thing that would probably have helped would be to get there early.  We kind of got into the habit of getting there late to minimise the ordeal, but a couple of times we arrived early enough to just kick the ball about beforehand.  That did wonders to relax my son and functioned as a kind of emotional warm up exercise. 

Similarly, most sessions we went as a family, and one parent would play with our daughter while the other assisted our son.  She generally enjoyed herself hugely, practising her walking around the sidelines, but I think she was too much of a distraction for my son.  If one of us had stayed at home with her while the other went with him, that might have worked better.

Still changing all these probably won't fix my son's clinginess, and I should hold myself accountable for a tendency to helicopter parent.  Today, when I was able to sit and watch for quite a long period of time, I caught myself yelling to my son every now and then anyway, instead of letting the coaches deal with it.  I have officially become everything I hate.

It's important for me that he has other authority figures in his life, and if I want him to let me step back, then I have to keep myself back, even if the coach is currently looking in the other direction, attending to another child.  My son is not going to suffer physical or emotional harm if he's left hesitating for ten seconds until the coaches spot him.

I've been trying to talk to my son directly about how important it is that he learns to listen from other people and my feelings on the subject suddenly crystallised into 'toddler logic' for me today.  I explained to him:

"Everybody has something different to teach us; the more people we can listen to, the more we can learn."

I'm not sure how much of this sentiment he took in today, but I'll remember that wording for future use.  As I said, this is something I strongly believe in, but I can't expect him to follow such recommendations if he doesn't understand why.  My hope is that if he internalises this, it will be easier for him to let me go.

Besides all these abstract parenting lessons, our brief stint at soccer club had some more practical benefits as well.  I have made due note of the warm-up exercises (balloon and butterfly especially) for future reference.  I'm always on the look out for things you can do at circle-time!

While our first experience with soccer has had mixed results, I would be willing to try something similar again, although I think we'll wait a good long while to let the battles of this one fade in the memory.  A fresh start would be a very good idea.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Figuring out Naps and Runaway Toddlers!

I'm sitting at my computer listening to hear if my son will come out of his bedroom again.  He's already lost his television time tomorrow, but his inability to sleep tonight that we need to re-think his afternoon nap again.

We thought he was ready to give up his afternoon nap, but after a few days without, it became apparent that he still needed it.  Actually, what he probably needs is a twenty minute power nap each day, but once he goes to sleep, he sleeps for ninety minutes to two hours.  Trying to wake him earlier than that is such a bad idea I wince to think about it. 

Waking is a big, near impossible transition for my son.  He's better these days than he used to be, but waking him before he's ready is a surefire recipe for a physical throw-down tantrum, the only time he has one.  I have resorted to googling this before now, trying to figure out the why of it, but all I've found are a few other mothers reporting similar issues and saying that their child outgrew it.

Anyway, to avoid the tantrum situation, we don't wake him if we can help it.  Instead, we're trying to figure out how often a week he needs a nap.  If he doesn't get enough sleep, his behaviour deteriorates.  If he gets too much, he can't sleep at night.  So far, we've established that twice a week is too little, every other day, too much.  Onto every three days then?  Obviously, the stimulation he receives during the day makes a difference too, but I think we're just going to be making this up as we go along for a few months until he's genuinely able to give up his nap.

One plus: I followed Confessions of a Montessori Mom's advice and started getting him dressed as soon as he got up in the morning, which has helped mitigate some of the behavioural issues as well as encouraging him to get control of himself when he first wakes up.  It took a few days, but now he is accustomed to it, and it's saved us a bunch of time in the morning (as opposed to getting him dressed right before he goes to school).

Meanwhile, my daughter's behaviour has improved markedly since she started walking.  She's too busy exploring her new horizons to misbehave.  With one notable exception: running away.  My son was never much of a runaway.  He did a bit of it, but mostly he was happy to stick close to me, and considering how clingy my daughter has been all her life, I fondly imagined that she would be the same way.

Yeah, not so much.  One of her favourite games now is to wait until I say: "This way!"  She then proceeds to give me a big beaming smile and run (well, toddle as fast as she can) in another direction.  The best part is apparently when I sprint after her and scoop her up, earning a delighted chuckle.

For now, it's not a problem, because she's still pretty easy to catch, but that won't always be the case, so I'm trying to nip this in the bud now.  Ignoring her is obviously not an issue, so I'm switching back to the consequences without anger style of discipline.  I restrict her movements, but I don't give her a big reaction.

One of the best places for doing this is actually the supermarket.  I've most often heard that shopping is best done without the kids on foot, but I have the luxury of being able to go, just me and my daughter, at midmorning when it's fairly quiet.  In a busy store, with me supervising both children, this isn't really feasible.

But this morning, I took my daughter grocery shopping letting her walk.  Every time she ignored my instructions, I said "No", and put her in the trolley.  After a minute or so, I let her out and we would try again.  One thing I did learn was that she was happier when she could carry something, like a jar of peanut butter, although eventually she'd lose interest and drop it.  I also learned that while I could remain impassive as I bore her back to the trolley, other shoppers would undermine my efforts by cooing over her.  Ah, well.  I can't really blame them when she is clearly the most adorable baby ever.

Anyway, a work in progress, but I'd hate to have to get reins for her.  One thing I am going to have to work on is being closer to her when I can tell she's going to make a break for it, so it doesn't turn into the chase that she loves so much.  I am also trying to dial the tolerance down to zero.  I want to give her the chance to comply, but this kind of thing is too big a risk to let her think she can push the limits.

This evening, I grabbed her as she made a dash for the road, and that got me physically turning her face towards mine and talking seriously to her.  That is giving her a reaction, but I think it might be better to do so for that.  Instilling road safety is another difficult issue...  I've just got to find the balance.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Book Review: Go Away Big Green Monster

Go Away, Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley is a book I came across when teaching my old toddler class.  It was one of my safe bets for circle time; I never met a two year old yet who didn't like it.  When I had my own son, it was one of the first books I bought for him.

The feature of the book are die-cut pages, and through their holes, the face of the monster gradually appears, while the text underneath describes him.  So page one: "Big Green Monster has two big yellow eyes," Page two says "a long bluish-greenish nose," etc.

For this first half of the book the pages are black, but once the monster's head is fully revealed, we get this text: "YOU DON'T SCARE ME!  So GO AWAY, scraggly purple hair!"  And you turn over to a purple page and a smaller cut-out.

The text keeps ordering features to go away, and the cut-out keeps getting smaller until only the pupils of the eyes are left, with the final command beneath: "GO AWAY, Big Green Monster!"  Turning this last page brings you to the jet black inside cover of the book, with the text: "and DON'T COME BACK!"  Beneath, in smaller, green print: "Until I say so."

The simple art style and bold, contrasting colours would make this a good book for babies--if you can find a board book version!  I've only seen paper ones, and accordingly, I've not tried it on a child younger than one.  I think it would make a brilliant board book though, since babies love books with holes.  Even now, my daughter likes to poke her fingers at the monster's eyes and "sharp white teeth."

It's also very short, taking only a couple of minutes to read, and with repetitive text which makes it ideal for toddlers.  The cut-outs will fascinate older children too, and I have used this in a mixed age circle though I wouldn't recommend it particularly for three year olds and up.

Notes for the Parent

The monster in the book is by necessity very cartoonish and not remotely scary.  Although there is the one line: "YOU DON'T SCARE ME!" there is no suggestion of why the narrator might be scared of the monster.  That said, the definite implication is that monsters are scary.

The tagline on the front cover says "Make your fears disappear!" and this is obviously targeted at children who imagine monsters in the dark to help them get over their fear.  The potential problem here is that the toddlers who I recommend this book for are generally too young to be afraid of the dark These kinds of fears generally start around two or three, according to WebMD; my son, at three and a half has yet to exhibit that kind of anxiety.

The fact that the book's message might go over your children's heads isn't going to spoil their enjoyment of it in the least.  The only potential problem here is, as I said above, it suggests the idea that monsters are scary.  I personally doubt it would start a fear of the dark in a child, but if you're trying to avoid any sort of "toddler-horror", this might not be the book for you.

Educational Stuff

Obviously, if your child is afraid of the dark, even if they're past their toddler years, they might find this book useful.

I personally use it for teaching the parts of the face.  When reading the story in a circle, I would point to my eyes, nose, mouth, etc.  Most of the children would automatically mimic me with much giggling.  Reading it to my children, I touch their own facial features and those on the pages.

Most of the pages mention colours too, but it's not really the best book for that, since the range is a little limited: white, red, yellow, green, purple, and... 'bluish-greenish'.  Vocabulary in general is limited ('big' is used for the monster, his eyes, his mouth and his face) and descriptive rather than useful ('scraggly' and 'squiggly').

That's not the point, of course.  The book is meant to be simple and striking and it achieves that wonderfully.  In my opinion, every toddler should have this book!

For grown-up reading, I make the late-to-the-party recommendation of the Hunger Games series.  You've probably heard of it, and while no phenomenon is really worth its hype, it does make for a great read.  The final book, Mockingjay, has a very different feel to the other two, and seems to divide its fans.  I personally love it, and love that the author didn't cop out in favour of more conventional story-telling tropes.  Being a young adult series, it's reasonably short and simple too, which is always good for my toddler-induced-exhaustion.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Goodbye Hip Dysplasia and Hello Fashion!

I've posted before about my experience with my daughter's hip dysplasia.  I had been told to make a follow up appointment once she started walking, so this week, we duly went in and had an X-ray with her standing up.  It took two tries to get a clear picture, but once we did, she was given the official all clear, and we're done with hip dysplasia.

Well, they still recommend going back for another X-ray, just before she turns four, on the grounds that if they have missed something that's the last point at which it's easy to fix.  But we're now off their books and on our own.  This isn't really any different from what we've been doing since she was ten weeks old, but it does feel good to be official!

The other great thing about walking is that I can now put her in floaty summer dresses.  She had a couple last summer, but they were strictly for dressing up and having a photo taken.  Totally impractical for crawling.  I was delighted therefore to find that Target has an excellent selection of pretty girl clothes this summer that aren't pink on pink.  While I like dressing her in not-pink just on principle, I also loathe the pink-and-hot-pink colour scheme as an eyesore in general.  This summer, in Target at least, there are loads of cool blues and greens and coral.  I think this was the first time that I genuinely enjoyed picking out clothes for her.

Shoes have been less of a success.  I was completely depressed when I went to buy her first pair of shoes and found I had to actively avoid buying something with a high heel.  This week, I was looking for water shoes for her, only to find that little girl flip flops tend to be shiny and sequinned and other impractical things.  I ended up buying a pair of boys water shoes that were black and practical.  They look odd when paired with her blue and white swimsuit (which, I might add, is a functional UV top and bottom set, not a bikini!), but she loves them. 

So does her brother who wants his own pair--and will be granted that wish, since he needs a new set anyway.  During the summer, we go to the beach at least once a week, as well as a nearby fountain play area.  Water is part of our survival plan for the heat.  While I dread the too-hot-days, I'm looking forward to playing in the water this year, now that I've got my hands free!  It's also hysterically funny watching my daughter go crazy tottering all over because she can go wherever she wants to go.

I am having to chase her all over the place because she isn't nearly as interested in following directions as my son was.  I can't deny that.  But I still love walking.  It's so much fun to just let her go!

Thursday, 3 May 2012


So, it's been a week since my (almost 15 month old) daughter embraced walking and in that time, she's taught herself how to walk down stairs.  She also figured out how to stand up independently from a fall, but the stairs took precedence.  I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this.  It's just the standard sidestep down while holding onto the bannister posts, but she looks ridiculously little to be doing it.  On the other hand, it's a great reassurance that she is defaulting to a safe approach. 

We have a lot of stairs in our house, so safe stair-management is important to us.  We also only have one baby gate, because my son was astonishingly good about stairs.  He figured out how to slither down feet-first on his tummy at ten months old and did that until he was eighteen months.  We never needed to worry about him and stairs at all.

Owing to the cost of baby gates, and the numbers of stairs we have, I didn't want to fit every staircase with a baby gate in the new house (we've moved since my son's babyhood).  So once my daughter was crawling, we spent a lot of time on the stairs, just practising.  I taught my daughter the same technique for slithering down them, but she never liked it very much, probably because she couldn't see where she was going.  She understood about edges, but I was always worried that once she learned to walk, she'd just step off them and hope for the best.

Fortunately, she addressed the issue so promptly that I didn't have time to worry about how I was going to block off all the stairs.  As it is, she's unlikely to go up or down a set of stairs without me accompanying her anyway, and now that she's mastered the independent skill, she prefers to hold my hand or be carried than do it by herself.

It makes me wonder about baby gates though...  I only have one set of stairs blocked, and those are the ones leading down from the living area, mostly because I envision wildly playing children forgetting where they are and sailing off the edge on a wheely bug.  While I've been conscientious about getting the children familiar with the stairs, I'm sure this lack of precaution would be considered insanely reckless by some.

Yet are we being oversold on the baby gate issue?  It might be that my children happen to be unusually good at handling stairs, but while we've had a few tumbles, we've never had any injuries.  My parenting style tends towards letting my children be at risk of injury, (e.g. they can climb trees) because I agree that they should be able to test their physical limits and learn that an injury is something they can handle (not that we've had anything worse than scraped knees).  It seems natural for me to extend this philosophy to stairs.

I can't say I have any regrets, but every now and then, when we're out, my daughter might be playing close to some sort of edge and I'll just sit back and watch her--until I get a sudden jolt of paranoia that all the other parents are thinking I'm a cruel, neglectful mother.  Or, on even rarer occasion, somebody else will swoop in and save her from her peril--I usually say: "Oh, it's OK, she's good about edges," and they probably think I'm insane.

Regardless, I'm very impressed with my daughter's determination and she's even more impressed with herself.  The overall novelty of walking has worn off a little for her, and today she wanted to be carried most of the time.  But I do like carrying her on my hip... that's something I'm going to miss when it's over.