Archive for January, 2011

January 31, 2011

Grab a spoon, some avocados, and some love

The first year after my son was born was complete chaos at my house.  Wonderful, loving, ecstatic chaos, but chaos nonetheless.  My husband and I were both working full-time, him as a Urology resident, me as a Middle School Principal, neither of which are jobs that let you slack a little here and there.  (Actually, do jobs even exist now that let you slack a little here and there?)  Sleeping was not something my son was really ever into, and for that first whole year, and maybe more, he never slept in past four in the morning.  So the early wake-ups, combined with the middle-of-the-night feedings and cryings, combined with stress from work, well, we let some things slide.

In fact, I think we let everything slide…I remember a co-worker talking about opening the curtains in her house each morning and closing them every night.  I suddenly got this tremendous urge to do the same, as if that would be some sort of sign that I was in control of my life, my house.  But on the priority list, that would come after a lot of things we already weren’t doing–making our own dinners (take-out was the norm), making our bed, cleaning up toys, even getting the basics done at work–everything was hanging by a thin thread.

But there was one thing I did that year, one thing that I had control over and one thing I was really proud of–and that was making food for my baby.  Every Sunday I would cook up delicious concoctions on the stove, put them in the blender, and then transfer to ice cube trays for freezing.  I loved knowing that I was providing him with good, healthy food.  And the money we were wasting on the unhealthy take-out for ourselves was being saved by not having to buy jar after jar of baby food.

This is a new cookbook I found recently at an upscale baby store.  My eyes always gravitate toward a beautiful cookbook with beautiful pictures.  I picked it up, even though I doubted it would add all that much to the ones I already had.  I think it was seeing the “banana-avocado guacamole” recipe that did it.  How good does that sound?

Title: Love in Spoonfuls
Author: Editors of Parenting Magazine (Recipes by Sarah Putman Clegg)
Genre: Parenting, Cookbook

Summary and Review:

Like most baby cookbooks, the recipes are simple, but I wouldn’t have thought of them myself, so that’s why I buy them.  The book is divided into stages of development from birth to 18 months, but of course many of the toddler recipes would be great for older toddlers and preschoolers as well.  It also has a lot of great tips about introducing foods (even ways to introduce by parenting style!), allergies, and other health information.

January 29, 2011

Call Me When You’re Bleeding

We went to the playground today; it was the first day in a long time it was warm enough to do so.  (I had thought when we packed the moving boxes that I was moving to the “sunny” South, but I was actually moving to the freezing-cold-winters/hot-sticky-summers/nice-couple-of-months-in-the-fall-and-spring South.)  But that’s a different story.

Every time we go to the playground, I’m usually shocked by someone’s parenting.  I’m sure they are shocked by mine as well, and they are welcome to blog about it, but this is my podium, so to speak.  Here is what I see all the time: a young child, taking some tentative steps up a ladder or towards a slide, or onto a boulder and the parent snatching them up, explaining how it’s “too dangerous” for them, and re-directing them towards something safer, and usually way more boring.

Now, I know that many of these parents have very opposite (but similarly disapproving) thoughts on my own child-rearing skills because I’ve actually had parents tell my child to be careful or not go too high despite the fact that I was standing right there, obviously the mom, and obviously without any concerns.  Well, it’s not that I don’t have any concerns, it’s just that I weigh them differently.  (For the record, I have never suggested to someone else’s kid that she keep climbing.)  Here’s my version of risk analysis:

1) how likely is he to fall? (I base this on similar falls, similar climbing experiences, or similar feats I’ve seen him accomplish in gymnastics class or on my living room furniture)

2) if he does fall, how likely is he to get hurt? (I base these extraordinarily unprecise calculations on things like the height off the ground, the material said ground is made of, and his position on the apparatus and the body part mostly likely to hit the ground material first)

3) if he does get hurt, how close am I to an ER? (Okay, I don’t actually ask myself that, but it’s possible I should.)

4) How much energy do I have and do I really feel like going over to the monkey bars to rescue him?  (This might indicate a slight downside to my plan, as given this logic he is increasingly likely to fall the more pregnant I get.)

And then here’s the thing: even after judging, I still almost never take him off and redirect.  When I can, I stand underneath, so that my soft, cushiony body will act like the firefighters’ trampoline.  If I can’t do that, I try to support a little bit–hold a foot in place so he’s less likely to slip, etc.  And if I can’t help at all and it really does look too high up with too great a possibility of falling, I resign myself to asking him not to do it (he’s usually figured this out on his own at this point anyway), and try a modified version to increase the likelihood he’ll be able to do it on his own soon.

(For example, I did discourage my 2-year-old from jumping from the side of a high platform in an attempt to reach a pole to slide down.  But I did let him come down to the ground, where I lifted him up to the pole and showed him how to slide down.  He’s still learning, and maybe by the time he feels good at it, he’ll be tall enough to reach out and grab that pole at the top of the platform.  I look forward to that day.)

I certainly don’t think my way is the only way, but I do think parents need to worry a little bit less about their kids.  Specifically, they need to worry a little less about physical danger.  In my world, I worry (perhaps too much) about digital media, screen time, and junk food.  I do this because I’ve been in classrooms with middle schoolers for many years and have yet to see anyone permanently damaged by a playground fall, but have seen many that have suffered the consequences of too much of the stuff I mention above.  So yes, parents, it’s okay to worry.  But think first about what you’re worried about and why.  Ask yourself what your kids would be allowed to do if you weren’t worried about it, and think about the trade-offs.

And that’s all to say that Wendy Mogel is a great author.  Not just because she would agree with me on some of these things, but because she has good, solid advice delivered in about raising kids and how to deal with the mistakes they will inevitably make along the way.  She’s professional, humorous, and knows what she’s talking about.  So here it is.

Title: The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children
Author: Wendy Mogel, PhD
Genre: Parenting

Summary and Review:

Ah, the religious disclaimer: Religion tends to be a touchy subject for some people, so I should let you know that the book is written from a “Jewish” perspective.  I put Jewish in quotes because it’s also written from the perspective of a PhD and parenting expert, and I truly believe that everything in the book is universally applicable.  But you should know that she will quote from and refer often to Jewish texts such as the Bible (which of course is also Christian), the Talmud, and others.

If you are Jewish, or religious and not Jewish but open to learning the perspectives of other religions, or even just interested in spirituality and history, then I think these quotes serve as a unique and refreshing perspective through which to look at family life.  She also talks about teaching religion and spirituality to children and how to honor the holy in everyday life.  So, if you believe religion is responsible for all bad things in the world, then you might want to skip this one. 

Topics in the book include honoring each child as their own person (and learning to accept “good enough”), honoring parents (and how parents can better be someone to honor), overprotecting your child (hence my playground story), and many other gems of parenting confident and capable children.

January 27, 2011

Animals, animals, and more animals

This book has spawned a musical revolution in my house.  My toddler now goes around the house very proudly singing “Old MacDonald” but purposefully mismatching the animal sounds.  (As in, Old MacDonald might have had a cow on his farm, but there is a “quack, quack here”.)  He thinks this is the most hysterical thing anyone’s ever said, and he sings a verse and then waits politely for me to laugh out loud, which of course I do, even if I hadn’t been paying attention and have no idea what he was singing–I can easily assume because that’s what is being sung around our house.  At any rate, he loves it, and I love it, and that’s only the influence of one of the many awesome poems and quotes in this book.

Title: Animals, Animals
Illustrator: Eric Carle
Genre: Picture Book
Age Group: 0 – 7 and much, much older!

Summary and Review: This is one of those picture books you keep for a long time.  It was good for reading to an infant because of the gorgeous pictures and melodic verse.  It’s great for a toddler because of the huge variety in animals as well as the type of verse that describes those animals.  The book is an anthology of famous and not-so-famous animal quotes, poems, and songs.  It has every from a quote from the Bible and the Talmud (the latter is “a handful does not satisfy a lion”), to haikus, silly poems by Ogden Nash (“Tell Me, O Octopus, I begs, / Is those things arms or is they legs? / I marvel at thee Octopus; / If I were thou, I’d call me Us.”)  And of course, a great poem about a farm where the animals all make the wrong sounds, inspiring the musical creativity of my little boy.

In short, I couldn’t imagine a more awesome book.

Follow-up with the kids:

Well, I couldn’t imagine a better one than the version of Old MacDonald my son invented.  So try it yourself and see if it catches on just as quickly in your household!

January 26, 2011

Illustrator Video Giveaway

I am very excited about this!  One week from today on Wednesday, February 2, I will be posting a giveaway great for anyone aspiring to illustrate children’s books!  The video series, hosted by a published children’s illustrator Will Terry, will give you tricks of the trade from the mechanics of drawing, color, and technique to the literary qualities of creating a good character.  Check back for my blog entry and comment on the entry to win!  (Or subscribe to the blog now so you know you won’t miss the post!)

Anyone who writes a comment on the blog entry will be entered. 

(UPDATE: Because I’m clearly new at giveaways and don’t give great instructions, your name will be entered whether you comment on THIS POST OR the GIVEAWAY POST on FEB 2.  So you have from now until 36 hours after the Feb 2 post to comment in order to win.  If that isn’t clear enough, then just email me!)

Entry rules as follows:

  1. one entry per person
  2. additional entries for each of the following: being subscribed to the blog; posting a link to this blog entry on facebook or a relevant listserv
  3. comments must include an email for notifying you if you win

All names will be put in a hat, one drawn at random, and the winner notified by email.

January 25, 2011

At some point, the baby has to come out

And that’s when you get Dr. Sears’ Birth Book.  Well, actually, it’d be better to get it a few months earlier than that…

Title: The Birth Book
Author: William Sears, M.D. and Martha Sears, R.N.
Genre: Parenting

Summary and Review: If you’ve read my other posts on parenting books, you know that books that don’t yell at me are what I like the best.  This book doesn’t yell, which I appreciate.  I do go back and forth on my feelings about the Sears family and their empire of books.  I think it’s always dangerous when one entity, even if the entity is a whole family not one individual, has so much influence.  Their “Baby Book” which I used as my bible the first year, still really pisses me off in places…but that’s for another post, I suppose.  I really like this book.  The “bias” is toward a natural birth, but the tone of the book is respectful and describes very thoroughly hospital procedures and the role of modern medicine.  And since every other book you read is likely to be hospital-doctor-medication-leaning (unless you are really seeking out a natural or home birth), this is a good one to read some of the other arguments.

They walk a fine line between describing birth as a natural process and talking about a woman’s body as something that is built for birth, rather than something that has to endure it and talking about the modern hospital setting and the things that it has to offer.  In other words, a woman’s body is strong, powerful, and capable and medication or a necessary C-section might make it even better.  As an example, I really liked a line about the use of an epidural–that they have seen an epidural used really well at the end of labor to calm down an anxious mom and help labor progress more quickly as a result.  In other words, while they value natural birth and think it has it advantages for woman and babies, they don’t view women who turn to medication and other intervention as failures.  They view them as women trying to have a baby, which seems logical.

They also talk about C-sections and when they are really necessary.  Now, they don’t really agree with planned C-sections or inductions that aren’t truly indicated, but they do talk about them.  They give a lot of time to VBACs and even talk about home birth VBACs.

Honestly, I don’t think there is much that is likely to happen during a birth that isn’t in some way covered in this book.  I highly recommend.

January 24, 2011

I’m pregnant–and what’s happening?

The overstuffed bookshelves at every store are proof that when women get pregnant, they all have questions. And they look for answers in the wide array of books their bookstore has to offer.  Being someone with a lot of questions as well as someone who likes to research answers, I’ve read a lot of these books.  My book repertoire was increased with number two, given that all my pregnancy books from number one were stashed away in storage, three thousand miles away and thus pretty much unreachable.  So I got a few new ones, and this is one of the ones I liked.

Title: I’m Pregnant!
Author: Lesley Regan, MD
Genre: Parenting

Summary and Review: It has pictures!  Good photos are my favorite part of a nice research book.  Photos that help illustrate something and make it more readable.  I really appreciated and enjoyed the photos and detailed medical drawings in this book. The book’s sciencey feel was nice–she describes what’s going on, and shows you with pictures.

The scope of the book is also great.  It covers diet and exercise, rights for the working mother, prenatal care and the choices you can make (which is so wonderfully unbiased–thank you!), growth and development of the baby throughout the trimesters, labor and birth, and even things after birth such as the physical recovery of mom and feeding the baby.  This part is great, because I’ve talked to a lot of first-time moms who read all the pregnancy books but hadn’t started the baby books yet–and then they had this hungry, squirming thing and so many more questions!  So it’s nice that you will get an overview of some of those topics while you are reading your pregnancy book.

The book’s author writes in a nicely balanced, nonjudgmental tone, which I really appreciated.  That said, it is a book by a doctor and it assumes a hospital birth in a fairly modern-traditional way.  However, she expresses a balanced position on pain medication and uses “doctor or midwife” to describe the provider.  She doesn’t set out to make anyone feel bad about choice they are going to make, unlike some authors I’ve read.

I enjoyed the book, and even though I’ve done it before, I found it reassuring to follow along as my pregnancy progressed.

January 20, 2011

Too many princesses?

I haven’t read this book yet, but someone else has, and they wrote a great blog entry about it!  Here’s writer and TV commentator Margot Magowan on the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Cindy Orenstein.  This is from her blog, ReelGirl.

Title: Cinderella Ate My Daughter
Author: Peggy Orenstein
Genre: Parenting, Girls

January 18, 2011

Illustrate a Children’s Book

Wa-hooo!  I’m pretty excited about this–my first blog give-away!  And this is a GOOD one!

Will Terry, a published illustrator, has created a 7-lecture-series on how to illustrate children’s books.  He covers topics from book design to character design to color to the marketplace.  I’ve watched one of them, and it makes me wish I could draw so that I could put his techniques to work!

The give-away will happen in about a week, so check back for details on how to win!  In the meantime, you can start getting excited by watching a sample lecture here:

January 17, 2011

The Processs of Childbirth

There is SO much out there about childbirth.  If you read the wrong stuff, you can end up feeling REALLY guilty about absolutely any choice you might make.  For example, there are those books who say that mothers who choose a natural birth, or a home birth, or even a birth in a hospital with a midwife are “selfish” because they are thinking only about the birth experience and not about their future children.  Then there are those people who say that mothers who choose an epidural, or a planned C-section, or a pitocin-inducement, are “selfish” because they are thinking only about themselves, their comfort, and a schedule that is convenient to them.

Ah, the myth of our society–that women should be completely selfless, and thus anytime they are making a decision with which we might disagree, they must be acting selfishly.

Since I am a reader, almost obsessively (my husband would have me delete the “almost”), I read a LOT of books before my first child was born.  And as a result, I had a lot of mixed feelings.  I had a hard time judging the fact from the vitriol.  And frankly, I get enough of that with today’s politicians.

I had heard from others that this book by Ina May was not balanced and as a result I didn’t read it the first time around.  I regret that.  Probably mostly because I did end up reading books that were unbalanced in the other direction, and if I wasn’t going to find balance in one volume, then it would have been good to balance them myself by reading both sides.  I’m glad I picked this up for my second one, though.  I feel like I know the arguments for OBs and drugs and hospitals.  And it was powerful to read so many well-reasoned, researched, and practiced arguments for a natural birth.

I don’t believe that the two ways of thinking are mutually exclusive.  I believe that every woman should have the choice to get the love and care of a midwife or doula (or both) and the modern technology of drugs and back-up procedures such as the C-section.  And no, I don’t think that’s selfish.  I think that’s rational.  And I think it’s taking into account the best health of the baby and the mother, which is what should be done.

Having said all that, this is NOT a balanced read.  This is a book for woman who are interested in a natural birth, or perhaps interested in trying to labor for as long as they can before getting an epidural.  However, I feel really strongly that most of what you are likely to hear from our society, magazines, your friends, family, and your OB is going to be so far in the other direction, that this book is a good read to balance it all out.  Just please, don’t let it make you feel guilty if you aren’t the natural-birthing kind.  Just let it guide you in ways to understand your birth a little better.

I have other books to recommend, too, so I’ll be putting more out here soon.

Title: Ina May’s Guide To Childbirth
Author: Ina May Gaskin
: Parenting, Nonfiction
Age: Parents or Parents-to-be

Summary and Review:

The first half of this book is composed of personal birth stories from woman who gave birth naturally at Ina May’s midwifery clinic “the Farm” in rural Tennessee.  I had been told by more than one person that these stories were “inspiring” and to some extent they are, but let me not sugarcoat them–they are also scary.  Above all, they are honest and real.  Real women talk about their experiences.  They talk about pain and fear, but they also talk about ecstasy and love.  Some of them seem so happy during the births that you’d think they feel almost no pain at all (and indeed Ina May talks about a study that shows a direct correlation between how much pain you expect and how much you feel).  They are very real stories, and while some are not for the faint-of-heart, they are also compelling and yes, inspiring.

The second half of the book is the part I actually liked the best.  Ina May sums up her extensive experience with her extensive research.  She talks about pain management and how you can set your own expectations.  She talks about the benefits of thinking about contractions as “rushes” or waves, and reframing the experience in your mind.  She talks about the mind-body connection, something that can be lost in Western medicine.  While the book is certainly aimed at a natural-birthing and even home-birthing crowd, even if you are planning an OB-hospital birth, this book will likely help you with the hours you are likely to labor at home first, and give you ideas about choices you might have in the hospital that you might not otherwise know about.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and definitely recommend it.  It provides a powerful paradigm for understanding the birth process and the female body.

January 14, 2011

Part-time identity

I’ve been meaning to read this book for some time, so I was excited when I was semi-forced to read it by two coincidental things.  One, I started my book challenge, and this counts as an “X” author.  And two, I was doing an article for a school magazine and interviewing a teacher about teaching this book, so it made sense to read it first.  It was great!  A really fast read–I was done in one night and a wonderful weekend afternoon while my husband played with our son.  The book covers a lot of issues, mostly about culture and American identity, what it means to be a native American in the modern world, and what it means to find yourself.  It’s a coming-of-age novel for a kid who thought he’d never come of age to be anything other than poor and drunk.

Title: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Genre: Fiction
Age Group:
12 and up, Young Adult

Summary and Review:

Junior is growing up on an Indian reservation outside of Spokane, Washington.  It isn’t an easy life—he sees absolutely no hope for himself and no future for anyone he knows, other than to become poor and drunk.  He hangs out with his best friend Rowdy whose father is abusive and neglectful.  And then, during one of his first days in high school on the reservation, he looks at the copyright date on his math book and notices its the same book used to teach his parents.  He is outraged at how little he and his people has and throws the book in anger, accidentally hitting the teacher.  The teacher, though, has an unexpected response, and counsels Junior that he can have a future, and that he should transfer to a school off the reservation.

Junior takes his suggestion, and is immediately seen as a traitor to his people.  He hitchhikes or walks most days to the school, some 30 miles away, except on the rare occasions when his dad manages to (a) get the car running, (b) find enough gas money, and (c) remember to take him to school.  He is immersed in a white world where he must learn new rules of teenage society and try to fit in.  At the new school, he feels like an outsider, but when he comes back to the reservation each night, he is treated even more like one.

Junior, now called “Arnold”, his official name, manages to make some friends at his new school, and even joins the basketball team.  The dramatic games he plays against his former teammates and reservation friends highlight the tension between the Native American world and the white world right outside.

The book is an excellent portrayal of the tragic fate of Native Americans in this country and will make any kid think about it.  It’s also a wonderful book about growing up and finding out who you really are—and what defines that.  Junior’s search for a future is something anyone will identify with, and something all young adults will benefit from reading about.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book and can’t wait to read more Sherman Alexie.

Follow-up with the kids:

There are months of conversation you could have about this book, and where you want to go with it probably depends on who you are and who your kid is.  A classroom or kids in a homeschool environment could read this book and have some great discussions about ethnic conflict, the history of Native Americans in this country, what it means to be an immigrant, and how circumstances really unlevel the playing field when it comes to the “American Dream” which for the kids Junior knows, is just a myth or a truth for people other than themselves.

If you are reading this at home with your kids, you can still talk about that, and I would encourage you to, but you can also take the conversation on a more personal level.  Ask your child what their dreams are.  What holds them back or pushes them forward?  Is there a way in which they are an outsider or an immigrant themselves?  How does that define who they are?

A great activity to do when talking about who you are is to draw a series of concentric circles.  Then brainstorm a list separately of adjectives that describe you (male, teenager, black, white, soccer-player, nerd, dog-lover, son, brother, etc.) and then put those adjectives in the circles, with the one that means the most and describes the most profound part of you in the center circle and working out accordingly.  This is an exercise that can mean a lot to kids and teens and help them think about their place in the world and where (and who) they want to be.  Sometimes they will surprise themselves at the adjectives they put close to the center and you can ask them about what it means to them to define themselves in such a way.  (For example, a kid might put “brother” as an identifier and be surprised when he realizes how important that piece of him is.  Why does he define himself as a brother so strongly and what is it about being a brother that shapes who he is?)

Possible Issues:

This is a young adult book told from the point of view of a ninth grade boy.  It’s honest.  He talks about masterbating (a lot), boners (also a lot), and some minor girlfriend lust, although they never actually do anything physical together.  There is also a lot of talk about drinking on the reservation and what alcohol has done to his family and his friends.  It’s all pretty minor stuff, and nothing unusual for a YA novel (unless it’s unusual for having LESS sexual content than many I’ve read).