How I’m parenting these days

I also throw out tons of precious, irreplaceable art each day. I try to at least snap a picture of the more interesting pieces before binning them.

I also throw out tons of precious, irreplaceable art each day. I try to at least snap a picture of the more interesting pieces before binning them.

This morning I asked my five year old to retrieve her backpack from her room. She insisted it wasn’t up there. I was pretty sure it was. I also didn’t want to climb the stairs with my wonky ankles only to find it there. So I told my ten year old, “I’ll pay you fifty cents to go check Claire’s room for her backpack. And if it is there, you also get to go ‘nyah-nyah, nyah-nyah-nyah’ to her.” (Including taunting hip shaking and derisive jazz hands, naturally.)

Turns out, it was in the front closet. No wonder we couldn’t find it – it was put away where it belongs! I admitted I was wrong and Claire was right, paid Chloe her two quarters, and went about my business.


Claire is in a developmental stage with a lot of anxieties, especially about nightmares. She has trouble falling asleep, wakes up and comes to my bed in the night, and resists bedtime at all costs. I’ve worked with her to make bedtime less scary, empathized, expressed certainty that she can feel scared, have nightmares, feel bad feelings, and still survive, and that it will get easier. I’ve given her more bedtime help and support because she is truly in distress over this, and that is valid. But I also offered to pay her a quarter every morning that she doesn’t wake me up in the middle of the night. And also, when she leaves that quarter lying around in some random place, I take it and put it back in the stash and pay her with it again the next successful morning.


The ten year old wants an Instagram account. I’m considering letting her have one (really, me getting one on her behalf and letting her post through me, since the age requirement is 13). But I’m thinking that I’ll make her write an essay about the potential risks and pitfalls of posting on Instagram and turn in it to me before we proceed. I will point her toward appropriate source material. But I will also grade it, and she has to pass to get an account.


Sadly, I say, “Pick up your damn _________ and put it away!” way too often. I pledge to at least try to leave the “damn” out, even if I don’t manage to make cleaning up a well-planned, Mary-Poppins-themed game as part of a thoughtful and consistent daily routine.


I let them attend church with friends. Until I hear a report that they were offered the opportunity to get full-immersion baptized last Sunday. Then I flip out. Then I hear the further report that she may have misheard, and I calm down. Mostly.


Most of the time lately, I feel like life is kind of a controlled fall. I’m doing the best I can, feeling a bit frazzled, but also having fun with the girls. I keep waiting for life to calm down a bit, for things to normalize and allow some predictability and routine. But I’m realizing that this will actually probably never happen.

Why parenting a toddler is so exhausting

grumpyWell, one reason. There are lots, and they all swirl together into a maelstrom of overwhelming fatigue.

But today, I want to talk about something that’s very hard to describe to someone who hasn’t spent day after day taking care of a small child. You get totally worn out because almost every interaction you have with your toddler is a power struggle. It’s amazing how utterly draining it can be simply to tend to life’s necessities, and maybe go to the library or (God forbid) get a sibling to one of their activities. Because every time you want to do anything, you are met with resistance.

Here’s an easy, relaxed morning with your spouse or friend:

Each person grabs their own choice of simple breakfast food. You discuss your plans for the day, and decide to buy some groceries, then swing back home and eat lunch. You spend five minutes cleaning up the breakfast stuff, then hit the store. Everyone hops out of the car and heads in. You cruise through the aisles, each picking up needed items, helping each other remember needed stuff, and check out. Back home, you both help bring bags in, put food away, and get lunch started.

Here’s the same experience with a toddler:

He insists he wants Cheerios for breakfast, but only if he can get them himself. He wants to climb the pantry shelves like a monkey to get them. When told that is unsafe, he throws himself on the floor and screams for five minutes. After helping him get over that, you talk it over and agree he can stand on a chair to reach the cereal. He gets the box, and you put some in a bowl with milk, cut up some fruit for him, and give him a cup of juice to go with it. He looks at the bowl of cereal and says, “NOOOO, I want eggs!” At this point you can tell him to like it or lump it, you can try to remind him that he wanted the Cheerios, or you can make him some eggs. Every choice is bad, and at least two lead to a screaming temper tantrum. Breakfast takes 45 minutes, and ends with you hunched over the counter, eating the kids’ leftovers because you’ve spent so much time and energy on their breakfast, you never made any for yourself. Don’t forget to clean everything up yourself, while the toddler hangs off your ankle complaining he’s bored. You probably have to mop even if he didn’t deliberately throw food this time.

You know what? I’m not even going to do the trip to the grocery store, because typing it is too exhausting to contemplate. I’m sure you can fill in the blanks yourself.

And no matter what discipline style you use, it doesn’t matter, because you’re going to get constant blowback and have to deal with it. (Even if people are very harsh with punishments, toddlers just don’t have the mental equipment to control their obnoxious behavior traits – they don’t remember, plan, or regulate their impulses well at all, and neither total unconditional parenting nor brutal spanking, nor anything in between is going to change that.) And the whole point of this post is that, however you deal with opposition, the dealing with it, over and over and over again all day, is what sucks the life out of you.

And that’s why the uninitiated don’t understand. There’s a certain underlying thought of “You’re the adult – just make them do what you want.” And securing compliance from a small child is often quite doable, and one interaction doesn’t drain all your resources and energy. So people who are with their kids for two hours a day, or who babysit, or who witness one interaction between a parent and child at a discount store or park or whatever – to them, it seems relatively easy and they can’t fathom how taking care of small children all day is a hard job.

The good news is a lot of these people will someday take care of small children for long hours, and we will get to laugh at them.

Defection from the Catholic Church – Update!


by, via flickr

I did get a response to my Declaration of Defection last year. It was rather disappointing. The bishop basically said the church won’t consider me non-Catholic because I’m not converting to another religion, and asked me to call some priest to discuss why God is real. I briefly considered calling, but I’m just not willing to invest any time, energy, and stress into this. What is the guy going to say to me? Nothing I haven’t heard. I find their evidence for Jesus et al. very unconvincing, so why waste both our time?

I think the bishop was being a bit disingenuous in his letter, as he failed to mention that the Catholic Church doesn’t even have Defection anymore. There just isn’t any way to have them record officially that you are not a member. Yes, it’s annoying. I would rather not be associated with them or risk them using my “membership” as part of their clout. But on reflection, I suppose it doesn’t matter much. I don’t give the Catholic Church any of my time or money, and I know that I have left the institution far behind. They will still have a record of my baptism without any notation that I jumped ship, but when it comes down to it, I guess it isn’t a big deal if they have my name on a piece of paper somewhere.

As far as I know, there aren’t any laws in the U.S. that would require a church to remove you from their membership list upon request. As long as they aren’t doing anything to you, but simply have a record of your baptism in their books, I don’t think they are violating any law. And after all, those records are just documentation of an event that did in fact occur.

While it’s just an anonymous forum post, it seems this person has run down the situation very well. In short, you leave by not participating and by considering yourself non-Catholic. Having the church officially acknowledge that is really only going to happen if you ever want to participate in a sacrament again. (Fat chance.)

Just a word about excommunication here: you can try to get excommunicated, but there’s no real point. Excommunication does not remove you from the church. People who are excommunicated are explicitly considered current Catholics, but the church denies them the sacraments in an effort to pressure them into repudiating their sin and coming back to the fold (sins like saving the life of a mother at the expense of her non-viable fetus for instance). So I wouldn’t bother.

There you go – this ended rather with a whimper than a bang. I’m sorry dear readers that I didn’t have the patience to call and recount the priest trying to convince me to come back. Maybe someday, if I ever get really, really bored I’ll give it a go.

Give Peas a Chance – Book review

peasFull disclosure: the publisher contacted me and offered a free review copy. So I may be biased by swag.

This is a great book for parents who worry that their toddlers don’t eat enough. I would say that the focus of the book is definitely on anxiety about getting enough calories in to your kid, with getting more variety a second goal, and more aspirational nutrition running third. So if your child eats plenty of food, is gaining weight well, and you mostly want to teach him to love whole grains and broccoli, this might not be your go-to manual. If, however, your doctor is concerned that your child has fallen off her growth curve and you find yourself chasing your toddler around trying to get extra food into her, this is going to be very helpful.

Samela does a good job of walking parents through both normal toddler behavior that can complicate healthy eating (can’t sit at the table for long periods, will graze all day on snack food if allowed, etc.), and the standard dietetic requirements. She discusses macro- and micro-nutrients, and cautions against common pitfalls such as depending on commercial “toddler foods,” letting a child drink vast quantities of milk, or expecting a toddler to eat far more food than they actually need.

The advice about what to feed your toddler seems pretty good, but a bit unambitious at times. Perhaps I hang with too crunchy a crowd, but I know a lot of mothers who would stroke out at reading the recommendations to feed your toddler a Nutella and Fluff sandwich, frozen yogurt sprinkled with Fruity Pebbles, or a pudding cup with vanilla wafers. However, if a parent is worried about getting enough calories in, these Whole Food heresies are probably defensible, and they are counterbalanced with many more healthy suggestions. As a mom whose children eat plenty of food, but gravitate to white starches too much, I would have loved more advice on nudging them in the direction of vegetables, but again, that doesn’t seem to be the main purpose of this book.

The one thing I found truly irksome about this book was its disregard of breastfeeding. This book is explicitly aimed at children 12-36 months old, and it has not one breath about continued nursing. I understand that nursing past one is very rare, but it is recommended by health professionals and organizations, and it deserves at least one sentence when there’s an entire section devoted to “Milk.” Even chocolate milk gets a positive side-bar, and  rice milk, almond milk, soy milk, hemp milk, and coconut milk are all discussed, but giving a toddler the biologically normal and most healthful milk is not even mentioned. Maybe sustained nursing is unusual, but is it really less prevalent than parents giving their kids hemp milk?

All in all, if I knew a pretty mainstream family with an underweight toddler, a parent who was anxious about getting enough calories in, or a mom who was “addicted” to processed foods from Gerber and Beech-Nut, I would heartily recommend Give Peas a Chance. For the average family dealing with a health-but-picky kid, I’d say it’s useful enough. For crunchy folk, or parents who are looking to make their child love kale and quinoa, I’d say another book would probably be a better fit.

Resources on that stupid Milkscreen thing

Edited 4/23: UpSpring has pulled Milkscreen breast milk production “test” from the market. Nice job, lactivists!

Quickity-quick, before I run to pick up my preschooler, here are some links of interest regarding the fraudulent and dangerous Milkscreen test for breast milk production.

FDA warning letter, with contact information for FDA officials

FDA complaint line for Texas, where the company is based: 855-630-2112

Federal Trade Commission online complaint form

Texas Attorney General’s Fraud Reporting info

Target Customer Service contact info

Amazon page for Milkscreen – leave a negative review! petition to Target to stop selling this crap

Make your voices heard before this product hurts more women and children!

Publishing the identities of minors . . . who bully rape victims

On the Media has an amazing interview with Matt DiRienzo, editor of the Connecticut Register Citizen newspaper, about yet another victim-blaming sexual assault case out of Torrington, CT. This time the victim is 13, the defendants 18. And still, local kids are tweeting hate at the victim, calling her a whore, blaming her for her sexual assualt, and calling for her to be punished, rather than the alleged rapists.

DiRienzo and his team decided to post screen captures of the hateful tweets, including the full Twitter handle and image from each kid. And in the interview, he’s totally unapologetic about it. When asked if this makes him an “advocacy journalist,” he says he is more than happy to be seen advocating against 13 year old sexual assault victims being called whores in the public square.

Give it a listen – it’s just  a few minutes! And while you’re at it, you might check out the entire show from this weekend, where they discuss Steubenville and rape culture in a very measured, thought-provoking way.

How to prevent rape

dont rapeI’ve seen this image going around in the wake of the Steubenville verdicts, and it’s a great rhetorical salvo: Hey, what if we actually put the responsibility for rape on the rapists, instead of the victims? Crazy, right? It’s a very good reminder that most of the rape prevention advice we’ve heard is directed at women, instructing them how not to be raped, and how messed up that is. The implications behind it include the assumption that men are just gonna rape, nothing to be done about it, and that women could possibly do or wear or drink something that “causes” them to be raped.

So I’m not trying to criticize that list here. However, I think we could go further, and construct a list that isn’t directed satirically at malicious rapists, but to every good person out there who wishes they could help prevent rape. Not in a “potential victims: don’t wear slutty clothes!” way, but guidelines that all well-meaning people could actually use to make rape less prevalent.

I think Men Can Stop Rape is a good start. Sometimes they veer a little paternalistic, especially considering their advice is aimed solely at men. But the idea that we should protect and support our friends from creepers, jerks, and potential rapists is most welcome.

So I sat down and thought “What do I want my daughters to know? What do I want their friends to do? What standards do I try to hold myself to?” What would be on a sincere list of suggestions for all people who want to help, not just focusing on potential perpetrators or potential victims?

I was heavily influenced by this excellent post on Captain Awkward. It tells stories of social groups passively allowing creepers to test group tolerance for sexually invasive behavior. Read this! It’s chilling how even women who are themselves harassed and groped feel awkward calling the creeper on it, and how the groups tend to exclude women who complain, rather than the perv who is assaulting people. And Captain Awkward’s response is wonderfully wonderful.

All that said, here is my proposed list of ways to prevent rape. These are for men, women, girls, boys, people who worry about being raped and people who worry about their friends being raped, and people who just want to make our society less tolerant of rapists in general.

How to Prevent Rape

  • Remind yourself often that women are human people worthy of respect.
  • Remember people’s bodies belong only to them.
  • “No means no” is fine, but better to look for an enthusiastic YES!
  • Don’t let anyone have sexual contact with an unconscious person.
  • Yes, even if “it’s their own fault” they’re unconscious.
  • If you have to stop and wonder whether something is illegal, assume it’s not acceptable behavior.
  • Look after your friends – don’t stand by while someone takes advantage of them.
  • Look after strangers too!
  • Call people on their inappropriate behavior!
  • Don’t put up with creeps in your social group.
  • Don’t blame women for complaining about unwanted touching and other invasive sexual behavior.

I’m including an image for easy sharing, but if people like it, maybe someone with more graphic design skill than I have (i.e., any) could think of a way to pretty it up like the image up top. Let me know!

Problem solving with kids

IMG_2094“I don’t want to go to gymnastics anymore! We have to do the high bar AND I’M SCARED OF IT!!!” *hysterical, terrified crying*

This popped out of nowhere right around bedtime this week. Instead of voicing my first thought, “They require 30 days’ notice before quitting, and if I’m paying, you’re going,” or even a more constructive, loving solution, I worked from the key fact – it was the end of the day, and Claire did not have the resources to discuss something she clearly found so distressing. At this time of day, and with this much emotion, there was no prayer of having any rational information go into her brain. So I empathized, telling her I understood that she was very scared and wanted to quit gymnastics. Then I said we needed to wait till tomorrow to talk about it more.

When she brought it up again the next day, we were lucky enough to have time and space for a mini family meeting. I told her about brainstorming. We would sit together and write down every idea we thought of for the problem, no matter how silly or weird. Then we would look through our list and pick one or two approaches to try first. She caught on pretty quickly, and gave me some ideas. Even one or two other than “I quit gymnastics,” so that was a great start! Here’s our list:

  • Mom helps Claire on the bars
  • Mom talks to teacher about alternatives
  • Claire quits gymnastics
  • Claire goes to drop-in daycare while Chloe’s at gymnastics
  • Claire does the high bar even though she’s scared
  • Claire doesn’t do that part of class and sits off to the side
  • Claire takes a water break during that part, and sits with Mommy

You can probably guess which ones were my contributions! I did tell her about the 30 days notice, and that I would expect her to go to classes we had committed to. So that helped motivate her to try some of the other ideas. In the end we decided to combine me talking to the teacher and Claire taking her water break during that part of class. She really is petrified by it – I think being physically separate from the gym floor and being right with Mommy during that part of class is helping her agree to this compromise measure.

I wanted to share this process because it would have been awfully easy for me to simply impose my own solution. Of course, the “traditional” parenting approach would have been “No, just suck it up.” My mushy mommy heart wanted to say, “Of course you don’t have to go – I won’t ever let you be scared!” The funny thing, though, is even if I had said, “You can’t quit, but I’ll talk to the teacher so you can take your water break during that part,” it wouldn’t have gone over well. Instead I allowed my child some space, giving her a voice in the process, and showing I respected her feelings and her problem-solving skills. I feel this really helped her accept a solution I liked better, plus it helped her build skills for the future. As she grows, this is a foundation for her to work around strong emotions, use reflection and openness, and feel more confident in her resilience when she faces something daunting.

Of course, I don’t always rise to this level of evolved parenting. Sometimes I don’t have the resources or I don’t stop to think. But I’m going to try to remember this experience and invest a couple neurons in creative openness in the future. I think it brought us both to a better outcome and prevented us from being opponents on this issue.


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