Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Cure for Monkey Brain

I started a new part-time job that consumes the majority of my free time.  It's only twelve hours a week, but that doesn't cease to fill me with guilt that El, my 13 month-old daughter's routine is disrupted and my brain occasionally hijacked.  Three days a week I am onsite.  On those three days, she doesn't nap in her bed and has to eat breakfast in the car when she would normally be home playing in her pajamas.   

And because I do some work from home,  it's not uncommon for my mind to stray from the present and jump from task to task. I constantly pull myself out of the trenches of LaLa Work Land as soon as I realize that's where I've set up camp. 

I openly admit, I compromised her comfort for my own personal reasons for taking on a job.   

And the reality is, on those three days, it is more about me than it is about her.  


I'm pretty sure that's the definition of Mommy Guilt


However, despite the additional influx of chaos and distraction I have welcomed into our lives, if there is one thing we can count on, it's bath time.

Not my bath time, but El's bath time.  Every evening, after dinner, I slip her into her tub, add some bubbles, hand her a bath tub book and turn on some music.  She smiles, I smile back as we both indulge in the comfort of our bath time ritual.   For at least 20minutes, we have nowhere to go and nowhere to be.  

As she physically cleanses, I mentally cleanse.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner rinses off her skin.  The dirt on her knees and on the tops of her feet wash away.  Tear stains from bumping her head, now gone. When my mind drifts, her splashes bring me back to her. 

I make sure I play too.  Hands immersed in water, putting caps (our tried and true toy) on our heads, and planting bubbles on our noses. The ending of one song prompts her to dance until the next one begins.  Sometimes I sing, and sometimes she sings too.  


After bath, I wrap her in a towel and I hold her cheek to cheek. When she sees her reflection in the bathroom mirror she always yells with her mouth opened-wide, two front teeth exposed and grinning in delight. 


Always. 


The power of simple care routines and rituals cannot be underestimated. They are reliable anchors in any chaotic day and are a cure for even the worst monkey brain. Whether it is a diaper change, bath, nursing, or lunch time, they draw me out of my cave, and refocus my attention on providing care for my daughter, the most meaningful work of all.  



More on mindful care routines here:



  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Part II: Chasing After Milestones

I feel compelled to follow-up on my last blog post, which focused on El's natural gross motor development prior to her first birthday.  
I supported El's development by observing and giving her ample floor time for unrestricted movement and play.  As her first birthday quickly approached, she was not crawling or mobilizing forward.  It wasn't easy as a parent to idly sit back and watch her development naturally unfold, oh-so-slowly.  

I was frustrated with the time it was taking, and then frustrated with myself for my impatience. 

I mustered up what discipline I had and stayed true to my beliefs. I did not buy equipment that claimed to strengthen and teach babies to move, I did not prop her into the crawling position (Okay, I did it one time!), and I did not crawl around the floor to show her how it's done. 







I knew what she was working on was important, necessary and not always visible to the adult eye.










The day after Eleanor's first birthday, she began crawling.  Not the butt scoot backwards, or pulling herself in circles on her belly crawl, but good old-fashioned forward crawling.  

Now she crawls everywhere, loudly slapping her hands on the ground like a playful puppy.  She surprises me by magically appearing in the kitchen. She crawls back and forth between her Dada and I searching for belly buttons. And today, she made her way down the sidewalk and took a left, as if to say, "Hello world! Here I come."  A neighbor commented... 

"she seems so confident."


I recently read Teacher Tom's blogpost Falling Behind.  In a nutshell, he discussed the idea of how young children are often labeled behind, or on the opposite side of the spectrum, advanced, when in fact they are developing at their own individualized and perfect pace. 

Not long ago, I felt like El was falling behind and left in the dust of her toddling, crawling, climbing peers and now I can never go back to her pre-crawling days. I already feel nostalgia for the times when she was content laying on her back so she could hold books with her feet, and flip through the pages.  There were surely moments that slipped through the cracks because I focused on what came next. 



video

Even though this milestone can be officially checked off the list, I trust that El will forever challenge me to trust her as she moves through life.  It is her journey and I'm thankful to be along for the ride as we continue to find joy and meaning in every chapter we experience together. 


Previous related posts

Meet that Milestone Today

The Benefits of Allowing Your Baby to Struggle

Practice What You Promise


Resources

Concepts and Practices of the Pikler Approach

Don't Stand Me Up; Janet Lansbury






Saturday, August 2, 2014

Chasing After Milestones


I am very much a mover.  With a background in both dance and early childhood development, I have written and presented workshops advocating for authentic movement experiences for infants and toddlers.  After having my daughter El, I was (and still am) excited to watch her gross motor development naturally unfold. 

But in all honesty, I wish it would unfold a little faster. 



In previous blog posts I've discussed, disclosed and processed my internal impatience with El's gross motor development.  At first it was the 'rolling over' milestone that made me nervous, now a week shy of turning the big 1, El is not crawling, pulling up to stand, and avoids putting weight on her legs.  

I am continually challenged to TRUST that she knows what she's doing.  So far, her process has proven to be nothing short of fascinating and it gets her there eventually. 


However, what still surprises me is the undercurrent of anticipation, anxiety and the twinge of isolation that accompanies not being 
perched on top of the developmental bell curve.  

When I openly acknowledge that I struggle to be confident in El's gross motor development, I am met with the response, "Every child is different! You can't compare!"  
Unfortunately, it is human nature to compare and categorize.  I can't help but notice that at the park I am the only parent in our playgroup that still totes a blanket for El and I to camp out on.  As the other parents chase after their little movers, we are stationary like content little Buddhas. 


And then the overcompensation seeps in.  Last week I observed El as she stacked blocks. I Googled, "How old are children when they begin to stack blocks."  Baby Center said,  "18months."  

18 months!  

My baby is advanced at block stacking!  

That's why she's not crawling! She's too busy becoming a block stacking prodigy!



"Earlier is not better," said infant specialist Magda Gerber, but regrettably and with much guilt I admit, as a parent, earlier feels better. 


Despite my inner conflicts and insecurities, I remain committed to supporting El's natural gross motor development. 


When it comes to parenting, what I feel and what I know are often at odds.  But luckily, my brain routinely reminds my heart that her process is perfect and always will be.  


I'll someday reflect on our early days together and become overwhelmed with wonder and disbelief that El was once a small baby who loved nothing more than to cuddle on my lap, flip through book after book, and watch the world go by on a blanket in the front yard.  






Be sure to check out..

 Related posts 

The Benefits of Allowing Your Baby to Struggle

Practice What you Promise

Resources on natural gross motor development

Sitting Babies Up, the Down Side; Janet Lansbury 




Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Smile for the Stranger


I always feel uncomfortable when parents ask their children to smile, sing or dance for me.  The child RARELY complies and quickly retreats.  If I see that they are uncomfortable and the pressure doesn't stop, I say, "You don't have to sing that song, I don't mind." 



Pressuring or requesting children to perform for the approval of others is one way that babies and young children are objectified. 



When my daughter, El, was only three-months-old, we went to visit a friend. Before I knew what was happening I said, "Can you smile for Julie?"  I needed her to witness how incredible my smiling baby was!  When El did not smile, she replied, "It's okay, I saw her smile already."  

Guilty as charged. 

When she began doing this adorable head-swaying-dancey-bob- thing, I found myself singing crazily, trying to get her to dance for our guests and family.  I commanded her to shake shake shake and clap clap clap to encourage her to show-off all the fun things she does in the comfort of her own home.  It was as if I was trying to sell her.


The desire for other people to see my daughter as likable and charming is stronger than I could ever imagine. 



When El encounters casual acquaintances or new people, her instinct isn't to smile and engage, but to stare with a neutral expression or even sport a frown for extended periods of time. 





She contemplates and assesses the situation through intense observation.  She hardly moves.  If she anticipates that her personal space is about to be invaded, she spontaneously breaks down in tears. Her first impression won't win any adoring fans.






However, by releasing the pressure to seek approval and please an audience,  the risk of future anxieties, personal insecurities and feelings of inadequacy may be lessened.   

Through continual reflection, I am working on letting go of the expectations I put on my daughter during social encounters.  Her suspicious, observant tendencies are a part of her, and worth getting to know, just as much as her smiley, playful side.  

Instead of pressuring, prompting and acting like a nut to get her to perform, I now strive to support authentic and responsive interactions with family, friends and acquaintances, so that El is empowered to open-up on her own terms and choose who she invites into her world.  
   


Related Resources:

The Approval Trap

Raising Less Stressed Kids; Janet Lansbury 

5 Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job;" Alfie Kohn








  






Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Father's Day Letter to Eleanor

Dear Eleanor,


At the time this letter was written you are 10 months old.  You're father's first Father's Day is finally here.  I witnessed demonstrations of his love for you the second you were born.  He rushed out of the room to be by your side while the doctors made sure you were okay and requested lotion for your newborn feet because he thought they looked dry.  

From that day forward, I've witnessed moments so tender and sincere, I don't want them to get lost as years go by, 

I want them to belong to you.


During your first week at home, you woke often in the night. Together, your father and I, changed your diaper.  As I prepared to nurse he held you close and rocked back and forth.  He whispered, 




"Oh my god, she's just so precious."  






Every night during those early weeks he said those exact words, at Midnight, 2am and again at 4am.

When he went back to working 12 to 16 hour days, he came home exhausted, but without hesitation, happily swept you up, tucked you snuggly in the moby wrap and walked around the block to lull you to sleep.

If you were already in bed after he returned home,  he would tell me, "if she wakes up crying, I get to go in."  One night you woke up in the middle of his dinner.  He jumped up so quickly, soup spilled all over the floor.  In a pseudo-panic, he looked at me, then at the soup and back at me.  I said, "Well, go in!"  He ran into your bedroom just to get a chance to hold and comfort you for a few moments.


And there's more...


Your father can't even open the book, "On the Night You Were Born" without crying, let alone read it to you.

One afternoon, he carried up your clean clothes from the downstairs laundry room.  While hugging your laundry, he paused and said, "I even love holding her clothes."

The best part is, the feelings are mutual.  You look around for him in the morning,  flash him an open-mouthed grin whenever you get a chance, squeal and kick your legs when he plays the banjo, and share a special head bobbing dance.    


Because of your father's ability to confidently and warmly care for you, as the years go by, your relationship with your father will be filled with moments as heartfelt as these. I feel so blessed to  witness the special bond I see nurtured everyday and  I hope this note will forever serve as a reminder of how much you are loved.
  

With Love, Your Mama










Friday, June 6, 2014

The Testing Mom

I flipped over a newsletter I received from a popular Chicago parents organization.  On the back, was a full page advertisement with the headline;  


"Are you smarter than a 4-year-old?"  


Below were two multiple choice, fill-in-the-bubble questions with the tag line; 


"These are the types of questions your child will face on a Chicago Public School test."


Luckily the advertisement offers relief! TestingMom.com, contains 100 FREE questions so that anxiety ridden, well-meaning parents can, 


"Prepare your child for all of life's tests."


However, the Testing Mom mentality comes with a long list of sacrifices to children's overall health; socially, emotionally and cognitively, in addition to damaging relationships with their caregivers.  Therefore, like cigarettes and other products that are required to display warning labels, this website should not be exempt.  By pressuring children to prepare for future and mind numbing worksheets, children suffer the following consequences. 

1. Interrupted or deficit of play 
There is SCIENTIFIC evidence that play is the BEST way for children to learn and is CRITICAL for healthy development.  As children attempt to extract information through the free exploration of materials, meaningful play comes to an abrupt halt when a series of adult driven interrogations and demands are dispensed.   

Count the blocks! Name the shape! 
What does a pig say? What letter is this?

Luckily, infant specialist Magda Gerber, has offered this pearl of wisdom, 


"Be careful what you teach, it might interfere with what they are learning."


2. Conditioned self-worth:
If the child gets the answer right, an enthusiastic, "Good job! You're right!"  typically follows. If the child gets the answer wrong, they are quickly corrected and tested again.  Furthermore, through my experience, the pressure to perform increases when there is an audience.  

The result of the testing/correcting/testing again does not predict or promote academic advancement, but instead it ensures that the child is conditioned to define his success and self-worth by seeking out the 'right' answer for positive external validation. 



3. Wasted time:
Sometimes it is to my delight that a child answers the test question completely out of the ball park.  At a preschool I once observed at (children were ages 2-3), the teacher believed that the children were ready to memorize the months of the year.  During circle time, she overheard one child say the correct month when quizzed. She singled her out and asked her to repeat the answer louder for the class. 

Teacher: "Jessie, what month is it!?"  

Jessie: "PURPLE!"  

Why did Jessie respond with the answer purple?  It's because Jessie, at the age of two, has more important things to do with her time than to memorize the months of the year.  See #1


4. Closed questions = Closed minds:
Closed ended questions stunt conversation and cramp critical thinking skills.  Open-ended statements and questions such as, 


  • What do you think? 
  • What happens if...?
  • Tell me about...

encourages young children to think deeply about their experiences and gives them an opportunity to express their unique perspective. When adults objectively listen with curiosity, children's thoughts and ideas are respected, validated and unveiled. 

5. Induced childhood amnesia:
While frantically taking advantage of all those TEACHABLE MOMENTS and opportunities to quiz and test, play memories of our own childhood are forgotten. These memories serve as a powerful reminder of the magic we experienced as young children.  



Now, remember favorite moments of your own childhood.  Take some time to relive favorite activities. Stick your fingers in paint, squish some play dough or feel the grass beneath your feet.  Rediscover and delight in the health benefits of idle time.  Oh, and burn those test questions.  



To avoid the harmful side-effects of the Testing Mom mentality, prepare children for life and unleash their potential, by fiercely protecting their right to a childhood. Have real conversations, real experiences and ask questions that matter to rediscover an innate sense of wonder and love of learning that is anything but standard.  



Resources

The Value of Unstructured Play Time for Kids

Time Goes By So Fast: Play Makes Meaningful Memorie


A Scholarly Response to ‘Tiger Mom’: Happiness Matters, Too



Alliance for Childhood









Monday, May 26, 2014

The Softer Side of Toddlers

Observing a toddler interact with a baby can be nerve racking. 
As a former playgroup facilitator for babies and toddlers, it was not unusual to hear well-intentioned parents issue warnings before their toddler had the opportunity to engage.


"Be gentle! Be nice!  Don't Touch!"


However, by avoiding premeditated and often imagined catastrophes, children are prevented from exploring relationships and building friendships.  

As young as three months, El adored her toddler friends.  At nine months she still watches them closely as they scurry around the room, always returning to squat down and study her. They present toys to her as if they were gifts without any incentive or directive to share.  And when toys are taken (if they can pry them from her tough little fingers), they are often replaced with another one. 

They stroke her head as she nurses, pat her tummy as she plays and occasionally she receives a gentle hug. What her older friends know about caregiving is illuminated when they engage with my daughter.  

Therefore, to help ease my parental anxieties when facilitating play amongst babies and toddlers, I keep these tips in mind. 

Consider proximity: Sit close enough to intervene but far back enough to provide a sense of comfort and autonomy. 

Narrate (aka sportscasting):  Help both children tune into their environment, their actions and each other, by objectively narrating their play as it unfolds. 

Listen: Provide moments of silence to allow the children to take the lead in communications. 



TRUST:  Refrain from the knee-jerk response to prematurely intervene. Unless it's an immediate safety concern, wait, wait and then wait some more.                                                                                             

I'm not claiming that baby and toddler social interactions are void of conflict and clumsiness.  However, despite the need to occasionally block a poke in the eye or a swat at the nose, the majority of interactions I have witnessed negate the stereotypical egocentric toddler and the fragile baby.  

By learning to control the impulse of always being on high alert, and providing the freedom to play despite developmental differences, I have witnessed children's amazing capacity for empathy, curiosity and the sophisticated ability to communicate through gestures, vocalizations and touch.




Related Topics: