Monday, January 31, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Turtle* Mother: Why I am Not a Tiger

A few weeks ago the whole world, or at least the world of modern parenthood, was abuzz with chatter regarding the Wall Street Journal’s article “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”, by Amy Chua.  Parents all around me were outraged, confused, and concerned.  How can a mother be so cruel and demanding?  Yet, were we pushing our own children enough?  Are we providing them with adequate opportunities to succeed?
I bit my tongue for a few weeks while I was able to buy and read Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, as well peruse most of the counter articles that appeared shortly after Amy Chua’s.  I wasn’t even sure if I was going to write about this topic at all, since journalists and mommy bloggers alike have beat this roaring tiger to death.  However, I found that I did have something unique to say, a point that seems to be missing from the other posts: What about the mom?
For those of you that have yet to read this article, I suggest you do.  Here’s the link:  (However, I would not recommend that you bother with the book.  The WSJ article provides a nicely detailed summary of her opinions.  The rest of the book is a mix of overstating her point, and not so eloquent writing.)   Since the publication of the article, Amy Chua has been dragged across the attachment parenting coals by mothers across the country.  Amy has attempted to backtrack, claiming that the WSJ took just a portion of her book, and failed to mention how she came to the conclusion that a mix of Western and Chinese parenting was best.  
However, after reading the book it is evident that she does not truly believe in Western parenting at all.  In fact her exact quote was “I’ve decided to favor a hybrid approach… The Chinese way until the child is eighteen, to develop confidence and value of excellence, then the Western way after that.” The book concludes with a conversation between Amy and her two teenage daughters agreeing how happy they are to have a mother who drilled and calibrated their every move.  Basically, during all of the child’s true childhood Amy Chua believes in, and endorses, the extreme helicopter parenting, tiger mother, approach.   This doesn’t leave much room for alternative child-rearing styles. 
To be completely clear, we are not discussing a mild case of hyper-parenting.  Amy Chua is the most extreme mother I have ever encountered.  Here is the list of things her children were never allowed to do:
  • attend a sleepover 
  • have a playdate 
  • be in a school play 
  • complain about not being in a school play 
  • watch TV or play computer games 
  • choose their own extracurricular activities 
  • get any grade less than an A 
  • not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama 
  • play any instrument other than the piano or violin 
  • not play the piano or violin.
In order to accomplish this, Amy spent hours a day hovering over her two daughters. She monitored their piano and violin practice, correcting each note that wasn’t “musical” and each imperfect finger.  She drilled their schoolwork, ensuring that each daughter would be number one, not number two, in every subject.  When her youngest daughter became a pupil of a highly esteemed violin teacher in NYC, Amy would chauffeur her two hours, each way, every Saturday for an hour-long lesson.
There have already been a slew of articles crying out about the horrors of her children who seem to have been deprived of a happy and carefree childhood.  Of course I agree with this, with every fiber of my Western parenting being,  but I am not going to discuss this further.  Instead I want to emphasize how horrible this is for the mother!  It sounds absolutely dreadful to be so involved with every last detail of my children’s’ day.  To monitor their every step would require not being able to take any of my own!
Here is another look at the list of activities Amy Chua's children were not allowed to do, and what that would mean for the parent:
What Amy Chua’s children
were never allowed to do:
The implications for the parent:
Attend a sleepover

No mornings off, no times when you and your partner can sleep until 9, watch the morning news in your PJ’s and participate in that long forgotten pastime: Morning sex.
Have a play date

Never being able to sit on couch and sip a glass of wine while the kids sequester themselves in their bedroom while they destroy every last organized square foot.
Be in a school play

Ok, this one may actually be beneficial to the parent.  It lets you off the hook from ever having to attend a school play.
Watch TV or play computer games

How else are you going to shower when the kids are toddlers?
Choose their own extracurricular activities

If they don’t choose them, then you have to.  I had a hard enough time doing this when I was in young.  I'm still regretting my decision to join The Rotary Club.
Get any grade less than an A

In order to ensure this, the parent must supervise all homework time, check papers and worksheets for accuracy, all the while constantly searching the internet for extra practice problems.
Not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

This means more parent directed drilling and supervision.  Bleh.
Play any instrument other than the piano or violin

You have to listen to classical music every day of your life!
Now here is a list of the things that I would rather be doing that supervising my children’s music practice and homework:
  • Reading a book, and by book I mean People Magazine.   
  •  Watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.  
  •  Talking to another adult.  
  •  Playing Angry Birds on my iPhone.  
  •  Writing.  
  •  Running.  
  •  Knitting another demon spawn hat.  
  •  Playing Tangled with my toddlers and pretending to the be evil Mother Gothel for the five hundredth time.
Please don’t get me wrong; I do believe that raising my children is my most important job.  (I do know that the children are our future, and all that crap.)  However, I don’t believe that it should be my only identity.   Not only is it healthy for my girls to see a well-rounded, feminine role model, but also it is critical for my own mental health and happiness to have a life beyond my children.  I am a better mother because I have balance. 
I also don't think that I have the sense of perfection that it requires to be a tiger mom. It’s not that I don't believe my daughters can achieve greatness- prima ballerina, grand pianist, professional tennis player, or even win Miss LGTB San Francisco- it's just that I don't really care if they do. Sure it would be fun for a few minutes to brag about how they played Carnegie hall, but that novelty would eventually wear, and we would be left with more hours of practice and arguments about not attending school dances.

On Saturday, as I was watching my nearly four-year-old’s toddler ballet class today, I began to wonder how a Tiger Mother would approach this lesson.  I, the turtle mother, had half an eye inspecting the seven pairs of pudgy little legs attempt to pirouette, and the other 1.5 eyes on my game of iPhone backgammon.  If I really wanted Elana to realize her full potential and turn herself into a self-obsessed, bulimic, prima ballerina, I would have to be vigilantly noting each of the teacher’s instructions all the while monitoring Elana’s steps searching for any areas in need of perfection (at this stage, this would be every plie and releve).  During my down time, I would need to read every book published about raising the perfect ballerina, and scouring the Bay Area for the top teachers to mold and stretch my not so graceful and not so skinny four-year-old into the model of dancing excellence.  Umm... no thank you.

Mostly, I really don't want to spend the next sixteen years of my life centering every decision around my children's practice schedules. If that makes me a bad, or selfish, mommy, then I proudly accept the title.

* Sea Turtles lay their eggs in a hole on the beach, and then return back to the sea, allowing her children to survive on their own.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Great Gender Divide

When my first child was born I was extremely careful not to gender stereotype her.  In all honesty, I went overboard.  I was even nervous about referring to her as a girl, in case she should ever want to undergo testosterone hormone therapy and transform from Elana to Elan.  Every toy I bought was carefully considered, passing over the pink and purple baby dolls for primary colored balls and blocks.  I brought home cars, trucks, and trains.  Her wardrobe was a rainbow of colors, with emphasis on greens and browns, and only the occasional rose colored t-shirt or fuchsia leggings.  When seeing Elana in blue jeans and a long sleeved green t-shirt, strangers would marvel at her cuteness then ask the age of my son.  "He's almost one," I would reply, proud to defy typecasting (while secretly worried that she looked too masculine).

Then she turned two.  The automobiles and blocks became buried in the toy chest beneath the baby dolls, stuffed animals, and tutus.  She began to request books that had female central characters, eager to point out that the main girl on each page was named "Elana".  And, she began to choose her own clothing.

It began with a pink sleeveless dress from Target.  She picked it out herself.  The dress was nothing fancy, just cotton with a white flower on the front, and seemed fairly comfortable (yet, slightly inappropriate for the cool San Francisco summers). However, it must have contained something magical that only a toddler can detect, because she wore that very dress every day for two and a half months; only agreeing to take it off at night to be washed with the day's laundry.  After realizing that she had the power of choice, she began to wear only pink (preferably light pink) dresses and pants, absolutely no t-shirts.  Other colors were only tolerated if they were accompanying the pink central theme of the outfit.

With daughter #2, I didn't fight exposing her to traditional gender clothing and toys.  Although I did offer her cars and balls, I also let her wear more pink and purple.  Maisy was exposed very early to the enchanted land of Disney princesses, Barbies, and body glitter.   She already owns one sweater with Ariel embroidered on the front, and two pairs of pajamas with various other Disney characters.  Now, with Maisy just three months shy of turning two, she is beginning to relate to the female characters in books, shows a strong preference for dolls versus trucks, and has a highly developed penchant toward the color "pulpul" (purple).

Elana, who will be four in a few weeks, has worn a dress (or the occasional tutu) all but three days in the past two years.  She favors long, fancy dresses, over the more casual play ones I attempt to sway her towards, and is enthralled by all things make-up. 
So, I ask, where did I go wrong?  I am raising my children in the most gender diverse city in the nation, living in an historically lesbian neighborhood with queer and "gender-fluid" babysitters, yet my girls are still obsessed with all things princess.  What happened?

According to many child psychologists nature happened. Since the wide spread usage of MRI's and PET scans, researchers have found more than 100 differences between the male and female brains, in areas from sight (girl babies can better perceive pattern, texture, and color), to smell (females have a higher defined sense of smell), and to touch (the most sensitive baby boy is less sensitive than the least sensitive girl).  Brain scans have also shown that the section of the brain, the ventral prefrontal cortex, which helps in the recognition of emotions and relationships, is larger in women than men.

Physically, males tend to be larger, not only in body size, but brain size too.  Even though boys and girls, in general, start crawling and walking at the same time, boys move around much more (wiggling, jittering, and running up and down the halls), and are more likely than their female counterparts to end up in the emergency room.  (This might also be due to boys expressing fear, and less of it, at a later age than girls.  Boys tend to disregard the warnings of their parents, while tend girls to obey their mothers when they holler "Sally, do not climb to the top of that rock wall and dangle your torso off the ledge!")

Girl infants reach verbal milestones earlier than boys.  Not just their first words, but also eye contact and understanding.  By 16 months of age the average girl has as many as 100 words in her repertoire, while the 16-month old boy only has about 30.  Even as infants girls are better listeners. They are more likely to become engaged in your facial expressions and maintain eye contact while talking.

However, the differences between the sexes increase as we age.  As much as nature pre-programs babies towards a certain sex, socialization definitely adds to the differences.

In 1975 Phyllis Katz conducted her famous "Baby X" study.  In her study, adult participants were introduced to 3-month-old Baby X, who they were told was either a girl or a boy.  When they were handed "Mary", the adults cuddled her, spoke softly and gave her dolls.  When handed "Johnny", they were more playful and offered him footballs.

Overtime, girls learn to be polite, while boys learn to be honest.  Campbell Leaper, of the University of California, and ABC News conducted a casual lemonade study wherein they used salt instead of sugar to make the juice.  After tasting the drink, boys gave frank answers, such as "Blech!  This tastes terrible."  The girls, on the other hand, answered politely: "Mmm.  Thank you, this is delicious."

The blunt assertiveness of males and the over-politeness of females can become detriments later in life- both socially and in the work force.  So, as any overly self conscious and involved parent asks: Can we do anything to alleviate this?  Child development specialist Susan Witt offers these tips:
  • Allow your girls to struggle- don't jump right in and give help at the first sign of trouble.  This encourages them to take risks, as well as instills self confidence.
  • Give your daughters choices and allow them to make decisions.  Girls who know how to form opinions about their own wardrobe, food, and toys are more likely assert herself later in life.
  • Encourage politeness in boys- that means manners and proper social behavior.  Have the same social expectations for a son as you would have for a daughter.
Yet, still I struggle when having a playdate with friends with boys and watching the boys carefully piece together puzzles and build intricate raceways for their match-box cars.   However, study after study have found that boys are biologically drawn to mechanical motion versus human motion.  Given the option, boys would rather watch a car driving past than two people dancing.  Naturally boys choose more scientific toys that allow the child to discover how things work, while girls choose toys that mimic social interactions.
(Photo courtesy of Amanda Dixon Leung)
The importance of crossing the gender toy stereotypes is evident.  Research has found that children who play with a variety of toys may be more successful later in life.  If children are limited to only their gender specific toys, girls especially may not develop important mechanical and mathematical skills that can be learned through blocks and cars.

Dr. Stevanne Auerbach, a child psychologist, maintains that parents need not worry if their preschool age daughter is only interested in baby dolls and princesses, or if their son has a one-track mind for trucks; the crucial part is that they are presented with different choices and not limited to their traditional gender based toys.  Access to a variety of play can be found in settings outside the home- daycare, preschool, and friend's houses. 

So, I guess that I won't be so concerned that my own little imps would rather play Toddlers and Tiaras than soccer.  Yesterday Ted gave each daughter one of his practice tennis balls, which were half pink!  They were each very excited and eager to bounce them around the house for the first five minutes.  However, when that novelty wore off, Maisy tried to feed her ball milk in a pretend bottle, and Elana just handed it to me and said, "I don't need this anymore."

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dora Doesn't Teach Spanish, but She Sure is Great Babysitter!

For the last few years I've been waiting patiently for an article to be published that sings the praises of television and toddlers, or at the very least pronounces that I'm not rotting my daughters' brains every time I turn on Super Why.  However, I am beginning to realize that this article may never be written.  So I decided to do what any good journalist/mommy blogger would do, I decided to write it myself.

When preparing for this post I researched the latest articles related to TV and tots.  As I expected, I had difficulty finding experts to back my pro-television stance.  I am not pretending that Baby Einstein is going to make my child smarter.  In fact, there is no evidence that these videos help improve a child’s IQ or vocabulary (they may be making them stupider).  Two professors at the University of Washington found that babies actually learned six to eight fewer words for each hour per day spent watching these types of programs.  Moreover the age with the strongest harmful effects on language is 8-16 months.

According to researcher Dimitri A Christakis, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, a toddler who watches three hours of television per day is 30% more likely to have attention problems in school.  It seems that there is a definite link between infant television watching and ADHD by the age of seven.  Christakis maintains that there are a few factors that may be contributing to the attention problems.  First, the baby/toddler brain is developing every moment of these first few years.  Television watching is a very passive activity that does not allow for this brain to grow.  The second factor is that the super fast, ever-changing pace of television shows is unnatural and the child may begin to see this rate as normal, which can cause quandaries when trying to encourage the child to sit still for a half-hour lesson on the letter "K".

Even more unfortunate is that the adult shows that we actually prefer to watch with our children, such as The Real Housewives of Any City and (I'm sorry, my dear husband) sporting events, are even worse for babies than the mainstream children's programming.  This may be because these shows demand more of the parent's attention than The Backyardigans requires from us, meaning that we are even less likely to interact with our babes during this period.  In addition, adult shows use words and situations far beyond the child's comprehension.  All the times that my husband sat with our infant daughters watching the Cubs lose yet another season, the most the girls got from this was visual over-stimulation and pretty colors flashing on the screen.  And even though one of Elana's first phrases was "Go Cubbies", I highly doubt that she learned any new vocabulary from Chicago's WGN.  This research, along with others, has led the American Academy of Pediatrics to recommend that all children under the age of two not watch any television. 

When I gave birth to my first child, I followed this advice as though it was written in stone by God himself.  Elana was sheltered from almost all screen time, with the slight exception of the occasional Sesame Street five-minute pod cast while I answered a few emails.  However, once the second daughter was born I realized the value of a thirty-minute cartoon.

My realization began when the baby was a few months old and I was attempting to get her to nap in her own crib.  Elana was nearly two-and-a-half and in her first month of potty training.  Every time I would leave Elana to play by herself in her room while I soothed the baby to sleep, Elana would pee all over the floor.  She would then run into Maisy’s room and happily share the news.  It was then that Elana started watching Curious George while I dealt with Maisy.
Now, with the second child not yet two I cannot, in all honesty, say that she has been raised with the same values.  I need only to refer my readers back to the Subsequent Children post to remind you that Maisy’s first words were indeed “Elmo” and “Why” (“why” was not in the traditional inquisitive toddler form, but as an abbreviation for PBS’s Super Why). 

According to an article I read on (a completely biased website devoted to killing the television and all those wonderful reality TV shows that enrich my daily life), parents have been raising children for 50,000 years without television, so we can do it!  However, I must take this advice a bit in jest.  We are living in a much different world now than our cavemen ancestors.  These days parents are expected to be much more involved in the intellectual stimulation and play of their children.

Back in the olden' days (those dark, scary times before the invention of the television or the internet) parents were allowed to tie their children to a rope in the front yard while they were off tending the fields.  And, after that became socially inappropriate, they were at least able to use playpens to keep the young children corralled while the moms made dinner.  Neither of these tactics, however sane they may seem, are allowed with the modern parenting movement.

What's more is that we are now spending loads more time actively interacting with our children: Playing with them, reading to them, and even talking with them.  Just yesterday I was on the floor of our garage for 45 minutes painting pictures with finger paint and molding animals out of clay.  This was on top of reading countless stories on princesses, taking the girls to the playground, and helping them dress their baby dolls.   After all that intellectual and creative stimulation, we all needed thirty minutes of Sprout rest time.  Thirty years ago parents didn't have the time, nor the sense of parental responsibility, to do any of this.  With the ever-increasing expectations placed on parents, maybe we also need to allow for some latitude when it comes to allowing parents the occasional break. 

Even though it seems quite evident that the toddler and television combination does not have a lot of supporters, in order to demonstrate balance, I've created a list of the benefits of using television/iPods/game centers/computers with your young child.
  1. A half-hour cartoon show may allow you to shower, shave your legs, shampoo and condition, as well as blow dry your hair!
  2. Children who have early access to technology may be more computer literate than their peers.  According to Melissa Atkins, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Ohio, "Kids that had some access to a computer, either at home or at a family member's house they went to frequently, had higher estimated IQ scores and higher school readiness scores than kids that did not have access to a computer," said
  3. Airplane time is completely unbearable without the assistance of every single electronic, screen-based, equipment available to the contemporary parent.
  4. Screen time (television, computer games, etc) is the cheapest, and most reliable form of babysitting!  This is not something to be scoffed at lightly.  In San Francisco, babysitters charge anywhere between $15 to $25/hour for two kids!
  5. Your one-and-a-half year old has spent the past seventy-five minutes doing what only can be described as self-induced epileptic seizures solely because you refused to give her ice cream for dinner.  Which is better: Setting her in front of Elmo to calm every one's nerves, or locking yourself in the bathroom and repeatedly sticking your head in the toilet to drown out the demon offspring interfering with your sanity?
When it comes to finding an appropriate television show for your family, the task can be quite overwhelming with the numerous options available on Sprout, Cartoon Network, Discovery Kids, Disney Channel, and Noggin, to name just a few children oriented television stations.  So, here is a list of my, and my reader's, favorite tot programs to help you narrow down your choices to a few tolerable shows that will not leave you needing an Irish Coffee.
  1. Yo Gabba Gabba-  This very popular Nick Jr. show has a little something to offer the parents, too.  Jack Black, The Shins, and Tony Hawk are just a few of the special guests that have appeared during their first two seasons.
  2. The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That-  This is a brand new PBS show that premiered in August of 2010.  Because of its sciency/psudo-educational topics, I can pretend that my children are actually learning when I use this handy babysitter.
  3. Rugrats- This fabulous cartoon about a pack of adventurous babies and toddlers was the second Nicktoon, cartoons produced by Nickelodeon.  Unfortunately the show ended in 2004, but Nickelodeon still shows the reruns and a large variety of DVDs are available, including my favorite The Rugrats Movie.
  4. Little Bear- For those of your who prefer your children's programming without adult references or sarcasm, this is the show for you.  Little Bear is just a straight forward, sweet, and simple kid's program.
  5. Sesame Street- This oldie but a goodie, premiered in 1969.  Even though I carry fond memories of watching shows sponsored by "the number 3 and the letter S", I was surprised that I still enjoy watching Elmo and friends, and am as excited as my 21-month-old daughter when Abby's Flying Fairy School appears.  And, Sesame Street books all the big names, from Anderson Cooper to  Margaret Cho!

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    Pitching the Paci: or My Child May Go to College with a Pacifier

    Please help! I think that my soon-to-be 4-year-old is in need of an intervention (or maybe I am just watching too much reality TV).  Unfortunately, her addiction is not to booze, drugs, or sex; it is something much more embarrassing and much more addicting: The pacifier.  Binky, Paci, Dummy, Sucky, Nuk, Plastic Plug, Chupe, whatever you call it- for nearly the last four years it has been Elana's drug of choice.

    Before I had children, and even while Elana was still an infant, I swore that I would never let my child walk around with that horrid piece of plastic in her mouth past her first birthday.  I readily judged parents who immediately stuck the paci plug in their toddler's mouth each time he falls on the playground or starts to scream.  However, nearly four pink and purple birthday parties later, Elana still clutches that small piece of plastic as though it is made of diamonds, and eagerly awaits bedtime when she can snuggle up with her one true love.  

    Obviously the problem lies much more with us, her parents, than it does with Elana.  I willingly admit that Ted and I are terrified to take it away.  If I remove it from her tender little hands, will she ever sleep again?  More importantly, will we ever sleep again?

    The pediatric dentist has given us ample warning that the paci is interfering with her bite; her front top teeth do not meet the bottom ones.  After her 3-year-old dental check-up, the dentist told Elana that she was too old for a paci and that she could take them to a store to "buy" a new toy.  Elana thought that this was a fantastic idea and eagerly traded all five pacis that she slept with (she had one in the mouth, one in each hand, and two more for good measure) for five 2.5-inch-tall plastic Disney Princesses.  That night, an hour after bedtime, Elana let out a small pathetic cry, then a much louder demanding wail.  "Mommy, I don't need Ariel, I need just one paci!" Exhausted and frustrated, we caved.

    Some may ask why I am so desperate to rid our lives of the paci. Here are a few reasons why the paci has to go:
    1. Speech: Many pediatricians say that the use of a pacifier can lead to speech delays.  This concern led me to stop the use of daytime pacifying by 10 months.  I reasoned that it was fine for sleeping, since they shouldn't be talking anyway. 
    2. Dental: Prolonged use of the pacifier can push the front teeth out so that they do not meet the bottom teeth.  Not only does this affect the bite, but can lead to speech difficulties (like lisps). Elana has developed a slight, but very apparent, lisp.
    3. Over-dependence: Dependence on anything can lead to trouble.  Just take one look at our predicament.  I may jokingly compare her habit to that of a drug addict, but it truly is her first compulsion.
    Now, with Elana's fourth birthday rapidly approaching all parties involved, with the exception of Elana herself, agree that it's time to begin rehab.  Still, Ted and I are petrified.   I decided to ask some of my friends for advice.

    It was the night before Christmas when Katie and her husband decided to do-in with their daughter's paci.  The pediatric dentist had given the standard disapproving speech and they were realizing that the toddler's "pathological dependency" on it had changed their own outlook on the pacifier- it was no longer a tool to calm the tot, but a chore to know where it was at all times.  Before going to bed, they gathered all the pacifiers in the house and left them in a bag for Santa to give to all the new babies.  At first the child complied, but when the reality of the situation set in, she began to plead and negotiate with Santa, offering all of her toys for just one pacifier.  She even wanted to go to the North Pole to discuss this face-to-face.  In the end, she fell asleep and only asked for it a few more times in the coming days, but never at night.

    When Nicole's daughter turned three they had a big talk about how big girls don't use pacifiers and made a reward chart where if the child slept for one week without the paci, she would get the bottle of adult perfume that she had been desiring.  The plan worked well and the daughter received her toilet water.  Sadly, three weeks after the successful endeavor, the youngster suffered from pneumonia and a nonstop cough, and the paci was reintroduced to allow everyone in the house some sleep.  Nearly six months later the paci was still a prominent fixture in the child's mouth.  One day Nicole became so frustrated with her threenager that she took the paci and pretended to chuck it out the window.  From then on the daughter was too horrified to ever ask for it again.

    Laura worried that her preschooler would no longer nap without the binky, waited until her 4th birthday to pitch it.  After much resistance, and howling at the top of the stairs, the daughter relented after visiting her pediatrician for her “well-child” check-up.  The doctor told her, in a strong authoritative tone, that she was no longer able to have a paci, and that she was now officially a big girl.  After that, she stopped asking for it, however she had difficulty falling asleep and many night wakings in the months that followed. 
    I then searched the internet for more tips to make this change more pleasant for all of us.  These are my Top Ten Tips to Tossing the Dummy:
    1. The phase out: Limit paci time to only nap and bed time.  Then use it only before bed as a wind down tool while reading stories.  Then toss it.
    2. The doctor: Slyly inform the doctor or dentist that you are in need of help to break the nasty habit.  Usually the physician is more than happy to offer assistance and will sit the child down for a firm diatribe about paci use and big girls.  The power of authority can be very persuasive.  
    3. Pass them on: Bring them to the pediatrician for the new babies. 
    4. Substitute: Trade the pacifier for another attachment object, like a stuffed animal or a blankie.  Unfortunately my child never really attached herself to anything that wasn't made by Avent.
    5. Just the tip: Gradually (one night at a time) cut off the tip of the pacifier until it's unusable. 
    6. Goodbye paci party: Throw a party, complete with cake and helium balloons and let the pacis float away tied to the ribbon attached to the balloon. 
    7. Currency: Allow the kid to use the pacifiers to make a purchase at a store.  Take her to the Disney Store and let her run amok through commercialized childhood at the max.
    8. The Paci Fairy: In the middle of the night this magical pixie sneaks into the toddler’s room and robs the sleeping child of all her pacifiers.  In exchange, the fairy offers a gift to keep the child from total collapse.  This present is often a much-desired toy for which the tot has been longing.
    9. Peer Pressure: Find an older, admired child to taunt your kid into submission.  Humiliation, when applied appropriately  can be quite useful!
    10. Give-Up: Find another dentist that approves of 10-year-olds with dummies and start a savings account to pay for the orthodontist bills.
    With only twenty-seven more days before she turns four, and knowing Elana's tremendous will power, we may simultaneously try tips 2, 4, 5, and 7.  I will keep you all abreast on our progress, or if Elana decides that her addition to sucking on plastic nubs is more important than her teeth.  However, if all goes according to plan and our lives become paci-free, I may still always worry that if she ever becomes a raver, she may fall off the wagon.

    Friday, January 7, 2011

    Bumper Sticker Friday

    I had a dream that I was about to buy a new car; nothing fancy, just a newer version of the one I already own.  However, even in my dream I couldn't justify purchasing a new car, only for it to be torn apart by two children under four.  When passersby are stopped by the stench of rotten milk seeping from the door cracks and notice the floor mats crusted with Cheerios and apple slices, I hope that they also notice these bumper stickers and find some sympathy.

    Just answer these two quick questions:
    1. How much daily television does your tot watch?
    2. What's your (not your child's) favorite kid TV program?
    Winner will be randomly selected on Sunday.

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    Why We Judge

    My New Year's resolution is to not judge other parents, or at the very least, to judge less.  This may prove quite difficult in that my writing often chides the overly-involved, helicopter parent.  Still, I think that it will be a worthwhile endeavor to try looking at more situation from the other viewpoint. 

    I decided on this resolution while eating lunch with my husband at a small Japanese restaurant in my small Oregon hometown over Christmas break.  Ted and I were enjoying a nice bowl of childless udon noodle soup, when a charming family, made up of two young children, two parents, and a set of grandparents, sat at the table next to us.  The children were perfectly behaved, and the parents brought along a wide array of toys and books to keep them occupied.  However, when the kids' rice and chicken arrived, I felt a pang of disappointment, and I admit judgment, when the mother pulled out of her purse a bottle of organic soy sauce to sprinkle on top of their meals.  Really, I thought, is the occasional tablespoon of conventional soy sauce so harmful that it necessitates lugging around your own person bottle?

    But then, I tried to assess the circumstances from a different perspective.  Maybe the son has some obscure and deadly allergy to the chemicals used when farming traditional soy beans?  Maybe the daughter has developed a strange attachment to that particular brand of soy sauce and throws her own private exorcism when approached with rival brands?  Or maybe, it just wasn't a big deal for the mom to toss the bottle in her purse before a sushi outing.  When given the choice between conventional and organic, don't I always opt for organic?  And most importantly, why do I care?

    Why do I care?  And, why do parents, in particular mothers, judge each other so frequently and harshly?  In order to help turn my own behavior, I decided to delve more closely into why mothers criticize, instead of support each other.  Here is what I found:
    1. We judge because there are a thousand-and-one expectations on mothers and we don't know how to sort through the pile of pressure labeled as "advice".  When one reader had to stop breastfeeding her infant child after numerous months of coping with a low milk supply, a worried playground mother expressed her concern that the daughter would be left behind in school from lack of the magical wonder liquid.  Another suggested that she lie naked in bed with her daughter and allow her to nurse on demand until her milk supply increased.  While these remarks are at the least obnoxious and at the most possibly devastating to a new mother, I hesitate to declare that these mothers intended to be cruel.  Like all of us, maybe they too are struggling with the enormous demands of parenthood and are also stressed with the task of raising children, possibly even their decision to continue breastfeeding their two-year-old.
    2. We judge because it's extremely difficult to put ourselves into someone else's shoes.  I cannot count the number of times I have been told by strangers at the grocery store to put a hat on my child, or she will catch her death of a cold.  What these well-meaning passersby do not realize is that it took me twenty minutes to negotiate zipping up the coat, and another ten to agree upon shoes, so unless my family wanted to eat a can of black beans for dinner, a hat would have resulted in a total and complete annihilation of the shopping trip. 
    3. We judge because we are all unsure that we are actually doing this whole parenting thing correctly.  The mothers at the park who cast disapproving glances at you while you sit on a bench reading your People magazine are worried that they may be overly involved with their own children.  When they see a mother whose child can play freely on his own, they become anxious that their own children are too dependent on them, and maybe even a bit jealous.  (Who wouldn't love to read a magazine instead of push a child on a swing?)  
    4. Which bring me to this: we judge because we are jealous.  The whole sleep training issue (to cry-it-out or not to let cry) is wrought with both anxious parenting and jealousy.  At least three times a year my local parenting list serves are overloaded with an intense debate about how to sleep train.  The parents who have sleep trained their babies worry that their decision was wrong, maybe even selfish (and God forbid should a parent ever think of herself before her precious offspring).  Hence, these parents tend to judge those who oppose the method as overly attached, or interdependent, in order to find solace in their own decision.  Similarly, those who are against crying-it-out judge those who do.  They claim that letting a baby cry is similar to neglect/abuse and that these children will grow up with severe attachment disorders.  Could these parents actually be jealous of a household where everyone gets at least 8-hours of uninterrupted sleep?  By voicing disapproval, maybe they feel more vindicated when waking up with their baby every two hours?   
    5. We judge because at the end of a hard day, it is easier to admonish the neighbor's parenting style (not you Ellen), than deal with the tantrums our own children are throwing.  It requires far less effort to criticize the mother whose toddler is throwing a colossal fit in aisle #3 after being told "No, you may not have a package of tampons.  Just because it's pink, that does not mean you want them," than to handle the fact that you had to buy three boxes of cereal, two packages of cookies, and a gross amount of cheddar flavored crackers to keep your  little one from melting.
    6. We judge because we are terrified that the mistakes of others could happen to us.  Last year, only a few miles across the Bay from my home, and a stone's throw away from my brother and sister-in-law's house in Oakland, a father left for work and drove to the BART station near his home, forgetting to first drop his infant son at daycare.  Apparently, he was on "auto-pilot" and went about his usual routine, which did not involve swinging past the daycare.  Later that afternoon, the mother called the daycare to check-in and discovered that her son was never dropped off.  Frantic, she raced to the BART station, only to find her son dead in his car seat.