Wednesday, July 27, 2011

From Generation X to Generation Me

I am a proud, social security card carrying, member of Generation X.  In high-school, I dressed in the latest grunge fashion (plucked fresh from the bins at Goodwill), and drove my beat-up Honda Civic in the rain while listening to REM, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana. 

We were an independent generation, adaptable to change.  Many of us came from divorced families, and found it normal to split our time between two homes.  We lived in households where both parents worked and were often labeled as "latch-key" kids.  Watching our parents work tireless hours at jobs they didn't like, we embraced technology and education, vowing to do what we loved, on our own terms, with a reasonable work/life balance.

And then we began to procreate. 

In contrast to our upbringing, we resolved to be a more constant presence in our children's lives.  Many mothers are now staying home, sacrificing career and economic prosperity to be the one to do the drop-offs and pick-ups.  We read every new parenting book, determined to raise our children with all possible opportunities and advantages.  By the time the children are two, they are enrolled in ballet, soccer, gymnastics, music, and art class.  These kids are constantly praised for their efforts and are repeatedly told how smart, talented, beautiful and special they are.

This is how we raised the "Me" generation.

The problem is that these children are now dependent on their parents.  They have become accustomed to their parents holding their hands through each major decision that many young adults in this generation now call home multiple times a day for guidance.  College professors are fielding phone calls from parents wanting to discuss their child's grade on a paper.  Managers complain that this generation is so unfamiliar with criticism, that they are nearly impossible to train.  These generation truly believes that they are exceptionally smart, talented, and beautiful, and therefore unprepared for the real world.

So, what do we do?  As parents of toddlers, how do we combat this trend and raise independent children, while still being active participants in their childhood?

Lori Gottlieb, author of How to Land Your Kid in Therapy, offers many suggestions to find this balance.  Here are a few I intend to follow:
  • Allow the child to fight her own battles.  Imagine a common preschool scene.  You witness another child grabbing a toy from your little one.  As much as this may trouble your mama bear instincts, resist the urge to interfere.  Give your child the opportunity to problem solve for herself. If she can't manage to get the toy back, let her feel the frustration. 
  • Don't be the mom/dad that demands her child be invited to all birthday parties.  Life is unfair, and not every kid is going to like your child.  Help the child cope with the disappointment of being excluded instead of saving her from all possible unhappiness.
  • Let them experience failure.  Sometimes you try to climb a new play structure and fall.  Sometimes you study really hard for a test and still get a C.  Sometimes you strive to be everyone's friend and nonetheless, the that one girl continues to spread rumors. This is life, and it should also be childhood.
Recently my oldest, Elana, tested me on just this.  She advanced in her swim lessons to the next level and was finding herself in a difficult position- she shifted from the best in her class to the worst.  After the first session in the new class she sweetly pleaded with me, though teary eyes, to be moved back to her old group.  "It's too deep.  I'm scared.  I don't like the teacher."  While part of me hated seeing her sad, I knew that this was an important lesson for her.  "Whenever we try something new, we often suck," I explained, "but, without sinking, we never learn to swim."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Policing Nannies

If you are a member of any parenting message board I am sure that you have come across a post (or two) titled: "Questionable caregiver at Dolores Park," or "Nanny ignoring children at Bernal Library."  The email will go on to describe the children (age, hair color, gender, and name if known) as well as the nanny (age, hair color, gender, name if known, and ethnicity- always ethnicity).  The intent of the author is usually genuine, most often concern for the safety and well being of the children.  However, as a casual observer, she usually does not have the background to adequately judge the situation.

This recently happened here in San Francisco.  Someone witnessed a troubling situation on the MUNI and wrote an email to a major mother's group searching for the parents.  Based on the observer's account, a toddler was being neglected by a frustrated nanny and was "obviously" in fear of her.  The email was passed around to nearly all San Francisco based parenting message boards and lo and behold, the parents were found.

As it turns out, the parents and the nanny were working together to curb the escalating tantrums of the toddler.  The young boy was, like most two and three-year-olds, going through an obnoxious personal exorcism stage, and having difficulty pulling himself out of these tantrums.  All caregivers were in agreement about how best to handle the episodes- mainly by ignoring the behavior and not reinforcing it.  Unfortunately, this particular incident happened on a public bus, the watchful eyes were everywhere.

In the end, the parents were troubled, the nanny was terribly embarrassed and hurt, and the young boy was still an annoying toddler.

I think that this case is poignant for all of us to examine.  We should be careful how we judge others, especially other caretakers.  If I was scrutinized on a daily basis for my parenting skills (although I'm sure that I am every time I go to the park), bystanders would have seen a multitude of fire-able offenses.  In the past four years I have:
  • Ignored my children while they played at the park.
  • Had extensive phone conversations while the kids played on the monkey bars.
  • Forgot to strap Maisy into the stroller and she fell out when I hit a curb.
  • Pretended that I didn't hear her cries when Elana tripped and skinned a knee.
  • Allowed my toddler to run in front of me and she veered into the street.
  • Physically restrained a uncontrollable toddler.
  • Yelled at my children in public.
At any one of these incidences, an onlooker may question my parenting.  To them, I say nothing.  As much as I want to, I resist the urge to explain the situation.  They will learn, once their lovely babies reach toddlerhood, that we all have bad days (many, many bad days).

In this current climate of extreme parenting, I think that we would all benefit from giving each other a break, and trying to find a place of understanding.    Maybe we should all remember Why We Judge.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Death, a Follow Up

A few weeks ago I posted an article about talking to preschoolers about death.  Hauntingly, that night my stepmother's father died, and I was given the opportunity to test these skills.

The next day I was sitting on the toilet lid watching Elana take a bubble bath.  She was playing happily with the suds, rejoicing in the ability to freely submerge in the whole tub while Maisy napped.  Suddenly Elana sat up, looked at me and said, "Why did Grandma Lisa's daddy die?"  Given the timing, I knew that some external force (God, karma, aliens?) was testing me on the strength of my research and my ability to apply the results.

"Well, Elana, he got very old and his body wasn't able to fight off a disease any longer."
"Oh, is Grandma Lisa sad?"
"Yes, she is very sad."
"Why wasn't his body able to work anymore?"
"When you get really old, it is harder for the body to get better."
(Pause...  Elana dunks her head under the foamy bubbles.)  
"Will I die?"
(My heart quickens and I anxiously fight off the urge to tell her that she will live forever.)
"All living things die.  Trees, bugs, animals, and people.  But, you that won't happen for a long, long time."
"Longer than this?" (Elana stretches her arms as far as she can.)
"Longer than the house?"
"Of course."
"Longer than San Francisco?"
"Can I have more bubbles?"

That night, as I replayed the scene to my husband, I prided myself on my (almost) textbook response.  I answered Elana's questions clearly, confidently, and in simple language that did not scare her (this was my primary goal).  Granted, I may have bent the truth slightly when I assured her that she would live longer than San Francisco, but really what does that even mean?  If years are miles, then she definitely has a life expectancy much greater than the distance across the foggy city.

The next day, still slightly high from my parenting accomplishment, I decided to take this whole uncomfortable subject one step further.  Thanks to's one-click checkout, I was able to quickly and efficiently order a copy of Badgers Parting Gifts, which my Aunt Jill, a children's librarian, recommended for just this subject.  It arrived two days later.
When the package arrived, Elana and I cuddled on the couch and read the story twice- the second time in my attempt to drill its message into her head.  It was a lovely, sweet tale of Badger, a very wise, greatly cherished, and yet quite old member of the forest.  As the days pass, he realizes that he is having difficulty keeping up with the rest of the animals.  One night he relaxes at home and begins dreaming of traveling down a deep tunnel.  In the tunnel he separates from his body, becoming free.  The next morning his friends are sad to find that Badger is dead.  They miss him terribly, but are each reminded of a special gift that he has taught them.  As winter turns to spring, their sadness also melts.

After our second read-through, I asked Elana, "Did you like the story?"
"Badger was nice and I liked Mole," she responded.
"What happened to Badger?"
"He fell down a tunnel." 

Hmm....  should I elaborate on this, or leave it be for now?  Oh well, it is nearly dinner time.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bubble Wrapped Babies

Like most parents, I feel torn between two mindsets.  On one hand, I have the primal urge to protect my children; to catch them every time they slip, and to shelter them from all things sharp and pointy.  The other part of me desperately wants to raise my children with both a strong sense of play and the ability to shrug off a scraped knee.  I fully expect them to toddle home with scrapes, bruises, and the occasional broken bone.  I don't want them to live in a bubble wrapped world where every table corner is a black-eyed hazard and every ladder is a stairway to cracked skulls.  Unfortunately, this is the world in which we now parent.

A new study, by Dr. Gary Smith, of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, has found that there have been 209 reported cases of children drowning in portable pools between 2001 and 2009.  The news articles featuring this study offer parents helpful suggestions such as: do not have a drink, chat with friends, or be on a cell phone while supervising children splashing in kiddie pools.  This utterly dismayed me, for this is exclusively how I like to supervise my children!

At first glance, this is terrifying; yet another worry for an overly-anxious mother.  However, upon further reading of the study, at least two-thirds of these drownings occurred when children climbed a ladder into one of those extra-large, above ground, swimming pools (you know, the ones you can actually swim in).  And, here I was terrified of our 18-inch wading pool.   

I could go on a two-thousand word diatribe about how the sensational media is perpetuating a culture of fear.  I could lament about how much easier it is to gain viewers/readers with a story about the everyday hazards resting in your own home, but this has been said before, numerous times.  However, I do want to discuss how this is affecting parenting and whether raising a generation of bubble wrapped babes is best for the children.

According to the vast majoring of baby proofing websites, and Pregnant in Heel's Rosie Pope, the following is a list of just the minimum dangers from which  you must avidly protect your little ones:
  • Open windows (Think Eric Clapton and his Tears in Heaven)
  • Window blinds (The cords have been linked to some 495 injuries and deaths, according to the site Parents for Window Blind Safety)
  • Electrical outlets (There are even outlet covers for ones that are always in use, like a lamp plug.)
  • Toilets (Did you know that these little sewers are potential drowning hazards?)
  • Garbage cans (Locked strap on top?  That might prevent my husband from utilizing the trash.)
  • Table corners (We bought the plastic stick-on covers.  It took our first approximately 15 minutes to learn how to pull them off.)
  • Bathtub spout covers (Don't want the babe to bump her head!)
  • Soft door jams (So little fingers won't get pinched by a closing door.)
  • Medicine (Are all your prescriptions locked away in a Vita Gaurd Medicine Safe?  Me neither, I just put them in the top cupboards.)
  • Stilettos (Rosie Pope is very concerned that these footwear may end up in the hands of a crawler.) 
I am by no means supporting allowing tots to run wild in the streets carrying sharp scissors.  And, I am quite aware that I have birthed two daughters with unexceptional gross motor skills.  Neither daughter has ever tried to climb out of her crib before the age of three, scale rock walls, or jump down wooden steps footed in cotton socks.  Furthermore, since both girls are short, a closed door provided enough of a challenge to prevent most disasters.  

That said, I completely understand that many parents are not as lucky to raise children with lagging physical ability.  However, I firmly believe that the baby proofing industry is thriving on terrifying parents into padding every pointy object and sharp corner in the home.  As a teacher, and a mother, I have strong convictions that children learn best from first-hand experience- not by being told what to do and what not to do. A child that is jumping on a couch and falls off, breaking his arm, is much less likely to do that next time. 

In my house I have one simple test for the necessity of baby proofing: if there is a possibility of death, or losing a major limb, we must be vigilant; if not, then that is why Johnson and Johnson invented band-aids.    

In this month's edition of The Atlantic, Lori Gottlieb wrote a great piece titled: How to Land Your Kids in TherapyThe gist of the article is that the when parents shelter their children from experiencing failure and disappointment, they don't allow the children to find their own happiness.  Psychiatrist Paul Bohn speaks of a common playground scenario- imagine a toddler running, tripping, and falling.  The parent that leaps in and comforts the child as soon as he hits the ground, prevents the child from observing his own emotions.  He cannot learn from the incident if he isn't allowed to experience it for himself.

After all, if a child never falls, he will never learn how to pick himself up.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Traveling with Tots Follow-up: How Not to Fly

My husband is a very frequent flier.  In fact, he travels so much that he uses the super-secret United security entrance and is more likely than not upgraded on every flight.  While I often enjoy these perks, along with free checked baggage and access to the airline lounge, they can prove problematic at times.  Last weekend was one of those times. 

On Thursday morning Ted and I packed for an extended weekend in St. Louis and Louisville.  Even though we would only be away four nights, we checked five pieces of luggage (two carseats, pack-n-play, two suitcases) and brought along four carry-ons (purse, backpack, computer bag, bag with an outrageous number of snacks).  When we arrived at the airport we learned that, via Ted's airline status, two of our seats had been upgraded to first.  In eight more years this would have been exciting.  Ted and I could relax in the luxury of first, while the kids entertained themselves in coach.  Needless to say, we are not there.

It was decided that the adult that sat in first had to accompany the more difficult child, in this case that would be the two-year-old who refuses to nap in unorthodox settings, and tolerates television only in half-hour chunks.  I was more than happy to sit in coach next to the four-year-old who was extremely excited for an opportunity of four-and-a-half hours of unlimited screen time.  I kissed Ted on the cheek and chirped "Enjoy your warm nuts!"

The first hour of the flight was all that I could hope for.  Elana happily played with my iPhone and watched a few episodes of The Magic School Bus, while I caught up on the latest news (have you seen the pictures of LeAnn Rimes in a bikini????).  Elana and I ate apple slices and crackers while we discussed who really did wear it best.

But, then she had to pee.

This is when Ted's status began screwing with us.  Even though Elana and I were not upgraded, we were placed in the first row in coach.  And the drink trolley was blocking the aisle directly behind us.  And, Elana had to go NOW.  We had no choice but to use the first class laboratory. 

Although I frantically tried to scoot past Ted and Maisy relaxing in their double wide seats, just as I was about to close the accordion door to the bathroom, Maisy calls out "Mommy!  Elana!"  And, that was the end of our merry flight.

Ted and I spent the next three-plus-hours alternating seats.  We tested every combination: Elana and Daddy in first, Elana and Mommy in first, Maisy and Daddy in first, Maisy and Mommy in first.  In the end the only arrangement that agreed with both girls was Elana, Maisy, and Mommy in first, while Daddy sat alone in coach. 

Unsurprisingly, we received many exasperated stares from the other first-class passengers, especially when Elana and Maisy decided to play "kitties"- cleaning their faces with licked fists and meowing in volume that would have been appropriate in coach, but not to the coddled first class.  "That's one," I told them. 

To my astonishment the threat of splitting our happy trio, calmed the girls enough to settle them for the remainder of the flight.  However, the descent put the final nail in our luxury coffin.

The seating arrangement went like this: Elana in 1A, me in 1B, and Maisy on my lap.  Unfortunately, now that Maisy is two, airline regulations require her to be in her own seat during take-off and landing.  The empty seat was now in coach, next to Daddy.

At the last possible minute, the ever so patient flight attendant grabbed the confused Maisy from my lap and brought her to Ted.  For the next five minutes, the entire cabin, both coach and first, was filled with the tortured screams of the toddler.  Legs kicked, arms flailed, and foam began to seep from the corners of her mouth.  I felt the judgment of every set of eyes in first glaring at me.  One passenger shook his head and mumbled "Sheesh."  "Mommy," Elana informed me, "Maisy is mad!"

As soon as the wheels touched the ground, the same nice flight attendant reappeared at my side.  "Tell me she's not two, yet," she implored.  "Sh-sh-she's only one-and-a-half," I stammered.  And with that she quickly brought Maisy back to my lap.

If every obstacle in life is a learning opportunity, then what did I gain from this?  Well, it is really three fold:
  1. Never separate the children.
  2. First-class is no place for a tired toddler. 
  3. The discomfort and anguish the other passengers feel is negligible to that of the exhausted parent.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Don't Grow Up

This past week my little one, my baby, my Maisy, started preschool.  While I thought that I would rejoice in the new-found freedom of three child-free mornings a week, my true emotions on that first day were more sorrowful than joyous.
Maisy's first day.
When I dropped my first born, Elana, off at her first day of preschool the other, more seasoned, mothers offered words of comfort- "Don't worry, she'll be fine," and "This must be so hard for you!"  To them, I nodded and smiled, guilt-ridden that I wasn't actually feeling somber.  I was excited for Elana to begin school.  I had a 5-month-old at home, and was eager for some one-on-one time with the baby.  (By one-on-one time, I meant watching daytime television while the baby took her extended morning nap.)
Elana's first day pose.
However, this time it was different.  There was no infant waiting for me, no one left to swaddle, burp, and sleep contently in a carrier while I browse the boutiques of Noe Valley.  No, this was it.  There are no more babies for me.  My uterus is locked and closed!

Already well acquainted with the preschool drop-off, Maisy got right to work at the art table.  At once she looked too small and too grown-up.  Sitting there in the toddler sized chair, at the toddler sized table, she seemed confident and at-home, but still a part of her screamed baby (maybe it's the round cheeks, diapered bottom, or the bowl hairstyle she so sweetly sports). Knowing that this was the right thing for both Maisy and me, I repressed my sadness and gave her a quick confident kiss good-bye and left Maisy in her classroom filled with paints, blocks, and floam.

As my subsequent child, I am not eagerly anticipating most of Maisy's milestones.  Potty training- no thank you!  It's not just that I don't want to do the leg work (the constant potty reminders, cleaning up puddles of pee pee, and dealing with extreme I Don't Want to Go Potty tantrums), but I am not ready for her to be a big girl.  By keeping her in diapers, I am allowed to preserve the image of her babyhood. 

In contrast, my husband is anxiously awaiting the day Maisy graduates to a big girl bed.  He envisions mornings where Maisy and Elana wake-up simultaneously in their bunk bed, pour themselves bowls of Cheerios, and play quietly with princess dolls until Mommy and Daddy awake.  As wonderful as this (completely optimistic) picture may sound, my standard response is still "Maybe in a few months." 

As much as I want to keep Maisy a baby, she continues to defy my wishes.  Yesterday she insisted on peeing in the potty and today she declared "I'm a big girl!"  I guess that I must allow her these achievements, it seems I have no other choice.  However, for now I am mourning the loss of my baby, while she fully embraces toddlerhood.