Thursday, October 27, 2011

Toddler Bribery

I am a huge fan of toddler bribery, or as the parenting experts like to call it, "rewards" .  I readily use this tactic to coerce my two daughters to do most anything that they refuse.  And, even though I now have a growing cluster of concerned readers who think that I am a "bad" mother, I will admit to, and even endorse, this parenting tactic.

In the past week I have bribed my two girls to:
  1. Sleep in until 7 am.
  2. Go to swim lessons without complaint.
  3. Finish their dinner.
  4. Eat their veggies.
  5. Try a new food.
  6. Brush their hair. 
  7. Brush their teeth. 
  8. Not throw an exorcism every time I announce that we need to leave for school.
  9. Poop in the potty.
Before you begin to judge me and assume that I am spoiling my children with lavish sweets and toys, many of the carrots I dangle in front of their sweet blue eyes are small, negligible in many eyes.  Let's look at this list again, along with the bait that was offered.

Sleep until 7 am.

Two weeks ago, Elana became stuck in a pattern of waking somewhere between 6:05 and 6:07 am. Since my eyes will not open before 7 o’clock, I suggested that if Elana could stay in her room until the reasonable hour for the next two mornings, she could have the tiny porcelain fairy doll she had been eyeing at the local gift store. 

Go to swim lessons without complaint.

Even though Elana loves to swim, and usually eagerly awaits swim lessons, there are days that she tries to wriggle out of going.  With a simple promise of a trip to the ice cream store adjacent to the swimming pool after class, Elana abandons all protests and skips off to her room to find the perfect pink swimsuit to match her pink goggles.

Finish their dinner.

While I do not champion the clean plate club, I do want to teach my children to stay at the dinner table until they are done eating.  Maisy is a grazer and would prefer to eat a bite of chicken, run and play with her stuffed cat for ten minutes, then come back for seconds.   When the jitters overtake my toddlers, I entice them by reading books while they dine.  The stories stop if they stand up from the table.
(And, yes, I know that there are more appropriate ways to do accomplish this, like actually eating with the children, but for now, this doesn’t work with our schedules.)

Eat their veggies.
This one is rather logical, no dessert unless you eat your vegetables.  Maisy doesn’t have a huge sweet tooth, so she will often forego the Oreo cookie.

Try a new food.

Elana is a full-fledged member of the Picky Eater Club and prefers her food bland and beige.  Attempts at encouraging her to try new foods often backfire, but if I offer her a few coins she usually relents.  Last week I suggested that I would give her one quarter if she tried asparagus; being the she keen negotiator she is Elana opted instead for five pennies.

Brush their hair.

Occasionally I offer the girls two chocolate chips if they will sit down and allow me to untangle their fine toddler hair.  Maisy isn’t impressed by proposal, and hence I have chopped most of her hair off in a do that can only be described as “Mission Hipster”.

Brush their teeth.
Obviously, I am not about to offer them chocolate chips after they brush their teeth, I’m not a monster, but if this task isn’t accomplished in a timely manner, I take away one of their three bedtime stories.

Not throw an exorcism every time I announce that we need to leave for school.
Elana would prefer to spend every minute, of every day, within an arm’s reach of me.  This week, her clinginess began every morning at 8:15.  Frustrated, I made this deal, if she can manage one week without these terrible drop-off tantrums, the two of us would go on a special mommy-daughter outing.
 Poop in the potty.

Although Maisy has been pee-pee potty trained for the past three months, she still refuses to poop anywhere near a bathroom.  Whenever the urge arises, Maisy asks for a pull-up and some alone time with her play kitchen.  So far, I have yet to stumble upon the right bribe to entice her to use the potty.  I may need to pull out the big guns, but I’m not sure how my husband will feel about a new puppy.

Luckily for me, experts do not consider this an inapproprate tactic, they just use fancier language like "positive incentives".  According to, there are proper and improper ways to bribe a toddler. 
  1. Reward for good behavior, not bad.   Basically, just rephrase everything in a positive statement.  Instead of promising an ice cream cone for not hitting a sibling, promise them the treat for keeping their hands to themselves.
  2. Young toddlers need instant gratification.  Payments later for services rendered now do not fly with the two-year-old crowd. 
  3. Bribe children before the misbehavior starts.  Yesterday I packed up both girls for a little Trader Joe's action.  Before we even left the house, I promised them a small treat if they behaved while shopping.  This worked wonders with the four year old, but Maisy (2.5 years old) threw her first fit as soon as we stepped inside the door and found that there weren't any "Customer-in-training" mini shopping carts left (see #2).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cartoon #2- By Eryn Kurin

I absolutely adore Eryn's latest cartoon.  It's true, sometimes the bathroom is the only place a mother can find some desperately needed alone time.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

How Does She Do it All? 10 Tips for the Hectic Mother

I know what many of you are thinking: How does she raise two young daughters, maintain a career as a struggling freelance writer, and still find the time to throw her hair into a ponytail, jump into an old pair of faded yoga pants, and feed her family nutritionally balance prepared meals from Whole Foods day after day?
Photo courtesy of Karin Ascencio
My life may seem glamorous with its endless routine of carpool, playdates, and half-asleep coffee breaks at the neighborhood latte joint, but to be able to maintain the outward appearence of order I have developed a few shortcuts.   And, in an effort of camaraderie, I have decided to share the secrets that keep my life from unraveling. 

I did search the experts for "time saving tips for busy parents", but I found  their advice to be unpractical and combersome.  One site advised to "Never come home angry."  Well sure, that is a fine goal, but if we can't come home angry, some of us would never get there.
My tips, on the other hand, are practical suggestions to save twenty seconds here, a minute there, and a massive headache later.  These are the hidden methods to my madness:
  1. Sleep in your yoga pants.  Not only does this save time dressing in the morning, but it can cut down the laundry loads quite a bit.  
  2. Utilize those babywipes for more than your babe's tush!  Instead of washing your face in the morning, I use baby wipes to clean the sleep from my eyes.  Don't be so appalled, I do buy the chlorine free ones, after all.
  3. Never prepare an unnecessary meal.  When my husband has one of his many dinner meetings, instead of making my own evening meal, I eat the leftovers from Maisy and Elana's plates.  Yum... carrot sticks and uninspired chicken on Disney Princess plates.
  4. Embrace TV.  I know, I know, admitting this may actually send Children's Protective Services to my house for a home-visit, but it's true, we do.  Maisy and Elana love Dora, Max and Ruby, Olivia, and a good half-dozen other annoying cartoon characters.  Seriously, do you know how many task I can get done during one 30-minute Sprout program?  Clean the dishes, put away the laundry, have a quickie in the bedroom with my husband...
  5. Cut your daughter's hair.  On principle I keep the hair on my two young daughters' heads well trimmed.  I have yet to meet the parent of a girl that doesn't suffer from the tiresome tangle battles.  Neither of my daughters readily allow me to brush their hair, nor do they have the ability to do this themselves.  So, in my effort to avoid chasing them around the house, wrestling them to the ground and holding them in place with my thighs while I attempt to detangle their rat nests, I simply keep their hair no longer than chin length.
  6. Pretend you don't notice.  Some days my husband will arrive home from work shocked at the state of a room.  "What happened?" he exclaims, the anxiety spilling from his ears.  "Gee, I just took out the garbage and when I came back..." I answer, where in reality I have carefully stayed clear of the two girls who were ever so diligently painting the bathroom with a tube of toothpaste.  Sure, the clean up will be bothersome, but it took them a solid 25 minutes of cooperative play to make this mess!
  7. Pajama Day!  Is it really so horrible for your preschooler to show up to school in last night's pajamas?  I'm sure his teachers have seen it before.  With my two-year-old, the morning tasks are some of the hardest to get accomplished, so I often bring an outfit for Maisy to change into once she gets to school.  She doesn't seem to mind dressing in front of her classmates and their parents.
  8. Socks?  What socks?  Fortunately we live in the moderate Bay Area climate, where the temperature rarely drops below 48 degrees.  Because of this, and Crocs made for toddlers, my girls almost never wear socks.  They each own less than ten pairs and only don them when we visit my parents in Oregon, at Christmas time, if it snows.  By foregoing this extra layer of footwear, I save approximately thirty seconds each morning, in addition to a good ten minutes on laundry day matching pairs of tiny toddler socks.
  9. Skip the extra-extracurricular activities.  My children are allowed one, two at most, lessons a week.  In my opinion, their swimming classes are mandatory, but if we don't make it out of the house for their 9 am Saturday morning ballet lesson, we all kind of benefit.
  10. Stop picking up the toys.  Whenever the clutter in childrens' bedrooms begins to trigger my panic attacks, I close their doors and remember the mantra of the iconic Phyllis Diller: "Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing." 
Now that I've shared mine, tell us, what are your time saving secrets to an easier day?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Cartoon #1, by Eryn Kurin

My friend and fellow mother of toddlers, Eryn Kurin accurately illustrates life dictated by young children.  Here is one of her latest masterpieces making us all wonder why we ever procreated in the first place. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pregnancy or Prozac- The Comments

On September 30th my very first paid parenting article was published by Babble (and then posted on The Huffington Post!!!! Still extremely shocked and excited!).  However, I also received my very first parenting heckles of, "Some people have no right raising children." (If you haven't read it click here: Pregnancy or Prozac? Why I choose both.)

When Babble advertised my essay on their Facebook page, numerous mothers wrote thanking me for being brave enough to share my story.  Some said that I inspired them to discuss their depression with a doctors, and others found solace knowing that they were not the only ones.  Still, others found it necessary to judge me and my decision.   

I wrote the piece to simply share my experience.  I was not advocating medication for pregnant women, or for women in general.  I had a story to tell and a lesson to be learned.  My ordeal was excruciating and I hoped to find some positive through all the despair.  If reading my article helped spark conversations about ante-natal depression, whether positive or not, I have accomplished my intentions.

That said, I would like to take the opportunity to respond to a few of the particularly eloquent comments (please excuse the profanities). 
  • Comment: "My 3rd son has eye problems from TAKING them during pregnancy..we're gonna have to see a neuro-ophthalmologist because he can't see any more than an inch from anything..I wish I never went ont hem."
    • Eye problems from antidepressants?  Makes complete sense!  I'm sure that the fact that both you and the baby's father wear glasses and that genetic eye disorders run in your family has nothing to do with it! 
  • Comment: "i dont think they are safe. theres vitamins u can take that kinda help with depression."
    • Really?  Vitamins?  Do they come in gummy form, because I will only take vitamins that are shaped like cartoon characters. 
  • Comment:  "Yeah well she's a fuckin dopefiend then smh if u r that fucking selfish u have no business with motherhood. Period. Its just not for u."
    • I totally agree, some people just should not have children.  I suggest you get your tubes tied immediately.
  • Comment: "How many class action lawsuit commercials have we seen where they ask " is you baby fcked up from anti depressants while pregnant? " why the HELL would u risk it ? Some peoples children I swear."
    • Have you or a loved one been manipulated by a snazzy looking lawyer sporting a Ron Swanson mustache?  If so, there is help.  Call 1-800-STOP WATCHING SO MUCH TV for more information.
  • Comment: "If u are seriously ill ... don't have kids. WtF"
    • Seriously, WTF?  I am going to start a petition to ask Congress to legally prevent all women suffering from heart disease, lupus, diabetes, breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, and those that are generally considered unattractive from bearing children.  Who's with me?
  • Comment: "No they (SSRI's) aren't safe-theyMake Your body forget what to do-ISN'T THAT WHAT AUTISM IS???"
    •  Well, no actually.  That isn't autism at all.
  • Comment:  "Hell No!!! unsafe,causes birth defects. I say suck it up and take no pills! Its just hormones anyways. If your a big girl to be getting pregnant, then your a big girl to deal with lifes emotions without pills,your depressed, not the baby!!!!"
    • Hmm, let me meditate on this one... just hormones so no need for pills... maybe I should try upping my testosterone levels (after all, I do live in San Francisco where one can purchase gender altering drugs at the corner pharmacy).   Also, you are so true, I am a big girl.  Yesterday I went both pee pee and poop on the potty.  No more diapers for Ducky! 
  • Comment: "No drugs are ever safe during pregnancy, thats just as bad as alcohol."  
    • Well, I did retire my crack pipe for most of those 9-months, if it makes you feel better. 
If I had Maisy's pregnancy to do over again, the only thing that I would change would be to never have stopped my medication in the first place, but alas you know what they say about hindsight. While there are no definitive studies regarding taking antidepressants during pregnancy, there is overwhelming evidence that ante-natal depression can lead to preterm labor, low birth weight, and most importantly- women who are depressed during pregnancy have grave difficulty caring for themselves and their unborn babes (as was my experience). 

Thanks to the difficult choices my family and I had to make, we have two beautiful, healthy, intelligent daughters who are being raised by loving, healthy, and safe parents.  If this is the face of depression...
 then I will take a double dose and an extra large side order of crazy.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Thank You Steve Jobs: A Mother's Tribute

Unless you are living under a rock in Dora's Magic Fairyland, you know that on Wednesday the world lost a true visionary, an inspiring genius that enriched our lives in more ways than we can recall.  Sure, he helped advance the digital age, brought computers to the masses, made it possible to be connected in remote African villages, and is offhandedly referred to as the Thomas Jefferson of our generation, but maybe the person he helped the most is the mother.

It was only since Mr. Jobs' passing that I began to realize how much of my childrens' daily lives are influenced by his innovation. There are so many computers in my home that I seriously wonder how mothers kept sane in the days before Apple?  Without my iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iTunes, and MacBook Pro, the already arduous task of child rearing would be nearly impossible.  Luckily for us, we never had to parent in a world without i's. 

Here are six ways that Steve Jobs effected my daily life:
  • The MacBook Pro- Not only do I carefully cart this silver laptop with me to the coffee shop four days a week, but it has proved invaluable during long car rides.  Pop in a DVD of Charlie and Lola, and my children will patiently wait for us to arrive at our destination, only interrupting to request snacks and drinks.  
  • The iPhone- Without an iPhone my husband and I would never take our children out to dinner.  Coloring books and crayons only buy us ten minutes, tops, but the applications on my phone can grant us hours of relaxing restaurant meals. 
  • The iPad- We recently potty trained our youngest daughter.  It was during this undertaking that I was introduced to a new function of the interactive tablet.  Following the advice of a friend, I downloaded a good half-dozen Oceanhouse Media "Read to Me" Books for Maisy to enjoy while she attempts to poop on the potty.  She will happily spend thirty minutes sitting on her little plastic Baby Bjorn chair while a Mercer Mayer book is read to her (and I can be in the kitchen making dinner!).
  • iTunes- With our first born, we waited until she was four-years-old to pitch the pacifier.  Fortunately we were able to exchange the binky for audio books.  I purchased a handful of fairy tales from iTunes, onto an old iPod, and played them for her with our iHome stereo system while she drifted to sleep.  The transition proved easier than I expected, thanks to her love of any story with a princess character.
  • Apple TV- Rainy days have become less dreary with Apple TV.  When its too wet to go to the park, I can rent and play an episode of Rugrats for my own rugrats without leaving my home!  
  • Pixar- Because of Mr. Jobs, at least once a year there is an animated movie that I am eager to take my children to.  Woody, Buzz, Nemo, WALL-E wiggled their way into the hearts of parents as much as they did the kids.
Even though I have never met Steve Jobs, I like to think that he in part inspired the character of Woody.  "Now Woody, he's been my pal for as long as I can remember. He's brave, like a cowboy should be. And kind, and smart. But the thing that makes Woody special, is he'll never give up on you... ever. He'll be there for you, no matter what." (Toy Story 3)
    So, I would like to personally thank Steve Jobs for making my job as a mother much more tranquil and stress-free (as long as I remember to keep my various Apple products charged).

    Monday, October 3, 2011

    Are Toddlers Psychopaths?

    What's the difference between a toddler and a psychopath?  Apparently, not too much.

    In 1980 Robert Hare, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia,  developed a 16 point checklist for determining a psychopath.  While you are reading these, I challenge you to reflect on your own toddler's behavior.
    1. Superficial charm & average intelligence.   Toddlers do display some charm, but let's be honest, it is superficial at best.  Maisy's insistence on repeatedly playing "Boo, I scare you!" is her attempt to charm her parents out of bed.  We pretend to be amused, but it as insincere as her fake "boo".  As for her intelligence, let's just say that she can't count to ten without repeating the number "eight" three or four times.
    2. Lack of psychosis.  I've checked, and no psychologist will diagnose my children with a severe mental disorder, no matter how hard I insist.
    3. Lack of anxiety.  OK, maybe some toddlers actually have anxiety.  However,  I am not willing to concede that many cases are not just manipulation.  When the bribe of a Sleeping Beauty gown  convinced my then three-year-old daughter to sleep through the night, my sympathy for her "sleep anxiety" greatly fell her the eager smile she returned after my offer. 
    4. Unreliability.  Will Maisy get dressed without a colossal freak-show today?  Will Elana head to preschool without a tantrum?  We never know... it seems to be up to the fate of the northern winds.
    5. Dishonesty & insincerity.  Both of my children lie completely void of any regret or responsibility.  I might ask, "Did you finish your veggies?" and they will nod their heads while hiding the carrot sticks under the table.  "Elana did you hit your sister?" and she will answer "No, Maisy ran into the wall."
    6. Lack of remorse and guilt.  A few weeks ago the girls are playing quietly with their Barbies.  Suddenly I heard Elana scream and Maisy ran out of the room and joyfully exclaimed, "I hit Elana with Rapunzel!" 
    7. Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior (meaning they commit crimes for no apparent reason).  During the throws of toddlerhood, both of my children have run to me with brilliant smiles on their faces, arm stretched to embrace my legs for a tight hug, and as soon as they melt my heart, they bit into the flesh of my thighs leaving dental imprints and bruises for no apparent reason.  This is the definition of antisocial.
    8. Poor judgment and inability to learn from experience.  No matter how many times I have told Maisy that she cannot fit into the newborn size t-shirt I have demoted to the babydoll dress-up box, Maisy still insists forcing it over her large head then throwing a total demonic fit when it gets stuck over her nose.
    9. Narcissism and an inability to love.  Although I do believe that toddlers do love, I have failed to meet a two-year-old that isn't selfish and self-centered.  Maisy firmly believes that my life stops while she is at preschool. 
    10. Poverty of affect.  Does your toddler have a job? 
    11. Gross lack of insight.  A toddler is incapable of having insight.  No two-year-old can gain a deep understanding of a person or situation.  They see exactly what lies on the surface, and no further.
    12. Unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations.  This is a typical scene when Elana is the first to greet Maisy when she wakes: "Good morning, Maisy!" and Maisy responds: "WAHHHHH!!!! I don't like you! Go away!"
    13. Fantastic & uninviting behavior with drink & sometimes without.  Even without a few glasses of wine, toddlers exhibit uninviting behavior- throwing food, hitting, screaming, tantrums, need I go on?
    14. Empty suicidal threats.  Well, that would be quite alarming for a toddler to voice these bluffs.  That said, Elana has insinuated that she is going to  run away and live with Grandma Sharon if she has to wash her hair.
    15. Immature sex life.  Thank god for this one!
    16. Failure to plan ahead.  With my older daughter I have begun trying to instill a bit of forethought into her actions.  I might offer her an Oreo cookie now, or we can go to the ice cream shop after dinner.  Even though ice cream is her favorite treat, rarely does she think beyond her immediate wants and opt for to wait.
    In conclusion, it seems that a psychopath is really a person who has never grown out of his toddler stage.  I am crossing my fingers that by age five, my girls only display two or three of these characteristics (including the immature sex life).