Monday, December 24, 2012

T'was the Night Before Christmas

T'was the night before Christmas and all through the home,
Not a creature is sleeping, from their beds the kids roam.
And even though they were tucked in hours ago,
Every ten minutes, another something they ask for.

Water, a hug, one more story, or the potty,
What seems so genuine is really quite naughty.
"Good night, sleep tight, or no Santa can come."
And Mama fills her mug with a bit more spiced rum.

Grandma gave the children too many Christmas cookies,
And Papa is hoping to get some holiday nookie.
Mama passive aggressively attends to the wrapping,
Ignoring the others still making their yapping.

After a long month overfilled with holiday cheer,
The end of the parties, treats, and presents was near.
Dream Lites, Pillow Pets, and Unicorn Stompeeze
Half the gifts under the tree were As seen on TV.

The tree is trimmed with ornaments white and red,
And many memorializing the pets that are now dead.
Candy canes, tinsel, and aerosol cans of snow,
Garlands, popcorn chains, and more plastic crap wrapped in bows.

Platters of Christmas goodies, and stocking above the fire,
counting down the minutes until the tantrums transpire.
All the stuff stuff and more stuff is making me blueish.
But wait, what's all this for, I thought we were Jewish?

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Plea to the President

Dear President Obama,
On Friday 20 children were killed by a Bushmaster rifle, all of them were ages seven and under.  These children will never graduate high school, know the pride of landing their first job, nor the total overwhelming love of holding their newborn baby. Their lives stopped just when they learned to ride a bike without training wheels.
As the father to two beautiful daughters, I beg you to look at this tragedy not only from the eyes of a president, but also from the heart of a parent.  This is your opportunity to make the country a little safer, not only for Malia and Sasha, but for their children and their children’s children.  Now is your chance to make your legacy in the name of every child.
Based on the Children’s Defense Fund report released in March of this year, 2,793 children died by gunfire in 2009 (the latest records available).  Eighty-five of these children were mere preschoolers.  In addition, “More children and teens died from gunfire in 2008 and 2009 — 5,750 — than the number of U.S. military personnel killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
I also have two beautiful daughters.  I am thankful that they are too young to understand such tragedies.  On Friday I picked my oldest up from kindergarten and hugged her an extra moment or two, grateful to feel her warm body and see her smiling dimples.  For that moment she was safe.
 But, it was only for a moment.  There are still 310 million nonmilitary firearms in the US, forty percent of which were sold by private or unlicensed retailers. So, for now, every time my children go to the movies, to temple, and to school, I will worry that one of these guns will find its way into the hands of a madman.
Americans do not have a more urgent need than the rest of the industrialized world to keep such firearms in our homes.  When our children are thirteen times more likely to be killed by a gun than those in other developed countries, can we really defend the right to purchase semi-automatics at gun shows? 
Today, another eight children will die from gun violence.  However, today we can also take the first steps to making our schools, malls, parks, and neighborhoods safer so that other first graders may have the opportunity to accomplish everything that was stolen from those twenty precious children at Sandy Hook.
Every Parent

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Mother's Love Knows No Borders

A few weeks ago, while scrolling through Facebook, a picture caught my eye. It was posted by a friend, who had shared it from a friend of a friend's timeline.  It showed two mothers, one Israeli and the other Palestinian.  While the Israeli mother was holding her child in a sweet embrace, the Palestinian mother was toting her child on her left hip and at the same time hoisting a semi-automatic into the air with her right hand.  The caption read, "Can you find the difference?"
I was immediately shocked to see such divisive statement made by someone I know to be both thoughtful and generous. But this photo was neither.

The nationality of a person has nothing to do with their ability to love a child. When a baby is born, whether in Israel or Palestine, a mother is made. When she holds that baby for the first time, her heart expands so large that it is forced to live outside her body, staying alongside the child wherever she goes. In a matter of minutes a mother's fantasies of personal goals are replaced with hopes of what her child may become.

From the moment our children begin crawling, as mothers we become vigilant about the safety, wanting to ensure that the world around them is both secure and welcoming. We hope that life brings them love, adventure, and excitement. Most of all, we wish to watch them grow to experience all these triumphs and trials.  

But nowhere in the heart of a mother does she wish to have her child placed in the midst of warfare. There is no worse nightmare for a mother than to spend her days afraid for the welfare of her child -- the child whose pain is felt far more excruciatingly than her own.

So far over 160 Palestinians and 6 Israelies have lost their lives in this current conflict. Each of these victims was once a baby, held by his mothers who wished only the best for his future. Unless we can see beyond our fears and act beyond our loyalties to arbitrary borders, we cannot rise above the hatred that poisons this world for all of our children.

My children rest at night unafraid of missile strikes and air attacks. They know nothing of suicide bombers and settlements on occupied territories. As the winter holidays approach, I am increasingly grateful to be raising my children in an environment free of combat. But, I ache for those mothers less fortunate.
This is what the caption should have read.
There is No Difference
Palestinian Mother
Israeli Mother

The photo of the Palestinian mother was taken from the site Occupied Palestine.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Secret Service Agent

Two weekends ago I went on my annual trip with a high school girlfriend.  Each year, on the weekend before Thanksgiving, we meet in a spot, somewhere between San Francisco and Dallas, that meets all of our four main criteria: good food, good shopping, good spas, and good wine.  This year we ventured to Vegas where where the bright lights of The Strip mesmerized us into believing that we were young 20-somethings with the ability to go clubbing until three in the morning.  I felt much like Katherine Hegel's sister in Knocked Up.  At what age does drinking and dancing alongside people that recently earned the right to vote and buy cigarettes just become sad?

However, since returning home I have paid deeply for my parenting transgression, the one where I don't spend every hour of every day in the company of my children.  While my 5-year-old missed me and was ecstatic to have the parent who knows how to properly brush her hair and butter her bagel home, she admitted that the Daddy-Daughter weekend was fun (I believe that they had chocolate croissants for at least two meals each day).  

The 3-year-old sand a slightly different tune.  "Oh Mommy, I never want you to go anywhere ever again! I'm going to stay right by you forever and ever!" 

She truly meant every word.

In the past two weeks, she has followed me to ever bathroom visit and countless times up and down the stairs to the laundry room.  On Sunday I begged her to let me bathe by myself, just for ten minutes.  "No, Mommy!" I NEED to be with you." We compromised with me lying in the tub, my arm hung loosely over the side, while she sat on the bathmat and stroked my fingers. 

This must be what it feels like for Malia and Sasha Obama to have the Secret Service following them to every birthday party and school function.  However, instead of a six-foot-tall muscular and svelte bodyguard in a black suit, I have a 2.5-foot tall toddler wielding a stuffed bunny. She may be tiny, but her super-power is the ability to stave off bad guys with her unrelenting tantrums.

Eight days have passed since I returned home, and the little one is still watching me like the creepy stalker dude in Sting's "I'll Be Watching You". Every breath I take, every move I make, she is watching me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Their New Normal

A few months ago, my 5-year-old daughter, Elana, and her friend were playing dress-up. After they had dug up the fanciest gowns in the costume box, they decided to hold a wedding. Three minutes later, I heard the girls fighting and poked my head into the room to investigate.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"I want to get married to B, but she said that two girls can't get married, and that isn't true!" Elana explained. Not wanting to explain equality and justice to a friend's kindergartner, I could only smile proudly.

Read the rest here.

Monday, November 5, 2012

What's on Your Phone- Best Apps for Kids

(I wrote this piece for the Golden Gate Mother's Group Magazine.)

When my friend’s toddlers turn two, I always send a lovely card inscribed, “Congratulations, your child is now two years old! Let’s raise a glass to two hours of screen time per day!” In addition, I include an insert with a list of the children’s television shows least likely to drive the parents batty, as well as my top apps for kids. Caillou, and his fuzzy white background, are not allowed within twenty feet of this list, or my home.

In all seriousness, growing up in a technologically-advanced world provides amazing opportunities for young children to learn, as well as new challenges for parents. Studies have been conducted warning parents of the amount of time children spend in front of screens, and a recent report by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center found that enhanced ebooks (like those found on iPhones and iPads) distract children from the story and prevent them from remembering key details of the narrative. Balance is key when using technology, as it is in all aspects of parenting.

Still, while there are those among us who eagerly maintain that a screen-free household is best for young children, there are many others who need to prop an iPad in front of the tot for a few minutes while they: shower, eat, pee, dress, talk to the doctor, put the baby down for a nap, etc. For those parents, we have devised a list of our favorite smartphone apps to engage the toddler/preschool crowd, while (hopefully) expanding their skill sets, even a tiny bit.

Eric Carle's My Very First App ($1.99) by Night & Day Studios, Inc., combines illustrious Eric Carle images with three different matching games of various levels. Parents and children alike will enjoy challenging their memory while finding pairs of the distinctive pictures. The narration can be changed to one of six languages: Japanese, German, Dutch, Spanish, French and English.

Agnitus Learning Games for Preschool to Kindergarten (free) created by the Agnitus team, including GGMG’s own Khan family, is an exciting new app giving children the opportunity to explore basic preschool curriculum (numbers, shapes, colors, letters and the like) through eight different fun and engaging games. Azhar Khan, CEO and co-founder, explained what sets this app apart from the rest of the field, “Children start off playing groups of intuitive educational games that assess their academic readiness. Then, as they demonstrate proficiency of skills at one level, they are moved to higher levels and to new sets of games in order to keep them engaged, challenged and learning at their own pace.” Agnitus also creates skill reports for parents to monitor their child’s progress as well as identify and help with areas in need of attention.

According to a 2007 study in the journal Developmental Psychology, a child’s mathematical ability at kindergarten is a better predictor of later success than reading skills. Parents can foster a child’s numerical understanding and spatial reasoning in many ways, including utilizing the new technology now available.

My First Tangrams ($1.99) by Alexandre Minard, provides children with a template to create pictures using the classic tangram shapes. By using this tool to help visualize how different shapes can fit into the environment, children strengthen their spatial reasoning skills while using their imagination. The app also grows with the child. Although it is recommended for ages four to seven, the easier modes are toddler friendly.

Park Math ($1.99) by Duck Duck Moose, has won numerous awards for excellence in educational apps. With two levels, preschooler and kindergartner, Park Math helps children with numerous math topics, including counting, number recognition, addition/subtraction, sorting and patterns. The engaging graphics and music, combined with the interactive experience, make this game a must-have for little mathematicians.

Monkey Math School Sunshine ($0.99) from the creators of the beloved Monkey Preschool Lunchbox, THUP games. Your child is sure to adore discovering mathematical concepts with her favorite animated monkey. With nine different games, the perky little monkey takes children on an adventure of patterns, counting, sequencing and number comparison.

Team Umizoomi Math: Zoom into Numbers ($2.99) by Nickelodeon. The perfect game for children who like to Crazy Shake!!! With five different levels, children develop various preschool math skills.

Early Literacy

Although it is widely recognized that for the little ones, human teaching is far better than electronic lessons, a well-designed app can assist parent and child in the learning process. The apps listed below will not teach your child to read, but they can aid in letter recognition and basic preliteracy concepts.

Wee Sing & Learn ABC ($2.99) by zuuka incorporated, including GGMG’s own Nipp family. If your little one loves singing the ABCs, she will surely adore the interactive alphabet app that combines music and play with learning letters. There is also an explore mode that allows children to discover the sounds of various animals and musical instruments.

Super Why ($2.99) by PBS Kids. Work on the alphabet with Alpha Pig, practice rhyming with Wonder Red, trace letters with Princess Presto and save the story with Super Why! This app pledges to give your child the Power To Read! Their version of the alphabet song is quite catchy, too.

Word Wagon ($1.99) another favorite from Duck Duck Moose. This four-tiered game allows children from preschool to first grade to investigate letters, words and phonics with Mozzarella, a mouse, and Coco, a bird. With over 100 words in seven different categories, the Duck Duck Moose team has created a game that permits the learner to work at his own speed, while encouraging the player to challenge himself.

Books on App
Yes, of course it is highly important that we read to our children. There is no better way for them to learn the joy of literature than by cuddling in our arms while we recite If You Give a Moose a Muffin for the fifteenth time that day. That said, there are times when you just can’t. (For example, my youngest spends somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes on the potty trying to poop. Our usual routine of me sitting on the floor reading various Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious books can be difficult to execute at certain periods of the day. However, my phone is always ready to read her The Cat in the Hat over and over and over again. )

omBooks (apps range from $0.99 to $14.99 for collections with multiple books) by Oceanhouse Media. With ebooks from authors such as Dr. Seuss (The Lorax, Green Eggs and Ham, The Cat in the Hat), Mercer Mayer (the Little Critter books) and Jan and Stan Berenstain (The Berenstain Bears), children can read-along, read on their own or use the auto-play mode. Each book has numerous interactive buttons to press and highlighted words for early readers.

Read Me Stories: Children's Books (app is free and comes with several sample books; you have the option to buy the rest of the series)by 8Interactive Limited. With custom content created for the app, the books do not have the same narrative charm or detailed pictures as omBooks, but for the price, it is a find. Each series is only $1.99.

MeeGenius! Kids' Books (app is free and comes with a few books; other books are available to buy and download) by MeeGenius. This app lets parents download a variety of classic childrens’ stories, as well as new titles, and keep the books at their fingertips. It includes read-along and read-on-your-own modes.

For Parents
The following apps may not be educational, but they help busy parents organize their lives and shave a few items off their task list.

Artkive (free for a limited time) by The Kive Company. Does your child bring home at least a dozen works of art from preschool each week? While you may love the artist, the art itself is not always frameworthy. However, this app, created by GGMG member Amanda DeRose’s brother, allows you to photograph and digitally store your child’s artwork. You can tag each piece with the child’s name, age and date created, as well as print and share the masterpieces with friends and family.

Mom Maps ($2.99 for the full version, but there is also a free option) by New Media Parents, Inc. and created by GGMG’s own Jill Seman. Have you ever found yourself in a new city or neighborhood and need a quick recommendation for a child-friendly restaurant? A quick search on Mom Maps can point you in the direction of the nearest park, playground, museum or restaurant that won’t treat you like you brought in the plague once your toddler begins to squirm.

Cards (free) by Apple. Let’s face it, all the best photos of your child are taken on your phone. This simple app allows you to upload those beautifully candid shots, craft personalized cards and send them to the grandparents while your child swings at the playground. A perfect way to share a thank-you note, birthday greeting or thinking of you message.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Lessons Learned While the Children have been Home Sick

For the past two weeks, my house has been infected by at least one sick, and needy, person at all times.  First the cold conquered me, and then it the children prisoner. Today is the first day this week that I have been able to drop both children off at their respective schools and find a few minutes to write.  The previous days have been spent force feeding the girls Odwalla C-Monster and watching unlimited episodes of Team Umizoomi and Dora the Explorer. 

Although, with invalids plaguing my home, I haven't had the time to sneak away to my office (the coffee shop) to write, I've had plenty of time to reflect on all that I have learned during in days in isolation. 
  1. There are good and bad types of sickness.  A cold with a low-grade fever, just high enough to suck the energy out of the child, is a good sickness.  Pink eye is a bad one; the child still maintains all his vigor, but is not allowed at school.  I was fortunate enough to be blessed with the former.   
  2. Caillou only grows more annoying as I age.  I absolutely despise his whiny voice and fuzzy white border.   
  3. After the third straight day trapped in my home with no connection to the outside world (oh how I missed adult conversation and sunshine), my ability to show sympathy greatly diminishes.  By day #4, I was attempting to send subliminal messages to my children while they napped.  "You are not sick.  You want to play.  You miss school," I whispered in their little ears.
  4. I am quite susceptible to television advertising.  Currently I have a very strong desire to buy a Cuddle Uppet (blankets that are puppets) and a few pairs of Stompeez (they are interactive slippers!!!).  
  5. Pear trees give us pears, lemon trees give us lemons, and almond trees give us almonds.  Thank you Nina and Star, for the awesome agricultural lesson! Who said TV wasn't educational
  6. Hola! Soy Dora.  Puedo contar hasta diez en espaƱol.  Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez.  
However, most importantly, I learned the delicate art of balancing keeping the sick children entertained, while still maintaining a quiet and dull atmosphere that doesn't promote days off of school.  On Thursday, when my three-year-old informed me, "Mommy, I don't want to be sick. It's boring to stay home," I knew that I had done my job. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

It was like TV, but not quite

Today I was asked to be a guest speaker for Nancy Redd's Huff Post Live show on bubble wrapping babies.  Being my first time to do such an appearance, I was a bit nervous and ended up telling everyone how I have let both of my girls fall down the stairs. 

The segment is about the sensationalized baby-proofing industry.  And, as you can probably guess, I was the Free Range parent.

Please don't judge me, I am new at this!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bedtime Lullabies for Parents

Now I lay her down to sleep,
With a dozen stuffies so she won’t weep.
If she should cry before daybreak,
I’ll give her benadryl so she won’t wake.

Why aren't you sleeping, why aren't you sleeping?
Cranky one, cranky one?
You are exhausted, and I want to watch TV,
Suck your paci, suck your paci.

Rock-a-bye baby, in her own room.
When we were co-sleeping, Daddy got none.
When you would cry, the whole house would wake
I tried to ignore you, but you knew it was fake.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Smoking Gun

My three-year-old, Maisy, has a voice that rivals Kathleen Turner after she chain smoked a pack of cigarettes.  If she decides to go into acting, she will easily be cast the role of a drag queen on any daytime TV show.  Even when strangers express worry about her "hoarse voice", I'm secretly proud of her throaty, husky speech- unlike my own high-pitched voice, it's authoritative and commanding.

Yesterday, my mother-in-law and I were driving home and joking about the gravely conversation Maisy was having with herself in the backseat.  "I really have to get her to quit smoking," I teased.  

What was supposed to be an innocuous comment, turned into this-

"What's 'smoking'?" asked Elana, the five-year-old.

"Ummm... you know, like cigarettes."  I responded.

Elana- "What are cigarettes?" 

Me- "Those skinny white things that burn on the end and people put in their mouths."

Elana- "Like when we come home from a trip and those people outside the airport?"

Me- "Huh?"

But, then the fog clears and I understand perfectly when she means.  Living in San Francisco, where smoking pot is widely accepted in public spaces, cigarettes are virtually unheard of, having been banned from all indoor spaces, and many outdoor ones too.  The one place my children have actually seen someone with a cigarette is outside of baggage claim, in the smoking section.

Me- "Yes, just like those people.  But, more importantly, smoking is really a terrible habit and it is not good for your health."  

Elana- "Then why do people do it?"

Dammit!  She had to go there?  Do I tell her the truth- that it can, sort of, look cool and feel good?  Nah- better to lie on this one.

Me- "Because it is a habit.  It is kind of similar to how you bite your nails.  You know it isn't good to put your fingers in your mouth, but after you start, it is hard to stop."

Elana- "Do you know anyone who ever smoked?"

Me- "Sure, lots of people.  In college.  But, most of them have stopped, because it is so bad for them."

Elana- "Did you ever smoke?"

Double dammit!  I was planning on being an open and honest parent, yet I hadn't planned for this topic so soon.  If she were a few years older, and wiser, I would be happy to have an honest conversation about this topic.  But, at five years of age, can she really understand the truth?  Can I handle her reaction?

If I explain to her how when I was growing up in my small Oregon town I felt out of place and lonely, like I didn't fit in anywhere, and then I began hanging out with a crowd that would skip Pre-Calc to smoke cigarettes and weed in the abandoned lot a block away from school, and I finally felt slightly less isolated, would she understand? If I told her that when I was full of teenage angst and depression, I could sneak out of the house for a smoke, and feel a sense of purpose, would she think I was weak?  If she knew how terrified I was of gaining weight, and secretly loved that smoking suppressed my appetite, would she model that behavior?

Will she be able to see that twenty years ago things were different, my circumstances were different, or will she think I am a bad person, who did bad things? 

On top of that, my MIL is sitting in the passenger seat observing every moment of my unease.  Time to make a decision.

Me- "Nope, never."

Elana- "Ok, Maisy and I will never smoke either."

Maybe we will revisit this discussion in five years, and maybe then I will come clean.  However, in the mean time, I'm content being a lying liar. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Your Dog is NOT just like a Baby

In my last few pieces on the Huffington Post Parents I have been chided by a few commenters about my parenting skills.  And, as much as I would love to respond with the three little words "You're an idiot," I try to take the more diplomatic road.   And, in the end someone else always calls out the brainless twat for me, so it's a win-win situation.
Photo courtesy of Little Dictators
A year or so ago, these comments would upset me.  Why don't they get my humor?  Don't they understand sarcasm? Am I not writing clearly?

However, after a few dozen trolls descended on my posts, I have come to secretly love the nasty comments.  First of all, it fuels traffic, something all bloggers appreciate.  Second of all, when people take the time to comment negatively, it means that i have written something provocative; I have produced a piece worth debating. 

That said, there has been a certain persistent troll that thinks she (he?") knows all there is to know about parenting, being a seasoned owner of a cat and a Chihuahua.  Again, I did not need to respond to her comments, since many, many other lucid individuals jumped into the conversation to put her and her absurd comments in place, but she did make me think...  What is the difference between having a baby and owning a dog?

I devised a 10-point checklist for those "parents" of pets to see if the baby/dog comparison truly is accurate:

  1. Did you spend twelve excruciating hours in labor to push an eight-pound puppy out of your "girly parts"?
  2. Did you suffer from numerous bouts of cracked nipples and mastitis as a result of nursing your pup?
  3. Do you spend at least thirty minutes rocking and singing your puppy to sleep?
  4. Does your dog wake every two-three hours every night demanding to fed?
  5. Does your toddler canine throw massive tantrums in the middle of Target requiring you to abandon your toilet paper run?
  6. When the pup began eating solids, did you painstakingly buy, wash, prep, and puree a dozen different vegetables to begin his introduction into the culinary world?
  7. Do you and your partner fight over who changed the dog's diaper last? 
  8. When you and your partner decide to have a date-night, do you pay someone $20/hour to watch television while the dog is sleeping?
  9. When your puppy refuses to take his morning nap, do you spend the following three hours desperately trying to keep him on schedule? 
  10. Did your dog’s first year of life require no less than $10,000 in food, gear, and healthcare?
If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, then yes, your dog is just like a baby.  If not, then I very respectively ask your to please shut the he** up!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

12 Things A Mother Is NOT

To my dearly mistaken children:

Over the past five and a half years, you have developed a skewed vision of my job description. When I signed up for a lifetime career as "mommy," I wasn't prepared to add numerous new skills to my resume, skills such as expert nose-wiper and dependable garbage-disposal.

That said, I totally understand your confusion. At times, I have openly volunteered myself for each and every one of these tasks. However, you need to understand that I did not sign an ironclad contract to be available at all times for each and every one of these menial jobs.

While I do love you with every ounce of blood flowing through my overly-exhausted body, your bodily fluids and tiresome demands for "right now!" are not as endearing. So, for the time being, please view this as a letter of resignation from the following duties:

1. Wipe rag. My shirt may be white, but it was not made by Kleenex. Next time you are in need of a tissue, I will be happy to point you in the direction of the nearest box.

Read the rest here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Her First Day

Last night I packed her new Hello Kitty lunchbox carefully- cucumbers, cherries, yogurt, and a peanut butter sandwich cut into bite-sized hearts and flowers, hoping the hearts would remind her that she is loved.  Somehow, it didn't seem enough.
This morning I woke up with my alarm and tip-toed into her room to gently kiss her awake.  To my disappointment, she was already up and excited to start the day.  Still, I wasn't quite ready.

After a hearty breakfast she changed into her new dress, and allowed me to brush her hair without fuss.   We filled her backpack with her lunch, her water bottle, and a spare change of clothes, all clearly labeled with permanent marker.  And, then I threw in a huge chunk of my heart, careful to not let her see.

My husband and I loaded her, and all her gear, into the car and drove to school.  Kids from kindergarten through fifth were gathered on the courtyard.  On the far side of the yard an energized ball of chatter dominated the group as the older children reacquainted with friends.  On the near side, the five-year-old's held tightly to their parents hands trying to mask their nervous expressions.

The bell rang and her class walked in a single line to their new room, and she gripped my hand with a little more determination.  When we reached her classroom door, we hugged her, whispering our declarations of love and pride.

And then she grabbed her friend's hand and skipped into kindergarten.  She's ready, and I may be tomorrow.  I am no longer Married with Toddlers.  I am now Married with Toddler.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Easy Doesn't Mean Bad

The modern parenting movement is demanding. Raising two young daughters in a highly progressive neighborhood in one of America's most liberal cities (San Francisco) has had its challenges. When the girls were babies, the playground moms had an unspoken, yet very evident competition. The winner was always the mom who breastfed the longest, didn't own a television or stroller, made her own baby food, co-slept and whose baby's first words were uttered in at least two different languages. I lost, on all counts.

My second daughter weaned herself at a mere 3 months of age and I made her exactly three batches of pureed vegetables before declaring the entire process of buying, washing, prepping, steaming and mashing to be annoyingly laborious and switched to dry Cheerios and prepackaged food. I half-heartedly co-slept the first few months with each child, only because I was too lazy to scramble down the hall five times a night for feedings. In addition, we own two televisions, three strollers and the only second language taught to either child was via the trusted teacher Dora the Explorer.

Yes, I often took the easy road in parenting. But, why does "easy" need to mean "bad"?

Read the rest here.

Monday, July 16, 2012

My Top Ten Mistakes I hope My Girls Make

Like all parents, I have many hopes and dreams for my girls. Since they were mere embryos in my uterus, I have imagined their futures overflowing with love and happiness. Of course, I want them to have rich, fulfilling lives, where goals are achieved and triumphs are celebrated. However, I also want them to make mistakes and learn from their missteps. Most importantly, I want them to live without the regret that they never took a chance. As Sophia Loren once said, "Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life."

I compiled a list of the top ten blunders that I hope my daughters accomplish before they are too old to know better. Granted, I am writing this list when my girls are still young and innocent, at ages where sneaking an extra gummy vitamin is considered a time-out worthy rebellion. I trust completely that this list will dramatically change in the coming years.

But for now, I hope they:

1. Get a tattoo
Just one. Somewhere discreet, where they can easily cover it and conceal it from disapproving grandparents and fathers.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lessons I've Learned from my 5-Year-Old

Lately I have spent much time watching my 5-year-old daughter.  She has now "graduated" from preschool and is about to officially enter the world of elementary school.  This summer she is in a state of limbo- stuck between the realms of cut up grapes and backpacks filled with homework.  
 Reflecting on the last five years has been bittersweet.  While I am excited to be done with pull-ups, irrational requests to wear the same tattered pair of underpants three days in a row, and refusals to brush her hair, I would be lying to not admit that I am going to miss her chubby toddler thighs and slightly incomprehensible speech.
She is not the only one who has grown in the last half decade- my own beliefs and personal philosophies have been greatly shaped by her toddler existence.  So I comprised a list of the top ten things that my five-year-old daughter has (not so gently) taught me.
Elana, thank you for teaching me:
  1. Floral patterns, stripes, and polka dots do not necessarily clash.  It is far better that you eagerly dress yourself for school in a myriad of patterns and designs than to battle daily over my preferred outfit of choice.
  2. When the carrots touch the pasta it makes both foods inedible.  I would personally love to buy the inventor of divided acrylic plates a large drink.
  3. Socks are always optional;  even beneath snowboots.
  4. You won’t wear a coat when I am cold, only when you are cold.  How silly of me to think that you might be chilly at the park in windy 54 degree weather!  I may be sporting a scarf and hat, but you, my dear, are just perfect in your sleeveless dress and leggings.
  5. Although television is often seen as taboo, a half-hour cartoon can make the difference between a happy family and disaster.  Before I had you I loathed the thought of seating a child in front of the electronic babysitter.  Needless and lazy, I thought.  I was wrong, very wrong.
  6. When painting, there is no need for a canvas as long as you have your naked body.  After all, it's about the process not the product.
  7. A preschooler's stamina will always outlast your's during a battle of wills.  You redefined the meaning of stubborn, and I am much wiser because of that.
  8. Just when I think that I cannot handle your latest developmental stage one minute longer, you change.  There have been numerous times when I was on the verge of cracking, and just before the last straw was placed on my camel's back, you stopped your night-wakings/food-throwing/back-talk/temper-tantrums.  It is as though you can see through me.
  9. No amount of pleading, negotiating, or bribing will convince you that fish actually tastes good.  I will hereby cease all efforts to persuade you otherwise.
  10. Finally, you taught me the true meaning of the song "You Are My Sunshine".  You make me happy when skies are gray.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tiger Mom Art Project

My five-year-old daughter, Elana, absolutely loves art. She adores paint, glitter and glue. She relishes pom-poms, foam stickers and feathers. And she delights in any project involving colored sand. That said, Elana is truly a terrible artist!

While most five-year-olds can sketch a discernible picture of a favorite animal, her “drawing” of a cat is basically a circle with two wobbly triangle ears and four lines comprising the body, two legs and a tail. She may or may not add a whisker or two but usually doesn’t bother to take the time.

I don’t think her problem lies in the special needs category; it appears to be more an issue of rushing each activity to get to the next. She can complete three coloring pages in the time it takes me to go to the bathroom. Although I have never been a “draw within the lines” kind of parent, and her preschool is also free-form, I expected her to do this on her own. Frankly, I am a bit tired of asking her to “tell me about this picture” each time she presents me with a purple scribble next to a pink one. While I am totally on board with the notion that art should be about the process, not the product, at this point, I was hoping she would have created a few pieces worth saving.

I decided that it was time to go Tiger-mom on the little preschooler’s slipshod behind; an art-intervention, if you like. Together, we would paint a real picture, one that would not require simple explanations of “it’s a house.”

We began our project by discussing what it is that she would like to paint. Elana wavered between kittens and fairies, before deciding that a Pixie Hollow setting would be the perfect scene to complement her bedroom.

Next, we took a trip to the art store to choose a stretched canvas, acrylic paint and a few nice brushes. Although she made a strong appeal for the 36 by 48 inch canvas, I convinced her that the 18 by 24 inch size would be more manageable. I was also pleasantly surprised when she selected a variety of paints in blues, greens and silver, in lieu of her standard pinks and purples.

Now, we were ready to paint. While Elana was ready to jump into painting the lake and fairy wings, I explained that our first task was to cover the background.
Using a wide foam brush she slathered the sky in blue and the ground in green. After two and a half minutes with the green paint, Elana was ready to call it a day. However, I continued to channel Amy Chua (the original tiger mom) and pointed out all the spots of white still visible on the canvas. When she began to hastily spread the paint where the green and blue intersected, I reminded her to slow down and work carefully. With the background complete, we were done for the day.

Two days later, we were able to steal another fifteen minutes of alone time to work on the next steps - a pond and the fairy wings. With chalk, I sketched an outline of each new shape, then Elana would fill it in with paint. My usual laissez-fair attitude was replaced with “Watch the lines”, “Be careful”, and “Let’s wipe this off and try again.”

After painting the fairy wings, we waited another few days for the paint to thoroughly dry and then we tackled the bodies. I must admit that it took every ounce of self-control not to take the brush from her hands and add some touch-ups. And more than a few times, I used a wet towel to wipe away excess paint. (When starting this project, this was not at all not my intention. However, I can only take so many jagged lines and careless strokes.)
The project may have been less of a lesson to Elana in careful concentration and more of a lesson to me in patience and restraint. However, we both (mostly) enjoyed our one-on-one time together, and Elana now has an original work of art to hang on her wall - one I won’t toss in the recycling.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Bedtime Story for Mom and Dad

Picture Courtesy of Karin Asensio
At one in the morning my toddler screams from her room
    "Mommy, I need you!" she wails with gloom.
With eyes half open and feet full of lead
   I make my way down the hall to the side of her bed.
There she is sitting, with paci in hand,
    And a grin on her face, that I truly can't stand.
"My leg hurts," she offers, with little conviction;
    I bend down to kiss it, not showing suspicion.

For the rest of the night, at every half hour
    She chimes like a clock wound up with full power.
At two-thirty, I tell her "Please stop this! Enough!"
    "If you don't go to sleep, I'll..." I bluff.

Well, that doesn't help, she now starts to cry.
    My threat isn't working, so a new tactic I try.
I lie down beside her, softly stroking my dear
    While whispering princess songs in her ear.
 Twenty minutes later she seems deeply asleep,
    And I try to get up without making a peep.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Kids Cakes Galore!

I may be the reluctant chef, but I know my way around a box of cake mix and a can of frosting!

Although I am not one to prepare three-course (or two-course for that matter) luxury meal for my family, every few months I focus my culinary energy into creating a child's dream birthday cake. Start with a box or two of Dr. Oetker's cake mix, add a few eggs, some milk and oil, and a disgusting amount of food coloring, and a half hour later I have what I need to impress all the three-year-olds!  

Maisy's 1st Birthday- Maisy Mouse (of course).
  • Start with a large rectangular cake pan.
  • Trace a blown-up image onto wax paper.  Place on top of cake and use a serrated knife to cut out the image.  
  • Frost and place black twizzlers for whiskers.

Alma's 3rd Birthday- Tinkerbell
  • Start with a large rectangular cake pan.
  • Trace one butterfly wing onto wax paper.  Place on one half of cake and use serrated knife to cut the shape out of the cake.  Flip and do the same for the opposite wing.
  • Decorate
  • Place Tink in the center.

Maisy's 2nd Birthday- Hello Kitty
  • Start with a large rectangular cake pan.
  • Trace Hello Kitty's head onto wax paper.  Place on top of cake and use serrated knife to cut the shape out. 
  • Decorate
  • Use black Twizzlers for whiskers.

Elana's 4th Birthday- Princesses vs Dragons
  • This is basically a poor woman's attempt to create this.

Poppy's 4th Birthday- Ariel
  • Start with a Wilton Wonder Cake Mold
  •  Bake an extra round cake and place underneath to give the cake more vertical lift.
  • Use candy circles for decoration.
  • Green frosting gel comprises Ariel's tail.
  • Ariel is inserted into the top of the cake in lieu of the Wilton doll torso.

Poppy's 5th Birthday- Paint Splatter Party

  • Start with a large round cake pan.  
  • Frost
  • Use fondant to add colored splatters and a paint brush.

Elana's 5th Birthday- Rainbow Fairies!

  • Start with a large rectangular cake pan.
  • Trace one butterfly wing onto wax paper.  Place on one half of cake and use serrated knife to cut the shape out of the cake.  Flip and do the same for the opposite wing.
  • Decorate- I cut out shapes using rolled fondant and added as decoration.
  • Place a fairy in the center.
Maisy's 3rd Birthday- Mermaids
  • This is by far my favorite cake-impressive looking and rather easy (the ocean doesn't need to be smooth like most cake tops).
  • Start with a large circular cake pan.
  • Create the rock shape by baking a second cake in a Wilton Wonder Cake Mold.
  • Frost the large circular cake with an ocean blue icing.  
  • Place "rock" on top and frost with gray icing.
  • Use green gel icing to draw seaweed.
  • Sprinkle the ocean floor with blue and green sugar pearls
  • Allow the mermaid to recline on her sunny throne.

Alma's 5th Birthday- Nutcracker Ballet
  • Bake two cakes using one small and one medium round cake pan.
  • Frost with a simple white icing.
  • Using hot pink rolled fondant and a pizza cutter, drape 1/2 inch thick strips of pink on the sides of the cake.  
  • Add peppermints and your ballerina of choice.