One Overly Analytical Mother's Obsessive Musings about Raising Small Children

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How Not to Raise a Reader

According to the last ten emails I've received, March is, supposedly, "Raise a Reader" month at Borders Bookstore. Besides the commercial implications (and Borders' vested interested in pushing literacy, despite its pending bankruptcy and closing store in my hometown), all of this emphasis on the value of early literacy got me thinking.

Everybody wants their children to read, right? Parents of preschoolers, especially, are anxious for early literacy. It seems as if we expect literacy earlier and earlier. When I was a kid, I remember that I was just starting to learn the letters of the alphabet in Kindergarten. Maybe I wasn't so bright, but it seems that now, we push books of all sorts on our children, hoping that they will read Tolstoy's Anna Karenina by the time they reach Kindergarten. Conscientious parents are inundated with information, products, and television programming that will help with early literacy. For God's sake, there's even a product that claims it can teach your baby to read! Think of all of the missed opportunities, you lazy parents!

My house is chock-a-block full of books and I can think of no better time than that spent reading to my kids, so what follows is a very tongue-in-cheek blog entry. I invite you to add some ideas of your own, for how we can teach our children NOT to read.

How Not to Raise a Reader

1. Do not keep books around the house. Keep books out of easy reach from young kids. They might tear them down from the shelves, accidentally rip pages, or otherwise disrespect them.

2.  Do not let your children see you enjoying a good book.

3.  Books are for serious readers only. We do not play with books, sleep with books, or literally try to "jump into" a book that we like.

4.  No reading in bed. No reading while on the potty. No reading in the car.

5.  Put a television in every room and see to it that it's turned on as often as possible.

6.  Do not visit the local library or bookshop.

7.  Do not reread things that you've already read. Do NOT cave in to your toddler's pleas to read The Cat in the Hat for the fortieth time.

8.  Do not read books out loud. That's for babies only. And if you do read aloud, don't be too animated about it. No silly voices; monotone is best so as not to excite your little one.

9. If you go to the library, insist that your child can only get one book. If they act up while at the library, then no book for them!

10.  Do not follow your child's interests and passions by reading books about those things. Only get them the books that you think are appropriate.

Readers--any more ideas?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

I'm Moving!

Not me--no,my blog is moving! 

I'm so encouraged by the positive responses to this blog--and I love writing it--that I decided to take the plunge and buy my very own domain name (, where I'll blog from there.

I plan to operate both sites for a while, but eventually switch over to just one of them.  So if you can, check out my new site at:  It's where I'll be from now on! :)

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Why I Hate AntiBiotics

I hate winter cold and flu season. I hate ear infections, trips to the doctor's office, and that slimy, pink-colored goo they call amoxicillin.

Both of my children are currently sick with bad colds, which developed into ear infections. Both are on the pink stuff. My son takes his medication with gusto, asking for more. More? Doesn't that stuff gross you out? My daughter sputters, gags, and spits most of it back up. It takes two grown people to give her the medicine, which requries one person to hold her arms down, with head tilted back. Then the other person will shoot the medicine down the side and back of her mouth, and then hold her mouth shut so she doesn't let it all dribble back out.

She hates it and we hate it too. What I hate most is the disgusting diarrhea that it causes her. (One thing about being a parent is the ability to talk about poop as if it were no big deal, so here goes.) She can have as many as 10 poopy diapers, many of which leak onto her clothes, in one day, which can lead to a rash, and other miseries. It's so bad that I won't leave the house because it's just so nasty to clean up. I don't want to keep using wipes on her, so I just plunge her into the bathtub instead. Repeat ten more times a day.

I'm trying to give my kids yogurt and am mixing Florastor for Kids probiotic into their food or drink, but so far my daughter is still having a miserable time.  It seems that antibiotics solve one problem, the ear infection, but cause so many more (diarrhea, rash, crankiness, refusal to eat). Does anybody have any ideas for how to stop these awful symptoms from persisting? I have nine more days to go on the antibiotic treatment!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

For This Toddler, "Reverse Psychology" Really Does Work!

"Do NOT eat your breakfast!"
"You better not take a single bite of those eggs or toast or else!"
"I made this delicious breakfast to put on the shelf and look at all day. Just look at it, admire my cooking and how nice the plate looks all full of food, but by all means, do not eat it!"

This is what I told my four year-old son yesterday as I was preparing his breakfast. And guess what? The little contrarian stuffed mouthfuls of eggs and toast into his mouth, gleefully mocking me. He was delighted at how upset I was that he was going against my wishes to NOT eat his breakfast. "Look, mommy!," he'd boast as he showed me his mouth full of eggs. I played along with my game and pretended to be mad at him for eating the breakfast that was supposed to stay on the shelf all day.

None of this is new. From the day he was born, he was "weird" about eating. Most childbirth books say that babies are "hardwired" to nurse, and will often nurse within moments of being born. My daughter was like this, but not my son! He stared at me, open eyed for a good half hour after he was born but would not nurse. He had no interest in food, probably because I wasn't zooming a firetruck around his baby blanket. In fact, in the two days' time that he was at the hospital following his birth, he hardly nursed at all. The doctor's fussed over the weight he was losing (he was only 6 pounds, so there was little of him anyway), and the nurse pointed out that he had dry, chapped lips because he wasn't nursing properly. 

In time he became quite a nurser, but preferred nursing to eating. When he was weaned, he preferred drinking to eating, and will still prefer a "liquid lunch" to anything solid. I am still amazed at the profound effects of nursing on babies and toddlers, and how it continues to shape them long after they've weaned!

Usually mealtimes are a big chore. It just about takes an act of God to get my son to the table. Then begins the charade of eating. He usually refuses to eat and will only comply if somebody tells him a story, or if he plays with his toys at table while my husband or I shovel food into his mouth, seemingly unaware.

It seems that my son is hungry, but doesn't want to go to the trouble of eating.  Left to his own devices, he'll only eat when he's ravenous, after starving for 20 hours, which also means that he's a tantrum-y bear. To save ourselves from such tantrums, I usually go along with the meal charade, and tell him stories about firefighters putting out fires on Christmas Trees before Santa gets there, and little boys who are junior firefighters and fight fires with the "big boys." I allow whole Lego sets on my dinner table, and other such nonsense. In short, I do anything to just get the kid to eat.

My son's pediatrician tells me that I'm not doing him any favors and that by his age, he should be able to feed himself, and to regulate how much he eats. I agree with all of this in theory, but am reluctant to actually try it out, to put the plate of food in front of him and NOT help him to eat, or NOT play the game of distraction so that he can eat without really eating.

As you can see, we haven't had  much luck at implementing these tactics. The plate of food sits there getting cold while my son doesn't eat. We feel  horrible at the thought of putting him to bed without a proper dinner, and so the vicious mealtime cycle repeats itself.

But perhaps "reverse psychology" can help us out after all. Whenever I tell my son not to do something, he does it immediately. If yesterday's experiment is any guide, then we'll be making lots of meals and not eating them in the near future.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Is "Radical Homemaking" Really All That Radical?

Picture this. My son wakes up in the morning, and, in the course of getting dressed and eating breakfast, he asks me: "Mommy, what are we going to buy today?"

Preschoolers ask the darndest questions, don't they? This was one of those questions that really made me sit back, rethink my daily activities, and what messages my actions were sending to my children. Did my son really think that a mother's job is to "buy stuff?" I knew something had to change, but wasn't sure what or how to effect any change, which is why I was so excited when Shannon Hayes's Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture (published 2010 by Left to Write Press) came out. After waiting forever for my turn in the  interlibrary loan line, I received it this month.

Here's Hays's central argument: The home has always been a place of mutual production, where family members worked collectively to produce the things they needed to live. The industrial revolution changed this, and men left homes to work elsewhere, and women stayed home to do the rest of the housework and childrearing. By the 1950s, the home had become a place of consumption, rather than production. Female homemakers increasingly had appliances and gadgets to do most of the work for them, and filled their time by--guess what--buying stuff. In time, homemakers stopped doing creative things like gardening, sewing, knitting, canning, or making preserves.  Many even stopped cooking and baking and ate processed foods full of artificial ingredients with whose detrimental health effects we are now only starting to reckon. Childcare became an industry in and of itself--instead of children helping with the work of the house (and playing around as well!), or being watched by neighbors, friends, or family members, homemakers gave over their days to chauffeuring children from one activity to another, in an attempt ot keep them happy and entertained. This shift from production to consumerism" (of food, childcare, child activities, and "stuff") proved to be mindless, soulless, and downright depressing for most women who found themselves at home.

Hays believes that reclaiming the home as a place of creative production is the most radical thing a person can do. Radical homemakers range the gamut from people who live on rural farms, produce their own food supply, and barter for anything else they need to urban families who garden in their balconies. Most of us do not have the know-how, abilty, or land to become farmers, but Hays seems to leave the definition of "radical homemaking" open to a wide interpretation. It seems that you can be a radical homemaker if you do any of the following:
knit, sew, or mend your old clothes;
garden, can, or make preserves;
cook, bake, and eat as many homemade meals as possible with your family;
repair and maintain your house, appliances, and car(s) yourself;
limit your consumption and produce as much as you possibly can yourself;
take care of your children yourself (with occasional relief, of course!), which may include homeschooling;
foster a sense of community in your neighborhood;
live your life in a way that is in accord with environmental sustainability and social justice;
resist the urge for the family to be an independently functioning unit in favor of interdependence;
do not feel the need to buy into the insurance industry "just in case" something might happen.

Obviously, you'd need to be a superwoman to do all of these things, so people have to pick and choose what they like, and are good at. I garden, cook, bake, take care of my children, and knit. Ok, so I've been knitting the same sock since my daughter was born, but I pull it out from time to time and would love to knit more. In the future I'd love to learn how to sew and can things I grow in my garden. And bake a loaf of bread that's NOT like a doorstop.

I certainly did not agree with all of Hays's points (with one asthsmatic child I cannot fathom not having health insurance), but she did give me plenty of food for thought, and challenged many cultural assumptions about what it means to be prosperous and wealthy.

But, I wondered, just how radical are radical homemakers? Hays's formula seems to rely on the mutal efforts of all adults in the household and a supportive community of like minds. How possible is this, in actuality? Perhaps therein lies the most radical thing of all--transforming the home into a place of labor for all, and not just women.  For many women that I know, adopting the tenets of radical homemaking might sound good in theory, but in actuality it will just pile on more work--and guilt--in the home. Most days, it's all I can do to keep my chidren in clean clothes and put a homecooked dinner on the table. (And I'm a very laid back, non-structured kind of mom who sits around reading stories, playing Legos, and making homemade play-doh with the kiddos, and not the super-scheduler type who Does It All!)

I think that Hays's ideas are interesting and noble but I feel a strange mixture of feminist guilt and nostalgia for eras bygone. Something in me is not quite sure about this. There might be a radical homemaker in me (I love the cover with the woman wielding the rolling pin like a raised fist!) but it's one that has to work out a few of the contradictions first.

What do you think??

Hays has a wonderful web site, full of useful resources. Visit:   for more information!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why does going out to lunch take all day?

Sometimes it's hard to convey to people who don't spend much time around small children just how they change the pace of your daily life. Before I had kids, I could go anywhere I wanted, when I wanted. I could leave the house at a moment's notice, and run several errands in a single hour.

That, my friend, is no longer. Let's take going out to lunch for example. An old friend of mine recently invited me out to lunch. In the old days (pre-kids), this would be easy and enjoyable. Now, it takes a whole day of planning, and involves a fair degree of hair pulling.

Now is about the time that I lament the fact that I do not have a middle-of-the-week-day babysitter. If I need to do something during the week day, I drop the kids off at my husband's work and he watches them. (This is also why I do not do much during the week day, because mixing kids and work only "works" for just so long.) On this occasion, I had to wager my need to get out and visit with a friend against the disruption it would cause my husband's work. Is it worth the risk?, I wondered.

Lunch was planned for high noon, but I put the wheels in motion to leave the house around 10 AM. It takes a good hour to get the kids out the door. It involves making sure everybody is dressed, halfway groomed, and fed. It means changing diapers and bringing potty trained toddlers to the toilet. Now that it's winter, it also involves putting on all of those extra layers: winter coats, boots, hats, and mittens. By the time we get all of that accomplished, the toddler has to go to the bathroom again, so off go the winter wraps, and part of the cycle repeats. Forget about actually doing MY hair, makeup, or any of that frou-frou stuff. If it's not stained, I can still wear it. And there are plenty of cute winter hats to conceal the fact that my frizzed-out Mediterranean hair hasn't been blown out to perfect glossy straightness.

My husband calls from work wondering where we are and I have to tell him we were still at home, wrestling with the winter gear and the potty. I had to take the baby, kicking and screaming, and force her into her carseat. She wouldn't settle down until she was nursed, this time in the front seat of the car. In the meantime, my toddler gets hungry and I feed him a nutritious snack of gummy fruit chews, procured from my mobile snack center in the console of my car. Luckily, the toddler was excited to see his daddy, and I didn't have to fight a battle just to get him into the car. He happily munched on his gummies and the baby guzzled her milk. Finally, at 11:30 AM, we pulled the car out of the garage and were on our way.

I drop the kids off to my husband, and whiz to the Chinese restaurant where my friend is patiently waiting, with a coffee and a book. Oh, to sit, drinking coffee and reading a book! After circling the block several times, I park the car in a semi-illegal spot and hope the meter reader won't make his rounds. I arrive frazzled but somewhat giddy as I am, for one brief hour, my own woman. Noboy is hanging on my leg. Nobody needs to be fed or cajoled into peeing in the toilet. For the moment, I try not to think about the chaos that will ensue as I pick up my children, who won't want to leave their daddy, and the look on my husband's face, which means that I must take them immediately, before they cause the business to collapse and the building to fall down on all of us. By the time I pick up my kids and return home, it will be almost 4:00 PM and we will begin preparing dinner.

Sometimes going out to lunch really is worth an entire day's worth of planning and effort!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"I WANT DAT!": Teaching Children about the Non-Commercial Aspects of Christmas


So went the whiny tirade from the backseat as we drove by Barnes and Noble and my son remembered that four months ago, he desperately wanted a Klutz book with tiny, baby-will-choke-on cars. (That was the object behind the explosive tantrum that got us kicked out, which I wrote about in my first blog post.) The whine continued as he followed me around the house, his little whiny self stuck to my rear end like a little toddler caboose. It went on and on, as I made dinner, and tried to get the kids bathed and into their pajamas. He wanted it. He needed it. He had to have it or else he would just die.

For some reason, kids seem to be the best consumers out there, albeit with one problem: they have no money, so they whine to get what they want. I'm sure there's some sort of evolutionary purpose to this: back in caveman days, kids must have needed their whining skills to get their most basic needs met. Those who whined probably were the ones who ate, and thus, survived.

It's the holiday season, and everywhere you go, there's immense pressure to buy more stuff. It feels like the pressure is even greater when it comes to toys. Piles of toys greet you as soon as you walk into any store; toy stores like Toys R Us and other big box retailers mail out glossy toy catalogs; and the Sunday newspaper is heavy with colorful advertising booklets of toys, toys, and more toys. I cannot enter a store with my three year-old without encountering these tantalizing displays, and hence, I cannot leave fast enough with said three year-old screaming. The whining ensues as soon as the fire storm subsides. So far my solution to the problem is to just avoid stores altogether. But avoiding stores from Thanksgiving to New Years'--even grocery stores--when you're home with kids is getting difficult.

The problem is that there's too much focus on toys and stuff. Children are too vulnerable to the colorful toy displays; they don't understand that getting stuff is not really what Christmas is about. This hit me hard as my son tried to take a toy out of the Toys For Tots drop off box in our local library for himself. "That toy is not for you," I explained. "It's for kids who don't have any toys." My son, who never ceases to amaze me with his comebacks, replied: "I don't have enough toys, mommy!" As if to say: I need to take this toy from Toys For Tots because I need more toys! This, you should know, is absolute balderdash. Over his almost four years, he's accumulated quite a stash.

How do you teach children about the non-commercial aspects of Christmas? One answer to that question is through religion: take children to church, and they will learn. Perhaps volunteering at a soup kitchen could help, but on the other hand, my eldest is still only three. Are there other ways? My son asked me: "Mommy, what is Christmas?  Is it about giving thanks?" I suppose he said this because that's what I told him Thanksgiving was about. Caught off guard, I mumbled, "uh, yeah, Christmas is about being thankful, sure, uh-huh." It was then that I realized that I had never talked to him about Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the story of the nativity, or taken him to church for an occasion that was not a baptism.

My religious failings aside, I'm really wondering how parents keep their sanity during the holidays. How do you tolerate the whininess and desperation of kids who are convinced that they need a forty dollar remote control crane that was made in China and will probably break within a day or two? How do you achieve moderation? How do you teach children about the non-commercial aspects of Christmas? Or, as some of you are probably thinking, am I fighting a losing battle and will in the end, just drive myself batty?