Toys, Guns, and Fear

We recently opened a Han Solo Star Wars figurine that my two-year-old son was given to find not one plastic gun – but seven. SEVEN! I look at this toy, and I’m completely overwhelmed. I’m not ready to face the guns issue yet. I haven’t even sorted out my own beliefs about them – how am I going to approach this with my young son?

Larsen asks what they are. I ignore him. I don’t want to lie, but I don’t want to introduce something I am not ready for him to learn.

Guns scare me. I see those tiny fake weapons, and my thoughts scatter as I search for a way to balance both my desire to instill non-violent beliefs in my son as well as dealing with a very real need to feel protected in my home.

I first think about how I overheard a mother of three young boys say, “Boys will turn anything into a gun. “Even a sandwich,” she said. “They will take a bite, turn it sideways, and their hands will be on the trigger.” “Boys will be boys,” she continued.

Her husband was an avid hunter – I love that my husband isn’t. Not only is he former military with extensive gun training, but also he grew up with his grandfather teaching him respect for guns, not seeing them as an extension of his uniquely-male dominating power.

I know gun ownership is a multifaceted subject. I think of what author Sam Harris said: “I am surrounded by otherwise intelligent people who imagine that the ability to dial 911 is all the protection against violence a sane person ever needs.”

My mind also thinks of Libertarians who are concerned with stricter gun control laws because it concentrates power in the few (military/police), which threatens the freedom of the many (citizens).

Then, I think about the writer Sean Faircloth when he states: “Firearm assaults on female family members, and intimate acquaintances are approximately twelve times more likely to result in death than are assaults using other weapons. Two-thirds of women killed by spouses are killed with guns.”

I also think about my friend who got shot in the face at a high school party. A former student, now a Marine reservist, was there showing off two of his own personal guns. Our friend was immediately worried but didn’t leave. Only moments before firing an unexpected shot, the young man arrogantly rambled that the gun wasn’t loaded and he knew how to handle his weapon.

When our friend recounts this story today, he reminds me that his single mother was terrified of guns too, so he never received the respect lesson. He’s told us if he would have been taught a healthy respect and fear of guns, he would have been out of there as soon as the guy pulled them out.

Yes, we need more safety measures for guns. Yes, we need more gun control.  Why is it so hard to install those fingerprint triggers?

But then I think about how those triggers would not have helped my friend or the women shot by their spouses.

But maybe they would help little kids like my son.

Yes, back to Larsen. I wonder what approach would work for him. Larsen is the type who loves big reactions, especially from me.

I am reminded of the words of Heather Shumaker in one of my favorite parenting books ever – It’s Ok Not to Share

“War play is as legitimate as playing house. When a preschooler says “Bang! Bang!” it’s a game, not violence. Don’t be fooled because the topic may be violent— this play is typically highly social and cooperative, teaching your child skills in friendship and even early morality. If we fear weapon play and ban it, children may still pursue their fascination with power and weapons— often in places we can’t see it. Playing with toy swords and guns is not harmful, but your reaction to it might be. Trust your child to choose her own play themes.”

Maybe it’s not the hyper-masculine toys or the guns in themselves. Maybe it doesn’t matter if guns are paraded in the home as acceptable recreation. But I’ve always thought the culture of the home is sometimes represented in a child’s play.

Maybe it is also my approach. I can either be fearful – adding to the allure and power of guns – or I can understand the respect lesson – I can address their dangerousness, how guns in real life and guns in play are different, and offer these things in developmentally appropriate pieces to my son.

Maybe this approach will keep my son safe. Maybe he won’t be attracted to them as we cruise down the toy aisle. Maybe he won’t pretend his sandwich is a gun.  Maybe our home will set him up to respect guns.

This little figurine of one of my favorite movies has stirred up so much for me about guns, toys, boys’ development, and fear. I’m disoriented. I don’t really know how to move forward.

When Larsen has forgotten about the toy, I slip the seven deadly plastic pieces into the trash, telling myself it’s more about a choking hazard than my inability to face my fears.

Our New Babysitter’s First Experience With Us

Our new babysitter is the best. THE BEST. She’s a freakin’ champ. She can handle a toddler and three nosy dogs like a hybrid of SuperNanny and Caesar – The Dog Whisperer.

Her adventure began upstairs when Lars stopped from full motion and screamed, “POOPOO!” Thinking on her feet, she grabbed him, pulled off the brown-drenched undies and quickly darted him to the tub.

Next, she entertained him while the water heated – those pipes take forever. While she was acting like an Oarfish from the underwater show Octonauts, she thought it would be good to rinse out the soiled underpants.

But, alas, they have disappeared.

After she realized the dogs must have grabbed the underwear, she quickly pulls Larsen out of the tub, wraps him in a towel –  only to find Slayer with the brown-stained skivvies in his mouth.

The chase commenced.

He runs under the bed where he knows her arms can’t reach him. But another good sign of a babysitter is getting the child to help with the cleanup. And she did just that.

Larsen has a two-foot long grabber toy that can reach Slayer. Our naked son manages to grab his underwear out from the ferocious Yorkie-poo! Yay!

Thankfully, Slayer ate most of the poop, and our new sitter didn’t have much to clean up.

This just goes to show we can never be prepared for the challenges that babysitting – or parenting – throws at us, so just take them as they come and do your best.

I wasn’t sure she would ever return, but she did come watch him tonight! Thank you for your fearless spirit, G! We love you!

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A Few of Larsen’s Favorite Toys

You might have guessed it – yes, I researched toys before Lars was born. (I’ve been known to research everything pretty much.)

Maybe it’s because when I was pregnant with Larsen, wooden toys became popular again. Those glossy, uncluttered, beautiful rooms filled with light woods next to sheepskin rugs get me every time. I have a thing for modern and uncomplicated.

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And then Mike’s parents brought over a little wooden trike that all the kids in his family played with. Thirty years later, and it’s still in perfect condition.

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I knew from my research that children do not need those toys that flash, whistle, beep, talk, etc.

Too many toys clutter rooms just like too many sensory triggers from toys cause clutter in the brain:

Diane E. Levin, a professor at the early childhood education department of Wheelock College in Boston, calls the phenomenon “problem solving deficit disorder.” Levin contends that such products overstimulate very young children, so instead of using their own resources to solve a problem or an uncomfortable feeling – Mom is in the shower, boredom, and so on – they apply those resources to processing the dazzling object that has been placed before them. Over time, Levin says, babies and toddlers accustomed to getting this kind of “hit” when they feel uncomfortable they may not just become dependent on having that hit but may even lose the ability to work through feelings and ideas independently or with the help of a trusted friend. Marie Anzalone, who is on the faculty of Columbia University’s occupational therapy program, reports that she frequently treats very young children from low-income as well as upper-middle class families who appear glazed over and numb, which she believes is an ingrained response from technology toys and television. These toddlers simply can not integrate the sensory overload to which they are routinely subjected; to cope, they begin to tune out. ~Buy, Buy Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds By Susan Gregory Thomas

My motto is to keep it simple – a simple, uncluttered room with a limited amount of toys and books.

But now that he’s almost three, he knows how to open his closet door to find the stash of toys. I try to maintain a one-toy-out, a one-toy-in policy while stating, “Let’s put some of these toys away so we have more room to play,” and it’s working for the moment.

So when he’s not outside “mountaineering” up his slide or in the pool “practicing” swimming without his floaty, these are the toys he keeps coming back to:

1. Wooden Blocks – We love the Treehaus Wood Castle Blocks or he has a big bin full of blocks his great-grandfather made him.

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2. Magna Tiles – These are fantastic and so versatile.

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3.  Stomp Rocket – He received this as a gift for his 2nd birthday and has loved it every day ever since.

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4. Binoculars – He takes them everywhere we go!

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5. Flashlights of any kind. We found this cool Disney Planes Flashlight that shines Dusty on the wall.

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6. These two Green Toys are fun. First, we have the rocket that came with two astronauts. Next, we have this little boat that pours, which we use in the bathtub!

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Tugboat

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7. Magnetic Mighty Mind – This is great for travel. He learns which magnet shapes fit where, and each page gets progressively more challenging.

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8. Glider Planes – They don’t last long in our house because they are made of styrofoam. We are in a “learning how things break” stage. But he will throw this for a good hour before he demolishes it!

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9. Velcro Toss – This solved the frustration of Lars not being able to catch just yet.

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10.  Take Apart Plane – This comes with a drill and screws so it can be put together or taken apart.

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Today, I watched him play with his new favorite toy – his little hooded cape made of a dinner napkin and clothespin. I hope it will be this easy for a long time.

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A Love Letter to Larsen’s Dad

My Dearest MB:

I recently read those viral articles about how mothers should always love her husband more than her kids, keeping the husband and marriage top priority at all times. Part of me aches. Have I forsaken you to be a mother? Should I have taken that advice?

But then again, the better part of me knows real life does not operate within a hierarchy. The better part of me also knows you understand this too.

Our life is more like a carousel instead of a ladder. One day we’re on the pink pony that moves up and down being a parent. The next – we’re in the double seat that just glides along and we’re spouses. It changes from one day to the next – from season to season. We just keep going around enjoying whatever role – and the ups and downs that come with it – we are in that moment. I love that about us. You taught me to do that – to take each moment and relax into it.

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You recognize how motherhood has enhanced our marriage, my personality. What’s amazing is that you too have transformed via fatherhood. We’ve learned so much together – like how to give without expecting, how to speak more lovingly, how to be present more fully, how to love our life daily.

There is guilt about not spending enough time with you as we raise a tornado of a toddler, but I just keep returning to the idea of seasons in our lives, and ultimately, I keep returning to your thoughtful heart.

You get this. And that means much more to me than some chain of command of people in my life. You understanding this is the part of my marriage I want to hold on to through the turbulence of raising kids.

You’ve only offered acceptance through and through. I am grateful.

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You’ve traveled on this new parenting journey with me, not as a follower, not as someone on the outside looking in, but as a true partner. You’ve called me out when I’ve been a gatekeeper mom.

You are redefing what it means to be a modern dad. You even took my last name. 🙂

You changed diapers, took the 3am and 5am feedings so I could rest.

You’ve hugged me while I cried as I struggled to breastfeed beyond those first three months of pain because you knew I was determined to do it.

You watched Larsen for a whole weekend before other dads would even fathom the idea.

You tell Larsen bedtime stories about “Garsen Lenn.” That kid is a major skateboarding, swimming, race car driving, scootering astronaut who loves his dogs, and makes our son dream big.

You taught Larsen the words “No matter what” so that he understands your unconditional love.

You have made my mother love you and root for you when I complain to her about our challenges.

You’ve been patient as I’ve grown into my new role as a mother.

You’ve encouraged me to write my heart out, to keep something sacred just for myself.

Thank you, my love.

It’s not always roses, though. Irritations become amplified with little sleep and exhausted patience.

In the mornings, somehow you arise happy. You are a little baby bird, chirping gleefully and loudly every morning when I want silence.

You are unorganized, leaving mounds of wires, socks, and bicycle parts everywhere when I want order.

You smack your lips like a large hippo as you eat while I want Larsen to learn to chew gracefully.

You have a large collection of hobby equipment that you always complain won’t fit in our garage every.time.we.pull.in.

There are many times I could just hate you.

Except I love you. 

We recognize these annoyances for what they are – ways to bring us back to ourselves, our friendship, our merry-go-round.

Are there days where we fight as a shorthand way to connect? Absolutely. Are there days where I am depleted and unable to offer you a more tender connection? Yes.

I’m in love with you for not expecting me to choose between motherhood and marriage. Instead, you continually seek with me the ways parenthood overlaps with other areas of our life and we expand our love from there.

Earlier today you reminded me why I will never get off this joyride with you.

As I was holding Larsen in the shower and he was screaming about how much it burned his eyes as I rinsed out the hand soap he thought would work better than hair gel, you grabbed a towel and jumped in the shower fully-clothed with us. You held the towel tightly over his eyes as you comforted him with your words.

Each and every day- monotony, mayhem, motherhood, or matrimony – I’m grateful Larsen and I have you.

While some people have their hierarchies, we have our venn diagrams. While some people climb ladders, we’re riding that carousel.

PS:  Did I mention how much I hate that you never shut the cabinets or drawers?????

Learning to Walk

I love walks. I love walking the dogs. I love walking the dogs while pushing Larsen in the stroller.

Know what I don’t love? Walking three dogs while a toddler tries to walk next to me.

As I start out for a walk, I always have a mission – get some energy out of the dogs and my mind. My body relaxes, my thoughts clear. I can’t do that when I’m chasing a little hyena and being yanked around by three sniffing noses.

Larsen saunters here and there to grab a stick, “Look Mommy – this one is huge!”  He stops to take a closer look at things that don’t catch my eye: “There’s a white butterfly on this yellow flower!” He pauses to point out a friend who races up the tree as we pass: “That squirrel is fast. I am fast too, Mommy!” He drifts in the middle of the road as he stares at planes overhead: “Look- is it Jay’s plane?”

Hansel:

“I was always more interested in what bark was made out of on a tree.” ~Hansel

It’s taken about eight months of daily walks to get him to a place where he doesn’t walk into someones front yard and pick up a frog sculpture, inspect it, and set it (i.e. throw it) back down in the original location while I politely remind him that is someone else’s property.  He is only two after all.

It’s taken about eight months of practicing to have him stop his body when I asked him to while I loudly assert it is to keep him safe.

It’s taken about eight months of reminding him to listen and watch for cars, to move on to the grass, while I fight back my first instinct of screeching at him to get off the road.

Lots of times he would ignore me or be too involved at studying the bark of a tree to come on.

It would infuriate me. I would say, “You just can’t handle this right now!” and carry him home horizontal over my hip as I jerk the confused dogs. I’ve had to pick him up and put him back in the stroller kicking and screaming because he didn’t follow my instructions. Sometimes these instructions were there to keep him safe, sometimes they were just to get him moving in a pace acceptable to me. Not my finest hour.

I’ve had to let my determination to finish my mission subside as I kept asking him, “Please catch up! Catch up!”  I’ve had to take him back to the house after only five minutes into our walk to show him boundaries are important, my heart sinking as the sliver of sunlight shrinks back behind the closing front door.

I’ve had to not walk some days because he wasn’t in a listening mood, and I did not hold a tempered disposition.

But more often than not lately he has stayed so close, dancing with my shadow, intent on enjoying the sunshine and birdsongs, understanding and responding to the limits for his safety. I’ve lifted my hands into prayer position over my heart grateful for these serene strolls and fascinated with a child’s mind.

He manages to be at awe with the simple. He manages to enjoy the walk with nothing else on his mind, even when his mother is loudly not cooperating.

“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” ~Nietzsche

As I think about these insanely tedious months, maybe taking a cue from Lars will help us both.

He may be learning how to walk safely on the road, but I’m the one discovering how to stop my body in reverence for time. I’m understanding how to stay safe from my irritation when the world doesn’t operate within my demands. I’m mastering the art of focus, trying to close out all my daily worries and to-do lists to enjoy what’s in front of me. I’m examining the little wonders of nature more intimately alongside my son.

I say it repeatedly: Lars is my guru. He’s showing me how to enjoy my walk. Yet still I fight it. It tries my patience when he inhibits my mission. When will I learn? When will I be able to choose grace instead of reactive frustration during those times that I can’t handle because things don’t go my way? How many more months will it take me to learn how to walk?

Teaching Kids Real Things

Today was the best trip to the grocery store of my life. Yes, after motherhood it’s really the little things!

I finally got the nerve to take Larsen’s real shopping cart to the smaller grocery store by our house. I did get many stares, but sweet smiles to go with them.

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I told him a list of things we needed that I knew would be within his reach. Some parents even print out a little food guide children can cross off, but I wasn’t that nifty today.

The results were amazing. No toddler breakdowns. No whining for food with stupid cartoons on them. No running around the store.

I think it comes down to this: kids want to do real things.

They want to do what we do, what they witness as important. Our adult world has tangible outcomes – we grocery shop in order to prepare food. There’s a real life connection there.

This idea – using real world activities to educate a child- is on the forefront of education. And yes, I believe even a two-year-old will benefit from doing things with a purpose:

“An important idea that emerged from learning theory and research is that students construct more useful, robust, and integrated knowledge when they are engaged in their learning and helped to develop sophisticated understanding. Requiring students to merely carry out a task will not ensure learning. All too often, classroom tasks result in the acquisition of discrete information that is not very meaningful, memorable, or usable. Psychologist David Perkins (1993) calls such information, which often results from rote memorizing and is not easily transferred to other situations, inert knowledge. For meaningful learning to occur, students need to be cognitively engaged, or intellectually invested, and active in applying ideas. Cognitive engagement depends not only on the task itself, but also on the context in which the task is situated. This idea is referred to as situated cognition (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989). Situated cognition emphasizes that the activity and the context in which the activity unfolds are integral to what is learned.

Situated cognition also suggests that when students participate in authentic tasks, they acquire information about the conditions and situations in which it is useful to know and apply what they have learned. As a result, they are more likely to be able to take what they have learned in one situation and transfer it to another. Additionally, students are more likely to make relevant connections between their academics and their personal lives. As viewed through the situated cognition lens, authentic tasks engage students cognitively by providing opportunities to actively think about, integrate, and apply ideas in situations that are relevant beyond the classroom. This experience often results in learning that is personally meaningful and motivating for students.”

Larsen knows how to cook eggs – to crack them, stir them, and use the spatula very carefully next to the hot pan. He can use the blender, mixer, toaster. He knows how to hammer nails, use a screwdriver, use a shovel or rake. He can turn on the washing machine and dryer, load his clothes, and put in detergent.

These things, of course, happen under my guidance. Real things are not the kind that I can hope will entertain them while I check email. I need to be present. I show him how objects function as tools, and if he doesn’t use it properly, he doesn’t get to use it that day. We can try again another time when he’s ready.

I think there’s an important connection to teaching young kids what Maria Montessori calls “practical life skills.” I want Lars to learn how to function as an adult without the help of mom or dad as he ages. I want him to realize a home is made up of a family who supports each other with household tasks. It’s not just Mom’s job to make food or do laundry. We are a team.

And while these practical skills are important to me as a feminist mother, they are powerful in building his confidence. His intense concentration during the task shows me so.

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Sometimes giving Larsen a “simulated” or “child-size” world backfires. When we were potty training, we bought this potty at first:

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It was simple for him: he did his business, then put it in the real toilet, and flushed it goodbye.

I saw this potty, thinking it was cute, and put it in the other bathroom:

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It confused the hell out of him. When it flushed, his business didn’t disappear. There was no real consequence when flushing this potty. It looked somewhat like the real thing, but it didn’t function properly. He didn’t understand he had to still dump his pee in the toilet, and now flush TWO different potties- the simulated one- and the real adult size one.

I see a difference with engagement when we are cooking real food in my kitchen versus his wooden play kitchen. Yes, he likes to pretend some times, but mostly he wants real things that do real work.  He is a different child when he doing something authentic with a concrete outcome. He would much rather make blueberry muffins than pretend to do so.

I saw a difference when my media studies students showcased their work to businesses outside of school. They worked harder, were more “intellectually engaged,” and felt their work had meaning. This is true education.

I believe that children will rise up to meet our expectations, so why not expose them to opportunities to do real things from early ages?  I’ve learned this through teaching, and now I’m learning this through motherhood.

Rechanneling Lars’ Need for Throwing

We did it! We bought our toddler a drum set.

Shocked? I know. I questioned myself too. I do like a quiet home.

But I am totally happy about it.  He needed it.

He’s been throwing things all the time lately. Sticks, yogurt, books, clothes, iPads. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G.

While he was speaking in a different language than I couldn’t understand at first, through his repetitive actions he was communicating.

I’m learning when he keeps doing something I might not be happy about, there may be a biological demand that his brain needs to perform as he hits the drums in order to grow. As experts suggest, he needs movement in order for his brain to process and develop language:

“Maria Montessori highlighted the connection between minds and bodies in her 1936 book The Secret of Childhood: ‘Movement, or physical activity, is thus an essential factor in intellectual growth, which depends upon the impressions received from outside. Through movement we come in contact with external reality, and it is through these contacts that we eventually acquire even abstract ideas'”

“As young children move and explore their worlds, they are learning through touch. Early bimanual training correlates with the robustness of the corpus callosum, a part of the brain that facilitates quick communication between the left and right brain hemispheres, Beilock said. This connection between using ones hands and swift communication in the brain may be part of the reason learning to play music is often correlated with math ability.”

Instead of seeing it as him disobeying my requests to stop throwing, I choose to see it for what it is: a developmental requirement he needs rechanneled into a safe activity.

And it’s been working. When he feels he needs to throw things – he now has several options: he can play the drums, he can throw balls outside, or he can throw a bean bag into a basket.

It’s not a discipline problem – it’s actually a maturation milestone. His communication is physical while his brain catches up with formal language.

I was frustrated at first, then I remembered reading the above quotes.

I’m so glad I did. Since the drums, since being creative about rechanneling those impulses, the throwing has reduced. There’s a time to throw and a time to talk about frustrations and feelings.

We’re both learning to listen, to interpret, to be better communicators.

His name is Lars, not after any famous rockstars mind you, but maybe he will gain some inspiration from the connection and keep on rocking the drums.

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This Vtech drum set has a high/low volume setting!

Husbands and Muffintops

No. Not you. 

He stands on the scale. “168.5. Up ten pounds and I’ve got a muffin top.” He’s an avid cyclist, needlessly worried how light he will be on the bike.

These are the last words I need to hear from my husband right now. He didn’t have a baby almost 3 years ago and isn’t still carrying the pregnancy weight.

Nope. I don’t want to hear that from you, hubs. I’ve got to listen to that damn voice shouting about my horrible body from inside my throbbing brain for most of the day, and you were my only hope for outside perspective. And now you- you’re worried about your weight. No. No. No!

That voice and I have been confrontational lately, so I’m hoping thats a step in the right direction.

The only time that voice didn’t exist was when I was carrying my son. It was magical. That voice was silenced as soon as I peed on a stick.

People love pregnant mommas. They love it when we are round and in full bloom – they open doors for us, the let us jump ahead in the bathroom line, they always have something to talk to us about – those precious, little babies soon to be here. The doting, the possibility, the love –  it’s there as our belly grows.

I loved my plump baby bump. I loved the glow on my face – even if sometimes it was the just the vomit reflecting off the toilet.

But then our water breaks and so does that positive energy. We become tired, engorged, our mental abilities and physical abilities become stymied.

Our beautiful baby belly turns into a frumpy gut. And, in my case, two surgeries – a C-section and myomectomy – within three months does not make you a happy camper who wants to worry about calorie intake or exercise output. I simply wanted sleep. I still do.

From a person who ran a half-marathon right before getting pregnant, then having a five pound fibroid taking most of my oxygen during pregnancy – couching me for the last four months of my pregnancy – my body isn’t what it was. The voice reminds me of that constantly.

And now with my husband – if he’s judging his own body, does he look at me and think about pastries as well?

Speaking of pastries, I do have a bad donut habit. But with all the night wakings, the repetitive readings of Crankenstein, and the monotony of mini-hipster t-shirt laundry, don’t I deserve a little comfort too?

I think for moms, especially when we stay at home, food becomes our paradise. We can escape for a second when we jostle Bonbons in our mouth. We can stop our bodies and sit still for the three-seconds- just three – it takes to swallow pizza and a little wine down. Food becomes our break, our oasis. And we definitely need it.

But the trick is to trick your mind into thinking you are going to freedom town when you eat your veggies. It’s about savoring those bites. It’s about giving yourself space to disregard the rush of things to do around you. It’s about making the connection between how you want to feel after you have eaten this food – energized – versus how you fake yourself out with that Nutella.

It’s also about dropping that nagging voice in your head, dismissing any media that urges you to get your body back asap. But it’s also about finding exercise you enjoy. For me, I rock it in spin class. The music is loud, and the parts that jiggle don’t that  much on a bike – they don’t get the chance to criticize me with every bounce. Instead, working out reminds me of how strong I am, how awesome women’s bodies are because they endure so much. That’s the energy I’m taking in when I’m in that zone.

So, no, please not you, my love. I don’t need to hear body complaints from you. I’m working so hard at loving me, I would love a reminder that I’m doing ok. 

And he does remind me that his lack of free time after our baby has limited his work out time and meal prep time too. Yes- keep talking, hon. This is what I want to hear – that I’m not alone in this, that things always change, that there’s no need for the pressure I place on myself, that happiness doesn’t have to measured by pounds, doughnuts, or muffin tops.

Toddlers and TV Shows

Want to know why our toddlers can be mean, bossy, and manipulative? Maybe the media they are ingesting can help you decode their behavior.

I hardly let Larsen watch any TV before two. If there were any shows, it was Baby Einstein for a few minutes here and there, but he was never really interested in it.

We hit two, and the TV has somehow become more integrated in our daily lives.

I always watch the show with him the first time around to see if I think it’s appropriate. And most of the time, I find the shows questionable.

Our first experience of a Disney movie was shocking. We were at a resort that set-up outside movie night for pajama-wearing kids. We sat on our towel, munching on warm popcorn, and boom – Scar from the Lion King was dangling a shrieking mouse over his lips and talking in that deep, thunderous voice. Lars saw this and was terrified. He was shaking and crying.

What about Nemo we thought. When we needed some downtime as a family when we are all worn out, we could watch a cute story about a lost fish. OMG! The first few minutes Nemo gets kidnapped, screaming frantically for his father. My heart broke as I looked into Larsen’s confused eyes. A two-year-old doesn’t need this in his life.

Next, we found Cars. This was a good one for me. While I don’t think Lars understands the central conflict of overcoming selfishness to help others, in this self-actualization tale the violence is mostly cars flipping over. Lightning McQueen is ok for us to watch, but what I didn’t predict was walking any store and seeing this little red car everywhere. Larsen now has product recognition and the me-wants at every turn. This is not good for me.

It’s the same for Planes. I love most of Planes. There’s a few lines that bother me as a woman – like the opening scene where Dusty Crophopper comes up upon two fighter jets and blasts them while saying, “See you later, Ladies!,” which is sexist. And the ogling of the lady planes as they drive away irritate me as well. But overall, it is Dusty following his dream and competing with himself. He has good manners to all. I’m mostly satisfied with Planes.

Have you noticed all the movies either have a typical “bad” character – Scar from Lion King, People in Nemo, Chick Hicks from Cars, Rip Slinger from Planes – who treats the other characters with some form of relational aggression?

Relational aggression is talking down to someone, trying to humiliate them, or excluding them from certain relationships. When we hear things like, “You’re not my friend,” “That’s stupid,” or “We’re not going to play with you anymore,” this is relational aggression, using the relationship to manipulate.

I think part of the reason we assume these movies/shows are ok for our kids is because we ourselves are desensitized to the violence, fear, dark imagery, intense voices that drives most of these plots.

Why does my child have to know about this when he’s two? I get this may be more of a problem as we enter school, but the complexities of relationships are lost on him at this age.

In Nurture Shock (A MUST READ FOR ALL PARENTS!), they found that 96% of children’s programming contained verbal insults and only half the time were they corrected by a parental figure. But they also found they were never immediately corrected in an educational show! PBS shows like Arthur and Clifford are included in this assessment.

I’ve tried to watch Arthur, but the little sister is super mean to him – always calling him incompetent and stupid.

On Clifford, Jetta’s character is always using relational aggression to manipulate the others. While I love the end message of Clifford, Jetta makes me think twice before letting Larsen watch.

The point is this – our younger children do not understand plot just yet. As Nurture Shock reminds us, these shows set up conflict for the first twenty minutes and then offer a pro-social resolution for the last few minutes. While many think these shows help our children learn better values, most of them are lost on toddlers.

“The more kids watched, the crueler they’d be to their classmates,” Ostorov reported from the Minnesota study. The correlation was 2.5 times higher than the correlation between violent media and physical aggression. They were increasingly bossy, controlling, and manipulative, and it was stronger than the connection between violent media and physical aggression.”

I’ve heard words come out of Larsen’s mouth that were a direct quote from shows. I’ve seen him act out different scenarios that he’s seen on TV.

His brain can only grab hold of tidbits of dialogue or short bouts of activity the characters were involved in. He doesn’t understand conflict resolution, yet most of our toddler shows include a character who indirectly teaches him how to use relationships as weapons.

Shows like Oswald, Octonauts, Little Bear (why doesn’t he wear pants?!) have little or no relational aggression. They seem to treat everyone respectfully most of the time.

We can watch alongside them, discussing characters, intentions, relationship dynamics as they grow older to help alleviate these questionable motives.

While I want Lars to understand the nuances of relationships – especially peer pressure, he doesn’t need that in his life as a toddler.

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Moving Beyond Self-Doubt

Once I had to attend a teacher’s workshop where I learned a fascinating theory from a veteran teacher and counselor. She said the people who doubt themselves are usually the best teachers because they constantly evaluate themselves, finding new ways to succeed and they also recognize struggling students more often because they have experienced conflict and self-doubt themselves.

On one hand, this is extremely comforting for me as the anxiety of putting more of myself out there as a professional writer may illustrate the above theory.

On the other, it is scary to know none of us can escape fear.

How can we deal with it better? How can we teach our kids to deal with it better?

How can I model more confidence for my son when I sit before a page, staring into the white screen of nothingness, scared to truly commit to my art?

I think it consists of two parts: 1) Learning to listen to our hearts; and 2) Asking for help when needed. 

Lately, my mind tells me I don’t know what the hell I am doing with this writing thing.

I saw this book title – The Art of Asking – and thought it may help me. The author believes most people truly want to help and actually enjoy it, but first, we have to be vulnerable enough to ask.

Read another book, find a way of understanding something through my rational side. Yep – that’s me.

In another book, The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller, a glimmer of truth winked at me:

“I don’t need childish feelings, they are alright for my younger brothers and sisters, who do not have my judgment. Anyway, it is only sentimental stuff, ridiculous. I am a grown-up, I can think and act, I can make changes in things around me, I don’t need to feel helpless anymore, or dependent. If I am afraid, I can do something about it or try to understand it intellectually. My intelligence is my most reliable companion.”

I’ve secretly felt this way my whole life. If I just learn more about something, my fear will subside.

How does this relate to my writing?

Well, what comes to mind when I see the word “writer”:

  • I think of one of my first books I wrote in third grade. It was a meeting between a martian and me. We became friends.
  • I think of the word “soul” and how I love Whitman, Emerson, & Thoreau, and my new love – Pat Schneider of How the Light Gets In.
  • I think of how the confessional/sharing side of me wants to be unleashed with the hope someone will hear and someone will appreciate it. Maybe someone will find solace in my words.
  • I think of my mouth in stitches because my ego mind tells me things I learned from people along the way – like “You didn’t go to a good college” (thanks old boyfriend).  Or “You have to be logical and remove all emotion from your writing” (nice to know that Philosophy Professor).  Or even “Don’t put your self out there – you will just get hurt (much obliged family member).
  • I think of vulnerability.
  • I think of how I have lived for years with a side of me closed down – perhaps because I didn’t know what to do with all the words in my head.
  • I think of how my sister sent me The Art of Asking yesterday for my birthday. What a special moment that she doesn’t even know she gave to me.
  • I think of all the love people send me when they listen to me.
  • I think of how I had to type in big bold letters “JUST F-ING WRITE IT” across the top of my page so I can keep going.
  • I think of what a radical act it is to write, to share, to freely give someone your thoughts.
  • I think of all the haters that despise me and my thoughts.

Did you notice all the “thinks” in each sentence?

What if instead of using my mind, each time I sat down to write I check-in with my heart?

Does it feel open, light and full when I write? Does writing make me feel like a million little sparklers have gone off in my body when I’ve written something truthful and good? Does writing bring me peace of mind?

And how does all this relate to mothering a child?

I see important connections with my struggles with self-doubt and the value of encouraging my son to seek out what his soul is calling from him.

This requires teaching him to listen to a voice that can get drowned out so easily. This also requires teaching him how to recognize when intuition/creativity is grabbing at his ear.

“Draw it this way with the roof like this.”

“Here stand here. Hit from this side.”

“Let’s put the red block on top.”

All these are imperative sentences that I’ve said to Lars. They didn’t feel right coming out of my mouth, but I couldn’t name why.

Maybe Socrates provided some valuable parenting information – simply ask questions.

Instead of giving Lars advice on how to draw a house, hit a ball, or build a tower, what if I first asked him what he thought he should do next? Or what if I asked him how I could help him? And if he answers he doesn’t know, maybe I can tell him I am happy to help and here is an idea or two for him to think about. 

Maybe this will help him develop faith in his abilities and trust that other people enjoy contributing to his success.

Would we be different people and view the world differently if we were taught as children how to seek out, listen to, and validate that voice within? Instead of the world commenting with directives on how to better ourselves, what if we were asked, “What do you think?” Would we be different if we were told it was ok to ask others for help instead of being pushed to be completely independent?

Have you read the article about how drawing for your kids makes them not want to draw because they can’t make it look as good as yours?

http://www.janetlansbury.com/2010/04/a-childs-creativity-how-i-learned-to-shut-up/

Maybe always giving advice isn’t the best way to help our children.

Have you read the article about how punishment/shame actually shuts down our neocortex – the very place we need to be reaching for higher thought processes and creative solutions to our problems?

http://www.brains.org/down.htm

Maybe allowing himself to develop a personal authority who shares power with parents is more fruitful than punishing.

I don’t want Lars to make the same mistake I have for so long – believing intelligence is the ONLY way to my Truth. I don’t want my only “reliable companion” be pure thinking.

I want to live also from the heart.

But what does this look like?

When your heart is balanced, you accept yourself and others without judgment. You look for the beauty and Divine Spirit in everyone and overlook their weaknesses. You are kind and forgiving, slow to find fault, and quick to pardon. An open heart is tolerant and optimistic, resourceful and humorous. Your intentions are kind, and your generosity is genuine. A person with a balanced heart is very healing and comforting to be around, because you feel safe and make those around you feel accepted and appreciate without condition. Your perspective is always orientated toward solutions rather than problems, and your expectations for positive outcomes are very high.” ~ Sonia Choquette from True Balance

I want to recognize and live out what my intuition (heart) and intelligence are calling forth from my soul.

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Who knows what will become of my writing? Who knows what will become of questioning Lars more often?

I do know one thing – these new paths are an opening, an offering for me to grow. Instead of being scared to move forward and being too ashamed to ask others for help, I am going to model for Lars the journey of listening to my soul.

First, that means allowing him to see the reality of self-doubt first-hand through me. Second, it means I have to actively work on overcoming fear by getting quiet and listening to another authority instead of my head – my heart. And finally, it means to acknowledging how much people love to help once I humble myself enough to ask.

Maybe this experience helps me be a better teacher and a better writer because like the speaker at the workshop believed, I know the struggle all too well.