From Family Life

The ups and downs of family life.

For everyone who has a middle child...

Stuck In The Middle With You – From One Middle Child To Another

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“I don’t love you anymore.”

These words would strike a dagger into the hearts of most parents. The child you helped bring in this world – the one who you STILL help get his shoes on EVERY TIME he leaves the house – the one you feed 2 times before you even sit down at the dinner table – your own child who you sacrifice your own needs for routinely.

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These words don’t get to me – because I have said them myself – many times growing up.

You see – I am a middle child, same as my son. You can call us middles – you can throw out phrases like “middle-child syndrome,” you can try to define us, but we’re as difficult to define as irony, (Alanis Morissette is a middle child.)

So being a middle child, my heart goes out to my son. It’s not easy being a kid – and it’s really not easy being a middle child. All my old feelings I had growing with my older (good looking, football playing) brother, and my little sister (who got away with murder) they all come back when I see my son.

When I wasn’t getting beat up by my older brother, I was seeing all the things my sister got that I didn’t get at the same age. And the poundings never stopped me from sticking up to my brother- that’s gotta be some middle thing.

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“You’re not my friend. And you never will be.”

Coming from one of my daughters, this would sting, of course, but only one of them can talk – and the other would never mean it, so I am safe for a while. But I hear this phrase from Asher, and my brain processes it as “Give me a break dad.”

A middle never gets the undivided attention of his parents-like my eldest did for 2 years before we had another baby. A middle never feels the unbridled joy of the last baby – the one that we, as parents, always say ‘let’s appreciate and savor this because it’s the last time we’ll do it.’

NO.

I could tell him “I understand” but that’s the last thing a middle wants to hear. I know better than that – you couldn’t possible understand.

LOTS OF GOOD IN THE MIDDLE

So, in thinking about my son, and all these middle traits – I realized it’s not just about empathy for my middle son- truth be told, I am kinda proud to be a middle myself. So I came up with a top 5 qualities I see in my son that may be attributed to his birth order:

4.  Negotiation skills: When you have an older and younger sibling, your life is about negotiation.  You have to learn to talk  to get your way- and I already see my son as a master negotiator.  “I’m hungry Papa.  Chocolate has protein in it.” *nods*

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3. Independence: All the times he’s playing with friends and just kind of drops back, and starts doing his own thing, I remember that I still battle the desire to be a ‘lone wolf.’ There’s just something displeasing about wanting to be with a pack sometimes – it seems like it would be fun- but it’s never as cool as you expect. I feel you son.

2. I Will Be Heard: I am glad he can express himself the way that he does. Sure, he says hurtful things, and sure he says things over and over again to emphasize his point. But, he is not sitting idly by. He has a sense of rebellion that I have always appreciated in kids – I sometimes wonder how many members of The Ramones or Sex Pistols were middle children?

Maybe it’s the middle child in me, but I decided to leave off #1 and #5 – sometimes, that’s the only ones people read in these lists.  I guess one of them might be something about being contrary.  So what?

 

 

Great thoughts on the intensity of giftedness

Even the Dog is Intense: Giftedness, Intensity, and Collie Puppies

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Last Sunday was our 4 month old Scotch Collie puppy’s first training class. It was Tikki’s first class but I’ve been through this before with previous dogs.

Great thoughts on the intensity of giftednessI manhandled Tikki past the other puppies to a clear section along the outside of the training ring. Unlike our old lab mix, there was no frantic leash pulling to reach the other dogs. No desperate whining to let me know that his very bestest friend that he just met is 5 feet away.

Instead while I dutifully listened to the instructor, Tikki sat and watched. Watch is probably a bad verb for the intense laser-like focus of a collie. Less than 5 minutes in the instructor had to stop class. Tikki was unnerving the poor beagle puppies on our right. She wasn’t helping the overwrought German Shepherd on our left, either.

I spent the next 50 minutes feeding her a constant stream of treats to keep that laser-focus on me. Sure once I got her to turn that laser on me, she rocked out the attention exercises. She quickly understood what I asked of her on new exercises, too.

But her intensity was draining. I admit to giving the giant, immobile pile of mastiff puppy a longing glance. He wasn’t unnerving anyone. Or moving for that matter.

Later as I herded our loopy children toward bed, I told my husband about the class. “Even the dog is intense,” he replied.

And then it clicked into place.

Our gifted children are intense. Their intelligence, boundless curiosity, and endless energy is a wonder to behold. They devour books, rip through curriculum, and ask poignant questions. But just like our collie, there is no off-switch to their intensity. That same intelligence, curiosity, and energy can be off-putting to their peers.

And that intensity is exhausting for parents.

Like when your 5 year old decides at bedtime to finally learn 4 digit addition. That’s wonderful and all, but mommy has been on the clock since 5am and it’s quitting time. Can’t we just be a immobile pile of fur -uh, child for awhile? Please?

People often think of giftedness as being a universally positive thing. Parents of gifted children know that it’s a double-edged sword. Intellect can translate into academic achievement. Or it can mean learning the loopholes and underachieving. Creativity may lead to great artistic talent. Or thinking up new ways to wreck havoc.

Because, get this, my gifted children are no better than any other children. Just different. They have strengths and struggles just like all children. Or dogs for that matter.  That mastiff is an all star at ‘stay’. Assuming he wakes up to hear you say it.

Having groups like “collie” and “mastiff” doesn’t make one dog better than another. It just means you can quickly guess a particular dog’s likely strengths and weaknesses. “Gifted” is another useful designation for relaying the traits of a particular child. Their likely strengths and struggles.

I’d better quit before I run this metaphor too thin. Also, the collie is herding the golden retriever into the wall. Again.

Supporting a New Adoptive Parent

Supporting a New Adoptive Parent

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You know how the saying about assuming goes….

Supporting a New Adoptive ParentOver time I have found the creation of family to be a precarious thing. For some, the almost fairytale scenario of marriage, giving birth to children and expanding the family ranks seems, well easy. Yet for others, the road to a larger family is much more challenging. When it became apparent that we would not be having biological children my husband and I turned to adoption. We saved money, went to classes and baby proofed the house long before a child would join us. We had more ups and downs than a wicked roller coaster, but when G. joined us we felt joy, relief and amazement.

We were new adoptive parents…finally!

Interestingly much of the world saw our daughter’s adoption as fodder for conversation. They assumed they were part of the situation. If I hadn’t witnessed some of the comments first hand I would not believe them myself.

“How much did she cost?”

“Where did she come from?”

“Is she yours?”

“What is her story?”

“Thank you for saving her!”

For those of you who know me my sarcastic side wanted to jump out at every turn but most times I opted for education. Yet at each comment or question I wanted to shout “Nobody asks a pregnant woman if she can afford that child or details of conception!”

In today’s Information Age, some details are not for the public and some stories are not mine to tell. I am not advocating for closed adoptions and to go back to it being a taboo subject, but perhaps we all need to look at what is driving us. Is it curiosity? Fear? Hatred? Ignorance?

There is much grace in thinking before you speak.

Children often ask questions about our family. They want to know if those kids are ours and if we all go together. For them, an affirmative answer lets them move on. Perhaps we would all benefit from this mix of curiosity, innocence and acceptance. I  try to remember these experiences when I encounter something unknown – instead of assuming.

Here are 10 things to say to new adoptive parents:

10 Things to Say to a New Adoptive Parent1. What a blessing!

2. _________ is so cute/handsome!

3. Do you need anything?

4. How are things going?

5. Isn’t it miraculous?

6. Let me know a good time to come see you all.

7. Make a positive observation about the child ( alert, snuggly etc)

8. What is your favorite part of parenthood so far?

9. Are you getting any sleep yet?

10. I see so much love reflected in your eyes.

 

 

Tales of a New Mom

Tales of a New Mom – From the Trenches at 5 Weeks

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It’s been 5.5 years since I’ve done the new mom thing. Some things are coming slowly back to me, and some feel/are new.

Tales of a New Mom

New Babies Are So Tiny (and Floppy): R was 6lbs 2oz at birth, and we’re currently working towards 8lbs. Words like peanut, nugget, itty bitty, etc. all spring to mind when I think to describe her. She’s very strong and squiggly, though. The number of times she has made my heart stop by tossing her head around or trying to launch out of my arms is already countless. “Support the head” is my constant refrain.

New Mom Brain (Where Did It Go, and Will I Get It Back?): It’s “funny” how things that would normally be cause for great alarm are just par for the course when you’re the parent of a new infant.

New Mom's Memory...

Memory loss: I have had so many conversations that I simply do not remember. We’re not talking conversations where I remember when I’m reminded. We’re talking conversations where my husband recounts it to me, and I have no memory that it ever happened.

Difficulty distinguishing dreams from reality: I’ll think about a conversation or event, and I cannot remember if I dreamed it or if it really happened. (#1 – At least dreaming is a sign that I’m getting more sleep. For a while I wasn’t even dreaming.) (#2 – Okay, not all the time. I’m pretty sure that the time I had to line up in line as a soldier and choose my weapon, one option of which was a block of wax, didn’t really happen.)

Feeling like I’m lucky if I can attend to even 50% of a conversation: Part of my new mom brain is always somewhere else – trying to listen if the baby is stirring, figuring out the last time she ate, have a complete thought while simultaneously listening to a story from the 5.5 yo, be a functional human while half my brain is asleep, etc. (I’ve heard that river dolphins only sleep with half of their brains at time. They should do a study on new moms, I think we may also do this.)

Having Trouble Accepting Help: I’m fortunate, in that I’ve had several people genuinely say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.” I know I need help, but coming up with something that they can do AND actually bringing myself to make the request – is frequently beyond me. At least this time, when we are offered specific help, we don’t turn it down or feel bad for accepting!

Wondering If I’m Going to Get My Body Back/ Learning About My “New” Body: Bleeding, bladder, belly, boobs. Enough said.

Returning to the Silly Patter, Stream-of-Consciousness: I was already in silly mode with my older one (which animals do we think have the biggest poop. Whose poop is the stinkiest. Now I’m realizing how largely, poop related the humor is. Well, that and knock-knock jokes.) Now, as I’m trying to hear noise besides the screaming of an impatient infant, I’m making up songs where I narrate making a bottle or changing a diaper and trying to find rhymes for words like “sha-boopy.”

Having 2 Kids Is a Whole New Ballgame: As a new mom who is an only child, the sibling thing has always been a bit of a mystery to me. Now, I’m struggling to gracefully balance time and attention with a preschooler and a newborn, and I’m trying to help my older one navigate feelings of responsibility, love, alienation, and insecurity that I’ve never felt before. It’s one thing to know, intellectually, that this was coming, but it’s a whole ‘nother thing to experience it.

As Much As I’d Prepared, I Can’t Get Everything Right (But Preparation Can Help): With my first, I was only able to breastfeed for 3 weeks. Five years later, I could still be brought to tears by the topic.mother and child statue This time, I started conversations with healthcare providers months before I was due. I talked to my health insurance company about coverage for breast pumps and lactation consultants. When my supply again failed to manifest, I saw an amazing lactation team, I pumped, I took herbal supplements, I felt like I was losing my mind, I got amazing help and support from friends and family, and again, I decided that the best decision for myself and my family was to stop trying. Again, it’s the most painful part of this process, and I know I will always second-guess myself and my choice; however, this time I feel more like I took the time to make the best decision I could, rather than giving up in a haze of confusion and despair.

A new mom has so many conflicting urges/ emotions:

  • I want to stay inside in a cocoon, snuggled with my adorable new baby.
  • I want to experience my previous autonomy where I do not have to be 100% attuned to the needs of this tiny new life.
  • I want to take her out into the world everywhere.
  • I want to protect her from people and illnesses of this germy winter season.
  • I want to buy her all the new, cool things that have come out for babies since I last had one.
  • I remember how little was actually necessary with the first one.
  • I want to see her grow now, so I can hear her voice and see her walk.
  • I want her to stay tiny forever.
  • I want to cherish and devote every spare minute I have to being the best mother I can be.
  • I want to figure out who “I” am apart from my identity as a mother and get started on making that happen – right now.
  • Feeling utterly alone.
  • Feeling a part of a large, caring, supportive community.
  • Feeling like, I’ve been here and done that already.
  • Feeling like this is a whole new experience, and I’m lost.

Is the Big Bad PPD Coming? I suffered from mild postpartum depression after my first. Other than some major drama with the breastfeeding, I feel a little saner this time around; however, PPD can come on months after childbirth. I’ll be wondering for a long time if I’ve really made it past the danger zone. PPD is serious stuff. If you think you might be experiencing PPD, get help. It’s not only for you but for your family, too.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? I’d love to hear that I’m not the only one experiencing some of these things! Are there things that you’re experiencing that I left out? Please share!

Related Links:

How to Help a New Mother

Great News! Mommy Brain May Trigger Brain Growth

Wash Your Freaking Hands Before You Touch Someone’s Baby

Postpartum Depression Quiz

4th Trimester Bodies Project

A Crash Course in Gentle Parenting

A Crash Course in Gentle Parenting: Toddlers and Mini-Carts Don’t Mix

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My husband and I recently took our toddlers to a new grocery store in town. The market is known for its amazing deals on produce, impressive bulk selection, and (among the 6-and-under-crowd) for the line of shiny red pint-sized carts waiting just inside the front doors. “They are going to love this!” I said, laughing at my son’s wide eyes as he ran into the building. My husband was already busy chasing after our daughter and picking up the oranges that were rolling down the aisle in her wake and it wasn’t long before my son was also veering off course, running full steam towards the mountain of bananas. “Okay. I can do this.” I coached myself, ready to try a few of the gentle parenting ideas I’d been reading about. And then, instead of giving in to my natural impulse (shouting “no! no! NO!” and grabbing his cart away), I simply stepped between him and the tempting tower. I asked him if he could pick out one bunch of those beautiful bananas and of course he was thrilled, placing them in his cart with such pride! I was so impressed that the yell-free approach had actually worked, my heart swelled with optimism and confidence to tackle the rest of our list. 

A Crash Course in Gentle Parenting

If only it were so simple! The rest of the trip was a marathon of near-misses and small disasters. We suffered two early cart-tippings (Have you ever seen an avocado explode? Instant guacamole.) and entirely abandoned our search for cheese when we realized it was located right next to the looming display of fancy glass-bottled oils and vinegars. The freezer section was prime for toddler cart drag racing: the displays lit up like a runway as my little maniacs barreled down the aisle, drunk with freedom. There was a bit of a tussle as we zipped past the bulk bins (so many enticing treats just begging for a sample!) but the end was in sight: a check-out lane was just opening up and the doors to freedom (and child-restraining car seats) shone as bright beacons of hope just beyond the registers.

I tried to hype it up to my kids as I steered them toward the empty lane:  “Look guys! Now we get to put all our treasures on the shelf and buy them!” [ahem. marketer I am not.] I reached into my son’s cart and he threw himself into the wall of check-out snacks and then onto the floor, full-on meltdown mode. Screaming, crying, kicking at other customers, grabbing things off the shelves. It was intense.

So see, I’m trying to become one of those gentle parents. You know the ones. We’re all waiting patiently in line and their kid is throwing the biggest fit but they just take a deep breath and squat down nearby saying things like, “I see you’re really frustrated. You want to keep the cart, it was really fun to push. It’s time to buy our food so we have to be all done. I see you’re really upset. I have to move you so you don’t hurt anybody.” and we’re all like “Lady. Did you rehearse that monologue? Do you really think he’s even listening? How could he hear anything over that piercing scream? Drag that child to the car so we can check-out in peace. Your kid is out. of. control.”

A Crash Course in Gentle Parenting

Gentle Parenting

Gentle Parenting. Attachment Parenting. Respectful parenting. My foray into this new-to-me parenting philosophy has come as my twins approach their second birthday, well into the frustrations of little people who possess intense desires and sub-par communication abilities. The world around them moves sometimes much too slow and sometimes much too fast and it takes a toll on their already taxed reservoirs of calm.

As their mom – an introvert who often feels out of step with the social expectations of my peers – I should be able to relate to their struggle. I should have compassion and insight and patience, understanding the miserable reality of being forced to do something you don’t want to do, especially in front of other people. Except, I don’t. I feel embarrassed. I want to crawl into a hole, drag my toddler down with me, and disappear. I feel the laser-eyes of annoyed strangers, their huffing as they move out of the way of my kid. I doubt myself and think ugly things about my children and vow never to run errands with them again.

But there I squat, trying to be calm but mostly not knowing what I’m doing. Eventually I decide it’s time to get our loud little show on the road. I leave my daughter with my husband to pay for the groceries and I head for the car, carrying my screaming son in one arm, hunched over so I can push the absurd little cart with the other. I’m about to totally lose it on him (and on my husband, just because I’ve got rage to spare and want to spew it everywhere) when some sweet grannies stop us, look me in the eye and tell me my son is darling and that he must have had so much fun with the cart, adding “poor dear” for good measure. *Poof* Rage be gone. Grannies of the world, what would we be without you?

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So it seems I’m learning less about how to be a good parent and more about how much baggage I bring into my parenting. I’m realizing that the ways I was disciplined as a child have a huge influence on how I feel about my own kids’ behavior. How much respect matters to me. How much I want to be complimented on well-behaved kids. How I hate to be the center of (negative) attention. How personal it feels when my children catapult us to center stage.

Gentle parenting involves a lot of checking in on my own motives and expectations. It requires me to keep working out my own issues and to remind myself of what I’m really working for (strong, capable, thoughtful, emotionally intelligent people) and what I’m working against (my ego-protecting anger, children who behave out of fear). Gentle parenting takes the long view while being present in each moment. It empowers parents to provide helpful limits and boundaries for their child’s world while also making space for and respecting their child’s needs (emotional, physical, and developmental). I.e., I’ll let my child have a tantrum on the floor in the middle of the store because I respect his frustration and the intensity of his feelings, but I won’t let him knock over a display or ram a cart into someone’s legs. (In retrospect, I suppose I can sympathize with him. During his scream-fest all I wanted to do was throw something massive across the floor as a diversion and run out of there.)

At the end of the day, I realize I keep coming back to my discomfort at my own lack of control over my kids’ behavior. I want to minimize my own embarrassment. I want other people to be impressed with my kids. I want my kids to “get it”, to respect me and my decisions. I’m looking to them to validate me, to prove my worth as a mom. It’s a startling realization and a pretty scary place to try to parent from.

So, I’m going to start making the same plain observations about my own emotions and asking myself the same questions I ask my toddlers. A meditation of sorts, one I can dive into even crouched down in the check-out lane: “Julianne, it seems like you’re really frustrated. You thought the shopping carts would be a fun new experience for the kids. You’re feeling embarrassed about your lack of foresight. You’re feeling exhausted from running around a crowded store, hunched over a tiny cart and a screaming little person. Now he’s on the floor and you don’t know what to do. It’s okay. Breathe. You’ve got this. They trust you. You’re a good mom. You will make it to the car.”

“But, Julianne, never again, okay? Never. Again.”

Raising Bilingual Kids

Raising Our Children to Be Bilingual

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We never questioned whether or not we would raise our children to be bilingual while living in the United States.

Raising Bilingual Kids

My husband is from Ecuador and I am from Texas. If I could help my children speak Spanish without my Texas twang (I speak Spanish with a heavy Texan accent), I would do so. When my first son was born, my husband spoke only Spanish to both of us. I spoke English to everyone, because frankly as a sleep-deprived mother, I was lucky if I could spit out a complete sentence in my native tongue. In order to further instill Spanish in an English dominant society, we also placed our children in a Spanish immersion preschool. Thus, my children’s bilingualism wasn’t an issue for us. In the rest of the country, however, dual language and multi-lingualism aren’t without controversy.

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Our current place of residence, Texas, has a particularly complex and dark history with speakers of foreign languages. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, most schools punished students for speaking any language but English. As a result, many non-native English speakers taught their children to speak English in order to save them from the horrible maltreatment they faced while in school. Other immigrant parents emphasized English as a way to demonstrate their loyalty to their chosen country. While attitudes toward bilingualism and multi-lingualism have changed, remnants of the discrimination against non-native English speakers remain in our country. My neighbor, who ironically has a sign written in German on his back fence, also has a bumper sticker that says, “Welcome to America. Now either speak English or leave.”

Raising Bilingual Kids

In 2005, a Kansas school suspended a 16-year-old boy for speaking Spanish in the hall between classes (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/08/AR2005120802122.html). In Hempstead, Tx., a principal announced over the intercom that students were now banned from speaking Spanish in school (http://www.texasobserver.org/hempstead-habla-espanol/).

Fortunately, this type of xenophobia, while still present, is no longer the rule. In fact, a number of cities in Texas and around the country have instituted dual language schools. In Austin alone, we have dual language schools pairing English with Spanish, Vietnamese and Mandarin. Many English-only speaking parents transfer their children into these schools as a way to secure their children’s fluency in a foreign language. Still, opinions abound on the best way to educate our multi-lingual society.

In our own immediate family, we have received mostly support over our decision to raise our children in a bilingual household. A few people have wondered if the two different languages would confuse our children. Fortunately, a lot of research demonstrates the benefits of knowing more than one language. Studies show a marked improvement in cognitive abilities, situational awareness and, later in life, a delayed onset of dementia in bilingual individuals (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-benefits-of-bilingualism.html?_r=0).

I hope that my children will benefit cognitively from their language skills, and I am also glad that they will have the ability to travel to another region of the world and speak to the people like a native speaker.

In my opinion, the greatest advantage we have given our children is to bridge some of the gaps between foreign and native populations and to reduce their likelihood of viewing people as the “other.” After all, language is communication and to be able to understand another population reduces our isolation from that population. In testament to this fact, Israel has a few public schools that teach in both Hebrew and Arabic languages (http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/04/in-some-israeli-schools-its-arabic-in-first-period-and-hebrew-in-second/275300/). Students in these schools not only benefit from the educational advantages of bilingualism, they also become more accepting of other cultures as well. I also hope that my children become more open-minded and compassionate through their bilingualism. The only thing I worry about their bilingualism in an English dominant society is that they will lose it.

Trixiewithlove

To Trixie With Love – An Open Letter To My Child’s First Best Friend

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“Your friend is your needs answered.”

— Kahlil Gibran

In this life, not all friends are created equal. Friends come and go, based on the time of life, your environment, based on silly phases, fun phases and not-so-fun phases. They all do serve their purpose.

But, then, there are those special friends. Friends that can last a lifetime.

This is a story about the latter. It’s a true love story. If you met my daughter, you would not doubt her love for Trixie.
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Trixie is my daughter’s doll. She was Adelaide’s first birthday gift. As Adelaide grew up, Trixie had many of the same experiences as my daughter. When Adelaide tried peanut butter for the first time, so did Trixie.  When Adelaide got in the bath, she did her darnedest to bring Trixie in with her.

Trixie had birthday parties, Christmas mornings, got new clothes, and Adelaide was once absolutely petrified to find Trixie in the washing machine. She knew that wasn’t safe.  What kind of monster’s are her parents? To put her best friend in the WASHING MACHINE!!!

Each year, Trixie lost a bit of stuffing here, stitches added there, and after a few years, Trixie’s rips could no longer be patched. Her seams could no longer be mended.

We received many well-intentioned ideas of how to wean Adelaide away from her friend.

But it all seemed so cruel. Trixie was part of our family.

Now, she is a tattered mess. She is still used just as much as when Adelaide first got her. As a true member of our family, I wanted to write this letter to Trixie, to show my appreciation for a wonderful friend:

 

Dear Trixie,

You have been the favorite companion of my daughter for over 5 years now. Adelaide has not slept without you in that time. Not once. You have been on many adventures, and the truth is, you’ve seen better days – in fact, let’s just be honest: You have very little time left. Trixie7

There was the one time, 3 years ago, we tried to replace you with another cleaner, more sterile Trixie. You see, you were ALWAYS getting lost, and we were NOT allowed to clean you – so, in all honesty, you grossed us out and gave us headaches. But what you have done for our daughter is something spectacular. But Adelaide was suspicious from the get-go. It wasn’t long before Adelaide spotted your leg popping out of a box in the top of a closet.

My wife and I still have nightmares about the vacation when we left you in a restaurant and Santa Fe. We were 2 hours removed before we noticed. It was a really tough decision, but before Adelaide even knew you were gone, we spelled our way to a conclusion – We have to go back for T-R-I-X-I-E!

 

On a very memorable night, our third child was born. Adelaide immediately

trixie4 decided that Uma needed her own Trixie, so she sweetly gave the replacement Trixie to Uma, to comfort her, as you had always comforted Adelaide.

 

So, thank you, you have helped my daughter work through fears, anxiety and other complex emotions. You were that stable force that she needed when we moved to a new home. When we paid $40 for you at blablakids.com – we had no idea what we were really getting. So, I ask of you now Trixie, as your end looms near, in the immortal words of Dylan Thomas: 

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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Teaching our kids tolerance and respect for all people.

Holiday Notes From a Muslim Mom

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Muslim women are oftentimes easy to spot. We wear a scarf around our heads as an open declaration of faith. Based on cultural preference, this head-covering varies from vibrantly colored wraps to longer, flowing styles. Not all Muslim women choose to carry such an obvious banner of religious identity, but a lot do.

Teaching our kids tolerance and respect for all people.

This, fortunately and unfortunately, has put us in a sort of spotlight. Don’t worry though, if you spot us you can rest assured we’re generally harmless, sleep deprived and pretty approachable. We may seem a little grouchy in the morning before the coffee has kicked in and sometimes very disheveled trying to haul two or more squirmy toddlers into a quiet library for story-time. Feel free to stop us on our tracks to say hello. We love the holiday season as much as the next hot chocolate addict. There are worse things you can do (and have been done) to Muslim women in the recent months. Be a proactive element in strengthening the ties of community love and humanity. Let’s teach our children how to keep those bridges of harmony and love intact as these ideals are attacked on a daily basis.

News anchors, presidential candidates, and several other spokespeople with a platform from which to eject words to larger audiences have been feeding a very evil image of the average Muslim person. As false as it may be, the waves of fear mongering have swept across the globe and unsettled everyone’s sense of safety and security.

After a monstrous attack or fatal atrocity occurs, my phone begins buzzing. Fellow moms, Muslims and not, share information about the events as they are leaked by media sources. We exchange feelings of sorrow that the world is in such chaos. That there are people out there hurting others, individually or en mass. We weep for families who are waiting for news, we pray for survivors.

Our hearts squeeze together, wondering how we can raise children in such a scary world. A world that can hurt innocent people senselessly and create dangerous rifts between people who are of different faiths, cultures, and races.

We begin conversations with our children. There are some people who say some mean things about Muslims. You can always talk to us about it. There are other kids who may be going through the same thing. It can be a little hurtful and scary if you get teased about what you believe. Don’t worry, we continue to explain, they’re only confused. People who make judgement calls on large groups of people can do very dangerous things. The important thing is to continue to have a good and pure heart. Look for the people who have kind and open hearts, too. Always smile, and be positive. Don’t doubt who you are or be ashamed. Throughout history, even grown ups have made really big mistakes about other people. A time came when Native Americans were stripped of their land and dehumanized. There are African Americans to this day who are treated unjustly. From Catholics to Japanese Americans – there has always been a time when a group of people were seen as scary when they really weren’t. Don’t worry, we remind them again, there are still good people. Be a good person so when someone mean comes across you, your goodness can create a light that may draw them closer to knowing who you really are.

There are a number of holidays that are being celebrated around this time of year. A nice list that my children learned about in school and a few they didn’t. For those which weren’t included, I’ll make a polite note to their teachers to become even more inclusive in the coming years to expose children to an even wider array of religions and cultures that are coexisting on this earth. That’s the least we can do to counter a lot of the rhetoric out there causing divisions between races, cultures, religions, and ways of life.

We had the opportunity to watch a few live-streamed sessions from the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah this year. It was an immensely pleasurable experience to see people of all different faiths and belief systems come together and celebrate the unity of humanity, spirituality, and love. There was a notable session in which women came together and shared their experiences of celebrating life by highlighting their own roles as mothers and caregivers.

As nurturers, we play such a crucial role in how our children grow up to partake in society and evolve into open minded and caring adults. Let’s begin today by learning about someone who is different from those living inside our four walls and begin a proactive journey to combat the violence and prejudice that exists today.

So from this Muslim mom to all the other parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, little tykes, more – Merry Milad-un-Nabi, Khwanzaa, Bodhi Day, Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Omisoka, Festivus and many more holiday celebrations to you and a Happy New Year!

Practical suggestions for mindful living.

Mindful Living

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Practical suggestions for mindful living.I know I’m not the only one lying awake at night thinking of our hurting world. I hold my babies tighter not sure of their future and what it might look like. I say this with a compassionate attitude towards those that are truly suffering. I’ve been feeling empathy pains and aches for those people whose lives have been shattered and live in fear on a daily basis.   In order to keep moving forward, I choose to focus on the moment and pay attention to what’s in front of me.  “Be present,” said Ms. Lei, J’s teacher during her Empathy Parenting workshop a month ago.  She gave an example of when we treat ourselves to a cup of coffee. Often we are instantly pulled in six different directions, breaking the silence, and missing it’s greatness.

“When you are in the now,” she said, “you will be aware of every last sip.”

Every.last.sip.

What a wonderful idea and journey we could all take through life. She shared with us the children’s daily routine of circle time at the beginning of each day. By asking each child to “come into the circle and feel your breath,” she’s inviting them to be present and practice mindfulness.

I challenge us all to begin to live our lives this way. When a friend shares with you her struggle over her child’s behavior, put aside your to-do lists and personal struggles. Be in the moment. Practice empathy friendship. This could just be undivided conversation and a hug or offering to babysit. If your child is struggling to put on his shoes and your arms are full of library books, purse, water bottle, and you’re halfway out the door. Stop. Put everything down (you can huff and puff in your head, if it helps) and help him through the struggle. If your partner seems tense from work (and if you two can grab a moment alone) lend an ear to those struggles, even if you have no idea what their job entails.

Mother Teresa said “small things, done in great love, bring joy and peace.” This is absolutely true. Tuck that note into your kids lunchbox. It might just be the lift they need to get through a tough day of middle school. Pick up dinner for a family of five,  just because. Practice random acts of kindness. I can say with absolute certainty that the reward will be two fold. You get to make someone’s day but the joy in giving will be all yours.

In addition to mindful living, recognizing what we’re grateful for can also lift our spirits.

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What parenting an infant can teach us about social justice.

The Nights I Get Things Right

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My son is a toddler. Two and a half years old. I refuse to call it the ‘terrible twos’, and instead call it the “trying twos” as a reminder of what we’re all experiencing. It’s a trying time for him – to carve his place in this world, and trying for us parents – to be patient and compassionate and to stay out the way when the urge is to ‘complete the task’ or soothe the tears. It’s okay to cry, and sometimes, it’s ok to let that be, or to soothe.

I call it the ‘trying twos’ because when you flip the script you also alter that old saying and knock it on its side.

What parenting an infant can teach us about social justice.

About a week had passed and my son and I were stuck in a rut. There were nightly tears when I stopped our playtime and said it was time for bed. I read and attempt to practice RIE (Resources for Infant Educators) and mindful parenting. I often turn to the founder of RIE Magda Gerber’s wisdom when I’m stuck in a parenting moment and yet here I’d let almost an entire week pass. I’ve done my best at creating ‘yes’ spaces and I talk with my toddler in a conversation of adult emotional albeit simplified, detail. For some reason though, these ideas are hard to incorporate when I’m overly tired, or stressed, or in a hurry. It’s as though I’m hardwired to dictate as a parent (time to do this, let’s go, hurry up) and it takes real effort to think before I act and speak with the kindness I want us all to share with each other.

The night things really came together, I played with him, spoke to him and let him know that soon, after the ‘train ride’ we were on, we would tidy up and head upstairs to read, have a bath and go to sleep. He listened. He went to sleep that night without having cried, without whining, without telling me to lie down beside him, and I tuned into the news of the day – another mass shooting in America.

Fourteen dead. The same number of women killed by Marc Lépine at the École Polytechnique December 6th, 1989. Lépine claimed he was “fighting feminism.” Fourteen. The number I would explain to my child as an actor in a high school docudrama performed in 1990, when asked, “How many is fourteen?” “One plus one plus one plus one..” and so on, I replied. The impact of Lépine’s actions has never left me. And now, twenty-six years later, I’m wondering how I will explain any number of deaths to my son. Deaths by guns.

The nights I get things right, are the nights I think twice about raising my voice, when inside there is turmoil and rage for wanting things ‘to run smoothly’ to, ‘go as planned’. Parenting, like so many lessons in life, continues to ask me to slow down, to be present. Parenting asks me to let go of the lists and plans in my head, to be open and willing and accept the present state of not knowing and play.

“There are steps we can take to make America safer,” American President Obama said after the shootings in San Bernardino on Wednesday December 2nd, 2015. He didn’t suggest what those steps are though; he is perhaps not able to be so honest as to what it will really take. It will take a lot of courage in educating ourselves and our children to be strong, emotional, supportive and understanding beings for each other.

The nights I get things right, I am a very present parent, focused on listening and guiding with kindness. I still get things done, not through pleading or begging, or saying it’s so, but by listening, supporting, laughing and slowing down. Owning a gun if you live off the land, are a farmer, a rancher, or a law enforcer, makes sense. Otherwise owning a gun is nothing but a sign of fear. We can all be intimidated by the notion of other at some time. It is indeed, a whopping of an emotion. Think about how you felt when you met someone you really liked. There was an element of fear there. Of nervous energy about the unknown. Or that first time you played a sport, rode a bike, got on a plane, ate bugs.. insert whatever you want here, fear is a naturally occurring emotion. Does owning a gun erase your fear? No.

It’s hard to listen when you are afraid. It’s hard to listen when you ultimately disagree. It’s hard to listen when you don’t understand what someone is going through, is trying to say, or is speaking a different language. It’s really hard to listen with a gun in your hand. A gun in your hand closes your ears and your heart.

How can we disagree in our beliefs, in our religions, and still stand beside one another? A gun ends a conversation before it begins. One of things that RIE encourages is creating a safe space, a yes space for infants and children to walk/lie/climb and play without restrictions. No sharp edges, nothing that will spark an adult to say ‘no, put that down’ or ‘don’t touch that’. We do this, I think, to instill a safety that allows for uninhibited play and learning that embodies a sense of well being that hopefully paves a path to inspired, intelligent, emotionally open adults. How can we create this kind of space and build communities with guns hanging out of our pockets? Guns that shut people up. Guns that say, I have more power than you, when really all that gun is saying is, I am so afraid. I am afraid, listen to me. I am afraid.

How can we create communities where we put an ounce of understanding and acceptance in each other’s minds instead of bullets in one another’s hearts?

The nights I get things right, are nights I will continue to strive for. As a mother of a son I will do my best to ‘get it right’ by allowing for any anger or fear, or rage be heard and understood in a way that encourages open palms and the word yes instead of no. Words that take what a gun represents, all that violence and fear and says, ok, I hear you. Let’s flip it, let’s somehow try to make something work and live, let’s live for fuck’s sake, together.