From Parenting

Ideas for navigating the crazy journey that is parenthood.

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?

 

 

A fresh look at philanthropy for the overworked parent

For the Love of Humankind: A Bit of Sanity for the Overworked Parent

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Philanthropy – a word from Greek origin that translates to “ for the love of mankind”.

A fresh look at philanthropy for the overworked parent

Philanthropists are generous, donating time and/or money where profit is not a motive. This idea, though still at the core of philanthropy, is evolving. Everyday people use their buying power to effect change when they support organizations that ‘give back’, are local (less environmental impact), support fair-trade, etc. I call it ‘conscious consumerism’ and you see it everywhere these days. Many businesses have it built into their philosophy where employees are paid to donate time for a cause, where corporate sponsorship, business-lead fundraising (think of 5km runs for cancer, walks for muscular dystrophy etc.) are the norm. So how does this relate to parenting?

It comes down to mindset. Who comes to mind when you think of a philanthropist? You may think of Andrew Carnegie for which Carnegie Hall in New York City is named, or Bill Gates and his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others. Both Carnegie and Gates were wise businessmen, set on amassing fortunes often before their generous spirit was sparked. The kind of philanthropy they and many who amass millions are associated with comes with brand or name recognition, and there’s nothing wrong with that, often a name helps attract and initiates further generosity, which is great. Carnegie believed his purpose (and that of industrialists) was to first accumulate wealth and to follow that by distributing the wealth to benevolent causes. In 2010, Bill and Melinda Gates, along with Warren Buffet launched the Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest to dedicate most of their wealth to philanthropy. Though I have certain issues with the Gates Foundation (why not make computers that don’t become obsolete is what many argue and I would agree), the Foundation does amazing work in so many fields across the globe. But what about your neighbor, who picks up two other kids from your street afterschool and looks after them, free of charge, until thier working parents come home? Take a look in the mirror. What about you?

Since working on a book on philanthropy with Gena Rotstein of Dexterity Ventures (www.dexterityventures.ca) how I look at philanthropy and the work I do as a parent has been changing. I would’ve never thought myself a philanthropist before. Sure, I’ve donated dollars to support friends and colleagues in their donation pledges and I’ve run in a number of charity runs, but that wasn’t philanthropy, or so I though. It counts of course, but in my mind that wasn’t real philanthropy. The writing I’ve been doing with Gena Rotstein has been about actualizing what philanthropy can glean from a business – asking questions, having a goal and strong vision, being accountable – these are just a few business applications that are reshaping the landscape of philanthropy and have reshaped how I began to look at parenting as a kind of philanthropy. I’m donating LOTS of time and energy to raising a decent human being – one who is courteous, mindful, respectful, brave, thoughtful, inquisitive, playful, and innovative. This is not for personal gains alone. My son is going to outlive me of course, but before that his outreach is going to extend way beyond my personal world. Am I parenting so I can boast that he has manners and gets good grades? Not at all.

When you think about, it’s not a stretch, to see that when we engage in mindful parenting (and yes, that clause is important because I don’t think it’s applicable always, like when I let the TV run, I’m not being mindful though that’s ok too), aren’t we doing so “for the love of humankind?”

I’m not suggesting anything beyond opening up our minds to what parenting is. That in those tough moments when things don’t seem to being going right, when he’s not listening, when you are pressed for time and struggling to find patience to be kind when your kid is shouting no at you and you strive to look beyond the scene playing out in front of you. Think of me. Think of your neighbours. Think of your children’s future acquaintances. Go beyond that scene, take a breath and then respond. What happens when you think, this is not about me, or him, but how can I act here, now, that will change our future interactions for the better? This is philanthropy at it’s core – generating time, a huge dose of patience to practice asking how your actions can move beyond solving the immediate to solving the immediate AND effecting change in the future. Sounds pretty great doesn’t it? You act in a way that gets you out of a bind but is also generous to everyone else around you by engaging with your child in a way that suggests accountable actions (both yours and his) in the future. It’s a pretty great investment. It’s hard to see it like that sometimes, but it’s helped me in some of those moments and I offer it here, as possibly helping you step beyond a tense scene for a great cause: for you, your child, for me. For the love of humankind.

 

*For more doses of the philanthropist mindset Kim is starting a Daily Donation on her blog WhiteSpaceBlackArt.com where you can find generous spirit motivators useful to parents and non-parents alike and information on various charities doing work in all realms of outreach that have to do with our future: children.

 

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.

Circle of Control: Disney with a Sensory Sensitive Child

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For the past 18 months I have been dreading the Christmas/ New Year’s of 2015-2016. Now I try to be a happy person so why you say was I dreading this past holiday? Control. I went with my extended family on a trip to Disney World. That sounds like the opportunity of a life time, but my dread came from realizing I could not control much for my special needs child. I expected the worst: insomnia, sensory meltdowns, family arguments and much more.

Circle of Control: Disney with a Sensory Sensitive Kid

Then one day before we left on the trip I took a long hard look at my attitude. I had predispositioned myself and others to have a miserable time. That did not sounds like what I wanted for any of us. So I took a little time out for me to recapture some of the joy. We were headed to the House of Mouse. I researched food we might like to try, rides we wanted to go on, shows to see and the weather. I was a one woman excitement factory! That joy and excitement spread to my family.

We used a Disability Access Pass. As soon as we arrived at Magic Kingdom we got our pass and the cast members asked what accommodations we needed and how they could help us to have an enjoyable time. I stated what we needed and were off!

I was the cheerleader for those tired of walking, the getter of snacks and souvenirs. We counted steps walked on my mother-in-laws fitbit and tried to best our steps each day. I chose to control what I could control and let go of what was out of my circle of control. I could control if we ate, or rested or tried a new ride, but I could not control how hot it was or the speed of an lines we waited in. Each time I felt myself get frustrated, mad or rushed I stepped back to see what could I control and what was beyond me.

My family had a marvelous vacation! I loved seeing Disney World through the eyes of my children and my nephews. This vacation taught me to look to what is in my circle of control and for the rest, I follow the words of Elsa: Let it GO!

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.
Trixiewithlove

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!