Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Marshmallow Sensory Tub

&^%$ing winter. Seriously. It’s cool though, I can SEE the finish line. We had a crazy weekend where it was tantalizingly close to 50 degrees outside and everyone wore capris and walked around the village acting all jovial and excited. Even I went to the playground with the boy, thinking it would be packed…only to find my hopes dashed.

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We couldn’t even open the gate 😦

Truth is, the real determination will be when the crocuses start peeking through my front garden bed. That’s when we will KNOW. For now, we have 20 degree overcast weather, the vestiges of snow on the ground haunting us from a week ago (OMG almost 2 feet in my neighborhood) and a weather forecast predicting we will get even more in the next two days. Sigh. But I am not giving up on a good time. I take being a SAHM very seriously, and that means it is time to get creative and start making plans. Let’s start with my FABULOUS new sensory table…

OK, to begin, I ADORE Tinkerlab’s sensory table with wheat berries. I think it is amazing. But um…wheat berries are expensive. And we eat them. So, I thought, maybe good old rice? But we didn’t have enough to fill the container I had in mind. (FYI, I have big plans to make a sensory table–check out this one from Apartment Therapy. Drool.) So I fished around in the cabinets and remembered how I went hog-wild over the holidays making rice crispy treats…and thought, “MARSHMALLOWS”.

Yes folks. It is a marshmallow sensory table. Be excited.

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Primary components beyond marshmallows and a bin: scooping items, mixed cups and coffee filters, wooden spoon etc. Best laid plan was the small enclosed tupperware contained with colorful plastic straws cut into 1/3s to give him something to try and open on his own. Also curious to see what his plans are for the straws once he figures out how to liberate them…

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Then I added an empty egg carton. Because…they are awesome places to hide popsicle sticks and cookie cutters. 😀

So he started out with the wooden spoon, banging and flinging marshmallows. Ok. Sort of expected that.

marshmallow5 marshmallow1 marshmallow2 marshmallow3 marshmallow4marshmallow7marshmallow8marshmallow9

What I did not expect was his interest in the tupperware full of cut up straws to be so high. HE HAD TO GET IT OPEN. There was serious commitment on his part. We had a sweet little moment, when, in his frustration to find a little lip he could use to pry off the top, he threw the thing into my lap and indicated I was to open it for him. No, buddy, that isn’t how this works… Slowly, I turned the bowl on it’s side so he could see the the lid actually HAD a little lip he could use, and I gently got it started for him. He caught on fast. Grabbed the lid, pried it off and squealed like a piggy when all the straws fell out, which occupied him for the better part of ten minutes. I call that a win in ToddlerLand. The marshmallows? He seemed more interested in lining them up on my skirt than anything else today. He was also very excited by the egg carton, and al the little ‘surprises’ I hid inside (2 cookie cutters, three tongue depressors and a baby bottle top). I am going to put a lid on the bin and reintroduce it on Thursday again to see if he tries anything else. All in all, this was a 45 minute activity that was the perfect provocation after his mid morning nap and snack.

Field trip to the Pet Store! Rookie Mama Challenge #37

Rookie Mama Whitney Moss of one of my go-to favorite blogs http://www.rookiemoms.com has a challenge which I think is POIFECT in this dismal crap weather us East Coasters are experiencing–the petshop. Now, she has her finger on the pulse here because she does suggest doing this challenge with an older baby. The Boy is 15 months old, so I figured he falls right in that range. It was a short trip, but a perfect one when you are schlepping through snow and ice to get from car to store with a kiddo who needs to be carried (sure he CAN walk, but I’m not chasing him through an icy parking lot 8 months pregnant. Nope.)

 

Wait...something in there moved!

Wait…something in there moved!

So, my notes? It was great! The only thing I could have done to plan for it better was to go on one of the days when they had dogs visiting from the local animal shelter. I am generally not a fan of pet stores in general, as I think they are overpriced for the stuff you want and they support puppy and kitty mills, which is horrid. but this pace is decent–they source all animals from local shelters! So we probably killed about 15-20 minutes, but it was an excellent vocabulary-building moment; kitty, doggy, fishy, birdy, GENTLE…plus lots of terrarium items that were fun to touch (like those half logs and all the colorful plastic ‘seaweed’ or whatever that stuff is supposed to be.

Then there was watching the gerbils and guinea pigs scurrying around (awkward moment of the day was when one guinea pig started to erm, ‘make friends’ with his pal there in the spinning wheel (kinky?) while The Boy looked on. I didn’t say anything. He didn’t ask anything.

The guinea pig incident

The guinea pig incident

We moved on to the birds, which he loved, especially the cages of parakeets, because they were so animated. The one parrot didn’t really impress him.

What parrot?

What parrot?

 

Justifying Excessive Winter Screen Time-MAKE IT AWESOME

We all TRY to limit screen time. I know. I KNOW. It is so hard though when your backyard looks like a snow-globe and your kiddos are not old enough to just strap on some snow-pants/gear and start making stuff out there. My 15 month old doesn’t even own snow-pants…maybe he should? Next year is the year, I think. So the inevitable happens…something like this look familiar?

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Sure…this was taken a few months back…but you get the point. Squalor+TV ON+kiddo=crazy screen-time festivals.

The challenge becomes…how do we make it ok? CAN we make it ok? Do we just lie and pretend we played educational puzzles all day instead of the ten minutes it took the toddler to hide the pieces under the couch cushions and/or (The Boy’s new favorite) just throw them up  in the air, all pissed off like a Cosmo Kramer GIF? No. If you can’t beat em…make it fabulous. Thus I have decided to just roll with it, and not by any means in a passive “I give up” way. No, if we are going to do screen time, it is going to be AWESOME.

Here is the new equation:

Pick a movie…make it a really good classic too. Today, we are going all in for Fiddler on the Roof with Topol, an awesome film. We are making milkshakes with chocolate and bananas and I don’t give a sheet who knows it. Kiddo just learned to drink from a straw…isn’t that why they were invented? To slug down milkshakes?? We are going to take it to the next level and make popcorn from the microwave and a fort in the living room to store our booty and watch our movie. I will have some books nearby for us to flip through, and of course quiet provocations like puzzles, mind teasers and sensory toys. I always have those out and ready for play. But today we are going all out.

Because you know what? It IS gross outside. But this is still HIS DAY and it is still MY DAY…so why not enjoy it for all it is worth? For me, this is the joy of parenting…teaching my kid(s) to go with the flow, and to make it great while we are at it. Yeah yeah, I know REEELAX…I don’t serve him junk on a regular basis.  This kid eats healthier than most vegan hipster-yogis, let me tell you. He doesn’t watch loads of TV except for his morning Curious George ritual.

That is why it is special. A snow day doesn’t have to suck, it can be an opportunity to do something you might not otherwise do, because it is overly indulgent or ‘too much of a good thing’. Will post pics to recap how it goes…but I know the ending of this story already. Little boy falls asleep smiling because his mama and he played together and were silly and did fun things on a yucky day.

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**RECAP**

I’ll let the pictures do (most of) the talking from our day…

After 1st nap (9:30ish)

Errands. Target and Petsmart to see the animals. (Read more about why you should check out the pet store with your older baby here, as it is one of the Rookie Mom Challenges and a great outing idea). Snow begins. AGAIN.

Lunch, second nap. Kiddo sleeps til 2:30 (whoa??). Party time.

The squalor.

The squalor.

The film.

The film.

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Baby’s first milkshake.

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He likes it! Hey Mikey!

He is so disbelieving that all this can be for just us. Look at those eyes!

He is so disbelieving that all this can be for just us. Look at those eyes!

Snuggle.

Snuggle.

This is the good stuff.

This is the good stuff.

ZE END.

Toddler Provocations for Snowy Days: Ideas for the Living Room

To say I am SICK of the snow is the understatement of the year. And I am a bonafide snow person. I spent my two years of graduate school weathering winters where the wind chill hit -30 on the reg. TRUST me, I can handle it. But, apparently, not with kids who are neither old enough to don snow-pants and enjoy the snow, nor young enough to simply snooze through the storms or bat at hanging things in front of them/giggle at themselves in the mirror. No, The Boy is in an age-space where neither is really going to work. So I have to be creative (yay!) and turn my house into a playground (double yay!). Here is the skinny…

According to the Reggio Emilia philosophy (which my son’s school employs, along with RIE in their classrooms), areas should be set up in a play space with the intention of inviting a child to play. This means using open-ended items (nothing with buttons you can swat that essentially ‘play for the child’, but things like blocks, books, art supplies, items from nature, household items and puzzles) and creating some suggestions for how to use them, but ultimately providing a well organized arrangement of items they can manipulate and express themselves with on their own terms. This sounds realllly abstract until you see what I am talking about, and then you go, “OHHHHHH I GET IT!”. Our friends over at An Every Day Story have a great setup to explain how they do it, if you want an example before I show you mine. With Reggio, we are encouraged to start with a question, maybe something like…”what are your children curious about right now?” and to create provocations from there. For The Boy, magnets and wheels are just insanely mesmerizing to him, as are books and being read to while simultaneously flipping through another book on his own. So I created provocations based on his interests, not just on stuff I think he should know, that is the difference between constructivist/emergent education (meaning it is constructed by and emerges from the child) and traditional models of education wherein the adult seeks to impart what they feel is worth knowing to the child. See the difference? As education moves forward into elementary and secondary schooling, there will be plenty of time for that kind of teaching to happen, hopefully in concert with a more self-directed approach as we are encouraging here, but when they are super-young like this, my goal is to impart a love and a desire to learn, an insatiable curiosity and the sense that they are capable and competent learners. Not only is this developmentally appropriate for toddlers, but it also helps him to feel good about what he can accomplish…and that is a beautiful thing.

Aight, enough about the concept…onto the play!

I started with his new thing…MAGNETS. Created a little area (which I like to carve out with small blankets or rugs to designate) and two 3.00 waste baskets I picked up from the cheapie section of Target. I had picked up this set of alphabet magnets from Melissa and Doug at my local hardware store during the apres Xmas sale, so I got them for a song.

Gingercat approves of this provocation.

Gingercat approves of this provocation.

Simple, right? Not a whole lot of fuss. I put a few out as a suggestion, but I am more interested in setting up the materials and letting him go to town. A big part of this style of teaching involves observation of the child. Interestingly, I often find myself watching “boy-vision” as I observe his play and problem solving. Especially when he puts the baskets on his head. And can’t get out.

Next, I wanted a space that felt like a cozy cave and appealed to his desire to scurry away to read (or…pre-read I guess), which I have noticed him do at school and certainly before bed. So I took his very favorite purple couch pillow, his Boppy and yet another small blanket and carved out a space under dad’s (insanely messy, AHEM) desk. I then arranged a bunch of books he hasn’t had much of a chance to read yet into a wooden crate, so he can select the ones he wants. I may have also tucked a baby-doll in there in case he wanted a friend who could actually fit under the desk with him. 🙂

booknook

One thing I like to do is add little toys tucked into unexpected places. To the left of the dresser, the magazine basket contains two wooden puzzles and all their pieces.

Next, I wanted a space for his fine motor and problem solving toys, which are old standbys, but which were previously in his room and little used. I used our coffee table as a sort of “workbench” where he could float from one problem solving toy to the next, but which remained uncrowded. My goal is to invite play, not to overwhelm with choices.

Three piece puzzle, "work tools" with real wooden screws, nuts and bolts, stacking pieces on a wooden dowel and this funny mind-bender toy I found for him.

Three piece puzzle, “work tools” with real wooden screws, nuts and bolts, stacking pieces on a wooden dowel and this funny mind-bender toy I found for him.

Because my son is a toddler, he also desperately needs to MOVE. To practice walking, climbing and throwing himself on various things. That’s why there is a little trike and his pushcart (from the book-nook picture above), as well as his green ball and of course, the good old standby–the couch cushions–to help facilitate that play. I usually put the coffee-table in another room for that portion of the day (usually right after lunch) or else I schlep the kiddo to The Providence Children’s Museum, Kidzone, our fabulous local playground or the Bellani Tot Gym to help him get his gross-motor skills revved up. But this is a daily MUST for this kid at his age…there is no way around it. In a house of 850 square feet, it is a challenge, but totally doable with prior planning (and always checking the weather the night before to determine how psychotic the following afternoon will be).

Finally, there is Old Reliable. The Boy just loves his blocks. So, I make a space for him to stack and crash. Simple. I used an overturned storage basket as a building surface, but he seems to prefer climbing on it half the time. No worries; it is sturdy. Enough. For now.

blocks

I would like to add one final thing…these pictures were taken on a day when The Boy was in school. I set up the provocations for him after cleaning the house. Let’s take a look at how the living room looks when he is actually IN it, enjoying the space (pics are a couple months old, but I didn’t want anyone feeling like only they spent their days in play-squalor, because that’s not the case at all…)

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Holiday squalor…

Nursery Squalor...

Nursery Squalor…

Also if you are wondering what The Boy is doing in this picture, he has climbed into the bed of a toy dump truck, and is (sadly) in the process of learning why it is called a dump truck. There were tears, poor guy. He had to try it to learn though…

In any event, happy provocations! How are you are yours staying busy inside?? Got any pics or tips to inspire?

Honoring the Quiet

Boy, this last week was HARD. It just was, and we all have them. That is why I am looking to recharge my batteries, to help gear up for this next week, in which ZPB will be off to California for a business trip, and I will be working hard to get the house ready for The Baby, as well as keep The Boy engaged, happy and enjoying this precious time we have left as just the two of us. Aaaaand here come the tears…

Recharging our batteries looks different for everyone. My husband does it via the social scene and his Sunday night manly-men gaming group. He loves to use strategy, he loves to be the center of attention and he loves to talk and talk and talk about various analyses he is making of everything. I am the exact opposite. I recharge my batteries in the thoughtful quiet of a book, my daily tasks such as washing dishes, mopping floors, doing crafts, blogging, baking, cooking and doing laundry (yep, I’m boring). These are the spaces that bring me the peace I need. This is often why people who are otherwise more “outgoing” find me to be a bit of a cold fish: I just genuinely enjoy solitude and silence. It helps me to think,  make careful choices and to be truly present.

Thus, at the end of such a LOOOONG week, and at the cusp of (potentially) another tough one, I want to just claim my space for silence. The space I require  to allow  strength and energy for the big changes coming toward me …to emerge.

I think offering this gift to our kids is important, regardless of whether they appear to enjoy a more introverted or extraverted environment. To me, allowing opportunities to access both ways to expressing ourselves and in finding peace and enjoyinment is part of how we teach our kids. Too many parents (in my opinion, and clearly I always have one) really push their kids into being with others and enjoying social activities like sports, group projects and generally boisterous experiences. I’ll speak from my own corner here when I say that as I child, I dreaded events like Field Day and great big group activities. Frankly, I just wanted to be left alone or with a good friend and a bunch of great books or a nearly empty playground. All the yelling, the competition, the bright dun on my face…it was overstimulation to the max and it often left me feeling confused and exhausted trying to process it all. Yet, I know so many children who find this kind of experience deeply enriching, even soothing! Recognizing the plurality of preferences inherent in us all helps me to think about offering provocations and invitations to play for The Boy which can help him determine how he likes to learn best and what atmospheres feed his creativity the most. But offering the veritable buffet of experiences feels like the right choice here. I notice that he gravitates towards more independent play at certain points in the day, but then when he is at his school, he seems to have a different orientation to his energy, and seems to find tremendous satisfaction in problem-solving and exploring with his buddies, which is fabulous too.

 

To my mind, offering a child chances to be with oneself and with their own thoughts is to honor them, and to honor their independence, somehting toddlers especially work hard to cultivate. In closing, I leave you with this verse by Waldorf Education founder Rudolf Steiner. I think it is appropriate.

Quiet I bear within me
I bear within myself
Forces to make me strong
Now will I be imbued
With their glowing warmth
Now will I fill myself
With my own will’s resolve
And I will feel the quiet
Pouring through all my being,
When by my steadfast striving
I become strong
To find myself within myself
The source of strength,
The strength of inner quiet.
 -Rudolf Steiner

Rant: Mama Said There’d Be Days…

Like this? No, she never said they would be like this. As in, this exhausting, this confusing and this panic-inducing. Nope, not a word. Ya see, I know super-even-keeled women who are ready to lose it after a day or two alone in a small house with a toddler. Mind you, I am not a super-even-keeled woman. And I am eight months pregnant and 5’4, which does actually matter. When your torso isn’t that long to begin with, you become, in essence, a turtle walking on its hindlegs. If that sounds uncomfortable for the turtle, I think you get the picture here.

So there I am in the living room, we have recently finished lunch, which only ate up 15 minutes of my extraordinarily long day, and The Boy decides that now he wants to sit in my lap and watch Curious George. Except…I have no lap left. There is a sliver of thigh (length, certainly plenty of width here folks…) for him to sit on. And man, is he pissed about it. So he does that thing where you arch your back and bounce up and down at the same time. In true RIE-parenting fashion, I let him know “I’m not going to let you bounce like that because it hurts me”, until he surprises me with one of these backwards lunges and I end up with a toddler skull pushing my lip into my teeth. There is a little blood, there is some screaming, mainly because I had to put him down and he was pissed. Again. It was at this point that I went into the kitchen for some ice.

Ice. Mmmm. Freezer…what is IN here? Oh. That bottle of gin. Yeah…

YEAH.

I know people who love to brag about how “I’m not a drinker” blah blah blah. Look, my ancestors are French, Irish and Scottish. DRINKERS. Also? I live in RI, and in case you are unfamiliar with our cultural landscape, we love our hooch. What the Hell? I pour myself a cocktail. Also, if you have something to say about a cocktail when pregnant, take a chill pill. It is cleared through my doc and while I am totally on board with whatever folks want to do for their own families, I think a drink is a healthy thing to have in moderation when pregnant. Just remember: turtles can’t do keg-stands. In any event, I bring my little rocks glass into the living room, put it up out of Mr. Screech’s reach, and commence the soothing, the kissing, the tickling. All day, we go back and forth with him being bored to tears and me being too exhausted to get dressed and take him somewhere so we just end up reading and playing inside. Tough cookies, it is all I have right now. Plus, the weather is so horribly cold, it eliminates all manner of fun outdoor activities, leaving only a few options, all of which require me to physically carry him around when I am having a hell of a time just getting myself around. Thing is, he is 15 months old. His favorite thing to do is run in the opposite direction of me, turn to look at me and cackle maniacally. In fact, this happened two days ago at the Children’s Museum and it was a clusterfuck. I spent the night panting through Braxton Hicks, heartburn that could kill John Goodman and popping Tylenol for that asshole round ligament thing. Yeah, not happening again. Sorry. If it was nice enough for the playground, fine. It is fenced in and dog-free. Run like the wind, kiddo, I’m right behind you. But now, we are stuck inside. I have offered provocations in shaving cream art, magnets, in water-play and ice play. All I have succeeded in doing is trashing my living room, listening to The Boy bang pots and pans on the floor (as his little brother jumps and kicks in my belly, scared to death) subsequently chasing him with said pots and pans to remove them from his little paws, then deal with tantrum fallout, and scrub shaving cream off the couch cushions. Oh yeah, and mop up all the water. Remember that turtle? Picture it mopping. EXACTLY. Turtles can’t mop.

So now we are sticking to the classics; blocks, puzzles, baby-doll, tricycle, books, bouncy ball and a few handmade toys. And a gin and tonic. Oye.

Preparing for Second Baby: On Being Mental in 3rd Trimester

So The Baby is due March 15th, which also happens to be Purim, and which also happens to be the Ides of March which has all sorts of scary/weird implications. Excellent.

Currently, I am oscillating between:
A. The full knowledge that I am about to once again enter (willingly) what I refer to as the Sleep Gauntlet From Hell , or, SGFH. And this time…it could be worse. Way worse. Because now, I have a toddler. Indeed, the crapshoot that is bringing a new person into this world is that they may not in fact be the chill cucumber of a kid your first child was. A point several smug family members keep insisting on reminding me. Thanks.

B. The full knowledge I am once again about to get super-stoned on natural doses of oxytocin, which for me, rivaled any and all recreational drugs taken in graduate school. And this will potentially extend to The Boy as well, since I have a tendency to just roll with the high and spread it around me to other children in the vicinity and suddenly become Mother Goose on quaaludes.

C. Nervousness that this birth might not be the birth I had with The Boy, which was fantastic. Frankly, I want to know what all the Orgasmic Birth stuff is about. I feel like only super-thin women who do yoga and eat seeds all day engage in this sort of experience, but then I am reminded that women of my shape (curvy, Rubenesque perhaps?) have traditionally been seen as representing the height of what is considered feminine. Therefore, any marvelous sexy experience should originate from my people, the Women of the Second Helping who think yoga is great with brunch and that seeds are a garnish for something yummier. Like pasta. PASTA….

D. Wondering if I simply have zero control over how The Boy experiences the loss of being an only child. When I was an only child and loved it. Awkward. Also, on preserving the routines that mean the most to him, such as the Toddler 3 S’s (Shower, Stories and Snuggle) and some weekly one on one time with mama, when mama is an Attachment Parent and will struggle to be away from The Baby for like…a year. Oye.