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…)

IMG_1606

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?

Advertisements

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.

3 Vegetarian Slow-Cooker Recipes to Make you Randy

Feelin randy? Nah, me neither. It’s the weather. It’s also the realization that I have had the same three dishes in rotation the last few weeks, including Chinese takeout. BAD GIRL. I know. So I went looking for inspiration on good old Uncle Google, and found some fabulous recipes which passed muster and could all be made in a slow-cooker (or as everyone I know calls it, a crock-pot). To make the cut, dishes must:

1. Be healthy

2. Be inexpensive (by my standards…we are not talking tuna tartare or filet here…)

3. Be easy to make in a crock-pot, and perhaps have simple ways to jazz it up IF I have time

Also, let me introduce you to the hardware: I have an itty bitty crock-pot (not the minuscule one for dip or whatever, something more like this. Only in red. 😀 I also have a BAMF of a rice cooker, which is one appliance I use and use and use.

Without further introduction, my three recent picks, which all just happen to be vegetarian. Cool! Maybe after one of these you’ll feel a little heat, eh?

1. Indian Red Lentils with Jasmine Rice

Note: I have a rice cooker and you should too. This is NOT one of those worthless appliances. Get the kind with a brown rice setting and a steam tray for veggies. Amazing. Use the rice cooker to make the jasmine rice (ratio of 1:1 water to rice, in case you needed a refresher) and then grate a carrot into it. Dash of salt, dash of pepper, dash of ground ginger. Rice = Done. Moving on.

Actual Recipe: http://bit.ly/1hKk2pV

Note: I didn’t have the coriander and the dish still tasted lovely. The lemon and cilantro however, were reaallly good, so I advise you to just go with it and try them if you can. I also substituted sriracha for the cayenne, and of course went a bit heavy on it. ZPB was quite pleased with this choice.

3. Southwest Black Beans and Cheddar Couscous

Ok, so this could be a little healthier…couscous is after all, just pasta in a tiny round shape. But whatever, it cooks by simply absorbing boiling liquid in five minutes or under. That has to count double for cool-points.

This is my recipe, so I’ll give you the deets:

4 cans black beans, rinsed

1 Tbs. chili seasoning

1 tsp. smoked paprika (if you can find some, this shiz will change your damn life)

2 tsps. Kosher salt

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 onion, diced

1 tsp. diced jalepeno (I get the kind in the jar and just use it as I need it, though you could totally use cayenne and call it a day here)

1/2 cup chicken broth

Dump all ingredients into slow cooker.

Turn onto the ‘low’ setting and let it hang out 4-6 hours.

Make 2-3 cups couscous. I am not telling you how to do this. If you don’t know, read the damn box. It’s crazy-easy. Grate 1 cup of cheddar cheese and stir/fluff in with a fork once the liquid has been absorbed by the couscous. Add 1 tsp. each salt, garlic powder and pepper.

Serve beans over couscous. I like to be naughty and serve with eggs over medium on top of the beans…and then get super-filthy and slice up half an avocado (and squirt lemon or lime on top) for each person on the side. I serve with salsa or pico de gallo. This dish feels right with a light beer. We are Narragansett drinkers in this house…so yeah. That’s the good stuff.

3. Spicy Chickpea-Coconut Faux Curry with Brown Rice

I say this is a faux curry, because I made it up, and feel certain that, as a white girl with no classes or cultural teaching around this dish, I don’t know how to make curry. HOWEVER. This does taste delicious and reminds me of actual curry that I have eaten in places where people know what the ish they are doing. So there is that.

3 cans chickpeas, rinsed

1 can light coconut milk, shaken like a Polaroid picture

2 heaping tablespoons curry paste (red or green really do it for me here, I save the masala for other applications)

1 chopped onion

1 chopped sliced red pepper (I do half strips) or cauliflower florets

2 carrots sliced on the bias

1 cup salted cashews. MMMMMMMmmmmMMMMMmmmm

1-2 cups chicken broth whisked with 1 Tbs. arrowroot/cornstarch (eyeball it, this will create a faux roux to thicken this bad boy with)

Dump everything into the slow-cooker but the broth faux roux. Make the BFR, and dump into slow-cooker.

Serve over brown or jasmine rice. I serve with sriracha on the side and it is so darn good.

Also… does anyone have anything like this amazing-looking product?? I feel I have been misled if this indeed does what it says it does. We should discuss.

The Gendered Toys Issue

So let me open up this post with a little Q+A for the dissenting voices in my head, who I know REALLY exist in the broader community, or I wouldn’t be arguing with them to begin with…. for those among us NOT convinced that gendered toys are an issue, the following questions may come to mind. Let’s just go ahead and answer them now before they show up in the comments and keep me away from that naughty pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream in the icebox. MK.

“Why are we talking about this?”

The reason that gendered toys is a concerning issue, is because like it or not, the toys send vastly different messages about values, ideals and moral judgment to both boys and girls. They send them messages that no amount of dinner-table family discussion can completely erase. Some of these particularly scary and/or limiting messages include: girls should like to look pretty, boys  should like to be in action all the time, girls like to spend their time perfecting ‘looks’ and playing with babies and cooking sets, boys like to build things and destroy things. You see where I am going with this? It is a topic because every toy our kids play with sends them a subtle message about who they are, what they should enjoy and how to fit into their peer group. Considering that we all know that play is the work of children, and they spend a whole lot of their time doing it, I think this warrants some conversation, no?

“What is wrong with little girls liking pink” 

Not a darn thing. But there is something wrong when a little boy stands at the edge of the entirely pink and purple aisle of Target, desperately wanting to find a toy kitchen, and feeling unsure that he will be emotionally safe, or that his identity will be harmed if he goes down that aisle, because as he tells his mother “that is the girl aisle”. There is something REALLY REALLY not OK with that. There is also something wrong with  a little girl being manipulated/steered into cheer classes and cheer dolls, books and sheets when she tells her parents she wants to be an athlete and no one ever thinks to ask her what KIND of athlete she wants to be. More importantly perhaps, she never even gets a chance to think about it, either.

“Why are we seeking to make boys more effeminate and girls more masculine?”

I don’t think that is what we are doing here at all, but first we have to examine what we MEAN by effeminate and masculine. Are these not relative terms? What is feminine? According to my grandmother, a prompt thank you note and crossed ankles when sitting denotes femininity, as does avoiding certain topics in conversation, such as politics and religion. Upon closer inspection, the subtext to these ideas is that women should be seen (but not too much!) and not heard (unless in writing, and in formal language ifyouplease). To me, this is deeply unfeminine, because my idea of femininity includes using my voice (clearly) and in not fearing judgement because my short chubby legs aren’t comfortable crossing at the ankles. Tough cookies. I WILL discuss politics and religion, because women comprise 51% of the US yet are represented in only 17% of elected government offices. This silence starts EARLY with implicit messages inherent in the toys we give our children…what do the toys TEACH? Don’t think for a second that they are not careful constructed to appeal to a stereotype of what a little boy or a little girl should be doing with their time or what they should enjoy. And how can we even fight the mammoth pink and blue aisles? When we have media and popular culture jamming these archetypes of boy-ness and girl-ness down our throats, how can we empower our kids to make their own choices and follow their hearts? It is tough business. But pink is not, and never will be the enemy.

“Can’t a kid just be a kid?”

Of course. But that doesn’t necessarily mean “boys will be boys” and “girls will be girls” because we are products of our socialization, like it or not…they are NOT born to like babies and cooking and barrettes (girls) or cars, trains and faux weapons (boys). They LEARN to like them because we give them toys which encourage and develop those interests. 

Ok. Hopefully that answers some of the basics.

How did this all come up? Well…as usual I am reading a book. Packaging Boyhood was one of my first books once kiddo turned the age that they even start looking at toys instead of languidly batting at a stuffed lion or whatever dangling over them on a playmat. So…maybe about six to eight months ago. That is when I started sort of ‘pecking’ at this book. I knew the messages were already coming in loud and clear via onesie messaging: “Mama’s Tough Guy”, “Daddy’s Little Man” and various iterations of trucks, trains and sports themes emerging all over my sweet baby’s clothes. I even received a onesie with a tool belt stitched across the midsection. Essentially, I thought they were ridiculous, and even if they didn’t send the kid a message, as was essentially just a linguine for the first few months, it would send ZPB and myself a message every time we dressed him, and I didn’t think it was necessary. Why all the pressure to grow up, to be a be a “man” or a “tough guy”. What is with all the big “lotsa action” theme splashed across everything he would ever wear? To convince people he wasn’t a girl? Why was that even important at this stage? It was a suggested performance, one I felt aversive to from the start.

I want to point out also, that in our home, we are very big on cultivating strong masculinity, even past the point many of my colleagues who care deeply about gender would understand. Why is this? Well, it is our personal belief that the current popular narrative around masculinity goes something like this: prove you belong to the man-club by being violent, being a ‘slacker’ and/or by being ‘the funny guy’. There are plenty of books about this, and plenty of mamas and papas blogging about itBut what is interesting about these roles, is that none of them coincide with the kinds of boys we hope to raise: conscious, cerebral, polite, loving, nurturing and strong young men. The slacker isn’t going to college or graduate school, and our countries declining rates of college-going men buttress this point. In higher education administration (my former field) we even call this “the boy crisis”. The violent kid is not going to be in healthy relationships, nor will he contribute to his community fully, because he needs to tear people down to feel good about himself. Finally, the funny guy is terrified of being taken seriously, because it undercuts his identity. He can never really show his heart to anyone, because that level of vulnerability could shred his image and render him a social pariah at a time when he desperately needs his peer group for support. How does he fall in love, then? So, in our house, we talk a lot about these popular images and how toys (and indeed media, but that is another post) support our kids developing the skills and VALUES we deeply want them to cultivate. Can we control them this way, can we protect them from everything? Nope. But we have more power than any other single influence and dammit, we will use it. You know why? Because my friends’ sons and daughters will grow up. And when they do, they will deserve great, loving and hard-working men in their lives. My grandchildren will deserve wonderful dads. Dads who know how to change diapers, support early feeding techniques, night wakings and how to enjoy the feeling of holding their infant without fear they have somehow traded in their Man-Card. Dads who don’t question what people think of them when they help their little girls get ready for school, like this fantastic father of two. I desperately want my boys to enjoy these moments in their lifetime, and I want their spouses to have the support, because they deserve it too.

Leaving my son alone for hours on end with a first-person shooter once he hits middle school will not support that goal. OK, let’s be real, letting him play them regularly at ALL will not support that goal. Why do we even have them? Sure, there are kids who have cut their teeth on that stuff and can be good dads. Great. You can also do the whole “Steve Jobs didn’t go to colege and still made it big, I can too”-thing and know that what we are referring to is the exception to the rule. Sure it exists, but how much do you really want to bet on it?

Those types of games still send a value judgement to kids on what is and is not important for them to engage in and enjoy. Fundamentally, what I am saying is that as parents, we should be ON BOARD with that message, and understand what it leaves out (ie: girls can like pink…but are they allowed to like anything else? Boys can like sports, but is figure skating a problem?).

Your thoughts? Experiences?

Let’s Talk Baloney on RIE

It will be difficult for this post to not become a rant on a miserable article I read last night (more of an editorial) on good ol’ Mommyish.com. I love Mommyish. I freelance for them, and I deeply appreciate their willingness to give parents the space to express some difficult experiences and realizations that many of us keep hidden out of shame or lack of information. I think carving space for these dialogues is critical for our community and is in large part why I continue to write for them.

But this article was So. Darn.Wrong.

As in, it was not FACTUAL. Beyond that point, it hit home for me because it criticized the approach to infant care that I ascribe to, known as RIE, which is short for Resources in Infant Educaring. Some of you might be rolling your eyes right now (“why can’t people just parent?” you might whine, “why do they need a ‘philosophy’??”–because it is  flippin’ 2014 and we like to actually USE the information we work so hard to research and uncover, MK cupcake? If you found a cure for a pervasive disease, wouldn’t you use it? I digress…). Specifically, RIE is a tool for  parents, and compliments my Attachment Parenting (AP) approach to responding to my baby ‘s cues and cries. See, RIE is about believing that babies can learn things. Practical things that help them and help their caregivers. Like, for example, how to soothe oneself to sleep. Not small potatoes here. So many parents turn to external thingies to help facilitate sleeping for babies. Thingies that buzz, swing, gyrate at fourteen different speeds, play music, prop ipads, prop TVs, prop bottles… it isn’t really necessary for most babies, and I would argue they deeply hinder their growth and development. Sure, I will bet they will WORK for many families. But they won’t work forever. This is why teaching is so important. By teaching here, I am not suggesting that an infant can sit in a classroom, or even that they are some passive recipient of an adult agenda. What I am saying is an infant can figure things out for themselves–they can learn on their own, with support from caring adults. They are way smarter than many theorists and even our own mothers, aunties and grannies might have us believe. We sorta-kinda know this when we talk about second language acquisition, right? About how young children’s minds are like sponges? Sure. We can generally agree that first as well as second (or third, etc.) language acquisition is one thing that can  more easily be learned in the earliest years than later in life. Anyone who has ever heard a radio ad for Rosetta Stone knows this.

So this then begs the question…what else can babies and toddlers learn? I mean, if they can handle learning even ONE language (that’s a lot of work!) or learn how to regulate their breathing, cry when they need to communicate a need or connect with a caregiver…babies can learn how to sleep. As an Attachment Parent, I deeply believe that this is not accomplished through any “cry it out” methods in infanthood. I  do believe, however, that there is a fine line which only a (connected, responsive) primary caregiver really knows, where letting a baby or a toddler cry as they settle themselves to sleep is just fine. I sure wouldn’t ask anyone other than myself or my husband to determine where that line is for my own brood,  particularly in the first year, but that is my own preference, one many of my friends and certainly some family…think is nuts. But I know my own baby, and the proof is in the puddin’–I have a relaxed, happy kid. I think this is in large part to the balance of RIE and AP that he has received in his first year, both from his amazing school and from ZBF.

So before I get further down the AP meets RIE-ramble path, I’d like to take a moment to shred the Mommyish article’s claims regarding RIE to itty bitty pieces. Ahem.

1. “RIE is “philosophically opposed to anything that disrespects the baby.” What does this mean exactly? I’ll tell you—no sippy cups, no highchairs, no baby gyms, no baby carriers, and no baby walkers (also called “moving prisons”).”

Sippy cups have nothing to do with RIE. My son’s school (which is a RIE school) encourages them as part of a normal process of transitioning from infant to toddler rooms. As my son is smack in the middle of this transition, he uses a sippy cup every day. No big thang. Totally irrelevent.

sippy

Highchairs? True, they don’t use them. I use one at home because it helps my son eat with the other members of ZBF and I think that is valuable at home. Why no high chair at school? Because children who do not need to be bottle-fed can sit in small chairs, with freedom of movement just fine. NOT one of these beastly things either, just a small, legit chair that allows kiddo’s feet to touch the floor when he or she is ready to do something else. Is freedom of movement so radical? I think it has a lot to do with ratio of caregivers to children. When the facility has a high ratio of caregivers to kiddos, it is not a big deal if Keesha says she is all set with her Goldfish and milk and heads over to the crawling structure to play.

rietable

It is when the facility has too few adults to children that these, “stay where you are” contraptions are most used. Baby carriers are not used, because well, they are a safety concern. Suppose the caregiver falls?? Baby gyms and walkers are restrictive, and they do not allow the child to learn how to move properly. Think about it…what are baby’s supposed to learn as they become toddlers? First and foremost, they are learning trust, we know that, but second they are learning to use this crazy little body they have! Sticking them in thingies does not support this goal. In another post I am happy to discuss how I manage to get anything done in the house with a baby who is not in a thingie.

2. “Children don’t need toys,” says Solomon. “Almost all of the toys at RIE can be found in somebody’s cupboard.” No rattles either. According to Gerber, “Rattles are an adult idea: you pick up something, and it makes noise. Why does it make noise? Because some adult put something into something.”

If this is the RIE credo, then I’m totally screwed. My house is full of this crap, and it’s the only way I can get through the day with my eight month old baby. I love spending time with my baby (and toddler), but I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with throwing a sippy cup in his hand and tossing him into the baby gym for a few minutes—so he can work on his fitness, and I can get some dishes done.

I think the best way to respond to this experience is to simply share how I do the same thing. We all have dishes to do, so it is a perfectly legit concern to need your hands to get stuff done. Understood. Here is how the scenario plays out for me using the RIE philosophy: I baby-gated my kitchen. I have baby-proofed the majority of the cupboards (well, ZPB did, but you get the idea), except for three drawers which contain (gasp!) recyclables, tupperware, wooden spoons and other objects the kid can chew on, throw across the room and or bang against the wall with little to no damage done. I keep stuff off the floor that would be problematic for him, like the catfood and water dish and the only modification I make to the room is to sit the trash-can on top of a chair and put the recycling bin outside the back door (clean recycled items = good, old soup cans with gunk in them = VILE). I let him in. He plays. I wash. Oh, you say, that is when he is old enough to walk or crawl around, right? What about babies, HUH??? That is what a baby carrier is for. Though RIE does not favor them, as an AP, I do, largely because I am not “throwing my kid” in anything; I am talking to him, describing what I am doing, humming, kissing his head while silently scrubbing…something. He is watching what I am doing and is fascinated by it. Never knew scrubbing a pot could be so mesmerizing, I’ll tell ya. But it is FINE. Oh, and that business about a child being in a thingie and ‘working on their fitness?’ I wouldn’t be so sure. I have a sneaking suspicion that letting my son free-roam is going to be better ‘excercise’ that sticking him in some contraption where his movement is restricted and his stimulus is determined by what buttons he can press. Yawn. I mean, does that sound like fun to YOU?

rie3

Behold. My living room, moved around a bit.

You know what else is great about my modified RIE approach? IT IS CHEAP. No bouncy thingie, no plastic crap all over my floor that I have to find storage for, no hundreds of dollars trying to overstimulate my kid into silence so I can feel some peace. I trust him to play. I trust him to be fine and learn on his own, with me, his  mama, right nearby. Has he whacked his head on the table, or toddled into a chair? Yup. Depending on the severity of the bump, he either takes a moment to cry for a split second before moving on to another activity, or I come over and quietly pick him up and prop him in my lap for a moment. He is still a baby after all, no need to be all, “buck up, kiddo–you’re eight months–that means you’re a man now!” He is fine. This is where the respect and trust of the baby come into play. My point with this  lengthy dishwashing description is this: it doesn’t have to be complicated for the learning to happen when you use the RIE approach.

3.In the RIE Facebook group, parents are getting their panties in a knot about child-rearing issues I have never given a second thought to. One woman wants to revamp her two-year-old’s daycare structure into an “alternative playspace” and “natural playscape” that is RIE-friendly.

As I read through these RIE parenting posts, I am exhausted. I am definitely an over-thinker and a worrier as a parent, but something about RIE seems over-worked to me. Why does parenting have to be this hard, and why is there so much pressure on the parent?

My final response to this article, is in regards to something I hinted at in the beginning of this post…the critique of the “overthinking parent”. Let me explain something here, and let me be crystal clear: I believe that knowledge is power. I believe in education and lifelong learning and in the premise that we can all be great parents no matter what. This is ultimately about values. I value reading. I value talking to people who are experts in their fields, like my best friend who is a physical therapist and has lots to say about how your hips won’t develop properly in an exersaucer or a walker. Or my colleague who is a midwife and can speak at length about the chemicals produced by our bodies during bonding time with our kids…if we can carve out and prioritize that time in the first place instead of simply worrying about it and not making the choice itself. Here are some pictures  of a ‘natural playscape’–wouldn’t you want your kid to play here?!

playscape

Parenting is hard. I’ll agree to that. I think there are things that can make it easier: time, space, willingness to draw boundaries with our kids, our families and friends and in the commitments we insist we ‘have to do’. I realize also that I speak from a place of economic privilege here, because as a stay at home mother, I have a lot of freedom which I might not have if ZPB were unable to provide a solid income for us all, or if he were simply not there as might be the case with a single parent. I was raised by a single parent. But I would challenge the author of this article, and all the folks who agreed with her in the comments, to perhaps be a bit more critical of their apparent collective approach to early parenting. She is absolutely right: is doesn’t have to be SO hard.

Baby, it’s Flippin Cold Outside

I love some of the weather-person lingo I keep hearing on the radio in those short forecast quips: “arctic blast will continue through early next week”, “be on the lookout for polar road conditions”–what?? So yeah, for the majority of the East coat, it is pretty damn cold outside. If I was still in my kill-bottle-of-wine-on-my-couch-watching-Long-Island-Medium-all-day phase of life I wouldn’t think much about it. I’d just go searching for the bottle opener like a normal person. But alas, I’m a mama, and mamas are BUSY regardless of the weather. I don’t want to hear the whine: “not all childless people sit on the couch all day drinking, ugh!”. Whatever. The truth is, my fourteen-month old wants to play, and climb, and giggle, and learn new things and hear music and get dirty. He doesn’t give a flip about the fact that it is currently -12 outside right now.

What to do? Well, I’ll start with what I’m doing. Ya’ll, please chime in. This will not be the first or last day we are cooped up and need to rev those imagination engines, so post your plans or ideas too, mk? Mama digs ze inspiration.

-Bucket with a few inches of warm water. Add duckie. Add some plastic stuff and a new clean sponge. Cover floor with a few towels. Hold bucket while baby splashes. Done.

babybucket

– Shaving cream in a baggie. Add a drop of food coloring to baggie. Seal and re-seal with duct-tape. This is not supposed to be messy and baby may or may not take to it… I think Baby E thought it was some kind of practical joke.

babyshavingcream1

-The good old cardboard box trick. Must be large enough to climb into and out of. Done, boom. Note: I did not actually change the baby’s clothes as many times as it would appear in this post. Some are from yesterday.

babybox1Enjoy your playtime!

New Mama? Read Dis.

I started a post about what to give a new mama…and realized after providing a detailed listing of about twenty books that what I really want to do is share some amazing books that have supported and guided my experience with my first baby in his first year of life. Mind you, I am not a ‘baby-person’ nor have I ever really thought about this stuff until I was smack dab IN it. I tend to keep relatives at bay (most of them are more trouble than their worth in my family, so, you know…cost/benefit analysis…) so I had my partner, my gut instinct, and whatever research I could get my hands on to guide me through that first year.

So here it is, in no particular order. My “essentials” reading list for a new mama. I realize this may be way excessive for some mamas, but I am a RESEARCH WHORE and can’t help myself. To be fair, most of these books are available on Kindle and I read them on my phone while the baby sorta kinda slept on and off in my arms or in his car seat next to the bed. It can be tough, (as many of you know) to get back to sleep when you know baby wakes every 90 minutes…so I read these. And despite being in a zombie-like state, it helped me a lot.

-Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby  (This is essential reading. Like…go get this damn book if you ever want shuteye again.)

-The New Basics: A-Z Baby and Child Care for the Modern Parent (I particularly enjoy this one because it written by a French doc who tends to use a very laissez-faire approach). This one I keep in hard copy.

-Balance is a Crock: Sleep is for the Weak (super important for working mothers)

-The Baby Book (Yes, I am into Dr. Sears and Attachment Parenting or ‘AP’ as us crazies like to call it)

-The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding

-The Minimalist’s Guide to Baby’s First Year

-Minimalist Parenting (yes, it is a completely different book and they are both totally worth a read)

-The Breastfeeding Book (more from the Sears family)

-The Attachment Parenting Book (…and yet, more Sears…)

-The Encyclopedia of Infant and Toddler Activities

-Baby’s First Year (written by two docs who are also parents–this one is VERY thorough, but I dig it. I also keep this one in hard copy)

-Bringing Up Bebe (I appreciate the French approach in some ways but in others it is a little too hands-off for me. Good perspective, though.)

I think I had forgotten how important it was/is for me to have these resources in my life, and particularly to validate everything my gut was telling me to do (as was certainly the case with the AP activities like co-sleeping and breastfeeding.) So however you get your validation, however you back up your own intuition with research, I think these are some excellent resources. Happy squinty-eyed middle of the night reading on your phone!

Quickie: Score Natural Toys Post-Holiday

Yo. Just wanted to put this out there–these folks are RAD:

http://www.mamamayishop.com/

ALSO, I am a big fan of buying local. As in, within the teeny state of RI. THIS gal makes beautiful toys (I bought a stuffed rabbit with lavender sachet feet from her at a craft fair for Baby E…and it is just gorgeous). Check it out: http://etsy.me/JKsVnR.