The Unchapter – What the Parenting Books Are Missing

Up above me sits my modest collection of parenting books which are nestled next to my books about California civil procedure (i.e. litigation).  Both basically deal with the same thing – how to address challenging moves.  When I glance above at the books I have a new perspective.  I’m not sure why, but maybe it’s the five years of mommy hood, observing trials and tribulations with my own boys and those of my friends.  The reason doesn’t matter – but here is the thing.  All parenting books are basically the same.

Just think about it.  Using the books on my shelf as an example there is the book on positive discipline, touchpoints on emotional development, and healthy sleep happy child.  Each of these books have one thing in common.  They tout one particular theory and give examples of how to implement it.

These examples seem good in theory.  For example, calmly telling the escaping toddler to come back and using positive reinforcement to encourage results.  But what happens when the toddler is running towards oncoming traffic?  Will calmness work then? Not for me.

Then what are these books?  I think they are ideals.  They set forth paradigms to think about parenting, strategies for dealing with different behaviors.  This has to be checked against the reality that no single theory will work all the time, nor should it.  We are complex beings.

Even typing this makes me question my thought – as these are the books professed by experts to raise happy and healthy kids.  Like there is some sort of recipe – 50 positive affirmations + 0 timeouts = happy child.  But there is no recipe for successful parenting as each child is different.

We live in a culture where everyone has an answer to something.  Hell, even before our children are born, we read books that tell us what to expect. They give detailed pictures, diagrams, charts (ya da ya da), to try and explain the unexplainable.

When I first read those books, I did gain some sort of comfort.  But now looking back, I wonder what they really added.  Those precious hours spent studying different books, parenting philosophies and even educational philosophies, could have been spent just enjoying the then present moment of pregnancy.

This outward direction ensues beyond pregnancy and into parenting.  Maybe it’s technology, the internet or fear of duplicating the mistakes of our own parents.  Everything directs parents outside of themselves to seek external answers – in books, on the internet or experts.

I’m not saying that all expert opinions are bad as I have gotten wonderful advice from behavioralists and professionals. What I am saying is that we ourselves are our own experts.  And sometimes our instincts provide answers.  Take the birth of my second son for example.  The nurse nearly sent me home 45 minutes before he was born.  She was convinced I wasn’t in labor.  If that was the case, then I guess C’s labor was some sort of record.

Sure birth and parenting are two different things, but both give reason to trust ourselves.  We know what’s best for our kids.  On an instinctual level we can read their smiles and body language.  Sometimes we can understand what they are experiencing without them saying it.  And this connection is so so important.

For me, I have to remind myself on a daily basis that I know what’s best for my boys. And if it is questioned, then after fully exploring the rationale for it, then I always reconnect with my instinct.  After all it is about doing what’s best for them, and sometimes the answer to that is within us.

So at least for me the next time that I feel the need to reach above to my shelf of parenting books, I am going to step back and try to find the inner answer.    Maybe yoga, meditation or a walk.  And then if after that I still feel the need to consult the written word, then I’ll peruse the book, but knowing that no book has all the answers and that sometimes the best answer lies within.

 

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Building Confidence One Step At A Time

Recently B has hit a remarkable stage.  He is all about telling elaborate stories, building things and causing havoc.   It occurred to me that there had to be a way to direct his interests into a way to build confidence.

so we’ve been taking the interests one at a time.  One day he started talking about building a tree-house in the backyard.  So, he scouted out the perfect tree.  Then, I had him draw a plan for it.  The plans weren’t complete until he finished drawing the crocodile slide.   Rolled up and secured with rubber bands, the plans became his treasure.  His  great uncle came to visit who also happens to be an architect.  And, Uncle P was all ears at hearing about B’s concept.  His other Great Uncle, a contractor, chimed in as well.2014-02-19 15.34.25

This experience just made me think about the positive effects of redirecting the boy energy.  Not to mention the importance of mentors.  Thank you Uncle P and Uncle T for encouraging B to think big.

For me, this was a major experience in letting go.  Until now, other than his preschool teachers, either myself of my husband have been teaching him about the world.  But we’ve come to a crossroad where it is time to let him gain learning from others.  It’s a humbling thing to have your child want to learn something that you don’t know.  Hockey -  ya right.  I can hardly skate straight, taekwondo, again another potentially lifelong goal but not at present.  Allowing other adult figures to step in to teach things that are beyond me has been eye opening in many ways.  Humbling yet empowering, as I know B is growing from his expanded exposure. 2014-03-01 09.11.30

As for redirecting the boy energy into positive experiences, in addition to hockey we’ve tried ninja school.  B has been talking about ninja school for months.  We visited and watched awhile ago and he has kept talking about it.  So, I thought why not let him try.

Reluctant at first, he clung close and absorbed the scene.  For me it was a parenting dilemma – to push or not to push.    After driving a half hour to get there and the days of anticipation, was expecting him to participate asking too much?  Clearly he was cautious and unsure about the experience.  and, I was getting frustrated at his hesitation.

As he sat on my lap, I thought about how comfortable he is in his little nest and the idea of eagle parenting.  Encouraging but making the nest a little less comfortable to make young explore outside.  But deciding to honor him and his interests, I held back and gently encouraged him.  So playfully I made a little earthquake with my legs, which made B stand up.  A baby step closer to participating.  That coupled with the gentle encouragement by the  teacher, made B eventually join the ranks.  2014-02-28 17.45.09

But he wasn’t sold until he was told to hit hard.  Then you should have seen him hit the red bag.  Smiling, laughing, not to mention expending all that energy in a positive way.  Yay!  And he left asking if he could go back tomorrow.   Success.

So begins a new chapter in parenting and in B’s development.  Luckily C is waiting in the pits ready for his turn.

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Using Photography to Help Kids

Yesterday I met two amazing ladies who have applied their expertise in photography to help kids.  It’s not everyday that you meet someone who does this.

They use photography as a medium to drive awareness about social issues, raise funds to help those issues, and potentially resolve those issues.  Isn’t that just inspiring?  I’m just saying – thank you PictureWorldHope and KH8Seconds for all you do.

Readers really – just checkout the photos at Picture World Hope’s website.  Those shots just say it all.

Kid Food: Salty Pretzel Dogs & Sweet Coconut Soup

IMG_5144[2]What’s more kid friendly than a cooking project that doubles as dinner?  In my book, nothing.  Tonight we had pretzel dogs with coconut squash soup.  The mix of the sweet soup with the salty dog was divine enough to keep my taste buds happy while also providing that added mix of comfort.  Comfort food – yay!

Creating this perfectly simple dinner is even more fun when you hit rewind.  It all started with making the pretzel dough.  (Sorry friends, yes, I am still obsessing about pretzels).  B and CJ were involved from this point on.  The ingredients are few and simple.  The process provides short bursts at a time that are perfect for the attention span of my active brutes.

There is activating the yeast. Pouring, stirring and waiting for bubbles.  Each part captivating for young chefs.  Next there is creating the dough.  Followed by kneading.  Then, letting the dough rise.  Followed by shaping.  If your lil ones are playdough junkies, then they’ll love this. Why not make a pretzel in the shape of their favorite animal or superhero?

Frankly B’s favorite part was shaping the pretzels; whereas CJ’s was tasting everything.  Ahh yes, I’m proud to say he gets it from me.

While you are letting the dough rise, throw a pumpkin, preferably kabocha or a butternut squash in the oven and let it cook.  You can later use the baked pumpkin or squash to create a yummy soup.

Want to try it out? Here’s my adaptation of the Pretzel bite recipe.  Thank you Epicurious for getting me started on this!

Pretzel Dough

  • 1 cup warm water (100° to 110°F)
  • 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter melted
  • oil for bowl

Hot dogs

  • Will make 6 bun length hot dogs or 8 shorter ones

Baking Pretzels

  • 8 cups water
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • kosher salt

Squash Soup

  • 1 kobacha pumpkin or butternut squash
  • 1 can of light coconut milk

Making the Dough

Add yeast to water.  Make sure the water is the right temperature.  Mix.  Add the sugar.  Let sit until yeast is activated.  You’ll know when it is frothy and bubbly.  If it doesn’t bubble, then toss it out and start over.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix.  Then, four a work surface.  Knead dough until elastic.  This takes a few minutes.  It’s great for little hands.  But be forewarned that this is fun, yet messy process.
Frankly I loved the impromptu visitor while I was in the middle of this.  Coated in flour and sticky hands – yes, my kitchen and I (not to mention the boys) were in quite a state.
I digress.  After the dough is elastic, get out a bowl or a larger tubberware – lightly coat in in oil.  I use Canola or Olive Oil.  place dough in it, turn it over so it’s coated.  Then cover with a kitchen towel.  Let it rise until it is at least doubled in volume.
Starting the Soup
While the dough is rising, bake your squash.  You can bake it whole if you like, or cut it in half and take out the seeds.  Either way works.  It takes about an hour in an oven at 375 degrees.  You’ll know it is done when the squash is soft.  Once soft, then let sit and cool.
Baking the Dogs
Once it has risen, then (1) preheat the oven to 375 and (2) boil a pot of water with 1/2 cup of baking soda.  If you are making just pretzels, no dogs, then go on to shaping the pretzels.  If you are making pretzel dogs, then roll out the dough, and cut in pieces to cover the hot dogs.  Wrap the hot dogs completely in the dough.
Once all of your dogs are wrapped.  Place them three at a time in the pot of boiling water.  Let them cook there until they rise.  Once they rise, gently remove them and place on a baking sheet coated with nonstick spray or parchment paper.  Dust with salt if ya like.  Repeat for the rest of your dogs.
Once all of your dogs are on the baking sheet, then bake for 30 minutes or until the hot dogs reach at least 160 and the pretzel dough is golden brown.  The dough browns towards the end of the baking process.
Finishing the Soup
While the dogs are baking, then make your soup.  Scoop out the baked squash or pumpkin and put in a pot at a medium temp.  Then add a can of light coconut milk.  Mix with a whisk or an immersion blender.  Cover and let it warm.  Voila – soup!  If it’s too thick for your taste then dilute with a bit of water, cream or milk.  If you want to add more flavor, then consider curry as an fabulous option.
Dish it out and enjoy!

So You Want a NonTraditional Themed Birthday Party?

Even before his birthday, all my 2 year old wanted was the movie “Rio.”  If you don’t know what Rio is – you’re not alone.  Rio is a sweet movie about two parrots in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  The film includes a nice social element about conservation.  In any event, the movie was the first thing he asked for in the morning and the last thing before he went to bed.  My dad even made up a song – “rio in the morning, rio in the evening, rio in the afternoon.”  So, I took it as no surprise that CJ wanted a Rio birthday party.IMG_4878

Rio is not one of those pre-packaged parties you can find at Target, Walmart or even my favorite locale for party supplies, the Dollar Store.  Perhaps during the summer you could use luau themed supplies, but in the dead of winter they are hard to come by.  Trust me – I tried.  From invites to food it became a fun challenge and took my own party planning to the next level.

I started by sharing the challenge with a more experienced (and creative) friend of mine who makes her own invitations that look elegant, classy and professional. The trick – stamps, craft scissors and glitter.  Who knew that this affordable trinity of goods could create a heavy weight card-stock invite that was personal and fun.

Once the invites were done, it was time to consider menu & decorations.  Elements of the movie came to mind parrots, Carnival, tropical fruit.  It evolved into a quasi- Mardi Gras theme with necklaces,masks and maracas for favors, punches for beverages, and brightly colored tissue paper flowers for decorations.

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Punches are my favorite party beverage.  They’re easy to make and delicious.  I usually do two an adult beverage like bloody marys and a virgin beverage.  This time, Sangria popped into mind – so that was that.  The concoction – plain red wine, some white rum, a bit of gran marnier, a little sugar, orange soda and club soda.

Feathers, glittery pompoms, colored lights  and tulle decorated the house.  The table centerpiece was a pile of bananas topped with a tropical tree made with pineapples. IMG_4857

Tissue paper pom poms and origami parrots were dancing up above.  (ThaIMG_4859nk you Martha Stewart for the recipe for fabulous pom-poms, and Tiny Shiny for a template for origami parrots that was easy to follow.)  Tried making an origami parrot?  Well most of the directions call for tons of steps  that made me feel like a total idiot! I was immensely grateful to find Tiny Shiny’s post offering a 6 step parrot.

For food, I decided to do bird bites.  Since the party was mid-afternoon, the idea was to provide a mostly well rounded menu that could serve as dinner if folks desired.  Meatballs, Pineapple, Cheese Balls (recipe here), Pesto Pizza Bites, Soft Pretzels; and since a party isn’t a party without sugar (don’t tell they boys’ fabulous dentist Cherylin (JK)) – homemade fudge & kettle corn.IMG_4876

Then, there was the cake.  When you’d ask my son about his birthday, he would say “Rio Cake.”  That’s it.  He wasn’t concerned with anything else – just the cake.  Again, he’s “my” son.  So what the heck is a Rio Cake?  Well, ask Google.  A Google images search will show images of cakes topped with marzipan parrots, flowers and the like.  Since that is way beyond my skill-set, I opted for Rio cupcakes that aimed to look like the faces of little birds, pinned here.  CJ loved helping to decorate them – or helping with the M&Ms – he would hand one to me and then eat a few.  For a larger cake, I did one with fondant and a 2 dimensional very amateur or shall I say avante guard parrot. (Sorry about the pic, had started eating the cake before realizing I hadn’t taken a photo)IMG_4863

Lastly, for entertainment, we broke the bank putting $$ from my Ebay store (WinePlusCountryEqualsStyle) and rented a jumpy from a local Sonoma company.  I’m usually anti-jumpy, due to cost, but having done parties both ways the jumpy is worth the dough.  Russell at Jump Jump gets an A+ in my book for being easy to work with, providing excellent service and a practically new jumpy.

At the end of the day, throwing a nontraditional birthday party is a winner in my book.  Thinking of how to go with the theme, or no theme, and putting your own stamp on it is such a fun experience.  For anyone reading this, I totally recommend it.  For me, well, it’s time for a sugar detox. And time to plan the next shin-dig a MadMen themed cocktail party to raise awareness about the Epilepsy Foundation – whaahoo!