Blog-o! Notes from latte.ca

Wed, 27 Jan 2010
Morning is Broken

I'm not sure this is the post I want to post, but it's on my mind.

Today I did a positive parenting experiment. Normally Blake and I nag and cajole the girls through their morning, until we're all angry at each other and we end up rushing to school in a sweaty rush. Lousy way to start the day, so I decided to Schäfer it up: I would tell the girls what was expected of them and what I would do, and then I would step back and let them take responsibility for their morning routine.

They were forty minutes late for school.

Here's how it went down. We ate breakfast together, and then I went upstairs to take a shower and dress, with the following message: "You guys need to take your two trips [to the kitchen with stuff from the table], pack your lunches and snacks and get dressed. If you have time can you give Thomas his food and water?" At that point they had enough time to complete everything if they got on with it.

While I was in the shower they fought. While I was getting dressed they fought and then played. After I was dressed I came downstairs—the table was not cleared and they were both still in their pajamas. I carried on without agitation or urgency. I finished clearing the table while they played, them I folded laundry. At 8:30 I let them know the first bell was ringing at school—they were still in their pajamas, but at that point Delphine started to rush. She asked for, and received, help packing her lunch, while Cordelia stayed in her pajamas. Delphine tried to get Cordelia to hurry up, and she agreed to pack Cordelia's snack while she got dressed. Finally we left the house at 9:05, and signed in at school at around 9:20.

I was calm on the outside but on the inside I was freaking out while they played as if they hadn't a thing to do all day. It was a miracle of parental self-restraint. I didn't even nag on the way to school, I let being late speak for itself. (When you say "I told you so" or "let this be a lesson to you" it's called piggybacking and it turns a natural consequence into a punishment, which just gets you caught up in a power struggle and demotivates the child.) Being on time for school is not my problem, it's theirs. My job is to provide them with the tools and information to get to school on time.

Tonight we're going to have a family meeting to talk about mornings. My suggestion will be to make a morning routine poster, and I will let them know that a) I will only remind them of their morning responsibilities once, b) I will not play with them in the morning, and c) I will let them know what time it is every ten minutes. Hopefully they will come up with some ideas of how to stay focussed in the morning.

I hope tomorrow goes better. I know I'm supposed to be detached and aloof, but the school expects the parents to "get" their children to school on time, so I do feel responsible and guilty when they are late. Also, I have a few morning meetings and appointments coming up which I don't want to be late for. I'll have to review my parenting books and see what I'm supposed when my kids are making me late. In the meantime I will repeat the following phrase: "It will get worse before it gets better. It will get worse before it gets better."


What I Did Wrong: I sprung this new behaviour on them without warning. As I said, normally we nag and hustle and bother them all morning and I think that's where they get their clues as to how late they are and what they should be doing. Today I remained calm and I think the girls interpreted that to mean that we were on time, even though I told them in words that we weren't. Actions really do speak louder.

Also, we were running a teeny bit behind right from the start. Not behind enough to make us late, but behind enough that we needed to be brisk. So I would say I'm responsible for about five minutes of that forty. I would rather our mornings were leisurely but focussed, which will mean I need to be more disciplined about getting up and fixing breakfast on time.

What I Did Right: I think otherwise I applied the principles of positive parenting correctly. I remained kind yet firm, I didn't get into any power struggles, I told them what I would do rather than what they should do.

[Posted at 11:02 by Amy Brown] link
Tue, 26 Jan 2010
My Parenting Bookshelf

For the last six years I've been reading parenting books. I've read dozens of them, some good, some useless, but a handful stand out as books I've reached for time and again when I had a question or a problem, or just needed some reassuring company. These are the books I would buy (if I were rich) for every expecting mother I know.

Start At The Very Beginning

Well, not the very beginning—there are lots of books about pregnancy and childbirth out there, but childbirth is such an unpredictable and personal thing that you'd have to read a library's worth of books just to learn the handful of things which will apply to your situation. Your best bet is to find a good midwife and stay off the Internet.

Once the baby comes you'll want to feed it, and the best nursing advice I found (in book form—again, a trustworthy advisor is your best bet but unless you were clever enough to marry a lactation consultant you'll need a source of midnight advice) is Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers by Nancy Mohrbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett. The title is an exaggeration, of course—no book can make breastfeeding simple— but their advice is soothing, practical, and research-based.

After a while your baby will be ready for, as we call it, people food, and the best introduction to the subject is Better Baby Food: Your Essential Guide to Nutrition, Feeding and Cooking for All Babies and Toddlers by Daina Kalnins and Joanne Saab. Published by Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, this book introduces you to the nuts (actually no nuts) and bolts of feeding babies and small children, from nutrition advice to guidelines on when to introduce different foods. There are recipes for everything from purees to delicious entrees the whole family will enjoy. We love their hot and sour soup, and the chocolate chip oatmeal cookies are divine. There is a good mixture of healthy meals and homemade treats, plain food and sophisticated flavours. All the recipes are clearly written and easy to follow, with common ingredients.

My only caveat with Better Baby Food is that it was published before the latest advice moved weaning age up to six months, so their baby food recipes are suggested for four months and up.

Sleep, Gentle Sleep

The best sleep advice around is to be found in Dr. Marc Weissbluth's Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Weissbluth is pragmatic, respectful of your child's need to sleep (and yours) and insistent on the importance of a good night's sleep. I wish the book were better edited, as it is sometimes hard to slog through his academic pontificating to get to the actual advice, but once you've found it it's gold. People keep borrowing my copy.

Dear God What Next?

Children change all the time; no sooner do you think you've figured your little one out then they become someone slightly different. I have often thought to myself, sometimes dispairingly, "Is this just a phase, or is this what she's really like?" The Your N-Year-Old series by Louise Bates Ames and Frances Lillian Ilg can help answer that question. Each book comes with a subtitle which is a teaser for what you can expect in that year of your child's life; your three-year-old is "Friend or Enemy", your four-year-old is, alarmingly, "Wild and Wonderful, but then you're rewarded with a "Sunny and Serene" five-year-old.

These books have given me perspective on what my children are going through developmentally and what I can expect from them, both good and bad. Now, when Cordelia throws a giant fit because I cut her toast the wrong way, I can just wait it out with a shrug—"She's four"—rather than dispairing that I've borne a drama queen and she'll always be like this. These books make it possible to untangle the influences of developmental stage from my children's real personalities.

Discipline

No less than four books (plus two) on this topic. They all cover about the same territory but in slightly different ways, so I suppose you could pick your favourite and just read that, but I find it's helpful to reinforce this stuff periodically, and this way you don't have to do it by rereading the same book over and over.

Kids Are Worth It by Barbara Coloroso, Positive Discipline by Dr. Jane Nelsen, Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn, and Breaking The Good Mom Myth by Alyson Schäfer are all books about positive parenting, or unconditional parenting, or democratic parenting, or Adlerian parenting, which are variations on a philosophy of parenting which regards children as full and equal members of the family with equal rights to respect and dignity. It's the style of parenting I have chosen because it seems most right and effective to me, and the books listed are all excellent guides to parenting in that style.

How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish is a light but effective guide to talking to your kids (rather than at them). This book is thick with specific ideas and techniques to help you communicate with your kids. The same authors wrote Siblings Without Rivalry, which teaches how to manage siblings, with plenty of examples, cartoons and summaries.

Reading

In between feeding, disciplining and putting your children to sleep you might want to spend some time with them, and a great way to do that is in the company of books. Babies Need Books: Sharing the Joy of Books with Children from Birth to Six by Dorothy Butler is an impassioned appeal to parents to read early and often. Butler tells us not only why and how we should read, but what, with long lists of great books for every stage from birth to six.

Perspective

In the thick of all this advice you'll want some perspective. Having a second child is a great way to get perspective, as well as a good dose of humility (if you thought your child's awesomeness was to your credit) or absolution (if you thought your child's horribleness was your fault). If you're not ready for another child, though, these books will put your parenting—and all the advice you're getting—into its proper context.

The amply sub-titled The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love and Healing by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz is a collection of case studies of children who have gone though horrible trauma—abuse, cults, neglect—and what they can teach us about childhood development and resiliency. This book will help you because no matter what you're doing "wrong" you can't do as much harm to your child as has been done to these children, and because despite such miserable childhoods many of these kids go on to be normal, functioning adults.

Perfect Parents: Baby-care Advice Past and Present by Christina Hardyment is an overview of the crazy, yet earnest, advice given to parents (usually mothers) over the last hundred and fifty years. Parents have been admonished on topics from hugging (bad) to breastfeeding (bad) to warm baths (bad), and some of the advice will leave you open-mouthed. Following the advice is almost always presented as vital to the fabric of society, and yet somehow, civilization has soldiered on despite the failings of mothers everywhere.

How Not To Be The Perfect Mother by Libby Purves is a memoir written by Purves while she was, as she puts it, at the "coalface of practical early motherhood". Funny and pragmatic, Purves offers advice and reassurance without judgement. "A good hungry dog mooching around the high chair helps."

My children are six and four, and I expect I have at least ten years of parenting books ahead of me, so I suppose this list will change, but I've been through two babyhoods and two toddlerhoods and am now firmly in the realm of parenting children. Books have been a terrific help and comfort to me through this journey, and I hope this list can help other parents find their path.

[Posted at 10:56 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 10 Jan 2010
Things To Do: Be More Awesome

Back in November I talked about those women who do a million and one things—have a career, have a nice house, do charity work, volunteer at school—and how I'm going to be more like them. So far it's going pretty well—I helped with a fundraiser at school, I'm chair of a somewhat underachieving Eco-committee (part of the problem being that whenever we think of something eco to do it turns out the school is already doing it), and so far my children haven't starved to death or sickened due to the filthy state of the house. One thing did falter: I missed a few notes in the Christmas concert because I wasn't at the dress rehearsal. Lesson learned.

But I digress. The reason I bring this up is that I realized that this ambition, to Do Lots of Things, is a subset of a bigger ambition which I have just put into words: Be More Awesome.

As I have discussed before, I see myself as a veritable well of unfulfilled potential. Sure, I have a rather lame math degree and two lovely children, but other people my age are running for city councillor and writing books and,well, being awesome. I want at least a little piece of that.

Let me digress again for a moment. The school is getting a second kindergarten playground, and the eco-committee wants it to be a natural playground, one of those jobbies with logs and rocks to play on instead of metal and plastic playstructures. Great idea, very eco. We (mostly I) came up with this idea ages ago, but I wasn't sure where to start, who to talk to, how to broach the subject. So I didn't do anything.

And then last week I busted up my back (You know why? Because in my last post I was all "I haven't hurt my back for over a year!" Stupid.) and I was stuck on the couch all week. Rather than be completely useless I did some research on natural playgrounds and then I emailed the principal. I was all, "The eco-committee is exploring the idea of a natural playground for the new kindergarten playground", and I went on to briefly describe a natural playground, and explain why we (I) thought it would be a good idea. I cc'd the vice-principal, our trustee, and the rest of the committee, and hit send.

Three minutes later the trustee replied saying he would be happy to attend a meeting about this proposal. Proposal! It was just an idea, a whim! But by writing it down and sending it to some people, it became a proposal. Thirty minutes later the principal responded with a five-paragraph email, cc'd to about a billion more people, saying that they had considered a natural playground, we should meet soon and what was my thinking? We're meeting on Tuesday.

That's it. That's all it took: an idea, some Googling and a judiciously cc'd email, and now we have a proposal and a meeting. Obviously I'm going to have to prepare for the meeting, and there will be other jobs coming down the pipeline, but all it took to get the ball rolling was one email message.

What I have learned from this is that the path to awesomeness is paved with tiny baby steps. This a truth neither profound nor abstruse, but it has been a long time coming to me. I don't like to act on things unless I know how they're going to turn out. And not just the first step, I like to know what's going to happen four or five steps down the line. I like to think things through and anticipate problems, and prepare for them. This is a wonderful trait if you're going camping, or taking two small people downtown, or going on vacation, but it has its limits. When I'm contemplating something complicated or new, or that involves other people, I can can always think of nine or ten ways stuff could go horribly wrong. Thus, paralysis. Inaction. Failure to be awesome.

A while ago I read a book called Feel the Fear... And Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers and as you can see from my discussion of it, a) this blog post is well overdue and b) I am a broken record. The good news is that I've taken the lessons I learned from the book on board—the ideas that were new to me back in 2008 are a comfortable part of my daily coping repertoire now. So, odd as it seems, these realizations, that I am scared to act if I don't know I will succeed, and that it only takes a small step to start getting things done, actually represent progress in my quest to be more awesome.

[Posted at 22:25 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 01 Jan 2010
That's the End of 2009

I got a great email newsletter from David Allen (of Getting Things Done fame) about taking stock of the year's accomplishments and completions. He included a list of categories to focus on, which I am going to use to consider how 2009 was for me and what I'm going to change in 2010.

Physical

After a c-section in 2003, another in 2005 and gallbladder removal in 2007, 2009 was refreshingly free of major or minor surgery. I don't think I had a single episode of major back pain, either, so maybe I have finally figured out how to deal with that (mainly stretching, and strategic use of ab muscles). I did some running after school started in September, but a bout of H1N1 in November sapped my motivation and I haven't run since.

I recently went to the doctor for my irregularly scheduled annual checkup and everything checked up fine, but I have gained twenty pounds I wasn't entirely expecting. (I don't weigh myself at home so the pounds have lots of time to creep on between doctor visits.) I will be addressing that situation in the new year, along with everyone else in North America. I've been very self-indulgent with my eating habits lately—I need to be more sensible about that, and I'm going to switch from running to walking in the hopes that I can slip it into my daily routine easier. I also think that doing yoga regularly would cure most of my mechanical problems.

Emotional

I have to admit this has been a difficult year for me, emotionally. I have been pretty unhappy about a couple of things—doing all the housework myself, for example—and have felt almost entirely alone with that unhappiness. Blake and I are rubbish at confrontation so I tend to never try and resolve problems with him. And they fester. As if that's not bad enough, I don't have an extra-marital emotional support system to listen and offer support and suggestions. I used to have my brother, then I had Sascha and my BF-as-it-turns-out-not-F Janet. My brother and Sascha got lives and Janet dumped me, and then Delphine was born, and I guess I haven't had any real emo needs since then, until this year. This year has been very emo but I've mainly dealt with it on my own, mostly in the basement while folding laundry. That sucks. Kat is a good ear, but I can't drop everything and cry on the phone to her whenever I'm unhappy. The laundry needs folding and she has a job.

Obviously in 2010 I have to do that a little better. What do I do? Make a new friend? One without a job or any children? Get a therapist? Start a private journal? Go to a marriage counsellor? I will have to figure something out.

Mental

Mentally I think I have held my ground this year. As I mentioned in my book blog, this year hasn't been terrifically intellectually rigorous, but I read a few thinky books and I've been keeping up with my Walruses and New Scientists. I'm happy and excited with my decision to pursue writing as a career. I love to read and think and write, and if I can possibly make some kind of money at it that would be awesome.

Next year, obviously, I have to kick the writing into a higher gear. It's very hard to get anything done in the two hours that Cordelia is at school, so I have to figure out how to focus my efforts in that time (less twitting and housework, more actual writing). I have both girls on a list for daycare starting in September, but of course paying for daycare demands that I earn an income. This is more terrifying to me than perhaps it should be.

Spiritual

I think I'm in the same place spiritually that I was a year ago. I don't think about it much. I don't believe in the supernatural but I derive a feeling of wonder from the immensity of the universe, from the magical unlikeliness of our existence, from my children. I try to be good. In 2010, more of the same.

Financial

We paid off our line of credit! Of course, Blake was on contract and he didn't pay taxes all year, so come April we may be in debt again, but for now we are debt-free. Hopefully a year from now we will be debt-free for sure.

Family

My family is awesome. The girls are going through an utterly charming patch, and I'm happy with our parenting. I haven't yelled in ages! Next year, I hope that will continue. Five and seven are both supposed to be pretty charming ages, so that looks good.

Further afield, I would like to be closer to my brother. He just moved in with a girl who I know next to nothing about, and I have no idea what's going on with him generally. I should also call my mother more often. So should you, probably.

Community Service

Before this year I wouldn't have had a lot to say in this category, but this year I did a ton of work for my kids' school, and did it ever open my eyes to the amount of free labour the school boards of Canada get from parents. I worked in the library, volunteered in the classroom, helped run a craft room for a fundraiser, went on a field trip, was class parent for Delphine's class, and signed up to head the Eco-committee.

This year I hope to actually do something as head of the Eco-committee, and I'm going to try and pursuade our School Council to donate some money to a school without so many deep-pocketed parents. I suppose I'll be roped into running the craft room again next Christmas, too.

Fun / creativity / recreation

You know, I've been thinking about fun lately, specifically in the context of play. The children play most of the time and work hardly at all—Delphine works a little bit at school, and she has a couple of jobs at home, but most of her time is free time. Cordelia is four—she plays at school and she plays at home, and her only job is feeding the cat.

But when do I play? On the one hand I'm in the very lucky position of rarely having to do something which I'm not intrinsically motivated to do. I look after the children because I love them, I take care of the house because I want my house to be taken care of. I read and write because I love to do so, I have fun volunteering for the school. There is almost nothing I do that's pure drudgery. And a lot of what I do is pure fun: most of my reading, choir, my friendships, and watching TV are all things I do for myself.

In 2010 I would like to read more, and keep singing and seeing my friends. I'm even happy with the amount of TV I watch, or rather with the quality of TV I watch. I should try and use my time more mindfully, so I don't fritter it away. I have too much fun stuff to do to spend time doing things which are merely diverting.

That's that. It's 12:21 am on January 1. I hope everyone has a wonderful year in 2010!

(By the way, you can subscribe to David Allen's Productive Living newsletter here. I've only received one, so I don't know how good they generally are, but since I used the latest one to inspire this post I figure I should at least point you to the source. I do use the Getting Things Done system and find it very effective and comprehensive.)

[Posted at 00:33 by Amy Brown] link