Healthy Meals for Toddlers

The Squid enjoys her Widget French Toast

The Squid enjoys her Widget French Toast

It’s too easy as parents to get in the habit of serving our toddlers quick and easy foods, which are frequently lacking in nutritional value.  The most common vegetable eaten by toddlers is potatoes, which is resultant of their high french fry intake.

Why?  The obvious answer is that feeding tiny people is wicked inconvenient.  Unless working in a daycare center, or taking care of quintuplets (in which case you’re so busy and frazzled that you probably don’t want to cook anyhow), you’re putting effort into turning out extremely small servings, which are likely going to get picked apart and abandoned.  Toddlers are also fickle.  The food they love one day, they could loathe the next.

Thusly we find ourselves picking up frozen nuggets of this and that, and serving our kids meals based on convenience, instead of nutritional value.

So, how do we make sure that our kids can get the nutrition they need?  The toddler years are debatably the most important time for good nutrition.  Our kids are expending more energy than they ever have before, their brains are developing constantly, and their emotional crises are rarely alleviated for long.  How do we tempt that toddler palate enough to get our kids to stop going long enough to get the nutrients they need?

In all honesty, extended breastfeeding is the best answer.  No matter how picky an eater you have, or how hectic your schedule, nursing your toddler lets you know that they are still getting the necessary nutrients to develop a healthy brain, body and immune system.  Allowing your child to miss out on these benefits out of fear of societal judgement blows my mind.  The Wizard nursed in the evenings until he was two, and The Squid is still nursing several times a day. 

However, I don’t think this means I can get away with loading them up on junk the rest of the time.  It is a nice safety-net though.  But as far as actual meals go, we need to prepare things that we and our other family members are going to be interested in as well.  This not only ensures that our toddlers are going to receiving complex meals, it makes it so we’re not just preparing tiny frustrating meals and dirtying endless dishes for one very small and unappreciative person.  There are many things we can vary in order to be toddler-sized or toddler-appealing.

Secondly, things that can be given in small, convenient servings and offered repeatedly through the day.  Toddlers have very small stomachs, and smaller attention spans.  Sometimes when your child stops eating it may not be that they don’t like the food, it may be that they’re full or bored.  Let them get down and play for a couple hours, and then re-offer the foods as a snack.

Thirdly, they need to be easy to eat.  Another reason toddlers may not finish a meal is not because of frustration.  Foods that are too large, too tough, or difficult to handle, are in a toddler mind, which doesn’t understand the importance of a balanced diet, not worth the effort.

Foods that are convenient to make, easy to eat, and enjoyable for the rest of the family?  Sound like a tall order?  Not so much.  They might need to be somewhat different than the food the rest of the family eats, but easy to prepare at the same time, with similar tastes.

The best way to explain is to demonstrate, so here are some of my (and The Squids) favorite recipes.

Bitty Bruschetta

I thought of these when I encountered at the grocery store a bag of marked-down whole grain “party bread”.  Bruschetta is one of my favorites anyway, and these soft little slices of bread were perfect for making The Squid her own option.  They bake along with the rest of ours, and sometimes I just make a bunch of the small ones and join her in a snack.  They can refrigerate during the day, but don’t hold up as well overnight.  The bread gets mushy.

6 party bread slices

pesto, marinara or garlic sauce to taste  (you can be sneaky with your pesto and work in zucchini, spinach, or whatever nutritious vegetable your widget is not inclined to ingest).

desired toppings (olives, tomatoes, etc.  if any meat is used, make sure it’s pre-cooked.)

about 1/4 of a cup of medium-soft cheese (mozzarella works best, but I’ve also had success with colby jack.)

1. Place party breads on a baking sheet, or a plate if you’re going to be microwaving (not recommended).  2.  Spread pesto, or desired sauce on top, and then sprinkle with your toppings.  3.  Put a pinch of cheese on top, or to make it a little more fun, you can slice the cheese and use cookie-cutters to cut out shapes to decorate the brushetta with.  They hold up surprisingly well.  4.  Pop in the broiler on “low” until cheese is melted.

Macaroni and Cheese Bites

2 cups pre-prepared macaroni and cheese (from scratch or box both work fine, but if you do them from scratch Bertolli has come out with a new line of mini-pastas called piccolini.  They’re adorable.  For very, very small children, you can even use pasta stars.)

1/4 cup cooked veggies (broccoli, peas, carrots, etc.)

1/2 cup medium hard to medium soft cheese  (mozzarella is again, my winner here, but if your kid is a cheddar fan, that works fine too.)

1/2 cup bread crumbs

1/4 cup butter

1. Pre-heat your oven to 350 and butter a muffin or mini-muffin pan.  2.  Mix the vegetables into your macaroni and spoon into muffin pan.  3.  Top with cheese.  4.  Melt the remaining butter, and add to your bread crumbs.  5. Top your macaroni and cheese with bread crumbs and pop in the oven til it’s looking golden brown and bubbly, about 15 minutes.  These hold up alright in the fridge AND freezer, so after you put ALL the effort (ha) into making a batch, you’ll have several easy meals prepped and ready to go.

Widget French Toast

Just came up with this the other day, already a favorite.  Obviously, when I’m feeding the whole family, I just add in a couple of the party breads in with the regular bread, but when it’s just me and The Squid, I munch the widget bread too.  It’s an eye-baller, the measurments are slightly different every time, and I tend to add varying spices depending on the day.

10 party bread slices

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

natural sweetener (agave, honey, stevia or the like) to taste

teaspoon vanilla

cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg to taste

1.  pre-heat griddle or frying pan to about 325, or medium heat, lightly grease. 2.  mix egg, milk, sweetener, vanilla and spices in a small bowl.  3.  add party bread, about 4 at a time or so, make sure egg mixure coats both sides.  4.  fry for a couple minutes on either side until golden brown.

Vegetable Curry

Cooking a bit of apple in with the vegetables adds a slight sweetness and some extra vitamins.  Use a nice firm apple that won’t break down.

1/4 cup each of peeled and chopped potatoes, carrots, apple and zucchini

1 cup of vegetable or chicken stock

2 tablespoons mild curry power or garam masala

1. Bring the stock to a boil in a small saucepan.  2.  Add potatoes and carrots.  3.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.  4.  Add apples and continue simmer for about 5 more minutes.  5.  Add zucchini and simmer until all vegetables are tender, this will vary depending on how finely your vegetables are chopped, which should depend on how big of pieces your child can handle.  6.  You can either drain the remaining stock, or keep it and use it to make a light sauce.  …obviously, the sauce is messy, and you may want to serve it with bread or a sandwich to sop it up.  7.  Add curry powder and stir til everything is coated and mixed together well.  Cool, and serve!

Some of you may be thinking “I thought these were supposed to be healthy meals!  Look at all these fats and carbs!”

Well, yes.  An “Atkins” type diet would be very unhealthy for a child.  We ALL need fats and carbs, but especially children.  Carbohydrates are where we get our energy from and there are good and bad carbohydrates.  Carbs that take a while to break down can give us lasting energy and keep our blood sugar balanced, which is very important for a child.  Fat is necessary for both muscle and (!) brain development.  Again, it’s the kind of fat.  It’s not something to be gratuitous with, but olive oil and butter are both very positive sources of fats, and there’s many more, though it might require some more research on your part.

Alright, that was my first soap box.  Here’s my second one.

If you’re going to feed your children meat or animal biproducts (milk, eggs, cheese and butter having all been included in this post), you should know where they’re coming from.  The fact that animals are tortured for human convenience is disgusting, but even if you don’t care about that, the hormones that are pumped into these animals are ingested by your children.  This causes an early onset of puberty, as well as aggressive behavior and obesity.

Think about it.  The hormones that are given these animals to keep them producing eggs and milk at an unnatual rate, are obviously going to attempt to do the same to your children.  The hormones that are given to them to get them to grow and pack on weight (to make them more profitable to an industry powered by greed) are going to do the same thing to your children.

Also, it’s known that emotions that we experience are literally chemical interactions in the brain and body.  So, when animals live miserable, torturous lives, and then die in terror and suffering, these chemicals are FROZEN in their bodies.  And then, yes, ingested by our children.  There is enough stress in our kids lives without passing on the tension of a deceased bovine.  Seriously.

I’m aware that free-range and organic milk, meat and eggs are very expensive.  But the grocery store is not the only place to get food, and is really the last place we should be purchasing it.  Farmers Markets and www.craigslist.com are both resources to try and find farmers and a trip to the farm or Farmers Market to acquire these biproducts is an experience that your children should have.  Many kids don’t understand that their hamburger used to be alive, or that their grilled cheese or scrambled eggs came from an animal.  How are we supposed to teach our children to think freely and make their own life choices without informing them of the basic backstory required for moral thinking?

If there is no available farms or farmers markets, and you can’t afford to buy the free-range meat in stores, maybe it’s time to start seriously considering a vegan lifestyle, or at least cutting way back in your intake of hormonally and chemically polluted food.

Okay.  So, some recipes and a rant.  I’ll get back off my soapbox now.

-Domestic Anarchist

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Sugar, sugar, sugar!

 

Browsing parenting magazines is a favorite hobby of mine.  Theres not many that I consistently agree with, but nor are there many parents I consistently agree with.  Some articles annoy me and occasionally some thoroughly piss me off.  But most of these are simply differences of opinion, and societal programming.   You know, stuff like “Americans let their kids cry it out and stop breastfeeding at 6 months because Americans value independence!”

…right.  I’m sure all the co-sleeping tribal kids that breastfeed til the age of four end up very insecure and irresponsible. 

However, this is the first time I’ve been driven to rebut something I read in a parenting magazine.  In the July Issue of Parents, they stated “Some studies have found that small amounts of sugar can increase a child’s focus and calmness (but it’s still smart to limit sweets since they’re typically low on nutrients).”  This is in a health Q & A with the question “Does sugar cause hyperactivity?”  Their answer is simply “No.”, stated as if there is no other possibilities, no matter what.

Okay, for a start.  It’s a known fact that people with autism and autism spectrum disorders (which includes such common disorders as ADHD), are sensitive to sugar, especially as children.  In these children sugar certainly does cause hyperactivity, as well as poor processing and even more limited self-control than usual.  They’re also frequently sensitive to artificial coloring and preservatives, substances that are often found in high-sugar foods and beverages.

foodforthebrain.com has a full list of disorders and the food sensitivities that accompany them, with lots of references to many, many different studies.  Many of the disorders, including autism, ADHD, bipolar, depression and schizophrenia are all listed as sensitive to sugar.

I’m aware schizophrenia is fairly rare in children (it normally manifests in the teen years), but the diagnoses of autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder and depression for young kids are steadily on the rise.  I’m not necessarily saying all these diagnoses are accurate.  I’m of the opinion that the pharmaceutical companies have a huge impact on diagnoses, and schools do receive money for each high-needs child they have enrolled, which might make things get rounded up here and there.

However, we must consider how many of these kids just had sugar sensitivities to start with, which resulted in behavioral issues and thusly, diagnoses of ADHD?  There is very few foods you can say across the line “These cause no behavioral problems at all!”  if someone wrote in asking about bread, I would expect any decent parenting magazine to put in a disclaimer saying that while many kids are not impacted by bread, there are also kids with wheat allergies who will exhibit behavioral problems if exposed to wheat.

In the magazine they say that the study saying sugar causes hyperactivity  was published more than 30 years ago.  What about the study published in October, 2009 saying children who eat candy on a daily basis were more likely to be convicted of a violent crime by the time they’re 34?  (you can read about that one here)

Yes, sugar is empty calories, but don’t try to say that’s the only reason to avoid it.  That just glosses (or should I say glazes?) over the problem.  The problem is that sugar and candy and soda are treated like such normal, natural parts of children’s lives.  They make candy EVERYTHING.  Candy bugs!  Candy jewelry!  Candy cigarettes.  Even (how cute) candy binkies.  Candy baby bottles.

Hypoglycemia (a disorder they now frequently call “pre-diabetes” because it’s very rare that someone with hypoglycemia doesn’t end up diabetic) is on the rise, especially among children.   It’s when your body cannot handle sugar properly.  So when you eat sugar, your blood sugar levels spike, causing hyperactivity, jitteriness and poor self-control.  Then your pancreas sends out a large amount of insulin, larger than needed, which makes your blood sugar plummet.  This results in lethargy, depression and disorientation.

Sound like your kid after a big sugar binge?  Every parent knows about “the crash”.  What they might not know is that this is a result of low blood sugar, which means your child’s body is releasing excesses of insulin, and after too many of these “crashes” that poor little pancreas is going to get burned out, and your kid is going to end up having to shoot up their insulin.

Now, I’m not doctor.  I’m not a scientist.  I’m a mother, and someone who developed hypoglycemia as a child.  (If you think you or your kids might be hypoglycemic, or want to know more about it, check out What Is Hypoglycemia which has good info, and a test.)  This is my blog where I use my right to free speech to put my opinions, life-experience and research out there.  Don’t base your opinions on what I say, look into it yourself.

I’m not going to say that my kids never have sugar.  I use sugar occasionally when baking, I just usually cut in half from what the recipe says.  if someone else makes a sugary treat, or offers The Wizard a piece of candy, he always asks me if it’s okay, and 90% of the time I say yes.  But those times don’t happen all that frequently, and he doesn’t have any disorders or issues that seem to be triggered by sugar.  So why do I limit him?

Much like peanuts or eggs, sugar is something your body can develop a reaction to.  With peanuts or eggs, it’s exposure in early childhood that can cause an allergy to develop, because your immune system reacts to them, and after early exposure, sometimes a childs immune system can see them as a serious threat, and over-react as an allergy.  After your child is a certain age, the immune system is mature enough, and allergies don’t usually develop.

However, with sugar, it’s not the immune system reacting, it’s the pancreas.  So there’s not a time when the risk ceases to exist.  It really depends on the individual person, the individual pancreas and liver, as well as the frequency and level of exposure.  As with most things though, the highest risk is in infancy.  Also, a “sweet tooth” is something that’s developed.  If you don’t give your baby sweet foods, they won’t have the same taste for them as a child who was raised on sweets, and you’ll have a much easier time keeping sugar out of them later on.

I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty.  Like I said, my home is not a sugar-free zone.  I try to limit it though, and I think saying that sugar cannot cause hyperactivity in children is very closed-minded and irresponsible.  It might take a little extra work to cut back the sugar in our children’s diets, but there are lots of alternative sweeteners.  (And no, I’m not talking about Splenda.  It’s made from sugar, and the only real difference is a cut in calories.)

Personally, I like agave.  There’s also stevia, or fructose.  Many, many options.  Search it online.

And congratulations to Parents magazine for an awesomely irresponsible FAIL on giving out researched, thorough and concise information to their subscribers, some of whom are likely parents of kids with sugar-sensitive disorders.  Way to suck at life.  Feel free to criticize them at Parents.com!

-Domestic Anarchist

Cloth Diaper Revolution!

The Squid sportin' a Flip cover and Econobum prefold.

The Squid sportin' a Flip cover and Econobum prefold.

last thursday, I got my May/June issue of Mothering.  as always, it had some awesome articles, and really great encouragement for alternative parenting.  but what I was most excited about was the article about cloth diapering.  now, we’ve been toeing around with cloth diapering since before The Squid was born.  the first couple months of her life, we weren’t able to do much, as we had just moved and didn’t yet have a washer and dryer.  once we did, we started switching back and forth from the few fitted cloth diapers we had, and a few Gdiapers, which we’d gotten at our baby shower, as well as the occasional disposable.

now, it’s been primarily, “well, we still have Gdiapers left…” and “oh, we can’t really afford to get a bunch of cloth diapers right now…” but after reading the Mothering article, which made a few points about Gdiapers that I hadn’t known about (A. they still contain SAPs, which are toxic, petroleum based, and one of my issues with disposables in the first place, and B. while they claim “compostable” they shouldn’t be used on vegetable beds, due to the SAPs, which never completely break down.  however, they are making cloth inserts now, good for them, check ’em out at www.gdiaper.com), so, I ran to the compost bucket, pulled out the inserts, which were by then covered in coffee grounds and veggie scraps, and threw them in the trash.  then I sat down and had a talk with The Husband, about our diapering options.  which went fairly well, til I mentioned ‘carcinogens’ which he’s been teasing me about since the first few months we were together, when I spoke of them so frequently.  every time he asked me “why don’t you use…” the answer was usually “carcinogens!”, now he breaks into song, listing off various things and following them with “carcinogens!”, as in: “deoderant, carcinogens!  sunscreen, carcinogens!  diapers, carcinogens!  william shatner, carcinogens!”

eventually, though, we agreed it was time to switch over, and I went to do some research and try to track down some semi-affordable cloth diapers online.  all we’d encountered up til that point was fitted cloth diapers, which are wicked expensive, and the random store-bought prefolds pinned together and covered with plastic pants, which wasn’t really the route we wanted to go either.  so, during my internet search, I discovered a diaper store in Olympia!  Simple Cloth.

my friend Danielle had mentioned it to me before, but we had no money to spare at the time, and so I promptly forgot.  this time, however, I was going to Olympia with my mom the following day, and so we stopped by.  we had a limited time frame, since the Wizard gets home from school at about 3:30, and we were at the store at about 2:20, and it’s more than a half-hour drive away.

Store Review: Simple Cloth gets 5 out of 5 for Badassedness!

in the short amount of time I had there, they were incredible.  the woman who helped me make my selections was thorough, friendly and demonstrated everything to make sure I would know exactly what I was doing.  also, now that I know they’re there, I’ll be in more frequently, because they offer, not just a huge selection of diapers, baby carriers and cool natural toys, but also nursing areas, changing areas and a play area, which are available for use whether or not you’re doing diaper shopping that day.  how cool are they?  they also have an online store, so even if you’re nowhere near Olympia, WA, you can experience their awesomeness for yourself!

Diaper Review: Econobum gets 4 out of 5 for badassedness!

and a huge vote of badassedness to Bumgenius, who started their new line of diapers, Econobum!  they’re prefolds and covers, made with the bare-minimums, not trying to be fancy or shmancy, with plain white adjustable covers and prefolds that fold two ways to guarantee they grow with your kid.  and, you can buy a diaper and cover together for just $10, or a box with a dozen diapers and 3 covers for $50.  I was a little nervous about going the prefold route, especially after she warned me that the Econobums, aren’t quite as easy to use as some of the others (most of the other covers have pockets on either side to hold the prefolds in, while the Econobum covers just have elastic), but I haven’t had any kind of issue with them, or with putting them together.  obviously they’re not as easy as the fitted diapers, but the covers fit just fine over the fitted diapers as well, which is great.  I did get two Flip diaper covers as well, which work with the Econobum prefolds and our fitted diapers, and they do have the flaps, so they’re a little easier to use, and still have the adjustable snaps.  …they’re also wicked cute.

all together, I got the Econobum pack, 2 Flip covers and a little hemp pad to go over the diaper at night to increase absorbancy.  which came out to almost $90.  it sounds like a lot, until you think about the fact that we could probably get by without having to buy diapers again.  (that’s a lot of laundry though, so I’m thinking I’ll probably get another Econobum pack when we have some extra money.)

now to commence the rant.  most kids go through about 6-7 diapers a day (roughly evened out.  more when teenie, less when a bit bigger), until they’re at least two and a half (The Wizard decided he was thoroughly potty-educated on his 3rd birthday, and never looked back).  so, that’s… 2,520 diapers a year, for 2-3 years, which is between 5,040 and 7,560 diapers.  holy shit.  so, disposable diapers are about 25 cents apiece.  that works out at… $630 a year?  and up to $1,890 before your kid is going to be using the toilet regularly.  (unless you opt for Elimination Communication, which sounds brilliant and I’m going to try to implement part-time.  upcoming blog, probably.  for now check out www.diaperfreebaby.com)  all of a sudden throwing down $100 for cloth diapers doesn’t sound so bad, does it?  a family with just one child in disposable diapers throws down over $50 a month anyway.

plus, not only are you paying money for these things, these toxic, plastic things that you’re strapping on to your childs most vulnerable places, each and every one of those 7,560 diapers ends up in a landfill.  a baby in disposable (what a stupid word.  we don’t “dispose” of anything.  we just bury this toxic SHIT in our already overloaded earth, and then try not to think about it.) diapers has an ENORMOUS carbon footprint.  diapers are petroleum based, made with 7 billion gallons of oil each year.

they’re a non-renewable resource, that we’re taking from the earth, and the closest anyone can figure to how long it’s going to take these things to actually break down is HUNDREDS of years.   the children who’re wearing these diapers aren’t going to last as long as they do.  why the HELL are we making a “disposable” product with a longer lifespan than it’s consumer?  just for the purpose of catching shit?!  god.  check out the video at www.gdiapers.com to see just how well disposable diapers break down.

we live in a disposable culture.  there is so much we throw away.  if we want to be revolutionaries, if we want to dream of a future, any future at all, we need to man up and stop throwing stuff away simply for our own convenience.  the biggest reasons that people give for not using cloth diapers are: “it’s gross.” and “it’s too much work.”

come on, people.  this is our kids we’re talking about, and our planet.  honestly, it’s NOT that big of a deal.  it’s not that gross and it’s not that much extra work.  diapers are small.  throwing them in with the laundry you’re already washing is not that terrible of a hassle.  what’s REALLY gross is letting our non-biodegradable shit-catchers pile up for hundreds of years.  once you throw a disposable diaper in the garbage, you can’t take it back again.

ever.

-Domestic Anarchist

reactions vrs. responses

The Domestic Anarchist here!  posts have been few and far between, dealing with maternal health issues (my mom was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a masectomy a few weeks ago), and some marital bumps (valentines day was a complete fiasco, but we got a do-over the following weekend, hurrah for sushi!), but I’ve still been studying life and parenting as I always do, and noticing things in my interactions with my children.

so.  Reactions vrs. responses.

when our child demonstrates any kind of behavior, we can A. react to it, or B. respond to it.

to refer to my trusty dictionary.com

a reaction is:  “a reverse movement or tendency; an action in a reverse direction or manner”

alternately, a response is defined as “an answer or reply, as in words or in some action.”

we react to situations, and respond to people.   a reaction is instinctive, mechanical, immediate, based on what’s going on with us.  a response is calculated, considered and evaluated, based on what’s going on with the other person.  as examples, I give you two instances from my week.

1.  The Squid, while playing on the floor, got into clean, folded laundry, and pulled out a bunch onto the floor.  I could have

a. reacted to the situation.  I was trying to clean the house, and folding the laundry was one of the few things that had been completed.  “oh my god, what are you doing?!  get out of that!  I can’t get anything done with you getting into everything!”

or.

b. responded to my child.  she is crawling very early, and exploring and learning.  obviously she doesn’t understand the difference between folded laundry or piled laundry, or even the difference between clean and dirty.  “oh, wow, look what you’ve found!  let’s find something else for you to explore.”

in this instance I chose b.  I responded to my child instead of reacting to the situation.  I put away my frustration at least til The Husband got home, and I could vent to him.  I made my child the priority.

responding to babies is much easier than children sometimes, since babies haven’t learned to hide their feelings.  children are already learning different ways to communicate.  The Wizard, when he feels nervous, ashamed or confronted, tends to first try and alleviate things through humor, joking and distraction.  he does realize when things are serious, he just prefers to pretend that they’re not, because it’s less stressful.

2.  I opened The Wizards backpack in the morning and realized he hadn’t done his homework while he’d been with his dad.  my choices:

a. react to the situation.  we didn’t have time do get anything done before the bus came, and I was stressed about all the extra work.  “dude!  this is rediculous.  did you do ANY of it?”

or

b. respond to my child.  “you’ve got extra homework.  let’s think of a way to make it fun so you don’t get frustrated with it.”

this time, sadly, I chose a.  my reaction led to a reaction from him, which was to deflect by acting like it was no big deal.   I reacted by stressing to him the importance of school, and telling him to tell his teacher he’d bring some in the next day.  he deflected by saying “if I remember”.  I took this as being a smart-ass.  and reacted with  “that’s not acceptable!  you’re going to do it if it takes all night.”  at which, he started crying, saying he didn’t want to go to school.  so once again I reacted, this time not to just the discomfort of my sons tears, but the sound of the encroaching bus, which was picking up kids one street over.  so, voila, in an effort to stop the tears, and keep my son from missing school.  “oh, I’m so sorry, it’s not your fault.  don’t worry about it.  if you go to school you can have a big bowl of ice cream when you get home!”  …oh lord.

it’s amazing the things that come out when we’re reacting to circumstance and situation, instead of responding to our kids.  during the day while he was at school, though, I did have an opportunity to think on things.  I went to our local game store, which remarkably has free three-day rentals of certain games, found one that The Wizard would like (which is amazing, and is going to make it on as my first video game review), and made up a sticker chart.  each extra piece of homework, earned him 15 mins of video game time.  I also called his teacher, forewarned her that she had a bit of an emotional crisis entering her classroom, and asked her to not mention homework to him.

so, in closing, just because we react, does not remove our ability to respond.  everyone reacts.  it’s impulsive.  it’s our ability to step back and examine the true issues, and respond to our children, which makes us good parents.

-Domestic Anarchist

Scheduling

you wouldn’t think “scheduling” would be such a major problem for an anarchy-loving housewife with only two children.  but holy hell!  the squid has basically gone completely nocturnal.  I have no idea how this happened.  she was doing quite awesomely, and now it seems like all day long she’s fussy and wants to sleep, and no matter how much I try to keep her up during the day, she goes to sleep about 11 or midnight and is still promptly up between 1-3am, cooing and giggling and squirming and grabbing and HOLY HELL.

again.

the worst part is that she’s so damn cute about it I can’t even be pissed.  just tired.

actually, no, I take it back.  that is in no way the worst part.  the worst part is simply this:  after being up til between 4 and 6am, I have to get up promptly at 7.15, in order to get the Wizard breakfasted, and ready for school.  now the Wizard, is also somewhat of a night owl, in his own bizarre right.

IE: he’s not really tired in the evening.  no matter what time we put him to bed, he’s awake til between 10-10.30 (unless we actually put him to bed at 10, in which case he is awake til 11.).   however, no matter how late he stays up, he doesn’t sleep in.  except for school days.  and dragging that child out of bed to go to school… is kind of hard to do when you’re going on 2 hours of sleep yourself.  this morning I slept straight through my alarm, and fortunately the Wizard himself awakened at about 7.30, asking if he could watch cartoons.  he made it to the bus, with a couple minutes to spare, but lordy-lordy.  close call.  plus, not having a car means if he DOES miss the bus, I’ve kinda screwed the pooch.  and have to resort to calling inlaws and mooching rides which is… embarassing to say the VERY least.

also, I tend to awaken very gradually.  I need to wake up at least a couple hours before I have intentions of doing anything, so I can get myself thoroughly caffeinated and functioning.  so.  after being up til 5, waking up again at 7, staying up til 8 to get the Wizard on the bus, and then til 9 to get the Squid changed, fed, and back to sleep, and then sometimes 10 just to get myself settled and back to sleep, the odds are I’m not waking up of my own volition before 1:30.  that give me about enough time to caffeinate and shower, and then the Wizards back from school and lo and behold: I have accomplished nothing.  BLAH!

-Domestic Anarchist

Intergenerational Communcation

last night, my 5-day-old daughter had a panic attack.  I wonder how many times I’ve seen infants have panic attacks
(especially when I was working in daycare) and never realized what it was.  we just have this acceptance of “oh, babies cry!” without questioning the drive or emotion behind it.  she went from what appeared to be fairly calm (which I’m thinking now was actually attempting to shut things out) to a screaming shaking franticness, where she was acting like she wanted to nurse, but was too panicked to latch on, in a manner of minutes.

once we realized what was going on, it was something we could deal with.  I’ve had panic attacks since I was 11, and I’ve realized the best way to deal with them is just lowering the stimulation level as much as I can.  so we did the same for her.

it made me think further though, about something that has already been on my mind.  communication between grown-ups and children.

this thought process had been stimulated by two things.

one was an article in Parenting magazine (a magazine I normally despise, but peruse occassionally, and sometimes has random gems) about ‘Mommy Guilt’, which mentioned the concept of using a ‘safeword’ with kids, to let them know that you’re at the edge of your rope, and about to lose your temper.  or, alternately, if your kids catch you losing your temper, and they feel frightened or uncomfortable, they can use the safeword to remind you to… well, check yourself before you wreck yourself.

it was a fascinating concept to me, because you rarely hear people talking about how to empower children during conversations.  the majority of articles written about communication with children seem to be about… well, manipulation.  how to get your kids to do what you want them to do without them realizing it.  the idea of giving a child a tool so that they can make a choice about the emotional scaling of a conversation or situation is brilliant, especially coming from a magazine which is usually writing about how to get your kids to do what you want them to do without realizing it.

the second thing which got me thinking along the lines of communication with children is the movie Martian Child, with John Cuzack and a kid I strongly suspect is The Littlest Culkin.  there’s a couple scenes in here that are amazing grown-up/kid communication (and a few that absolutely fail on that point), but the one that really jumped out at me is where the kid is doing a series of repetitive movements (that seem mostly based on pinky fingers), and gets John Cuzack to join him, watching his movements and mimicking them, even though they don’t necessarily make sense to him.  afterwards, the kid looks up at him, grins, and says “nice talk”.

most often, when seeking “quality conversation” or “nice talks” with our kids, we are trying to have adult conversations.  we may not be asking them adult questions, but we’re trying to fit them in adult formats.  kids don’t talk the way grown-ups do.  their conversations are much more faceted, and move beyond the shallow, “how was school?” or “how was work?” where adults attempt to describe their reality.

kids worlds are not dominated by reality, so neither are their conversations.  kids converse through allegory, through fantasy, through play, through art, through tickling, through cooking.  and if you let them lead the conversations (which may or may not fit in your description of ‘conversation’), when they need to talk with you, they will come to you.

when Israel first started art therapy, I admit that I thought that they were going to be doing alot of talking.  asking about his emotional standing, his struggles at home and at school… but he was leading the conversation.  and if the conversation was “making a cake out of dried beans, paint and blue glitter”, so be it.  the conversations that children seem to get the most absorbed in are the ones they have with other kids, deep within the realms of fantasy.  they will talk at great length, about the things that frighten them, the things that empower them, what’s most important to them, who they look up to, all the things that parents try to pump them for in “nice talks”.

when we force kids to participate in parent-led conversation, we can often squeeze out the information that we’re seeking, frequently with our kid waiting patiently, ready to run off on their next adventure, which, if we knew how to listen, would tell us more than the strained “so, how was school?”  that we drug out during the dinner process.  at the end of our conversation, we release them, feeling proud for knowing where our kids are coming from, and having such positive, teaching and affirming talks together.  we love to dig for any kind of life frustration, so that we can offer them advice, and dig for any part of their character we can help make more well-rounded.  for our sake, they tolerate this pretty well, for a period of time.

eventually, they end up tired of doing their obligatory communication, and we end up with monosyllabic responses.  “Good.”  “Fine.”  “Yeah.”  “‘Guess so.”  which leaves us frustrated and wondering, “why don’t my kids want to talk to me?”  well, they tried to.  our conversational gaps are just too large.  we’re having talks that we lead, for our benefit.

when Israel comes home from his dad’s house, or from school, I’ve missed him.  often I start pumping him for information right off the bat.  “how was school today?”  “what did you learn?”  “what’s your favorite class?”  “did you have any problems with the other kids?”  the responses are often a “I don’t know”, with his eyes not connecting, one tentative buttcheek already sneaking off the couch as he inches away towards play.

while I’m digging for reality, for him that was just the obligatory part of the day.  he’s already been there, and doesn’t want to relive it, now that he can get on to the business of being a kid.  however, if I ask about the meaningful part of the day, “what did you play at recess?” the stories come pouring out.  stories about battles with knights and aliens and how he was a kitten with super-powers and a Ben-10 Omnitrix that could transform into any other creature.  cartoons, video games, stories, and his own imagination brew up powerful fantasies, in which he can be strong and powerful and decisive in a world that doesn’t hold him a back or limit him.  and my brain fogs over.  frustrated that he won’t talk to me about anything “real”.

when we learn to participate in child-led conversation, we learn to really listen to their stories and fantasies.  we can learn what it is that drives them, what’s important to them, and appreciate their imaginations and creativity.  our children feel fulfilled, because we have an interest in them, in the things that really matter to them, and not just the random factoids that surround them, and contribute so little to their actual experiences of their realities.  we accept them.  our instincts may be to still try and fit in some adult conversation, but watch how quickly your child shuts down when mid-lego or mid-teaparty you try to bust out some “so, how’s school?” or try to sneak a moral into battling pirates.

instead, we have to break out of our grown-up programming.  once we have the ability to get down, be in the moment, and lose our mindless drive to ‘accomplish’, we’ll realize that playdough, pirates, dress-up and fantasy are communicating with our kids.

the question may still remain: what in the world does this have to do with my daughters newborn anxiety?

we do the same thing with infants as we do with children.  there is this tiny little being who through their very existance recreates your universe and we are desperate for a connection with them, for acknowledgement.  very few people seem to think of the emotional needs of a newborn.

it is a transitory time.  coming from a realm where everything is muted, and gentle, the womb is very much a sensory deprivation tank, which they need, for their senses are only newly acquired.  imagine experiencing going from complete black and silence, with no feeling whatsoever, to a stimulating sensory world.  it would be virtually intolerable.  therefor, the womb functions to allow slight stimulation, as their senses develop in utero.  once they can hear, they hear muted sounds.  once they can see, they can see muted light.  once they can taste, there are diluted flavors (did you know amniotic fluid takes on the flavor of what the mother eats?  interesting fact.).  though they can feel physical sensation, they are suspended in liquid, with no direct contact to their skin, though as they grow larger they can kick and feel the uterine wall around them, and those who choose to interact with them from the outside.

then when they come out, we should let them slowly adjust from this soft, silent world, to the stimulation of lights and sounds and touch, and interaction.

…but with our need for interaction and connection, it’s easy to forget.  it’s easy to say “oh, babies just cry sometimes.”

this is why I think my 5 day old daughter had a panic attack.  she was sleeping.  Ethan got home, and my tits hurt, since she hadn’t nursed for hours.  I decided to wake her up to nurse her and change her diaper.  both of us were excited to interact with her, since she’d been sleeping, and Ethan hadn’t really seen her all day.  we pressed in, as I was changing her, talking to her and touching her face and body, laughing over her expressions and movements.  Ethan turned her, so he could see her eyes, and within moments she had a full-on baby meltdown.

I held her over my heart and rocked her until she was calm enough to latch on.  and even then she just lay in my arms, her eyes tightly closed, breathing with rapid panic breaths.  and that was when I recognized what was happening.  she’d been trying to communicate with us, trying to tell us she’d had enough, that she couldn’t deal with any more.  but we were desperate for interaction,  and didn’t notice her cues.  I went and googled “infant overstimulation signs” today, and she was using all of them.  flailing arms, looking away, rapid breathing.

when babies are born they get passed around like hot potatoes.  everyone wants a piece.  everyone wants to get to hold them, squeal at them, play with their toes and fingers.  we think about what we want.  what we need.  we don’t think of their precarious position, or their emotional needs.

even with infants, our communication should be lead by them.  when they look at us, when they make eye contact, we should respond, but we cannot force our children to communicate on our terms.  they are their own creatures, and their own entities, with their own personalities.  we must, in all stages of their lives, let them be themselves, and communicate in their own ways, according to their needs.

-Domestic Anarchist