Tag Archives: parenting

Win/Win Kid Birthday Tricks, from a Still-Novice Non-Expert

19 Jun

Conan and I have officially been parents for half of a decade now! In other words, it was Lucia’s 5th birthday this week. Granted, we still don’t have much (any?) parenting wisdom, per se. And yet, we not only survived this birthday, it seems that we totally rocked it, despite the extra chaos on top of our normal mayhem this month. Here are our parenting hacks for birthday time, this time around. They might not work for you, and they might not even work for us again next time, but you’ve got to celebrate your victories.

Trick #1: Be Proactive. Talk them into the party of your dreams, not theirs.

Sure, it sounds mean, but if you ask them what they want to do for their birthday it’s destined to end in disappointment, unless you can actually produce unicorns and rocket-ship trips to space. If you have the means for that sort of thing, you’re reading the wrong list of tips right now. I, however, needed to get proactive.

Remembering a time my dad took me and a friend to Mammoth Cave for my birthday, I tried to talk Lucia into having some kind of adventure with a friend or two instead of a party. That was an instant negative, though, since a cake and a piñata are her number one birthday obsessions. For once, though, I outsmarted my little one and talked her out of a big Mexican-style party where you have to invite everyone you’ve ever met and give out five courses of party favors in addition to the meal, the cake and the multiple piñatas. We just couldn’t do it this year, not economically and not time-wise. So I cleverly talked her into having TWO parties instead this year- two very small parties. But that means TWO PARTIES, people, what’s not to love for a five year old?

I sent a cake to her school on her actual birthday, and then we had a teeny tiny, closest-family-only “party” at home on the weekend- complete with pasta (her favorite food), another cake, and just one piñata. Her papa even splurged on a giant bag of the decent candy for the piñata instead of like 5 pieces of good candy mixed in with the cheap-ass suckers we normally fill it with. It was a win-win situation for everybody.

 

Trick #2: Take advantage of all of your unique available resources.

If you have a cousin who works at Chuck E. Cheese and wants to give you a discount, go for it. If your best friend is a chef and will make an epic birthday cake for your kid, make that your billing point for their birthday gig.

For us it helped immensely that the birthday celebration at her school is awesome. It is a serious ceremony involving crowns and capes and classmate “angels” and a red carpet and everything. The teacher gives a hand-made gift (a really cool, small hand bag, in this case), and the other kids give the birthday kid a drawing each, which they then sew into a little book of sorts. It was so cute and so cool; she was thrilled. And all it required on our part was buying the cake and getting it there.

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Headed to school in a princess dress made by her aunt who’s an awesome seamstress. 

 

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Who wouldn’t be thrilled with this kind of celebration? 

Trick #3: Don’t let Mother Nature ruin your plans. Pray profusely to the universe, and clearly explain to the heavens that your kid will be emotionally destroyed for hours on end if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

In other words, you gotta think on your feet! Our little hiccup that could’ve been a two day tear-fest came when tropical storm number two of this year cancelled classes the day before her birthday. Conan was off work that day and was in charge of getting the cake to school, since it would be impossible for the babysitter to carry the cake along with the two kids on the walk to the bus stop, on the bus, transferring it then to the carpool where there are 6 children flopping around the car. Luckily the weather calmed and we worked things out just fine. Meanwhile, I had a minor panic attack and invented three ridiculously far-fetched schemes and plans to call in favors to make the cake at school happen, tropical storm or not.

Trick #4: Perspective is everything. Use all relevant comparisons from books and videos to sell your options.

I meant to make her a cake or cupcakes for our home party, since I like to bake for their birthdays when I can. But when we talked about what she’d like me to make, she never really decided on what she wanted, and recipe-searching time escaped me this year. (This month is kicking my butt, in case you can’t tell.) So instead we let her have the excitement of going to a bakery and picking out her own cake, just like Daniel Tiger. And then she got to go to another bakery and pick out another cake, just like Daniel Tiger again! It’s a wonderful life for 5 year old Lucia, folks, let me tell you. And for us, even buying 2 cakes, one and a half roasted chickens, two kilos of tortillas, and paper plates for us and our five guests was about eighty thousand times cheaper and easier than last year, when we completely lost our little parent minds and had big birthday parties for both of our children. (Yes, you read that right- we only had five guests to our house for this year’s “party.”) Cheaper, easier, and Lucia was just as pleased about it all.

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Cake #2: Just as thrilling as cake #1

She did have a brief moment of doubt at one point in the planning stages, however, when she had the sudden epiphany that fewer guests would mean fewer presents. “But Mommy, they don’t bring you presents at school. Only the teacher gives you a present.” She informed me with a suspicious tone, her eyes wide and worried. It’s almost a legit concern, too, because we tend to not give a lot of presents, and we rarely buy her stuff she doesn’t need except for birthdays and Christmas. (Don’t worry, though, this child is far from deprived; her numerous grandparents make sure both of these kids have ample toys and clothing.) I assured her, though, that she would end up with several presents anyway, including gifts from multiple grandparents. That appeased her sufficiently.

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Pleased with herself and her new bag

Trick #5: Give them “presents” that you were going to give them anyway. Everything’s amazing when it’s wrapped in pretty paper! 

Yes, I am totally that super mean mom who gives kids socks and underwear as presents. Only this year I talked her Abuela into giving that as a gift! I would put a bow on her morning Cheerios without thinking twice about it. Attitude is everything, after all.

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In this picture we are using the Cheerios box as storage for another present, but I’m not above giving them Cheerios as a present. 

She got plenty of other non-necessary presents, too, so don’t worry. She received a couple of new stuffed animals from aunts, a really cool jewelry-painting set that I bought with money her Nonna sent for her, and the coolest books ever from National Geographic- one about space, one about dinosaurs, and one about animals. Her Gamma sent those, after I asked her to look for a cool dinosaur book, since we hadn’t been able to find anything interesting and age-appropriate at the library here. Books here are not accessible and they’re insanely expensive. These books would have cost thousands of pesos here (according to Conan’s family), if you could even find them somewhere in the first place. I feel so incredibly privileged to have so much access to quality books for me and my children. But I digress, as usual.

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Everyone was impressed by the books.

I also pulled off a double win because I managed to clean out my office and give Lucia perfect presents for free. I had a couple of things sitting around my office for the past almost-three years, resources that an ex-coworker had given me that Lucia was way too young for. One is a phonics game- Zoo ABC Bingo!- and the other a book of poems for kids. So, like the crafty, thrifty mommy that I am, I wrapped it all up and gave it as a birthday gift. (Grown-up Lucia, if you’re reading this someday, just remember that money spent has no correlation to love and thought put into giving.)

Also in the realm of “attitude is everything,” you can talk up all the advantages of your plan vs anything they’ve had in the past or seen at their friend’s house. Like better quality candy, as I already mentioned.

 

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Serious Birthday Business

We broke the piñata with two of her little cousins and the neighbor kids across the street, so the amount of candy that both of my kids got ahold of wasn’t of epic, diabetes-producing proportions after all. I let them overdose on candy the day of the party and then the next day they took a decent portion of it to Lucia’s neighborhood bestie who’s been sick all week and couldn’t help break the piñata. Another parenting win: sharing and getting more candy out of our house.

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A piñata wouldn’t be a piñata without some help from your friends. 

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So obviously we’ve learned a lot in these five years. Apparently the half-decade mark is a moment in which you finally have more than just the basic survival skills as a parent. It seems that we may have a couple of parenting tricks up our sleeves now, at long last. Now if I could just get the recipe to make my kids go to sleep when I want, or to leave me alone in the bathroom, then I would declare myself a super parent. Maybe by our next half-decade? Or perhaps never. Sigh. You gotta take your victories when and where you can, folks, which might be the most important thing I’ve learned in these five years of parenting.

A Gratitude Interlude

8 Nov

Lately I’ve pretty much been one giant ball of stress, chaos, and anxiety, so…. We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you this important announcement:

These things only happen to the living. (like my Nonna always said)

I write at least three things to be grateful for every morning as I drink my coffee. It’s a good way to start my day, and over time it’s augmented the fabulousness in my life tenfold. But sometimes the morning gratitudes are just not enough. I need a bit more focus on the gratitude. A bit less wallowing in my problems, pulling my hair out trying to find solutions that don’t exist. So here goes.

First off, our car is permanently dead-to-us (RIP Poderoso), despite all our valiant efforts. So I’m incredibly, madly grateful to the parents with functioning cars who are schlepping Lucia to school and back with their kids. (Thank you, thank you, thank you; it is the difference between our kid going to school or not.) I’m grateful that public transportation exists to get Lucia to the car pool pick-up spot so she can get a ride. I’m grateful that Lucia gets to go to a school that she is thrilled about every day of the week, and that it’s a school that’s also totally in-line with our parenting values (more on that to come). Even though sometimes I feel bad about needing help, I know that we would do the same for someone else, and that makes me feel better about it.

I’m grateful that Conan has a paying job outside of the house! It means more work and more stress for both of us, but the economic stress is already greatly lessoned. “Conan,” I said, “we’re halfway through my pay period and I haven’t had a panic attack about money! This is serious progress!!”

I’m insanely, intensely grateful that we’ve turned in the first step of our paperwork for immigration. That people threw a benefit karaoke potluck for us, and more folks keep donating, keep sending us their wishes and energy and hope and love. Can’t even tell you how awesome it is.

I’m majorly grateful that Arturo is lending us his truck for Conan to get to work and back. I’m grateful that there were no accidents in the week that Conan spent driving it with nearly non-existant brakes until we had enough money for repairs. I’m grateful that the bald tires are holding out so far (keep your fingers crossed for us- it’s next on the list).

I’m grateful for the obligatory quality time I have with Khalil every day that we go to pick up Lucia from the carpool drop-off spot. I used to spend a good portion of my lunch break getting lunch ready, but now Khalil and I go for a walk to catch a bus or a colectivo (shared taxi) and we have a big adventure to pick up the big sister. The whole ride there, he shouts about every big vehicle that he sees, which is approximately every three seconds. “Yes, dump truck,” I agree. “Yes, another big semi.” He barely says words- except more, his first and most important word- but he make a vroom vroom noise, and a buuuuhhhh deep rumbling in his throat noise that means ‘big.’ This child is determined to communicate. We continue our fun if Lucia’s not at the spot yet, playing with sticks or leaves, or throwing rocks or reading a book. It’s truly a pleasant time that I used to not have on a daily basis.

I’m grateful that at least the three of us still get to eat lunch together, and that I have a crock pot! It has rescued me in a big big way. Otherwise we might be eating tuna sandwiches every other day.

I’m grateful that we’re not totally destitute. I’m grateful that we have nutritious food to eat and a safe and sturdy shelter. A man was working on a neighbor’s yard the other day, “cutting the grass” like they do here- by hand, with a machete, slowly wacking away, in the sweltering heat and humidity, for two days, at the tall weeds that had overtaken the landscape. While we talked, he inquired about the casita– the “little house” on our property. “This building?” I asked him, pointing again at our shed. Yep, he meant the shed- the tiny tin shack where Conan slept while the house was being built. He wanted to live there for a while with his family. “Got my perspective back in check,” I told my mom, “when I realized that we are ‘rich’ enough to have a garage that could be someone’s house.”

I’m grateful that we have a home- not just a shelter, but a refuge. It’s an appealing, spacious-enough-for-four, comfortable, comforting place that’s all our own. Even though it’s unfinished and might never be finished, even though we still don’t have doors separating rooms, even though half the time it’s a hurricane-style disaster of toys and clothes strewn about and dishes left undone, it’s ours and I love it.

I’m grateful for this past weekend’s few calm minutes to sit by the back door and look out at the world with my littler firecracker. For smoothies made of strawberries and Oaxacan chocolate, and a surprise afternoon storm.

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Khalil’s favorite spot- looking out the door… Normally he likes to sit in this little chair, but when I sat on the floor with him, he decided to sit on the floor, too.

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Cheers! To chocolate and children.

I’m grateful that thus far my rambunctious, determined, fiercely excited littler one hasn’t injured himself in any dire way yet (I’m pretty sure it’s going to be inevitable with this one). That so far we’ve managed to keep him from ingesting bleachy cleaning water; he only dumped a little bit on top of himself that one time. That the soapy dirty bath water he drinks on the sly sometimes doesn’t seem to do much damage (and let me remind you, tap water here is not drinking water to begin with). That just yesterday he only drank about 1ml of Lucia’s steroid dose that he grabbed off the table in the .2 seconds that I turned my back; glad it was not the whole thing (especially since it was right after he’d had his full dose). That despite several falls (off the bed, against the concrete wall from throwing himself in playful abandon, etc.) he seems to have avoided concussions so far. That he has so many moments of random tenderness and hugging and loving and smiling to make up for wrecking the entire house every 15 minutes of every single day.

I’m grateful that my wild thing older one has such a strong, unstoppable imagination. That she can play by herself and create an entire complex little world for sometimes hours at a time. I love that she’s never seen a whole princess movie and yet she proclaims herself an expert in princesses. I love the rules she makes up about them. “Princesses are always nice, right?” she says. Or she refuses to brush her hair because apparently that’s princess-style. Even though I thought I was anti-princess, I love the conversations we have thanks to this princess obsession. She puts on one of her fancy dresses and says how pretty she is, and we talk about how everyone’s pretty in different ways, for example. She told me the other day, “Mommy, you’re the prettiest, because your hair do like this,” and she fluffed out my hair and made little wispys like it does. “Your hair is the funnest,” she said, and my heart totally melted. Every other day, between bouts of screaming at her brother and throwing tantrums, she says fun and interesting and tender stuff that makes me glad to keep her. More love in my heart than I thought I could stand- thank you, universe, for this.

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Lucia’s make-believe time: always an elaborate affair

 

I’m so grateful that we’ve been able to buy a nebulizer to treat our kids’ asthma. That Khalil doesn’t mind wearing a mask over his face because we read so many books while we do it. That we have such a fabulous pediatrician, who’s very experienced in asthma treatments, and who doesn’t even get pissed at me for calling in the middle of the night in a panic. (Read more about how great she is here.) That both of our kids are now going to be on daily asthma preventative medication (WHAT did people do before all these treatments existed?). We just had a crazy week with the both of them with asthma attacks- even though Lucia already takes preventative medication, and it’s been so stressful and anxiety-inducing. But I’m so grateful that they’re okay, and they’re going to be okay.

I’m grateful that my kids are awesome, healthy eaters. It kind of makes up for them being such crappy sleepers. When Lucia practically begged me to share my broccoli snack the other day, and then Khalil ate a bunch later on, I laughed maniacally to myself, thinking, “Yes, I accept this sure-to-be-temporary victory!”

I’m grateful for about a kajillion other things, but this has been enough to stem the tide of chaos and woe for a bit. I’ll leave it at that and give you time to think about your own “gratitudes.” Thanks, universe, and thanks, friends. I’m happy to be here with you.

An Empirical Study in Parenting a Three Year Old

5 Feb

Banging your head against the wall is not an effective parenting tactic, as it turns out. Even if your walls are made of concrete and you do it repeatedly, your survival instincts appear to be too strong for it to put you out of your misery. It also does not make the children behave in the manner you’d like. It doesn’t make the baby sit still during diaper changes. It doesn’t make the three year old take her damn nap. Nothing. Sad but true, folks. Sad but true.

Screaming the f word at the top of your lungs is another tragically ineffective tactic. If you scream loud enough, it might scare them and make them pause for some miniscule amount of time. We’re talking a few seconds, here, though, not the 10 minutes or 3 days of break from the madness you were hoping for. In fact, it’s liable to make little ones cry, which means you’ve just made the problem worse. You’ve gotta soothe them and you now feel guilty on top of it. And the baby is heading straight back to the cat’s litter box meanwhile. Crapola.

Corporal punishment is an equally ineffectual technique for me. First of all, there’s that pesky little voice in my head that says, “we don’t hit people,” and damned if it’s not my own, real, non—psychotic voice saying that very thing to my kid. I spanked Lucia once in an instant of shock and rage over her purposely hitting the baby hard when he was itty bitty, and I’m pretty sure it was, indeed, worse for me than it was for her. Later that night she said, in this sad little voice, “Mommy, don’t hit me anymore,” like it’s this regular abuse I dish out to her, and that totally sealed the deal on keeping that out of my parenting repertoire.

 

I also can’t use corporal punishment because when she pushes my limits, I occasionally have the urge to shake some sense into her. Like when she refused to help me during clean up time, then proceeded to dump on the floor half the toys I’d just picked up, I had a brief moment of rage so strong that my reptilian brain encouraged me to fight back against this mutiny, to show that brat who’s boss! Immediately after that urge, I thought, “Whoa, who the hell are you, Julia, and did you know this is your tiny child who you love more than chocolate?” Alas. Violence is not an option for my parenting strategies.

 

The worst thing, though, is that my go-to parenting tactic for the 3 year old is totally the most insane: Reasoning. I try to implement things like rules and routines, positive and negative consequences, rational discussion. Have you ever tried to reason with a three year old? Have you even interacted with a three year old?? Reasoning can’t work, because the three year old mind is the antichrist! Errr, I mean, it’s antilogic! They are completely irrational savages! In case you’re not intimate with any 3 year olds these days, let me give you some examples. Let’s call this my little case study in treating your child like a small but reasonable human being, and you can see for yourself how effective it is.

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This is known in our house as: “I’m really tired so I can’t go to sleep because I’m too tired”

Evidence #1: Rules, Schmules aka “You can’t see me because my eyes are closed.”

 

“No, Mommy,” my daughter scolded me. “I’m going to hide over here first, and then you go in the kitchen and count,” she said, explaining to me how hide and seek works in her world, showing me exactly where she was going to hide. Then when it was my turn to hide she indicated exactly where I was to hide. (In another instance of her incidental wittiness / rule-breaking, when her Papi told her to count to seventeen, she counted, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, teen.”)

 

It’s not limited to hide and seek, either. These monsters will snatch your Memory card right up when they see it goes with the one they had in their last turn. They stick whatever foot they want in the middle during the hokey pokey. They just don’t care about your rules.

 

Or you take the time and energy to set up rules and routines only to have them broken repeatedly. “Play time’s over now,” you remind the savage, for example. “This is clean up time.” But to them that means they can remember what they were doing with these toys a couple hours ago and start it up all over again. Shower time means time to clean the bathroom floor with Papi’s bath sponge. Nap time means they’re starving and need to finish the lunch you didn’t want 30 minutes ago. Need I go on, folks? There is no logic and no respect for the establishment!

 

Evidence #2: Panic Attacks aka “The sky is falling! Even if it’s only rain, it’s still the end of the world!”

 

Saying that a three year old can’t regulate their emotions is the understatement of the year. These people haven’t seen my kid have super freak-out/tantrum/panic attacks over things like cutting the wrong shape for her sandwich: “I wanted a rectangle, not a triangle!” or the baby touching something she thinks he shouldn’t: “The baby’s gonna get the apple! The baby’s gonna get the apple!” she shrieks, even when you tell her that it’s not a problem. Other dire moments for her include “The video’s on and nobody’s watching it!” and “But I can’t see with my eyes closed!”- her favorite freak-out during an attempted nap time. Getting food stuck in her teeth, me sitting in the blue chair instead of the white chair (or vice versa the next day), her forgetting to put the cereal bowl on her head before I put the cereal in- all of these things and so much more can bring on shrill screams, panting, crying, full-out thrashing attacks until the crisis is resolved.

 

Evidence #3: No Impulse Control aka “But I really wanted to color on the baby’s head”

 

Three year olds have a lot of ideas about right and wrong, which is good. But they can’t quite talk themselves into doing what’s right or not doing what’s wrong, consistently. Her impulse control is certainly better than when she’d say, “no milk floor” while pouring her milk on the floor, but she still has a lot of slip-ups. She has not yet learned to lie, so when I ask her, for example, how the baby’s head got marker on it, she tells me proudly, “I colored on it.” She proceeds to tell me that we only color on paper (aka yes I know I done wrong) but she just colored a little bit on his head because she really wanted to. Oh, well, okay then.

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Repeat after me: “We only color on paper, we only color on paper” (this picture is from the internet, but you should see my nice sheets and this precise look on my 3 year olds face)

Evidence #4: Negative Consequences are the Best aka “I want to do it the hard way”

 

I try to set up logical consequences to convince her to follow the game plan, only to have her laugh in the face of consequences. For example, I tell her that if she showers with me right now when it’s time to shower (and not with 10 minutes of coaxing and nagging) then we’ll have time to read an extra book for bedtime. Usually her response is something like, “But I’m playing with my blocks. I just need to make this house.” Or, “But I’m taking care of Lucia (her kangaroo/big sister child). I have to put her to bed first.” Then at bedtime she still thinks she gets an extra book!

I can either coax and nag or break out the big guns- “Do you want to do it the hard way?” The hard way, of course, is not pleasant for anybody. It involves forceful lifting of the savage, lots of tears, some screaming, the whole dramatic routine. Sometimes the threat of the hard way (and the counting up to it: 1, 2, 2 and a half…) encourages her to get with the program, but sometimes she busts out her future-13-year-old defiance and yells: “I want to do it the hard way!” (Geez, she is so my child.) Then we do it the hard way, and she hates it and screams and yells about how she doesn’t want to do it the hard way. Three year old logic.

 

I try to explain to her about logical consequences. “You know that Dora DVD that doesn’t work anymore because we didn’t put it back in its case and now it’s all scratched up? Or that chicken puzzle that’s missing pieces?” I ask her, and she nods. “That’s why we need to take care of our things. That’s why we need to put our things back where they go when we’re finished.” I tell her, foolishly believing this will enlist her in clean up time. “But I’m playing. You do it.” She told me the other day. She even told me the other day I could give away all her toys to someone else, that she didn’t want them anyway, just to avoid cleaning them up. The other night I told her that if she didn’t help clean up I was going to put her toys out in the shed. She didn’t care until I told her that included her “Lucia” and the tent she was currently “living” in. “But we don’t put people away!” she insisted, explaining why her kangaroo doll (a person!) couldn’t possibly apply to this. And then she says, “Just put the tent where I can’t reach it. If you put it outside in the shed, the ants are going to eat it.” Once again, I wasted more time having this conversation than what it was worth to acheive the end result of her picking up approximately five blocks. Obviously, though, my three year old has lots of reasoning happening in her brain. It just doesn’t happen to be reasoning that helps me in any way.

 

Analysis

Let’s review our parenting tactics and their effectiveness: head-banging and screaming curse words- counterproductive; spanking- personally incompatible; reasoning, discussion, consequences, routines, etc.- results variable, could be equally attributed to chance alone, or to children raised by wolves. More studies are needed. We are now nearing the baby’s first birthday, and it appears we’re keeping the three year old despite all evidence against her, so we’ll have plenty more opportunities for this important research. Please keep us informed about your own studies as well.