Tag Archives: parenting

get rid of clutter: it makes kids happier, too

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My almost two-year-old is entering his defiant phase.

“OK, CP, time to clean up!” I say after dinner. “You’re in charge of the Legos.”

“No,” he says with a smile, and then turns in circles, arms out like an airplane. Or he walks away and grabs a toy car and starts pretending it’s zooming on the furniture. And then grins at me with that infuriating glimmer.

“CP,” I say with a sterner tone, pointing at the rug. “Legos.”

This happened three nights in a row. Three nights ago, when his exasperated brother tried to boss CP into cleaning, CP took a heavy wooden car and hit CM in the mouth. CM wailed; I put CP on the couch, and he giggled at me when I told him how unhappy I was and we don’t hit in this house. (I later told A. it was time for me to read up on toddler discipline again, because CP’s personality is so different from CM’s. I default to this woman’s advice, and I’m also going to pull out some of the books on my shelf.)

Two nights ago, when CP wasn’t cleaning after several prompts, A. and I decided to put the Legos away. He put them on top of the fridge, so CP could see them and ask for them.

Yesterday morning,  CP was wandering the house.

“Mama, I can’t find the Legos anywhere,” he said in whiny voice, hands up-turned.

“CP, you didn’t clean up last night,” I said. “You don’t get to play with them for a few days.”

He cried for a moment and then said, bottom lip out: “Ohhhh.” It’s tricky because I’m not sure he really gets it yet.

But here’s what I noticed. With the Legos out of sight, the boys got along better. They played in a huge cardboard box we’ve had for two weeks that we turned into a “house.” They giggled and pounded on the box like it was a bongo. Then they jumped into a toy bin and pretended it was a hot air balloon. Later in the morning, I took them on a hike in the Sandia Foothills and they walked on what was left of the snow and jumped in the mud, and CP made up a song that went, “CM, I loooove you.”

The boys don’t need much to be happy. We’re all about simple play. We want to foster their independence, creativity and love of nature. Sometimes the best idea, even though it can feel hard in the moment when they’re upset, is to simply put those toys away.

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kids’ music, kind older folks and serendipity

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A few weeks ago, A. and I had a rare dinner alone in Ridgecrest. OK, so it wasn’t alone, CP was with us, but he was still only nursing and would sit in his carseat, watchfully and quietly. We ate at Charlie’s, a bar restaurant with very little ambience — five or six TVs with sports programs, a pool table, high ceilings, cushy chairs on wheels and older patrons. One entire wall was a mirror, and we sat next to it.

An elderly couple came in and sat down across from us. And the woman kept looking over and smiling at CP, who A. was holding up on the table on his wobbly legs, his feet turned inward, his eyes focused on his image in the mirror. I finally smiled back at the woman, and she asked, “How old?” She was in her 70s at least, with curly gray hair and round glasses. Her husband had a hearing aide.

A. wheeled his chair over to their table, with CP on his lap, and they both lit up. It turns out, they were from Albuquerque, N.M., where we think we’d like to move next. And they have several grandchildren.

“Do you have a CD player in your car?” the woman asked us.

Confused, I said yes.

“Our daughter is a children’s singer,” she says. “She sings lullabies that will put your baby to sleep.”

They were on their way to Yosemite, so they were staying in the hotel where the restaurant is.

“Go get some of them,” the woman said to her husband, kindly.

He nodded, and a bit later, he returned with four wrapped albums and an article about their daughter, Susie Tallman, published in the Albuquerque Magazine.

We put the CDs in the diaper bag and thanked them.

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On the way home, I popped one in the player, and the first song — Six Little Ducks — was catchy.

Since, we’ve been listening to them — a song here, a song there. The lullabies do not put CP to sleep, as the woman guaranteed they would (in fact, I don’t care for them), but we have found a few songs that move us to our feet, including Five Little Speckled Frogs. The song has gone into our regular rotation, along with songs by the Laurie Berkner Band, Raffi, Elizabeth Mitchell and another new discovery: Johnny Bregar.

Now, every once in a while, CM (who will be three in December) will ask: “Can we listen to Five Speckled Fwogs?”

We turn on our stereo in the living room and act out the song — pretending to sit on a log and shovel delicious flies in our mouths. The joy on CM’s face makes me smile — it’s ridiculously cute. And every time we do it, I think of that couple, who are so proud of their daughter.  And I can’t help but think that maybe we’ll see them again, someday.

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surprises with baby no. 2

One of the biggest surprises when A. and I came home with baby no. 2 was how all of sudden my first baby seemed HUGE. Like, holy crap, my 27-month-old grew into a Godzilla-sized toddler over night. And he was no longer my baby. I don’t say that in a sad way — though I could see how hormones could make moms grieve this shift in relationship with their first baby — but rather in an awed way.

The other surprise is how I feel fine, this time, staying home all day every day. I’m no longer living in a poorly-lit two-bedroom dungeon in D.C. Our house in the desert is full of light, and the California sun and blue skies allow me breathe. Also, there is truly nowhere to go. And I’m OK with accomplishing what feels like nothing: no crocheting, no trying new recipes, no writing. I’ve let go of some of my over-achiever tendencies that gnaw at me.

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With CM, I walked everywhere — up to my favorite coffee shop, through the photo exhibits at National Geographic, to brunch spots with friends. And I was beyond exhausted.

Now I’m literally sitting in the rocker in my bedroom, or on a lawn chair in our backyard, nursing and cuddling CP, his full lips puckered against my chest. I watch him smile in his sleep, or squeak those adorable piglet squeaks. And instead of feeling stifled and penned in and emotional, I feel joyous.

I have this bad habit of looking ahead when I’m excited or inspired or filled with love. When I arrived in Peru solo for a trek to Machu Picchu — one of my best vacations — I went on a hike and looked out at the city of Cusco and found myself thinking about where I could travel next. And so it is, now, as I snuggle CP, my mind is wandering to baby no. 3 — something I never thought I’d desire.

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toddler boot camp

We had no idea we were about to put C. through boot camp this weekend, but that’s exactly what we did. And, in turn, we got our butts kicked too.

We ditched all diapers. Daytime, nighttime — gone.

And yes, this type of potty training is no joke. I wanted to run to the mountains. I wanted to drink several glasses of wine with a girlfriend. I wanted to go back to the pottery studio and throw pot after pot. And then I wanted to collapse. But I had to watch my little guy’s every move.

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single parents everywhere: i salute you

It’s MLK day, and C. is in the playroom singing to himself and building Lincoln Logs. I’m drinking a coffee and feeling relieved: the long weekend is almost over and A. will be home from Phoenix later this afternoon.

I was a bit stressed about him leaving — A. spends every weekend morning with C. He handles the night-time baths. He gets home from work around the witching hour, and plays with C. while I cook. (A. often cooks, too.)

This weekend, A. wanted to meet a grad-school friend for a getaway to play golf, watch football and have time to himself before baby no. 2 arrives. And he deserves it.

But at 34 weeks pregnant, I’ve been extra tired and my tolerance for the 2-year-old “I WANT IT!” is diminishing. So letting A. go from Friday afternoon till Monday evening sounded hard. I also don’t have a lot of friends in the desert (not like D.C., anyway), so a long weekend alone with C. sounded even harder.

So I put together a plan. Saturday, C. and I would drive to Lake Isabella and find a farmer’s market and have lunch at the Kernville Brewery (which I have liked in the past). A girlfriend would drive up from LA to hang for the evening, and on Sunday, another girlfriend would come over for dinner.

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Over the past three days, here’s what I learned — and this is with just one toddler, not two or more kids, and it’s also while I’m not working.

1. Showering is virtually impossible. At the end of the day, when I usually shower, I had no energy for it (or I had guests). Therefore, A. will come home to a filthy, crusty wife.

2. A few more days of doing this, and I would probably stop making C. clean up after himself (for lack of energy and patience) and he would turn into an oinking pig in a pigpen and I would probably trip and kill myself on Tinker Toys.

3. We don’t watch TV (except for my Downton Abbey indulgence) and we don’t have an iPad, but C. likes to watch videos of himself on my iPhone (am I raising a narcissist?). I generally let him watch videos for a minute or two and then take it away, but I have a feeling if it was just me all of the time, I’d let him watch more. And I might even get an iPad.

4. How, oh how do single parents work full-time and eat healthy, whole grain meals? The one meal we ate out (lunch at the brewery)  — chili and a chicken sandwich — made me feel awful after a few weeks of mostly vegetarian low-fat cooking. But cooking is exhausting — I would probably have to eat frozen meals on TV trays every day.

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The weekend ended up being really lovely — despite the few meltdowns (C.’s, not mine) and his refusing naps and his sniffles. We pretended we were bears living in a cave and we read books and we went for walks and he gave me kisses and hugs. He even said, “Mama, I miss you” (he must not know what that means). But I can’t wait for A. to get home so I can squeeze him tight and let him know how much I appreciate him.

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from the eyes of a toddler

One of the great joys of having a kid is watching them discover the world around them and how they fit into it. I watch the gears in C.’s brain move, oiled and quick, with many ah-ha! moments. The first time he walked, he hyperventilated with joy — deep breaths, face all smiles. His imagination shows itself when he opens my glasses case and balances it on his head and says, “Hat!” or when he bites a tortilla filled with hummus into a shape and says, “Horse!” or when he points to scribbles he drew with blue sidewalk chalk and says, “Seahorse!”

Here is his latest discovery: What happens when he blows into an inch of milk. He watched the bubbles grow and grow and grow until they spilled over the edge.

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Oh I know it’s cliche, but this 20-month-old just keeps getting funnier and sweeter and more and more fun. Lately, he surprises me by saying things like, “Papa drive blue car work” (after A. leaves the house in the morning) and, in the evening, when I tell him A. should be home soon, he says, “Wait driveway?” He’ll throw his hands up in a funky dance and make monster noises and then say, “Mama, do it?” In the car yesterday morning on the way to a coffee shop, C. said, “All over the place,” and I said, “What’s all over the place?” and he said: “Mountains” and I looked out at the Sierras on my left, white on the top, and B Mountain on the right. Last week was the first time he said, “Mommy. Love mommy.” And then later, “Mama, hold my hand.” Melt.

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routine: a love-hate relationship

C. and I have fallen back into our daily routine since returning from vacation. I love being home, but, after a week, I’m already dreaming about how to shake up our quiet days. I love routine and I hate routine. C., however, thrives in it.

We’ve been spending the mornings reading Ezra Jack Keats and picking the final sweet green grapes off our dwindling vine. By mid-morning, we leave the house — we meander to the library or music class so C. can run around with the 2-year-olds who yell and giggle hysterically at a fly buzzing in the room. Yesterday, we swam at a friend’s pool, and C. blew bubbles and smiled when I laid him on his back on top of the water, his rounded belly like a half sun coming up over the horizon.

But when it’s just the two of us at home, mostly in the late afternoon when my energy slips, C. has been digging into drawers and pressing buttons — including mine. He turned on one of A.’s machines in his shop, and scraped his middle finger. He pulled my curling iron out of a bathroom drawer and dragged it across the house to an outlet. He was quiet for much too long, and I found him sitting on the carpet in my bedroom, his thumb pressed in my deep purple eye shadow, his lips and tongue sparkling with powder. I left him on the patio for a moment while he worked on a paint-with-water print — a photo of a boy driving a tractor — and I returned to the paint cup at his lips, his elbows bent, water stained down the front of his shirt and pooled at his feet.

The highs are still pushing 100, so I stay inside while C. naps, catching up on the news and emailing friends. I’m slowly working my way through Dr. Zhivago. But I’ve been feeling a bit antsy, a bit crabby, a bit cooped up. I’m quite sure it’s the routine — and my lack of projects — and feeling sluggish in the summer desert heat.

So I keep reminding myself: This is life as a stay-at-home mom. And this is a special time.

And I remember to cherish certain moments with my 19-month-old, like last night, after dinner, while the sun set, and C. and I drew with thick chalk on our patio — he said he was drawing “A’s” and “ovals” and then he pointed to some scribbles and said it was a helicopter. “A helicopter?” I said, my eyes a bit wide, “Really?” “Uh-huh,” he said, very seriously. “That’s really cool,” I said. “I like the propeller.” And he looked back down at his drawing and smiled proudly.

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curls, purses and gender roles

When C. came into the world, he had a dark mullet that reached down to his neck. That mullet has turned into golden curls, longer in the back. So, occasionally, he gets mistaken as a girl.

Last weekend, A. took C. to a cafe after spending the morning feeding carrots to wild horses.

“I sat C. facing two older women, because, you know, they love babies,” he told me later. “And they did love it, but one of them — who was honestly probably 90 — kept referring to C. as a girl.”

A. looked at me like the woman had lost her bananas.

“I mean, look at him.”

I nodded.

“He looks nothing like a girl.”

Yesterday, I stopped in at Stater Brothers to pick up some pork chops for dinner,  and C. insisted on carrying my purse: “Mama, purse?” I offered to help as he struggled, and he said, “No, no,” in a panicky voice, like I was trying to de-pants him in public.

As he stumbled like a drunkard near the flower section, a woman in her 70s with curly gray hair and thick glasses stopped her cart.

“Aw,” she said. “How old is she?”

“Oh, he’s 17 months,” I said, correcting her. “He’s a boy.”

And then, later, I thought to myself, “Why does it matter? Who cares if they call him a girl?”

C. is starting to catch on to the concept of female and male.

Last week, he said to me, “Mama, penis?”

“No, no, honey,” I said. “Mama doesn’t have a penis. You and papa have penises.”

Later that day, he pulled a bra from my drawer.

“Mama, bra?” he said, pointing to my breasts. “Yes,” I said. “Mama wears a bra. Papa doesn’t wear a bra.”

(Though, with A.’s sense of humor, C.’s bound to be confused.)

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Yesterday, at the playground, C. watched a 5-year-old climb on the structure. It was his first time assigning a gender to another kid when he said: “Girl, up, steps.” He watched her, captivated, and when she said, “Boo!” at him, he giggled hysterically. “Nen, nen,” he said [“again, again”]. It was almost as if he had his first crush, his eyes danced with happiness watching her run around.

Now that he’s noticing the differences, I’m becoming more and aware of what A. and I — and society — communicate to C. about gender.

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a toddler, books and … tears?

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One of the wonderful things — and curses — of living in the desert is the quiet. So much quiet. The wind is fierce, the air is dry and the summers are hot. This week, the temperatures are pushing 100 degrees — a hint of what’s to come. Our swamp cooler kicks on at random times during the day and I have to park under trees and stretch a shade across the windshield.

There aren’t many toddler classes in town, the city is shutting down its only public pool for lack of resources and it’s getting too hot to go to the park.

That means that C. and I are spending most of our time at home or at the library. At home, we don’t watch TV — and so we read. A lot.

The tiny, shabby desert library is open Tuesday-Thursday and the kids’ section is meager. We’ve run across gems like Jim Aylesworth’s “Little Bitty Mousie” and Pamela Edwards’ “Warthogs Paint” about colors (C. still calls everything “bue”), but I feel like in a few weeks we’ll have picked over the stock.

As I skim through books, I notice that many of them have characters behaving badly, and I gently close them and return them to the shelves. A. and I have read that what you read to kids can influence them in ways you might not realize. Kids don’t have the staying power or ability to comprehend a resolution. They just pick up the bad behavior.

What we didn’t expect was for a book to make C. cry. This is new for our almost 17-month-old: His chin wobbles and he tears up when a book ends with a “goodbye.” He has no problem saying bye to A. in the morning, or bye to me if A. takes him to Home Depot. But a book about a mouse leaving a museum had him crying over the weekend. And a book about boats had him in hysterics yesterday evening.

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the land of meltdowns

Last week, A. and I crossed into the land of meltdowns (said with a booming voice) where storms can unleash with little warning. Our little helper — who loves to sweep, rubs down the floor with tissues and toddles to the trash can to throw away litter — gave me his first forceful “NO!” when I tried to change his diaper. It was accompanied by a little kick and I raised my eyebrow, like, “Really? You’re going to go there?”

In general, this kid is awesome. He wakes up in his crib and reads to his llama and owl for an hour. The other day I heard him counting. He giggles like crazy and has a new way of saying, “Hi!” that brightens up a room. He sings to himself, and says things like, “Mama, hat, on” when he wants me to put on a hat and “Book, couch” when he wants to read with me. He says “mama, nine” (that’s wine) and “papa, beer.” (Hmmmm…) He always says please (“peas”) and he grabs my face to give me kisses.

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And now there is this budding streak of independence and “no” is his new favorite word. Last week, he tried to shake off my hand and run into the street. I grabbed him, jerked him to safety and made him look me in the eye while I told him why that wasn’t OK. Major Meltdown. (A few drivers flashed me sympathetic smiles.) He has a new fascination with outlets and crouches down to see if he can look into the wall. Cool! Electricity! He drags us objects to plug in and we shake our heads, “No, buddy, how about we don’t plug in the curling iron where you can step on it?” Meltdown. He loves the food processor plunger, but we decided that hey, maybe that’s not a great toy so let’s lock that cabinet. Meltdown.

He’s only 16 1/2 months, but I’m seeing a rapid change. It’s natural development and A. and I agree that we’d worry if he didn’t go through this stage. And, really, he’s so much easier than when he was an infant and I had a trillion hormones coursing through me and his cries made me want to crawl into a corner, curl into a ball and rock. So much easier.

But I’m getting prepared for this new stage: I plan to put on a heavy raincoat and boots AND carry an umbrella as we enter the land of meltdowns.

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