Tag Archives: toddler

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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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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camping with a toddler: how we survived (and some tips)

OK, so I was dragging my feet. Every now and then, A. would say, “When do you want to go camping again?” and I’d change the subject to what should we have for dinner, or, “Look! Look at the big cat wandering through our backyard!”

The first time we took C. camping was on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland. It was September, and C. was nine months old. We hiked two miles along a creek deep into the woods. I held C. on my chest and a few other “essentials” on my back and A. carried everything else: tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, food (he had back spasms the next day). When we came to a suitable campsite, I nursed C. against a log while the mosquitoes buzzed and nipped at me and A. ran off to filter water from a nearby stream.

It was humid and I was exhausted. And I still cherished sleep like a queen cherishes her jewels.

Then, when I laid C. down in a tent within a tent and I said, “Good night,” he freaked the hell out. He was full-on panicking with his fire-alarm cry like, “Um, EXCUSE ME? I’m sleeping WHERE?” So we got him up and sat around a warm fire and smelled the pines and watched the flames dance and spooned him some beans until we all laid down in the tent together.

In the middle of the night, I heard a growl that sounded like a big cat. I nabbed a hysterical C. — now panicking myself — and whispered loudly to A. “Did you hear that?” and A. mumbled something in his half-sleep about how it was probably a bird and I actually believed him and relaxed. But C. was now sleeping with me and kept rolling off the mat and I spent the whole night making sure we didn’t squish him.

Here is a photo after we hiked out — my smile reflects relief that the three of us were alive:

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So, I have to say that I’m pretty awesome for agreeing to go again not even a year later.

On Saturday, we drove to Sequoia along twisting roads, parked and loaded up our packs. We hiked a mile in and C. ran around picking up sticks while we set up camp. A. fired up the jet-boil and we ate a dinner of lentils, cous-cous and long-grain-and-wild rice on a huge platform rock and watched the sun set. And then we all went to bed together, around 8 p.m. We read C. “Harry the Dirty Dog” and told him he was sleeping next to mama and papa and isn’t this fun? C. was wired — he was singing and standing up and saying, “Woah!” and babbling and making us laugh.

This time, C. fell asleep with his little head on my sleeping bag, my cheek squished against the top of his head and his body cradled like a C against mine. And oh my god, I love sleeping next to this sweet little guy who would wake up now and then and look at me and smile and lay his head back down.

We got up with the sun and C. was happy and we ate oatmeal with dates and honey-roasted almonds and took down camp and went to find the majestic Sequoias before the crowds arrived.

And I felt relaxed and more than relieved — I was happy. We did it and C. loved it.

So next time A. asks, “When do you want to go camping again?” I expect I’ll say: “Let’s pick a weekend!”

Here are a few tips for camping with a toddler:

  • Bring something you know know he/she likes to eat. I’m so happy we had two peanut butter sandwiches — one for the evening and one for the morning — that filled up C.’s belly because he wasn’t interested in the oatmeal.
  • Don’t forget the winter hats. Even if you don’t think it will be cold, they pack well and it’s worth it if you need them.
  • Bring one more diaper than you think you’ll need.
  • Tell the toddler well in advance that you’re going to camp and sleep in a tent with mama and papa for one night. I think this helped take away the surprise factor.
  • Bring a water filter. Carrying water and a toddler and, well, everything else, is too much and you might end up breaking your backs.
  • Get a sleeping bag for the little one. We had C. in a fleece sleep sack on his own sleeping pad and he was fine, but I would have gotten more sleep (i.e. worried less) if he was in an actual sleeping bag. We plan to buy one for him before our next trip.
  • Relax and enjoy! Losing one night of sleep isn’t the end of the world — and finding adventures is soul-charging. At least, it is for me.

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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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italian dreaming (and practicing)

Ever since I read Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Pray, Love, I’ve had a burning desire to live in Italy. (Yes, I loved both, so sue me.) I’ve visited a few times — Rome, Florence, Venice, Cinque Terra — but this was 15 years ago and the trips weren’t long enough to absorb the culture.

When I think about Italy, I dream of stone kitchens, homemade bread and long dinners with wine. I dream about delicious espressos and walking among ruins. I dream about stone churches in bustling squares and women leaning out of second-story windows over flower pots. I dream about the blue ocean, and visiting nearby islands.

A. is half Italian — his mom is from Orsogna and moved to the U.S. when she was seven. She is the youngest of five, and she speaks Italian with her brothers and sisters. In their New Jersey home, above the stove, hangs the sign “Cucina.” When we visit, she asks C., “Dove la Cucina?” and he looks up and points to the sign. When A. makes C. spaghetti, he’ll say to him: “Mangia la pasta.”

Around the time C. was born, my MIL brought us Italian CDs. They’ve been sitting on our bookshelf, uncracked (I thought I’d have time on maternity leave, silly me).

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But C. has had a fever since Friday and this morning it was a scary 104.2. The nurse at the pediatrician’s office told me to give him fluids and meds — and keep him cool and inside (it’s pushing 100 today). So I’ve read him a trillion books and we’ve played with trucks and blocks. He’s his usual funny self — he makes himself laugh and says, “Fun-ny.”

But I need inspiration to combat cabin fever, so I pulled out the Italian CDs and loaded the first one into my computer.

C. seemed a bit confused about counting in Italian (he just started counting to 10 in English), but he giggled when I put my hands out and exaggerated the pronunciation. And I had fun learning basic words, like macchina (car) and chiavi (keys).

Of course, the best way to learn is from the natives — like his nonna (grandma). And someday we’ll travel to Italy to show C. part of his heritage. I’m hoping we can live there for a few years so he can be fluent and we can explore Europe, but that’s far away. For now, dreaming — and practicing — keeps me happy while I’m trapped inside on a hot desert day.

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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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the weaning process: more challenging than i expected

When the controversial Time magazine cover appeared last year of the 3-year-old standing on a chair nursing, he looking at the camera with his eyebrows raised, she with her hands on her hips, I had an opinion. But I didn’t share it with many people and I didn’t read the opinion pieces.

My view: To each their own. Parenting, unless abusive, is like religion. There are many “right” ways and your decisions are nobody’s business.

I was offended by the image on the cover because the mom was standing in a sexy pose. She’s in all black, arched away from the child rather than cradling him. There is nothing sexual about breast-feeding. It’s natural, biological, wonderful, sometimes painful, sometimes a chore — but not sexual. I have had moments where my back hurt or when I was tired and didn’t want to nurse, but overall, I’ve loved it.

I get why moms stick with it (though maybe not so long that the child can walk over and say, “Mom, can I have a sip?” But even then, I’m learning not to judge.) I’m already nursing longer than I expected. C. is 14 months, and I thought I’d be done by now. My goal was to get to 12 months and then assess.

What I didn’t expect was how hard it would be to wean. It’s hard to say no to your crying toddler who wants comfort and to show him that he can get comfort other ways. It’s hard to create that separation when you’ve been bonded physically since he was born. It’s hard to change up a sleeping routine on a babe who’s sleeping well. And it’s hard to say goodbye to the baby chapter and embrace toddler-hood.

So, I’ve adjusted my goals and expectations around weaning. I realize now it’s going to be a long, slow and sometimes sad process. But I’m ready to have my body back and have a bit of freedom to leave C. for the night. My goal is to be completely done by June when we’re traveling east and plan to leave him with his grandparents for the night. Wish me luck.

*Addendum: C. was fully weaned by 15 1/2 months.

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