Sunday, February 17, 2008

Food for thought

I have never been a big fan of kids eating whatever they want to, whenever they want to and where ever they want to. I'm sure that this goes against all of the "expert" advice about letting kids eat on the run and snack here and there all day long, but at our house, everyone sits down at the kitchen table for meals and snacks. We put the "two bite" rule in place a while back, which means at every meal we offer a nice variety of fruits and veggies, whole grains, meat and dairy, and two bites of each offering must be eaten before anything else can be consumed.

In my mind, this ensures that the kids will have some diversity to what they eat, unlike other kids I know who exist on chicken nuggets alone. Not only do they get at least a little from each food group at every meal, but they also get exposed to new tastes on a regular basis, even if it is only two bites worth. I have found that over time, repeated exposure to a food a couple of bites at a time will lead not only to acceptance of that food, but to requests for it as well. Once they have eaten their two bites of everything, they are then free to ask for more of anything they want. Most of the time this works amazingly well, and we have been surprised and delighted by requests for more vegetables over and over again.

But there are are also days every now and then when meal time turns into a long drawn out process. For example, a couple of nights ago at dinner time, Nicki did not want to eat her meat. When we reminded her that she had to take her two bites, she came up over and over again with a list of excuses as an attempt to stall the inevitable. The conversation started off something like this:

Me: "Nicki, don't forget to eat your meat."

Nicki: "Ok Mommy. But first I need to take a sip of milk."

Me (inwardly sighing because I know where this is going): "Ok Nicki, you had your sip, now have some meat."

Nicki: "But my hair is in my face. Can you please fix my elastics first?"

Me: "Just brush the hair out of your eyes and you'll be fine."

Nicki: "I need a tissue."

Me (after getting her a tissue and helping her blow her nose): "Ok go ahead with your meat now."

Nicki: "Wait, my eye is itchy."

Me (sighing out loud now because I know it's going to be one of those days): "Nicki you're stalling. Eat your meat or your going to end up sitting here until bedtime."

Nicki: "Ok... but first I need to scootch up my sleeves!"

Me (tired of repeating myself): "Nicki this is the last time I'm going to say it. Please eat your meat."

After much sitting there staring at me with a pouty face that I attempted to ignore, Nicki brought the conversation down to this level:

Nicki: "I'm sad at you."

Me: "Why?"

Nicki: "Because I don't love you."

Me: "Why not?"

Nicki: "Because you're not nice!"

Eventually of course, her two bites of everything were eaten, although on this particular night it took much longer than on any other night that she had put up a fight. I wondered to myself why. Usually our mealtimes go quite smoothly and it wasn't as if she was being offered anything she had never eaten before. Maybe she was feeling particularly stubborn that night. Maybe she wanted to see how far she could push me before I cracked. I guess I'll never know.

All I know for sure is that I'm trying to do what's best for my kids and have them eat a healthy and diverse menu of food. I don't see what I'm doing as being akin to force feeding, since it's not like I'm insisting that they polish off a whole plate of food; two bites hardly seems like torture. I just hope that I'm not screwing it up and setting them up for a lifelong battle with eating disorders as those "experts" would have me believe...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Raising readers

I recently counted the number of children's books we have in our home. In the playroom alone we have 232. Add to that the 92 we have in the upstairs bedrooms and we are at over 300. I also have a pile of 45 books sitting next to me on my desk right now (which I plan to give to them once a week for the rest of the 45 weeks of 2008) from when I went a little nuts ordering books from the Scholastic program at Nicki's school. Not to mention the closet full of books in our basement that holds selections that are a little too advanced for the ages that the kids are now.

Why so many books? There is an incredible drive inside of me to raise kids who love to read. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because it is something that I love to do. Maybe it's because I think that kids who are avid readers will have a leg up academically. Maybe it's because I can remember how, as a kid, books transported me to a different place and let my imagination soar. Whatever the reason, I know that I would be a very sad mommy if the only time my kids ever picked up a book was when a teacher said they had to. I want them to enjoy it so much that they do it for their own pleasure. It would break my heart to to hear them say something like "reading is boring." I am doing my best now to make sure that day never comes...

I have read to both of my kids since the day they were born. I remember reading novels out loud to Nicki as I breastfed her when she was an infant. And from a very young age she would happily listen to anything and everything I pulled out to read. Eventually she would be the one to toddle over to the bookshelf and make a selection, promptly bring it back to me holding it up for me to see, and point to herself as her way of saying "Please read me this book!" I constantly obliged. If there was one thing I could never deny, never be too busy for, it was reading to her. I would always stop what I was doing, no matter what it was, to read her a book if she brought one over to me. Books were a large part of our days and we made them a part of various rituals, like "digestion story time" after meals when she was very young, and included them as part of her pre-nap wind down. Of course bedtime stories (or "snories" as we now call them) were a must, but really there was no time that wasn't a good time to read.

By the time Gabe was born when Nicki was just shy of 2 years old, she already had a solid foundation for her love for books. I wondered to myself if I would be lucky enough to have 2 kids with a passion for books and what I could do to help foster the same enthusiasm in Gabe as I had in Nicki. I knew that there would be much less time to devote to reading, just due to the simple fact that having two kids is a much busier life. I tried my best to read to him as often as possible, but I am the first to admit that it wasn't nearly as often as I had with Nicki. I was worried for a while when he was a baby because he just didn't seem to want to sit and listen to anything I chose, but eventually I figured out that it was because I wasn't choosing what he wanted to hear! Unlike Nicki who would listen to anything, he had a select few books that he wanted to hear over and over and couldn't care less about the rest. And that was just fine with me! I read the same 3 books to him till I was blue in the face and didn't mind it one bit. His obvious happiness each and every time was all I needed. Every once and a while I would throw in a different selection and judge his reaction. Some days he would turn away, other days he would listen to a page or two, and on the rarest of occasions he would listen to the entire thing. It was this strategy that made his list of favorites slowly increase and as he started to be mobile enough to crawl over to the bookshelf and make his own selections, I was surprised (and thrilled) to see that every now and then he would pull out a book he had previously snubbed.

Now at 17 months old, I am happy to say that reading appears to be his number one favorite thing to do. He will bring me books all day long and if he sees that I am in the middle of something like making lunch, he will happily sit and "read" by himself. Often I have looked up from the food I was preparing in the kitchen to see the two of them side by side, happily looking at books on their own. Gabe will even sit and listen to much longer selections now, which is fantastic because I can read books to both of them at the same time that they both find interesting, something I couldn't really do before. Either Nicki would get bored with the 10th reading of Hop On Pop or Gabe wouldn't stick around for the entire length of Dora Climbs Star Mountain. So when I found that the book Nicki chose might be too long for Gabe to handle, I would often compromise with her and tell my own story about the pictures in the book, which gave them both the general idea of the story without being on each page for an eternity reading every word. Now he is happy to listen to all of the words (most of the time!) which makes Nicki happy too.

I knew for sure that I had a reader in Nicki when we went to the library last summer, which we did just about every week, and she jumped up and down and exclaimed "Mommy, I'm so excited!" You seriously would have thought I had taken her to a toy or candy store. And now I know I have a reader in Gabe too, because whenever we drive down the street that leads to the library, he starts shouting "Brary! Brary!" from his car seat and looks so sad if we drive on by. I take them to the library every other week now and it's such a great time for the 3 of us. We look at a ton of books and always borrow the maximum allowed. Both kids know where their favorites are; Nicki knows where to find all of the Franklin, Berenstain Bears and Arthur books and Gabe knows which aisle has the Sesame Street books and which one has the Dora books. I hope with all of my heart that this love of reading will continue for the rest of their lives. I hope it never gets to the point where they see my enthusiasm for it and decide that it's uncool.

Which brings me to an amazing scene I saw one day at the library when we lived in San Diego. I was there with Nicki reading some board books when two kids about 8 and 10 years old walked over to the couch-like chairs and sat down side by side. They dove right in to the book that each of them had brought over and every once and a while one of them would nudge the other and share something from their own book that they found interesting or amusing. They would share a laugh or a smile and then return to their own reads. I watched with fascination as these kids bonded over books and clearly enjoyed their time together. A little while later their mother came over with a younger sibling of maybe 5 or 6 and read her own book as the child joined the other two and started reading her selection. As I stared at the 4 of them sitting there so happily together, I hoped and wished with all of my heart that what I saw was really a foreshadowing of my own life and that someday I would be that mom sitting in the library reading books with her kids and savoring every minute of that quiet time together.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The magic of earplugs

Prior to my daughter being born, I was what most people would consider a heavy sleeper. But all that changed on my first night of being a mother. Every sound that came through the baby monitor jolted me awake in a fit of panic. What was that sound? Is something wrong? Is she breathing? Should I go check? Ironically the thing that woke me up the most was actually the sound of her breathing, go figure. I slept horribly for months, with every little breath, sigh, roll, rustle, and snore making me jump. And all this with the monitor set at the lowest possible setting! Eventually I gave up and turned the monitor off. We shared a common wall with Nicki's room and our house back then was small enough that if we left both doors open a crack I could hear if anything important was going on.

But the damage had been done by then. I had become (eek!) a light sleeper. From that point on, any and every sound you could imagine would wake me up, from the floors creaking to the wind blowing. It was terrible. Eventually we moved into this house and Gabe was born shortly after. The down side of a much larger house was that I now had to go back to my old baby monitor ways. And now we didn't only have 1 monitor on, we had 2! As you can imagine, between the 2 kids there was enough rustling around to keep me up half the night. And if it wasn't them, then it was a car driving by or a bird chirping. The cacophony of sounds just never seemed to end.

I was hesitant to turn off the monitors because I didn't trust myself to be able to hear if one of the kids needed me in the middle of the night without them on. And yet I kept telling myself that this was ridiculous and that there had to be some sort of way to block out all of the background noise and still let the important stuff through. Then one miraculous day last year my brother-in-law John told me that he sleeps with earplugs. I wondered if that could work for me! I was skeptical because unlike him, I wasn't trying to block out all sound. I needed some sort of futuristic earplugs that you could pre-program with what sounds are acceptable to let through and which ones aren't. Now there's a million dollar idea!

But anyway, I went to the store and bought the plain old regular kind. That night I popped them in and cranked the monitors up super loud because I was so paranoid that I wouldn't be able to hear anything. Amazingly, they worked like a charm! Even with the monitors at a low setting I could still hear if one of them was calling out for me. But gone was all of the breathing, sighing and rolling around that had kept me up in the past. Also gone were the sounds of birds chirping at 5 am, snow plows clearing the street and the heater clicking on and off. To make a long story short, I was in heaven. My sleep improved so dramatically that I felt like a new person. Now I sleep with earplugs in every night and couldn't be happier about it!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The big 3-0

Well this is it! I'm officially 30. For months it seemed to loom over me, but now that's it's here, it really doesn't seem like such a big deal. I didn't wake up and suddenly feel old. Phew. And I have to admit that having a sweetheart of a 3 year old sing me Happy Birthday while her little brother bounced up and down to the tune will most likely be the highlight of the new decade for me. It just lit up my world. How did I get so lucky? :)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The case of the disappearing breasts

Ok, so here's my problem: I used to have breasts and now I don't. I'll be totally honest here and admit that they were never "all that" to begin with. Barely filling up and A-cup wasn't exactly going to win me the cover of Playboy or a job at Hooters if you know what I mean. But they were mine and I liked them. We had a sweet deal going; I never complained about their size and they stayed out of my way during volleyball. They also did their job extremely well, nourishing 2 kids for a combined total of nearly 3 years (32 months to be exact, but who's counting right?)

I knew that breastfeeding would take a toll on them, but since they were small at the outset I figured I wouldn't wind up with the common saggy breasts dilemma that plagues so many large-breasted nursing moms. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that they would just disappear completely. I mean really, imagining my breasts any smaller than they already were was pretty much impossible. And yet it happened just the same. Once my breastfeeding relationship with Gabe ended back in December, I was both happy and sad. Sad that this extremely close bonding phase with him was over but happy to be reclaiming my body as my own. Except that there was nothing left to reclaim! I was shocked at what I saw. It must have happened so gradually that I didn't notice, almost like they began a slow retreat saying "Our job is done, we're outta here!"

I'm not sure why this is bothering me so much since it's not like I'm an appearance obsessed diva or anything. I never wear make-up, can't be bothered to do anything more with my hair than throw it in a ponytail, and spend 99% of my existence in track pants. I guess I just never really expected to come away from this experience with less than I started. I supposed I could take the high ground here and say that I will wear my new non-breasts as a badge of honour and a testament to all of the many many many hours spent feeding my babies. But that would be a lie! I'm embarrassed and it sucks. Just what I needed to boost my ego as I turn 30 in a couple of days. Sheesh...

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The birth order theory

I have been thinking a lot lately about the differences in my children and how much of this is due to their own innate personalities and how much really is due to the order in which they were born into our family. How different would they each be if their order was flip flopped?

As much as I'd like to say I was the same mother to each of them in their first years, this is definitely untrue and most likely impossible. Nicki was the recipient of my undivided attention for the first 23 months of her life. She was my sole focus, my precious first-born child. Unfortunately she also bore the brunt of my parenting learning curve, forced to endure the endless trial and error of my choices.

Gabe on the other hand has had the luxury of a mother who has more confidence in herself and her parenting skills. Sadly for him though, he has had to fight tooth and nail to get my attention. I do my best to spend as much one on one time with him as humanly possible, but I know that it will never compare to the attention his sister received in her early years. I try to console myself about this fact by telling myself that he has something that Nicki never had: an older sibling to shower him with love and attention. That probably doesn't make up for the difference in quality time with me, but it has to count for something right? I sure hope so.

That being said, my parenting style has definitely changed in the past year or so. I find myself being much less strict with Gabe than I was with Nicki. Is this because of the guilt I feel over not giving him as much attention as she received? Or is it because with experience I've learned to pick my battles more wisely and ease up on the structure a little? Maybe it's because now I have a witness to my parenting coups and mishaps, a little set of eyes watching every move I make. Do I really want Nicki to witness the meltdown that Gabe would inevitably have should I choose not to let him bring a toy to the kitchen table at lunch? She blocks her ears and runs away whenever he cries, so it may very well be that I let him get away with more to keep her from getting upset. Strange dynamic, no?

Nicki perfectly fits the profile of the "typical" first-born child: smart, cautious, structured, and more comfortable around adults. Are these all traits that she would have had anyway had she been born a little further down in the order? Or are these truly all a result of her being our first? Gabe also displays the 2 main traits of a second child, as he is very sociable and amazingly affectionate. Could this really be a coincidence?

I guess I'll never know the answer to most of the questions I've posed here. No matter though. I love my kids exactly as they are. I embrace their differences as well as their similarities and hope that as they grow up they will be able to do the same. I want them to be proud of who they are. I want them to be proud of who their sibling is. I want them to look at each other with admiration and love and know that even though Mommy may have loved them each differently as they grew up, I loved them both just as much. And that's a whole lot.