Alpha Mom http://alphamom.com parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Fri, 23 Jan 2015 18:14:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0.1 Too Many Big Moves at Once? http://alphamom.com/parenting/big-changes-for-toddler/ http://alphamom.com/parenting/big-changes-for-toddler/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 18:13:46 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=35887

Hi Amy!

I’m looking at the next six months and starting to freak out a little. My son is two and a half, and right on the cusp of two pretty big transitions – switching from a crib to a bed, and starting to potty train. So, why am I freaking out? Because my husband just got transferred at work; we’re moving to a different state in three weeks; the housing market is both crummy AND expensive at our destination and we don’t have permanent housing yet; therefore, we’ll probably be crashing with different family members for about a month while we look for a reasonable place to rent or buy. To top it all off, we’re expecting our second child in July. How in the world can I manage all this upheaval for my son so that I’m setting him up for success instead of failure, frustration, and regression?

The first and most pressing issue is the move from crib to bed. He’s mostly happy in his crib – he’s never tried to escape (beyond the normal toddler nap-resisting shenanigans), and he loves to snuggle up against the crib walls. Normally, I’d just keep him in the crib until after we move, and then as his sibling’s due date drew closer I’d make the transition. But here’s where things get tricky. We’re moving back to our home state at the end of this month, smack in between my parents and my in-laws – about a 2.5 hour drive from either. My sister lives about 30 minutes from my husband’s new work site. My husband’s schedule will be three long days on and four days off, so he suggested that while we’re looking for housing, my son and I could just visit with relatives for a week here and a week there, and he can crash with my sis and then join us on his days off. In many ways, this would be great – we’ve lived a day’s drive from my entire family for the last ten years, so I’m really excited to see more of them. The problem is, the sleeping arrangements are not ideal at any of these places. My parents have a crib set up at their house, but my mom watches my niece during the day, and she’ll be using the crib during my son’s nap time. My sister’s kids are a little older, so they just got rid of their crib, and my in-laws never got one. Ultimately, we’d be stuck with either disassembling and reassembling our crib over and over, or using a pack & play for up to a month. The pack & play would certainly be more convenient, but my son is a big kid – he’s already on the upper end of the growth charts for THREE year olds, and he’s just too long and too heavy to sleep comfortably and safely in a pack & play for any real length of time. We’ve managed with it for short visits – one or two nights, then back home to our crib. But I just don’t feel good about cramming my kid into a pack & play for a month when he’s clearly too big for it. I’ve looked for portable cribs or toddler travel beds – but so far, the porta-cribs all seem too small, and the toddler beds are just that – beds. Amy, where am I going to put this kid?!?

The other question is potty training. He’ll turn three right around my due date in July, and I’d like to have him in preschool this fall, so I know I need to start the process sometime in the not-too-distant future. I have enough sense to know that it’s not a good idea to even attempt it until we are permanently settled, which will hopefully be by March. But the question I have is this: is it even worth it to attempt to potty train him so close to his sibling’s arrival? From everything I’ve heard, a new baby is a recipe for major potty regressions. Between that, the move, and the crib to bed switch, would I just be overloading him? Should I wait until after the baby comes, or am I just way over-thinking this?

Please help me manage my life, Amy, because right now my sh*t is all kinds of bananas.

Thanks!

Okay, okay. BREATHE. This is going to be okay. This might not all be the most peaceful, stress-free period of your life but it’s going to be okay.

Sleeping Arrangements

First, let’s tackle the sleeping arrangements. Let’s run through your temp housing options:

Parents’ House: Has crib, but is occupied at nap times by niece (age not specified). Could your NIECE spend her naps in the pack-n-play, if she’s still within the recommended height/weight limits?

(Note that according to Graco, their pack-n-play is only for children under 35 inches in height and who weigh less than 30 pounds. If your son is as big as you say, he’s probably over those limits. Thus the pack-n-play probably isn’t even an option at this point, from both a comfort and safety perspective.)

Sister & In-Laws’ house: No crib.

But are there…beds?

See, here’s the thing: There is NO rule or law or even real recommendation that there MUST be some specialized extra step in between the crib and a “real” bed. You don’t need a toddler bed. At all. Only one of my children slept in a toddler bed and while it was adorable and all, it was ultimately a waste of money, given the tiny window of time he used it. I also had a Very Big Toddler, and the mattress (from Ikea) was slightly longer than a crib mattress — as you’ve probably noted, most toddler beds simply use crib mattresses — but he still outgrew it quickly. We upgraded our bed from a full to a king and gave him that full-size bed not long after his third birthday.

My other two children went straight from the crib to a full-sized mattress & box spring, the lower bunk of our bunk bed. For the first couple weeks, I attached a removable safety guard bar (available at Amazon or in the safety section of the big box baby stores) and put some blankets on the floor. Yes, there was a lot of getting in and out and escaping and some missed naps, but you’re going to do the same thing with a toddler bed. And again, when you’re talking about a Very Big Toddler, I double down on the advice that a small in-between toddler bed or porto-crib will be a ridiculous waste of money, especially if you’re going to spend at least a month in transition, hauling it around from house to house. (And assembling and disassembling a full-sized crib once a week or so? Then loading it in a car and dragging it inside and setting it up again? WHILE PREGNANT? Girl. No.)

If there isn’t a spare bed for him, you can simply opt for a mattress on the floor, in whatever size you choose. It can just be something inflatable and easy to take from place to place. At my in-laws’ house, there’s only one twin bed (beyond a full bed for my husband and I), and now that my children are all out of the crib, we use two twin-sized inflatable mattresses for our younger sons. They roll off, we roll ‘em back on.

Yes, he’s happy in his crib and you weren’t planning to move him for a few more months. But hey, sometimes life forces us to change the schedule. There’s nothing to be gained by beating yourself up over things you just can’t change or avoid right now. And 2.5 is a perfectly acceptable, reasonable age to make the switch, and I’m betting that when he arrives at a house without a crib, it will be more of an “out of sight, out of mind” thing for him. It’s an adventure! Here’s where you sleep at Grandma’s house, at Auntie’s house, at Nana’s house. If you’re really concerned about the lack of consistency, get the inflatable bed. Get it now, before you move and introduce it to him. He’ll probably LOVE watching you inflate it and think it’s a fun, special thing. Be prepared to stay next to him and read lots of books until he’s used to the idea of actually SLEEPING there, but hopefully he’ll catch on quickly. (If there’s an Actual Bed for him at each place, start trying out naps in your bed at home, or take his crib mattress out and see if he’ll sleep on that.)

The reality is, toddlers are much more resilient than we often give them credit for. He might get a little clingy, act out at times, and naps might go to hell (which would happen WHENEVER you made the switch to bedtime freedom, horrible freedom), but he’ll make it through this temporary upheaval just fine in the end.

Potty Training

As for potty training: I wouldn’t push it, personally, but I also wouldn’t let the possibility of a sibling regression stop me from introducing the concept once you’re settled. I potty trained both of my first two right before the next baby was born. We weren’t 100% “done” either time and there were some slips and accidents — but I wouldn’t say it was all that different training my youngest, who had similar “regressions” with no new sibling in sight. So…meh. If he’s crazy resistant, let it go. If he’s intrigued and interested, go for it. And once you’re done with the housing search, turn your attention to preschools — so you can know for sure if the potty training is even a set-in-stone requirement for a 3 year old! Some schools totally don’t expect it, and will let peer pressure help the process along.

Above all, just remember to give him lots of positive attention and love. Lots of familiar toys and transitional items. Don’t feel like you need to constantly explain what’s going on and why (WHOOSH over the head) — just offer reassurance that you and Daddy are still Here, and will be with him when you go There, no matter what.

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T-shirt Scarf Craft for Kids! http://alphamom.com/family-fun/crafts/tshirt-scarf-craft-how-to/ http://alphamom.com/family-fun/crafts/tshirt-scarf-craft-how-to/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 13:57:23 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=35867

I know some of you will look at this T-shirt Scarf and laugh because it’s probably not going to keep anybody’s neck warm on a snowy day but maybe you can keep this idea around for Spring. Here in Southern California, we think of winter as more of a fashion trend than actual weather. That means wearing a scarf and boots with shorts and a tank top is totally acceptable and possibly even cute. You know, to keep the edge off when the sun dips behind a building and the temperature drops below 75º F. We thought making a light scarf out of some old t-shirts would be super fun. Add some fuzzy pom poms and it’s high fashion according to my tweeny-bopper nine-year-old.

T-Shirt Scarf Tutorial by Brenda Ponnay for Alphamom.com

Supplies you’ll need to get started:

1. a clean t-shirt. The bigger the t-shirt, the longer and more loopy your scarf will be. We used a child’s small-sized shirt but feel free to go big and triple up!

2. sharp scissors or a rotary cutter*

3. a straight edge ruler (ours is clear but it’s there!)

4. a self-healing matte to cut on

5. fuzzy pom poms or anything else you might like to decorate with

6. hot glue gun** (or fabric glue if you have more patience to wait for it to dry)

 

T-Shirt Scarf Tutorial by Brenda Ponnay for Alphamom.com

How-To Make a T-Shirt Scarf:

Lay your t-shirt out on your cutting surface and smooth out any wrinkles. Then using your rotary cutter and straight edge, cut off the bottom four or five inches from the t-shirt. This will be your scarf. You can save the rest of the t-shirt for another craft. I’m sure I’ll be cooking one up sooner or later.

Then we cut our strips. Feel free to get creative here. We cut small 1-inch strips but you could cut really thin strips or really fat (thicker) strips depending on your cutting skill level. You could even cut three strips and then braid them and sew it back together or do a combination of many different kinds of strips. Google “t-shirt scarf craft” and you’ll get a lot of ideas.

What makes our craft unique is the pom poms. Since we obviously like neon at my house, adding neon pom poms to an already neon orange t-shirt was a huge hit. After we cut all the strips my daughter modeled the scarf to see how she likes to best wear it. Using that as a rough reference point, we spread out the scarf on our flat surface and started gluing the pom poms where we thought they would look cute. As always, be careful with hot glue. If you opt to go the fabric glue route just make sure you allow enough time for everything to dry completely so your pom poms don’t slowly migrate off the scarf.

T-Shirt Scarf Tutorial by Brenda Ponnay for Alphamom.com

Then she wrapped it around her neck twice and swears she’s wearing it to school tomorrow to show off her craftiness to all her friends. Pretty spiffy!

******************

* Rotary cutters are very sharp. Even for adults!  Always use with caution.  My nine-year-old has been crafting since she was two (and we have stock in bandaids) so she might be a little more skilled than the usual kid.

** Hot glue can burn. Practice caution and use common sense.  Adult use only is recommended.

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Letting Go Of Normal http://alphamom.com/parenting/is-my-kid-normal/ http://alphamom.com/parenting/is-my-kid-normal/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 14:17:37 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=35897

“Normal”—much like, say, a unicorn—is something I’m not sure exists. But I want it to exist. In the case of unicorns, it just seems like it would be cool and increase the World Glitter Quotient (that’s a thing, right?); in the case of normal, I cannot tell you why I continue to believe that this is something important.

There’s a small part of my brain that believes normal must be like True North on a compass. It’s not that I need normal or even that I feel like normal is a necessary or desirable destination. It’s simply that I believe it would offer some semblance of guidance to have an absolute point of regularity to reference. If I knew where “most” people were, well, then I would know when and how far off the norm our family is, and that might bring some sort of comfort or other useful information.

[Brief disclaimer: In clinical parlance, there is no “normal” in child development, only “typical.” I refer to my kids as being “non-neurotypical” when we’re discussing goals, nuts-and-bolts, etc. But some mythical “normal” remains an accepted construct, spoken or not, and I am not immune to its lure.]

Hmmm. I can see that in the abstract, this isn’t making a lot of sense. If you believe in the concept of normal (and, again, I do kind of rank it alongside unicorns), you have to understand that I don’t have any “normal” kids, which means I am often baffled about what’s their particular foibles and what’s just “like every other kid.” Let’s go with some examples to make things clearer.

Example 1: My teenage son is autistic. Because his world view tends to be very black and white and concrete, any sort of school assignment he completes is done to match the absolute bare minimum of the requested work. If the rubric for a paper specifies it should be 2-4 pages, he will write exactly two pages. If “show your work” is not specified, he won’t, and if it is, the work he shows is maybe an additional step or two out of 10, if we’re lucky. My son is plenty bright and capable, and also very eager to please his teachers, but fifteen years of trying to explain to him that going the extra mile is almost always a good idea has been met with an unshakeable belief that such additional effort would be a waste of his precious time. I consider this a “feature” of his autism, and something we are (ever so slowly) working on changing. But if I happen to mention any related difficulties to parents of “normal” teens, they assure me that their kids are the same way. So is this normal?

Example 2: My teenage daughter has ADHD. She has benefitted from medication, but of course medication is not the same thing as a magic brain-changing potion. She struggles with staying on task and completing what she starts, particularly when it’s not something she’s interested in. It’s not uncommon to ask her to do something… and then ask again five minutes later… and ten minutes after that to threaten to take away her phone/computer/iPod until said task is completed… and then end up having to stop everything to redirect her while she complains bitterly that she was going already, geez, why are we always on her? We’re as patient as possible (usually) and sometimes we go with natural consequences, which nearly always elicit some sort of meltdown because she didn’t know and but why and so on. It’s not my favorite part of parenting, but I consider this a “feature” of her ADHD… until other parents insist to me that their teens are exactly the same way. Is this normal?

For me, this stuff brings up a lot of mixed emotions.

For starters, autism (and even ADHD, depending on your point of view) is a spectrum. Of course some undesirable behaviors that are part and parcel of autism (or ADHD) are going to be found in the general population, albeit maybe with less severity. I am always torn between appreciating that someone is trying to commiserate and being annoyed at the glossing over of the difference between “garden variety adolescent behavior” and “truly life-challenging issues brought to the table by neurological differences.” When I’m dealing with a teen whose behavior suggests they remain years behind their peers developmentally, it’s hard not to ruffle at the suggestion that I’m overreacting. (Related: Hell hath no fury like hearing the suggestion at an IEP meeting that “but all kids…” when trying to get appropriate accommodations for your child. Just saying.)

On the other hand, part of me really wants to take comfort in the idea that my kids really aren’t so different; shouldn’t it be reassuring to hear that the selfsame behaviors which leave me wondering if my children will ever be able to move out of my house and live on their own are common among all kids their age, and therefore my worry might, actually, be overblown? Because all kids are disorganized, and try to get out of homework, and lose things, and get distracted, and don’t want to do their chores. All of them. My kids are normal!

In the end, I come back to that word. Normal. I wonder if it really exists. I wonder if we would want normal, for real, given the option. Sure, my husband and I joke all the time about how other people fantasize about being rich and/or famous, while we have daydreams about our family being utterly run-of-the-mill and normal, but without the quirks that drive me up a wall, my kids wouldn’t be themselves. And while unicorns sound exciting, normal sounds… kind of boring.

“Mom, I have some very sad news,” my son said, this morning, while packing up his backpack.

“What’s that, honey?” I asked, wondering what on earth could have him looking so glum.

“I am not a bird,” he said, deadpan.

“Oooooo…kay? I’m sorry?” He burst into laughter—unselfconscious, delighted, and utterly himself. Is he normal? Do I care? (Probably not, and no.)

I’ve lived a pretty good life without a single unicorn, and I’ve never felt like, “Oh, but everything would be so much better if only unicorns were real!” Perhaps I just need periodic reminders that the same is true of any supposed normal.

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True Colors http://alphamom.com/parenting/coparenting-after-divorce/ http://alphamom.com/parenting/coparenting-after-divorce/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 13:26:26 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=35817

A letter came home from my daughter’s therapist with all sorts of things we needed to do to help provide her with consistency and stability between our two homes even though she’s at mine 95% of the time.

Co-parenting: It’s nice if you can get it to work. 

I’d been waiting for this letter for months now, anticipating what the therapist would recommend. Not surprisingly, there’s nothing in that letter that’s mindblowingly original or different or even anything I didn’t already know or am already trying to do.

Though trust me, I’m not reading through the letter patting myself on the back because I’m so awesome.

It’s all common sense. At least, one would think.

But really, the letter is more like a reminder of how it could be if things were better between me and my ex, which is not something I anticipate ever happening, at least in the near future anyway.

Co-parenting, whether it’s in a marriage or a divorce, isn’t an easy thing because even people who are similar and actually get along well can have wildly different thoughts and opinions about how children should be raised.

Sure, two brains and four hands can be better than one, but they can also be more opinions to entertain and manage and disagree with and fight about.

And it’s not necessarily something you’d ever talk before you got married.

“How do you plan on handling the privacy of your tween?” 

Uh…

You might cover the big stuff, like religion and education, both of you not knowing that it’s always the little things that screw with you, all of which come into play when your kids get older.

When your kids are little, it’s all fun and games and teething and “when should we ditch the binky?” (awwwww!) but as they get older it’s pretty damn challenging to navigate.

Even harder when you just don’t agree with the parenting values and approaches of the person you decided to procreate with. Or like, you pretty much don’t agree with any part of how that person lives their life (and never really did except you didn’t actually figure that out until it was too late).

And as much as I’d like to co-parent, is it really possible when only one person is actually making an effort to do it? When there’s no communication, no respect, no consideration, well, what do you do then?

I know that so much of parenting, especially when it’s your first headed into the teen years not too far in the future, is a lot of trial and error. But some people will never see their errors. And they will never learn from them.

That’s just how it is.

I will never stop making an effort. I will be cordial. And straightforward. No trash talk, now or ever, especially in front of the kids.

But I certainly will not go out of my way to be extra nice or overly pleasant or ridiculously accommodating towards my ex, unless it’s for the true benefit and well-being of the kids.

Because in the end, some people, some situations, well, they are never going to change. I need to preserve my own sanity so I can actually parent these amazing kids.

And true colors will always shine through, beautiful or ugly.

Cyndi Lauper said it.

And so do I.

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Little Boys in Pink Shoes http://alphamom.com/parenting/toddler-parenting/boys-who-love-pink-shoes/ http://alphamom.com/parenting/toddler-parenting/boys-who-love-pink-shoes/#comments Mon, 19 Jan 2015 15:05:22 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=35872

Dear Amy,

I have a 2.5-year-old boy who loves the color pink. He also hates wearing shoes. Recently, I was showing him a web page with lots of different shoes on it, trying to get him interested, and I asked him which of two pairs of shoes he liked better. He picked a pair of pink shoes he saw off to the side. Just for fun, I scrolled down the page and again asked him to choose between blue and brown. He again pointed to a different flowery pink pair off to the side. I tried a third set of choices, and again, he came up with pink.

Now this doesn’t bother me in the least. I don’t care if he likes pink shoes, or pink pants, or dolls, or whatever the hell he wants to like. I don’t think this makes him weird, or gay, or whatever society deems male children who prefer pink. It’s just a color. My problem is that I don’t feel that I can let him wear pink shoes because other people/kids will pick on him. I don’t want him to be picked on. Of course I don’t. He will be starting preschool when he turns 3 next summer, and I don’t think I can, in good conscience, send him to preschool wearing pink shoes. But part of me wonders, would he be more willing to wear shoes (in general) if they were pink? Would the daily shoe wars come to an end?

Am I being ridiculous? Should I just let him wear whatever color he wants and not worry about the reactions from other people? Or should I quietly just order the brown shoes and hope he chooses a new favorite color next year?

Since you have 3 boys, I am interested to know what you would do. I don’t want stereotypes to get in the way of his happiness, but I hesitate to have people label my son, who is too young to understand, let alone defend himself if I’m not around.

While none of my boy children ever developed an affinity for pink clothing, all of them at one point pushed a pink doll stroller around our neighborhood, and my six-year-old still takes his “babies” to his friends’ houses, with one of them decked out in her finest pink party dress and flowered headband that he picked out specifically for her. And oh yeah, I fought the ridiculous daily NO SHOES battle with all three of them at some point. So I feel confident in my “what would I do” response, even if it is technically a hypothetical.

Buy him the shoes he will wear. The pink ones. He’ll be fine.

In my (three time!) experience, the 3-year-old preschool classroom is not the junior-high meat-grinder atmosphere you seem to be envisioning. It’s a classroom full of very young toddlers who are still basically babies, many of whom will 1) cry, 2) have potty accidents, 3) suck their thumbs, 4) drag a blankie/lovey around with them, and 5) do any number of things their parents are completely terrified will result in teasing, because we all think everybody ELSE’s 3 year olds don’t still do those things for some reason.

My current 3 year old attends a mixed-age classroom, so some of his peers are technically kindergartners. He also has long hair (for a boy), and at this point is quite vocal that it’s his preference to keep it that way. I asked his teacher if…you know…she’d ever overheard anyone tease him or say anything along the “YOU LOOK LIKE A GIRL” lines. She stared at me, almost a little shocked at the question. “Of course not! I can’t imagine any of these kids saying or even thinking that. This isn’t that kind of environment.”

Obviously, I can’t guarantee that your son won’t be told pink shoes are for girls, or teased for his preference. But that’s the reality of sending your child out into the world. I can’t guarantee that any of my children won’t be teased at school today, no matter what “kind of environment” their teachers are doing their best to create. My oldest son is on the Spectrum and has serious social issues, my middle son prefers the company of girls and would rather play house than soccer, and my youngest has long blonde hair and insists on wearing at least one item of clothing backwards most days. (I don’t know. I’ve stopped fighting that particular battle as well.)

What matters more, I believe, is that my children know that when they come home, to me, to their father, they will be accepted and supported and loved unconditionally. They’re allowed to like what they like and be their authentic selves. By pointedly ignoring your son’s preference (after asking for his opinion/input) for the pink shoes, YOU will be the one sending him the signal that there’s something “wrong” with that preference.

If he comes home from preschool and suddenly no longer wants to wear the pink shoes, go ahead and buy him a new brown or blue or green pair, but don’t make it a huge thing, or panic that he’s been hurt and teased and scarred for life. Buy him some pink pajamas that he can wear and enjoy in peace at home, where he KNOWS his color preference is accepted and honored. And in the end, it’s your unconditional acceptance and love that will translate into self-confidence, and the ability for him to look a peer in the eye and say “I don’t care what you think, I like these shoes, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

I always tell my boys there’s no such thing as “girl colors/toys” and “boy colors/toys” but they (at least the older ones) insist that I am wrong. The marketing gets to them eventually, so I usually just shrug, tell them they’ll understand the insidious, sexist nature  of the gender stereotyping machine someday (WHOOSH OVER THEIR HEADS), and attempt to reinforce that idea that there’s nothing BETTER about boy things or LESSER about girl things. Everybody is allowed to like what they like, and we NEVER tease anyone about liking something “different” than us.

I’m doing my best to raise sons who would never, ever tease a little boy for wearing pink shoes. I really am. I like to think I’m not the only one.

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The Family Dinner That Changed Our Family Dinners http://alphamom.com/family-fun/food-home/family-dinner-project/ http://alphamom.com/family-fun/food-home/family-dinner-project/#comments Fri, 16 Jan 2015 16:03:25 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=35862

This post represents a compensated editorial partnership with The Family Dinner Project. All storytelling and opinions are my own.

I grew up with family dinners. Almost every night, my parents, two sisters and I would sit around the table discussing our days, telling jokes and good naturedly expressing for the millionth time how much we hated my mom’s meatloaf. It was a comforting, comfortable nightly routine that I intended to share with my own kids. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case.

Like most families, we’re busy with sports practices, homework and crazy work schedules. Add to that my non-existent enthusiasm for cooking, and it’s no surprise that our evening meals are sometimes more grab ‘n go than sit ‘n savor. I’ve always told myself that this is okay because it’s not like my boys and husband and I don’t talk to each other. We do. A lot. Well, two of us mostly talk about Minecraft and nachos, but that still counts, I think.

So, that said, when I heard about The Family Dinner Project and their movement to encourage families to share food, fun and conversations about things that matter, I sort of—shrugged. I honestly didn’t think we needed something like that. I thought we were doing just fine without “meaningful mealtime interactions.”

“Let’s just try it, anyway,” I told my husband Chris. “Let’s eat and try to have a ‘real family discussion’ and see how it goes.” So last night, that’s what we did. And I’ll be the first to admit that it was awesome.

The four of us sat down for a meal of pasta, and after the usual chitchat, Chris brought up the issue of race in America. It’s not something that we’ve ever shied away from discussing honestly with our kids, but we usually only talk about it when they have questions about people they’ve heard about on the news. Most recently, people like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. (And the luxury of not “needing” to address race with our kids is the textbook definition of white privilege, something we also discussed with the boys. How their experience in the world is not always the same as that of their friends who aren’t white.)

What I found to be so special about our dinner last night was that for the first time in a long time, we didn’t just give the kids a quick answer to their questions. We took our time to explore issues like racial profiling and stereotypes, and that helped them feel freer to contribute their own ideas and experiences. Sam, my 13-year-old, mentioned that he knew the names of the African-American kids at his school because there are only two of them.

My 11-year-old, Jack, asked about the NBA players wearing “I Can’t Breathe” shirts. “I think it’s good they’re doing that,” he said, “Because they’re upset, but I’m not sure why.” We then had the opportunity to tell him why they, and millions of others, were so angry about the Eric Garner injustice and how they’re expressing it through marches and in social media using #blacklivesmatter. It was a good reminder that the kids may know a little about something in the news, but they don’t have the full story and/or understand the history and context of the current events.

Besides being very eye-opening, our dinner conversation also couldn’t have been timelier. Not only is Martin Luther King Jr. Day coming up, but we’re headed to Dallas this weekend to visit the 6th Floor Museum dedicated to President Kennedy. It includes many displays about the Civil Rights movement, and I feel that our dinner was the perfect jumping off point for the conversations we’ll have after the boys see them.

So thank you to The Family Dinner Project for inspiring me to place more importance on our nightly meals. I know our family dinner last night was just the first of many more to come.

This month, The Family Dinner Project has partnered with Points of Light’s America’s Sunday Supper (held on January 18th) to inspire #familydinnerforward. Join the movement and pledge to host an America’s Sunday Supper. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of people of diverse backgrounds interacting on personal levels, America’s Sunday Supper encourages people to share a meal and discuss issues that affect their communities, to increase racial and cultural understanding and, to promote unity.

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A Special Lunch for the 100th Day of School http://alphamom.com/family-fun/food-home/100th-day-of-school-lunch-bento/ http://alphamom.com/family-fun/food-home/100th-day-of-school-lunch-bento/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 17:13:42 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=35835

The hundredth day of school (also known as the “100 Days of School”) is coming up for kids across the country! In many classrooms, especially those in younger grades, students keep track of every day of school that passes and have a celebration of some sort when they reach the 100th day. Depending on when your school’s first day was (and how many weather cancellations you’ve endured this year) the hundredth day of school will probably fall some time between late January and mid-February. My kindergartner reports exactly how many days have passed at dinner every night — 89 as I’m writing this — and he has already started collecting one hundred objects to bring in to school in a few weeks. Meanwhile, I’ve planned out a special lunch that mixes the number 100 and other school icons for him to take to school when the time comes.

100 Days of School Bento Box Lunch by Wendy Copley for Alphamom.com

Ingredients you’ll need to make this 100 Days of School Bento Box Lunch:

  • pretzel thins or other cracker
  • sliced cheddar cheese
  • sandwich bread  and condiments
  • blackberries
  • sugar snap peas
  • carrot
  • cherry tomatoes

Here is the equipment you’ll need:

How to make this special 100 Days of School bento box lunch:

100 Days of School Bento Box Lunch by Wendy Copley for Alphamom.com

Place the pretzel thins in one of the sections of the lunch box. Use small letter and number cutters to cut “100 DAYS” from a slice of cheese. If you don’t have small alphabet cutters, you can cut the letters out with a knife.

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Place the cheese letters on top of the pretzels.

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Use the bus cookie cutter to cut four shapes from a slice of bread. Stamp the bus image into two of them. Cut bus shapes from the remainder of the cheese and use them to assemble mini-sandwiches along with any condiments you’d like to add.  Place the sandwiched inside the silicone cup and place it in one of the sections of the lunch box.

100 Days of School Bento Box Lunch by Wendy Copley for Alphamom.com

Give your child a basket of blackberries and ask them to count the little juice pods on each one (these are called druplets). Only place blackberries with exactly 100 druplets in the lunch box.

Just kidding! That would be ridiculous! Don’t really do that! Just put a handful of berries in, then add your school-themed cupcake pick.

100 Days of School Bento Box Lunch by Wendy Copley for Alphamom.com

Trim the sugar snap peas to fit in the final section of the lunch box. To make this go really quickly, place the container you are using on top of the peas, then use the edge as a cutting guide. You’ll only need to make two quick cuts to make the peas exactly the right length.

100 Days of School Bento Box Lunch by Wendy Copley for Alphamom.com

Now we’re going to make a 100 with two cherry tomatoes and a baby carrot! Cut a baby carrot so that it’s the same length as a cherry tomato.

100 Days of School Bento Box Lunch by Wendy Copley for Alphamom.com

Place the carrot and the tomatoes on top of the snap peas in the lunch box to form the number 100.

Ask your little counter to read you the numbers in his lunch box then send him off to school with visions of 100 dancing in his head.

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To Budget Or Not To Budget http://alphamom.com/your-life/money-work/starting-family-budget/ http://alphamom.com/your-life/money-work/starting-family-budget/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 20:43:52 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=35819

Hi Amy,

For a change of pace, how about a question that is not baby related. It’s about the one thing possibly more stressful than babies- money.

My husband and I do not see eye to eye on budgeting. We’re in the fortunate position that we live fairly comfortably- not extravagantly, but we can afford to go out for the occasional dinner. But we’re in our early 30s with a toddler and finances are getting tighter and tighter. We’d like to buy a house, have another baby, go on vacations… but the future is a little scary. We’re fine day to day, but there is no plan for our future. We were both graduate students for years, so we didn’t have our 20s to save up. I’d like to set a budget, but admit I panic when I start trying and have no follow-through. My husband- who handles the money- thinks a budget is unnecessary and says he has it under control. I think his big fear is that a budget will leave no flexibility for fun. Most of our conversations about money end up in stress and arguments. It’s not so much that we’re having financial issues right now, but I think we could be living smarter.

So I guess my question is twofold: Do people honestly set budgets and stick to them or is our way “normal?” And if we do need better control of our finances, how do I get my husband on board?

Thank you!

-Show me da money

Is your way “normal?” I don’t know if I’d necessarily go that far, but I will guess that your way is probably pretty “common.” However, that doesn’t make it optimal, or wise.

Three fairly big red flags here:

1) No plan for the future, or even the short term. Ambitious goals (house, baby, vacations) that you probably just sorta hope will happen someday, but aren’t really taking the necessary, realistic steps to get there. I’m guessing college tuition, retirement or any sort of substantial savings cushion in case of an emergency/job loss/life event are also in the “yeah we should get on that, but it kinda stresses us out so we’ll think about it tomorrow” category.

2) Your husband handles the money so you probably have no real insight into your own financial future (or present), and the person who handles your finances thinks budgets are unnecessary and is actively resisting your (completely reasonable and probably overdue) requests that you guys get your shit together financially and set some goals and make some plans.

3) Your conversations about money end in stress and arguments. That is not a financial situation that is “under control.” Sure, you guys probably ARE fine day to day and in no immediate peril, but obviously things could be better. Most couples fight about money at some point, yes. But don’t underestimate the damage that these arguments can wreak on your marriage — finances and money issues are one of the top reasons for divorce. Deal with this sooner, rather than later.

You guys both sound like you generally find finances/budgeting in general to be unpleasant and stressful. I TOTALLY get that. But it’s part of being a grown-up. You owe it to yourselves and your daughter to get some plans in place and get realistic about your current spending/saving levels. I would highly, highly recommend you enlist the services of a third party here, since you are both in such wildly different places right now.

We use and love the online budgeting tools Mint.com offer, for example, but they are self-directed and only as good as your own commitment to using them. Since your husband doesn’t think budgets are “necessary,” perhaps loading up your monthly income, expenses and spending habits into a budget template would be enough of a come-to-Jesus moment for him, or it might reassure you both that you aren’t living beyond your means in the short term. But it still won’t address his resistance to creating any sort of long-term plan for your collective futures, and your admitted lack of follow-through, if you guys don’t stick with it month to month. So perhaps an appointment with a financial planner or some of Dave Ramsey’s resources/training would be helpful for you both. You’ll need to swallow your general anxiety/dislike of these tough money-related conversations, and remind yourselves that YOU WILL FEEL BETTER WITH A FINANCIAL PLAN IN PLACE. You really will! You’ll be able to talk about money without that creeping edge of anxiety, you’ll likely meet your goals sooner than you would otherwise…and YOU as an individual will be more in control of your own financial future and not overly dependent on your husband’s money management skills and judgement. (I know it’s another thing no one likes to talk about, but marriages do end. Death of a spouse can happen. You do yourself no favors to pretend otherwise when it comes to your finances.)

By the way, you can — and totally should! — budget for fun. Fun is essential! You can include a restaurant budget, a wine budget, a special savings line just to chip away at paying for that dream vacation or weekend getaway. Household budgets often fail because people go overboard and forget to allow themselves some fun and pleasure. Keep that in mind as you tackle this issue.

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On Being Your Best Self http://alphamom.com/your-life/being-best-self/ http://alphamom.com/your-life/being-best-self/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 16:50:33 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=35720

A few months ago I decided to make a few changes in my life. I wish I could say it was because I had some sort of epiphany.

Actually, it was because I kept getting sick and I felt as though it was a direct result of some of the choices I was making. Who I was dating. How I was dating. What I was eating. Or not eating. How I was dealing with my feelings. Or not dealing with my feelings.

And so I quit dating, and I cut my hair.

I decided to just eat whatever I wanted when I was hungry without counting calories or cutting carbs or living on coffee for the better part of the day while “forgetting” to eat until dinner time.

I made a conscious decision to protect my own feelings, which sometimes meant not being nice and appropriate and polite in my dealings with certain people.

And guess what, it worked.

I did feel better physically. I haven’t had a stomach ailment, which had plagued me for many months, since then. Granted, I’ve had a month-long cold turned sinus infection, but I don’t think that’s related to my mental health.

The time I’ve saved by not dating has been used in tackling all sorts of tasks, from small things like creating a budget (or at least, taking a hard look at my personal finances and spending habits. Oh Starbucks and manicures, how I miss thee. 

I’m also much more well rested and pleasant, at least for 3 weeks out of the month, anyway, and even though my work was busy and I had to drop my exercise routine, I was able to hold it together through a pretty stressful month.

And while I’m still a little sad and lonely, they are passing feelings, rarely sticking around for more than a few minutes, the gratefulness I feel about my life squashing them to bits.

But when I look in the mirror, I don’t recognize myself.

I vacillate daily about my short hair. I’ve gained weight.

And I realize now how much of my own self worth I placed squarely on my appearance. That my version of my best self was when I was pretty and thin, without any thought to what was going on inside.

Because I get attention and compliments. And people like me. Or “like” me.

It’s vapid, vain, and completely shallow. And it’s no wonder I’ve found myself in unhappy relationships.

But right now, as I am, I’m pretty sure is my best self, or at least as close to it as I’ve ever been.

I know myself better than I ever had before. I’m doing my best to protect my heart and take care of myself.

Granted, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be healthier, and I certainly need to exercise again for my own sanity’s sake, not just so I can fit my butt in all the pants I bought on a recent shopping spree.

That’s okay too.

And sure, not every hairstyle is going to be the most flattering. But it’s just hair. It grows.

Our best physical selves are easy to change, but really, quite fleeting. Time is not our friend.

But the other stuff, the important stuff, well that’s all that really matters in the end.

The people that love me, the people that I should want to love me, well, they see that. And now, I’m seeing it for myself.

 

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Pride And Prejudice And Siblings http://alphamom.com/parenting/comparing-sibling-grades-at-school/ http://alphamom.com/parenting/comparing-sibling-grades-at-school/#comments Tue, 13 Jan 2015 14:56:09 +0000 http://alphamom.com/?p=35807

“Comparison is the thief of joy,” I tell my kids. If I had a nickel for every time I say it, I would have a lot of nickels. Other nickel-worthy phrases in my arsenal: “Fair isn’t equal,” “You don’t have to be the best, you just have to be the best you,” and “If you were already perfect, what would be the point?”

Honestly, I’ve become a walking Hallmark card. I’m proof that parenthood is a cliche despite the best of intentions.

One thing I’ve always managed as a parent, I think, is to make it clear to my kids that the only person they’re in competition with is themselves. Strive for excellence, of course, but compare yourself to others? That doesn’t have to be part of the game. What’s more, it shouldn’t be, because there is always someone who is better/smarter/funnier/prettier/more. That way lies madness. You do you, and let everyone else do them, and don’t worry about whether you measure up to some mythical standard set by others.

This notion goes double when it comes to siblinghood. As painful as it may be to feel you don’t measure up to another kid in your class, the sting of feeling that your sibling is “always better” is a sharp and lasting one. My kids are less than two years apart, and now they’re only a grade apart in school—comparison is inevitable, you might say. Except I choose to believe it’s not. I don’t compare. Most of their teachers see them as so different from one another that we’ve been lucky to escape classroom comparison, as well. Even the challenge of watching them share a class has—thus far—been relatively smooth sailing in the comparison department. All kind, reasonable humans know better than to say, “Oh, but your brother always…” or “But your sister managed…” or similar. Their teachers haven’t said it to them. We parents don’t say it to them.

No comparisons! No making anyone feel bad! It seemed so reasonable and logical. It was. I mean, I was sure it was.

And that’s how I managed to screw up big-time and almost not even realize it.

I share because I care! Also because 1) confession is good for the soul and 2) maybe you’ve done something similar, inadvertently, and can use a friendly reminder to be a little more aware of how the best intentions can go askew…?

It’s all good and well to challenge your kids to be their best themselves and not compare and all of that, but it’s also (I think) human nature to swing a little too far in the other direction. To wit: I would never, ever, if faced with my teens’ rather disparate midterm grades (which arrived over the weekend), tell the kid with the lower grades to be more like their sibling. That would be terrible, obviously. But here’s what I did do, without even realizing it at first: I totally downplayed the hard-won achievements of the kid whose grades were awesome. I just… didn’t make a big deal about it. Or any deal, really, lest I make the other kid feel bad. And I didn’t just stay quiet in front of both of them, I just… didn’t react at all. For several days.

And then I realized that in my quest not to make one of my kids feel bad, I was robbing my other kid of well-deserved praise, and that wasn’t right, either. After this shameful realization, I waited until we were alone in the car one day and said, “Hey, I don’t know if I told you this before—” (lies! I knew I hadn’t, but I was trying to be casual) “—but I am really proud of how hard you worked last semester. I hope you’re proud of yourself, too. You pushed yourself and rose to the challenge and it paid off. Nice work.” The teen in question just shrugged and said, “I guess,” and immediately changed the subject, so I wouldn’t characterize it as an after-school-special-worthy moment, or anything, but I’m still glad I took the time to be very clear about my pride. Hard work is something to celebrate, full stop. Whether my kids think so or not, I don’t want to be the kind of parent who just skips that out of fear of making the other kid feel bad.

As for the other teen, well, we had a conversation about working up to potential, and—as you might expect, when having such a conversation with a teenager who, y’know, didn’t—it involved a lot of sighing and eye-rolling and “I get it, Mom”s. But what it didn’t involve was “you expect me to be just like [my sibling],” at least. I think they both know that’s never the case. And I tried really hard to emphasize that it’s fodder for motivation rather than despair. It’s just one tough semester. Live and learn; make this next semester a better one.

I don’t know if you know this, but if you have more than one kid, it’s hard to make sure they each get what they need without feeling like they’re being compared or otherwise impacted by their sibling(s). Who knew?? I’m still working on it. But I’m really glad that I caught my mistake here.

(Turns out I’m still working on being my best me, too.)

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