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Yesterday my Facebook wall was littered with a piece from Huffington Post called, How to Talk to Little Boys. There was some  chatter about whether or not Lisa Bloom’s advice to use violence in stories was the very best way to encourage more boy readers. There was some chatter about making sure we had the right kind of books to give boys to read. Many boy moms in my world have reading boys or want to have reading boys. I can see wanting to go to any measure to make this happen.  I badly wanted to like the article, but I could only hear all the false notes.

First of all I think we all know that age 12 is not little. The author’s friend Oliver is not little. His answers do sound young to me. I have a 12 year old and have had one for almost a year now.  But perhaps Oliver is a younger 12. Even so, he is not little. Five is little. Six is little. If we want our boys to read, we have to start long before age 12.

When we encourage our boys to read,  I’d strongly prefer that we not induce them with violence. “This book may be too violent for you,” Lisa says to Oliver. If Oliver is a young as he sounds, The Hunger Games might actually be too violent for him. My twelve year old did read the books -well past the downhill slope to his 13th birthday which is next week. They were not too violent for him. Last summer he and I both had several friends reading them, and I felt he was too young til this past winter. At times we have struggled to find the just right books for our kids. However, when you want your five year old boy to love reading you cannot use Bloom’s reverse psychology technique. You have to keep digging through the library stacks to find the topics that interest him, to find the characters he thinks are silly or fun, to find the right ratio of text to pictures that will keep him engaged. Is it much different for girls?

The How to Talk to Little Girls post from last year was lovely. It was everything my mother ever wanted for me and more.  In it, Bloom actually spoke to a little girl. She spoke to her about her interests, her reading, her writing and her ideas. In How to Talk to Little Boys, not only is the boy not little but the only possible suggestion for talking to a boy  is to entice them with a book that is pretty violent. We simply trade one stereotype about boys for another when we do this.

Bloom’s article is full of the same advice parents get from schools, PBS and literacy specialists: keep books at home, let your kids see you read for pleasure, let them read whatever genre works for them, read when they are babies, read before bed. In a world constantly telling parents just how they are failing their children, this is just one more blog post, one more public service announcement.

I have three boys. I am a working parent of three boys. When people see me with my boys or hear that I have three boys they undoubtedly say, “God bless ya!” Essentially, I take this to mean, “Better you than me!” What do people think my children think of this statement? What do they suppose I think it means? It’s offensive. It means our society already views them as potential menaces. I listen to people with girls worry about the teenage boys who might one day be after their daughters. I look at my about to be teenage boy and wonder what they think about him, as he sits there building legos with his younger brother. He walks to his film class at the library. He texts with his friends about how simply awful all these band rehearsals are. He reads. He reads his little brothers’ Lego magazine. He reads Hunger Games on my kindle. He reads Sherlock Holmes from his dad’s bookshelf.

How can we change the cultural conversation around boys so they don’t have to fight the Dennis the Menace of themselves? Isaac has shrugged it off. We lucked out. He has a fairly strong sense of self. Maybe because we read to him when he was a baby. But I have little boys too. They are 6 and 7 right now. I can see the ways the break down in gender roles at school and in their world is going to be a rougher ride for them than it has been for Isaac so far.  At this point, they still love reading. However, when people see me with the boys they often say “What are you doing this weekend? Are you going to take a bike ride? Are you playing sports?” The boys have picked up that the weekend is a time for us to take them around and do stuff, active stuff. When we hang around the house for the weekend reading, cooking, gardening, painting, playing with clay and playing Wii, Henry is unsure what to write on his Monday morning page at school. “What did you do this weekend?” Somehow the weekend at home stuff translates as “nothing.” If we have gone someplace, done something somewhere, then he know what to write. “We took a hike,” or ” We went to visit nana and climbed her trees.”   But if we are always going and doing, then we are not home reading.

All of them learned to read quite early but I am not sure we did anything much different than what most college educated middle class families do when they have children. We bought board books. We had story time. We had those alphabet magnets on the frig. We read in our bed at night with children all jammied up then picked up our sleepy children and tumbled them into their beds. We read to Henry much less when he was a baby. We were pretty busy keeping him alive and making sure he stopped growing in the wrong direction. Once the ship righted itself, he started singing his ABC just like the rest of the toddlers. By the time the third baby came, the first thing he read was the Dunkin’ Donuts sign as we drove along in the minivan. Oops.

Like most parents I know, we are holding up our end to the best of our ability. When we walk outside our door, things get rough. Next time you see me with my boys, please, someone ask them what they are reading. Above all do not ask them if they like reading. You are tipping your cards. Let’s assume that kids all like reading well enough even when it is not their first choice of activity. If you start a conversation with a yes or no question, you will get a yes or no answer. We all know how much children love to say no. It’s such a trip to confound the grownups!  Help boys who like reading even just a little  to like it more by having a real conversation with them about their book.

May I recommend this:

Grown up:  So what day is library day at school?

Child: Tuesdays. Sometimes I forget to bring my book back.

Grown up: Ugh, that happens to me all the time! Is it because your book is in your bed and you forget in the morning?

Child: Actually, I think it was in the sofa cushions.

Grown up: I lost stuff their too. Mostly coins but also sometimes socks. What was the last book you checked out?

Child: It was a magical school house book about space but I can’t remember the name of it.

Grown up: That’s okay. Why did you pick it?

Child: My best friend had it last week so I thought it would be good. I like the pictures of Jupiter. Jupiter is huge. I mean really, really, really, really huge. It is so huge that you could fit like a bajillion thousand hundred seventy three and two aliens on it. Someone tried that I think one time…

I think you can take it from there.

And when you see me, don’t say anything that sounds like “There but the grace of God go I.”  I am extremely happy, extremely lucky and probably about as a tired and busy as the next working parent whether her children are boys or girls.

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I’ve been thinking about what it means to have enough, to have plenty, as the holidays approach.  Grade school comes to mind as we colored in cornucopia – a horn of plenty – looks at that horn full of gourds, a sign of having plenty, of making it through the cold, dark winter.  IT’S HUGE!

(I might print that later for my kids to color when they are on school vacation. They will finish in 5 minutes and then ask if they can go watch Phineas & Ferb.)

We had our very own experience of plenty last month. When 10 inches of wet snow fell on trees with leaves still on the branches -and those branches still full of the trees water and sap, the power went out in New England. Nearly 2 million customers were without power.

We were among those who had plenty at this moment. The first night we slept at home in a house that had been warmed by the sun & heaters that had been on all day. In the morning, we used our gas grill to boil water for tea, coffee and cocoa and to scramble eggs. It was camping for day one. As the light faded from day two, we headed to my sister’s powerless but warm house and slept on the floor in front of the wood burning stove. We woke up cold on Halloween but still had the ability to make tea, coffee and cocoa.

There was no school on Halloween. There was also no Halloween on Halloween. I came home to check on our place and discovered we had power.  We had plenty of food that had survived in a cooler on our porch. We had plenty of water and when push came to shove we had plenty of room to share it all.  Our own apartment then became plenty full of people. As crowded as it was, it felt rather like the holidays. People squashed in, plenty of people to run to the store so no one had to take the kids with them. Plenty of people to cook, wash and up wrestle kids to bed. Plenty of extra food to invite for dinner a few more families whose water or power were not on yet, or who hadn’t had time to replenish the food stores after the storm.

So what with all the snow and the snowmen hanging around,

before we knew it we, I was sitting around with my god daughter discussing where to put the Christmas tree. She is right, we are going to have to move one of our chairs upstairs to my bedroom.

Wouldn’t you know there are gifts under there! And even when times are tight -and we have had times so tight I felt like I couldn’t breath – we have had presents under that tree and a feast for our table. Sometimes only  because of our generous families – other times from both of us working like maniacs to pull off the magic: a book, a toy and a game for each child. And I know that is what you do too.

I will not rush the season by playing carols or hanging lights before we have had our day of  thanks, but I am grateful to that crazy storm to remind me that we have plenty before the ads, the catalogs and internet start making me feel like I am not enough. I am glad the spirit of Thanksgiving and Christmas came early to our house this year, right around Halloween.

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Everyone is upset -kids, parents, dads, therapists, teachers and soccer coaches. We are parenting wrong, again, and all the real grown ups are fed up with the whole thing. They are so fed up they will take away your toddler if you spank her. They will also take away your toddler if you breastfeed her. If all else fails, they will just write about you in Slate and Atlantic Monthly because you are doing it wrong and there is no fate worse than having your parenting be disapproved of by the real grown ups.

I should confess right up front that I have three children who are all good sleepers. Aside from the 6 month window in which we were trying to figure out why Henry was growing in the wrong direction, we have enjoyed very good sleep. For the most part, it has been all in our separate spaces. We did sleep with our babies, all of whom began to sleep through the night once they reached 20lbs. This did not take very long for Theo who was 9lb 3 ounces at birth. At that point, we sort of cheerfully deposited them in a crib or pak-n-play in a room with their brothers. So, while I found Go The F*ck To Sleep  to be very funny, it didn’t really send me rolling on the floor laughing (IFYWIM). Not the way, Parenting Illustrated With Crappy Pictures does. (Extreme lack of ice cream!)  Still, hearing Samuel L. Jackson read it made me laugh. While sleep is not the issue, I do sometime find it impossible to resist the urge to tell my kids to “man up!” when they cry about, say, stopping for gasoline on the way home from the YMCA. Kids are frustrating. It’s part of the gig.

This morning, Liz of  Mom 101 fame, pointed me in the direction of  an article at Slate in which Katie Roiphe asks, “Why So Angry Dad?” I was really surprised to find out that it is all my fault! Roiphe believes the reason we all find the book so funny is because of our pent up rage at our children, I mean wives, well, the mommies. It is the mother’s unsexy blanket, movie and popcorn night creating all this rage inside the father, you see. He is blaming the child but he should really be blaming his wife. “Put on a f*cking dress!” she imagines the child to say to the mother. Yes, we who cannot “manage” to hire a babysitter are to blame -never mind if you cannot afford to hire the babysitter (I would like to know the going rates in your area, just to find out if what we are experiencing is normal or crazy.) Never you mind, if you actually want a quiet night in – if you are tired from working nights and weekends and truly just want to collapse in front of the big screen. I was surprised by the interpretation. But then again not really. Clearly if you are frustrated and tired, you are doing something wrong. It could not possibly be that the job you are doing is hard and demanding. Everything worth doing should come easily with little effort. Also, anytime your husband is upset it is because he needs more sex. By the way, you are lazy.

So, that upset me. It upset me because I was taught by my parents that rewarding things require effort, attention and sacrifice. So, I can blame them right? And so can Slate? Maybe Lori Gottlieb also help me figure out why I am doing it all wrong – or really you – because I am  better than you and we both know it. Much better – except that I feel worse. It is so confusing!  Truly, I found “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy” to be a pretty good read. Again I should state up front that I am not, by nature, a helicopter-parent (whatever that really may be – I assume we know it when we see it, or rather, it is fun to point it out in others.) For example, my 12 year old wakes up and gets ready for school with no assistance from me. Often I am still in bed when he comes to say good bye for the day. If I am up, I am wrangling his two younger brothers. I will keep them out of his way so he doesn’t miss the 7:15am bus. I consider this to be good parenting because it works. I have no idea what his therapist will say.

What I found troubling is Gottlieb’s assertion that the underlying reason that my generation of parents protects, tends and overall oppresses with love our young is “precisely so that they wouldn’t end up on a therapist’s couch one day.” Are any of you thinking about this, you know regularly, seriously, without your tongue in your cheek? Maybe this is the type of thing only a therapist thinks about their own children. I don’t know. When I do anything for my kids – be it the right thing or the wrong thing – I can say with certainty that I am not the least bit motivated by want to protect them from one day needing help sorting life out. I must have missed the parenting theory about making sure the kids know that once they leave my nest they should never, ever seek counsel, help and support by talking out their problems with skilled professionals.

I will say I agree, kids always keep score in soccer. It is silly to pretend that sports are not competitive and that Bs are just As in disguise. I like it when my kids are successful. There are many things I will do to support and encourage their success.  I am unsure how the compare to the lengths my parents would have gone, or the lengths my generational cohort of parents will go (If you are keeping track, I am 36, with a 12, 7 and 5 year old.) I believe in letting kids experience and express frustration, anger, sadness. Whether I believe in it or not, they are going to experience those things, so I figured I would just get on board with reality. Maybe I am just lazy.

The problem I have with the Atlantic Monthly piece is that it completely ignores the cultural reasons for this particular attachment style parenting. I am not parenting in a vacuum (much as I would love to do that because I hear vacuums are quiet.) What’s on tap here in my time and place: a struggling economy and a board of parenting experts that have promised if I meet enough of my kids needs they will not have any later – which of course, makes no sense, but that what is advertised.  Let us also remember the marketing of camps, extra curricular activities, sports, classes and book groups – all the ways I am told that if I spend my time and money,  I will have better kids, that if I do not invest in their gifts and talents now, it will be too late. In a rough economy, this is a particularly low blow. Spend money now while your kid is 8, so he will be well rounded enough to be hired at 20! The notion that somehow my kids are not good enough as is breaks through the haze. This is my own idea. I must swim uphill to standby it.

Through all of this marketing of books, theories, classes and ideas,  I still contend with- as I imagine mothers at every time and place have – those perfect strangers who assert their right to barge in and let me know how what they think about it all.  And overall, I consider myself very lucky in this regard. My mother and mother-in-law think I am a good mother. My father, step-father and father-in-law think I am a good mother.  I live in a community that overall supports my parenting style – though I think I would be considered more strict than most. I am absolutely in favor of telling my kids to “knock it off” if they are acting like lunatics. I have even been known to use the word naughty in public. (Stop chucking acorns at the squirrel; that’s naughty!)

Still I find the microscope on mothering to be taxing and a distraction from my real work. I wonder if  people around me think I am too strict, too permissive. I wonder if when my children cry in public, people think I must be indulging them, or maybe they think I am being too harsh. From the first moment I held my first baby,  I began to receive conflicting advice. Never wake a sleeping baby. Wake your baby to eat every 3 hours. Don’t fuss so much over your kids. Hey, why don’t you have a jacket on him?  It’s cold out there. Kids these days have no manners and are too busy. Stop scheduling all their time. Don’t let them play Wii all day. Mothers need to relax. Why is he crying? He should be sleeping through the night by now. Stop worrying. This is not the type of village I am looking for. Please send lasagnas and a housekeeping staff.

 

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Lean Back

Borrowed from my work space, a post on the benefits of skin to skin contact between mothers and newborns.

Skin to skin contact is something that many moms desire to have with their baby after birth. We know it is healthy. We know we want to warm the baby with our body. We want to bring the milk in soon. At almost every birth I attend, moms and babies do enjoy some immediate skin to skin contact. Yet sometimes after I leave the hospital, I hear from the new parents that breastfeeding is not going that well.What do we not know about skin to skin contact? Sometimes it seems like just another item to check off on a birth plan. How can we move beyond treating it as a ritual that lasts a bare minimum number of minutes before we start providing “real care” to the newborn. I spent some time at the Partners In Perinatal Health Conference learning more from Debbie M. Norris, a lactation consultant at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. She inspired me re-envision skin to skin contact as the best medical care for newborns and moms.Skin to skin contact between mother and newborn has almost the same benefits as breastfeeding with none of the effort. Babies are often birthed onto the mother’s abdomen. Sometimes before we move them up to the vertical position between the mother’s breast, we cover them and wrap them with layers and layers of blanket. We take them away sometimes  – <em>just for a minute</em> – and then bring them back bundle and ready to nurse. Then the babies are sleepy, and mothers are sleepy. Mothers are also hungry and sore. The first few days of motherhood are all about taking in the experience. Reva Rubin’s research on postpartum emotional adjustment shows us this time is for her meet her own needs, talk about her birth, and care for her body.

Often at the hospital we sit mothers right up in bed. In an effort to support her and the baby, we surround them with pillows and blankets. We want to get their babies as close to them as possible for a good latch. We want to prevent neck and shoulder injury pain. So we prop up more pillows. She sits on her sore perineum. 24 hours later she often complains that breastfeeding is uncomfortable and not going particularly well. Maybe she says, “I don’t know if I can do this.” Already feelings of failure are creeping into this sacred time. We might strip the baby down to the diaper for a few minutes, but visitors come and go. The door opens and shuts. Moms cover up their breasts. It is our system that is failing this nursing pair.

What are we missing?

 Follow me over to the Gentle Balance Birth site to explore more.

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Out and About

It’s spring here. It took til the first weekend of May to bring us the gift of sunshine, warmth and flowers blooming. All of New England has been hanging in there since March 1st. I’m not 100% sure, but I think there is no more snow in my zipcode. We’ve been out and about with the kids and so has been writing.

I hope you’ll visit me here at Hilltown Families to read about my first vernal pool walk with Theo, here at MotherWoman to participate in our very first blog carnival to honor Mother’s Day, and here where I am revisiting an old theme of waiting.

I hope you’ve been out and about too.

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Theo is the third child, our third boy. When we saw him by ultrasound at our 20 week appointment I had two feelings – some sadness that there was no girl child for me & some concern that we would be searching for our 5th and 6th boy names.  We really felt we had hit it out of the park with Henry. There could be no more perfect name for that child.

It is no easy thing to be the younger brother by just 22 months of the irrefutable fact of a person that is Henry. I think maybe only Theo could do it. He respects his place in the world and ignores or protests anyone who does not agree. This week he turned 5.

His birth was a sort of birthing gold standard of laughter, love and peace – a midwife and doula have confirmed. He had rolls of fat on his newborn neck – at 9lbs 3 ounces – all the more remarkable as he had a true knot in his cord that was as big as a child’s fist. The boys have their father’s height come down from Viking genes somewhere back up the line.

By the time Theo was a week old, when frustrated he would close his eyes and tune us out- usually during a diaper change.  He continued this for well into his 3rd year of life when he decided to rise up and make himself heard. I was relieved. He has such a charming, funny personality. He can lighten Henry’s mood – and mine. He sees himself as capable, strong and smart. He is not above crying to get his way, but is normally looking at me out of the corner of his eye to see if it is working.

He is unintentionally hilarious. When asked at the pediatric office what his middle name was he answered, “It’s adore. or maybe a door?”  Theo Adore -or maybe Theo a door? – is always striving to catch up to Henry but honestly thinks Isaac is another adult. “Can Isaac drive me to school?”   Yes, in 6 years. Isaac is as likely as mom or dad to be given a full tour of the artwork he brings home, or shown how he learned to read a new word. Isaac is likely to fix jammies  so they are right side out, pull out a snack and get the toothpaste to stay on the toothbrush.

And this is how Theo came to say one day, “It is the job of everyone bigger than me to take care of me. Problem at school is not that many kids are bigger than me. ” Theo loves the love. He loves to be taken care of, buckled up, snapped up, fed, showered, and adored.  My sister Jen was at his birth supporting me. Now he sees her as the one who has always been around with extra love. He never ever says hello to her – he just picks up his story midstream reporting in on his day as if she has been there the whole time sitting on his shoulder. When she married, he firmly adopted her people as his. If we go to his cousin’s soccer game, he will plunk himself on uncle Brian’s lap without a second thought to me or Matt. He needs to soak up all the love he can.

In the fall, he will go to Kindergarten with a teacher who already knows and loves him. She knows he can read and do arithmetic at least a year above grade level. She knows he likes to be babied a bit and might try to hide some of his skills. She knows he is capable, but loves to be helped because he loves feeling nurtured.  I know she will cajole him to keep going, to stretch himself, to try new words, new letters, new math problems. And she will do this with skill and warmth, because it is the job of everybody bigger than our kids to take care of our kids.  

Hey you, out there, want some cake?

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It’s too insane to be real. A baby-swinging mother, from Russia now living in Egypt, can show you on the internet how to do ” intense baby yoga” with your newborn. And it is crazy. Sane mothers everywhere look at their screens and hope it is a newborn doll – like the slightly surreal looking ones used in childbirth classes at hospitals.  The video quality is just poor enough to allow for disbelief. But then, Gawker says it is real.

I’m hanging on to disbelief – yes, for the obvious reasons – I don’t really think this is a safe newborn practice. I am old school:  swaddle them, support their heads, keep them warm! Plenty of time for nose-dives when they are 2, that’s what I say. I’m also hanging onto disbelief because this woman seems to be offering herself as a path for mothers to take – come, you can belong here, be part of our baby-yoga-swinging community. You can do this and belong.

We seem to be finding smaller and smaller camps to divide ourselves into as mothers. Are we so unwilling to hang out with people who do not mother similarly to ourselves? Do we do this while we tell our children they are unique and special? Do we do this while we teach them to celebrate the diversity in their communities, be that home or school, town or country?

Did our mothers so sub-divide themselves, or where their fewer divisions. You were poor, middle class, or rich and  you were black, white or latina. You lived in the suburbs, country or city – but that is all. Are we more fearful? More confused? More lonely?

When I had my first child the term “Attachment Parenting” was just hitting the streets of my community. There was no internet in the way we have now. No websites, coaches, groups and fan pages. There was one sling for sale in the whole wide world.  I visited an attachment parenting play group and felt it was a group too exclusive for me.  I could not believe there was only one right way to mother. I could not be so vehement about umbrella strollers. I’d grown up in an odd little corner of Manhattan where Harlem met Columbia University. To me, attachment parenting meant rigid hippies in suburbia who had Subarus. If they had to walk as far as the mothers of Harlem, they’d have umbrella strollers too.

I never went back. I continued to breastfeed. I continued to use a stroller and a baby carriers of various sorts. I continued to “co-sleep” until none of us slept well and then we put the baby in a pak-n-play. We didn’t call it “co-sleeping.” We called it sleeping and the babies slept, with us, until they didn’t. When friends or family asked how we slept, we said, “great!” or “terrible,” depending on the day. I breastfeed and let them grab food of my plate – and formula fed when faced with Henry’s intense medical challenges.

Before the wrath of the attachment parents visits my blog in the night, I have many friends now who refer to themselves as attachment parents. They use strollers, have a long way to walk (and some of whom have Subarus.) But I won’t pick.  I won’t pick breastfeeding or formula feeding or extended co-sleeping or cribs, schooling or not – nor will I pick attachment or whatever its opposite may be.  And I will not pick intense baby yoga swinging. I’m assuming you won’t pick that one  either, but I’d love to know what you won’t pick. Or if you have picked, why it works.

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