the plight of the subsequent child

This evening as I fed my six-month-old at dinner time, I was forced to pause and wonder, “How did it all come to this?”  You see, my six-month-old was not wearing any pants.  Sure, he had a diaper on, but he had no pants—something I never would have considered allowing for my firstborn.

Not only was Ender missing pants, he wasn’t wearing a bib, either, so any food that missed his mouth fell right onto his shirt.  Peatie wore bibs until he was eighteen months; Goobie was a bib-wearer until at least a year.

And to top it off, I was feeding little Mr. Teeny random smushed food bits from my plate—with my fork.  Peatie got homemade baby food and the rubber-tipped spoon for ages; he graduated to table food ground by hand, and he ate with kiddie utensils until he was two-and-a-half.  Goober got a mix of homemade and store-bought baby foods, depending on how time-crunched I had been lately.  She, too, was treated to the rubber-tipped spoon, and she used kiddie utensils until she was close to two.

Now, part of this predicament is Ender’s fault.  He WAS wearing shorts today—until he had the gall to pee out the leg of his diaper.  And I WOULD feed him baby food, except that he pulls faces and spits it out, begging instead for food from my plate.  Baby spoons are great for getting teeny bits of baby slop, but they’re not great for little chunks of baked potato or nectarine; forks work much better to mush stuff up and serve it.  And as for the bib—well, the kid had such bad reflux that his shirt has always been soaked anyhow, and the food he eats is mostly solid, so it creates so little extra mess that it seems silly to bother with a bib.

There are other differences between my treatment of my babies, as well.  With Peatie, I rushed to his side at every nighttime noise.  (He still wakes often at night.)  Once Goobie rolled along, I was so tired that I would lie in bed listening to her fuss, willing my body to get moving—and often, she’d go right back to sleep before I managed to move.  Little Third One shares a room with his ill-sleeping big brother, which makes me more prone to dashing to his crib-side lest his brother be an exhausted, whiny beast in the morning.  (It’s not helping.)

The list could go on with items big and small.  Some are the result of having multiple children; some are the result of my growth (relaxation? slacking?) as a parent; some are dependent on the personalities of my children.  Sometimes I feel bad about the differences in how they’re treated.  I wonder if my subsequent children (or even my firstborn) are somehow being cheated.  Then I remind myself that I am a fourth child, and I didn’t feel remotely cheated; my existence was the only one I knew.  I was loved and cared for—perhaps not in exactly the same ways as my siblings had been before me, but it was enough.

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giving your children room to grow

Have you ever noticed when it is that your kids are most creative in their play?

Peatie gave up naps at 2.5.  For many months, we had him take a Quiet Time in his room for an hour or so every afternoon during his former naptime—a time for him to be alone, with no demands made on him by others.  (The same benefits were shared by Mommy!)  When I would go up to fetch him from his Quiet Time, he would show me elaborate towers of Duplos that he claimed were stores, foam numbers on a shelf that were food items at a restaurant, a pile of pillows that was a nest for his buddies, stacked Hot Wheels that were car-carrier cars or even ambulance-carrier cars, a curtain car wash for the Peatie-truck…  His imagination had always been hard at work, and he amazed me with his creative play.

When I play with my children, they often imitate my way of play.  There is something useful in this, for it teaches them different ways of interacting with objects, different possible scenarios for play.

Kids in the back yard

It’s fully fenced, so they can exercise independence in safety. Even the weeds are useful in their creative minds!

According to books I’ve read, parent interaction can also deepen a child’s play.  If we are responsive to their lead, we can take their pretend phone call and turn it into an appointment for a playdate with Teddy; we can take their presentation of a wooden-block “noodle” and turn it into a chance to make a pretend meal or pack a pretend picnic.  Our children can learn from our play.

At the same time, I think that parent intervention can stifle a child’s play.  Over the years, the creative possibilities in our mind grow rusty from lack of exercise.  We would likely never consider that a cardboard box could somehow be a basket for baby Moses AND a nest for a baby birdie, all at the same time.  We wouldn’t find it remotely humorous to make up nonsense words and shout them gleefully at each other.  On their own, children can build on the tools we’ve given them for play and the experiences we’ve shared with them, expanding them with their own creativity.

I love playing with my children, but I also like to accomplish a few things in my day.  I love playing with my children, but I also want them to learn independence and the ability to find their own ways to occupy their time.  I want my children to learn to communicate with each other and others, to cooperate and negotiate and compromise.  These are things that I can model for them and encourage in them, but they are traits that my children ultimately must practice and develop on their own.

For these reasons, I think it’s important to give your kids space.  Are they playing nicely on their own?  Go into the next room, and listen to their little minds come to life.  Are they old enough for a little more independence?  Send them into the back yard or the basement and keep one ear open to listen for signs of distress—or peals of laughter.  Give your kids a little room in their own environment to help them learn the skills they’ll need to succeed in other environments.  (And try not to freak out if they make some noise and get a bit messy!)

Want to read more on this topic?  Other bloggers have pondered this over the summer, as well.  Check out these posts by I Made a Human, Now What? and Sleeping Should Be Easy.

a thrifty thought for thursday: painting with kids

Once upon a time, someone gave us some paint.  It was a set of those little plastic pots, the ones that come all linked together with flip-down lids so you can re-use the paint.  My kids, unfortunately, felt honor-bound to use all the paint in one crafty session.  Even if they hadn’t been so determined, their paint-use skills would have dictated that future projects would involve only slightly-varying shades of gray, since they dip and re-dip their paint brushes with no thought to color preservation.

While this paint did not last us long, it sure was a big hit.  I took a trip to Michael’s to see if I could find something more preschool-friendly.  No luck.  No luck at JoAnne, either.  Rather than simply repeating our past folly and going through paint like it’s going out of style, I decided to get creative with wooden paint-mixing sticks, milk caps, and some hot glue.  Here’s the result:

Paint Tray

My 2.5 year old’s painting station post-craft time

I then purchased a bulk pack of tempera paint (much cheaper!), which I dole in small measure into my makeshift paint trays.  After the kids are done making a mess, I rinse ‘em off and store them for next time.  My sister-in-law, hearing about my project, decided that her disposable contact lens containers would be even better paint wells, so she used those—brilliant!  (If only I still bothered to wear contacts!)  At any rate, our milk lids are colorful and they do the job, allowing us to paint multiple times and still maintain color integrity.

On a side note, using Daddy’s old t-shirts for smocks has worked pretty well for us as long as we pull up our sleeves and make sure the extra section of neck-hole hangs to the back.  (Now if only I could get my daughter to stop painting her face…)

What creative ways have you saved money on kid supplies or adapted to your kids’ needs?

the secret to raising financially responsible children?

Last night, after having listened to a friend’s tales of financial woe, ‘Love and I got to talking about folks and finances—specifically, our observations about the households people are raised in and the adults that emerge.  Here’s what we observed:

  • We know a few people who were raised in homes where money was tight and parents were stressed.  In each case, the resulting adult has become somewhat obsessed with having a high-paying career and lots of STUFF.
  • We know numerous people who were raised in homes somewhere in the middle—money was neither stressfully tight nor blissfully abundant; parents provided what was necessary (usually purchased on sale) and children occasionally enjoyed the perk of a special toy or activity.  These children typically seem to turn out to be financially responsible adults, not over-stressed about money but not too cavalier in their spending, either.  (In at least two cases I know of, the children later discovered that their parents had been millionaires; in other cases, children later found that they had been living close to the poverty line.)
  • We know numerous people raised in affluent homes, where parents spent money generously to provide for their children.  Almost every adult we know who emerged from that type of household struggles to manage their money responsibly and live within their means.

The happy medium seems not to come from income level, but from treatment of money.  As long as you project confidence in your ability to provide, emphasize responsible spending, and find occasional ways to treat your children—not often enough that they come to expect it, or it loses its potency, and never at the expense of financial stability—children will, hopefully, learn to handle money well.

What do you think?  Do your experiences reflect what we’ve noticed about the people we know, or do you have a different theory?

the myth of “vacation” with young children

Splattered across the internet this summer are the remnants of everyone’s family vacations.  Having just returned from one myself, I’m here to give you a dose of reality.

What people share about their family vacations:'Love and the kids enjoy the beach

  • Mobile updates regarding travel status
  • Photographs of smiling children in exotic (or not-so-exotic) locales
  • Photographs of parents hugging or otherwise posing with their smiling children
  • Progress updates to inform folks about what landmark or restaurant is currently being enjoyed
  • Quotable quotes from said smiling children
  • Lamentation about returning home

What people don’t share about their family vacations:

  • The amount of snack food passed out to small children to keep them from whining incessantly during travel
  • The brief amount of time that any toy actually captures a traveling (or trapped-indoors-due-to-weather) child’s attention
  • The insane amount of STUFF required to travel with small children (Pack ‘n’ Play? Check. Bed rail for toddler? Check. Special blanket and stuffed animal for each child? Nightlights? Twelve dozen diapers? 800 gazillion toys to hand them in the car or on the plane?)
  • The fact that your baby who is old enough that he’s too nosy to doze off in his infant seat during errands is also old enough to notice that he is most definitely NOT at his own house in his own crib, and will thus be next-to-impossible to get to sleep at nap and night
  • The fact that vacationing makes small children feel a bit insecure, since their little worlds have been turned upside down, and thus they are prone to being rather cranky or, at the very least, not especially calm and easy to manage
  • The number of television shows small children are allowed to watch while their parents to pack all that gear and get it back in the car
  • The fact that expending so much energy planning activities to keep children busy (and thus less likely to utterly destroy their temporary lodgings) for every waking moment leaves little time for parental enjoyment

Sounds like I had a terrible time, doesn’t it?  (To be honest, it WAS worse than last year—but it did also follow eight straight weeks of visiting relatives coming and going.)  And yet, despite all that work, there are all those pictures of smiling children…  And somehow, we did manage to have a decent enough time that we will repeat the whole procedure next year—and hope that each year will be better than the last, as our children grow older.

What’s your experience vacationing with little ones?

the leibster award (sort of)

The other day, Defining Motherhood was thoughtful enough to nominate me for the Leibster Award.  What an honor to have a complete stranger think I’m worthy of sharing tea!  Since this is a bit of a hectic week over here in Mommyland due to our impending trip to The Cottage, I’ll post an abbreviated version of the award:

First, eleven random things about myself:

  1. I am sitting on a couch that used to belong to my parents.
  2. Said couch is now over a decade old.  We sincerely hope it lasts about a decade more because
  3. Our children are really hard on furniture.  And on things in general.
  4. When we moved, we had to replace our carpet.  (Trust me, it was gross.  The lady bought the house in 1971 and said her husband would never let her get new carpet.)  But now we’re hoping it’s not ruined by our very urpy baby, the third of our hard-on-things children.
  5. I just got back from rocking said baby for the fourth time tonight, and it’s only ten o’clock.
  6. Our house has large bedrooms, but there are only three of them.  Having a baby share a room with a big sibling seems to mean more rocking than would otherwise be necessary.
  7. I should be going to bed now, since all signs seem to point to a rocky night and
  8. I was very cranky already today, much to my dismay (and my children’s).
  9. Posting things on my blog always takes me vastly longer than I think it ought to
  10. So it’s likely that you’re reading this the day after it was written because
  11. I have a hard time falling asleep unless I do something relaxing first, like reading.  Which means I get to bed a half-hour after I appear to get to bed.

Next, I’ll answer Defining Motherhood’s eleven questions:

  1. Do you still have your tonsils?  Yup—tonsils, adenoids, appendix, I’ve got it all!  (Well, I am missing half of three vertebrae, and I’m pretty certain I’ve lost my dignity somewhere along the line.)
  2. Would you bungee jump?  I think terror would get the best of me.  I’d love to do a zip line canopy tour, though.
  3. What was the last book you read?  I’m not quite sure how to answer this one, since I’ve had two non-fiction and one fiction book going at the same time for a while.  (I used to be incredulous that anyone would start more than one book at the same time, and now I have a book to read in my bedroom, one in the living room, and one on top of the computer desk.  I’m that desperate for a break.)  My most recently completed book was Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites and Other Lies You’ve Been Told by Bradley Wright.  Interesting, but a bit statistic-heavy for my taste (and focused on Evangelicals, which I’m not).
  4. What is stashed under your bed?  My portfolio filled with my favorite artwork (high school to present) and an underbed tote with fabric scraps and framed photographs that I took, developed, hung, and hope to hang again someday.
  5. What is the kindest thing someone has done for you this week? Besides this nomination?  My parents gave ‘Love and I a gift certificate for a local restaurant and watched the kids so we could enjoy a date in the midst of this crazy week.
  6. Is there a movie you have watched more than a dozen times?  Nope.  I used to watch movies occasionally, but I’ve never had one that I saw more than a few times, and now I find I have less and less time for movie-watching (or anything else) with each added child…  (Wait!  Unless you count The Letter Factory or Winnie the Pooh’s 123s or the Read and Share Bible DVDs!  We watch ‘em once in a while, but since I have so few, I’ve probably seen them each a dozen times each in the last year-and-a-half.)
  7. When you have an hour to yourself, how do you spend it?  My free time is generally taken by 1) Work, 2) Volunteering as secretary for MOMS Club, 3) Puttering on the computer, specifically checking email and blog posts, and 4) Reading.  If I’ve had a chance to do all that in the day, I work on my impossible sewing project.
  8. What is your least favorite chore around the house?  Lately I’ve been despising laundry.  The more kids I have, the more eternal it seems: think you’ve got it all clean, and you miraculously find another load worth of stuff that was just dirtied.  I used to hate cleaning showers, but baking soda and a weekly cleaning schedule have made that a cinch.
  9. Saturday or Sunday?  Ooooh, tough one.  I think Sunday.  We typically go to church (which I really enjoy), eat lunch at my parents’ house (no cooking AND help with the kids!), and make our own pizza for supper (I like traditions).  Often ‘Love will haul the biguns to a park or on a walk and give me some free time in the afternoon, too!
  10. What was your favorite children’s book?  Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell and Lillian Hoban.  Really, I liked most of their books as a kid, and I still do.  I also like Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter books, which I loved as a kid.
  11. Was the recognition worth this hassle?  Sure?

Now I’m supposed to nominate eleven folks for this award.  In the interest of time, I’m going to substitute some links to worthwhile recent posts by other folks who (I think…) are relatively new to the blogosphere, like I am.  I’ll go with four, because it’s a strange number for a list like eleven, and it sure will save me time.  Here they are:

  • Victoria over at Busy House Big Heart shares her pregnancy paranoia and pet peeves in her 17 week update.
  • barrentoblessed reflects on the gift of motherhood in Motherhood Dreams.
  • rookiemomadventures shares how her little guy helps her to add a little levity to her life in Finding the Fun.
  • gravyhonk over at I Made a Human, Now What? will have you chuckling at her kid (and yours?) and reflecting on your response in Conference.

Happy reading!

food without the fight: mealtimes with young children

When my kids were babies, I thought the feeding business was a breeze.  Smash something up, stick it on a spoon, and they were good to go.  Try to alternate colors, get a balance of fruits, veggies, protein, and grains—no problem.

Then Peatie hit 18 months.  Suddenly he didn’t like meat, except hot dogs.  He liked only one vegetable at a time, but he’d switch his preferred vegetable every few weeks—just after I had given in and bought a bulk supply of the last one.  He’d eat spaghetti noodles if they had tomato sauce, but he wouldn’t eat any other type of noodle or sauce.  And then he hit two.  Then he didn’t like hot dogs.  Or vegetables.  Or noodles.  Or much of anything except vanilla yogurt, blueberries, strawberries, bananas, and bread products.

I’m impressed to report that my mother kept her mouth firmly shut—no gloating or cackling detected.  She was the one, after all, hoping that I’d have a child just like myself.  (My family commonly claims that I survived most of my childhood on applesauce, since I didn’t like much else.)  Instead, my mother merely informed me, “You can’t force a child to chew and swallow.  Offer and encourage healthy choices, but it’s not worth making mealtimes into a battle ground.”

As Goobie hit that dreaded 18-month mark and turned picky as well (though thankfully less so than Peatie), I began to ponder my options.  Meal-making had turned into a crazy affair in which I prepared something tasty for myself and ‘Love and then tried to figure out what in the world the kids would eat.  I didn’t want to turn meal-times into a battle zone, but I also wanted my children to experience the joy of a wide range of foods (and the decreased anxiety that goes with being not-so-picky) at an earlier age than I did.

Kid's place setting

In my house, we do a modified “clean plate club”.

I read extensively on the topic of picky eating.  I ran across views ranging from, “Just make them whatever they like; they’ll grow out of it,” to, “Make your meal and set it out; if they’re hungry enough they’ll eat.”  I also ran across folks with personal stories attesting to the failure of both of these extremes.  After some pondering and discussion, ‘Love and I chose a middle ground.  Here’s how we do it:

  • I make a meal.  I serve each person a small helping of everything on the table.  Each person must take a taste of everything, even if it’s something that they claim to despise.  If they can’t swallow their taste, that’s fine—it just needs to make it in their mouth for their tongue to get used to.
  • If I’ve served them something I know they DO like, they must finish their small serving of it before having seconds of anything else.
  • My initial servings are small enough that I expect my kids to clean their plates (unless there’s something they tried and dislike) AND most likely still request seconds of something.  If they can’t finish that small serving of healthy food, I save it for snack time; we don’t eat snack foods unless we’ve eaten our meals.
  • When I make meals, I do try to take my kids’ tastes into account.  If I know they’re not likely to appreciate the taste or texture of the main course, I ensure that I have two side dishes that they’ll eat.  With some encouragement, they’ve broadened their veggie likes again, and a starch is almost always a guarantee.
  • If I can easily accommodate likes and dislikes with minor adjustments to recipes, I do so.  Since Peatie likes tater tots but not the sauce of the Tater Tot Casserole I make, I throw a few tots on a tray alongside the casserole dish.  He still has to try the casserole, but he can then have some dry tots.  It’s no skin off my nose, and he eats more fried-potato goodness.

This system works for our family—our personalities, our style of interaction.  I was actually surprised that Peatie went along with the “one taste” system as easily as he did; Goobie just followed her big brother’s lead.  It’s not like our kids suddenly eat everything, but Peatie will sometimes take a second bite of something (or more rarely discover a passion for a new food—like olives!), and Goober is rediscovering the fact that she likes nearly every food under the sun.  I, meanwhile, am enjoying our low-stress system while feeling like I am helping my kids to become more well-rounded eaters.

What’s your family policy about mealtimes?