A Reminder to Practice Kindness

The other night we were out running errands and we got a little peckish. We decided to stop for dinner at a new pizza place. It was pretty casual, seat yourself, and honestly, we’ve taken our kids to much less casual places and not had a problem. We’ve been taking the kids out with us since they were tiny babies so they know how to behave. Even now that they’re out of high chairs, they know not to get up and run around and yell and scream. Occasionally we bring coloring books or things to keep the kids occupied, but most of the time they’re just happy to chat. As we sat down, a couple at the table next to us rolled their eyes, mouthed “Three kids?!?!?” to each other, and walked away to another table.

Small Cruelty Can Have a Big Impact

So I spent what was supposed to be a nice meal completely miserable. I committed the unforgivable sin of taking three kids out in public instead of just locking ourselves away until they’re 18. I snapped at the kids more than usual because I was obsessing over any infringement on perfect behavior, which was completely unfair to them. They weren’t on their best behavior, but they were sitting reasonably quietly and not running around or screaming. They didn’t ruin anyone’s meal or hurt anyone.

I get that kids aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. I don’t think everyone should have kids. Some people aren’t meant to be parents and that’s fine. Some people don’t want to be parents, and that’s fine too. People don’t have to take their kids out either, if they don’t want to. You know best what works for you and your family. That’s the thing. These people don’t know us, and they don’t know our kids. All they know is that we’re a slightly bigger than average family and felt that that gave them permission to judge us cruelly and openly.

Kindness Matters, and It Has to Go Two Ways

Mom-shaming is hurtful, and there’s no reason for it. We’ve become a society full of people super eager to judge parents at every turn. Let’s be real: we’re all just doing our best to raise good kids in a tough world. We should all cut each other some slack and try every day to be a little kinder than the day before, or at least a little less judgmental.

We all judge other people. None of us can help doing so. But we can control what we say to people, with our words or our looks. We can extend understanding to people who may be having a tough day. A kind look, a held door, a smile, these gestures are small and easy, but they can help make people feel better as surely as a snide remark or a pair of rolled eyes can make them feel worse.

Black Friday – Daddy and the Young’uns

Grandpa and Mommy hatched a plan to take Watson to see Coco today (in accidental cosplay, since Watson basically always wants only to wear skeleton clothes). This was a good plan, but it also involved me finding a way to occupy Vivi and Freddy for several hours in suburban New Jersey.

Let me go off on a tangent for a hot second about driving in New Jersey. I’m allowed to do this because I lived here for a decade. I earned this. Anyway, in short, driving in this state is uniformly a nightmare. This is the only place in existence where you can pass within 100 feet of your final destination but still be 2 jughandles, 3 traffic lights, and 10 minutes away. Drivers from here will defend this state against these criticisms, but have no answer for why their purportedly superior system has gained no currency outside of the Garden State’s borders.

So anyway, Vivi and Freddy and I have wound up having a super lo-fi, still very fun afternoon. We walked around Target for a while and marveled at the fact that every department had televisions for sale. Vivi pointed out Santa Claus and Christmas trees and Star Wars. Fred leaned on Vivi for moral and physical support in the cart. Then we picked up a pair of happy meals (not the healthiest, but it’s a nice treat for the kids), and we’ve spent the last hour or so just hanging out in the back of the van being silly and laughing and eating food that’s not great.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that kids aren’t hard to please. If I need to kill a couple of hours, there are worse ways than this. We’re gonna go pick up the rest at the movie theater in a few minutes, and while I’m sure they’ll have had a great time, they also won’t have a couple of cheap happy meal toys, so who’s the real winners?

Letters to Santa – Unclear on the Concept

Last year we took Watson to see Santa at the local shopping center. Let’s just say he was less than enthusiastic about the idea. He’s always been a shy little boy, and the idea of getting up in a weird old beardy man’s lap didn’t sit well with him. Instead he ran around and observed Santa from afar. Watching. Waiting.

We’ve tried to float the idea with him this year, but he’s been steadfast in his refusal. He knows who Santa is, he knows what Santa is about, and aside from finding Santa’s handiwork on Christmas morning, Watson wants no part of him. Since a visit to Santa is out, we decided to get Watson to write a letter.

This was harder than we’d anticipated, not least because Watson simply doesn’t know what a letter is, at least in this sense. He knows the letters of the alphabet, but in this age of FaceTime and Skype, he has no reason to know what a letter is. He also can’t write anything but his name, which he dutifully wrote at the bottom of the letter.

So Jocelyn decided to take Watson’s dictation as faithfully as possible. She cleaned up a few of the bits where she had to stop him and clarify what the whole exercise was about, but on the whole the letter turned out quite well.

Watson's Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

I want to write you a letter.
I will write an F.
I want to do a little F.
I want to give you one of my books.
Please can I have Kylo Ren’s lightsaber.
I want a different book, a book that is a Star Wars book. I will trade you my old Star Wars book.
Vivi wants a Cinderella toy. She wants a bed for Brianna.
Freddy might want a thing that is a new walker.
I want a pretend F.
You don’t need to bring anything for mommy and daddy.

Thinking of you,
Watson

Keeping Healthy Through Changes

We’ve been absent from the blog a bit more than we’d like lately, and for that we apologize. We’re just ramping up into the busiest season of the year. Over two months we’ve got Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and 3/5 of the birthdays in our household. Jobs have been busy, with long hours and long commutes. Our older kids have developed the habit of waking up in the middle of the night to sleep in our bed.
What better, we decided, than to add a fourth child to the mix?
That’s right, as of mid-June or so, we’re upgrading from a family of five to a family of six! We don’t yet know if the baby is going to be a boy or a girl. Watson insists that we name the baby Cup (we’re trying to work with him on that). By this time next year the kids will outnumber us two to one.
This has presented us with some interesting food challenges.

1) How to stay healthy on a pregnancy diet

Now that Jocelyn’s pregnant, she’s had higher calorie intake needs and also high calorie cravings. We don’t want her trying to lose weight, but we also don’t want pregnancy to be an excuse for her to stop eating healthy. I also don’t want to let Jocelyn’s pregnancy be an excuse for me to gain weight. That has happened in each of her other pregnancies. It’s a lot more common than I would ever have anticipated.
To fight back against this, we’ve tried to make our lunches more modular. We still take the same thing, but Jocelyn takes an extra snack or an extra piece of fruit. Everything is packaged into individual servings, so we can just grab and go. This has definitely helped. We’ve also tried to be more laid back about eating out since it’s been so busy. We don’t want to force things and get stressed and fall off the wagon completely. Instead we splurge just a little bit here and there by getting some pizza, or going to Panera. It sure beats running ourselves ragged to make food at home every night, no matter how hard. Since we stay reasonably within our bounds when eating out, it’s easier to come back to earth once we reset.

2) How to work around food aversions

The more difficult problem is working around Jocelyn’s food aversions. She’s had trouble with strong flavors. There are things we’ve stocked up on that are no longer any good for her, and we’re scrambling to find replacements. This morning I packed some falafel-spiced crunchy chickpeas as a snack. They’ve long been a favorite of ours, but Jocelyn smelled them and couldn’t handle the spices. The good news is there’s more for me (seriously, they’re delicious), but we have to work to find snacks she can stomach.
The tougher food aversion problem is figuring out how best to work with all of the ingredients in our Hungry Harvest box. This is a nut we haven’t always cracked successfully, but we’re working on it. Food aversions can be swift and severe, and we can never predict what they’re going to be. In those cases, we’ve got to be adaptable. Either we preserve the offending foods, or prepare them so I can eat them and Jocelyn can stay away. It’s a challenge, and it keeps us on our toes.

3) How to make sure kids eat healthy (or at least try healthy foods…or at least have healthy foods sit in front of them for a while)

Finally, we’ve been working hard to teach our kids how to eat healthy. We could feed them chicken nuggets and grapes every night and they’d be happy, but they wouldn’t be learning about new wonderful foods from all around the world. The problem is that at their ages, they’re almost never actually ready to try new wonderful foods. It’s a struggle to get them to try food they’ve already tried and liked, let alone to try new stuff.
We don’t want to instill any kind of neuroses around food, so we don’t require that they clean their plate to be excused. We do make sure they know the dinner we make is the dinner they get. They don’t get special accommodations. If they go to sleep and wake up hungry an hour later, they can have some of the food they refused. It can’t be an excuse to eat the food they wanted in the first place. So far this has been broadly unsuccessful, but these things take time.
We’ve been more lenient with treats, especially since we’re overflowing with the Halloween surplus. They don’t have to finish their whole dinner all the time to get a treat. Usually we just make sure they try a bite or two of the new stuff on their plate before they get one. We want to leave open the possibility that they might just really not like something, at least for now, and reward the willingness to explore and be adventurous with their taste.

Errands with Kids

We told a parent friend once about a time 2 out of 3 of our kids were screaming at the grocery store for various reasons, which meant we had to throw what we could in the cart and leave with only half our list. We thought we’d be met with sympathy or commiseration, since what parent hasn’t been there? But instead she said, “That’s why I don’t bring my kids to the store.”

That blew our minds! The idea of a peaceful journey to buy groceries without having to rip open a box of baby biscuits in desperation or promise whatever kind of chocolate frosted sugar bomb type cereal they want just to have 2 more minutes of price comparisons on toilet paper (for real, though, it’s basically impossible to effectively compare prices on toilet paper) sounds like bliss. For us, however, it isn’t the right solution.

We’ve found that by taking our kids with us to the store, to restaurants, and on any errand we may have, we teach them how to deal in public. The kids are able to cope with situations that might bore them because they’ve got some experience under their belts. They find ways to enjoy errands and are more aware of some of the drudgery of adult life. Our son says when he grows up he wants to mow the lawn and pay for groceries. They’re very realistic dreams!

These are little kids and they’re still learning. There will be miserable, horrible, temper-tantrum-in-public days. But that’s what wine is for, and the liquor store has lollipops.

This Week’s Hungry Harvest

This week brought a huge bounty of healthy fruits and vegetables. One of the heads of cauliflower is the biggest I’ve ever seen. And for good measure, two adorable kids (the other one was having some much needed quiet time in his room).

Right now we’re cooking up a fun vegan dessert with beets (you laugh now, but it’s going to be hot fire), and a couple of wild and crazy sweet potato ideas. Recipes will follow this week, unless something is a disaster in which case this all goes down the memory hole along with the war with Eastasia. Or was it Eurasia?

Confetti Pancakes – A Tale of Creation

I normally bristle at the idea of blog posts where you have to scroll for an hour to get to the recipe, so I’m going to put the recipe in a separate post, and hopefully you’ll indulge me a photo essay about the creation of these pancakes.

Over the weekend, Jocelyn and Watson embarked on a culinary adventure together. At first, Watson was nervous.


Vivian was fearless, though as merely an observer, the best she could do was to provide citrus to ward off scurvy.


After a little while, excitement set in.


Watson and his mommy marked the occasion with a selfie for posterity.

First they set to work making the “buttermilk.”


Then came the mixing of the dry ingredients.


A brief interlude for a vitamin C infusion.


Next came the mixture of the wet ingredients.


While Watson was mixing, Jocelyn got to relax for a few minutes.


Finally, the piece de resistance: the rainbow sprinkles that confer the name upon this confection.


In the meantime, Fred sits patiently, munching on some cereal.


The pancakes cooked quickly and colorfully.


Finally they were finished, and garnished with strawberries and chocolate!


Watson eschewed standard notions of cutlery as outdated.    
In the end, he and Vivi couldn’t have been more satisfied.    

The Stories We Tell

This article from Eater is a really illuminating look at the ways that food culture tends to erase the credit and long history of the foods we eat and prize. We don’t want to summarize it too much, because we’d rather you go and read it. But it’s important to know that the shameful treatment of minorities in this country continues in ways both big and small, and we need to be mindful of how the stories we tell can erase their true authors.

This is a really important thing to keep in mind in parenting, both in how we talk to our kids about the world, and in how we talk to our kids about themselves and their accomplishments. Nobody gets by purely on their own initiative, and we can gain a deeper, richer understanding of the world by having a real understanding of the shoulders we had to stand on to get where we are.

Proper attribution doesn’t diminish what good we’ve put into the world. It honors others for helping make us able to do that good work. We needn’t fashion ourselves and our kids as solitary geniuses for our lives and our work to have value. Understanding our place in our society is as important as anything to raising compassionate, caring, kind children.

A Favorite Book

The news can be very scary even for us as adults, and we know that our kids hear some scary things on the radio or overhear us talking. We want to make sure that they understand what they hear and aren’t scared but can learn from what’s happening. We want to protect them, but we don’t want to shelter them.

What happened in Charlottesville over the weekend was terrible, and quite honestly terrifying for a number of reasons. The continuing existence and ascendance of white supremacy is a stain on our country, and one we can only attempt to wash away with love and acceptance and inclusion. It’s important for us to instill in our kids a sense of kindness and justice. As parents we worry about the world they’re growing up in, and we can’t help make it better by hiding it from them and them from it.

It can be hard to explain these concepts to adults, let alone to sweet little children who have never known anything but love. We’ve been reading a book recently to the kids Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester and Karen Barbour. We like that it talks about race in a way our children can understand. It addresses not only the meanness of racism, but how little it makes sense. Even Watson hears us explaining that some people think they’re better than other people because of the color of their skin and just shakes his head.

There’s only so much we can do, and someday our kids are going to go out in the world and make their own choices. Teaching them the value of other people of every race, religion, gender, and nationality is important to us because we hope to see them carry kindness, love, compassion, and justice with them out into the world.

Race

Putting in the Work to Get Good Sleepers

We’re often grateful for what good sleepers our kids are, and sometimes a little embarrassed to talk about it around people whose kids don’t sleep well. We had three kids inside of three years, and all three of them were sleeping regularly before they were two months old.

So did we just hit the lottery? Maybe. Maybe in marriage we have united two long-forgotten lines of champion sleepers. But just in case we haven’t, here’s some parenting tips we’ve used to help make sure our kids sleep well.

  • Don’t go out of our way to make it too dark or too quiet

We sort of stumbled into this one, but we try to go out of our way to specifically not create a special sleep environment. No white noise machine, no blackout curtains, etc. When the kids were very little, we’d sometimes let them sleep in a bassinet while we watched a TV show at a reasonable volume in the same room. Now, none of them have any trouble getting to sleep if the baby’s crying, or if there’s some construction outside, or if it’s still light, as is frequently the case at bedtime in the summer.

  • Have a bedtime routine

We’ve found that having a flexible-in-its-particulars, firm-in-its-form bedtime routine has helped enormously in getting the kids ready for bed. No matter how rambunctious they are, by the time they’re in jammies they’ve started to calm down a little. Then we read a story. Then we sing a song. Then we give them hugs and kisses and squeezes (always 20 squeezes, no more, no less), and they’re ready to get in bed, because that’s the next step.

  • No getting up once it’s bedtime

We’ve met some parents who, if their child has some trouble getting to sleep, will just get them up and let them play or hang out with them. We’ve tried to enforce a hard and fast rule where, if it’s bedtime, even if the kids aren’t sleeping, they’ve got to still be in their room with the lights out. Not wanting to go to sleep isn’t an excuse to get out of bedtime.

Those are the big three. Apart from that, we try to be flexible. Watson, for instance, has been sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag for the last two weeks because he doesn’t like his bed, and as long as he sleeps, we don’t see any reason to fight him on that. Both of our older kids like to bring books to bed with them, and as long as they’re comfortable, that’s not a problem for us.

Have any of you got any sleep tips that have helped you and your kids? Let us know in the comments!