Horses don’t dance in the bathtub.

Lydia, three years old, informed me that this is NOT called a soap dish.  It is a soap bench.

You can see her point.

Immediately after this pronouncement, she stood up and started dancing.

MAMA: Don’t dance in the bathtub.  It’s slippery.

LYDIA: I am just showing you how horses dance. (slips a little; casually rests her hand on the cold-water knob for stability)

MAMA: Horses don’t dance in the bathtub.  Too slippery.

LYDIA: Do horses not like slipping?

MAMA: Horses are very afraid of slipping.  If a horse falls down, often it can’t get up again.  Horses are strangely fragile that way.

(Lydia looks worried, sits down, and starts playing with cups.  She waits until she is out of the bath and out of the bathroom to show me again how horses dance.)

I’m glad that worked!  We didn’t have to get into a big power struggle about sitting down in the bathtub.  The susceptibility of horses to irrepairable breakage when they fall is one of the more disturbing things I’ve learned about life here on Earth, but in this situation it was useful to know!

Seventh Generation Coconut Care Baby Lotion review

I received a free sample of Seventh Generation Coconut Care Baby Lotion to review.  This is an honest review of my family’s experience with this product, which we probably wouldn’t have tried if we hadn’t been offered a free sample.

Seventh Generation Coconut Care Baby Lotion is a gentle moisturizing lotion made without mineral oil, petrolatum, parabens, phthalates, or formaldehyde.  It’s made from 98% natural ingredients, including organic coconut oil that is harvested without damaging orangutan habitat.  All ingredients are listed on the label.

My daughter Lydia is the youngest in the family, at two and a half, so she was the first to try this lotion.  After her bath, I rubbed it into her arms and legs, which tend to get dry and flakey in the winter. Read more of this post

Muslim women in India: Are they like us?

My daughter Lydia, who is two and a half years old, noticed this picture in the newspaper I was reading.  This is a photograph by Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images, as it appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sunday, February 12, 2017.


LYDIA: Who are they?

MAMA: They are standing in line to vote in India.

LYDIA: Are they like us?

MAMA: Well, they are people.  They live in a country where the grownups vote to choose a president.  They stand in line like we do.  But their country is far away, so some things are different.  They have different people to choose when they vote.  And they are all wearing headscarves.

LYDIA: I wear a headscarf!  It’s blue.

MAMA: These have some very pretty flowers and patterns.  (We admire the scarves until something else catches her attention.)
I vaguely recall that I once tied a blue bandanna around her head.  She has often seen Muslim and Orthodox Jewish women wearing scarves that completely cover their hair.  Are they like us?  Yes and no.  We all are people, and the things that are different between people make Earth an interesting place to be.  That’s not so hard to understand.

10 Links for Greening Your Lifestyle

This is a guest post by Michelle Peng, who collected these resources on realistic ways to go green in everyday life.

Save About $600 per Year by Switching to Solar Energy

Financial Incentives for Green Home Improvements

18 Green Business Ideas for Eco-Minded Entrepreneurs

Home Energy Conservation for Kids

5 Unique Ways to Go Green if You’re Living in a Dorm  [EDITOR’S NOTE: I laughed out loud at the idea that “It might be more expensive . . . buying a small set of dishes, bowls, and silverware instead of paper goods.”  I still have more than half of the dollar-store dishes I bought when I started college in 1991!!!  Imagine how much money I’ve saved and how much garbage I’ve prevented!]

Harness The Power Of The Sun: The Complete Guide To Using Solar Energy

21 Easy, Life-Changing Home Improvement Tips for Greener Seniors

A Guide to Becoming a Tree Hugger: 40 Resources for Green Living

10 Painless Ways to Go Green with Your Pet  [EDITOR’S NOTE: These are focused on dogs and cats.  If you’re choosing a new pet, a smaller animal has a smaller environmental footprint and may even protect you from identity theft!]

Tips for Hosting a Sustainable Sporting Event

Feel free to share more helpful links in the comments!

How to Approach Life Planning to Secure Your Children’s Futures

This is a guest post by Jackie Waters. Ms. Waters believes balance and diligence can help you achieve a beautiful, clean home. She runs hyper-tidy.com, providing advice on being…Hyper Tidy!

If you’re not an attorney, accountant, or financial planner, you may have anxiety about life planning and making the right decisions to secure your children’s futures. You’re not alone. Many parents are not sure where to begin with planning for contingencies in relation to their children, making financial considerations, and knowing where to go for help. Our guide will help get you started.

Do Estate Planning Now

You need to do some basic estate planning regardless of your age and the ages of your children. The first step is to write a will to determine who will serve as guardians for your children if they are minors. Even if your children are not minors, you should have a will so that you can rest assured that your final wishes will be carried out and that your property, possessions, and assets will be divided as you desired them to be.

You don’t need to spend a ton of money on attorney’s fees in drawing up a will; many online resources are cost-saving alternatives that produce binding legal documents just like attorneys do. However, if you have a large estate, several specific requests, or questions about guardianship, it may be better to meet with an attorney. Read more of this post

Bedtime List: How to organize a child’s routine

Our two-year-old Lydia has always been the type who takes a while to wind down, but in the late spring after she stopped nursing, she went pretty easily into a relatively smooth routine of listening to several stories and then saying good night and lying alone in her bed in the dark listening to a story CD as she fell asleep.  She was napping inconsistently, but at least we could get her to bed for the night in a predictable way.

Then, at the end of June, I finished my job and the next day we traveled to visit my parents in another time zone for a week, and then when we got back our daytime routine relaxed because I didn’t have to get to work and get Lydia to childcare–and her happy routine disappeared.  She started freaking out when we turned out the light, screaming and crying and refusing to stay in bed.  Some nights she’d lie quietly if a parent stayed with her, but other nights she’d flip around, literally trying to climb the wall next to the bed and falling on the parent–ow!!–and if we didn’t stay, she was almost certain to get up and come looking for us.

Also, Daniel and I were sometimes forgetting one or another of the steps of getting her ready for bed, because we weren’t doing them in a consistent order and it’s easy to get distracted when anything unexpected happens–which is basically every evening in a household with not only a two-year-old but also an eleven-year-old sort of nutty inventor person….

snack; toilet; pajamas; brush teeth; brush hair; stories; tuck in; sleepI decided it was time for a Bedtime List. This is an idea I didn’t try on Nicholas until he was five, the age when I remember having my first Lists.  My dad made me a Morning List and an Evening List showing what to do before kindergarten and after.  I loved following my Lists!

Nicholas has never been so keen on the Lists; he likes deciding what color each item should be and how it should be illustrated, but then he doesn’t want to look at the list and tends to argue about what should happen when.  Probably this is mostly about his personality compared to mine, but what if it would have worked if I’d started earlier?

Lydia is too young to be involved in making the List.  Her father Daniel and I went over what needs to happen in what order to make sure we agreed, and then I made this List using drawings that I thought she would recognize.

It’s working very well!  Lydia likes looking at her List, pointing out the steps and talking about them.  She’s more cooperative with the routine than she was before, especially if we get back on track after a distraction by saying, “Okay, what have we done on the List?”

A fringe benefit is that Lydia is practicing her pre-reading skills: “This red sign says eat snack!  This other red sign says brush teeth!”  Understanding that written words convey meaning is a very important step toward recognizing those words when you see them without pictures.

We’re still working on getting her to stay in bed by herself.  But at least she’s understanding more clearly that certain things are going to happen every night and that the sequence is supposed to end with sleeping.

Organizing a child’s routine with a list works for me, at least sometimes!

Wallflowers and Oranges Unbound! (book reviews)

I’ve been catching up on my magazines this month, but I’ve also read three books…

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Charlie is a friendless teenager beginning his freshman year at a high school in the affluent southern suburbs of Pittsburgh.  The book is a series of “Dear friend,” letters he’s writing anonymously.  His writing style and some of his perceptions of things are weirdly innocent, like he’s four or five years younger, which made me feel afraid for him right away.

Charlie soon makes friends with two seniors, Patrick and his stepsister Sam, who introduce him to “good music” and parties with lots of drugs.  The friendship is valuable and helpful to all three of them, but there’s a lot of drama of many kinds (romantic issues, conflict with the popular crowd, family problems, sexual orientation, academic struggles, abuse, mental illness) constantly twisting all of them around and destabilizing their relationships.  Some of this story is about the joy of having a few good friends in a school where you’re mostly an outsider.  Most of it is about struggling along trying to deny that something is very wrong with you. Read more of this post

The Evolution of Happy

Last October, my daughter Lydia was 17 months old and learning new words rapidly.  One day, we were out for a stroll and saw a large, inflatable Halloween decoration in the form of several grinning jack-o’-lanterns stacked up like a totem pole.  Lydia was very excited and shouted, “Balls!”  I said, “They are pumpkins.  Happy pumpkins.”  She said, “Happy!” for the first time.

As the season progressed, Lydia remained excited about jack-o’-lanterns and shouted, “Happy!” whenever she saw one.  We had to acknowledge that we also saw the Happy–using that word–before she would stop yelling about that one and look around for more.  She stubbornly resisted learning “pumpkin” or any other word; to her, they were Happies.  Even pumpkins without faces were Happies.

Jericho illustration by Brenda SextonIn early November, Lydia rediscovered The Little Golden Bible Storybook, illustrated by Brenda Sexton, and when we reached the story of Jericho, she began shouting, “Happy!!!” and pointing at the illustration.  Do you see why?

I didn’t get it at first.  I thought she was recognizing that Joshua and his tribe were happy when the walls came tumbling down.  That person in red does have arms raised in the gesture Lydia had learned (from Dr. Seuss’s ABC) is called, “Hooray!”  But when I said, “Yes, they were happy!  Hooray!” that was not what she was looking for; “Happy!” she insisted, jabbing her finger frantically at the page.

Eventually her dad realized that what Lydia was pointing out was the building.  See how it has a face like a jack-o’-lantern?  That face doesn’t look happy at all–it looks appalled, as well a building might be when its protective city wall has been abruptly destroyed–but the dark eye and mouth openings must have reminded Lydia of a jack-o’-lantern, and jack-o’-lanterns are Happy.

By the new year, Lydia adjusted her definition of Happy to apply to what most of us would call “a happy face,” and she began pointing out happy faces in various picture books, on shopping bags, on toys, on the Eat’n Park sign, etc.  She also discovered that most people can draw a happy face quite easily, so she went around demanding that people “Draw Happies!”–by the end of one church service, at least five different people had drawn Happies for Lydia on their service leaflets!

P1030279She’s two years old now and has started saying “happy face” or “smiley face”, but she still asks us to draw them frequently.  Our home is littered with sheets of scrap paper that look like this.  Sometimes we put some variety into the faces just for our own entertainment; sometimes she requests “different noses” or something like that.

Meanwhile, she’s also shown that she now understands “happy” as the word for a feeling, not just a facial expression. Sometimes after she’s vented some hurt or frustrated feelings, she’ll wail, “I need to be happy!!” and then calm down. Sometimes when someone else is upset, she’ll plead, “Be happy!” She isn’t quite doing the “Mama, you happy?” thing her older brother used to do, but almost.

A few weeks ago, I had a bad migraine on a day when I had to be home alone with Lydia for a couple of hours.  After I had drawn some happy faces for her, she started drawing on that paper and another sheet, so I was able to lie down on the bed in the same room.

P1030280Some time went by.  I may have passed out or slept or something.  I got up after Lydia climbed up on the bed and started pulling on me.  Later, I was cleaning up the room and got a closer look at her drawing papers.

That blue scribbling at the bottom of the page at right doesn’t look like just an aimless scribble.  Might there be some eyes on a face there?  Is it just my imagination that makes that look sort of like some sort of elephant (with one sock foot)?

P1030281Even more intriguing is the page where Lydia drew after getting hold of a pen.  I really think I see a happy face there!  By this Halloween, she may be drawing her own jack-o’-lanterns.

Watching the fascinating processes of my child’s learning the different things a word can mean and learning to draw works for me!

The Silliest Baby Toy

There are some things here on Earth that just defy rational explanation. Here, for example, is a toy that we received as a gift when our first child was born in 2004. His little sister played with it, too, but lost interest after infancy. I recently found it at the bottom of a toy basket and convulsed with laughter all over again as I tried to figure out what the designer of this object was thinking. Read more of this post

4 Great Poetry Books for Young Children

Our two-year-old Lydia loves poetry!  Most young children enjoy hearing rhyming, rhythmic words, but Lydia is particularly fascinated.  We have many picture books with rhyming text–like the wonderful works of Dr. Seuss–but we’ve also found several longer poetry books that she enjoys and so do we.

Poetry is very helpful in getting children interested in books and understanding how language works.  Our first child, Nicholas, went through a long phase of pointing out “matching” words on the page–words like rough and tough that look the same except for the first letter–and he was intrigued to learn that such words usually rhyme but sometimes don’t, and that words that rhyme sometimes don’t match visually.  Poems that don’t rhyme are educational in a different way, demonstrating the power of language to express feelings and perceptions.  Both rhyming and non-rhyming poems are more memorable than prose, enabling children to quote favorite portions and to “read” their books to themselves as the pictures cue them to recall the words. Read more of this post

Secrets to a Happy Road Trip with a Two-year-old

When our son Nicholas was 2 years old, we drove from Pennsylvania to Oklahoma, stayed a while, and drove back.  In each direction, we spent 3 days in a row on the road for about 8 hours a day of actual driving time, plus rest stops.  My cousin who has older children gave me two very helpful tips, and I thought of another idea that proved even more useful than those!

Tip #1: Bring a Magna-Doodle or similar self-contained drawing toy, instead of crayons/markers and paper. It’s much less messy!

Tip #2: Plan for an extended rest stop every 100 miles.  Look at the map for a park, museum, or other pleasant spot.  You will not stop at all of these places.  Just have a list handy in your travel folder (or wherever you organize the information like directions and coupons).  When your child becomes restless, then you can say something like, “Just hang in there for another 20 miles, and we can hike in Englewood MetroPark!”  (That’s one of the stops we made, a very nice park off I-70 near Dayton, Ohio.) Read more of this post

Cooperation, Communication, and Consequences

One of the hardest, most humbling things about being a parent is those moments when your child communicates with you using strategies that you’ve used with him or that he’s seen you use with someone else–and you shouldn’t have.  We all have times when we do something to try to get another person to do what we want her to do, without giving enough thought to whether or not it’s a healthy strategy that we’d like our children to learn or that we’d like anybody to use on us.  My first child (now eleven years old) is an especially egalitarian-minded type: He doesn’t accept that adults have a natural authority over him by being adults, so he assumes that anything we can do to him is something he can do to us.  You can see this, rather humorously, in my story of why Counting to Three stopped working.  Since then, we’ve had many interactions in which Nick’s attempts to treat us the way he perceives us as treating him have been painfully enlightening!

Although these issues have been magnified by parenting, the same problems can come up between adults, especially adults who live together and/or have known each other for a long time.

What communication strategies am I talking about?  Here are some examples:

  • I want you to do something right now, so I just keep ordering you to do it in an increasingly angry voice.  No matter what you say about why you can’t do it this minute or why it might not be the right thing to do, I won’t listen or acknowledge hearing you.
  • You ask me for something, and I attack your desire to have the thing, bringing up a bunch of barely-related things that you asked for when you should’ve known better or that I gave you but you didn’t appreciate enough.
  • I want you to do something, and when you resist, I start complaining about all the other things I wish you would do that you haven’t done.
  • You ask me for something, and I list a lot of other things that I have done for you, making it sound like you ask too much of me.
  • Instead of asking for what I need, I work myself to exhaustion doing things that benefit both of us or just you.  When you don’t seem to notice, I feel resentful.  I keep working, refusing to pause to take care of myself, until I suddenly blow up at you and act like you are stupid for not knowing what’s wrong.
  • I complain about how I’m tired and having a bad day and overwhelmed by the things I need to do.  Then, without asking about how you’re doing, I tell you that you have to do something nice for me.

We saw a counselor a couple years ago who didn’t work out so well overall but had one really good point that has stuck with me: “The key to family harmony is emotional self-regulation.”  It is easy to say to yourself, “His nasty behavior put me in a bad mood!  I shouldn’t have to be nice when everyone’s being so awful to me!” but then you are putting other people in charge of your feelings and actions.  This is particularly problematic when the other people are children and you’re supposed to be their role model.  You have to snap out of the “person who has been treated badly gets to treat others badly” cycle and set a more positive tone.  It is hard, but in my experience it pays off.  Feeling like my family members are constantly ruining my day and I’m powerless to stop them is hard, too, and really wears me down in the long run. Read more of this post

What I’ve Learned By Reading Too Much (and 4 other books!)

In addition to finishing the books I got for Christmas in time for my birthday, I’ve read a few other new-to-me books recently, including one that actually has the alternate title What I’ve Learned By Reading Too Much!  I learned something from each of these books.

The Dance of Anger by Harriet G. Lerner

This is one of the most helpful self-help books I’ve ever read.  It explains several ways that anger typically functions in women’s relationships (with men, family members, friends, and co-workers) and how our handling of anger often keeps a relationship stuck in frustrating patterns.  Although the book focuses on women and makes some generalizations about what women do vs. what men do, it’s more insightful than stereotypical, and some of the strategies could easily be useful to men, too, when they find themselves stuck in the same situations.  A particularly helpful section talks about the formation of triangles in which “we reduce anxiety in one relationship by focusing on a third party, who we unconsciously pull into the situation to lower the emotional intensity in the original pair.”  I’ve sometimes realized that I was doing this, or that two people had pulled me into the middle of a conflict that was really between them, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to get out of it.  The book explains how to figure out why it’s happening and how to get out of it by “staying calm, staying out, and hanging in”–none of which is especially easy to do, but the clear explanation of steps makes it sound possible, at least!  I also appreciate this book’s clear explanation of a pattern in which one person consistently “over-functions” (does too much) and the other “under-functions” and why both people find this difficult to stop.

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

This dystopian techno-thriller starts with a fascinating premise and goes on into a saga that seemed kind of muddled… Read more of this post

Some Plants Are For Eating

Happy Earth Day!  Before I get to my main topic, I’ve got some special offers to tell you about…

  • First, instead of buying anything, check out the beautiful photographs in the Capture Conservation photo contest sponsored by the Student Conservation Association!
  • UPDATE: The sale on PlanetBox stainless steel lunchboxes has ended, but check out our review of PlanetBox–Nicholas is now finishing fifth grade and still using the same PlanetBox he got at the beginning of kindergarten!
  • Grove Collaborative is having a one-day sale on 42 different Earth-friendly cleaning and hygiene products.  UPDATE: The sale is over, but if you’re new to Grove (formerly ePantry), you still can start your order here to get an additional $10 discount, and I’ll also get a bonus!  Here’s my article explaining what Grove Collaborative is all about, with reviews of many of the fine products they carry.
  • GreenLine Paper Company will donate ALL profits from today’s orders for paper products toward the planting of trees.  UPDATE: That special is over, but still, check out their wide selection of office paper, household paper products, and janitorial paper products.  Buy by the case and save!  (If you live in Pennsylvania, like I do, or nearby, note that GreenLine is in York, PA, so the shipping distance is short–better for the environment than shipping a long distance.)

As spring settles in and you begin to spend more time outdoors, you may have access to some edible plants.  It’s fun to graze on fresh food that happens to be growing right there in your yard!  But if there’s a young child with you, doesn’t that set a bad example?  You don’t want the kid to think that we can just grab parts off of random plants and eat them–he might eat some nightshade berries or poison ivy and get sick or poisoned or itchy!

P1020014Here’s my daughter Lydia on her first birthday, last spring.  Our yard was at just about the stage it is now, with spearmint poking up through the mulch of autumn leaves as the tulips, lilacs, and dandelions are blooming.  Lydia was very interested in all the new, colorful things, and once she had seen me break off some mint leaves and eat them, she wanted to do that, too!

I was surprised how easy it was to teach her that some plants are For Eating while other plants are Not For Eating.  In our yard, spearmint, chives, sourgrass (yellow oxalis/wood sorrel), dill, and purslane come up every year.  Lydia was very pleased with the mint and chives, which are abundant, and within a month was showing us that she recognized “mihtt” and “hifes” as she named them while picking them.  She was rarely incorrect in her identifications, even at first.  Apparently recognizing a particular leaf shape is not so difficult a skill as we might think.

Being able to recognize some plants that are For Eating didn’t stop her from wanting to experiment with others, though!  We did have to watch her carefully and redirect her many times.  It’s a lot like learning to stay out of the street–which has required surprisingly fewer reminders than I expected, actually.
Read more of this post

The X, Y, Z Method of Child Discipline

We thought Becky Bailey’s book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline was a mixed bag that contained a few good techniques; this is one of them.  Bailey talks about it in a more long-winded way, but I boiled it down to this formula, which I’ve found easy to remember and therefore to actually use in the heat of the moment sometimes!  Almost 8 years after reading the book, this is the one tip that’s really worked well for me.

This simple sequence can be used in any situation in which your child has done something he shouldn’t and you’re pretty sure you understand what he was trying to achieve with that behavior.  If you have no idea why he would do such a thing, use another method or (if you have time) ask him to explain what he was going for and then use this method.

“You wanted X, so you did Y. You may not do Y. Instead, when you want X, do Z. Try that now.”

This method achieves several things, efficiently:

  • You start by showing your child that you understand what she wanted.  This helps her feel like you’re on her side instead of attacking.
  • You show that you understand the connection of the motive to the action.  Then you condemn the action without condemning the motive.
  • You make a clear statement of what it is that is not allowed.
  • You explain what your child can do that is allowed.  It’s okay to want X, but she has to get it a different way.
  • You encourage her to practice the good behavior immediately.  This helps to reinforce it, as well as helping her to get what she wants.
  • The clear structure gets you to make your point quickly instead of going into an extended harangue about how bad the behavior is.

Examples: Read more of this post

Diaper Changing Duties: What’s Fair?

Our daughter Lydia is 21 months old.  Since she was born, almost all of her diaper changes at home (rather than childcare) have been my job.  I also launder the cloth diapers myself.  Unfair, right?  Daniel is just as responsible as I am for the existence of this messy little human, so he should take charge of 50% of her sanitation needs, right?

Well, that’s the way I saw it 11 years ago when our first child was born.  I spelled out to Daniel what sounded like a perfectly reasonable plan: Whenever we were both home, we would split diaper-changing 50/50; when one of us was alone with the baby, of course that parent would change diapers; when we were together in public, Daniel would take him to the men’s room for changes (because a male should use the males’ restroom, when feasible) unless it was a place with a nice changing table in the ladies’ room and no suitable area in the men’s.  Daniel agreed that this was fair.

We had our first shouting argument about diaper changing before Nicholas was a month old, and it was often a touchy topic thereafter.  Why?  Read more of this post

Why My Toddler Doesn’t Watch Sesame Street

I remember, when I was 3 or 4 years old, sitting in front of the television watching the test pattern waiting for my local public television station to begin its broadcast day.  I liked the pretty colored stripes.  Finally they would disappear, the station information would be displayed along with a drawing of a scissor-tailed flycatcher (the state bird), and an authoritative voice would announce, “This is OETA.  Public television for all of Oklahoma.”  Then I would hear that cheerful song about sweeping the clouds away and going where the air is sweet, and for the next hour my television would show me a wonderful world in which fuzzy monsters and real people of all colors live side-by-side in a place where you can find a friend just by stepping out of the house.

My daughter Lydia is 18 months old and has never seen an episode of “Sesame Street”.  Why do I deprive her of this experience I loved so much??  There are two reasons.

One is that children under 2 years old should not watch any television at all.  The American Academy of Pediatrics still says this and has updated its statement to include the use of computers and tablets–no screen-time for toddlers.  I know, a lot of my parenting peers think this is simply impossible.  I agree that it’s impossible to avoid any screen exposure at all, in a world where electronic screens are incorporated into many public places and most adults are constantly poking some kind of PocketFox.  (Just yesterday, I was in a hospital elevator with a wall-mounted screen relentlessly playing hospital publicity videos!)  Still, it’s worth the effort to save our babies’ eyes and hearts and brains by keeping them away from the screens as much as we can and certainly not encouraging them to watch TV.  I’ve explained how we kept our first child off the screens until he was 2 and phased it in carefully after that.

Everybody told me it would be harder with the second child.  Yes, it is, because her big brother loves to play computer games, and our computer is in the living room.  It’s true that Lydia sometimes toddles over to watch what he is doing, so she’s probably had more total screen-time than he had by this age.  But when we rearranged before she was born, we placed our L-shaped computer desk such that the screen is turned 45 degrees toward the wall, instead of facing the center of the room; that makes it less eye-catching.  Our television set faces the couch, but we hardly ever watch it when Lydia’s awake.  Neither parent has a smartphone, so she’s not seeing a screen while we’re holding her.  I try to keep my iPad out of her sight; if she climbs into my lap while I’m using it, I finish up as quickly as I can.  Most importantly, we never turn on a video for her or let her play with the iPad herself.

But “Sesame Street” is so sweet and charming and a rich source of cultural references in our family and the wider society!  As I said in my previous article:

But then, when I was 7 months pregnant, an odd sound made by the elevator at work reminded me of the “Rubber Ducky” song from “Sesame Street”, and I suddenly felt devastated–how could I deprive my child of the joy of knowing Ernie and Big Bird and…and LOVABLE FURRY GROVER?!

Well, here’s what we learned when raising Nicholas: Read more of this post

Pen and Marker Recycling: Starting Year 3!

My son Nicholas is in fifth grade. He and his friends Emma and Sadie have been running a recycling program at their school since third grade. Each year they have to make arrangements with the principal so that their recycling bins will be left alone by custodial staff and they have permission to go around emptying their bins–for which they give up their recess time twice a week.  I’m so proud of these kids for being diligent about their program, week after week, year after year!

You might think pens and markers aren’t recyclable or it isn’t important to go to the trouble of recycling them.  It’s true that most curbside recycling programs don’t accept pens and markers because the process of separating the recyclable case from the inky part, and sorting the cases according to what type of plastic they are, is complicated.  However, TerraCycle collects writing instruments and recycles them into plastic storage tubs.  When Nicholas learned that our friend Suella had launched a Writing Instruments Brigade, he wanted to help!

2015/09/img_2536.jpgAfter two years of seeing just how many ballpoint pens, dry-erase markers, highlighters, permanent markers, and regular felt-tip markers are discarded by a school of over 800 students, I’ll never again think that it would be no big deal to let all that plastic go to a landfill or get incinerated into our air!!  The kids haven’t been counting their collections (although I’d love to see them do that, to get some numbers to wow the student body and also to satisfy my curiosity) but Nicholas brings home approximately a half-full grocery bag most weeks.  We usually bring the markers to Suella at church, but when there’s an especially big haul we’ll drop them off at her house while running errands by car.  It’s easy for us, and she says her role is easy, too: Just collect markers until the box is full and send it off to TerraCycle!

The first year, Nicholas and friends collected markers in bags that they taped to the walls next to the school’s staircase entrances.  It worked, but it wasn’t as convenient for students or teachers as having collection bins in the classrooms, so they weren’t recycling as many markers as they thought they could get.  (Also, the bags were flimsy and didn’t always stay in place.)

Last year, I made an announcement in church asking people to bring in empty, clean containers that were the right size to hold about a dozen markers.  We got a great haul of plastic containers from yogurt, cleaning wipes, coconut oil, dish detergent, etc.  Nicholas and friends decorated them and put one in each classroom.  Sure enough, they got more markers that way!

Nicholas brought home all the bins at the end of the school year and planned to use them again.  Unfortunately, some kind of parental malfunction occurred: Daniel and I remember that the bins were stacked in the corner of the dining room near the basement stairs for quite some time and that we both felt they should get put away somewhere…and then they weren’t there anymore, so one of us must have put them in a better place…but where?!?  We looked everywhere that seemed plausible, but we couldn’t find them!

Thus, the bins you see at left were created last weekend.  Because we were in a hurry to relaunch the recycling program, we sprung for new plastic containers–these have the advantage of a standardized appearance that will help students and teachers spot them in the different classrooms.  They are deli food containers from Gordon Food Service (which has stores where anyone can shop), sold in a pack of 25 for $5, without lids; since we didn’t need lids, it was nice not to have to pay for them or figure out what to do with them!  The containers are made of polypropylene (#5 plastic) so when they are worn out, they can go into curbside recycling.

Nicholas and his friend Ashlyn covered the bins with paper from his craft supplies, clearly labeled with marker and attached with tape.  It took them less than two hours to prepare 50 bins. Read more of this post

My Father Taught Me How to Be a Working Mother

When I was born, my mother quit her paying job so she could be home with me.  She did not take another job until I was almost twelve years old.

I resumed working outside the home when each of my children was twelve weeks old.  After Nicholas was born, I went back part-time and later gradually increased my working hours until I was back to 40 hours a week when he was four years old.  After Lydia was born (when Nicholas was nine years old), I returned to my job full-time.  It isn’t easy!  Forty hours, plus commuting time, is a long time to be away from home even when you’re only taking care of yourself; when you have young children, it’s a time-management struggle as well as an emotional struggle over being apart from the kids so much.  My mother–who’s been a great role model to me for things like breastfeeding, intelligent discipline, and making healthy food–was not much help as I figured out how to balance parenthood with employment.  It’s my father whose example has really helped me understand what’s important and where to cut myself some slack.

Oddly enough, it was an insensitive comment my father made that led me to realize his value as a role model for me. Read more of this post

Baby’s First Traffic Safety Lesson

Lydia is eleven months old.  Yesterday, we spent some time enjoying the beautiful spring weather in our small front yard.  Lydia studied the flowers.  She picked up dead leaves (functioning as mulch) and examined their lacy skeletons.  She gleefully wiggled her arms amid the arching green leaves of the daylilies coming up between our sidewalk and the neighbors’, and she pulled on some leaves to assess their strength and find the tearing point.

She also spent lots of time sitting or crawling on the sidewalk in front of our yard, soaking up sunshine, saying, “Hi!” to all passersby.  She toddled along next to our neighbors’ retaining wall, which is just the right height to lean her hands on.  Then she ventured across the sidewalk, looked over the curb, and began to reach for an interesting pebble in the gutter.

I said, “No!” and pulled her back.  She looked surprised.  But just then–perfect timing!–a car came rumbling along our brick-paved street.  “Stay out of the street.  The street is for cars,” I told her.  I pointed to the passing vehicle.  “Cars are big and fast.  We stay out of their way.”  She leaned over the curb again.  “No, the street is not for you.  The street is for cars.  The sidewalk is for people.  Stay on the sidewalk.”

I’m going to have to repeat this lesson a zillion times before she really understands–so let’s get started!  It’s complicated: The street is for cars, but when people get into cars we have to step into the street to get there.  The street is for cars, but people can walk across streets, following safety rules.  Lydia will have to learn that she can’t go into the street alone but can go with a taller person.  I know how to explain that.  But for now, I started with the lesson relevant to the present situation: Play on the sidewalk, not in the street.  A few repetitions did the trick for yesterday.  We’ll tell her again next time she approaches the curb. Read more of this post