Seder and Holy Week: Family Traditions, Old and New

Welcome to the April 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Family History This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, lore, and wisdom about family history. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants. ***

My children’s ethnic ancestry is five-eighths Yiddish: All of their father’s grandparents, and my maternal grandfather, were descendants of Eastern European Jews.  We aren’t Jewish–my ten-year-old son Nicholas and I are Episcopalians, we’re bringing baby Lydia to church with us, and my partner Daniel does not practice any organized religion–but Jewish/Yiddish customs are an important part of our family background. seder plate

Daniel’s grandfather, Herschel, is 99 years old and still hosts a Passover seder in his home.  I’d never been to a seder before I started living with Daniel.  Now it’s our annual connection to our Yiddish roots, and I missed it very much the few years we weren’t able to attend.  Daniel’s mother always comes to spend Passover with her father, and she makes the dinner.  Family friends, the Feldmans, come over for the seder and bring dessert.  We don’t make it as formal and reverent as we could, but we all respect the basic structure of the ritual and try to follow the traditions.

Nicholas was three months old at his first seder.  He sat calmly in my lap and even slept through part of it.  Of course he doesn’t remember it.  He was too young to sample any of the food.  But it was very special to all of us that he could participate in this family tradition with his great-grandfather.  (An extra bonus was that my brother happened to be in town that spring, so he got a chance to attend the seder, too, and to meet Daniel’s extended family.)  Herschel exclaimed many times how glad and amazed he was to be a great-grandfather.  Although he knew we wouldn’t be raising Nicholas as a Jew, still we were welcome at the seder table. Read more of this post

How to Get Kids to Behave in Church

Welcome to the February 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Do It Yourself

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of
Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code
Name: Mama
. This month our participants are teaching us how to make
something useful or try something new.


By the time my first child was born, I’d been attending a small, liberal Episcopal church in my neighborhood for eight years.  Church is very meaningful to me, so I wanted to continue going, but how would I manage with a needy little baby who would become a wiggly toddler and then a child with his own ideas? Nicholas is ten years old now and has a baby sister, Lydia, and I’m able to manage both of them pretty well while still soaking up church myself.  I’ve learned a lot along the way!

I’m saying “church” but many of these tips would apply to other religions’ worship, and many of these strategies for church behavior also apply to any situation where we need to sit still and listen, like performances and meetings.  I’ve put them approximately in the order that you can start using them, beginning with things that work from birth–so if you have an older child and you’re just now trying to get back to church, skim along until you see something that seems feasible for your child now.  Read more…

Why I’m Sleeping in the Dining Room

Welcome to the September 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Home Tour

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have opened up their doors and given us a photo-rich glimpse into how they arrange their living spaces.


When Daniel and I bought our house 12 years ago, we made sure to choose one that had space for a child.  We planned to have one child; we thought we might consider having two, but in choosing the house we were allotting space for one.  Here’s the whole story that led to our daughter Lydia being born in May, nine years younger than her brother Nicholas.  “Everybody knows” that siblings with such a large age gap don’t share a bedroom and/or that siblings of opposite sexes don’t share a bedroom…but I’ve never quite understood how a newborn baby can share a bedroom even with her three-year-old sister: Doesn’t the baby’s crying to be fed every few hours disturb the older child’s sleep?

Besides, our experience with getting Nicholas to sleep put me firmly in favor of co-sleeping with my baby at least until she’s weaned.  It’s just so convenient to respond to those 2am whimpers by opening my nightgown and cuddling the baby closer, instead of dragging myself out of my warm bed and into a chair in another room where I’d have to stay awake the whole time she’s nursing!  Daniel fully supports my sleeping with our babies, but he isn’t all that keen on sleeping with anyone and is sometimes disturbed even by my presence; a few weeks of sleeping with the newborn Nicholas (and me) convinced Daniel that co-sleeping was something he could handle only on an occasional basis.  Therefore, we couldn’t use our master bedroom for co-sleeping with baby Lydia–and for many reasons, we’d concluded that having the family bed in the kid’s room works best for our family.

The trouble was, we didn’t have a spare room that could become Lydia’s bedroom.  Our house has three private, upstairs rooms, but the back one seems to have been built as a sleeping porch and later enclosed–it partially overhangs the back yard, and that half of the room is encased in siding rather than brick–and although we got extra insulation added when we had the siding replaced, that room gets much colder than the rest of the house in the winter.  That’s why we use it as Daniel’s home office rather than a bedroom.  It would not be a healthy sleeping place for a baby.  Also, Daniel works from home and is an introvert; he needs his own room.

We thought back to what we’d learned from the apartment where we couldn’t sleep in the bedrooms and the home-buying process that inspired: Instead of making a list of rooms we needed, we made a list of spaces we wanted to have.  When we toured a house that we thought might be the one, we tried to work out where each of the spaces would fit.  One of the things that attracted us to this house we bought was the large and versatile dining room.

Read more…

Should Your Family Be Child-centered?

This is a controversial and confusing question.  Some people go on and on about how parenthood melted their selfish hearts and made them realize the importance of devoting themselves fully to making their children’s lives perfectly wonderful and completely safe.  Other people go on and on about how children are hedonistic little leeches whose spirits must be broken to show them who’s boss, and responsible parents must schedule their babies’ lives in 15-minute increments.  Then there are a lot of points of view in between.  It’s very easy, as a parent in this fast-paced society, to put a lot of energy into getting everything together for your kid and suddenly realize you’ve been neglecting yourself–or to rush around Getting Things Done and suddenly realize that you’ve been treating your child like a task on a checklist and haven’t focused on his sweet little face for days.  Where’s the balance?

Well, I can’t claim that Daniel and I have it all perfectly worked out, but in our 8 years 8 months as parents of Nicholas, we’ve done pretty well with this basic attitude: “We are all people together.  We are the same in some ways and different in other ways.  Experienced people help newer people learn how to do things.”  Nobody is the center.  This is the approach my parents seemed to be using when I was a child (I don’t know if they’d explain it in the same words) and I noticed from an early age that some other families had a different attitude.  Of course, every family is different, but I think all families could work from the basic principle that we’re all in this together and no one person is the most important.  It seems to me that whenever I wander away from this idea–either by getting dramatically self-sacrificing or by demanding that everybody take care of me–it works out badly.
Here are some of the issues parents often struggle with, and the ways they’ve worked out for our family.

Is it child-centered to allow your child to eat when hungry and sleep when sleepy?  Is it better to have a strict schedule?

Read more…

How to Get a Kid to Like Mushrooms

We strive to be the kind of family that shares meals–not the kind that “has to” fix nuggets and fries for the kid every night!  The reality is somewhere in between.  Many of my multi-week menus indicate adaptations for Nicholas: We prepared meal components separately and served his in separate dishes not touching, while we mixed ours together; or we set aside food for him to eat plain, while we seasoned ours in some interesting way; or we served him cucumber or apple slices because he wouldn’t eat our vegetables; or we even fixed a packaged food for him to eat while we ate leftovers of something he hadn’t liked so much.  Different people like different things, and once in a while our menu bends around one of the adults disliking something.

Still, in general we want Nicholas to eat a wide variety of foods for nutritional and politeness reasons, and we want him to like what we like because it’s convenient!  I’ve read–and I remember from my own childhood experiences–that children often come to enjoy a food they previously rejected as their tastes change with time and/or repeated tasting of the food enables them to notice its good aspects more than its bad ones.

Nicholas just turned 8 and just overcame his resistance to mushrooms, in almost exactly the same way as I did at almost exactly the same age.  These are the features of this process: Read more…

Adventure in the Forest Across the Street

A few weeks ago, I explained how we appreciate the little forests within our city.  During our Thanksgiving trip, Nicholas (almost seven years old) and I found a much larger forest to explore–in a place where we never knew there was a forest.

Cousin Mike hosts Thanksgiving in his home near Albany, New York.  I’ve been there many times over the past 15 years.  It’s in a very suburban area, on a loop of roads lined with houses about 20 years old; the loop connects to a highway that leads to many similar residential developments and some businesses, but typically you have to drive several miles to do any errand.  His house is far enough from the highway that you can’t hear traffic.  Vehicles pass by only rarely.  There are no streetlights or curbs.  It feels rather remote to us city mice–but on the other hand, from every window of Mike’s house you can see at least one other house, so it is an obviously human-settled area.

Read more…

Traffic Safety for Little Kids

We live on a quiet street, but just around the block is the main street of our neighborhood, which has lots of traffic, parallel parking along both sides, and lots of intersections where right turns on red are allowed.  Only some of the intersections have traffic lights and walk signals.  There are lots of useful places within walking distance, and the sidewalks are wide, but crossing the street can be risky.  A lot of drivers seem to think the traffic laws don’t apply to them!

When Nicholas began walking, I saw that he already knew (from being carried by a walking parent) to pause on the curb and look around before stepping into the street.  That was very helpful, but it didn’t mean he actually knew how to cross the street safely alone.  By thinking out loud, I taught him what we look for when we pause on the curb and how we decide when it’s safe to walk.  But informed decision-making ability isn’t the only thing you need to be safe. Read more…

Sleep Strategies for Babies, Children, and Parents

Our son is six-and-a-half years old now, and while we’ve sometimes had trouble with his sleeping habits, in general we feel that the plans we made before he was born, influenced in part by the amazing books The Continuum Concept and The Family Bed, have worked out pretty well.

Disclaimer: We have only one child.  These are strategies that have worked for us.  They may work differently with different children or different parents.  If your goals are different from those described in the next paragraph, these strategies may not be useful to you.

The first step is to figure out the most important goals, and the most important things you want to avoid, regarding your child’s sleeping habits.  Read more…

Important Word to Teach a Toddler

When our son Nicholas was just beginning to talk and simultaneously expanding his interests in climbing on things and stacking things in tall piles, his father Daniel taught him an important word.  This word summed up a major reason to be cautious about climbing that thing or stacking that way, in one word instead of a whole sentence, so it was very useful when we needed to tell Nicholas to stop and rethink what he was doing before he got hurt or broke something.  Nicholas soon learned to say this word himself, so he could cry for help with his adventures and we’d quickly understand what was going wrong, and also he could warn us if something we were doing was hazardous in this way.

The word is Read more…

7 Continuum Concept Experiences

For years now, I’ve been meaning to write something about how The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff relates to our parenting style and a lot of my life experiences.  It’s a big idea, and I have a lot of scattered notes stashed in a draft post, but so far I haven’t even gotten around to adding this book to my list of Books That Blew My Mind.  This is what 7 Quick Takes Friday is good for!  After giving a brief summary of this concept I’m talking about, I’ll tell you just 7 specific experiences we’ve had with applying it to our urban, non-tribal, high-tech lives. Read more…

Thinking Out Loud

I talk to my kid a lot.  He’s five-and-a-half years old now and has some interesting things to say, but long before he was capable of conversation I talked to him quite a bit.  It wasn’t really a conscious strategy, just that I like having a companion sharing my experiences.  In my own childhood, I was treated as a valued companion by my parents and other relatives, who talked to me as if I were an intelligent person–not an itsy bitsy wuggums who needs baby talk and must be sheltered from reality, not a burden who should be seen and not heard–so it comes naturally to me to talk to kids in a normal way about real things. Read more…

Tuesday Potlucks

On the first and third Tuesdays of the month, our church offers a short service followed by potluck dinner.  Attendance usually is small, between 5 and 20 people.  In order to get there on time, I have to rush from work to pick up my five-year-old son Nicholas from his preschool and trust that the two buses we need to take will be running on time.  In order to contribute food to the meal, I have to either carry it with me to work and then to church, arrange for my partner Daniel to meet us at church and bring the food with him, or drop off the food at church on my way to work in the morning.  Sounds like a lot of stress for something insignificant, doesn’t it?

Yet the Tuesday Potlucks have become an important feature of our spiritual and family lives since they started two years ago.  I wish we had one every week! Read more…

Excellent Educational Toy!

One evening last week, my five-year-old was in one of those moods where he makes unreasonable demands.  “I have to have my own computer!” he said in an unpleasant tone.

“You already have your own computer,” I reminded him.  He has one of those toy laptops designed for preschoolers; my uncle gave it to him for his third birthday.

“No!” he said, “I need a real computer on my desk so I can type on it!  I have to type right now or I am never going to bed again!!!”

I made some kind of annoyingly parental comment about how a person who starts resisting bedtime before it’s even been mentioned probably needs to go to bed early.  Both Daniel (his dad) and I acknowledged his demands for a computer with some sort of unsatisfying, “Hmmm.  We’ll see.”  We were trying to finish our dinner and did not appreciate the complaining.

After a while Nicholas said, “Well, at least I need a typewriter!  On my desk!”

Daniel, who was just getting up from the table, said calmly, “We do have a typewriter that nobody is using.”

Nicholas was astonished.  “Really?  We have a typewriter?!  Where is it?  We have to set it up on my desk right away!  And I will type!”  After a quick reminder that typing time would be limited by the need to get ready for bed soon, Daniel went down to the basement to get the typewriter.  (I was kind of surprised myself.  I had totally forgotten about the typewriter since moving into the house; I guess it had been stored in a place where I never had to move it.  Daniel apparently knew its exact location.)

Turns out a typewriter is in many ways more satisfying to a five-year-old than a computer: Read more…

Books That Blew My Mind

UPDATE February 1, 2012: For the past two years, this has been an article like my links page where I keep adding content as I get around to it.  Now I’m going to call it finished!  Of course, I expect to read additional mind-blowing books during my visit to Earth, but this list now includes all the qualifying books I have discovered so far.  [Um, and I added one more on February 2!] [Further updates, mostly formatting and links, in June 2015.]

This is a list of books that made a big difference to me at the time I first read them, and in some cases forever afterward, by giving me many new things to think about and/or a completely different angle on an old favorite topic.  I highly recommend them all.  They’re in approximately chronological order according to when I first read them, but that doesn’t mean anyone else needs to read them in this particular order, and where I mention ages please take into account that I was a very precocious reader–many kids will not be able to read these books to themselves until they are several years older.  (Check out these great chapter books for kids!) Read more…

7 Neat Things My Kid Has Done

…in his last month as a four-year-old.

1. He packed his own bag. He did this for our Thanksgiving trip with some coaching, but even more impressive was in October when we were packing to go visit his grandparents.  While I was choosing my own clothes for the trip, Nicholas was hanging around saying, “Where is my suitcase?” so I handed him the duffle bag we usually use for him, thinking he’d probably fill it with toys and such.  He asked how many days we’d be there, and I told him four.  When I came into his room a few minutes later, the bag contained four shirts, four pairs of pants, four pairs of underpants, and four pairs of socks, and he was just putting in his pajamas! Read more…

Learning from Old Clothes

Learning about the history of clothing fashions is an activity I’ve done with Girl Scouts several times.  It’s part of the Art to Wear Try-It and badge, Listening to the Past Try-It, and probably a few others.  It’s always been fascinating.  Clothing is so intimately a part of our daily lives that thinking about what people like ourselves wore decades or centuries ago is a way of getting right into what it was like to live then.  It’s especially effective if you have some genuine examples of old clothing that you can handle and even try on. Here’s a summary I wrote in 2003 after spending a Saturday leading this activity, several times over, for groups of Girl Scout Brownies and Juniors attending a Try-It/badge workshop:

First we looked at old Girl Scout uniforms, borrowed from our council office.  I had them hung up on the walls with signs that said e.g. “1956–47 years ago!”  We talked about how and why they are different from our current uniforms; I pointed out a few things and encouraged them to talk about their observations.  For example, the very first uniform was light blue, but it soon changed to brown, why? Because the original Girl Scout program was mostly about camping and doing things outdoors, and light blue showed dirt too much!  It used to be that “nice” girls didn’t own clothes that could get dirty!  Read more…

Family Bed in the Kid’s Room

It’s Works-for-Me Wednesday!

Before our child was born, we decided to have the family bed in his room and keep the master bedroom as our couple space. We’d read a lot about co-sleeping and thought it sounded like a great way to minimize the disruptions of night nursing and give our baby a loving, secure environment . . . but Daniel already felt his sleep was disrupted by having me in the bed, and he wasn’t sure he could handle having a baby there, too! Also, it seemed odd to set up our spare bedroom as “the baby’s room”, with all the diapers and baby clothes and such, but not have the baby sleeping in there.

Four years later, we’re very happy that we co-slept but got our child accustomed to his bed instead of ours! Read more…

Stroller Madness

Long before we became parents, Daniel and I decided we would not be transporting our child in a stroller on any regular basis.  We live in Pittsburgh, a city of steep hills, stairs, and sidewalks cracked by frost heave and tree roots.  Our neighborhood has heavy pedestrian traffic on sidewalks that are narrow in places.  We often ride city buses, which allow strollers only if folded, and we’d seen how parents struggled to fold a stroller with one hand without dropping the baby.

Recalling the various baby carriers used by my mother and her friends, I did some research and learned that carrying a baby or “babywearing” has many advantages  for child development, as well as being convenient for parents.  I bought a ring sling, and by the time Nicholas was two months old, I felt we could hardly live without it!

However, we did wind up owning a stroller. Read more…

New Realms of Reading

One day in August, Nicholas and I were walking past a pile of trash set at the curb in front of an apartment building when I noticed a huge anthology of “Peanuts” comics, clean and hardly used, on top of the pile.  I immediately grabbed it to take home.  Nicholas (age two-and-a-half) was very interested in these adventures of kids and a dog, and although he didn’t get all of the jokes, he generally understood the events.  We read from this book on the bus every day for a couple of weeks, returning to certain storylines over and over again at Nick’s request.  He soon noticed “Peanuts” in the comics section of my Sunday newspaper and began asking me to read those comics to him as well.

I’m surprised at how infrequently comic strips and comic books are mentioned as tools for teaching children to read.  It seems that a lot of people view comics as a dangerous distraction from “real” books–too easy to read or not serious enough.  But plenty of children’s picture books are easy to read and have silly or simplistic plots.  Nick is learning some things from being read comics that he hadn’t yet learned from being read picture books.  Read more…