Parenting Lessons from Puppy Kindergarten

parenting lessons from puppy kindergartenAbout a year ago we took our new puppy Baja to Kindergarten. I knew the class would be good for him, but I really wanted to go so that Mr. Eco Incognito and I could learn how to be good dog parents. Little did I know how much it would apply to my quickly growing toddler, too!

Now that Hannah has fully entered the Todzilla years, she acts more and more like a puppy each day. She’s chewed a bunch of household items, peed on the floor, and dashed out of my reach at any chance. I realize that we had to go through all this so that she could learn her boundaries. After all, she’s just like my husband and he won’t learn how not to cross the line until he plays jump rope on it. Truthfully, it’s been entertaining, intriguing, and stressful. (Let’s not forget that I generally wear Audrey while this all takes place.) I didn’t have much experience with spirited kids before Hannah came along, so I feel that my parenting style is mostly triage.

What can I do, this minute, to get through the day?

Well, it may or may not be wrong in the long run, but I’ve been treat training Hannah. We walk through the backyard on a leash and then I offer her biscuit bits at random intervals. Ok, that’s not true at all. The version of “treat training” that I do with my kid is to let her have frequent access to food, to participate in and learn how to procure her snacks, and to bribe the heck out of her to get her to sit in the car seat without screaming. I feel like it’s good for Hannah because she is very motivated by food. I’ve realized there is a reason that she flocks to certain kids and parents in group settings. She smells their food! She is just like a puppy!

Being the concerned, over-researching parent that I am, I questioned my judgement until I found a credible source that suggested something similar. Dr. Sears said to make kids an ice cube tray of portioned, healthy snacks to offer throughout the day. It works perfectly with what Hannah likes, so I’m all for it. If she’s hungry, she’ll eat. If not, she’ll eat later.

I think that toddlers, like puppies, are just motivated by instincts to survive. They will chew through walls (fact) or dig through leaves (fact) in search of nourishment. Now that I’ve got a great list of suggested snacks for my kids thanks to my Facebook page, I’m happy that we’re all eating healthy foods. It doesn’t really matter to me if it takes all day to do it. I’ve also realized that, like a puppy, Hannah will turn down a snack 8 times at breakfast only to guzzle it down two hours later. We don’t go overboard on variety any more.

Once our food needs are fulfilled, everything else falls into place. We have fun being active and we sleep better. Plus, we all wag our proverbial tails when Dada gets home and he couldn’t be happier.

Dr. Sears recommends snacks like this for kids:

Apples
Carrots with hummus
Trail mix

Read More from Dr. Sears: http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/feeding-infants-toddlers/feeding-picky-eater-17-tips

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Fish Inspired Toddler Activity

Sea inspired fish playdate activity for toddlersI’m excited for our fishy playdate today! We are reading the boardbook version of The Rainbow Fish and Squishy Turtle & Friends. I’ve got a colorful fish puzzle for the toddlers to explore, along with a puzzle of sea creatures. Last night I cut out various sizes of felt fish in red, orange, and yellow to ‘swim’ in a blue sea with a touch of algae. We can make one large school of fish or group them by color or size.

I reserved a smaller section of the blue sea to lay on the floor for my infant with her red crab. This crab has moveable legs that click and bounce. Plus the vibrant color is appealing for little ones. I wonder if both girls will figure out how to make a fish face today?

Thanks to my reader suggestions, we’ve got a few fishy songs to listen and sing along.

One little, two little, three little fish-ies

Four little, five little, six little fish-ies

Seven little, eight little, nine little fish-ies

Ten little fishies swimming in the sea.

Cloth Diaper Problem Solving

bumgenius, diaper, baby, toddlerI had just about had it with cloth diapers. Nearly every diaper that I fastened to my spirited toddler leaked as she trolled around the playroom. I desperately wanted to keep her in cloth diapers because they were a big investment up front. Even though they save a lot of money over time, they can be a headache. It just wasn’t working. I don’t know why it took me so long to arrive at the solution of using wool. Just like everything else in the green spectrum, I had to turn it down several times before giving it a shot.

Everything about cloth diapering has been foreign to me since day one. I went from turning up my nose about cloth diapering, to diving full fledged into green living all to save a few thousand bucks. I was SO BLIND to eco friendliness that I couldn’t even fathom simple household solutions like cloth towels or reusable storage containers saving money. After all, they cost so much more than the disposable counterparts. It took me a long time to realize that I could save money by investing more up front and even longer to realize that I could save the most money by using what I already have.

I’ll admit, 85% of the reason why I agreed to give cloth diapering a shot was because they were CUTE. I’m a sucker for great clothes, so I looked for the most fashionable cloth diapers. I quickly found out that I hated them after trying desperately to make them work. When I had the chance to reuse all the diapers for a second time and avoid most of* the mistakes of the first time, I opted for Thirsties Covers and prefolds. They have worked like a dream for Audrey. My second baby is the reason why I’ve kept at cloth diapering for so long. It’s why I had to become a super sleuth about fluff.

There is a reason why there are so many blogs, books, and shops for cloth diapers. It’s like gardening. They come in all different shapes and sizes and the fulfill a huge range of problems. It helped me to start thinking of diapering as a problem to solve instead of as a cute accessory. Once I washed away all my pre-conceived notions about washing poop, it got a whole lot easier. Then, I read four words on www.theclothdiaperwhisperer.com that changed everything for me:

It’s all just cloth.

Once I saw that, my entire attitude changed. Did I worry when the diapers got frayed around the edges? No, they’re just cloth. What happened when we were out and I didn’t have my large wetbag? I used the wipes wetbag. I started looking at the clothes pile I was antsy to donate and I suddenly found so many hidden gems within. Poplin shirts can easily become handkerchiefs. Pajama bottoms make great wipes. I’ll fashion a mini baby-sling for the girls’ dolls out of my outgrown tshirts.

There I was with a mountain of cloth solutions and a big, wet problem that I couldn’t piece together. I even had two sweaters of my own in that pile! I’d love to tell you that I got out my sewing machine, felted the wool and stitched my own soaker, but I’ve been too afraid to set up my sewing machine for fear of Todzilla battling the presser foot. Instead, I used a coupon and ordered a new solution. It’s a little awkward to put a wool soaker over top of an all-in-one diaper, but it works and that’s what’s important.

Some day I’ll look back at all this with the wisdom of an experienced Mom and laugh at what I went through. Cloth diapering didn’t have to be hard. I made it that way because I wanted it to be fashionable. It’s almost like I forgot what kids DO in diapers. I’ve realized that’s no big deal either. After all, it’s all just cloth.

What I Expected Was Wrong

sleep sack, swaddle, infantWhen I was pregnant with Hannah, I read about Motherhood all the time. I drove my husband crazy with reading books and trying to figure out how to be a Mom. Looking back, he probably thought it should have been more intuitive for me, but it really wasn’t at first. Like so many other mothers, I read the What to Expect series early on. It was a waste of my time. If I could do it all again, I would download the BabyBump app to get my updates on the baby’s size and developmental progress, then read a selection of books from Ina May Gaskin and Dr. Sears. It took me a long time to figure it out, but I am an Attachment Parent. I’m not the best at it and I certainly don’t know the most about the topic, but I get it. I love it. Most importantly, my girls are benefitting from it.

I don’t know why I held off for so long on fully embracing attachment parenting. It’s almost like I was so far detached that I could only open up to one topic at a time. The part of it that I screwed up the most with Hannah was sleeping.  Have you ever played the game Whisper Down the Lane? Someone starts out by sharing a simple phrase individually to members of a group and by the end the topic is hardly recognizable. I have a feeling that the same thing has happened with the original art of putting a baby to sleep. Long ago everyone spent their days doing nearly the same things and caring for babies the same way. Then they rocked babies to sleep in the same chairs and sang them the same songs for generations. That worked great until someone figured out that they could leave their baby in the room to fall asleep alone and another baby fell asleep in a car. Soon people were talking about babies sleeping everywhere. Then parents started putting all these sleep solutions in practice and babies stopped sleeping anywhere.

Every parent agrees that the person who coined the term, “slept like a baby” obviously never spent much time with one. Right now, I have an easy baby and even she puts me through the ringer at odd hours. It is clear that my babies require a near-perfect balance of food, activity, and relaxation throughout a day in order to have a good night’s sleep. When I factor in issues like teething, digestion, and nighttime peeing, it’s a wonder any of us ever sleeps. There is a lot for these kids to figure out in the first few years!

With Hannah, I struggled on the sleep topic. Not because she didn’t sleep through the night, but because she didn’t like going to bed. The first three months were a challenge for breastfeeding, but they weren’t an overall nightmare in the sleep department. That began just before the three month mark. I realized that the suggestions in the book I read simply weren’t built for a baby who was so aware of her surroundings. My mother made her cry more, my husband hid outside to avoid listening to the crying, and I didn’t have a network of friends that I could go to for support. So I read a book. I picked the Baby Whisperer and I really found her advice useful. The suggestions helped me get my daughter to sleep and create a consistent schedule that worked for us. Later down the road we encountered more pain points, so I read more. I still don’t feel like I’ve got it all figured out, so I’ve got another book to read. I am finally (yes, finally) reading the Dr. Sears parenting book.

What I’ve learned since having Audrey is to be more intuitive to the girls’ needs. I can be a guide for them, but now I trust that they know what is best. My daughters want to be near me, to eat enough food to feel satisfied, to learn throughout the day, and to wiggle and giggle enough to fill the time. I look at their needs as a circle filled with sleep, nourishment, and comfort. If they are lacking in one area, they need more of the other two to make up for it. Take the example of my teething toddler. When Hannah’s mouth hurts, she won’t eat as much solid food or sleep through the night. To make up for that and keep her mood balanced I offer more milk during the day and carve out time to hold her.

For a long time, I didn’t know what was best for my daughter, but I knew something was wrong. If I had known then what I know now, I probably would have had more success with babywearing. It works really well for Audrey and me. Since I hadn’t seen attachment parenting in action, it wasn’t easy to find the solution in public. It took a long time for me to settle into a ‘Mama Mantra’ and I struggle with feeling like I missed out on having this closeness with Hannah. I don’t know if I’m still missing a big part of the picture, but I feel like I’m finally getting into a groove with parenting. I’ve been playing catch up for a long time. The one thing that brightens my outlook is knowing that my girls won’t have to search for this path. They’ll know it from experience and I can’t wait to see that in action.

How Do I Do It?

babywearing momA lot of people like to ask me, “how do you do it?” I’m not sure if they genuinely want to know what a Mom and two babies do each day or if they are curious how I don’t lose my mind. Either way, I think this will show that I get through each day by spending quality time with my girls. I spend a lot of time just doing ‘anythings,’ but I try to give each girl focused attention for a solid block of time every day. Hannah and I work through an activity together while Audrey naps against my chest. We focus on what she wants to learn and I offer gentle suggestions if she stumbles. This little girl knows what she needs better than I do, so I watch and listen. She escorts me through all our chores (if I do them) and helps with the small steps. I’m not surprised any more when she begins to go through the actions of pulling out a cup or bowl. Sometimes she helps with laundry or changing Audrey’s diaper. But her favorite way to spend time is with her puppy. He captivates her. The two of them have standoffs from across the room and then chase each other around in fits of giggles.

Hannah is an incredible little toddler in my eyes. She’s not hitting any special milestones today or doing anything out of the ordinary, but she is inspiring me, as always. Hannah’s eyes are wide everywhere we go. Sometimes she greets others with a shy smile, but in familiar settings she takes off immediately to find the edge of the room. Her physical skills amaze me. From the sheer capabilities of a toddler motivated by her determination, she leaves nothing undiscovered. I absolutely love watching her ramble.

This morning, Hannah entered her playroom to find a vibrant collection of puzzles on the coffee table. They are the same puzzles we learn with and explore each day, but the display excited her. She immediately took the dolphin out of the sea and replaced him with ease. I dumped over a favorite gear puzzle and turned it around so that she could reassemble the pieces. We’ve spent a lot of snippets of time on various days working on color matching and affixing the gears to the pegs, so it was a joy to watch her work through the task on her own. She was so determined and pleased with the end result! We shimmied over to the next puzzle of farm animals. This time she took the liberty of dumping out the pieces and entertaining me with a rousing chorus of “E-i-e-i-o.” I asked her to point out the animals while she fumbled, without success to get the pieces into their spaces. She decided that the horse would prefer to attempt a daring feat of cascading through a hole in a box. Unfortunately, he was too big. All of a sudden it started to snow, so we watched at the window for a few minutes until snack time. Hannah repeated the words, “snow” and “cold.” She loves to watch the flakes fall.

I turned around to reply to a message on Facebook and THIS HAPPENED. Seriously, who says cell phone distractions are all that bad?

sleeping toddler

So I wrote a blog post while both girls napped and then I nursed Audrey when she woke up. We practiced blowing raspberries. She’s not really catching on, but she makes us both laugh with her hilarious attempts to puff her cheeks and PFFT. I helped Audrey stretch and bend her limbs and guided her through some baby asanas. After both the girls get their individual time, we just do other things around the house or outside. If Hannah wants to play toys, she’ll get engaged with something and I can step in. Since Audrey nurses at 9, 12, and 3, I usually try to have Hannah sit on the couch with me and read her a few baby books during Audrey’s meals. It’s a nice way to stay close with the pair. Hannah knows where Audrey gets her milk and sometimes she’ll sign for it, too. She is very attentive to Audrey’s needs and I like to foster that spirit. It’s really helpful if Audrey loses a pacifier and I can send Hannah on a search & rescue mission.

baby

Every day is a little bit different, but most of them are relatively the same. We all enjoy the familiarity of home and we all have similar needs that we can meet together. If we’re hungry, we eat. If we’re tired, we sleep. Got ya on that one, only the kids sleep. On days that are tough and everything seems to be off a beat, we all go outside. No matter the weather, we put on our gear and head out the door. The backyard makes a delightful space to explore. I can’t wait until this summer when we can troll around out there barefoot again.

I guess, when it comes to Motherhood, I don’t know exactly what ‘it’ is, but the girls let me know if I’m doing it or not. Raising the two of them is such an exciting challenge. We were chugging chugging for so long and I finally feel like we’re beginning to plateau out for a little bit of an easy streak. We know each other now. We know how to meet our needs and we all go to sleep feeling loved. In my book, I think that’s the ‘it’ I’ve always hoped to achieve.

Singing Praises for My Mother-in-Law

Happy birthday Cathy! Have I told you recently how wonderful you are? In full disclosure, this post is inspired by Scary Mommy’s Mother-in-law Prenup, but you deserve to hear it because you did a great job raising Zac. Also, you have fabulous hair that it appears Hannah is lucky to have inherited. Sadly, Audrey is going balder by the minute, but I could easily acknowledge that her vibrant smile complements yours and Zac’s.

As for the rule of making your son call you, I can’t take much credit for that and I wouldn’t want to since he tends to call you at 5 AM. He really is doing an amazing job staying in touch with you guys and we all enjoy the Skype chats that bring the family together on Sunday dinners. It’s no doubt that the TLC and acceptance you showed him throughout his rogue years are now paying off. He looks at you as a compassionate role model. But not for himself, for me.

He wants me to be like you because he loves you and he wants me to know the joy that you have as he honors that aspect of your terrific family. You may not live close by, but you live daily in his heart and his actions. Just the other night, I laid with Hannah for two hours coaxing her to sleep. She wasn’t fighting it, she just took her time to cuddle with her Mama. When I came downstairs, flustered that I wouldn’t be able to get much done that evening, he calmed me immediately by saying, “You’re a great Mom. My Mom used to do that for us.”

MILOne of my favorite things that you did for your family was to chronicle them with thousands of photos. The videos and galleries and albums that Zac shares with me are a window to his amazing childhood. I love that you created traditions through photography, like the yearly picture of Zac with his birthday poster.

There’s a lot on this Mom path that I’m figuring out on my own and it sometimes leaves me guessing what impact it will have on the girls when they grow up. I don’t worry about that any more.  I know that I don’t have to do everything right, and more importantly, the girls don’t either. I can encourage them, love them, and accept the good with the bad every day of their lives just like you did with your boys. Thank you for putting Zac on loan to me so that we can create these adorable grandbabies. I hope that the next one (when that happens) has your eyes.

Quit Throwing Out the Most Expensive Ingredient in the Kitchen

Think.Eat.Save – Reduce your foodprint!

Food waste doesn’t start in your fridge and it doesn’t end in your trash can. I’ve seen estimates that Americans as a whole discard at least 40% of the food they purchase. That is a sad fact because if only one in five people are hungry, we clearly have more than enough to go around. I think the biggest problem is too much diversity in food choices. By attempting to please everyone, we make it easier to discard something unappetizing. Here’s my plan to cut down on food waste.

leftoversAt home, we’re keeping our meals simple, especially during the winter. This is one of my favorite ways to be green while saving green. First of all, I’m using the same ingredients over and over so I can save by purchasing the larger quantities. I also don’t balk at buying organic because the prices are closer to the small, non-organic counterparts. We’ve cut back on buying processed foods and I am still campaigning to get my husband on board with drinking more water instead of other beverages. At around $60 per week, our grocery bill is completely manageable even when we factor in $125 at the butcher each season.

It was easy for me to accept the idea of eating chicken noodle soup 4 out of 7 days per week because I grew up eating PB&J nearly every day for years at a time. I’m used to repetition of favorites and I’ve found that my daughter likes it, too. By having this one simple meal as our staple, I can splurge a little on other things. We make a great spread for each Holiday and we like to have a hearty breakfast every weekend. Whether we make french toast or pancakes, our Saturday breakfasts can’t be beat. No matter how small, the leftovers are great for my toddler in a pinch so I save everything.

My microwave is my biggest ally in the kitchen. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to put a healthy meal on the table so quickly for my daughter. My own version of ‘fast food’ generally consists of leftovers. Often, I use 2 oz jars to freeze small portions, but old spaghetti sauce jars also make great storage vessels for anything in the freezer as long as they aren’t filled to the brim.

We finally began composting late last year and I am thrilled that we’re off to such a great start with the practice. I love discarding our leftover peels and kitchen scraps knowing that in a few months they will feed our garden healthy soil. I’ve seen a huge drop in the amount of trash my family produces from the time when my husband and I were just a new couple. Because I changed, I know that others can, too. Taking on a new habit is a challenge, but living with a new habit like being mindful about food consumption is so easy.

There are a lot of additional costs to factor beyond just the price of any food that ends up in the trash. Think about the cost of your trip to the store or the transportation of the food throughout the production process. How much did the packaging cost? When you throw food away, how much are you paying for garbage bags? Your county may even be raising the cost of garbage pickup because of the volume of trash in town is so high. These changes need to start at home because the big companies are even more wasteful. I have seen few fast food restaurants or grocery stores with recycling programs in action. For me, that is inspiration to stay at home and cook a healthy meal.

I value my time at home with my family above all other things. I enjoy taking fewer trips to the grocery store in favor of lazy afternoons reading book after book with my girls. Going to the grocery store with two under two is a huge challenge, even when I wear the baby. By keeping our shopping list consistent and slim, I can get in and out of the store in under an hour. What I’ve noticed so far is that my toddler is very receptive to eating healthy foods when I keep them readily available to her. In fact, I’m going to grab her a carrot right now. We’ll peel it together, compost the peelings and then split the healthy snack. The same foods that used to end up in my trash after being forgotten are now our favorite staples.

I am so happy I made these changes and I invite you to change your food mindset as well. What is one thing that you can do to minimize food waste in your house?

I wrote this post to enter to win an amazing  trip to blog for United Nations Environmental Program’s World Environment Day 2013. If it inspired you to reduce your foodprint, please comment, like, share, tweet, pin and help me get the word out about this important message. Thank you for your support! Learn more: http://unep.org/wed/blog-competition/howto/