Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category

kids book suggestions

Monday, September 20th, 2010

So, my mom is asking for suggestions for books for hanukah presents for the grandchildren — my sons, who will be 7 and 9 (with the 9 year old a very strong reader and the 7 year old just really starting to read on his own), and my nephews, ages 2 and 4.

I futzed around online and came up with the following recommendations, but I thought I’d see what my readers had to add:

For the 2 year old:

The Quiet Book, Deborah Underwood
Can’t Sleep without Sheep by Susanna Leonard Hill

(I don’t know anything about these other than what I found online, but they look pretty good.)

4 year old: City Dog, Country Frog, Mo Willems
Knuffle Bunny Free, Mo Willems

(I love Mo Willems)

7 year old:  The Dinosaur Museum: An Unforgettable, Interactive Virtual Tour Through Dinosaur History, National Geographic Society
Encyclopedia Prehistorica Dinosaurs: The Definitive Pop-Up, Robert Sabuda
Knuffle Bunny Free, Mo Willems
Rocks and Minerals (Eye Wonder)., DK books

(He’s at an awkward stage, not really into reading himself, but getting old for picture books, although I’ll make an exception for Mo Willems.  We’ve been reading the Narnia books and Paddington out loud.  He says he wants to be an archeologist, and loves rocks.)

9 year old: City of Ice, Laurence Yep  (not yet released)
Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume, Jeff Smith
Warriors: Power of Three Box Set: Volumes 1 to 6 Erin Hunter OR
Warriors Box Set: Volumes 1 to 6 Erin Hunte

(He loved City of Fire, and City of Ice is due out soon.  I have no idea which of the Warriors books he’s read, but he doesn’t mind re-reading, so I think the box sets are a safe pick.  And he liked the volume of Bone that I got out from the library for him.  I’d put the new book by Richard Riordan set in the world of the Percy Jackson books on the list, except that I assume he’ll want to buy it as soon as it comes out.)

So, what should we add to the list?

168 hours

Monday, September 13th, 2010

I recently read 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam and was thinking about blogging about it.    Then I saw that she’s running a challenge this week to actually do a time use diary for a week and to share the results.  So I decided to bite the bullet and do it.

Vanderkam says that there’s no point in waiting for a “typical week” because there are no typical weeks.  But here are some of the reasons that this week is not typical:

  • Big event tomorrow night for work.  I almost never have to attend evening events for work.
  • No day this week when it makes sense to work from home, which I try to do once a week.
  • I’m taking Friday off, and we’re heading up to NYC for Yom Kippur.

But, here goes anyway.

So, today’s report:

  • 6:45 hours of sleep (since midnight)
  • 15 minutes of yoga
  • 1:30 hour of personal email and messages, online shopping, social games
  • 1 hour shower/dress/breakfast/pack lunch/try to convince boys not to kill each other while I eat breakfast, or at least to go downstairs if they have to
  • 2 hours of commuting (sigh; but that probably includes at least 30 minutes of walking on a nice day, and listening to a good chunk of NPR and some of this week’s This American Life Podcast)
  • 1 hour of meetings
  • 3:30 hours of responding to work emails and calls, reviewing documents, negotiating times for later meetings, etc.
  • 2 hours of preparing for a couple of a webinars I’m doing — which I always underestimate how long it will take to prep
  • 1 hour of working on a report that is hanging over my head — it really needs more focused attention, and I don’t know when I’m going to find it.
  • 30 minutes of talking to coworkers
  • 15 minutes of eating lunch
  • 15 minutes of walking around the block for some fresh air
  • 1 hour of setting up my new iPod and clearing my settings from my old one so D could buy it from me
  • 20 minutes of walking/running after the boys while they rode their bikes
  • 20 minutes of eating dinner (leftovers, so pretty much zero cook time)
  • 20 minutes of reading to N (The Silver Chair; D is officially not listening, but somewhat managed to drift in while I was reading…)
  • 15 minutes of blogging.

Note that I left work probably 30 minutes earlier than usual, trying to follow Vanderkam’s notion of preserving evening hours for family time even if you have to get back to work after the kids are in bed.  And I did spend 15 minutes or so responding to messages tonight. But I’m too braindead at this point to work on the report, which is what I was hoping to do.  That said, I was pretty fried at 5.15 too, so I wouldn’t have been terribly productive even if I had stayed in the office.

I have to confess that when I picked up 168 Hours, I thought it was by the same person who had written this Washington Post magazine article about time use and how working mothers have more leisure than they admit. A lot boils down to your definition of leisure — I think I officially had almost 4 hours of leisure today.  But it’s broken down into tiny bits, and it doesn’t necessarily feel like leisure.


Monday, March 15th, 2010

So, it’s terribly self-indulgent to be writing about lice when the health care vote is hanging in the balance, but I’ve already contacted my members and signed the MoveOn pledge to support primary challenges to any Dems who vote against health care reform (and that includes you Mr. Kucinich).  So I’m going to be self-indulgent and write about lice.

The good news is that only N appears to have them so far.

The bad news is that I’ve been itching like crazy since I saw the first one.

The good news is that T tells me I don’t have any.

The bad news is that I’m not sure I believe him.  We may have finally found the limit of my faith in my husband’s parenting ability — he can change diapers with the best of them, walk a colicky baby, bake cookies, find a pediatric dentist open for an emergency on a Saturday morning, name at least 50 different Pokemon, make lunches, chaperon a school trip, coach a soccer team, and more, but I’m not sure I believe him when he says I don’t have lice.  I can spot check my kids, but I haven’t figured out how to spot-check myself.

The good news is that none of us have long hair.

The bad news is we now have a garage freezer full of stuffed animals.

The good news is the boys are being brave and going to bed without their doggies without much complaint.

The bad news is that I’ve read Marion Winik’s lice essay, and so have absolutely no faith that we’ve resolved this.  (Actually, I’ve heard her read it, which is even more funny.)

The good news is that our school does not have a “no nit” policy and so N was able to go to school after we reported that we had treated him.

The bad news is that it does seem to have a “chemicals required” policy — T had to bring the box of the shampoo that we used.   The over the counter lice medicines aren’t too terribly toxic (versus the prescription ones, which are seriously vile), but there’s also increasing evidence that the lice are resistant to them.  My guess is that parents who find lice on their own kids and don’t want to use chemical treatments just won’t tell the school, which is somewhat counterproductive.

D watched us freaking out over the lice this morning, and finally asked “so, what do lice do to you if you don’t get rid of them?”  I told him that, mostly, they just itch, and they spread really easily.  He didn’t get why we had to use a toxic chemical (that includes a warning that people with asthma should avoid it) to get rid of something that just makes you itch.  I had to agree that he had a point.  Someday someone is going to file a HIPAA suit over lice policies and win.

Snowed in

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

My office follows the feds, so we’re officially open tomorrow, although with a two hour delay.  I’m going to work from home, though, as I think the commute will be a nightmare, and I still have work I can do.

Total inches of snow: somewhere around 34.

Inches of packed snow remaining on the road post-plowing: about 3

Height of piled snow surrounding our driveway: 5 feet, plus or minus.

Days snowed in: 8 (as of tomorrow)

Soups made: 4 (chicken chili, red lentil and chickpea, black bean, and curried cauliflower)

Breads made: 3 (challah, multigrain, and Portuguese sweet bread)

Batches of cookies made: 3 (two chocolate chip and one peanut butter)

Pounds gained: haven’t dared to set foot on the scale

Games played: Dominion, Ticket to Ride, Sorry, Monopoly, Go Fish, Don’t Get Caught, Munchkin Fu, Qwirkle

Hours of TV watched: too many

The NY Times has a terrific graphic about snowfall in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, showing what each city has received this year, last year, and the average level.   It dramatically shows that Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia have all gotten way more snow than average, coming after a less-snowy-than-usual year last year (in fact, in DC, the past 3 years have all hardly had any snow), while NY is having an average year after another average year, and Boston is having an underperforming snow year after a snowy year.   But the most surprising part of the graphic is how little difference there is in the average snowfall levels for DC vs. New York.  I grew up in NYC and have lived in the DC area for the past decade and a half, and I would have told you that NY gets much more snow on average.  I’m not sure how much my impression is biased by the low snow levels of the past few years, and how much it’s that DC snow usually melts on its own in a day or two, while NY snow sticks around in ugly gray piles for weeks.

And sometimes they do grow out of it

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Over at 11d, Laura wrote today about What To Do When Your Kid Doesn’t Talk. She begins:  “Five years ago, we noticed that Ian was not meeting his speech milestones, and we started down the disability path. Here’s what I’ve learned in the past five years:

  • If your child isn’t talking by two, is super picky about food, doesn’t like long sleeve shirts, can’t sit still in nursery school, doesn’t like bright lights or loud sounds, doesn’t respond when a stranger says hi, doesn’t like being touched except by you, walks in circles, spends a lot time doing one thing, doesn’t like getting his hair cut, doesn’t like taking a shower, suddenly starts crying a lot at age two, hums, or can’t run, then go get him/her checked out. If he/she is doing just one of those things, then get him/her checked out.”

D met at least 4 of these criteria as a toddler, and we did get it checked out.  We went through the local Child Find (early intervention) program, which was less of a pain in the neck than it was for Laura, but definitely a hassle.  And they agreed that he was indeed speech delayed, and qualified for services.  (At 2 years 8 months, he had less than 100 words, most of which were monosyllables that only T and I could understand.)  So once a week we took him to meet with the speech therapist at the elementary school down the block, and she played some games with him, and taught him to blow bubbles, and when they retested him at the end of the year, he no longer qualified for services.  We still don’t know if the therapy did any good, or if he just was on his own timetable, but he never looked back.

The sensory issues took longer to resolve.  I’ve installed a WordPress plug-in that identifies related posts from the archives, and when I wrote about snow days last week, it came up with a post from 4 years ago, called simply snow.  In it, I wrote:

“Playing with the boys was especially sweet because I wasn’t sure I was ever going to get to do it, at least with D.  He has mild sensory issues, and this is the first time that he’s been willing to play in the snow.  In the past, he’s totally refused to walk in the snow, even in boots.  He liked the idea of snowball fights — but only the throwing part, not the getting hit part.  He’s outgrown a lot of his issues — he used to be unwilling to walk on grass — and so I was hopeful that he’d eventually be willing to play in the snow, but I wasn’t sure it would happen.  But today, he had a great time, and was even willing to lay down and make snow angels.”

Four years later, those fears seem like a distant memory.  He’s been out in the snow this week, climbing in and out of the fort, and eagerly participating in snowball fights.  He still hates wearing shirts with collars, and prefers sleeping in his robe to pyjamas, but we can live with that.  He’s still a ridiculously picky eater, but doesn’t seem to be wasting away from malnutrition, so we’ve mostly stopped arguing with him about it.

So, what’s the take-away from this?  I don’t know.   Laura says to go to a pediatric neurologist, but others have commented that the specialists missed their kids’ issues.   My kid mostly outgrew his issues; Laura’s kid, who seems to have presented with pretty similar traits, hasn’t (although he’s made a lot of progress).  I think this is where I’m supposed to say “trust your gut” but I know that when I was dealing with all of this, I had no idea what my gut was saying.  The best I can say is that if you as a parent don’t know what’s right, the “experts” who see your kid for a couple of hours are highly unlikely to know any more.

(Side note: At some point while my blog was down, I read Schuyler’s Monster, which is Rob Rummel-Hudson’s account of his family’s struggles to find out why his daughter couldn’t speak, and then to get her the education and technology (she uses a computer that speaks her words) needed to communicate.  It’s a lovely book, scary and sad and loving and hopeful and honest.  He also gives some advice similar to Laura’s, especially about networking, the need to fight for services (particularly when they are expensive), and moving to more affluent school districts.)

Kids restaurant week

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

You've probably heard of the "Restaurant Week" promos that happen once a year in a lot of cities — a bunch of restaurants all agree to offer a limited fixed price menu at the same bargain price for one week a year.  It's a nice way to get to try restaurants that are usually out of your price range, and gets the restaurants more customers during a generally slow time of year and lots of publicity and goodwill.

Well, this year Cookie magazine helped organize "Kids Restaurant Week" in three cities, including DC.  Adults pay $29, kids pay their age, special early seatings.  We generally have given up on going out with the boys to any restaurant fancier than Applebees, because it's just not worth the money to buy food that they won't eat, and it takes too much of our energy to keep them sitting nicely.  (Although we've discovered that a pair of bubble teas will buy us a good 45 minutes sitting at the local dim sum joint.)  But we decided to give Wasabi a try, since N likes the takeout sushi from Trader Joe's, and I hoped the food on a conveyor belt would distract D even if there was nothing he was willing to eat.  And it's right near my office.

We got there a little late, due to some parking issues.  (We discovered that our minivan no longer fits in the parking structures downtown since we installed a bike rack.  And most metered spots are off limits between 4 and 6.30.)  But they were very welcoming when we got there.

It turned out to be far more of a success than I had anticipated.  They had a kids meal planned out, with chicken karage, avocado rolls, sweet potato tempura and strawberries with ginger.  Somewhat to my surprise, D adored the chicken.  And adults could just eat of the conveyor belt or the menu.  The boys were thrilled by how the staff turned the standard wooden disposible chopsticks into kids chopsticks with the clever use of a rubberband and the rolled up paper wrapper.

At the end of the meal, the manager (or owner?) stopped by and was very welcoming.  He asked where we lived, and when we said Virginia, he told us they were opening a new branch in Tyson's in the fall.  He said that would be a more kid-friendly set-up, with more room, and the chefs working on display in the middle. 

I wouldn't have imagined taking the boys to Wasabi without the incentive of kids restaurant week, but at the end, they asked if they could go back.  And we probably will.

life with my crackberry

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

The New York Times had an article last year on how smartphones are becoming seen as a necessity.  Overall, it was sort of an eyeroll inducing article, and most of the commenters on the site did seem to be rolling their eyes.  But I do think it made a good point about how as a group (whether a work team or a group of friends) reaches a saturation point with the technology, it becomes harder to be the outlier.  People start to assume that you don't have comments on an email if you haven't responded in a few hours.  People get sloppy about making detailed advanced plans because they assume they'll be able to reach you by phone.

At work, they asked us sometime last fall if we wanted blackberries, and I said no thanks.  I check email from home anyway, and didn't feel like I wanted to be on constant call.  But most of my team got them, and within a few months, I went back to my boss and asked if it was too late to change my mind.  As it turns out, she had also said no previously, and was having second thoughts as well.  So we both got them.

I've had it for a couple of months now, and I'm pretty spoiled by it.  I still hardly use it as a cell phone — but the always-on connection to the internet and email is darned addictive.  Before I had it, I couldn't imagine paying for a data plan out of pocket — I was quite content with the combination of my iPod touch and a cheapo pay-by-the-minute cellphone — but now if I went to a job that didn't pay for the service, I might come up with the money to pay for it myself.  It's a perfect demonstration of the hedonic treadmill.

This week, there's been some buzz about IRS guidelines saying that personal use of a company cell phone is a taxable fringe benefit, just like use of a company car.  This is apparently something that's been the official policy for years, but essentially no one has known about it (and it's pretty small change compared to use of a car).  My understanding is that the new IRS guidelines were designed to clarify the rules and create a "safe harbor" so you didn't have to track all your use and allocate it across business vs personal, but what they actually did is draw attention to the policy.  I think that in theory, it does make sense to treat these phones as a fringe benefit, but in practice, it's way too much hassle for the amount of money that would be collected.


Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

This week I'm looking at two of the recent series of books about parenting from a father's perspective.  If the female version of these are "momoirs," does that make these "dadiaries?"

Of the two, Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood, by Michael Lewis, is the more recent and the more hyped.  Lewis is the author of one of the better books I've ever read (Liar's Poker, about the excesses of Wall Street in the 1980s) and so I had high hopes for this book. And it has some really funny moments.  But basically, it reads like the slapped together collection of Slate columns that it is.  In it we learn that parenting can be absurd, exhausting and messy, but that "If you want to feel the way you're meant to feel about the new baby, you need to do the grunt work.  it's only in caring for a thing that you become attached it." 

I'd actually be interested in reading a book by Lewis in which he uses his journalistic talents to look at the contested territory of parenting in the 21st century, because he does nail some issues: "For now, there's an unsettling absence of universal, or even local, standards of behavior.  Within a few miles of my house I can find perfectly sane men and women who regard me as a Neanderthal who should do more to help my poor wife with the kids, and just shut up about it.  But I can also find other perfectly sane men and women who view me as a Truly Modern Man and marvel aloud at my ability to be both breadwinner and domestic dervish — doer of an approximately 31.5 percent of all parenting.  The absence of standards is the social equivalent of the absence of an acknowledged fair price for a good in a marketplace.  At best, it leads to haggling; at worst, to market failure."

Dinner with Dad: How I Found My Way Back to the Family Table by Cameron Stracher doesn't try to describe modern fatherhood in general.  Rather, it's the story of one man who decided to be home for dinner, 5 nights a week, for one school year, and how it changed his life.  And yes, it looks like it started out as a blog

In order to do this, Stracher started working from home a few days a week, and eventually wound up quitting one of his two jobs, and thus having more time to coach his kid's teams, and generally be part of their lives.  Stracher acknowledges that everything he does would be unremarkable almost anywhere but in the suburbs of New York City, but he also doesn't downplay the difficulty in changing patterns of behavior when he works a two-hour train ride from home, he's expected to travel regularly for work, and all of the kid-focused activities are scheduled for at-home-parents. 

The other major theme of the book is Stracher's desire to cook "real" (e.g. grown up) food for his family, and his frustration when his kids turn up their nose at it again and again.  He writes with passion about the pleasure of feeding people you love, and how easy it is to put undue weight on it.  (I know that one of the reasons I make waffles and muffins so often is they're pretty much the only things I can make that the kids will appreciate the effort.)  He's not the elegant writer that Lewis is, but I think I enjoyed this book more.


Monday, May 25th, 2009

We had a really nice weekend camping.  We went with several other families, so there were a total of five kids, with ours the youngest at five and eight, and the oldest being twelve.  We went out to Wolf Gap, which is right on the border between Virginia and West Virginia.

I was impressed at how well the boys did hiking, since last year they were pretty whiny on a much shorter hike.  There was one section where you really needed to climb up some rocks, and both boys made it with only a few helping hands.  (They needed a bit more assistance on the downhill there.)  D whined a fair bit on the way up, but then raced down ahead of us trying to keep up on the way down.  N was a trooper for most of the time, but was clearly wiped by the end.

Other than the hike, the boys mostly spent the time obsessively poking the fire.  There were enough adults there that we were able to take turns supervising them, and no one got set on fire.  The kids all thought we should have a fire going at all times, so we told them they were responsible for collecting enough firewood to make that happen, and the older kids even each took a turn with the saw.  The adults were able to actually have some conversations, as well as reading, and staring into the fire.  We all ate far too many roasted marshmallows.

This was car camping [e.g. we could drive right to the campsite, but we slept in tents, not the car] so we were able to bring a ridiculous amount of supplies.  We had folding chairs and tables, a two burner stove, big tents, beer and soda, barbecued chicken, watermelon, coffee w/ cream, you name it.  This is the sort of camping that I did with my family when I was growing up, but as an adult I somewhere along the way decided that I only wanted to do backcountry camping, where you only have what you're willing to carry.  That's obviously not going to happen with the boys until they're old enough to carry their own gear, but this weekend made me realize that it's some sort of stupid snobbery to think that car camping isn't worth doing.

The two burner stove that my friends brought is pretty much identical to the one my parents bought at Sears 40 years ago, and a quick online search shows that Coleman still makes pretty much the identical model.  I remembered that when I was little we were able to buy the fuel for the stove at gas stations, which makes me think that car camping must have been far more popular then than it is now.* We hypothesized that it's been driven out by the combination of:

  • Camping as a cheap way to travel has been driven out by cheap motels and low-fare air travel.
  • Those who do travel and camp mostly use RVs.  (When did RVs get popular?)
  • Now that air conditioning is so ubiquitous, not to mention television and the internet, not so many people are interested in sitting in the woods and getting eaten by mosquitoes.  (My boys did complain about our not letting them bring their DSs.)
  • Those who do still camp are more likely to be the hard core folks who want to backpack and not car camp.

*I'm not entirely sure that's true — it looks like white gas was used for things other than just camping stoves and lanterns.

What do you think — has car camping declined?  Will it make a comeback in the recession?  Do you do it?  What's the one piece of gear that you couldn't live without?

Ok, I found some statistics from the outdoor industry foundation.  I think this is the trade group of the people who sell gear.  It's a little hard to read, but I think they're saying that 49 million Americans went car camping at least once in 2004, down 18 percent from 1998, and 13 million Americans went backpacking at least once in 2004, down 23 percent from 1998.  If anyone can find longer-term trends, I'd love to see them.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

I've been reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing to N at bedtime.  I hadn't read it since I was in 2nd grade, and am pleased that it's almost as good as I remember (although the mother is pretty annoying).  But I had realized how much it would be a guide to the changes in parenting practice since it was written (1972).

  • Peter (age 9) gets to go to Central Park without an adult, as long as he's with another kid. 
  • But not because it's safer than today — Peter says his friend has been mugged three times, and he assumes he'll get mugged someday too.
  • Three fourth graders are left alone in charge of a 2 1/2 year old.
  • The reason Mrs. Hatcher goes back to the apartment is that she realizes that she forgot to turn the oven ON. 
  • At Fudge's 3rd birthday party, the other kids are all dropped off and their parents leave — even though one kid is a known biter and another is terrified.

It looks like all of the Judy Blume books are still in print.  I remember reading a few years ago that she had updated Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret to update the references to sanitary napkins with belts (which were dated when I read it 30 years ago).  I don't know if she made changes to any of the other books.

What children's book of the past decade do you think our kids will be reading to their kids 37 years from now?  And what in them will seem most dated?