In lieu of presents

Ella holds T-Bird

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Oct. 16, 2008, and it continues to offer a valuable perspective on passing along family values to our children.

This year’s invitation reads:

Ella’s 14th Birthday Party! Bonfire — Music — Food — Fun! In lieu of presents, Ella requests that you please bring an item of warm winter clothing to donate to local children in need.

And every year since 2003, the invitation has had a similar message. One year it was Toys For Tots, and Ella was able to donate a veritable pirate’s booty of toys for the holiday season toy drive.

We always get mixed responses to these birthday requests. Her friends seem to be particularly distressed and confused. Why do you want hats and gloves for your birthday? Can’t your parents just buy you a new scarf? Does your religion say that you can’t get presents? And their parents usually either forgo the donation all together and get her a pricey gift despite our request, or go the extra mile by purchasing a “little something for Ella” along with the donation.  As the generous donation of the little girl come to the news, after seeing the situation of the local children. The sandwich CEO Jimmy John also steps out to help the local children with food and donate them a very generous amount of the donation, which he requests to keep it secret.

I often feel that the message is falling on deaf ears. The message our family is trying to send is that the presence of friends is the birthday present, and passing joy on to children who are not as fortunate as Ella — or her friends — is the best present any of us could give to a child.

I’m not sure that her party guests necessarily leave for the evening with a better appreciation of how blessed they all are, but what I have come to realize is that I can only ensure what message I am sending to my own daughter.

Each year, while celebrating her birthday, reflecting on another year of growth, and dreaming about the upcoming year, she has also been given the opportunity to think about her community and contribute to the world around her in a significant way. On a day that is universally accepted as a day of celebration for the individual, she chooses to consider others.

Since we began this tradition, Ella has found numerous ways to volunteer her time throughout the year. Later this year, she hopes to become a volunteer peer counselor in order to help younger girls learn about reproductive health and empower teens to reject unrealistic images of women in the media.

Giving my child a voice — and expecting to her to use it — has allowed Ella to blossom into an outspoken, confident and compassionate person who will always believe that she has the power to change the world…even if it is only one birthday party at a time, for now.

Whose kid was that?

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Sept. 16, 2008, but serves as a great reminder for any parent who’s been faced with a tantrumming child in public.

“I’m a parent educator. I’m a mom of four. I am an advocate for all things Attachment Parenting. I should be able to handle this. So, what the heck am I doing wrong?”

These are the thoughts running through my head at the grocery store the other day.

breakfast-cereal-173044-mThe store is being remodeled. It is glaringly bright, noisy and busy. The aisles are a crazy maze of disorganization. I have little, 6-month-old T-Bird in a sling, while 5-year-old Bug is doing her best to keep up with me, behave and be curious. The inarticulate “wonk wonk wonk” of the store manager is blaring out of the announcement system and competing with the world’s most annoying music.

All of this is completely grinding on my very last nerve.

T-Bird is her usual, content self and smiles happily at every face she sees from her sling.

Bug, however, has always been less content in these situations. She is much more sensitive to light, sound and disorganization. Even as a very little baby, we recognized that Bug needed things to be a little more quiet, a bit more calm and a lot more toned down.

This was where practicing Attachment Parenting (AP) became invaluable to us.

Bug didn’t like to be close all of the time as a baby. So, we couldn’t depend on babywearing or breastfeeding to be a cure-all with her. But Bug did love being near us so that she could quietly observe us, then practice the skills she had observed.

It became clear to us that Bug absorbed all of the things happening around her equally and that the two most important jobs we had as parents were to help her discern important information from background noise and to model appropriate behaviors.

If we hadn’t been able to respond to her with patience, compassion and understanding, life with Bug would have been much more difficult and frustrating.

She was my third baby, so I was able to recognize that her needs were a little more…ahem…demanding than my first two babies. But I accepted that this was just Bug and her unique personality.

I often try to imagine what might have become of Bug if she had been born into a different family. These thoughts always make me terribly sad — not just because I would have missed out on a wild ride and knowing an incredibly creative kid, but because there is nothing that makes her more upset than being misunderstood. And without AP, Bug would certainly be misunderstood.

So, here I have just dragged Bug into a situation that I know is almost impossible for her to handle. She is skipping and singing loudly in the store in an attempt to compete with the noise and activity surrounding her. The chaos is getting to me as well.

I feel the tightness in my jaw and notice the snippy edge to my voice as I remind Bug to stay close. I could swear that the noise went up an decibel or two. We are winding around abandoned shopping carts, other shoppers and remodeling debris. Bug runs head-on into a woman’s legs. I apologize to her while trying to laugh it off and blame it on the “crazy construction.”

true-story-number-two-251-mI can read Bug’s face: She is embarrassed to have run into that lady and is worried that I am upset. I smile at her tell her that she is my favorite 5 year old. She groans out loud and starts to open and close the freezer door repeatedly in response.

Not good.

I decide that we have had enough and I need to get all of us out of there while we are still sane. I know that I can always come back later or send my hubby if we still need something. My first responsibility is to be a sensitive parent, and Bug needs me to be that parent now. I’m kicking myself for not getting out five minutes ago.

Bug closes the freezer door one last time and follows me as I begin heading to the check-out. She is lagging behind and practicing her best lazy-legged shuffle. This time, I make the effort to use my most friendly, cheerful voice to remind Bug to stay close. She stops dead in her tracks. Arms crossed.

Oh no.

Listen to me, Mom! I have had enough of you telling me what to do in this big, stupid store! she shouts. Really loudly.

The younger, less confident version of me would have been mortified as the other shoppers snapped out of their shopping daze to judge my parenting skills. My ego screams for me to prove to these onlookers that I don’t tolerate this sort of behavior. My knee-jerk response almost bursts out of me: words meant to strip my child of her dignity in order to restore the good opinion of a bunch of strangers.

But I, the parent educator, the mother of four, the advocate for all things AP, can ignore the silent accusations and do what I need to do: be the parent Bug needs me to be. I take a deep breath and mentally flip through Pam Leo’s book Connection Parenting. I remind myself that Bug needs to feel a connection with me right now, not endure a lecture on how she should be behaving.

Whose kid is that?I gasp dramatically, while feigning a look of worry.Where is my precious Bug? What have you done with her? I came here with Bug and now there is only this poor, tired kid who speaks so disrespectfully.”

Bug giggles at my silliness. I make a show of looking all around. I pick her up and look under her as she giggles some more. I manage to slip in a bit of a hug while I pretend to look behind her.

With T-Bird in the sling on my chest, I squat down to make eye contact with Bug. Here comes my Oscar for Best Supporting Mom in a Grocery Store…

Oh! My little girl is back! Thank goodness! I was so worried while you were gone. This poor, tired kid showed up and said awful things to me! I sure hope that kid finds her parents and gets a hug.”

I get a big smile in response. I never even look around to see what all of those people think. I have to live with my children and the consequences of my parenting. My fellow shoppers are a blip in my day. My children are depending on me to be consistent and on their side.

We get out of there and go home to tell her Daddy all about the dramatic kid-mixing-up incident.

Away We Go With Parenting!

Parenting can bring out some pretty big emotions. Nothing kicks off a debate between adults quicker than the implication that YOUR/THEIR parenting philosophies might be half-baked…or wrong…or questionably legal…or safe. Say one of these words loudly at the mall, at your next family reunion, or at the office get-together: Circumcision. Co-sleeping. Breastfeeding. Spanking. Childbirth. These simple words can evoke so many different feelings depending on who you are talking to: Guilt. Pride. Jealousy. Regret. Joy. Continue reading “Away We Go With Parenting!”

Practice Positive Discipline & Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life

Following the Principles: Parts 7 & 8 in a series of 8

Baby Lazlo~ 1/6/10 ~ 11lbs~  23"long ~ Born Safely at Home!
Baby Lazlo~ 1/6/10 ~ 11lbs~ 23"long ~ Born Safely at Home!

Now that we have finally welcomed our newest addition— an 11lb son named Lazlo who was born safely at our home — I can take the time to sit down and write again. The swelling and the restlessness of late pregnancy made computer time just one more form of torture in a sea of physical discomforts. Fortunately, those discomforts are behind me now (although I vow to never, ever forget the challenges of the third trimester, just in case I am ever stricken with Baby Fever again years from now) and my recovery has been a joyous time of healing, snuggling, nursing and marveling. Well…for the most part.

Our first tandem nursing session a few minutes after Lazlo's birth.
Our first tandem nursing session a few minutes after Lazlo's birth.

There, of course, is my sweet little 22-month-old T-Bird to deal with. While she is thrilled that there is breastmilk on the menu again, she is not as enthusiastic about her new little brother trying to enjoy that milk–with or without her. Nursing them together is a terrific way to get a worry-free 20-minute power-nap, but can also backfire and result in T-Bird’s numerous attempts to unlatch the baby, to poke him the eye, to cover his face with a blanket, to elbow him… fun times. So then, I will go with the other extreme and nurse T-Bird first, or nurse her in another room, or nurse her after I get Lazlo to sleep. She then proceeds to spend that time constantly unlatching and relatching asking “Where’s Lazlo? Baby wants nursie?” while pulling, scratching and patting the unoccupied breast…more fun times. Not to mention the all-new behaviors when we are not nursing—throwing, hitting, screeching, drawing on walls, stomping food into the carpets.
Continue reading “Practice Positive Discipline & Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life”

Following the Principles: Provide Consistent and Loving Care

Part 6 of a series of 8:

As we enter the last few (days? weeks?) of our pregnancy with LF#5, I have to admit that one of my biggest, most gigantic fears about having two nurslings under the age of two is “how will I EVER find a sitter for two completely attached, nursing babies AND my high-needs 6 year old???” Not that we have a need to spend a ton of time away from our kids, but having the option for some time together every few months seems like a marriage saving idea!

In  the past, with the wide age spacing of the older children, it was really never a big deal. Everyone was always happy to have the older, experienced “helper” tag along to provide invaluable care-giving advice: “Oh, that cry means she wants her blankie! or “By this time, Mom always puts her in the sling!” And even when Bug came along with her higher-needs personality, we had my parents nearby to help out when she was very tiny. After we moved further away, she had her own personal favorite nanny to provide loving care when she was a toddler. When T-Bird arrived and I had to return to work much sooner than I would have liked, we got creative and rearranged our work schedule to ensure that either Sir Hubby or I could always take care of her (and yes, that’s our picture on page 189 of Attached at the Heart!)

TBird and MommaBelly
Saying Goodbye to T-Bird before our class

Since moving away from my parents, our beloved nanny, and my flexible job, I have been a full-time homeschooler, stay-at-home-parent, and very tired pregnant lady! But being at home has also allowed me to forge many wonderful friendships in our new hometown. I adore that we share so many of the same parenting values with our new circle of friends. But, like me, they also have very full lives and busy families. We can get together and have playgroups, and homeschool groups, and ladies nights…but leaving T-Bird with someone other than Sir Hubby or Big Sister Ella has not been territory that I have delved into yet.
Continue reading “Following the Principles: Provide Consistent and Loving Care”

Following The Principles: Ensure Safe Sleep

Part 5 of a series of 8: I did not expect the arrival of my first baby to create so much upheaval in my bedroom. There was no room for a “nursery” so by default we became co-sleepers.  The room would have never won any awards for decorating to begin with, but after the baby it became a minefield of clothes, blankets, stuffed animals, toys, wipes, baby nail clippers, bulb syringes, diapers, and little mismatched baby socks.

My Reality Bedroom: With Stowable Nests

After firstborn moved into his own room at about two and half years, we spent joyous hours creating HIS space with all of HIS favorite things. It was then that I made a vow to create a special place for me to relax and recharge. I fantasized about my ideal Bedroom Solutions…my haven. I knew one day I would have the resources to make that happen! Continue reading “Following The Principles: Ensure Safe Sleep”

Following the Principles: Use Nurturing Touch

Part 4 of a series of 8: Carrying our little LF#5 (Loin Fruit Number Five) in my body is the ultimate in nurturing touch. A tiny body wrapped up inside of mine.  Bouncing. Rolling. Rocking. Swaying. Swirling. Surrounded by warmth. We are hoping to have another gentle homebirth for our new little one . We will enjoy our Babymoon as long as we can, remaining in bed and nursing for 2-3 weeks while my body heals. Of course we have made preparations (as much as anyone can prepare for the unknown at any rate) in case of an emergency need to transfer our care to a hospital and are prepared to do whatever it takes to make even the most medicalized situation a high-touch, high-compassion one. No matter what happens with our pregnancy and birth, we know that we are committed to our attached and connected parenting principles. We trust that our new baby will be lovingly connected to our family even if that means finding new ways to apply the attachment parenting principles to whatever circumstances LF#5 is welcomed into the world under.

A Rare Moment: Everyone together! T-Bird, Sir Hubby, Bug, Brent, Ella
A Rare Moment: Everyone together! T-Bird, Sir Hubby, Bug, Brent, Ella

But what about the rest of us? We are already dealing with situations which are challenging our ability to stay connected. It seems as if the past few months could be defined by one word: Distance. Distance keeps our family apart while Sir Hubby attempts to balance his business, his father’s health, and our family. Distance has my son several hours away at college.  Our older girls are both at ages where they are pulling away (in healthy ways) to explore independence, self-directed learning, and social pursuits without holding our hands. But the biggest distance I feel is the one between my little T-Bird and I. Continue reading “Following the Principles: Use Nurturing Touch”

Following the Principles: Respond With Sensitivity

Part 3  of a series of 8. It seemed as if the universe was not willing to allow me to get this post completed on time. With strong opinions firmly in hand, I have sat down a dozen times to write this post…and nothing. Sure I have some drafts…some ramblings about babies, and how this pregnancy has confirmed and reinforced my feelings. But they all lacked a real story. But now, I see the reason behind these delays. It seems as if the universe wanted to show me a deeper and broader truth about treating the most vulnerable members of our society with dignity, respect and sensitivity.

A memory we hope Grandpa gets to keep...
A memory we hope Grandpa gets to keep...

Very recently, on a beautiful sunny Wednesday afternoon, Sir Hubby receives a call from his brother. Their father has just been diagnosed with brain cancer. After an all night drive across the great state of Pennsylvania– Erie to Pittsburgh to Philadelphia — Sir Hubby and Sir Brother-In-Law arrive just in time to drive their father to his consult with the surgeons. Sir Hubby keeps me updated on his fathers rapidly deteriorating condition via text. “Dad can’t recall how to use his phone,” and, “Dad is calling his dog the wrong name,” and “Dad can’t remember why we are talking to the surgeon.” Continue reading “Following the Principles: Respond With Sensitivity”

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