Would you like some pictionary with your soup?

Editor’s note: This post was published originally on Oct. 25, 2008, and it continues to give timeless inspiration to parents seeking connection at meal time:

soup-1414949-mAll this talk about presence has made me re-examine some of the good, and bad, habits my family has fallen into.

When I was a new mom, and therefore full of boundless optimism and energy, I promised my family would never watch television during dinner. I swore that we would use that time to talk about our day, connect with each other over world events, get reaquainted with the people we lived with day to day.

Then I went to school, got a couple years of solid and consistent sleep deprivation under my belt, and had another child. His existence contributed to the growing sleep deficit — basically insuring that I can’t finish a thought, much less a sentence, most of the time.

It began with quasi-educational programming, followed by a discussion of said programming. We would watch “Mythbusters” and discuss the physics and science behind the tests they did, or “Survivorman” and discuss the problem-solving techniques he used. Sometimes we would watch “Dirty Jobs” and talk about the importance of a good, solid education.

Then it became whatever show we wanted, and the discussions stopped. Eventually I realized we were training our children to watch television over dinner. I would ladle out soup and hear, “What are we going to watch tonight?” from my daughter. This awoke the long, slumbering power mom who swore the TV would be relegated to an hour total each day, never during dinner. She woke up mad that I had let this family slide into it’s current state of disconnection through television.

So the other night, I made my family play rudimentary Pictionary while we ate.

It was a huge success. We all drew a picture of something, movie, book or thing and let each person guess what it was. Most of the meal was spent laughing at each other’s renderings and misunderstandings. When dinner was over, there was a small pile of “art” on the table and a sense of reconnect in the family — one we hadn’t felt in a while.

We are still exhausted and crazed, and I am transitioning from stay-at-home mom to work-from-home mom, so I am sure there will be days when we slip back into our bad TV habits. However, I am hoping we can toss in more days of board games and conversation, allowing us to reconnect with each other and be more present in each others’ lives. I am also going to encourage a return to educational television during dinner, followed by a discussion, as that allows a similar connection to occur on days when TV seems like the right answer.

I hope my decision appeases the power mom inside me. I hate to disappoint her too often. She has fantastic, if sometimes somewhat unrealistic, goals.

Inviting them in…

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on October 6, 2008, but it’s a great reminder that one way to connect with our children is to let them into our grownup world.

721847_mother_and_daughterSometimes being present in your child’s life has more to do with inviting them into your life, rather than joining them in theirs.

We focus a lot on setting aside time for our children so we can engage in their activities, which is definitely important, but it’s not the only way to involve them in your life.

I had my daughter, now 7, when I was 25. I was in my last year of college. I distinctly remember reading my criminal justice and criminology text to her as she grew in my womb.

Once she was born, she came with me everywhere. When I went to study, she came along, sitting up in her little baby seat, smiling away at the staff at Village Inn as I read up on trial practice, literature and the law, and basic evidence. She flourished at my side.

When she was 2, I entered law school and she entered preschool. There were days when I would pull her out of school and bring her to class with me, so she could see what mommy did all day. At 2, she would sit quietly next to me in class for the full 1 hour and 45 minutes, listening to a lecture on federal wildlife law and administrative law, and be happy as a clam. She would often raise her hands and ask questions of my professors, and in the 3 years I attended law school, she enjoyed every class she got to sit in on.

When I joined the American Inns of Court, she came to our weekly breakfasts and loved talking to the judges and lawyers, listening to their stories and stealing bits of their bacon and cantaloupe. To this day, she attends these breakfasts with me and is very proud that she gets to come along.

After graduation I went to work for an attorney in New Jersey. At one point in time, I had to bring Monkey — my pet name for my daughter — to work with me. We had a huge filing due the next day, my husband was out of town and there was nowhere else for her to go. She sat in my office with me from 3:30 p.m. until nearly midnight, happily drawing away.

On the ride home, I thanked her for being so well behaved. She said, “You remember how I used to go to law school with you? This was kind of like that. I have missed it.”

I was so touched to realize how much she enjoyed being a part of my adult world.

I forget how much it means to her, to be allowed in on the things I am doing. Sure, she is thrilled if I play house with her or paint a picture with her, but she will cry if she misses the Thursday morning breakfast group.

I always worried she would find these grownup occasions boring, but she doesn’t. She involves herself and finds a way to participate, every single time. She is so proud that she gets to attend grownup functions, and she is always well behaved at them. We may have tantrums in the store, or wiggling at a restaurant, but she knows when she has to behave well, and she is so pleased to be included that she goes out of her way to do her best.

There are other ways to invite children in: letting them cook with you, clean with you, choose items at the grocery store or make decisions about what you do as a family on the weekend. In my experience, just being asked to join in makes all the difference to our little people.

Connection

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published August 19, 2008, but it continues to serve as a reminder that there are many ways to connect with our pre-verbal babies, such as sign language.

sign languageAs my son nears 1 1/2 years old, our interactions get more complicated. His needs increase, his desires vary and his need to communicate grows. When he was a little baby, we seemed to speak telepathically, responding to each other’s wordless communications with ease. Now that his needs go beyond sleep, cuddles and food, it gets harder and harder to determine what he wants me to do.

Which is why I began introducing sign language to him. I tried this technique with my daughter, but she was always too busy to use it. However, my son is intent on communicating with me. He tries to hard to engage in conversation and gets so frustrated when we don’t understand what he needs. We are working on the signs for “milk,” “more,” “finished,” and a few other words, just so we can get through to each other.

When I started, I didn’t really expect it to work. However, I gave it the old college try and signed “milk” every time we settled down to nurse.

One morning, he made the sign while we were nursing. I smiled and encouraged him, “That’s right! Milk! Smart baby!” Gradually he began to use the sign, though not to ask for milk, simply as we were nursing.

Then one morning, as I slept peacefully in bed, he patted me on the shoulder. When I opened my eyes to take in his smiling face, he grinned, said “Mep,” and made the sign for milk. Very slowly and deliberately.

I responded with, “You want some milk?”

He clapped his hands, and once again made the sign for milk and said, “Mep.” He was obviously delighted that he could communicate so clearly with me.

We celebrated his newfound communication skills with a good long nurse, interrupted by many “Mep”s and hand signs. He has asked for milk repeatedly since, always using the hand sign and the word. He will pause mid-nurse to sit up and say it again, just because he can. He is always very proud to be able to ask for his milk. The look that comes over his face when he asks is amazing. He clearly feels very grown up.

We are moving on to “more” and “finished.” Then I am going to break out my sign language book from college and get down to the serious business of communication. I believe we are going to overcome many frustrations with this fresh method of talking to each other.

Bye Bye Mama Milk

Last week Otter and I said goodbye to nursing. He was two months past his second birthday.

The decision to wean was not made lightly. He had been growing more independent for quite some time, blossoming the way breastfed babies do. Then suddenly he began to regress, demanding more and more milk, becoming less willing to eat solid foods and becoming violent and angry when I wouldn’t let him nurse. I started feeling as though keeping him on the breast was doing him more harm than good, a feeling that started inside me, and grew. One day he and I had a huge fight about nursing, and we decided, together, that it was time to stop. I told him, in one week, we say bye bye to Mama milk.
Continue reading “Bye Bye Mama Milk”

Struggling near the goal line…

My son turned two a week ago and is as much an attachment baby as ever, maybe even more so. I love to hold him, and cuddle him, and even sleep with him when he comes into bed in the middle of the night. I am fine with him sitting on my lap during meals and crawling all over me all day long. The problem is, there are times I can barely stand nursing anymore. Continue reading “Struggling near the goal line…”

The giving tree…

We have developed several holiday practices over the years to try and teach our children the non commercial meanings of Christmas, Yule, and Chanukah. This year, with the economy being shaky and our recent cross country move draining our piggy banks dry, we are trying even harder to focus on family time and experiences instead of gifts.
Continue reading “The giving tree…”

Thankful

As we prepare for Thanksgiving this year I am once again astounded at the rush to Christmas that seems to invade the mall, grocery stores, and of course, my children.

Shopping for a turkey takes me past an aisle full of ribbon candy, ornaments, and “inexpensive” stuffed toys and board games. Sadly, it also brings out the gimmies in my eldest. I shop to a chorus of “Can I?”‘s and “I want!”‘s and I get more frustrated as each request hits me. Continue reading “Thankful”

A growing personality…

One of my favorite parts of parenthood is watching a growing personality take form and shape.

Otter is growing daily into the person he will become. He is trying on attitudes and behaviors, and it is humorous to watch him keep and discard various attitudes. Ever the gooey love baby, he has started handing out open mouthed drooley kisses to people who have earned his favor. We call them “Meh’s” as in “Would you like to give your sister a Meh?” He has also started giving the large carved wooden turtle in my parents living room meh’s, climbing onto a footstool and kissing it over and over again when we visit. Continue reading “A growing personality…”

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