Monday, December 23, 2013

8 Things I Learned from my Coworker Without Realizing It.

The best kind of teacher is one who doesn't appear to be teaching you at all. 


Before my daughter was born I had the privilege to work in a preschool classroom with such a person. Glenna is a skilled Early Childhood Educator with many years of childcare experience under her belt, but she let me work alongside her as more of an equal than an apprentice. It wasn't until she went on leave with an injury that I fully realized the extent of her guidance. It was not through authoritarian lecturing that she imparted the following wisdom, but through kind conversation and a good example. All ECE's are instructed to teach their children in such a manner, but the wisest of teachers apply it to their other childcare providers and parents as well.

Here are the eight concepts that have resonated with me the longest, and it is these which come to mind most often with I ask myself "WWGD?"

1. You should praise the action, not the child. "'Good Boy' is something I say to my dog," Glenna joked, my first week on the job.  Rather, something like, "Good work on that block tower" lets a child know exactly where his skills lie and keeps him away from unnecessary labels.

2.  You don't have to be loud or emotional to get your point across. I never once saw a child who could get Glenna ruffled, though boy they tried! She was as calm and stoic as a person could be who got sassed, peed on, and screamed at on a daily basis.  When you remain calm, what happens after a period of time is that you end up with children who don't want to disappoint you. Because they learn that causing you to react means you have done something especially heinous and they feel bad for upsetting you. On the other end of the spectrum, if you scream and holler all the time, they don't even hear you. 

3. You don't have to solve all their problems.  In fact, solving children's problems, especially interpersonal problems, just teaches them not to rely on their own abilities. Once they get to be four or five, most children already know the right thing to do and don't need to be lectured, just trusted.  Glenna used to have conversations that sounded something like, "Oh, he hit you did he? And what did you do? Do you think that was the right thing? What should you do now?  Okay, go ahead!"  And then she would send the child back to take responsibility without ever having to shout or apply punishment. This kind of mediation is one that requires a lot of grace and skill to pull off successfully, and it comes hand in hand with the previous tip.

4. You don't need to be fast or agile to work with children.  Because of her medical issues, at that point in time Glenna wasn't as mobile as she would have like to be. Sure, it's convenient to be able to scoop a 40 pound screaming, stubborn child up under your arm and place him where you want him to be. But there is also a lot to be said about getting "hands off" from time to time.  Instead of running after children, Glenna had an uncanny ability to beckon them over with a few quiet, well thought out words. While most childcare workers will tell you that you need to squat down on the floor to reach children at their own level, Glenna taught me that it's more important to lower your mindset to their level to get a greater understanding of what they're thinking.

5. You need to learn to improvise, and throw away any need for perfection. Glenna wore an upside down coat for pants one day when the weather suddenly turned cold. (And I respect her enough I won't post a photo.) The kids found it hilarious, and it was a good example for them of putting personal needs ahead of other people's opinions.
It was Glenna who taught me to improvise and sing out loud all the time, even if it's made up. Kids don't care if it's a real song.  They don't care if it rhymes or if it has more than five words. Improvising gives kids permission to express themselves creatively in the same way.

6. You can never have too many hobbies. Glenna has tremendous skill and patience in many creative pursuits, from baking to embroidery to paper crafting.  While people will all have different interests, of course, having a passion for any personal hobby will help keep you from losing yourself amongst the busyness and stress of raising children.  Many moms and childcare workers just give and give of themselves and forget to pursue any interests of their own, until one day they hit a tipping point and have an identity crisis.

7. Cherish your relationships while they last. Your kids won't stay kids, and you won't be around forever yourself.  Neither will your own parents. Life is too short to sweat small stuff or harbour  grudges, so end each day on a peaceful note.

8. You can do everything right and sometimes things still go wrong.  Accepting that children will ultimately make their own choices is one of the best gifts you can give them.  What they choose to do with that gift is up to them, and it's not necessarily a reflection on how you raised them.


Thanks, Glenna! Perhaps I'll have the good fortune to work with you again someday, and if not, I hope I can pay it forward.


Author's note: I have worked with a lot of great people. This post isn't meant to undervalue their skill or influence; I simply chose one person who was able to connect with me in a way I was particularly receptive to. 









Thursday, December 19, 2013

8 Ways to Avoid Baby Gift Overload

People love to give babies presents. People can't help themselves. I don't really understand this, since babies are the people who are least likely to appreciate presents. Nevertheless, if you've got a baby in your house who wasn't there last year, odds are, he or she will soon be getting truckloads of stuff.

Now if you reading this but you are actually someone who is struggling to make ends meet and you are worried about how you are going to make baby's first or second Christmas special, you need not concern yourself with a lack of lame first world problems like "too many gifts."  You're in a better position to enjoy what Christmas is really about. Plus, babies have no expectations, they're usually terrified of Santa, and they'll be happy to receive an empty box or a set of old car keys.

If you still really want to have something to mark the occasion, consider asking for assistance from a select few friends or a gift giving organization.  You don't need to feel ashamed or guilty. Like I said, people love to give babies presents. If you give a shopping enthusiast an excuse to buy fancy baby things, you are doing that person a favor. You'll satiate someone's need to buy tiny things that make people go "Awwwwww. Lookatthosewiddleshooooes". They won't have to get pregnant just to have little feet to fit into those adorable little shoes.  It's win-win. 

Gift clothes from 1 holiday!
As for the rest of you, especially those with large extended families, brace yourselves.  Christmas day might be epic.

On Blue's first Christmas she was six months old, and she was the first grandchild for my parents, and the first grandchild in over a decade for my husband's parents. We began opening gifts at 7:30, and with brief breaks for naps, we continued unwrapping well into the evening.  We eventually gave up and opened more gifts on Boxing Day.




I'm sure I'm not the only one who has experienced First-Christmas overload. Here are some tips to help first time parents keep Christmas from being overwhelming.

1. Before Christmas, do a purge of all unneeded clothes and toys.

2. K.I.S.S.  Keep it simple, Santa. Buy your baby one really nice gift instead of lots of little things, and if relatives ask, suggest they do the same. If you accidentally go overboard, see if there is anything you  can donate to the angel tree or another charitable organization.

3. Don't wrap necessities.  Your baby won't care if he uncovers a toothbrush, socks, or clothes. If you must buy these things and save them for Christmas, put them all in one basket under the tree.

4. Spread out the gift opening over a few days. If you have purchased a number of fun toys that you know will keep your child captivated, open some on Christmas Eve or Boxing day so she has enough time to explore each one. If you have aunts and uncles dropping off gifts for your little one, open them right then and there.  The gifter will get to enjoy seeing you open it.

5. Don't remove a new toy from your baby's hands in order to make him open or play with the next present. He will cry. He doesn't know what's going on. There will be lots of time later to open or introduce the next item.

6. Consider giving your child an experience instead of an object. Babies who love music will enjoy sitting on your lap at a kid friendly concert or theater show.

7. Play light Christmas music on low volume while you open gifts.  Or play nothing at all. You don't want your baby to get overstimulated or a crying jag will ensue. Nothing puts more holiday stress on you than hearing,"Ding Christmas Bells! Ding Christmas Bells!"

8. If your baby is old enough to enjoy unwrapping gifts but he lacks the dexterity, try this trick: Tape a Christmas ribbon along the length of the paper. All he needs to do is yank.  I thought this up while simultaneously wrapping presents and eating Babybel cheese.


 



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Make Gingerbread Men like a Boss

I can't believe all these Mom bloggers who come out of the woodwork at Christmas. I don't know how they do it... pumping out recipe after craft after activity like idea sausages.

Not me. I'm a one-trick-pony when it comes to holidays.  All I do is gingerbread men.

But I rock it.

So can you.



Gingerbread cookies have been a family tradition since I was young. What I love about making them is that this is one of the few activities that is appealing to every age category. Here are a few of the perks:


• The dough is very easy to make, and little ones love all the stirring and kneading
• You can't overmix it or screw it up easily
• It contains no egg products so it's safe to eat
• The smell of the spices and the texture of the flour, dough, and molasses make a wonderful sensory experience for young tots
• Plain gingerbread cookies are great for teething toddlers who need to gnaw
• The decorating process can be as easy or difficult as you want it to be, depending on the skill level of your child. I like to divide the dough-making, cookie cutting, and decorating into three activities to do over three days to match my two year old's attention span.

I have memorized the recipe after more than 30 years of doing this, but I think originally I got this from a book. I probably owe the credit to my good old Jean Paré Company's Coming "Cookies" edition. When I was a cookie-obsessed child, that book was second only to the Bible in our house.

This dough recipe makes 40-50 cookies, or if you want you can cut it in half. Remember, though, you may lose some gingerbread men to crumbling, spontaneous amputation and overeating.


Gingerbread Dough


1/2 cup Butter: room temperature for best results
1 cup White Sugar
1 cup Molasses
2/3 cup Water

2 tsp Baking Soda
2 tsp Ginger
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Cloves
1 tsp Salt
6 1/2 cups Flour


 Instructions:

 1. Cream the butter and sugar together.  Have your child add the molasses and water and give it a stir with a big wooden spoon. He or she will enjoy watching the molasses swirl slowly out of the measuring cup. Your dough will soon look like porridge and cola.







2. Mix in all the other ingredients. Make sure you let your little one smell (not snort!) the different spices as you add them. Stir it as best you can with the spoon, but you will soon need to get in there and make it into a ball with your hands.

3. Eat a little dough. Yum.


4. Cover and place in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.


Cookie Cutting Tips

•Look for classic cookie cutters when you purchase. The ones with outlines only. The gimmicky types with inside lines or molds never turn out right, and even when they do, they limit your creativity.

• If your dough has been in the fridge overnight, warm it on the counter for at least 30 minutes.

• For best results, you need surface with an even coating of flour. I prefer to use a wooden cutting board instead of the finished wood of my dining room table because the flour spreads more evenly.

Flour play
• With little children, you may not need to go any further. You'll have them at flour. Sprinkle a little on the table top for them and let them smear it around.

• Rub flour on a wooden rolling pin, and over the surface of the dough. Begin to flatten it into a large oval, checking occasionally to make sure it's not sticking to the wood. Roll to a uniform thickness of about 6-8 millimeters. Show your child how to put the cookie cutter close to the edge (good luck with that!) and do the "press and wiggle". If all goes well, the dough should stick to the inside of the cutter when you transfer it to the pan. If not, use a flat spatula. The cookies will grow slightly so leave a half inch or more clearance around each cookie. Most kids will do a couple cookies and get bored, then you'll end up doing the rest while they try to play with it like play dough. That's okay.

• The dough doesn't get overworked all that easily. You can ball it up and re-roll it four or five times so don't worry about a few mistakes here and there.

• Bake at 350°F (180°C) for at least 8 minutes, or more if your dough is thick. Cooking for longer will give you a stronger cookie but it might be tougher to eat.

Decorating

There are two good methods of decorating: coloured chocolate or icing. (Please don't message me about the "u" in coloured this time. I'm Canadian and I'm not taking it out!). The coloured chocolate is easier for children to work with, less messy when done, and I find that it tastes better to adults who don't enjoy loads of sugary icing.  The downside is that it takes a fair bit of skill to get it to look good.
Icing is traditional, it looks great and can be really fun to squeeze, but it can also be messy and more work to make.

Coloured Chocolate

Nothing could be simpler. First hit up the Dollar store and get some plastic paintbrushes and small
Blue, "painting" cookies at 18 months.
bowls- I prefer ramekins. Get one for each colour. Then head to the Bulk Barn or a bulk food store of your choice and buy some chocolate melting wafers. Microwave the wafers on medium heat and stir occasionally with a Popsicle stick until just melted. If you do it right, the chocolate will be liquid but not hot enough to burn your child. You can use a pan of hot water or a hot plate to keep the chocolate melted when not in use, but I find it easier just to pop them back in the microwave every 10 to 15 minutes. Use a different paintbrush in each dish and, if multiple people are making cookies, try to pass the children one dish at a time or else they will just slop all the colours together.

Children will apply the chocolate just as they would apply paint to a craft. They can also add sprinkles if they are quick enough to do it before the chocolate hardens.
Some Chocolate ones I made

Icing

Making: I'll admit this is one of those things I never bother to use a recipe for. You can google buttercream icing and find something lovely, I'm sure. But all I do is pour some icing sugar into a bowl, add some butter and some liquid- milk for cookies, or egg white for gingerbread houses or anything that needs to act as edible glue. I sometimes use egg white icing to repair gingerbread limbs. You will also add a flavour and color of your choice, and I also like to put a touch of cream of tartar to keep it from tasting too sweet. Mix until it is pasty and stiff. If it's runny, add more icing sugar, and if it's doughy, add more butter or milk.

Mixing: If you are mixing a number of colours, start with the lightest colour and work towards the darker ones. That way you don't have to wash out your bowl between colours. I like to start with white (I use shortening instead of butter to keep it white), then I make light yellow, very light orange (or caucasion skin tone), dark orange, red, then brown.  You can add cocoa to the remnants of the red icing to make brown. Then rinse the bowl and make green, blue, then purple, then black.

For best results, use Wilton Gel colour, especially for red, purple and black. Use a baby spoon for scooping it out if you have one, or a flat toothpick.

Squeezing: You can use pastry bags if you want to get fancy, but I find it easier just to use small plastic bags.  Turn the bag inside out, apply a spoonful of icing to one corner and then turn right side out. Add an elastic or twist tie, then snip off a tiny hole in one corner.
For young children, just give them enough icing for one cookie at a time or else they may end up with a mountain of icing. Have them squeeze it onto the cookie, add decorations and allow it to air dry.

Spreading: If you want to cover a large area of cookie with a solid color, squeeze the icing all around and the apply a wet butter knife to spread it around. Be careful not to spread too hard or the icing will separate from the cookie. It may help to slightly dampen the cookie before you begin to help it stick, or you can pre-prime the cookies with corn syrup and apply icing while it's still tacky.

Get creative: If your goal is to serve cookies to children, use lots of color and candy. You can try to make recognizable figures like Dora, Cinderella, or Optimus Prime if you're really talented. If you're not so talented, Elmo and Cookie monster are great for novices.  You can even buy candy googly eyes at the Bulk Barn.
Cookie Monster and Elmo, as conceptualized by an 18 month old.

The Icing covered cookies Blue made at age 2 1/2
If you are giving the cookies to grown ups, less is more. Adults always tend to go for the cookies with the least amount of toppings, so your classic gingerbread man is your best bet. I like to do a simple white outline and a couple candy buttons, then I add a touch of individualism with Groucho Marx glasses or a beard.
The rabbit and wreath are adapted from an armless, decapitated gingerbread man.




Displaying: In my own family tradition, we made the cookies into a long chain and hung
them on either side of the inside threshold of our home. Visitors to the house would each get to cut off the bottom cookie and take it home. Spread out a long line of plastic wrap on the floor- at least 8 feet. Place the dried cookies face down in the centre of the wrap and carefully fold in the sides. Do this when your children and pets are safely occupied elsewhere or else you're in for a world of trouble.  Once folded, tie Christmas ribbons in between each cookie. If you want each cookie to stay sealed, tie two ribbons in between each one and cut between them.

Follow up: Sit down with your child and eat your gingerbread men while drinking a nice glass of milk, all while reading your favourite version of the "Gingerbread Man" story.

Merry Christmas!











 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

I’m Not Doing Elf on the Shelf





I’m not doing Elf on the Shelf

I’ve got nothing against people who do it. I’m not one of those people who harbours misdirected jealously toward moms who remember to move that Elf every night. I don’t believe Elf on the Shelf is necessarily a direct reflection of good parenting. I don’t even think anyone is lording it over those with less ambitious traditions. I don’t really care what you do with your Elf.

I’m a hipster. I liked the Elf before it was cool.  Actually, I liked the Elf before there was an Elf. When I was a kid I had an equally creepy plastic faced angel with pipe cleaner arms that I would position somewhere every year for my parents to find. Traditionally she would stage a coup d’état against the blinking star at the top of the Christmas tree, even though she was non-electric and only two inches high. 

So when I first saw the Elf I thought it was a fabulous idea. We were meant for each other. But the timing wasn’t right. The Elf was single, but so was I.  Single people have no use for an Elf on the Shelf unless they suffer from short term memory loss, in which case, everything on their shelf is a source of wonder and amusement.

Since that time I have had my own child, and she is now old enough to participate in Christmas traditions. But the Elf is no longer single. There’s now a girl Elf. And she’s high maintenance, evidently, because she requires several expensive outfits. And it doesn’t end there. There’s a baby Elf (Who’s the mother? Not that rake thin androgynous pre-pubescent Elfette?) There are two versions of plush Elves, Elf board game, Hide and Seek Game, Elf book and video, Elf nightlight, Elf lunchbox, Elf iphone case, and so on. And if you want proof that it’s all marketing hype, check out the Elf “3D” bookmark!  Is it a hologram? No, Sir. You’re paying seven dollars for something a free square of toilet paper could do because it has the rare feature of width, length and depth!

I see how it is, Elf. You’re too cool for me now. You don’t need me to dish out eighty bucks for you and your new family, because you’re getting plenty of attention already. You are doing just fine.

But I don’t want to be a scrooge of a parent. I have to do something. Maybe I can capture whatever it is that is appealing about Elf on the Shelf without having to spend that much money.  What’s so endearing about Elf anyway? Is it because he’s always in a different place and you never know for sure if he moved on his own volition? Because if that’s the case, my car keys are Elf, too.  So is my mobile phone. So is everything I own, with the exception of my kitchen sink, my non-wireless mouse, and the pen chained to the desk.

And since the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, all of my daughter’s toys are Elf, too. I always think I know where her bunny is but then find him in the car or the turkey roaster or the bottom of a ten pound bag of potatoes. I’m not even exaggerating. If I add an Elf to our roster of creepy sentient toys, I doubt she would even notice.
The toddler denied responsibility for these creepy ponies I found eating cheese.

So if coming to life can’t be the thing that makes Elf-on-the-Shelf magic, maybe I’m looking too deeply into this. Maybe people just spend all that money because it rhymes. Would people buy soap-on-a-rope or squeeze cheese if they didn’t rhyme?  Can I save myself a few bucks if I just pair another Christmas thing with a rhyming household fixture?  

Why not? I just have to decide which is more magical, my nativity sheep on the laundry heap or my stocking on the bathtub caulking.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Why Safety Warnings Aren’t for You.


This is so meta.

Scenario 1: You are invited to have dinner on a restaurant patio by a boardwalk with your non-parent friends. You bring your three week old infant with you. The restaurant is crowded, and there are people passing with their dogs and bicycles. You take the only table available. You order your food, but when it arrives, scalding hot, you can’t hold your baby safely while eating so you place her in her car seat. And when you put the car seat on the ground, your infant gets an unwelcome lick by an overzealous doberman who is passing by. What do you do? Leave your baby at the mercy of crowds and dogs? Put her up on the table, despite the car seat’s warning labels? Ask for the bill and eat your food in your car, thus putting yet another wedge between you and your child-free friends? 

Scenario 2:  Your 10 month twins are in their high chairs. They just finished their lunch and are happily licking the mashed peas off their fingers. Suddenly, you are stricken with diarrhea! You know you will not have time to unbuckle two children and carry them to the bathroom in time.  Do you unbuckle them anyway and risk soiling yourself? Or do you run to the bathroom and leave your children unattended in their high chairs even though the sticker on the chair warns you not to?

Blue's first written word, made with a toxic pen
Scenario 3: Your two-and-a-half year old is having a play date with a three year old while you chat with the other child’s mom. Your child says, “Look Mommy! I made you this!” and brings you a piece of paper on which she drew a heart with a smiley face in it. While you are proud her ability you are also aware that the package of markers is labeled Age 3+.  Do you take the markers away? Tell her she needs to sit at the table with you so you can make sure she doesn’t inhale the caps?  Or do you try to foster your child’s development by offering only phrases of encouragement and trust? 

There are no obvious answers. Some parents will eat in their cars, soil themselves, and take away everything smaller than a toaster before they put their children at risk.  Other people will put their car seats on the table, use the bathroom alone, and keep their children occupied with small toys if it means they can make it through the day and keep their sanity intact.

“But there are warnings on things for a reason!” that first parent might say. “It says right on the package, ‘DO NOT place on elevated surface, DO NOT leave children unattended. Not for children under three!’ And any parent who ignores those warnings is negligent!”

The horror!
It’s easy to judge people who cheat a little when it comes to safety.  It’s especially easy when you are not a parent yourself, or not a single parent, or if you only have one child or if you have any kind of life or scenario that is different from someone else’s.  But in reality, it is almost impossible to follow every safety warning all the time.   Young children everywhere are climbing jungle gyms for school-aged kids, wearing clothes with strings and buttons, and batting balloons around at parties. 

Here’s the thing about warning labels. Yes, they are there for a reason. But is that reason that your own child is specifically in great and imminent danger?  No. The warning labels are not there for you. They are there for the companies who mass produce items for thousands of unknown users who they can’t predict or control.

Picture a company that produces a baby chair and ships one million units. Of the one million families who purchase one, there will be a certain percentage of people who won’t follow the warnings. If only 0.1 percent of people are in this category, that means there are a thousand parents using the product haphazardly. And if even one out of those thousand children gets seriously injured or dies, the company is liable, unless they provided a warning. And that is what the warnings are for– protecting the company from bad press and litigation.

But you, as a parent, are not assessing the risk of a million people. You have only your own child or children to worry about, and you are the only person who can assess the risks and dangers of each particular situation.

The difficulty with risk assessment is that in general, people are generally not as good at it as they think. There are over a hundred means of self-delusion which can cloud your common sense (see this great blog for more on fallacies and self-delusion.) Rationality and critical awareness are something that takes practice, and if you are not confident in your ability to assess risk, you may be better off following manuals and warning stickers.

But for those who want to make their own decisions, we can do so by first being educated about each type of risk. Things that go into your child’s body are especially susceptible to misconceptions: risky foods, medicines, vaccines– these are good things to read up on before administering to or denying your child.  For example, parents say things like, “I read that popcorn is a choking hazard, but I still give it to my child. I just remove the unpopped kernels.”  While on the surface this may sound like common sense, a bit of research will reveal that it is not the unpopped kernels that pose a risk, but the very light and insoluble husks that can be easily inhaled. Because you can’t easily remove the husks or regulate how your child eats while breathing, popcorn remains a risk that is out of a parent’s control. Education in this circumstance is important. 

Other circumstances require only common sense, and a little critical thinking. There’s a conundrum I find myself in often, and I’ll share it here for your judging pleasure: I leave my child in the car when I return the shopping car to the corral. I use do it on overcast days or I use the double key method, and I’m not ashamed to say so. Here is why: My child is a loose cannon. She can’t be trusted to remain in my arms and not wiggle free, or to walk beside me without running into traffic. Of course she needs to learn this and yes, I am teaching her. But in the process of learning something, children do make mistakes, and it only takes one mistake for my child to get run over by a car.  Given past events and my knowledge of my own child, I can estimate that the risk of my child getting hit by a car is “medium to high risk.” Staying in the car has its risks, too, of course. I could get hit by a car myself and become incapacitated, and then my car could run out of gas and the sun could come out and she could eventually succumb to heat exhaustion. Is that possible? Sure. But it’s what I consider to be a low risk because it relies on several improbable factors. What else could happen? Well one thing that IS highly probable is that a stranger could see my child in the car and assume I’m being a negligent parent. And isn’t that really what parents are afraid of?   

Fine motor development via "dangerous" hardware
In this example one risk of ignoring labels was surpassed by a greater danger. But sometimes the greater danger is not as obvious. There are many articles circulating that suggest risk-averse parenting can slowly stunt a child’s development. One of the things we now know about early childhood development is that the first five years are critical in forming the brain. If children are not permitted to take supervised risks when they are ready and interested, they may have difficulty gaining a skill later on, or they may develop a “learned helplessness” in which they are unwilling to try new things. If you follow strict “warning label” policies with children, you may miss a window of opportunity. Your three year old may be able to learn to use scissors, and your two year old may be able to write the alphabet if trusted with a pencil. I’m not talking about pushing your child to succeed at an early age. I’m talking about helping your child follow a natural developmental pattern based on their interests and abilities, and those developments may not coincide with the age limits on packages.

So what’s my point? I am just another parent saying “It can’t happen to me?”  I don't believe I'm that naive. Anything can  happen to anyone. Dangers are always possible, but I think a person can be forgiven if they have done some critical thinking and found the dangers to be preferable to a larger or more probable danger.  

Am I going to get comments from horrified parents saying that it only takes one accident so why risk it? Probably. Go ahead, if it makes you feel good. People love to raise the alarm when it comes to other people’s parenting choices. It makes them feel more secure in their own ability to keep their children safe. But this is just another method of self delusion.  Is your child buckled in his Bumbo actually any safer after you order that other mother to buckle her kid's Bumbo? No. But it sure makes you feel like protective parent, doesn’t it?  Labels are useful for alerting us to possible dangers, but their unfortunate side effect is that they entice us to toward judgment. A mother playing with Polly Pocket with a toddler is going to face more criticism than if she were just sitting outside playing with rocks the same size. Luckily nature doesn't come with a sticker, so for now, we can all enjoy it without fear of rebuke.

Playing with matches

So let’s do this: know that labels and manuals serve the purpose of the companies that produce them. But when it comes down grey areas in which parents can sometimes get a little lax on the rules, show some grace instead of judgment. Instead of pulling someone's kid off a jungle gym you think is too big for him, have a little faith that the other parents know their own child’s limitations.  And if you are genuinely concerned that perhaps the other parent doesn’t have all the information to assess a risk, go ahead and tell them. But there's an art to admonition. Do it gently. Blame an outward source. I like to say “Can you believe that article in the news about that?”  Or even better, “I did that same thing that you’re doing, but someone judged me because they heard it’s dangerous.” 

And if you’re the one being scorned, remember that other parents are in the same situation as the manufacturers who make warning labels. They can’t control the safety of all the millions of children in the world, but they feel like they should try in case something bad happens. They are motivated by potential guilt just as corporations are motivated by potential litigation.

And oh, what a guilty and litigious nation we live in these days.

Am I the only one who longs for the days when you could park your sleeping baby outside the grocery store and feel confident that the world was on your side? 






Monday, October 21, 2013

Should Babies Be Trick-or-Treating?

I have a rule about babies trick-or-treating. It started out as a silly mistake. A young man knocked on my door with a toddler and a small baby girl. The toddler held up a plastic pumpkin, and the father was holding a pillow case. Without thinking I simultaneously dropped chocolate bars in both the pumpkin and the pillowcase. "Oh, no!" the Dad said, apologetically, "the pillowcase is just the extra bag for when his pumpkin gets full."  He tried to dig around in the bag and give the chocolate bar back.  Trying to spare us both embarrassment, I said, "Well that's not fair. You have two kids in costumes. You get two chocolate bars."  He seemed incredulous. "I do? But one of them is just a baby!"  "Doesn't matter," I declared. "Two kids in costumes means two treats. You can eat it yourself. Because once she's old enough you aren't going to get away with that." The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. So this became my candy-dispensing policy.

A few years later, on Halloween, I found myself with a five month old baby of my own. I was very excited to be celebrating my first Halloween as a parent, but I had nowhere to go. I had a spectacular costume. I was a gorilla, and my little girl was its banana. The costumes had been very difficult to obtain. It turned out to be a huge process just to get into the them and no small feat to walk around in a mask carrying 18 pounds of baby with loose rubber hands.  I entered a costume contest and won the grand prize so I knew I had something good. But that only lasted a couple minutes and the banana costume wouldn't fit her for much longer. It was all rather anti-climactic.  So, wanting to get the most for my effort, I went trick-or-treating.  It was fun to go door to door and see the neighbour's reactions, and because I couldn't communicate effectively in the gorilla mask, I collected a little candy. I hadn't forgotten my self-imposed rule that if you have a costumed child, you should get a treat. I had worked hard for it, and everyone seemed happy to comply.

Exactly one year later, my daughter was 17 months old, and she knew all about Halloween. She asked if she could be a kitty cat. I couldn't find a costume small enough to fit her so I lost several hours of sleep sewing one by hand. I let her paint my face instead of buying an adult costume.
She LOVED trick-or-treating. She loved knocking on doors, hearing people's dogs bark, checking out decorations, and sure, we collected candy.
But this year I wasn't in disguise, and the reaction was different. "Oh. Are you actually collecting candy?" one woman asked flatly.  A few said, "Sorry, I don't have anything for babies."  So I went around to just the houses of people I knew.  One of them made a point to tell me that she felt her child was too young to stay up late or eat candy, even though she was the same age as mine. She coldly handed me some chips and shut the door. After I got home, I saw that she had tweeted, not too subtly, "I can't believe that some parents would take their babies trick-or-treating just to get candy for themselves!"
 
(Rude neighbour, if you read this, the way I see it I worked really hard planning and sewing my child's costume. I held her hand as she toddled at a snail's four blocks in the pouring rain, tripping over her tail to get to your house. I climbed ten steps to your front door just to brighten your day with her smile, and I think I have earned the crumpled up bag of chip crumbs you gave me. Your petty reluctance over that ten cent item cost you a friendship.)

"Look what the lady gave you, sweetie. A bag of hot air."

But all this leaves me wondering. Is it inappropriate to take young children trick-or-treating? I asked a number of my friends after this and most of them thought that it was acceptable.  Some said they thought it was okay if you only visit family and friends.  But of course not everyone has family in town. I don't. And in my case it was so-called friends who questioned my motives.

Here's my take on it. If someone comes to your door with a baby in a costume, go ahead and question their motives. But really think it out. You'll come to see that their intentions are honest. Are they really committing some kind of ploy to get candy? If so, it's not a very good ploy. An adult costume costs between $29 and $69.  An infant one is at least $24.99 in a costume shop. To make one or and to even to get a free one and carry your child from house to house takes a lot of time and effort. Keeping them up past their bedtime has its own consequences that parents pay for dearly the next day. A box of candy is about $8.99. It's only half that price on November 1.  It would be a more worthy return on investment to just buy candy than to go through all that hassle.

Of course most Halloween parents are not actually motivated by greed. When you see parents with a newborn or a one-year-old out going door-to-door, see them for what they are. These are excited parents who are staying young.  They have a special place in their hearts for all the traditions and rites-of-passage that come with childhood. They can't wait to share these traditions with their new baby, even if it is perceived as silly. They'll have photos one day that prove to their child that they never missed a Halloween, if that is important to them. These are parents who are getting a trial run in parental involvement. And if their child is under two, they are probably working really hard and are pretty tired. Those early years are rough.Who cares if the kid is too young for candy? Maybe Mom and Dad deserve a Kit-kat break.

That isn't to say that parents who don't trick-or-treat with babies are any less enthusiastic about parenting. They either have their own traditions or perhaps they aren't as innocent when it comes to what's expected of them in those early years. There's no rule book for these things. The point is that trick-or-treating with your children, at any age, is not something a parent should ever be made to feel guilty about.

So what should you do if you don't feel right about giving candy to a baby?  Stock up on Mum-Mums or raisins. If there really are parents who are just plain greedy, this will disappoint them. (Good!)  If they genuinely want an experience for their baby, they will appreciate your consideration.

And if you're that parent who wants to go trick-or-treating but can't face the judgment?  If you're short like me, wear a mask and nobody will know you're not an older sibling.  Donate the candy to a worthy cause, like a child who can't trick-or-treat due to illness or mobility issues. One mom cleverly suggested that you can send it in a care package to our deployed troops.  You can also save the most non-perishable items for the future– those smarties will still be okay when it's time for potty training incentives. In my family we use Halloween Candy to decorate gingerbread houses at Christmas, and even babies enjoy that. If you really don't want to collect candy at all, team up with a charity and collect canned food or donations. 

There are enough issues with child rearing that something fun like Halloween shouldn't garner any judgment. There are easy ways around it. It should be simple as taking candy from giving candy to a baby.