Saturday, October 31, 2015

Calling Truce on the Dinner Time Battles

ice cream, now that we always like

I don't know how anyone parented before the Internet.  The Internet has saved my trans-racial, adoptive parent butt many, many times.

Most recently, this article has helped us have peaceful, happy mealtimes. No, really.

I've read a lot about picky eating. I've written about it too. Here and Here It's been almost as frustrating a parenting battle as our sleep struggles.* Not even close really, but pretty unpleasant.

But this week, we figured out a solution that seems to be working. Hooray!

I make dinner - something I know the three of us non-picky eaters will enjoy. I put it on the table, or more like because our son is kind of an over eater, I plate our dinners and put them on the table. Then I put a small amount of a plain starch (the pasta we're eating with just butter, or some bread, or plain rice) on a plate for Lily. Then I put small amounts of 3-5 healthy choices on a plate and put the plate on the table where Lily can reach it. Usually the choices are carrot sticks, apple slices, hard boiled eggs, cheese slices, nuts, etc.

We all eat. We eat what is on our plates, and a little bit off of the healthy choice plate. With some encouragement, Lily will eat her plain starch and a good serving of protein, fruits and vegetables.

Most importantly, we've stopped fighting over food at the table. We have pleasant meals with conversations! Amazing!

Occasionally Lily will fuss over food, and I just say, as the article recommends. "You don't have to eat it."

Bon appetite!

* We seem to have reached an end to those too, thank you every god that ever was. Most of our sleep struggles seem like hazy nightmares now.  

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wild Thing

...."His mother called him Wild Thing!".. .and he was sent to bed without eating anything." ***

Our 5 year old is currently spending the evening in her room, because she was just kicked out of Ballet school.

(Now, 5 year olds getting kicked out of ballet school is a little ridiculous, I know. Like how hard is it to keep 5 little kids in a straight line? Not THAT hard, I know from 15 years experience. But... anyway.)

Her spending an hour in her room isn't really teaching her anything, but it is giving me time to collect my thoughts and compose myself. Because getting told by an irate ballet instructor that your daughter can't come back is pretty much the most embarrassing thing that can happen to a Mom.  And the embarrassment - fear- shame - fury- cycle does not lead to good parenting.

I know from experience.

My daughter is having a hard time with rules and school and expectations. This is not a huge surprise.... she has always been a strong willed, energetic child. Now she's a strong willed, energetic child in Kindergarten, Afterschool, and Ballet class. And all of those places have reported this week, to various degrees,  dissatisfaction with her behavior.

"She doesn't listen!" "She's all over the place!" "I had to separate her from the group!" are common phrases from the past week's conversations with teachers, coaches and Ballet mistresses. And I, red faced with embarrassment, say, "I'm sorry. I know. I'll speak to her." because there is really nothing I can say that will assuage their anger and frustration.  Then I get in the car and compose myself yell at my daughter while trying to not run into trees.

So here is what I would say to Lily's teachers, if I could manage to remain composed and stay out of the shame spiral during these conversations.

"Our daughter is a strong willed, independent and very intelligent person. She does not follow rules because they are rules. She will obey the rules only if she sees that as the best option. She views instructions as optional, and commands as suggestions. She respects people who are consistent, smart, loving and who display special talents. She has no regard for titles. "The Principal" means nothing to her.  She values creativity, smarts and quickness over diligence and hard work. She very quickly learns which adults are not going to follow through.  She will see through your fake threats in a second. She can make herself cry real tears on command. She would win Oscars for her performances.  If there is an opportunity for mischief, she will take it, and she will take anyone around her who is willing with her. She is a leader, and loves an audience. If there is an opportunity to take the stage, she will. Even if that stage is the classroom/hallway/sidewalk. She knows she's adorable and she uses that to her advantage.

Our daughter has great capacity for empathy and kindness. She has know deep physical suffering in her little life, and she is very attuned to other's physical pain. She has a fascination with people, with the human body and with Life. She will ask the most amazing questions and come up with hilarious, imaginative stories. She can weave quite a tale. She is devoted to her family and to her closest friends. She values connection and communication above all else.

Our daughter is going to be an awesome adult. She is going to take the world (whatever corner of it she finds herself) by storm. I pray every day that she learns the value of hard work; because although her beauty and brains will take her pretty far, she will need to strive for true success.  She's going to be a leader. She's not going to let anyone get in her way or hurt her. She's going to be generous with her talents and find a spotlight to sing in. I pray every day that she learns the value of kindness. I pray every day that she will learn to live up to her namesake "Patience".

Until then, we must have patience with her, because amazing, strong-willed women start out as strong-willed, disobedient and challenging girls.

*** In an amazing coincidence, Where the Wild Things Are was in her book baggie the next night!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Screens and Kids: Where we are right now.

Babies with screens. Pretend, but still captivating.

My kids love screen time. They LOVE it. It has been proven to me, on several occasions, that they will play on their screens for hours and hours... basically all day if I let them. This summer I threw my back out, and since I could not get out of bed and didn't have alternate child care plans, they had unlimited screen time for 3 days. Not once, in all that time, did they come up to me, hand me the i-pad, and say, "I'm bored of Netflix. I think I'll go play outside." They did however, request the chargers so that they could continue watching "Lab Rats" for the 7th hour. Then they sat on the floor next to the outlet.

So, screen time limits are a must in our house.  My children will not self regulate this one.

(I don't really need to reiterate the pretty well proven fact that 7 hours a day of screen time is bad for kids. Or anyone. Right? We can agree on that?)

We've had a variety of screen time limits and rules in our family life, ranging from NO screen time to screen time every day for 3-4 hours. (Summers, they are long.)

This school year, we limited our kids' screen time a lot. After a summer of fairly lengthy TV time every day, and plenty of I-pad/Kindle time, we realized a few important things:

1. Both kids are noticably more grumpy, less compliant and sass back a whole lot more after TV time.

2. Both kids will wake up extra early on weekends in order to have more screen time.

3. Both kids will ignore ALL bodily functions in favor of more screens. No bathroom breaks, necks held at odd angles for hours, rumbling stomachs ignored. No wonder they are grumpy!

4. Both kids (but especially our son) will not be able to engage in any other type of play if they know that screen time is an option. They will literally WAIT AROUND for screen time. And by wait I mean, flail around and whine for an hour with that favorite phrase "I'm so bored!" on repeat.

So in September, we set up the following rules:

1. No TV on school nights.*
2. No screens on weekends until AFER 7AM, AFTER breakfast, and AFTER they are fully dressed.
3. No individual screens. They have to share the TV, not hide in their rooms bingewatching Netflix on the i-pad.

Basically, they are getting about 6 hours of screens in a regular week, mostly on Saturdays. When someone is sick or we have a school holiday, it goes up, but on normal school days, they don't even ask for TV anymore.

* However, they did just get a Wii after saving their allowance for several months. So, we sometimes let them play a few games before dinner. The Wii seems to not lead to as many negative behaviors as TV time does.

Why let them watch TV at all?, you might ask. I ask myself this question a lot, especially on Saturday mornings when someone is melting down over not being able to see the next episode of Justice League.

Well, TV is a great motivator for cleaning up, for one. My kids will run around cleaning up anything I need them to for a chance at screen time.

Also, when I need an hour of peace and quiet, the TV is a very, very effective distraction!

When I'm doing Lily's hair, we need the TV to keep her from crying and running away, her curls 1/2 braided.  Daniel will sometimes say to me, "Don't you have to do Lily's hair today?" because he knows it means 2-3 hours of movie time.

So far, our current screen limits are working for us. No doubt we will need to update them as our schedules change and the kids get older. Some day soon, I'm sure, they will not need prodding to stay in bed past 7AM. I hope.

How do you manage your family's screen time? 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Enjoying our African hair time

I thought I'd have some fun reminiscing about Lily's hair. Join me, if you will...

Baby Lily with teeny baby curls...

Toddler Lily with WOW! CURLS!

Toddler twists, or How fast can mommy work before you start running!?

Ohmygoodness, you are not a baby any more hair. Sob.
(These beautiful box braids courtesy of Lily's Pre-K teachers, God Bless them!)
Really, really, really long 5 year old hair.

Beautiful, healthy twists after a little trim.

I am often asked, "Who does Lily's hair? and my reply "I do!" is often met with incredulous admiration.  But I've noticed that if you really want to learn how to do something, you can. It takes some resources, and some practice.  Caring for my daughter's hair is a source of pride for me, and connection for both of us. Yes, it takes a lot of time. Yes, she has to sit still for hours sometimes. But Lily sitting on my lap, enjoying a movie and having hair time is now one of our favorite moments together.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Got Milk?

If this was a post about sewing instructions or a fix-it manual, it would have a key on the top saying: 

Degree of Difficulty: High

Raising my daughter has proven to have a high degree of difficulty. An easy child, she is not.

Here is the situation.

My child is lactose intolerant. She has not had milk as part of her daily diet since she was 18 months old. This has never been a problem.

My child has started Kindergarten. I told the cafeteria staff, no milk. I reminded my child, no milk.

My child has been drinking several cartons of milk per day since September. GUZZLING IT.

She has had a stomach-ache since the beginning of October. She continues to drink milk.

I remind the staff, no milk. I remind my child, no milk.

"Lily, why do you think you have a stomach ache?

"Oh, it's because of all the milk."

I go beat my head upon a wall for a few minutes.

Last week I upped the stakes. I said, if you drink any more milk, I will make you wear this t-shirt to school. (This child spends lots of time and energy deciding on her outfits every day. She has very definite opinions about her clothes.)

She replied, "Oh, I like that t-shirt!"

I smiled. This child is a very good liar.

For two days, she did not drink milk. (I also compromised and sent her to school with a small container of almond milk for her cereal. Dry cereal isn't much fun.)

Monday, she drank a carton of milk at lunch. *

Tuesday morning**:

"Mommy, who do you make me do all these things and keep saying no!?!"

"Because I'm trying to raise you to be a decent person who makes good choices."


The stakes are high, people. The stakes are high.

*She also ate a hamburger, which she has never done, ever, anywhere. And it definitely was not organic, humanely raised beef, that's for sure. Sigh.

** She actually did not wear it to school. Her stomach was hurting her so much she decided that the milk wasn't worth it. I took the picture as leverage. I also have the shirt in my bag.***

*** Have I mentioned that my children attend the same school I teach at? I have my spies everywhere. Poor kids.

Friday, October 16, 2015

picky eaters vs. hunger

The thing about having a picky eater is that it is a pain in the ass, as I said here.

The thing about having a picky eater who also happens to be adopted is that really, the issue is attachment and power and identity and control. Not food.  It's still a pain in the butt, but it's also complicated.

The thing about having a picky eater who also happens to be adopted from Ethiopia is that...

Remember when your mom said, "Finish your dinner, there are starving children in Africa"?...

The truth is that I could say to my daughter, as she cries over her buttered pasta or not-syruped enough pancakes, "Finish that, because your sister in Africa is starving."

Of course, I don't say that. Lily loves her sister in Africa, and I don't want to worry her any more than she already worries about our Ethiopian family.

But I sometimes wish I could. Because her brothers and sisters (and grandparents and cousins and aunties and uncles) are hungry right now. Possibly starving. And here we are arguing over whether she needs to finish her carrots before she can have some crackers.

How do you teach your child gratitude and humility without scaring them? 

I feel like we are often walking a very narrow, not well traveled road. We're raising "third world" children in the "first world."  We're raising children of severe poverty in a comfortable life.  We want them to practice gratitude for the simple luxuries we enjoy - clean water, abundant food, free, great schools, a stable (if pretty nutty right now) democracy, libraries, safe roads, medical care... appreciate it and cherish it, without having to suffer (anymore) the deprivations that their Ethiopian family endure.

There is a drought right now in Southern Ethiopia. Millions of people have watched their crops whither and their cattle starve. It is bad. And our family is living in the middle of it.

We have not told Daniel and Lily about this, because they already worry about our family, and we don't want to cause them more anxiety. We've donated money. We are trying to keep up to date.  We're praying.

And we're practicing gratitude. Because right now there is a pizza pie cooling on our dining room table, and a fridge full of food for tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. As much as I worry about money, or stress over whether Lily is eating enough vegetables, or fret over Daniel's addiction to salsa, we are not hungry.

We are not hungry.

Ethiopia 2014, after the rains

Sunday, October 11, 2015


Happy October! It's been an interesting few weeks... and by interesting I mean, insanely busy and stressful and exhausting. Also, Lily and I had the stomach bug that is going around. I lost 8lbs in 3 days - on the most uncomfortable and most distressing diet ever. And I'm sure I gained it all back by eating nothing but plain pasta and Gatorade for the following week. 

I also ended up watching all the TV ever (or so it felt). So I'm all caught up on the Election-that-will-never-be-over, and all the crimes and all the shootings and all the political-inaction-that-will-never-end. 

There's plenty that I'm upset and disheartened by, but you really don't want to read my diatribe against the 2nd Amendment. (We heard the gunshots that killed a young man around the corner from our home. So, yup, taking it even more personally now.)

So in the interest in both our our sanities, and because it is a beautiful Sunday morning, here are some things that are making me happy these days.

L and her beautiful cousin L taking a Fall stroll to the park.

Celebrating Meskel a few weeks late (stomach bug!) with our traditional fire and marshmallows.

Impromptu Halloween decorations that make me smile.

Getting back into quilting after a 4 year hiatus. (Hmm... what have I been doing for 4 years!?!)

What is making you smile these days?