Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Travelling with toddlers: or just leave them at home??

Being a mom requires moments of extreme bravery.  Like taking your baby who is burning up with fever to the ER on a Sunday night.  Or overcoming your fear of blood to put rolled up cotton in your daughter's nostril when she has a nose bleed .  Or taking a road trip with a toddler.

Be brave, my friends, it is doable, with a little preparation and a lot of snacks.  I recently tried the following tips out while traveling with a nearly seventeen-month old (and my highly-spirited ten-year old).

In the car

Try to time your road trip with a nap time. and if not, make sure someone who can play with him (nicely) is next to him

Bring his favorite books and toys in the car, for those moments he is resisting sleep and his car-mate has lost interest in entertaining him.

Play kid-friendly or bouncy music to distract him when he starts crying.  It might not put him to sleep but at least he will start dancing and get in a better mood.

In the hotel

Do check that the hotel has a crib/cot available.  Many places will provide one for free or for a small fee.  Or bring your own portable playpen just in case!

Bring his favorite bedtime book to keep his nighttime ritual going in the hotel. But be prepared for some choppy nights as little ones don't always adapt well to new surroundings.

Bring a portable booster chair in case high chairs are not available in the hotel or restaurant.  There are some small, portable, fabric models available on the market.

Out and about

 When you see a playground, give her free time.  The more they play and run, the happier they will be and the more tired out too!

Schedule some kid-friendly activities like petting zoos and parks where kids can walk and interact. Under 5s could care less about architecture and cathedrals in general so don't pack only these types of events into your trip.

Know your limits. The world is not always stroller-friendly. If you or dad have to let the rest of the family climb the steps to the castle while you hang out with baby, so be it.  There will be other opportunities.  But as I mentioned in the last tip, do find some kid-friendly fun to break up the more boring (from a kid's POV) sightseeing.

Eating out

Snacks, snacks and snacks! Restaurants can seem insanely long from a toddler's perspective.  Finger foods (like sweet potato puffs) are great for distracting little ones while their own food is heated up or if the grown-ups' meal takes longer (oh and it will)!

BYOC. If only every restaurant had the wisdom to provide crayons and coloring pages for its youngest patrons! But alas, many don't think about them so Bring Your Own Crayons.  And a notepad while you're at it, to make the wait for the others' meals seem less tedious.

In the end, go with the flow and try to enjoy yourself, too!  There is no reason to give up all travel until your child is out of the terrible twos (and threes and fours).  Anyway, if they do have a melt-down, just remember this- you will most likely never have to see any of the people around you that day ever again!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Goodbye to the eternal summer

Goodbye to beach trips and ice cream cones with sand between our toes.  
Goodbye to letting the kids stay up late because “no school tomorrow!”

Goodbye to spontaneous picnics in the park and juicy watermelon that drips down our chins.

Goodbye to vacation and relaxing and not thinking about work. 

This end of summer is even harder for me because I am coming off of one year off taking care of my second child.  You could say I have had one long summer of not having to get up as early for work, of not worrying about prepping for tomorrow’s classes (since I teach English).  And more importantly, I got to spend this year getting to know this precious person, my son.  

Despite the night feedings and groggy mornings, I woke up mostly happy to be spending time with my baby and seeing more of my older daughter in between her school hours.  I never really got bored being at home and cherished the one-on-one time with my newborn and just being able to take a sort of sabbatical from work.

Now comes the hard part.  This back-to-school season, in addition to my big girl starting her last year of elementary school (!), my eleven-month old has been starting his transition into daycare.  I held back the tears as I took him in for the initial thirty minutes, sitting on the gym-style mats with the daycare assistant, telling her about my son’s routine.  I then took a walk for the next thirty minutes while he was there on his own.  He did fine, though, playing with the other kids and toys.

The next day he stayed for two hours while I took my daughter to the library to distract myself (and her).  And then he stayed for three hours and ate lunch with the other kids.  Unfortunately he got wise to the concept that mommy was leaving him longer and longer and is now balking and crying when I take him there.  

Although I am doing better than I thought with all this change, occasionally I feel a sadness creep in.  Just like the other day in church, when we sang a hymn with the words, “be still my soul” and the tears started welling up.  My glorious “summer” of bonding and time away from my job is truly ending.  Be still my soul, no more endless play days and nursing leisurely (though sometimes non-stop) in front of the telly or with a book.  Back to morning traffic and rushed meal prep at night.  Be still my soul, less cuddles in the daytime, hello condensed evenings, bedtime stories and go to sleep to do it all again the next day.

I know it is just the way it is and I am lucky to have had this wonderful year to put my life on pause and enjoy my children.  I am trying to embrace the change but I keep seeing my son’s little face in my mind, the one I will inevitably see less of from now on.

Because it isn’t just the end of summer, it’s the beginning of the separation. After day care there is pre-school and elementary school for my son.  My daughter will be in middle school next year.  Things keep changing and I can’t stop it.  I gave birth to these miracles and from day one they start their journey to leave me.  Be still my soul.  

I know I will get through it.  I will find my new routine.  The hugs when I pick up my son and the chatter from my daughter about her day will fill my soul, will make it still again.  It’s just that I have never been so good at goodbyes.  But I will give it a try.  And summer will come again (next year!), albeit a shorter version. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Top ten signs you have a ten-ager

My daughter can be a sweet, helpful soul full of empathy.  She can also be a full-fledged ten-ager.  Even before her official birthday came last month, the “tens” had already gone to her curly head.  We started out the school year with the occasional tense mother-daughter moments and we have just added to it on a daily basis.  If you think you have a ten-ager on your hands, read on...

Ten is THE number to be!
  1. Everything is lame.  Or nul in French.  We go to an outdoor museum.  It’s nul.  We are watching a travel documentary.  It’s nul.  I tried banning this word for a while.  In vain.
  2. Eyes can roll so high.  Full disclosure, I am an eye-roller too.  Only I feel I am more justified.  My little tween rolls her eyes when I ask her to set the table or unload the dishwasher or any other household task, which brings us to… 
  3. “It’s not fair!”  No, nothing in life is, sweetie, I tell her.  But this life lesson is lost on her for now because most days she feels chores are my tool to torture her.
  4. “Yeah, right!” accompanied by eye rolling.  If I say, you can have your tablet time when we get home from your grandparents, she will reply with this.  As in, I don’t believe you and “it’s not fair!” 
  5. It’s all about the shoes/jean jacket/bandana/insert your trendy item here.  And she needs it yesterday.  Ten-agers have recently awoken to all that is fashionable and all that is not.  Those little footsie socks, in.  Regular socks, out.  Baggy jeans, out.  Leggings with the cuffs rolled up, in.  
  6. Negotiating with her is harder than with North Korea.  We once spent a better part of her bedtime ritual trying to agree that if she stopped with the snark, I would stop with the lectures and raised voice.  I had to explain to her that I only raised my voice BECAUSE of the snark. 
  7. Musically is THE app to have.  If you don’t know what this is, it’s probably because you are over 30.  Since I let her download this (private account, of course), I have been introduced to the music video making snippets that all the tweens are doing.  I am also now totally allergic to the Elie Goulding/Calvin Harris song that she kept playing while making her video.  Don’t even start humming that thing!
  8. Don’t mess with the hair.  She is not yet totally obsessed about it and will still ask for the occasional braid.  But the time spent coiffing herself has increased exponentially this year. 
  9. Middle school is on the brain.  One more year to stay “little” in elementary school, then the next step is approaching.  She is romanticizing it like so many of her classmates do, wishing she was already in it.  I tell her to be patient; it will be here soon enough.
  10. Mother knows best… only ¼ of the time.  Mom (and dad to some extent) just don’t know that much.  Until we prove her wrong and she dares to admit it.  Maybe.
But that’s ok.  I know there will be tough times and much eye-rolling and sighing in my future.  But I also know some of what I say is sinking in.  I also know I went through much the same thing as a kid and put my mom through some tense moments, too (sorry again, mom!).  But I grew up and out of it.  She will too and will become a well-adjusted, kind older teen and adult.  

So excuse me for the next few years as my street cred dwindles to zero and my fashion sense is questioned.  A ten-ager has been born!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Brand New World

My almost ten-year old caught a feathery dandelion seed head and asked if it meant anything.  Perhaps it brings luck, I said.  She got quiet for a while then said she had made a wish.  “I hope it comes true but I bet it won’t,” she said with a hint of melancholy.  As she anchors herself into tweendom, I am getting used to these melancholy bents. 

But my mom-dar is still too strong for her.  “You wished you could have Nikes, didn’t you?” I asked.  Her sheepish smile confirmed my suspicions. 

These days it seems name-brand shoes are all this girl has on the brain.  For a while she couldn’t stop talking about Adidas, then Nikes (which the French pronounce to rhyme with “bike”) and the occasional All-Star reference, peppered with a bit of Puma and New Balance.

It’s not that I am totally anti-brands. I love my ballerina style Skechers my mom sent me a few years ago.  But I wanted them for the appearance and comfort.  The fact that they were Skechers just assured me of their quality.  With my daughter this brand envy has come out of nowhere and seems to be directly related to what she sees in the school yard.

“Will you get me Adidas for my birthday?” is a common refrain around here.  Followed by “I bet you won’t.” 
She cut out her own symbol

“Wow, how lucky that girl is, look at her Nikes!”  she’ll exclaim as we see a teen in the parking lot with pale pink on pink Nikes.  She can spot brand name shoes on people on tv, too. 
I have literally had to limit her to one shoe reference per day!  But before that I tried a few other strategies which proved to be pretty fruitless.  Let’s recap anyway:

Taking a page from my own mom’s book, I told her about kids who had no shoes or shoes in pitiful condition.  I even took to finding her videos on youtube by typing (what else!) “kids with no shoes”.  Just my luck, one of the videos I pulled up showed poor Mexican children, one of whom was wearing a Nike shirt, which my girl was quick to point out.  Anyway, it didn’t seem to have much of an effect on her.  Though now if she goes on about shoes and I ask her if she wants to watch a video, it tends to calm her down a bit.

Non-conformity talk
Of course I tried the old “why do you have to do what everyone else is doing?” talk.  Just because other kids wear something doesn’t mean it’s the best quality or even attractive, I tried to reason with her.  For this point I showed her the saggy jeans fashion that exposes men’s underwear.  She had a laugh at those pics and agreed that particular fashion was stupid, but the shoe talk continued!

Mom stories
I read recently that kids get a lot out of their parents’ personal stories.  Or maybe not.  I told her how I was into Esprit clothes when I was in middle school but how I generally only got a shirt from the bargain bin, because that’s all we could afford.  I can still remember a shirt full of bright geometric shapes that screamed 80s.  I mostly bought it for that little red rectangle proclaiming Esprit.  Frankly it was loud and ugly, when I look back.  I told her in the end I realized I was following the crowd and that having your own style is important. 

When your kid asks you over and over for Adidas in a five-minute period, using a tactic she got from a ten-year old on tv, you just try to think of something else and soldier on.  It messes with your mind, but this is good preparation for adolescence whining. When she says she’s so unlucky for not having Nikes, I tell her she will survive.

Hard work
I always told myself once my kid started asking for brands that I would give him or her a limited budget for school clothes shopping and tell them, that’s it, make it work.  But we’re not quite there yet.  In the meantime I try to remind her of the value of her money by getting her to buy trinkets she wants at the store from her own piggy bank money.  She recently got herself off-brand aqua All-star low tops at the discount store and has been taking super care of them. My husband and I tell her she could get a job later on as a teen or earn money for chores and use this to buy what she wants. 

You might be asking me why I just don’t buy her the shoes she wants.  One little pair, what’s the big deal? We just don’t want her turning into a pretentious, name-dropper already.  Or thinking that she gets whatever she asks for immediately.  She’s barely out of fourth grade!  We hope she will value what she has. 

So in the end, my strategy is a modified “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” one.  She may get what she wants but not right away- a little delayed gratification.  Don’t tell her this, but she will very likely get some shoes for her birthday… but we’ll buy large so they can last a while and she’ll hopefully take good care of them. 

Are your kids into brands?  What strategies do you use?

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The question every stay at home mom dreads

Everyday at noon it’s the same innocent question from my 9 year-old.  “What did you do this morning?” 

I have just picked her up for lunch from school and it’s normal she would ask me.  I ask her the same thing, after all.  But since I have become a stay at home mom to her little brother, I get that deer caught in the headlights reaction.  What have I been doing since I dropped her off at 8:45? 

So I run off a litany of chores, if I got around to any. 

“Ermm, I unloaded the dishwasher.  I fed your brother twice.  I watched an episode of Jane the Virgin…”

Sometimes she’ll say, not unkindly, “that’s all?”

Yes, that’s about all I can get done with a baby I am still breastfeeding four to five  times a day in addition to his fruits and veggies.  Not to mention keeping him calm/occupied while I try to do something else between feedings.  And making sure he has some tummy time (but not right after a feeding!) to develop upper body strength and practice rolling over.  And maybe getting a load of laundry in.  And maybe making my bed.  And maybe ordering groceries online. 

I am not bitter.  I am not overwhelmed (ok, a little).  It’s just that the world that continues humming outside my house doesn’t always seem to get that taking care of a baby and running a household takes time.  And every morning when I wake up with a to-do list imprinted in my brain, I know full well I won’t get to half of it.  Or whether I complete it or not depends a lot on how my baby is or if he graces us with a nap (that would be just about never). 

Frankly, the transition from working mom to staying at home wasn’t as difficult as I thought.  And I have been thrilled to be home with my little one and to be able to spend more time with my big girl.  What bothers me is more the perception by others that I’m not doing much.  Or maybe that I feel I must prove to them and myself that I am really doing a lot. 

Sometimes I feel that same need to justify my hours at home to my husband when he comes home.  Yes, we are eating a frozen pizza, baby was fussy…  Or to my retired no-filter  neighbor who points out the clutter and dust in my home.  Yes, but you try helping a fourth-grader with her homework and calming a baby and finding time to dust!

But in the end it is myself I need to convince.  I must accept that I won’t get it all done.  I must accept that my house won’t be perfect.  I must accept that buying cookies is ok if I don’t have time to make a cake for friends who come by.  I must accept that less is more if it means that my baby is smiling and gaining weight.  I must accept that my to-do list can slide, morph into something more flexible. 

And I must answer without shame when my daughter asks me that question again, “I took care of your brother. “  Because that is my job for now, and I am doing the best I can.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Perfection killed the cat

It's nearly nine p.m. on a weeknight.  My daughter suddenly thinks of a dozen things she'd like to clean up and organize before bed.  It exasperates me.  But the other evening as I was brushing my teeth at the same time as her I started tidying up the towels on the radiator (toothbrush still in mouth) and taking the dustpan to sweep up an annoying pile of something or another.

I decided to own up to the situation.  "You see," I told her, "I get crazy about stuff before bed time, too."  She laughed and made a game out of it, telling me to stop cleaning the bathroom.

Ah, doesn't that make you feel good?!
Just another way she and I are painfully alike: we are perfectionists.  We don't feel right when that picture frame is off.  We feel icky when the coffee table is cluttered.  And though I often have to let these things slide due to lack of time, there comes a moment when I can't stand it and start tidying up in spurts.  Only to get sidetracked again and abandon it for weeks.

But I wonder if this nervous energy does us perfectionists any good?  In fact, could it be dangerous?  Flashback to me bending over with a toothbrush in my mouth, one of my husband's biggest pet peeves.  I could have hurt myself, all because I was too eager to straighten things up.

It could even be deadly.  Recently France remembered the death of a famous singer who died 40 years ago when he straightened a light bulb while in his bathtub full of water.  Maybe it's proof that perfectionists can let that drive to orderly and clean bliss take over their logical thinking.  Maybe leaving well enough alone is healthier all around.

But like me browsing the Ikea catalog and feeling somehow calmed by those Zenly interiors or Modern Family's Claire Dunphy checking out "organization porn" (closets, to be clear!), an orderly home or office can lead to a peaceful state of mind.  Why else would people be so into decluttering their drawers and homes these days?

But with a husband whose job literally brings in potting soil into my house, a daughter who leaves stickers and McDonald's Happy Meal toys everywhere, and now a six-month old, I can kiss my dreams of that Zen home goodbye for at least ten years.

Perhaps that's a good thing because too much decluttering is cold.  And perfectionists live ten years less than non-perfectionists.  I just made that up to shock you.  Nobody is perfect, after all.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Let them eat soup

Do you remember learning how Marie-Antoinette told the hungry masses to eat soup when there was no more bread?  Me, neither.  But she might as well have said that.
Onion-carrot with cream; 

It seems the French are a bit obsessed with soup.  How many times have I heard Remi encourage Juliette to finish her bowl of soup because "La soupe, ça fait grandir!" (Soup makes you grow!)  It's an actual expression, and though not totally true, soup is good for you and a way to sneak veggies in children's diets.

Then there's the ad campaign for a famous soup company that uses a play on words, saying, "On ne dîne pas, on soupe!" Translation: We don't dine, we soup (as in to eat supper, but the French word for this is souper).

Ok, maybe it's not all French but specifically my husband who is obsessed.  This is a typical conversation in my house at 7:32 pm:

Him: Is there soup?
Me: No.
Him: But it's winter...

Or this variation:

Him: Is there soup?
Me: Yes, tomato soup from a packet.
Him: (frowning) What?  But it's winter and fresh soup is better.

You get the picture.  Before you ask me why he isn't cooking himself, I will remind you he often gets home after 7:30 and if I waited on him to cook my stomach would cave in on itself.

Nonetheless, in his ideal world there would be homemade soup every day from September to March and any day the thermometer drops below 70°F.

In my ideal world we'd order Chinese and Domino's pizza more often.  And Jamie from The Outlander would deliver it.  Or Rafael from Jane the Virgin.

But like they say, when you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Occasionally.  So as it has been pretty cold this week in France, I am sharing one of my soup recipes with you.  Because you see, I actually do know how to make soup, and rather tasty ones, too.  I'd just rather be watching Netflix.

Milam's onion-carrot soup
  • In a large stainless steel pot or enamel-lined pot (like my fake Le Creuset), heat your favorite vegetable oil.  Add 3-4 diced yellow onions. Once they have gone from opaque to transparent, add about a liter (one quart) of water and lower heat.  Add a bouillon cube.  Alternatively use chicken stock instead of water and omit the bouillon cube.
  • Add 3-4 potatoes, thinly sliced, and add these to the soup.  Grate and chop 3-4 carrots and add these to the broth and onions/  Turn heat back up to medium and let cook covered for 20 minutes or until carrots and potatoes are tender.

  • Remove from heat and either use submersible mixer to mix until smooth or pour the contents into a heat-resistant blender and blend.  Serve with a dollop of cream or grated cheese.
Or scrap all that and just open a good old can of Campbell's. If it was good enough for Andy Warhol, it's good enough for me.

Discussion questions: What's your favorite soup?  Do you make it yourself or buy it? What's your favorite take-out?  Which celeb would you like to deliver it?