Category Archives: Mommy Files

Mommy Files: The Apprentice

My son, a kindergartner, has to do homework four times a week. While that might sound excessive, the assignments currently consist only of a page or two of simple number recognition exercises in his math booklet. In addition, the teacher sent home about 20 optional activities designed to reinforce letter sounds, sight words and vocabulary.

Last week, KFP and I did one of the activities, creating silly sentences, where each word started with the same letter. We agreed that anything starting with “B” (balloon, boy, bus), should bounce, and that anything starting with “T” (train, tiger, truck) should travel or trip.

After we’d done a series of silly sentences, KFP suggested we sing some silly songs. No rules; just improv, the sort of thing we’d done before while taking a long drive. He started us off with a song called “The Elephant Drives a Truck.” We took turns singing lines, with no real rhyme scheme, telling a rambling story of an elephant who crashes into everything and then gets in trouble.

“Now let’s sing another one,” KFP said.

“Sure, I’ll start this one,” I said and began a song about leaves falling off a tree.

KFP interrupted me. “That’s not funny,” he said.

“It’s only the first line,” I told him. “You set up the joke, and then you have a punch line.”

“What’s a punch line?” he asked.

“The part that’s funny.”

“Ohhhh!” he said, and I could see enlightenment sweep across his face.

I realized at that moment that most of his humor is conceptual, about the ridiculousness of the premise. I explained that humor can also come from playing off expectations. The unexpected can be funny, I told him, and hammered the idea in later when one of his shoes fell off while he was walking.

We started again, creating a silly country-western song inspired by the upcoming Farmer Fun Fall day at KFP’s school. We even rhymed occasionally: “Come down to our jamboree, where we’ve got cows and pigs for free!” At the end, we both called out “Yee-haw!” in unison.

If we’d have been on the stage, that would have been a great blackout moment.

But since this was real life, and he is five, he kept trying to recreate the magic of that silly elephant truck song. In the coming days, we sang about a rabbit driving a tractor, about a mouse driving a bus, all essentially the same rambling saga of animal-wrought destruction and chaos.

Then, as we were sitting on the grass, waiting to pick his friend up from his bus stop, KFP asked if we could write another silly song.

“OK, but let’s make this one different,” I requested.

“I’ll start,” he offered, and began, “The elephant took off in his rocket…”

I chimed in, “And blasted into space.”

KFP continued, “And he crashed into the Milky Way…”

He had to stop singing then, because I laughed uncontrollably for minutes. My pupil.

Mommy Files: The Reinstall

The other day, when he got home from kindergarten, my boy, Kung Fu Panda, wanted to play the new LeapPad game we’d just downloaded as a reward for earning enough stickers on his sticker chart.

I was out of the room, doing dishes or putting things away — it’s always at least 30 minutes before I get to sit down — and returned to find KFP looking upset. “It won’t let me do anything,” he said.

I took the device from him to have a look. Sure enough, the LeapPad was doing something I’d never seen before: instead of starting up, the display showed a LeapPad with an alert symbol on it and a white cord connecting the LeapPad to a computer.

“Guess we have to connect it to the computer,” I mused aloud and pulled the white cord out of the cabinet.

Once connected, the screen directed me to download the LeapPad Connect software, which I soon surmised was a diagnostic tool for finding and fixing problems. After a couple false starts — including moving from my dinky notebook to my husband’s laptop in order to see the full screen of the application — the program began a lengthy process which seemed to involve a complete reinstall of his LeapPad’s software. Uh-oh.

Gently, I explained to KFP that, when his LeapPad was fixed, it would have the programs but not the settings. I didn’t go into detail, for fear he’d be upset, but I was fairly sure that all of his photos and drawings, his stickers and badges earned from playing his games, would have disappeared into the ether.

When the process ended, I handed the freshly-repaired LeapPad to my son and graced myself for the worst. Would he shriek or wail? Would he cry inconsolable tears as I vainly tried to explain I could do nothing to restore those files? (Perhaps a computer genius could recover them, but I don’t work for “CSI.”)

And then the most amazing thing happened. Nothing.

“I guess I need to take a new picture for my profile,” he said. I tried to walk him through it, but he didn’t need much help. He chose a new background — a tropical fish tank — and opened the virtual pet game to recreate his little brown monkey, Bimbie Baby, completely redecorating his apartment. “Look, he has a flatscreen TV now!” he told me.

Later, opening up the logic game where you build a town by solving space puzzles, KFP was delighted to see the town completely empty. “I’ve been wanting to rebuild it,” he told me.

If only he was always this flexible. If only I was.

An eon ago, in my pre-child days, a yoga instructor tried to explain the principle of attachment. At the time, I’m not sure I understood him as well as I believe I do now. No zen koan can teach the principle of attachment quite as well as motherhood. For I challenge you to find another experience where you are so deeply attached to someone, and yet where you are constantly reminded of the need to let them go.

From the instant he began to smile at ceiling lights — we said he was laughing at his guardian angel making silly faces — I knew the full realization of his life and being would one day lead away from me. From his first steps, to putting him on the bus to school, I couldn’t deny that this kid was going places.

As a friend once told me, everything is a stage. Crying at the top of his lungs every time you go to the grocery store? A stage. Peeing his pants because he can’t stand to tear himself away from his toys? A stage. But so, too, are the good stages, such as when he sits close to you, cuddling your arm, just because he feels like it.

It’s all a stage, and everything is always new again. I hope I can learn from KFP how to look forward to all the new challenges ahead, to build things anew.

Mommy Files: The Black Hat

When my son told me that the adjusting band had broken off his beaten-up black Dave & Buster’s baseball hat, I have to admit I was secretly glad. To say the hat had seen better days was a severe understatement.

First, it had first lost the metal button on top. Then, over years of exposure to sun and rain, it faded, growing more and more distressed. Nine months out of the year, he wore the hat nearly every time we stepped outside, a habit encouraged by me in order to protect his fair skin. In winter, I managed to convince him to wear a winter hat, instead, one that covered his ears.

Because of his larger-than-average head, we’d bought him a one-size-fits-all hat, adjusting it for the smallest setting. As a result, its large brim cast a shadow over his face, ruining many outdoor photos.

While I didn’t mind its distressed appearance, lately the hat had begun to go downhill severely, first with a loose thread on the brim, which I clipped. Another thread followed, and soon the entire brim was frayed, with the black plastic of the brim protruding slightly through the cloth that covered it.

But still, the hat was my son’s favorite, and so I kept hand washing it in the sink, clipping off the fringe, and attempting to make it somewhat presentable. Of course, since it was one-size-fits all, little hope existed of him outgrowing it, and I was increasingly more embarrassed sending him out in it. Yet, he loved the hat so much that I had trouble hardening myself and making a huge decision, like refusing to let him wear it.

So when the little voice called from the back seat to say that “something important fell off my hat,” I had to stifle a little cheer. I took a look at it and proclaimed it unwearable but headed off tears by reminding him he had several other hats to choose from (hats I’d bought in the mistaken belief I could entice him into wearing them).

This morning, on his way to school, he consented to wear one: a bright orange and green cap featuring a surfer with the word “California” on the back. At first, he seemed OK with it. After all, the cap contained one of his favorite colors, green. But then, as I’d feared, he dissolved into tears.

I got down at his level and asked him what was wrong. He told me, “I don’t feel like myself without my hat.” I kissed his tears away and reminded him he wears different clothes every day, and he’s still the same person.

By the time we got to the bus stop, he was smiling again, receiving a compliment from his bus friend on the cap.

But between you and me, I’ve covered my bets. Just in case, I’ve ordered a black baseball cap from eBay.

Mommy Files: Oh, Hello There!

I never intended it to be so long between entries, but I have had difficulty keeping up with my blogging. In part, I got out of the habit when the Yahoo! Contributor Network went under, which had kept me writing on a more or less regular basis.

Then, with a growing boy, my life soon became filled with classes ranging from sports (at various times, hockey, tumbling, soccer, a sports sampler, and swimming) to piano. Not to mention kids’ birthday parties, events at his preschool and the like.

But a college buddy asked me, at a Labor Day party this weekend, if I could spare five minutes a day to write SOMETHING. I had to agree that yes, I could. So here I am, getting back in the game.

My son and I are currently watching a “Shaun the Sheep” DVD, made by the same studio that does the “Wallace and Grommit” shorts and movies. There is almost no dialogue, and it is good, silly fun. Exactly the sort of thing my mild-mannered boy enjoys.

I had meant to write an essay about violence in kids’ movies, and I hope to post lengthier observations later, but suffice it to say that, in a world where too much children’s content is abrasive and downright scary, I’m loving the simple, gentle humor of “Shaun the Sheep.”

Sadly, we won’t be seeing the feature film, because the previews showed a scary-looking animal catcher, literally gunning for the sheep (although with a science-fiction looking device, rather than a gun, per se). *sigh* Why is there this villain obsession in Hollywood? There are ways to create good stories without always relying on an evil nemesis, threatening to kill the protagonists. I expected better from “Shaun the Sheep.” But at least we have the TV shows to enjoy.

Before YCN shut down, I downloaded all of my articles, and I will soon begin posting my best articles about parenting tips.

Mommy Files: I’m a Dragon, Rawr!

Playing Carcassonne

KFP plays Carcassonne with his dad.

My son, age 3, first demonstrated his puzzle abilities at Philcon 2012, where he surprised my husband and I by matching up random Carcassonne pieces to form a little city. That Christmas, we gave him his first jigsaw puzzle, and we’ve accumulated more in the year and a half since.

As often as he pulls out Duplo blocks or his wooden train set, he sits down on the tile floor (the best flat surface) and puts together dinosaurs, ducks, and the food-laden illustration from “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” I love to see him solving new puzzles: the look of concentration on his face, the exhilaration when he finds a match.

Since my husband is a gamer, he’s also thrilled with our son’s latent abilities. I’m foreseeing a future of family gaming nights and some very special father-son time.

And special mommy time, too. In fact, as soon as I finish posting this, my Kung Fu Panda and I will be playing our version of Carcassonne. Instead of playing competitively, we draw tiles and put them together to form the most interesting little medieval land we can.

He is waiting for me right now, holding up the wooden dragon from one of the expansion sets, declaring, “I’m a dragon, rawr!” He’s also decided it’s a Komodo Dragon, because he learned about them on one of the PBS nature cartoons he likes.

Days like this, I feel like I’m doing something right.

If you haven’t yet voted for my entry in the Baby Steps Competition, please stop at the voting page and click on the box at the upper right of the preview window for my video (the preview shows my son with two puppets). If I win the audience prize for this contest, it will help pay KFP’s preschool tuition this year!

Mommy Files: Fun Food Friday

The first #funfoodFriday was a raging success! Fruity Banana Smoothies from Pillsbury's Kids Cookbook

Week 1: Fruity Banana Smoothie

In an effort to introduce our Kung Fu Panda to new foods, we began a new weekly activity, Fun Food Friday. Each week, he and I make and/or try a new healthy food or snack. So far, it’s had an incredibly good record.

On Week 1, we made Fruity Banana Smoothies from the Pillsbury Kids Cookbook. This was such a hit that we’ve made it several times since then, as well. Since I am currently dairy-free, we made it with cultured coconut milk instead of yogurt and used dark chocolate chips.

KFP says the Crunchy Almond Cookies we made were "crunchy & chewy." (Fenster's "1000 Gluten-Free Recipes") #funfoodFriday

Week 2: Crunchy Almond Cookies

The second week, we made gluten-free Crunchy Almond Cookies from 1000 Gluten-Free Recipes by Carol Fenster. I had to make a few substitutions to eliminate the dairy, but they turned out really well. KFP enjoyed it, eating half a cookie and then asking to put the other half away for later!

Week 3: Shake-It Salad

On Week 3, I learned that it wasn’t always going to be so easy. We tried the Shake-It Salad from the Pillsbury Kids Cookbook. KFP was excited about helping me make the salad, by shaking up the ingredients inside a plastic container, he wasn’t as enthusiastic about eating it. He picked out a few shreds of carrot to eat and rejected the rest. Apparently, even with salad dressing liberally applied (via the shake-it method), it wasn’t enough to appeal to him.

Homemade Apple sauce was a big hit for #FunFoodFriday

Week 4: Home-made Applesauce

I was inspired for Week 4’s food by KFP’s reaction to eating some homemade applesauce at our new favorite restaurant, The Avenue Delicatessen in Lansdowne. Taking the advice of the owner, who loved our project of getting our little guy to make and try new foods, we used a variety of apples. I made double the recipe from The All-New All-Purpose Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer. Thanks to remembering to sprinkle cinnamon on top, he readily ate up most of his portion.

Week 5: Gluten-Free Banana Bread

Week 5’s dish was inspired by the fact that KFP recently rediscovered a love for bananas. He also loves bread, so I suggested we make banana bread together. Since I am also gluten-free (since discovering last year that my body is much happier without it), we made Jill and Stella’s Gluten-Free Banana Bread from a fabulous site that includes lots of child-friendly recipes. I used dairy-free margarine instead of butter and Xylitol instead of sugar. He had a lot of fun mashing up the bananas and helping me stir. The ultimate result was tasty, but without taking a nibble, KFP declared that it was neither bananas nor bread and he didn’t want it! Well, they can’t all be successes, I suppose.

We are doing the Great Green Experiment for #FunFoodFriday

Week 6: Great Green Experiment

The following week, Week 6, we started a series of “color experiments,” where we try foods of one color each week and mark down which ones we like. I got the idea from a blog post shared with me by a friend about how the blogger got her children to love green foods. Naturally, we started out with green foods. We tried peppers, celery, cucumbers, avocado, grapes and snow peas. He marked a smiley face for everything but the avocados (which he barely even nibbled). Since then, he has requested snow peas and peppers, and I’ve been very happy to comply.

The Great Red Experiment results: 6 red foods tries, 6 smiley faces! #FunFoodFriday

Week 7: Great Red Experiment

Last week, Week 7, we continued the color experiment series with the Great Red Experiment, which I thought would be perfect for Valentine’s Day. This time, the results were even more promising: he gave smiles to all six foods. We tried beets, apples, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon and tomatoes. I intend to keep these charts so that, if we offer the same foods again and he doesn’t want to eat them, we can show him what he said about them when he tried it before. We wrote down adjectives as well as having him mark whether he liked it. My favorite adjective of his for these foods? “Yum.”

This week, we were supposed to do the Great Orange Experiment with peach, cantaloupe, tangerine, mango, orange pepper and sweet potato. Unfortunately, I probably started it too late in the day, after we’d already done an involving activity (“painting” with frozen ice cubes that had food coloring mixed in). All he did was eat the cantaloupe (which he already knew he liked) and refuse the rest. I wrapped up his tray and put it away, so that hopefully we can try it again tomorrow when he’s in a better mood.

All told, the Fun Food Fridays have turned out to be a great way to make trying new foods less imposing. And yes, even fun.

I am competing in the Baby Steps video contest about early childhood education. Winning the audience prize would help pay for my son’s preschool tuition for the rest of the year. To vote for me, please go to the voting page and view my video (which should make you smile). To vote, you will then close the video window and click the box at the upper right-hand corner of the preview box for my video. Selecting LIKE for the page does NOT count as a vote for me.

In case that’s confusing, I’ve also uploaded an image that shows you exactly where to click:

Image of voting page with arrow

Thanks in advance! Every vote helps!

Mommy Files: Resolutions (Sort Of)

Whether it’s from jealousy or just because they make me weary, I tend to look askance at moms who are too enthusiastic about their parenting goals. Lately, though, I’m beginning to understand them better. Now that my son — at 3 1/2 — has reached a stage where he seems to soak in knowledge like a sponge, I’ve found it’s easy to go overboard. Still, I don’t want to become one of those moms who shoves flash cards at their child the minute he wakes up, determined that he’ll be acing the PSAT’s by age 7.

I do, however, resolve to continue some of the practices that have worked for us so far:

1) Use a sticker reward chart to promote positive behaviors and eliminate undesired ones.

2) Use the “Kindergarten Here I Come” calendar to develop fun and educational activities for us to do together on a regular basis.

In addition, I’d like to work on something I’ve been avoiding, in part because, despite the social graces I’ve cultivated over the years, I’m really still an introvert. The beast I’d like to slay, the dreaded playdate.

3) Actively schedule playdates for KFP to interact with friends, both new and old.

In order to follow through on this last one, I believe I’ll have to continue to remind myself that a playdate doesn’t have to mean inviting someone over to our cramped rowhouse. It could, instead, mean scheduling a meet-up at a park, museum, or even the library. I’m going to start by contacting the mother of the preschool classmate my son calls his best friend. Not only do the boys get along extremely well, but I also enjoy talking to her. Bonus!

And that’s it. Simple, sweet and actionable. On top of that, I’m resolving to go easy on myself and on him: remembering that no one is perfect all the time, and having faith that small, persistent, nurturing actions will eventually pay off for us both.

Cheers! Happy New Year!
My little guy toasts the New Year… with his sippy cup.

Mommy Files: Enriching His World

KFP's fingerpaint train. #art
Can you see the train?

This afternoon, KFP and I made homemade fingerpaints and painted: me an abstract outdoor scene, him an exuberant, minimalist train.

I felt good about it for two reasons: one, I am finally recovered enough from my cold to do something besides sit on the couch while my head spins; second, I got to cross something off the “Kingergarten Here I Come Calendar” we’ve been following. I like crossing things off.

We picked up the calendar for free at the local public library (although you can also order them online). They’re designed for preschoolers, ages 3 through 5, with activities that relate to literacy, basic math principles, safety, hygiene, scientific principles and other essential skills. Each month there are 16-20 activities to cross off, ranging from simple craft projects to things to point out to your child (such as taking a walk and looking for signs of autumn). Each month also suggests four to five books, which I added to a Google doc and have been getting from the local library system.

Some of the activities are challenging and more involved (such as today’s activity of making and using fingerpaints) while others are much easier (such as looking through a magazine for people and figuring out what expressions are on their faces).

I’ve been pleased with how many of the activities have been ones I’m already doing: such as giving him an option of choosing between two acceptable choices for things like what shirt to wear or what book to read next. His response to most of the new activities has been so enthusiastic that I get excited about them, as well. Some things have become new favorite activities, such as acting out stories with puppets and stuffed animals.

He may still be a couple years away from kindergarten, but with these activities, combined with his preschool, I predict he will definitely be ready when the time comes.

He's painting a train, he says.
KFP creates his minimalist train.

Mommy Files: It’s Time to Speak Out about the ‘G’ Word

Wait a minute. Did she just say my son looked gay?

That’s what ran through my mind after a comment from an elderly acquaintance. I was dressing my 3-year-old son in his Navy blue pea coat after a Thanksgiving luncheon at the YMCA. On his head I placed the red and black fleece hat that covers his ears, topped with a tassel made of fleece strips. That’s when the woman said, about his winter get-up, “If I’d put that on my sons, they would have told me ‘That looks gay, Mom’.” Perhaps noticing the stunned look on my face, she quickly added, “I like that coat, and the hat, too.”

I just answered, “They shouldn’t talk like that.”

She was in her 70s, and explained that her sons were in their 50s now, as if that made it OK. Yes, they’d grown up decades before the advent of sensitivity to lesbian and gay issues, but I still don’t buy that as an excuse. My parents don’t talk that way, and they both turned 70 this year. They learned to respect other people. It might sound harsh, but I believe this woman has herself to blame for her son’s attitudes. Children learn what they hear. More importantly, they learn from silence, just as much as from what’s spoken.

This incident came on top of another disturbing incident. A classmate from my water aerobics class told me her grandson, who is just starting school, complained to his mother that the other boys called him a “Tinkerbell” because he speaks proper English. Who is teaching these kids that it’s all right to call people who are different “gay”? And why isn’t anyone telling them it’s not OK?

I remember being a camp counselor at a summer camp affiliated with the United Church of Christ back in the 1980s. Some campers seemed to think that calling something you didn’t like — or someone who was different — “gay” was absolutely acceptable. After all, it wasn’t considered swearing and it wasn’t regarded as being as offensive as a variety of other epithets. Long before the current growth in awareness about the topic, I used to pull kids aside and tell them that it was not appropriate to call other kids that name, that it was hurtful because it singled them out for being different. I also added that there’s nothing wrong with being gay, if you are, and that using the word as an insult implies that it is a bad thing.

I don’t know if I made any difference in those kids’ lives, but I hope I did. I know how impressionable I was when I was younger, and I know how much it impacted me when adults called me to task for my language or behavior. I’d love to think that my words made them think about, and better yet, change their behavior, and maybe even pass along what they’d learned. 

If we want kids to stop insulting each other using the term “gay,” we’ve got to come off the sidelines.  We can’t excuse it by saying “boys will be boys.” That means speaking out, whether it’s your kids or someone else’s. I firmly believe that, and I have been practicing that tactic for many years now.

We will never be able to stop kids from teasing each other or calling each other names. But if we all speak out against this particularly virulent kind of name calling, hopefully we can make it as unacceptable to call someone the “G” word as to call someone the “N” word.

Let’s take a stand and change the language on the playground.

KFP flies "like the birds" on a swing.
My son flies “like the birds” on a swing