Friday, July 3, 2015

New Month's Resolutions: July

When Elisa pointed out that half of the year has come and gone, I felt a little panicked, as if I haven't accomplished much this year. I thought, what have I been doing all this time? And then I calmed down a bit because oh yeah, duh, I have been finishing up school, growing a baby, and looking after my family! Not bad! So far, I have really enjoyed setting these monthly goals. It has helped me reflect on all aspects of my life: from bad childhood habits like nail biting, to home decorating, and now to my parenting. I have been thinking a lot about being a good mom lately. Last month, I started listening to some parenting talks as part of a "Be a Better Parent" free online summit. The talks and some subsequent research have brought so many aha moments (learned SO much from this site) that now the only thing I really want to work on is establishing better parenting habits (and kick the bad ones).

Sure, I worked a bit on my goals from last month, but honestly, the thing I worked hardest on (and am still working on) was being a better mom to Hunter. You see, he's on summer vacation from school now, and this is the first time I have been all alone with Hunter for days and days at a time (not including evenings when Isaiah gets home, of course) at THIS AGE, after BOTH of us being in school with friends and fun for a whole year. There have been some very challenging moments and too many parenting mistakes. I am going to talk about them here because even though it's difficult to admit that I have done these things, I hope being open about it will help me avoid repeating those mistakes.

Although Isaiah and I have chosen not to spank our children or put them in time-out, when I've lost my patience with Hunter, I tend to get grabby. I've always told myself that any time I touch my child it should be a loving touch, but these are those times that I have not stuck to that principle. I remember the first time it happened, when he was around twenty-two months old and we were getting ready to leave the house for school. I was running late as usual, he was being silly while I was trying to get him dressed, and I snapped. I brusquely took him by the shoulders and spoke very sternly to him. He burst into tears. At that point, I remember feeling like it was my lowest mommy moment. When it happened again last week, immediately after he burst into tears, he asked, "Mommy hug?" With those two words, he said to me, "I need some reassurance that you love me because that was not a loving touch."

Of course, if my child's in harm's way, I have a split-second to react, and the only way to get him to safety is to grab him and move him, then I will do it, but I find most of the times I've been grabby with him, the situation could have been handled in a thousand better ways. One of my biggest issues with non-loving touches, such as grabbing, is the blow to my child's dignity. He is not a puppet that I can move about willy-nilly. He is a small human being. How would I like it if I were in a store about to take a product off the shelf, and someone came and grabbed my arm and moved me away from the shelf, especially without saying a word? The dishes in the sink can wait, looking put together doesn't really matter, and the laundry on the floor will eventually get put away because I can't think of anything more important right now than being a good mother to my spirited 2-and-a-half-year-old son.

The goals...

1. Connect with Hunter. There is going to be a time very soon when I will need to split my attention between a newborn and an almost 3-year-old. I need to make sure I have a solid connection with Hunter so that he always feels loved and knows he is important even with a new baby around. I also find that when I take the time to connect with him throughout the day, he is less likely to show undesirable behaviors and more likely to go along with my requests. If I feel myself start to lose my patience with him, I need to check in on my connection with him. This also means waiting until naptime or bedtime to catch up on social media. He ALWAYS shows challenging behaviors if he sees me on my computer or phone. One of the helpful phrases I've heard a couple of times in the various parenting articles I've read is "connection before correction."

2. Eliminate the "morning rush." Leaving the house in the morning (or any time of day, really) is where I have faced the biggest challenge. It's one of my triggers, for sure. It's 10 minutes before the time we need to leave the house, and Hunter is not ready to go. It's all my fault, of course. I leave him in his pajamas for breakfast so he doesn't get his day clothes dirty. Then he plays a bit while I get dressed and gather everything we need to leave the house. Before I know it, it's time to go. He's busy climbing furniture or something, and the last thing he wants to do is sit and change his clothes. The solution? Get him dressed as soon as he wakes up so that the only thing he needs to do before we step out the door is put on his shoes. While getting dressed, talk to him about the day and what we need to do before we leave the house. I have an apron he can put on himself and wear at breakfast to keep his clothes clean. I also want to make a little "exit poster" than we can review 10 minutes before we need to leave. We would use it as a gauge to check that we're ready to leave the house. Communication and setting him up for success is key. (Seriously, why the heck did it take me so long to figure this out?)

3. Take a deep breath. Before dealing with a situation, if I take a deep breath, it actually helps me respond rather than react. Any time I have been grabby with Hunter, it's because I am reacting, not responding. One of my other "triggers" is when he is about to do something naughty or has just finished doing something naughty. For example, he is climbing on his stool about to knock over something breakable. My first reaction is usually to snatch him off the stool before he can do it. Instead, I should firmly call his name to get his attention, and then take a deep breath. Then I can ask him to leave the object alone. If he doesn't respond, I come close to him and say, "I see you are having a hard time stopping yourself from touching this. I am going to take you down from the stool now." Since I'm calm at this point, when I take him in my arms, my movements are gentle and loving. He may resist, of course, but I am not hurting him and he knows I care. OR he may have been too quick, and the object is shattered on the floor. Still, I take a deep breath. Stuff is stuff. He sees the consequence of his action. I tell him, "I need to move you to another room while I clean this up." After everything is cleaned up, we have a chat about what happened. 

Easier said than done? We'll see when I will report back next month!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Traveling Internationally with a 2-Year-Old

I wish I could tell you that this post is all about how invaluable it is to travel internationally with a toddler or that I have tips for traveling with a toddler, but countless posts like that already exist. (Thank goodness for the latter because I most definitely used this one and this one to prepare for our trip. Here is another good one by Elisa. By the way, we only took these carry-on backpacks for our baggage so we could have hands free for pushing around a stroller/car seat or chasing our toddler.)

My family not-so recently returned from a trip to Sicily. What was supposed to be a fabulous 2-week long family vacation was anything but. (The main reason it was a bust is a doozy of a story, and I will save that can of worms for another post.)

The trip was never about me since the whole purpose was to take my mother-in-law to visit the homeland. She had never been out of the U.S. and had just discovered the names of the Sicilian towns in which her paternal grandparents were born. She also had been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer three years before, and it had already metastasized once. After her second surgery, she expressed her desire to see Sicily before leaving this life. That hit us like a ton of bricks as we furiously tried to figure out how we could make that possible for her. We sold our house for many reasons: pay off school debt, finance my Montessori training, and take this trip. We spent months planning. We decided to go during spring break since the fares and other costs are lower in the off-season, and also because we just figured with Mom's condition, we should go sooner than later. That meant we'd have to bring Hunter with us since my momma would not be available to look after him (she works tax season).

I will be the first to admit that it was selfish to take Hunter on this trip. Part of me couldn't imagine being away from him for 2 weeks. The other part of me was itching to visit Italy again, and it had been 5 years since we were last in Europe. I was basically desperate to go on this trip, desperate for a major change of scenery. I wanted to make this trip happen so badly, I maybe ignored warning signs that it was not the best idea, and definitely not in Hunter's best interest.

I can't say that every moment of the trip was terrible, I mean, c'mon. Look at that boy's face playing among the ancient Greek ruins of Selinunte. Even today he talks about "Italy" (but he also talks about how Nonni went in the ambulance... geez!). He sees photos of ancient ruins and pronounces, "Look! Temples!" He played trucks with a sweet Sicilian preschooler at our airbnb accommodations outside of Palermo, and cried when we said it was time to go grab dinner. Every single Sicilian person who walked by Hunter gave him a little pat on the head (or full-on ran their fingers though his hair). He looked for Easter eggs in the field near our villa rental outside of Ragusa. Even though we live 10 minutes from the beach here in San Diego, it was in Sicily that Hunter started saying, "I see ocean!" He made friends with Jonah and his little brother (from Frankfurt) at an agriturismo outside of Agrigento, trading toy cars and playing tag on the patio after breakfast. He collected seashells on the walk to the Scala dei Turchi... we shared many special moments. But, there are lots of buts.

Even though almost all of our accommodations were of the self-catering type (meaning we cooked and ate most meals at the rental, especially breakfast and dinner), and even though Hunter is a champ at eating out at restaurants here in San Diego, this boy would not sit at the table when we went out to eat. Isaiah spent nearly every lunch we ate out entertaining Hunter outside. Also, we tried to see touristy sites, like Selinunte and the Valle dei Templi, that were outdoors so he could run around, but we also wanted my MIL to see some of the other spectacular places and cities that Sicily has to offer, which were not always so fun for a toddler. One site in particular was the Villa Romana di Casale. I was in awe of the mosaics when I saw the villa years before on our road trip through Italy, but this time I should have skipped a ticket for me and played in the parking lot with Hunter because he was not having it. Even though we all adjusted very quickly to the time difference, a big problem was that he was always up so early, and the rest of us were kind of leisurely about getting up, so by the time we were out the door and out and about, his naptime creeped up on us really quickly. Let's not even discuss what an 8-hour flight looks like with a child who has no interest in the iPad and who'd rather be riding his balance bike.

The biggest problem, however, was our lack of consideration for Hunter's developmental needs. We've all heard that the first five years of life are the most important. It wasn't until my Montessori training, however, that I recognized the magnitude of that statement. The task that these young children have is huge. They are building themselves into the men and women they will become. They are establishing an "inner compass" and laying the foundation for the rest of their lives. Education truly begins at birth, and the child's first teachers are his parents. Among the child's great tasks during these five years are adaptation to society during a particular era and in a particular place, language acquisition, and building intelligence. Therefore, to accomplish these great tasks, parents need to recognize what children need during those first five years: stability, order, a predictable environment, and opportunities for independence (among other things, of course).

I learned that from birth to around age 6, children can't be taught about the world around them; they absorb the world around them, and it becomes a part of them. Interestingly enough, this article uses a similar point to argue in favor of traveling with young children, saying that "the right kind of experiences in their early years can help children's brains grow!" The author assumes that what young children experience when traveling abroad is the "right kind of experience." Not only is it up for debate what defines those "right experiences," but the author also doesn't take into account the fact that disorder, such as that which arises when in an unfamiliar environment, can actually inhibit a child's mental growth. Since the "sameness" of everyday life provides the child a sense of peace and security, her energies are not occupied with making sense of her environment but rather they are free to focus on her development. Most family homes, whether or not they are set up the "Montessori way," have in place an order that the child grows to recognize and internalize. This order even brings the child pleasure and happiness. A trip to an unfamiliar place, however, will throw off her internal compass, so to speak. She will focus most of her energies on orienting and defending herself instead of on the amazing cultural sights and sounds that surround her. I am not implying that a 2-week trip to Sicily totally messed up Hunter's development, but I do believe it caused a blip, one that made him behave in ways that we rarely see when he is home surrounded by the familiar. In that sense, I feel it was unfair of us to take him on this trip, not necessarily detrimental, but definitely insensitive to his needs.

The kind of travel (slow travel or living abroad temporarily) that this author advocates, however, actually makes it possible to establish some order in the child's life. If you live more like locals with a home base, then the child will start to notice patterns and the parents will likely set up routines that help give the child's life some stability. You see, the author and her family lived in Costa Rica for a year with four children under the age of five, so her argument may very well be valid in such a case, but for other families who get to take one big 2-week vacation every now and again, it just doesn't hold up. Unfortunately, extended vacations or work stints abroad are travel experiences that very few families get to have.

Don't get me wrong. I definitely want to be a family that travels, and ideally, I'd love to live abroad again, this time with our children. While Isaiah and I will never again visit Pamplona for 24 hours with no hotel reservation and sleep on the grass while Fiesta San Fermin revelers continue to party all around us, and despite our most recent experience in Sicily, I sincerely believe that travel with children is worthwhile. Unlike the woman who wrote this other article, however, I think it's wise to wait until your children are older. Of course I want my children to be global citizens, I just don't think that in order to achieve that it's necessary to start international travel before the age of 6. The author of that article is yet another person advocating "slow travel," yet she's basically claiming that anyone who wants to give their child the gift of the world has to start traveling when the child is very young. Yes, families that live abroad or live in countries that border lots of other countries get to experience international travel with little fuss, so the children in those families most likely don't get their internal compass too out of whack. Yes, they get a head start on becoming global citizens, and travel really becomes part of their identity. When that baby builds himself as a man of his time and place, his place truly is the world. On the other hand, families who have a more or less "normal" life at home (e.g. many North American families) but every now and again go on a big trip somewhere, the children under 6 in those families get yanked away from the environment that they are learning to adapt to and plopped in a completely different place. As soon as they start to adapt to that new place, they return back home. It can be quite startling and confusing. Everyone says that children adapt very easily, and they do, but the situations we adults put them in are not always good for their development.

Despite my beef with the author's first point in the Huff-Post article, I liked her fifth point a lot because it makes the most practical sense to me. Traveling through food experiences or taking local weekend trips are doable for most families AND you can do this with younger children. I also get point #7 because if travel is worth it to you, then you will cut back on other things in your life to save up the money for it, when the kids are older, of course ;) So, really, the article isn't that bad; it's really just with her first point that I can't jump on board: traveling with young children. What I agree with: if I you start traveling when your child is a baby and do it frequently, he or she will get used to it. Sure, of course she will, but it's not always in the child's best interest to do that. For this author and others, it seems traveling with young children is just part of their plan for what they think is best for their children (global citizenship) and a way to condition them to become good travel companions later (or "great little travelers" like point #3 in this article). What else I disagree with: The offhanded comment implying teenagers are not good travel companions if they've never been anywhere. My sister and I didn't start traveling internationally until we were teenagers and we were awesome companions ;)

I have read a lot about how little ones who've traveled all over the world since they were babies already have a global perspective and have grown to love traveling and learning about new places, all before they can tie their own shoes. I think it's wonderful! But what if their parents had waited just a couple more years until they could tie their own shoes? Don't you think a 6-year-old, or even a 10-year-old, could appreciate (and benefit from) swimming in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland just as much as a 4-year-old, if not more? I definitely didn't need to have international travel experiences as a toddler to be bitten by the travel bug. Heck, I didn't leave the U.S. (Tijuana, Mexico doesn't count) until I was 15 years old when I visited our family's exchange student in Brazil, then visited Israel the following summer, and was already dreaming of studying abroad in Florence the year after that when I enrolled at NYU. Those first international travel experiences morphed into full-on wanderlust and a deep appreciation for different ways of life around the world. Go figure!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

New Month's Resolutions: June

I am done with school and my little guy will be done in a couple of weeks. That means that in the next two weeks I need to squeeze in all my to-do list stuff before I start my own little summer camp for Hunter, and by summer camp I just mean get us out of the house! Really, though, I am planning lots of fun stuff for us, so it's going to be great! On to my goals...

How did I do last month?

Move, look more put together, and keep my nails neat and tidy. I didn't move much until the last week of May. That week I went for lots of walks and even did a prenatal yoga video! I was sick for 2 weeks, so that didn't help, especially with looking put together. I did, however, keep my nails neat and tidy. For me, that bad habit is such a mind over matter issue. I have proven that I can kick that habit, but it's easy for me to slip, so I've just got to keep talking myself out of it. 

Conquer my upcoming exams. Well, I passed! I am completely finished with my program. I am now officially a Montessorian ;)

No dirty dishes in the sink and no clothes on the floor. Ha! No comment.

So, what's in store for June?

1. Move and look more put together. Yes, it's like a broken record, and it will be until these things are not goals anymore but part of my lifestyle.

2. No dirty dishes in the sink and no clothes on the floor. I am bringing this one back too because I didn't give it a proper try last month.

3. Complete a gallery wall in the living room (and catch up on some blog posts). I have pretty much everything I need for this. I just need to actually get stuff up on the wall.

So, that's it! Trying to keep it simple and manageable because my main goal is to plan a fun summer!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Inspirational Books for Mom

Disclosure: The books I have reviewed in this post were provided courtesy of UncommonGoods, a great website for shopping handmade, recycled, or Made in USA gifts. (All the good stuff you know I am about. I actually linked to them in my holiday gift guide a few years ago.) As always, all opinions are 100% my own!

Without a link to her amazon wishlist, it can be a bit tricky to shop for the mom (or moms) in your life for Mother's Day. Take my mama, for instance. Unless I know for sure she's had her eye on a new fragrance or a handbag or I've got a new birthstone charm to add to her mama/nana necklace (celebrating her babies and grandbabies), I stay away from perfumes, jewelry and other accessories. I want my mom to actually use what I give her! Instead, I like to think about her interests.

While perusing some gift ideas over at UncommonGoods, I came up with this little list of inspirational books that the moms in your life might love to receive and (hopefully) mark up and dog ear instead of looking pretty on the bookshelf (though, I'll admit they are some nice looking books)!

For the Expectant Mama: "Expecting You -- A Keepsake Pregnancy Journal"
I love this book for so many reasons. First, it comes at the perfect time because we're expecting Baby #2 in October! (How's that for an announcement?) Second, I tried keeping a pregnancy journal for Hunter and failed miserably. I just used a regular old unlined journal, and most of it I left blank. I do have some special entries, but I just didn't spend as much time on it as I wish I had. This journal has some great quotes and prompts that really help me think about all the facets of pregnancy, little things that never even occurred to me to record the first time around. Third, I feel like second babies often get cheated in the sense that parents tend to take less photos of them than the first born and they rarely get to look back on keepsake books like this. Baby #2 will have a one-up on Hunter because he or she (we're waiting to find out the gender) will have a much more complete pregnancy book! Finally, this is most probably my last pregnancy, so I really do want to treasure the whole experience!

For the Crafty Mama: "The Crochet Stitch Encyclopedia"
This paperback book is great for the mama who already is a DIY expert with some crocheting experience (or knitting or embroidery, which are the other two books in the series) who needs a refresher or wants to have a book handy to learn some new techniques and stitches. For a newbie like me who looks dreamily at the 10+ blankets, baby booties and beanies that her mama has lovingly made, desperately wanting to be able to do the same, the illustrations can be a little confusing. My mom sat down with me one afternoon and showed me the basics, and I practiced for hours, but I have already forgotten what I learned. Perhaps after some YouTube tutorials and more practice, I will find this book more useful.

For the Mama with a Green Thumb: "Seed Keeper" Planner and Organizer
If you know a mama with a sweet little garden but her seed collection is a mess, she'd probably appreciate this book. There are plenty of two different-sized envelopes/pockets to hold store-bought and home-prepared seeds with room for notes about when the seeds were planted and harvested. I will note that only a mama with a modest seed collection might find this planner useful for organizing the seeds by season to pick and choose from year after year. Someone like my mom, however, would need several of these organizers for each planting season, especially since she has a pretty extensive collection of seeds that would definitely not all fit in one organizer.

For the Mama in Touch with Her Inner Picasso: "104 Things to Paint"
Of all the books on this list, this one I chose most certainly with my own mama in mind. She is not formally trained, but she just really likes to paint. The book is simple: thick, thick pages with prompts like "a pile of laundry" or "a broken pencil" or "grape soda" to get the creative juices flowing. It could be just sketches at first, but the pages are thick enough to welcome water colors or other kinds of paint. I imagine for someone who likes to paint but finds an entire blank canvas a bit daunting, this book is the perfect size for having a little fun with shape, form, style, and color!

For the Globetrotting Mama: "Travel Stub Diary"
This is the book I was most excited to receive. I have envelopes and zip top baggies full of museum ticket stubs, train passes, and brochures from all the lovely places I have visited. I couldn't imagine parting with them, but I also didn't really know what to do with them -- until now! This diary is essentially a photo album with side and top loading sleeves for all those ticket stubs. The margins have space for writing little notes to go along with the keepsakes. You could totally make a DIY book like this using a photo album that has space for notes, but this diary has space for extra large keepsakes like brochures, which would definitely not fit in a regular photo album.

For the Mama Who's a Budding Writer: "My Life Story So Far"
I just love the idea of this attractive, cloth-bound book. We all have a story to tell, so why not start recording it for posterity's sake? I also love the idea of writing something down, and picking it up 10 years from now to reflect on it. Although the entries in this journal together won't read like a carefully woven story, there is space for elaborating a bit more on a particular topic, so it will sound more like lots of short stories. I actually really like the topics and prompts because there is something special about remembering ordinary details like how my parents met or how they chose my name or my earliest memory. There may come a time that I don't remember those stories anymore, so it will be great to have them written down in a special little book that can be passed on from generation to generation.

If you still need more gift ideas, click here! You'll find lots of great gifts for the mom who loves to entertain, like this soapstone serving platter or this olive server

Also, feel good when you shop at UncommonGoods because you can help support a charity through the Better to Give program. Plus, this company is a founding B Corp, which means they make a commitment to provide better wages for their employees and give back to the community. For more information about B Corps click here.

New Month's Resolutions: May

Hello, friends! I am so very happy April is over. Even though it's my birthday month, so many things went wrong. I will explain more later, but let's just say my goals for March were a bust. I had too much going on with school and preparations for our trip to Sicily to focus on them. Then when things went sour in April, I started chewing my nails again. But it's May! A brand new month, and it actually feels like a fresh start.

That photo above is from the San Diego Safari Park back in December, but it expresses my feelings about what lies ahead. I am going to attack this month! I have lots to accomplish, and I will be bold and fierce like a lioness!

What are my goals for May?

1. Get back on track with the goals that I started earlier this year but that fell to the way side: movelook more put together, and keep my nails neat and tidy.

2. Conquer my upcoming exams. I want to study and practice so much that I will walk into my exams with confidence and a calmness about me like, "I've got this." 

3. No dirty dishes in the sink and no clothes on the floor. When my house is neat and tidy, it motivates me to be productive.

Also, I have three posts I am working on. I hope to hit publish on all of them in the next few days, so stay tuned!