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Claudia’s Carrot Ginger Soup (Paleo and Perfect Health Diet Friendly)

I bought a giant bag of organic carrots today at Costco. It’s not the first time I’ve done that and, sadly, usually a fourth of the bag spoils before I can use them all.  Lately I’ve been on a kick to be more efficient with meal planning in order to be both budget friendly and environmentally conscious; thus, decided I would use ingredients I had at hand in my pantry, along with copious amounts of carrots, to come up with something new for dinner.  MFP suggested carrot soup.  I’m not sure where she came up with the idea, but it sure beat having glazed carrots for the millionth time.  I originally posted the recipe on my Miss Fancy Pants Facebook page, but a friend suggested I also include it in my blog so that the recipe could be saved onto Pinterest boards.

Both MFP and MM have a milk protein sensitivity, so I decided to use coconut milk to add creaminess without using dairy. It can be made vegan by replacing the chicken stock with vegetable stock.  I often have homemade stock available since I use leftover rotisserie chicken carcasses to make broth, but tonight I used organic chicken stock from a box.  You can amp up the flavor by adding more ginger, but I decided that MFP’s palate might be averse to a strong ginger taste.  As is, it has a well balanced flavor profile, without one particular taste dominating.  She helped season it, which I think made it all the more appealing to her.  It’s really easy to make, especially if you use an immersion blender, which I normally have but it is now lost somewhere- likely in a really high kitchen cabinet.  I used my Vitamix instead, which worked just fine.  I served this as an appetizer (although MFP had three bowls) to our entree, which was a grass-fed beef sirloin steak with rosemary and garlic roasted fingerling potatoes.

It took me like five times to get that coconut milk leaf design right, but MFP was highly amused by its fanciness.

Hope you enjoy!

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Claudia’s Carrot-Ginger Soup (Miss Fancy Pants Approved)

32 oz chicken or vegetable stock
7-8 medium sized carrots roughly chopped
1/2 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp fresh ginger or 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
sea salt to taste

7 oz (about 1/2 can) coconut milk

Simmer all ingredients except coconut milk for about 25 minutes or until carrots are fork tender. Turn off heat. Use immersion blender or puree in blender (in batches) until soup is creamy.

Return to pot. Stir in coconut milk until well combined.

Enjoy!

 

My Facebook Fast

I resisted joining Facebook for years.  “Facebook is for kids,” I’d protest, “And besides, I don’t want to put so much personal information out there on the Internet” (My FB friends will find that latter sentiment highly ironic now).  But my sister moved to Germany and insisted that the best way to keep in touch with her family, which includes my adorable niece and nephew, would be to join FB.  This way she would also get to see MFP grow up, if not in person, then at least virtually.  At the time, I was also part of a mom’s forum on another website and they were going to dissolve that group (since it required a paid membership) and switch over to FB.  Not wanting to lose my mommy support network and motivated by the promise of prodigious amounts of family photos from Germany, I finally came over to the dark side, otherwise known as Facebook.

I was instantly immersed in a social network made up of some of my dearest and closest friends and family.  Having moved several states away from my family of origin when I married Macho Man (MM), FB filled a void I had been feeling since putting my career on hold to raise our daughter.  Prior to MFP’s birth, my work had provided me with much of the social interaction and intellectual stimulation that I needed to stay happy and sane.  Now as a stay-at-home-mom, my days consisted of feedings, diaper changes, laundry, cooking, cleaning, and crying, mostly MFP, and on occasion, me.  Facebook was my watercooler talk and I became like Pavlov’s dog, salivating at every notification and private message ding.  It wasn’t enough just to lurk either.  I had to show support of my FB’s friends’ endeavors by “liking” and commenting whenever I saw something pleasing, offering advice when questions were posted, and of course, admiring all those wonderful photos of cats, dogs, babies, and children.

Fast forward two years later.  I was, as my dear twenty-something male cousin once called me, a “Facebook whore”.  Not in a scandalous, I’m posting duckface selfies of myself in a low-cut shirt at the bar sort of way, but in a “Look at every picture I’ve ever taken of my daughter!” and “I’m making grass-fed beef stew today with organic carrots we planted in our garden!” kind of exibitionism.  Some of my acquaintances quietly unfriended me.  Others probably took me out of their news feed.  I knew I had become “that mom”, but I couldn’t help myself.  I mean, I’m just so lucky to have MFP, I need to document EVERY.WAKING.MOMENT of her life!  But FB hadn’t just become my online baby book- it was also a place to share recipes, promote social causes, tease friends, crack jokes, keep in touch with family and friends around the globe, reconnect with old friends, stay on top of the news, meet like minded people (shout out to my FF Moms and Perfect Health Diet peeps)…

But MM was complaining- and loudly.  If all the laundry wasn’t folded or dinner hastily made, in his mind, it was the fault of FB.  And even though my time on FB usually consisted of idle minutes stolen here and there, like while waiting in line at Costco, and didn’t interfere in my “duties” as a SAHM, to MM, it was the root of all evil.  But his complaints weren’t enough to make me stop.  He was being unreasonable, of course (ahem…), just looking for something to moan about at the end of a long, stressful workday.

Until one day, after a Bitstrip frenzy, I realized that I had been reduced to a FB cartoon, no longer sharing anything of real meaning, but just looking for a laugh.  I was one click away from posting this beauty.

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Potty humor. I had stooped to jokes about lactose intolerance. Mortifying.  Yes, I realize I’m sharing it on my blog.  But it illustrates my point.

[For the record, I still love Bitstrip and consider it a nice supplement to my FB status updates.  It’s fun, it’s cute, and I can give myself an instant boob job.]

But enough was enough.  I needed to purge.  I would take a one week FB break to examine the impact on my daily life.  I didn’t tell MM about it.  I wanted him to see if it made even a bit of a difference to our homelife.  Would there be a gourmet dinner waiting for him every night?  Would the laundry baskets be perpetually empty and dishes always put away?  Would I find the time to teach MFP Latin?  Would I suddenly obtain the energy, motivation and childcare to become a gym rat?

Not quite.  Here is a neat, tidy summary of my week.  Minutia of daily chore routine and most of MFP’s weekly scheduled activities excluded to prevent reader boredom and stalker activity.

Day before my purge:  Sense of apprehension that I’d become socially isolated.  Quickly inform friends of plan, pass out cell phone number, and plan usual play dates and activities.

Day 1 of FB fast: Sense of freedom.  No longer tied to my smartphone, I enjoy a sunny fall day at the park with MFP.  We did not get there any earlier than we normally do, but I wasn’t “that mom” checking my cell while kid is precariously hanging from the monkey bars or accepting candy from strangers. Hike around the lake.  Come home and start texting friend from Las Vegas.  She tells me about Snapchat.  We start sending silly photos back and forth. Note to self:  Next time, take break from all technology.  Leftovers for dinner.  Put kid to bed, finish chore, work on sleep consultation, start Jane Austen novel. Fall asleep an hour earlier than normal.

Day 2:  Starting to feel withdrawal.  Are friends who know of my fast posting ridiculous things on my wall to test me?  “Hey, let’s post a picture of her wearing her Coke bottle glasses in 7th grade and see if she bites!”  Start to find myself wandering in circles by the laptop.  Occasionally visit Pinterest. Make organic, crock pot beef stew for dinner.  More Jane Austen at night. Fall asleep early.  Laundry left unfolded.

Day 3:  Withdrawal symptoms continue.  Remember that the only Latin I ever learned was Pig Latin.  MFP is out of luck.  Send out a few emails to friends. Pilates in morning.  Delighted when an good friend, with whom I normally chat on FB, calls me and we have a wonderful conversation, only interrupted four times by MFP whining about wanting more tiny gluten bombs (a.k.a. Annie’s Bunny Grahams) and a cartoon.  Grass-fed beef hot dogs and frozen veggies for dinner.  Chores completed.  Email clients.  More Jane Austen before bed.

Day 4:  Spend two hours working on research for future book while MFP is at pre-k.  When MM blames the prior night’s hot dog dinner on FB, I triumphantly exclaim, “So not true, dear husband!  I have been off FB since late Sunday night!”  He tells me that the shabby dinner I served, despite not spending time on FB, is nothing of which to brag.  I inform him if he continues with his diatribe, I will serve him hot dogs every night.  He ceases to discuss meal preparation.  Salmon, potatoes, and roasted organic vegetables for dinner.  Spend late evening (after MFP is in bed) with MM discussing business.  Jane Austen.  Dishes left in sink.

Day 5:  Vegas friend sends a Snapchat photo of her FB wall to taunt me and asks if she’s broken my fast?  MFP and I attend a play date at a dear friend’s house and for once I have news for her that she hasn’t already seen on FB.  Roasted cabbage, pastured chicken, potatoes, and salad for dinner. Client emails and read more Jane before bed.

Day 6:  Getting used to not having FB but eager for my fast to be over.  Lovely afternoon spent with family and being “productive”.  Take-out for dinner. Quality time with MM in evening after MFP is in bed.  Chores done.

Day 7:  Woo hoo!  Almost time to get back to my FB friends!  Outing with MFP in morning, followed by “me time”, during which I took a long walk. Some sort of protein (from the Farmer’s market), veggie, and starch for dinner but for the life of me, can’t remember what since I forgot to write it down. More Jane Austen before bed.

What did I learn from my Facebook fast?

1.  For me, FB fills those otherwise dull moments during the day.  Unless I proactively think of ways to fill those moments with something more enlightening (such as mediation or admiring a crisp fall day), I’ll just find other “stuff” to fill those moments, like text messaging, Pinterest, or eating gelato.

2.  My productivity did not go up because I already have a busy, highly scheduled day and don’t want to spend my free moments doing more housework.

3.  If I want to work out more, I’ll need to build more activity into my routine.  I manage to get to Pilates weekly, but power walks depend upon whether I can wrestle MFP into a stroller.

4.  If MFP is going to learn Latin, I’ll need a Latin teacher.  😉

5.  FB helps me stay connected to out-of-state friends and family that I would otherwise not be able to “see” or “talk” to on a regular basis.

6.  It might be nice for me to start being more selective about my status updates instead of plastering my FB wall daily.

7.  Barely anyone noticed I was gone, but some had wondered why I hadn’t “liked” or commented on their family photos, signed their petitions against Monsanto, or shared any good hypochondriac worthy articles lately.

So what did I do this week, my week back on FB?  I posted two pictures and a video of MFP, a Snoopy cartoon, a recall of E.Coli tainted produce, a home remedy for migraines, and a list of “8 things that you may or may not have known about me” (see below) that I was informed I had to do because I had “liked” someone else’s list.

My eight things (just in case you were curious)…

1. At age 28 I got my navel pierced and only took it out at age 35 when I was 5 or 6 months pregnant with MFP.

2. My real first name is Josephine. My mom wanted it to be Claudia but my dad filled out the birth certificate and put “Claudia” as my middle name. My 8th grade English teacher tortured me by singing, “Josie and the Pussycats” to me.

3. I love pizza with anchovies and capers. In Italy, this combo is known as Pizza Napoletana.

4. I had a crush on Alton Brown from the Food Network for many years, until he got so skinny that he started to look a little sickly. MM thinks that is gross.

5. I want to be a published author by the time I’m 40.

6. In my will, I have specified that my body should be cremated and my remains scattered over the Island of Capri. I also want a smidgen tossed in my home state and a bit at the Vatican.

7. I’m afraid of eternity. It seems like a long time.

8. If I could live anywhere, I’d live at the beach.

Um, I’m still working on that whole “being selective” thing.

 

 

Better Behavior for Ages 2-10: A book review

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Before I became a parent, I had a career as a school psychologist and also taught psychology courses as an adjunct professor.  I guess you could say, in effect, that I was considered an “expert”.  People vary in their opinion of experts, but I believe that most folks are content to try things their own way until they run into problems that they, despite their best efforts, aren’t able to solve themselves.  At that point, “experts”, be it the psychologist, pediatrician, plumber, IT geek, grandmother, mechanic, etc., become highly useful, even a godsend.  I wholeheartedly believe in the utility of expert opinion, but also recognize that sometimes even “experts” may not offer great advice, or at least, advice that is helpful to one’s particular situation.

When MFP was around four-months-old, my naturopath suggested I speak to a parenting coach to get some support and ideas for dealing with MFP’s reflux and inability to sleep for more than a three hour stretch.  Night wakings left her crying for at least an hour, often two (even with feedings and gentle soothing), leaving me fantasizing about being whisked away to a deserted island just so that I could get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.

The parenting coach, we’ll call her Jill, seemed nice enough.  As I settled into the armchair in her cozy and welcoming office, I immediately felt better just having someone listen and sympathize.  And while none of the advice she offered was new to me, it was reassuring to know that I wasn’t the only mom who felt the way I did at the time.  Just as the session was wrapping up, Jill offered some unexpected advice.  “When MFP wakes up at night, just take off your shirt and let her play with your nipples.”  “Um,” I replied, “I haven’t breastfed her since she was three-weeks-old.  Are you suggesting comfort nursing?” (which I would have been ok with had I still been breastfeeding).  “No,” she continued enthusiastically, “unless that’s what she wants to do. Just let her play with them, feel them, hold them…It’s what I did with my daughter.”

It took me a moment to process her suggestion.  “Whoa lady,” I thought, not in my rational, professional voice, but in my incredulous, sleep deprived Mommy voice, “I’m all for breastfeeding, but my breasts are not chew toys!  Is that the best you’ve got?”  But instead of voicing these thoughts aloud, I quickly thanked her, told her to bill me, and made a hasty exit.  To this day, I’m not quite sure what to make of her advice, but I’m pretty sure that nipple play is not a research based sleep intervention.  I soon after sought the advice of a Ph.D. trained sleep specialist who gave me effective, personalized sleep advice that resulted in my child becoming a great sleeper and a MUCH happier child.  Noticing that I was a quick study, obsessed with all things sleep related, and given my psychology background, the sleep doctor later suggested that I too become a sleep consultant, thus my second career began.

This experience proved invaluable to me, both as a mother and an “expert”.  Good experts should be well trained, either through formal education or apprenticeship, and hands-on experience.  Not all experts are good, but even the best expert advice won’t work if it isn’t well-implemented.  For example, the advice of walking 10,000 steps daily can help you to lose weight, but only if you actually walk. General advice can be valuable to “typical” situations, but sometimes, advice has to be specifically tailored to the situation, such as when doing “sleep training” with a child who has separation anxiety or a circadian disorder.

But general advice can be a useful starting point, thus the proliferation of parenting books on the market.  I’ve read many of them, most with mixed feelings.  When my former school psychologist colleague, Dr. Tara Egan, told me she was writing a parenting book, my first reaction was, “Awesome!  I can’t wait to read it and test it out on my kid!”  I knew Tara was effective in her work in the schools and in her private practice and she is also well trained. But my next thought was one of mild apprehension.  What if her book was just mediocre or even awful?  When I finally got my hands on a copy, I was relieved when I realized that not only was it as good as I had expected it to be, but it was actually one of the best parenting books (dealing with behavior issues) I have read to date.

“Better Behavior for Ages 2-10” is a refreshing change from the non-research based parenting books out there that advocate interventions that can actually worsen behavior problems. When I was training, my theoretical paradigm was Behaviorism. I think many people mistake behaviorism, especially when utilized to improve the behavior of children, for an approach that is mechanical and based upon “bribes” (think back to your Intro to Psych class, Skinner, and Pavlov’s dogs).  You know, sticker charts, M&M’s for using the potty, liberal praise, etc.  Instead, Dr. Egan’s book demonstrates that, properly implemented, it’s a method based upon understanding the motivations behind problem behaviors and addressing them in a logical, caring, and empathetic manner in order improve a child’s behavior. This book takes the mystery out of problematic childhood behavior by offering practical and effective strategies to improve behavior and parent-child interactions.

Basically, the idea behind the book is to address problems behaviors using a multifaceted approach.  Dr. Egan suggests creating an environment that sets the stage for success.  Is your child well-fed?  Getting adequate sleep?  Is there structure in place? Are you setting appropriate limits? Could there be sensory issues that are negatively impacting your child’s behavior?  Is your child getting enough high-quality interactions with you?  Are you modeling “good” behavior and effective coping strategies?  Are you meeting your child’s needs for affection?  Are you firm but loving in your approach to discipline? Are you using a “nurturing communication style”?  When problem behaviors occur, when are they happening?  How are they being reinforced?  How can you change the environment (set the stage) and alter the consequences to promote better behavior?

Furthermore, Dr. Egan discusses different parenting styles, their usefulness, how to assess your own parenting style, and how to adapt your style to suit your child’s “love language”.  She explains the anatomy of temper outbursts (“tantrums”), why they occur, and how to address them.  Dr. Egan also demonstrates, through real life examples, how to appropriately use natural and logical consequences and punishment (i.e. time-out, loss of privileges, etc.) to improve your child’s behavior.

Keep in mind, this book is written to address problem behaviors in “typical” children.  While many of the strategies can be adapted to work with most children, kids with severe emotional, behavioral, health, and/or intellectual disabilities may need more specialized intervention.  But implemented as is, I believe that her advice, when properly utilized, can address the majority of problem behaviors in the average 2-10 year-old.

What I liked most about the book is that it really does take the mystery out of problem behaviors by helping parents to understand what factors lead to issues, how to analyze problems, and how to best approach them.  And yes, I’ve tested out some of her suggestions with MFP and am happy to say that they have resulted in behavioral improvements.  BUT, like any good intervention, consistency and adherence are key.  For example, we all know that sometimes, the best way to immediately address a temper tantrum is by ignoring the behavior (within limits of safety); however, there are always those couple of times when it just seemed easier to bribe you kid with a cookie in the checkout line rather than experience that painfully embarrassing situation of your child thrashing around while screaming of his hatred for you.  It happens.  But unfortunately, those couple of random cookie bribes have now increased the likelihood of that same behavior reccuring in a similar situation.  Like the gambler feeding that “lucky” slot machine quarters in hopes of winning again, your child will persist in his lovely behavior in hopes of breaking you down due to the “intermittent” reinforcement he received in the past. No mystery. Just Psychology 101.  But once you understand how behavior works, you as a parent can use it to your advantage.  Does this sound too clinical or mechanistic?  I don’t think so.  We’re not talking M&M’s and sticker charts.  We’re talking about lovingly and thoughtfully setting the stage for good behavior by meeting your child’s needs, modeling prosocial behavior, and addressing issues in a productive, calm, rational manner.  We may not always perfectly achieve these goals, but they are worthy goals for which to strive.  This is definitely one book that I’m happy to have in my parenting “toolkit”.

Like” Raising Miss Fancy Pants on Facebook to keep updated on new posts and also enter to win “Better Behavior for Ages 2-10”.  

Rett Syndrome Awareness Month: The story of Andrea and Alicia

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

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Andrea with her younger daughter, Alicia

This quote succinctly describes Andrea, my childhood best friend.  As children, we lived next door to one another, hung out at her pool each summer, had sleepovers, shopped, gossiped about boys, and went to grade-school together.  We even attended the same college and roomed in the same dorm, only losing touch once she transferred to a different school.  Our childhoods were mostly easy and carefree.  That’s not to say that we didn’t have the normal hardships that many kids go through, but overall, our good memories outweighed the bad.  When we envisioned our lives as adults, we pictured careers, marriage, kids, and the same contented, fun childhoods for our children that we had shared growing up.

Our lives went separate ways after college, but we eventually ran into one another again shortly before I was to move from our hometown in Connecticut to North Carolina for my husband’s job.  One spring day, Andrea knocked on my office door at one of the three elementary schools in town where I was the assigned school psychologist.  It turned out that she worked at that very same school as the media specialist assistant, but on different days than I was assigned.  We were employed at the same school for almost three years without running into one another and had finally reconnected just as I was about to move!  Despite that we hadn’t seen each other in over a decade, talking to her felt like we had merely picked up where we had left off years earlier. Our conversation was easy and jovial, only turning more serious as Andrea described her younger daughter Alicia’s health challenges.

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Alicia, who was then a preschooler, was exhibiting severe developmental delays and significant behavioral issues. Andrea explained that Alicia had originally received a diagnosis of Global Developmentally Delayed with Autistic features; however, almost two years later, Alicia’s diagnosis was changed to Autism due to her inability to make significant gains developmentally and because she was exhibiting characteristics typical of children with Autism, such as lack of eye contact and impaired verbal communication skills.  I later asked Andrea when had she realized that Alicia’s development was different than that of a typically developing child?  She responded,

I think the point when I knew there was something more going on than just a minor developmental delay was when Alicia was around 14-16 months old.  Alicia had had various ailments/issues from birth, but in the big picture they were just “small” things that many infants could develop.  There were moments when she would be completely inconsolable and would only calm down when held and rocked or in her swing.  Due to severe reflux issues that began by the time she was two months old, Alicia would be more comfortable in a propped or upright position most of the time.  She spent lots of time in her swing, which helped to also calm her down.  The drawback of this was that she would usually lean her head to one side and began to develop her neck muscle that way.  We had her evaluated as an infant and it was determined that she had torticollis.  Torticollis is relatively common in newborns. Boys and girls are equally likely to develop the head tilt. It can be present at birth or take up to 3 months to develop.

 Andrea further explained,

Babies with torticollis will act like most other babies except when it comes to activities that involve turning. A baby with torticollis might tilt his/her head in one direction (this can be difficult to see in very young infants); prefer looking at you over one shoulder instead of turning to follow you with his or her eyes; if breastfed, have difficulty breastfeeding on one side (or prefers one breast only); and, work hard to turn toward you and get frustrated when unable to turn his or her head completely

We had Alicia evaluated and began physical therapy by the time she was 6 months old.  We took her to CCMC [Connecticut Children’s Medical Center] and she had physical therapy weekly for about 3 months.  We also incorporated neck stretching exercises at home to heal Alicia.  With stretching and exercises, the torticollis completely healed within, I believe, 4-6 months.

Alicia seemed to be meeting some of her developmental milestones on time, like eye contact and cooing, but this did not last long.  By 10-12 months old she wasn’t doing much cooing or babbling.  She barely attempted to crawl and did not initiate trying to stand on her own.  I can’t remember the exact months when she did meet certain milestones; honestly, once we started realizing things weren’t happening when they were supposed to, we started focusing on getting through one day at a time.

I believe we brought Alicia to a developmental pediatrician when she was about 6-8 months old.  We had her evaluated, which included filling out pages upon pages of questions regarding milestones, behaviors, and health concerns.  Alicia was also observed by the developmental pediatrician while she attempted to hold a crayon or grasp a cup.  The doctor checked her motor skills, eye contact, ability to sit unassisted, and various milestones she should have been meeting at different points [in her development].  She was thought to be just delayed at that early age.  Her diagnosis back in 2004 was Global Developmentally Delayed with Autistic Features.  In the beginning, the “autistic features” aided in trying to figure out a diagnosis for her and to help her obtain services like physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech, etc..  She began receiving Birth to Three [early intervention] services at about 12-months-old and these continued until the day before she turned three and began pre-school in a special needs program in 2006.

In 2009, Alicia’s diagnosis would once again be changed, this time to Rett Syndrome.  According to The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/rett/detail_rett.htm), Rett Syndrome is a, “…neurodevelopmenal disorder that affects girls almost exclusively. It is characterized by normal early growth and development followed by a slowing of development, loss of purposeful use of the hands, distinctive hand movements, slowed brain and head growth, problems with walking, seizures, and intellectual disability.”  It is believed that nearly all cases are caused by a mutation in the MECP2 gene found on the X chromosome.  Andrea explained how they finally got the correct diagnosis.

We brought her to a pediatric neurologist due to full body tremors she began having at around 4-years-old.  She had an MRI done to check for possible seizures but was thought to be having just postural tremors.  The MRI did not show anything abnormal.  The tremors continued and seemed to be getting worse but we kept an eye on things for about a year.  We did end up switching specialists to a new developmental pediatrician and upon her observing Alicia, she ordered another MRI and an EEG.  The EEG did show some abnormal brain activity but no regular seizure activity so it was thought to still just be postural tremors.  The neurologist also observed Alicia doing some hand wringing and mentioned the thought of testing her for Rett Syndrome.  We had also had genetic testing through a geneticist at UCONN [Medical Center], along with an evaluation in their audiology department.  She was tested by the first neurologist at CCMC for Angelman’s Syndrome but it came back negative.  She passed her audiology tests and was thought to be hearing fine, which we still believe is the case today.  In 2009 we had more genetic testing done, this time for Rett Syndrome due to the hand wringing, screaming, tremors, and lack of verbal communication.  Alicia was also having severe issues with constipation and various gastrointestinal difficulties. We almost did not get her Rett Syndrome diagnosis when our insurance company called to inform us they did not cover the genetic testing that we had done.  We could either pay the cost, which was $5,000, or decide to cancel the test results before they were reported.  We decided to cancel the results and would save up the money to have the testing done.  Well, I got a call from her pediatric neurologist that she had been contacted by the doctor who runs the lab where the testing had been done.  They wanted to let her know that even though the results were not going to be reported, that they came back positive for the Rett Syndrome diagnosis.  So we do not know what actual deletion Alicia has causing Rett but at least we had a definite answer for her diagnosis.  We finally had an answer and a diagnosis, although life altering, in October of 2009.

Having a child with special needs, especially as significant as Alicia’s needs are, can be extremely taxing to a parent’s physical and mental health and also puts a heavy strain on the family.  While all parents have their struggles, caring for a child who has both medical and behavioral issues can be especially difficult and anxiety provoking. I asked Andrea what a “typical” day is like in her household.

Funny…just reflecting upon this question, the first thing that pops into my mind is how far from “typical” our days are.  But a typical day in our house always revolves around a strict routine.  I wake Alicia up by 7am to get her ready for school.  Amazingly, she always wakes with a smile or giggle no matter what’s going on.  She comes straight into our living room and sits in her recliner- yes, one that is completely hers [Andrea laughs].  She watches “Curious George” [cartoon] while I prepare lunches and am on Hailey, our middle-schooler, to get up, dressed, eat breakfast, and ready on time for her ride to school.  Alicia is unable to feed, change or clothe herself, so the routine begins.  It includes changing her out of her pjs and changing her diaper- she is not fully potty trained, especially at night- no way am I waking up this kid during the night to change her!  We are fortunate that Alicia sleeps through the night but it is usually very difficult to get her back to sleep if she is woken up.  I dress her for school, feed her, put on her jacket, if needed, and her harness, which she needs to ride the bus.  We go outside by 8 am, the bus comes almost always at 8:02, and off to school she goes.  Now I get a “break” and get to go to work…[Andrea chuckles].  Alicia gets home from school anywhere from 2:30-2:45 pm. I then put her in the car to go pick up Hailey from school and come home.  Alicia then usually chills/unwinds/melts down for a bit (with Curious George again) while I clean up from the morning.  I have been trying to get her to use her iPad more frequently at home, primarily right now for games, but hopefully also to aid in her ability to communicate. She is not used to using it at home though, and is definitely fighting me on it.  Usually she relaxes to “Curious George” while I clean, cook, do laundry, help with Hailey’s homework, and anything else that needs to get done [to manage the household].  Alicia seems to be getting very picky about what parts of “Curious George” she likes to watch.  It is sometimes maddening!  I have had to fast-forward, reverse and change her DVDs anywhere from 20-50 times throughout the afternoon and bedtime.  It is daunting even trying to keep her calm enough to get anything accomplished!  We feed her dinner around 5:30 or 6 pm, which takes about 45 mins to an hour.  She has been a slow eater lately, often taking breaks in between.  I start getting her ready for bed around 6:45 pm.  This includes bathing her, toileted, brushing her teeth, putting on her pajamas and giving her some downtime in her bed for at least 15-20 mins as she watches “Super Why” and “Clifford”.  She is an extreme creature of habit and routine is key around here.

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Sisters, Hailey and Alicia

This “typical” day does not include the numerous medical appointments that Alicia often has to attend.  Because Alicia (now ten-years-old) cannot communicate verbally, it is often difficult to determine if behavioral issues are due to a medical concern (such as a UTI), environmental factors, or internal needs.  As such, Andrea always ensures that there aren’t underlying medical reasons for Alicia’s behavioral issues and/or mood changes.  Despite the hardships Andrea endures caring for a child with special needs, she maintains a positive attitude.  Always quick to crack a joke and with a ready laugh, Andrea’s smile disguises the emotional and physical pain she experiences as a result of caregiver burnout.  Andrea expresses gratitude for her supportive family and her tight-knit social network, which includes other parents of children with Rett Syndrome.  I asked Andrea what she would like others to know about families that include a child/children with special needs.  She replied,

I think one of the biggest and most important things that has stuck with me being a special needs parent….never jump to conclusions. We have all seen those kids that have no manners or “discipline” act out screaming, hitting or throwing all kinds of tantrums in stores.  Well, I never thought I would end up in a position like that, having a child that does “act out”.  But it’s not because I don’t discipline, ignore, or give in to my child that she acts like this. It’s due to the fact that most times, Alicia gets way overstimulated in a store due to the noise, amount of people, and all that sensory input.   She acts up because she is unable to tell us that it’s too much for her and that she’s not feeling comfortable.  My husband and I have had people say things to us about how our child is acting and that we should be able to control our child’s behavior and not let her hit me or scream at me the way that she does.  About two years ago, I had a confrontation with a woman at a store.   She started off by making a disgusted face and rolling her eyes when Alicia would scream out.  I was over-stressed and just trying to pick up a couple of things ASAP because I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. She [the woman] then shook her head from side to side and I point blank asked her if she had something she would like to say to me.  She told me that she couldn’t believe I let my child scream in public like that and let her hit me.  She told me I needed to teach my child proper behavior.  I looked at the woman and told her that my daughter was unable to speak due to having Rett Syndrome, a debilitating disorder that robs her of the ability to verbally communicate when she is upset or hurt.  I told her that it took all the strength that I had just to “try” and take Alicia with me to the store because the screaming and commotion has happened plenty of times before.  I then informed the woman that she might want to stop jumping to conclusions, simply assuming a person doesn’t have “control” over their child’s behavior, because in reality, that parent is likely doing everything they can to include their child in “normal” day-to-day activities that are difficult due to their child’s disability.  I also added that if it bothered her that much she was more than welcome to leave the aisle we were in or even the store.  She was taken aback a bit and did end up muttering a quick “I’m sorry”.  I was extremely angry at that point and I came back with “Yes you are.”  Not one of my finer moments but I just blew up.

One of the biggest and most vivid memories I have- an A-ha moment-  was after Alicia was first diagnosed as autistic.  I was watching an episode of “Oprah”.  Oprah was interviewing parents who had children with Autism and she asked a mom what is the one thing she would want people to know when they see special needs parents struggling?  The mother replied that it’s really very simple, especially not knowing a parent’s or child’s specific circumstances…she said it would mean everything to her if someone would just walk up to them and say “Is there anything I can do to help you?”. This is such a simple act of kindness but something that truly means the world to me!  I even do it when I am out at the store and I see a parent having a difficult time.

Andrea admits that while she would have never chosen for her daughter to be born with Rett Syndrome, having a child with special needs has given her a different perspective on life.  I asked her to further elaborate.

I think that one of the main things that I’ve learned is humility.  So many of us constantly complain about anything and everything because that’s just seems to be the way the world communicates nowadays. Alicia, and so many other children with disabilities, don’t have that option.  I often think to myself, “What would my world be like if I couldn’t speak and was unable to convey my feelings, sorrows, frustrations, or thoughts with another person?”.  Alicia is stuck in this position each and every second of her life.  Just as one would do with an infant, we have had to learn what Alicia’s cries, screams, and vocalizations mean…She must get frustrated at times on those days when it takes us longer to “figure it out”.  She just can’t say she’s hungry, in pain, or not feeling like herself as typical children are able.  There are obviously lots of other things I can list about what Alicia has taught me.  Among these are patience- most days [Andrea laughs], gratefulness, faith, endurance and strength.  She is also an absolute encouragement to so many because if she can wake up each and every day with a smile and giggle, then what’s stopping anybody else?

Andrea also explains that despite Alicia’s disability, her daughter has the same needs and desires as other children.  Alicia loves her “blankie” (Andrea has an estimated 15 backups just in case) and her favorite foods are cold pizza, cucumbers, tomatoes, and anything crunchy, like potato chips and cookies.  Alicia is fond of trips to the Big E (New England’s “Great State Fair”), Walmart, and Target.  She has grown to love car rides, as long as the scenery is good and the car is moving!  Like her mother when she was a child, Alicia loves spending summers at the pool and shopping with her friends.

We don’t always choose our lot in life, but it’s our response to life’s challenges that determine the strength of our character.  Andrea is one of the strongest people I know.  She demonstrates a sense of compassion and inner beauty that is likely the result of embracing the challenges of being a special needs parent.  And while her capacity for love and caring is insurmountable, there are things that we can all do to help parents and children who struggle with the realities of having a disability.  Have compassion for other parents and children, rather than drawing conclusions without knowing another’s life circumstances.  Lend a hand if you can.  Sometimes, a parent may just need a break.  A kind word.  Encouragement.  Pampering.  A Pumpkin Spice Latte. :)  If you are close to a special needs parent, insist on helping.  Sometimes, we all have difficulty accepting help.  Instead of saying, “Let me know if you need anything?”, say, “I will come over tomorrow and watch Joey if you want to run out and get a minute to yourself.”  Try to avoid negating their struggles with platitudes such as, “Everything happens for a reason”, and “It will be ok.”  Do offer to listen without judgement or without trying to “fix” the situation.  Raise awareness.  Do speak up if you hear someone using the term “retarded”.  See the child with special needs as a whole person, not just their disability.  If your own children ask questions, explain that all children, even if they act or look differently, want to be loved, have fun, laugh, and make friends.  Find the commonalities rather than the differences, although it’s ok to acknowledge and explain the disability.  If you think you may be saying the “wrong” thing, it’s fine to ask the parent of a child with special needs what they would prefer.  Lastly, understand that we all have good and bad days, both parents and children.  Try to extend compassion to all those you meet, special needs or typical.  Because after all, we all want the same things…to be loved, understood, cared for, and accepted for who we are.  Thank you to Andrea and Alicia, two very special people, who have helped me to understand this.

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Alicia with her friend

 

 

How to Party Like a Preschooler

Last weekend, we celebrated MFP’s 3rd birthday.  When I was a child, I loved planning birthday parties.  Whenever my birthday rolls around, my mom recalls how I always strategized my own party months in advance.  Of course, in the early 80’s, a good kid’s party consisted of a couple of bags of Doritos, soda, a Carvel ice-cream cake, and pizza.  We were lucky if we got a candy-filled pinata or the chance to pin a tail on the donkey.  I did my own decorating, which meant paper streamers and balloons.  Parties were my thing.  My husband, on the other hand, gripes that his childhood birthday celebrations were much more bare-bones, insisting that cake was a luxury and the only balloons he ever got to blow up belonged to the “rich kids”.

Remember this guy?

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Fast forward to today.  Kid parties seem, well, fancier- petting zoos, magicians, bounce houses, espresso bars, Justin Timberlake…(ok, maybe those last two are for the Mommies). Pinterest only ups the pressure to put on the perfect party.  As my sweet baby’s 3rd birthday approached, I started to panic. Party planning didn’t feel fun anymore.  It just seemed like another opportunity to prove that I couldn’t live up to this mythical Mommy standard of perfection and that maybe I made a better career woman than a stay-at-home-mom. But then I saw the excitement in MFP’s eyes when I mentioned her upcoming birthday, that same excitement I felt as a child when my birthday approached, and I got my party groove back…sort of.

When I asked MFP what she wanted for her party (mind you, she had started planning her own celebration months earlier when she first brought up the owl theme), she replied, “I want you to make me an owl cake, like last year when you made me the Hello Kitty cake.” She brings up her Hello Kitty cake often, probably because she is severely cake-deprived as far as children go- mostly, due to her milk allergy and kinda because I try to limit sugar consumption, that is when she’s not sneaking into my stash of dark chocolate chips.  But part of me likes to think that one day she will wax nostalgic about the homemade character cakes, lopsided features and all, her non-pastry chef mom attempted to create to help make her day special. So like the glutton for punishment that I am, I hopped onto Pinterest and began my search for ideas to make MFP’s birthday befitting a fancy pants three–year-old.

And you know what?  It was super fun! MFP got in on the action, sitting on my lap as we perused all that Pinterest had to offer.  She helped me craft the owl balloons; watched with great anticipation as I decorated the “Mommy” owl cake, complete with baby owl cupcakes; danced excitedly when she saw fireplaces and railings festooned with our arts and crafts creations; and sighed in appreciation at the aroma of sausage and peppers filling the house as I cooked for her party, exclaiming, “Mmmmm, Mommy, the house smells good!  What are you making?”  Yeah, and she also helped herself to some of the prosciutto from the antipasto, a girl after my own heart. Of course, it was a godsend that my extremely helpful mother was visiting from out-of-state and made it her job to ensure that the house was immaculate.  And while she is a fantastic cook, Mom was happy to be my sous chef for the day, sparing me the chore of chopping and dicing several pounds of produce.

Speaking of food, I’m Italian and Macho Man (MM) is Mexican.  To us, a party is just an excuse to gorge yourself on excessive amounts of food and if your guests leave without feeling like they require a vomitorium, you haven’t done your job as a host.  In my invitation, I mentioned that we would be serving a “light dinner”.  That light dinner included an Italian antipasto salad, tossed salad, sausage and peppers, kettle chips (MM insisted), pizza (safe kid option), and cake, much less than we’d normally serve.  I fretted that I should have included more veggies for the children and maybe some fruit to round out the meal, but MM reminded me that birthday parties don’t require you to ensure that you’ve incorporated every food group.  I nixed the owl s’mores at the last minute since I was worried that my child the children would be too hyped up on sugar to go to bed at a decent hour and that I would receive hate-texts from parents about their children’s post-party tooth decay.

But I didn’t know the “rules” of a preschooler’s birthday party.  Like, I didn’t know that it’s a good idea to limit it to two hours or less because that is the amount of time that both parents and 3-yr-olds can handle before someone starts melting down, and it’s not pretty when it’s the parent.  And while I knew it was good to have some simple games planned, I didn’t know that if you focused on the food, planned a party that was way too long (when in reality, guests would need to leave much earlier for their own sanity’s sake), and your husband spent all his time during the party drinking wine and gabbing instead of making sure the guests were adequately hydrated, that you wouldn’t actually have time to do any of your fun indoor activities, like paint everyone’s face with the special organic, non-toxic face paint you had rushed delivered from Amazon just for the occasion when you found out the weather would be too horrible to partake in your planned outdoor activities.  And even if your owl cupcakes are really adorable, displaying them before your littlest guests have eaten their dinner is probably not the best idea.

They are super cute, right?  Like little babies peeking out of their nest.

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And here’s Momma…

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Despite my lack of knowledge of the “rules”, MFP loved her party, probably because she got to eat cake and pizza and drink a juice box all in one day. She’s still talking about the owls, her cake, and how much fun she had with all of her friends. I even overheard her on several occasions talking to her imaginary friends (hey, she is an only child) about her “great” party.  In fact, she’s already decided that next year she wants a kitten theme.

So how do you know if your preschooler’s birthday party was a success?  I have four simple criteria.

1.  No one was severely injured or food poisoned

2.  There are fewer than 3 meltdowns per every six children

3.  The birthday girl/boy had lots of fun

4.  You have celebrated the anniversary of your child’s birth

As you can tell, I didn’t set the bar that high.  It allowed me to actually enjoy myself instead of stressing the whole time.  Ok, so I did stress a little bit.  A lot.  Whatever.  The process was fun even if the execution come party time was a bit hectic.

I did ask several of my friends (after the fact), many who have thrown great kid parties without pomp and circumstance, what their advice would be for parents when throwing a party for a preschooler.  I thought their answers were thoughtful and helpful.  As such, I thought I’d pass them along. 

  1. Make sure the party is child focused.  Find simple activities for them to do (dancing, ball games, crafts, etc.)  Happy, engaged children also have the added bonus of allowing parents to somewhat relax and enjoy themselves because they don’t have to spend all their time keeping their child away from the china cabinet or preventing a meltdown.

  2. If your spouse/partner and/or family members are helping you to host, make sure you give them clearly defined roles.  Like, don’t just tell your husband (MM), “You’re in charge of beverages,” which he may misinterpret as sampling all the bottles of wine before they are served.  Instead, tell him, “You’re in charge of keeping the water pitcher full of ice-water, the ice-bucket full of ice, the wine uncorked when bottles are running low, drink boxes plentiful, and keep the herbal iced-tea coming.”  Because sometimes, husbands are clueless about obvious signs that they aren’t keeping up, like an expectant mother almost passing out from dehydration.

  3. When planning your party, have both indoor and outdoor activities planned in case of inclement weather.

  4. Keep the party 2 hours or less in length.

  5. Don’t forget about the parents. While they may not need a Vegas-style buffet spread, do have something for them to drink and nosh on besides M&M’s and juice-boxes.

  6. Since a lot of parents try to limit their children’s junk food consumption, it’s nice (but not necessary) to have some more healthful options, such as fruit, for kids to munch.

  7. Keep in mind that many 2 to 4-year-olds may still require a nap or “quiet time”.  Plan your party with your child’s (and others’) nap schedule in mind so that the children are well rested, either in the morning or after an afternoon nap.

  8. Open gifts after all the guests leave to help prevent “issues”.

  9. Write down what guests gave (either on a notepad or in the card attached to the gift) to make thank-you note writing easier.

  10. Keep gifts out of reach of little hands who may misplace cards or open presents.  I learned this the hard way when we opened the gifts after guests left and discovered that many of the cards were no longer attached to the correct gift, necessitating awkward emails to friends to figure out who gave what.

Some other good ideas…

  • Serve ice-cream in individual sized cups (or in those little pre-cut squares) to cut down on the hassle of scooping

  • Having cupcakes instead of a cake also cuts down on the amount of time spent serving

  • Find an inexpensive venue to host your child’s birthday party to avoid pre and post-party clean-up of your own home

  • If siblings have birthdays that are close date-wise, have a combo party

  • Because children are often inundated with toys on their birthday, you may want to suggest to relatives (who ask what the birthday child would like) to instead help contribute to a larger group gift, such as a swing set or a college fund.

  • In lieu of toys for your child, you might ask guests to bring donations such as canned food, clothing, and toys to give to charity to help teach your child the notion of “paying it forward”.  This suggestion may work better with an older child who can understand the concept of charity and giving to others, but you can also introduce it to younger ones on a smaller scale by having a couple of items to have him/her donate.

By all means, if you find enjoyment in party planning and want to do it up, go for it!  Getting your child involved in the fun can help create lasting memories. But if the “rules” become overwhelming, refer back to my four criteria, with a special emphasis on criteria number 4.  Because in the end, birthday parties are a celebration of life- not about rules or gifts or cakes or party favors or games or decorations or Food Network worthy spreads.  And while all those things can help make the celebration and create fond memories, you aren’t a failure if the execution doesn’t quite live up to your ideal (or the expectations of others).  If you’ve hugged your children close, given thanks for their presence in your life, and celebrated their arrival into this world, then you have embraced the true meaning of the day.

A special thanks to my dear Mommy friends who have contributed to this article.  Thank you Becky Price, Nicole Burns, Christine Ellis, Kristi-Lyn Purpura, Georgia Knight, Peggy Everling, and Terese Maineri De Velasquez.

 

 

 

Motherhood- I’m no Sylvia Plath

Before I had a child, I was blissfully unaware of the “camps” that existed surrounding child-rearing practices. Yeah, I knew some parents spanked their kids and others adamantly refused to, but I didn’t realize that there were so many issues that sparked debate within the mommy crowd.  I began my education in “Parenting 101” when I joined a group of expectant mothers who were all due the same month I was due with MFP.  Their support and knowledge served invaluable throughout my pregnancy and especially during MFP’s first year, as I struggled to figure out what parenting style would best suit MFP and our family.  Early on I thought I had it all figured out.  I would breastfeed until she was at least a year old, co-sleep (but with a side-sleeper since I was paranoid that I’d roll onto my slumbering infant and crush her!), never succumb to “cry it out” methods to get my child to sleep, only feed her homemade, organic baby food, use cloth diapers, never use the TV as a sitter, yada, yada, yada…Haha, boy, was I in for a big surprise!  Despite herculean efforts, I wasn’t able to produce enough breast milk and had to supplement with formula;  MFP was never a “good” sleeper as an infant, but seemed to do much better when she was moved to her own room away from my husband’s snoring;  all non-cry-it-out (CIO) methods implemented failed to help my child sleep well during the night and I ended up resorting to Ferber’s “progressive waiting” method (a.k.a. CIO) when she was almost a year old and we were both incredibly sleep-deprived;  while most of her food was organic, she hated the consistency of my homemade baby food and much preferred jarred; cloth diapers? Ha!; and while I held off on having her watch TV until she was 18-months-old, once she did start, I realized that getting a free half-hour here and there to complete a task uninterrupted while she was in a zombie-like state in front of the tube wasn’t the worst thing in the world.  I mean, I watched a boat-load of TV as a child and I turned out literate and relatively normal, right?  Um, don’t answer that.

Through the school of hard knocks, I came to understand that there is no one “right” way to parent and that what works for one child may not work for another, even within the same family. While it’s terrific to have some sort of framework in mind, being fluid in one’s approach is sometimes more productive than forcing one’s “ideal” upon a child or oneself, especially when the approach isn’t working.  We should be kind to ourselves when circumstances nudge (or shove) us away from what we had envisioned as the ideal parenting approach, and accept that sometimes, we may have to adjust our expectations.  We should also extend this kindness to other mothers who may make choices different than our own.  Because in the end, what’s most important is that our children are loved, nurtured, and well-cared for, whatever approach we may use to achieve those goals.  Our choices don’t make us “better” or “worse” than other moms.  It’s helpful to keep this in mind when differences lead to arguments over parenting approaches or guilt over our own choices.

Several weeks ago, in a moment of thoughtful reflection, I wrote a poem about this topic.  I’m not a poet (except for a stab at an occasional limerick or two), but I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.  :)

Motherhood

Motherhood is not a competition

It’s not about who did attachment parenting

or co-slept

or let their baby sleep in a crib

or cry it out

or breast fed

or bottle fed

or made their own baby food

or bought jarred

or fed only organic

or let their kid watch TV

or banned TV

or stayed at home

or worked outside of the home

or home schooled

or public schooled

or private schooled

 

It’s not about whose kid is smarter

or prettier

or more handsome

or more athletic

or taller

or stronger

or more artistic

or reading first

 

And while it’s great to be proud of your kiddo, your hard work, and to share your joy with others

It’s not ok to

make other moms feel inferior

criticize

fail to put yourself in others’ shoes when judging their actions

belittle their parenting skills

pit working moms against stay-at-home moms and vice versa

blame a high-needs child’s temperament on a mom’s (lack of) parenting skills

try to outshine other moms with petty competitiveness

 

Motherhood is a gift

Please don’t take it for granted

Mothers need to support other mothers

Not with a facade that everything is perfect when they’re not

Not with a smile to another’s face while gossiping behind her back

But with genuine concern

and support

and love

and good nature

and gifts of chocolate (ok, that might just be me!)

 

Go out of your way not because it makes you look good

but because you care

Not to show off

but because you want to support the wellbeing of all children and mothers

 

Examine your actions

Sometimes the most confident are the least likely to assess their negative impact upon others

Sometimes the most worried and insecure are the ones who want to please the most

Sometimes the biggest showoffs or most critical are those compensating for their own insecurities

Sometimes the ones who think they know it all are the most blind to what they don’t know

Do your best to examine your motivations and grow

 

And sometimes despite our best efforts, we still fail…and that’s ok.

Because Motherhood is not a competition

and as long as we are trying

and recognize our own strengths and weaknesses

and continue to improve

and support each other

and our children

and other children

we all win

 

 

Dear mother who sent an FYI to high school girls chastising them about their seductive selfies…

I read your blog and know that you had good intentions when you wrote that post.  I have no doubt that you are raising your sons well and that you just want to help teenage girls become more cognizant of their actions in hopes that they will act in a manner that garners respect from hormone crazed boys. I can appreciate that. There are plenty of blogs, Youtube videos, and sermons that share a similar message.  But why do so many of us feel the need to express our opinions about how other parents’ girls dress and/or blame girls for the actions of our sons?  Maybe because we are scared that teen pregnancy and/or STD’s will come knocking at our kid’s door and we hope that shaming girls into wearing more clothes or not acting like Miley Cyrus will somehow keep our sons and daughters chaste throughout high school and beyond.  Guess what. It won’t.  I worked for several years at a group home for pregnant and parenting teens.  If just getting them to put on more clothes and not post suggestive selfies was all it took, I would have taken away their cell phones, gotten them nuns’ habits, and called it a day.  The issue is multifactorial, with some factors, like age at onset of puberty, being out of our control. In the 1950’s, girls reached puberty later and got married earlier, with the median age for first marriage being around 20.  There were fewer hormonally drenched years that a teen had to endure before they were free to have sex sanctioned within the confines of marriage.  And while most people aren’t suggesting our kiddos will remain virgins until marriage, I know that many of us are trying to find ways to keep our babies from making impulsive decisions that will cause them grow up way too fast.  So let’s examine some of the factors that actually seem to influence their sexual behavior, and how my parents leveraged these factors to keep their eldest daughter convent ready, despite her penchant for halter tops, midriff baring shirts, and clubbing.

What factors are actually involved in influencing (and possibly delaying) your teen’s sexual activity?  I’ll be referencing a report issued by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.  Don’t worry, this post is far from an academic endeavor but I do want to present some suggestions based upon research.   http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/ea2007/protective_factors_SUM.pdf

[I’ll be using some poetic license here in my interpretation of the report, so you may want to check out the report for yourself. The factors listed in boldface are from the report.  The related examples from my own life are meant to be humorous.    The following commentary is for entertainment purposes only.]

1.  Later sexual maturity  Sorry folks, not much you can do to delay early onset puberty except for starvation, which for the record, is not recommended.  But if you luck out like my parents did, your daughter will grow up to be a flat chested, late bloomer with Frida Kahlo-esque hair growth patterns.

2.  Greater Parental Involvement and Monitoring  My parents were pros. Listening in on my calls from another phone extension?  Check.  Reading my diary?  Check?  Knocking on my bedroom door every 10 minutes to see what I was doing?  Check.  Driving by my friend’s house to see if I was really there?  Check.  Wire-tapping the phone?  Check.   Because waking up to the sound of a phone recording (echoing from your parents’ room down the hallway) of you telling dirty jokes with two of your guy friends is a highly effective strategy to stop raunchy conversations dead in their tracks.  Mind you, this was pre cell phones and GPS.  I’m pretty sure my parents would have employed some bad ass spying techniques given today’s new technology.

3.  Parental disapproval of premarital sex  “If you have sex, people will think you’re a whore,” warned my mother. Yup, loud and clear.

4.  Keep your kids busy If I wasn’t at school, I was at an extracurricular activity, working or watching General Hospital.  Given my 8 pm school night curfew and job at my dad’s restaurant on the weekends (evenings no less!), there wasn’t time to get into trouble.  High academic achievement and, for girls, participation in sports, seem to be especially helpful in reducing risky sexual behavior.  If your kid isn’t into school and/or sports, you may want to find them a nice religious order to join.

5.  Having a religious affiliation There’s nothing like threats of hell and eternal damnation to get you to think twice before taking off your clothes. My mom went that extra step, filling the house with statues and icons of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and various saints, some with eyes that bore into your soul.  “God sees everything that you do!” she’d remind us as she prayed on her rosary beads, “Everything!”  Cue creepy church music.

6.  Sex Education  Well, it’s a good thing I had Sex Ed in school because my parents sorta missed the boat on this one.  Me (age 9): What are those cats doing over there?  Mom:  They’re playing leap frog.  Now get me the hose.

That sounds vaguely familiar, like I inadvertently stole that line from Tina Fey.

But in all seriousness, here are some other points to consider.  Dads, set a good example for your sons and daughters.  Be involved in your children’s lives, show respect for all women (fully or scantily dressed), and treat the mother of your children well, whether you are married or co-parenting.  Moms and dads, talk openly with your children, in an age-appropriate manner, about your views on sex, contraception, and appropriate dress and behavior.  If you start from a young age, you won’t be playing catch-up when Trevor, the buff H.S. quarterback, shows up at your door to pick up your 14-year-old daughter.  Be a good role model for your children. Lose the double standard.  Your kids will smell the hypocrisy if your son’s sexually promiscuous behavior is met with a wink and a nod while your daughter’s exploration of her sexuality is condemned.

I also want to put this out there since so many of us feel justified in criticizing young women for what they wear.  We need to teach all boys and men that lewd and disrespectful behavior towards a woman is never acceptable or justified, no matter what she wears, hormones be damned.  While I would never want my daughter wearing some of the skimpy outfits I see sold to teen girls nowadays and would encourage her to dress in such a way that both flatters her body and shows respect for herself, it doesn’t mean I’m going to condemn girls that choose otherwise. The teen years and early 20’s are a time of exploration and experimentation.  It’s up to parents to guide their sons and daughters to choose wisely, not with shame and guilt, but by educating them with the facts they need to make good decisions.  And even then, our kids will still make mistakes, because we all do and that’s how we learn.  To quote Maya Angelou, “When you know better, you do better.”

Now put some shirts on your boys. They look cold.

[If you’d like to keep updated of new posts, feel free to Like Raising Miss Fancy Pants on Facebook]

 

Mother of the Year

Today was my daughter’s first day back to preschool.  Like, the day she was actually supposed to be there, unlike the prior Tuesday when I took her to school only to be informed by last year’s teacher that I had the wrong week.  Yeah, that’s right, the wrong week.  I should have known something was up since it was the first morning in recorded toddlerdom history that went down without a hitch.  Miss Fancy Pants awoke bright and cheery that morning, giddy with excitement about her first day of school.  She ate all of her breakfast, got dressed by herself, used the potty without insisting I tell her twenty stories first, and we were out the door in record time.  I even managed to take a fancy pants picture of her on her to document the occasion. Ok, so I had forgotten to purchase the necessary classroom supplies; but no worries, I’d just drop them off at the end of the day. As you can imagine, we were both disappointed to discover my error.  MFP cried when we got back into the car, and I mourned the To Do List that would remain undone. Fortunately, a spontaneous trip to Starbucks and Old Navy managed to brighten both our moods considerably.

But my tale of blondeness doesn’t end there. I totally blew off the open house this past Friday. Not on purpose, of course, but several of her weekly activities had gotten switched to different days this school year, throwing off the internal calendar I seem to function by, somewhat poorly.  When I was working outside of the home, Microsoft Outlook, colleagues, and that little thing called a work ethic helped keep me on track.  “Claudia, are you almost done with Little Johnny’s psychological evaluation for today’s meeting?”  “Why yes,” I’d beam, as I proudly held up my eight page report that I had slaved and obsessed over for days, “I just put the finishing touches on it!”  I may have been pushing the boundaries of punctuality, mostly because I usually held the record for most psych evals done in one school year and had a ridiculous amount of report writing to do, but I always made my deadlines.

Don’t get me wrong.  95% of the time, unless MFP throws a toddler tantrum right before leaving, I manage to remember and get her to all her activities on time (and on the correct day).  My new babysitter (I totally love her!) comments on how organized I am and how well thought out MFP’s schedule is. People might even occasionally think that I’m too “by the book”, trying to ensure that every detail of her rearing is done “correctly”, whatever that means. Organic, scratch-made meals?  You betcha. Well, um, most of the time, except on “once in awhile days” when I sheepishly sneak through a Wendy’s drive-thru, toss a hamburger into the back seat, and speed away before there are too many witnesses.  Sleep schedule that allows for adequate rest? Uh huh. I mean, if she’s not sleeping for long stretches of time, then when else will I goof-off on Facebook, right? Win-win.  A balance of intellectually and physically stimulating activities, with plenty of time left over for creative, independent play and relaxation?  Yup, I try.  And by “relaxation”, I mean turning on “The Cat in the Hat” for MFP as I relax with a glass of Chardonnay after dinner.  But I am fallible, so I do mess up from time to time.

How did this morning go, her actual first day of school, you might be wondering?  Let me tell you.  I forgot that I had eaten all the prosciutto two nights ago and wasn’t able to pack MFP’s favorite sandwich like I had promised, sending her to school with an oddball lunch of kielbasa, guacamole, gluten-free crackers, and carrots.  She didn’t eat her breakfast, freaked because there was “still a little bit of poop” in the toilet when she went to use it, and forgot to brush her teeth. Since we were rushing, I didn’t get to snap her “First Day of School” picture before we left, we got there late, and I forgot my camera phone in the car, only remembering when I went to take a picture of her in the classroom.  Oh yeah, and MFP’s classroom supplies? Sitting unpurchased at Walmart (but I’m on my way now!).  Why am I admitting all of this?  Wouldn’t I prefer to present you with the image of the perfectly polished and poised mother that I sometimes fool others into thinking that I am?

Nope.  Here’s the thing.  We do other mothers a disservice when we pretend to be perfect.  Yes, there are some rock star mothers that come really close, but most of us are just trying to keep our kids alive, fed, and reasonably happy. We’re balancing work (be it at home or outside of the home), marriage (or coparenting with an ex), friendships, household duties, and finances.  We’re lucky if can squeeze in a workout, shave our legs, and get a haircut.  We have a lot on our plates, and society expects that we can do it all perfectly. We can’t. And if we think we can, we’re just setting ourselves up for failure, disappointment, and an addiction to methamphetamine (at least according to Dr. Phil).  I appreciate when my mom friends are willing to admit their flaws because A) I don’t feel like a total screw up B) their vulnerability endears them to me  C) I don’t feel like a total screw up :)

I know some moms don’t want to come across as complainers. I can appreciate that.  No one wants to hear someone bitch and moan ALL.DAY.LONG. There’s a difference between honesty and kvetching, one that I sometimes have difficulty distinguishing.  I’m not suggesting being a Debbie Downer. “Hey Claudia, how have you been?”  “My hair is falling out, I’m exhausted, my husband’s always working, my family’s so far away, and I think I just found a patch of skin cancer on my abdomen.” “Um, yeah, ok, see you around!  Enjoy your latte!”  That is not the kind of honesty I’m talking about, except for with your close friends and your primary care physician.  I’m referring to sharing both the joyous moments of your life and the ones that aren’t so neat and tidy.  You might not want to blog about it (how gauche!), but do remember that keeping it real is much preferred to being all Pinterest-y. Not that there’s anything wrong with being all Pinterest-y, as long as you share your chocolate ganache, salted caramel, fondant covered cupcakes with me. Just sayin’.

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And your blog is about what?

Me: Honey, did you share my blog at work like you said you would?

Macho Man (MM):  Um, no.

Me:  But I thought you really liked my first blog post.  You told me it was great and that you were going to share it with your coworkers.

MM:  I did.  I loved it.  I think you’re a great writer.  But I had only read the first half when I said that.  But then you had to go and talk about poop and you joked about having “dimples”.  Do I really want my coworkers thinking my wife has a potty mouth and CELLULITE?

Me: ‘Nough said.

MM:  But what exactly is your blog about anyway?

I’ve been thinking a lot about MM’s question.  One of my goals is to entertain people.  I come from an Italian family of storytellers.  I remember as a kid sitting around the table at Thanksgiving and Christmas, my cheeks hurting from all the laughter as my cousins, grandmother, uncle, father, and godparents swapped tales. They had such a colorful way of relaying a story and always managed to find humor in the ordinary.  I’d like to think a little of this story telling ability has rubbed off on me too.  But just being able to tell a good story isn’t usually enough.  If you’re lucky like me, really weird or tragic things will happen to you on a regular basis providing you with all the material you’ll ever need to keep writing for the rest of your life.  “Claudia,” friends will insist, “You should write a book!  The things that happen to you…you can’t make that stuff up!”  Plus things only got quirkier when I married MM, who seems to have a permanent black cloud floating over his head.

But while making you laugh at my expense is all fine and good, I’m feeling a bit more ambitious.  Ok, forgive me, I’m a geek and this is where I get all excited.  Raising a child means that you get to wear different hats.  Sounds cliche, but it’s true.  My skills as a psychologist are useful because I can use all my Jedi mind tricks to get my child to conform to my will (cue evil laughter) and when that doesn’t work, I know how to find her a good therapist. Parents also play the role of doctor (Hello, I know you are all intimately familiar with Dr. Google, don’t deny it).  Well bonus, I’m totally into alternative medicine, health, and nutrition so I play witch doctor too.  Stick with me here, I have a point.  Cook and housekeeper- yup, that would be me as well. Ok, except for twice a month I get a little help with the latter but in my defense, MM doesn’t do many chores since he’s a slave to his work.  What does this mean for you, dear reader?

Oh geez, this is starting to sound like a cheesy infomercial. Ok, let me try this again.  Not only do I plan on sharing my reflections on parenthood, but I’ll also be blogging about parenting tips, cooking, relevant health info (such as complementary medicine and nutrition), and lastly, how to find a good therapist if you royally screw up your kid using my advice.  Just kidding on the last one. I only give really fabulous, effective advice. :)

 

 

Muffin Top and Calvin Kleins

When I first decided to start my own blog, I was all, “Hey everyone, I’m writing a blog!  What great fun!”  Ideas poured out of me like raunchy dance moves from Miley Cyrus’s choreographer.  Then I sat down to compose my first post and writing a blog started feeling like a monumental task.  My first attempts sounded serious and trite.  I became discouraged.  Like, stuff my face with a pint of grass-fed cow’s milk, handcrafted, hazelnut gelato bummed. Then in a brief moment of enlightenment, I decided I would write the way I would speak to a friend, without worrying too much about sounding like a Pulitzer Prize winning author.  My apologizes to Mrs. Shaw, my 8th grade English teacher, who had such high hopes for me.

Since this is my first blog post, I’m going to start at the beginning- the start of my journey in raising Miss Fancy Pants.  And the beginning of that journey commenced with trying to get knocked up, not like in a “I drank too much and don’t remember what happened last night” kinda way, but in a “OMG, I’m 35 now and my ovaries are about to shrivel up!” sort of panic.  Dr. X, my now former ob/gyn, who has a proclivity for wearing cowboy boots, insisted that due to my age and history of irregular cycles, I would need to get pumped up with fertility medication pronto. Clearly this farmhand didn’t know me and my love of all things earthy-crunchy.  Much to his dismay, I began (under the direction of a naturopath) a regimen of herbs and supplements, a gluten-free diet, daily monitoring of basal body temperature, and um, secretions, and carefully timed twister games.   My great science experiment produced a pregnancy after only five months of trying. Ironically, it happened New Years Eve after my husband and I had too much celebratory champagne to drink, in a very “I drank too much and don’t remember what happened last night” kind of way.  Needless to say, I found a new ob/gyn.  I should have listened to my husband when he warned me, “Never trust a doctor in cowboy boots.”

Thirty-eight weeks later, Miss Fancy Pants was born.  But as blessed and grateful as we are to have Miss Fancy Pants (MFP)- I love her more than I could have ever imagined loving another human being- her first months were the most difficult I’ve ever experienced.  Can you say colic, reflux, milk protein allergy, and poor sleeper? The stress and lack of sleep compounded my chronic health issues, and by the time she was almost a year old, I was ill, frazzled, and just plain worn out.  I frequently found myself comparing my experience to that of my mommy friends, most who recalled with fondness the sweetness of their children’s first year. While I was honestly happy for my friends, I mourned how different from their children’s contented beginnings our daughter’s first months had been. It was during this sleep deprived state that I decided I would write a “Family Update” to send to our friends and family, an attempt to convey a decidedly un-sugarcoated and humorous version of my experience of Motherhood.

Below you will find the the very “H—- Family Update” that I emailed to my friends and family in my sleep deprived stupor.  And yes, the details are true. I’m just glad that my mother doesn’t know how to turn on a computer, let alone find my blog on the Internet. LOL.  :)  For the sake of privacy, my daughter’s name has been changed to the initials “MFP” (Miss Fancy Pants) and my husband will be referred to as “MM” (Macho Man).

Enjoy.

Hi Everyone,

MFP will be turning one this weekend! It’s very exciting and I can’t believe how quickly the year has passed- and how many years it’s taken off my life.  I just wanted to update everyone on her progress and what the H—– Family is up to lately.  I know I haven’t written since she was 9 months old.  I had every intention of sending updates monthly, but somehow, those 10 and 11 month pictures never ended up getting taken on the monthly anniversary of her birth.  At 10 months, she was dressed as a bathing beauty but (MM) never charged the camera like he said he would and then she started crying because she didn’t like the kiddie pool and there went that idea.  At 11 months, I bathed and gussied her up, ready to take her Glamour Shot but then it was time for her to eat lunch and she ended up smearing carrots and broccoli in her hair and, well, you know how it goes.

MFP has been having frequent play dates with one of her little friends, which is always a great time. Last week was their first time at the park.  Her friend was all giggles while MFP cried and fussed the whole time, her cries reaching a crescendo as I put her on the swing.  It was a blast!  She was supposed to start swim lessons this week but she managed to scratch my cornea again (3rd time in 3 months) so I was unable to drive.  MFP is turning out to be the good Italian girl.  My bruiser can give a good whack, I tell ya! A whack to my eye, a whack to the dog, a whack to daddy’s head….anyway, I can’t say I was all that disappointed about the missed swim lesson since I wasn’t eager to shove my pale, unpedicured, unshaven, no bikini-wax self into my new “mommy” tankini.

MFP took her first steps at 10 months and started walking full force at 11 months!  She also points to things, asking, “dat?” and “dere?”, requesting we label the objects. She can pretend to smell the flowers and points to the correct objects when I say “broccoli, butterfly, balloons, cat, dog, nose, mouth, feet, hair,” etc.  I can take no credit for her progress as my mom visited for over a month and taught her most of her new tricks.  Well, I suppose the genes I passed on have something to do with it, but they also probably account for her hairy back as well.

Actually, I did teach her a new word recently.  When I don’t want her to touch something germ filled, such as the dog’s chew toy or trash, I tell MFP, “No sweetie, that’s ca-ca.”  Her new favorite word is “cock.”

MFP loves her veggies!  Actually, she loves every food I put in front of her, a far cry from back in the day when I used to” force feed” her the bottle. She’ll even eat a cup of steamed vegetables at one sitting!  This does lead to some messy blow outs.  In fact, MFP’s first sentences may be, “Get your hand out of there- it’s full of ca-ca!”  or “Holy crap, MM, help me out, she’s got poop all over her, including her fingers, and she’s sticking her hand in her mouth!”

MFP loves to shop, just like her mommy, and in fact, the only time she likes to be strolled around now is in a shopping cart.  She’s especially fond of Costco, which is where, by the way, I end up buying most of my clothing and all of my underwear.  FYI, just because bikini briefs say, “Calvin Klein” doesn’t make them sexy, especially with 5 lbs of muffin top spilling over them.

MM and I reduced our babysitter’s hours to save money; hence, no more date afternoon.  Not that my hubby seems to mind as now he has more time to watch college football.  When complaining to him about our lack of fun interactions and the fact that he’s always working, he’s quick to cite the material things he’s provided, especially the Mercedes we bought when we traded in my Honda (before we had MFP and could actually afford such luxuries!).  I told him, “That’s all fine and good, but until the Mercedes can do chores, take care of the baby, provide emotional support, and fulfill marital obligations (wink), I still need you as a husband.”

Life is great at the H—— household! Motherhood is fabulous- the extra dimples I got during pregnancy really add some pizazz to my ass.

Hope you all are doing well!

Love,

Claudia