Friday, April 26, 2013

From the Mouths of Babes

Whenever I teach English 11B I have to teach Elie Wiesel's famous Holocaust memoir, Night.  The kids are generally really interested in this unit. We end with a discussion about forgiveness and also watching the film Hotel Rwanda and a brief study of Darfur (maybe Syria this time around). It's important for kids to know about the Holocaust, but it's also important for them to know that this kind of thing is still taking place. When the kids have to answer the question, "why should high schoolers read Night?" They invariably say, "So this never happens again." Now I try and pose the question, "why does this keep happening?"  (Side note: don't believe me? Click here), because I want them to know that the hate and organized killing of the Jews (and others) is not an isolated event in history.

Today in class we watched some excerpts from an Oprah special where she and Wiesel return to Auschwitz. Wiesel is wise, poetic, and profound and Oprah is over-dramatic, self-important, and prying as is to be expected. But other than that, it's a pretty good piece. (You can watch it here).  The film includes some upsetting images and also an upsetting conversation about the fate of babies and young children in the camp. Afterwards, I asked the kids to journal about whether or not films like this should exist. I asked: Should we include graphic images in documentaries such as this? Should the news replay images of the Boston bombing victims,  the twin towers collapsing, the explosion in Texas, people crying? Should museums keep artifacts such as shoes, clothes, and toys? Should movies and texts display images of dead bodies? Is there a benefit to constantly evoking these images? etc...

Most of the kids felt that the emotional impact of such images was important in the remembering and honoring of the victims of such tragedies.  A few found them personally upsetting and therefore didn't like to look at them for themselves.  One student wrote a particularly thoughtful paragraph that I just thought should be shared.  I like this excerpt because it's thoughtful, concise, and so wise to come from the mind of a 16 year old. I like this excerpt because it comes from a special ed student who doesn't participate much in class.  I like this excerpt because it brings me hope maybe this generation does in fact understand the weight and responsibility of history:

These things show us the dark side of humanity. They show us just how far we have come and our ability to overcome horrific events. These things remind us of the mistakes of our ancestors and those in our past that must not be repeated again. They show us that anyone can do bad things, but it's the people who shine in the darkness that show just how good people can truly be. We NEED to know about this kind of stuff. We have to ask a lot of questions...

Friday, March 22, 2013

America's Bad Food: Whose Fault is It?

I am constantly working towards a whole foods lifestyle. It's not easy. I married a man who does not like vegetables and I have the cliche picky 3 year old, however, I'm doing the best that I can. I'm not perfect and we occasionally eat things in my house that come from cans and jars. We occasionally go out to eat. We grab fast food when we're on a road trip. We eat hot dogs when camping and, yes, my child has eaten Kraft mac and cheese. However, I see everyday and each meal as a fresh start. I try and make smart food choices one forkful at a time. I whole-heartedly believe that the health and welfare of this country is tied strongly to food. I believe it comes from the way we treat our soil all the way to the seasonings we add at the table.

Because this is a topic that I feel extremely passionate about, I like to talk about it, post about it, etc. Food is personal, however, and you can't necessarily go around criticizing people's food choices. I have had co-workers voluntarily apologize for their food choices at lunch when it never even occurred to me to pay attention! I'm hyper-focused on my family's food... not yours!  But it's because food is tied to our economic selves, our cultures, our emotions, our families and childhoods. Simple things can provide us comfort (peanut butter and jelly on a Ritz cracker, for example) and unusual meals can bring back a flood of emotion from a past experience. Everyone prepares meatloaf a different way. Everyone has a secret to the perfect pizza crust. Some of us count calories, some watch fat, some don't count anything, but it seems as though everyone has a complex relationship with food, for better or worse. And so, on the social networking sites that I frequent, I try and balance the difference between sharing information that I think people might find helpful and informative with that that is purely judgmental or emotional.

 Likewise, depending on who I'm talking with and what we are talking about, I waiver regarding who's to blame for the current crisis in our food industry.  The reality is, our food is full of junk and I don't think people realize this. Or, they realize it, but don't know how to avoid it. Or, they think they are making healthy choices, but are being misled. Or, they simply don't care. So a large part of me blames the food industry for doing these things on purpose as well as the USDA and FDA who allow such things to go on. But then there are the people who don't care. Now, I consider myself an educated individual, but not much smarter than the average Joe and I have been able to research and understand these things, so why can't everyone else? Sure the food companies are playing marketing games and sneaking things into their food, but we also live in an age of information and Americans need to take some personal responsibility here. Sure our cafeteria food should be healthier and our kids should get recess, but no one is stopping you from packing your child's lunch and taking them to the park after school, right?

Frequently on Pinterest I see comments attached to pins that demonstrate how misguided our healthy food habits are.  A person will pin a homemade ketchup recipe with the tag "Healthy ketchup! no chemicals or icky stuff."  The most unhealthy things in a bottle of store-bought ketchup are the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and the salt content. So if you are going to make your own with canned tomato paste (salt) and sugar and more salt, you aren't really making a "healthy ketchup," but rather one that might have less salt and no HFCS. Is this better than store-bought? Well, considering the canned tomato paste might contain BPA? It's a trade off, I guess.

Another common one: "healthy brownies! never buy a mix again!" and the pin takes you to a recipe that includes white flour, refined sugar, and probably oil. Would these taste better than a box mix? Heck yes. Are they "healthier?" Probably not. The box mix has listed various additives, but these are most likely in your store-bought flour anyway. Plus anywhere you find white flour, refined sugar, and oil, you're just plain not creating a healthy dish... delicious? probably. Healthy? nope.

*Don't get me wrong - if given the choice, I'd go for the homemade version any day. Home cooks use far less salt, sugar, and fat than processed foods and you're avoiding preservatives for the most part, but we fail to consider the quality of the pantry items we are using in some cases.

Similarly, and with the exception of dairy (usually), "low fat," "no fat," and "sugar free" might save you some fat grams, but you're trading them for sugar and/or salt content and in the case of "sugar free" you're nixing refined sugar for an artificial sweetener like aspartame. I know people love their diet sodas, but aspartame is a chemical poison in my opinion. A good rule of thumb, if it's banned when you're pregnant, then why would you consume it when you're not? Google it if you don't believe me.

I don't have a degree in nutrition - I just read (and I also care). So maybe the responsibility should fall on the individual?  But then again, there are many, many books like Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss. This book details how the food industry manipulates our taste buds with salt and fat. Or THIS New York Times article which everyone should read that outlines a bit of the marketing and lobbying the food industry does - and how aware they are of the choices they're making. So then I think, well, Americans are fighting a losing a battle and someone needs to step in.

At the end of the day, though, I think I fall on the side of personal responsibility. There is just too much information available these days for us to claim ignorance. Where I would like to see more government regulation and oversight is in the case of agriculture. Pesticides, GMO's, and water and land usage are big things that are beyond one individual's choice in the produce department. How we treat our seeds, water, and farm land is going to affect population for years to come and this is an area where I'd like to see some serious reform. I also know that many Americans don't have access to fresh foods and that our food aid system needs some serious overhaul - these are two more examples of places where I think a larger entity is to blame.

But in terms of the average person I interact with, healthy food choices are usually an option. My facebook feed is flooded with updates about autism/learning disabilities/ADHD, allergies, sickness, infections, weight/dieting issues, lack of energy, etc and we would be just plain stupid to not examine the food choices we are making and the foods we are feeding our children.

So is the industry to blame? Yes. Is the individual also at fault here? Absolutely. Wake up America, no one is looking out for you. It is time to take some responsibility for your own health and welfare and the health and welfare of your children.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

For Love or Tax Exemptions: On Why We Have Kids

When I was a bit younger and newly married, I was very open to the idea of never having kids. I had a great new husband, he was in a band, I was out of college, I had a job, we just bought a house, and who has time for kids? Kids only get in the way of all the fun things that adults can do. Over time, this sentiment adapted only slightly in my reasoning. The world is over populated as it is, why would I bring more human beings into it? Politics, environment, religion, economy - every news story was dismal and then I entered a phase where, since I could see no benefit in it for a the child, I assumed that having children was a purely selfish act.

Sure, if you feel some obligation to propagate the species, or your dying last name, or your future cult, army, or baseball team, then I guess having children is a logical choice, but I just couldn't come up with any reason that wasn't centered around me. People would tell me that kids were so fun and you'd never understand unconditional love until you had one. People would say, "but think of all the places you could take them? Experiences you could provide." All the things that were in it for me.

So then I decided adoption was the way to go. The kids are already here, they are in desperate need of love and attention, it would help solve a global problem, while still fulfilling my curiosity about raising kids, but adoption is expensive and can take years. And I felt like having to choose foreign or national, open or closed was difficult and weird and my husband was only moderately interested in the idea, so I went back to figuring we wouldn't have kids.

Then I got a stomach bug. I was pretty sure I wasn't pregnant, but bought a test to check.  Well it was negative, but when I looked at the little stick three minutes later and saw the negative reading I had a feeling of disappointment. I didn't know where this was coming from. Did I want a baby? So I spent two weeks trying to analyze my feelings. When I broached the subject with my husband he said he had been thinking of it too. After all, we had done a lot of things in our three years of marriage and six years of dating. I didn't go to all of his gigs anymore and many weekends we just hung out around the house. We still enjoyed each other's company, but we felt like we were ready for something else to do. Some larger purpose. Was this selfish? Were we about to embark on a baby simply because we were bored? Or because we wanted something more meaningful? Or because we had used up all of our free movie passes at the local theater?  We didn't know the answer, but decided to take the plunge. After all, it takes some people months or years to get pregnant, we'd have plenty of time to get used to the idea... 28 days later, the stick said positive.

So then there is nothing to do, but get excited. Once you're pregnant there is no time for asking "why" or "was this a bad idea?", you simply must roll with it.  I felt as though refusing contemporary baby convenience items and reading up on natural birthing and parenting was a way to go about this whole process without feeding into an industry I hated anyway. I already ate healthy, but I stepped up the organics, read labels, read books about labels, exercised, drank plenty of water, and never, ever laid on my back.

Well fast forward a year or so and now I had a real, live baby who I was responsible for. The economy entered a recession and I had some fleeting moments of guilt as I looked into his innocent brown eyes and wondered what his future would be like. Was it selfish to bring this child into a world of war? Would we ever be able to afford to send him to college? Would he find a job? Would he be successful? Would he be happy? What were we thinking? But some nights were hard and many days were hard too and then I decided this wasn't purely selfishness. A lot of self-LESS-ness goes into caring for a baby and so then I was left with - why do this then?

The first year was hard for me and not because of the usual suspects. We were lucky to have a baby who slept six to eight hour stretches from the beginning. He rarely cried and nursed like a champ. To date he's had two ear infections and nothing stronger than a little cold. He's only vomited once, so far, in this 3.5 years of life. So it wasn't that usual stuff that was hard for me. It was the fact that my husband and I were devoting our entire days to this small thing that gave us nothing in return. Certainly when he started smiling at us, it helped, but I craved some return of emotion. Certainly I loved him and hugged him and kissed him and snuggled him, but longed for the day when he hugged me back.

Well I am now the parent of a three and a half year old and, in terms of returning love, the toddler years are the best. Now he will walk around the house singing, "Momma I love you, I love my momma" and he repeated tells me I'm his best friend and just last week he called me his sweetheart. He demands a long and tedious hug and kiss routine before either my husband or I are allowed to even step outside and he wants nothing more than our constant attention all. the. time. It is only now, that he is able to share his thoughts so clearly, that I am starting to understand the why of having kids.  The other night at bed my son said, "I love all the mommies and all the daddies." We've been talking about homes that only have one or the other because one of his daycare buddies has divorced parents and this has caused some confusion amongst the three-year-olds. So I said, "Well some people have a mom and a dad, and some have only a mom or only a dad, and some have two moms, or two dads..." And he smiled and said, "oh yeah! I love that!"  So I sat back and thought that I could craft a thoughtful facebook post about that, but then I decided I had more to say than a few sentences.

Watching a child grow is truly a lesson in love, and I don't mean a lesson in how much you love them (though that will blow your mind), but a lesson in how love works. Toddlers greet everything new person, place, and thing with excitement, interest, and love. With the exception of green beans and bounce houses, my son's first response to most things is happiness. And I am lucky enough to get to watch and process with my own knowledge of the world. Watching a toddler grow is a true demonstration that hate, judgement, and criticism must be taught or learned. Watching a toddler get excited about an art project that involves a toilet paper tube and some yarn reminds us of the simple things. The fact that your child will play in the box the toy came in longer than with the actual toy reminds us that stuff is just stuff. And in a pile of new Christmas or birthday toys, your child will still always relish a hug and kiss from you - how many of us can say we'd feel the same?

Adult life makes so many demands on us and we see unfairness and tragedy. It makes us cautious, guarded, jaded, sarcastic, but the pleasure of having children around is the presence of a reminder of what really matters. And what really matters isn't dishes or deadlines, it's hugs, tents, tickling, and art projects. I have to admit, I'm generally reminded of these things only in my guiltiest moments. When I snap at my son because I'm trying to get dinner on the table and he looks so sad that I refused to sit down and color with him. It is in those twinges of guilt that I am able to remember that eating dinner 10 minutes late will not kill anyone and that someday on my deathbed I'm not going to look back fondly at how promptly I served dinner, but on those moments with my son.

So, I'm back to the notion of selfishness. To say that having a child is great because it reminds me daily of what's important in life is fairly selfish, but the fact that this daily reminder forces me to go out into the world and act with more peace and patience in my heart is not.  I teach high school kids and, while they definitely can have their challenging moments, I now see them all as someone else's baby. Suddenly they aren't just students to me, they are kids. They are somebody's kids and I make decisions based on what I would want for my child. In fact I even wrote the phrase, "Is this good enough for Dylan?" on a notecard and keep it at my desk. In those moments when I feel like throwing out a worksheet or some silent reading I think about what I would want a teacher to do when my child was sitting in that desk in front of her. When I see a child running from their mother in a crowded room, I have no problem stopping to help wrangle because all kids are somebody's kids now. I give sympathetic smiles to the parents of screaming children at grocery stores and resturants, rather than judgement and looks of disgust because I have been there. I don't care if that child seems too old for a pacifier or that that dad is feeding his daughter a cookie at 8:00 am because we are all trying to survive the best we can.

The first night home from the hospital I remember sitting on the couch holding my son, watching him sleep, and wondering how anyone could turn their back on their own child or do anything to harm such a perfect little thing. I held this little human who had never experienced disappointment, fear, distrust, guilt, or humiliation. He had yet to fall and scrape his knee or bonk his head. And I couldn't think of a thing he could do that would change my feelings. He might be gay, he might be straight, he might be transexual, he might have a flair for the dramatic, he might be incredibly stubborn, he might inherit his mother's temper, he might be laid back, someday he will probably make a bad choice, he might be smarter than me, he could have a learning disability, he could develop a physical disability, he could play football and, despite all of these things, I would love him so much it would hurt my heart sometimes (but hopefully no football, haha). And then I go to school and see the bizarre things teenagers do and say or I watch the news and listen to hate speech and lies and I hear that the economy is struggling and I just keep coming back to the notion of love and peace and how powerfully important these concepts are. Because now my job is to ready the world for my son. My job is to actively do something to make things better because I have a vested interest and if we are all acting this way, then the selfishness of loving our own children is far outweighed by the positivity we can offer as a collective.

So if raising a child helps me remember that life is about more than stuff and deadlines and that our place in this world is to help each other rather than to judge, then I'd say having children is not selfish at all, but the best way I can imagine to help us learn how to love one another and treat each other with respect. And this is coming from someone who is not terribly gooey with emotion. The toddler and I have battled through tantrums, power struggles, injuries and messes. I don't walk around in this zen-like aura everyday. I'm a normal person who makes judgements and mistakes and lots and lots of sarcastic comments, but I think my favorite thing so far about raising a child is that every night at bedtime I get 15-20 minutes of snuggle and talk time with a person who has profoundly more insight I think than I do and everyday I get a fresh start. Simply having him around forces me to care about my actions and that alone makes the whole thing worthwhile.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

On Liberals and Libertarians

Well here I am. I'm sitting in the kitchen of a complete stranger, just outside of town, preparing to learn how to make cheese.  One of the two hosts, a man, spoke about the values of goat's milk, the dangers of cow's milk, and the effect on his autistic son. He philosophizes about this dangerous food system we live by in this country and I nod along in agreement. Then the second host, a woman, speaks about the changing nature of personal farming, about government regulations and intrusions, about USDA controls and unfair taxes. I nod a little less enthusiastically because, as a Democrat, my vote probably put politicians in power who increased government reach into small farmer's lives... let's be honest.  Then one of the participants speaks, she talks about knowing where her food comes from, the value of whole foods, and the Slow Food Movement. I chime in from time to time. Then the last participant speaks, a woman who is there with her husband, who summarizes everything we've been saying with "that's why our family has chosen to homestead and homeschool our children, completely pull out of mainstream society and raise our family our own way."  If you have been imagining some sort of soothing music playing in the background, this is where you'd insert the sound of screeching breaks.

This is an observation I continue to make in my interactions with other homesteading/self-sustaining folks and is a blog concept that's been bouncing around in my mind for months now: there is a point, in my opinion, where the extreme Right and the extreme Left meet.  As if political values can be measured on a circle rather than a timeline.  I consider myself very liberal. I believe that many aspects of our system are broken and until these problems are rectified then I am okay with the government providing financial aide.  We're talking about children, after all. I would never have an abortion, but I do not consider myself in a position to tell another woman what her choice should be. I believe whole-heartedly that global warming is a thing that exists and is happening now.  I believe corporate interests have too much power in this country, but I also understand that we are currently reliant on this power to fuel our economy. I don't like it. I try and make consumer choices to change it, but I am also realistic about the current state of things. I'm not sure isolationism is a good foreign policy, but I hate war.

And as a result, I like to think that I live my life according to the following values: tolerance, sustainability, personal responsibility, compassion for others, and a focus on whole living.

So I raise chickens and bees and I can produce. I cook from scratch. We limit technology use in our household and we let our child play outside (sometimes alone) and fall down in the dirt.  We rarely medicate and barely vaccinate.  I pay my taxes, but make charitable donations to local organizations.  I plan to supplement my child's public education with concepts that we value and we have a loose idea of religion, nothing that relates too much to Jesus, but more a general concept of God.

I go to workshops about raising bees, making cheese, canning, grinding grain into flour, and self-sustainability. And when I'm at these various functions, I meet many people. And many of them are Libertarians. In many ways we couldn't be more different and yet we are living our lives so similarly.  The woman who spoke up at the cheese-making workshop did not, for example, believe in global warming, but they were working to reduce their footprint for money-saving/sustainability purposes. They homeschooled because of their own values (mostly religious), but spent a portion of the school day teaching the kids how to tend a garden.  I assumed they were pro-life. I know they were opposed to government intrusion and yet, they were living their life nearly exactly like I was.

Our motivations for why we grew our own food and were learning to make cheese were different, but nonetheless, there we were.  Our votes mostly likely canceled each other out and, yet, there we were.  Me thinking the Democrats could steer us closer to an ideal and they putting their money on the Libertarians.

Now I'm not one of these "can't we all just get along" kind of people. I like competition and I understand its value in a free world, but the more I hang out in these circles with other Carhart-wearing beekeepers, the more I find our values are nearly the same.  We agree on a general moral decline in this nation, but they cite some specifics from the Bible and I cite a more generic idea of  the Golden Rule. And so we learn from each other and work together, but never discuss politics and all fall victim to a nostalgia that probably never existed.

So as we recover from another election season and I watch/read all these stories about what the Republicans must do to win in 2016, I've never been more sure that a two party system is not working.  I'm less and less becoming 100% Democratic, but the options are so polarizing. I'd like to think that Americans, in general, are becoming more complex and having only candidate A and candidate B is not going to serve us in the future. And so my point in this was only to put down on (virtual) paper this trend that I've noticed, especially in these divisive times. I'm not interested in arguing politics or finger-pointing, but maybe am, after all proposing that "we all just get along."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Harvesting Honey

So fall is the time of year when beekeepers harvest honey. The bees store honey as food to get them through the winter. In order for humans to take this honey (1) there needs to be a surplus and/or (2) you must supplement your bees with sugar water. The husband and I have decided to feed our bees as little as possible and let nature take it's course. However, we were surprised with the amount of honey they stored and decided to harvest 2 frames. There were about 12 frames of honey so we've left plenty for the bees!

If you have tons of honey to process or want to keep the comb in tact, you must purchase an extractor:

These are giant centrifuges and run between $200-$400 depending on the size. These basically spin and whip all the honey out. We do not have one of these, so we did it by hand.

Here is the first frame. The light yellow part is the cap over the honey. Both sides of the frame look like this and both sides contain honey.

Then you use a sharp knife to scrape the caps off. You can see (below the knife) honey is oozing out and running down the frame.

More oozing...

Top half: honey. Bottom half: capped honey.

Pile of comb:

 We repeated the process on the other side of the frame, then strained the honey through this wire mesh strainer twice.

Then we strained the honey through an even finer strainer (from our coffee pot!) to ensure that we caught any impurities.

Then we packaged it in jars! I used the flash in this picture so it looks like it's glowing, but that was the only way to show you how completely clear, smooth, and delicious it looks!  One frame (front and back) yielded 4 cups of honey.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Putting Mommy-Guilt to Rest

Today I'm feeling rather cranky and impatient with my little one. I put him down for a nap, laid on the couch, and replayed the day in my head. There were a number of things I felt crappy about. So, in order to indulge by bad mood, I made a mental list of all the things I did wrong that morning. To my surprise, my actions and words were not really that bad. Most of what I replayed where frustrating THOUGHTS I had had. About half of them were from some sort of judgmental inner-monologue that's always expecting myself to keep up with those blogging Pinterest moms who do amazing art projects and always know just what to say and the other half of my thoughts were cranky things that I might think, but would never say out loud to my kid. Let's be honest, haven't we all thought "just stop talking!" (or worse) while our kids are babbling on when we really just want 5 seconds to be alone with our thoughts? So, I offer to you, a list of crappy things I did today, followed by the same list from a far healthier perspective:

1. Yesterday Dylan didn't take a nap at daycare. We came home and played in his pool for a couple hours then he was SO cranky that I had him lay on the couch and watch cartoons. He refused dinner and whined or screamed if we even looked at him the wrong way so I put his PJ's on, turned on a Disney cartoon, and he was asleep in 10 minutes. It was 7:15. So I put him to bed with no dinner.

2. Today, Dylan woke up at 7 am because, well, he went to bed at 7 pm. I turned on Mickey's Clubhouse and let him lay in bed and watch an hour of TV while I drifted in and out of conciousness because I did not go to bed at 7 pm.

3. When we got up, Dylan ate peanut butter and jelly toast for the 87th morning in a row. It's the only thing he'll eat for breakfast.

4. I was so excited that it wasn't 1000 degrees in my house so I unloaded the dishwasher, made chicken stock, and brewed a big pot of coffee instead of changing Dylan's diaper. I didn't remember it until around 9:30. I felt like crap.

5. Dylan lined up all of his construction vehicles in the kitchen. I tripped over one, banged my knee on the counter, and yelled something like "Ow! Dylan, get those toys out of the kitchen!!!"

6. I suggested Dylan decorate one of his art projects (a little mailbox that we painted a couple days ago) with stickers we recently bought (thinking it would occupy him while I unloaded the dishwasher) then grumbled when he asked for help every 5 seconds.

7. We ran to the store to get a couple things and Dylan got it in his mind that we were buying a new motorcycle toy. When I informed him that we were not, he whined, cried, kicked, and yelled. I began to lose my patience.

8. Dylan recovered from his tantrum them proceeded to ask me 100 questions all with the follow-up question of "why?" as we made our way through the store I resorted to an annoyed "I don't know" because I got sick of answering them. I officially lost my patience.

9. We stopped at the library to fax something. When I told Dylan we weren't getting any new books (because we have a stack at home) he flopped on the floor and yelled, "But I want some, I want some, I want some!" I picked him up to leave, but still managed to see the stank eye given to me by the librarian.

10. For lunch, I served Dylan a piece of leftover pizza. It was homemade, but I did not include any fruits or veggies because I didn't feel like getting any out and I just wanted to get to nap time. He asked me more "why" questions. I gave him more "I don't know" answers.

11. I told Dylan it was nap time and he began to cry and ask for his dad. I said, "I wish dad was here too" in a less-than-pleasant-tone... then I felt crappy.

***So first, when I sat down to write this list I immediately thought, "oh, I guess there weren't AS many horrible moments as I originally thought," which I think is an important point. We dwell on a tantrum or a harsh word that we later feel guilty about, but in doing that we overlook the good pieces of the day. Here's the same day with a different focus:

1. Last night Dylan had tons of fun playing (naked) in his pool. He's getting so much more confident in the water and is fun to watch. It was hot this week and he was exhausted so he went to bed early. We all know toddlers have the weirdest eating pattern so I'm not going to lose sleep about the missed dinner, but make sure he eats a solid breakfast.

2. Sure it's not ideal that he watched an hour of cartoons, but once we're up, the TV is off all day long. In addition, it's DVR'd so there aren't commercials and it's appropriate programming for his age.

3. For breakfast Dylan had peanut butter and jelly on toast. Sure he has it every morning, but I do buy whole grain bread with no HFCS, I use natural peanut butter, and homemade jelly. This meal provides fiber, whole grains, and protein. He also had a glass of white milk.

4. I did forget to change his diaper and that's crappy, but he seems none the worse for wear. He's never had diaper rash and he was happily playing so let it go.

5. I repeatedly tell him not to bring toys into the kitchen when I'm cooking. It was unfortunate that I scolded him, but me tripping over them, saying "ow," and then reminding him of the rule was a natural learning lesson. And he did move them and apologize to me.

6. Even though I was annoyed that I kept having to stop what I was doing to help Dylan with the stickers, it was a good fine motor activity for him and I did keep most of my grumbling to myself. Sure I was shrugging on the inside, but on the outside I stayed pretty neutral. And when he was done he was so proud of himself. He even took it to bed with him for his nap!

7. I got nothin about the tantrum. It was a tantrum in the most classic sense: he wanted a toy, I said no, he cried. Even though I wanted to have my own tantrum, it did illicit a conversation about the difference between "need" and "want" and I did tell him that I understood why he was frustrated. Now, in my current reflective state, I remember a article about how toddlers wear their hearts on their sleeves. Haven't we all wanted to kick, scream, or cry out of frustration or disappointment at some points in our lives? We don't because we know better, but 3-year-olds don't. In fact, I'm a little jealous of his freedom to let it all out!

8. The "why" questions are really cute when it's someone else's kid. Most of the time I give him real answers. In fact, we discuss density almost every time he's in the pool because he asks me why things sink or float so often! Today I was frustrated and his "why?"s didn't have easy answers so I took the easy way out. It's not the end of the world. I'll answer them in the future I'm sure and all will be fine with his academic development.

9. I know we don't scream in a library, but toddlers don't. That librarian could have noticed that I was saying, "Please don't scream, people are reading," while also REMOVING my son from the library. It's not like I was just letting him flail.... we were leaving. Plus, it's entirely possible the stank eye was a result of a crappy day on her end and I was just one more thing. It might not have been the personal attack I imagined it to be. Once he settled down in the car, we did talk about why we have to be quiet in libraries. Also, it was nearing nap time, he was tired, quite simply.

10. So his lunch lacked fruits and veggies. Well, there's always dinner. I did make the pizza homemade (last night's leftovers) and I did make a whole wheat crust, so there's that. Also, the pizza had mushrooms on it and tomato sauce and those both count as vegetables. It also had ham so the meal wasn't an entire loss. He had a juice box and it was the 100% real juice organic kind so I'm going to call that a serving of fruit and be done with it.

11. I always feel bad when I use a snappy, negative, or sarcastic tone with him.  All I can do is own it and try not to do it again. Can't take it back, can't undo it, might as well just try to fix it for the future. And P.S., in the moment, I wasn't lying. I DID wish his dad was here!

On paper these things don't seem that bad, but they were enough minor annoyances to put me in a fowl mood. While I don't have time to write a reflective blog post everyday I do think there is something to be said for taking a minute to replay a day or situation and force yourself to look at it from a positive perpective. Even if you end up with "sure I wanted to scream 'shut up' at my child, but I didn't." In my book, that's still a win!

My advice? Take a break from blogs and pinterest and instead make a list of things you do well as a parents.  I think we moms need to cut ourselves some slack. And at the end of the day, the very fact that you're worried about if you're a good parent, probably means that you are one! :)

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Death of a Beautiful Butterfly

Last Tuesday, I woke up and discovered via facebook that one of my former students had passed away the evening before in a car accident. The death of anyone is obviously upsetting, but the death of a high school student, just two months after graduation, is just unfair. Especially a young lady like Zelena. Zelena just had a zest for life. All morning I was flooded with memories of her because, quite simply, she was incredibly memorable. You couldn’t have a single interaction with her that wasn’t fun, silly, sassy, or wild. She was always smiling, always laughing, and always speaking what was on her mind. She was barely over four feet tall, but packed an enormous personality.  I had just seen her the night before at the grocery store where she worked. I sat on the couch in disbelief. All I could imagine was the cliché image of a candle being snuffed out. It felt that abrupt.

Dylan and I had planned a day at my parent’s so I pulled myself together as best I could, loaded up the car, and hoped that the trip would be a distraction.  As we walked out to the car, Dylan stopped in the driveway and crouched down, “Mom, look a butterfly!” he exclaimed. I looked and a somewhat smushed butterfly was, in fact, in the driveway. “Mom, that butterfly is so beautiful,” Dylan added. And it was. It had vibrant blue spots and its wings were spread out as if it would take flight any minute.  Dylan is really in love with the word beautiful lately. In fact, our last trip to the mall was filled with him exclaiming, “Momma, this shirt is so beautiful” at every other clearance rack I drug him to. So I paused only briefly to reply, “Yup, that’s a beautiful butterfly alright,” before adding, “let’s go.”

But he didn’t move. Instead he stood up, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Mom, why that beautiful butterfly have to die?” I’m not kidding. Those where his exact words. All I could picture was Zelena and I said to him, “I don’t know. Good question though.”  And I looked down at the butterfly myself. Dylan stood, still waiting for a real answer so I said, “Maybe someone accidently stepped on him or the car accidently smushed him.” Then I held back some tears, scooped Dylan up, and buckled him in the car.

 Just a few minutes down the road Dylan said, “I’m sad that that beautiful butterfly died.” I replied (speaking in full-on extended metaphor), “I know sweetie. Even when it’s an accident it’s still sad when butterflies die.”

We ride in silence and, again, I think of Zelena. I can’t picture her without imaging her smile. I can’t remember an interaction when she wasn’t laughing. Dylan interupts my thoughts and says, “Mom, maybe that beautiful butterfly go home?” I struggle to not swerve off the road as I turn and look back at him. He is sitting in his carseat staring straight at me with those big brown eyes.

Now I consider myself spiritual, but not necessarily religious. I certainly believe that there is more to this world than I can understand and appreciate, but I don’t follow a lot of religious doctrine. I don’t image God in a personified form, more as an essence. I certainly think things sometimes do happen for a reason and I do believe in karma, but I don’t generally believe in a humanistic God sitting in the clouds sending us personalized messages. So I say to Dylan, “What do you mean? Where is the butterfly’s home?” and he answers with some indescernable toddler-speak, but finishes with the statement “and when he’s home he’s so happy.”

I have no idea what I said in response. I can’t remember. I was crying and trying to keep it together so that I could answer something like “yes, I think you’re right.” I certainly can’t explain this conversation, but it was so touching that I had to write it down to make sense of it and to reflect on it.

Two days later I went to the funeral home and cried with Zelena’s friends and family. I spent the week replaying memories in my head and hugging my son whenever I could. I spent a little bit of time asking why and trying to deny the reality of the situation, but mostly I tried to find comfort in the phrase “when he’s home, he’s so happy.”