Monday, December 20, 2010

Brain Rules for Baby

I recently read the book, Brain Rules for Baby, by John Medina and I found it to be interesting, pertinent and well written. Medina's "Brain Rules" are things "we know for sure about how the early-childhood brain works." They're not fads or the latest innovations and many were reassuring to me, as a parent of a young toddler. These rules kept emphasizing the importance of simplicity; of basic toys; of talking to and playing with your child. They talked about the negative effects that television, texting and all these "educational" toys are having on children today. Basically, these rules sound like words that I have heard directly from the mouths of my parents.

I'm not going to try and summarize the book but there are a couple of parts that really stuck with me. Medina said that, "having a first child is like swallowing an intoxicating drink made of equal parts joy and terror, chased with a bucketful of transitions nobody ever tells you about." How true that is! I couldn't have said it better myself. Luckily, in my case, there is less terror as I have parents that I respect and look up to; parents that I can talk to when I have questions about how to be a good mum. Talking to Mum and Dad makes being a parent less terrifying and more fun. It also helps to have a husband that sees things the same way I do (most of the time, anyway.) Jim and I turn to each other sometimes and just shrug our shoulders. We don't know how to react when Lilly looks at us with a defiant smile and sprints in the opposite direction. It's a smile that's as much cute as it is naughty. Watching such a tiny person sprint is hilarious. Knowing that she's running away on purpose isn't quite so funny. And Jim and I have to learn, together, how we're going to react to it.

According to Medina, all of the following are myths:
  • Playing Mozart to your womb will improve your baby's future math scores
  • Exposing your infant or toddler to language DVDs will boost his vocabulary. He says that most DVDs actually reduce a toddler's vocabulary and while the number and variety of words you use when talking to your baby boosts both vocabulary and IQ, the words have to come from you--a real live human being.
  • To boost their brain power, children need a room piled with "brain-friendly" toys and a library of educational DVDs. In reality, the greatest brain-boosting technology in the world is a plain cardboard box, a fresh box of crayons and two hours. The worst is probably your new flat-screen TV.
  • Continually telling your children they are smart will boost their confidence. Medina says this actually makes them less willing to work on challenging problems. Instead, parents should be praising their children's effort instead.

The introduction to the book is fantastic. I specifically enjoyed Medina's job description for being a parent:

"Why would anyone willingly take on the line of work? The interview for the job, that single act of sex, is certainly fun. But then you get hired to raise a child. There are wonderful moments, but the essence of the contract is simply: They take. You give. You never get a paycheck with this job, only an invoice, and you'd better be prepared for some sticker shock. You'll be out more than $220,000--before the college loans. This career comes with no sick days or vacation time, and it puts you permanently on call nights and weekends. Its successful execution will probably turn you into a lifelong worrywart. Yet thousands of people every day say yes to this job. There must be some compelling reason."

I found this book to be a great read, but like I said earlier, so much of it seemed like common sense. The fact that it's a best seller suggests that there are more than a few people out there looking for parenting advice and while I enjoyed reading it, I couldn't help but reflect on how sad it is that our society needs a book to tell people to turn off the television and open a book. Or to put away the DVDs and educational toys and give children musical instruments and legos. I understand that things change but children today need the same things that children needed 50 years ago. And in many cases, they're not getting it. I am by no means an expert in the field of parenting but I think that my parents, having raised four children in what has always been a happy family, are as close to experts as you can get. If they wrote a parenting book, I guarantee it would be a best seller.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Huge Baby Orange"

I've been tutoring and teaching SAT classes like crazy the past couple of weeks. Between tutoring every night and teaching SAT classes on the weekends, I sometimes feel like I don't have a moment to stop. I have Lilly's nap time every day, and I have the time after I get back from the gym in the morning, before Lilly wakes up, but it's not the same as having evenings. I miss our relaxing family dinners and appreciate them even more on nights like tonight when we can sit and eat and chat and I don't have to sprint out the door to be somewhere at a certain time. I'm looking forward to being down in Florida with my family for 10 days, where there is nothing to do but relax, hang out, read and enjoy being together. We head down on Christmas Day and I can't wait!

I hope Lilly gets the memo that Florida is going to be relaxing. A 20-month old's chatter is anything but relaxing. But it is always entertaining, and boy, does she come out with some great expressions. The title of this blog, for one. Yes, that's right. A "huge, baby orange." Lilly calls anything small "baby..." so she started referring to clementines as baby oranges. Now, when we have regular oranges, she calls them "huge baby oranges." Pretty cute if you ask me. It's amazing to me that Lilly, this tiny human being, arrives at conclusions on her own. She doesn't just repeat everything we say anymore. She put two and two together and referred to an orange as a "huge baby."

Our little chatterbox is talking more and more every day. She likes calling everyone by name...over and over again, until that person responds to her. In fact, in the morning when Lilly wakes up, she plays for awhile and then starts calling, "mummy, daddy...." and if we don't respond we now get this tiny voice yelling, " (for Amelia), Jim, me-ah..." until one of us goes in! She does this with a huge smile, knowing that she's not supposed to call us Jim and Amelia but that it always gets a response.

Today, Lilly and I had an amazing day of nothing! We didn't have errands to run or grocery shopping to do. We couldn't go for a walk because it was seriously cold outside. The picture at the top of this blog is her playing outside the other day. I went to take her for a walk and checked the weather on my phone. It said, "21, feels like 13" so instead, we bundled up (which took a good 20 minutes) and then went out the back for maybe 10 minutes. But Lilly loves being outside so I try to let her go out and play at least for a little while during the day.

Anyway, today we stayed at home and had a day of cleaning, organizing and rearranging. While I was doing things that I'd been wanting to do for months and crossing things off my "to do" list, Lilly would wander by with her little tote bag full of her toy vegetables, and hand them to her teddy bear, one by one. I'd hear a little, "one, two, tree (for three!)" as she put them back in her bag. She'd totter by with her dolly who was strapped into her stroller with a blanket wrapped around her. She'd come out of our bedroom wearing my shoes and saying, "kick, kick (for click, click) as my shoes clicked along the hallway tiles. She'd take ornaments off the Christmas tree and say, "oh no, hep peese" (help please, for those of you that don't speak toddler), and then I'd help her hang the ornament back up. She'd go to her dresser, get socks out of the bottom drawer and try and put them on her doll. I'd hear a "doyy, shocks" as she was putting the socks on. She found my goggles, put them on herself and then on Lilly Lamb. She stood at the back door waving and saying hi and bye to birds, squirrels and airplanes. Our tiny little place provides Lilly with hours of entertainment. I think she was as happy as I was to spend the day at home. She would go up to the computer and ask for Glee name! It used to be "gwee" but we get an "l" in there sometimes now so it's an unmistakable request.

I never want Lilly to get bigger but unfortunately, that's unavoidable. From her earliest days, Jim and I have tried to savor every moment and appreciate all her milestones. We thought that 6 months was the best. Then she started crawling so 7 months was even more amazing. And then walking so 1 was unbelievable. At 18 months, she was a real little person, trying to talk and loving to play, so we loved that stage. Every time a new stage arrives and we love that one even more. That's the way it is at the moment. 20 months is nothing but energy and excitement. Lilly is full of smiles and laughter and is such a fun little person to be around. Don't get me wrong--she has her share of "no's" and she is one tiny stubborn person but we don't want her to keep growing! I'm sure that the next stage will be just as much fun but I wish I could slow time down.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

There's Something About Dads...

Dads have a special relationship with their children. I've noticed differences between Jim and my relationship with Lilly from day one but I think that over time, these differences have become even more apparent. Yesterday, I was at Home Goods (one of my favorite stores) alone. I stopped on my way home from an SAT class and enjoyed the freedom of being able to walk around the store at my own pace, without a little voice asking to hold everything that looks even a tiny bit interesting as we walk by. As I was waiting in line to pay, there was a dad with his daughter, who looked to be about Lilly's age, directly in front of me. It was clear that Dad was in charge for the day. His daughter was wearing (mismatched) sweats with some semblance of a pony tail in her hair. Her nose needed wiping and she was holding one of her shoes in her hand. She was playing with some kitchen utensil that they must have picked up, and when her dad went to put it away, this little girl screamed. Her dad gave her that utensil back so quickly it was comical. He looked behind at me apologetically with a face that said, "anything to make her stop screaming." A few seconds later, this little girl decided she was done playing with this utensil and so logically, she dropped it on the ground. We moved forward a few inches in the line and this girl picked up a bag of jelly beans that were on the shelf next to her. Her dad responded by saying, "I knew you'd see those. Okay, we can get some jellybeans." He found another bag that said, "kid flavors" on it (whatever that means) and convinced his daughter to trade the bag in her hand for this bag of kid flavored jellybeans, and off they went to pay. I smiled, knowing that this was one smart little girl. She knew how to get what she wanted from her dad, and there is something very sweet about seeing that relationship.

Sometimes I see differences in the way that Jim and I interact with Lilly. See exhibit A (Jim putting on Lilly's pajama pants) below. Jim seems to have endless patience with Lil, especially when it comes to getting dressed or putting on her diaper. He'll let her roll around, stand name it, she does it!

Just in case you need any translations (I can't imagine why!) Lilly starts off saying "cheese" when she sees the camera and she asks for a hug when she wants to be picked up at the end.

Other times, I hear about things Jim does differently. Jim usually puts Lilly to bed at night and as far as I knew, Jim and I both had the same bedtime routine for Lil. The other day, Jim informed me differently. I now know that Jim lets Lilly listen to a few stories while she's sitting on his lap and then he lets her have a run around the room before returning to his lap to finish reading books. She knows their routine and is comfortable with it so she follows it. When I put her to bed, it's a little bit calmer--she must save her running around for Jim--but either way, she ends up in bed and asleep. She understands the difference between our relationships. Neither way is
right. After all, Jim and I are both learning how to be parents and as long as we're happy with the way Lilly is turning out, we'll keep on doing what we're doing.

I think one of Jim's greatest "Dad" moments happened a few weeks ago after we came back home after being in DC for awhile. We arrived home early on Sunday afternoon and I had to go right out to teach and tutor and Jim was putting Lilly down for her nap. We didn't have any milk in the house and so I called Jamie, our neighbor, and asked if Jim could come over and get some milk to give Lilly before she goes to sleep. Jamie, of course, said absolutely. So imagine my surprise when I get a text message from Jamie a couple of hours later saying that Jim hadn't come by for any milk and asking if I wanted her to drop some off. By this point, it was definitely past the time Jim would have put Lil to bed so I couldn't wait to hear how he had taken care of this situation. When I got home and asked Jim about the milk, he said he "improvised." How one improvises when it comes to milk was beyond me...until I opened the fridge. I turned to Jim with a look that said, "seriously?" He gave her a cup of half and half. Yep, he let Lilly drink cream before her nap. And Jim's response: "She couldn't have been happier. You should have seen her milk mustache." I would never in a million years give Lilly half and half to drink. That's what dads are for.

Finally, I am always impressed with Jim's ability to pay full attention to Lilly,
when he wants to. Otherwise, he has this amazing ability to tune her out. That used to happen at night. Actually, it happened in the hospital the night after Lilly was born when the nurses brought her in for me to feed her and change her, twice, in the middle of the night. Jim was sleeping on the couch next to my bed and in the morning was impressed that Lilly could go a whole night without being fed. Not only did they bring her in to me, but they turned on all the lights to wake her and me up. And Jim didn't even move. To this day, he doesn't hear a single noise at night. But, to be fair, he goes and gets her in the morning...hence the reason Lilly's first yells in the morning are, "Daddy....daaaaaddddddyyyyyyy."

I could go on and on all day about our differences in parenting, but let me finish by saying that I love our differences and I love that Lilly understands those differences. She knows what makes each of us laugh. She knows that if she wants to be thrown up in the air or propelled onto our bed, she has to go to Jim. She knows when Jim is going to work or coming home for the evening and knows when I'm leaving to go and tutor. She understands that we are different people, but she trusts us both and she is happy when she is with either one, or both, of us.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Christmas and Chatter

It's December? Really? Where has the year gone? Our house is beginning to look a lot (or a little) like Christmas. Jim went out early this morning and got our Christmas tree. We used to go out together and choose one but let's be honest, Jim has a little bit of a stronger opinion when it comes to choosing Christmas trees than I do. Does this surprise anyone? So instead of chasing Lilly through the crowds around the Christmas tree lot in the freezing cold, we decided this was an easier alternative. Thanks to Jim's careful selection, we have a beautiful Christmas tree that is all set up in the corner of the living room...without a single decoration on it. This is another one of those things that used to be easier before Lilly came along. Now that she's such a big help, it is impossible to attempt a task like decorating the Christmas tree while she is awake. So we're going to reserve most of the decorating for times that Lilly is asleep. We're not grinches or anything--we want Lilly to enjoy Christmas. We'll save the soft ornaments for Lilly to put on the bottom of the tree but Jim and I would like to enjoy this part of Christmas too. After all, wine and Christmas decorating go very nicely together.

Lilly has quickly taken to the new Christmas books in her book collection. She has one with a Santa that says, "ho ho ho," so whenever she sees a Santa she says, "Hi Santa...ho ho ho." Jim caught her on camera while she doing this yesterday morning. She was sitting on my lap reading her Santa book. Sometimes she'll sit there for ages saying, "ho ho ho" over and over again. Unfortunately, on this occasion, she discovered play-doh on her sock and that took precedence over Santa.

Lilly seems to like having a tree in our living room, although she keeps pointing to it saying, "Hi tree," with a look of confusion on her face. It's not every day that Lilly wakes up to a giant tree in her house. Although it's always fun having a toddler, I'm beginning to see that it's extra special seeing Christmas through the eyes of a toddler. Everything is new and exciting. There's something so sweet and innocent about being able to talk about what we're getting Lilly for Christmas in front of her...and putting her presents in a corner of her bedroom where she looks at them every so often.

Lilly's language has exploded over the past few weeks. And I mean exploded. She repeats everything we say...she orders us around...she loves to tell us to "sit" next to her when she's reading a book or playing with a toy. To the average ear, Lilly saying "sit" might sound like she is swearing. Keep in mind this is the girl who says, "yesh" and "teshy" (for Tessy) so her version of "sit" is the unrated version and it never fails to amuse Jim and me, as you can see from the following video which took place last Sunday afternoon. She kicks it off with her favorite expression at the moment, "oh boy, oh boy" which she says when she's
really excited about something!

Yesterday, just before Jim came home from work, I was very proud of myself. Lilly was freshly bathed, in her pajamas and happily playing. The house was clean...and I mean clean by Jim standards of cleanliness. I had even cleared off our little table so that the three of us could sit and have dinner together before Lilly went to bed. All of a sudden, my perfect evening came crashing down on me when Lilly came running over to me saying, "oh no, wine, oh no, wine." My first thought was a mix of pride and horror that Lilly recognizes a glass of wine and knows it by name. My second was immediate panic; nothing good could come from this statement. Lilly had pulled my glass of wine off a corner table and there was red wine all over our white carpet. It looked like a crime scene and I knew that if Jim saw this, it would put a damper on his Friday afternoon, end of the work week, happiness. So, I did what all people would do in this situation. I googled, "how to get red wine of white carpet" and followed all different kinds of advice. How did people survive without google? I know that without these stain removing tips, I would have done everyone that everyone said that began with "DO NOT....." I was blotting up the wine with a towel, trying to stay calm, while Lilly was sitting on my lap with a tissue, "helping"clean up saying, "oh no, wine" over and over again. To make matters even better, the wine was all over Lilly as well. She seemed to be most upset about wine being on her socks. Apparently, she's not impressed with impurities on her white socks. (I'm having horrible flashbacks to the days of Ellie's white sock tantrums. This better not be genetic).

I could bore you with all the details about how Jim remained amazingly calm through the whole experience, how Jim and I miraculously got the wine out of the carpet and how our carpet is now cleaner than it was yesterday morning, but I won't do that. I will say that this experience seems to have stuck with Lilly who has now added, "oh no, wine" to her repertoire of words and expressions to say when she doesn't know what to say. Let's hope this is one that disappears over time.