The mouths of babes

photo courtesy of flickr user joshwept

You know how sometimes, your kids say something that is so beautiful and fundamentally true that it brings tears to your eyes?  Or maybe I’m just a sap?

Bess has suddenly made a huge developmental leap in terms of logical thinking.  As she puts it, “Now I am learning lots of things from my own mind, and not just things that other people teach me.”  It’s really amazing to see how her mind works and how she is able to think things through and solve problems on her own.

She is particularly fascinated, as I think most kids are, with things we would describe as science – biology, ecology, astronomy.  She likes to ask me questions about how our brains work since I am a recovering neuroscientist.  She thinks it’s fascinating how our brains control the things our bodies do, since it all seems to work so fast.  The concept of an endocrine system, or a brain that occupies our whole bodies, is one I am still struggling to explain in a way she can understand.

Anyway, the other day she said to me, “Mommy, you know how when we meet a new friend and we really like them, our hearts beat very fast?  I think that is because our brains are taking pictures of our new friends, and telling our heart to beat fast so it can grow bigger so our new friend can fit in our heart.”

Yes, indeed.

Peaceful parenting means loving other people’s kids, too

Photo courtesy of flickr user KB35

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there. — Rumi

So, this week my daughter had her first Issue at school.  For the past two years, she attended this amazing little holistic private school where the parents were a very tightly knit community.  If there was ever an issue, I could just approach the parent of the other child who was involved, have a friendly and civilized conversation about things, and find a mutually agreeable resolution.

But that school has closed, and now Bess is a kindergartener at our local public school.  She seems really happy there, and though I am by no means a fan of public school (for a bevy of reasons that I will save for another day), I do think that this particular school is the best it can possibly be of what it is.  The building is beautiful, the teachers are great, the principal is very hands-on, they try to be innovative…it’s still public school, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a lot of things since the school year has started.

Anyway, all year she has been coming home and telling me things about one girl in particular who is on her morning and afternoon bus and also in her class, things that have made me uncomfortable though I have kept my mouth shut.  After all, not everyone is, nor should they be, like us.  But last week Bess came home with a particularly alarming story, and I decided to mention it to the teacher.  We agreed to not do anything besides keeping an eye on the girls for now.

That afternoon, the proverbial shit hit the fan.  My daughter came home hysterical because she had to sit by herself on the bus (and get mocked because of it), which I later found out was because the other girl accused Bess of punching her.  The next morning, I mentioned to Bess the reason they had been separated, and the hysterics began anew.  She was horrified that anyone would think her capable of doing such a thing.

Long story short(er), they went to the guidance counselor and the girl admitted that Bess had never punched her.  The counselor gave them some ideas for conflict resolution, and now they are wonderful friends again, happily ever after.

Except…where does that leave me?  Most of all, I think the situation was handled extraordinarily well by the school within the structure that exists.  It was addressed quickly and thoroughly, and all parties were treated with the utmost respect.

But it also has me thinking, a LOT, about the best way to handle these types of things.  We practice nonviolent communication in our family – but I was absolutely not feeling particularly nonviolent during this whole thing.  I teach my kids that there are no bad people, that people make the choices that are right for them – but lying to get my daughter in trouble is a difficult pill to swallow.  I know my child isn’t perfect – but I also know that she would not punch someone on the bus.  I wanted to get information from Bess about what was going on – but how do I ask questions without putting words into her mouth or making her feel like she’s being interrogated?  I know that teachers are busy and overworked, and I don’t want to be an annoying mother who complains about stupid stuff – but I also want to be an advocate for my daughter.  I regret that it became such a huge thing – but what was the option, calling a mother I have never met to tell her that her daughter is being mean to my daughter?

It is difficult to take a compassionate approach towards someone who is causing your child pain, but it is what is required vis-a-vis putting your money where your mouth is.  Conflict resolution is one thing within a family, but when it comes to dealing with the outside world, it is hard to find the line between trying to understand the other perspective and failing to defend your own.  I don’t think I’m very good at this – I don’t know if it is empathy or conflict-avoidance (probably the latter), but I take the live and let live approach to the extreme.  I’m working on it.

Gluten-free, egg-free pumpkin chocolate chip mmmmmmuffins

I'm no food stylist, but you get the idea

It’s smelling a lot like autumn around here!  I’ve had a hankerin’ for my old fall faves – pumpkin chocolate chip muffins – but since we bake gluten- and egg-free around here, I haven’t had them in quite a while.  I decided it was time to remedy the situation, and with all the free time we had lately with the blizzard and all I decided to tinker with the recipe a bit to see what I could come up with.  With nearing six years’ worth of allergy-friendly baking under my belt, I figured I should be able to come up with something.

By golly, I did!  And here it is (makes 12 regular or 48 miniature muffins):

1 2/3 cup Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose flour blend

1 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, divided

1/2 teaspoon xantham gum

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons applesauce (I used homemade, of course!)

1 tablespoon flaxmeal

3 tablespoons hot water

1 cup plain pumpkin

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or coconut oil for the vegans, melted

1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine applesauce, flaxmeal, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and hot water; set aside.

Line muffin cups with paper cups.  (I personally like the heavy-duty aluminum liners better for this, and my stoneware muffin pan did NOT work well.  Use a metal one instead.)

Thoroughly mix flour, sugar, pie spice, baking soda, remaining 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, xantham gum, and salt in a large bowl.

Thoroughly whisk pumpkin, butter, and applesauce mixture.  Fold in chocolate chips.  Pour over dry ingredients and fold in with a rubber spatula until dry ingredients are just moistened.

Scoop batter evenly into muffin cups.  Bake 20 – 5 minutes, or until puffed and springy to the touch in the center.  turn out onto a rack to cool.  Keep in a plastic container or bag in the fridge but DEFINITELY reheat before serving.

So good!


The “Boy Crisis”…and why it doesn’t exactly work out to be such a crisis after all

Check out my guest post at Your (Wo)Man in Washington today:

If you read books like The Wonder of Boys and Raising Cain, you will learn that today’s American boys are in crisis.  As schools become more heavily focused on academic achievement and test scores, children are expected to spend more time seated quietly at their desks while physical education and recess are being squeezed out of their schedules.  The crunch is on after school as well, when time is spent going to organized activities and completing homework instead of running around outside, playing stickball and manhunt and generally letting off steam.

Boys, who on average are less inclined to sit quietly at desks and have more of a need to move their bodies, are suffering disproportionately under the current state of affairs.  Some even argue that the bias against girls in academic settings is a relic of the past.  With teachers under ever-increasing pressure, they tend to favor girls who (again on average) are more able to sit and focus for long periods of time.  This is borne out by the fact that young women are currently earning more post-secondary degrees than young men.

If women are doing better in school, and are earning more advanced degrees, then logic would dictate that the number of women in positions of power and prestige should be at least equal to, if not exceeding, the number of men.  And yet…women continue to be underrepresented in business, science, academia, medicine, and government.  The reason seems obvious:  biology is destiny, and motherhood makes the difference.

There’s a kazoo in my bathroom

Snow Days - Count 'em, Five Snow Days

Living with bipolar disorder is living with a very high degree of internal chaos, particularly when one is in the throes of a manic episode.  Trying to organize my thoughts and execute a task is challenging during those times, to put it mildly.  One of my main coping mechanisms is to impose external order so that the visual stimulation is kept to a minimum.  It’s probably not the most adaptive strategy, especially since I can get a little compulsive about things, but then again it’s not the worst.  It definitely does help me to manage the mental mayhem and to burn off a little energy.

Needless to say, having two small children in the house does not make this particularly easy to execute.  Especially this week…if you don’t live in the northeastern US, you may not be aware of the freak blizzard that blew through here on Saturday.  We personally escaped with pretty minimal damage, but most of our area lost power, heat and water, and many people still are without.  Bess just went back to school today (delayed opening), and our car is trapped behind a downed power line so we weren’t always able to get out and about.

So it’s been the eight of us, four two-leggeds and four four-leggeds, stuck in this house together for five days.  In many ways it was a lot of fun to have days together with no responsibilities or schedules to worry about, and the kids had a blast playing in the snow once the trees finally stopped falling and we let them outside.  But on the other hand, I am spending the days following them around picking up toys, putting away dishes, and generally making sure everything is where it should be (as defined by me).  I am making everyone else just a little bit crazy in my efforts to keep my own craziness in check.

I am aware that it interferes with my children’s play when I step in and pick up a toy the second it touches a horizontal surface, even though they are still actually using it.  I try very hard (with varying degrees of success) to just let them be and only clean up once or twice a day, like maybe around lunch time and before bed.  Often, I try to just stay out of the room where they are playing as much as possible.  I have an especially hard time leaving the house if there is stuff all over the place, like, say, two toy cars on the living room floor or a dish in the sink.

The kids are accustomed to my general insanity and usually put one thing away before they take out something else, but they are only kids and they’re not perfect.  Harry is pretty good about it, mostly because he seems to have inherited the Coyle OCD Gene and thrives on order in a three-year-old way.  But Bess is like her father and leaves shoes in the kitchen and kazoos in the bathroom.  I know they don’t do it on purpose to make me nuts (the recognition of which represents a great deal of progress for me), but still, it’s pretty vexing for me.

So, when I have my fantasies about being a homeschooling mom, I will try to remember these days and make sure I keep them in mind.  Toys, books, papers, everywhere, all the time….may be more than this mama can handle.

When cool moms yell

I guess I got too full of myself after Bess was raving about what a fun mom I am.  (Okay, maybe not raving, but close enough.)  You can always count on your children to keep you humble, or at least I can.

The other night I was putting three year old Harry to bed, and he told me he did not want me to lay with him that night.  “I don’t like you, Mommy,” he told me.  “You yell too much.”


I guess I am a little heavy on the yelling lately.  I can get a little loud when I am frustrated, and lately I spend a lot of time being frustrated.  As I’ve written about before, parenting Bess is just a long-term project in frustration tolerance for me – in many ways, I love how creative and free-spirited and in touch with herself she is, but it is just those things that make her such a challenge for me.  And Harry – or as he is known in our house these days, “The Little General” – let’s just say that it turns out that “predictable” in a three-month old = “inflexible” in a three-year old.

Last Friday we were having a play date with his friend Claire (pronounced “Cway-uh”), and we all decided to go for a bike ride in the neighborhood across the street.  Harry, in full LG style, insisted that he had to lead the way because he knew where we were going, and Claire was kind enough to oblige since she was, after all, new to the area.  But once we got there (there being a cul-de-sac where they could wheel around safely) she wanted her turn at the helm, and rightly so.  She had exhibited extraordinary patience to that point, and it was her turn.  We engaged in United Nations-level negotiations and came up with an acceptable compromise:  they would take turns.  Seems reasonable, right?

WRONG!!!  It worked for a bit, but then Harry decided not only to stop his own forward progress, but to block Claire as well.  After a bit of reasoned and gentle prodding yielding dismal results, I picked him up and carried him home while he had an epic tantrum, the proportions of which have never been seen in my offspring before.  Harry actually drew blood while clawing at my face.  Five days later, I still haven’t recovered.  Luckily, Claire’s mom is the most laid-back person on the planet, otherwise I’m sure we would never see them again.

I consider myself a practitioner of Attachment Parenting, and I very much believe in its philosophy.  Yet I’m finding myself at a bit of a loss these days. I’ve read (and said) that if you wouldn’t do a particular thing to an adult, then you shouldn’t do it to your child either – that’s sort of the heart of AP as I understand it.  But here’s the thing: no adult would ever interrupt me while I was in the middle of an important phone conversation to ask me fifteen times in thirty seconds if they could have a piece of candy.  If they did, I wouldn’t spend too much time with them.  My daughter, however, does this repeatedly every day, and it’s not like I can just blow her off and stop returning her calls.  For better or for worse, we are in this together for the long haul.

Yes, we teach children to behave respectfully by modeling respectful behavior.  But they are still kids, and there is only so much this mama can take!  While they are learning to invoke the Golden Rule sometimes the frustration gets the better of me and, yes, I blow my top a bit.  When I’m exhausted and I’ve asked one child or the other to get into the bathtub forty-nine times and have been completely ignored, it seems to me that the logical next step is to repeat myself louder, because surely they just didn’t hear.  If that’s yelling, the I am guilty as charged.  I’m sorry you don’t like me, Harry, but if you had done what I asked one of the many, many, many times I asked, then I wouldn’t have to yell.

So there!