In Defense of Conscious Parenting

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I’ve given glimpses of issues I’ve had with parenting style over the years, but I’ve never fully delved into what our parenting style looks like because, well, there’s just so much out there on parenting right now and the last thing I want to do is to add to the competition, the “Mommy Wars,” and the drama. But there is something important going on with parenting: a fight about how much freedom to give our children, how much supervision, how much assistance, and how much structure. And I have strong opinions on this, so I will share them here. But please know that this is my own opinion, my own style, and I try very hard not to judge others based on such personal choices as parenting style. Ours is one way of parenting, and I respect that there are many wonderful successful ways that are very different from ours!

As my boys grow older, their physicality and their abilities grow as well. And the way we have raised them, from day one, has been very open and trusting with that physicality. I was not the mom to run over to my baby immediately when he fell down; instead, I waited for his response and more often than not, after a mutual smile back and forth to encourage and reassure, he would rise again and go about playing. I was not the mom to hover over a two-year-old Milo as he learned to climb on play structures at the playground in Washington, DC (yes, he fell hard once, and got some scratches on his face; he also learned to be very careful on that structure and was okay after a good long hug from his mama).

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Our three boys can elicit a lot of attention at the local playgrounds; they arrive and immediately take off their shoes (and sometimes their shirts if it’s hot), and run off to climb every which way on the equipment. This includes climbing up slides instead of only sliding down them (oh, the scandal!), climbing on the outside of equipment, and shimmying their way up to the top of the swing set when others are not swinging. It includes hanging upside down like bats from the monkey bars and standing up on big saucer swings, learning to balance their weight by swaying hard back and forth until they are nearly flying. It includes swinging all the swings in different directions and then running an obstacle course between them, dodging the swings as they run by each one to avoid being hit by them. They play hard, and they can handle it.

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This is not to say that we allow our boys to overrun others’ rights when at the playground. They are expected to respect the way others play, to take turns, and to be understanding of the rules others may have. If, for instance, a kid is about to slide down the slide, our kids are not allowed to run up it at the same time. But I do not say things like, “We must ONLY go down the slide and up the stairs,” or “We must always wear our shoes when we are outdoors.”

And those are two very controversial things around St. Louis playgrounds, apparently!

Let me paint the picture.

I take all three boys to a playground nice and early, and we are the first to arrive. It’s shoes and shirts off right away and then they run off to climb and pretend and play. After about 20 minutes, a father and his 5-year-old son arrive by bike at the playground. I greet them and go back to watching the boys and occasionally climbing and spinning and chasing them. But I start to feel a tension that is palpable with the father. He is watching my boys nervously, and commenting on their lack of shoes to his little boy, perhaps foreseeing that his little boy will want to take his shoes off as well (it’s one of those soft-surface grounds that nearly all playground floors consist of these days). “Oh my! Those boys’ feet are very dirty! They aren’t wearing their shoes, are they?” he comments to his little boy (who is, by the way, playing with his bike helmet on). Sure enough, the boy tries to take his shoes off and his father reminds him that they wear their shoes outdoors because that is the rule.

But then, the little boy asks, “But why?” And I kid you not, the dad tells him “Because it’s what you’re supposed to do.” Hm. Is it?

And then, Milo is swinging on a giant saucer swing, standing up, shifting his weight back and forth and going higher and higher, the wind whipping his hair, a giant proud smile on his face. The little boy in the helmet is playing elsewhere, but the dad comments to no one in particular, “That is really dangerous. That is just not how that equipment is supposed to be used.” I smile at him to let him know that I hear him and I’m aware of what my child is doing, and that I approve. It’s almost comical at this point, but I try to brush off the feeling that my hackles are beginning to raise. I don’t want to engage, because clearly we have very different parenting styles, and that is alright. I am responsible for my kids’ safety, and if they are not putting his son in danger or disrespecting him, I am comfortable with the way they are playing. I do not owe him an explanation, but realize I would be happy to engage in an intelligent conversation about my parenting choices if he would like to talk about it.

The comments go on and eventually I, very warmly and very openly, fill him in on the shoeless thing. I say, “Yes, we let our boys go barefoot a lot because it’s very good for their neurological development (citing this article and a brief overview of these reasons). “As long as there is no broken glass around, I’m happy to let them explore without shoes.” End of discussion.

While I don’t mind being questioned or judged from time to time about the way I parent (and in fact have come to expect it), what I don’t care for is the assumption that I am a lazy parent because I give my kids extra independence at the playground. The fact is, I read a lot and have thought a lot about what I believe is the best way to raise my boys. The fact is, I am watching, engaged, and aware. The fact is, I completely disagree with some of the parenting choices other moms and dads may be making (for instance, never letting their toddler try to climb up something and instead always lifting them up to the top), but I would never give them dirty looks or make disrespectful comments to them or others within earshot about those choices. I would not make disparaging remarks to my children about it either; “Oh my, that little boy is not even allowed to climb up the 5-foot plastic rock wall by himself… poor kid! And his dad won’t let him take his shoes off!” I mean, can you even imagine?!!

Let’s start assuming that parents have thought about it. That they want the best for their children. That maybe they have researched things and have reasons for parenting the way they parent. One of the most enlightening conversations I had recently was with a very protective mother. We were just chatting and not judging each other, and come to find out, her husband is a transplant doctor who comes home every day with sad stories about accidents involving little children: drownings and car accidents and just horrible things. A lightbulb clicked. Oh! I thought, of course she is protective. Of course!

Let’s meet each other with understanding, let’s assume the best. We’ll all be better for it.

Montessori-Inspired

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Hammering. Using real tools, tools that work, tools that are the same as an adult’s but fit to the hand of a child. This is the kind of thing that is so controversial these days (after all, I was chastised for letting my boys use a plastic hammer to break up an ice block without some kind of protective equipment), but I don’t always understand how we have gotten here, this overly-cautious society. We are afraid to let our kids do real things. Afraid to give them independence, afraid to let them make mistakes, afraid to let them fail. Afraid of what? Some bumps and bruises? Because I assure you, those will happen no matter what you do. Bumps and bruises are part of life — both a child’s life and an adult’s life, both literally and figuratively.

I often struggle to find the kind of things I want for my boys: sturdy and useful toys that don’t dumb it down. I don’t mean to be brutal, but come on. Some of the things I see in toy stores are almost humiliating for kids — the ultra-cheap plastic stuff that breaks an hour after you buy it. I know that safety is a huge concern for parents these days, but frankly, it’s not as high on my radar. Unless it will cause possible death or serious brain injury, I’ll consider letting my kids try it out. DSC_0015DSC_0017DSC_0020

That’s not to say it’s a free-for-all around here. I still believe that guidance is important. Obviously, upon giving Oliver a real tool set for his fifth birthday, we went over some basic rules: he may only use the saw with an adult present, and when he is hammering, he should use the goggles. We gently explain what can go wrong, and the proper ways to hold and use things. It doesn’t take much, and if we show them how to respect a tool by example, they will follow our lead. If we are careful when demonstrating use of the tool, they will be careful. I think a lot of it has to do with being confident in our children as intelligent, independent beings who will make good choices. Because when we believe in them, they rise to the occasion.

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We purchased our tool set from a local toy store, but it is listed online here if you’re interested.
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Emil is still a bit young for this, but I always let him try what his big brothers are doing. It always makes me aware of how younger siblings rise to the occasion. You should see this kid on a scooter…

So because he had to use his other hand to support the weight of the heavy hammer, I gently showed him again how to only use one hand. Then I handed him a different tool to try out when it was apparent that the hammer was a bit much for him to handle. He will try again soon!
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DSC_0037The concentration and perspiration… just great!
DSC_0061So what do you think? Is it worth it to risk a bruised thumb to learn a new skill? Is this beyond your parenting comfort zone? I often find myself in the midst of a lot of controversy (especially at the playground) with my boys and my parenting style. But the more practice and feedback (from my kids’ progress, not from other parents) I get, the more confident I feel with my choices. It’s immensely interesting, this parenting job!

Dress That Mama

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High(ish)-waisted jeans, striped shirt, clogs. Easy and classic. I’m truly appreciating the high-waisted thing going on right now. I mean, there is no plumber’s crack problem when I bend down to help Emil roll up the legs of his Flash costume or hold onto the low-down handlebars of the two-wheeler he insists on riding around the playground…

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And it feels a little more grown-up and classy with a tucked-in shirt, and yes! to stripes, will they ever go out of style?
IMG_0357Have a fantastic Wednesday!

Reading…

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When we were last at the library, I accidentally came across author Arnold Lobel‘s books and had flashbacks to my own childhood! The stories are classic, sweet, and written with an innocence reminiscent of young children and age of magical thinking. DSC_0002

As I read Owl At Home to Emil one rainy afternoon (we’ve been reading a lot more since he gave up those beautiful wonderful dreamy naps), I remembered what it felt like to be read to when I was a little girl — this very same story, about Owl making teardrop tea; I remember thinking how silly the things were that Owl thought about to make himself sad: “mashed potatoes left on a plate… because no one wanted to eat them,” for instance. And all of the stories are like that, light and innocent and silly and sweet. Just perfect for little ones.
DSC_0004Actually, just perfect for anyone. As I was reading, Milo and Oliver listened from the other room, giggling and acting like the stories were too babyish for them… until they wandered over and ended up snuggled up next to us on the couch.

I can’t say that I blame them.

Weekend Shenanigans

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It was a weekend of harvest and creation for us; we finally bit the bullet and bought a fruit-picker to reach those ripe round apples at the top of the tree that were tempting us, and with half of the 12 pounds harvested, I made apple butter in the crock pot. So cool to see the progression of those apples: first picking, then cutting and preparing, then returning the skins and scraps to the earth through our compost pile. And so it goes!DSC_0011DSC_0021DSC_0026DSC_0070DSC_0071DSC_0076

And speaking of compost, we have three amazing piles of it ready to add to the vegetable garden for our fall crops (pumpkins, kale, lettuces, and broccoli). After spending the better part of Thursday and Friday in there with Oliver, I’m excited to add to our bounty!DSC_0001DSC_0004DSC_0049DSC_0061DSC_0027

We also had a lot of rain this weekend (which we needed) but it all cleared up just in time for a Sunday afternoon neighbor fun day at the playground. But most of the weekend was spent making and baking: Andrew brewed an IPA batch that should be ready next month, I baked banana bread and English jacket potatoes, made guacamole and grilled corn and tomato salad (try out that amazing recipe here). Andrew and I floated silently around each other in the kitchen all afternoon on Sunday, doing a sort of baking/brewing dance while the kids played with balloons and did flips on the couch. It was the perfect sort of afternoon!DSC_0073DSC_0079DSC_0095DSC_0074DSC_0076And Emil was brave enough to try this all by himself for the first time. I guess he is really a big boy now, since he is next up in our month of birthdays… am I ready for a three-year-old again? Oh boy, if it’s anything like this one‘s entire third year, we’re in for it!

Oliver Turns 5

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Yesterday, Oliver turned 5. DSC_0001DSC_0004DSC_0006

Oliver, our funny, sensitive, sometimes wacky guy who was born with his hand on his cheek and his other elbow in the air. Oliver, who was as tiny as a mouse when he was born but much much louder. Our Oliver, who still smells as sweet as peaches and cake and honey, and has the bug bites to prove it.
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Oliver, who sometimes eats nothing but watermelon for lunch and has just about every single Pokemon character memorized. Oliver, who understands to the very core of him the concept of fairness and justice and will do the right thing even if it is hard to do. Even if he sometimes loses his cool and pummels his brothers. He is five years old and I don’t know how. DSC_0028

He chose a lemon cupcake while Milo and Emil decided to split the chocolate one. Turns out they agreed to cut them four ways so that everyone could try some of each. He chose the Magic House for his special day with his best friend Estella, and after that he just wanted to play with his brothers and work in the garden, then have some alone time before dinner. DSC_0032DSC_0024DSC_0036DSC_0037

And after dinner, a wonderful present (he was only expecting one)! A real tool set with real tools designed for little hands. DSC_0044DSC_0048

… that came with a real tool belt, of course (and an admiring little brother). DSC_0053

But the real kicker was waiting outside in the trunk: Papa had picked out a two-wheeler for Oliver: his very own brand new bike! DSC_0061DSC_0064It was, in Oliver’s words, “The best birthday ever.”

Oliver, I’ll never forget the day you were born. We love every inch and bit and essence of you and are so incredibly proud of you! Happy Birthday, sweet boy!

Lentil Stew with Chorizo

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This stew has been on our weekly rotation all summer, and though I know stew is not typically a summer food, it’s something that all of us love, and uses plenty of kale, which is by now nearly shoulder-high in our garden. Also, it is very tasty and very easy on the wallet!

Lentil Stew with Chorizo

  • 1 cup dried green lentils
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 medium (or half large) red onion, chopped
  • 4 chorizo sausages (about 1lb), sliced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 12 oz canned whole tomatoes
  • 5 large curly kale leaves, tough stems removed
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste (though I never use it since there’s plenty of salt in the stock)

Heat oil in stock pot, then add chorizo, cooking on medium-high until browned on all sides.

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Remove chorizo from pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add onions to pan drippings and reduce heat slightly. Stir and cook until onions are caramelized (if they seem to be drying out, add just a dash of chicken stock). DSC_0004

Add lentils and stir to coat. DSC_0005

Add cumin, stirring until lentils are incorporated. DSC_0006

Next, add chicken stock and stir well. Cover pot and cook on medium-high heat for 30 minutes, stirring and adding liquid when lentils absorb and stew starts looking dry. Reduce heat and cook 15-20 minutes longer, adding chorizo and tomatoes once the lentils are soft. Add kale leaves, shredding by hand, at the end of the cook time and only allow to blanch (it will cook in a matter of seconds). You will know your stew is ready by taste; if the lentils are still crunchy or hard, keep cookin’!

DSC_0010Serve as is, or over rice, or with sharp cheddar grated on top (or all three!). Enjoy!

Dress That Mama

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We’ve reached that lazy part of summer where getting dressed is the last thing on my mind. In a couple of weeks, the boys will be back to school, and soon after that the days will grow shorter and cooler. I’m already thinking a little bit about sweaters and jeans, to be honest! But for now I’m wearing a lot of simple things — jean shorts, white shirts, and of course flowy dresses. Not that exciting, I’m afraid! DSC_0042But there is something great about the classic white button-down. It will never, ever go out of style!

Happy Wednesday!

 

The Accidental Garden

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The other day, I was walking back to the play area of our back yard. It’s just beyond our garden and honestly, I don’t go back there all too often. A few weeks ago, to keep the boys occupied, I gave them half a bag of dried beans (I think the 12-bean soup kind) and they disappeared back there with a pot and some water, claiming to be busy making soup. Fast forward a few weeks, and lo and behold, those forgotten beans had sprouted. In the sand box. DSC_0071

And so yes, we harvested bean sprouts (and don’t worry, the sand box is clean!). DSC_0081

And after a good soak, rinse, and removal of the roots, we had some pretty tasty bean sprouts (perfect on their own, or on a sandwich, or on top of a salad)! What a pleasant surprise! The boys were completely blown away. DSC_0090A good reminder that good things to eat are so easy to grow!

 

Weekend Shenanigans

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Ah, what starts out rough can often end up awesome! Thanks for the kind words and encouragement on Saturday’s post — we all have those rough days, and sometimes just writing about it puts it in perspective; it’s a bad day, not a bad life! DSC_0094DSC_0078DSC_0032DSC_0018DSC_0024

This weekend we had a lot of down time — not a lot of plans and not a lot of housework going into the weekend, which was just what we needed after nearly a week without Andrew last week. Sometimes weekends turn out great if we just let them! We marveled at the enormous pumpkin in our garden — now what do you do with a huge orange pumpkin in the middle of August? I haven’t the slightest idea because we weren’t expecting pumpkins until October… IMG_0252IMG_0267IMG_0242

And more of these slack-lining shenanigans — it’s so much fun! And that Milo is such a bookworm lately! Who knew the day would come when he would choose sitting very still on a blanket in the shade over running and climbing like a monkey on the playground equipment? Not that I’m complaining…DSC_0038DSC_0037DSC_0051

We also partook in a really great block party on Sunday. They blocked off our street and we all set up the slack line, a keg of beer, popsicles and tables of goodies for the kids. The city firetruck came and let the kids check out the equipment, which of course was amazing for all the kids.  DSC_0123DSC_0129DSC_0133DSC_0134DSC_0136DSC_0151

And one of our neighbors juggled fire… DSC_0187DSC_0195

… while riding a unicycle. You know, the typical neighborhood stuff. DSC_0114DSC_0108It was a good one. The end of summer is near, and we are on the cusp of the birthday bonanza over here. First one up, Oliver! What a great summer it has been!