Sunday, July 10, 2011

Some Shameless Self-Promotion For A Sunday Surf

I've had several posts published over at Parenting Squad recently, so go check them out if you're looking for some Sunday Surfing!

  • Moving With Kids: 23 Can't Miss Tips To Help You Cope - I have way too much firsthand experience with moving, and I've learned a lot through trial and error.  Take advantage of all I've learned along the way if you have an upcoming move in your future.
  • Top Meal-Planning Apps and Websites For Busy Parents - I've finally gotten an iPhone and discovered the world of meal-planning apps and websites.  And I'm on a mission to uncover all the great ones so that I no longer have to struggle with the damn question of "what's for dinner."
  • Book Review: Cinderella Ate My Daughter - In her new book, Peggy Orenstein examines the new "girlie-girl culture" and the effect it is having on the young girls of today.  While I don't agree with everything Orenstein says, she does provide a powerful look at the issues parents face as we raise our daughters.  
I'm sure there's plenty of other great stuff around the web, but why read that when you can read what I've written, right? ;-)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Disney's New Winnie the Pooh Movie Leaves Much To Be Desired

The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-PoohOne of my fondest childhood memories is of my Dad reading Winnie the Pooh stories to my sisters and me before bedtime.  It wasn't a nightly occurence, but it was an event routine enough that we always looked forward to it.

As children, I don't know that we caught much of the profound wisdom in the simple stories of a boy and his imaginary animal friends, but we loved to hear those stories again and again. 

We loved Tigger's exuberance and Pooh's constant befuddlement.  We were comforted by Kanga's constant maternal presence, and could totally relate to Roo's equally constant desire to escape from the pouch.

We didn't have any idea of what these characters looked like beyond the sketches we saw in the book, or how they talked beyond the voices our father gave them.

My own children have not been so lucky.  Growing up in an age where Disney threatens to invade every aspect of childhood, they haven't had the luxury of reading many books without first being exposed to the Disney versions on TV and film.  And even when they do read books first, the movie versions still leave much to be desired.

Sure, it's my fault.  I let them watch TV, and I take them to the movies.  But is it too much to ask for Disney executives to produce films and shows that do justice to the original texts?  The stories of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin might be the classic tales of childhood imagination and exploration, but there's a lot more to them than that. 

When I considered attending college at Webster University, I remember being intrigued by an entire Freshman Seminar centered around A.A. Milne's tales.  Maybe those discussions are a bit too deep for the preschool set, but that doesn't mean that they should be discarded entirely.  Even Sesame Street is written on more than one level; it can be done.

So this morning, it was with trepidation that I headed to an advance screening of Disney's new Winnie the Pooh movie.  My 7 year-old had already proclaimed Pooh to be "too boring and babyish" and decided not to attend, but I had foolishly optimistic expectations for my 3 year-old (and for myself.) 

Winnie the Pooh Stick Wall Art Sticker Decal 2PGS (Sitting Branch)
But Disney has owned the rights to author A.A. Milne's characters since 1961. What did I expect?  The same company that reduced the incredibly intelligent Winnie the Pooh stories into a sweet, saccharine marketing franchise suitable for decorating gender-neutral nurseries worked its identical "magic" on the movie. 

I've read reviews from other parents who find the film to be "sweet" in its simplicity, and think it is great for toddlers.  Me?  I found it mind-numbingly boring.  Even my son kept telling me that there "aren't very many funny parts." 

A children's book that doubles as a college text and all Disney could pull out of it was some overplayed theme about putting your friends before yourself?  Yes, the film was true to the original characters and stories (which is more than you can say for the utterly bizarre Playhouse Disney's My Friends Tigger and Pooh), but it could have been so much more.

After leaving the theatre, all I could think was what a wonderful film I could have been watching, if only somebody besides Disney had gotten their hands on those rights so many years ago.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Go The F*** To Sleep: What's Charlie Chaplin Got To Do With It?

Charlie Chaplin famously once said that "life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long shot."

Go The F*** To Sleep illustrates this perfectly.

After I posted my original thoughts about the book, I read Amy Sohn's essay Could A Mom Have Written Go The F*** To Sleep?  Sohn raises a lot of valid points about how harshly (and I would argue unnecessarily) our society judges women who complain about the difficulties of parenting, and isn't wrong when she points out that "the bar for paternal involvement" [in both bedtime routines and the lives of children in general] is much lower.

I had planned to expound on that post here, but I really think you're better served reading her thoughts yourself.  Besides, what particularly intrigues me about Go The F*** to Sleep now is the discourse that's taking place among parents over whether or not the book is really funny.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Go The F*** To Sleep: My Thoughts, Part 1

Go the F**k to Sleep

My first baby didn't believe in sleep. 

In fact, I'm absolutely convinced that she slept in 20 minute-increments for the first 6 months of her life.  And even as she got older, and slept for longer periods of time once I finally got her to go to sleep, she still fought naptime and bedtime as if her life depended on it.

She just wasn't a baby who needed a lot of sleep, and she was not about to let anybody else tell her when she was tired.  Even if her mother was a walking zombie for the first 2 years of her life.

Now, of course, at age 7, she sleeps like a rock (once she's been convinvced that bedtime has arrived and is, in fact, non-negotiable). 

And I was blessed with a second child who loves his sleep and drags me to the bedroom in the evening if I keep him up too late.  Small miracles. 

Which is not to say that he wasn't a typical baby/toddler who would sometimes be randomly awake at 3 A.M. leaving me wanting to scream "Go the f*** to sleep!!"

Just as I had wanted to scream at his sister.

So when I first heard about Adam Mansbach's new book, aptly titled Go The F*** To Sleep, I knew I was going to find it hilarious.

It looks like a children's book, and reads like a children's book.

Please note: it is NOT a children's book.

Listen to the audio version for yourself.

So what do you think? Are you falling off your chair laughing?

Or do you have concerns?

My first reaction to Go The F*** To Sleep was that it's pretty f***ing brilliant.  I mean, it's funny because it's true, and comedy is, after all, only tragedy made bearable. 

I think that we as parents appreciate the book so much because it voices some of our darkest thoughts out loud, and allows us to breathe a collective sigh of relief as we realize that we aren't completely alone in our occasional desperation. 

If anything, we're normal to have these fleeting thoughts.

Some bloggers, though, like Greek Momma, have suggested that parents need to just "grow the f*** up," and that the tone of the book completely belittles the child and fails to realize and accommodate his needs.  That parents who think this is funny are just being selfish, or more dangerously, "hiding their anger under a veil of humor or sarcasm." 

Point taken.  And there's probably some validity to it. 

But Go The F*** To Sleep isn't even remotely a how-to book or parenting manual.  If anything, it's a cathartic release for parents who are struggling to contain their darker impulses.  I just don't see laughing at this book as hiding your anger.  If anything, I see the laughter as one more coping mechanism in our parenting arsenal.

Our laughter doesn't mean that we don't care about our own children, or that we don't try to determine the very real reasons why they can't sleep when this drama plays out in our own homes.  But it does mean that we're only human.  And that we can appreciate the desire to make it all go away for just a few hours.    

Parenting is an exhausting, life-altering journey that threatens to sap every ounce of energy that we possess.  Most of us give and give and give to our children.  We make a habit of forgetting about ourselves. 

It isn't passive-aggressive to occasionally think negative thoughts, or to desperately wish that our children would go to sleep and leave us with a few minutes peace.  It's normal. 

Sure, we probably shouldn't act on it.  I'm not suggesting that we should actually be the parents who say these words to our children. 

But I say that we can sure as hell go ahead and laugh about it.

Because if we don't laugh, we just might have to f***ing cry. 


After I finished this post, I came across an interesting article at Babble in which Amy Sohn suggests that the reaction to Go The F*** To Sleep would have been entirely different had the book been written by a woman.  She makes some excellent points, so I'm going to have to revisit this post with a Part 2. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Note To Expectant Moms: Take The Damn Childbirth Education Classes

I try not to be judgemental.  I really do. 

But, sometimes, it's harder than others.

Case in point: an article that appeared yesterday in the Los Angeles Times reporting on a new study that has found that "pregnant women show an amazing lack of knowledge about childbirth options."

According to the article, fewer than 30% of the 1,318 first-time mothers who participated in the study attended any type of prenatal childbirth education classes. 

Many of these women claimed to have read books and done research on the Internet, but they were still unble to answer basic questions about common procedures and interventions such as episiotomies, epidurals, and cesareans.

They "appear to be quietly following whatever advice the doctor or midwife recommends," states author Shari Roan.

My question is why.

Why are so many women ducking out on what could easily be the most important education of their lives? 

I've heard all the jokes about what a waste of time those silly classes are, and how all you really need is a good anesthesiologist.  Okay, point taken.  A lot of women don't really want to know anything about what's going to happen once they've been assured that they can get the good drugs.

But the United States ranks an astounding 50th in the world when it comes to maternal mortality.  This means that there are 49 other countries where a mother giving birth is less likely to die from the experience. 

And at least half of the maternal deaths occurring in our country are considered preventable. 


As in, these women shouldn't be dying.

What I take away from this data is not that we can't trust our doctors and midwives, but that we have to advocate for and protect ourselves.  We have to know what is going on.

And education is the key. 

As mothers, most of us aren't doctors or midwives.  We won't ever reach their level of training and expertise.  But, unlike most other procedures that take place in a hospital, childbirth isn't always a medical event. 

It isn't even a procedure. 

It's something that is intensely personal and unique for each woman.  Educating yourself about your options and addressing your questions and concerns beforehand is an important part of the process.

Of course you can and should trust your care provider, but how do you know which ones you can trust when you have no knowledge of childbirth?  Having a baby isn't a one-size-fits-all kind of a deal.  There are lots of different beliefs and theories, and providers differ drastically. 

You can't automatically trust that someone is the right person to see you through the birth of your baby just because they have a few credentials.  There's a lot more to it than that.   

Didn't somebody once say that if you don't know your options you don't have any?

First-time moms, I know it's overwhelming.  But I implore you, take a childbirth education class.  Don't just sign up for the one at the hospital.  Do some research.  Visit websites.  Ask friends or on message boards. 

Find a class that fits your budget, your schedule, and your philosophy.  Take your partner with you.  And, most importantly, keep an open mind.

After all, this is your life we're talking about.

For more on the subject of childbirth, check out my posts at Parenting Squad:
And if you're in St. Louis, a couple of places to start your search for the childbirth education classes that are right for you:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Brief Review: Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother"

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

When I finally got my hands on a copy of Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, I was surprised to find that it was nothing like what I expected.

I may be about as far from being a so-called "tiger mom" as a woman can possibly be, but I found myself oddly inspired by Chua. 

Yes, the woman has impossibly high standards -- for her daughters, herself, and for parents everywhere.  But why is that a bad thing? 

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a book about Chua's personal journey of introspection and self discovery.  But, through her own story, Chua is no doubt challenging the rest of us to step up our own game as well.  She isn't telling us to ban sleepovers or drill violin as if our lives depended on it, but she is asking us to take a good, hard look at our own children, and to ask ourselves if we're really raising them as we should be. 

After finishing the book, I had two thoughts. 

One, that Chua was too strict with her girls, and that I don't think her parenting methods were always the most beneficial. 

Two, that I am too lenient with my own children, and that a lot of my parenting methods (or fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants non-methods, to be more accurate) probably aren't the most beneficial either. 

And I think that may have been the point that Chua was really trying to make (and if not, well, that's the point I took away from the book).  She wasn't saying that Chinese parenting is better than Western parenting, but she was saying that we as parents have an obligation to do our very best to prepare our children to face an uncertain world. 

We may not agree with Chua's ideas about the right way to prepare them, but I think we can all agree that it needs to be done.  Take a close look at your own children, and your own parenting methods.  Where can you stand to improve? 

It might not be easy for any of us to look so closely at our own flaws and shortcomings, but Amy Chua is right. 

Our children deserve it.

Monday, June 6, 2011

8 Reasons Why I Love Summer Vacation (Or Why I Really Should Be A Homeschool Mom)

I'll admit it.  I waste too much time reading parenting blogs.
But technically, since, I get paid to blog about various parenting topics myself, I like to classify the large blocks of time I spend surfing the Internet as "work."

I'm actually researching trends and keeping my finger on the pulse of all the hot topics and daily controversies in the parenting world ...  

It sounds good, at least, right?

Parents Fear Summer Vacation?

In the past few weeks while I've been busy researching, I've come across several blog posts and articles by moms (and a few dads) bemoaning the fact that summer vacation has arrived.   

"What will I do with my kids home every day?" 

"How do I entertain them?" 

"Help! Find me the nearest full-day camp!"

Blogs and magazines are full of tips for how to keep your kids busy and ways to avoid tearing your hair out.  On one hand, I totally get it, and I sympathize.  School provides a welcome break from the tedium that is child-rearing, and summer break signals an almost inevitable explosion in whining, fighting, and that damned sibling rivalry.    

But on the other hand, I must be wired differently.  Because, despite the drawbacks, I am totally psyched about summer vacation.  We're only one week in at our house, and I'm already in absolute heaven. 

I think summer vacation is awesome.  Here's why.

8 Reasons Why I Love Summer Vacation 

1.  No schedules. 

I'm NOT a Type-A sort of person, so the whole get everyone up by 7:50 and out the door 30 minutes later isn't really my cup of tea.  I hate having to wake up my kids (or get out of bed myself) after a late night just because school starts at 8:45 on the dot and the tardy slips are ready and waiting.  During the school year, your whole day seems to be dictated by drop-off and pick-up times, and you never seem to be able to escape the clock.  

During the summer, you can come and go as you like.  If your kids stay up late, they can sleep in late too.  If you end up going to the grocery store at 3:25, you don't have to race through to make sure you're back at school by 3:40.  You don't have to fight to impose the early bedtime that is necessary so they can get up for school, and bedtime doesn't dictate dinner time.

You can shop when you like, and eat when you like, and sleep when you like.

Summer really is a beautiful thing.     

2.  More free time.  

School isn't the only thing that keeps you busy during the school year.  All the sports teams, and dance classes, and scout troops, and school plays, and activities keep you running in circles if youlet them.  Summer may not mean the end of everything, but it almost always means you can find a little more time to relax and do whatever you want. 

3.  I'm in charge.

I may not be Type-A, but I'll admit to being a bit of a control freak, particularly when it comes to who's in charge of my kids (and me).  And apparently I'm not the only one. 

Stephanie O'Dea (author of the popular 365 Crockpot Blog) had this to say in a post she wrote about How To Stop the Summer Brain Drain.   

"I'm greatly looking forward to having the kids home with me when school lets out. No matter how involved I am in the school, during the school year, Adam and I are not in charge. The teacher is. I wish I could say this doesn't bother me, but I'd be lying. The school calendar dominates our day-to-day life, and I'm looking forward to getting a more natural flow to our days."
Yes, yes, and yes. 

4.  Less stress for everybody (especially mom).

No lunches to pack.  No "school" clothes to constantly put through the laundry.  Less pressure.  The minute school ended last week, I could instantly feel a giant weight lifted from my shoulders.  I get to be more relaxed, which means we all have more fun. 

What's that saying?  "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy?" 

5.  Different (and dare I say better) educational opportunities.

During the school year, kids get so busy with actual school that they often don't have a lot of time to pursue other educational opportunities.  Summer means swimming lessons, leisurely days spent reading and visiting the library, and the opportunity to participate in all types of camps and classes, from sports and space camps to academic and acting camps. 

Trips to fun and educational places like the zoo or local farms or science centers are also a lot easier to plan during the summer months.  And as a parent, you also have the option of buying some workbooks or planning activities to help your child with some of their personal weaknesses or particular areas of interest.

If your children love science, do some science experiments.  If they need handwriting practice, hit the school supply store and get to work!  

6.  Good, old-fashioned fun.

Children need to play.  Play is part of how they learn.  But many schools these days limit recess, and kids spend hours on end sitting at their desk.  Yes, you'll hear the "I'm bored" chorus, but some educational experts actually believe that this is a good thing. 

Kim John Payne, author of the book Simplicity Parenting, believes that bored kids are really kids on the verge of discovery.  He suggests that our children have entirely too much stimulation in their lives, and that time and space for simple, creative play is all they truly need.         

7.  A cleaner house.

I know it doesn't make sense, but I swear my house is cleaner in the summer.  Maybe it's because there are fewer papers spilling out of a backpack on a daily basis, or because we spend so much time outside instead of indoors making a mess, or because there's actually more time to clean when school and homework are out of the way.

8.  Time to connect.

A good friend of mine recently complained that, during the school year, she rarely has the opportunity to spend quality time with her daughter.  "It's just maintenance," she stated, and I totally got what she meant. 

We get so busy telling them to do their homework and finish their breakfast and hurry up and get in the car that we don't have time to just be with our kids and enjoy their company.  Summer is a great time to connect with our children on a deeper level, even if that just means chilling on the couch, without all the constraints that a busy school year brings.

Do you love summer vacation?  Or do you prefer having your kids go to school?  Do you find it hard to entertain them and enjoy them when they're home all day every day?