Sunday, September 26, 2010

Return to the Sunday Surf: 9/12-9/25

I was hesitant to start doing a Sunday Surf in the first place because I just kept thinking about how then you have to, like, actually commit to having a post for every Sunday.  But then I remembered that:

a) it's my blog and I can do what I want and
b) very few people are reading anyway.

So chances are pretty good that, most Sundays, you'll find a Sunday Surf here.  And if I have a week like last week, you won't.  I'm pretty sure that, in those instances where I don't manage one, nobody is really going to care anyway . . .

This week, however, I have somehow managed to pull a few things together from the past few weeks on the web.
  • recall of many types of Similac infant fomula due to the possible presence of beetles and larvae has made big news in the parenting world.  In an article at The StirFormula Recall Brings Out the Mean in Breastfeeders, Julie Ryan Evans poses an interesting question about whether it's ever okay to use a moment like this to tell mothers that this is why they "should" have breastfed.  There are a lot of statements in the article that I don't care for -- because it's pretty obvious that all they're trying to "stir" up over there is controversy and web traffic -- but Evans' makes a valid point that catty and unproductive comments are "not really necessary when women are terrified about a product they may have given their baby that's making them sick."  This unfortunate incident does highlight the risks of formua feeding, but it also highlights the need for compassion for parents who have made choices different from our own. 
  • Apparently, Katy Perry is too hot for Sesame Street.  A segment that the popular singer taped for the show will not be broadcast on television due to complaints over her "skimpy" costume.  The outfit doesn't bother me at all, but I can see why some parents complained.  It's a cute clip and a catchy song if you want to check it out.  Though you may be a bad parent if you let your kids watch it . . .

  • A two-part discussion of separation anxiety at Secrets of Baby Behavior struck me as something a lot of new parents might be interested in.  (And if you're looking for some blog controversy on the issue of toddlers and separation, go back a few months and check out this post at the already controversial Peaceful Parenting blog, and then read this post post at Raising My Boychick).  The last two aren't new but they definitely provide food for thought, particularly if you're interested in attachment-style parenting. 
  • A recipe for Banana-Oatmeal-Chocolate Chip Cookies that contain no sugar or butter at Weelicious.  I know the no-butter-or-sugar thing doesn't sound promising, but click on over and go look at the picture.  They look soooo good!  And the blog/website has a ton of great recipes for babies, toddlers, and older kids, plus daily lunch box pictures for those of us who struggle to know what to pack that's both healthy and fun day after day after day.
  • If you live in St. Louis, you don't want to miss Come Play! at COCA on Saturday, October 2 from 9-3.  Find out all about the free event from St. Louis Kids Magazine
  • Mom-101 always makes me smile, but I particularly enjoyed her post this week about the use of stars as a behavior/reward system in kindergarten.  Are you a star-parent or a no-star parent?  Clearly, lines have been drawn in the sand . . . 
  • Elita at Blacktating shared a link to an article called Why African Babies Don't Cry.  I always find it fascinating to see how our assumptions about what to expect when raising children are so heavily influenced by cultural norms.
  • The Business of Being BornA study of 253 California hospitals was released this month, showing that c-section rates are significantly higher at for-profit hospitals than they are at not-for-profit hospitals.  Um, duh.  Hospitals make a lot of money off of birth in general, and c-sections in particular.  That's why Ricki Lake's movie was called The Business of Being Born . . .
So now you've got lots to look into.  Be sure to check back next Sunday, when there may or may not be another Sunday Surf!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Putting The Smart Into St. Louis Smart Mama: How I Named My Blog and Why I Don't Like It

It's true.  I don't like the name of my blog at all.  Primarily because I tend to think that people who refer to themselves as "smart" are smug and, often, quite pretentious.

And that's not me.

But when you set up an account with Blogger, you have to have a name right away so that you can set up your web address.  And I for the life of me couldn't come up with one that I liked.

There are tons of cute and clever and witty blog titles out there.  I was convinced that if I thought hard enough and long enough then I could certainly come up with one too -- something short and catchy that would capture my essence and epitomize the funny and poignant things I hoped to write about.

As it turns out, I couldn't think of anything clever.  And I also haven't done any of the funny, poignant, earth-shatteringly good writing that I was hoping to do.

Which is kinda the very reason why my blog has the title that it does.

Because I used to be smart.  Back in the day, I did really well in school.  As in, like, I was the girl who was always reading and studying and who graduated from high school as the salutatorian with one of those ridiculously inflated GPA's. 

4.608 cumulative to be exact.  There was even one year when I had a 5.0.  Now, you can argue that that's only one kind of smart, and I'll be the first to agree that the system of class rank is a bad way to judge aptitude, and that my #2 ranking in no way means that I was really any smarter than the student who graduated at #3 or at #10 or at #500 for that matter.

But I do think that it's proof that I'm far from being an idiot.  I had so much AP credit from high school that I was able to graduate from a really good college in three years, instead of the typical four. 

I did very well in school because I was good at reading difficult texts and analyzing nuances and writing about deep and complicated issues in a clear and articulate way.  I once had a professor tell me that mine was "the best undergraduate paper he had ever read." 

I'm not writing this because I think you care.  I'm writing this to remind myself.

Because, now, I'm a stay-at-home mom.  It's been almost ten years since I saw the inside of a classroom, or wrote something that someone was going to read and grade.  And, let me tell you, I feel like I've been majorly "dumbed down."  Like my brain doesn't function the way it used to, and like I can neither comprehend nor articulate as I once could. 

People I went to school with are now getting PhD's, and I can barely think clearly enough to decide whether to serve chicken or tacos for dinner.

Why has this happened?  I don't know.  There's an interesting post over at Fertile Feminism that tackles the issue of "baby brain," and whether the phenomenon of mothers losing intellectual capacity actually exists.

"Is the psychology of motherhood subconsciously learned and culturally-ingrained or is it simply a case of biological design, wherein mothers are destined to expend more brain power on their offspring than on themselves or the world around them?"

I don't think my kids have made me "stupid," but I do think that they somehow manage to sap all of my energy.  It's hard to think clearly or do anything intellectual in nature when two small and very dependent people are always right beside you and always in need of something

Maybe other women have figured it out, and can combine childrearing and intellectual work. 

I clearly haven't.     

The fact remains that I just don't feel very smart anymore.  Right before I started blogging, my husband bought me a book called Buddhism: Plain and Simple.  The book is fascinating (as is Buddhism itself), but I found myself reading and re-reading passages three and four times trying to grasp the concepts that were being discussed.  I felt like I was back in Calculus class.  I felt like I shouldn't have to be thinking quite so hard in order to understand what the author was talking about. 

"Back in the day," I thought to myself, "I would have been smart enough to only have to read this once.  I used to be smarter than this."

I used to be smarter than this.

I used to be smarter than this.

The thought just wouldn't get out of my head.

And then I decided to start blogging.

St. Louis Smart Mama is the title I decided to use because it defines who I want to be -- and because I like the alliteration and couldn't think of anything better

I'm from St. Louis.  I'm a mom.  And I want to be smart, and have smart conversations about topics that really matter. 
So this blog is just me, trying to remind myself of how smart I used to be. 

And trying to convince myself that I can be that smart again.

Photo credit: Goodlad2       

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cleaning Out The Closets: 4 Great St. Louis Children's Resale Shops

With an economic crisis still looming over our heads, many families are living on a tight budget.  Often, this means shopping for back-to-school clothes at resale and consignment shops instead of buying everything new from the brand name stores at the mall.  These stores usually offer great deals on the same name brand items, and many of the clothes look practically new.

But resale shops are important for more than just a way to save some money on your purchases:  they are also a great way to actually put cash in your pocket.

By simply cleaning out your closets, you can simultaneously declutter your life and make a little extra money.  And here in St. Louis, we are lucky to have some great resale shops where we can do this!

  1. Kangaroo Kids.  Kangaroo Kids is dear to my heart because it doubles as both a resale shop and a maternity and breastfeeding support center.  At the locally-owned store, which is conveniently located on Manchester Road in Glendale, you can take in both children's and maternity clothes, and you will be paid either cash or store credit (your choice) for the items they choose to purchase.  No appointment necessary!
  2. Purple Cow Kids Resale.  I've never been to this store on Gravois Road in South County, but the name alone makes me want to go.  Like Kangaroo Kids, you get paid cash at Purple Cow for the items they choose to purchase.  It is also locally owned and operated by the daughter of the woman behind the Women's Closet Exchange, which is the #1 women's consignment shop in the country.  So I'm guessing these women know their stuff . . . 
  3. Kids Again.  If you live in Florissant, you might like to visit Kids Again.  It's a small space, but it's packed with great deals.  They'll go through your stuff while you wait and even have a play area where your kids are sure to be entertained while you browse.
  4. Once Upon A Child.  With several stores throughout the St. Louis area (and around the country), Once Upon A Child is a big name in children's resale.  All local stores are independently owned and operated, but they are also franchises within the larger system.  Which can be both good and bad.  I was frustrated a few years ago when I took some clothes from baby Gap (which were in excellent condition, and not out of style or season) into the Ballwin location and they didn't purchase them because they were more than two seasons old.  But they did take plenty of other stuff and I think I made about $60 bucks, so I can't complain.
With these great resale options, it should be easy to get that summer stuff moved out of your closets in time to make room for winter coats and sweaters.  And if you end up with items that none of the resale shops want to buy, you can always try to sell them yourself through craigslist or by having a garage sale.  Or consider donating the items to Goodwill or a local shelter.  Even if you don't get the cash, you'll still enjoy all that emtpty space in your closets!  

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Surf 9/6-9/11

Once again, it's been a busy week on the web.  Here are some of the highlights that I think are worth checking out:
  • In an article for The Huffington Post, Assistant Professor of medical anthropology and reproductive health Melissa Cheyney questions why doctors and midwives can't seem to work together in order to improve birth outcomes for American women.  Did you know that the United States has one of the highest infant mortality rates of any developed country?  Read Cheyney's article Why Home Births Are Worth Considering in order to find out more. 
  • Visit a peek inside the fishbowl to get the recipe for what appear to be the most famous granola bars on the web.  I'll be adding a healthy dose of semi-sweet chocolate chips to mine - because in our house we firmly believe that everything is better with chocolate!
  • The New York Times has officially announced that it will stop printing it's paper edition "someday."  As someone who absolutely hates her digital subscriptions and would much rather curl up in a cozy chair with a real magazine or newspaper and not a laptop, I'm disappointed.  Though I suppose it would be worse if I actually read The New York Times . . . 
  • Jake at Sustainable Mothering alerted me to an interesting post over at the blog Owning Pink entitled Want A Raise? Wash Your Vagina.  I'm not going to comment on this one -- I'll let you check it out for yourself and form your own opinions . . .    
Surf away - I'm off to watch a football game!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dining Out With Kids: Do Children Belong In Fancy Restaurants?


For a lot of parents, the prospect of an evening spent dining out in a fine restaurant prompts an automatic call to the babysitter.  Children get chicken nuggets or spaghettio's while mom and dad enjoy a delicious and peaceful meal.  It's a win-win situation.

Or is it?

There seems to be an unspoken rule in our culture that there are restaurants where "children don't belong." 

You know, the kind with fine china and white tablecloths and servers who seem to have nothing better to do than stand there and watch you eat and anticipate your every move -- I've been to Tony's exactly once, and I don't care how good their food is, if fine dining means ten pairs of eyes watching me spill spaghetti down my front, then I don't need it anyway.  I looooove good food, but I hate snobbish pretentiousness. 

But I'm digressing . . .

For some reason, we expect to see children in only a certain "type" of restaurant -- the type with a drive-thru window or a clown with balloons or a Kid's Eat Free promotion.  Basically, any restaurant with a kid's menu comprised of the obligatory chicken fingers, Kraft macaroni and cheese, or hot dog and french fries.

Oh, and toasted ravioli if you live here in St. Louis.

But what are we teaching our children about food if we never let them experience what "real" food tastes like?  And more importantly, what are we teaching them about their place in the world? 

That they count less just because they're young?  That they aren't big enough or important enough to deserve a place at a real table or to eat food that won't clog their arteries and contribute to scores of health problems in the future?

Or is it that we as adults are too busy or too lazy to take the time to teach them the things they need to know and the manners they need to have in order to dine out successfully?

Because, yes, I know that there are people who don't want children in nice restaurants.  Check out this YouTube clip about a restaurant owner who put up a No Screaming Children sign.  Be sure to listen to the discussion at the end, because it's a complicated issue and you'll hear some interesting opinions.

Now, I know that there are plenty of people who are annoyed by children in general.  I remember that old cliche about how children should be seen and not heard.  But children have to learn somehow.  And they aren't going to learn manners and proper social graces unless we teach them to them and then take them -- gasp, horror -- out in public to places where they can practice these manners.

I actually agree that screaming children and bad behavior don't belong in a nice restaurant (or in any restaurant for that matter - just because you're at McDonald's is no reason to let your kids run wild). 

But I also know that most parents are doing their best, and sometimes it just happens.  Sometimes, it's your child who starts screaming in the restaurant, and you're the one getting the stares and the can't-miss vibes that "that child shouldn't even be in here in the first place." 

Which is kind of ironic because if you're anything like me you were probably already thinking "Oh my God, I shouldn't have brought him in here in the first place."

"What really needs to be recognized about children," writes Renee at Womanist Musings in her post My Child Takes Up Space, "is that they don't have the capacity to act in the same way that adults do.  This does not make them lesser beings and we need to find a way to accommodate them, even when they make drinking a latte a less than comfortable thing."  She goes on to write:

"Quite frankly it is not your business and I don't care how much you spent on a meal at a restaurant.  My children are not going to grow up with the idea that going to McDonald's is eating out because you think that their presence detracts from the ambiance."

Jenny at The Nourished Kitchen also has a great post on this issue entitled Raising Real Food Kids:  10 Tips For Dining Out With Your Child in which she offers practical solutions for the real-life dilemmas that you may encounter when you try to take your little ones to nice restaurants.

Her suggestions include things like arriving early before the restaurant is too busy, bring small, quiet toys, sitting outside or near an exit in case you need to make a quick getaway, and discussing restaurant etiquette before leaving home.

Taking children to eat in nice restaurants requires effort and planning.  It requires that we as parents have an idea of what type of food will be on the menu and are reasonably certain that we will be able to find something our children will enjoy.  It requires that we know how long they will be able to sit still.  It requires that we know not to take them into a quiet place when it's late at night and they are both tired and hungry.  It requires patience. 

Like most other acts of parenting, it requires work.

And I totally get that sometimes it's work that we're too tired to do. 

Sometimes, it's harder with one child than another.  When my daughter was 2, we took her to restaurants like The Drunken Fish (excellent St. Louis sushi, by the way) quite often, and she was always well-behaved.  Now that my son is 2, I can't imagine taking him into a restaurant like that.  It would be way too much stress for all involved, because he just doesn't have the capability to sit still and talk quietly that my daughter had at that age. 

But, you can count on it that as soon as he's a little older and a little more mature, he'll be going with us.

Because while I believe that screaming children don't belong in restaurants, and that a good family restaurant has its place, and that a babysitter and a child-free meal are fine once in a while -- or hell, every Saturday night if you can swing it -- I also believe that we should introduce our children to good food and good restaurants as soon as we feel they are ready.

I believe that our children deserve better than McDonalds, and that if we really want to, we can offer them so much more.


Do you take your children to nice restaurants?  What are your favorite St. Louis restaurants for eating with your kids?  Are they all casual, or do you frequent some fancy places?  And what do you do when they can't behave? 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Can Children Teach Themselves?

I'm always fascinated by new and seemingly radical ideas about education.  This may explain why I was so intrigued when I came across this talk from education scientist Sugata Mitra.

Mitra's premise:  that children, if motivated by their own curiosity, can teach both themselves and others.

Watch his talk below.  What can we learn from his ideas and techniques to improve the educational system here in the United States? 

Would our children learn more if we offered guided instruction less?   

If you enjoyed the ideas in this video, or are interested in reading more from someone who questions the goals and values inherent within the American public school system, you might also like John Taylor Gatto's book Dumbing Us Down:  The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

My First Sunday Surf: Real Food, Religion, Babble, and A Guest Post

It's been a busy week, complete with a toddler smashing his face in at Super Wal-Mart, a sister headed back to college, and, finally, today, the big move into our new home.

I had already forgotten how much work it is to unpack all your stuff and turn an empty house into a place that feels like home.

So I decided to take a break from deep thinking and just post some stuff that's already been posted.  Call me a slacker, I guess . . .

One of my favorite posts of the week came from Jenny at The Nourished Kitchen.  I've recently discovered Jenny's popular blog where she writes about real food and shares wholesome, traditional recipes, and her food philosophy intrigues me.  Probably because she believes that eating things like meat and butter, which I could never do without, can be part of a healthy diet. 

I don't know what my own food philosophy is right now, but Jenny's post 10 Tips For Real Food Newbies has me thinking that real food may be the way to go.

The story about the mother who revived her premature baby through physical touch after he had been declared dead has also made the rounds in the news this week, and Amy at Crunchy Domestic Goddess has a great post explaining both the story and the meaning and benefits of the term "kangaroo care."

I also really enjoyed the post Religion, The Things That Define Us, and Goodness over at Breastfeeding Moms Unite.  It's always impressive to me when bloggers share their personal thoughts and feelings because it automatically seems to make them more vulnerable to criticism and unsubscribing fans. 

Be sure to read the comments, too -- I was amazed by the intensity of the religious conviction held by so many of the people who responded, and also found the back-and-forth discussion of religious issues to be quite fascinating.

PhD in Parenting has a disappointing post at the moment -- not that I'm disappointed by the post itself, but I am disappointed that it had to be written.  In Similac and Babble Team Up To Dupe Breastfeeding Moms, Annie writes about the new Similac Breastfeeding Guide that is prominently displayed on the popuar parenting website. 

I realize that not all moms breastfeed, but don't those who do deserve to find reliable and accurate resources on any parenting website or in any parenting magazine that wants to be considered credible?  Formula companies aren't reliable breastfeeding resources.  They're just not.       

And if you're interested in birth stuff or have ever considered having a baby at home, check out my guest post over at Birth Activist on the subject of Husbands and Home Birth.  I talk about my own personal experience convicing my husband that home birth was a good choice for us, and offer my own personal theories -- which of course hold absolutely no scientific validity --  about why birth at home (and often birth in general) can be so terrifying for the men in our lives. 

Happy surfing!!!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Getting Sappy: Reflections of Motherhood Video From

Okay, maybe the following video is a little sappy, but I still like it and think it's worth sharing.  Since I find that I tend to get a little snarky on my here sometimes, it can't hurt to have something a little more positive and uplifting once in a while . . . asked moms what they would tell they're pre-baby selves if they could go back in time. 

These are their answers.

My personal favorite:

Google doesn't have children.

Which ones were your favorites?  What would you tell your pre-baby self if you had the opportunity?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

How Super Wal-Mart Turned Me Into One Of THOSE Mothers!!!

It was an ugly scene.

Picture it. 

A young mother pushes her cart through Super Wal-Mart, struggling through the aisles, trying to finish her shopping with two tired, hungry, and rambunctious kids in tow.  A girl of about six dances alongside of her  -- narrowly missing a collision with a display of peaches -- and a boy of about two has climbed onto the end of the cart -- you know, the place where children are not supposed to ride but can't seem to resist.

The distressed mother is heading back to the produce section for that one final item, the broccoli that she forgot on her first trip down that aisle, when it happens.

The toddler turns to step off of the cart, trips, and SPLAT!!! is suddenly layed out face-first on the hard floor.  Screams of anguish ensue, annoyed shoppers turn to stare, and for a split second, the woman is convinced that the kid has probably broken every bone in his face. 

And, of course everyone is looking at her wondering "Why can't this woman control her kids?"

The horror of this story?

That it was me.

That I've become one of those mothers.

One of those mothers who does not always seem to have it all under control.  One of those mothers who doesn't always keep her children perfectly in-check.  One of those mothers who looks like she doesn't have a clue what she's doing.  One of those mothers who would probably bribe her children with candy from the checkout line if only she could fiish her shopping in peace.  One of those mothers who clearly doesn't care what she looks like as long as she can get throught this day in one piece.

One of those mothers who I used to swear I would never be.

As a new mom to a precious litte girl, I had high ideals and high standards.  And with one child, I was usually able to live up to them.  My rule at the grocery store was simple:  you don't get out of the cart.  It was the rule, and I meant it, and she knew I meant it. 

I also always came prepared;  I brought snacks and games and had all kinds of tricks up my sleeves for dealing with toddlers in the grocery store.  The combination of her fairly cooperative personality and my new mom energy and motivation to "get everything right" made for many mostly pleasant shopping experiences.

And then I had baby number two.

And he is different.  And I am different.  And when you put us together in a massively overwhelming place like Super Wal-Mart, we're like an atom bomb just waiting to explode.

Super Wal-Mart, by the way, didn't exist in St. Louis when my daughter was little.  Back then, in the good old days, I shopped at the regular-sized grocery stores, and thought I was in heaven when the miniature-sized Trader Joes moved into town.  I'm convinced that the new trend in "superstores" is a direct attempt by our society to literally send moms with small children over the edge . . .   

So, like I said baby #2 is different.  He's a boy -- which I know is just a social construct that I shouldn't use to describe him -- but his gender is thus far the only tangible way I can find to explain why he is so different from his sister.  He runs more, he jumps more, he aways seems like he's ready to physically explode.  He doesn't care what my rules are or how seriously I mean them.  He would gleefully run away from me in a store without ever looking back, and he's not averse to climbing out my cart and into the meat case the moment I'm not looking.    

And I'm different too.  I may only be a few years older, and only a few years more experienced as a mom, but I've already lost sight of that bright-eyed, new mom I used to be.  I don't have the energy to always come prepared with snacks.  I don't care if other shoppers look at me with judgement or question my methods with my kids.  I manage to get the groceries I need and keep everybody alive.  Good behavior entirely optional.

I have more simple goals these days.

Essentially, I've grown up a little bit.  I've become one of those mothers who knows that bad days happen to good mothers.  One of those mothers who knows that it doesn't matter what other people think about me and my kids and my choices.  One of those mothers who is doing her best but still always falling short of her ideals.

And, most importantly, one of those mothers who knows that falling short is sometimes okay.


Do you have any grocery store horror stories?  What are your best tips and tricks for shopping with kids?  Have you found that your mothering style and mentality has changed as your kids have gotten older and you've become more experienced?