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Privacy and Parenting, or “How Not to Permanently Damage Your Relationship With Your Child”Hey, parents… I have some great tips on how to alienate your children, make them really paranoid,…View Post

Privacy and Parenting, or “How Not to Permanently Damage Your Relationship With Your Child”

Hey, parents… I have some great tips on how to alienate your children, make them really paranoid,…

View Post

How not to crush your kid’s spirit.

There is little as glorious and beautiful as watching children be themselves - fully and with abandon.  Dancing with their whole soul, expressing honest astonishment, singing with their whole range, telling fantastic stories, dressing themselves in ensembles you never thought should exist, making magical art, laughing themselves silly, learning with open wonder, and smiling with their entire body.  You will notice that the child who engages in these activities is typically brighter, more engaging, and generally happier than the child who hides, is always passive, rarely laughs, and appears to be embarrassed or ashamed to be living.  

How do you help the little ones in your life to be open to the world like this?  I’m not totally sure.  I do have some ideas about to create the opposite kind of child - Crushing their tiny spirits while they are young is likely to produce the withdrawn, scared kind that seem to be terrified of life.  So I’ll just talk about *not* doing those things that are likely to cause a stunted soul.

Start simple - Don’t abuse your child.  Physically, emotionally, or verbally.  Don’t smack them across the face in an angry impulse.  Don’t hit them on the arm, or the back of the head because they did something you don’t like.  Do the research on spanking and decide for yourself if it is worth it, or if there is an alternative punishment method that will work without inflicting pain on someone one quarter of your size.

Don’t humiliate them, either.  No name calling, belittling, insulting, scoffing, eye rolling, laughing at them or constantly criticizing.  It sounds horrible just to write these things… you might think “Who would do that to their child?”  But just look around you while in public and you’ll see it, constantly, in stores, restaurants, and playgrounds.

These aggressive actions really are easy to avoid, and frighteningly prevalent among parents.  The worst part?  If you look up the “symptoms” of an angry, controlling, physically violent parent, you will find “domestic violence” in every case.  If these parents did the same actions to their spouse, they would go to jail.  Why is it ok to treat their children like this?  Before acting in anger, take two steps back, catch your breath, and think about what you’re about to do or say.  Do your best not to lose control - it is frightening to young people, and they will start to fear you rather quickly… not what we’re looking for in a relationship built to harvest an open, creative, positive being.

Allow your children to form their own opinions.  Encourage it, even.  ”Which do you like better?  This shirt or this one?  How come?”  ”What was your favorite part of the movie?”  Agree when you want to, and disagree, politely and calmly, when you don’t.  Show them that it’s ok to have different likes than you and their friends.

Give your child some control over their lives.  Let them choose their clothes when you can, pick their bedtime story and decide what ingredients will go on their pizza.  Attempting to control every detail of your kid’s day will drive you both insane, and will cause them to give up and just let others decide everything for them.  (This is a great recipe for creating a person who will be living in an abusive relationship in the future, by the way.)

Try your best not to hover over your kids.  Let them do their thing in a safe, or mostly safe, area.  Give them space and let them decide how to use it.

Let your kids talk to strangers.  Please do the research on “stranger danger.”  Teaching them to fear everyone is pretty terrible for their psyche.

Never squish the creativity out of your child.  If they want to paint the cat blue, then let them.  What will it hurt?  Of course he or she knows that (most) cats aren’t blue, but hey, this one will be, because it’s fun.  Let them sing funny words to a song - that’s not easy, and it’s great practice for speaking and thinking on the spot.  What’s the point in stopping them?  They already know “that’s not how it goes.”  Let them make up crazy stories about completely impossible things, and tell them that they are doing a great job of using their imagination.  They could be the next JK Rowling, after all.

And going back to “don’t abuse your children,” try your best not to be overly critical of your kids’ efforts in the arts.  Constant negativity and degradation will breed a hesitant and emotionally frightened child… who will likely grow to be the same kind of adult.  Applaud their accomplishments, in all area, no matter how minor.  They need to be told that they are doing a good job.

Respect your kids.  As much as you can, treat them like a person.  Guide them instead of forcing them.  Correct them when you need to, but make up for negatives with at least as many positives. Give them a voice.  Let them use it.  Don’t interrupt them, talk over them, or tell them to shut up.  Refuse the idea of “children should be seen and not heard.”  That is absolute rubbish, and in your heart, you know it.

Keep your rules simple… Rules should be made for these two reasons: To keep everyone safe and happy.  Tell your child that every time you have to teach them a rule, and then explain how this rule keeps every one safe and/or happy.  It will help them remember it, and you can spend less time yelling at them, spanking them, or putting them in time out.

Take time to just chill with your kids.  Reading books, coloring, dancing and singing, exploring the outdoors, playing games (even simple word games), talking about anything, goofing off, snuggling on the couch, and telling corny jokes to one another are great ways to touch base and make them feel like a human being.

Finally, do everything you can think of to empower your children.  Remind them of how much they can accomplish, learn and try.  Hug them when you can.  Listen to their woes, and don’t discount them.  Remember how huge those “little” disasters felt when you were young?  Sit close to them, let them cry, and then talk it out.  Offer to help if appropriate, and be their best ally.

Children raised with positivity are our thinkers, our leaders, and our creators… and they are the ones who use their powers for good.  You can create that kind of person with careful parenting.  Or you can inadvertently crush a young soul with neglect or hostility.  Which would you prefer to be remembered by?

Crying it Out. Really??

I have a real issue with people who have convinced themselves that the best way to get their young babies to sleep is to let them cry until they pass out.

Here are some actual quotes from actual parents who actually believe that it’s ok to do this to an infant:

" let her cry it out. Crying is good for the lungs and the more you do it, the less she’ll cry and figure out she’s not going to win the battle."

"I know it’s hard on you letting her cry, but it;s the best way. All of mine learned to self soothe by "crying it out."  The key is to never, ever pick her up"

"It gets harder when they understand that you’re just a cry away. "

"Took several (long) nights but it’s worth it once they understand you’re not coming back in there as soon as they start crying."

Please note that these comments were all to the mother of a 9 month old baby (who was also born prematurely).  One that can not walk yet, or talk, or change her own pants if she’s wet, or get a snack if she’s hungry.  An infant whose brain is still developing those ever-important pathways for loving, dependency, and healthy attachment.  A tiny child who is still learning her place in her family and her world.  (Thank goodness, the post she made that sparked these comments began with “Any suggestions to get Claire to sleep in her crib all night (other than just letting her cry).”  )

I’m going to give this to you from a slightly different approach.  How would you feel if you were in the position of an individual left to “cry it out?”

If you are hurting - physically or emotionally, and you started to cry, how would you feel if your partner, family member, or friend just left the room and ignored you?  What if you are tossing and turning, frustrated because you can’t sleep, and the people that you loved the most - the ones that you depend on for happiness, closed the door and left you alone when you needed comfort?

What if you were hungry or thirsty and unable to feed yourself?  What if you were too hot, or too cold, and didn’t have the ability to change the temperature or put on more blankets?  How about if you banged on the door as hard as possible, screamed out for someone to come, choked on your own tears, and still, no one came to help you?

As an adult, this would be terrifying.  You would feel lonely, betrayed, and scared.  Sleep would only come after pure exhaustion and giving up hope that someone will come.  Two, three, four, and even more nights of this?  You would psychologically damaged.  Ask any psychologist. 

Now, imagine being an infant, completely dependent on adults to care for you.  Remember that a baby’s brain is still growing, still learning how to be a person and figuring out how this whole love and comfort thing works.  Being left to cry alone is not just terrifying for a baby; it’s a nightmare, and one that will have lasting psychological effects.  You are essentially teaching this infant that her needs will only be met some of the time - on the caregiver’s terms.  This child is more likely to be detached, aggressive, overly clingy, shy, and victimized as she grows up.  This is not something I’m just saying for effect… this has been studied.

I know that babies disrupt sleep.  I know that sleep is important.  I know that some babies have awful sleep patterns that make you want to defenestrate yourself.

Our story, in a nutshell:

Carmen was a horrible sleeper as an infant.  45 minutes at a time usually, and 2 hours straight, if we were lucky.  This lasted for about a year.  So what did we do?  We worked with it.

She either slept next to me in bed, or in her co-sleeper with my husband between us.  When she stirred, she would latch on to me to nurse and fall right back asleep if she were next to me.  I would barely awaken, and then doze right off with happy breastfeeding hormones coursing through me.  If she were in her co-sleeper, Tyme would reach over and put a hand on her to soothe her.  If that wasn’t enough, he would pick her up and put her next to me, and she would latch on.  Neither of us even had to leave the bed.

Some nights were worse… teething, growth spurts, who knows?  But she would be wide awake and we would be, too.  These nights, Tyme and I took turns caring for her in three or four hour shifts.  (Tyme usually spent at least an hour of his shift carrying her back and forth across the living room while he sang sea shanties.)  Having three or four hours of uninterrupted sleep was enough that we could function the next day.  We would also nap when we could to make up for lost sleep.  Sure, it sucked, but we survived it, and we knew when we went to make a baby that it wasn’t going to be easy or fun 100% of the time.  It also doesn’t last forever… 

She was moved to her own room when she was about 15 months old.  She was ready, and so were we.  We still kept a close ear out for her, and I would still have to get up and nurse her sometimes in the middle of the night.  She’s four now and sleeps for about 12 hours a day.  If we get less than 8, it’s our own fault.

So, you’re tired.  You’re at your wits’ end.  Please ask for help, whether from your partner, your friend, or your family member.  Find time to nap in the day if they can’t help you at night.  Try co-sleeping (no, it doesn’t “spoil” the baby - do the research).  But please don’t leave your baby to cry.  It is inhumane, plain and simple.

The best comment on my friend’s post:  ”Pick her up!!!! Crying out is old school….love on her and soothe her with mommies voice and heart beat! My best friend lost her 3 month old and lives with regret of never picking up her baby….life is too short….you never know….love on her, she is only a baby!!!!”

I know that I’m going to get backlash for this, especially from defensive parents who used crying it out on their own kids.  I stand by my beliefs, and I offer my daughters and myself as proof that you will live through it and your children will be better for it.

More article and resources on Crying it Out and its affect on babies:

The potential dangers of leaving your baby to cry: http://drbenkim.com/articles-attachment-parenting.html

Cry it out (CIO): 10 reasons why it is not for us:  http://www.phdinparenting.com/2008/07/05/no-cry-it-out/#.Tt93ZrIk6dA

Science Says: Excessive Crying Could be Harmful:  http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/fussy-baby/science-says-excessive-crying-could-be-harmful

Cry it out?  No!  The case for not using cry it out with your children:  http://www.storknet.com/cubbies/attachmentparenting/cio.htm

Ten Reasons to Respond to a Crying Child:  http://www.naturalchild.org/jan_hunt/babycries.html

The power of presents.

The holidays are coming.  Sounds ominous, doesn’t it?  To me, it means good and bad stuff - fire in the fireplace, extra lights that we wish we could leave up all year, and it’s time to fill and use the hot tub.  It also means family stress and melancholy, being guilted and yanked into too many gatherings than you can afford the gas or emotional bandwidth for, and some of the worst music ever written being played incessantly in every store you visit.  Finally, it means presents.  UGH… presents.

I hate presents.  I always have.  I know it sounds weird.  Perhaps it’s a personality flaw, or a genetic quirk - I’m missing the gene that makes me love getting random gifts that I didn’t ask for.  When I get something I love, I feel a sense of guilt and a difficulty expressing my appreciation.  When I get something I don’t care about, or worse, that I really don’t like, I loathe having to muster the fake enthusiasm that we’re expected to show.

We don’t really give our kids presents, and we especially don’t give them massive amounts of gifts for the major holidays and birthdays. We also ask that our family members cut back on the mounds of stuff that they want to give our kids for special occasions (this is NOT an easy task!)  There are several reasons for this.

(We all know that the best part of a gift is the box it came in, anyway…)

For one thing, I don’t want my kids to become those brats that *expect* people to give them lots of stuff the one time a year that we see them.  One scene that makes me feel queasy is watching a young person tear into a gift wrapped box, glance at the thing inside, and then toss it aside for the next box.  If the people who gave the presents are lucky, the kid won’t say “Is that it?” when the pile of stuff to open is gone.

I ask, instead, that my family members take the money that they had apparently allocated for buying stuff and donate it to a charity.  Then we can teach our kids about the charity and what they do… this is killing three birds with one stone; helping someone or something that needs help monetarily, an education in giving and a sense of pride for the kids, and less stuff that we didn’t actually want in our house.

Tyme and I usually get the kids two gifts for holidays and birthdays - something like token gifts.  They get one toy and one book.  And you know what?  They really love it, and they don’t complain about not being showered with gifts… and they certainly never feel as if they are being deprived.  They can focus on the new toy and book and get the most out of them, instead of having six new toys and being somewhat overwhelmed with choice and newness.  The appreciation for the two gifts is higher, too, and the ”expectation” (and consequent disappointment) is lessened.  

(We keep birthday celebrations pretty low-key, too.  Obviously, the birthday girl didn’t suffer one bit.)

If people absolutely want to get the kids something, we ask for clothing or gift certificates.  These are things that I know that we can use.  Amazingly, my four year old shows appreciation for gifted clothing, too; a rare sight in a kid her age, and a sign to me that “we’re doing it right.”  Really, both of my kids take the time to unwrap a present, check out what it is, open the box, and marvel at the thing (even if it’s just socks) before moving on to the next box.  If we gave them 20 gifts at a time, this would stop happening.

I hate waste nearly as much as I hate to see a greedy kid.  If we get a crap tonne of battery operated, cheaply made plastic toys at Christmas, they would last two weeks before being broken or forgotten.  Hey… those kids in China worked hard to make those things!  I opt for toys that are somewhat minimalist in design, construction, and materials.  You know, like a wooden block.  Frankly, my kids love playing with rocks, sticks, and a pail, just like most kids.  Why spend the money and natural resources to get all fancy?  And frankly, they will learn more important skills with those blocks or books than they would with a Bratz doll.  

So are my kids deprived?  Hell no.  They get random stuff all year.  If we see something awesome that we would like them to have, we get it right then and surprise them with it as a treat for good behavior or deeds.  They especially love books and stuffed animals.  And when it’s time to say goodbye to their stuff, I have them help me choose what is going to go to Goodwill or what they want to donate to their school.

(One of Carmen’s favorite gifts for her birthday last year was one that Nature delivered)

And when they say “thank you” for a gift, I don’t have to make them do it.  I also don’t force them to appear happy over something that they don’t care about (which I can only remember one instance of).

This year, why don’t you try cutting back and toning down on the presents?  If something falls on your lap that would be *just perfect* for Uncle Bob, then go for it.  Or, if you’re making that knitted hat because you know your Dad will love it, then that’s awesome!  But if you’re struggling to figure out what would be the least offensive gift for your mother in law, perhaps she would be happy to know that you gave to her favorite charity in her name.  After all, guys, this isn’t a competition, nor should it be a financial or emotional burden.  How about getting back to the root of gifting?  And, most importantly, teach your kids about it.

This is not easy to write.

I went through a period a few months ago where I was filled with guilt and shame.  Why?  I actually let these words pass through my head:

"I wish I didn’t have kids."

I was in Seattle when the thought first hit me.  I was at SNAG, a conference for goldsmiths, and I was blown away by what people who graduated at the same time than me were accomplishing.  Not to mention what people ten years older than me, who had gone to college at the “appropriate” time in their lives.  These people basically had 18 of years of practicing skills, traveling, hanging with the masters, and inspiration under their belt, while I still felt like a fledgling.

My story?  I went to school seven years after my peers.  I was a 25 year old in a room full of 18 year olds.  That part wasn’t so bad - it actually had it’s perks.   I had also JUST gotten married two months before starting school, and we started trying to have kids right away, because we knew that I would have fertility issues.  As it turns out, yes, I did… and it took 3 and a half years of constantly trying (no jokes, please), fertility treatments, and, finally, artificial insemination before I was able to conceive.  I was finally pregnant, but in the middle of my Junior year.  

Carmen was born during my Senior year, so I took a quarter off, then jumped back in right as she turned 3 months old.   This was not easy.  I had a baby who was exclusively nursing and three studio classes… one of which was my senior project.  Honestly?  I don’t remember any details from those ten weeks… just snippets of scenes, like being up all night with her at my chest, pumping milk in the storage closet at school between classes, and many, many hours of working at home to finish my projects.  I know I cried a lot, and slept very little.

When that was over, I felt like the world stopped, and I kind of liked it.  I finally had the time to smell my baby, sleep, and dream of the future and what I would be doing with my shiny new degree.

Well, the answer to that came in the next few months; we moved to Athens, started a farm, and I did a lot of henna.  Meanwhile, my studio stayed in disarray and empty of sweatshop workers.  Then, I got pregnant again.  And had another baby.  Still no consistent studio time.

It wasn’t until this past January, when we had a fantastic housemate (you know who you ar[i]e) who offered to watch both little ones while I got a little something done that things really took off.  And like WOW did they!  Arie was a fantastic and reliable nanny… the kids loved her like part of the family (so did we) and I felt comfortable enough that I could spend all day in the studio, doing my thing.  I had to basically relearn what had been coming so naturally to me before, and it was frustrating at times, but I started to churn out nearly a piece a day.  This was using just old scraps of silver and stones I had collected.  

Soon, commissions started to come in, I was getting invited to show my art at cons and shows, and there were stores that were asking to carry my lines.  I didn’t even have lines yet.  I was a bit overwhelmed, but in a good way.  It felt *great* to be creating again, and to be paid for it, and be known by people who hadn’t met me.  

So, in Seattle, about 5 months after my renaissance, I had this terrible epiphany.  Where would my artistic life be if I hadn’t had kids?  What could I have accomplished?  How many people would know my name… how many galleries could I be in… how many awards could I have won?  How many famous people could I have met, or, better yet, studied under?  Did having my kids actually slow me down, stunt my growth, or kill the career I could have had?

These thoughts followed me back to Georgia, along with the guilt of having them.  It took me weeks to shake the feeling.  I was even afraid to tell my husband that I had felt that way at all.  I felt like a horrible parent; like I didn’t deserve my amazing two daughters.

I’m working on a balance now, and feeling much more content about my past decisions.  My life wouldn’t be nearly as full of love and inspiration if I hadn’t met my children.  I will take the work as it comes and enjoy the time I have in my studio - I will learn what I can when I can, and not bemoan the time I may have “lost.”  And, most importantly, I will instill the love of creating into my own children, giving them a perfect head start.

Dear Carmen and Carolyn…

Your father and I were talking tonight about our role models for parenting.  It seems like we both had a mixed bag while thinking back on our own experiences growing up… In some cases, it was easier to list anti-role models and things we would have wished we had from our own parents, rather than ideals.  However, as we sat there, we ended up creating a list of quite a few of our hopes for ourselves as parents to you two. 

Carmen and Carolyn, as parents, we promise to try our damnedest to…

-Nurture your creativity.

-Acknowledge your achievements and positive points at least twice as often as we acknowledge your faults, mistakes and shortcomings.

-Give you a great foundation for learning.  We will stockpile books and resources, be an active part of your schooling, and explore the world together.

-Provide for your basic education, through college, as best we can.

-Listen to what you have to say, and always let you know that you’ve been heard.

-Never let you doubt that you are loved.

-Be your best support, no matter what your endeavors.

-Not fail you when it comes to providing your basic needs and keeping you safe.

-Hug you as often as you want hugging, plus some.

-Laugh with you, connect with you, and smile at you.

-Never let you feel as if you’ve been abandoned or lost… physically or emotionally.

-Never scoff at your accomplishments, theories, your hurts or your sense of wonder.

-Do what we can to make your life as enriching and comfortable as possible, all the while teaching you how to continue that path when we’re not able to anymore.

-Instill in you the basis of our values, morals and ethics and let you choose which are helpful to you.

-Help you evaluate things in life objectively so that you can make better decisions.  (If you believe everything you hear or see, we haven’t done our job.)

-Strive to be great role models by actively doing what we ask of you.

-Nourish your body, encourage you to be physically active, and teach you how to continue doing that when you “leave the nest.”

-Record our stories and visual/audio memories for you and your kids.

-Be your ally, not your adversary.  Be a source of blatant truth and (hopefully) wisdom.

-Never hold you back from your potential achievements.

-Have a place you can come home to, or just to be here to talk to, no matter what your age.

-Respect you.  Never insult, mock, or injure you.

More than that, our intent is that you would have a life a little less hard than we had it and be better people than we are/were. That you, in turn, will do the same for your kids (should you choose to have any) and your world. “Every Generation, just a little bit better.”

p.a.d. 6 - Books for Babies

This photo was taken on November 11th, 2007, three weeks after we had moved into HoneyWine Hollow, and one month before Carmen turned one.

The bookshelves were one of the first things that we set up in the house.  Our family believes that reading is absolutely imperative for a person, young, old, or in between.  Both Tyme and I remember devouring books as young people, which enriched our lives in so many ways - learning about the world, learning about ourselves, gaining a vocabulary, escaping the drearies, and gaining new perspectives.

We read to our kids every night, at least.  They choose a book each, and we sit on the couch in their playroom.  I don’t remember them ever not having the attention span to sit through a book, even at the typical squirmy age.  Carmen, now four, is starting to have a burst of speed in her learning to read and spell phases, which delights us completely.

We already have a great collection of books for the girls, and plan on adding to it as they grow and their interests expand.  The internet is cool and all, but there is something about a physical book in your hands that just can’t be replaced…

My kids think that breastfeeding is how babies eat.

To my kids, breastfeeding isn’t weird, gross, funny, sexual, or shameful.  It’s normal.  It’s how babies eat.

(Even the cat likes it when humans breastfeed)

And they’re right.  Nursing is not a new fad, or what hippies do - it’s how mammals feed their young.  A bottle is the alternative, not the norm.  Formula from a bottle is what people use when nursing absolutely won’t work out.  Carmen has been heard to say “Aw, that poor baby has to use a bottle…”  I’ve never said that in front of her - she just has a basic and well-founded understanding that boobs are where food for small humans come from, and how they prefer to drink it.

It started the “easy” way… I nursed both of my daughters until they self weaned.  Easy is in quotes because it wasn’t always easy.  My mother had not breastfed, and neither did Tyme’s mom, and we didn’t have anyone else in the family who could be a teacher.  We learned about it from midwives, lactation consultants, the internet, and books.  But, thankfully, my daughters now have something of an expert in the family, someone to help them out in the first, often difficult, days of motherhood.  Someone who will not judge, won’t be squeamish, will be an excellent cheerleader, who can commiserate, laugh and cry right along with her daughter.  Someone who will have LLL on speed dial, just in case.

When Carolyn was born, a two year old Carmen watched me nurse her with acute interest.  She even asked to try feeding again (without success; she had forgotten how to latch).  I would pump extra and give it to her in a cup, which made her (and me) very happy.  She knew that if Carolyn did get a bottle, it was because I had pumped and put it there, usually so that Tyme could bottle feed her if I had to be out of town.  Carmen would take her own stuffed animals or dolls and place them at her chest so that they could eat, too, and we smiled and encouraged her by saying stuff like “I’m so glad that Baby Leopard is feeding, too!”

Carolyn won’t get this same exposure from me, but I’m not afraid to point to a nursing mom in public and say “Oh, look, that baby is getting some lunch!”  If it’s a friend we’re visiting, my kids get an up close and personal view of baby eating, depending on the personal comfort level of the Mom, of course.

If I ever hear anyone, a kid or an adult, say anything negative about breastfeeding, I will (politely) correct them, especially if they are within earshot of my children.

This is the best foundation I can give my daughters.  Should they choose to have children of their own, they will have a better chance of success of nursing on their own terms.  Using only positive, happy words to describe a breastfeeding mom and baby makes the act normal and beautiful for everyone involved.

Please don’t post a comment on why your baby (or you) consumed formula instead of breastmilk….  If you were one of the moms that tried, and just couldn’t, or had to supplement, then you have my deepest condolences.  I know that I was lucky to be able to exclusively nurse my daughters until they were done.  If you just opted to use formula instead of nursing because you thought that it was gross, weird, or inconvenient, then save your comments for another post that I will likely make in the future.  This post isn’t about that - it’s about normalizing nursing for our kids’ generation.

Names - lots of them.

I have a lot of names.  Not as many as most Hispanic or hard core Catholic people I know, but still enough that it can get confusing.  Here is a (somewhat) brief history of my name(s):

I was born as Elizabeth Joy Wolski.  That’s what is printed on my birth certificate.  My social security card, however, read Elizebeth Joy Wolski, and that is how I’ve always spelled my first name.

I was named Eliza/ebeth by my Mother - after one of her best friends, and fellow majorettes, in high school.  Joy comes from a Bible verse: “Weeping may endure the night, but Joy cometh in the morning.”  Wolski is my Father’s last name, and is a “Polish and Eastern German name (of Slavic origin): habitational name for someone from one of many places called Wola (pronounced “Vole - uh”).  Wola was named in Latin as libera villa, or “free village” ie, a settlement  which was awarded liberty or relieved from certain duties.”  Wolski is very common… the Polish equivalent of “Smith.”

I was called Joy when I was born (oh, the irony!).  When I was 5, and in kindergarten, I got a horrible haircut - it looked like a boy’s bowl cut, but lopsided.  It may have been my mom’s attempt at fixing a do-it-myself job, but whatever it was, it was awful, and I was teased pretty mercilessly.  While I had this haircut, we put on a class play, and we chose our parts out of a hat.  I got “Boy.”  Granted, it was the lead roll, but you can see why a girl with a hideous haircut does not want to be called Boy, especially when her name rhymes with it.  So, yes, you can see where this is going… I became Joy the Boy. 

So, I changed my name.  I asked to be called Elizebeth instead.  The whole thing… only two people were ever allowed to call me “Liz” (you know who you are).  This worked well until 6th grade, when my Dad helpfully said that my name was too long and perhaps I should go by my initials.  Always trying to be the people pleaser, I went with it, and was known by EJ for a few years.  I switched back to Elizebeth when the creative people in school began to call me BJ instead… that would be the start of high school.

Most of the way through high school, friends started to call me Kaj (pronounced like sky without the s).  I had other nicknames, like Nox, and Bob.  Not to mention the myriad of names I wore in Spanish class: Elisa, Isabel, Tristeza, Alegria, Gertrudis…. 

Kaj stuck with me when I went to college the first time, and then followed me to Tampa for several years.  When I moved back to Atlanta, I went back to just Elizebeth, and I’m happy right here.  When I married my husband, I took his last name, but have kept my maiden name close by as a reminder of who I am, and out of respect for my family.  When I started my facebook account, I used all four of my major names so that people could find me better, no matter what part of my past or present they were from.

With all these names in mind, and the life and personality shifts that came with them, Tyme and I opted to give our kids “flexible” names.  

Carmen is Carmen Victoria.  The first night that Tyme and I met, he said “Someday, I would like to have a daughter named Carmen.”  So, that part was easy enough…. Victoria came from our love of classical/historical names, the strength behind it, and the fact that she was, in fact, our little victory over infertility. 

There are a good number of nicknames related to her own names that she could use… Carly (she’s tried this one already, but there were two other Carlys in her class, and a Keeleigh and Coley).  Tori, Vickie, etc.

Carolyn is Carolyn Alexandra.  She is named after my Grandmother.  She is the second daughter of a second daughter of a second daughter of a second daughter, and she’s named for the first second.  My grandmother is an amazing lady… the Matriarch of our family for sure.  She needed someone named after her, and I’m glad I could do it.  Her middle name came about for nearly all the reasons as Carmen’s - beautiful, flexible, feminine, ancient.

She could be Carol, Carey, Lyn, Alex, Lexy, Xandra, etc.

We’ll let our kids decide if they want to shift to another name or nickname as they are growing.  I think it’s important that they have the option to do that.  With any luck, they won’t be as identity-confused as I was, though…..  

Kids with guns

Yesterday, Toby and I took the girls to a playground.  While there, I found myself feeling something that, at first glance, seemed irrational.  There were two boys there with toy guns - proportionately correct, plastic, and orange - one was a double barrel shotgun, and the other was some type of pistol.  They made loudish popping noises that sounded like a cap gun, and the boys (about 7 or 8 years old) were running around the slides and monkey bars, pretending to shoot each other and the other kids on the playground.

I was unsettled, and uncomfortable, and couldn’t quite put my finger on why at first.  It seems like there are two very black and white camps here…. 

Camp 1: “Kids should never play with guns.  It’s inappropriate because guns are _____ (evil, only for adults, dangerous, etc).”

Camp 2: “What’s the big deal?  Boys love toy guns.  I played cowboys and indians when I was kid, and I’m just fine.”

(I am of neither camp; I’m somewhere between them, but with lots of “buts” and “only ifs” thrown in there.)

Let me start by saying that I’m not anti-gun.  Actually, we own several of them.  We have them for hunting game and protecting the livestock on our farm (or quickly euthanizing a dying animal), and, god forbid, in case we ever need to protect our home (from zombies, of course).

Before you flip out, let me quantify that we keep the guns locked up and completely unloaded, with the ammunition in a separate, also locked up place.  Both adults in the household have taken classes on how to use and fire them, as well as knowing all the laws behind owning and using them.  Yes, we’re those kind of gun owners.  You know, the responsible kind.

At some point, the girls will know that we have guns.  At some point, if they are interested, they will also learn how to use them.  It is very important to me that they know how to disarm pistols, shotguns, and rifles, for example, since this can truly be a life saving skill.  They may choose to go hunting with my husband, or take lessons in target shooting.  This is fine with me.

I would prefer my kids kill the zombies with a chainsaw, anyway.

What was not fine with me - these boys and the way that they were pointing the guns at each other (and other people, like my daughters) and pulling the triggers.  Even worse, when I heard one say “You be the police and I’ll shoot you.”  Even even worse; the father (I assume) and grandfather (seemed like it) were within hearing distance, watching and smoking (that’s a whole nother post) and not reacting in any way.

I can just about guarantee that their family, like ours, owns guns… it’s just the kind of environment we live in (and honestly, my own prejudice based on other visible and audible factors).  I can’t say whether or not their guns, however, are locked up appropriately, unloaded, with the ammo in another place.  I can just imagine these boys finding their families’ guns, and, well, you can probably see what’s happening in my head…….. another child fatality related to irresponsible private gun ownership.  My mental scene made me feel sick to my stomach.

Once I sat there and digested how I was feeling, I talked to Toby about it to see if I was nuts or in-line.  Then I called Carmen over and asked her how she felt about the boys and their guns.  I asked her if she thought it was ok to point a gun at a person.  She said “no,” but I still gave her a brief lecture on why I thought that their play was inappropriate.  

Please, tell your kids -

1: Guns can kill you or your friend/family member.

2: Never point a gun at a person, even in play.

3: If you see a gun, *do not touch it.*  Tell an adult right away.

Here are more tips about kids and gun safety from the NRA: http://www.nrahq.org/safety/eddie/infoparents.asp  Even if you don’t own a gun, or believe you ever will, please skim the article.

Carmen the photographer

Carmen is four…  she’ll be five in December.  I’ve been passing my Canon xSi to her since she was three, and letting her capture whatever catches her eye.  It’s fun for her, and an interesting exercise for me in patience, trust, and a new eye in composition.

I usually set the camera to a shutter speed, aperture, white balance and ISO that will work with the area that we’re hanging out in, then pass it over to her.  She’s been amazingly careful and respectful with it, and loves to take photos of people and things that she enjoys looking at and wants remember later.  I will cull photos if they are very similar or very fuzzy, but I’ve kept about 90% of the photos that she’s taken.  I run them through a very simple photoshop contrast balance and I don’t crop them at all.

She loves to look at the photos she’s taken, and can almost always remember where and when it was.  

Here is a link to her flickr set, and then some of my personal favorites: http://www.flickr.com/photos/elizebeth_joy/sets/72157625550359310/

Click on the photos for a larger version: 

Having a musical family

Music is a part of being human.  We are all moved by it, somehow.  I strongly believe that music was one of the earliest forms of communication that humans used - beating out rhythms to speak to people far away, passing down stories using melodies and rhyme.  So many other animals also communicate using song - birds, amphibians, marine mammals, insects … it’s encoded in our DNA.  Even some of our modern languages use melody as an integral part of getting one’s point across, such as Mandarin; without the inflections used in each word, the meanings are lost and you are speaking gibberish.

Music helps kids, too.  Think about how long it would take to learn the alphabet if kids didn’t have a song to help them… in fact, I’ll bet that if you’re hunting something in alphabetical order, you’ll find yourself signing the tune in your own head.  It can also help them sleep, rev them up, or concentrate on a task (just as it does for adults).

Helping your children to appreciate and play music can help to stretch their brains and get some creative play time, too.  It’s also something that they can work on alone, or with you.  You don’t need many tools to explore music with your kids, either… you can simply use your own voice to sing and hands for clapping.  

Here are some simple (and not so simple) tools and ideas for introducing more music to your family:

*Sing to your kids - Seriously.  If you tell me “Wah, I can’t because I have no ear and my singing sucks” then I will laugh at you.  Your kids DON’T CARE if you sound like a goose being strangled.  You can see their face light up and their bodies start to move when you start to sing for them, and your own heart will be warmed when they start to sing back.  Hopefully, they will sound better than you.  ;)  

Sing songs you know, make up ones for fun, hum familiar tunes, and learn new favorites with the kids.  Sing out strong and encourage them to do the same.  We started by signing ballads and sea chanties to them when they were tiny babes in arms.  We would “sing them down” to sleep while walking around the room if the boob wasn’t doing the trick, or I would sing while nursing.  Sometimes, if we were especially tired, they ended up hearing Megadeth or bawdy pirate songs, but they didn’t mind, so long as it was melodic and soft. 

*Let them bang on stuff - Tupperware, a tambourine, pots and pans, a cheap drum, the table.  Making a designated Banging on Stuff Time so that your nerves won’t be shattered by the end of the day, if you need to, or combine this time with Outside time.  Clap out or tap a rhythm for your kids, and see how well they can repeat it back to you.  When kids bang on things, their energy shifts, and their focus, well, focuses.

*Play music in the car - Play the stuff you like, and sing to it.  When they see you participating, they will learn about self-confidence and how to enjoy themselves.  Then they will start to sing, too.  

Carmen started singing a Jesca Hoop song when she was about 18 months old.  Now she’s into Varttina (Finnish folk music - here’s a clip of her singing a bit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgZvGoxZKrc&feature=channel_video_title), Victoria Williams, and Indian pop music.  I’m amazed at how quickly she picks up lyrics, even if they’re in a foreign language.  Carolyn is not far behind her, and they both have a great ear.  Carmen is even to the point where she will start a familiar song in the correct key.

*Purchase inexpensive and little person-friendly instruments for them to play - Wooden or plastic recorder, kid guitar, little xylophone, child friendly keyboard…. Don’t forget that many kids started playing violin or piano when they were 4 or 5.  There is no reason yours can’t learn to respect a more expensive and fragile instrument, too.  

We have a piano ($100 upright), three penny whistles, a wooden recorder, two guitars (one electric, one acoustic), three hand drums of different sizes, a flute, a clarinet, a bassoon, a violin, a keyboard, a little xylophone, several strange percussion instruments, and, of course, our voices.  Both of our daughters have played all of these instruments, and their favorites change from week to week.  The four year old has full access to all of them except for the bassoon and violin.

*Always pretend to fully enjoy what they are doing musically - It’s not always going to sound like an angel’s choir.  Do your best to encourage them and NEVER cringe or ask them to stop singing or stop playing.  You can ask them, kindly, to keep the volume down (a great opportunity to teach them about pianissimo vs forte) if it’s really hurting you, but telling to flat out “stop” can damage their little musical egos.

*Record their musical exploits and play it back for them - They will LOVE to hear and see themselves play, and it will give them encouragement to play some more.

*If they are at all interested, let them have some musical lessons - You can find inexpensive teachers that will help them learn a specific instrument, such as piano, voice, guitar, drums, violin, etc.  If you feel like you can’t afford lessons, then look online for suggestions or lessons, or look around for someone who can barter or trade.

My kids are lucky.  My father is a professional pianist, I play bassoon and clarinet (and can also play flute, recorder, and some strings), Tyme plays penny whistle and sings, and we have some very close friends who are amazing musicians, such as Toby, who plays guitar and is a composer.  We have built-in teachers and probably won’t have to pay for lessons for a long time.

*If your kids want to join band, orchestra or chorus at school, encourage them and do what you can to help them with the experience.  Don’t poo poo the idea because you think their instrument will be expensive… most rentals really aren’t.  They will get a pretty good musical education and make some great friends, and gives them a fantastic creative outlet, as well as a sense of community and pride.

*On the other hand, don’t push it.  If your kids enjoy music recreationally, great.  But if they hate violin lessons, then don’t make them keep going.  That’s a great way to build resentment toward you *and* music.

My Aunt was an amazing concert pianist when she was young.  She went to college and studied music performance on piano.  She played so intensely that piano became her life… but she wasn’t enjoying it.  Her parents had pointed her in that direction and the lifestyle was forced on her.  After she played her senior recital, she never touched the piano again, literally.  She became a travel agent, instead.  Even now, if you request that she play a simple Christmas carol, she turns green and refuses.

Make music at least a small part of your child’s life - even if it’s just singing them a lullaby at night.  Let them decide if it’s going to be more important to them.  There are studies that have shown that even a rudimentary knowledge of music help kids learn languages and math.  It’s also a great way to express all emotions and to just plain have some fun.

Why we’re raising our kids to be godless heathens.

Our kids are not being raised to follow a religion.  Instead, we are instilling these intrinsic values and beliefs in them:

Be Kind and Gentle to everyone and everything.  Treat others the way you want to be treated.  Have love for humanity and the universe.

Enjoy this life as much as you can.  Assume this is all you are going to get (there may not be an afterlife).

Search for beauty and good in everything.  Everything has a positive side.  If you don’t see it, create it.

Test yourself, your ideas and beliefs.  Trust what your senses and intuition tell you.  The more extraordinary the claim, the more convincing the evidence must be to support it.

Use Reason and Creativity to solve problems, and don’t count on anyone else solving them for you. You are empowered.

Take care of your body.  If it’s not working right, the rest of this list can be much more difficult.

Use your Powers for good.  Make the world a better place for yourself and everyone else by doing what you can.

You are an animal, and you have a place in the world as all animals do.  Try not to abuse your position.

Learn as much as you can and pass on your knowledge.

No person is better than you, and you are not better than any person.  Mutual respect is the key for the survival of the human race.

Choose your ethics and stick to them.  Do not let another person tell you that your beliefs are wrong, and learn to tolerate differences in opinions.

Live without fear.  Most fear is unhealthy and unhelpful.  Use your gut instinct to choose how to respond the best way in a situation where you may be in danger, but do not live in that state.

Ask for help when you need it, and offer it when you can.

Believe in yourself and what you can accomplish.  Always look for new ways to be amazed by yourself, and new ways to transcend your own limits.

Follow the rules of the place where you are.  Sometimes they don’t make sense to you, but do your best to follow them.  If you really don’t like the rules, or believe that they are hurtful, then find a new place to be.

Gravity works.

We believe that all people should have the right to research faith and belief systems with an unbiased heart, and to then choose to follow one, or choose not to follow one.  We also believe that there is no One Right Way.

My kids know about Christianity.  They have heard stories about Jesus and what he did while on Earth.  They know that there is a book called the Bible where you can read about him and his religion.  They also know bits and pieces about Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Paganism, Buddhism, and other religious beliefs.  

They know that some people believe that there is a “magical” being or beings called gods.  They’ve also heard about reincarnation and that some people believe that our souls keep coming back as different living things (Carmen really likes this one and wants to come back as a bird).  They have been to church and temple and understand that some people go there all the time to talk to (and about) their gods.  They know that people wear different outfits, and that sometimes these are based on the rules of their respective gods.

What they have NOT heard is that any of these beliefs or practices is “wrong.”  Just different.  They also have not yet been told that some people believe that others should be hurt or killed because they believe something different.  I don’t want to scare them when they are still so young, after all….

So far, even though they are little heathens, they are doing just fine.  They are bright, ethical, and do not appear to be spiritually lost.  So, we’re going to stick with what we’re doing, and encourage them to study different beliefs as they grow.  At the very least, it will help them to understand what others believe and where they come from.  If or when they choose to follow a religious or spiritual path, I will learn as much about it as possible, and I will stand behind their decision and understand it as best as I can…. much like any other choice they will make in their lives.

Dear Carmen

Today is your birthday! You’ve turned two years old. I would love for you to know what you were doing now, so I’ll make a short list for you.
By the time you were two, you could…

-Pick out the yummy parts of a pomegranate
-Count to ten
-Speak about as much Cantonese as I could
-Name these colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, white, brown, black, gray
-Sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in tune, as well as some other songs
-Hold dinner parties for your stuffed animals
-Say most of your ABCs
-Name these shapes: star, square, rectangle, triangle, oval, circle, moon
-Speak in 4 and 5 word sentences
-Eat foods that were too spicy for me (up until I was pregnant with you)
-Sign about 1/3 of your vocabulary, which is about 400 words 
-Put on your shoes and socks by yourself (sometimes)
-Say “thank you,” unprompted
-Laugh heartily at your own jokes

Your favorite songs were:

-Jesca Hoop’s “Silverscreen”
-Violent Femmes’ “Please Don’t Go”
-ABCs/Twinkle Twinkle
-Haul Away Joe
-The Rainbow Song
-Itsy Bitsy Spider
-Loreena McKennit’s “The Highwayman”
-Wheels on the Bus 
-Health to the Company
-If You’re Happy and You Know it
-Hal an Tow
-Old MacDonald Had a Farm
-Turtle Rock

Your first curse word was “Douchebag,” which I accidentally taught you while driving

Your favorite fruits were mango and grapes, though you didn’t meet any fruits you didn’t like. You also loved to eat eggs, oranges, hummus, peanut butter and jelly, (cooked) sushi, bagels with cream cheese and ham, jalapeno and cheddar chips, chicken wings, bananas, turkey, pickles, persimmons, strawberry mini-wheats, anything with ketchup, dried cranberries, and… well, you ate just about everything, depending on texture and what all was available.

We couldn’t tell what your favorite color was. You seemed to like them all.

For your birthday, we painted your room a kinda sage color, gave you your first digital camera, and I made a sling for your two new baby dolls, which you got from Grandmother, Granria and Basia for Christmas. You also loved the fake veggies from Grandmother, the drum set from Momma-Yo, and the ABC floor mat from Basia and Granria.

At this point, you were still an only child, and I’m pretty sure you were blissfully unaware of what was going to happen in the next few months, though you did like to pet and talk to (and then put your ear against me to listen for an answer) my belly, which was “Momma’s Baby.” As for other “family members,” We had two indoor pets, Beaner the cat and Seabass the dog, as well as three goats (Duck, Darwin, and Dottie) and two alpacas (Machu and Picchu), who lived outside.

This year you made several big trips, including two to California and one to England, and lots of minor ones to neighboring states.

I can’t wait to see what you’re like this time next year!

My daughter, the NOT picky eater.

Tonight, for dinner, we watched Carmen shovel food into her face. That’s not the cool part… the cool part is that it was broccoli, cauliflower, water chestnuts, lima beans, carrots, peas, and some sort of red pepper in a spicy Indian sauce over brown rice. The official name for said dish is gobi ki sabzi. This was after an appetizer of mango slices.
Right now, one of her favorite fruits is pomegranate. How sweet is that? We give her sections of it, and she carefully peels away the inside skins and then eats the fruit, seeds and all. She also loves pickles, and is perfectly content munching on scrambled eggs if I don’t have the imagination to cook anything else. Taking her to a buffet is fun, since she is selective in her food choices if there are choices to be had. Sometimes her choices surprise the heck out of us, like eating the sushi and shrimp before touching the lo mein or rice at a chinese buffet.

Sometimes, she’s just not hungry, and I’ve learned to identify these times and not try to force her to eat something by offering junk or sweets. I’ll offer what we’re having, and if she just doesn’t seem hungry, then we’ll let her slide with eating just a bit. We know that she’ll make up for it in the next meal. If we’re eating something that may genuinely be offensive to her (usually it has to do with texture, rather than taste, color, or food group), then I will offer something else nutritious and “safe” in her food vocabulary if she tries and turns down our food.

Her first “taste” word was “spicy.” She really enjoys food with a little kick, so long as it’s not the kind that brings tears to your eyes. Tonight’s dinner made her sniff and snuffle as it cleared out her little sinuses. We sniffed along with her. She also loves jalapeno and cheddar Cape Cod chips and I’ve watched her devour habanero flavored chips with my Dad. Curries are some of her favorite foods, too, and she’s even learned to balance the spice with milk or bread so that she can keep the pace up without hurting herself.

I know that someday, she may become a picky eater…. but damn am I glad that that day hasn’t come yet.