Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A lesson in liberation.

I recently read (and re-read) a book that I would strongly recommend for any parent looking for a new approach to some of the universal challenges we face raising children. It's a little cheesy and out of date but if you can see past all of that, you will find a whole new set of tools at your disposal.

The book is called Liberated Parents, Liberated Children: Your Guide to a Happier Family and was written by the same authors who wrote How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk (next up on my reading list).

I am so curious what other modern moms and dads will think about this book. Please read it and let me know! Perhaps we could start some sort of liberated parents support group/book club? Or maybe you'll think it's complete hogwash and never want to speak to me again. Either way, I'm dying to know.

Part of me wants to dissect the entire book for you (and for me) but I think I'll spare us all the book report and just give you an example of one of the lessons I'm working on.

Words that evaluate, hinder a child. Words that describe, set him free.

Did you know there is a right and a wrong way to praise a kid? No? Me neither. It seemed to me that the more atta boys I could throw at Liam, the better:

Great job!
I'm so proud of you!
You're such a good boy!
Wow, that's awesome!
I love it!
You're so smart!
What a handsome kid!

I think it's the cheerleader in me. I just can't stop shaking those darn pompoms!

When I read that open praise like this is maybe not such a good thing for a growing child after all, it completely threw me for a loop. For starters, it made me realize that I say things like this a lot. And not always with a whole lot of meaning attached. I caught myself responding to something Liam said the other day with, "Cool, Buddy! That's great!" but honestly - I didn't even hear him. If I'm throwing around praise for nothing (he may have said, "I hit the dog and pooped my pants!" for all I know), it makes what I say completely meaningless. Next time I really do praise him for something, how is he supposed to know if I'm being sincere or just blowing him off?

Descriptive praise, on the other hand, is completely different. Instead of passing judgment on a child's character ("You're a great artist! What a beautiful painting!"), you give an appreciative description of his actions ("Look at all the colors you used! You created so many different shapes.") and stop there. This is really hard. I can't count the number of times I've said something like, "I see you put your shoes away..." and then without being able to stop myself added a quick, "Great job!" But when I do manage to describe and back away, a pretty amazing thing happens. Liam feels proud of himself.

I'm so proud of you for getting dressed all by yourself!
You're so handsome!
It looks like you're all dressed and ready to go!

In the short term, it's adorable. He's more willing to try new things and seems genuinely confident most of the time. He has a totally new sense of autonomy and a great need for independence. He isn't as shaken by mistakes (or the possibility of mistakes) as he used to be and meets challenges with this excitement I've never seen before.

Vacuuming up the cat food he spilled when he FED THE CATS.

...without being asked.
(Good for Liam, probably not so good for the 17 pound cat.)

In the long term, he will hopefully know that he doesn't need to depend on others to tell him who he is, what he can do, or how well he can do it. He will have pride and confidence that comes from within and will not feel trapped by roles I have inadvertently stuck him in (You're always so good and smart and handsome! - Gee, thanks mom. No pressure or anything...).

Liam: I was making a snack and spilled some chocolate chips.
Me: You were doing it yourself?
Liam: Yes I was. Don't worry, Mama - I'll clean it up!

Me: (Head explodes from shock and awe.)

This sort of holding back when speaking is a key component to all the lessons in the book. Whenever possible, replace a paragraph with a sentence, a sentence with a word, a word with a gesture. For example:

When my sister was in town I told Liam we were going to leave the house in about 10 minutes to go to a restaurant for breakfast. He semi-freaked out and said he didn't want to go and stomped his feet and cried and refused to get dressed. In the past I would have bribed him, threatened him, sweet talked him, tricked him, gotten mad at him, put him in time out - you name it. Instead, I said, "It looks like you really don't want to go! You must be very comfy in your pajamas. But you can't wear pajamas to the restaurant and we'll be leaving very soon." Then I went back to what I was doing and left him alone to work it out. The whole time I was thinking Yeah right, like this is going to work. But the thing is - it did work. When I refused to engage in a battle and simply left him alone to work out a solution, he totally rose to the occasion.

Of course, as with anything, these lessons will take some time before they really become a part of me. Take this morning for example:

We were at our neighbors' house for a play date and Liam and Isabella (5) were in her room playing "Mommy & Daddy" when they decided to change into pajamas (yet another kid who loves to change clothes!). Everything was going swimmingly until I looked up from my conversation to find Liam jumping on the bed in nothing but a pink bathrobe. An untied pink bathrobe. An ohmygod my son is totally butt ass naked in a five year old girl's bedroom and we hardly even know these people! pink bathrobe.

It kind of took my breath away.

I tried my best to approach the situation from a liberated point of view but I couldn't see clearly what with all the unwieldy nakedness. I described the situation (Wow, I see you're totally naked!) and spoke in a very straight forward way (We need to find your shorts and walk home now!) but once the tantrum started I was at a complete loss. Liam was screaming and crying and trying to hide from me in Isabella's closet - all the while wearing nothing but a tan line. Really no amount of skillful parenting was going to make a dent in the situation - I just had to get him dressed and get the hell out of there!

Even though the goodbye was somewhat mortifying, the rest of the play date more than made up for it. Liam was like his own little person - social and outgoing, trying new foods and running off to play without me. If he hadn't been prancing around in his birthday suit, I might not have recognized him.


Monday, July 20, 2009

A rant about the dog (because flipping her off isn't helping anymore).

Last night sucked. First the husband was snoring. Then the child was crying. Then the dog was pacing and whining and scratching. ALL NIGHT LONG.

I am sort of used to the fact that she's a lousy roommate but last night was bad for a whole new reason. At some point (I suppose after I woke him up for snoring) Bill mentioned that he thought the dog might have fleas. Fleas? Do you have any idea how disgusting that is? As if the copious amounts of dog hair isn't unhygienic enough. Fleas are like a whole new level of tell me again why we have pets?

The fact that she may not have had fleas didn't stop me from lying in bed the rest of the night imagining that we all had fleas; that fleas had taken over our house and there was nothing we could do about it except toss and turn and scratch and curse the dog.

When I "woke up" this morning (in quotes because, hello?, there was not a lot of sleeping going on), I banished the dog to the backyard and told her I'm sorry sister but you will just have to stay outside until I get more flea medication and do enough loads of laundry in hot water that this place stops feeling like a kennel and starts feeling like a home again!

Problem solved, right? Wrong. When Fleabag is outside, she barks. A lot. Like, non-stop the entire time she is in the yard. It used to be a playful bark like, I'm a herding dog! Watch me herd these shadows! But now it's a really sad and pathetic bark like, My damn arthritis is acting up again. Where the hell is my Aspercreme?

Usually I can only stand the barking for a few minutes before I have to let her in so she can follow me around and shed on things. But with the possibility of fleas? You've got to be kidding me. I had no choice but to leave her in the yard like a dog. I know it's not very neighborly of me to leave a barking dog outside to annoy everyone within a 6 house radius but there was nothing else I could do. She's an old dog who's not up for learning new tricks and, on top of that, she might have fleas!

So Liam and I left the dog in the yard and got the heck out of dodge. First we went for a long bike ride then we drove across town for flea medication and milk (thanks, Mrs. Costco!) then we stopped off at the YMCA so I could do a little yoga with my new favorite teacher.

Liam wanted to see my yoga class before we went home.

I suspect he will want to see it again very soon.

On the drive home I was feeling surprisingly good for not having slept. My body was balanced, my mind was clear...I had all but forgotten about the dog and her merciless ways. It looked like it was going to be a great day! But then we pulled up to the house and saw a familiar face waiting for us in the front yard. Yep, you guessed it: Fleabag.

So much for not learning new tricks! I'd say breaking out of a fenced in yard with no detectable escape routes is kind of a big deal for an old dog like her. I'm almost impressed (but mostly just irritated).

I had to walk her through the house to the back yard and I'm pretty sure she was smirking at me the whole time. Who isn't allowed in the house? Huh? Yeah, that's what I thought you said. She was even more smug after I totally caved and let her in the house after less than five minutes of barking. I can't stand a barking dog and she knows it.

But I wasn't about to let her and her (alleged) flea circus traipse all over my house dropping filth and nastiness wherever they pleased. So I came up with a semi-brilliant plan: While her flea medication does what it needs to do (whatever it is I'm guessing it takes several hours...), she can hang out in the laundry room! Yes she's whining and carrying on like a little ninny but I'm the only one who has to hear it. Sucks for me but at least I don't have to feel like an awful neighbor! And as soon as I finish this post, I will solve the problem once and for all. Hello iPod, goodbye needy dog!

You don't have to feel too bad for Old Fleabag.
She'll get a visitor every time the dryer buzzes.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Funner than fun.

Here are three easy ways to make your super fun night out even more fun. All you need is a digital camera and enough self esteem (or alcohol) to make a fool of yourself in public without giving a rat's ass. I chose to kick it up a notch at a friend's 30th birthday party with a large group of girls I had just met but you can apply the following guidelines to just about any social situation.

Photo Assignment 1: "I'm at a party but I'm dead inside"

This is how the whole taking pictures thing got started. I noticed one of the girls at the party had just ordered a couple of drinks from the bar. Since they were not clearly labeled like my PBR, I asked her what they were. "Slippery nipples," she replied. I tried not to choke on my beer and asked who the second one was for. "They're both for me," she said. "I have really high tolerance." I fell in love a little bit and asked if I could take her picture.

Then my sister and I died laughing for about 5 minutes. I mean, come on! Does she or does she not look totally dead inside? I just think it's awesome to pose for a photo like this. We were beyond inspired but erasing all life from your face when you're in the middle of a loud honky tonk is really hard. We had to try for a long long time before we finally got it right.

Then we shared the fun with some of the other girls in our party.

I know it's hard to tell because of the whole dead inside thing but trying not to laugh or smile or show any signs of life whatsoever is one of the funniest damn things ever! Whenever we were not trying really really hard to get a picture, we were all laughing hysterically.

Photo Assignment 2: Try to be in every single picture.

At some point in the night my sister Molly and our friend Sarah decided they wanted to be in every picture that was taken the rest of the night. This was not some ha ha, wouldn't that be funny kind of idea. Nooooo. They were completely serious. And so determined!

Sometimes they worked as a team, while other times they had to split up to cover multiple cameras.

A couple of random people at the bars saw what they were doing and thought they'd try to get in on the fun.

But they were no match for the dynamic duo.

Wherever there was a camera...

...that's where you'd find them.

Yes, that's Molly's hand.


Photo Assignment 3 - Strike a pose.

Jealous of all the fun Molly and Sarah were having, I came up with a little game of my own. I wouldn't necessarily try to be in photos but if it just so happened I was in a shot, I'd be sure to give a nice wide open mouthed smile. Every time.

This assignment works with just about any pose you like. Tongue out, winking, peace sign - these are all acceptable choices. The only real key is consistency. And you might want to be careful when choosing a pose. For example, in retrospect, I can see that a big ol' gaping mouth is not necessarily a good look for me. It makes me look somewhat certifiable or, at the very least, wasted. Until I saw these photos I was pretty offended by how hung over I was. I thought surely I didn't deserve such punishment - I had only had a few beers! (Or something like that...) But once I started clicking through pictures and saw photo after photo of my tonsils, my throbbing head made a little more sense.

Next time I'll choose the thinker's pose.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

For all you pregnant ladies out there.

Have I got a show for you!

No, it's not a peek inside the womb at the little miracle you've got cooking or a how-to guide for motherhood. It's nothing to do with what to expect or doctors who know too much or multiple births. It's WAY better than all that.

It's a show on Discovery Health called I Didn't Know I was Pregnant. Yes, that's right - didn't know. As in, I didn't know I was pregnant until a full grown baby came out of me. Like, Whew! I must have eaten something bad, I feel AWFUL. I mean, my back is KILLING ME! Wait. What's that noise? Is someone crying? Is that a freaking baby on the floor?


I think all pregnant women should watch this show because it is the only thing out there that will allow you to enjoy your pregnancy without being worried all the time. I mean, if these women can continue to play volleyball and and sing in rock and roll bands and drink alcohol and whatnot, surely you can have a latte once in a while. If a woman can drop an 8 pound baby out of her vagina onto the filthy cement floor of a campground bathroom (yes head first) only to discover that it's perfectly healthy and fine, you can probably arrive at the hospital without a birth plan.

I mean, if ever there was a show to make you feel like a rock star mom, this is it. No matter what the books and doctors and strangers on the street tell you you're doing wrong, at least you know you're pregnant. Right? That's like light years ahead of these poor mamas.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say this is a good show. It's terrible. But, there's something fascinating about it that makes it hard to turn away.

And, kind of like when you watch a show in health class about lice and then everyone starts scratching their heads and looking around all paranoid like Oh crap! I hope no once thinks I have lice!, I am pretty sure this show will leave you convinced that you're pregnant. Totally flat stomach? Haven't had sex in nine months? I don't think it matters. If it could happen to them, it could happen to anyone.

And, no, this is not some weird way of announcing I'm pregnant. I think I am, sure, but that's just the show talking. When I am pregnant you better believe I will know it. I mean, how else am I going to get daily massages for sciatica and twice weekly chocolate cupcakes for cravings? I'm not going to get to lie around watching bad television and whining about how hard it is to grow a human if I don't even know I'm pregnant. Seriously - not knowing would be a total waste.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Home, sweet home.

Did I forget to mention I was going out of town? How worried you must have been! Where's Maggie? Is everything okay? It's been forever since her last post! Maybe she was wrong about that whole death by chocolate thing...

You poor things.

But, fear not! I'm back and (almost) ready to jump back in to this whole blogging thing. Almost. But not quite. It's a lot of work! And my son is barely napping these days and my house feels like it's falling apart around me and we're going to have company later this week and it's summer vacation and, and, and...sometimes a sister just needs to go offline for a little while, okay?! (It took me three tries to remember my Facebook password - I think that's a good sign, don't you?)

In the meantime, I will leave you with a photo from my trip. My girls' trip (no kids or husbands allowed!) with my best friends from high school.

Pirates of the Truckee River.

Now turn off the computer and live a little! Reconnect with an old friend! Take your kid on an adventure! Make a recipe you've never tried before! Turn up the music and have a dance party! (Geez, get me in the mountain air for a few days and I'm like a totally different person. Don't worry, I'm sure I'll be back to normal soon enough...)