veggie toddler - a young child learning how to walk and eat vegetables, not necessarily a wobbly vegetarian.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Happy Mom, Happy Baby

Almost exactly five years ago, I walked into a pediatrician’s office in Brooklyn, with dark circles under my eyes and engorged breasts, lugging my shrieking newborn baby in her car seat. It had taken me five minutes to drive from our apartment and 20 minutes to find a parking spot. I had arrived at our 2 week-old newborn checkup with my first child and I thought I was about to fall over with exhaustion, before the appointment even began.

My daughter’s exam proceeded smoothly despite the crying and ill-timed poop. At the end of her routine check-up, the pediatrician asked me if I had any questions. “Can I drink a glass of wine in the evening if I am a nursing mom?” I asked. He lowered the medical chart in his hand and looked at me for a moment. “I always say that a happy mom makes for a happy baby,” he said with a smile. “Really?” I perked up. “Wow, I can do that for my baby!”

I walked out of that doctor’s office, still feeling the side effects of sleeplessness and sore breasts, with a new feeling of self confidence and thoughts of my next glass of pinot noir.  My baby needs not only a mom, but a happy mom. Since she was born, all I cared about was taking care of my baby while I overlooked the essential fact that I also need to take care of myself.

Fast forward several years to my arrival at a playground in Atlanta wearing clothes that I had worn the day before, with disheveled hair, toting my cranky 1-year old and know it all 3-year old. I met my friend with her 3-year old for an outdoor play date. My friend took one look at me and relayed what another mom once said to her. “Take a shower every morning and never leave the house without applying makeup.” That was the key to good parenting.

"What?" I thought. "What if I prefer to shower at night and have never worn make up every day?" But then I realized that my friend was not commenting on my personal hygiene nor was she scolding me for not wearing enough mascara. She was telling me to spend at least 15 minutes every day on myself. "Wow," I thought to myself. "A whole 15 minutes to myself EVERY day?"

Later that week I realized the advice from the pediatrician, years ago, and now from my friend, had a common denominator. In order to be a good mother, who is happy, confident, and able to see to the needs of her children, she first needs to take care of herself. Whether it’s eating well, drinking a glass of wine, or simply looking in the mirror before leaving the house, it all added up to one simple fact. Happy moms promote happiness in their children.

“So,” I said to my daughter’s pediatrician five years ago. “How many glasses of wine still constitute a happy mom? When does a happy mom tip the scale over to a bad mom?” He chuckled and explained how one glass of wine consumed over the course of an hour, while eating food and also drinking water, should not have an effect on the baby. All mothers had different thresholds so it was important for me to find my balance.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

When in doubt, chené out.

During my ballet training from about age 8 to 19, I performed several times a year with a local ballet troop. I thought I was gaining valuable performaning experience which would help my development as a dancer. What I didn’t know is that I was also learning the most important lesson in life, how to deal with the unexpected. When in doubt, chené out.

This was a phrase that us dancers coined and repeated often in rehearsal as well as back stage during performances. The word “chené” is a French ballet term which refers to a series of 180 degree turns performed while traveling in a line, on either the ball of your foot or on pointe if you are wearing toe shoes. While spinning, one can quickly move from point A to point B. “When in doubt,” refers to the moment you are on stage and you forget your step or a mishap occurs that was not planned and causes you to veer from the rehearsed choreography. When in doubt, when you are not sure what will happen next or what is expected of you, “chené out.” This means, make a graceful exit that looks like it was planned from the beginning. In other words, go with the flow.

Live performances are like life. You plan and plan for the performance of your life, rehearse and know your lines. Then, as you experience first hand the moments you have anticipated, just about anything can happen. The key is not to break from character. Simply act like you know what you are doing, make a graceful exit, and let the show continue.

In life, especially with parenting, we think we have anticipated all that is to come. And yet when we get there, the unexpected happens. So what should we do? How shall we cope? Put our heads down and cry that this isn’t how it was supposed to be? No ma’am. We change course to accommodate our new situation. And we do it gracefully as if it was always meant to be.

“Mommy, remember that time I pooped in my shoes on the playground and you were out of wipes and my brother took off running in the opposite direction?” my daughter asks me. “Yes dear, I remember,” I smile as I respond. I couldn’t forget that one. Talk about graceful exits…

Take Back The Snack

Kids need snacks. Parents need to redefine what constitutes a snack. Don’t stop the snacking, just change the snack.  A reaction to an article featured in the Dining section of the New York Times.

Jennifer Steinhauer’s article, “Snack Time Never Ends,” tells us to end the reign of the snacks. She complains that “when it comes to American boys and girls, snacks seem both mandatory and constant.” Steinhauer then goes on to blame snack machines and the endless opportunities to eat snacks as the culprit secretly plotting against the family dinner and driving our children away from healthy food forever.

Steinhauer informs us that snack time seems to be out of control. Sure maybe so, but it is because parents have given in to junk food, not the snack. Sure kids may be over-scheduled these days but apples and bananas are just as easy to grab and eat on the go as are sodas and cookies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids eat three meals a day as well as two or three snacks. The academy also tells us that kids actually need to eat snacks because their tiny stomachs cannot retain enough at meal times to last with energy until the next mealtime. Snacking is good. It gives us energy between meals when we start to feel sluggish and therefore puts us in a better mood to continue with whatever task is at hand.

Let’s be honest here, adults need snacks too. Isn’t it better to not over-eat during meal time but consume an appropriate portion of lunch and then have a healthy snack at 3:00 pm to keep you going until dinner? Whether you are a toddler on the playground, a first-grader at school or an adult at the office, we all get sluggish between meals and we all appreciate the opportunity to counteract our dropping energy. Just don’t cure your snack-attack with a cupcake. Why not reach for an orange instead?.

Steinhauer argues that snacks are interfering with mealtime. If she is waiting to offer snacks to her kids until they are starving and standing in front of a vending machine when its very close to dinner time, she may be right. Why not offer a piece of fruit or yoghurt before the child reaches a full sugar-low and simply walk on past the vending machine? If the parent can’t say no to junk food, why should we expect our kids to? It’s not the snack that is ruining mealtime. It is the parent.

Steinhauer describes the act of giving kids snacks as a bad habit akin to letting your toddler sleep in your bed. If a parent should find himself in a pattern of behavior that is less than ideal, why not change it? So you let your 2-year old sleep with you one too many times and now she demands it every night. Guess what, it’s time for the parent to be the adult and break the unwanted cycle. Just because you let your guard down and give in to a junk food snack request one too many times doesn’t mean you don’t have the authority to put your foot down at the next snack time.

If you give up on your child’s behavior or habits as unchangeable, where does that leave your child? Sleeping in your bed and eating junk food for the rest of her life. It’s called parenting. As parents we are expected to guide our children to make positive and healthy choices in life whether it involves sleeping or snacking. If we don’t set standards, who will?

Parents need to take back the snack and give our kids healthy food again!

The Village and the Professional

They go hand in hand. If we only listened to the professionals we would all be perfect, right? Well, actually, we would be more like robots. Stepford Wives with Stepford children running around without drippy noses or muddy shoes. Life is not a text book or a lab room. It is messy with many unknowns popping up unexpectedly all of the time. Living life is not about blindly following the doctor’s orders. Life is about understanding the research and philosophy put forth by the professionals and then making it work for you in your life. I am pretty sure that can be applied to just about anyone and anything.

At the end of the day, “Mom knows best,” a pediatrician once told me. “If a mother comes into my office and says she detects eye-crossing in her child and I do not during my 1 minute eye exam, I tell that mom to go get his eyes checked by a specialist. Moms see their children all day long. We examine them for a short period of time with long periods between exams.” This is not the fault of the healthcare system. This is a reality. So it is mom’s job (or dad) to step up to the role of the person who knows what is best for the child. Yes you follow your doctor’s advice. But you also think before you act and make sure what your doctor is advising is good for your child, not some abstract, non-specific, generic child.

The other place of advice besides the doctor’s office is the “village.” The old saying that it takes a village to raise a child refers to the fact that we do not live in a vacuum. We live in a community. Whatever that community may be – a neighborhood, family, online community, mothers group, coworker group, you pick. These are all social networks that may provide support and advice to any of our parenting woes.

The village does not replace the doctor. But the doctor does not replace the village either.

Children’s nutrition has a growing gap between what the doctor is telling us (or nutritionist or nurse or chef) and what is actually happening down in the streets of every day life. We lead busy lives and multitask more than any generation before us. Parents need practical tools about how to feed their children healthy food without complicated recipes that parents dread making children hate eating. We need the village to take on childhood nutrition so kids will grow up making healthy choices for themselves.