31 May 2012

10 Random Thoughts on Discipline

Tomorrow my husband and I and our three children will move back to the United States after two years of living in Europe. It will be a long travel day (understatement), no one is going to get much sleep, and it's highly likely (read: guaranteed) that someone (read: me) is going to lose it over something trivial at some point. I'm trying to consciously focus on being calm and in the present and taking things slowly. So far it's working because, well, we haven't gotten on the plane yet.

Anyway, this upcoming upheaval has me thinking a lot about my own discipline philosophy, and why gentle understanding and respect is always my goal . . . even when I'm stressed and screw it up. Following are ten random thoughts on discipline that popped into my head while mentally preparing myself for the transition.

1. Discipline should be (mostly) proactive, not reactive.

2. Connecting always trumps correcting.

3. If it sounds too complicated, it probably is. Don't make things harder than they need to be.

4. Realistic, age-appropriate expectations are essential.

5. Consistency is overrated. There is no one way that works best for every child, every time.

6. Amendment to #5: Physical punishment is never a good idea. Never.

7. If my own cup is empty, I have nothing left to pour out. It will affect how I relate to my children.

8. At least once every 24 hours I feel like I have it completely together as a parent and my kids are awesome and doing great.

9. At least once every 24 hours I feel like I am a complete loser and I'm ruining my kids and they are doomed.

10. Nearly everything that makes me feel crazy in the moment will not matter in ten years. or ten hours. or ten minutes.

This post was also shared at Connected Mom.

29 May 2012

Top Ten {Tuesday}: Breastfeeding Photos (part two)

Welcome to another Top Ten {Tuesday} post! Be sure to stop by Many Little Blessings and visit our host, Angie. 

Today's post is part two of my breastfeeding photo post. As I mentioned previously, these have all been used in various blog posts or shared on my Facebook page, but I've never gathered them all in one place before. Most are Andrew nursing at home and through our many travels, but a few others made the list as well. You can find part one here.

1. Agent A taking it easy on moving day. (April 2012)

2. Andrew and Momma at a playground in Barcelona. (June 2011)

3. Five-month-old A at the Boboli Gardens in Florence.
(April 2011)

4. At the Piazza San Marco in Venice . . . next to a sign that says
"no eating or drinking while sitting down." (August 2011)

5. Baby Agent A (8 weeks, hiding behind Julia) nursing 
on Christmas. (December 2010)

6. Outside of our apartment building. (February 2012)

7. Following a gelato break in Palermo (Sicily). (July 2011)

8. Hanging in the hotel we stayed at in Venice. (August 2011)

9. At Planet Hollywood London (with sleeping Julia).
(March 2012)

10. A painting at the Louvre. (December 2011)

22 May 2012

Top Ten {Tuesday}: Breastfeeding Photos (part one)

Welcome to Top Ten {Tuesday} hosted by Angie at Many Little Blessings.

Today I'm sharing another photo post . . . this one of breastfeeding art I've discovered on our travels as well as pictures of Agent A nursing in various locations we've visited. All of these pictures have already been shared either in a previous post or on my Facebook wall, but I've never put them all together in one place. And I discovered that I have so many of them that this is going to be part one of two. (So be sure to stop by next Tuesday to see the rest!)

These are in no particular order; just how I found them when skimming through my very full iPhoto files. Enjoy.

1. Agent A taking a break at this old Italian farmhouse 
where we had family pictures taken. (April 2012)

2. Sitting outside Westminster Abbey after our tour. (March 2012)

3. Andrew's newfound fascination with holding on 
to something while he nurses. (May 2012)

4. One of the sculptures I snapped a photo of on our visit 
to the Louvre. (December 2011)

5. Four-year-old Agent E nursing Daisy Duck 
at our hotel in Germany. (July 2010)

6. Eva breastfeeding her doll alongside me breastfeeding 
two-week-old Andrew. (November 2010)

7. Agent A taking a little break on our second trip 
to Florence. (August 2011)

8. Fountain of Neptune (aka, lactating sea nymph) 
in Bologna, Italy. (July 2010)

9. Nursing Agent A in Hyde Park, London. (March 2012)

10. Andrew pausing at the top of the Eiffel Tower 
while Eva looks on. (December 2011)

And a bonus one:

11. Waiting for the bus to take us back to the cruise ship 
following our tour in Lerici, Italy. (July 2011)

21 May 2012

A Tale of Two Weanings

Welcome to the Carnival of Weaning: Weaning - Your Stories
This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Weaning hosted by Code Name: Mama and Aha! Parenting. Our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles about the end of the breastfeeding relationship.

While pregnant with Agent E, I read a lot of mainstream books and magazines. I hadn't yet discovered the joys of Facebook and all the wonderful information contained within, but I did receive e-mail updates weekly telling me my baby had eyelashes or reached the size of a small gerbil. Breastfeeding always seemed to get a mention. Sometimes in a very positive way, listing all the "benefits" (don't get me started) and various tips. Sometimes in a neutral way, offering it up as one equal choice of two. Sometimes simply making it sound like an awful lot of work. At the time I was decidedly non-crunchy and viewed breastfeeding as mainly a financial choice.

Then I actually had a baby and survived those early days of nursing and things began to change. Long story short, I became a Breastfeeding Momma and my whole mothering worldview shifted.

They were both "still" nursing when this picture was taken
Eva weaned in August 2009, at age 3 years 3 months. Julia weaned in June 2010, at age 2 years 2 months. Following is a little about each of their stories.

I intended to wean Eva on her third birthday. I know it sounds totally arbitrary, but at the time it made perfect sense to me. Then we had the Great Spider Incident, a week-long saga in which some evil bug or spider (I'm still not 100% sure what) chomped on her leg and it swelled up ridiculously, and then she got a fever, and started puking, and ended up in urgent care on a Sunday morning (Mother's Day 2009 to be exact) and received lots of strong antibiotics for an additional two weeks. This all began the week of her birthday, so of course I couldn't stop nursing her then. I never really pushed the issue for most of the summer. (Hubby had left in February and we were just trying to survive mid-deployment insanity.) But then around the beginning of August I noticed she was only nursing for about a minute before bed, and almost never fell asleep nursing. She had long since given up napping, so we had been at the "only bedtime" stage for quite a while, but now even that seemed to be more of a cursory nod rather than a true need, or even a heartfelt want.

So we stopped. I don't remember the last time I nursed Eva. I imagine we probably sat in the rocker in our bedroom at bedtime and she nursed for 30-60 seconds before putting her down in bed and her drifting off. It may have taken a few days of "reminders" that we just snuggled at bedtime now, but no real fuss or muss of any kind.

By the time Julia came along, I had more of a clue. I had already breastfed for almost two years, including through the entire pregnancy. We had none of the difficulties Eva and I had. Julia latched on immediately and never looked back.

Julia became more of a "serious" nurser than Eva; she rarely nursed for comfort, even as a newborn, and pretty much took an all-business approach. I was actually a bit surprised when she continued showing an interest past her first birthday, yet she did. I became pregnant with her little brother when she was 21 months old, and we started the pregnancy with our nursing relationship humming along at its usual pace.

Agent J on our trip to Germany, just after she weaned
I had this picture in my head of what our "last time" would be like. It didn't turn out quite the way I hoped or expected. One night as she nursed before bed, I unlatched her because she was chomping too hard and I was getting sore and told her that was enough (in a not so nice tone) and she started to sob. And then I did, too. Although, I think it was more cathartic than sad; we both knew. It was kind of a long goodbye . . . there had been several times when she seemed "done" and yet would ask again a day or two later. We were both ready; I just wish I had been more kind with her during that particular incident. She never asked to nurse again after that night.

Part of me was sad because I really, really wanted to remember her last nursing session as positive, especially since I could barely recall Eva's. Truthfully, though, I enjoyed the "break" I had from nursing for about five months until Andrew came along. 

I breastfed both of them for one year and three months. I nursed two children to sleep every night for over a year. Both girls remember nursing fondly, as I mused about in For the Love of Moe. They have watched their little brother nurse many, many times and talk about how some day they will do the same for their babies. Breastfeeding is so ho hum to them. It's just what mommies and babies do.

One final note: I have no pictures of Eva breastfeeding. More than three years, and not one photo. I have one of Julia, taken when she was about 2.5 months old. This is why I take (and post) a bazillion and one photos of Andrew nursing. If you are reading this and you are just beginning your nursing relationship, photograph it. Have someone take pictures for you at every opportunity. You won't regret it.

Have you weaned one of your own children? What did the experience look like for you?

Thank you for visiting the Carnival of Weaning hosted by Dionna at Code Name: Mama and Dr. Laura at Aha! Parenting.

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

08 May 2012

Top Ten {Tuesday}: Ten (More) Great Children's Books

Welcome to Top Ten {Tuesday}, hosted by Angie at Many Little Blessings. Today I'm sharing a list of ten books we have out of the library right now. I know . . .  I've already done this before for another Tuesday post, but this is Children's Book Week, so I thought I'd share again.

1. Arthur, It's Only Rock 'n' Roll by Marc Brown

We come home with at least one Arthur book every week. The Agents love them.

2. Froggy Goes to the Doctor by Jonathan London

Thought this might come in handy since all three Agents had/have doctor's appointments within a ten-day period.

3. Hippos Go Berserk! by Sandra Boynton

One of our absolute favorite children's authors. We own probably a dozen of her books, but had not read this one yet.

4. In the Wild by David Elliot

Beautiful pictures and poetic language make this a good read aloud book.

Our current stash 
5. Little Whistle's Medicine by Cynthia Rylant

6. Mr. Putter & Tabby Pour the Tea by Cynthia Rylant

Both #5 and #6 are written by the same author, a new discovery we've been most pleased with. She also writes the Poppleton series. Love!

7. Mystery Math: A First Book of Algebra by David A. Adler

Some parts are a little advanced for E, but still a big hit.

8. National Geographic Kids: Meet the Mummies by Christopher Sloan

Okay, this one's a tad more graphic than I originally realized, but they seem intrigued.

9. Poop: A Natural History of the Unmentionable by Nicola Davies

I mean, who doesn't love a good book about poop?

10. The Berenstain Bears: Say Please and Thank You by Jan and Mike Berenstain

Another book series we tend to read a lot around here . . . Agent J in particular always seems to pick out one of these.

What great children's books are you reading this week?

Doing Things Differently

Welcome to the May 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting With or Without Extended Family
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how relatives help or hinder their parenting. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

For our entire parenting career (a whopping six years now :-) we have lived some distance from extended family. At first we were about an eight-hour drive; currently we're on another continent. Living far removed from the day-to-day lives of the majority of our close relatives has proven to be an advantage. While undoubtedly benefits exist to parenting your children while living close to one's family, for us being outside of the mold of "we've always done it like this" has enabled us to find our way uninhibited by well-meaning advice. 

We make decisions that few, if any, relatives and close friends have made for their own children. Often they are misunderstood, as most of our family is interpreting them through a mainstream filter. Very few of my female relatives breastfed, and if they did it was probably never talked about and with rare exception lasted a few months at best. If anyone co-slept, no one mentioned it. Discipline was understood as "punishment" and usually meant time outs (if not spankings). However, probably no aspect of child-rearing has solidified my position as the weird one of the family as our decision to homeschool.

The prevailing logic among most folks we know is, children goes to school because it's just what you do. Not everyone considered preschool a necessary step, but starting Kindergarten is seen as the Holy Grail of Parenting Young Children . . . a sign you had survived the little years and were moving on to a new chapter of parenting. Certainly no one would want to continue to be around their offspring day in and day out when they didn't have to be.

Homeschooling . . . that's way too much on the fringe. (Although, interestingly, I must admit when I first told my parents we planned to homeschool E instead of sending her to the school on base, they were remarkably neutral about the whole idea. Turns out one of my mom's sisters has a neighbor who homeschools their family of four young children. And they are smart, sweet, well-mannered kids . . . in other words normal. And that's the only example she had to go by, so her overall impression was positive. Whew.)

We're doing just fine, thanks
However, I've also found that while our family may not be shocked at our ideas about school now, even finding them quaint, no one seems to take it seriously as a long-term possibility. I have already been asked multiple times, not even one school year in, when E is going back to school. Maybe they think this was just something novel we did while living overseas? Certainly, the prevailing conventional wisdom is that this will be all fine and dandy while the Agents are young, but once they hit an age where they have Really Important Stuff To Learn That Everyone Needs To Know, things will have to change, right?

One thing I struggle with is letting others undermine my confidence. I know that when we visit family, I often allow myself to feel bothered by others' off-hand remarks. I don't like this personality trait, believe me. But, I am also the least controversial person on the planet. So, I am actively trying to work on this. One thing I have found that helps is the same logic I try to use at the pediatrician: Don't offer information, and answer questions as concisely as possible. I don't try to explain unschooling, for instance. I am vague about our flexible curriculum. I've learned to not give people fodder to work with.

I would like to think I'm improving on this, but I don't know. However, I believe that in general being removed from "how it's always been done" has increased the trust I have in myself and my parenting decisions.

How has living close to or far away from your family affected your parenting?

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
  • Dealing With Unsupportive Grandparents — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, The Pistachio Project tells what to do when your child's grandparents are less than thrilled about your parenting choices.
  • Parenting With Extended Family — Jenny at I'm a full-time mummy shares the pros and cons of parenting with extended family...
  • Parental Support for an AP Mama — Meegs at A New Day talks about the invaluable support of her parents in her journey to be an AP mama.
  • Priceless GrandparentsThat Mama Gretchen reflects on her relationship with her priceless Grammy while sharing ways to help children preserve memories of their own special grandparents.
  • Routines Are Meant To Be Broken — Olga at Around The Birthing Ball urges us to see Extended Family as a crucial and necessary link between what children are used to at home and the world at large.
  • It Helps To Have A Village – Even A Small One — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses how she has flourished as a mother due to the support of her parents.
  • The Orange Week — Erika at Cinco de Mommy lets go of some rules when her family finally visits extended family in San Diego.
  • One Size Doesn't Fit All — Kellie at Our Mindful Life realizes that when it comes to family, some like it bigger and some like it smaller.
  • It Takes a Family — Alicia at What's Next can't imagine raising a child without the help of her family.
  • A new foray into family — As someone who never experienced close extended family, Lauren at Hobo Mama wrestles with how to raise her kids — and herself — to restart that type of community.
  • My Mama Rocks! — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment is one lucky Mama to have the support and presence of her own awesome Mama.
  • Embracing Our Extended Family — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares 7 ideas for nurturing relationships with extended family members.
  • Doing Things Differently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares how parenting her children far away from extended family improved her confidence in her choices.
  • Snapshots of love — Caroline at stoneageparent describes the joys of sharing her young son's life with her own parents.
  • Parenting with Relies – A mixed bagUrsula Ciller shares some of her viewpoints on the pros and cons of parenting with relatives and extended family.
  • Tante and Uncles — How a great adult sibling relationship begets a great relationship with aunt and uncles from Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy.
  • Tips for Traveling With Twins — Megan at the Boho Mama shares some tips for traveling with infant twins (or two or more babies!).
  • Parenting passed through the generations — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about the incredible parenting resource that is her found family, and how she hopes to continue the trend.
  • My Family and My Kids — Jorje of Momma Jorje ponders whether she distrusts her family or if she is simply a control freak.
  • Parenting with a Hero — Rachel at Lautaret Bohemiet reminisces about the relationship she shared with her younger brother, and how he now shares that closeness in a relationship with her son.
  • Text/ended Family — Kenna of A Million Tiny Things wishes her family was around for the Easter egg hunt... until she remembers what it's actually like having her family around.
  • Two Kinds of Families — Adrienne at Mommying My Way writes about how her extended family is just as valuable to her mommying as her church family.
  • My 'high-needs' child and 'strangers' — With a 'high-needs' daughter, aNonyMous at Radical Ramblings has had to manage without the help of family or friends, adapting to her daughter's extreme shyness and allowing her to socialise on her own terms.
  • Our Summer Tribe — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger shares a love of her family's summer reunion, her secret to getting the wisdom of the "village" even as she lives 1,000 miles away.
  • My Life Boat {Well, One of Them} — What good is a life boat if you don't get it? Grandparents are a life boat MomeeeZen loves!
  • Dear Children — In an open letter to her children, Laura at Pug in the Kitchen promises to support them as needed in her early days of parenting.
  • Yearning for Tribal Times — Ever had one of those days where everything seems to keep going wrong? Amy at Anktangle recounts one such day and how it inspired her to think about what life must've been like when we lived together in large family units.
  • I don't have a village — Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama wishes she had family nearby but appreciates their support and respect.
  • Trouble With MILs-- Ourselves? — Jaye Anne at Wide Awake Half Asleep explains how her arguments with her mother-in-law may have something to do with herself.
  • A Family Apart — Melissa at Vibrant Wanderings writes about the challenges, and the benefits, of building a family apart from relatives.
  • First Do No Harm — Zoie at TouchstoneZ asks: How do you write about making different parenting choices than your own family experience without criticizing your parents?
  • Military Family SeparationAmy Willa shares her feelings about being separated from extended family during her military family journey.
  • Forging A Village In The Absence Of One — Luschka from Diary of a First Child writes about the importance of creating a support network, a village, when family isn't an option.
  • Respecting My Sister’s Parenting Decisions — Dionna at Code Name: Mama's sister is guest posting on the many roles she has as an aunt. The most important? She is the named guardian, and she takes that role seriously.
  • Multi-Generational Living: An Exercise in Love, Patience, and Co-Parenting — Boomerang Mama at The Other Baby Book shares her experience of moving back in with Mom and Dad for 7 months, and the unexpected connection that followed.
  • A Heartfelt Letter to Family: Yes, We're Weird, but Please Respect Us Anyway — Sheila of A Living Family sincerely expresses ways she would appreciate her extended family’s support for her and her children, despite their “weird” parenting choices.
  • The nuclear family is insane! — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle is grateful for family support, wishes her Mum lived closer, and feels an intentional community would be the ideal way to raise her children.

04 May 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday (30)

Time for another Quick Takes Friday post. Please stop by Jennifer's blog and check out her post and some of the others linked there.

Today's Quick Takes were going to have a theme, but I decided to go with random instead. Maybe next week.

1. Agent E turns six today. Ah, my test baby. You know, the first . . . the trail-and-error one. I think she's coming along just fine, actually. Smart and funny and a little crazy, too. Keeping me on my toes since her birth, when she decided to pop out three weeks and one day early. After hearing for the entire pregnancy, oh the first one is never early. Bah.

Agent E at 4 months (the day of her baptism)
2. Hubby had to go out of town this week, and I could not sleep without him. (Last night I went to bed at 11:30 and I've been up—as in out of bed, coffee made, working on my writing and puttering on Facebook—since 3:45. Hmm . . . maybe I'm just too dependent on him at night. Perhaps I need to learn to self-soothe. After all, I am nearly 40 years old. Oh, wait . . .

3. I need to start writing down things the Agents talk about . . . they will have these conversations, so breathtakingly funny and serious at the same time, but I never remember them exactly. I'm sure it would make a great Quick Takes, though.

4. In moving news, we ship our car this coming week. Which means soon we will no longer have a vehicle we all fit in. (Hubby will still have his car for work.) Not sure if we're going to try to do a last-minute day trip or not. I'd say probably not. I'm really kind of over it.

Agent E on her 3rd birthday

5. Are you a "routine" person? I tend to waffle, but yes . . . I think mostly I am.

6. Tuesday I did another photo post, and it was a lot of fun (but a lot of work) as usual. I'm thinking I could probably come up with enough photos to do posts on the following topics: Pigeon Chases Around the World, Julia Asleep in Odd Locations, Andrew Breastfeeding Across Europe, and Kids With Cats. Stay tuned.

Agent E at our family photo shoot last week
7. For those of you who have both personal and blog Facebook pages, how do you organize them? For me, my personal page is family and friends (plus a few news-related sites) and my blog page is writing-related or parenting-related pages. So, I only "like" pages related to what I blog about (parenting, homeschooling, breastfeeding, writing, etc.) on my blog Facebook page. That way, when I comment on other pages I show up as Momma in Progress, not Valerie. Yes, this has the added bonus of getting your blog name out there if you comment a lot but the real benefit is not showing up in the ticker of your personal friends' pages. On the one hand, what difference does it make if you have a blog that's public and share all kinds of details about your personal life, right? Still, I can see what comes through my personal page's ticker whenever friends comment on public pages (and a blog page is going to be public) and I think, hmm . . . as much as I love sharing with them, do all 220 of my personal friends need to read my post on XYZ Breastfeeding Site about my suggestions for toddlers who bite? Or my thoughts on birth control on Site of Random Blogger Who Is Considering Various Methods? Or my mini-rant on Blog Post That Made Zero Sense? Because I can see those kinds of posts from friends. 

Hope you have a great weekend. I'm looking forward to Hubby being home. And birthday cake. Mmm . . . cake.

02 May 2012

Our Experience With Child-Led Learning

In my short homeschool parent tenure, I’ve gotten a lot of inquiries from friends and family about what we do. My personal favorite: Someone asked me shortly after we began our homeschooling journey, “What qualifications do you have? Do you have a teaching degree?”

After I bit my tongue really hard to prevent even more snark from slipping out, I said something like, “Um, no . . . but I think I can handle kindergarten academics.”
I know folks are asking out of love and concern. Usually people want to know things like what kind of plan or curriculum I use, how much time I spend on each subject, and how do I not go crazy staying home and teaching all day. (Because, of course, all homeschool students are at their desks every day from 8:00 to 2:00 with nary a break for eating or going to the bathroom.)

But mostly they are genuinely curious: How do you “teach” kindergarten at home? When I tell them what we really do— child-led learning— I never know what kind of reaction I will get.

We let E take the lead in most of her daily activities. If folks press about what she actually does I tell them we use a homemade curriculum, which while slightly misleading, is more or less accurate. Our style is kind of unschool-ish, although I don’t really use that term to describe us. (For a great representation of unschooling, however, check out this and this.) I don’t know how our “style” of home education will change as E and her two younger siblings grow. But for now, we are very laid back, cooperative, life learners.

Actually, I’m not even sure what part of our day I would consider “school”: When she’s on the couch reading a book? When she’s playing math bingo? When she wants me to look up alligators on the computer with her? When she’s sitting at the kitchen table doing a word search? When we’re outside playing with mud?

It all kind of blurs into daily life here. If I count all of those things, however, we are pretty much “doing” school most of the day.

I guide her learning, in that I will offer different things for her to do.  For example, this week I printed coloring pages, word searches, and puzzles about the UK in preparation for our visit to London in a few weeks. However, she decides when and which ones to work on.

It’s the same with reading.  At the library this time of year I may steer her toward a few books on say, Easter or spring, but let her pick which ones come home with us. I might also throw some measuring cups in the bathtub for her to play with if we’ve been cooking together or talking about fractions. I will  purposely ask her what time it is more often because she is just learning and I want to see if she remembers and what her thought process is.

So what am I teaching my five-year-old? I’m teaching her to be proactive with her learning. I’m teaching her to self-pace her activities to a level that works for her. I’m teaching her to enjoy new things. I’m teaching her that her input into her own education matters.

And whether we continue down this path or ultimately choose something more structured, I think she’s going to be just fine.

How do you describe your preferred style of homeschooling? If you’ve been at it for a while, how has it evolved?

This post was also shared at The Homeschool Classroom.