Saturday, November 21, 2009

The risk of reading too much

What a funny little parenting trajectory I have been on. Getting pregnant as a twenty-something career women, I did everything I thought I was supposed to. Attended all my appointments with my GP, switched to OB-GYN visits in the seventh month, bought everything the baby magazines told me I needed, had a lousy hospital birth experience, and took home my struggling-to-nurse newborn son 36 hours after he was born. I planned to care for him "by the book", and expected to be pretty much like the other young parents I knew, with the exception, of course, that my child would be just a little smarter, better adjusted and more well-behaved then their children were. I never anticipated morphing into the mother I am today.

So, to borrow a line from Talking Heads, well, how did I get here? And I think it all started when my son was about 2 months old, and decided sleep is for the weak. (Thanks to amberjee at for bringing humour to this most debilitating of parenting dilemmas). At first, I thought it would pass. It didn't. Then, we tried on that much debated practice of having him "cry it out". And when I said we tried, I mean, for about 5 minutes one desperate night. I can't even pretend we had the stomach for it.

But, I believe in research, right? I figured the answer to this problem is in a book somewhere. Or on the Internet. And I, resident research queen, will find it. What I was really looking for was something to convince me that leaving him to "cry-it-out" was really the best for everyone concerned. If I could just find an argument convincing enough to quell my guilt, I could silence my inner sobbing mama, and muscle through it. But I never found that book or article. Instead, I found increasingly convincing books and articles outlining why I shouldn't do it. Pleading with me, even. Begging me to listen to that inner mama, for my child's sake. And that, folks, was the beginning of my descent into granola land.

The first book I read on the subject was The Baby Sleep Book by Dr. William Sears. Prior to picking up the pink book with the adorable sleeping infant on the cover (the infant I wanted to have living in my house), I had never even heard of the infamous Dr. Sears. Now I could probably tell you everything you never wanted to know about him. Other sleep books that pulled me further into the land of gentle parenting were The No-cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley, and Sleepless in America by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.

And I didn't stop with sleep books. I couldn't! Because these books told me more than how to cope with disturbed sleep. They told me that they believed in my ability to parent. That there was something inside a parent that was superior to empirical research. That it was okay to make my choices from the heart.

For someone who works in a VERY research-based, empirical field, reading these books felt like indulgence in contraband. It was like flirting with the enemy, and I couldn't get enough. So I read more titles from Pantley, Kurcinka and Sears. I added in titles published by La Leche League, and started attending local meetings, where I found more books to read. I read Good Nights by Dr. Jay Gordon, and lost my guilt over co-sleeping. I read The Natural Baby by Janet Balaskas, which helped to normalize breastfeeding, night waking, baby wearing, and responsive parenting. And when I read Lu Hannessian's Let the Baby Drive, the validation high lasted for weeks.

It has not been a perfectly smooth ride, mind you. In my previous post, Fear of a unique path, I described my difficulties in knowing how far to walk along this road, how to decide what is me, and what is just conforming to the alternative crowd. I still do not buy organic, my son is vaccinated, we have plastic toys. But I am much further from the mainstream then I would have guessed 2 years ago. We are still nursing, we cloth diaper, we co-sleep on and off... And it all started with sleepless nights, and the local library. Be careful what you read, my friends. Ideas are powerful things.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Montessori at our house

As part of my work responsibilities, I started visiting a local Montessori preschool last spring. Everything about the environment appealed to me: the soft, solid colours, the art on the walls, the entire airy, organized space. The children in the school were calmer and more self-controlled than any of the children I had witnessed as other preschools and daycare centers I have visited. My interest was peaked, and my natural inclination for research took over. I had to learn more about this.

Previous to this experience, the only thing I knew about Montessori school was that Anne Frank had attended one. We read her famous diary in English in junior high, and I remembered that she had to leave her beloved Montessori school to attend a Jewish school when the Dutch segregation began. After learning about the Montessori method, and seeing the difference in approach and its resulting effect on the learning atmosphere, I can understand why Anne saw the change as a loss.

After months of research through books, magazines, blogs, websites, and even YouTube videos, I have slowly brought some Montessori-inspired changes into our home. The Montessori idea that has most resonated with me is one of the Prepared Environment. That basically means making a child's environment accessible to him by using low cupboards, shelves, and child-size furniture and tools. Making these modifications to my home has been a labour of love, and I am delighted to share them with you.
This first modification is something many families may have in their home, but definitely is in line with the idea of the Prepared Environment. Nik is able to take out and put away his own jacket and shoes, thanks to a Shaker-style peg rail I picked up at the local thrift store.

Adding a Rubbermaid foot stool to our livingroom has made the space much more functional for Nik. He can use it with the coffee table for snack, or playing with table top toys.

It is also so lightweight, that he can move it around himself to explore or access things that are otherwise too high for him to reach. Here he is standing over our cabinet stereo, watching the cd in the cd player spin.

More involved changes have been things like Nik's kitchen cupboard.All of the child size dishes and cutlery can be found here, organized and ready to use or explore. Favourite things included in this cupboard are
Child-size metal cutlery in a miniature cutlery tray, and A stoneware creamer used for pouring as a child-size pitcher.

Both the cutlery tray and the creamer were thrift store finds. I have yet to order even a single item from the high-priced Montessori supply catalogues.

I have saved my very favourite home Montessori spot for last: our mini-classroom. Against one wall in my small home's very small office, we have this area:
It consists of a child-size table and chair, bulletin board at child-eye level, drawers for art supplies and an open shelf of table tasks. Based more on what I have seen at the local Montessori preschool than what I have read in books, this area is designed so that Nik can choose his own task, and bring it to the table to work on.

He loves his "desk". My husband and I both have desks in this room, too, so it is satifying to him that he has not been left out, I think. His current favourite 'work' is a toss up between pressing alphabet cookie cutters into homemade playdough, and stringing buttons on shoelaces. See photos below for a few more details of this space.

Playdough and accessories.

Work shelf with stringing beads, buttons, puzzles, hammer toy, alphabet desk and peg board.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Blogging for Bliss

After having the name and address for this blog for more than a year, now, I am ashamed at how little I have a) posted to it, and b) learned about how to use it.

Oh, I have an excuse list a mile long, mind you. I have been reading my little eyes out, for one. Nik and I have been spending time every week at the local library. We spend it mainly in the children's department, due to his ever-moving ways, but our local library has a fabulous online catalogue, and I search and place books on hold from the comfort of my PC during the respite that comes during Nik's naps on my weekdays off. Paired with the wonderful recommendation system developed and hosted by, I have access to more interesting books than I ever have time to read.

I have also taken another Internet-related plunge, which is taking up some of my computer time lately. I, too, have fallen victim to the Facebook epidemic. Oh, I resisted for a long time, believe me! But when searching for active online groups covering a variety of topics, I found everyone was meeting on Facebook, time and time again. That, paired with a co-worker implying I was only abstaining out of snobbery, was enough to push me over the Facebook cliff. Immune to peer pressure I am not. ;-)

But, here I am today, with new resolve for broadcasting the innane details of my existence to an Internet community of strangers. Blogging holds the appeals of being able to ramble on and on, without interupttion, a true tempation for a chatterbox such as myself.

But I need to start slow. Even trying to figure out how to change my background from black to the more popular white a few moments ago opened a Pandora's box of stress for this technologically-challenged sister. Not knowing how to do something, especially when I don't even know where to learn how, hurts my pride, and my body puffs up with ugly entitlement. Before I know it, I am angry at the Internet itself for being difficult on purpose! This techno-tantrum is truly not my most attractive side, so my first aim is to only add a photo. And to all you smirking veteran bloggers out there, remember... We all start somewhere. Also, never underestimate my ability to make mountains out of molehills.

Given that this blog post has no real subject, sort of like Seinfeld, choosing a photo to illustrate it, will be in itself a challenge. Vacation photo? Latest shot of my son around the house? What about Halloween? All contenders, but all seem a little common, a little dull... Not quite right for an inagural photo. I mean, this could set the mood for all that is to come! I may never reach elusive blogger fame, if the first photo isn't just right. Let's see... Pretty nature shot? Flowers, butterflies, beaches... Nope, nope and nope. Hmmm... I've got it!

A duck!


Friday, June 12, 2009

Art journalling

Since my son was born nearly 18 months ago, I am afraid that my long time papercrafting passion has gone by the wayside due to lack of time and opportunity to indulge. Oh, I still get my Scrapbook etc. subscription in the mail, and I am keeping all my supplies and continuing to take photos, but I have pretty much stopped shopping, and haven't completed a single layout for months. I kept telling myself the opportunity would arise again, and maybe it still will, but in the meantime my soul was withering away from creativity dehydration.

Enter art journalling.

For Christmas, many members of my family write wish lists, and post them on my brother's web site, to make shopping easier on us all. I didn't have many things on my list this year, which resulted in getting not one, but two, copies of Kelly Rae Roberts "Taking flight", one of the books on my list. A fabulous, inspiring, tall-drink-of-water book, but I still didn't need two. So off to Chapters I went to exchange the second copy for another book of the same type. I looked through all the scrapping and cardmaking books and magazines, feeling sort of ho-hum about them, and then a new type of book caught my eye: Sharon Soneff's "Art Journals & Creative Healing". I knew Sharon Soneff's name from the scrapping world, best for her Sonnet's line of scrap supplies, and so I flipped through the book, deciding almost immediately that it was the book I had been looking for.

Being the research-oriented kook I am, I had to read multiple more books, magazines, and online articles/blogs on art journaling and altered books before I was ready to put pen to paper in my own version, but during a recent holiday I took the plunge, picking up a spiral bound sketch journal, and a giant jar of gesso at Hobby Lobby. My work is simple so far, consisting of drawing and/or painting with a wide variety of mediums (watercolour, pen, coloured pencil, crayon, oil pastel) and handwritten thoughts. I hope to get into more collage techniques in time, and also complete an altered book honouring my love of children's literature, in a old copy of A. A. Milne's "Winnie the Pooh".

In the meanwhile, I am staining my bedsheets with art supplies, working in my journal before bed a few nights a week. It has proved a wonderful tool for combatting overthinking and negative self talk, and I hope create a record of personal growth (a la Sabrina Ward Harrison). The spin off benefit of beginning this new hobby is that, in addition to meeting my needs of getting messy and making things, I feel more in touch with my inner artist than I ever have, and I am having the strangest cravings to read poetry, or spend a day at the art gallery. If only I could afford real art lessons...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Fear of a unique path

There are days when I feel like we are on a totally original parenting path. Choosing not to conform to the parenting choices around us seems to mean choosing to blaze a new trail. No, not in the global sense (we are not inventing totally new ways of doing things), but in a local sense. Being the first of the 'real' people we know, the first among our peers to do things differently, has left us feeling like pioneers, and we've experienced the accompanying sense of aloneness.

I have found that parenting has no autopilot. Every day brings new choices. Even if it is a choice you made yesterday, you have to choose to make the same choice today, or to do it differently. What is more, each choice seems to lead to one camp or another. Once you take the first step in a particular direction, it is hard to know how long to walk that path. Like joining a religious movement or a political party, there is pressure to conform, and I wonder if the "others" will accept us if we don't buy into everything. Can I choose to cloth diaper, but not buy organic? What if I breastfeed, choosing even to nurse past one year, but don't wait for child-led weaning? What if I pick up my son when he cries, never leaving him to sob himself to sleep, but keep him happy in a swing or exersaucer every chance I get? Am I leading a false life if I profess natural parenting, but my home is filled with plastic toys?

Adding to the stress of these external influences, the various schools of thought that make up my internal landscape seem to be at odds with each other as well. Sorting out how to remain true to what I believe, and also parent in a way that is filled with loving kindness, overwhlems me. I feel like a walking oxymoron at times. How can I rectify my respect for leadership and firm moral roots, with my heart's longing for gentle discussion and understanding, and my head's logical assessment of the science behind behaviour? To simplify, how can I belive in both autocracy and democracy, or natural development and behavioural reinforcment, when these things seem to be consistently at odds with one another?

How much easier would it be to just join up with a group and go with the flow? To do everything the same as the majority at church, or in my neighbourhood mom's group, or at my breastfeeding support group, or as the professionals in my workplace... My head is tired from the struggle, from considering things from all the angles, from thinking and thinking about the choices we make for our family, our son.

Is there any way for me to describe sufficiently the longing I have to truly connect with someone in real life? Because of the internet and myriad of published books out there, I am never at a loss to read the words of someone who shares my perspective or passion in any given subject. But message boards and books always leave the speaker at arm's length, only giving such a limited view of that person. Okay, so I know your thoughts on how nuture a child. What about your thoughts on spirituality, nutrition, marriage, work, art, fitness.... and the list goes on and on.

I guess I am afraid of walking a totally unique path, both as a mother, and otherwise. I don't need the whole world to share my perspective on every little thing, but meeting just one other would be nice. My longing for the perfect mentor mom is so pervasive. What a load off of my shoulders it would be to be able to have someone to run to the next time I don't know which way to turn! In my fantasy, she would have just the perfect solution, complete with logical and heartfelt reasons, and it would marry beautifully with the rest of my life. I would leave my meeting with her feeling competent and empowered, knowing just what to do next.

The reality of course, is that my perfect mentor does not exist. Adult life is defined by the struggle, the doubts and regrets, the wondering if you did the right thing, and what you will do next. It is not surprising that these feelings are brought into even sharper relief when undertaking a task as complicated and important as parenting. So we move forward, persistently weaving together our spiritual, moral, intellectual, interpersonal and intuitive knowledges as we come to each fork in the road. May you have God's blessing on the journey.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...