A “No!” is a “No!” is a “No!”.

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It starts early. WAY earlier than I would have imagined. Elisabeth says “No!” to an older boy who is getting too close and he doesn’t pay any attention. Granted, he’s maybe a year older so he might not understand the “No!”but Mom does. And she’s standing right there. Could part of the reason we have men who don’t get “No=No” be due to the fact that their parents didn’t teach it? After today, I’m inclined to think “Yes.”

I was sure that I was going to have a boy. I felt it. I knew it. So when I was told that Elisabeth was a girl, I was stunned in only the way that the stubborn can be when completely blindsided. My first thought: I’m not always going to be able to protect her. IMG_3733If I had a boy, I would teach him not to hit, rape. Teach him to get consent, to listen for a “No!”. But with a girl, that kind of education is very different. So, today when Elisabeth says “no!” to another boy getting too close, reaching for her hair/body, I have to step in. Literally. In the middle. My body was blocking hers. From him.

Mom was there. But for some reason Elisabeth’s “No!” didn’t elicit a very strong reaction from her. Perhaps Mom is someone who has never been violated or abused or known anyone who has been. Or perhaps she doesn’t know any better. Would she have acted more swiftly if her son had bit or kicked my daughter? Maybe “just” pulled her hair? I think so. (I hope so.) Clearly, a verbal “No!” wasn’t enough….until it happened a few more times and I was again right there. Then Mom started to pay attention. At one point, I explained to her that Elisabeth has had her hair pulled a few times recently. Meaning: it was scary and painful and she’s reminded of these part actions when he moves close to her. Why isn’t a verbal “No!” enough? It should be.

Let me be clear, I don’t blame the child. He seemed sweet enough. I blame Mom. She’s the person who needs to teach the difference between right and wrong. She should be the one teaching about consent and personal space. [Dad or Mom’s partner too, of course, but they weren’t present.] Parents of boys have a special responsibility to teach these issues. Boys –> men are the privileged ones in our society. They are the ones who disproportionately perpetrate violence against women. One in three women will be victims of physical or sexual abuse in their lifetime. One in seven girls will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. If these statistics don’t mean violence against women is a social epidemic I don’t know what does.

I think we need to start paying attention to and respecting the “No!”…for so many reasons but perhaps the biggest one is that kids, especially girls, should feel that their voice matters. If we teach them that their “no!” matters, then aren’t we also saying that bigger or stronger isn’t the final word on a disagreement? In the interest of a safer world for everyone, that sure sounds like a good thing. There’s more, of course: teaching respect of a “No!” would go a long way to reducing those scary violence against women statistics, blaming the victim for something that happens to her and helping people see each other as other humans, instead of objects.

We use a “No!” against girls in so many ways, so early on. Don’t be: “too” loud, “too” big, “too” smart or “too” strong. Don’t take up too much space or ask for too much or aim too high. If we respect her “No!”, might we not stop censoring other pieces of girls as well? That’d be a good thing too. I don’t now. I’m just a mom with a background in serving survivors and educating the public about intimate partner violence. But it feels to me like teaching a child to respect a “No!” can only be a good thing.

Signs of Affection

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I’m not worried about stranger danger. I hold more knowledge about predators and abusers in the big toe of my right foot (my better foot) than most people ever will know. That’s a good thing. We need people to know and share their knowledge…even of unpleasant things. But I mention this not because I want to talk about the myth of stranger danger but because I want to talk about the opposite: affection.

I never taught Elisabeth to blow a kiss or give a hug. Teaching my daughter to give affection never sat well with me. So I didn’t do it. But I have taught her to high-five. A high-five seemed like a grand idea. It’s even applicable in the adult world, unlike blowing kisses. Seriously, who blows kisses to people in real life?! Here’s why I like the high-five:

  1. It’s an invitation. An invitation that is open and warm (“I want to greet you!” or “let’s connect”) but one that can be refused. It’s a physical but unlike moving in for a hug (which can be seen as an intrusion) it’s an invitation.
  2. A high-five also puts everyone on the same power level. I can high-five LeBron James without feeling helpless. But if LeBron were to give me a hug, I’d immediately feel his physical strength and know I couldn’t match that…or remove myself, if I wanted too.
  3. It’s affectionate without being sexual. I can high-five the banker at Suntrust with whom I opened my Outside The Mom Box account and also my friend, Ellie. Elisabeth high-fives Jamie and Amelia at Monuts and her grandparents.
  4. It’s an equal opportunity greeting. Everyone can do it without judgment. Men, women, boys and girls. People who identify as gay, straight, bi. People of every color. People who speak different languages and practice different religions. Everyone and anyone can high-five.

I try to ask permission when I want to give a hug but I don’t always. Which is my bad because I know that unless you do ask permission to give a hug (and this concept seemed way too confusing for a toddler to get), a hug can be very uncomfortable for some receivers. It might feel like too much an invasion of personal space…for adults and kids. We’re all different so this makes sense. There are the cultural considerations, too, about hugging too. My husband isn’t from a “hugging” family nor are Germans huggers in general.

It seems like we need to do a better job helping kids say what is and isn’t okay related to their body. In my mind, a high-five is a nice way to help them practice this voice. Small or shaky, all voices matter. If we put them in a place where they must receive (ditto for asking them to give) affection, how are they supposed to learn that they can decline another uncomfortable, and perhaps dangerous, kind of touch? And just as bad, how would they know we would take them seriously if they did…if we don’t listen to their ‘no’ when it comes to “smaller” things like hair cuts or hugs?

When not high-fiving, we sometimes like to do downward facing dog with new friends!

When not high-fiving, we sometimes like to do yoga with new friends!

Elisabeth like the high-five although the fine mechanics of it continue to be refined. She thrusts her little hand up in the air and often misses the target hand as it moves toward hers. Recently when she was asked by an aquaitenance of mine if she would give him a hug, I explained to him that we high-five. I told him a bit about why. I saw a lightbulb go on and he was perfectly wonderful with my explanation. (I realize this may be a harder conversation for those with a grandparent or family member who was raised to give hugs). I asked Elisabeth if she wanted to give him a high-five. Without hesitation, she raised her little hand up, palm open and smiled.

Blessed

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Shortly after Elisabeth was born my father-in-law asked my husband if we planned to baptize her. Not being members of any church my husband said “no”. When he relayed the conversation to me later, I told Fabian that I didn’t mind having Elisabeth baptized, especially if it felt important to my in-laws. So when we arrived last summer, Elisabeth was baptized. Afterwards we celebrated at a local beer garden where Elisabeth was given a lime green pinwheel by one of the IMG_4261servers in lieu of a beer.  Aside from some photos of the occasion, I haven’t thought of it since.

Until yesterday. Fabian and Elisabeth were ahead of me as they left the apartment in Regensburg. After I’d locked the door, I looked down the street to see a short man approaching them. He was elderly and acted in a familiar sort of way. I watched him speak to my husband but wasn’t close enough to hear any words. I could tell that although Fabian didn’t know the man, he wasn’t concerned. The old man touched Elisabeth’s head. In spite of feeling apprehensive, I continued to watch. A few more words were exchanged. The man walked away.

A moment later my husband saw me and started to walk my way. Curiousity overwhelmed me, “Who was that man?” I asked. He was a retired priest who lived in a house nearby, my husband told me. He said to my husband, “Excuse me, sir, may I give your child a benediction?”. When my husband agreed (who turns down a blessing?!) and told him our daughter’s name. Then the priest said, “Elisabeth, may you be blessed in the name of the father, son and the holy spirit.” and touched her head and forehead in that way that priests do. Then he thanked my husband who thanked him back and went along his way.

Another encounter with a priest in a life where we seldom encounter religion at all? Both in the same city. Both under a year. I think of myself as a spiritual person, not a religious one but I can’t help but feel blessed. I can imagine the priest jokes that some might think of when they read this, but for me this experience is sweetness and light. We are blessed. To be here on vacation but also to have a stranger come up and offer a blessing to my daughter. Then bang! Seconds later my superstitious Irish grandmother side kicks in. And I start to wonder when the bottom is going to drop out. But let me banish the banshee of superstition. Instead, I will concentrate on the moments that I have and remember feeling blessed.

Help Your Clients Understand Their Rights in the Workplace

Such an important post for any new or expecting mom!

Breastfeeding Medicine

With more than half of women with infants employed, simple workplace accommodations are critical for breastfeeding success. By helping moms understand their rights as a breastfeeding employee and plan for their return to work, lactation care providers can support a successful transition so that working moms are supported to reach their personal breastfeeding goals.

The federal “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law requires employers to provide break time and a private place for hourly paid employees to pump breast milk during the work day. The United States Breastfeeding Committee’s Online Guide: What You Need to Know About the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” Law compiles key information to ensure every family and provider has access to accurate and understandable information on this law.

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6 “starter” books to read with your #baby or #toddler

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It’s so easy to get sucked into the hype of being a new mom. We’re told that we need to be the best advocate for our child(ren) which involves the “small” stuff like knowing signs of readiness for solids as well as the “larger” issues like keeping up on the latest information related to children’s health. So when someone comes along with something that feels like it might be a timesaver AND help our child at the same time, many of us feel compelled to seize upon it.  But, sadly, in spite of Baby Einstein’s lofty promises, a new article in The Atlantic confirms that no, babies cannot learn to read at three months.

Sometimes, it’s articles like these that reminds me to take a step backward and just enjoy the moments with my daughter as they happen.  In that vein, below are 6 books for you and your baby that I’ve found offer a good jumping off point into reading:

  1. Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry – I read this book for the first time to Elisabeth at 3 months after I saw it at my sister Sarah’s house. Plot: a friendly blue truck talks to everyone and helps out a larger truck who isn’t as friendly. Yes, a little bit of an advanced storyline for a newborn but the rhyme-y nature, pithy life lessons (“now I know a lot depends on a helping hand from a few good friends,”) and gender neutral characters sucked me in! I now know this book by heart and can recite it on call whenever stuck in a traffic jam or an unfriendly airport. Elisabeth still loves it. photo-258
  2. Tumble Bumble by Felicia Bond – Another one we started reading at 3 months. Plot: animal characters find unexpected adventures (and unlikely friendships!) with each other on a sunny afternoon.  Very fun, gender neutral and also catchy. Another one I know by heart and can recite anywhere.
  3. Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M Jossee & Barbara Lavallee – One of our favorites that I have been reading to Elisabeth since she was born. Plot: a little girl tests mom and mom continues to reassure that mom’s love is forever. Endlessly sweet and beautifully illustrated. Mom and daughter appear to be Native American which is also nice. A very simple book with lots of opportunities for discussion.
  4. Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown – A classic that I loved as a child and one which we started early, early with Elisabeth. Plot: A gender neutral bunny getting ready for bed bids good night to pretty much everything (“goodnight stars, goodnight air,”) before finally ready for sleep. Lots of simple, easy to understand language with words to learn and repeat. Repetitive but not boring.
  5. Each Peach Pear Plum by Allan Ahlberg & Janet Ahlberg– One of my favorites that went off my radar until recently. Plot: Several fairy tale and folk characters (Mother Hubbard, Cinderella, Wicked Witch, Robin Hood, etc. ) join in to form a sweet, rhyming story which is engaging and fun. Great opportunities to ask baby/toddler what he sees as he gets older (“where are the bunnies?” or “Show me where the broom is.”).
  6. Roadwork by Sally Sutton- A recent discovery. Plot: a crew of men and women build a road from start to finish with amazing sound affects along the way. Wow, what is not to be crazy about in this board book? There is a nice repetition, lot of action, beautiful illustrations and a crew who works together on each page to achieve the goal. Elisabeth loves the sound affects on each page.

While your baby may not learn to read at 3 months, it is important to read to her, as this piece featured on WUNC recently explored. Remember, too, that when you read together, she is learning new words as well as a love of books. These little seeds are like so many as a parent that you plant on a daily basis which hopefully will stay with your child for life.

What are your favorites?  What would you add to this list?  Leave a comment below.

Innocent, sexist,…both?

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At the post office a few weeks ago, Elisabeth and I joined a long line of people waiting to mail packages.  The woman in front of us turned around and smiled.  We smiled back.  She and I started chatting and at one point she remarked, “I bet she’s the apple of her daddy’s eye.”  “Both of us actually.” I replied. She nodded and the line inched forward.

...so there's no confusion.

…so there’s no confusion.

I began to wonder about her assumption that my daughter would be “cherished above else” by her father but not by me.  [Granted, the woman didn’t come out and say that exactly but it was implied.] Is this one more way that sexist stereotypes affects our daughters, “Daddy’s Girl” and all that crap?  I’m not sure but it didn’t feel right when it was said aloud and that’s usually a red flag.  And while the woman wasn’t explicitly objectifying my daughter (nor was she talking directly to her) is this a great deal different than commenting on her prettiness or how well dressed she is?  Which, come to think of it, she had mentioned earlier.

Maybe I am off-base here, over-reacting or splitting hairs.  It’s possible; I am a little tired.  But here’s my sexist (and racist, homophobic, etc.): would she have talked about her adorable smile and her big blue eyes then made the dreaded apple comment if Elisabeth were a little boy?  I kind of doubt it.

Maybe Storm’s parents are onto something.

What Parents Can Really Give at Christmas

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I read KJ Dell’Antonia piece _Will There be ‘Too Much Stuff’ Under Your Tree_ a few weeks ago and quickly Tweeted a resounding “NO WAY”.

It is tempting to buy stacks of gifts because they are so much less expensive (this neat graphic via Get Rich Slowly helps illustrate the costs of Christmas nicely) and the “well, what’s one more thing really?” mindset feels so pervasive.  But my husband and I are making a concerted effort to not get into the habit of over-the-top gift giving, even while Elisabeth is little. For two main reasons:

1) Mega gift giving feels like too much of a competition that no one can win, least of all my daughter.  My husband and I want Elisabeth engaged and interested in what she receives as gifts, not bored and unaffected.

2) The cultivation of attitudes of gratitude and generosity are important values to us.  The more stuff under the tree, the less likely, it seems to me, that there will be a connection to who gave the gift, how the gift was chosen, the thought behind the gift.

Both of these go back to my belief that more isn’t better. It’s Barry Schwartz’s Paradox of Choice theory ringing true again: the more choice we have, the unhappier we are.

To sandbag our small daughter against the tide of consumption that is so much a part of our daily world, we agreed that for Christmas we would do one “big” thing (this year it’s a used rocking horse that I found via Durham Mom’s Club which cost me $20!) and some smaller items. Admittedly, I did get carried away with books as some of our smaller items.  Elisabeth is at the point where she’s interested in longer books (Mike Mulligan and the faithful Mary Ann for example) so I splurged for a few in that same genre.  But aside from a small baby doll that we bought at Morgan Imports (a steal at $4.49), there are no other toys.  Elisabeth has sidewalk chalk in her stocking, a wrapped replica of Major Bull nestled in there next to the baby doll and a copy of_Sheep in a Jeep_.  That’s it.

photo-248It’s still a bit hard for me, not to see oceans of brightly wrapped packages under a massive Christmas tree. I LOVE buying gifts! I’m also the oldest of four and when we grew up, there were stacks of presents under the tree.  But there were six of us.  Today my family is three.  Besides the numbers difference, I wonder if this memory of so many gifts is just another way that our age tricks us? Everything is larger, more wonderful when you are small and confident in Santa.

And maybe that’s the real crux of it.  Everything is already wonderful when you’re new in the world.  Or it should be anyway. A spool of silky ribbon, unattached to a present, is an amazing gift. I think that’s what I want to feed Elisabeth as long as I can: the gift of wonder. I don’t want her as a three year old to be uninterested in toys, asking only for iTunes gift cards. Let me (try) spare Elisabeth the ennui that comes from quantity.  Instead, I’ll focus on keeping it small, but still bright, to hold onto the magic as long as we can.

A few nice ideas about how to reign in the holiday gift giving extravaganza are here.

How do you handle gift giving in your family?  And how do you get others to respect that?  Leave me a comment below.  Safe, happy holidays to all.  Thank you for reading.

Road Trip Tips

It seemed like a good idea: get in the car with a seventeen month old and drive ten hours overnight.  Elisabeth would sleep (of course) and so would I.  Wouldn’t I?  Well, even if she had slept, I sure wasn’t going to be getting much sleep cramped in the back seat next to her.  In hindsight, the decision to drive to Norman, OK for Thanksgiving with a walking toddler was not only an insane idea but a massive statement on the absolute misery that is air travel in the United States today.  But, I digress.  There were some bright spots on the road trip and PLENTY of learning experiences. Here are a few:

  1. I packed a boatload of games and books, most of which Elisabeth had never seen before.  This worked well…on the way there. She had a cool new puzzle; at least twelve board books; a small shoebox of fabric scraps, ribbon, wrapping paper bits, cardboard spools and other trinkets to unpack and throw around; a neat-o Melissa and Doug farm puzzle that made noises when assembled correctly; dominoes, Scrabble letters, photo album and more.  The diversity of choices made choosing items an activity in itself which was a nice benefit.
  2. Many of those items also worked on the cool Snack and Play Travel Tray that someone on the Chapel Hill Durham Alternative Parenting list serve recommended.  Elisabeth is a little short for it but she still used it as a functional surface for puzzle work and snacking. A great recommendation & worth the $20.
  3. Cracker Barrel was an unexpected source of awesome.  Not only are they child-friendly in the restaurant (“booster seat or high chair?” along with crayons, child placemat, child-size cups and straws, etc.) but the store is a veritable gold mine of fun.  There’s the usual holiday kitsch which is amusing to some adults but toddlers, I’ve learned, go crazy for talking snowmen who also play the piano!  They also love the barrels of fuzzy toys, penny candy and wind-up raccoons chasing their tails.  There is SO much at eye level for a toddler at a Cracker Barrel store.  And the staff is patient and understanding. What a great place!photo-241
  4. Moving the car seat. Our Britax car seat is smack in the center of the back seat, right where the Durham EMS folks recommended it go.  Safety first is crucial, of course, but when you’re in the car for long periods of time and you’re on the taller side, it’s pretty tricky to sit on either side of the car seat.  So we moved it to behind the passenger seat.  Moving it gave Elisabeth the opportunity to look out the window for trucks, buses and trains but it also gave me much more space to work with when I was sitting back there with her.
  5. Music.  Elisabeth and I enjoyed our first Music Together class this fall with Olivia Singleton of “Liv and Sing” in South Durham.  The songs, to be perfectly honest, are fabulous.  One of their most redeeming qualities is that they are catchy without being annoying which proved to be a key ingredient for long hours in the car.  Elisabeth often falls asleep to “Little Wheel” or “She Sells Seashells”, usually with me singing them.  But in the car, on repeat, they proved to be just the thing to help a tired toddler fall asleep when we really needed her to.  Once anyway.

While we won’t attempt a 18 hour car trip again anytime soon, both my husband and I love road trips so I anticipate heading out by car somewhere sometime again.  And here are a few things we’ll do differently next time-

  1. Get a whole slew of new “stuff” for return trip.  Elisabeth was bored by the same things that she’d loved on the way out.  I should have shaken it up a bit more by adding more cool stuff that she hadn’t seen yet.
  2. Bring actual blankets and pillows and not rely on light jackets.  ‘Nuff said here I think.
  3. I did well with snacks on the way out but on the way back we ran out of fruit too early.  We made up for it with a smoothie on the way back (above) but still.  Better, smarter snack packing both ways is important.
  4. We don’t listen to any stories on CD yet because I don’t think Elisabeth is there developmentally yet but she will be next time.  I do know a few stories by heart (_Tumble Bumble_, _Little Blue Truck_) and I’ll add to that list but next time I’ll also introduce a story on CD a week or so before we leave. Just another tool to try!

What travel tips do you recommend for traveling with baby or toddler?  Share your thoughts below.