As I constantly harp on and rely upon in my own parenting, everything is about setting expectations.
And the best way to do so is have the kids’ input.
This morning, we sat down and had a “morning meeting” in which we set daily expectations with a to-do list that the kids helped craft.
Set a daily routine schedule Set some goals for what kids would like to accomplish on a weekly basis – culling through old toys, learning a new skill
Find a reward system for sticking with the program – incentivize (fine: call it a bribe) with screen time, sweet treats. But also – this is just life, kids. Rewards come from exceptional behavior. They don’t need a reward for every tiny thing they do.
Make a check-list chart so kids can gauge their progress.
Set lots of timers.
Keep your own expectations low so you don’t get too frustrated.
Be kind to yourself and the kids – it’s a strange time. Space everything out with snacks and breaks.
And at the end of the day, give up, have a drink, and hand over the iPad. You done good setting expectations to manage the kids’ enrichment. hell, they’re going to learn a ton during this pandemic and be touched for the rest of their lives.
But at about six weeks, when my kid became inconsolably irritated and annoying, my sleep-deprived mind didn’t realize THAT is when they need the 5 S’s. I just wallowed in their irritation without THEN employing the 5 S’s. Consequently, I was suffering more than they.
A friend told me it was “Granny Hour”.
In olden days when we lived in tribal villages (read: without YouTube), Granny realized that Daddy needed a drink around 5pm and she’d come over and bounce Junior so that Daddy could get fresh air (into his glass of wine). Nobody told me that the 5 S’s were for what would become Granny/Witching/Hell hour…and that it would go on for the first three months of infancy.
I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t a daily 4:30-6:30 hellish period of whining and suffering (MY own.)
2. That 3-6 months would be relatively easy.
Hate to break it to you, new parents, but after your kid eases their incessant irritation, starts sleeping through the night, and even Granny hour becomes less severe, you’ll have a couple months of bliss (months 3-6).
But don’t worry – it gets infinitely harder.
Enjoy those months of happy baby who doesn’t actually do anything but coo and poop and charm you. Go out to eat, NOW and OFTEN while your kid still fits in the car seat bucket. Your world is about to get rocked.
With the era of sitting up and cruising around furniture comes the beginning of the end of your independence. That kid needs stimulation: now and always. Thus begins the era of you needing to hide your phone in your best daddy diaper bag as you double-task playtime. You have to start the mind-numbing process of baby babble and shaking rattles for what feels like hours (but is only 7 minutes). But that’s seriously when everything changes.
It’s all good. You’ll love it, blah, blah, blah. But you have it so easy in those first six months.
I wasn’t expecting that.
3. Raisins in poop
My kids eat lots of mixtures of yogurt, apple sauce and raisins for breakfast. It took me a few diaper changes to realize they hadn’t swallowed whole kidney beans for lunch the previous day. Those are raisins. They’re swallowing them whole and, apparently, they bloat during their journey down the digestive track. Now, I knew corn doesn’t fully digest (Corn? When did I eat corn?), but apparently if baby teeth don’t chew through raisins, they don’t digest, either. Food for thought.
I wasn’t expecting that.
4. “I don’t love you”
Once after a nap, my then 3-yo declared “Daddy, I don’t love you”. It was out of nowhere. I wasn’t yelling, they weren’t in time out, there was no stress; they just walked out of their room, looked at me, and said it.
I kept my cool and responded, “Well, that’s OK. I’ll love you always forever and no matter what.”
They looked at me.
Then they asked, “Can I have some juice, please?”
I figured since I passed that little test, we both deserved some juice.
(But I wasn’t expecting “I don’t love you” for another 6 years.)
5. Babies and toddlers can be assholes
They don’t want to be assholes. It’s not their intention. But mine terrorize me with their dissatisfaction toward everything. They can be happily playing for a record-breaking twenty minutes. Everyone’s happily babbling along. Then the seal of happy cuteness is broken.
They trip over an errant Thomas train (though they trip 72 times/day).
Or a blanket is stuck under a chair (Really? You have to have THIS blanket right NOW)
Or that book that they’ve never ever paid any attention to is held by the terrorist sibling so a tug-of-war/screaming/crying fight ensues. Over “Pajama Time”.
Really? You never even LIKE this book!
And then they’re dissatisfied for what feels like the next seventeen hours. Yes.
Toddlers are terrorist assholes.
So apparently “Granny Hour” isn’t left behind in infancy. The cycle begins anew.
I just wasn’t expecting that.
I know this is the least comprehensive list in parenting history, but they’re list missives about those infinite surprises on the parenting path.
What simple surprises about parenting do you experience?
Obviously many books can serve as the ten best children’s books to delight and educate your children. This is especially true since it’s not about the substance you read to your kids but the act and tone and exposure to words.
But what about the grown-up’s experience? – shouldn’t the best children’s books delight us, too?
I’m far too selfish only to think of my kids when reading. I better be delighted and educated, as well – and that, for me, is what qualifies books for being on a list of the ten best children’s books.
Below are 10 of the best children’s books in my kids’ collection, as well as a few more foregone conclusions for classics that should just be in your collection by default.
Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud & David Messina – Feelings are sometimes abstract and hard to articulate for kids. Even grown-ups often wonder “what’s the point in being kind for kindness’ sake?” Further, why bullies are mean is particularly complex. But this book gives you tools for explaining the self-interest in being kind and why bullies are mean. It feels like a corporate H.R. in-house self-publish. But trust. You’ll find it unmissable.
Tuba Lessons by T.C. Bartlett and Monique Felix is magical. Plain and simple – evocative illustrations inspiring children to fill in their own blanks. Trust me – open the cover and watch the kids dive in. There are very few words – so challenge your kids to narrate the pictures, themselves!
Little Boy by Alison McGhee and Peter H. Reynolds – For those of us who struggle with being present and mindful, this book, with its unique cadence and adorable illustrations helps parents slow down and think of the importance of days made of now. It’s too bad the book is specifically gendered and focused on a white boy’s perspective. The only improvement would be to expand the lens to universal gender and skin color.
I Stink! by Kate & Jim McMullan The best children’s books lend themselves to creative voicing and a personality that leaps off the page. This, the first in a series, is educational and entertaining and allows the reader to be as ridiculous as possible. You’ll never look at garbage trucks the same way.
The importance of cooperation and teamwork is one of the most fundamental we should pass on to our littles. And Little Blue Truck always shows that life is easier when we work together. Further, the rhymes and illustrations are entertaining for everyone.
The Secret Circus by Johanna Wright Similar to Goodnight Moon, this beauty combines uniquely simple illustrations with quiet language perfect for lulling little ones to sleep and allowing grown-ups to take their time with the sparse language and just revel in the quiet of the story.
Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak – – The author of Where the Wild Things Are created masterpieces of childhood wonder and unique illustrations. This series of mini-books allows kids to experience unique stories (and alphabet repetition) in a tiny package that kids can organize, discover and (re)organize.
Press Hereby Heuvé Tullet – Reading this book requires children’s interaction giving them a sense of cause and effect. They will insist on executing every page’s instruction and will result in tons of delight. And if your kids are like mine, hours of repetition and ripped pages that have been repeatedly over-loved.
Stuck – Oliver Jeffers – Another element of children’s book magic comes from nonsensical storylines that delight. This is one of those. Just trust me. How Much is a Million? – Conceptualizing large numbers is tough for anyone. This book actually illustrates a million. It’ll expand your mind and warm your heart.
City Dog Country Frog by Mo Willems While Mo can do no wrong, and all of the pigeon books are must-haves and Piggy and Gerald are modern classics, this wonderful book about a friendship through the seasons gently introduces loss and sadness in a way that may introduce your children to your own tears.
Again, children grapple with complex ideas of feelings and numbers that are fascinating to contemplate and very difficult to illustrate and understand. And haven’t YOU wondered what a million looks like? Look no further. This gem literally illustrates it for you. This wonderful book is guaranteed to blow your mind as well as your kid’s. Again, children grapple with complex ideas of feelings and numbers that are fascinating to contemplate and very difficult to illustrate and understand. And haven’t YOU wondered what a million looks like? Look no further. This gem literally illustrates it for you. This wonderful book is guaranteed to blow your mind as well as your kid’s.
Also, I have to include the basics, without which your kid’s cursed to live a pointless, unfulfilled life. Kidding. (Sorta.)
Honorable Mention: Goodnight iPad by Ann Droyd(?). Despite being a parody (knock-off) of one of the best children’s books of all time (see above), its application to modern life is hilarious and apt. What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in cleverness.
And all of these bags could be easily carried in the best daddy diaper bag with confidence that your kids will love them and you won’t be annoyed.
But our 3-day holidays merit reflection and comprehension in my book, too. My kids don’t JUST get to have a day off for Veteran’s Day or Labor Day or Martin Luther King Day or Presidents Day. No matter how abstract or morbid the holidays might be, we WILL be talking about them.
As a slight departure, recently, my kid streamed Newsies (the Broadway musical) at school. And she told me at dinner, “The kids were struck.”
That she even had the vaguest concept of the word, “strike” impressed me. Love it when Broadway introduces complexities into our kids’ lives without us having to step on our lecturing soap boxes.
Anyway – filing that away for Labor Day when I get to say “worker’s rights – you know – like in Newsies!”
So, anyway: back to asking my kids “What’s the reason for Presidents Day?”
This one is pretty straight-forward: honor our national leaders who bring us freedom, leadership, respectability, honor, progress, and protection.
Except at a time in life when we all question our leaders, look back on the dichotomy of goodness in our revered forefathers who were tyrants (Andrew Jackson) slave-owners (two-thirds of of them before 1865), philanderers (a vast majority, no doubt), and liars (all of them except Obama.)
Just the other day, my older kid said to me, “You know Donald Trump wasn’t the first President to be impeached, right?”
I responded (completely missing the point of her proclamation), “I didn’t even know you knew that word.”
“Bill Clinton was also impeached,” she said.
“I didn’t even know you knew who Bill Clinton was,” I responded, again: completely missing the point of her thoughts.
At a time when the presidency has been besmirched and degraded by unfathomable measures, I wonder if it might be time to alter the meaning (and name) of this holiday.
President’s Day began as a celebration of Washington’s birthday and was made an official national holiday in 1879. By the late 1960’s, congress changed the holiday (and Labor Day and Memorial Day and Martin Luther King Jr Day) to a “Uniform Monday holiday” providing for predictable Monday holidays. This law, signed by Nixon in 1971, served multiple purposes:
But given our current lack of Presidential nobility, along with endless re-discovery of our leaders, perhaps it’s time we made President’s Day about “Great American Leaders” day?
We don’t need birthday anniversary holidays for every single American of note, be they white, male, indigenous, female, of color or whatever. What if we had a holiday devoted to a value? (I know. I’m sounding dangerously conservative, here.) But like – a “Values Day” – a day where we think about things like the Scout’s Law or basic tenets of honesty, loyalty, or kindness.
Or hell, to be thoroughly American, maybe it’s “Liberty Day”. (Although, how would that differ from the 4th of July?)
I’d even be more inclined to have “Founding Fathers’ Day”. Aside from that itsy-bitsy awkward historical factoid of slavery (and their wealth, position, misogyny and snobbery) at least they didn’t start wars, assassinate Latin American leaders, or exploit foreign workers.
Scratch that. We’d be splicing hairs. Of course they did all that.
But at LEAST they happened to be in the right place at the right time to construct the world’s first democratic constitution.
Which was, objectively, a good thing.
At any rate, we currently have a holiday that most people think of as an extra day of skiing that’s devoted to 230 years of men who frequently did horrible things.
Maybe it’s time to update? What’s the point and not just the reason for Presidents Day?
Regardless, given all the mental gymnastics it takes me to discuss (with myself) the meaning behind President’s Day, we can all recognize there’s a lot to ponder and question around a dinner table on a Monday night with our children.
No matter which way you look at it (or which political side of the aisle from whence you hail) any discussion of context, history, ideas and values means parenting for good.
We’re all obsessed with finding the moment and savoring the now – and that’s certainly my greatest subconscious block in fully devoting myself to social media. Besides worrying I have nothing to say, I don’t want to walk through life in a double-tasked, obsessive fog constantly crafting the wittiest facebook posting, the dreamiest Instagram picture, or the most re-tweetable tweet.
I’m already busy with a triple-tasking mentality. My endless conveyor belt of to-do lists exhausts me. But I don’t need social networking to invade my thoughts and make me a quadruple-tasker.
As it is, I’m terrible about taking moments just to be. Sometimes I think I should take up smoking because it might force me to step out of a situation to breathe deeply. But I’m sure I would double-task my smoke trolling my phone for some absent, but obviously life-changing, email I’m not expecting.
I suppose lung cancer isn’t the answer.
So won’t hyper-scheduled and spreadsheet blogging/posting/tweeting/choosing-the-perfect-Instagram-filter-er disconnect me all the more from living “in the moment”?
Yet, to my great surprise, in my cultivation of social media events, I think I’ve been a better about the moments.
Sure, I snap even more pictures of my kids. But I also actively look for things to remember and document. It’s helping me in finding the moment to relish.
“Mindfulness” is almost a joke of a term, in 2020, isn’t it? The meaning is vague. And I think so much of us stumble around thinking, “I want to be more mindful. But how do I do it?”
To me, “mindful” is a westernized, 2020 translation of being.
And I mean “being” in the Zen paradigm of awareness, calm, being present, and just…being.
So mindfulness is a super-American translation of being from a state into an action.
We’ve altered a state of being into a state of action.
That might just be semantics, but I think there’s a profound cultural distinction, therein.
Just like the essence of yoga should be a physical practice of being in the moment (rather than checking exercise off a list and moving with our day), mindfulness should be a state of being, not an action.
Recently, a friend without kids suggested I should remove my kid’s iPad.
I was ready to throw down.
More specifically, he posted a HuffPo article suggesting the prohibition screentime for kids until age 12. Alongside, the friend wrote, “While I’m not a father, it breaks my heart to see children in restaurants staring mindlessly at screens. I was raised to paint and draw and entertain myself with puppet shows. If I’m ever a dad, I’ll never let my kid play with an iPad.”
Thank goodness several other parents lashed out before I needed to.
I snarkily/charmingly wrote, “You’re more than welcome to come spend four straight days in a cramped apartment with my kids, eat out at a restaurant with them, all sans iPad. If you can do it, then you can be my nanny and I will worship the unplugged ground you walk on. Oops. ‘Scuse me. 2 yr old screaming to play w my phone. Gotta go.”
I think screen time limits of 30 minutes are a good idea. But does my kid sometimes spend 60 minutes watching homemade YouTube videos of children opening Thomas the Train toys? Absolutely.
Do I think I’ve derailed his future imagination?
Do I think he will entertain himself with puppet shows in coming years?
Dear Lord, let it be when I’m not around.
One of our favorite children’s books is a parody of Goodnight, Moon entitled Goodnight, iPad. My then-2yo knew how to read “Nooooo!” on the illustration where Grandma tosses all electronics out the window.
Every generation thinks the latest innovation signals the death knell of childhood imagination: Barney, Mortal Kombat, Real Houswives of Atlanta.
Maybe so. But we’re still here.
Ain’t it funny how the “perfect” parents are those who don’t yet have banana fingerprints marring their iPad screens? While they’re busy judging haggard parents, I hope they indulge in a nap and enjoy a leisurely dinner at Babbo for me.
Having calmed my reactive rage, I should’ve just responded on Facebook to my friend:
Pal, you should have stopped at “While I’m not a father…”
Don’t forget sensationalist articles like “Your iPad is making your child stupid” are like 24-hour news segments causing reactionary fear. Fear is sexy and drives internet traffic.
How about this much lengthier study of child screen time in THE ATLANTIC? In short, it says, ‘everything in moderation.’
I know. Moderation is so unsexy.
I find screen prohibition unnecessary and perhaps detrimental for the touch-screen generation. Why not cultivate technological whizzes?
I also know that a happy parent translates to a happy child. Thirty minutes of quiet time thanks to my cheapest babysitter, Elmo, works wonders for my happiness. Thirty minutes matching letters to their outlines, counting ladybugs or watching THOMAS THE TRAIN makes me a happier (and better) father all while engaging and educating my kiddo.
Before becoming a parent, I made categorical prohibitions about how I planned to parent:
‘No sugar, no TV, no disposable diapers.’
Now? I think teaching my kids limits is more effective than deprivation. (Cloth diapers were a straw that broke my sleep-deprived back. “Seventh Generation” diapers are my compromise.) I’m just trying to cope the best I can.