Archive for the ‘Parenting’ category

“Don’t Ask ‘What’ My Child Is”: but do read my essay on Dame magazine

February 28th, 2015

“The writer is White. Her husband is Black. And there are many people who feel entitled to accost the couple with unsolicited opinions about their biracial son.” —Dame Magazine

I’m thrilled to have my essay Don’t Ask “What” My Child Is published on Dame Magazine. It’s an extremely personal statement, which I hope will inspire people to examine how they think about biracial families. Please check it out, and consider sharing and commenting.

Here’s the book that kicked off the discussion in our house.

perfect playdate: baking brownies, chasing bubbles, digging in dirt

December 30th, 2011
Apron on and ready to bake

Apron on and ready to bake

Carter's turn to crack an egg

Carter's turn to crack an egg

Beyond excited, delirious with anticipation, and somewhat crazy describe Carter when it comes to getting together with other kids. He was at a small home daycare until he went to kindergarten, he’s a very social only child, and we work full time, so a playdate is a rare and cherished event. Yesterday, his friend Jade came over, and they tore up a patch of dirt in the backyard, ran after copious amounts of bubbles (not to name drop, but Gymboree bubbles really do last longer), baked brownies, and while the brownies were baking mopped up the dirt they had tracked in. Funny, how cleaning up can be fun when it’s part of playtime!

Obviously, from the Baking with Carter theme, I believe strongly that baking with kids is a great way to have fun together, to develop skills ranging from dexterity to tactile awareness, to learn everything from math to chemistry, etc., etc. It’s great to meet another parent, like Jade’s mom, Jennifer, who understands why kids should play with raw eggs. Needless to say, it was good that my favorite brownie recipe has two eggs to crack, since both kids are pros.

Because this brownie recipe uses cocoa powder, rather than melted chocolate, it’s ideal to make with kids. Here’s the recipe again, for easy reference:

Favorite Brownies

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter (one stick, room temperature)
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons oil
6 tablespoons cocoa
3/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease or line an 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper or foil coated with cooking spray. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla and oil, beating until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Add the cocoa powder in three parts, mixing well after each addition. In a separate bowl, mix the flour and salt together. Add the flour mixture to the the cocoa mixture in two or three parts, mixing well after each addition. Pour batter into pan and spread evenly. Bake for about 20 minutes; do not overbake.

Adapted from Cooking with Amy

Christmas wheels now and then: on a big-boy bike and on a little-boy airplane

December 28th, 2011
Carter on a bigger big-boy bike (Christmas 2012)

Carter on a bigger big-boy bike (Christmas 2011)

Carter's first Christmas wheels (2005)Carter’s first Christmas ride (2005). What a difference six years make!

A+ easy gift ideas for teachers, daycare, other moms, etc.

December 21st, 2011

xmas giftTaking the stress, obligation, and anxiety out of teacher gifts. That’s the topic The Happiest Mom*, Meagan Francis, tackled today. As I was commenting, I figured why not weigh in on my own (albeit much-neglected) blog.

At our school, the head classroom parents take up a collection (give what you want) for the teacher and aide’s gifts. This works for me, but I’m not off the hook because Carter goes to two different after-school daycares. On-campus Kids’ Club (Monday through Thursday) has a staff of four. On Friday, Carter goes back to Lucy’s house, the home daycare where he’s gone since he was 20 weeks old, so I needed gifts for Lucy and for his Russian teacher (why Russian is a story for another blog).

I firmly believe you don’t need to spend a lot of money to show appreciation. My goal: something practical (nothing to dust) with a personal but easy-to-do presentation. For example, last year, I wrapped up a jar of deli mustard with a fresh store-bought baguette in bright tissue paper, which I tied closed with colorful ribbon. But quizzing the mustard buyer at Draegers’ at the very last minute caused much anxiety and didn’t leave time for Carter to take part.

xmas detailThis year, I bought handmade, but inexpensive felt appliquéd cup cozies (eco cardboard sleeve substitutes) at a fair in October. I paired each with a Starbucks gift card in a large square blank holiday card, inside which Carter drew pictures. He also addressed and decorated the envelopes. A gold star for one job well done. Now if I could just check something else off my list…

I edited Meagan’s book with Parenting magazine: The Happiest Mom—makes a great gift, too!* Half off until the end of the year or from Amazon

Why do “multicultural” crayons include white and black? How about skin tones?

November 6th, 2011

While I applaud the PC nature of Crayola’s “multicultural” crayon set, next time, I suggest the product-development folks think about flesh colors—picture actual skin tones. Really, a white crayon and a black crayon? For the record, in the limited crayon palette at school, Carter reaches for the orange crayon when he draws himself.

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Spot goes to school in PJs—why it’s good I don’t dress my son

May 18th, 2011
Pupp Spot (aka Carter) and Mommy on Halloween 2010

Puppy Spot (aka Carter) and Mommy on Halloween 2010

Carter is perfectly capable of getting himself dressed in the mornings. Yesterday, he put on the Dalmatian-print flannel pants from his Halloween costume, usually reserved for PJs. Some parents might disagree with his choice, but I didn’t care. I’m not a morning person, so I’ve been overly sympathetic to Carter when he’s a sad sleepyhead, like Mommy. Even though I know that I shouldn’t, I’ve even dressed him on particularly late, weepy mornings. But this week, I’ve been managing, though not happily, to get myself up and out of his way. I forced myself to practice what I preach in parenting books: Step back, stop nagging, and tell Carter that I trusted him to get himself ready.

And he did. Good puppy!

Why every parent should read the book Why Gender Matters

May 15th, 2011

Often to the chagrin of my husband, I’ve been reading (and quoting from) a lot of parenting books lately. One that should be required reading for all parents and teachers: Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences by Leonard Sax, MD, PhD. If a teacher tells you your child has ADD, do not pass go, do not fill a prescription, read this book immediately.

Why Gender Matters describes the physiological difference between boys and girls, and how those differences affect children, particularly in how they learn. According to Sax, age and gender are the “two great organizing principles in child development.” For example, boys and girls develop different parts of their brains at different times. “Trying to understand a child without the role of gender in child development is like trying to understand a child’s behavior without knowing the child’s age,” Sax writes.

Boys and girls play, fight, see, hear, speak, think, and learn differently, but that doesn’t mean that nature trumps nurture. Sax helps you understand gender differences and then gives you practical advice about how you can best help your son or daughter learn. Here are a few issues he addresses:

• In school, overly academic kindergartens can set boys up for failure from the get-go, while girls more likely will feel the negatives of “gender-blind” education in middle school and high school.

• If you have a son who’s a daredevil, saying “don’t do that” isn’t going to cut it, so find a safe outlet for that energy. On the other hand, there are ways to encourage your daughter to take more risks.

• A boy, whether 6 or 17 years old (and I’m guessing up to at least 46), may really not know how he feels, much less be able to talk about it, whereas your daughter more likely has the awareness of her emotions and the vocabulary to describe them in detail.

Most important, boys and girls are different—neither are better. As parents, it’s our job to understand that, let go of the illusion of gender neutrality, and embrace the differences.

My friend Robert, who went back and earned his teaching credentials through Stanford University, recommended that I read Why Gender Matters. I’m glad I did. Do yourself a favor and read it. Then do a friend a favor and pass it along.

Why do I care so much about the book The Happiest Mom?

May 8th, 2011

Happy Mothers’ Day! Except for asking (aka pestering, nagging, begging) everyone I know to buy the book The Happiest Mom (Parenting Magazine): 10 Secrets to Enjoying Motherhood ($8.22, 45 percent off at Amazon today). I’ve been mostly off the grid the past several months. Tweeting @bakingwithc, but not blogging (a story for another day). So why do I care so much about this book? I’ve edited dozens and dozens of books, but this one is different. The Happiest Mom published with Parenting magazine (the book includes a one-year subscription) struck a personal nerve with me. I’m going to cheat and share an answer I gave when Freelance Success, through which I met the author, Meagan Francis recently interviewed me for its newsletter.

Q: What makes this project so special for you—you say you really put your heart into it?

A: Heart and soul. I know from personal experience how powerful the support from other moms can be, especially when you have young kids (my son is 6). This book gave me the opportunity to counter some of the recent less-than-enthusiastic press motherhood has gotten and offer practical and emotional support to moms everywhere.

Meagan’s pitch was perfectly timed. I had just read I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids for book club. The book’s message is: motherhood is miserable, but we can get through it together. Worse, there was a growing trend of blogs and books with a similar message—and this was all before Tiger Mom!

Well, we book club moms disagreed. We like being moms. I felt the world needed a different message: being a mom is wonderful, but challenging. By sharing the good times and supporting each other in the not-so-good times, we moms can enjoy motherhood together.

Meagan’s message that you can say “happy” and “mom” in the same sentence resonated strongly with me, and I knew it would with a lot of other moms. The Happiest Mom offers realistic advice that can have an immediate impact on your happiness. This book also gave me a chance to inject some personal advice—how to say “no,” (politely) brush off busybodies, and make a don’t-do list. You know, all those things that nag at you because you “should” do them? Put some on a “never do” list and others on a “don’t do now, but might do later” list. You’ll feel instant relief. Also, look for the “two-minute” rule inspired by Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. It will change your life.

When does a “play date” become a party? Is five kids the tipping point?

December 18th, 2010

Carter melted down while I was briefly out of town early this month because, “I couldn’t wait for you to come home, and I couldn’t wait for my play date to come!” With Carter in fulltime daycare and neighbor kids to play with on weekends, I didn’t used to have to worry about official play dates. Those days are over. He sees his classmates who aren’t in daycare or don’t have a nanny having play dates often, and he wants them too.

Awhile back, he invited himself over to Kiley’s house for a play date. Fortunately, her mom was nice enough to email me and arrange a Sunday play date. Carter was fine. I was the awkward guest. I didn’t know whether to stay or go, and I’m pretty sure overstayed.

Next Carter told Anastasia and her mom to meet use at the park on a Sunday at 2:30 pm. I wasn’t sure how seriously they took the invitation (we couldn’t make it anyway), so I emailed Anastasia’s mom and arranged a play date—two weeks away!!! Not only could Carter not stand the wait, he also had time to invite Kaitlyn. And Paul. And Sonia. And Finley (the only one who couldn’t make it.) Now would you call having five kindergarteners over a “play date” or a “party”?

Last Sunday, Carter got up at 7 a.m. and filled five cups with apple juice and added silly straws. The doorbell rang, finally, at 1:15 pm. Showtime. The moms helped get everyone settled. I assured them it was ok to go. Then I was on my own.

The kids took turns helping make white frosting to decorate a premade gingerbread house. Coloring a giant pirate poster also was a hit. As was the PlayMobil soccer game. But an hour and a half later the kids needed to be aired out. Lucky me: Carter had promised we’d go to the park. I called on Nandini, Paul and Sonia’s mom, for backup. Off we went, two moms, five kids, scooter, bike, and wagon in tow to the park, the final play date activity. Phew.

Running around didn’t tire me out as much as redirecting group dynamics, like when one girl was ok with one girl next to her but not another. (Kindergarten rule: Can’t say, “Can’t play.)” It was also tough because Carter is still learning social graces and cues. Going to school with so many kids his age and older is a big change from daycare where he was the oldest child. He gets so, so, so excited playing with his friends that he has an especially hard time listening and staying calm when things aren’t going exactly as he wants them to. Tears threatened several times, and even spilled over a bit (like when I tried to get out of taking the kids to the park).

But for Carter, the fun far outweighed everything else. He is already talking about his next play date—at Anastasia’s house.

why kids should play with raw eggs

July 19th, 2010

playing with raw eggsSprinkles’ vanilla cupcake mix calls for two egg whites—although the package says you need three eggs (?)—offering the perfect opportunity for Carter to advance from cracking eggs to separating eggs. Of course, gadget-lover that I am, I use an egg-separator, which looks something like the plastic kid-friendly Egg Yolky egg separator without the face and feet.

Instead of just tossing the yolks, I let Carter poke at them. I know. I know. Yes, there’s a risk of getting  a risk of getting  salmonella from raw eggs.* But I’d rather teach Carter to keep his hands away from his face when handling raw eggs and to wash his hands after than to have him afraid of touching an egg white or yolk.

Safety of the specific food aside, grownups sometimes forget how much fun—or yucky but still interesting—touching food can be. In terms of child development (one of the Baking with Carter blog themes), sensory and tactile experiences are essential—and baking is an easy way to provide them them, no expensive toys required. I still remember Carter saying in amazement, “It’s so soft!” the first time he touched all-purpose flour. So go ahead and let your kids touch softened butter, squish brown sugar in their hands, and , if you’re ok with it, poke an egg yolk.

Poking egg yolks can also be looked as as a science experiment. Carter tested how much pressure it took to break the yolks and then smeared them around in the bowl to study their viscosity. He asked: What would happen if he poured in water? Well, I said, hot-enough water could start to cook them. Otherwise? Not much. He dumped in a cup of water, which was room temperature, to see for himself. The water floated to the top; the heavier eggs sank.

Then I had him wash his hands with soap and water twice.

By the time the cupcakes came out of the oven, it was too late to eat them. In the morning, my aspiring baker brought me breakfast in bed: a cupcake, with lots and lots of red sprinkles, of course.

*Caution: Always wash hands with soap and water thoroughly after handling raw eggs. Do this activity only with children you can trust to keeps their hands away from their mouths and face. To be extra safe, use pasteurized eggs.