Geekamama


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Mama’s little helper

It was a little surreal after dinner a couple of nights ago. I was the last one finishing up my meal (not unusual, since I’m often eating and kid-wrangling at the same time) and I needed a distraction for Kiddo. “Hey, do you want to go help Daddy pick up in the living room?” I suggested enthusiastically. “Yeah!” he said, and ran off to do… a chore I’d been putting off myself.

What parent hasn’t joked that the reason to have kids is to get free household help? It seems just a little ironic that he’s so eager to help now, with all his two-year-old klutziness, and once he gets the motor skills and attention span to be able to do a task well, he’ll find all kinds of things he’d rather do.

But we’re making the most of it while we still can. He’ll pick up his toys and books as long as one of us sits there directing Kiddo’s efforts. There’s a lot of, “OK, now please put away the red dump truck. The red one. That’s it, great! Now the yellow truck. The yellow–hey, we’re still working on the living room here, come back!” When we’re in a hurry or antsy to get on with the day it’s really tempting to just do it myself. But all that’s going to do is teach him how to get out of doing chores. That sure won’t forward my goal of being able to lounge on the couch eating bonbons while Kiddo vacuums around me.

His favorite “chore” these days is sweeping the floor. And if enthusiasm was all it took, our living room carpet would be as clean as the day it was installed. Kiddo likes to grab the old broom from next to the fridge–the one with straw bristles that break off pretty easily–so we can tell where he’s been sweeping by the trail he leaves behind.

He isn’t completely ineffective though. He’s gotten pretty good at picking up his clothes, if reminded, and he’ll help me sort laundry. First we sort it into shirts, and everything else. Then we sort the remaining pile into socks, and everything else. And so on. I’m confident that with practice, we’ll be able to reduce the number of passes through the basket.

A few months ago, I asked some of my toddler-mom friends what chores they recruited their children to help with. Some of their suggestions were things we were already doing, and others (like the laundry sorting) were easy to put into practice. But the one that surprised me was getting him involved with cooking. That seemed like asking for trouble! But I decided to give it a chance.

I was making a test batch of key lime fudge (you’ll see more on that project before long) and it seemed a simple enough and safe enough recipe to test out this mother-son cooking gig. Before we started cooking anything, I prepped everything. I opened the cans and containers, measured the other ingredients into little bowls, and lined up the equipment we’d need. I also recruited my husband to photo-document the whole thing.

Kiddo’s tasks were to break up some white chocolate baking bars in a Ziploc bag, and to pour ingredients into a cold saucepan. Once that was done, I melted everything together on the stove. I’d planned that he would pour the remaining ingredients into the pan once I took it off the heat, but we realized right away that this wasn’t a good idea and I took over. Fortunately, Kiddo’s nose wasn’t put out of joint at all by this, because he’s still got that typical two-year-old short attention span and he was ready to move on.

Breaking up the white chocolate

Scooping up the chocolate pieces and pouring them into the pan

Shaking up some condensed milk before we add it to the mix

We’ll probably try it again one of these days, when time and the recipe allows. I think it will take a couple tries before we get a good feel for what kind of recipes are best for him to help with–if anyone has suggestions, please let me know! We might as well leverage his desire to be just like mom and dad for as long as we can.

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Hashtag #momfail

I know, I know, everyone out there thinks I’m a paragon of parenting perfection. Thank you, thank you very much. But I have my MomFails just as much as anyone else does, and sometimes I even tell people about them.

There was the time we left Kiddo’s favorite stuffed animal Doggie at home when embarking on a week-long trip to California. There have been numerous occasions when we’ve gone out to dinner, only to find the diaper bag was missing some important equipment. And then… there are the ones I feel compelled to share with the Twitterverse.

Oh well. At least I’m not alone.


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So soon?

This past weekend, Kiddo had his first encounter (that I know about) with bullying. It was pretty minor in the scheme of things: Kiddo wanted to play on a piece of play equipment, the other child pushed Kiddo around a bit and then held onto Kiddo’s shirt when he tried to get away. I intervened–not without some angry words, I confess–and a few minutes later Kiddo was off playing somewhere else, happy again. Meanwhile, I simmered about it, and spend the next half hour trying to pinpoint the other child’s parents, although I honestly don’t know what I would have done if I’d figured them out.

I was pretty sure that it had affected me more than it had affected Kiddo, but apparently he was still thinking about it, because that night at bedtime he brought it up again. I’d settled him into his bed and turned off the light, when out of nowhere Kiddo said “That boy wasn’t very nice.”

It caught me off guard, and I had to wing it. I agreed that the other kid hadn’t been nice, and Kiddo and I talked about it some more. I reassured him that he’d done the right thing by asking a grown-up for help when someone was bothering him, then had to define “grown-up,” and then confirmed that yes, Dad and I and his teachers and his aunts and uncles and grandparents are all grown-ups. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Parenting so far has had a lot of “uh-oh, I didn’t realize we’d hit THAT milestone already” moments. Most of them have been net-positive; inconvenient for us, but overall a sign of growth and maturity, like when Kiddo first was able to grab things off the counter, or the first time he told us that he wanted to go to a restaurant for dinner instead of eating at home. But this weekend was the other side of the coin. I’ve always known that at some point in his life some other kid would be mean and push him around, but I didn’t expect that I’d see it at two and a half.

Kiddo hasn’t brought up incident since that one bedtime conversation, so maybe he’s over it. I’m the one still chewing on it. Most Mondays I’m telling my friends all about our weekend family adventures, but I’ve held back on talking about this one because I’m not sure what there is to say. “This happened. I’m bummed about it.” I thought that I’d be all full of spit and vinegar, but instead I’m just… sad, I guess.

Every parent wants to wrap their child up in love and bubble wrap to protect them from the unpleasantness of the world. And we just can’t. We have to let them get emotionally scuffed, because one day they’ll have to deal with it, without us to cushion it.


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Imagine this

Sunday night, we rode home from the grocery store in a bulldozer. The piles of dark-colored blankets and pillows on the floor are water, perfect for swimming around in, as is the pile of wrapping paper in the living room left over from New Year’s Day. Those Duplo constructions parked on a Rubbermaid tub in the studio? Airplanes waiting at the airport.

You can, I hope, guess which member of our family is the creative mind behind those discoveries. Our young sir Kiddo has quite an imagination spinning in that head of his. It’s endearingly entertaining. It does at times make it more challenging to figure out what he’s so enthusiastically telling us. We can’t go off contextual clues when the context is all in his head.

The tough part for us lately is holding back from asking leading questions about what he’s dreaming up. If he’s decided that his Mega Bloks tower is the airport, I don’t want to squelch that line of imagination by asking whether it’s a house. I feel a little regretful when he changes his own idea to fall in with ours. But more and more lately, he’ll reply that NO, Mom, it’s the AIRPORT. Duh.

He’s picked up my habit of making up silly little songs too. The other night at bedtime he asked me to sing the Mommy Song. “Mommy Song?” I asked, buying time while I tried to remember it. He helped me out by singing it: “Mommy and Daddy and Kiddo, Mommy and Daddy and Kiddo…” All him, ladies and gentlemen. Call to inquire about bookings.

Eventually, I’m sure, he’ll realize that he can tell us things that aren’t true. He hasn’t quite gotten to the point of lying, which is actually a developmental milestone, according to a study from the Institute of Child Study at Toronto University published last summer. Sometimes he does deliberately answer No when he knows we’re expecting a Yes answer (“Did you open the microwave when we told you not to?”) but he hasn’t yet started making up full-blown lies intending to get him out of trouble. At the rate he’s going, that’s probably not too far away, and that will be a whole ‘nother can of worms.

But until that happens, we’ll just grin silly grins when he starts telling us about how Doggie and Cookie Monster are riding on a boat and a helicopter and a train.


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Do I think we’re crazy? Possibly.

Parents are weird.

Parents do things that are illogical, nuts, and in direct opposition to their own self-interest. Anyone who didn’t know that someone was a parent would really be scratching their head over some of the things that the person does.

Parents short themselves on sleep to make sure their child is getting enough. Then they turn around and attempt to function normally on two hours sleep. It’s one thing when people stay up until the wee hours doing something to entertain themselves, like clubbing or playing video games. But to sacrifice sleep solely for the benefit of someone else? That’s a little weird.

Parent voluntarily deal with really, really gross things. When their child starts retching, parents stick out their hand underneath the child’s chin, and do so almost reflexively. Parents deal with blown-out diapers and then talk about the experience over breakfast. They post about someone else’s toilet habits all over the internet. That’s not just weird, that crosses the line into off-putting.

Parents sit back when their child gets frustrated with a toy, rather than reaching over to give them a hand, and then claim it’s because frustration can actually help teach that some things don’t work on the first try, or that it encourages creative problem solving. That doesn’t seem weird, that almost seems mean.

Parents pin down a scared child as the doctor washes out the gash on the child’s forehead. They don’t offer hugs and kisses, but rather, allow the torture and even actively participate. Sure, the parents may have a few tears in their eyes, but when the child starts wiggling, the parents wrap them even tighter. That’s weird and bordering on cruel.

Parents change sheets and do laundry at 2 a.m. after their child has had a bloody nose or upset stomach. And if there aren’t enough clean sheets, parents build a bed on the floor and sleep next to the sick child. Slavish devotion like that certainly raises a few eyebrows. That’s pretty weird.

Parents drive all over town to find that stuffed zebra or other can’t-live-without toy, and then smile through clenched teeth as their child tosses it aside for the box that it came in. Weird? Try co-dependant.

Parents tell their child not to retaliate when provoked physically or emotionally, even as the parent themself is ready to drive across town and make things even. They deny the child the satisfaction of getting revenge for whatever way in which they’ve been wronged, instead encouraging the child to Just Let It Go. It’s weird, and even a little hypocritical.

Parents bite their tongues when their child makes bad relationship choices, and instead welcome the undesirable significant other. When it falls apart, they outwardly offer consolation and comfort, while inwardly cheering. Not just weird, but also two-faced.

Some parents even give up their own successful careers when faced with an unexpected pregnancy. They walk away from salaries and promotions and spend the next several years wiping drool and runny noses. They know that being out of the work world means they’ll have to re-learn processes and technology when (if) they return to their career track. Anyone else who did this would be branded off their rocker, not just weird.

Why? The Hallmark answer is that parents do it out of love for their child, and yes, that’s part of it. But the practical, underlying answer is that someone’s got to do it. A baby can’t change its own diaper. Soiled sheets don’t wash themselves. Someone’s got to cook the dinner and clean up the messes. Children need to be taught how to interact with society.

We are weird. We are crazy. We are nonsensical. Because there are things must be done, and no one else to do them.


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Childproofing? How about childcoaching.

The time has come, the parents said, to talk of many things:
Of dishwashers and tabletops,
Of tacks and apron strings,
And why the stove is don’t-touch hot,
And whether kids have wings!

When our boy was a blanket-wrapped bundle, childproofing was an issue that we’d think about later. Even as he started to get more mobile, we decided we’d just deal with the obvious stuff, like cupboard door latches and padding around the fireplace hearth, and then wait to see what mischief he was most interested in getting into. This, under the hood, was just another way of thinking about it later.

Later has arrived.

Kiddo’s gotten taller, or else his arms have gotten longer. He’s also gotten pretty clever. He’ll pick up on a trick after seeing it only once or twice. (This is why, in our house, we no longer pick up cereal bowls and drink the remaining milk. FYI.) He knows how to turn on the TV and the Xbox 360; he also knows that if he touches the TV we turn it off, and has occasionally used this trick to his advantage.

And now, he’s tall enough and knowledgeable enough to open the dishwasher, and to push the button that opens the microwave. This morning Kiddo had a head start of only seconds heading into the kitchen, and when I followed I found the dishwasher and lower cupboard doors wide open, as if it were a mini-reenactment of The Sixth Sense.

We’ve gotten past the point where childproofing would do any good. Oh, we could try, but wrapping the kitchen in bubble wrap isn’t practical. The oversize box of plastic wrap can’t live on the counter forever.

This child! He’s figured out that he can pull chairs out from the dining room table and climb up on them to get the papers on the dining room table. We’ve prevented him from taking the stepstool over to the counters, but only by not doing it ourselves. Every morning he runs around and turns on all the lightswitches upstairs, including the living room one where he has to crawl out on the slippery arm of the couch, and then he turns and jumps off it to the floor. We didn’t teach him any of that. He sees us doing normal activities that are safe for adults, and simply follows suit.

So now the time for childproofing is over. Now we are trying to teach him what’s allowed, rather than simply walling it off. The tricky part is going to be un-teaching some of those rules later on, when he’s old enough to help load the dishwasher and set the table. I’ve tried the “when you’re bigger” line a couple times, but that just leaves the door open for little Mister Rules Lawyer to come back a few months later and point out that he is indeed bigger than when I first set that restriction.

My current strategy is to get him to help out with the parts of the activites that are kid friendly, hoping to redirect him from the more hazardous parts. He wants to open and unload the dishwasher? Sure, how about taking these plastic plates and containers to the counter. That sort of thing. My friends have said two years old isn’t too young to help sort the laundry and pick up the basement. If we do this right, maybe we can sneakily teach him to love doing housework the same way we sneakily taught him to love eating his vegetables.


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Bizarro Boy

We’ve got a new game Kiddo has been playing recently. For lack of a better name, we’ve been referring to it as the “How About” game. Rules are simple: parental unit says “How abouuuut _______?” and Kiddo responds with either an opposite or an associated word. For example, we’ll say “How about down?” and he’ll say “How about up?” Or, from last night: “How about rice?” and his response “How about beans?” If we happen to hit one of his preferred responses, he’ll either giggle or just say “YES!”

He’s got some cute ideas of how things pair up. Many of these are reversible.

(Us) How about… (Kiddo) How about…
Up Down
Inside Outside
The Outback (aka Dad’s car)      The Prius (aka Mom’s car)
Preschool Home
Mommy Daddy
Ernie Bert
Cookie Monster Elmo
Big Bird Elmo
[Any other Muppet] Elmo
Elmo YES!
Irwin Dawn
Kenny Dana
Red Orange
Green Orange
[Any other color] Orange
Orange YES! (or occasionally Red)
Grandma Grandpa
Uncle Nick Uncle Tim

…and many other pairs.

The puzzler in me is pretty sure there’s one in there somewhere just waiting to come out.