Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dangerously Impressionable


As you may already know, we have chosen not to spank Little L. While we do believe in the importance of discipline, we have oft maintained that corporal punishment is simply not the best and most effective way for us to "train up a child in the way that (s)he should go."

That naughty penguin

Anyway, while watching Pingu (a claymation penguin) on Netflix, we (Little L, Hubbs and I) came across an episode where Pingu refuses to eat dinner, launches food at his mom, and rocks in his chair, which results in the family dinner being splattered all over the floor. His mom gets justifiably angry with him and spanks him. Then, when he turns to his dad for comfort in the form of a hug, his dad denies it because Pingu had misbehaved. The little penguin is so distraught that he runs away from home. What eventually happens is that he is gone a long time, and his parents get worried and go out looking for him. When they find him (hiding inside a little hole in the ice), they are so relieved and feel so badly that they cuddle him up, bring him home, and prepare all sorts of warm goodies for him to eat.

Little L watched the episode with us, so we felt the need to explain the spanking that she had witnessed. We told her that Pingu's mommy was angry because he had misbehaved, and that she spanked him (or hit him on the bottom) to help him learn that it was not okay to behave like that. We also reassured her that while she would definitely face consequences if she behaved like Pingu, we would not spank her for such undesired behavior. We discussed how Pingu might have felt, and how his mommy and daddy possibly felt.

It has been a few weeks since we have watched that particular episode. However, much to my dismay, guess who has recently started reenacting those scenes with her stuffies? Including the spanking. Especially the spanking.

Not a disciplinary moment
I am so, so bothered by this. We are not a violent family, and Little L is not an aggressive, physical child. We don't watch this kind of stuff on TV (we really don't even watch TV unless it's something with Little L, on Netflix Kids). With the exception of this Pingu episode, Little L has also never been exposed to any kind of violent behaviour on any of her media (unless you include the "bad bunny habits" in the book Nobunny's Perfect). So why, of all the behaviours and plots and story examples that she has been exposed to, would she select this particular one to act out? And on multiple occasions, no less.

This definitely reminds me of just how impressionable our children are. Things that they witness, things that they hear, things that they read - you never know which parts will "stick" and what they might pick up on. This reinforces the importance for us to model what we want Little L to emulate, and to be extremely judicious with what we expose her to. It is also absolutely essential that we are aware of the kind of content she is consuming, and that we can discuss these things with her, even at the tender age of 3. The way that she forms her worldview depends largely on how we frame her experiences and understandings at this early point in her learning and development, and I would hate for her to get the message that certain behaviours were "okay" simply because she saw it on a cartoon once.

I realize that maybe she is working through her understanding of discipline and sin. Maybe she is working through her own "big feelings" or frustration or anger. Hopefully this is just a phase and will pass. Hopefully she doesn't generalize the spanking behaviour and start hitting other kids or adults.

But let our lesson be yours as well! Our babies are very impressionable, and it's up to us to help form positive lasting impressions. Let's be watchful gate-keepers and above reproach in our own lives, lest the worst of our behaviours becomes the norm for our littles.

Copying Mommy "baking" things in the oven


Friday, February 27, 2015

39 is the Same As 29


The face of 38.9
Yes, folks, it is official. I am 39 years young today. 39!! That's only one away from 40, in case you hadn't noticed.

I don't feel 39. I hope I don't look 39. And sometimes, when I am thinking about others who are celebrating 39, I consider them to be kind of old. To be fair, sometimes I also think that 39 is young (e.g. too young to be a grandmother, or too young for an actress to play a convincing 50-year-old).

I'm not sure how I am supposed to feel at this age. When my mother was my age, she had already birthed out four children, two of whom were in junior high. I have a 3 year old. Most of my friends who have children of similar age are about a decade younger than I am, but I don't feel any older than they are. And yet, while I'm still "in the know" about some pop culture things (I mean, I read Lainey!), I am pretty much a dinosaur in my musical tastes, and would be hard-pressed to identify any pop singer in a police line-up even if my life depended on it (okay, I'd know Justin Bieber, but not those other boy band kids). I may still get ID'ed at the casino, but I no longer want to dress according to seasonal fashion trends, and I often unabashedly find myself becoming that ornery "get off my lawn" old lady who just wants to yell at those punk kids over there.

For guys, I feel like 39 is really just when they're starting to hit that mature stride, the one that launches their careers into hyperdrive and makes them seem established and a respectable adult (sorry guys, but that's just how I feel). For women, 39 (theoretically) seems like the age when botox begins, clothing starts being designated as "too young" to wear, and labels like cougar begin to apply when you see them gathered at a bar or a dance club with their try-hard "sexy clothes" that they've been saving for a "wild night out." You know what I mean. 

What's my point? I really don't have one, I guess. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be feeling or doing at "my age," but I know that I don't feel my age at all. Not conceptually, not physically (well, maybe my energy levels), not emotionally. I just feel like me. The same way that I felt like me at 29; excited for the upcoming decade, confident in my beliefs and convictions, and much too experienced to bother engaging in ideological debates with people I know I won't convince ;) Except that a decade later, I am quite a few pounds heavier than the 29-year-old me. But I am happier too, and more secure in who I am.

So yeah, I'm 39 for the next year. And then I get to turn 40. Whoa Nelly, now that is old! ;)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Truth, Lies and The Bully at Jenny


I think I mentioned before that this blog is cathartic; sometimes it is my little therapist's couch, a safe haven for venting and a place to work through my emotional baggage.

Such is the case today. 

I've long harboured a burden that I no longer wish to bear, a shame that I have carried for a decade but am releasing after this post.

Truth: I was the victim of workplace bullying, and I didn't stand up for myself.

When I returned from teaching overseas, I wanted to get a job to help pay for my upcoming wedding. I had successfully lost 60 pounds through good old fashioned diet and exercise, and I felt like I could share my experience with others and help them lose weight too. 

I applied, and was quickly hired, to be a consultant at a Jenny Craig in Edmonton; my duties included signing up and subsequently meeting with clients on a weekly basis, encouraging them on their weight loss journeys and selling them the Jenny Craig method of weight loss (spoiler alert: it's the prepackaged meals and supplements). 

In the back of my mind, I knew that the company was a business first, and helping others was just their schtick to profit off the hefty misery of their clientele. They made most of their bottom line from selling dreams and shilling prepackaged meals and shakes, not from charging memberships fees. However, I really liked the idea of helping people get in shape, and my impression was that I would also be able to encourage, support, and advise people on good diet and exercise habits outside of the program.

My naïveté and good intentions did me no favours in that increasingly toxic workplace; the original supervisor who hired me had left shortly after I started, and I found myself being targeted and bullied by my new supervisor (a hot-tempered, disingenuous little redhead named Amber with racist leanings) on a regular basis. When my performance did not produce the numbers that would make her shine to her bosses, she started blasting me for not meeting my weekly quotas, not pushing the sales of diet food hard enough, going off-script in my one-on-one consults with clients, and booking weekly meetings with lifetime clientele who were not purchasing full weeks of food. She started booking meetings with me to "train" me, but these were really just opportunities for her to yell at me or be patronizing and demeaning. Sometimes during our "meetings" the screaming was so loud and vicious that other staff and clients could hear every vicious, humiliating syllable through the office's closed doors. And while condolences were oft offered to me in private by sympathetic colleagues, none had the courage to actually speak up for me or defend me against the tirades of my abusive supervisor publicly. They, too, feared for their jobs and their own workplace standing.

I am ashamed to admit that I allowed this behavior to continue longer than a single instance, and silently endured an escalating pattern of workplace bullying for several months. The tirades turned into emotional abuse, consisting of intentional cold shoulders, dirty looks, and the playing of in-group/out-group mind games much like the ones I played in junior high. Towards the end of my employ, my bullying boss started ignoring me entirely, making it a point to greet every other person in the room whilst simultaneously pretending I was invisible. She was clearly trying to force me to quit because she had insufficient grounds to fire me; I, in turn, obstinately refused to give her the satisfaction of an early departure. Since I was mere months away from my wedding, and I knew that I would be quitting that hell-hole to return to university in the fall to get a second degree, I reasoned that I could stick it out. My future looked bright, and I was almost certain that my tormentor wasn't going to accomplish anything more in her career or life than managing at Jenny Craig. (A decade later, it seems I was not wrong).

On a side note, it did bother me immensely that I was being advised not to offer services to members who simply could not afford to pay for a full week's worth of food (totaling about $200 per person), or who had already earned lifetime membership status and was not required to continue buying their food on the "maintenance" plan. Officially, I believe that members are told that they are entitled to weekly consults regardless of their purchasing power, but in practice I can attest that I was being advised to give priority to those who would buy large amounts of the food, and to book non-buyers and partial food purchasers less frequently. To this day I am not certain if the unethical practice was limited to my branch of Jenny Craig, or if this is what is done worldwide. I am not saying that all of Jenny Craig is bad, but Amber, and this Edmonton branch, most certainly was a textbook case of workplace bullying at its worst. 

It's no surprise, then, that I skipped out of there on my last day, kicking off the dust from my heels as I exited. I was entering into an exciting new chapter of my life, one that would prove to be blessed beyond belief. Let God deal with my tormentor and let Him expose her for all of her hateful, vindictive behaviour, I prayed.

As for me, I guess I am ready to be over it. I am so grateful that I've had a decade of satisfying, quality work since then, and I've grown into a person who would never need to compromise my integrity or be subject to such tyranny in the workplace. My education qualifies me for opportunities that this woman will never have, and my freedom allows me to look back on her and feel sorry for her, and for the fact that her life was so terrible and powerless that the only way she could have any feeling of control and value was to bully someone else.

But before I put this behind me entirely, let me just say this: today is PINK SHIRT DAY, and an opportunity to raise awareness and stand up against bullying. You may not don a pink top or make a monetary donation, but please let your actions speak loudly that you will not tolerate bullying in any form. Stand up against it online, in the workplace, and in the playground or classroom. Don't allow yourself to be a bystander or a bully or a victim. Make a difference!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Be Nice! - The Battle Cry of the Beleaguered Spouse


I think I had mentioned that Hubbs and I are in the process of renewal in our marriage. We are celebrating a decade of matrimony this summer. A decade!! And while we did receive feedback just a few years ago that we still looked like honeymooners (really?), the reality is that the journey was not, and is not, easy all the time. Sometimes it is hard and miserable, full of sin and selfishness and resentment and hurt. Sometimes one of us would rather sleep on the roof (Prov. 21:9).

One of my faves, from the wedding reception

Our first trip to Maui, a few years before Little L

But God, in His faithfulness, has held us together through those ugly moments. And might I add that when you have a baby who hates to sleep, those moments are more frequent than anyone cares to admit. The stress of caring for new life, coupled with days and weeks of accumulated sleep deprivation, really brings out the worst in us.

One of the first famjam pics we have together.

Three years later, we have finally found some breathing space in our parenting, and the neglected and back-burner parts of our lives can be tended to once again. Our relationship is one such area.

As Hubbs and I reflected on what we could mutually work on to improve "us" this year, we came to the conclusion that we both needed to be nicer. Specifically, we noted that I have a tendency to take out my frustrations with life on Hubbs, making him the target of my unkindness while simultaneously taking his kindness towards me for granted. He, however, prefers to take out his frustrations on other people, making them the target of his wrath even when they are completely undeserving of it. While we both have struggles with being nice and loving others, we manifest it in very opposite ways, creating little cracks in our marriage foundation and negatively impacting how we perceive one another.

We have resolved to do better, and one way that we can is by being nice: to others, and to each other. We are both highly committed to this goal, making "Be nice!" our daily, hourly, moment-by-moment intention and mantra. We check in with one another and offer gentle feedback when the other is showing signs of unkindness, and we take a few deep breaths and try again. Grace extended, grace received; isn't that what marriage is all about?

Goofs. We took this oh-so-flattering shot a few months ago.
Anyway, we have been working on this for a little while now, and it has really made a difference! We are connecting more, and falling in love with each other all over again. Granted, the realist in me recognizes that there are probably several other areas in our relationship that need a makeover, and being nice likely won't address all of them. It is, however, a start, and a good way to reconnect and reinforce the foundations of our relationship before we try to address other things.

What do you and your significant other do to restore and reinforce your relationship?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Giving Up - My Lenten Challenge


Today is the first day of Lent, and for the next several weeks we are preparing our hearts to celebrate Christ's sacrifice and victory at the cross. 

In past years I've given up certain indulgences, or sought to have a more thankful focus for 40 days. This year, I'm giving up, and giving away, my crap. 

I've decided to declutter our home, one area at a time, for 40 days. Coincidentally, I had already started doing  this, on a less aggressive schedule, over the past month. I've cleaned Hubbs' office, culled Little L's wardrobe (as well as my own), and reorganized the front entry closet. 

Now I'm committed to doing the cull and sort more aggressively and ruthlessly around all of our home. My plan is to donate and give away anything of value or use, and wait for our building's spring "amnesty" day to toss out the unlovable items. I am hoping to be able to take donation bags to a drop-off on a weekly basis, but that will depend on what our household schedules look like once Hubbs is back in the office full-time. 

Honestly, I am excited to sort through our excess and try to simplify as much as possible. I hate clutter but it seems that I am genetically predisposed to hoard. The areas I most want to reorganize and bring order to are our "pantry" and storage room. No lie - each of these spaces will be like a 2-3 day task, but I truly believe the pay-off will be so, so sweet.

That in a nutshell is my Lenten plan. What's yours?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Learning and Teaching and Where to Draw the Line


Now that Little L is three (3!), I am starting to get some extra free time on my hands. She can play more independently, she sometimes wants to be alone, and she is physically capable of doing more without my assistance. Just today she ran off to use the washroom without telling me; she whipped off her own undies and found herself a seat on the potty.

With this extra time and mental energy, my teacher brain has started to kick into gear. I'm thinking about curriculum, lesson plans, and learning objectives. I'm missing the classroom and the energy of eager learners discovering new things. I'm itching to drop some serious money at the local educational supply retailers and dollar stores. And I'm feeling a little restless.

The problem is, I'm not Little L's teacher. I'm her mother. And while of course I should be helping her learn new skills and developmentally-appropriate tasks, I want home to be a sanctuary and a place to relax, not a classroom. She will be in school until she's at least 22, so it's not like she won't have an opportunity to do the academic things that I have in mind. I'd rather her learning be more organic, albeit intentional at times, rather than totally pre-planned and structured.

But I feel a tension fueled by social media, and all of those "pins" and posts on fun toddler "hands-on" activities and educational preschool projects and 1001 ways to teach your child how to read/write/print/do math/become a genius. Prior to the accessibility of the 'Net, I'm sure parents have given their littles a couple of crayons, a stick of glue, and some construction paper and stickers, and let them go to town; this is not a new practice by any means. However, the desire / pressure to go above and beyond and teach word families with LEGO or create 20 different kinds of sensory bins or engage in constant, over-the-top activities requiring visits to the craft store are new to our generation. The underlying implication of these sorts of posts is this: if you're not doing these activities (or activities like these), then you are not doing enough for your child.

And that, of course, tugs at every parent's guilty conscience, because what parent in their right mind doesn't want to do right by their kid, and provide them with the best possible opportunities for success?

Here's the thing. If we, if I, had never come across those ideas online, would my parenting be any worse for it? Would I judge my child-rearing choices as "not enough"? In this case, maybe ignorance is bliss.

And so, I wrestle with these ideas internally. As a teacher, I already have an archive in my mind of educational tasks and projects that I "should" be doing with my girl, but to be further bombarded by additional "great ideas" just fuels the madness. The rational mom voice inside is telling me to chill out, and to remember that I turned out just fine, despite not even speaking English until I was 6 and not having a lot of "educational" activities to do prior to entering kindergarten. A smart kid is a smart kid, and early supplemented learning doesn't make an average kid a genius any more than not supplementing with early learning will make a brilliant child dull.

It's also a little sad to see 3 year-olds in tutoring classes. These children should be learning to hold their pencils, not write in perfect small letters. I really, truly believe that early lessons take away from a child's play time, which is also their learning time. In reducing this valuable time, creativity and imagination are killed in favour of those skills that every kid will eventually learn in school anyway. What's the rush? Little L will figure out how to print her name at some point.

My brain yo-yos back and forth, and I debate with myself constantly, wondering if I "should" be doing more and making plans to be more intentional with some of our play time.

Here's a reference for those of you with 3-year-olds, in case you wonder (as I do) whether your little one is on track:

Physical growth and development

Your child grows at his or her own pace, and healthy growth is different for every child. Your child's natural growth rate may be slower or faster than the example below.

Most children by age 3:
  • Have gained about 2 kg (4.4 lb) and grown about 7.5 cm (3 in.) since their second birthday.
  • Begin to look leaner as their prominent belly gradually flattens.
  • Have a complete set of baby teeth .

Thinking and reasoning (cognitive development)

Most children by age 3:
  • Know their own name, age, and gender.
  • Follow 2- to 3-step instructions, such as "pick up your doll and put it on your bed next to the teddy bear."
  • Grasp the concept of "two." For example, they understand when they have two cookies rather than one. But they usually aren't yet able to understand the concept of higher numbers.
  • Memorize a string of numbers rather than actually count. The same is true of the alphabet. A child may say the letters from memory but may not be able to recognize a written letter singled out from the others. But some 3-year-olds show great interest in and ability with numbers, counting, and the alphabet.
  • Enjoy working with puzzles that have 3 or 4 pieces. Most children can also sort objects by shape and colour.
  • Have active imaginations and a rich fantasy life. For example, they may imagine that their toys or stuffed animals can talk and play with them.

Emotional and social development

Most children by age 3:
  • Experience a wide range of emotions.
  • Separate easily from their parents.
  • Express affection openly. They may show affection for familiar playmates spontaneously.
  • Understand the concept of "mine" and "yours." They may have trouble sharing toys at times or have conflicts when playing with others.
  • Can identify a person as a boy or girl. But they do not yet fully understand the distinctions between genders.
  • Are interested in toilet training . Many stay dry when they are awake.

Language development

Most children by age 3:
  • Learn new words quickly. Most recognize and can name common objects.
  • Use plurals, such as "books" for more than one book. Also most children use pronouns (I, you, me, we, they) and use complete sentences of 4 to 5 words. Strangers understand most of what they say.
  • Often ask "why" and "what."
  • Understand most of what they hear.
  • Are not yet able to fully express their feelings with words.

Sensory and motor development

Most children by age 3:
  • Develop more large muscle movements (gross motor skills). These generally include:
    • Running.
    • Climbing. Most children alternate feet when going up or down stairs.
    • Jumping in place.
    • Pedaling a tricycle.
    • Kicking a ball.
    • Bending over easily.
  • Develop more small muscle coordination, which involves their hands and fingers (fine motor skills). These skills may include:
    • Copying a circle.
    • Using a cup, fork, and spoon with ease.
    • Getting dressed, although they usually still need some help managing buttons, zippers, and snaps.
    • Turning the pages of a book one at a time.
    • Building a tower of 6 blocks.
    • Holding pens and pencils using thumb and forefinger.
    • Screwing and unscrewing lids 
And if you're like me, and want to see a "curriculum," here is the Early Learning Framework for the province of BC. The last few pages offer some good questions to get parents thinking about how they can incorporate these objectives organically into their everyday life. And here is a great resource from the Albert Shanker Institute to reference as well.

How do you navigate the balance between wanting to nurture and wanting to teach your kids? Where do you draw the line between active instruction and organic learning?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Food Hack - "Guacamole"


Little L hates meat (except bacon) and loves guacamole. All dips, really, but especially guacamole. And while Whole Foods makes a really yummy one, it's expensive and turns brown the moment it is opened. 

Thanks to Mitzi for suggesting hemp hearts as a protein source! I decided to turn this:

into this:

And she's none the wiser, but getting protein as she enjoys her dip.

And all I used were hemp hearts, sea salt, and half a ripe avocado!