Thursday, August 21, 2014

Going with the FLLO - First Impressions

Look what arrived!! **insert happy dance**

Flamingo Pink - Little L *loves* this colour
I am proud to say that when UPS brought up the package, I was able to lift the box without killing myself; I even moved the FLLO fairly easily from the living room to Little L's bedroom, which goes to show that the FLLO is indeed significantly lighter than the FOONF (28 pounds with bar, 25 without vs. 38 pounds). Hubbs, being a mastadon of a man and much stronger than "soft arms" moi, would definitely have no issue carting this seat down to the car.

I have spent the last 30 minutes doing some set up of the chair and getting acquainted with it.

I'm glad to report that the seat part doesn't seem to be all that different from the FOONF seat, which has been lauded for being a solid, hefty "Cadillac" of carseats. The metal substructure of the FLLO is reminiscent of the FOONF's, complete with the metal bars that run up and down the back of the seat. This is great news, because part of the reason why these seats are so safe for extended rear-facing is that the metal frame of the seat absorbs the force of impact in the event of a collision. I was also initially worried that the side wings might be less deep than the FOONF's, since I was thinking that maybe Clek was trying to target the demographic that might normally purchase Diono Radian RXTs. To my relief, the sides are still deep.
Same stylish silhouette; looks almost exactly like FOONF
The fabric feels just like the FOONF's Crypton Super Fabric - low-pile, slightly textured, and thick (think a fuzzier version of canvas). Generally, I can't really tell the difference between the FLLO seat and the FOONF's; though padded, both are not very plush nor soft, which I think is better for posture than those seats that you sort of sink into. Little L is a furnace, which is one reason why she loves the FOONF seat and hated some of the other convertible car seats with the pillowed padding; she would feel way too warm in the cushions!

Since I've done setup before with the FOONF, and it's nearly identical in the FLLO, the process was relatively painless. The crotch strap comes with both the short and long settings, which is an improvement on the very first FOONF (sold only with the short strap); it admittedly did take me a little bit of jiggling to get the longer extension into place properly, and that's one part of the seat that I would love to see some improvement on. The headrest also took a bit of wiggling to fit into the holes, but I found it quite easy to adjust or install the shoulder straps, the crotch strap, the universal latches, and even the anti-rebound bar, which was a "first" (since Hubbs did it for our other seats).

Base in FF mode
The base, which is totally different from the FOONF's, makes the FLLO much more portable if you plan to travel with it. Compared to the bulky extra "attachment" that the FOONF uses for rear-facing installs, the FLLO base is all-in-one. In RF, you just have to pull out the "legs," which snap right back into place when you want to switch to FF. The reduced weight of the seat is due in part to the soft latches that are used for FF in the FLLO, rather than a rigid latch system (distinct to the FOONF). Not having those metal latches on the base likely shaved off a few pounds from the seat, and also makes it easier to transport (since now you don't have metal pieces jutting out the back). There *is* an aluminum honeycomb safety system built inside the FLLO base that uses the concept of "crumple zones" to offer Energy Absorbing Crumple Technology; basically, upon impact in FF mode, the force of the collision is transferred from the kid inside the seat, to the deformable cores inside the base of the seat. FLLO also comes with an optional anti-rebound bar for RF, which acts to limit the seat's rotation in case of impact; I would recommend installing it, since my FOONF doesn't budge at all when I have the bar installed. Like, not even that "inch" of wiggle room that is so commonly-accepted in car seat installations.

Base in RF mode

(In the above video, you see me pulling out the RF base and then snapping it into place. It's a silent video because, well, I didn't narrate it).

So far, I'm pretty pleased with the FLLO. It doesn't look like Clek made any compromises to quality or safety, although the removal of the rigid latch will probably make FF installs a bit less user-friendly. The price is right, however, and I am looking forward to getting the FLLO into the car and seeing how Little L likes its lower profile.

Stay tuned for my toddler's and Hubbs' honest appraisals. Little L loves the FOONF and has fallen asleep in her car seat on many occasions. The proof will be in how well she can get into the FLLO on her own (it's a bit tricky with the higher-profile FOONF), and how much visibility she can get from being 2" lower. For Hubbs, the verdict will depend on how easy it is to install, how much better (if at all) his visibility is when driving, and how easy it is for him to plop a tired, 30+ pound toddler into the FLLO when she refuses to climb in herself ;)

Update: Little L just came in from the park and has been climbing in and out of the seat, which is still on the rug in her bedroom. She *loves* the colour and is having a lot of fun sitting in it, climbing out of it, and talking about going to Hawaii with it. So far, so good, folks!

Full Disclosure: I love Clek and I already own two FOONFs (Paul Frank Red and Dragonfly green), so when I heard about their newest convertible car seat, FLLO, I got in touch with Clek to do a series on it.  As part of our arrangement, I was provided with a modest discount on its purchase. These are my very first honest impressions. Any bias in this review is due only to my crazy love for Clek, and not due to having scored a discount on the FLLO.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mommy Mommy, Quite Contrary - Or How Motherhood Makes Me a Hypocrite

I'm exercising my parental prerogative to change my mind. Or maybe I'm backpedaling. Perhaps it's the same freakin' thing.

In taking a walk down memory lane to a time when my mornings involved 25-step make-up routines and my sleep was abundant, I recall having particular ideas about what my parenting life would look like, and making lots of "I will never..." and "I will always..." statements in blissful pre-baby ignorance. You know, the kind of assertions that make an a$$hole out of me now.

Anyway, I was afforded that sort of stubborn know-it-allness because my interactions with kids up to that point were limited; I taught, I had babysat, and I had a nephew. None of these experiences compares to having a baby of one's own, no matter how much anyone tries to assert that they are. I can say that now with absolute certainty because I do have a child, and the feelings (some hormonally-induced) that accompany this relationship with my own little girl are quantitatively and qualitatively different from any other relationship I've ever had. Until a person has actually assumed the responsibility of raising a child 24x7 with the expectation of "forever," it is impossible for them to truly "get it." They may kind of understand based on what they've seen, read, and experienced in their own interactions with kids, but there are limitations owing to the lack of extended and involved presence and responsibility that comes with being a child's primary caregiver and/or parent.

Although I'm loathe to name it (because I'm a hypocrite now), a few areas where my views have taken a slight detour (if not a complete 180'), have been:

- amount of TV/technology time during a day (more than I thought initially)
- exposure to junk food, namely McDonalds (again, more than I thought at first)
- spanking (I've moved from entertaining it as a last-ditch possibility to completely eliminating it as an option)
- preparing specific toddler-friendly meals (I used to say, let the kid eat what we eat, but now I will make specific things to ensure that Little L has a choice that she actually likes and will consume)
- sleeping arrangements (from dreams of a toddler bed to still co-sleeping at 2.5)
- breastfeeding (the plan was 6 - 12 months, but here we are at 30 months and going strong)
- juice (from watered-down, "Asian" style to full sugar, straight out of the tetra box)
- staying "put together" as a mommy (dreams of full make-up and hair to go out have been replaced with the reality of ponytails and bare-faced raggedness)
- toys (we have more of them than I thought we'd buy)
- sleep training and sleep schedules (from pro- to anti-)
- traveling significant distances with a little one (from anti- to pro-, complete with multiple Edmonton flights and several roadtrips and a flight to Oahu, with a second one to come)

I'm sure there are a billion other areas where I've completely contradicted my former self, but those are the ones that first came to mind. It's amazing how this parenthood thing continues to totally humble me; I hate eating crow and I try very hard to have integrity, so it really sucks when I completely make an idiot out of myself and have to admit to being wrong. But alas, 'tis the nature of "live and learn," n'est-ce pas?

How has parenthood made a hypocrite out of you? 

Happy Little Hapa

In case you missed it, I'm totally Asian (Chinese, to be exact). Hubbs is very much German-Ukrainian Caucasian, complete with pasty-pale feet and lobster-red sunburns in July. Little L comes from both of our gene pools and traditions, making her a "Hapa."

Though we are truly blessed to live in a community with a prominent Asian population and a great acceptance for mixed-race kids, I sometimes think (and worry) about how Little L will see herself as she grows up. Will she self-identify as being "white," or will she think of herself as Chinese? Will she struggle to fit in and belong, or will it be a non-issue? Will it be awkward for her to switch back and forth between the worlds of multiple forks and charger plates, and that of cash-only chopstick diners and roasted meat in the windows? Will she embrace all of our various traditions with equal enthusiasm, or reject one with shame and embarrassment? 

I grew up as a banana - white on the inside and yellow on the outside. Because I lived in a city with a very small Chinese population, all of my earliest friends were white. Often, I would actually forget that I looked different from the kids around me. Sometimes, they did, too. However, that did not stop me from feeling like I was somehow trapped between two worlds - the one inside my own home, and the one beyond its four walls. Because my parents were still quite traditional (being landed immigrants), there were things that we would eat and things that we would do that I couldn't really share with my peers and expect any understanding of. It would be in that moment that I would be reminded of my difference - the curious questions and befuddled expressions and my own embarrassed attempts to normalize what I knew to be supremely odd to my Caucasian audience. Things like eating chicken's feet as a delicacy, feeling like my failures could actually shame my entire family name, being spanked with a bamboo rod covered in chicken feathers, and having a clear delineation between "going out" clothes and "at home" attire - these were part of my everyday life at home, but nobody at school could understand my frame of reference. 

I still remember the first time my Ukrainian mother-in-law asked me to set the table (in response to my offers to help with dinner). I literally had no idea where the spoons and forks and knives were supposed to go, never mind the water cups and wine glasses. I guess I had never paid attention to the place of cutlery in my own limited (casual) Western dine-out experiences; growing up, I ate with two sticks and a ceramic spoon, and it never mattered where I put them as long as they were near the bowl. In that moment, I realized once again how different I was, and how fraudulent it felt to be part of a Western society that I didn't really fully belong to. With much trepidation, but to the best of my ability, I laid these shiny silver tools down in a neat arrangement beside each plate and hoped for the best. Hubbs later shared with me that after he had seen how I set the table, he had to go back and correct all of the settings. I was completely horrified (but have since learned the proper placement of these utensils).

And how often have I felt the reverse alienation, when not-so-well-meaning Chinese folks from my parents' generation have said to me in mock incredulity, "Waahh! You Chinese, but you not read or write Chinese?!" Thankfully, I spoke it. Otherwise I'm certain the unsolicited feedback would have been even worse (particularly while I was living in Hong Kong).

My hope is that Little L will be a happy, confident Hapa. My wish is that she never has to feel limited or embarrassed by who she is or where she comes from. I want her ethnicities to matter, but not matter. I think it is important for her to identify with and be defined to some extent by her cultures, but equally important for her not to limit herself (or others) by them. It's a hard balance to strike, made all the more difficult by the fact that we still live in an age of "tolerance," not acceptance.

She's only 2.5 now, so obviously this hasn't started to be a big issue yet. I mean, she is only now beginning to use words like "mine" to indicate her growing awareness of self. It will be a little while before she thinks about concepts like ethnicity and heritage and "what colour" she is. In the meantime, I've started trying to use inclusive language with her. Instead of describing people as having "brown" or "white" or "yellow" or "black" skin, I have simply described them as being "people-coloured." And at 2.5, she has embraced it. The other day, we had this conversation:

LL: O the Owl has green eyes and an orange beak and orange feet.
Me: What about you? 
LL: [Little L] Owl has black eyes and ...
Me: ...what about your "beak"?
LL: It's people-coloured!

May she always see similarities before differences.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Enough with the "Dear Mom on iPhone" Open Letters, or Three Parents

It's so annoying. The first letter, while likely well-intentioned, came off as sanctimonious and judgmental, and ended up working the mommy war-mongers even further into a frenzy. The latest one, which is basically a big group hug/high-five/"atta girl" affirmation and hall pass for all mommies on iPhones at the park, was received with wide open arms, save for the few brave or foolish souls that dared defend the first author's position. Again, there has been a massive division and ugly debate between those who agree with the author, and those who oppose.

Frankly, neither author is totally right. Or maybe both of them are sort of right. I imagine that, like most things, to paint with broad strokes is a mistake. Yes, of course we need to pay attention to our children and keep them safe and help them feel loved and significant and noticed. Yes, of course we also need to cultivate some measure of independence in our kids, and not let them think that they're the center of the universe.  We do need to have breaks, especially if we are good mothers doing our best and giving our kids our all most of the day. We do also need to keep our neurotic tendency to check our FB/email/IG/Twitter/Pinterest/whatever-other-distraction-or-addiction every 10 minutes under control. Are there exceptions? Of course. Are there extenuating circumstances? Undoubtedly.

To be honest, as far as I'm concerned, whether it's the iPhone or a book or one's nails or whatever, you can do whatever the hell you want inside the four walls of your home. Spend all friggin' day on your iPhone, or lock the thing up in a safe and only turn it on after 10:00 pm. I honestly don't give a rip how much time you spend on your devices or in a book or however you choose to use your time; in the end, that's your business and it has nothing to do with me. You will answer for your choices one day, and it won't be to me!

However, if you bring your kids to the park or playground or other public area, you're in charge of them. As a parent, you have a responsibility to look after your children, and it is both unfair and unreasonable to assume that other parents will pick up the slack for you if you don't. If you are engaged in any activity that prevents you from being able to do your job as a parent, then you need to stop that activity and parent your kids. I will judge you for being a sh!tty parent if you're not around and my kid (and yours) is affected by your negligence. If you are engaged in an activity and can also simultaneously attend to your kid such that nobody gets hurt, then hey, by all means continue doing what you're doing: you've got it handled.

Let's play a game called Good Parent/Bad Parent. Which ones below took responsibility for their kids, and ensured both their safety and well-being? Which ones failed?

Scenario: we were at the playground the other day. There was a *huge* puddle in the middle of the play area, ankle-deep and more than 5 meters from end to end. Little L was there with Hubbs and I, and she was dressed in boots and a raincoat because we had gone out explicitly to go "puddle hunting." Here were the three parents we encountered:

Parent 1: Dad was there with his 4-5 year old boy, who was biking back and forth in the puddle. Dad was standing on the dry ground beside the puddle, watching and talking with the son; he checked his phone on occasion but mostly, he was interacting with his kid. When he noticed that his son was starting to splash Little L with his bike, the dad reminded him to be careful around others not to splash them. Eventually, he took his boy to the swings to play.

Parent 2: Mom was sitting on a bench on the outer perimeter of the playground, reading a book. A few times I saw her kids run up to her and she interacted with them, but when they were playing, she was reading. However, she looked up with some frequency, because at one point we caught each other's eye and smiled at one another.

Parent 3: Little girl (maybe just a bit older than Little L) was running up and down the stairs to the slides. We noticed her when she started approaching the puddle. She was wearing sneakers, which we saw her kick off so that she could wade in the muddy puddle, barefoot. She picked up an empty Starbucks cup that was floating in the water, and started pouring it. At one point, she began throwing the contents of the cup upwards, splashing herself and those within her vicinity. Then she left to climb the stairs to the slide (barefoot) again, and returned to the middle of the puddle once more. When Hubbs and Little L tried to pass her, she yelled, "STOP!" Then she splashed water at them and filled the Starbucks cup again, raising it above her head, ready to launch it at them. At this point I intervened, and told this little girl in my stern teacher voice that it was not okay to splash others. I asked her where her parents were; she ignored me, but thankfully, she stopped splashing. She ran off to play elsewhere, but by now we were paying attention and wondering where her guardians were. She continued to play on her own for a while, going back and forth between the puddle and the slides. After we had made our way to the swings, Hubbs and I noted the continuing absence of an adult to supervise this little kid.

Then suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, this woman came running up to yell at the little girl for (what I think was) playing in the puddles. She yanked her kid out of the water and hauled her away to put her shoes on. That was when I finally saw where the mom had come from. She had been sitting with 3 other women, with their backs to the playground, about 30m away from where her kid had been playing. There was no way that these women could have seen or heard the girl, since I can barely hear Hubbs when he's standing at the slides and I'm at the swing, and that's only like 5 m away. Eventually the little girl returned to play in the puddle and the sandbox, while her mom remained with her group of women. When we left the park, the girl was still playing without supervision.

In this last case, the book wasn't a distraction. The phone wasn't, either. But the lady who decided to picnic far far away from where her girl played, and whose back was turned to the playground likely the entire time that her child was splashing muddy water at others? She failed in parenting her kid, a negligence made only worse by the fact that she blamed her toddler child for misbehaviour that she wasn't there to prevent or manage!

These silly open letters aren't going to change anything, because the moms who are good moms are going to continue to be good moms, whether they spend time with a book, a device, or just their kids. A distracted mom is still going to be a horrible parent, regardless of whether they have an external distraction or not.

I'm just saying, stop bombarding my social media with these open letters, and for the love of all that is good, make sure your kids aren't hurting others (or themselves) when they're on the playground. Seriously, I don't think it's that hard.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My Tooth-brushing "Song"

I think the song originated around this time. See how wee she was?
I'm by no means a musician, and even describing me as "musical" is a bit of a stretch. That said, I love to sing, and I do believe that songs are powerful tools for teaching toddlers "stuff." When Little L started to brush her teeth, I decided to co-opt the melody from Row, Row, Row Your Boat to make up my own little tooth-brushing song to encourage her to do more than just eat the non-fluoridated toothpaste off her brush. Today, as we brushed after breakfast, I caught myself singing it unintentionally! Here are my lyrics:

Brush, brush, brush your teeth
Brush them every day
Brush them left, brush them right
Brush the germs away

Brush, brush, brush your teeth
Brush them up and down
Brush them left, brush them right,
Brush them all around

Brush, brush, brush your teeth
Brush them front and back
Brush them up, brush them down
Brush off all the plaque!

It takes a good minute to sing all three verses if you do it slowly, so it definitely helps with the "brush for two minutes" thing, and if you bop along up and down while you sing it, it also definitely adds to the experience. :)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Poor Man's Pizza - Or the Hackiest One Since Sandra Lee

The week that I was sick, we kind of skipped over the whole "grocery shopping" thing. By the time I was feeling better, our fridge contents were in sad shape.

In a desperate attempt to make something for lunch that Little L would actually eat, I threw together what we had for a make-shift pizza: flour tortillas (from soft tacos), canned pizza sauce that had been in my cupboard for a couple of months, shredded cheese (we had Kraft Tex-Mex on hand), and some sliced PC Free-From Pepperellos. With my 2.5 year-old sous chef at my side, we assembled the personal pizzas and then I baked them for 6 minutes at 400'F.

Surprised I was by my not-so-masterful creation. The little pizzas were actually pretty tasty! The crust had crisped from the heat, the cheese had melted and browned in a gooey way, and the pepperellos were toasted just enough for the edges to be crisp. Little L, being the pickiest of us all, gave it her seal of approval by eating all of the topping and even some of the crust (a feat I have never seen her do with any other pizza).

Since that day last week, I've seriously made these hackneyed thin crust pizzas 3 times. Hubbs has tried them too, and now actually prefers them to ordering delivery from his former favourite thin-crust joint.  I'm not saying that this is gourmet food by any stretch of the imagination, but when you want something fast, cheap and easy (and that a little toddler can assist with), I would sooner make this than heat up another frozen McCain's pizza.

So, here's the oh-so-difficult recipe again:

Flour tortillas (I used Old El Paso Soft Flour Tortillas in a medium size)

Traditional pizza sauce (I used Primo Traditional Pizza Sauce)

Shredded cheese, preferably a mixed one (I used Kraft Tex-Mex and Double-Cheddar)

Toppings of choice (I just used sliced deli pepperoni and hormone-free bacon)

1) Preheat oven to 400'F
2) Line baking sheet with foil (in case the cheese spills over and melts into your oven floor)
3) Assemble "pizza" (sauce, then cheese, then toppings)
4) Bake for 6 minutes
5) Be a little bit surprised that it tastes pretty good!

I know you might be judging me for even calling this food right now, but if you already buy frozen pizzas, then this really isn't any worse than that. It's affordable, yummy (without being too carb-heavy), and popular with my loquacious family. You should give it a try and let me know what you think (Miss Bee the nanny approves!).

What other food hacks do you make? Please share your easy-peasy recipes too!


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

My Tot is an Extrintrovert - a Review of Nurture by Nature (Tieger)

By recommendation from my friend Elena of The Art of Making a Baby, I picked up a copy of Tieger and Barron-Tieger's book Nurture by Nature. It is a Briggs-Myers personality resource for children that is meant to help you identify your child's "type," so that you might in theory be better able to parent your child effectively.

The book is divided into two parts: the first provides an intro to the 16 personality types and gives a brief overview of each of them, and then follows with a section on lead and least qualities within each type. The second part breaks down each personality type even further, with anecdotes and descriptions for different ages, and tips on how to better parent that particular type.

I think that if I had a different kid, then maybe I would have found the book more useful. It was easy to read (finished in just a few hours) and organized like a manual, with checklists and diagrams for reference. The book included many anecdotal examples and I loved the differentiation between early childhood, late childhood, adolescence and "crystal ball" future projections for each type. 

Sadly, I found the book most useful for Hubbs because his very strong personality fits handily into one particular type. My own personality is harder to pinpoint because I'm (I think) too biased to be objective in my self-assessment. 

Little L was impossible to categorize, partly due to her age and limited experiences, and partly because at 2.5, I'm just not sure that she neatly falls into any one (or even two) of the types. Is she an extrovert or an introvert? A judger or a perceiver? I re-read every single description three times and seriously, I am still struggling to put her in a category.

The authors suggest that sometimes we innately favour one end of the trait spectrum more than the other, and that's how we should go about selecting the corresponding traits that make up our type (since we can all be "different things" at different times). What happens when one favours both ends of the spectrum in equal measure? What if she sits right in the middle between intro and extroversion? That is the difficulty I've had with this book. If we define introversion strictly as "deriving energy from having time alone," then I'd say maybe; however, the book often describes the "I" types as being quiet, and anyone who has ever met Little L would know that she's anything but that. Likewise with "S" and "N" - Little L seems to like reality-based play and rules, but she also loves a form of "make-believe" that is modeled after what she has seen. And the pendulum keeps swinging back and forth for every trait, making it an impossibility to nail down her "type" with any accuracy.

The only new information I gleaned from this book has been some insight into Little L's preference for rules. It didn't occur to me until recently that she is very rules-oriented, and when she is upset and wanting to do something she shouldn't, like bite, she will cry while saying to herself, "I can't bite Mommy! No biting Daddy!" to self-regulate her behaviour.

I suspect that this might also explain her aversion to other little kids: most of them don't really follow rules, and especially on a playground, it can be quite chaotic with children cutting in line to use slides and running around haphazardly and squealing loudly for no apparent reason. While as an adult I can excuse it as children being children, a little toddler with a penchant for following rules would not be able to understand why others aren't doing the same. Taking turns? To Little L, that would mean that one kid goes up the playground equipment at a time, and said kid would be able to come down the slide before another child starts climbing. In reality, the littles clamber up the steps and monkey bars from every direction at varying speeds, sometimes reaching the top before Little L does, and sliding down the slide before she gets her perceived rightful "turn."

Anyway, the book is by no means a bad resource, and for many parents of older kids, I suspect that finding the "type" for their children isn't such a hardship. There is value for parents of kids with vastly different personalities from their own to read a book like this and come away with a different perspective on how to raise their littles. There just wasn't for me.

PS(A): If you do want to buy this book, might I suggest a hard copy and not the Kindle? I purchased the latter and it was a real PITA to keep scrolling back and forth between sections to read and reread descriptions! 


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