Two tiny words that changed my parenting in a big way

I just finished reading the new classic alternative parenting work Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves: Transforming parent-child relationships from reaction and struggle to freedom, power and joyand let me start by saying, “WOW!”  This is a great read and I am so glad that I came across this title and asked my library to borrow it for me. Not everyone will agree with the author’s message or her methods, but I think most of us would say that we want to enjoy a peaceful and joyful relationship with our children, and at least this book offers some ideas of how one can reduce or eliminate the need or desire for coercion or other means of controlling these pint-sized human beings in our care.

I’m still processing the ideas I read about in this book, but I’ve been surprised over and over by how one little change inspired by this book has lightened things up around here.  Those two little words that have changed everything?  Oh, no!  Yes, they are “oh, no!”  Accompanied with exaggerated begging and exasperation, they have transformed situations where I could have nagged, corrected, coerced, or physically prevented them from doing something, into opportunities for us to connect, be lighthearted, and share the absurdity of worries about the “small stuff”.  For example:

  • When the kids begin taking frozen items out of the freezer: “Oh, no!  My Brussels sprouts! What will we have for dinner! “
  • When Peter “steals” my toiletries bag when I’m packing: “Oh, no! How will I brush my teeth?  They will rot out of my head!”
  • When John takes the hat off Peter’s head: “Oh, no!  He stole your hat!  What will you do if your head gets cold?”

It is so easy and natural to want to pack your bags without interference, or to be able to cook dinner without wondering if a misplaced bag of frozen chicken carcasses will get forgotten in a couch cushion.  But instead of providing tension by trying to force them from doing things that I wouldn’t do, even if it is done in the most peaceful, redirecting, and gentle way, we’ve been laughing and playing.  Hopefully, I’m teaching them what I’m learning—-that little things are not worth bothering about and that enjoying each other as we are is more important than making sure things go my way.

But what about those Brussels sprouts, toiletries, and hat?  After a few times of my “pretend” over-the-top antics of putting them away and begging the children not to touch them again, they tend to stay right where they “belong.”  But regardless, my children are right where THEY belong in those moments . . . laughing with mama and knowing how important they are to me.

thiscrunchylife_boyswrights

Bathtub rave party

The night before we switched to daylight savings time I wanted to put the kids to bed a bit early to help with the adjustment.  Seemed like the perfect time to give them a nice, long bath.  And we made things a whole lot more exciting with lots of bubbles and lots of cheap glow sticks.

thiscrunchylife_ravingbath

I wish I could say that I came up with this great idea myself, but I got it from a mom friend in our playgroup. We had glow sticks left over from last year so this was free for us, but I we had so much fun that I would definitely “splurge” the $1 price tag for cheap bunches of glow sticks from Target or a dollar store.  And if you like bubble baths and glow sticks, it might even be fun for grown-ups.

Basement Biking

This winter has been long and cold.  Although I’m doing really well with my goal to get myself and the kids outside every day for at least 15 minutes, some days we are only just making it.  15 minutes of playing in our yard, shoveling snow, or walking around the block doesn’t get all of the kids’ energy worked out by a long shot. So we have to stay busy indoors too.  Some of our favorite ways to burn off that excess steam include dancing around to fun music, jumping and racing around the house, and riding bikes in the basement.

thiscrunchylife_bbikes

I never would have thought to put our bikes in our unfinished basement, but fortunately, I saw one of my Facebook friends doing it with her kids.  I love learning tricks from other moms and this one has worked like a charm.  Pete has been getting much more use out of his bike and tricycle and the boys absolutely love tearing around downstairs before dinner or before bedtime.  My favorite part is that I get to work on laundry, straighten up my stuff down there, and enjoy Pete and John’s capering.  Sometimes it’s good exercise for me too!

thiscrunchylife_mombike

On the road eats: giant breakfast cookies

Cookies in the oven

Cookies in the oven

Conventional wisdom dictates that you should plan your car travel with children at the times during the day they would normally be resting, like during afternoon naps or at bedtime.  Conventional wisdom does not work for my family. I have learned the hard way that my boys have a much higher tolerance for car travel in the early morning and they absolutely hate waking up from a nap in the car only to be still stuck in their car seats.  Consequently, the longer the trip will be, the earlier we must leave in the morning to avoid tears, restlessness, and the need for constant singing by one or both parents.

But my desire to leave as early as possible runs directly counter to my son’s desire to eat a lengthy breakfast as soon as he wakes up.  Enter Giant Breakfast Cookies from the Heavenly Homemaker. I came across this recipe one day and was immediately struck by how easy these would be to eat in the car.  Now that we don’t buy boxed cereal, it is difficult to find foods that children can eat without totally destroying the car with smears, crumbs, and dribbles.  All of the whole food snacks that Matt and I used to enjoy while traveling, including hard-boiled eggs, hummus, peanut butter, and even many fruits, are horribly messy for my little guys.  Our normal breakfast of baked oatmeal is a kid-pleaser, but it crumbles so bad that I once made Pete and John sit in a hotel bathtub to eat it so the crumbs would be contained.  While I don’t think cookies are the best breakfast choice, if it gets us on the road before 7am, I’ll make an exception.

My floors would be so much cleaner if they ate in the bathtub every day.

My floors would be so much cleaner if they ate in the bathtub every day.

I followed the instructions for soaking the cookies, but I used kefir instead of buttermilk in the recipe, and opted to use raisins and not chocolate chips to minimize messiness.  The cookies came out great and not too sweet and everyone loved them.  Unfortunately, they upset John’s digestive system.  We are going on the road again soon, so I want to tweak the recipe to make them even easier for John to digest by substituting the whole wheat flour with oats processed in the food processor and omitting the raisins.  Kids love raisins, but they are not easy to digest!  I will also make extra sure that all of the oats are getting wet with the kefir for soaking as I think the first time I did not have enough liquid in there.  I’ll share my new recipe if it is a success, but I would definitely recommend the original Giant Breakfast Cookies recipe available at Heavenly Homemakers something to eat on your travels.

Imperfect outdoors

It was a cold but sunny Sunday in mid-February.  Although our weather forecast called for highs only in the upper 20s, when I opened the door to stand in the sun, I felt energized.

“Honey, let’s go for a walk to campus!” I said. I could pick up my supermarket inserts and we would get our 15 minutes outside and then some.

We bundled up the children and ourselves, put the littlest guy in the wagon and set off.  Pete with his sunglasses because they helped him avoid seeing our neighbors’ “scary chimney.”  Somehow with the sunglasses, it is less scary.

thiscrunchylife_coldwalk

But I had made a miscalculation.  It was colder than it had seemed.  The boys were not wearing mittens.  The sun went behind the clouds and the wind starting blowing.  Snow started swirling around us.  I gave Pete one of my gloves to wear, while he put the other one in his “hand pocket.”  By this point, we were closer to our destination than to home, but everyone was frigid and little guy was crying.  We urged Pete onward and began to run.

Finally, we reached the over-warmth of the library.  But the supermarket circulars and other newspaper inserts were mysteriously missing.  Dejectedly, I nursed John in the student lounge, where the comfort and warmth knocked him out into a deep, deep sleep. Going back into the wagon for the return trip would enrage him, so he would have to be carried home and I hadn’t brought a sling or other carrier.

Although I debated sending Matt back on foot to rescue me and the kids with our car, we started this ill-fated walk together, so we would finish it together as a family.  Pete was bundled into the wagon this time and John was zipped into my coat.  Once again, as we began our walk, the sun shone, only to quickly disappear as the wind and snow buffeted us cruelly. Finally, we staggered home: cold, but victorious.

But we got our 15 minutes outside!

Snowed on, but sleeping peacefully.

Snowed on, but sleeping peacefully.

Interior decorating toddler style

thiscrunchylife_artwork

Our house has more wall space than our last apartment, so I’ve been busy trying to fill it.  When Pete started accumulating some “artwork” recently from his coloring, water-coloring, and finger painting, I thought of a simple way to hang his creations and cover the bare walls at the same time. Better still, the materials for the project cost only a few dollars.

With just a couple of picture hanging nails, a piece of sting, and some clothespins, I have covered walls that hopefully will encourage Pete, and soon John, to create even more “pieces.”  Soon, I will add a second string below the first one to make room for even more.  I imagine that when the string gets full, I’ll take a picture, and then throw-away the dead weight.  Of course, I’ll keep a few special paintings or crafts, but I like to keep things simple and a digital picture is a great way to remember what their art was like when they were little without having to keep so much stuff.

Coming to terms with the “Dirty Dozen”

My winter csa box

My winter csa box

Honestly, in the not too distant past I thought people who bought organic produce were suckers.  Why pay more for something when you get the same thing for less?

I had bought into two myths about conventional produce.  Once the myths had been debunked I knew exactly why some conventional produce was VERY different than the more costly organic version and that it was different in a way that could actually hurt me and my family.  Here is what I learned.

MYTH 1: Pesticides are safe to eat.  If not, why would the USDA allow them to be sprayed on our food?

FACT: Various scientific studies have indicated some kind of relationship between pesticides exposure and negative health effects, including ADHD and lower IQ.  Read more about pesticide side effects on the Environmental Working Group’s FAQ: Do we know enough about the effect of pesticide on people?

MYTH 2: Washing or peeling fruits or vegetables removes any unhealthy pesticides.

FACT: Many fruits and vegetables retain pesticides even when washed thoroughly.  When the USDA tests fruits and vegetables for pesticides, they prepare them as they would normally be prepared for eating (see What if I wash and peel my fruit and vegetables?).  For example, celery and blueberries are washed, and kiwis and mangoes are peeled.  Even so, 68% of the produce tested positive for pesticides.

The Environmental Working Group uses data from the USDA’s pesticide tests to create a yearly list of the most pesticide laden fruits and vegetables as well as a list of the 15 “cleanest” fruits and vegetables.  According to the most recent data, the dirtiest fruits and vegetables AFTER washing or peeling are:

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Sweet bell peppers
  4. Peaches
  5. Strawberries
  6. Nectarines (imported)
  7. Grapes
  8. Spinach
  9. Lettuce
  10. Cucumbers
  11. Blueberries (domestic)
  12. Potatoes

Green beans and kale/greens are given a plus designation as they may contain pesticides that are particularly hazardous to human health.  Although 68% of all produce tested positive for pesticides, for the items that make it on to the dirty dozen, the percentage of contaminated items is as higher: as high as 100% for nectarines and 98% for apples.  See the full list along with clean 15 here.  Better yet, download a small PDF of the list to carry in your wallet when you grocery shop.

Think you are safe because you are buying prepared food instead of fresh produce?  Well, if baby food is contaminated, I can’t imagine the rest of the food supply is any better.  Recently, the USDA tested baby food for the first time and found that 92% of pear baby food contained one or more pesticides.  According to EWG’s website:

“Disturbingly, the pesticide iprodione, which EPA has categorized as a probable human carcinogen, was detected on three baby food pear samples. Iprodione is not registered with EPA for use on pears. Its presence on this popular baby food constitutes a violation of FDA regulations and the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.”

SCARY STUFF!!!  You can read more about the baby food issues and get some practical tips here: Pesticides in your baby’s food: What you need to know

As you can imagine, I found this very upsetting, particularly because I had a baby who was just starting to eat solids.  Of course I wanted to feed him lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, but I did not want to expose him to toxic chemicals if I could help it. Thankfully, the EWG’s list of the Dirty Dozen helped me determine where to best spend my food dollars on organic food to reduce my family’s pesticide exposure. Now, through a combination of buying in season, purchasing a CSA, buying local “natural” or “pesticide-reduced” produce from farmers, buying certified organic items at the supermarket, and relying more heavily on items from the clean 15 list, I feel like I am better balancing the health and safety of the family with our food budget.

What do you think: Do you worry about pesticides in produce or prepared foods?  How do you balance this worry with the increased costs of organics?