Yesterday, I posted in my Instagram stories about an activity I did with Caleb after school one day. He had received this big cardboard rocket ship for Christmas, and it was meant to be painted. I had been putting it off because I knew that I needed to make this an outdoor activity and that it would certainly require some cleanup. And while I know my kid is excessively messy and loves to smear stuff all over himself, I'm still a little shocked at the reactions that people sent me when it came to my stories. "OMG. I'm dying for you." "Ugh, what a mess." "I don't know how you deal with that." "Ummm, that's my worst nightmare."
On Tuesday, I picked him up from school and he was in some kind of mood. I let him be for a little bit and after a few minutes of silence, I asked him if he wanted to paint his rocket ship this afternoon. He yelled, "NO!" loudly and shook his head. I let him be again, and after about two minutes, he said, really softly, "Mommy, I want paint my rocket. You paint with me?" Of course, I had suggested it, so I wasn't about to say no.
The rest of the way home, he was way more low key and mentioned painting a few more times. By the time we reached home, he was ready to go. He wanted to paint right this minute. I knew this was something I needed to do a little bit of prep for, so I kept giving him tasks he had to complete before we could go out and paint. I had him change out of his uniform and into play clothes, I gave him a snack and some water, and made him use the potty. He was clearly annoyed with me. But I knew once we were outside painting, I wasn't letting him back in until he was completely done.
While he did all of that, I prepped the paint, and pulled out his smock and some of his paintbrushes. (One small tip - keep all of this stuff together in a basket or bin so when you need it, it's all in the same place and you don't have to hunt stuff down; also, use disposable plates and cups to hold the paint so cleanup is just throwing those things out). We took everything outside and went to town on that rocket ship.
For the first few minutes, he worked really quietly. I watched, I took a few photos, and I relished in the fact that I had managed to bait and switch him into a good mood. He was completely concentrated on what he was doing. Then he turned to me and asked me, "Mommy, can you paint with me?" How could I say no to that? So of course, I joined him. We painted in silence together, no distractions, no arguments, me not bossing him around. And he looked over at me, often, to make sure I was still "on task." I painted with him for over twenty minutes, and guys, let me tell you, I will cherish those twenty minutes of doing something with my son for a very long time.
After twenty minutes, I sat back down, because, well, pregnancy. I let him keep doing his thing. I watched and I talked to him and asked him questions. And then all of a sudden, he was smearing paint all over his smock. Then in his hair, and all over his face. But I didn't tell him to stop.
You see, kids don't have this same sense of order that we do. They also explore in lots of different ways. Caleb likes to feel things. He has, on numerous occasions, smeared himself with paint, yogurt, hummus, and a few other food items. I know that my kid is prone to doing this. So I'm proactive about it. Instead of flipping out because ohmygodhesmakingamess, I make sure I sit him in his high chair, or we take the paint outside. He doesn't feel like he's being stifled, and I'm not really freaking out because it's a controlled mess. Also, having been a special education teacher for many years, and working with a number of kids on the Autism spectrum who suffered from sensory issues, it always warms my heart a little to see that my son has no sensory issues.
But really, at the end of it all, we killed well over an hour of time, we spent quality time together (I consciously only took a few photos with my phone), and he had a chance to do some sensory activities, which is never a bad thing. I'd certainly consider that a win in my book.
And afterwards? There was nothing a little bath time couldn't fix. ;)
So let your kids make the messes. As a matter of fact, make the mess with them. I promise, it's not a moment you will soon forget. And at the very least, you'll get some fun pictures and amazing memories out of it.
While we're on the subject of independence this week, let's talk about it on a more personal level. In this day and age where helicopter parenting (it's a thing, I promise, look it up) is so popular and so damaging, let's remind ourselves to be more like America and loosen the reigns a bit. When I was teaching, the one thing I always swore was that I wouldn't be a helicopter parent. And while what you say before you have kids and what you do once you actually have them are two different things, this is one thing I have tried to stick to. And while Caleb hasn't started school just yet, and I don't know what I'll be like once he does, I am trying to make sure he doesn't feel like he is still attached to me by the umbilical cord.
According to the article I linked from Parents Magazine, helicopter parenting means that parents are overly focused on their children. In this day and age where we are so consumed with perfection, we sometimes forget all the great parenting skills our parents had, whether they were intentional or inadvertent. I find that I have to be very conscious and tell myself not to hover. We have been taught to fear so much, danger lurks around every corner. The other day, when talking about traveling abroad, someone told me, "You have to watch your stroller every second or they will walk away with the stroller and your child in it." I get it. We want to protect our kids. We NEED to protect our kids.
But it cannot come at the cost of their independence and ability to do things for themselves.
I think helicopter parenting is a term that is typically applied more to school aged children and parents who are making sure their children succeed at any cost, including completing assignments for them. However, I definitely think the tendencies can begin before school begins, and I am trying to do a few things to foster independence in Caleb that will help him adjust to life away from home and Mommy & Daddy's arms.
He plays independently. A lot.
Momma's got work to do. The house needs picking up. Blog posts have to be written, meals need to be made. When we over schedule our kids from such a young age, they never learn to be bored and use their imaginations. They feel like they need to be entertained at every moment. And I do not have the time, nor the energy, to entertain him every minute of every day. He's got a playroom full of toys of every kind at his disposal. This doesn't mean I won't play with him for a little while, or schedule play dates or take him to do an activity of some kind, it just means I'm not planning every second of his day.
He isn't attached by the umbilical cord.
They cut that thing the second he popped out. Literally - it was cutting off his air supply. There's no need for me to keep him within arms reach when we are in open areas. At the playground, at the park, at the beach, I give him space. If I see he needs help or there is imminent danger, I stop him or help him. But otherwise, I'm letting him build up that confidence. And I'm always paying attention and just a short distance away.
He gets hurt. And gets in trouble. And everything he does is not adorable or funny.
My child isn't always in the right. If he hits your child without reason, I'm going to scold him, but you can go ahead and scold him too. If I tell him not to do something because he's going to get hurt, and he keeps doing it anyway and gets hurt, I'll comfort him, but I also talk about the consequences of our actions. And contrary to popular belief, everything he does is not adorable, and we shouldn't laugh when he does something he really should not do. Is this hard sometimes? YES. But it's important for them not think that everything they do is adorable.
It isn't easy. I've had to make a very conscious decision for some of these things. And I know once he starts school, it won't get any easier. But when he applies for college or a job and stands out because Mom isn't the one doing his communicating for him guys this really happens, like for real), then I'll know we did a good job.
Guys, the twos have seriously taken me by storm. I know I promised this wouldn't be a horrible year, and there has been a lot of amazing development going on in Caleb's little mind. But man. It's been tough to keep my cool. And to be totally honest, I haven't always been able to do that.
The last few weeks have been fraught with tantrums, hitting, and an unimaginable stubbornness on the part of a very tiny little dictator who thinks he runs our home (truth is, he might, to a certain degree). I didn't know little personalities could be quite this strong.
If you follow me on Instagram, and you watch my stories, you have caught a glimpse of it. Truthfully, I have never been the kind of person who felt like she needed a glass of wine at the end of each day. I now feel like on the hardest evenings I need not just a glass, but a bottle. There are days when from start to finish, I feel like I am a hostage negotiator, negotiating every single little mundane detail of the day.
"If you let me change your diaper, you can play with Mr. Potato Head."
"If you eat one more bite, you can play outside."
"If you pick up the toys, you can watch TV."
"If you get in the tub, I'll fill it up all the way."
And so go my days. The negotiations are easy compared to the tantrums and the hitting though. On more than one occasion, I have relegated him to his crib so that I could calm myself down while he was contained and couldn't wreak anymore havoc on me.
And at what point do I say, I can no longer chalk this up to normal toddler behavior? I still don't know the answer to this, and I'm not sure I ever will. But according to everyone with whom I have spoken, we are still within the realm of toddler "normalcy." Everyone has told me to breathe, drink often, and remember that it's just a phase.
And you know what? It might not be over, but today was a good day. Today we played together, he napped when he needed to, and I didn't get hit, at all.
So don't you fret mama. Because this too, shall pass.
I try to limit Caleb's usage of my phone and iPad as much as possible. Truthfully, he doesn't use it very much at all when we are home - he typically uses it when we are out and he is tired and starting to pitch a tantrum. It's just the easiest way for me to cut the tantrum and not ruin others' dining experiences. Otherwise, though, the phone is solely an emergency use basis. I keep the iPad mounted on the headrest in the car and he watches it like a TV when we are on road trips.
With that being said, there are a few apps that we go to for just such occasions.
The folks over at Kidloland sent us a subscription for unlimited access to the content in their app. It's been such a great resource for me to use. Even if Caleb isn't using my phone, sometimes I get stuck on what nursery rhymes or songs to sing. Their library is absolutely enormous. They have songs for counting, ABCs, and phonics, and they all involve some kind of interaction, so your kids aren't just watching the videos. They have tracing activities and coloring activities. Have a picky eater? They have songs about fruits and vegetables. They have a phonics module, and tons more. The app is recommended for toddlers through age 5. Their website also has some great resources and coloring pages! I know that I will be renewing my subscription for this app!
The awesome people over at Kidloland have given us some free subscriptions to give away to you all! Read all the way to the end of this post to find out how to enter!
To download the app:
Because, duh. Mickey and Minnie and Goofy and Pluto. Caleb likes to watch the episodes. They also have games, but we haven't explored that very much. You can sign in with your cable provider account info and have access to all full episodes for your kids' favorite shows. This is convenient for those moments when your child (well, my child) is yelling for a specific show.
These apps are adorable. It's basically Elmo & Cookie Monster FaceTiming your little one! The app accesses your camera so it looks like they are really on a FaceTime call. There are pauses for your child to respond back, and this is another one that makes Caleb crack up.
This app kept Caleb calm basically the entire flight when we flew from New York to Denver this past December. You can build Mr. Potato Head with all kinds of accessories and then put him into different environments. Then he interacts with the environment and does silly things, which always elicits a hearty laugh! (I have to say that Mr. Potato Head is Caleb's favorite real life toy. He plays with it every single day.)
This app is great for identifying things around the house. Caleb loves to have Daniel use the potty and he loves to put him to bed. It's not an app he will use for an extended amount of time, but it doesn't keep him busy for a few minutes at a time.
This app is for mamas, not for little ones. I haven't used this much lately, but when Caleb was a newborn I did, a lot. I used it to track his feedings, and his wet and soiled diapers. I also kept track of his growth when we would visit the pediatrician. It is a very functional app with a lot of capabilities. If you're a pumping mama, it helps you keep track of your pumping sessions as well, including how long you pumped, and how much your output was.
We probably spoiled Caleb for life, but we have a sound machine in his bedroom that we put on for him every night. It helps to drown out the other sounds in the house, and I have found that he sleeps so much better with some white noise.
There you have it! Our favorite apps! Don't forget to enter the giveaway below for a 3 month subscription to the Kidloland app!
I'm always interested to hear what other parents consider their absolutely must-haves. For some parents, it's certain toys, for others it's a food product. Our top must-haves in our house vary, but these are the things that have gotten the most use in our house over the course of the last 2 years. I'm including links to the products to make for easy shopping (I got you).
And there you have it! The items we absolutely cannot live without in our house!
I'd love to hear your must-have items - leave them in the comments section below!
*This post is not sponsored.
When I was pregnant, I knew right away that it was a boy. When the ultrasound confirmed it, I was so excited to have a little boy. I get asked all the time when we are going to have our girl, and I honestly don't like that question. If God gives us a daughter, I will be thrilled. But I will not love my children any less because of their sex. My friend Justine over at Sunny in June is pregnant with her third baby boy. She recently wrote a great article in response to why this question in particular annoys her so much, because apparently raising boys is the worst.
I've noticed a lot of articles floating around recently about raising boys. Maybe it's because Facebook's algorithm is that good and notices I don't click on stuff with daughters so it pushes all the "boy parent" stuff up to the top of my feed. Regardless, I have read some interesting things out there in the last couple of weeks, with a particular resurgence since the Women's March.
I'm not making a political statement here. I'm writing from the heart on my thoughts, concerns, and fears when it comes to raising a boy. Girls and women get so much attention nowadays that it's hard to cut through sometimes and remember that raising our boys is so important too.
Firstly, however, I want to say that women's rights are important. We are equal to men. We are different, and those differences are cause for celebration. I mean, show me a man who can push a baby out his bits after carrying said baby for 9+ months, then continue to give that baby life by breastfeeding, and I will show you that pigs can fly. Women should be paid fairly for doing the same work men do, women should have the same opportunities men do, and women shouldn't have to feel like someone else needs to shatter glass ceilings for them. I am also in no way implying that every man is the same nor is every woman the same. Amongst us all, there are so many differences. Which again, should be celebrated, not shamed, in the way that some people do. If you want to work and pursue your career, go for it. If you want to stay home and take care of your children, do the damn thing. If you don't want to get married and travel the world with no strings attached, DO YOU GIRL.
But there are biological and developmental differences in men and women that can't be denied. We can't treat our boys and girls exactly the same because their needs are different. Having taught middle school for many years, I can tell you that the developmental difference is very much present. Their individual needs have to be met so that they can develop into the men we want a whole generation of girls to marry.
And while the old school mentality of "man up" doesn't necessarily sit well with me, neither does the notion that our boys have to be the same as girls, or that girls somehow deserve more of our attention than boys do. We want our boys to grow into men, into fathers, into spouses, and into incredible members of society. I don't want a son who is offended by everything, but I also don't want a son who is offensive. If we neglect them. or imply that somehow women deserve to be treated better than they do, then we are setting ourselves up for a generation of boys who is resentful.
So how do we raise our boys into men? I'm not sure that there's a right or wrong way to make our boys into men, but I know it starts at home. I don't know what the future will bring - I don't know if a few years from now I'll look back on these words and think, "Wow, Jenise, you had so much to learn." But I'd like to think that by doing some of these things, my Caleb will grow from a boy into a MAN.
Be the example.
Dads, you play a super important role here. The way that your sons see you treating women will be the way they treat women. You know that saying, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree?" Kids learn best by example. If you are demeaning women, making women seem less than men are, then that's what they will emulate. We are our children's first teachers. So hold open all the doors, allow women to go first, and give up your seat for the pregnant woman, for crying out loud. Same goes for us moms - whatever we allow to be done to us will be what our sons think is acceptable. But also very important will be how they see us treat other women. If we are bitchy and backstabbing and gossipy, they will think that behavior is okay.
Recognize their unique needs.
Some boys are sensitive. Others are not. Some boys are rough. Others are not. There is no mold for boys, just as there is no mold for anyone else on this earth. Pay attention to your child. If your son has an interest in trucks, let him play with trucks. If your son has a desire to rescue animals, let him do it. I come from a family with a diverse group of men. My grandfather was always a baseball-loving, scotch-drinking factory worker who loved to build things and use his hands. My dad is also great with building things and is super handy, but he loves to decorate and has never been interested in sports, really. One of my brothers is a priest who will occasionally play soccer and loves a good cigar, and my other brother is a lanky engineer who loves video games. Encourage the uniqueness in your boys. Don't ever tell them, "You're a boy, you should (or shouldn't) be doing this."
Let boys be boys.
Before you jump down my throat and say, "That's the most misogynistic phrase ever!" please let me finish. I don't mean that boys should be excused for inappropriate behavior because it's somehow ingrained in their DNA to be inappropriate. I do mean - let them play outside, give them activities that involve movement, teach them healthy ways of getting out stress or anxiety. I have friends whose daughters are content to sit and color and play with PlayDoh for hours. Caleb stands at the back door and begs me to go "ousside". He runs in circles while aforementioned girls are coloring. Their energy needs to be expended, and it's usually in super active ways. Let them go outside, let them get dirty. Let them learn to fix things. Take them fishing and let them bait the hook. Since when is being a man's man a bad thing (as long as you're not being a jerk while at it)?
Monitor what they watch/listen to/read.
I'm not saying to censor anything, but if it has a questionable message, (and their maturity level is at a place where this is an appropriate action) talk to them about it and discuss why the message is questionable. Mainstream media is full of smart, independent women, but it's also filled with terrible messages that heavily influence our boys. They think that if the celebrities they look up to say it's okay, then it's okay (don't even get me started on kids having celebrities as role models). We also live in a society where sex is "easy come, easy go," and a lot of things are no longer considered taboo, especially when it comes to what we are watching and listening to. If we teach them that sex is something to be valued, then they will recognize those messages as frivolous. It all comes down to talking to them openly. Having open lines of communication with your kids makes a world of difference in their perception of the world.
Teach them self control.
This one is huge. I think if more people (men and women alike) practiced self control, we would avoid a lot of the issues that we have. If we teach our boys to have self control and not act on every impulse, that will cut the issues we have tremendously. By teaching them to control urges of all kinds, we teach them about patience and respect. One of the things I always used to tell my middle school students was, no matter what a girl says to you, you need to exercise self control and think about the situation. I came across many situations where girls were baiting boys, and the boys would get in trouble when they really didn't think they were doing anything wrong, because girls were sending all the "green light" signals. When the boys got in trouble, they were dumbfounded, and a lot of that could have been avoided if they had exercised self control. My parents' favorite phrase to tell us was "There are choices and there are consequences. Every single choice has a consequence. Consider your options." After a few years, it was shortened to, "Remember: choices and consequences," as we were leaving the house to head out to wherever we were going. It makes you stop and think about what the reaction to your action will be.
Teach them that feelings are okay.
One of the most damaging things we can tell our boys is to "man up." They need to learn that a healthy expression of emotion is normal. Crying is normal, anger is normal. Punching or hitting someone isn't (unless they deck you first, in which case, have at it... and that's something I would tell my daughter, too, if I had one.). So many guys grow up thinking that they can't act a certain way or feel a certain way because it isn't manly. That just isn't true. Feelings are a normal reaction to events in our lives and should be felt, not squashed. And if our boys don't learn to deal with their feelings, then they hold them inside until they blow, resulting in rage, violence, depression, you name it. So go ahead baby boy, cry it out. I'll comfort you and tell you it's okay.
Teach them kindness.
Kids can be cruel. Teach your kids to stand up for those who are picked on, to sit at lunch with the kid who sits alone, to offer a helping hand. And don't just tell them to do it. Model the behavior! Don't talk badly about people or make fun of others. Be kind to everyone you meet, and your kids will emulate that behavior. Help those you come across who are in need, and teach them that being a silent spectator is just as bad as committing an act yourself. If our kids learn from a young age to be kind, then they will continue to practice that kindness throughout their lives. And really, that's what the world needs right now - a whole lot of kindness.
Don't make excuses for them.
My mom always tells this story about me. When I was in high school, I was in an Honors math class. I had a bunch of friends in the class, but since Math wasn't my strength, I always sat in the front of class and was ready for when the teacher walked in (go ahead, call me a nerd). One day, he walked into class and the rest of the class didn't settle down, so he said that since we didn't need him, he was just going to give us a test on the material we were supposed to have learned that class. Two of my bookish friends and I, all of whom were ready for class to begin, got up and walked out of the room, something that was totally out of character for us. My mom was the Assistant Principal at the time, and we marched straight to her office, indignant that we were being treated so unfairly by the teacher. She looked at us and said, "I don't care whether you think it was fair or not, he actually has the right to report you, and you could be suspended for your actions. I suggest you march right back to his classroom and apologize." We burst into tears and walked back to class, heads down, so embarrassed. We were lucky we didn't get into more trouble, but it's a perfect example of not bailing your kids out. My mom and that teacher still work together and laugh about this story every time we are all together, but it taught me a really important lesson, and that was that regardless of what my mom's position was within that institution, she wasn't going to let me off easy.
This is probably, by far, the most important thing. My mom could have made up an excuse for me and said it wasn't fair, the teacher was wrong, any number of things. But she didn't. Kids have to learn to deal with the consequences of their actions. All of these stories in the news where boys sexually assaulted a girl, what do they have in common? Mommies and daddies who swoop in and save them. As a parent, it's natural to not want to see your child suffer. But sometimes, a little suffering goes a long way. If they see that their parents are going to hold them to the same standards that everyone else is held to, they won't think they'll get off easy.
Will these things make a difference? Will these things help me make my boy into a man? I don't know. And the answer is that truthfully, nobody knows. And we can teach our boys everything we know, and they are still going to make mistakes. And at that point it will be up to us to reconsider our use of the phrase "boys will be boys." Because really, boys are human, and like every human, should be held accountable for their choices.
Stay hopeful friends, there are some good men coming your way.
And go check out Justine's latest post on raising boys, too! I promise you'll love it!
About this Mom
A Miami wife and mom documenting her days with her toddler and all that comes along with it.