Month: March 2012

Hands Free Moment with the Big Wheel

I had a very poignant Hands Free moment yesterday.

My little two year old and half year old and I were going out for one of our evening jaunts around the block. She was on her Big Wheel and I was walking behind her. Towards the end of the walk she got tired of riding so I started to carry the tricycle. Being the independent creature that she is, she wanted to carry the trike instead of me. However, she quickly realized that she couldn’t carry it because it was too heavy. She put it down and reconsidered. She still didn’t want to ride it so she decided to push it with one hand as she had seen me doing it. This, too, proved too difficult as it swayed to one side too quickly and she is too small to push it with both hands. To help out, I reached down to push it for her. (Had I been walking and texting or talking on the phone I would likely have just picked it up and insisted that would be that.)

However, no phone in hand, I was there for the moment when she put her hand on the left handle of the big wheel and I had my hand on the right handle. Together we pushed it down the alley.

This may seem like a pretty insignificant event but to her it was HUGE.

She looked up at me at the moment we started working in tandem and had the MOST satisfied and overjoyed expression on her face and the biggest smile in her eyes. Language is pretty new to her and she clearly didn’t have the words to express just how she felt in that moment. It was a moment when she realized that there weren’t only two options in life (either she does it or Momma does it) but that there was another option: She and Mommy could doing something TOGETHER! She had the epiphany that we together were conquering this Big Wheel and that we were joined both in action and physically by the trike itself.

She was so happy that she squealed and screamed the whole block that the alley spanned while staring at me the whole time. We walked the whole way home with her on one side of the Big Wheel and me on the other.

Her screeching and squealing reminded me of when she was an infant. She would oftentimes spontaneously squeal in joy when life was good. Her father thought she was the happiest infant he’d ever encountered. I realized at that moment that those infantile squeals were the depth of her personality. And here I was, hearing her shriek again. But this time she wasn’t an infant, she was a toddler who can talk but who was so happy to be doing something with her mother that she was speechless.

The joy overcame her and it was all she could do to contain herself—all she could do was grin and squeal.

If you don’t advocate for your child, who will?

This week a friend told me a story about a little fourth grade boy who is being bullied at school. His mother is at her wit’s end. The fourth grade boy is in a combined classroom (4th, 5th and 6th grade). A sixth grader is picking on the little boy – let’s call him Raul. Raul is little for his age. He was born earlier and comes from a long line of skinny children. He’s underweight for his age. The sixth grader is dumping out his lunch when he’s not looking. When Raul tries to retaliate by hitting and calling names he gets suspended.

But this is not where it ends. Unfortunately, technology also plays a role in all of this. The sixth grader bully has a smart phone that he takes to school with him and which he uses on the playground. He also has a Facebook page and he looks at the internet while he’s outside “playing.” The school called the sixth grader’s parents and they said they were okay with this.

I don’t know the details but apparently some of the sites he visits and images he shows around to the other kids and not G rated and some contain violent images.

Who is there to protect our children against other children’s (and their parents’) misuse of the internet and of technology? When did it become okay for children to be using the internet or smart phones during recess? Recess? Really? When I think of recess I think of kickball and dodgeball, not sixth graders passing around their smart phones to young, young children. Recess is a time for our children to socialize and get physical activity, not to surf the web.

A couple of weeks ago I was at a Montessori school interviewing the director of the school to see if it would be a place where I would want my children to be eduated. One of the criteria in my selection involves a LACK of technology in the classroom. That’s right, you heard me. No computers. No iphones. No internet. I want my child to be a child for as long as possible and for her to use her intellect and creativity, not a computer.

Another mother was at the meeting with a similar goal of finding an appropriate school for her child. However, during the question and answer, she asked the director if her 3rd grader can bring her iPad to school. I’m pretty sure my face showed it all as much as I tried to avoid looking shocked. Fortunately, the director politely explained the policy on such devices and said that the third grader would not be able to bring her iPad to school. Outside the mother (who seemed like a perfectly nice woman) confided in me that the school her son is currently attending, and the Montessori we were attending, “needed to join the 21st century.” I didn’t have time to explain at length why I disagreed but I did tell her my views were very different.

So back to little Raul. If I were his mother I would in that school faster than you could blink an eye, demanding a meeting. Demanding to know what the school was going to do to protect MY child from the misuse of technology on school grounds. It is the school’s responsibility to provide a safe environment for all children attending the school. Schools can and do make policies to protect themselves and their students. Just because a parent thinks that it is okay for her son to be playing on the internet and sharing it with his peers does not make it okay for him to be exposing these things to other children on the playground or anywhere else on school grounds. Nor does any of this have its place in a public school environment. Public libraries have restrictions on internet sites that adults and children can view mostly for the protection of children.

Cell phones, ipads, iphones have no place on school grounds. At best they are detracting and distracting from the learning that is supposed to be taking place; at worst they are exposing other children to material that their parents may not want them to see.

Parents must be proactive and must protect their children. Insist on a no cell phone policy at your child’s school. Phones can be left in the locker or taken away and returned at the end of the day. Contact the PTA. Ask for a meeting with the principal. Do what you need to do to protect your child and to ensure the best learning environment possible. Leave parental decisions about cell phones and the internet to the home environment where they belong. Not on the school playground, where they go unsupervised.


And I Don’t Believe in Boredom

I grew up in a family where uttering the words “I’m bored” were akin to taking the Lord’s name in vain. No child with as many toys as my siblings and I had any reason to be bored. We had games, blocks, dolls, toys and, better yet, books. We had a split level house with a family room, a backyard with a swing and a court full of playmates. I had an older brother and a sister two years younger than me—the perfect playmates. Most importantly I had my imagination. What possible reason could I have to be bored?

My mother grew up in the 50s in rural Kansas. Her family did not have much money and likely had many fewer toys to play with than we did. In addition, my mother was afflicted with polio at the age of eleven and was sent away for treatment over a day’s drive away from her family. She stayed in a hospital for 6 months with her family only visiting on weekends. If anyone knew what boredom felt like, it was my mother.

In the 50s there were no televisions in hospitals rooms. There were no ipods, ipads, smart phones, laptops, game boys or any of the other handheld electronic devices that the children of this era often sport. The greatest forms of entertainment were books, other children and their imagination. My mother learned the valuable lesson of how to entertain herself at a very early age.

From time to time I read about toddlers “getting bored easily” or I hear parents saying “Well, we went to that play area but he got bored really quickly.” When I read or hear those words, I cringe. Now don’t get me wrong, I have a toddler– a very active, easily distracted, slightly hyperactive two and a half year old. I understand that toddlers do not have long attention spans; however, I still do not mark up impatience or lack of interest to boredom. I mark it up to a lack of creativity on the parent’s part.

This evening I gave my toddler a bath. The twenty-five plus toys that I have bought and assembled for her over the past two years no longer seem to be of interest to her. If she is bathing by herself she will usually last for about one minute before announcing “I want ouuutttt…out momma…..out….!!!” Usually this means, I want to be with you mom. If she is bathing with her same age cousin, the bath can last for hours as she plays, dumps water on his head repeatedly, and “washes” his hair. If she is by herself and the bath has no longer become of interest to her it’s because I have failed to make it a place that challenges or intrigues her developmentally or I have failed to offer something even more important, my attention.

My daughter is not bored with the bathtub. She just needs the company of her mother or a fresh perspective.

Tonight when I put my toddler in the bathtub I took two of the toys that she’s had available to her for months and I sat down with her to show her how to make them work and to play with her for a few minutes. One was a cup and the other a cup with a wheel that spins when water runs through. Pouring the water back and forth between these two cups kept her occupied for the next ten minutes. Taking two minutes out of my evening bedtime activities opened up a world of entertainment and excitement for her. She was not bored with the bathtub – she just needed some direction as to how to entertain herself – and that is because she is two. These are the skills that we teach our children.

Adults in this era are accustomed to instant gratification. Hit a button and the computer comes on. Instant entertainment. Drive by a building with a window and viola! Instant dinner. Give your child an iphone and show them a video. Instant babysitter!

Before I had my daughter I was in a relationship with a man who was a single parent to a five year old and an eight year old. If the wait at the restaurant was longer than two minutes he insisted we leave because his children would not be able to handle it. A five minute wait for food was accompanied by a bag of toys to keep them occupied. As soon as the meal was over, he would hunt down the waiter or waitress because the kids were bored. To put it in context, this man was addicted to his Blackberry.

Regardless of whether those children were bored or not, by being constantly entertained or removed from environments in which they might have to invent ways to entertain themselves, they were being deprived of two valuable lessons: 1. We go to restaurants to socialize with the people we love, not to be entertained constantly. 2. If you want to engage in an activity while you are waiting for something, you can use your imagination to find something to keep you interested and stimulated.

In addition to being deprived of valuable lessons they were unfortunately learning a lesson that is all too common in this day and age: If there is a moment of silence or a moment of inactivity that there must be something to fill up that time.

For many parents, electronic toys have become a parent’s extension of their own need for instant entertainment gratification onto their children. Children are not being taught how to entertain themselves and how to socialize with other people, they are being taught that if they are lacking in something that is of interest they should either leave the environment or hit a button and turn on an electronic device.

Last week I was in an ice cream café and my young two year old went up to a three or four year old boy who was busying himself with his parents’ phone. My daughter was exploring her environment, socializing and finding ways to occupy herself that were pleasing to her. The boy was lost in his parents cell phone…well, lost in a non-human interaction and missing the challenge of learning to entertain himself. Refreshingly, the parents took the phone from the boy and encouraged him to socialize with my daughter. In my opinion, he should never have had the phone in the first place. Is ice cream and your parents company not entertainment enough?!

Using electronic devices to silence our children is crippling our children’s natural curiosity of the world and of their ability to socialize with others. As parents we need to be aware of this before we end up with a generation of children who are constantly reliant on some external source for entertainment. We are raising a generation of children who need it and need it now. We may be raising a generation of children who do not socialize well and who will one day be raising the next generation.

The change must begin now.

(Please leave comments in the comments section to let me know what YOU think!)


No Changing Table at Sebastian Joe’s Ice Cream Cafe (Or at Starbuck’s!)

Starbuck’s is not the only establishment that doesn’t have changing tables. An icecream parlor near my house didn’t have any either. I persisted with letters and Facebook messages and the owner put in changing tables at both of his locations. Here is the letter that I wrote.

Christina Robert

Sebastian Joe’s
1007 Franklin Avenue S.
Minneapolis, MN

March 12, 2012

To whom it may concern:

Today I visited your establishment for some ice cream with my two and a half year old daughter. During my visit I need to change my daughter’s diaper. I was very disappointed to find that there was no changing table in the women’s bathroom. (I am assuming there was not one in the men’s room either.)

Because there was no changing table I was forced to change my child on a freestanding object that looked like a filing cabinet. The cabinet was on wheels. My daughter (being 2 ½) was crawling around and attempting to stand on the cabinet it while I changing her. It was not a safe place to change her but it was my only choice. The next possible choices would have been the floor (would you lie down on the floor in a bathroom?) or on the chairs in the main area of the restaurant (not a pleasant for the other customers).

The amenities you have for mothers of young children and not only unacceptable (in being non-existent) but are also dangerous.

There is ample room for a small changing table in the women’s room. Given the fairly recent renovations of these restrooms it seems that there would have been the opportunity to install a much needed amenity. Given that men often care for young children as well, it would be appropriate to provide a place for them to change those in their care.

Sebastian Joe’s is a family friendly business. I’m assuming that I do not need to point out the fact that an ice cream store naturally draws customers with young children.

I do not understand why measures have not been taken to make changing a young child easy in a family-friendly environment.

In addition to a changing table, a small step stool for young children to stand on while washing his or her hands would also be greatly appreciated.

I will be anticipating a reply with a plan for how this situation will be rectified. Thank you very much.


Christina Robert

Beautiful, Wonderful, Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is a wonderful, beautiful and amazing thing. We as mothers have the opportunity to give our babies life and to give it of our own bodies. The images are everywhere. Babies nursing happily at their mothers breast, sidelying moms, moms with twins. They all look so calm and relaxed.

Prior to the birth of our babies we are given loads of information demonstrating the importance of breastfeeding, the benefits our babies will gain from breastfeeding, not to mention how it is a natural experience that will be relaxing and will offer us the time to bond with our babies.

And then the baby comes. For some breastfeeding is easy, just like in the books we read, just like in all of the idyllic pictures that we see.

For others, it does not come easy. A poor latch can result in unbelievable levels of pain, blood in the milk, a child spitting up red milk, gashes in the nipples. Where is the breastfeeding we read about? Where is that wonderful, beautiful experience that we were expecting? Add to that sleep deprivation and a colicky baby and the thought of putting the baby to the breast can become a nightmare.

In the present subculture of women who see themselves as “natural” or “holistic” breastfeeding is endorsed over all else. Lactation consultants are there to spur you on, breastfeeding coaches paired through WICC. No matter what: keep breastfeeding! “The research shows you’ll get more sleep”; “The research shows your baby will get sick less.” All true.

But what if you simply can’t do it or simply choose not to? What if illness or pain or lifestyle issues makes supplementing or feeding exclusively with formula the best or only choice for you and your baby? What then? How will your peers see you? Will you be judged? Will you be perceived as depriving your child of their God-given right to a healthy immune system? Will your child get sick more? Will you be tainting their bodies with the cursed, man-made formula? Worse yet, will you be looked down upon by your family and peers? Will you be afraid or embarrassed to “admit” that you have supplemented with formula? Will you have to wear the scarlet “F”?

Our subculture (and what we wish for broader society) presents a very strong underlying and oftentimes overt message that those who do not breastfeed exclusively, or who choose not to altogether, should be ashamed of their choices. I clearly remember the shame that I felt when I announced to others that I was supplementing. It was clearly not the #1 choice.

I think it’s important for all of us to be sensitive to the messages that we put out into the world and to the reality of life and the reality of raising young infants, especially when raising them alone without a supportive partner, or when physical or life circumstances arise that make breastfeeding a difficult choice.

Breastfeeding is meant to feed and nourish our children. In the absence of breastfeeding what other choices remain? How do we nourish our babies? How do we keep them alive and help them to grown? Isn’t that the ultimate goal after all? Living up to a subculture’s subversive messages is an imposed stress – and one that can be ameliorated by speaking openly about ALL the options available, not just those that may be out of reach for some. And not only speaking openly about them, but accepting them and sending a positive message that formula and supplement, not breastfeeding if OKAY. It may even be what is BEST for your baby.