Month: April 2012

Beyond the Playground

Yesterday I had to take the day off from work because my child’s daycare had school conferences. On conference day her classroom closes completely and I’m forced to take the day off to watch my daughter. On the one hand, this is seen as an inconvenience. I can’t go to work; there are things that need to be done, etc., etc.

Obviously the flip side is that I have the opportunity for a full day of quality time with my child.

Fortunately for us, it was a gorgeous day out and we spent the whole morning outside. After the morning conference and a bike ride to breakfast, we ended up at a playground. As most children do, my daughter loves playgrounds.

“Momma. First eat. Then pwaygwond. Yes?”

“Yes, honey. First we’ll eat and then we’ll go to the playground.” For the hundredth time.

Finally we got to the playground. For the first time in months, perhaps even years, I was able to sit and just enjoy the out-of-doors while my daughter played. She was in heaven digging in the sand, swinging on the swings, watching the other children. I was in heaven doing nothing.

After a long time of enjoying this peaceful bliss of nothingness, I started thinking. What other opportunities are there for her out here? What can I show her in the world that goes beyond the man-made play structure? It was then that I noticed the field of dandelions. I suggested that she and I go look at the flowers. It was hard to tear her away from all the fun she’d been having, but she obliged and went out to explore.

We went over to the field of dandelions and sat to look at them. I had a flashback to some of my earliest and most delightful memories. I used to love to sit in a field of dandelions and just pick them. When I got older I would sit with my other little girl friends and we would make long chains of dandelions and turn them into necklaces.

I did the same now. I began to weave together a necklace of dandelions for my sweet little girl. I encouraged her to find me the “really long ones” and to bring them to me. She did. She would look really hard, would pluck them and would say, “Really long, mama, this one really long!”

It’s a simple story but one filled with beauty and delight, in the wonder and curiosity of exploring something new.

After making the necklace I tried to get a picture of her looking up at me but I just couldn’t get the picture. “Please, honey, look up at mama.”

“Why can’t I get a good shot?” I’d ask myself. “Can’t she just look up for just one second?”

Through the lens all I could see was that she wasn’t looking at me.

As I look back at the pictures now, I see now why she wasn’t looking at me. It wasn’t that she wasn’t looking at me it was that she was too busy.

She was actively engaged in this new wonder of the world.

She was looking down at the wonderful chain of flowers falling around her neck.

She was in her own world, in a place beyond the playground.

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Always Kiss Me Good Night

Always Kiss Me Good-Night is a precious book about how children think parents should raise them.

J.S. Salt, in an attempt to be a better parent (and to produce a lovely book), asked 1,000 children to complete the following statement:

“If I could tell my parents how to raise me, I’d tell them ‘_____.'”

The children’s answers speak to their desire to simply have their parents spend time with them.

To let them explore, play in nature, and get dirty.

To be loved and cherished and to have their parents “Snugel me up in your arms.”

To take care of them.

For a good reminder of what parenting is and can be, check out “Always Kiss me Good-Night.”

Compiled by J.S. Salt. Published by Three Rivers Press: New York.

Good-bye Three Little Birds

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This is a short tribute to an in-home daycare/childcare center/preschool that my child never attended. But, oh, did I want her to go! Its last day is April 26th – they are closing due to changes in their family and for financial reasons.

The reason I want to pay tribute to them is because in my eyes, they are the ideal model for what a childcare center or preschool should be like. The children are outside as much as possible, they learned about the earth and about nature, they experienced the world hands on and with wild abandon. The husband-wife team went all out to make every day a complete, full body experience for the children they had in their care and you could clearly see the children were loving every minute of it.

The couple write about their inspiration for opening such as a center. It’s a topic close to my heart: the loss of nature in children’s lives. This couple brought nature into the children’s lives in full force: mud baths, walks in the woods, eating meals outside. Take a look for yourself.

Good-bye Three Little Birds. I wish my daughter had gotten to know you better!

http://threelittlebirdscc.blogspot.com/p/about-us.html

http://3lbonourminds.blogspot.com/

http://www.threelittlebirdscommunity.com/1/post/2012/04/saying-goodbye.html

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Vaginal Birth After Cesarean – Make an Informed Choice

When I was 28 weeks pregnant I ended up changing obstetricians.

A year before getting pregnant, I had surgery on my uterus. Basically, my situation as a pregnant woman was similar to that of a woman who had previously given birth via cesarean and was pregnant again.

When I went to the doctor I assumed I would be able to have a vaginal delivery because my surgical report stated that it was not contraindicated. In other words, the surgeon said there is no reason this woman can’t give birth vaginally. However, during the first ten minutes of my first OB visit the female doctor I had chosen informed me that a cesarean at 36 weeks was mandatory in order to reduce all risk of uterine rupture (which is reported as less than .01%).

Full term is 40 weeks.

The doula I later hired was appalled. She said, “That’s like planning to deliver a baby prematurely.”  

As this was my first pregnancy I assumed the doctor was making a sound medical decision and that this was my only option. However, it was only after I began searching for hospitals that allow skin-to-skin contact following a cesarean (something my doctor would also not agree to) that I learned I had other options and that my first doctor was taking THE most conservative approach.

I was furious that it took me 28 weeks to learn that I had options.

During my interviews with other doctors, I learned that some doctors would not even think of performing a cesarean at 36 weeks. I learned that many women choose to have trials of labor, to attempt vaginal deliveries, and still others, after weighing the risks, to have cesareans, usually around 39 weeks. At no point during the many months I was treated by my original doctor was I informed of these options or given any autonomy in this decision.

Why didn’t my doctor explain my options to me? Why didn’t she explore what was medially possible rather than just taking the most conservative approach? Why wasn’t I involved in the process of making this decision?

This doctor’s fear-based approach to this health care decision was less than empowering.  She basically gave me the impression that I could die in my living room at the first onset of contractions if I chose not to deliver by cesarean at 36 weeks. I was panicked at the thought of making a decision contrary to her’s. She was seemingly prioritizing the hospital’s and the clinic’s liability over the health of the baby.

In addition, she was not open to other opinions. When I informed my doctor that I would be getting an opinion from a perinatologist (a doctor who specializes in high risk pregnancy), she stated, “I’m sure he will have the same opinion as I do.” When asked if a differing opinion would change her mind she stated that it would not.

Contrary to the information she gave me, I learned that from other doctors that a uterine rupture was a very unlikely event and that a later cesarean could easily be scheduled with little risk to me or the baby. There was a general consensus that attempting labor following uterine surgery involves risks and if I was motivated to take that risk then these other doctors would be willing to accompany me on that journey. At the same time, they would all be just as comfortable scheduling and performing a cesarean at 39 weeks or even later if that was what I wanted. It was a hard decision, but I felt better knowing that I had been given all the information in a non-biased way and that the decision was mine. From all of these providers I was left with the impression that we would be negotiating a treatment plan and that we would be working together as a team.

The medical treatment I received at the women-only clinic was not consistent with their motto. The website stated, “At [our clinic], we strive to help you be as informed as possible while you make your health care decisions.” I question the ethics of an approach that withholds information and options available to women. I would encourage all clinics to adopt such a motto and to take it to heart as all women deserve to make personal, informed choices about their healthcare.

I chose my original clinic because of its all-female staff and because I thought I would be treated from a woman-centered approach. However, my experience was quite the contrary. I did not experience my treatment as woman-centered, nor did I experience my treatment as being respectful of my rights and autonomy regarding choices around my healthcare. A health care clinic that prides itself on an all-female staff should provdie a practice that empowers women and values her right to free choice and information regarding her delivery options.

In sum, there are many women who would prefer to attempt labor following uterine surgery or a prior c-section. However, a woman must have all of the facts and options available to her so that she can make an informed choice.

Unfortunately, cesareans are on the rise because doctors shy away from VBACs (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean). If you are pregnant and have received an opinion from a doctor that recommends an early c-section or a repeat c-section, consider seeking a second opinion. The last four weeks of development for the infant are crucial in regards to its long terms health and well being. The lungs are still developing and there is evidence to suggest that babies born before 36 weeks are more likely to have asthma. Get all the information you can and make the best decision for you and your baby.

http://ican-online.org/

http://www.vbac.com/

At 42 weeks Dr. Hartung, of Hudson Hospital and Clinics, delivered my beautiful baby girl via cesarean due to medical issues unrelated to my prior surgery. She was a happy and healthy baby.

Changing the World: One Changing Table at a Time

Note: This isn’t only about changing tables. It’s about making a difference in our world.

My quest to change the world one changing table at a time started when I went into a Starbucks in Duluth, MN when my daughter was about 18 months old, had a messy diaper, and I wanted a decaf, no-foam latte. Alas, when I entered the oversized bathroom there was no changing table. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that Starbucks would fail to install a changing table at a location in the middle of a large city.

I did then what I consistently do now when I don’t see a changing table. I said to the staff,

“I see that you don’t have a changing table. Where would you propose I change my child? On the floor?”

They looked at me blankly and shrugged their shoulders.

I then proceeded to change her on one of the cushy oversized armchairs in the middle of the coffee shop.

Now don’t get me wrong. I realize it is not the staff’s fault that there is no changing table. But what I hope is that word will get back to the manager that a disgruntled customer changed her messy child (read poopy) in the middle of the coffee shop.

This was my first course of action.

When I got back to town and went into my local Starbucks I again found no changing table. I called the manager, wrote several emails and persisted until I was able to speak to a district manager. I asked her what Starbucks’ policy was on changing tables. She looked into it and found out they had no policy. (If you do a web search on Starbucks and changing tables you will find that I am not the first to notice this problem.) She explained that I was catching them at the right time. They were doing a remodel and would be sure to install a changing table. I was also offered a free coffee drink of my choice the next time I went in. Bonus!

Here’s a blurb from a quick web search for “starbucks changing table.” Apparently this woman’s successful method was to use Twitter.

http://www.babyrabies.com/2009/05/starbucks-changing-tables-a-revolution-yo/

“Speaking of Twitter, that’s actually where I finally started to get somewhere with this whole situation.  I followed @Starbucks and (with the help of @JetWithAnya) asked them to put me in touch with the people who could hear me out.  After an email back from Starbucks Coroporate Communications that *didn’t* tell me to waste my time by entering it on the L-A-M-E webpage, I learned that I needed to contact my local District Manager. So the next time I was at my local store I grabbed her business card and shot her an email when I got home.  I explained my frustrations (and made it clear that I would be blogging and Tweeting about all of this, one way or the other).  To her credit, she has been extremely responsive and friendly, and after only two phone calls, put in an order for changing tables for my local store.”

Recently, a similar messy diaper situation occurred at Sebastian Joe’s, a very popular ice cream parlor in the Twin Cities. In this instance, I Facebooked Sebastian Joe’s until I got a response. The owner asked me to email him. I emailed him and a few weeks later got a phone call from explaining that they were going to be adding changing tables to their two locations. (I also got an offer of a free cone.)

If you want to make a difference in your community in some way here are some ways to go about it: 

  • While you are in the location ask to speak to the manager
  • If no manager is available, ask for the manager’s email address or phone number
  • Call and ask to speak to the manager
  • Write a letter, (here’s an example letter that I wrote to an icecream parlor) mail it and follow up with an email or a phone call
  • Ask in your letter that the establishment respond with a plan of what they will be doing to rectify the situation
  • Post a message on Facebook
  • Post a message on Twitter
  • Be persistent

The need for change is highlighted when you have a young child and are forced to meet his or her needs, oftentimes quite urgently. I was recently in a grocery store deli seating area by myself and was thinking perhaps my daughter and I might go there together to eat one day. I took a look around. Lots of chairs, lots of tables but not one high chair or booster chair.

Hmmm..perhaps my toddler and will pay them a little visit. After an hour of her running around the deli they are going to be racing out to buy a high chair!

Good luck in your endeavors whatever they might be!

Children and Screen Time

The other day I caught my two year old holding my cell phone in her hand as if she were playing a video game and I felt my heart sink. I know technology is in the world but I would like to shelter her from it as long as possible. Despite this, we are no strangers to t.v., computers or smart phones in our household. In the mornings I will oftentimes let her watch a few minutes of “Spider”, or “Charlotte’s Web”, as it is more commonly referred to, while I get ready for work. On the smart phone she talks with her grandmother and looks at pictures we have taken together. However, the questions in my mind about technology and screen time run rampant as she is at a very tender age of development and I only want what is best for her developing brain and personhood. Ask any parent about screen time and their children and more questions than answers will arise. In addition, opinions vary widely, ranging from ‘computers are good for your children’, to ‘I would prefer if my child never interfaced with a screen again’.

Recently, I have written about my own personal beliefs regarding children’s use of technology. I have mentioned that I believe technology interferes with socialization, relationships, and that it is much more important for children to be interacting with other human beings and with nature than with screens.

I have grappled with the question as to why children explicitly should not be exposed to technology and how to respond to the argument that technology is educational.

Given my ideology, how do I respond if a parent says to me, “Yes, I let my child use the ipad and the computer during the day. It’s educational.” Can I say, no, it’s not educational? Of course not. But the following is what I can say.

Children and Technology

Experiential learning, meaning hands-on learning, results in better  problem solving skills, creativity and imagination than technology.

  1. Because technology plays such big role in our lives today, children are often engrossed in two dimensional visual experiences. During that time children are being taken away from the more important, three dimensional, hands-on experiences, social experiences, and experiences in nature.
  2. The gains that can be made through a computer or an iPad can just as easily be made through some other experience. For instance, counting or the alphabet can be learned by use of a computer, but they can also be learned through experiences that involve interacting with another human being or with objects that they can touch, feel, and experience.
  3. The rise in technology is resulting in a decrease in the amount of time children spend in nature.
  4. Children’s brains are not designed to handle the fast moving pace of many cartoons and “children’s” television shows. Slow moving shows like Sesame Street are more appropriate for the child’s developing brain.
  5. Nature is by far much more important developmentally to children than technology.
  6. Technology, such as smart phones or computers, are addictive. The more your child plays with them, the more they will want to play with them. Think about your own experience with computer games or your cell phone.
  7. Children start to rely on technology when they get bored rather than on social relationship and their imagination.

Do the gains made by having your children play with an iPad or a computer outweigh the gains that can be made by having your children engage in imaginative or creative play, in a social experience or in nature? Let’s find out.

Detrimental Effects of Screen Time

According to the Mayo Clinic (2011), too much screen time is linked to the following:

  • Obesity. Children who watch more than two hours of TV a day are more likely to be overweight.
  • Irregular sleep. The more TV children watch, the more likely they are to resist going to bed and to have trouble falling asleep.
  • Behavioral problems. Elementary students who spend more than two hours a day watching TV or using a computer are more likely to have emotional, social, and attention problems.
  • Attention problems. Exposure to video games increases the risk of attention problems in children.
  • Bullying. Children who watch excessive amounts of TV are more likely to bully than children who don’t.
  • Impaired academic performance. Elementary students who have TVs in their bedrooms tend to perform worse on tests than those who don’t.
  • Violence. Too much exposure to violence on TV and in movies, music videos, and video and computer games, can desensitize children to violence. As a result, children may learn to accept violent behavior as a normal part of life and a way to solve problems.
  • Less time for play. Excessive screen time leaves less time for active, creative play.

Recommendations for Screen Time and Children

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has made very specific recommendations for children in regards to screen time.

For children under the age of two, the AAP recommends NO screen time including background television intended for adults.

  • For children over the age of two, AAP recommends limiting a child’s use of TV, movies, video and computer games, to no more than one or two hours a day.
  • The AAP states that there are no known positive effects of screen time for children younger than 2 years and potentially negative effects. (D’Arcy, 2011)

In her Washington Post article, D’Arcy (2011) goes on to summarize the AAP’s stance on children and screen time by highlighting that “parents are usually fooled into thinking certain materials are ‘educational’ when there’s no evidence to support that.” She states that the AAP finds “unstructured playtime . . . more valuable for the developing brain than any electronic media exposure.” From a pediatrician’s standpoint, according to D’Arcy, unstructured playtime is “more beneficial for children to develop creativity, problem-solving and reasoning skills . . . . and better for developing motor skills.”

Summary

Although there is likely nothing WRONG with allowing your child to watch an hour or so of T.V. a day, or play with your ipad for awhile, the question remains, what is your child missing out on? Why not encourage your child to grapple with finding a way to spend an hour of down time? Why not take the extra-time to find a way for your child to expand their creativity and problem solving skills? It will be worth the effort in the long run.

References and Further Reading

Black, R. (2012). http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17495032

D’Arcy, J. (2011).  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-parenting/post/aap-reaffirms-no-screen-time-for-young-children-even-though-few-parents-listen/2011/10/18/gIQAZvpkuL_blog.html

Manjoom, F. (2011). http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2011/10/
how_much_tv_should_kids_watch_why_doctors_prohibitions_on_screen.single.html

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2011). http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/children-and-tv/MY00522

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