Breastfeeding is Universal

Breastfeeding is Universal

“Love is food: food for the soul. When a child sucks at his mother’s breast for the first time, he is sucking two things, not only milk — milk is going into his body and love is going into his soul. Love is invisible, just as the soul is invisible; milk is visible just as body is visible. If you have eyes to see, you can see two things together dripping into the child’s being from the mother’s breast. Milk is just the visible part of love; love is the invisible part of milk — the warmth, the love, the compassion, the blessing.” ~ Osho

A friend suggested that perhaps this could have been the Time Magazine cover photo.

Hands Free Mama? What about Hands Free Toddler (or Child)?

(My Hands Free Baby doing a little dance!)

Yesterday evening after swimming lessons and dinner out I took my almost three year old to Target with me to pick up a few items. Of course, a few items turned into a few more items and we were there well over an hour. She wanted to ride in the cart, she wanted to ride on the cart, she wanted to stand on the back of the cart, and stand on the front of the car. She fell over, she almost fell out. A typical trip to Target. Oh, and she sat on the Cheerios box that I put in the cart as soon as we got in the store (it was on sale) and even ripped open the top asking “What is this?!” Luckily she didn’t make it INTO the Cherrios. Yikes!

After a few minutes of this toddler-sized chaos, I realized that there was a bag of items that we had purchased at the Dollar Store prior to coming to Target. I suggested that she take the items out of their packages while we zipped around the store. We had picked up some small beach balls and some toys for the swimming pool: most of them were all packed in paperboard and plastic. This kept her busy for a while but she was still into stuff, doing her typical toddler thing.

About half way through our trip, I noticed something interesting. There was another mother pushing the cart of a toddler just about the size of mine. But unlike my cart which was full of chatter and movement, her cart was silent. How could that be? A toddler sitting in the bottom of the cart and not making a sound? I looked over into the cart to investigate. There sat with a toddler completely silent, not moving, transfixed. What going on? Then I saw it: the smart phone. She was watching Elmo on her mother’s phone.

Now if you’ve read any of my other posts on children and screen time, you may know my opinion on this. Any time a child is spent engaged with an electronic device is time that the child is not spending engaged with another human being or a tangible object. The toddler is not learning how to entertain herself, the toddler is passively being entertained.

Now perhaps for that mother, that was just the break she needed. Who am I to judge? But the skeptical side of me says that’s not the case. The skeptical side of me says that the phone is whipped out whenever there’s an occasion to keep an antsy child from squirming, exploring, grabbing and generally making a mess out of things.

(This is also backed up by the fact that a different mother at the table of the restaurant we were eating at before the Dollar Store was on her phone the whole time and only spoke to her 5 and 8 year old kids when it was to tell them to sit down. Not a Hands Free Mom.) Her children ended up leaning over the booth for half of the dinner to talk and interact with me and my child.

The interesting thing about this trip is that it never crossed my mind to try to entertain in her in any other way than the way that I was, and I won’t be changing my ways anytime soon. For me dealing with a squirmy toddler is part of the job of raising a child. Sure, I was tired. I had worked a full day of work, I had taken her to swimming lessons, out to dinner and to the Dollar Store. I’m a single mom. I do these things myself. But a toddler is a toddler. She needs to explore, to learn about objects, to ask questions. On one trip to the grocery store I spent half the time reading the signs advertising the fruits and veggies.

The grocery store, or any store for that matter, is a 3D experience. She’s touching things, looking at objects, asking questions. She’s learning how to balance in the cart when she’s standing in it and it comes to sudden stop. Language, reading, fine motor, gross motor, it’s all there.

For me, the smart phone and Elmo is a last resort. It’s for times when there are few other choices.  This has always been while we on a long car trip. Giving my child the smart phone every time she is restless would be somewhat akin to giving her a cookie every time she cries. I do use the occasional cookie to pacify the upset child, but aren’t there other lessons to be learned? Shouldn’t she learn that there are times you don’t get what you want, or to teach her how to self-soothe or learn that her mamma is there when she needs a hug? Why use the phone when you can offer your child a learning experience and a chance to be in the real world? Sure, it takes more time and effort on the part of the parent. But isn’t that what we’re there for? Isn’t that what we wanted when we signed on the dotted line of motherhood?

For more on Hands Free mother check out the Hands Free mama blog.


Teaching Girls to be Girls: Do We Have It All Wrong?

I’m guilty. I dress my daughter mostly in pink and I tell her over and over again how cute she is. I dress her primarily in tights with flowers, shirts with cute animals, and frilly skirts. I am finding myself socializing my daughter to be a “girl” in ways that I never thought I would.

Outside of what she wears, many lessons to her include how to be a good caregiver, how to cook, how to pick out a matching outfit, and at times even how to charm the opposite sex! It was a shock to me when she started thinking that the blue socks or blue jackets I bought for her belonged to the little boy who lives with us (he is 4 months younger) and not to her. I guess the fact that I have always picked out her clothes in pink may have something to do with this. I just can’t help it! She’s so darn cute and so are the clothes.

This does not mean I do not value other lessons of course. I am also teaching her to be a compassionate human being, to solve problems on her own, and to follow her own lead. I encourage her independence and allow her to spread her wings. It’s just that the male/female aspect of socialization is so strong in our society that it’s practically impossible to avoid. (And if you think about it, these societal expectations of women and beauty have been going on for thousands of years. Think about foot binding in Asian cultures, traditional dress for men and women, etc.)

I have to add, what happened to Ellen Degeneris? Is that the media’s way of saying we can take the most “butch” of women and transform her into a “real” woman? Ellen never wears skirts, sports super short hair, but is now a spokeswoman for Cover Girl. Ellen, you caved. At the price of large paycheck you bought into society’s idea of what it means to be a woman.

So, how does this all tie into toddlers and make-up? Well, let’s look at some of the input that was provided about why make-up could be a slippery slope for the self-image and confidence of our young girls.

Based on the discussion we had I will start with some theories about make-up in general and why we as a society find it necessary to alter ourselves to please others:

  1. The cosmetics industry (and the media in general) have a great deal of culpability. They target women and overtly (or covertly) convince them that make-up will make them more beautiful, more desirable, more perfect and more like all of those movie stars who are so idolized. By the way, have you ever seen pictures of some of the movie stars out on the streets running their errands without make-up? You would never know they were rich and famous and beautiful. They look like regular people.
  2. The socialization of men is also part of the problem. Some men request that women wear make-up. In response, some women cater to men’s desires to be what is expected of an attractive woman and attempt to fulfill that role; others do not.
  3. There may be some underlying feelings of deficit that drive women to wear make-up. This may be due to something a young girl did not attain in childhood or to other feelings of insecurity.
  4. Some women do not feel comfortable showing their unpainted, natural face in public. Society dictates that a more beautiful face, as defined by the cultural norms, is acceptable and that raw beauty is less desirable.
  5. Being deliberate about wearing make-up may be one way to allow women to regain power. Instead of feeling like one is wearing make-up just to please a man, it may be helpful to have some intentions for oneself when wearing make-up.
  6. Commentor Liz states it nicely when she says that by not wearing make-up women can “take back our confidence in our inherent value and beauty and walk around together knowing that we are pretty, among other excellent things.”

So, those were some of the theories about make-up wearing in general. Now how about those little children that are dressing up and playing with make-up?

It’s natural for a child to imitate his or her mother. The question is: what lesson is being taught to the child when a mother allows her young child to imitate the applying of make-up? For some mothers, the lesson is not one she wants to teach her children. One solution to this problem is that women stop wearing make-up!

  1. Most parents do not have a problem with children playing dress-up or playing with makeup, as long as the ingredients are safe. Again, the emphasis here is “dress-up,” not going out in public with make-up on. These are two very different things. However, even in dress-up are we teaching our children to engage in practices that will likely carry through to adulthood?
  2. What a mother models for her daughter will play a strong role on her child’s development. Mothers teach their daughters how to be women, mothers, sisters, and spouses. I think about this type of modeling, especially when I watch my child playing with her dolls. She holds them affectionately; she pats them on the back; she gives their “owwies” kisses. She is imitating the behaviors that I exhibit when I am caring for her. I find pride in this because I feel that the way I nurture my little girl is preparing her to be a good, caring, compassionate mother. If my little girl were to start playing “make-up” as a result of watching me, what have I modeled for her? What will she take from that into adulthood?
  3. A parent’s job is to draw a line between child activities and adult activities by setting boundaries. Just because a child wants to do a certain activity doesn’t mean it should be allowed. A parent can tell her child “Only mommy leaves the house with make-up on.”
  4. Liz asks the question about what children would play with if they weren’t playing make-up or dress-up. She states: “How would little girls play then, and what would they be fascinated with? My guess is, bigger things!”

Given all of this, here are some interesting questions to sign off on:

  • Instead of applying make-up what might be a more meaningful bonding experience for mothers and daughters?
  • Does the feminization of young girls need to occur in order for them to be happy, healthy young people?
  • Is it “natural” for girls to play with make-up or is learned?
  • If we do model make-up wearing for our children, what lesson is being learned?
  • What other lessons could we teach them instead?


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.