Home Home About Zen Mama Contact

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Blessing Bags

It is never to early to start homeschooling or unschooling. We've all been doing it since the day our babes were born whether we knew it or not. One of the most important lessons in our curriculum is: How to be a good person. And the way to teach it best is by example.

Here's one way we've decided to teach this lesson to our son: Blessing Bags.

In fairness, this is not an original idea. I didn't come up with this. I think I saw it on Pinterest, actually. I just took it, tweaked it, and rolled with it.

For many of us, running into a homeless person can be an uncomfortable situation. We don't want to make them feel bad by pitying them, we don't want to ignore them, we don't want to add to a potential problem they may have. We just don't know and we don't know what to do about that. Well, now we can make up these little kits for those in need so that the next time we see someone, we can actually help them, feel good about ourselves, and show a good example to our babes.

Here's what we included in our Blessing Bags:

- aspirin
- comb
- trail mix (almonds, dried pineapple, raisins)
- Fig Newtons
- lip balm with SPF
- toothbrush
- toothpaste
- sunscreen
- sunglasses
- deodorant
- soap
- nail clippers
- floss
- callous pads
- tissues
- hand sanitizer
- shampoo
- apple sauce
- socks
- crackers
- bandages
- razor
- tampon
- granola bar

We customized it for those who live in our area. Phoenix in the summer is no picnic, so we put things in the bag that all Phoenicians need. In the winter, we'll re-think our items. If you're in another area, customize for there. We keep the bags in our car and when we need them, rather when someone else needs them, we give them.

We got everything from the $0.99 store and bought many of the items in bulk. It's so little even for us who don't have much extra to give, but can make such a huge difference in someone's day.

And that citizenship lesson we just gave our son will last a lifetime.

Pardon My Pity Party

Why is it so easy for my students to get pregnant accidentally left and right and over and over? Why does my cousin keep having kids and giving them up? Why do I keep reading about all the kids who need good homes, but I'm here and ready and can't get any of them? Why am I surrounded by pregnancy, but becoming a parent is such a heartbreaking obstacle course filled with impossibilities for us?

I sit here in tears as I have off and on all day, as I remember vividly doing a couple years ago when having our son didn't seem to be possible, trying to come to grips with yet another shattered dream. (If you're not sure what I'm talking about, read my posts about our struggles here and here.) Things aren't nearly as bad now, because we have our one perfect son. If he weren't here, I would be absolutely beside myself with grief over one more hope being dashed. As it stands, one more hope has been dashed - we won't likely be able to add to our family - but we have our son and he is more than we could've ever hoped for and definitely more than we deserve.

Still, though, I'm immaturely railing against the unfairness of it all. I'm nobody special, I'm nobody great, but I think I'm a pretty good mama. I try hard every day and my son is happy, healthy, and safe. I used to want four kids, but then I got a little older (and my conception and pregnancy took a toll on me), so we decided two was our magic number. It took me a long time to get there, too. Once I finally arrived in my peaceful headspace about the number two, I set out to get her (or him, but we were leaning toward girl). For everyone else, they get to hang their underwear next to their partner's on a clothesline and get knocked up. For me, well, my body has betrayed me and now so has the state of Arizona. I guess this post is my way of stomping my feet and shouting, "No fair!" to the world. It's no fair that I can't get pregnant like most other people. It's no fair that because of my parenting choices and beliefs, Arizona won't let me adopt via foster care. It's no fair that only the rich can afford to privately adopt and we are far from rich.

*Stomp, stomp, stomp*

*Fist shake, fist shake, fist shake*

*And throw in a vein popping out of the side of my neck, for good measure*

*Oh, and a snot bubble, because no tantrum is truly complete without a good snot bubble*

Arizona says that in order to adopt via foster care, I have to vaccinate my son completely according to the CDC schedule. Not going to happen. I refuse to put my child in harm's way for a dream that isn't even his and for a child we don't even have. Foster-adoption costs somewhere in the ballpark of $5,000. That's a significant amount of money, but it's doable. Shooting our son full of toxins is not doable. Ok, so on to private adoption. That's somewhere in the ballpark of $20,000-$40,000. Not doable. Foreign adoption? Same story. And there you have it. Unless the stork accidentally drops someone else's baby down our chimney (so I'm mixing the stork and Santa, whatever...they're both fake and neither are helping my situation, so.......), the outcome is the same: no new daughter or son. And it's just not fair.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Camping with Our Babes

I have been a camper since before I can remember. My dad's side of the family has been camping in the same place since he was little. (I'm keeping that place a selfish secret, because it is my heaven and I need to keep it sacred and private...sorry!) Even given all my years of camping experience, I was nervous about camping with my son. I thought it would be so much harder, so I put it off much longer than I should've. With experience, wisdom from my family (including an aunt who is mom to seven of my cousins, one of whom came out with us when he was just 6 weeks old), and tips from Jennifer Aist's Babes in the Woods, I've learned a bit and thought I'd pass it on to those of you who would also like to camp with your babes this summer.

- Don't bother bringing toys. Nature is one giant toy!
- Check the weather and pack accordingly. Pack layers. Pack only one extra item of each clothing type. Don't go crazy.
- Don't over-plan. You don't have to have a hike, bike ride, swim session, and canoe ride planned for every second of the day. Throwing rocks in the lake will be fun for a long time. Just enjoy your surroundings.
- Wear your babe in the way most comfortable for you. There is no real need for a fancy backpack carrier when you have a perfectly good Moby already.
- If your babe is old enough, teach him or her to drink out of your CamelBak before you go on your trip. It can be tricky to get the hang of at first and you want everyone to be hydrated.
- You can still cosleep in your sleeping bag. No need for extra bags for babes.
- You can still cloth diaper if that's what you normally do. Just bring a larger wet bag. If you'd rather, switch to g-diapers for the trip, so you don't have to feel the guilt of using disposables, but can still have the convenience of trashing them as you go.
- Hats are a must.
- Be wary of bug repellants. Do your research. They definitely come with risks. Avoid DEET.
- Don't bother trying to keep babe clean. Just don't.
- If biking, wear helmets and make sure they're on properly.
- If in or near the water, fit babe with a life jacket and keep it on at all times.
- First aid, first aid, first aid! Have a kit and know your stuff. Chances are you won't need any of it, but if you don't have it, you're sure to need it.
- If biking, use a trailer, not a bike seat. Trailers are 40% safer than seats.
- Bring a disposable camera so babe can take pictures, too!
- Breastfeed and there's no need to bring bulky extra food. Score!

It's really nowhere near as intimidating or difficult as I thought it was going to be. Sure, things take a little longer, but that's the nature of being a parent. Sure, you have to fill your car just a little bit more, but not much, since nature provides most everything you'll need. The truth is, though, any inconvenience is marginal and doesn't even compare to the beauty and wonder of learning to camp all over again with your babe.

Oh, I almost forgot my most important tip: Relax and enjoy. It's really that simple!

Fact vs. Opinion

As a high school English teacher, I used to do a lesson every year on fact versus opinion. It seems it's time for a refresher course.

Let's all try this together. Choose whether each statement is fact or opinion:

1. Cheeseburgers are better than hamburgers.

2. Boys are dirty and messy.

Ok, those were test questions. Now onto something a little harder:

3. Breastfeeding in public is OK as long as mom is covered.

4. A circumcised penis is cleaner and safer.

5. Homeschool kids lack social skills.

6. Spanking is not the same as hitting.

7. Cosleeping is dangerous.

8. Stay-at-home moms prioritize their children higher than work-away-from-home moms.

9. Cloth diapering is too hard.

10. Crying it out prepares kids for the real world.

Here's a hint: 1-10 are all opinion. If you got any wrong, please reevaluate. If you got them all right, please move on to the next section.

11. Breastmilk offers nutrients not available or able to be replicated in formula.

12. Circumcision has lifelong negative effects.

13. Vaccines contain neurotoxins.

14. The chance of having a c-section is increased with use of an epidural.


11. Fact

12. Fact

13. Fact

14. Fact

When I post about those things, I'm not posting my opinion, I am posting fact. I understand that calling them "opinion" allows some to dismiss the facts and continue to bury their heads, but really that's not helping anyone - especially their babes. I'm pretty good about distinguishing between my opinion posts and my factual posts. I'm not going to mince words or dance around the truth in order to ensure someone doesn't feel uncomfortable or judged. (Note: I'm not judging when I post. I'm just informing. Please see my previous post on the topic.) Posts that present facts contradictory to what you believe are not opinion simply because you don't want to be proven wrong.

Gentle is my chosen path to activism. Gentle presentation of the facts, that is. This does not mean I will gently allow those with misinformed opinions to continue to hold them without attempting to inform them as best I can. Doing so might be gentle to the misinformed, but harmful and potentially fatal to their babes. I won't do it. Protecting your ego is far less important to me than protecting your and every other babe. For those babes, I continue to post facts, frightening and sad though they may be.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

My Own Time Magazine Cover

I don't know why Time Magazine didn't ask ME to pose for their cover. With this one shot, I could've shown the world EXACTLY what it's like to breastfeed a toddler:

Here I am, trying desperately to go potty (while trying to catch up on the Zen Parenting Facebook page I've been neglecting...yes, that's right, in case the picture wasn't too much information in and of itself, I was also Facebooking some of you from ye olde pot...don't judge...) on the heels of an obstructed bowel when my son walks in, lifts my shirt (both sides, because both boobs MUST be available at ALL times), and latches on. To top if off, my mother, who so wonderfully dropped everything to drive 4 1/2 hours to be with my son while I thought I was dying, declares, "This would be a perfect picture to post on your page!" And because I was near-death, completely vulnerable, and unable to do anything other than weakly mutter, "Cheese," I ended up with this lovely photographic memory. I bet you never thought you'd see your friendly neighborhood parenting blogger in this position. Well, there's a first time for everything...

Did I have to share this less-than-attractive moment? Nope. Is it absolutely truthful to my life? Yep. And that's why it's here. This is my life in all its splendor.

And now it's forever impressed upon your memory as well. You're welcome.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Challenge! Accepted?

Whenever I post about television usage with our babes on my Facebook page, I get a mixed bag of responses. I get those who are adamant that TV should be killed and those who are adamant that TV has been wonderful for their children. I tend to take a more mellow stance on it, but that is neither here nor there for the moment.

It is my belief that, as with most of our consumption, we underestimate how much TV we all watch both with and without our babes. For this reason, I propose a challenge.

Here are the steps:

1) Set a goal as to how much TV you'd ultimately feel comfortable with your babe watching during a period of a week. 5 hours? 10 hours? Whatever. You choose. Record that number.

2) Estimate how much TV your babe watches during a given week (7 full days, not just the work-week). Record that number.

3) For the next week, take an honest and accurate recording of exactly how much time your babe watches TV. This includes time the TV is on and babe is running all around, but still exposed to it.

4) At the end of the week, compare your estimate to your actual number to your goal.

5) If your actual number is over your goal, start weaning your babe off TV a little at a time.

In my opinion, the television is not Beelzebub himself, nor is it some great invention to which we should all be grateful. I think it can be fine in moderation, but I think what many of us feel we're doing in moderation, we're actually overdosing on all too often.

Let us know how things go as you progress through the steps of this challenge. I think we all (no one more than myself) could learn a lot.


As a former English teacher and a forever bibliophile, I will go to my grave touting the benefits of reading to and with our babes of all ages. If you think they're too young to be read to, I beg to differ. If they're squirmy and won't sit still for a whole book, so you think it's pointless to read, wrong-o. If you think they're not paying attention, so your time is better spent elsewhere, I challenge.

In the classroom, I could always tell which of my students had been read to as young children and which hadn't. And those who had been read to always achieved and comprehended at a much higher and more thorough rate. There is only so much that a teacher can do if literacy isn't stressed at home first and always. Parents are babes' first and best teachers.

Why read to your babes?
- vocabulary booster
- foundation for reading
- success in school (or unschool)
- bonding time

What should you read to your babes?
- board books
- picture books
- audio books
- rhymes and songs
- books with few words on each page
- anything and everything

How should you read to your babes?
- on your lap, while breastfeeding, snuggled up - make a connection
- point at pictures
- do the voices and facial expressions
- keep it short, sweet, fun, and frequent
- watch your babe's sight line and talk about what he or she is looking at
- stop for a while if your babe loses interest - a little good time is better than a lot of not-so-good time
- let your babe turn the pages (and it's OK if he or she flips them before all the words are read - it should be fun)
- take turns with Q&A throughout the book (sometimes you ask, sometimes you answer)
- love on your babe the whole time

When should you read to your babes?
- when you and child are relaxed, comfortable and happy
- every day

Why are you, the parent, so important for early literacy?
- you know your babe best
- you can help them learn the way it is easiest for them
- your babe adores you, so will look to you for examples

Here are four more of the best ways to get your babes ready to read:
- Talking
- Singing
- Writing
- Playing

What do I mean by that?

- talk with your babe, not just to or at them, and practice active listening
- repeat what your babe says to you using different words to expand vocabulary
- if you are multilingual, speak first in the language you know best and then translate into the other language(s) you wish him or her to learn

- sing the alphabet song (one good suggestion I read was to sing it during teeth brushing...two-fer!)
- sing nursery rhymes to learn different sounds
- clap the syllables out

- allow and encourage scribbling, marking, drawing, coloring - whatever!
- have your babe "sign" his or her name on their art to help them correlate print and words
- make up stories about your babe's artwork together and tell the stories together

- plenty of unstructured imagination time to just do what babes do
- help make up plays, puppet shows, other dramatic acts with toys, fingers...whatever
- read an imaginary book together and have your babe "read" to you based on the "pictures" he or she sees

Little opportunities for literacy are all over the place. Converse with your babe all day long. Even if your babe isn't talking yet, you can still talk with them (remember, the "with" is important as opposed to "to" or "at"), because they're definitely trying to talk with you! Listen to them. They have a lot to say even if you don't always understand exactly what it is and it is all important. Make a nook for reading in your home. Have some books available, maybe a comfy bean bag or floor pillow, a nice reading lamp (not too harsh) and make the nook your and your babe's first stop in the morning and last stop before bed. Use your imagination. Get creative. If you're not the creative type, use your babe's imagination and creativity - they haven't lost the good stuff yet and with your help, hopefully they won't ever lose it.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Always Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide

Struggling to conceive and ultimately getting pregnant via in vitro fertilization has done a real number on me and my husband and on who we have turned out to be as parents. Had we had a relatively easy time getting knocked up, we never would have gone through the gnarly process with our fertility specialist, would have never been so run down and doctored out, would have never gone with a midwife and home birth, would have never gone against all other mainstream ideas, values, and miscellaneous malarkey. In short, we would have been our parents, our friends, everyone we knew. We would have been exactly who we had been conditioned to be. Thank Dog for not-so-small blessings!

On our path toward becoming who we are now as parents, we began our search for a pediatrician (something I would never do now that we are further down said path, but that is for another post). Our first interview was with a doctor to whom a friend referred us. Let me see if I can paint you a picture. Immediately after being seated in an exam room to wait for the doctor, a circumcision surgical procedure began in the room next to us. The only thing separating us from the screams of betrayal, horrific pain, and terror was a paper thin wall. The only thing preventing us from walking out right then was the fight we had with our instincts. Mistake. Big mistake. We fought down our mounting nausea and blinked back our tears when in walked Dr. Jive-Talker. From the moment he walked in to the moment we walked out, he was non-stop talk - non-stop fast, loud, bologna-slingin' talk, I should say. I was immediately put off, because it wasn't an interview, it was a sales pitch and neither we nor our unborn child were in the market for what he was selling. The kicker, though, was when he launched into his sleep training bit. This man, a father himself, directed us to sleep with our child nearby, but in his own bed, do not breastfeed him between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., go to sleep and make him cry himself out all through the night. "Sure, it'll be hard at first, but it'll only last for 3-4 days and then he'll learn to sleep through the night by himself." And that's when we left. Fast. We did not pass "Go," we did not collect $200, we did not listen to the rest of his harmful drivel.

Everything in me was screaming at this man. Everything in me was screaming at everyone who hurled such brilliant and unsolicited advice our way every time we blinked. Everything in me wanted to scoop up that babe in the next room and run. Everything in me wanted to yell from the rooftop of the office that this man's advice is akin to child abuse - DON'T FOLLOW IT! Instead, we went home and vowed that we would not be choosing him for our child's doctor, would never again go against our instincts as we had when we didn't walk out right away, would never put our child through the pain and torture he was prescribing.

We learned a lesson that day that we're thrilled we learned before our son was born, so we didn't have to use him as a guinea pig. We learned to listen to ourselves and our babe. We learned that nobody has our son's interests at heart the way we do. We learned that protecting him is our most important role - more than being a lummox to the demise of ourselves and our son. Our son is our greatest teacher. He taught us all these lessons and he continues to teach us every day as long as we open our ears, eyes, hearts, and minds and listen, really listen, to him.