Monthly Archives: February 2012

50 Ways to Show Your Kid You Love Them to Pieces (toddler edition)

Okay, I put some thought into it and tried to do that more-creative list of how to show kindness, appreciation, and have a sweeter relationship with your child. As I said in the last post, I have read a number of these kinds of lists lately on other blogs and was underwhelmed by the suggestions.

Well, it turns out, it’s actually really hard to put together a list like this without sounding sappy, insane, or random. I just had to think about things I do and want to do for my kid and hope it translates to others. So, for what it’s worth, here is the result:

1. Let them be naked.
2. Give them permission to tear out all the pages in a magazine.
3. Tell them they are the winner of a special “Most Beloved Toddler” award and give them some beads, a medal, or a tiara.
4. Give them a whole sheet of stickers to go crazy with.
5. Once in awhile, ditch your errand and let them drag you around a shopping center.
6. Buy fun straws.
7. Put on a serious puppet show over their crib railing.
8. Count things, describe things, explain things, even if it seems obvious.
9. Task them with throwing (throw-appropriate) purchases into your cart in the grocery store.
10. Paint with them frequently.
11. Tell them about your day, even if they were present for it.
12. Give them their own space, a No “No” Zone.
13. Put weird things on your head and see how long it takes until they notice.
14. Give them a back-rub or foot-rub with lotion, if they like that sort of thing.
15. Let them “help” in the kitchen.
16. Talk about their favorite animal and look at pictures of them online.
17. Make up stories about their toys.
18. Don’t just hug them and tell them you love them often: hug them, tell them you love them, AND tell them you love what they’ve done with their hair.
19. Succumb to the allure of the occasional sugary snack together.
20. Slow dance, with more feeling, to ridiculous 80’s rock ballads.
21. Save them cool things to play with, like paper towel roll tubes and boxes.
22. Pay close attention to things like what size pieces they like their foot, how warm or cold they like to be while sleeping, what volume they prefer your voice to be while reading.
23. Get rid of clothes that are too tight, uncomfortable, itchy, or too complicated.
24. Give them lots of new foods to try.
25. Let them unfold the contents of your dresser.
26. Make your kid something completely unique and fantastical to play with.
27. Smell all the spices in the spice rack together.
28. Accept that you are helpless against the inevitable and give them their own cell phone (it can be on old one that’s inactive, or a toy phone).
29. Praise them for their unparalleled abilities to make a creative mess.
30. Feed birds, squirrels, etc. in the park together.
31. Pop into pet shops or markets just so they can look at the fish in their aquariums.
32. Let them choose their new clothes at the store once in awhile, they may surprise you.
33. Take pictures of them sleeping. (My sister assures me this is not creepy, it’s loving!)
34. Keep track of measurements, health, milestones, sure… but also mark your child’s changes in sense of humor, favorite flavors, attitude towards babies, the sound of their cry, the way they show affection.
35. Wrap them up in warm laundry fresh from the dryer as you fold.
36. Wait for them to put their shoes on and breathe deeply.
37. Open an email account just for them and let their adoring family and fans send them messages. It’s like a virtual letterbox for them when they’re older.
38. Be unapologetic to other adults about protecting your child from things that harm them.
39. Read books together, read on the floor, read on the bus, read in the car, read even when you are totally tired of reading, then ask them to read to you.
40. Donate to a special charity in their name. Tell them why.
41. When they are sick, let them get away with stuff you otherwise would not.
42. Let them help you at the ATM.
43. Educate yourself on childhood development.
44. Take your playtime seriously and your serious-time playfully.
45. Let them splash you in the bathtub. You’ll dry.
46. Take a day, now and then, to devote wholly to things that your kid loves to do.
47. Make conversation, listen to them even if it’s just babble.
48. Thank your child when they help, when they try, and most of all for just being.
49. In all ways, seek out the person they truly are, not who you want them to be.
50. And don’t be stingy with the sunscreen.

Things to Do Instead of Losing Your Mind…

…So that your kid is less likely to need therapy in 20 years.

I have seen a lot of other blogs doing these variations on lists such as “100 Ways to be Nice to Your Kids” and “30 days to a Better Relationship with Your Kids” and the suggestions are mostly obvious and not all that creative. I pondered for about 10 minutes writing one of my own to see if I could do better.

But instead I’m doing this.

Things to Do Instead of Losing Your Mind So that Your Kid Is Less Likely to Need Therapy:

1. Facebook*
2. Facebook*
3. Yell at cat
4. Try to recite Titania’s monologe from “Midsummer Night’s Dream”
5. Forage for snacks
6. Read Vogue and pretend you are in a hotel room by yourself
7. Consider the many uses of baby wipes
8. Decide on the next scent of candle you will buy
9. Pin that candle on Pinterest
10. Find a childhood photo of yourself and think about what an awesome kid you were
11. Decide your mom had it so easy (Hi mom!)
12. Refill the ice-cube trays
13. Eat a cashew and wonder if it’s the same size as your cat’s kidney
14. Put on a hat
15. Type “ways to get rid of” into google to see the most common searches
16. Yell at the cat in another language
17. Open the fridge to see if you want anything
18. Compose a limerick about how you feel, or a haiku. Don’t attempt the sonnet. It will push you over the edge.
19. Swiffer
20. Open the fridge again to see if you want something you didn’t want before
21. Yell at the cat that there’s nothing good to eat
22. Update your Facebook that the cat never gets you any good snacks/is ruining your life
23. Decide to write a list of ways to chill and not lose your mind and only make it to 23

*By which I mean, not to COMPLAIN about your kids in your status updates. Unless it’s hilarious.

Urban Mom Says “Ugh”

In the urban jungle, you’d think your kids, being so much like little monkeys, would fit right in. Well, it takes a lot of practice for them and you. But time and time again, I’ll find myself wondering if the world of city-dwellers is designed to drive parents mad.

Here are some of the big stumbling blocks of the urban mom.

1. Gatherings. Playdates. Parties. You name it. If it involves needing space to do something, you probably don’t have enough and borrowing some is gonna cost ya. In any big city, there are millions of organizations and groups clamoring for any public, free, or at least cheap space. You can’t have EVERY party in a public park, not to mention if you need to haul an entire party’s worth of food, decorations, presents, etc there and back, you might not live to see the next birthday. You get used to having playdates at childrens’ cafes and libraries. But you never have the benefit of your own stuff nearby should your child do the completely, you know, unexpected thing and make a huge mess.

2. The general method of human conveyance in any city is frequently subway, bus, or walking. Some crazy people own cars but it’s pretty hard to drive them from one part of town to another and find parking anywhere remotely close to your destination in a timely fashion. Even if cost is no object (you lucky duck) it’s an exercise in futility in many places. Which brings us back to those subways, buses, and sidewalks. Germy, loud, dangerous the lot of them. Subway platforms are no place for kinder-play, train doors close abruptly, people squish against your kid’s head, buses lurch and bump, there’s always something disgusting on or under the seats, sidewalks are riddled with gross things your little one is always fascinated with, and drivers in the street are whizzing by the super-close curb with alarming amounts of ambient distractions.
You may know that statistically your kid is safer on a subway or sidewalk than in a car, but boy it doesn’t feel that way when they are eyeing the 3rd rail or stray cigarette butt. You basically have to venture outside with the reflexes of a ninja warrior and the accompanying bags of backpacker. Oh, and the kid.

3. Strangers, strangers, everywhere. You are supposed to teach your kids not to talk to strangers, right? Well in a city, you are in constant contact with new people every day. And you need to interact with a few of them. Your kids will see this. Furthermore, your kids are going to get addressed by strangers every time they do something interesting, cute, wear clothes, look cold, look tired, have a fit, eat, refuse to eat, or go after their dog. There is no way to keep your kids’ interactions stranger-free. The best you can hope for is that people don’t touch your kids without asking (because they do) and that your kids learn to avoid creepy people and situations on the fly. And it’s extra-tricky when you are on the bus or train and mentally unstable people corner you. Just the other week I had some crazy dude give me a lecture that sounded like spam email filler. It would have been funny if it wasn’t so intimidating. And of course, my daughter was intrigued!

4. Big-box stores, as handy as they may be for picking up the latest deals are so FAAAAAR away. Two hours with an annoying transfer to a bus that never comes, especially when it’s raining, and you can experience the joy of discount wares and foodstuffs that you can only buy sparingly because you have to carry it all home. We have lovely boutiques near us, which are great for gifts and the occasional nice purchase, but the prices are high, the selection smaller, and the likelihood of your kid breaking something is very good. Ask me about what I have to endure to get to and from Ikea sometime, you will know why I’m so pleased with my storage boxes!

5. Apartment versus House. The recommended gear ascribed to child-rearing is overwhelming. When I ask other moms where they keep some of the more common large purchases (strollers, bouncers, car seats, rigid baby carriers, playpens, pack and plays, large toy sets) when not in use, frequently I get answers like, “the foyer,” “the garage,” “the back patio,” “the hall closet,” “the shed,” or “the basement.” Fantabulous. I basically have one closet that isn’t big enough for all our coats and shoes (NB: not counting my shoes which are stored in a way as to boggle the mind and cause dizziness upon retrieval). My apartment has no foyer. It has almost no place to put anything that doesn’t fit in a small cupboard. I have personally gotten used to living this way, though I still look at these homes in magazines and yearn for the space to have a king bed, a sectional, a china cabinet, more bookshelves, a hot tub… After baby, however, I have found that I basically have to get rid of more of MY stuff to have room for her stuff. [Insert future guilt-trip sighing here.] I hope someday she appreciates the dishes, clothes, books, and shoes I gave up for her toys, blankets, furniture, and more toys.

So while urban kids enjoy a community of amazing culture and variety, it can be hard for their mommies to keep up with what seems like a general social assumption that we have the same lifestyle as a car-driving, house-dwelling, I-plan-to-abuse-her-guestroom, suburban mom.

We went out!

For the first time since she was born, both my husband and I went out of the apartment and did something. At the same time. Together. It was kind of weird.

Owing to the weekend visit of an obliging grandmother, we decided to take a couple hours right after my husband got dinner ready and go out and do “something.” We couldn’t really think of what, but damn it, we were going to do it. And I was going to wear some freaking high heels.

Right after we left, my husband remarked that it felt like we’d left something important at home. I really know that feeling because any time I go out without my daughter, I feel completely like I’m off the grid.

We ended up drinking wine and eating Portugese cheeses and beignets. It was nice. I kept my glass at the edge of the table all night just because I could. Nothing was dropped on the floor, nothing was dripped on my shirt, no one said “please don’t spit that out.”

It was pleasant, slightly surreal, and very overdue. We talked about our daughter nearly the entire time, even with the waiter. And when we got home, she could acted like we’d been there the whole time.

As it should be.

5 Common Bad-parenting Misconceptions

Now stay clean kids, mommy needs to impress some strangers.

There are a lot of these, but I am going to give you 5 that I have not only been guilty of making but also have received dirty looks for being the “bad parent.”

1. Baby not dressed warmly enough, isn’t wearing a hat, isn’t wearing mittens, etc.
I give up putting my kid’s hat back on after she’s ripped it off and dropped it on the sidewalk about 10 times. Unless it’s -20 C, I just figure she’ll have to learn about getting cold. But I’ve gotten some rather harsh commentary from passers-by that will attest to my lack of parenting sense in this regard. I’m always tempted to unleash months of pent-up fury on them by saying something like “Oh! A hat?!! You mean like the thing I just put on her 15 times in a row and had to set down grocery bags to pick up off the ground 15 times in a row until it finally partially landed in a puddle and got all wet? Never would occurred to me. Thanks, helpful stranger!”
But I’m too nice. I usually just pretend I didn’t hear them or say “she’s fine.” I get being concerned about random babies’ comfort, but telling someone to put something on their baby is almost never going to result in them putting something on their baby just because you suggested it. Almost no one WANTS their kid to freeze, so zip it.

2. Kids out WAY too late at night.
I used to see kids, little kids and babies, on the subway in the wee hours of the night in NYC and wonder “who are these crazy parents?” But now I realize how one might find oneself out and about in a city at strange hours. We had flights a bit over a year ago that meant we had to leave for the airport at 4am and when we returned, we got in past midnight so we were getting to walk through our neighborhood from the shuttle bus terminal at an hour we rarely get to experience. Some of the people lined up for the nightclubs gave us some pretty surprised looks. I hope it was obvious what our situation was, what with the luggage in tow. But I have also been out walking around very late at night with my baby in desperate hopes she’d fall asleep in her carrier. I would have had no luggage then. I also know kids who are super night-owls sometimes due to their parents’ schedules. They get enough sleep, just on a slightly different timetable. So while I still might ponder a kid on the train at 2am, I’m much less likely to immediately think their parents suck.

3. Yells at their kid in public.
Oh god, no one WANTS to be this parent. No one likes this parent. Not even themselves. There are extreme cases of verbal abuse, don’t get me wrong, and you can probably spot them a mile away. But I can totally see how a person could totally lose it over something that from the outside would look totally ridiculous and insignificant. Like throwing my metrocard on the bus floor. The bystanders have no idea that I’ve picked it up a dozen times before they got on and twice after and during one of those times that I was bent over getting it, my kid managed to destroy something, spill something, throw something else that scattered, make me miss our stop, etc. To top is all off, we’re running late, she kept me up half the night, I think you can see where I’m going with this. It would take a SAINT to keep cool under these kinds of circumstances. Or possibly access to the world’s largest stash of valium.

4. Lets their kid eat/drink something unhealthy.
First of all, looks can be deceiving. Yes, my daughter is drinking out of a large Starbucks clear cup something that looks like iced tea or maybe from a distance, coffee. I have to tell you that since she could drink liquids she has preferred the green straw to almost any other delivery mechanism. I also have to add that I drink my tea weaker than should be legally allowed. Then, I add ice. If she has a sip of it to stop her from flipping out in your presence, you should give me a damn medal. You’re welcome.
When the offending food item is more certain, you may raise your eyebrow, but what you don’t know is how much or how often the kid is really eating this food. Sure, a infant shouldn’t be drinking Pepsi. And if you see that, maybe you should ask if it’s at least diet. But for older kids almost everything is acceptable in small doses. It is all “food” after all, it’s not rat poison. And kids tend not to snack on kale in public. That’s what the junk food is for. It’s payment for their cooperation.

5. Kid is misbehaving.
This one is probably the king of them all. So many people see kids act a certain way and say something like “I would never let my kid get away with that” or “my kids would never be so horrible” or “my kids never got away with that crap.”
Well you will, they will be, and you did.
My daughter is such a sweet little person, she’s on the very low end of the meltdown spectrum in public, but even she has had her moments where the people around us look at me like I’ve raised some little dramallama and haven’t a clue what I’m doing. Kids, especially toddlers, just get tired, cranky, upset, have bad days, just like adults. Only they don’t have the emotional framework yet to repress or cope with how they feel. In many ways they are more honest, if you want to see the silver lining. Sometimes these feeling manifest as a meltdown, sometimes just as manic running around and pulling things off shelves. There are many forms of freak-out in kid-land. I know everyone wants to believe that all decent parents are going to put on their Psychoanalyst hats and work their kid through every situation like this, but it’s just not possible. Sometimes you just need to step back, let them flip out, and try to contain the property damage. And if it happens in a store, you do your best to get out of there, but lines only move so fast.
The hardest part not to judge is when you see a kid in the throes of some really awful behavior. Hitting, kicking, breaking stuff… You want to chalk it up to the parent so you can maybe believe this could never happen to you. But you don’t know what kinds of issues are going on in these people’s lives, you don’t know if the kid has any kind of autism or behavior problems, and you don’t know how hard it is for the parent you’re judging at that precise moment to deal with the situation. Maybe they are having the worst day imaginable? So if you can’t bring yourself to step in and lend a hand, at the very least try not to assume they are a bad parent.

Montreal Metro vs. NYC Subway

The other day, I was amazed to see an entire train car of passengers watching with rapt attention a free-style rapper perform in the center of a green-line car. Passengers were turned in their seat, leaning to see around people, and they almost all applauded him when he was finished.

That would never happen on the NYC subway.

This guy wasn’t too bad, but he wasn’t amazing or anything. I have seen entire mariachi bands, dressed to the nines, perform flawlessly on the subway in NYC and people don’t even look up from their iphones. I have seen lovely renditions of ballads performed while people gave the singer death-stares for blocking the doors.

As a former NYer, I found the change startling, somewhat charming, but a little awkward?

The other big difference, which I have come to loathe, is the aggressive politeness of Montrealers in giving up their seat for a person carrying a baby (both pre and post-natal). You may politely refuse to take the seat several times and they may keep insisting. You may refuse a seat from one person only to have the person next to them decided maybe you prefer the view from their angle and offer theirs. People will walk halfway down a car just to point out an empty seat at the other end for you. If you so much as eye a nearby seat and you are carrying a kid, people will scramble to clear out of it for you. And even if you are happily standing in a crowded car, someone will be tugging on your sleeve to tell you they are happy to give you a seat that you have no chance to actually get to among the bodies.

I do not miss the “stand clear of the closing doors, please” recording. It’s nice that they have very few announcements here.

My daughter loves riding the subway, she likes going onto the train herself and holding onto the post by herself. She likes finding people to wave to. Most of the passengers think this is positively adorable. Even when she’s in the way. I’m pretty sure she would have been run down in NYC by now. I get a little worried at the big transfer stops when it’s busy that someone won’t see her down there, so I’ll usually pick her up. But people are mostly cautious and not that pushy. The last time we rode the train in NYC, someone totally body checked her into a post. She was 8 months old. I’m not going to postulate about the virtues of Canadian politeness because I think the generalization is not always true, but at least in this case, the atmosphere is a bit more laid-back.

Last, since the Montreal subway shuts down every night and the system is newer, the trains are a bit cleaner, a bit more timely, and have less glitches in service. The bad part? The subway shuts down! Every night!

Blows my mind.

Where did you go?

You may be wondering, what’s up with the lack of new posts, Shannon? Well, I’ll tell you. I’m a bad sleeper myself, I tend to do most of my writing at hours of 1-2am when my child is most likely to be snug in her bed and giving me some time off.

This has not been happening the last few nights. My husband’s good-sleep DNA has been shoved into the recessive corner and perhaps some mutation has occurred to give our daughter nothing but epic sleep problems.

I have spent several hours each night in my kid’s room trying my best to make her lay down and go back to sleep and not lose my mind. That’s the short version. You don’t want the long version.

I’m pretty sure what she’s doing to me violates the UN Charter on Human Rights. Maybe the Geneva Convention. Either way, I just don’t understand it and I think something has to be very wrong. Perhaps reflux, perhaps a growth spurt, perhaps directives from the alien mothership. I am almost positive it isn’t teething. I am almost positive if this continues, I will not survive.


The old joke goes, “How do you get to Julliard? Practice, practice, practice, and turn left.”

Well, there was once a time that I might have tried to find the place, but those times are long past. I don’t think I ever really thought I’d be a professional violinist, but I used to play pretty seriously (and often). Now, I don’t. I’ve been relegated to playing for friends’ weddings and practicing for “fun” which basically means never. I played for Julia’s wedding. It was nice. I do like doing that, since it give me some incentive to practice.

When I lived in NYC and before mommy-dom, I thought about joining a community orchestra or something. But then I looked around and realized that those groups in my area were FULL of extremely talented “yeah-I-got-into-Eastman-but-decided-to-go-another-way” former musicians or retired music teachers or some other kind of brilliant person who is looking for a way to make their hobby more social. I just couldn’t take that kind of pressure. These are not your average community orchestra members. These are serious pros.

But I do miss playing. So, when asked if I’d do a quick violin lesson for a friend’s daughter’s second grade class, I was happy to have the incentive to practice again. I used to do these school demos once in awhile when I was young, but it’s been a looooong time. The demo went well, the kids asked really great questions and I played a few things they liked. But I hate to tell you what a sorry state my playing was in. Also, my shoulder rest died. I basically had to buy a new one.

What’s even worse: after I warmed up with several easy pieces while practicing the other day, I tried to play the beginning of the Mozart Violin Concerto in F and just. couldn’t. do. it. Ugh.

And by that, I mean, it wasn’t even that it sounded bad or was way off-tempo. I mean, I could not get through it. Almost every passage came to a grinding halt over my failure to remember how to do the fingering and shifting. It was tragic. Tragic. I once played this piece to make an audition recording. I played it to secure my scholarship to my school. Granted, it’s one of the hardest pieces of music I’ve ever played, but it is depressing that my fingers just don’t remember what to do.

Sadly, I know that I could probably get (most) of this ability back if I had the time to practice, but I don’t. Some days I feel like I fight to get the time just to do dishes and make dinner. And I can’t practice while my daughter is napping or in bed because it would wake her up. Practicing, if you aren’t aware, is extremely unpleasant to listeners other than the practicee (and sometimes even them too). It’s also kind of loud.

I am going to try to get back into a moderate level of music-fitness, both for my own enjoyment and for a recital that I’ve been invited to but, I will be hard-pressed to find the time even for that practicing. I’m not going to make back to even the same borough as Julliard (even on my best day, I never would have), but I might make it to the same state. Which is conveniently where the recital is this May. We’ll see…

Eh, homeschool?

Do you guys remember when I said that I’d be visiting a preschool open house a few weeks back? Are you on the edges of your respective seats waiting for a recap???

Let’s just say that the visit got overshadowed by the fact that exactly five days after visiting the preschool and my son happily playing with their pretend pots and pans while I chatted with the teachers, he came down with a nasty case of croup.

Fever, coughing, no sleeping, no eating, vomiting and lots of crying drawn out over a five-day period. I sort of contributed to the crying as well because this fucking croup nearly killed me, and I wasn’t even the one hacking up a lung.

And now I am semi-seriously wondering whether being socialized and sitting in a circle and learning to take turns isn’t totally over-rated if all these activities have to take place around all the other germ-factory kids. Maybe my special snowflake just doesn’t need to ever go to any preschool, kindergarten, school or college? I could be swayed on the post-graduate work, depending on his chosen field of study (nothing in humanities, only hard sciences with research directly contributing to society need apply).

Snowy excitement

Today, we went to the Fête des Neiges! It is compulsive to include the exclamation mark.

No really, it was kind of exciting. I missed it last year due to sleep deprivation, being new to town and kind of clueless, and general poor planning and laziness. I enjoy winter festivals and think that most places don’t do enough to promote winter “fun” if they don’t have skiing. It was therefore necessary that I attend this year’s Festival of Snow in Montreal and report back to you on the goings-on.

It was decent.

The weather was pretty perfect. It snowed just yesterday but it hasn’t been brutally cold. The snow in Jean Drapeau Park has been excellently maintained. There are lovely snow sculptures lining the paths. The kilometer-long ice skating canal looked SO fun, but alas I could not skate today. There was zip-lining, if you are into that sort of thing, sleigh rides, dog sled rides, and lots of sledding. My daughter is just a bit too young for most of this. She mostly wandered around on the snow and got progressively colder.

We stopped in to see the yurts and tee-pees at the First Nations’ display. There were entertaining people dressed up very elaborately like owls who told stories to the children. In French. I understood that there was something about a duck and a castle and some honey. My toddler was entranced. She wanted to hug the owl-lady when it was over, so I guess she liked it. I was mostly intrigued with the fine painting decoration on all the woodwork inside the yurt.

We looked over the icy river to the Montreal skyline. It was very cold-looking. It’s hard for me to see a city skyline and not miss New York. We also wandered by the “snow village” which looked quite impressive but we did not want to pay the $17 per person to go inside.

At this point, my kid was tired and really cold so we headed home. I think she’ll have lots of fun next year. Also, next time I’m definitely bringing my skates.

Home, Icy, Home

Go, Dog, Go!

Fancy Yurt

Snowy Owls! Get it?