A Guide to Giving Gifts to 0-3 year olds (and staying friends with their parents)

At times I feel like I live in a giant toy box.

A real photo of my kids’ toys!

I can’t even get to the bathroom without going on a safari through Lego jungle, being confronted by a talking doll and getting stuck in a traffic jam of multi-colored cars. Then, there are no guarantees the bathroom will be free of obstacles.

When all the stars align: I’m home from work, kids are BOTH sleeping, I have enough energy, I have enough time, I’m in the right mood, nothing else is more urgent (ie, almost never), I go through the house and organize all the kid stuff. Sometimes it takes hours. Then…when the kids wake up, faster than you can say “futility” my house relapses to its former state.

Less than 4 years ago I had no idea what to get little kids for gifts. My friends were probably cursing my name as they scraped (and scraped and scraped) the stickers I gave their baby off some heirloom piece of furniture.

Many of the gifts my kids receive are not age – appropriate. Save your money and your friendships… follow these guidelines for giving gifts to kids age 0-3!

1. No puzzles or toys with lots of small pieces. Giving a baby or a toddler a puzzle is like saying to their parents, “I know you have a lot to do, but why don’t you add picking up and assembling 100 pieces from 10 different puzzles several times a day? Kids this age just dump them, wait until you pick it up, and dump them again. This goes for pretty much everything with lots of little pieces …wait until they are older.

2. Choose Medium Sized Gifts: I’ve already discussed the issues with small pieces. Huge toys are almost as problematic, especially in a small house. It’s like asking someone if you can store your boat in their living room, and then expecting a thank you note. Aim for the size of a classic teddy bear.

3. Avoid Loud Toys. Imagine a baby or two crying… add a dog barking, a toddler Pandora station in the background and probably a phone ringing. Okay, now imagine a very cheerful voice singing “The wheels on the bus go… The wheels on the bus go round and… The wheels on the bus go round and round….”  because they never just push the button once. I’m getting a migraine just thinking about it. Then the batteries start to fade, and the cheerful voice gets a little spooky. I have had the spooky-voice-version of wheels on the bus in my head for about 3 years.

4. Books. Board books are best, as most babies love the sound and sense of accomplishment that comes from tearing paper pages. Little ones especially love looking at pictures of big baby faces. Too many words are lost on them, but colorful, detailed pictures and concise stories can offer hours of imaginative fun and learning.

5. No Stickers. They won’t stay put on skin (where my daughter wants them to stay) but they stay a little too well on furniture. Have you ever washed a stickered shirt? I promise, that shirt will never be the same. And the dumb things lose their stickiness if you rearrange them on your clothes too many times… causing all sorts of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

6. Sizes and Seasons. If you want your little friend to actually get to wear the cute outfit you bought, be mindful of the size and the season. If you are buying clothing for a 3 month old baby in June (say, in Minnesota)… don’t get a tank top and shorts in the 9 month size. When that baby is ready for 9 month clothing, it’s going to be -20◦F.

7. Go Green… or orange Our oldest child is a girl. We were blessed with many lovely pink and purple gifts. Our second child (who didn’t get all the showers and fanfare as the second born) is a boy. He is a boy who has a lot of pink sparkly toys and gear, including a bib that reads, “SISTER.”

 

8. Go Green…as in recycle. Save the earth, buy an outfit from the thrift store for a $1.00! The previous owner probably grew out of it before he could wear it anyway because guideline #6 was not headed.

9. Give Experiences. A pass to the zoo or the museum or even a McDonald’s gift certificate will get those kids (and their caregivers) out of the house and having some fun.

I hope that helps! What about you? What are your favorite/ least favorite items for 0-3 year old. Join the conversation below!

Peace (amidst clutter and chaos),
Beccyjoy

p.s. after I wrote this, and before I published it, I came across this provocative article about avoiding too many toys for a different reason than I outlined above, and this helpful blog post about how to properly visit a newborn. All great points!

Don’t teach your baby to sign more. No More!

I usually stand silently by while babies and parents throw tantrums over the sign language sign for the word “more.” But I can’t take anyMORE.

For whatever reason, people are obsessed with teaching this particular sign. They teach it to their own kids, to my kids, and to their dogs (probably).

Teaching preverbal babies to use some sign language is great when done well. It can strengthen the neurological pathways of language helping your kids to become more verbal when they are ready to speak. You can’t put your fingers in your baby’s mouth and help form verbal words, but you can hold their hands and manually prompt signed words.

Just don’t teach them to sign “more.”

I know, I know. But it’s so cute! Those little stubby fingers gathered together like two little ducks kissing.

Just don’t do it. All that stuff I said about sign language helping kids become more verbal, does not apply to the sign for “more.” Babies just learn that if they want something, anything, all they have to do is sign “more.”  I’ve seen various versions of the following scenarios unfold time and time again, and yet it’s still America’s favorite sign.

Scenario #1:

Baby: starts crying.

Parent: What do you want?

Baby: (signs) more

Parent: More what?

Baby: is frustrated. I’m using your stupid sign and you still don’t know what I want. Tantrum ensues.

Parent: Use your words, what do you want?

Baby: (speaks) More!

If the baby can say the word, they shouldn’t need to sign it. And it’s still a mystery what this baby wants.

 

Scenario #2

Baby: starts crying.

Parent: What do you want?

Baby: (signs) more

Tantrum ensues. After 10 minutes of questioning it is finally discovered that baby wants to jump (or at least she does now).

“More jump???” Just teach them the sign for jump! The word “more” in this case is inaccurate and useless.

 

Scenario #3:

Parent: Feeds baby cheerios

Baby: (signs) more

Parent: Gives baby more cheerios

It turns out he wants a drink. (Tantrum ensues). Too bad he doesn’t know the sign for milk!

Do you want your kid to know just one word that gets them whatever they want? That’s hardly helping their language or communication skills. And in the land of so much excess, do you really want the one word they know to be a demand form of the word “MORE”?

Tips for less tantrums and more functional language:

-Teach your baby specific signs for 5 to 10 things they like the best (ex: milk, bear, pacifier, hug, tickle, swing, up). Until they master these signs, forget about having them sign things like “more, please, thank you” which are fairly meaningless words to a baby.

-Don’t prompt your baby to sign for something unless it’s clear they really want it or the association between the word and the sign will be weak.

-Give it to them after they sign it once (even with help). If you make them sign it 5 times and have it perfect before reinforcing it, it won’t be worth the effort and kids will just go ahead and cry… or just sign “more” if they want something.

-Once the child can say the word, the sign is no longer necessary.

Happy Signing! If you have any tips or experiences of your own, please feel free to comment below!

Finding the MAGIC in the Mundane

Three times in the last three days people have told me to “Write this stuff down” referring to stories about things my toddler does and says. It seems three is the magic number.

“Mama, can I give these beans to Ziggy?” My daughter asked in her squeaky two year old voice.

“Hmm, what beans?” I asked barely paying attention.

“I found beans in my apple” She said.

Ziggy the dog was wagging his tail and prancing, unable to contain his excitement about the possibility of apple beans. She had eaten her way to the middle of an apple leaving a sticky mess of apple slush all over her face, shirt, hands and arms. She sat staring at the core as if she was thinking, “So that’s where beans come from.”

I sat down with her and told her about dirt and seeds and apple trees. She listened with rapt attention as if I was sharing the secrets of the universe, her mouth hanging open in awe.  When I finished up the story about a big tree with apples attached she finally closed her mouth, blinked a few times and with a smile said, “No! That’s not right!” then she followed up with “I WANT THAT STORY AGAIN!”

I often forget how amazing normal things are. I mean, a gigantic tree coming out of a tiny seed? That’s not right.

This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for a 2 year old perspective. Happy Binge Day everybody.

What are you thankful for?

How $66 is going to make me a Habitual Writer

(I am taking a short break from my series on mental illness to bring you this post on The Writing Habit).

Imagine being curled up in your favorite chair, reading a book that grabs you on a gut level. The story wraps its way around your heart warming every cool place. Your mind stretches with every sentence making you feel more connected and more entranced. You are no longer reading about grief and joy, you are experiencing it. Tears gather in your eyes and laughter spills out of your mouth as the plot unravels.
Unfortunately, this book is not available on Amazon or at your local bookstore because this book has not been written yet. This book exists in the imagination of an author who is not winning the battle against Resistance. This story has been silently spinning, pleading with the author to take a blank page out of its misery. Instead of writing, the “wishes-to-be writer” is listening to the voices saying,

“It’s not worth doing”
“Nobody cares about this”
“It’s not perfect enough”
“I don’t have time to write”
“Don’t put yourself out there like that”
“I don’t know what to write”
“I will someday”
“I have to do the dishes instead” or
“I gotta check Facebook.”

This year for my birthday my husband gave me a gift certificate to the Loft to take a writing class. While I was grateful for the gift, I was thinking that these classes weren’t really designed for hacks like me, who rarely took time to actually write. For this reason, I decided to take a class called “The Writing Habit” thinking I might learn how to discipline myself or kick my butt into action.

As it turns out, this line of thinking wasn’t helpful. The teacher, Rosanne Bane (author of Around the Writer’s Block) didn’t like the word “discipline” and was not all about kicking yourself. She was positive, encouraging, and taught us some effective tools to overcome resistance and create a habit without being hard on ourselves. I will share a few of the insights I learned from the class below.

Make small commitments, like “I will write for at least 15 minutes, 3X per week. It doesn’t matter what you write during that time, it’s more important to show up. Developing a sustainable habit is more important than what you produce. The logic is that if you show up to write 100 times, you are more likely to come up with a couple of gems versus if you show up once and hope to produce a masterpiece! Also, over time you learn to trust yourself that you will do what you say you will do, allowing your subconscious to do some of the work for you between writing sessions.

Reward Yourself. I used to be a behavioral therapist for kids with autism, and now I practice DBT which is a type of behavioral therapy, and yet I never thought to apply it to my writing habit. The reward doesn’t have to make logical sense because the part of your brain that likes being rewarded (the limbic system) is not the part of your brain that rationalizes (the cortex). For an example, pay yourself by putting a coin in a jar. Your brain’s reward center does not care that it’s your own money, it just likes the clinking sound of money on money. In class we had the opportunity to bet on ourselves by putting a dollar in an envelope. If we honored our commitments we got to select a prize out of a suitcase of trinkets. As it turns out, adults are just as motivated by Play Doh, Koosh balls, dollar coins and markers as the average 3rd grader!

Develop a Writing Ritual. If you do the same thing every time you sit down to write, the ritual itself will act as a cue for your brain to get into a writing zone. Dancing, lighting a scented candle or reciting a poem in the same way before you write can create an association in your brain so that the ritual alone help you get writing. My ritual, which doubles as a reward is popping a butterscotch disc into my mouth as I sit down to write. I will only eat this candy if I’m writing. If I’m craving a butterscotch disc, my mind will interpret this as a craving to write. The two will be inseparable.

Inspired by the gold dollar coins in Rosanne’s suitcase, I plan to withdraw 66 gold dollar coins from the bank. Each time I honor my commitment to myself to show up to write for 15 minutes I will deposit one coin into a special jar. If I show up less than 3 times in a week, I will empty my special jar and start the count over. I will not spend the money until all 66 coins are in the jar. Why 66? Rosanne Bane said in class that it takes 66 honored commitments in a row for a habit to develop. I always thought it was 21 consecutive days, but if Bane says 66, I’ll go for 66.

My question to you is what should I buy for $66 when I successfully transfer all of my coins? My other question to you is what will you buy for $66 to reward yourself when you create your own habit?

For more on developing a sustainable habit, flowing through stages of the creative process, commitments to process, self-care, and product time, overcoming creative blocks, and much more, read Around the Writers Block, visit the website http://baneofyourresistance.com/, or take a class by Rosanne Bane.

What you should know about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

This is part 2 of a series about mental illnesses. Read the intro here.

My junior high industrial tech class started the same way every day. A voice on the intercom would interrupt our post lunch chatter as we were taking our seats and digging around for our notebooks. “Is Jack Smith in class today?” Jack would look stunned, like “Who me?” The voice would proceed to tell Jack to report to the office to take his medication. The class would chime in with comments like “Jack! Are you serious? AGAIN? Come on, how stupid could you get?” He would mumble something like, “Oh, yeah…forgot” as he shuffled out the door towards the nurse’s office.

I would thank God in that instant that I took sustained release tablets for my ADHD so I didn’t have to take pills at school. While I’d like to think I could have remembered to go to the office each day after lunch, I know that is not likely. I know because every week I would forget my band lesson, or my music book, or if I had my book, I wouldn’t have my trumpet. I know because I would stay up all night working on a beautiful collage for art class and I would leave it on the coffee table 9 times out of 10. I know because I set a record at my orthodontist for number of lost retainers. Countless discussions about “responsibility” and “planning ahead” and “think about where you last saw it” had no effect on my ability to remember, stay organized, or be prepared. It’s not that I couldn’t focus; it’s that I couldn’t focus on the thing that I was supposed to focus on.

No one really talked to me about what it meant to have ADHD. The only things I knew about it at the time was that the kids who had it were always getting in trouble. Before I was diagnosed, the only other person I knew for sure had ADHD was a kid in my grade who burned down a gym. The rest of the group who took medication after lunch was mostly boys who didn’t have a reputation for being bright, responsible, upstanding classmates. I thought the doctor who diagnosed me was mistaken. Yeah, maybe I missed the bus because I was braiding the sleeves of my shirts together in my closet, or drawing pictures in the condensation on the bathroom mirror, but I surely wasn’t an arsonist.

Over the years of dealing with myself and my sometimes-scattered brain, I have come up with a few tips.

Tips for dealing ADHD:

1. Contrary to popular advice- calendars, alarms, phones, fancy folders systems and notepads don’t work. You won’t have them when you need them or they will be too complicated to sustain. Go low tech and make up a song or rhyme of things to remember and sing it on your way out the door as a checklist.

2. If you need to remember to take care of something put a laundry basket on your bed until you take care of it. It doesn’t have to be a laundry basket, just do something wherever you are standing when the thought hits you: Put your ring on the wrong finger, flip a chair upside down, or unplug your tv. Anything that you will see and think… “What the ?? Oh yeah- I gotta pack my lunch.”

3. You can’t give up when things don’t go well. Persevere!

4. Don’t apply to jobs that say, “Impeccable organization skills and attention to details required.” Play to your strengths.

Tips for teachers/parents/friends of someone with ADHD:
1.As frustrating as it can be to live with someone who struggles with this, punishing someone with ADHD for having ADHD is ineffective and can be damaging.  

2. Let natural consequences teach the lessons.

3. Sustained release tablets for kids… see above story
4. Remember that ADHD has nothing to do with IQ

5. Use physical activities to engage the brain

6. Keep in mind that many people with ADHD are creative, fun, thoughtful, active, spontaneous, big picture people.

Fast forward 15 years, I am at work meeting with a teen girl. She just got in trouble because her grades weren’t reflective of her ability because she had so many missing assignments. “Let me guess, you did all of the assignments, but you forgot them or lost them or forgot to put your name on them.”

“Oh. Did my mom call you?”

“Um, Something like that…”

I got Gymmed

I had a little post traumatic flashback today about an experience I had several years ago when  I stopped in at a fitness center in Ames, Iowa
“How much is a membership at your gym?”
“Well, let me give you a tour of a state of the art fitness mecca and then we can talk numbers”
***Post Tour***
So how much does it cost per month?
“Let me ask you this, what is your health and wellbeing worth to you?”
       (Awkward pause ensues while I contemplate if I’m supposed to actually answer this question or just agree with it.)
 “What I really want to know is what are your personal health related fitness goals? Any problem areas that get you down?”
“Umm, that seems a little personal. I don’t make very much money and I have a lot of other expenses right now, so I really just stopped in to find out how much it costs.”
“Like what? What other expenses do you have that would be more important than your health…your life”

Even though I knew the tricks he was using by name, I felt trapped, like I couldn’t leave without handing over a very big check. This fast talking, muscle bound, fake-baking dude was smooth.  I was very uncomfortable and he sensed my hesitancy.

“Tell you what… I don’t usually do this, but I’ll do this for you. You write me a check for this amount (first and last months payment, joining fee, access card, etc) and go home. I won’t touch the check, and I will let you think about whether you want to make this investment. I’ll give you 24 hours to think about it, and if at anytime in those 24 hours you decide you don’t want to join our gym family, give my direct line a call and I will rip up your check, no questions asked”

Ok. I did it. I wrote the check. I drove home. I called him as soon as I got home and told him to rip it up because I couldn’t afford it. And…get ready to cringe… he talked me out of it.

Every time I went to that gym I felt mad for not being assertive enough… and every time I didn’t go to the gym I felt guilty for wasting so much money… and everytime I saw the automatic withdrawls on my bank statement, I felt a little sick. I wonder what all of those negative emotions did for my health and wellbeing.

Well, that was several years ago and I like to think I’ve wised up a bit. Our previous gym didn’t have childcare. I get tired of doing workout videos at home and I can’t exactly leave the baby while I go for a run outside, so I’ve been feeling couped up. I tried to look online for gyms with childcare and I was reminded how hard it is to get a straight answer about membership costs. There were some numbers on some sites, but the little asterisk was always hanging out indicating that childcare costs extra.

So I called one gym and was very straight forward asking how much it costs for a regular membership with childcare. A cheerful lady said she would transfer me to a membership specialist (AHHh), but first needed my name, phone number, email… wait, wait, wait. Could I just find out how much it costs before giving out my information. ABSOLUTELY!! Please hold.

The voice I heard next sounded almost as suave as the guy in Ames. “What? I hadn’t seen their facility? I NEEDED to come in for a tour with my husband…” according to Suave, I was going to love it. It was so much better than anything I’d ever seen. So I asked about cost again, and he said, “Can you come in later today or tomorrow for a tour?”
“Well, I can’t schedule a tour today so could you give me a ball park range of what the cost might be so I could compare and contrast with my other options?”
“[Condescending laugh] It all depends on what day you come in for a tour because we have deals going on today and tomorrow and it’d be a lot cheaper…What day can you come in?” 
“A lot cheaper than what?? I don’t know when I can come in, never if you don’t answer my question” Okay, so I didn’t say that exactly, but I didn’t schedule a tour. I also don’t buy the bit about special deals today and tomorrow. What’s so special about March 3rd and 4th? He made that up. Now I’m in a pickle because I still want  a gym membership, but without the charming, conniving membership guy and without the games. That’s all.

Planning Ahead (ugh)

My husband likes to plan ahead. I follow more of a “go where ever the wind blows me” philosophy. This philosophy isn’t serving me particularly well during this season of life and motherhood.
He sends me gazillions of google calendar notices/invites a week so that I can be involved in the planning of our lives. I just reply “yes” to all of them without actually comprehending what I’m agreeing to. Yes, yes, I’ll go to the benefit/ball/zoo/concert. Oh, of course, I’ll attend the appointment/brontosaurus exhibit/work party thing. He’ll ask if I’m okay if he plays a show in 2 months with one band. Later he’ll ask I’d be okay if he played with another band in a few weeks.  I have as much of an idea about what I would like to do in 2 months as I do about what I’ll be hungry for in exactly one year. So I usually just say it’s fine.

But when the time comes, it doesn’t always feel fine. After staying at home all day with a baby, I usually get a mild to moderate case of stir crazy by 5pm. I get excited about seeing which direction the wind might blow us tonight and in my excitement, I forget to consult The Calendar. When I learn that tonight there’s a band practice, or show that I agreed to weeks ago, the wind gets knocked out of me… so to speak, and I end up staying home… again.  Between this band, this band, this band, and sometimes (recently) this band and the band for this,  I have had a lot of time to contemplate the meaning of life.

Either that happens, or I’m looking forward to a low key evening and realize that I have agreed to make 53 of some obscure thing for some unknown purpose. One way or another, my time tends to get spoken for, even when I chose not to plan it out. It reminds me of budgeting in that if I don’t decide where my money is going, it ends up getting spent anyway.

The moral of this story is: Inviting one out to play is inviting the other to stay (home and do nothing while the baby sleeps)

The other moral (for me) is: plan ahead, instead.

And the final moral: don’t invite my husband to join your band.

*Disclaimer: I love music, I love all of the aforementioned bands, I love my husband, I love my home, and I love my angel baby.