Archives for March 2012

Podcast: Sarah Joseph Talks Parents, Romance and Relationships

Having a baby changes everything. We all know that. In fact, even people without kids know that. But until you have a child of your own, it’s really hard to understand just how much your entire life will be affected. If you have a partner, your relationship will undergo some pretty dramatic transformations. When you’re sleep deprived, covered in spit-up and baby poo, and you haven’t showered in three days, it’s pretty hard to carry on a serious conversation. And let’s not even talk about what that does to your sex drive.

Strocel.com podcast sarah joseph bringing baby home relationshipsIn spite of the big changes parenting brings, all is not lost. To get some insight and help, I connected with Sarah Joseph of Prenatal to Parenting. She’s a social worker, doula, and childbirth and parenting educator, and she facilitates a workshop called Bringing Baby Home here in Vancouver. The workshop is all about building and maintaining a positive relationship with your partner through the transition to parenthood. She aims to help couples gain practical skills they can use to form a strong bond.

Did you ever hear your parents fight when you were a kid? I’m a child of divorce, so you know I did. It wasn’t a good feeling. All the same, I’ve found myself arguing with my husband in front of my kids, in spite of my best intentions. I would say that our relationship is pretty healthy, but the truth is you’re simply not going to get along with anyone all the time, and sometimes it comes out when I don’t want it to. When Jon and I argue, I’ve seen that look of concern on my children’s faces. That also isn’t a good feeling. I’ve made sure to talk through the situation with them after the fact, and I think they’re fine, but I would guess most parents would rather model positive conflict resolution for their little ones. It’s just one reason I want to make sure that I have good relationship skills.

strocel.com podcast sarah joseph relationships bringing baby homeDuring our conversation, Sarah talked about what the Bringing Baby Home workshop offers. She also talked about relationship warning signs, and gave some easy tips you can use to improve your own relationship. You may not have the same uninterrupted time together with your partner that you enjoyed before your little ones came along, but with a little bit of effort you can still find ways to connect and remind yourself what it is that you found so compelling about that person in the first place. If you’d like to know how you can build up your own relationship with your partner, you’ll want to listen to our conversation here:

Next week on the podcast I’ll be sharing an interview with Karen LeBillon, author of French Kids Eat Everything. She’ll be talking about her book, and about how the approach to feeding kids is differs in France and North America. I think this one is a must-listen – it was very eye-opening for me, and not at all in the way I expected. Subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute!

Environmentalism and Privilege

It’s Enviro-Mama Thursday, and today I’m thinking about environmentalism and privilege.

I’ve been spending some time lately contemplating whether the green movement is reserved for people who can afford to make more sustainable choices. A recent trip to my local organic grocery store to stock up on gluten-free flour and a few other things ran me $200, and I only bought two bags of stuff. Whole Foods is sometimes jokingly called Whole Paycheque, because that’s how much the groceries you buy there are going to cost you. And even when you’re shopping at a discount store, organic or sustainable products are going to cost you a lot more than their conventionally-produced cousins. The sustainable product that really gets me is toilet paper make from recycled paper. Shouldn’t it cost less to make something out of recycled material than raw lumber? Apparently not.

On top of some of the costs of choosing more environmentally-friendly products, there’s the time, energy and inconvenience involved in researching and implementing sustainable practices. Is that shampoo that says organic on the label really green, or just green-washing? What the heck is a paraben, anyway? When is it better to buy local food, and when does choosing organic really matter? And who wants to be responsible for keeping the green bin clean? (Answer: no one.)

In some cases, going green can be considered a luxury. When your food budget is already stretched paper thin, you’re probably not willing to pay two or even three times as much for organic, free-range eggs. When you don’t have reliable internet access, you’re probably not up-to-speed on where and when your local farmers’ market is happening, or what ingredients you should be watching out for in your personal care products. And when you live in an apartment, you’re much less likely to have access to curbside recycling than if you live in a house in the suburbs like I do.

In other cases, going green is the cheapest choice going. Reducing your consumption and reusing things you already have will save you money. So will second-hand shopping, gardening, repairing something instead of replacing it, and taking public transit. Sometimes, when you don’t have a lot of cash to play with, you make environmentally-friendly choices out of self defense. Even so, there may be times when you’d like to buy a more sustainable product, but it’s simply out of your reach.

As I considered the implications of environmentalism and privilege, I reached a conclusion for myself. I thought about this quote from Mother Teresa:

“Live simply so others may simply live.”

I get two things from this quote. First, we all do what we can. If you’re in a position of relative privilege, you need to consider that as you make your choices. Maybe you’re able to donate money to charity, or you can afford to buy organic flour. The second thing I get from the quote is that our actions impact others. The dish soap I use ends up in the sewer system, and eventually the ocean. This reminded me of the connection between food consumption and water consumption that I learned about on World Water Day. When I buy a less-polluting dish soap, or eat less meat, I’m not just impacting my own own pocketbook, I’m impacting the world around me. If someone else can’t afford to make the same choices, that doesn’t absolve me of my responsibility to do the best I can with what I have.

In an ideal world, non-toxic shampoo wouldn’t be a luxury item, and organic bananas wouldn’t cost twice as much as conventional bananas. Unfortunately, though, we don’t live in an ideal world. In our real world, all that any of us can do is make the best possible choices for our own unique set of circumstances. If that means buying luxury items because we believe they’re not only better for us, but better for the planet, we don’t have anything to apologize for.

As more people adopt a greener lifestyle, the costs of earth-friendly products will decrease, as manufacturers are able to adopt economies of scale. Until then, we can advocate and use our voices, so that everyone’s children are safe, and not just the kids whose parents can afford fancy bubble bath. We can work to create innovative programs to make environmentalism more accessible to everyone at all income levels. And we can reduce our own environmental footprint, so that there are some resources left over for others.

What do you think? Do you think environmentalism is reserved for people who can afford it? And how can we change things so that sustainable choices are more accessible to everyone? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Parents, Kids and Tolerance for all Things Icky

When you have kids, your tolerance for all things icky and sticky naturally rises. All of the snot and poo and half-eaten apples left under the couch to ferment leave you no choice but to adjust your expectations. It’s a built-in defense mechanism, really, because if your tolerance for yuckiness didn’t rise you would surely go insane.

When my daughter Hannah was two and a half years old I attended a wedding where I was seated at a table with a new mom and her two-week-old baby. At one point, Hannah sort of half-chewed a perfectly good strawberry, and discarded it beside her plate. It was still mostly fine, so I did what many other moms of toddlers would do – I picked it up and ate it. The poor mom across from me was still naive in the ways of feeding children solid food, and she may have thrown up a little bit in her mouth. I apologized profusely. Sometimes, when you’re totally de-sensitized to all things icky, you forget your manners in public.

In the seven years that I’ve been parenting, my line in the sand when it comes to my tolerance of mess has constantly been pushed, until it’s several kilometers from its starting point, at least. Here are some of the things that I would never have dreamed of doing in my pre-kid life, but which I now do almost every day.

Untitled
Luckily for my kids, they’re totally adorable

Icky Things I Do Almost Every Day

  1. Picking things out of my kids’ noses or ears. If they won’t deal with their boogers, I am forced to take matters into my own hands. That saying that you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose? It doesn’t apply to parents.
  2. Discussing genitals over dinner. There was a time when I never would have dreamed of discussing what one does and does not do with one’s penis while eating my chicken caesar salad. Now, it’s a regular occurrence. You don’t get to choose when etiquette lessons will be delivered with little kids.
  3. Pulling out someone else’s tooth. I feel super squeamish about wiggly teeth. It’s all I can do not to run from the room when my daughter starts playing with her latest loose tooth. And yet I found myself pulling a tooth out of her mouth when it was really bothering her and she couldn’t handle it herself. Luckily, it didn’t bleed. Much.
  4. Clapping for someone’s poop. When you have a little kid who’s just mastering the potty, every deposit is cause for celebration. Enough said.
  5. Feeding someone else my pre-chewed food. I’m not the only one who eats strawberries someone else spit out, as it turns out. I console myself on this front by realizing that for millenia humans didn’t have access to blenders or graters, so most babies probably survived on pre-chewed food.
  6. Smelling other people’s kids’ butts. When I found myself pressing my nose up to my friend’s kid’s butt, while my friend was present, I knew that I could never go back to being the person I was before.
  7. Using my saliva to style my kids’ hair. We’ve all spit-washed the occasional face. Once you find yourself spitting on a kid’s head to try to tame that cowlick in the car outside church, though, you’ve entered a whole other league.
  8. Wearing dirty clothes. My kids wipe their hands and faces on my shirts, sweaters and pants. Plus, in the course of my day I’m splattered with paint, cookie dough and a whole lot more. I could change my dirty clothes, but frankly, I’d be going through five or six outfits a day, so I just tolerate the stains.

Tell me, what icky things do you do almost every day? Spill in the comments!

Short School Lunch Periods

This weekend I had the chance to chat with Karen LeBillon, author of French Kids Eat Everything. One of the things that we talked about is how we approach school lunches in North America as compared to France. Just as one example, Karen catalogued the lunch menu from a French preschool in Boulogne-Billancourt this week. Here’s what the children ate yesterday:

Monday, March 26, 2012
Tomato soup
Beef tongue mironton with bulgur wheat
Cheese: Emmenthal
Dessert: Fruit compote

These school lunches are prepared by real chefs, and no fast food, flavoured milk or ketchup is allowed. This is serious cuisine for young children. I’ll be sharing our discussion in an upcoming podcast, if you want to hear more about how the French get their kids to eat beef tongue, or if you’re skeptical that this is actually real. But the main point here is that, as you can imagine looking at this menu, lunch is not rushed in French schools. The children get a minimum of 30 minutes to eat, and often up to an hour, as they consume their four courses.

In contrast, my daughter gets 15 minutes to eat her school lunch. Karen LeBillon’s daughter gets only 10 minutes at her Vancouver school. Here in Canada elementary school children typically bring their lunch from home and eat at their desks. There’s no cafeteria at my daughter’s school. You can buy lunch through a third-party service, but very few people do, and it’s prepared off-site and delivered to the classroom. This means that kids don’t have to get through a cafeteria line-up or bus their trays during their 10 or 15 minute lunch period, but it’s still very short for many young children.

The situation I’m describing doesn’t seem to be unique to Canada. School lunch periods are getting shorter in the US, too. The reasons for a short school lunch period seem to be similar on both sides of the border. School budgets, teachers’ schedules, a drive to fit more instructional time into the day and even the way that many children themselves rush through lunch all seem to factor into the equation.

I’ve run into issues with the short lunch period with my own daughter. She comes home at 3:00pm complaining of hunger, but I see that her lunch was barely touched. I quickly learned not to send treats to school, as well, even though my kiddo says everyone else’s parents do. When a kid is in a rush to eat, they’re going to choose the tastiest things first, which means that the cookies get eaten and the sandwich gets left behind. It often takes longer to eat healthier foods, as well, which is another factor in the debate over what gets served in school cafeterias in the US. When you only have a few minutes to serve and eat lunch, chicken nuggets are just easier.

One school in Berkeley, California changed its approach to school lunches in a simple way that had a big impact. They moved lunch recess so that it happened before the kids ate, and then lengthened the amount of time they allocated for both outdoor play and eating. The result is that lunch stopped being something to just “get through” before the real fun of heading out to the playground. The other result is that with more time to eat, the kids ate better.

At the Berkeley school, teachers spend the last 10 minutes of lunch in the cafeteria with their students, and it’s counted as instructional time. This lets the school meet its educational requirements without lengthening the school day. It overcomes one objection that would naturally come with increasing the time that kids get to eat, which is that you would either lose teaching time or you’d have to keep the kids at school longer. Both of those outcomes have their downside, for sure. Plus, having teachers sit down to eat with their students provides additional lessons about the concept of the shared table, which is lost when kids are sitting at their desks.

Speaking as a parent, if tacking 10 or 15 minutes on to the school day meant that my child got more time to eat and to play outside, I would be willing to make that switch. I would also be willing to accept some kind of compromise position, like they reached in Berkeley. Quite honestly, I think that even shaving a few minutes of instructional time off the day would probably be okay. Does adding or removing 10 minutes from the school day of a seven-year-old dramatically impact how much information they take in? I would guess not.

I think that many parents agree that our kids need more time to eat. Speaking with Karen LeBillon only cemented my opinion, because I saw that it doesn’t have to be this way. We really can do better. Will it cure the dreaded childhood obesity? I don’t know. I doubt it – at least not on its own. But I do know that rushing through meals isn’t really good for anyone, so why are we teaching our kids to do just that?

I wonder what you think. How long do your kids get to eat lunch? Do you think it’s long enough? How would you like to see lunchtime changed at school? I’d love to hear!

No Reasoning With Them

When I had my first baby over seven years ago now, I quickly realized that I was totally out of my depth. Holding your precious, fragile newborn, and realizing that she’s totally dependent on you for her very survival, is a pretty overwhelming thing. In our society most of us spend little time around babies, so the shock is even bigger. I, personally, had probably logged about 60 minutes, total, holding newborns before I found myself holding my own 24/7. I kept waiting around for the real parents to show up, but no one did, so I decided that the answer was to research.

I read book after book after book about parenting. Many of them were very useful. Some of them were not. A very few were downright awful. In the process, I created a rough framework for myself. It wasn’t overly rigid or unrealistic, but having a sturdier place to work from made me feel good. I had sought out information and used reason and logic to create a parenting style. Maybe I could pull this thing off, after all.

Dumping water on the floor
Why did I think giving Hannah a roasting pan filled with water was a good idea?

I realize, now, that my first mistake was to use reason and logic in parenting. If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my time in the parenting trenches, it’s that small children are completely immune to reason and logic. You can spend your entire life creating parenting systems and thinking of logical consequences when your kid pushes all of your buttons. You can talk until you’re blue in the face about why you don’t run away from Mama in the parking lot, or stuff beads up your nose, or pull the cat’s tail. You can explain what will happen if your kid lets go of the string on their helium balloon, and you can even show them video evidence, but every kid is going to have to lose at least one balloon to really get the message.

Children have their own logic, which is simple and elegant. They rely heavily on experimental evidence, gathered from repeating the same actions over and over and over again. This teaches them how the world works – your words, on the other hand, aren’t so important. What is important, though, is what your young scientist wants. They alone understand how very important it is that you give that thing to them, and they will not hesitate to circumvent any measures you put in place to keep them from getting it. At no point, as they work overtime to figure out how to get past that child safety latch, will they pause to consider the logic of your argument as you try to explain why they don’t actually want to play in the garbage.

Sweet, sweet nectar
Jacob knows what he wants, and its name is cupcake

I have spent untold hours of my life trying to reason with children. I have repeated the same phrases over and over and over again. I have deployed crystal clear logic, and pointed out the benefit of heeding my words to the child in question. “If you eat old food that you find on the floor, you might get sick. It’s not fun to be sick. This is why we don’t eat old food that we find on the floor.” That makes sense to me. I bet it makes sense to most adults. Most eighteen-month-olds, on the other hand, are a different story.

If I had to do this parenting thing over again, I wouldn’t read books about how to talk to your spirited child’s elementary school teacher when my kid was only four months old. And I wouldn’t give long speeches to small children using reason and logic. Instead, I would spend more time following my kids’ leads – relying on instinct, experiment, and a healthy dose of figuring out what it was that I actually wanted. It would have saved me a whole lot of time, and a whole lot of breath.

Have you ever tried to have a logical conversation with a small child, which you later realized was a waste of effort? And did you spend a lot of time trying to create a parenting style based on reason? I’d love to hear all about it!

Podcast: Stephanie Bonn Talks Chiropractic Care

When I was a teenager I visited a chiropractor often. But then, for a variety of reasons, I stopped going. It’s been well over a decade since I’ve had an adjustment, and I’ve heard that a lot has changed since the 1990s. Recently, I had the chance to get some information straight from the source. I spoke with Dr. Stephanie Bonn, a Vancouver chiropractor at Coco Chiropractic Wellness and a mom of three, about chiropractic care and other complementary therapies. Stephanie has a particular focus on caring for families, including new and expectant moms and their babies. I was curious about how things have changed since I last saw a chiropractor myself, and I was also curious to learn more about how conventional and alternative medicine can work together, especially during the childbearing years.

Strocel.com podcast Dr. Stephanie Bonn Coco Chiropractic WellnessHow can you protect your back through pregnancy and early parenthood? What does a chiropractic appointment for a new baby actually look like? What if you’re scared by the idea of someone cracking your back? And how does being a mom of three change your perspective as a health care provider? Stephanie answered these questions and a whole lot more. If you’re curious about chiropractic care, or you just want a few tips about how to take better care of your spine and your overall health along with it, you’ll want to listen to this week’s podcast.

Here’s my interview with chiropractor Stephanie Bonn:

Next week on the podcast I’ll be sharing an interview with Sarah Joseph, a social worker-turned-doula and childbirth educator. She’ll be talking about Bringing Baby Home, a workshop to help new parents maintain and strengthen their relationship with each other. Are you a master or a disaster? You’ll have to tune in to find out. Subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute!

The Food We Eat and the Water We Drink

It’s Enviro-Mama Thursday, and it’s also World Water Day. Today, I’m talking all things wet, and how much we’re indirectly consuming through the food we eat.

World Water Day Food SecurityI live in rainy Vancouver. This is a place that is overflowing with water. In fact, at this time of the year, it feels like too much. As a country Canada has 0.5% of the world’s population, and 7% of the world’s renewable freshwater supply. We’re a sopping wet country, and the Pacific Coastal region where I live is the wettest of all. It’s no surprise that those of us who live here take our water for granted.

Whenever the subject of water comes up, I always feel at a bit of a loss. The closest I’ve ever come to feeling scarcity is dealing with watering restrictions in the summertime. I do what I can to conserve water, but I know that my actions aren’t going to change things for someone living in, say, Yemen. When I turn off my tap the water I save just stays in the reservoir up the mountain from my house, and keeps the level from dropping too low. But this year the World Water Day theme is Water and Food Security, and they managed to drive their point home to me in this video:

Here are some key points about how our eating habits affect the world’s access to freshwater, and how our personal food supply can be impacted:

  • All the food we eat requires water to grow.
  • 70% of the water we withdraw from rivers, lakes and aquifers at global level goes to irrigation.
  • Animal products require far more water to grow, because we must first grow the feed crops for the animals, and then provide them with drinking water as well. 1 kilo of beef uses 15,000 liters of water; in contrast 1 kilo of wheat uses 1500 liters.
  • The population is growing rapidly, which means we need to grow more food.
  • 30% of the food we grow goes to waste, which literally means water down the drain.

I may not live in a place that experiences water shortages, but some of my food may be grown in a much drier climate, which relies heavily on irrigation. And even when I’m eating local, I really can’t guarantee where the food for the cow who produced the milk to make my cheese came from. When I’m scraping food off into the compost bin after dinner, I’m throwing away water that our planet can’t afford to waste.

Broccoli bathed in rain and sun

I’m all sunshine and roses today, aren’t I? But here’s where I change gears, because there are some simple things you can do to reduce how much water you’re consuming through your food:

  1. Eat less meat, and consume fewer animal products.
  2. Take steps to reduce your own food waste. You’ll be saving money, too.
  3. Grow more of your own food, and practice water conservation in your garden.
  4. Ask questions about where and how your food was grown, so that you can choose more sustainable options.

It turns out that we all need to think about our water use, wherever we live. Our food security – and our children’s food security – depends on it. We’re all in this together, so let’s make sure we’re doing our part to ensure everyone has access to the food and water they need.

My friend Abbie over at Farmer’s Daughter set up a blog hop for World Water Day. If you want to read what some other fabulous folks have to say, check these posts out:

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