Monday, February 27, 2012

Brunch is Best

This past weekend was a blast, despite out persistent colds. We went to a fun birthday party for our friend's two-year-old on Saturday. A had a great time and played alongside the other kids without any problems. On Sunday, I had invited our good friends and their kids for brunch and it was awesome. Their middle son is A's best friend. When we told A he was coming that morning, he spent the following two hours looking out the window and asking when he was coming. I love watching them play together!

There are several things I love about brunches:
- the food is good and easy to do, less involved than dinner: I made an egg casserole and pancakes, our friends brought bagels and smoked salmon. Tea, coffee, and orange juice for drinks. It's a good variety and there is bound to be something the kids will like. (A had a bagel and then several pancakes with nutella).

- the time of day is great for kids. We kicked things off at 10 am, late enough to get ready without rushing, but still early enough for the kids to be at their best (not tired like they can be around dinner time). The children ate with us at the table and behaved very well. Then they went and played a bit while the grown-ups finished eating. After that, it was a perfect time to venture outside and play together in the snow!

Of course, that doesn't mean we can't or won't do dinner, but I find brunch ends up being a bit more fun and relaxed for everyone.
A's first snowman

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Don't Mind the Mess

Assembling things isn't the easiest thing to do with a toddler, but it can be quite fun if you are able to not mind the mess. Last week my father-in-law gave us A's winnings from a Super Bowl square he had gotten for him. That lucky little guy won $200! We're putting some of it in A's college fund, but we also wanted to get him something fun.
A loves to paint but we don't really have a good spot for him to do it. Last weekend, we were at a friend's house and her son has this really cool easel, so I thought it would be something neat  and practical to get A. I ordered it on Amazon, and when we came home Friday, the package was waiting on the porch... A loves getting packages, so he wanted to know what is was right away. Since it was a dreary day and we were both sick, I figured putting the easel together was a good activity.

 It wasn't too complicated, but a bit time consuming. A really wanted to help, so I put him in charge of the screws. He took them all out of their bags, and put them all in a little tray arranging them by color. He kept coming to me, asking if I wanted any. After I refused a few times because I was busy, he turned his attention to the package's Styrofoam. Who knew you could make it look like it snowed in my kitchen? I knew it would make a mess, but thought it was kind of fun, and after all, that's why we have vacuum cleaners! So I encouraged him to make more snow (thereby giving me a bit more time to finish the task at hand). The "snow" ended up everywhere, including all over him, and we had a good laugh.

When the assembly was completed, A couldn't wait to start painting. He helped take the accessories out of the packages.

And started painting...

Eventually, he gave the paintbrushes up and used his hands for a little while.

He is loving the easel, I am just not quite sure where to put all of his artwork...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Our Mardi Gras

It's been a rough start of the week for us, because A has a cold for the 100th time this winter. I thought that it would lead to an early nap on Tuesday, but that plan didn't work out, so after trying a little, I gave up. We played for a bit and then I remembered it was Mardi Gras.
In France we don't have elaborate parades like in New Orleans ( we used to, several centuries ago.. hence the celebrations in New Orleans), but kids still dress up and we eat crêpes.
A and I weren't going to dress up, but crêpes sounded like a good plan to both of us, so we got to work:
A measured the flour, cracked the eggs, poured the milk and stirred.

He lost interest when I started cooking them
( apparently the basketball hoop needed fixing)
, but came back around for the tasting part... He's always game for a nutella crêpe or two....

I love sharing my love of cooking with A!
And I'll share my crêpe recipe with you ( there are many variations, this is the one I happen to use)

- 1 1/4 cup of flour
- 5 eggs
- 2 cups of whole milk
- a bit of oil
- a dash of salt

Put the flour in a mixing bowl, creating a hole in the middle. Crack the eggs in the hole and mix in the flour slowly. Slowly mix in the milk, then the oil and the salt. Cook in pan over medium heat.
You can serve them with anything you like. A recommends Nutella, I like sugar and lemon, honey or jam. You can also be more adventurous, melt some chocolate, cut up a banana and add some chopped walnuts or coconut... just use your imagination!

 Bon appetit!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fancy Dinner for Three

There are many types of situations that I approach with a bit of apprehension, but taking A to the restaurant is not one of them. I have always taken him, he really enjoys it, and he sometimes eats better there than at home. ( it probably helps that American restaurants are so welcoming of children.)

This week is Dining Week in Syracuse, which means a number of nice restaurants in town are offering a three-course menu for $25. There are many restaurants to chose from, but Sleepypapa and I are a bit partial to L'Adour, a French restaurant downtown. It's a fairly fancy place, and you don't see very many children there at dinner time, but we wanted to have a nice evening and went ahead and made our reservation for three on Saturday night.

We had a lovely dinner, everybody was happy and we did not get any glares from other diners.

Sleepypapa had a warm goat cheese salad for appetizer, while I couldn't resist the escargots ( what's better than butter and garlic anyway?). For the main course he had a beautiful steak served with truffled fries and I had a delicious duck pot-au-feu. I only remembered to take a picture at dessert.. I had a pear tart while Sleepypapa had a chocolate marquise.

So how do I get a busy toddler to sit quietly at a fancy restaurant? I come prepared. For Bringing Up Bebe author Pamela Druckerman's benefit ( and others), here are my tips:

- make early reservations ( we went at 6pm). You don't want an overtired child.
- let your child pick a fun juice to drink (A doesn't normally drink juice, so getting it at a restaurant is a real treat)

he picked Orangina

- order something you know he/she will like ( in this case, pasta with butter, but if we go to a sushi restaurant, I usually order steamed rice for him)

- don't sweat what/how much your child eats. You can always offer a complement, like yogurt, when you get home.
- bring activities to keep your child busy. We start out with a coloring book, and of course, our portable DVD player. (I usually offer it after he has eaten.)

The bottom line is that A associates the restaurant with a fun experience, and we can enjoy a great meal and conversation.

Do you take your children to the restaurant? Do you have any tricks to share?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Just Plain Fun

Yesterday was one of those days where everything works out. A had a fantastic day at school. Some nurses visited the classroom and did a teddy bear check up. They let the children use real stethoscopes and give pretend shots to their stuffed animals, and best of all, they gave all the kids their very own gloves, surgical masks, and hats. A couldn't wait to put everything back on to show me!

Back home we had to take turns being the doctor and checking all the stuffed animals. Of course, many of them needed shots.

A took a little nap, and I was able to do some work. After that, we were ready to head out of the house. At first, I thought we would just go to Wegmans, since there is nothing left to eat in the house, but once in the car, I realized it was only a little after 4pm, which would give us plenty of time to do something really fun. So I offered to go to a bouncy house. He was game for it, so we headed to a place close by. It was my first time there, it's a bit more expensive than most places, but the upside is that it's only 5 minutes away from our house, and ... the price probably keeps many kids away (perfect for us).
We were alone for the better part of the two hours we spent there. There were four different bouncy houses. A agreed to check them all out, but there was no question in his mind which one he wanted to spend all his time on....

So we basically spent the whole two hours climbing up these steep stairs and sliding down this huge bouncy slide! It was exhausting (I am a bit sore), but what a blast!

A thanked me when we left, and he didn't even complain when we made a quick stop by the store on our way home.
That's a good day in my book!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Enough With The Bringing Up Bebe BS

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my take on the French vs. American parenting debate, but that was before Pamela Druckerman became ubiquitous on US airwaves. I have now watched or listened to the author of Bringing Up Bebe do several interviews and I have had enough of her nonsense. I am surprised that someone who used to write for the Wall Street Journal would write a whole book based on conversations with a few women and make generalisations on "the French", but I guess it's an easy way to make a few bucks.
I heard Ms Druckerman Tuesday on NPR's Tell Me More and a few things she said just made me mad.

Here are some of the statements I take issue with:

-"French moms were telling me that their kids could sleep through the night at two or three months old. Whereas with my American friends, it was nine months, a year old."

This is complete crap. I know people in France who had terrible sleepers, and I have many friends in the US whose kids slept through the night within the first few months. If the French had such a great method for getting babies to sleep at night, don't you think I would have known about it? This statement implies that the people whose children aren't sleeping through the night are doing something wrong, and I really take offense to that.

- " I think one stronghold in France - and this is something I talk about a lot in the book - is around food. And I would say the French style of making kids taste food many times, of serving vegetables first, serving food in courses, of only having one snack a day, really are things that you can do in any country."

Somehow, Ms Druckerman seems to think that if you do this, it will magically make your child a great eater. Well let me tell you, I have done all this and more, and there is no miracle. A eats only what and when he feels like eating, and offering a variety of foods has nothing to do with it. Again, I know terrible eaters in France, and great eaters in the US. and vice-versa. The bottom line is that toddlers exercise their free will, and any child psychologist will tell you that  their power over the food they eat is their power over you. That has nothing to do with being offered broccoli and Camembert.

- I don't have an exact quote but I have heard Ms. Druckerman repeat over and over her story about how French kids behave in restaurants. I really would like to know where she sees all these well-behaved children, because in general, French people DO NOT take their kids to restaurants.

- Finally, another woman, Judith Warner, who wrote the modern motherhood book titled Perfect Madness, was on the show and she added to the conversation "Pamela is right to talk about diet since, obviously, obesity is such a problem in the United States, as well as eating disorders. I think that the French really do something right in their focus on balance in food, as in all things. "
Maybe these ladies should learn to use the past tense. What they are saying may have been true before, but France is quickly catching up in the obesity trends. Nearly 19% of French children are currently obese according to INPES (the French National Institute for Prevention and Health Education) (only 3% back in 1960).

Glad I got that off my chest.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

His Own Style

I have many friends whose kids look like a daily fashion show, they dress them in adorable outfits everyday, have holiday-appropriate clothes, and the children are fine with that.
A has a ton of nice clothes, between the fancy French stuff my mom buys him and the cute Gymboree outfits I get him, this kid is all set. But does he wear any of it? I don't think so! A is his own stylist, and no one can tell him what to wear...
a closet full of clothes he won't wear

Most days, he insists on wearing his pajama top to school. I don't fight him on that because my main goal in the morning is to get him ready and happy to go to school on time, and a fight over clothes would probably make us late, and angry... Besides, his PJs are cute, so there's not a huge difference between that and a regular t-shirt. The only problem is that we probably got caught by the teachers last week, because last Thursday was pajama day at school... The only difference for A was that he got to wear his bottoms too!
When he doesn't wear his PJ top, he wants to chose what he's going to wear and I can never predict what he'll pick, except for his current favorite... A Run-DMC t-shirt I got at Old Navy.

his favorite t-shirt
 He has refused to wear any of the holiday-themed shirts I have for him, whether it be Christmas or Valentine's day. Button-down shirts are an absolute no-no. I have decided that for now, I am not buying him anything unless he picks it himself.
the holiday clothes he won't wear
I am wondering how I am going to dress him for his aunt's wedding this spring. It's in LA, but I still doubt a Run-DMC t-shirt would fly...

Should I be more forceful about the clothes? To me, that's a useless battle, if it makes him happy to look like a rap-fan, I'm cool with that.
Are you kids picking out their own outfits? Do you let them wear PJs to school? Are you strict about clothing?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Time out or not?

Discipline is always a tough thing. there are so many different approaches, it's hard to figure out what fits you and your child. Most people I know here in the States use the time-out technique... When your child misbehaves, you sit them on a previously agreed upon "time out chair" and make them stay there for a specific amount of time.

My husband and I have discussed this method but don't think it would work for us.
First, I like the idea of taking the child out of the situation, to help him calm down. But I am not a great fan of the punishment aspect of it.
Second, we are both pretty sure that if we told an angry A to stay in one specific spot, he would totally not stay there, and then what do you do? Use physical force to restrain him? I think the whole thing would create an even bigger fight than what we started out with.
So what do we do? It depends on the problem. He rarely has tantrums at home, so we can usually work things out by either talking it out, or if he's angry and not listening, I stop playing or talking until he's ready to reason.
If he's not doing something we asked him to do, the threat of counting to ten usually works. If he's getting out of control, I take him to our family room (which is carpeted) and let him calm down there, then we talk and I explain why what he did is not OK.
When he has a tantrum outside, I have usually resorted to putting him in the car's backseat and sitting in the front seat without talking or looking at him, until he calms down. It usually only takes a few minutes for him to calm down and be ready to talk about the situation.
Of course on the tantrum days, I feel like things are really hard, but most days we really don't run into many problems that would require any kind of discipline. I also minimize the number of situations where I know things might get tough ( I try not to take him too much to stores that have toys, for example), or I clearly explain the rules ahead of time (we're not buying anything/ you can't hit the other kids) and make it clear that if the rule is broken, we have to leave.
Of course, it would be great to have a magic recipe that works every time but I don't think it exists.
So I guess we'll keep with what we're doing, for now, and I might investigate other techniques.

What discipline techniques do you use? What works for you and why?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Parent-Teacher Conference

Two weeks ago, we had our first "parent-teacher" conference. It sounds so formal for a child who's under 3, but I think it's nice to have some quiet time with the teacher, so she can tell us how A is doing, beyond the quick "he had a good day today", or "he pushed somebody", while I'm trying to get a coat on and she's wiping some kid's butt.

Anyway, A's teacher gave me a checklist of skills kids are expected to acquire by the time they are three and then we discussed things.
So here's how he's doing:
-great gross motor development (I knew that).
-great fine motor development
- ok on social & personal development: he's doing fine with most things but is still learning how to " engage in cooperative play", although the teacher says he's getting better.
The other thing he's still struggling with is mostly using words to express his needs. I guess he's not very talkative there (which I'm not too concerned about because I know he speaks two languages pretty well at home, so it's just a matter of time)
The teacher did say that he clams up when other adults come in the room and he only wants to interact with his own teachers.

All this comes as no surprise to me, but I am thrilled to hear that he's starting to play better with everybody. The teacher also said he's a good listener, a great helper, and a leader in the lunch clean-up!
On a side note, A is not crying at drop-off anymore.

A at school.. looks like he likes it!

Once again, I cannot begin to say how much I like A's school. At the beginning of the year, I was really worried about how he would do, given his age and personality, but he is doing well and greatly benefiting from the structure and the social setting.
The teachers do an amazing job at working with each child as well as with the group. They correct behaviors in a very gentle way, without making the children feel bad. They are talented women I truly admire.

When did you child start "school"? How did they adapt?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

My Love Affair With A Book

I don't think there is any other way to describe how I feel when I find a great book.. And I just finished one : Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. I listened to it in my car, on my way to and from work. I knew I wanted to read it it years ago, after I read The Kite Runner (also excellent). But The Kite Runner's story was so sad, I wasn't quite ready for more such sorrow right away. So it had been on my reading list when, a few weeks ago, it stared at me on the library shelf. I was ready for our date! And it was love at first listen.. I fell head over heels for Hosseini's beautiful writing, his insight into people's most inner feelings, together with a dramatic storyline, characters you love and want to protect from their terrifying destinies, and with Afghanistan as a backdrop. Although, truly, Afghanistan is more than a backdrop, it's another protagonist, with a destiny just as tragic as the story's women, a land mistreated by brutal men who use religion as an excuse for their horrific crimes.

Anyway, just like in a passionate relationship, when I listened, I always wanted more. When I wasn't listening to the book, I was thinking about it, longing for the next time I could listen.
And then came the end, the end of the book, and the end of the affair. It leaves me with a bittersweet feeling. I am thankful for the amazing time I spent with the book, but terribly sad that it's over, that I am not going to find Laila and Mariam next time I drive to work. And like with a relationship, I know there will be others, I know I'll love again, but right now I'm not sure I'll be able to find another book that can move me so deeply, maybe I am not ready yet. I might listen to a mindless read next, a "rebound book" of sorts. In the meantime, I am still thinking about this one and missing our time together.

Do you fall in love with books? Any suggestions on what I might listen to next (mindless or not)?