Ignorance is bliss

I didn’t come into parenting with a plan. I just assumed I’d see what kind of kid I got and work with that.

What I got was a really content but self-assertive baby. I never liked the idea of letting a child “cry it out” or otherwise forcing them to conform to some idea of what childcare should look like, so, without explicitly intending to do so, we’ve ended up co-sleeping, baby-wearing, and letting Ted decide how and when he’d wean. He’s willful and ferociously independent, and we’ve encouraged that at every step. With one glaring exception: while he loves doing everything himself, he has to have an engaged audience. It’s not enough that we’re present. A nod and a grunt of approval won’t do. He likes checking in every minute, and being looked straight in the eye and answered in full sentences. Anything less, and he will become extremely vocal about deserving a better show. Now.

For over a year, I’ve done my best to comply. But I haven’t had an uninterrupted night’s sleep since Ted was born, and some nights are worse than others. Teething sucks. Trying to be cheerful and involved when all you want to do is crawl into some dark corner and cry sucks even worse. Feeling guilty for not being 100% there for your child is the pits.

While our babies couldn’t move, the differences weren’t that obvious. Lately, however, I’ve noticed that while all our friends’ toddlers are happy to occupy themselves for long stretches of time, Ted seems to be getting worse. I used to be able to cook dinner while he played just outside the kitchen. Now, he clings to my leg and demands to be picked up. “The stove is hot,” I’d tell him, “the knife sharp.” But nothing worked. As long as I engaged, he’d cry.

I’d start cooking before DH got home, so I felt I had no choice but to ignore Ted (and get a crock pot). At first, I did so guiltily, but then I read an article on time alone at how we Montessori, and decided to go cold turkey on being available 24/7.

From the moment Ted wakes up (usually before 6am), it’s all systems go. By late afternoon, even if he did take a good nap, I’m frazzled. So for the last few days, late afternoons is when mommy checks out.

Ted wakes up from his nap, goes potty and has a snack. Then, we play a little or go shopping (he loves pushing the cart, and helping to put things in). Come 5.30, however, he’s on his own. I find a comfy spot, open a book or the laptop, and turn a deaf ear to his pleas. It took a few minutes the first day, even less today. He’s getting the idea. 

Yes, he squished a lot of Cheerios into the carpet. Yes, his nursery looked like he couldn’t decide what to wear and had to leave in a hurry. Yes, the den became a minefield of books and blocks. But he played by himself for almost a half hour, and only came over to ask for help going potty. 

When the time came to get the dinner ready, he got clingy and whined again, but for once I had the energy to deal with it.

After a year of being constantly there (we have no family in States and are yet to leave Ted with a babysitter) and incessantly responsive, I did feel guilty. Less so when he played happily, and I caught a breather. It made me (finally!) realise that becoming a mother doesn’t trump being an extreme introvert.

I used to take at least a couple of hours a day of alone time to recharge, and alone meant not a soul in my view or within an earshot. Thirty minutes and being aware of what my toddler’s up to will have to suffice now.

Ted’s Montessori-HighScope nursery

From what I heard about it from people who’ve been through the program, I’ve always liked the idea of Montessori education. For some reason, however, I got it into my head that it was only for older children. Then, somebody mentioned Montessori nursery.

A few hours of research later, I was excitedly dismantling Ted’s crib. I was laughing, too. It was part madness and part relief. On one hand, I was a little worried I was diving off the deep end of “crunchy”. On the other, I couldn’t get rid of that crib fast enough. Or any crib. Ever since we had to lower the mattress so Ted wouldn’t fall out, lifting him out has become an absolute pain. Literally. My back was killing me. There’s just no way to lift a child out of a crib safely (now that drop sides have been banned), especially when that child weighs over 12 kilograms:


It’s been a couple of months since the revolution, and I have since read some more and thrown in a little bit HighScope into the mix as well, but the bare bones of my “Montessoring-up” of Ted’s nursery were:

  • floor bed

This way, Ted can explore his environment on his own terms. No more screaming to be let out of the crib. 

  • accessible fine art

Sometimes a little too accessible:

Thank goodness for toddler-safe picture hanging strips.

  • plenty of storage

Everything in its place and a place for everything. When it’s time to clean up, Ted can do it himself.

  • self-care area

I’ve reorganized the wardrobe so he can get at his clothes, and brought the potty into the bedroom.

He loves dragging the shirts off the hangers, and the potty, with its toddler-height wall art, is a destination in itself.

While we wait for him to go, he points at the letters and animals so we can name them for him, or asks for some of his books or megablocks.

At night, when we potty him in the dark, Ted usually asks for his Twilight Turtle instead. Now that he’s learned how to do it, he loves turning it on and off and changing the color of the stars, and his favorite game is answering the question, “Where’s the moon now, Edward?” as we keep turning the turtle to shine all over the place.

  • front-facing library

There are plenty of baby bookshelves designed to display books this way, but it was just another piece of furniture with a surprisingly large footprint, so instead I bought a couple of picture display shelves from IKEA. Ever since they went up, Ted’s been a regular bookworm.

Occasionally, he’d even put the books back.

  • activity clock

This was something I wanted to make to work on the HighScope idea of plan-do-review. The activity icons are held on with velcro, and with time Ted should be able to put them onto the sticks himself as we decide how to spend the day, and afterward we can talk about how it went as we put them away. For now, it’s pandering to his weird love of clocks. He frikking loves clocks. I’m pretty sure he has no idea what purpose they serve yet, but he’s obsessed nonetheless, and I’m happy to take it from here.

Sun for “okay to get up”, moon and stars for bedtime, plates for mealtimes (green – breakfast, yellow – lunch, and orange – dinner), book for story time, and bath for bath time. I’ve focused on the routine for now, and will keep adding to our stash as our repertoire of activities expands.

No, no, no, no, no

We’ve been really good about not using “no” around Ted. We do what we can to create a permissive environment (whatever he can reach is okay to touch), use redirection if he’s heading for trouble, and if necessary (and there’s time to do so) explain why he cannot do something rather than just saying “no-no”.

What we haven’t realised is that, all those times, we consistently accompanied all our efforts with a gesture… And now Ted’s learned to shake his head for no, and, in true toddler-style, is using it to assert his independence.

Which leads to situations like this one, this morning, after I noticed him stop playing for a moment and get that far-away look:

me: Edward, do you need to go potty?

Ted: (head shake, but looks a little shifty)

me: Are you sure?

Ted: (head shake)

me: Have you gone potty already?

Ted: (head shake, goes back to playing)

me: Edward, honey, I can smell it.

By then, DH was already checking Ted’s diaper. 

DH: Yup, he’s been.

me: Teddy bear, you’ve gone potty!

Ted: (head shake)

me: Oh yes, you did. Uh-oh Edward, your diaper stinks!

Ted: (head shake)

DH: Lies, bare-faced lies!!

Birds of Washington State

This post has been sitting in drafts since mid-January, because I was struggling to identify a couple of birds and needed assistance from Seattle Audubon Society. Then, I thought it didn’t really belong on this blog, and waited some more. And now I figured it’s what makes Ted squeal with excitement at mealtimes, so why not?

I’m sure even without a feeder we’d see quite a few, but I like to think it helps. Especially when, like this morning, our balcony is overrun with feathered visitors:

Anna's Hummingbird - femaleAnna’s Hummingbird (the lights keep the feed from freezing)

imageBushtit (photo by NW Bird Blog - our bushtits were too fast and too skittish for us to snap a good one)

imageBlack-Capped Chickadee

House Sparrow (male)House Sparrow (male)

House Sparrow - femaleHouse Sparrow (female)

Song SparrowSong Sparrow

Dark-eyed Oregon JuncoDark-eyed Oregon Junco

Audubon - Northern FlickerNorthern Flicker

Steller's JaySteller’s Jay

European StarlingEuropean Starling

Varied ThrushVaried Thrush

American RobinAmerican Robin

It was the appearance of the northern flicker than made us scramble for the camera, hence no photographic evidence of the spotting. It was the first time, too, that we saw the thrush, and the first time this year the robins popped by.

What can I say? Ted’s bird feeder in below-freezing weather is a present that keeps on giving. Merry Christmas once again, kiddo. To you and your chirping menagerie.

Bully me once, shame on you

While I’m helping Ted transition to one nap time a day, our morning schedule has to be a roller-coaster of excitement, so there’s no time for yawning and eye-rubbing. 

Mondays are for zoo or our local community center, Tuesdays for a toddler gym in a nearby town, Wednesdays beach or indoor sandbox (the size of beach volleyball court), Thursdays community center again, and Fridays for children’s museum. Weekends depend on the weather and DH. Wherever we are, the objective is to get Ted to survive awake to lunchtime. Then, once fed, he’s free to fall asleep in the car, because by now I’ve mastered the mom-ninja skill of transferring him from the car seat to his bed without waking him up. Hah!

The obvious snag here is twofold: while we’re playing, Ted’s nearing critical tiredness, which can be accompanied either by fits of uncontrollable giggles or monstrous tantrums. Secondly, all those venues contain other kids

Today, I seemingly chose the wrong corner of the toddler gym as our base. All the cool nice parents ended up at the other end, while I was stranded among… I don’t know. Moms, I guess. Regular, stop-pestering-me-go-play-with-the-toys-I’m-busy-talking-to-a-friend moms. I’ve lived in my crunchy PEPS bubble for too long, I’ve forgotten what upbringing looks like at large.

I chose to stay in that corner, because I figured it was time for both Ted and me to face the real life.

Ted got smacked. A toddler not much older than him was having a bad day, apparently, and when his mom finally stopped him smacking his newborn sister, he moved on to the next available victim.

At first, Ted looked confused. He’d never been hit by another kid. Then, another punch landed on his back, and he looked ready to burst into tears. I’d never been around other parents who didn’t step in immediately to restrain their children either, so this was new territory for both of us. I gave the mother a look, but she was too busy chatting with her friends. 

One of my favorite Baby Signs stories talks of a little shy girl who really didn’t like another boisterous girl giving her painful bear hugs. The preschool teachers showed her a sign for “stop”, and told her to use it as soon as she saw the other child approaching. She did, but to the teachers’ astonishment, as soon as the bear-hug girl stopped, the little girl followed with “gently”. Teaching moment and happy children all round.

The kid punching Ted didn’t seem to know any signs, but I figured body language could help anyway. I squatted beside the two of them – which temporarily dampened the little bully’s enthusiasm – and showed Ted how to do the basic sign for “stop”, and told him to use it if he doesn’t like what’s happening. Then, I sent him after a ball, out of the bully’s range.


A little while later, they got within arm’s reach of each other again, and the bully smacked Ted straight off the bat, without any provocation whatsoever. Instantly, Ted’s hand shot up between the two of them, palm out, fingers together and pointed up. I bit my lip not to smile. Yes, he was getting beaten up, but, hey, how’s that for motivation?! It only took one demonstration for him to learn to sign “stop”. 

The bully wasn’t getting the message, however, and dealt another blow. Ted gasped in what sounded like a beginning of a hurt howl. Quickly, before he had a chance to burst into sobs, I looked around. The bully’s mom was still busy chatting with her girlfriends, the bully looked ready to serve another punch, so I dived in and gently pushed the little s*** away, calmly explaining that Ted just asked him to stop

At that, Ted started clapping. 

Best mom ever, eh? I let him get beaten up like that, and he forgives and forgets it all just because I came through for him in the end.

(No idea how else to teach him to stand up for himself.)

imageNot to worry, it’s just north-westerly-wind tears.

The magic word

I’ve been very utilitarian in my approach to Baby Signs, paring down to absolute basics and entirely ignoring nuances and niceties. I figured, once Ted got the hang of things like “food” for edibles and showed preference for cheese over yogurt, say, we’d worry about teaching him those particular signs as well. 

Lately, his signing has been coming on in leaps and bounds, but still he’d get howlingly frustrated at least once a day. Usually because I was utterly exhausted doing whatever we were doing, and really fancied a change. Like after running around with a vacuum cleaner for fifteen minutes non-stop, screaming “rrrrrrrr, rrrrrr, hrrrump, hrrrrump, veeeeee-juuuu!”… while carrying going-on-thirty-pounds Ted as well, of course… and that after two hours of vacuuming and carpet cleaning already. (Turns out, he does not like yogurt very much, and chose to smear it over the sofa and the carpet instead.)

So I’ve decided to teach him “please”, simply because I thought giving him a screaming-free way of insisting on something might make both our lives more pleasant somehow. 

It did. Mostly because, not assaulted by the sight and sound of a toddler in the midst of a tantrum, I seem to be able to find the extra energy necessary to carry on. Ted twigged the power of “please” in no time, and has been abusing it for two days straight now.

How could anyone refuse that “please”? Giddy up, mommy, it’s time to go again.

And again. And again. And again.


When we force children to submit to unwanted affection in order not to offend a relative or hurt a friend’s feelings, we teach them that their bodies do not really belong to them because they have to push aside their own feelings about what feels right to them.

Irene van der Zande, co-founder and executive director of Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International

Today again some woman just went for it and pinched Ted’s cheek before I had a chance to dive in and stop her. Sadly, it made me realise it’s probably unrealistic to start trying to convince people to ask Ted’s permission when they don’t even bother with mine.

Too quiet

At some point, I will have to turf Ted out of the bathroom while I’m showering. For now, it’s as good a way as any of keeping tabs on him while my attention has to be divided. Most of the time, he’s content throwing his toys into the bathtub and trying to stick his head under the stream.

Today was no different. He chucked a stacking cup in, followed by a foam mirror. Then, suddenly, it all stopped. I was shampooing my hair, so for a moment I didn’t realise something had changed. I knew I heard something fall, but Ted didn’t burst into tears, so I figured whatever it was didn’t hit him. But now it was too quiet. I wiped the suds from my eyes, pulled the curtain back, and warily looked out.

He was sitting on the floor right by the bathtub, the contents of his basket of toiletries spilt all around him. He had his toothbrush in his mouth and, when he saw me looking, he took it out, picked up the toothpaste and handed both to me. I did as silently instructed and he went right back to brushing, while I gawped in astonishment.

If that’s Ted’s idea of getting into trouble, I can certainly turn a blind eye!