Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Make Believe, or not?

Angelina has trouble with "pretend."

Now, she does seem to have quite the imagination about some things, but the concept of pretending you're playing at tea party vs. actually having tea or coffee hasn't quite sunk in.

She got a tea set for Christmas from Nana, as well as a whole box of pretend cooking stuff from her Allegrini cousins (complete with miniature boxes of dried goods, empty of course - all pretend).

First thing she did was go to the Nespresso machine (that would be our coffee) and try to fill the little toy pot with coffee. We said "No, it's for Tea." So she asked for tea. We tried to explain it was pretend, but she was having none of it, she wanted to turn the kettle on.

Frédéric and I tried to show her how to play pretend tea party.


It was the real thing or bust.

Yet, she can easily imagine Mouse wants Chocolate...and that the stuffed tiger is actually Baby Jaguar from Dora's Animal Adventures.

But no liquid in a tea pot and pretend it's tea? No way.

And I think I already mentioned how she had to take ALL the pieces of this tea set to bed with her that night....


This one was difficult for me. So far, it seems not only did Angelina fit the description of "spirited", but so did I. Then I came to adaptability. Or rather, difficulty adapting.

Surely this didn't describe me? And I hoped it didn't describe Angelina. I always prided myself on my adaptability: my ability to go anywhere new, make a new home, make new friends, make a new life. I'd hoped that was something Angelina would share, especially as we're not likely to stay in one place forever. I didn't want to think she'd be one of those kids who refused to try new things, or who never wanted to go someplace new.

Then I read more. It's not just new places, it's the transitions.

When we were in CA recently, my mom had a whole day of errands and activities for us to do, followed by 2 Halloween events that night. At first I said ok. Then I said NO WAY. I just knew it would not work. I'd already nixed the two Halloween events, over her protests. She had said Angelina wouldn't know the difference. WRONG. I didn't think about it thoroughly, I just knew multiple stops would not work for either of us. We still ended up with far too much to do that day, but it was nowhere near as bad as it could have been.

After reading more, I realized this made sense. *I* have trouble with too many transitions. I can not double and triple book my day. There was a time when Frédéric and I would plan a day of errands and by the 3rd of 4th one I was losing it. I just couldn't take it anymore and needed to stop. Now I understand. I need time to transition. I need fewer transitions. I can't run run run. I need downtime. I need to stop. I'm good with surprises, I can decide things spur of the moment, but I need some time to regroup. I don't like the idea of a whirlwind 15 city tour in 2 weeks. I DO like visiting 15 countries over 15 YEARS - i.e. spending time IN the country, getting to know the new place, making friends there.

For Angelina, this is very true as well. Note that I'm conscientious not to put my own experiences or personality traits onto her. But this is something I *have* seen. She can handle lots of "stops" if we're walking, because there's no real transition. She doesn't like getting in the car, out of the car, in the car.... she gets all cranky and fussy. Maybe that's because *I* get cranky and fussy, I'm not sure. But I do know she doesn't transition well. She can't switch gears midstream.

SO what does that mean?

We need to provide smooth transitions. She can't go from playing horsey to going to bed in a matter of minutes. She needs wind down time. She can't just STOP watching Dora/playing her game because I said so. Well, she can if I force her, but do we really need a meltdown because I couldn't take the time to warn her? The aim is to prepare her for the transition "Angelina, when the timer goes off/I finish this task/the show is over we turn it off." Doesn't always work. I tried using the egg timer to indicate when she had to stop playing with the coffee. She kept turning the egg timer over...Ok, so it's not fool proof, but the concept makes sense: Prepare her for what's to come, create a relaxing wind down routine.

Don't shock her into something new. Now, this IS the kid who likes to be scared. She loves the "Monster". She loves when Papa jumps around the door and scares her out of her shoes. But those are exciting, fun things, and they're not real transitions.

We're figuring it out. Day by day.

And for those in my family who laugh, who say we're creating a Monster, laugh away. I hope we're creating a kid who learns to deal with her intense emotions, who understands how to manage her sensitivity, how to address her adaptability, how to harness her persistence into something positive.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Creepy Crawlies

I'm glad I don't have a kid who's afraid of creepy crawlies. But for the creepy crawlies' sake, I kind of wish she was.

Angelina has no fear. So this should come as no surprise. She's been helping me move the wood pile into a more orderly location (which involves her loading the wood and pushing the wheelbarrow...). In the pile I saw a little chameleon (or gecko or lizard, not really sure but it blended in perfectly into its surroundings). I pointed it out to her.

Immediately she went to PICK IT UP. Poor thing, her picking it up basically means her squishing it because she can't really get it. I managed to save it. Then she saw a bug - pretty bug, back with a red head. "OOOOH" she squeals, and tries to pick it up. This time she mashed it. I did try to explain that it's better to *look* at the bugs rather than grab them, but she didn't quite get it. We found another chameleon/lizard/gecko which she went for with gusto. I managed to save that one too (it was a different one because this one had no tail, the first did).

Then a few more bugs....

I'm glad she likes nature. Really. I just need to teach her to appreciate it without killing it.....

Thursday, January 22, 2009

So excited to see Papa

Fredo was away for a couple of days. Usually Angelina asks for him every morning, but for some reason she seemed to know he was away and didn't ask. But she clearly missed him, as evidenced when he came home - she ran screaming to him and wouldn't stop saying "Maman! Look! Papa's home! Papa's Home!" and then there was the dancing.....

and dancing....

Some kids sleep with stuffed animals

Ours sleeps with other things..... That's the stand on which we place the fondue pot. For some reason, she got rather attached to it the other night. She put a necklace on it which she had received at a birthday party, and kept carrying it around calling it her "birthday."

Then she insisted on sleeping with it. Yes. SLEEPING. She took it to bed with her and had it beside her until she fell asleep.

Another night it was rocks.

She has two caillou (rocks/stones) that are her favourite for some reason. She hadn't played with them much recently, but out of the blue, as she was going to bed, she said "Maman! Caillou" Huh? (I thought she wanted to watch the PBS TV show "Caillou") "ROCKS!Maman!" So I brought her one of the rocks. "Other rock Maman!" So I brought her the other. "Thank you!" she took them, held them close to her, and promptly fell asleep.

Strange child.

(now, she does also sleep with Mouse, Tiger, and Baby Jaguar, but many nights there's at least one additional less cuddly item...)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Maman, Mouse wants chocolate."

She's getting smart. She knows she can't have chocolate, esp. at night. So the other day, as she was carrying her mouse, she said "Maman, Mouse wants chocolate." Hah! Maman is still smarter and not falling for that. I wonder how long it will last until she outsmarts me?

She's not really into dolls. She has the idea, but can take them or leave them. Mouse, however, she loves (as well as tiger and baby jaguar). She sleeps with all 3 every night now. The other day she wanted to carry mouse, but he had to be swaddled in her blanket and she carried it like a sling. She kept hugging it to her saying, "Shhhh, Mouse, don't cry, it's ok." She also lays Mouse in bed and says "Go to sleep now Mouse!"

She also has a Raggedy Ann doll with whom she has a love/hate relationship. Well, not hate, but she doesn't always love it. Last night (with Papa gone) she was in the big bed fighting sleep and said "Maman, Mouse is scared of Raggy Ann." I asked if the doll was scary? She said no, but Mouse was a little scared.... I guess we're at the stage of "transference" - is that the right term? Where she uses others to explain her feelings?

On another note, she still loves the camera. More photography skills:
This was after about the 4th picture she took of Chakapu. Chakapu finally looked up. They also have a love/hate relationship...

On a different note, we were listening to PRESIDENT Obama's inauguration speech on the way home today, and I said to Angelina "We have a new president now." She said "Presents? I want PRESENTS!" I said "No, a PRE-SI-DENT" but she wasn't having it. She wanted PRESENTS! I guess it is kind of a present...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Today's Lesson: Humility

There's a quote I used to have on my email signature "Life is a long lesson in humility."

Still true, but now I'll specify: "Parenthood is a long lesson in humility."

In trying to understand the little monster, er, Angel, I'm learning a lot about myself, including my own intensity, persistance, sensitivity (I hate dry skin + scratchy clothes and socks with the edge in the wrong place!), adaptability, and perceptiveness. More on that later.

More importantly right now, I've learned about my own capacity for judging. I never thought I was particularly judgmental of other parents, though I know I've been less than positive on a few occasions. One in particular sticks in my mind. One day, outside the Yale Child Study Center at the Yale School of Medicine, a little girl about Angelina's age was throwing a temper tantrum in the parking lot. The mom, a professional woman, probably a scientist or MD at Yale, was kneeling next to her saying in the calmest voice imaginable "Honey, we don't yell like that. That's not good behaviour."

My first thought? I laughed.

To myself, but I laughed.

In my mind I said, "Just pick up the kid and show her who's boss. Stick her in the car and let her scream. You can't reason with a 2 yr old."

Now I know she probably just got done reading the book I'm reading about Spirited Children.

Yes, there's a time when you have to insist, when you can't wait for the tantrum-throwing 2 yr old to make the 'right decision,' but should parenthood really be a dictatorship? It's not a democracy either, but how about something in between? Is it so bad if a 2 yr old gets to make some decisions?

The bible, er, my new book, describes such a child, and explains how by modeling the behaviour you expect, eventually the child learns that behaviour. So, if the parent's response is to yell and demand and be forceful, well, guess how the kid behaves? That doesn't mean the parent doesn't set boundaries, quite the contrary, boundaries and rules are extremely important for a "spirited" child. The key is to allow choices within those boundaries. The choices may be "You walk to the car on your own without a fuss, or I carry you kicking and screaming." A 2 yr old may not get it immediately, but over time, will.

It's too early to claim success just yet, but I have already seen a difference. By not getting upset when she doesn't cooperate, by talking through what's wrong or making it a game, and letting it seem like "her choice", by staying calm, she calms down. Three nights in a row now she's gone to sleep without a fuss, and so far two of those nights she's slept straight through to morning and woke up happy. A world of difference from a few days ago.
As much as I hated people saying to me "when you have kids..." or claiming I didn't know what I was talking about because I didn't have kids, even those I'd cared for - sometimes for a week at a time - tons of kids of all ages, they were kind of right. It IS different with your own (which would explain how Nana and Nanny have no problems with her). So, I eat my humble pie. To the mother whom I inwardly laughed at for calmly telling her tantruming two year old "That's not good behaviour," I apologize. You were on the right track. I only had to have my own SPIRITED child to figure that out.

Tomorrow's lesson: Adaptability

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fun with "ropes"

Actually not a rope, but that's what she calls it...

Photographer Angelina is at it again

It's getting hard for me to take pictures. As soon as she sees the camera, she MUST have it (remember, persistence....). Mine has seen enough abuse (remember the fall in the river in Thailand?), so I let her play with it. She did pretty well:

Papa at work

And her artistic shots

I'll leave off the really cool one of water on the glass shower door, since I was in the shower at the time. I guess she's paying me back for all the naked bath pictures I've taken of her.

Monday, January 12, 2009


"Even as infants they are incredibly determined and strong. They push where other kids don't push. They demand more than other kids demand. And they never give up.It is impossible to ignore them or distract them."

Sound familiar? Sound like a certain little someone whose name begins with A?

Tonight my cousin Bob Slicker was in town, a surprise visit. Wonderful visit, although too short. We went out to dinner. Angelina was distracted by the mini ATM machine in the corner - she thought it was a game. Only she couldn't reach. She kept insisting on having the high chair - this from the child who refuses to sit in one. Took me awhile to figure it out: she wanted to use the high chair to climb up to reach the ATM buttons...

I said NO, she went back. I said NO again, she went back. She walked away with me for awhile. As soon as I let my guard down, she sprinted over and tried again. Papa said No. And again and again and again. After lord knows how long, I stood back, just to see what she'd do. I could see her from a distance, but she didn't know I was watching. She tried climbing up. With no one to stop her, she pushed herself further. But she couldn't quite do it. She climbed back down and walked over to the table.

And that was that.

Now, normally I stick to NO means NO. And I never did say Yes, I just ignored her for a few minutes. After all her persistence, she tried it, it didn't work - or maybe it just wasn't fun if Maman wasn't standing there telling her NO.

Persistence can be a good thing. When I was about 12, my diving coach said to me that while another diver might be able to learn a dive in 10 tries, she'd stop at 8, whereas it might take me 20 but I'd go to 25. And that's why I'd always be a better diver. Persistence. I see it in Frederic, as he works on a project. So she gets it from both sides.

Alas, in a 2.5 year old, persistence = challenge and stress for Maman and Papa. So how to harness it? We need to learn when to say Yes, and save the Nos for when it really matters. Teach her that persistence is a good thing when you're trying to reach a goal, but not if that goal is convincing Maman you should have ANOTHER chocolate.

And thanks Bob, for visiting us.

And that picture is the famous "chocolate fridge", also used to store wine, but at 2.5 all she cares about is the dark stuff...when she couldn't open it, she pulled a chair over to stand on so she could reach the keys. She didn't know exactly where they were (hidden behind the picture frame) but she was feeling around everywhere for them.

If you look closely at that picture, you can see she still has a chocolate ball in her mouth as she's trying to get more.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Third Culture Kid? Indigo Child?

More labels I like.

Inspired by MissChrisC's post about Third Culture Kids, I remembered one of my hopes for Angelina, that she would be one. What's a "TCK?" It's a child who spends a significant part of their childhood in a country (or multiple countries) other than that of their parents' birth. I knew many such kids when I worked in tropical diseases, traipsing around the developing world. Many of my colleagues' kids would fit the term, all the kids of the NGO-ites. They're a special group. These kids usually have a special insight. They usually adapt well and bond readily with new kids. They tend to gravitate towards the others who "don't belong."

To me, that always seemed wonderful, but that's because I think I'm a Third Culture Kid at heart. No, I didn't grow up globally. My parents never left the country until relatively recently. I lived in the same house until I was 17. But even as a kid I connected with those who didn't belong, and as an adult, I've bonded with folks from all over. Most of my friends tended to be 'from somewhere else' - either other expats or people who were just different. And I married one of them :). I've got a great life and fabulous friends here, but realize I feel more "at home" when I'm an expat. At the same time, I can feel at home wherever I go.

So why do I want this for Angelina? Because I think it's great to be adaptable. I think it's great to be exposed to and learn about so many cultures throughout childhood. I think she'll gain so much and be able to offer the world so much by having such experience.

I'm not sure she'll end up a Third Culture kid. For now, she's a bi-cultural kid, but I hope she gets some of the similar qualities. She's already growing up multi-lingual, so that's a start.

Indigo...I'll save that for another post.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Our Spirited Child

I don't like labels. I never have. Don't label Me. Don't label my kid.

But I discovered a label I like : Spirited Child . Yes, I think this describes her best.

I'd heard of this book long before I ever had kids. I hoped I'd never need it, but it turns out I do.
I've only read the first chapter, but it describes Angelina perfectly:


More intense, more sensitive, more perceptive, more persistent, more energetic. MORE. She is definitely more of everything.

She's amazing and wonderful and full of life. She has the power to light up a room with her smile and her charm. She walks around saying "Hi" to everyone. Random people want to be by her because she makes them smile. She dances around to music in her head. She is fascinated by all around her and explores everything

Her laugh is infectious.

Her screams are infectious too, at least for Maman who usually ends up screaming as well...

When I was pregnant and didn't know the sex, everyone, including random people on the street, told me I was having a boy. My very astute friend Kyle said I was having a girl. Why was he so sure? He said it was my karma to have a girl: a very strong willed, intense, independent girl. Damn he was right (he also won the betting pool for the day & time of birth and sex). But what he didn't tell me was that not only would she be like me, she'd also be like her Papa. Double whammy!

I think she has the best of both of us - those traits which make us happy successful adults. Alas, those traits are rather challenging in a child...

So I've asked my parents how they managed with me and they don't have many answers (I think being the 7th child meant there were enough other siblings to keep me occupied and mostly out of trouble, tar episode excluded). Same for Fredo's Dad. no suggestions. So we're on our own.

Furthermore, I was convinced it was just my bad parenting, because she is a perfect Angel for everyone else: Nana (her babysitter) has only had to scold her 2x in 1.5 years!; Nanny claims Angelina does everything she says with no fuss, including going to sleep; She listens to "Gela" (our neighbor) with no problem (though that may be changing...). But me? Noooooooo. It's like she sees me and she goes beserk. I'm now learning this is normal. She's smart enough to recognize there are some people she has to be 'good' with, and that she can test her limits and push with Maman (and to some extent Papa) because we love her unconditionally.

Or something.

Even though I'm an avid reader, devoured a ton of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding books, I haven't rushed to the parenting books so much. I wanted to use my own instincts and not be tempted by "it says in the book..." I have a few, which I turned to in desperation (The Happiest Baby on the Block, The No Cry Sleep Solution), though I haven't found them that useful. Whether this book will be truly useful remains to be seen. At the very least I can go to sleep tonight knowing I'm not alone.

And hope that my angel manages to sleep until morning, for a change.

[tonight the persistence was Chocolate. %$#&@Swiss genes! We keep our(Fredo's) chocolate in the wine cabinet. Locked. Before bed she ran to it, turning the light on, saying "Chocolate! Chocolate!" which turned into shouts and whines and cries. No. No. No. No. I would love to just put it somewhere else. Hide it. It's like dangling a bone in front of a dog. I regret she was ever exposed to the evil stuff. I can happily live without it, but I'm not Swiss.]

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Eve = Fireworks and Friends

What could be better? A great evening with friends and friends of friends, topped off by our own personal fireworks display.

Ok so not quite "personal" since we shared it with millions also in downtown San Antonio, but it felt like it was all ours! Though not my picture (borrowed from the official city photo) this is pretty much the view from our back porch.

Was a wonderful night, lots of good friends, happy crazy kids, a nice fire and lots to eat. Too much to eat, since we have so many leftovers we need to have another party.

New Year's Resolution #1: Make less food for the next party, or plan take-home packages for everyone!

We're lucky to have such good friends with whom to share the excitement of a New Year.

Now, if only I could figure out how to get Angelina to sleep just a little bit longer in the morning...

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