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“Do I Look Fat?”

It happened today. A day I’ve dreaded since my little girl was a baby.

We were getting ready to go swimming. Crowding around the bathroom sink with her little brother, the three of us busy dodging elbows and weaving through legs while searching for an opening to rinse and spit. Amid the chaos she stopped, looked me straight in the eyes and barely audible through her sad, embarrassed tone said, “Mommy, I feel like this bathing suit makes me look fat.”

I froze as my heart broke. Thoughts like molasses, I sensed them trying to call an emergency meeting while unable to break free from the muck. The only clear ones I could make out were “How did this happen? My baby. She is only 6. What do I say?”

Believe me when I say while I’m certainly not batting a thousand in the “saying the wrong thing in front of my kids” department I have made a tremendous effort to give my daughter a picture of a strong woman who is grateful of her body…lumps, stretch marks, loose skin and all…ever since she was only a few months old. When my kids ask why my belly sticks out so much if there’s no baby inside I tell them it’s because I grew two babies in there. That it had to stretch out in order to keep them safe and cozy until they were ready to come out into the world. That it was their first home. Then we give my belly a gentle pat and say thank you. The kids usually give it a big hug and kiss and we all smile.

Don’t get me wrong, I struggle on a daily basis with the body image mess we are all in together. It’s not easy to stay positive when you work hard to be healthy and people still ask if you’re pregnant three years after giving birth to your youngest. I do talk about it but reserve those conversations for my therapist’s office and adult only gatherings when the kids are well out of earshot. Knowing I struggle with it causes mommy guilt to kick in when moments like this morning happen but I know deep down she didn’t get it from me.

So, in the bathroom this morning I started looking for something to blame. TV? Probably. Friends? Maybe…when I finally realized it. What I need to do at this point is accept the inevitability of it. To trust the foundation I’ve worked so hard to build and start planning ahead. Instead of preventing the moment, be ready for it next time. Figure out how to combat the nasty self-loathing buds of societal pressure looking for a place to grow in my precious baby’s mind. How to do this without being dismissive, condescending or overly protective when I still struggle with it myself? That’s the latest question that will be keeping me up at night.

Sarah Stith lives in Boulder with her husband and 2 children (3 and 6). Before moving to Colorado, the family lived in Brooklyn, NY where Sarah worked as a dresser at The Lion King on Broadway. She now works from home and manages to find time between breaking up arguments to build her organization, “Raising Little Heroes,” a group devoted to finding volunteer opportunities for families with young children. She also writes about her life on her blog, “A Day in the Life of My Little Brood.”

All’s fair in love and siblings

One of Grandma Marshmallow‘s favorite places on the planet was her family cottage on the cape near Boston. She brought her children there as a young mom, and this is where my husband learned to swim from his grandfather, Grandma Lisa’s brilliant and reportedly eccentric father.

The cottage is teeny — barely 750 square feet split between two levels. And it’s, uh, “quaint,” if that word implies run down and without amenities. If one of us remembered to call the town early in the season to turn on the power, we had power. Usually we had plumbing. The second floor has been stuck at the tear-out stages of a remodel since I joined the family, and the whole place has an unlived-in, musty smell, it’s heyday, when a houseful of cousins would gather here for the entire summer, long gone.

Still, Lisa’s eyes lit up when she uttered the town’s name, which became shorthand for the house.

Practically, we used it as a place to change our suits and to shower after swimming in the ocean.

To get to the ocean, we’d have to walk through an old and small cemetery. The etchings on the thin slate or granite headstones had eroded to almost nothing, but I’m told some go as far back as the 1600s. It was eery-spooky to walk through. I amused myself by imagining the ghosts and the stories they would tell.

A year ago, the last time Grandma Lisa visited her cottage on the cape, Tessa and Reed were done swimming, done changing, and were waiting for Daddy and Grandpa to load the lawn mower onto the truck for the ride home. They busied themselves by playing with two Scottish Terriers across the lane.

There was a path to that house that was framed by railroad ties. Reed began bouncing on the railroad ties, as boys will do, not realizing that there was a wasp nest underneath.

The wasps were not happy about being jostled by this boy, and their fury was unleashed. Before any of us knew what was happening, two children were shrieking at the top of their lungs, racing for the front door of Grandma Lisa’s cottage. We adults, at the time, knew nothing of the wasp nest — we simply thought the children were playing a very intense game of some sort.

But the gravity of the situation emerged as we saw the swarm of raging wasps swirling around Reed. Tessa screamed, “BEES! DADDY SAVE ME FROM THE BEES!” She made it, insect-free, into the cottage and slammed the door behind her, locking it as protection from the “bees,” which in her mind had opposable thumbs that could turn a doorknob.

Meanwhile, Reed was at the doorstep and we were plucking angry hornets from his scalp (newly shorn in a Kojak-cut), his hands, his shoulder, his chest, his legs. The majority of the swarm returned to its railroad tie, and we worked at stamping out the offending hornets and calming down an understandably shaken Reed.

As he realized his time on earth was not over, he remembered his sister. His first words, after “GET THEM OFF ME! I’M GETTING KILLED!” were, “Is Tessa all right? Make sure my sister is OK.”

Yeah, Buddy, she’s fine. She’s safe in the cottage. Which she locked you out of.

~~~~~

Soon the cottage will be for sale. It’s the end of a summer ritual that has played out each summer of my husband’s entire life. The wasp story is a fitting end to the sting of the loss of Lisa.

Cross-posted on WriteMindOpenHeart.com.

Image: Don’t Mess With Us by Pahavit

An explosive start to summer

You know how a mom’s antennae go up when there’s just too much quiet for too long?

It was the first day of my children’s summer vacation, but just another work-at-home day for me. I’d been solving registration problems, uninterrupted, for about 45 minutes. Glory be. And then…

MomMY…!?” Tessa’s last syllable inflected upward in a controlled panic.

In one leap I got rid of the laptop and headed up the stairs. As I took them two at a time, Reed was saying, “It was an exPLOSion!”

Holy crap, I was thinking. How bad is this gonna be?

Tessa had wanted the room brighter so she removed a lampshade from a lamp. Then Reed wanted to see what happens when you put a Lego® on a light bulb.

Of course you know what happens when you put a Lego® on a light bulb: it melts. And then it smokes and then it frightens children.

A child who is frightened by both the situation and by the prospect of telling her mom what is happening will try to solve the problem herself. By pouring hand sanitizer on it.

Hence the fire. And the explosion.

The flash-fire was out by the time I got to the bedroom, in about 5 seconds. Shards of glass sparkled in a wide disaster zone.

Remarkably, neither child was hurt and nothing was damaged (besides the shattered light bulb). I picked up the larger shards by hand and carefully vacuumed the rest. And had A Talk with the children about the properties of matter and what can happen when you add heat.

And how hot one’s bottom could get if they ever do such a thing again.

How many more days until school starts?

Image: Kalimist on Wunderground.com

How do YOU know when your nicely playing children need attention?

What do you smell like? Ask your kid.

Tessa, then 9,  had been going through a rough spell. Three days in a row she called from school in tears. The problem? “I just miss you, Mommy!” said amid chokes and fits.

At bedtime one night, I tried to get to the root of the issue. Was someone at school teasing her? Did she not feel well physically? Is she jittery about the end of the school year? Did Mother’s Day trigger some feelings about her birth mother? Nothing had changed in our routine, so why was she suddenly feeling lonely for me?

I did not get an answer.

What she DID say, though, was this: “Mommy, I go into my classroom and it just doesn’t smell like you.”

Tessa has always been very attuned to scent.

I naturally asked, “What do I smell like, Sweetheart?”

And then I feared for the answer. Garlic? Coffee? Stale cheese? Wine? The gym? Methane?

Yikes. Did I really want to know?

Her sleepy voice replied, “Mama, you smell like purple chocolate.”

Which, for a dark chocolate-lover whose screen name is Lavender Luz, is utterly, thoroughly perfect.

Images: Graeme Weatherston / FreeDigitalPhotos.net, It’s a Little Bit Special

(This post originally appeared on Perfect Moment Monday, which is featured weekly on Write Mind Open Heart. New participants are always welcome.)

What would your child(ren) say that you smell like? That is, if you dared ask them.

<p><a href=”http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=330″>Image: Graeme Weatherston / FreeDigitalPhotos.net</a></p>

Mama Drama: Toddler Tantrums and Clean Up Meltdowns

Dear Mama Drama:

My three-year-old daughter is driving me crazy! I love her to death and she’s got so much spunk, but when I need her to get things done and she refuses or throws a tantrum and I am at a loss. She could care less about consequences and seems to enjoy all the attention she gets from lectures. I seem to be the only one frustrated in this situation.

~Going crazy

http://www.flickr.com/photos/citril/ / CC BY 2.0

Dear Going Crazy:

Three can be a challenging age as children seek more independence and challenge expectations. They often run on their own time schedule and our demands can appear random and unreasonable to them.

Creating a daily visual schedule can help your daughter to understand the routine of the day. If something needs to change for that day, you can change the picture or sequence of the schedule and discuss that with her ahead of time. Three-year-olds also respond better when we explain, in developmentally appropriate language, why the change is occurring.

Provide transition warnings for your daughter when you are asking her to stop a preferred activity. Depending on her needs you may want to use several warnings at five minutes, two minutes, and one minute. When she does not want to do a task, using first-then statements and/or visuals can also help. “First bathroom, then snack.” Showing her a picture of what she needs to do and what is next in your routine can also motivate her to make that transition. Having the preferred activity in the “then” spot is most effective.

Mama Drama: Brotherly Love and Playgroup Problems

Dear Mama Drama:
I have three sons, ages 7, 4, and 2. Everyday after picking up my oldest son from school, within five minutes either the seven year old or four year old is crying. The struggles are often related to rude behavior and hitting. The oldest wants time to himself at this time of day and the younger brothers have been eagerly awaiting his return. The reconnection between the oldest and youngest is a love fest, but the middle and oldest set each other off. It seems like this should be a fun and exciting part of our day, but it quickly deteriorates into frustration for all of us.
~Hoping for a peaceful ride home

Dear Hoping:

Kids put out a ton of energy being at school all day and even though they may be running around, they are often exhausted emotionally and physically. Re-entering into their families low on energy can often lead to irritability and frustration.

Re-engaging with younger brothers after being with same age peers all day can be a challenge for older siblings. The older brother often struggles to remember that the younger brothers don’t have the same skills as his peers. He may have unrealistic expectations that lead to frustration for everyone. His low energy may prevent him from handling the situation with compassion and understanding.

From the perspective of the middle brother, he has been the big brother all day so giving that up when the bigger brother returns may be difficult for him. Aggression may be his outlet as he doesn’t have the language to conceptualize what he is experiencing. It may be even more difficult for him given the loving interactions the two other brothers demonstrate.

Reflecting with each child about how they perceive the after school experience is the first step. Understanding their thinking, helping them to understand the perspective of the other brother, and coming up with ideas for how they can handle that time of day is a good place to start. They may need more structure for this re-entry phase such as a secret brothers only handshake or hug ritual, a catch and release connection (meaning a quick hello, then let big brother be on his own for a few minutes), or a quiet time in the car or at home where everyone takes a break to rest or read. Having snacks and drinks available for the ride home gives them something to do and a chance to re-fuel without waiting too long.

Part of your problem solving should also involve helping them recognize their own internal cues of tiredness and frustration and how to read and respond to the non-verbal signals and body language of each other. This will take lots of time and practice, but you can help them by describing what you observe in them and explaining how you handle such feelings. Teaching them how to tune in to their own needs and read the signals from each other is a great life skill to start now.

Dear Mama Drama,

One of the children in our playgroup has a problem with hitting, and often uses my child as a target. (They are both approximately 3.5 years old.) The mother knows it happens and tries to discipline her child, but to no avail. It’s gotten to the point where my child doesn’t like playing with the hitter and is afraid. My child has tried telling the other child that kids won’t want to play with people who hit, but that doesn’t seem to be working either. Because the child’s behavior isn’t changing, which would be the best route to take: avoid playing with this person altogether, or keep playing and hope for the best?

Logistically, it would be a challenge to not see this child, and we love our playgroup, but I hate putting my child in harm’s way (literally!).

~Hit me with your best shot

Dear Hit me:

Hoping for the best without changing the interventions will lead to more of the same behavior. It is apparent that both the child and mother are struggling with the skills to handle this situation. My guess is that they are as frustrated with the problems as you are. If these relationships are important enough for you to continue in this playgroup, I suggest a direct conversation with this mom.

With compassion you can share how you have noticed her struggles in handling the hitting behavior of her child. You can also tell her how it is impacting your child’s feeling toward hers and that this is concerning to you. Let her know how important your relationship is and that you would like to support her in helping her child so that your relationship, and that of your children, can continue to be positive and successful.

For ideas on how she can support her daughter in using more appropriate social skills during your playgroup, you can refer her to last week’s Mama Drama column on Playtime Struggles. They may also need more direct support from a family behavior consultant or counselor.

If she is receptive and willing to work on this issue, then continuing may be a good idea. If she is not, you may need to take steps to limit or avoid contact with her and her child.

Mama Drama: Sibling Rivalry and Playtime Struggles

Dear Mama Drama,

I recently took my 6 and 8 year old daughters to a pumpkin carving contest. It is a wonderful family event that focuses more on community than competition, but the pumpkins are judged and there are winners. My 6 year old won and my 8 year old did not.  At first, the 8 year old was very supportive of her sister, but then she started crying. When we finally got to the root of the problem, she was upset that she had given her sister ideas and that her sister had won and she didn’t.

This sibling competition expresses itself frequently in negative ways in our family and I am unsure how to react or what to do about it.  Growing up most of my life as an only child, I really don’t understand and am not very sympathetic to sibling rivalry.

How can I encourage my children to be loving supportive sisters and discourage them from being self-centered and competitive?

~Seeking Harmony

Dear Seeking Harmony:

Sibling rivalry is a normal part of growing up with brothers and sisters, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have that harmony you are seeking.

Mama Drama: Morning Routines and Evening Hysteria

Dear Mama Drama:
Every morning we struggle with my five-year-old son to get him ready for school and out of the house on time. He needs lots of one on one support to complete even the most basic tasks such as getting dressed. He can’t remember what to do next and often stops to play with toys or sing the song on the radio.
~Tired of running late

Dear Tired:
Many children need extra support getting through their morning routine. When we stop to think about all the small steps involved, it can be quite daunting. As adults we have practiced these routines thousands of times throughout our lives. Our children are often still figuring out what each step is and how to keep track of it all.

Creating a visual schedule for your child is a great place to start. You can use pictures of your son doing each activity, clip art, pictures from the web or cut out of magazines. Add captions or directions with the picture even if your child does not read well yet. Start with the basics such as getting dressed, bathroom routine, and heading out the door. Then break these down into the steps they require. Having separate charts for each of these tasks helps to keep it simple.

An example is