Princess Talk

princesspI am sick of talking about princesses.  I am sick of my daughter talking about how much she loves princesses, but I’m also sick of hearing and reading about parents hating princesses.  So when a review copy of The Princess Problem landed on my desk at work, I rolled my eyes and ignored it for a while.

Princesses aren’t going anywhere however, and neither was this book.  When I finally gave it a chance, I was pleasantly surprised.  The Princess Problem was more than a rant about how princesses are ruining our daughters.  It’s actually a guide to talking to our kids about the media they consume as it relates to princesses.  There are discussion questions for movies and ideas for healthy media consumption.  It’s a fantastic resource with a practical sensibility.  Find out more on the author’s web site.

While I’m on the topic of princesses, I want to recommend a couple of books that will appeal to both princess-loving kids and princess-hating parents:

  • The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale is an early chapter book about a princess who is secretly a superhero.  My six-year-old daughter was obsessed with this book for months, which is a pretty strong endorsement right there.  Definitely a fun pick for the kids who want to dress up in pretty clothes and do the rescuing.
  • Princess in Training by Tammy Sauer features a disappointing princess.  She’s not very princessy, but those non-princessy interests come in handy when a dragon sneaks in the castle.  This picture book is cute and fun.
  • Princess Sparkle Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh Schneider has enough pink sparkles on the cover to attract the princess loving kid, but the story isn’t really about princesses.  It’s about a girl and her doll and what happens when that doll is attacked by the family dog.

Parents and other people who interact with kids might also be interested in this post on Princess Shaming in which a librarian advises, “Find out what it is about the princess that makes your kid want to read about her and be her; find out what your kid thinks it means to play princess.”

Right on.  Instead of hating princesses, let’s think critically about them.

An unexpected gratitude

I meant to post something about gratitude during the week of Thanksgiving, but the days were full of holiday preparations to the point that I had no time to spare on putting such words together. Now that I have a moment, let me express a surprising bit of gratitude: I am thankful for my mornings.

No one in my family is a morning person, least of all me, so any positive feeling at that time of day is outside of my usual. But things have shifted with the beginning of this school year. After years of getting up super early to take the bus to work well before my daughter woke for school, I have traded in my bus pass for a set of car keys.

My mornings are no longer a frenzied rush to make my bus. They are comparatively slower and much happier.  They have become my most treasured moments with my daughter. We talk about our dreams and plans over breakfast, and sometimes we even have time to share a story or two.  By the time I send her off to school and leave for work, I am smiling.  I can’t help it.

Best Time of Day by Eileen SpinelliOne of my favorite morning moments was from a story we read one day before school. The book was The Best Time of Day by Eileen Spinelli, and my daughter shared her own best, which was not far off from my own. She had a dreamy/happy voice when she said how much she loved mornings–at school. Her favorite time of day is that moment when she first gets to school. “There are kids and teachers talking and laughing. The piano is playing, and everyone is saying hi to each other and rushing around. I just love it so much.”

These are the moments I don’t want to miss.  It’s the stuff of happiness, right?  Watching this little girl experience the world as her own individual while sharing so much of who she is with her father and me makes me happy.   I’m grateful for moments like this.

alljoyHappiness is complicated though, especially when it comes to our kids.  Parenting is not all sunshine and lollipops.  You don’t need me to tell you that, I’m sure.  I probably didn’t need a whole book telling me that over and over in different ways, but I still read All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior.  And somehow, I even loved it.  For all the bleak stories and statistics in the book that threatened to be pretty depressing, it was all so fascinating.  She chronicles how the word “parent” turned into a verb, how kids went from being “economically worthless to emotionally priceless,” and how happiness plays a role in all of this stuff in a shifting world where there is no script for any of us.

In the absence of a script, it’s just love.  It’s just little moments where we read stories and talk about our favorite things.  It’s the days when we can’t help but smile.

 

Read or watch more:

Let’s talk about sex ed

“Books are the easiest way to get the conversation rolling in a low-stress environment.” –Lindsey Hoskins, sex educator

I say this (or things like it) all the time, and I love to hear other people start saying it too.  Sometimes I worry that the Children’s Book Person in me makes me see every problem as one that can be solved by books.  That (probably) isn’t true, but I do think that books are really important for talking about the stuff that’s difficult to talk about.  It’s a lot easier to bring up a behavior issue or other circumstance when you can frame the conversation around a character in a book rather than the child in question. Finger pointing and spotlight shining usually do more harm than good, and there is no conversation in which both parent and child want to avoid pointing and spotlights more than the Sex Talk, which arguably shouldn’t be just one talk anyway.  And that’s where books come in.

All this stems from the new episode of Pratfalls of Parentinga fantastic podcast I’ve recommended before–in which Lindsey Hoskins shares her expertise as a sex educator/parent.  It is a great conversation for parents curious about how to approach sex stuff with kids.  She recommended Robie Harris‘ books about sex ed for kids: It’s So Amazing and It’s Perfectly Normal.  Both are frank but age-appropriate guides to where babies come from, etc.  They have become classics, and must-haves for parents who want to open a healthy dialog with their kids about sex and puberty.

If you’re looking for a cute way to talk about where babies come from, try The Baby Tree by Sophie Blackall, in which several possibilities are explored as people try to answer the little boy’s question.  The answers just end up confusing him though.  Babies come from eggs?  Babies come from seeds?  He does get the whole answer eventually.  It’s a book about where babies come from that might actually be described as charming.  Who would have thought?  Here’s a trailer to get an idea of the cuteness:

milesistheboss

Another book I’d add to the list of titles to consider for families with young kids is not about sex ed at all.  Miles is the Boss of his Body is about personal safety and empowerment.  It is important for kids to know that they can and should set boundaries  and speak up if they don’t want to be tickled, pinched, or hugged.  There is even a discussion guide to go along with it for teachers or parents who want to bring this subject up but don’t really know what to say about it.

You can learn more from Ms. Hoskins or one of the other educators at her clinic in the Parents as Sexuality Educators class offered by Family Tree Clinic.  I had the opportunity to attend one through my church last year, and I highly recommend it.

Note: This is not a sponsored post.  It’s just my opinion! :)

A Parent’s View of Summer Vacation

I'm Bored by Michael Ian Black

I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black

I spent most of my childhood bored.  I’m sure my mom would love to confirm that I complained of boredom a lot, but I’m not complaining today.

Looking back, I’m grateful for my youth spent in wide open play and exploration, and I sometimes feel like a defender of boredom in a world where kids seem too busy with classes and camps to just play.  Or at least, I did feel that way.

Preschool is over.  Kindergarten is months away.  As much as I loved coming home from work last week to my five year old’s exuberant claim that she “read books ALL day long!!!”  (There were at least three exclamation points.  Possibly more.) I am also nervous for next week when the novelty wears off–when the “I’m bored” sets in.

I’ve heard tell of a magical place in the middle of the “free range” and “planned” parenting styles.  I’ve even found a guide in this article by Asha Dornfest, author of Minimalist Parenting.  I especially like #9: “Challenge the fear of boredom.  Your kids’ boredom is irritating, not life-threatening. Don’t be afraid of it.”

Happy summer vacation, everyone. Here’s to facing our fears.  :)

 

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Our Digital Life

It’s official.  My daughter, age 5, now has a digital device of her very own.  Granted, it’s just an old hand-me-down iPod Touch with a few games on it.  But  still, there’s a part of me that feels weird about dedicating a device to her use with all the talk in parenting circles about limiting screen time.  Not to mention the fact that we’re a tech-oriented family already.  I’m not sure I’m ready to add another generation in the digital mix.

hellohello3There are about a million lists of do’s and don’t’s for families navigating screen time issues, but I’m more inclined to look to books for advice.  I think you might be surprised at what you can learn from picture books, even if you’re a not a kid.  Like Matthew Cordell’s Hello!  Hello!, for example.  In this picture book, everyone is too busy with whatever gadget to say anything but a distracted hello to the little girl who is restless and sick of her own electronic options.

hellohello

Until the girl is beckoned outside by a little leaf

hellohello2

From there the book explodes with color and imagination as the girl and her family say hello to what they’ve been missing.  It may sound a bit over the top or message-y, but the story is wry enough to transcend what might have been preachy.  Instead of rolling my eyes at yet another guilt-inducing admonishment to put down my smartphone, I was smiling, nodding, and looking around.  Asking myself, what have I been missing while glued to my device?

Maybe it’s just me, but I’d say a book like this is more effective than a list of the ways that screen time is bad for families any day of the week.  There’s only one rule on my list of do’s and don’t’s: Read picture books.

Okay, two rules: Read picture books and take their advice.

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Friday Find: Pratfalls of Parenting

“We make cool stuff. We make people too. How has that affected you?  Along the way we try to stay creative types at the end of the day.” –The Pratfalls of Parenting theme song

pop-itunesI recently discovered the Pratfalls of Parenting podcast about life as a parent in the arts, and I’ve become a bit obsessed with the show.  I am far from being a working artist myself–that isn’t even on my map really–but that doesn’t matter.  The sense of camaraderie in the casual conversations between the artists in the podcast extends to the listener, and turns people whose names I see on advertisements for gallery shows or theater performances into real people whose struggles are not far off from mine.

All the interviews that I’ve listened to so far seem to circle back to the idea that you have to be you to be a good parent.  You might be able to put parts of you in the background at times, like when your kids are quite young, but you have to keep making things or whatever it is you are into.  For me that means writing and making zines.  For my husband, it means making music.  We’ve made these things priorities in our house, and it’s nice to know that there are other families out there who are making the same kinds of priorities we are.

But I don’t think you have to be some sort of artist to know the tension between keeping your pre-parent self alive and being a good parent, and I don’t think you have to be an artist to appreciate the Pratfalls of Parenting podcast.  For one thing, it’s a fascinating angle on the Twin Cities arts scene.  I’ve discovered so many artists and arts organizations in the few weeks I’ve been listening.  :)

Here are some of the highlights I’ve found so far:

  • Seniz Lennes (improvisor/actor/photographer) talks about parenting as part of her creative practice and the way that her work as an improvisor informs her parenting.  She blogs about this at Yes And Parenting.
  • Carolyn Swiszcz (painter/video maker) references children’s books as a great inspiration, and she mentions several illustrators in particular that she likes.  While I’m on the subject of books, I’ll also point out that Susannah Schouweiler mentions that having free reign of the library as a kid influenced her decision to become a writer and William Alexander (children’s book author) talks about writing, the book industry, and all sorts of other things kidlitgeeks like me love hearing about.
  • Jena Young  (comic/theater producer) brings up the topic of humor in that what is funny to kids is often not the same as what is funny to adults.  I wonder what she and host Levi Weinhagen (of all-ages theater company Comedy Suitcase) would think of my assessment of Kid Humor in picture books. ;)

I highly recommend the podcast to parents of all sorts, but especially to those who make stuff and make that a priority.

Princess Talk

I have a five year-old girl in my life, and it follows seemingly inevitably that princesses are also a part of my life. This is hardly the first time I’ve brought up princesses on this blog, and among parents of girls, the topic has been covered again and again.  Still we can never seem to resist a chance to talk princess with other parents, whether we love them or hate them.  So I listened eagerly (and added my two cents) to the MPR segment which had two dads giving their take on princess culture.

As an aside, does it seem like more dads are talking about parenting these days?  I hope so.  Parenting doesn’t have to be such a girls club.

Anyway, I think it was a caller who brought up the idea of redirecting the princess obsession with a little reality. Princesses don’t just wear pretty dresses and go to balls, and your young daughter might not have quite the same view of royal life after learning more about real princess life.  For the parents who decide to go that route (more power to you!), here are a couple of picture books you might want to slip into your bedtime story rotation:

princessintraining

 princessandthepeas

A peek inside Princess in Training

A peek inside Princess in Training

The Princess and the Peas by Caryl Hart – When Lili-Rose May won’t eat her peas the doctor declares that she must be a princess, so they send her off to the castle.  She’s very excited until she learns all the work that comes along with being a princess, and eating peas back home with her family doesn’t seem so bad after all.  (This might also be a good choice for picky eaters.)

Princess in Training by Tammi Sauer – Princess Viola just wants to be the darling of her kingdom, but she is no good at princess stuff like waving and dancing.  Her parents send her to Camp Princess to learn everything she needs to know.  Only she ends up saving the day with her non-princess skills and becoming the darling of her kingdom anyway.  (This one is a favorite in my house.)

Maybe one of these will change the perception of princesses in your house or at least vary the story up a bit.  Either way good luck to you.

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If you only read one parenting book….

I have been reading parenting books for much longer than I’ve been a parent.  I guess I’ve always been a bit of a child development geek.  I probably should have majored in education or something similar, but when I was in college, there was no convincing me that I was not destined to be the next great novelist/poet on the literary scene.  I think every English major I knew had the same aspiration.

After college, I realized that I’d probably need a job while I waited for the writing dreams to materialize.  That’s where library school entered the picture, and that’s where I discovered children’s literature, which has since become my life’s passion.  So it all worked out, I’d say. :)

I still read a lot of parenting/child development books.  Now that I am a parent, I have a more practical reason for choosing them, but I’m still just generally interested in how kids think and how we as parents, educators, and random people might best interact with them.

daringgreatly

On that note, check out the Best Parenting Books of 2012 from Momma Data (one of my favorite parenting related blogs) for some great suggestions that get behind the headlines and dig into the facts.

My parenting book pick for 2012 isn’t even a parenting book.  It’s a self help book that I’d recommend to just about anyone regardless of whether they have children, but don’t let that deter you from reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown as a parenting book.  You can skip to the chapter on Whole Hearted Parenting if you want or read a version of her words to parents published on the Huffington Post.

If nothing else, this:

“Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.”

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In Search of Calm

Mindful Motherhood by Cassandra Vieten

Planting Seeds by Thich Nhat Hanh

I’ve written before of my discovery of mindfulness in a Library Journal review assignment of the book Mindful Motherhood.  Before I read that book, I never thought about my tendency to daydream or worry as anything I could (or should) change.   It was just me.  The idea that my thoughts and tendencies were not me–that I merely contain themwas revolutionary (to put it mildly), and I am always looking for ways to share that with my daughter.  Enter Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Frankly, I waited forever on a library list for this book, and now that I’ve seen it, I just may have to purchase a copy for our family library.  I did the “Mind in a Jar” exercise with Ladybug as a way of illustrating that we contain our thoughts and feelings.

We started with a jar of water. What do you think about when you wake up in the morning? Sprinkle in a bit of rice.

Soon the jar was full of the thoughts and feelings of the day, which we stirred up.  When we stopped stirring, the water slowed and eventually stopped.   As the rice settled, we talked about our thoughts settling with our breath.  Ladybug was attentive to the activity, but she seemed to know where I was going already.  It wasn’t revolutionary to think about being in charge of your thoughts or using deep cleansing breaths to keep calm or clear your mind.  There was a teeny-tiny part of me that was disappointed.  I wanted to blow her mind with this news that was so huge for me.  But I think it’s probably a good thing that this wasn’t news to my four-year-old.

I think it’s time to take it to the next level.  Next up: Pebble Meditation.

You can read more about the book in this review from First the Egg.

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Halloween Reflections

I know I’ve been accused of turning everything into a Learning Experience, and some people think that means sucking the fun out of everything.  I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on that because I think we had a great Halloween, thank you very much.

We traipsed up and down the streets of our neighborhood with the “park friends” and their parents.  We had a dinosaur, a fairy princess, a ballerina and my little witch all excitedly carrying around their bags of candy and doing what they are rarely allowed to do: be out walking around after dark.

But that isn’t all there is to it.  Wait for it…. Halloween is also an opportunity to build social skills.  For the shy kids, this means meeting new people in a safe space.  For all kids, you can talk about (& model) the ways we are good neighbors–respecting property, being friendly, not littering, etc.   In our group, we also addressed not asking for more candy, not ringing a door bell more than once, and staying on the sidewalk.  We also discussed  whether it was polite to ask if there were treat alternatives for kids with food allergies.  We weren’t sure on that one.

It was a learning experience for us too.  Next year we may try to go with a smaller group.  I will definitely wear better walking shoes, and I’ll at least throw a witch’s hat on or something.  Everyone ought to get in the spirit of things, including me.  Even if I do suck the fun out of everything. :)

More about the Hidden Lessons of Halloween from Parent Further.