I love evidence

I believe in evidence.  Particularly when it comes to the important things in my life, I like to have solid evidence for why I do or don’t do something.  This is why I found myself with a stack of parenting books borrowed ferom the library–all with a similar claim: to provide scientific backing to parenting choices.

What's Going on in There?Some years ago, before becoming a parent, I’d read What’s Going on in There? by neurobiologist Lise Eliot, which was my introduction to the idea of evidence-based parenting, and I found it fascinating.  But I imagined that some changes had likely entered the picture since it was published in 1999.  Science has a way of changing; That’s one of the things I like about it.

Enter: Einstein Never Used Flash Cards.  This book brings the research up to 2003, and it is primarily a response to the well-intentioned trend of the time that had parents scrambling to get their preschoolers into academics to give them an early start (See the documentary Nursery University for more on this trend).  Authors Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff (both child psychologists) go to great lengths to explain why this “early start” doesn’t help kids.  They detail the research in child development and even provide “experiments” that parents can do with their own kids to see the process in action.  They urge parents to let kids play.  “Reflect, resist, and recenter,” is the advice that resonated with me from this book.

Reading this book illustrated to me just how difficult it is to talk or write about parenting.  As just one example, I have some strong opinions about responding to crying babies.  I’d read various evidence-based arguments for responding to babies’ cries before, but I still felt myself tense up as I read.  What if this book presents evidence that I don’t want to see?  It didn’t, but it was eye-opening to examine my pre-reading reaction in light of the various irrational arguments I’ve read or heard from parents about their reasons for their choices.  Are we being rational?  Am I?

NurtureshockThen we have Nurtureshock, which has probably been among the most talked about parenting books of the past couple of years.  Published 10 years after Eliot’s book, this is the update for which I had been looking.  It covers a lot of ground (especially considering that nearly a third of the book is back matter), but it is important ground to cover for parents, educators, and policy makers.  This book changed the way I give praise to my daughter, how I look at gifted education programs, and strongly increased my empathy for teenagers.  Some of my personal opinions were upheld (even more compelling reasons to respond to your crying baby!), and some were kind of shot down (spanking may not be as bad as I would like to think).  But the most interesting aspect of the book was how much more balanced it seemed than the other books I read.  The authors weren’t afraid to discuss research that didn’t necessarily provide a straightforward “answer.”  The chatty tone of the book made it feel like the authors and readers were looking at the evidence together with a “what do you think?” rather than “this is what I think.”

Refreshing, don’t you think?


Edited to Add a couple of links:

We can’t always see it (or find it), and we don’t always want to talk about it

According to A Crime So Monstrous, a slave is “a human being who is forced to work through fraud or threat of violence for no pay beyond subsistence.”  He also points out that by this definition, there are more slaves now that at any other point in history.

Sold Queen of WaterIf you’ve read Sold by Patricia McCormack, you know one type of slavery.  The other most common type of modern-day slavery is domestic service, which is highlighted in Laura Resau‘s newest book Queen of Water (due out in March 2011).  Maria Farinango is listed as a co-author to this novel, and it is based on Farinango’s experiences being sold into domestic service by her extremely poor family in Colombia.  We follow her as she educates herself, finds a way to leave the family who has been “employing” her, and makes her way on her own.  I suppose if we are being technical about it, this book is historical fiction since it is set in the 1980’s, but it’s modern day enough to remind readers that this is still happening.  Interestingly, neither Sold nor Queen of Water mention the word “slavery” nor have “slavery” as a subject heading.  They don’t make this stuff easy to find, even in the library.

Free?I also recently read a short story from the upcoming collection Free? from Amnesty International.  The one I read, about slavery, was quite brief.  It would make a great discussion starter for middle schoolers on modern day slavery or human rights.  As would the excellent nonfiction book Every Human Has Rights from National Geographic.  The photographs make it worth browsing for anyone, but kids (say grades 4 to 8 ) will especially appreciate this simple presentation that doesn’t dumb down the topic.

It isn’t always easy to talk to kids about human rights issues, either at home or in the classroom, but these conversations are the first step to creating a world without slavery, violence, discrimination, etc.  I have to admit to a bit of discomfort when my preschooler picked up the copy of We Are All Born Free that I had pulled off my shelf while writing up this post.  She paused on the spread that illustrated our freedom from torture with a bloodied and beaten doll.  There was a strong part of me that wanted to grab the book and put it on a high shelf where she wouldn’t get it until she was ready.

I don’t even know what “ready” means.  I do know that talking is better than not talking.


This one is for you DIY Mamas

Shoe-La-La by Karen Beaumont

From the cover, you might peg Shoe-La-La as another annoying girly-girl picture book.  I can’t deny its girliness, but I believe it rises to the top of the pile of girly picture books with the DIY attitude it promotes.  The girls shop and shop for the perfect pair of shoes, but they can’t find what they are looking for.  Their solution?  Just decorate their old shoes into the perfect party shoes.


Crafty moms should love this book.

What is true for us

Mindful Motherhood by Cassandra Vieten

My introduction to mindfulness meditation came through the mail.  I opened a package from the Library Journal offices in New York to find my latest review assignment: Mindful Motherhood by Cassandra Vieten.  I was only vaguely familiar with meditation, and the word “mindfulness” was new to me.  This was my perfect introduction to these ideas because it was very secular and scientific, which helped me to have an open mind. It was nearly two years ago that I reviewed Mindful Motherhood, and I have yet to really embrace a meditation practice, though I have found the principle of mindfulness–the definition repeated throughout the book is “awareness of the moment without judging it as good or bad”–to be extremely helpful.

This weekend my family went to an open house at Moe Body Works to support a friend who is a yoga and meditation teacher there.  In addition to snacks and tea, the open house featured several demonstrations of some of the services offered at Moe Body Works.  We didn’t get there early enough for the intro to Qigong, but the Acro-Yoga demo was very, very cool.  As one of the yoga teachers was “flying” upside-down, Ladybug whispered to me, “This is cool.”

Later, the meditation primer was probably less “cool” to her, but we really enjoyed it.  First we experienced two minutes of silence.  The time went fast, and Ladybug was mostly quiet during it, which helped us have confidence that she could handle being there with us during the primer.  Next we spent five minutes in silent meditation.  This was significantly more challenging.  Ladybug spent about a minute sitting quietly in position then she built a pattern with the orange sitting pillows that weren’t being used.  It was a long five minutes, but I’m really glad we all experienced it.  For one thing, my partner and I have a renewed sense of wanting to make a meditation practice part of our lives.  For another, I liked that Ladybug was there to see us modeling meditation for her and even to participate as she was able.

It reminded me of the Montessori “Silence Game,” which challenges children to stay quiet until their names are called as a way of teaching self discipline and awareness to children ages 2 to 6. How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way says, “At first, younger children may not be able to remain still and silent for more than 30 seconds, but gradually they will develop the ability to relax, listen, and appreciate the silence.”  I think this will be a good place for us to start.

The Mindful Child by Susan K. Greenland

When we got home, I picked Susan K. Greenland’s The Mindful Child off my shelf.  I’d read it some months ago but I hadn’t tried any of the activities/meditations with Ladybug,.  The book encourages parents to start using the principles of mindfulness even with preschoolers to help them “connect to themselves (who do I feel? think? see?) to others (what do they feel? think? see?), and maybe to something greater than themselves.”  Sounds like it’s right in line with the principles of sensory awareness in Montessori education.  Actually, several of the activities in The Mindful Child work as variations of Montessori activities (sorting dried beans with a blindfold, for example).  What I really like about Greenland’s book, though, is the flexibility.  She writes, “practice what is true for you.”  That may include art or movement or music.  And that’s okay.  Just keep practicing.  Sounds like something a mom would say.

I think we might be homeschoolers now…

Ladybug happened to receive a My First Sticky Mosaic Art Kit for Christmas, and she was eager to try it out.  I guess I wasn’t that enthusiastic about an art kit; I tend to prefer my art more let-the-spirit-flow-freely.  But she was so excited that I was swept up in her enthusiasm for the project.  It wasn’t until I was looking at the photos I snapped while she worked that I noticed why she must have liked it.  The peeling of the stickers and matching the shapes is a lot like the work she did at the Montessori preschool she attended until recently.  This actually inspired me to find more Montessori-style activities for her.  Just because she isn’t in preschool anymore doesn’t mean we can’t “homeschool preschool.”


I currently have Montessori Play and Learn and  Teaching Montessori in the Home checked out from the library.  Will report back on how useful they are.

Tiger mothers and other sorts

Everyone is talking about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Speakeasy has a quick round-up of opinions about this memoir of “Chinese-style” parenting.  Amy Chua and I are probably near-opposite parents.  I lean toward attachment parenting, positive discipline, and Montessori education, so, as you might imagine, I find the methods described in Amy Chua’s “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” essay pretty awful.  Asian mombloggers all over the Internet are speaking out about how not all Asian parents are hyper-severe like Chua describes.

Bitter Melon by Cara Chow

I recently read a teen novel, Bitter Melon by Cara Chow, which depicted a parent that sounds a lot like Amy Chua.  Chow writes of the inspiration for the novel as coming from her loving Chinese family:

“On the one hand, I deeply respected and admired this family style.  On the other hand, I pondered its potential pitfalls.  What if the aging parent was difficult, dysfunctional, or even abusive?  Should the adult child fulfill her obligation to the parent, or should she break free of that obligation?  Should she betray her parent or herself?  That question became the seed for BITTER MELON.”

Mother-daughter tension is, of course, a recurring theme in teen fiction, which is one of the reasons it is hard to be the mother of a little girl and be a reader of teen fiction.  It makes me nervous sometimes…

Minnesota Mamas

In addition to local food and local music, I also enjoy local bloggers, particularly other mama-bloggers.  Here are a few I enjoy:

  • Lil Fish Studios – Okay, she isn’t local to the Twin Cities, but a bit north still counts to me.  I  first found this blog through the Etsy shop, which I adore.  Nature crafts out in nature.  Love it.
  • Travels With Children – This travel blog is based in Minnesota, and it is a great source for practical info about MN destinations.
  • Mindful Momma – This is the blog of the author of Practically Green, which is a great book for those who want to be as green as possible without being extremists about it.

If you have any MN Mama blogs, you think I should be reading, please let me know! :)

Our Creative Family

I’ve been meaning to read Amanda Blake Soule‘s The Creative Family

The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule

for some time, and I am so glad I finally put it on the top of my to-read list. Her story is almost the opposite of mine. She writes of how becoming pregnant with her first child sparked her to start knitting, and that was just the beginning of her embracing the creative life. For me, being pregnant largely stopped my flow of creatively. I went from writing every day to struggling to put anything into words outside of what I wrote for work. My blog fizzled, and my journal stayed blank. In the three years since, I have been slowly emerging from my writer’s block, and it has taken intentional effort to do so. I’m quite pleased to be able to say that I am currently working on a zine about my writing into motherhood.

It is so important to me that my daughter grow up with art and creativity in her life, and The Creative Family has so many great ideas for creating a space for ‘connection, mindfulness, and intent’ in even the youngest memebrs of the family (though, honestly, most of the suggestions are probably best for 4-6 year olds). Here are some of the things that we have done in our family to be open to art and creativity:

  • We regularly go to the family days at the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Insitute of Arts. In addition to being free (which is my favorite price), there are different activities and, usually very open-ended, projects for kids to explore a theme. We keep expectations reasonable, and if Ladybug just wants to play in the Family Center at MIA, we’re okay with that.
  • Ladybug’s room includes space for pretend play, with dress-up clothes, a play kitchen, toy food, etc. The dress-up clothes came from a garage sale a couple of summers ago, and they have been a constant favorite game. I only wish we had more variety. I’d love to see her dress up as a doctor or a pirate or anything other than a princess or a ballerina. She also has an easel where she can draw and paint whenever she wants (Thanks, Gram!).
  • We love collage. We keep lots of different items around to use in our art, and Ladybug is very good with scissors and glue sticks. (That’s what you get when you have a zinester mama.) In particular, we like to have people over to join us in making collages. After all, creating community is an important part of living a creative life.
  • We take every opportunity to take Ladybug with us to concerts that we can. Kid’s concerts are a given, but we don’t limit her to just those. We took her to see Hot Ashes when they played at the Uptown Apple Store, and she saw Red Pens at Music and Movies in the Park. If the venue is at all kid-friendly, our kid joins us.
  • I’m grateful that we live in an area where we have all of these creative resources so close to home. I love you, Minneapolis.

    A Santa-free celebration

    Our DIY Christmas Tree

    I love Christmas. I didn’t grow up celebrating it (that’s another story for another blog post), so the traditions are still new and exciting to me.  I’ve been around Christmas my whole life, but it’s a new experience to be participating myself, to be creating family traditions for our little one.  I want her to grow up with holiday memories that bind her to her peers throughout her life.  I think that’s an important part of what the holidays do for American culture.  But I also want to make sure that our holiday traditions reflect our values.  Our holiday included giving and making.  Ladybug is only three, so we kept it simple.  She drew pictures as gifts for her cousins, and she watched as we constructed our own DIY Christmas tree.  As she gets older, we hope to spend more time volunteering, baking, and crafting.  Every year gets more fun and brings new possibilities for holiday magic.

    “Maybe magic is just love.”* This is the magic that I’ve known.  This is the magic that I want my daughter to take away from this family.  There are those who say that children need to believe in Santa Claus to have magic and wonder in their lives.  I disagree wholeheartedly.  We see magic everyday in the way we treat each other.  Kind words are magic.  Paying-it-forward is magic.  You are magic.

    Parenting Beyond Belief by Dale McGowan

    As for wonder, I like how Dale McGowan put it in Parenting Beyond Belief: “It is so precious to get a glimpse of real knowledge, so breathtaking, that no lesser standard than trial by skepticism will do.  It leaves behind only those things wonderful enough to make us weep at the pure beauty of their reality and at the equally awesome idea that we could find our way to them all.”  This is one of the main values I want to impart to my daughter.  I want her to look at what is real and see the wonder in that.  I don’t want her to believe that the wonder ends when you start asking “why?”

    I think we’ll save Santa for when Ladybug is old enough to be in on the fantasy.  We love pretending, after all.  We love stories.  Perhaps I would feel differently if I had grown up with Santa myself.  I can’t say for sure.  I can only say what feels right for us.

    To be honest, I still trip over the words to Christmas carols I’ve heard a million times but only recently started to sing.  I didn’t manage to get Christmas cards out before the holiday (or the new year), and I’m quite sure no one had a Christmas tree like ours.  Our Christmas was “us,” and I loved it.


    * This quote is from Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block.  A favorite of mine.