Can a Fearful Mom Raise a Fearless Girl?

"Be careful!" "Hold on tightly!" "You're high up, okay?" "Are you scared?" Maybe she hadn't been five minutes ago as she ran towards the carousel, her favorite ride at the mall. She had ridden many times before, with a parent or grandparent standing next to her as was dictated by the safety sign by the ticket booth. But, today, my three-year-old daughter was tall enough to ride on her own. "I want to ride by myself," she'd announced. "The big horse." We paid for the ticket and ushered her in, so proud of our big girl. Then the precautionary litany started.

Suddenly, the ride lost a little bit of its magic. I saw her face stiffen as the horse went up, then down. She whispered in its metal ear and planted a kiss on its mane. "Mommy, I'm scared," she called to me while her face still showed a smile frozen in place. I asked her if she wanted to stop; she said no. I walked beside her till she felt safe again. I can't tell when the switch happened, when she stopped being fearless and settled for being daring, taking the risk despite feeling fearful. Not a bad consolation, except I wonder: Was the fear inherent, a necessary rite of passage from baby to big girl, or inherited, passed on from fearful parent to once-fearless child? 

There will never be another first solo carousel ride, so I guess we'll never know. I do know that, next time, she'll be more inclined to choose the smaller horse, the easier ride, the less dangerous option. She'll back down for the benefit of those of us watching. But who really benefits when a child plays it safe

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The Problem with Scars

As she climbed out of her carseat, I saw it: the 3-inch-wide scrape on her knee, which, in its redness, still did not go with the outfit she'd carefully put together for herself: a pink striped top and orange skirt made for twirling and curtseying. Why hadn't I noticed it as we were getting dressed? She should have worn pants today. She caught me looking at her and asked me what was wrong. I stopped myself from saying what I was thinking.

Why did I care? She was obviously over the pain that had caused it, saying proudly an hour after it happened that "it only hurts I little 'cause it's healing and I'm brave." It did not bother her enough to make her choose leggings instead of the skirt she announced was "perfect, because I'm a princess today." It caused her so little discomfort that she hadn't even stopped to scratch it like she does bug bites or dry patches. So why was I, the onlooker, feeling so ill at ease?

Walking around, people complimented her smile and mentioned how grown up she looked, but in my head, I heard other voices: "Babae pa naman" ("Especially since she's a girl"). How could I let this happen to her? How could I let her body get this way? Marked up and imperfect. What if the scars don't lighten? How would she wear shorts and short skirts when she's older? How will she be able to show off her legs? They come and offer their prescriptions: this will help, this will heal, this will make her better. I thank them for the gifts, the balms, the suggestions. They work on the dark marks, but some scars don't heal.

Five Kinds of Books I Love to Read Aloud

Happy World Read-Aloud Day! Isn't it funny the celebrations you become aware of when you become a mom? This is one day I'm glad to celebrate because reading aloud to kids is one of my favorite things to do. I wish I'd learned about it sooner because this wonderful initiative has a lot of empowering and engaging suggestions for activities for young readers (do check out the official website and learn more about the advocacy).

Here are some of the books I especially love to read aloud:

(This post contains affiliate links for Amazon and The Learning Basket, however, all book recommendations are my own and are for books we personally own and love. Thanks for your support!)

1) Books with repeating, sing-song verses
The rhythmic quality of these books engage kids who love anything associated with movement. Bob and shake your head or clap along while reading to further highlight the rhythm and beat. Silverstein and Seuss are masters of this art, and the silliness of their verses make their books especially entertaining for toddlers and preschoolers. Don't be surprised if you find these rhymes stuck in your head for a few days.
by Shel Silverstein

by Dr. Seuss

How to Choose Quality Books for Toddlers, Preschoolers, and Pre-readers

I love bookstores: secondhand, mega-chain, indie, foreign-language, or otherwise. I rarely come home empty-handed after a quick stop at a used books store. It's my superpower (I was gunning for mind-reading, but I got this). My husband is amazed—although also frustrated, because budget—by my ability to zone in on the good children's books while browsing through stacks and stacks of books.

How do you find the good titles? It can be tricky. Even in conventional bookstores, the keepers are not always the ones displayed up front, the featured titles that are on everyone's must-read list. If you're a new mom or a mom of an under three like me—and not a preschool teacher—you probably have not had the time to get to know the who's who of the children's book world, or you may only know books by their covers, not their authors, or, as is the case with picture books, their illustrators. Besides, picture book authors are a relatively quiet bunch.

However, to stick to books with familiar characters would be, in my opinion, a disservice to your child, especially your pre-reader, who is relying on you to fill her world with the stories that will become the voices in her head—and often the words that come out of her mouth. Imagine if your shelves contained nothing but quote compilations, biographies, activity books, and fan fiction on the It celebrity of the year. Shelves and shelves of nothing but the adventures of Taylor Swift. I love Frozen as much as the next mom, but walking into a bookstore, I sometimes wonder, how many other adventures, life lessons, and character-building moments can Anna and Elsa really have? What about learning about friendship from Frog and Toad, or courage despite the odds from a Little Blue Engine? Certainly, Sofia the First (my child's favorite) can teach all these things, but wouldn't your child's world be richer if her heroes came in different shapes, colors, and sizes (maybe even green and slimy, but wearing a waistcoat)?

Instead of a crash course in kids' lit, here are a few tips to help you pick out the gems even in crowded shelves of small pre-loved book stalls. Just save some for me, 'kay?

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What are you not doing today? Why not? Now change your tone and read it again. Why not?

A Letter-Whenever Alphabet Sticker Activity Book for (Sort of) Tot Schooling Moms

If you're familiar with tot schooling and homeschooling, you've heard of letter-a-day curriculum. Now, me, I love order and planning and so a letter-a-day tot schooling plan really appeals to me. My daughter? Not so much. I'm not actively trying to teach her to read (we'll wait a few years for that), but I recognize that she will be routinely quizzed by well-meaning adults so I felt I needed to equip her with the basics. (She once won a pink tumbler at a pizza place this way.) I'd tried printable letter-themed activities, but E ignores them, although she does them when she is at play school twice a week. Perhaps she is past the age when coloring a picture of an A and an apple fill her with glee and satisfaction.

Stickers are another story. She loves them! We do a lot of sticker-based activities using whatever stickers I happen to have handy at the time. So when I saw this B is for Breakdancing Bear Alphabet Sticker Activity Book at NBS (also available through—disclaimer: this is an affiliate link), I took a chance—and hit a jackpot.

What We Talk About When I Talk About Love with My Daughter

I wish she knew how much I love her. She doubts it sometimes. I see her eyes. She feels that if she could be small again, so small she fit on my lap alongside her brother—no, smaller, so she could squeeze back inside me where it is warm and safe and she doesn't need to share—then she could have all the love that would be enough to fill her. Or, failing that, if only she could be tall, so tall she could "reach the sky," she would then outgrow the hurt that threatens to bury her. She burst into tears the other night and whispered that exact wish. "I wish I could be tall. My heart would not hurt if I were tall." Oh, darling, grown ups have more heartbreak than you could ever imagine. Stay small, stay here with me.

But even here I can not keep you safe. Even now I sometimes have to nudge you away to make room for another.

It was my fear when I was pregnant with her brother. I doubted myself, my capacity to multiply. Even before there were two, I mourned the days of "me and you, just us two." At 34, I wondered and had no faith in love; what more at 3 years and 3 months?

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(Check out the Parenting Junkie site or YouTube channel for even more gems!)

10-Minute Paper Pirate Costume for Pretend Play

Avast, ye landlubbers!

My daughter wanted to be a pirate. Oh, happy day! You must understand, I come from a long line of pirates (well, my brother and I, see above) and I had been hoping even before she was born that my daughter would continue the family tradition. However, ever since she discovered Sofia the First, all I hear is Sofia this, Sofia that. So when she asked me the other day if she could have a pirate costume, naturally I said yes.

Unfortunately, I didn't have time to make a real pirate costume. Who knew how long this whim would last? I had to act fast or risk losing her to the princess crew forever.

I did have paper, a printer, some leftover ribbon from Christmas, and 10 minutes to spare while my second cup of coffee brewed and I needed to get back to work. So, while she napped, I hacked this quick and cheap fix. (Please remember that this took less than 10 minutes so it's not meant to be long-wearing or authentic.)

Process, not Progress: What My Preschooler Taught Me About Art

"Painting is not fun." These were words exclaimed in exasperation, a response to my insisting that we paint this morning. Okay, every morning. It was a wake-up call. I had committed the mortal sin of art with kids:
I had been focusing on the product of creation rather than the process of creation. 
In my defense, I had only made what I thought were casual suggestions: "Why don't we paint this leaf that you found?" or "Why don't you paint something that makes you happy?" Open-ended enough, I thought. But, even in those statements there was a hidden clause: we had to make something.

It was the unspoken "something" that had hung in the air over our last few art sessions. A shapeless mold that her work has to fit into; shapeless, but a mold nonetheless. One time, as was my habit, I'd asked her what she was drawing. She answered, "Please don't ask me, Mommy." Maybe she herself had not decided yet.

Feeding Baby No. 2: What I've Learned Since Baby 1

baby led weaning

File this under "If I can do it, you can too": I'm making baby food for little J! Jacob's solid food journey began five days ago, although I'd been thinking about it for months. Maybe because Ella, who started out so well, has turned out to be rather challenging at meal times (I don't want to say picky eater because when she's in a good mood and it's food she likes at the moment, the girl can eat). After all, isn't the second baby the guinea pig for all the things you wish you'd done differently with the first? Haha! I'm half kidding.

Food struggles are one of the worst things we're dealing with now with E. We've tried everything it seems, including these excellent suggestions from Janet Lansbury, but it feels like there's too much baggage and so many bad habits to unlearn for us to be sincerely no-pressure about what she eats. I'm only marginally hopeful that it will end well, thanks to encouraging articles and my stubborn optimism. My hope is that, with J, we have a chance to develop some new habits to replace the old and that will carry over to our preschooler. A chance to start fresh

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They're Not All Teachable Moments

Art therapy and alone time heals (some) wounds.

"Mommy, sometimes it's not easy to be with friends." She sat down next to me in a sad little pile of tangled hair and dirty feet. I'd left her outside to play with her friends, our neighbors; they'd been devising new rules for a game of Hide and Seek, like only a group of three-and-belows could do.

This looked serious. I put her brother down on the play mat to explore. "Jacob, your sister needs to talk to Mommy," I said, more for her benefit that for his, at six months old. I wanted her to know she had my full attention, even with her brother semi-crawling off the mat to paw at the tile. It was the least I could do after that solemn statement.

We're Reading: The Little Engine That Could (and the Unexpected Lesson It Taught Me)

All aboard!

One of my joys as a mom is being able to share with my kids a beloved children's book that my mom used to read to me. How I wish I remembered the sound of her voice exactly as it was then. Now, I only hear my own, repeating the same lines probably with the same intonation and cadence, taking the same pauses to wait for a little voice to chime in.

I was delighted to find a copy of The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper in excellent condition at Books for Less! First published in 1930, this is certainly not a new book, but I feel it may be a forgotten classic that a new generation of moms may not be familiar with. It definitely has a lot of competition on the book shelves from the fancier, movie/TV-backed titles. But, perhaps what it has to its advantage is that you often can find a copy in used bookstores, a treasure in the stacks.

If you don't know the story, it goes like this: A little train carrying all manner of fantastic toys and delicious treats breaks down before it can go up the mountain, which it needs to climb in order to deliver its wonderful cargo to the good little boys and girls on the other side. Three different trains pass by, but each have their reasons for not helping the little engine (too important, too proud, too tired, too busy). Just when the engine, the dolls, and their ringleader, the toy clown, are about to give up hope, a little blue engine comes along; and, although she is neither the strongest, the biggest, or the most advanced, through the strength of her will, she saves the day, uttering the iconic words, "I think I can. I think I can. I think I can."

Being Big is Not Easy

She watched her brother take his first bites of food as he sat in my lap. He grimaced, but opened his mouth for more, and we all cheered.

It was not easy for her to swallow.

At breakfast, she cheered along with us, although she picked up an old habit of banging on her tray as loudly as she could.

But at lunch, as she watched him sit on my lap again, so close to me as she sat a foot away, it must have occurred to her that this was the new way things were going to be.

So used to being the center of attention, she realized she was no longer the only bright star in the family constellation (although she was still the brightest). Here he was, to stay, forever, in the lap that used to be hers.

Used to be? That can not be. Why should I sit here quietly?

And so she screamed. And screamed. And screamed.

This was the scene this morning at breakfast. I guess it was to be expected. She would not eat her food or be consoled or quiet down. She would not settle for anything less than my full attention.

But her brother had to eat. It was his turn, his moment. He had waited so expectantly for this milestone, although probably not as expectantly as I did. All the research, the new wooden bowls, the new blue spoons, the brown rice ground up (organic, of course—let's see how long that lasts), the milk freshly squeezed, they all led up to this first taste of solid food. And I wasn't about to hand him over to someone else to feed.

So I let her scream. And scream. And scream.

Feelings are not shut down here; at least, we try. She had to scream. She had to express her hurt. It was not going to go away with a shush or a treat. Her brother was here to stay. But her feelings didn't have to.

After he'd finished most of his meal, I let our helper hold him and turned my attention to my bigger baby. On my lap once again, her arms wrapped around me.

"It's not easy watching Mommy feed Jacob, huh? Do you miss being the baby that Mommy feeds?" She nodded through her tears. "Did you just want to sit with Mommy for awhile?" No answer.

She sat in my arms silently for a very long time.

Is your "big" girl or boy having big feelings about having a little sibling? Here are some words from wiser teachers that I try to remember:

Helping Kids Adjust to Life with a New Baby (janet lansbury)
10 Tips to Foster Great Sibling Relationships from the Start (aha parenting)
Preschooler Jealous of Baby: What to Do (aha parenting)
7 Ways to Help Your Child Adjust to a New Baby (huffington post)
From Sibling Rivals to Sibling Best Friends (peaceful parents, confident kids)

It is not easy being a big sister, but it can be beautiful.