Archive for May 2007

MotherTalk Blog Book Tour: The No-Cry Discipline Solution

When Ben was about a year old and Tony and I were beginning to despair of ever getting an uninterrupted night’s sleep again, we attended a baby sleep seminar (we only had one kid, so we had time for things like this). The seminar, led by the same calm and competent woman who’d taught our birth and nursing classes, ran through the basic information about what disrupts a baby’s sleep (teething; stomach upset; brain development; disturbances in the force…) and various approaches to handling them. She covered Ferber, she covered Weisbluth, and then she mentioned a new book, by Elizabeth Pantley: The No-Cry Sleep Solution. I was sold by the title alone, which set her ideas well apart from the other, more well-known sleep docs. I was not about to put Ben in his crib, shut the door, and leave the room. I didn’t believe that would teach him anything that I wanted him to learn.

So I bought Pantley’s book and read it thoroughly. She advises that you start by making charts of your child’s sleeping and waking patterns, and I still have one of these, of a fairly typical night. I wrote:

Last night Ben slept from 7:15-8:15; 9:20-12:30; 1-2:30; 3-4:15; 4:30-6; 6:30-8:15. Oy.

But after a couple weeks of somewhat demoralizing charting, I began to see some patterns, began to be able to pat him down to sleep again without always nursing him, and slowly, gradually, our nights improved. And neither of us cried about it.

Now, perhaps our nights would have improved without my charts, but Pantley’s book, with its tables and graphs, its supportive advice and its frequent quotations from other parents, helped make me feel like I was not alone, like I was taking steps to improve our situation and, most importantly, like it was going to get better. And it did.

So I was already inclined to like The No-Cry Discipline Solution, and when I saw that MotherTalk wanted reviewers, I signed up because while sleep is no longer an issue (some combination of our experience and Eli’s personality means Eli has always slept more easily than his older brother), discipline certainly is. I don’t know what’s to come, but right now, I can’t imagine two more intense subjects for discipline than a 5 year-old and a 2 year-old. We are Discipline Hungry around here, and I ate Pantley’s book right up.

First of all, lest you get the impression from her title that this book will have you tiptoeing around your kids, afraid to discipline them lest they shatter like so many wineglasses, don’t worry. Pantley’s not looking to provoke tears, but she acknowledges—often– that telling your kids no is going to upset them, and that’s ok. As she puts it, “You want your child to be unhappy about his misbehavior and the consequences it brings. This leads to better self-discipline and will help him to make decisions about how to act.” But I do agree with her that once the crying starts (my child’s or mine!) the opportunity for reasoned conversation, thoughtful reflection, or calm acceptance has been lost. And given how rarely those opportunities come at all, I don’t want to deliberately forestall them. So no-cry, here we go.

The opening section clearly and concisely sets out a foundation for discipline. She dispels myths that can get in the way of parenting well (“Good parents don’t lose their patience”) and promotes attitudes that support it (“Parents who do the right thing 70% of the time should feel proud of the job they are doing.”) She connects how you parent a teenager with how that child’s been parented as a kid, and I love the chart which makes it all look so clear: “Typical Older Child Behavior (leaves dirty dishes/clothes around the house); Preferred Behavior (obvious!); “How to Help Your Young Child Develop Preferred Behavior (as a Toddler, Preschooler, or Young Child).” Now, of course I know (and Pantley acknowledges) that it’s not always a direct route from A to B, but still I find such charts comforting; they suggest that there’s a possibility of success.

This section offered a lot of information I already know. I’m fortunate to parent in the context of a co-operative preschool, and we gather frequently for parent education meetings and more informal gatherings that cover a lot of Pantley’s material. Still, it’s useful to have the information gathered in one place, by a writer with a cheerful and encouraging tone. Sometimes it’s just helpful to pick up a book that tells you: “Keep in mind that [your child] isn’t out to get you, he isn’t trying to anger you, and he doesn’t have a master plan to drive you crazy. He’s just going about life in his blissful little world.” I like all the book’s quotations from parents, too, which offer a community like my preschool community; the remarks remind you that you’re not going it alone. The lovely pictures of kids throughout the book remind you why you make the effort (I’m going to keep flipping to the picture of Tristan, on page 137, when I need a laugh).

The second section, building on the first, offers basic parenting skills and tools. She starts with a list of the various problems that can trigger difficult behavior and offers ways to address them. Again, these are set out in a clear and concise way: Problem (Tiredness, for example), Solutions (make sure your kids gets naps; try not to drag them around on a day’s worth of errands; etc.) She offers a long list of strategies to get you through a tricky transition or diffuse a temper tantrum, from playacting to happy face cards to time outs. Some are silly, some are serious, but since one size doesn’t fit all, it’s great to have loads to choose from. Here, as in the rest of the book, Pantley offers charts, quotations from parents, a “reminder page,” for those of us with short attention spans, with a list of strategies; she’s offering a lot of information and makes it both easy to find and easy to use.

The third section, on anger, is the one I really focused on, because lately this is my biggest issue. I can absorb all kinds of good advice about disciplining my kids, but if I can’t speak to them without losing my temper, then they’re not going to hear it. The trick, for me, has always been that the big stuff doesn’t necessarily make me angry, and an easy day after a good night’s sleep doesn’t always guarantee a day without a flare-up. I can sail pretty calmly through playground meltdowns, grocery store whining, or my five year-old’s recent chant “You don’t know anything about me! You don’t know my feelings!” with a quiet, “I’m sorry you’re feeling like that right now,” but then find myself surprisingly worked up by a bit of toothpaste flying off the toothbrush into my hair. I grab the toothbrush from the out-of-control hand while part of me watches me lose my temper and thinks, “Really? This is the battle you’re fighting today?”

But as Pantley reassures us, this is normal. This happens because we’re doing this hard work — guiding willful people through the day, all day long, often without much support, parenting moving targets, kids whose ideas and needs change without warning–and because we are human, our reactions don’t always fit the perceived crime. What hel
ped me even more is her reminder that adults need reminders and test limits, too. We don’t always obey the known rules; we sometimes, willfully and consciously, “disobey.” Think about it. Why else are there speed limit signs posted every five miles on the highway? So Pantley offers a plan to manage anger, and even more helpfully, ideas on how to identify and reduce the situations that cause anger.

It has worked for me. In the past few days, we’ve endured an unusual series of bedtime meltdowns sparked by my refusing Ben’s last-minute requests for more dinner, dessert, more playtime, more books, etc. I’ve been hit, kicked, and called “Stupid butt-head Caroline” by my usually even-tempered and peaceful five year-old. And tempting though it has been to march him into his room, turn out the light, and slam the door, I’ve instead managed to keep some perspective. Two of his good friends are moving away next month. He is graduating from preschool next week. His little brother is suddenly a very active player in our games and our family plans. We haven’t gotten to the part where he doesn’t melt down at all, but we’re working on that, and in the meantime, I haven’t lost my temper with him since reading Pantley’s book. Tony and I have already spent time talking about adopting some of her ideas, and as soon as I finish this review, he’ll start reading the book.

The final section, “Specific Solutions for Everyday Problems,” offers an alphabetical list of the misbehaviors a parent has to deal with, from babytalk to yelling, and capsule strategies to address them. The section and its epigraph give you a great sense of the overall tone of Pantley’s book:

The list of topics in this section sounds like my three-year-old daughter’s daily to-do list!

It’s a serious book, but it knows humor can help. Here, and with its charts, its clear, non-patronizing tone, its careful repetition, the book simply models the approach it suggests we take with our kids.

This is not the first book about discipline that I’ve read, but I think it may be the last. Pantley isn’t afraid of writing out the obvious, and that turns out to be helpful to read, so I’ll leave you with one more quotation:

Children are childish. Children are inexperienced, naïve, and narcissistic. They have limited knowledge about social rules and expected behavior. Furthermore, they are separate people from us and they have free will.

Someone without kids might read this and think, why bother? But I read this and smile. Indeed, they are separate people, they have free will, and doesn’t that just make the days interesting?!

Small Town Livin’

No, we haven’t moved out of San Francisco, we just know where to get a dose of small town (and summer weather!) when we (read I) need it: over the bridge and in Marin, where today we joined friends for their hometown pancake breakfast/Memorial Day Parade.

And when a couple enterprising kids rolled by us with their lemonade stand on a cart, you know we made a purchase!

All of a Sudden: Baseball

Ben has discovered baseball.

At five, he’s come to his new interest a bit later than some of his friends. One of his preschool buddies last year wore a San Francisco Giants uniform every day, complete with eye black. Another close friend plays ball with the passion and determination of a boy who might really make it one day; he does his own play by play, with real players’ names but details of his own life: “Here comes Reyes to the plate; he’s had three bowls of Puffins this morning and he’s feeling good.”

Ben has a tee, some balls and a bat (he even has a pair of batting gloves, a birthday gift from his uncle), all of which he does play with, but for the most part, despite going to a game last month (the impetus behind this new interest) baseball is not really a ball-oriented activity for him. Instead, he colors in pictures of team mascots that he prints out from the Major League Baseball kids’ site (for the record, Lou Seal and Mr. Met are his favorites). He draws intricate diagrams of baseball diamonds, labeling all the different elements of the field. And today, he and Tony turned the train track into the Giants park (can you see how the megablocks spell out AT & T?), found some felt to cut into bases, and fielded a strong team of plastic animal players. He spent a long time this morning, playing in his room by himself, just announcing players coming to bat, and right now he’s singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” to Eli.

Time to get the boy to some more games!

Two Already? Two, Already. Two Already!

It’s taken me a few days to post about Eli’s birthday because after celebrating the day thoroughly and well (a party with many good friends and cupcakes; a party with just the four of us and a chocolate layer cake), the wheels sort of came off the cart there for a couple days.

First, there was the dislocated elbow–totally my fault–this has happened to both boys before; I should know by now they are too heavy for their loose ligaments and it doesn’t do to swing them around by their hands. Luckily it doesn’t take more than a minute at the doctor to pop the elbow back in place, and it doesn’t seem to hurt a whole lot either. (Or else Eli is just a big stoic). But still, you know, the guilt…

Then came the disintegration of the lovey blanket, which we’ve been watching for some time now, but couldn’t figure out quite how to address. Well, I bought a spare lovey, but I didn’t think that was really going to be acceptable, so it’s been sitting in the closet. And then yesterday morning the patch, the label that he particularly loves, came off the lovey. I put it in my pocket for safe-keeping, while I tried to come up with a repair plan.

Not an hour later, Eli went to his blanket, as he does periodically throughout the day, and started turning, turning, turning it, looking for the patch. I watched a moment, unsure, and then pulled it from my pocket and offered it to him. He stared at it, wide-eyed, then looked at me and burst into tears. He wailed. He cried the big, gasping sobs of a child whose puppy has just died.

I thought he was going to hyperventilate, or throw up. I have never seen either of my boys cry so long and so hard. He wept for a solid hour, until Ben (bless him, such a guy sometimes) picked his head up from his intricate drawing and came over to assess the situation: Eli sobbing, me ineffectually trying to distract or comfort him.

“Hey, little bear,” Ben said, “Can I read you a book?”

Eli paused, just long enough for Ben to decide that reading was probably a good idea, and so he began, and Eli listened, hiccuping a bit, and slowly calming down.

I kept the spare lovey in the closet. Turns out Tony can sew well enough, and he restored the patch to its former spot on the blanket, with a few extra, reinforcing stitches.

And Eli has had a taste of a couple life lessons (pain, disappointment, loss), but happily just toddler size portions of these lessons. I think the taste of chocolate cake is probably still stronger.

A Good Party

It’s a good party when…

  • all the shoes come off
  • kids play duck-duck-goose on the lawn
  • 3 preschool seekers take several minutes to find all the toddler hiders
  • the parents get to eat and talk with other adults
  • everyone gets seconds on cupcakes
  • no one leaves in tears

“Moh pa-pa?” asked Eli afterward, as he fell asleep for his nap.

“No more party,” I told him.

“No moh pa-pa,” he answered; “Good pa-pa.”

Good party, indeed.


I’m not sure these text-free recipe diagrams would work for me; after all, after however many years, I still don’t understand what those little laundry labels in my clothes mean. I am definitely a word person, not an image person. But the pictures are appealing; I could imagine a poster decorating my kitchen wall…
Meanwhile, the designer is apparently still working out some of the bugs in this system: “The ingredients are still a work in progress,” she said in the New York Times; “For example, it’s hard to explain the difference between flour, baking powder, anthrax and cocaine without words.”
OK! Let me know when you work that out…

My Dangerous Boys

MotherTalk bloggers are talking about The Dangerous Book for Boys today; here’s what I’m thinking about danger and boys…

For three years after Ben was born, I thought we lived without a dangerous boy. We baby proofed the house, as recommended, before Ben started to walk, but in retrospect needn’t have bothered; he wasn’t about to attempt the stairs on his own, and he’d run from the kitchen when I opened the oven door. When we walked to the local pumpkin patch and considered the hay ride, three year-old Ben regarded it warily: “Mama, does it go out of the pumpkin patch?” he asked. “Are there buckles [seatbelts]? Is it bumpy? Does it go fast?”

Needless to say, we did not go for a hay ride. For the most part he will sit instead of stand, walk instead of run, cuddle instead of climb. The quintessential Ben moment was when he stood on the couch (an uncharacteristic height for him to achieve) and called out, about to jump, “Watch, Mama! I’m gonna be safe!” This boy who came out hollering after such a short, sharp labor–well, we joke that being born is the only fast thing he’s ever done.

And then Eli arrived. It took him 17 hours to make the trip out of my body, and he was so quiet on his arrival that the doctors and nurses rubbed his feet and hair vigorously as I cradled him in my arms until he squeaked his protest and they let him be. And yet for a while it didn’t seem like he’d be much different than our older cautious boy. He crawled at ten months, walked at sixteen, a similar pace as his brother.

But then he started to run. And climb. And now every day I find myself unpeeling his fingers’ tight hold on the kitchen drawer pulls, where he hangs midway up the bank of drawers, a rock climber with his summit (the cereal, the fresh banana bread, the clean wine glasses) just out of reach. “Where do we climb, Eli?” I ask him. “Pah-pah! [playground]” he laughs, and runs off, until he finds some other chair/table/lamp to climb.

I got this far in my writing when Tony brought the boys home from the park: Ben, looking just as he had when he left the house; Eli, covered in dirt and blood. He’d been running after a ball, tripped over a gopher hole, and gotten a bloody nose. Perhaps that’s my quintessential Eli moment—he throws himself full throttle at the world, and sometimes doesn’t manage a soft landing.

And I love it. I love my cautious guy (who reminds me so much of myself), and I love my adventurer. I want to encourage each boy to be exactly who he is, while continuing to admire the strengths of the other, too. I want each to have the confidence to take risks, the judgment to evaluate which risks are worth taking, and the strength (physical and emotional) to recover from the risks that didn’t quite work out.

Right now the risks are minor and the stakes pretty low – if I gave Eli a match today, after all, he’d more likely get a splinter than a burn. I wonder what the future holds, as my boys move farther away from my protection, as their world broadens. But it looks like one of them will be pointing out the dangers, the other one rushing toward them. My two dangerous boys.

Last Week, This Week

Last week: sandals, capris, tank top.

This week: boots, socks, jeans, long-sleeved shirt, wool sweater, down jacket, scarf.

San Francisco weather used to make me crazy. Now I’m just kind of amused.

Mama at the Movies: The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

Every other Thursday, I manage a day without children. I leave the house early to meet my writing group, allowing an hour to drive 17 miles through rush hour traffic. If I’m lucky I arrive in time to pick up some tea at the Peet’s on the corner. We circle our metal folding chairs in a kindergarten classroom decorated with posters defining “community” and “friendship.” Some of us bring our kids—the nursing toddler, the preschooler on vacation—and we set out crayons and Lincoln Logs to keep them occupied while we catch up on our personal and publishing news, then settle in to discuss and critique each other’s writing. Even when I haven’t shared my work, I leave after 90 minutes recharged and full of ideas for my own writing. I spend the afternoon holed up in a café with my laptop and my latte.

I’ve been feeling particularly grateful for my writing group since watching The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (Jane Anderson, 2005), the true story of a woman who “raised ten kids on twenty-five words or less.”

Read more of this month’s column at Literary Mama.

A Perfect Day

6:30 A.M.
With two little kids, I didn’t really expect to sleep in. Still, Tony got up with Eli at 6, and I got to keep my eyes closed another half hour, until Ben came thundering down the hall. Sweet guy, he’s been waiting to give me my Mother’s Day present since he made it in preschool on Friday afternoon, and now he can’t wait another minute. We snuggle up in bed to read his card and admire the “garden” of shiny pebbles, feathers, and bits of potpourri pressed into playdoh in a big yogurt lid. I don’t have to fake my enthusiasm, even at this hour: I love it.

7:00 A.M.
Tony and Eli bring me breakfast, the Sunday Times, a little gift and another card. Then the big gift: they all leave for two hours while I read the paper, uninterrupted.

10:00 A.M.
We walk over to the park, where we run into a friend with her two girls (her partner’s off on a training ride for the SF to LA LifeCycle). We all ride the carousel a while, hopping from animal to animal.

Eli falls asleep on the stroll home and miraculously transfers to nap in the crib. Tony, Ben and I eat lunch on the sunny deck.

1 P.M.
Tony (who’s fighting a cold) takes a nap; Ben plays lego while I get ready for my reading.

4 P.M.
We meet up with my writing group at the Nomad Cafe in Berkeley. The microphone’s set up in the children’s play area, so our kids lounge on big cushions, look at picture books and play with Exo-Bonz at our feet while the 6 of us take turns reading from our work. It feels just like our bi-weekly meetings!

6 P.M.
Pizza dinner with most of the writing group at one member’s house. Eli can’t believe his luck: we’re letting him play with marbles (he’s almost old enough to deal with choking hazards; besides, I figure, most of these are small enough to go through). Ben discovers the trains just as we’re about to go, but is lured away by the promise of a stop at a friend’s house.

9 P.M.
We’re finally heading home, the boys delirious from playing with their two friends. Ben falls asleep when we’re halfway home; Eli, wired, can’t stop talking. By the time we get home, he’s sighing “Mama, mama, mama!!” like a little drunk. And falls asleep after three minutes in the crib. I’m not far behind.