Thursday, August 9, 2012

Food, Family and Feminism

It has been over three months since my last post. My new life is ever changing and at some times overwhelming. Slowly but surely I am settling in. The fresh gust of fresh air that my new job has provided has been welcome. I have traveled abroad twice since I began and I have worked late more days in the last 2 months than I have in the past 5 years. But in the end I feel that my hard work will pay off in something I cannot quite claim just yet...a mature career, professional respect, future opportunities? I am not sure where the road will lead just yet but thus far the journey has been thrilling.

Yet among all this excitement, I often think about this most special of my projects, The Table of Promise. I can't say that I have been eating so well. Thanks to stress and overworking I have thus far lost and gained 5 pounds at least once and I think I am beginning the process once again. I could stand to go back and reread my earlier posts when I managed balance in my life much better.

I still have the desire to add to the record of my thoughts here. One post in particular that I am been wanting to write is a reflection of food, family and feminism. I am not sure if it is my love of deliciousness or some deep seated feminine drive that leads me to cook for my family in the way that I do. I definitely feel a fulfillment of something elemental when I place a hot roast on a table filled with loved ones. My love of cooking is punctuated by more than just pride in a job well done but that somehow I have fulfilled a role that I have been born into being female. I understand that not every woman views her femininity this way. One could even make a case that I am old fashioned. I might argue otherwise.

Earlier this year, a young woman bared her breast to nurse her three year old son on the cover of Newsweek magazine (was it Time? I know you have heard about this already and clearly I wasn't fully paying attention). This image ran underneath the title 'Are You Mom Enough?'. Within days, battles erupted on blogs, Twitter and Facebook. Moms of both the Attachment Parenting and the more traditional varieties duked it out in computer code to defend the way that they choose to raise their child. On many of the natural food blogs the topic of extended breastfeeding was raised and debated again and again that week.

Now please forgive my language, but I couldn't give a shit how long you breast feed your child. If you keep right on nursing until high school, that is the choice of you and your child. I see nursing as a two person relationship, the child and mom. As long as both parties are willing, go for it. But the article and the image got to me. Maybe I am not as much mom as the woman on the cover? I quit breastfeeding when my oldest was 7 months old after weeks of biting, bleeding, tears and endless pumping with a ten pound pump that I dragged around literally everywhere. By the time I put my hands up and said 'I can take no more' I was so sick of ice packs, breast milk and that horrible low pitched slurp-slurp noise that the pump made. But I nursed my own feeling of failure for months afterward because I was the one who broke off the relationship and not my baby. If breastfeeding is, as I believe, a two person relationship, why do we diminish the rights of mom to be the one to end things? Should mom continue to breastfeed as long as a child requires, asks or even demands? Is extended breast feeding the measure of a good mom? Nursing would have been easier for me had I not worked full time. After a bumpy start, Thing 1 and I were on a roll in the weeks before I returned to work. But a couple of late nights, a little stress and some missed pumpings and we derailed rather quickly to a place where my baby loved breastmilk, but not my breasts.

My feelings about working full time have always been a bit confused. I have never wavered in my decision to work. I derive alot of joy out of my career, but I continue to struggle on whether working makes me a better mother or a lousy one. On one hand, I do not look to my children to define my self worth. I do not enable my kids by doing too much for them just to keep busy. And I am setting a hard-working, dedicated and industrious model for them. However, I leave them every day in the hands of others, and sometimes when I am particularly stressed out I am not fully present even when I am with them. I like to joke that I work because we need the money, and for sure we cannot live in our current location without the support of two incomes, but I know I work because of ambition, drive and desire. Yet without my children, husband and friends my life literally would not be worth living. A job at the end of the day is simply some service in exchange for some payment. It is the people in one's life that gives the sunrise its color and joy to a measure of music.

So many of the real food blogs I have read regularly include posts about extended breastfeeding, baby wearing, co-sleeping and attachment parenting that I noticed right away that AP and 'Real Food' were just parts of the same movement. I too was turned onto real food mainly because of having children, being charged with feeding them and wanting to do the best job I could. But that wasn't the only reason real food appealed. I have also struggled with my weight, had a dysfunctional relationship with food and a fear of sucuumbing to the same cancer that took my junk food loving mother. Although while I fell in love with the ideals of Real Food, it never developed into some larger world view of Attachment Parenting. I never thought of my natural desire to comfort my children or to be kind to them as being all that radical or as a special 'type' of parenting. Although the debate about Attachment Parenting always seems to center on AP being an expression of kindness towards one's children. Is it really kindness that defines the Attachment style of parenting? Or is it extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping and baby wearing that really set this style of parenting apart? For the record, I don't think any of those practices are all that strange or weird, and I don't think most people care as much as people think. What gets people riled up is the assertion that these practices make AP a kinder, more committed or somehow better style of parenting than the standard. Unfortunately by defining itself in terms of 'kindness', Attachment Parenting has inadvertently labeled the rest of the world's parents as unloving and neglectful. I don't think they meant to do that, but millions of moms have taken that message home. It ain't just me.

Even if I wanted to, I really can't fully practice Attachment Parenting. I work full time. And even though Dr Sears has some articles on his website about pumping at work, Dr Sears does in his books encourage mothers to stay home. The Newsweek article goes as far as saying that Dr Sears recommends parents borrowing money from their own parents in order for mom to be able stay home. I can't say that his is such a radical conclusion.
When I first started changing my family's diet from processed foods to more whole foods, things progressed nicely. We got rid of chicken nuggets and refined carbs. But I eventually hit a wall. I made bread once. It wasn't that much effort at once, but the schedule of stirring sourdough and all day rising was tough to accomplish every single day while working full time. I made pasta three times, even if I thought I was an artisan, my pasta wasn't exactly 'artisan quality'. I simply started running out of time and energy. Making absolutely everything from scratch was ALOT of work. I absolutely cannot do it all. There are not enough hours in the day. Maybe, just maybe, our culture and family unit evolved to require one parent out gathering while one parent tended to the little ones.

When the kids went to school last fall and I no longer had full time help at home I clung to the few 'real food' dinners that were super quick to make on a weeknight. Now that I have taken on a larger role in my career, I am happy to just pull out leftovers. Correction, I am THRILLED to take out leftovers. We order take-out more regularly. My once high ideals are high no more. And just like Dr Sears, I am starting to think that our feminist fore-mothers might have netted us some unintended consequences. Surely the feminist movement has made it possible for me to be a driven working mother, and to those strong women I owe much. But with moms AND dads all over the country working outside of the home, of course convenience, prepackaged and restaurant foods would rise to prominence. And with this comes unintended health issues. Could it be that women working outside the home is contributing to our current national health crisis? Is modern feminism and the working mother another vestige of our unhealthy modern society? Egads, did I really even just say that?

I don't think it is such a difficult leap to make. If we believe that the answer to our nation's health issues of diabetes and obesity, etc, are to eat more naturally, rest more and in general slow down, how exactly do we do that with so many families going full tilt working, schooling and activity-ing. Eventually to fully realize this more natural and connected ideal someone has got to stay home and do all the things that support the family unit. Since mama has the baby's milk in her breasts already, doesn't it make alot of sense that it ought to be her?

The thing that makes me the saddest is that while the feminist movement was originally a fight for women against a male dominated system, the fight increasingly looks internal to me. Female admissions to higher education now outpace male enrollment. In many major cities the average of women's salaries is higher than that of men, due in large part to the aforementioned higher education statistics. And even in my child's own preschool the 'boys will be boys' mentality is long gone, replaced with a strict behavioral standard that many active boys cannot hope to meet. I have seen it first hand, the little girls play quietly while the little boys are in time out for too much exuberance. I do not feel roadblocks from the men in my life. My husband is wildly supportive. Additionally, I prefer having a man for a boss and have built several great relationships that have furthered my career. The ones who have sized me up and down have always been other women. The 'I don't get special treatment and you shouldn't either' attitude has always come more from other women I have worked with. And forget it, if you choose to work 12 hour days on Wall Street, the other mommies on the playground are definitely talking about how you don't see your kids that much. When you leave that six-figure-salary job the women at work are all saying behind your back that you are going to hate being at home and that they are surprised that you couldn't balance it all. Who wins? No one. Who loses? Everyone.

I never felt the monstrous pressure to balance it all before I had children. I had my hubby and friends and I had my job. But our current environment of high parenting and nutrition ideals are directly at odds with the feminist ideals with which I was raised. My mother said ''You can do anything!!!" Make no mistake, she was talking about working. Though as I am working now in adulthood, I am coming to the conclusion that in my mother's great zeal to awaken my own vision for my bright future she forgot the second half of that sentence. "Dear Christa, you can do anything, but you cannot do everything."

Shouldn't gender equality be most about creating a world where we have the freedom and support to choose our path rather than endlessly debate the best way to eat and the best way to parent and the best way to steer one's career? Isn't it possible that there is a different answer for everyone? My gut says that there is such a thing as balance between one's family life and one's contributions to the world outside of the family. I just.....haven't found it.

The irony of this entire post is that most of it was written six weeks ago when I found myself with some extra travel time while also being hopped up on too much Illy coffee. When I landed back in the states I saw that several friends had facebook-shared an article from The Atlantic with the title 'Women Still Can't Have It All' Ms. Slaughter caught alot of guff for being elitist and whining about the problems of the upper classes. Meanwhile, I am not so sure she was so off the mark. Her article rang very very true to me and while I do have a demanding and somewhat high profile job (relatively speaking, in my industry) I am not changing the world yet I still can't seem to have it all either.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Exit Stage Left

There are times in one's life when it is time to talk. And then there are times when one should listen. I have gone through many of both in my years. I have recently gone through a period of talking, and now my intuition tells me it is time to listen.

When I started this blog nearly two years ago, I was moved to write about food and my family, health and how I was trying to find it. But most of all, I was itching to say something, to write. When I posted every day for almost a year, it was never a chore. Though people asked how I managed to find time to get everything done! I was burning to communicate and I was excited about the possibility of reaching out into the ether and finding people just like me. And the things I have learned???!!! I feel more confident in my food choices now than ever before in my life. At first that confidence came from discovering and choosing local foods. Then it came as I chose nutrient dense foods. Then from making much of my food from scratch. Now, ironically, that confidence includes rejecting strict dogma. I know what I am supposed to be eating, but if I choose to eat a little junk or sugar, I know that one food sin does not negate an entire diet of healthy foods. This, my friends, is my definition of a healthy relationship with food. And finally, I have got one.

But what you didn't know from reading my posts every day, was that in the last two years, my life was going through a transition of sorts. With my second child born I began to look at my life and ask questions like 'Will I have a third child or are we done?' 'What are my long term career goals?' 'Am I really good at my job or just average?' 'At what point do I abandon the stability of a position where I have been moderately successful to possibly strive for more?'

Having children puts your life on hold no matter what you try to do. While I never chose the stay at home mom route, I put my life on hold by not aggressively looking for promotions and new job opportunities. I decided instead to stay in a stable job, that I loved, that offered the right schedule. I thought I would try to learn the nuances of my business and role to keep myself busy. But at a certain point, I suppose one could say that I was not challenged enough. That is why I turned to blogging.

Blogging brought me a kind of mental activity that gave me energy to get through the more routine parts of my day. It was a true hobby, an avocation. One that I have cherished and loved. And it was good that I had such a hobby to keep my mind active, because my stable, 'not that challenging' job wasn't over. I have been presented with challenges in the last year that have refined me and my contributions to my company. If I had thrown in the towel and looked for a different job two years ago my life would be on a much different path.

However a few weeks ago, the winds that guide my life shifted. And I am being pushed to something new and different. Last month while I wasn't writing on this blog, I quit my job and made arrangements to begin an exciting new adventure. And here we are, after nearly eight and a half years in my job.

This week, I will start a new job for the first time since I got married, bought a house and had kids. It feels dramatic and significant to me, though I know it is just my career. The reason I am telling you all of this is that I feel that it is time for me to end my blog. Writing has been taking so much out of me recently, hence the lack of posts. And my new opportunity proves to test me in ways I can't imagine. I am truly jumping into the fire. Of course, newness has a way of fading, and I have only ever promised to be inconsistent at best. So perhaps in 6 months I will be back slinging my ranting opinions of fast food companies and giant food conglomerates. Perhaps in a couple of months I can get back in the kitchen to cook something other than the turkey sausage I get at the farmer's market. All this transition and excitement has made me a boring menu planner.

I can't thank my wonderful readers enough. You all constantly amaze me just that you read my words when you have no idea who I am. This blog has given me a voice. And that was all I ever really wanted from it.

Until next time my friends...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Chai Kefir

Sometimes I love kefir. It is frothy and bubbly and oh so mild and satisfying. For a girl trying to be gluten free (and having a hard time of it during breakfast time) kefir is a good immunity support and full of protein. Throw in some granola and some frozen raspberries and you have yourself a great breakfast.

Then there are times when I HATE kefir. There are times where I cannot face my kefir. It is slimy and sour. It is tedious to make for a woman who cannot even find 5 minutes to drag some eyeliner across her face. Sometimes getting the last sip down is torture. And don't forget the times that the pink mash of granola, raspberries and kefir has ended up in the garbage can because I just can't stomach one more bite. Please can I just have my sausage egg and cheese sandwich please??!!!

Eating the same thing over and over makes me nuts. I need change. I need freshness. Call it spring fever.

So my friend suggested I try his kefir recipe.

Chai Kefir

1 teaspoon spice mixture**
1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
1 cup kefir

Place all ingredients in a jar and shake until the sweetener is incorporated into the kefir.

**For the spice mixture, just mix all of the following together:
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon turmeric

This yummy drink is really refreshing and the turmeric has many health benefits! But what I really appreciate is that this kefir helps me stay on track and get those hard boiled eggs down, even when the muffins are calling. And oh...the muffins do call.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Going Back To The Start

A friend sent me the below video on Facebook and I immediately loved it. Many people question how we got here to the land of hydrolized-soy-everything, high-fructose corn syrup and factory-farmed animals standing on great mounds of their own feces. Most men and momen in my generation weren't raised among the idyllic scenes of the self-sustaining farm, so for many of us food has been a comfortable mystery. And as we have dug further into our dependence on processed food, opening a box or package has become easier and more comforting than knowing the truth.

I should say, in the spirit of full disclosure, that the video is a Chipotle ad. I do eat at Chipotle. They try to source locally (whatever THAT means) and they don't use meats from animals that have been treated with antibiotics. But mostly, I like that their foods are straightforward. I love their vegetarian salads with beans and pico de gallo and guacamole. Recently I learned that the McDonald's Corporation divested itself of Chipotle in 2006. I repeat: McDonald's does NOT own Chipotle. Chipotle is a publicly traded company. I actually was not aware of this until writing this post. I like Chipotle even more now!

Take a minute to watch the video. I might have even had the tiniest tear stuck in the corner of my eye.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Is Disney Telling Kids That They Are Fat?

Boy oh boy, Disney is at it again.

They just can't seem to catch a break. According to an article I came across last week on Yahoo, the Disney company, who is synonymous with oversexualized princesses and children's entertainment with a lack of educational material, has recently created an exhibit at the Epcot Center in Florida called Habit Heroes. The exhibit was designed in partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield and was designed to teach young kids to eat better.

The fun exhibit included some characters that, frankly, make me cringe. Villians such as 'Snacker', who eats too much fatty processed foods, and 'Lead Bottom', who doesn't exercise enough, are featured throughout the exercise. One interactive game was said to allow the played to shoot digital vegetables at the screen in order to knock cream puffs and other sweet junk out of the way.

The exhibit is drawing fire because of its art direction. The villains mentioned above are all drawn to be obese, and in many cases are depicted as lazy or even evil! One villain is named 'The Glutton' which harkens back to one of the seven deadly sins, not to mention that he is dressed in a Sopranos Style double-breasted suit. The pictures of the animation featured in the Yahoo article coupled with the characters' obviously obesity related names display an astounding lack of creativity, in my opinion. Critics are calling Disney irresponsible for allowing such blatant fat-shaming to take place in its works.

Sigh. I think I get all the sides of this debate.

I get the outrage. With 70+ percent of the American population over weight or obese, likely there are going to be over overweight and obese adults viewing this content even though it is an exhibit geared toward children. And with a steadily growing portion of children also registering in as overweight and obese, you can rest assured that some of the audience will be overweight. The exhibit clearly sends the message that fat equals bad. Children especially can't sort out the complicated messages beyond that. Children don't understand the intricacies and science of weight loss. So they are left with only confused emotions and a sense that if they are overweight that they must be deficient in some way.

Fat shaming doesn't work. I have written about that before. If you have a drug problem or an alcohol problem, you can many times hide your health issues from the world. But when you are obese you are on display. And the social implications of obesity are not just 'the obese person isn't beautiful' but also 'the obese person does not have self control', neither of which are true. Exhibits like this one from Disney do nothing to dispel these ever present social assumptions. And who is motivated by shame and hurtful words? Isn't that the first thing they tell you in all those progressive parenting books?

I get the irony. Disney theme parks, though I have never visited one (I want to be up front), are reported to be a wonderland of funnel cakes and French fries. It is ironic that a company that takes in huge profits from all things fast food would be so motivated to create an exhibit like this one. It is then not surprising that they would f@$! it up.

I get the intention. I give Disney some credit for agreeing to take a small portion of their big budget and address this issue. No doubt they see a growing problem in our world. No doubt they see a growing population among their own customer base. No doubt Blue Cross Blue Shield thought they could capitalize on Disney's massive world wide audience in order to send a good message to kids. But with so many hands in the pot from project organizers, animators and insurance people, who knows where this project went astray?

My two cents? Maybe the answer to childhood obesity doesn't lie in the children. Perhaps it lies in the parents. And 70+ percent of the adult population is overweight or obese!! Children cannot legally work. So it is logical to assume that they are not purchasing a majority of their own calories. Maybe just as we should stop marketing ALL foods to children, perhaps we should stop dumping the solution on them as well. They are kids after all. The worst thing we could do to try and combat childhood obesity is try and talk a bunch of science at these youngsters. And complicated eating and exercise plans? Forget about it.

Make Real Food for your family. Get your kids to play outside.

It really is that simple. Kids do not need to worry about their percent of fat in relation to their total calories. Kids do not need to worry about the sugar content of a carrot. Kids do not need to be running laps to have healthy bodies. Kids do not need to be shamed if they have put on a few more pounds than their friends. Kids do need to have active fun doing things like playing tag or kicking a ball. Kids do need you to make vegetables for them so they can try them. Kids do need parents that eat well so that they grow up assuming that is what grown ups do. Kids need to be kids. Keep. It. Simple.

Disney Corporation, I dare you, stop selling funnel cakes in your theme parks and then MAYBE I will take your intentions seriously. Until then I am going to keep assuming that you were looking to make a buck and some much needed positive PR off this project.

Monday, February 27, 2012

'Moms Gone Wild' or '6 Things I Learned From My Trip To Paris'

Aaaah Paris. {Said with terrible French Accent} Traveling to Paris and/ or France in general has been a life long goal. In my high school, the smart ambitious kids took Latin. The practical kids and the kids looking to get through foreign language without much effort took Spanish. Oh! But the romantics, the theatre kids, they took French. There were only one or two classes of French for every grade level in my school. I took them all. Four years or French, the last of which was AP French, I have always had a love for all things French.

However I was unable to continue my French studies in college because NYU didn't offer classes for 'dabblers' like me. It was immersion or nothing. And like so many other things, my love for all things French got trampled by the commitments of adulthood. In fact, our trip to Morocco in late 2010 was the first time that I had ever traveled to a French speaking nation. And just last week I stepped foot onto the sandy soil of France to finally experience what has been a lifelong dream of travel, food and experience.

My trip to Paris was not intended to be a Valentine's day gift. But in the end it felt like one. My husband dutifully took the reigns of the family so that I could spend our shared money on a flight across the Atlantic with only myself and two girlfriends. And upon arriving home he continued to say that he was glad I went (I even deserved it!) and that managing the family by himself had not been a burden. Keep your heart boxes of chocolates, that is what I want for Valentine's Day!!
Knowing enough French to start a conversation I couldn't possibly keep up with and having studied the basics of French culture, I somewhat knew what to expect. But like any novice international traveler I knew I would encounter unexpected things that surprised and delighted. And I knew that certain things would transcend the descriptions doled out to me in 1994 by a plump Southern public school teacher. So here are a few things I learned on my trip to Paris.

1-Not all Parisians are Rude. Even those friends of mine who traveled to Europe regularly warned me that the Parisians would look down their noses at us Americans. They said 'Be sure not to ask if they spoke English. Try not to be gauche.' However the vast majority of Parisians that we encountered were very nice. Several people stopped and asked if we need help, both in French and in English. Although we rarely, if ever, asked if someone spoke English, many people instantly heard our accent and spoke with us in English. In restaurants many times the wait staff came over and chatted with us or sat at our table to told us some tidbit about themselves or the neighborhood. One lovely place appreciated our vivacity enough to serve us a digestif on the house as a gift. The bottom line lesson? Smiles go a long way in how other folks treat you. Be nice. It is hard to be rude and snobby to someone who is so gracious, thankful and pleasant.

2-French coffee is not the same as Italian coffee. My dear French coworker's eyes rolled into the back of her head when she spoke of the Salon Du Thé. She said 'You must have the café créme and a pain au chocolat.' I was anxious to have French coffee and so, jet lagged and practically bruised from sleeping on the plane I picked up a latte from an Illy stand in the airport. It was amazing!! A dark, rich and perfectly blended cup of bitter espresso and sweet milk. I had high hopes for the trip. But sadly, my travel companions quickly informed me, Illy is Italian coffee. The French coffee I found in most places was not as rich or dark or powerful. Like everything else that I experienced with French food, French coffee is lighter, more subtle and more delicate. The coffee was excellent, it just wasn't what I expected.

3-Just about everything in Paris is slightly smaller, more delicate, more complex and more perfect than anywhere else. From the cobblestone streets, the pain au chocolat, the shoes, the cars, the dresses, the apartments, everything seemed smaller and more perfect. At first I assumed that this perfection was concentrated at the high end shops that were so close to our rented apartment. But as we moved into other neighborhoods the perfection continued to abound. Tiny gelatin aspics. Petite molded chocolates lined up among displays of cocoa nibs. Silk dresses with embroidered edges. Gilded bridges decorated with the locks of lovers. Of course I know, every city has it's industrial parks and squared off affordable apartments. But to me it seemed that Paris offers a culture of perfection. It is beautiful and I am seduced.

4-Gluten Free is tough, but not impossible. I wasn't gluten free in Paris. I had no intention of being GF in the gluten mecca of the world. But I found that while bread was everywhere, many dishes were easily gluten free. There was little pizza and pasta or wheat based dishes. Breakfast was hard, it was virtually all wheat. But I was able to find hard boiled eggs, nuts and fresh fruits. We did see several sandwich shops and I did stay away. Now that being said...I am not so gluten intolerant that I worry about what thickens a sauce, but overall gluten free (and amazingly rich and delicious) options were many.

5-Coffee and Wine masks the effects of gluten for me. It makes so much sense to me now why I never noticed that I have a problem with gluten! It makes so much sense now that when I started to limit coffee and alcohol from my diet I began to notice my problems with gluten! This is a good discovery none the less. When I was caught in an airport with a choice between a sandwich and a croissant, a cafe creme made that choice less painful.

6-We parents have given up so much. I never did any travel with friends pre-marriage. And I haven't taken a vacation without my children since having them. When I have traveled without the kids, they have been work trips or super quick trips for family obligations. Having 5 days to do nothing but eat and sleep and shop...well...I felt like a kid again. I got quiet time. I got to walk down streets just because they looked interesting to me. I didn't have to look for the quickest way out of the restaurant in the case of a tantrum. I did not have to keep my eyes on the road for fear that some short person would launch themselves into oncoming traffic. Truly, I have forgotten what it was to be just an adult in my personal time. Being a parent has become so overwhelming to who I am. It is great, parenting, but I don't want to lose this time in my life. By the time I get the ability to just 'be an adult' again I will be close to 50. Life is fleeting and obligations are many. Enjoy and appreciate every moment that transcends. Take 5 days to live like a kid again. How many Paris's will I get in my thirties? Who knows. But I am thankful that I at least got one.

Monday, February 13, 2012

What's Wrong With My Kid?: A Letter For Every Parent With A Tough Kid

It was 3:53 PM on Friday afternoon when the call came in.

"Mrs. {COB}, Please come to school and pick up your son, {Thing 1}."

My heart sank. I have memorized the school's phone number and whenever I see it pop up on my phone I get a knot in my stomach. He is four.

I started this blog for a couple reasons. I wanted to be healthier. I wanted to give my kids a shot at being healthier. I wanted to help them develop good habits. But deep down, covered up by better sound bites, was an idea that a better diet might alleviate some of Thing 1's troubling impulsive behavior.

Since he was a baby it seemed like he was just a little left of center. I would see families having a picnic where the baby would stay on the blanket and eat because it was meal time. I would see kids playing games and sticking to the rules of the game. I saw many kids pick up common baby toys like teethers and stacking blocks and instinctively know what to do with them. And I saw kids have tantrums because they wanted something that they could not have.

Thing 1 didn't do any of these things. Setting up a blanket in the park was the best way to make sure that he would never come near it. That was almost an invitation to run as far away as possible. Thing 1 has always struggled to play along in structured play, not liking certain rules, or wanting to hijack the game altogether. My husband and I always joked that Thing 1 didn't play with toys, rather he explored them. A bunch of stacking rings became rings on his fingers, the post of which would become a hammer. A teething ring might be bitten until it burst because he wanted to know exactly how hard you had to bite it until it broke. And tantrums would have been welcomed! Thing 1 would simply shout cruel dissension and continue doing whatever he wanted to do. You were not in charge.

Over the years I have discussed his behavior with the pediatrician. Everything seemed to be age appropriate. We had good times and bad times. Not necessarily in equal proportions. But there were good times! Over these years we have both increased and reduced screen time, increased and reduced outdoor time, given time outs, made sticker charts, tried yelling, tried being firm, taken things away, encouraged rewards, tried redirection, tried Magic 1-2-3. And nothing has consistently worked. He gets bored of sticker charts. Plus he was too impulsive to save up for the big treats that make sticker charts succeed in the end. He couldn't care less that you take away his favorite toy (there are so many others). He can't seem to visualize a reward that isn't in front on him. He is sometimes bothered by the yelling and other times it goes in one ear and out the other. Talking to him calmly and quietly does exactly nothing.

He has burned out every caregiver we have ever employed. DH and I are exhausted by it. And every doctor, friend, family member and teacher has all sworn that he seems bright and perfectly normal, albeit feisty. Some felt that I was blowing things out of proportion. And I kept looking at other kids. Other kids looked like kids: children growing and developing. And then I looked at my kid, a whirlwind of motion and intelligence, of willfulness and dissent. All the while with a sad soft look in his hazel eyes, like he was trying to make sense of all the chaos around him. Everyone else's children looked so organized, while my Thing 1 looked so disorganized.

When Thing 2 was born, DH and I marveled how he was so normal!! We would talk to him too sternly and he would cry. Thing 1 has NEVER done that. We gave him a learning table. Thing 2 happily played with the gadgets and buttons. Thing 1 had taken the legs off the table and pried the batteries out of the back. Thing 2 watched and learned and stayed close to us. Thing 1 always seemed to be head first into everything, running into traffic...

When I arrived at Thing 1's school last Friday afternoon, I wasn't sure what to expect. In the last 6 weeks I have gotten troubling phone calls from his teacher 2-3 days a week. His behavior is defiant. He likes to take attention away from the teacher. He is not responding to their redirection attempts. But he is not overly aggressive. He isn't angry when he does these things. He has lots of friends and taking control of the class seems to be delighting him. The school had said that some of his behavior, while age appropriate, has happened too frequently. Some of his behaviors have upset his classmates. Some of his behaviors are inappropriate for a school setting, even if they are age appropriate. Perhaps his behavior is age appropriate for a child who still spends his day at home.

They then suggested that we seek the aid of an expert.

As a parent, nothing can describe the feeling you get when your child's school asks you to take your child to a psychologist for evaluation. Nothing can prepare you for that moment when your closet fears that your child might be different are publicly validated by an expert in child education. And no amount of "It's the schools fault' or 'he will grow out of this' will help.

As a mother I feel crestfallen. I feel vulnerable. I feel like a failure. I keep searching for the right way to phrase things so that he will understand and start following rules. I continue to search for the right punishment that will motivate without damaging him. I continue to look for the right reward that will keep him going until a task is done. Yet my child feels like a Rubik's cube. I don't understand how he got this way and I don't know how to sort him out. He simply is who he is.

So please, every parent out there, when you see a child tantruming in public, don't assume that you would know how to fix the situation. If you see a parent lose it in public, don't assume that the parent doesn't have love for their child. Don't automatically assume that the parent fed their kid crap, didn't set boundaries or kept them up past bedtime. Not all tough kids are the result of bad parenting. There is so much we don't know about the parent-child interactions we witness. Does the child have sensory issues? Is he under developed in certain behaviors during this one phase in his life? Or is it more complex, has everyone in his life overlooked a diagnosis like ADHD because the child is bright and does have friends? Is he a kid who has fallen through the cracks? Is he too young for a certain diagnosis? Given all this, is it fair to pass judgement on the other kids at your child's school? Can you really know what's best for any child that lives outside of your own home?

But also parents, take only your fair share of the credit for your child's good behavior. Your good parenting most certainly shapes your child, but some kids are easier to shape than others. Some kids simply are harder to parent, they require more vigilance and effort. Perhaps, in parenting, the ends do not define the means.

So parents, stick together, offer encouragement. Don't talk behind anyone's back. And if you have a tough kid, hang in there. It has got to get better.