Monthly Archives: September 2016

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Difficult Conversations: Baby Dolls

So after several years of learning about diversity in this country and the problems around it (i.e. racism, Islamaphobia, police violence, etc.) I’ve started to learn about how to talk about it with Cam. In case it wasn’t obvious from my picture or from the fact that I’m blogging and other indicators, I’m white. As a White person I’ve been blind to a lot of these issues. Now that I know (and research points to this as well) it’s incredibly important that I talk to Cam about it, point it out, and name it.

I am using diversity here as short hand for about 12 major categories including race, religion, SES and orientation to name a few. While it is imperative I talk to her about diversity and name it and make sure she isn’t internalizing the wrong messages about it (those tacit ones we’re fed by American culture, politics, media, white priviledge and other avenues), I won’t be getting it perfect or even right. But I’m trying and I want to encourage you to as well. We need to get it wrong to get it right and we need to listen to people who tell us when we get it wrong.

My daughter has one completely white friend. Admittedly she doesn’t have the widest of social circles and she’s not in school, but out of the ten or so kids she interacts and plays with on a regular basis only one is white. I think that’s wonderful and am relieved that it happened organically. We would be having a very different conversation, probably about moving neighborhoods, if this wasn’t the case.

The other day her one white friend brought over a new doll she had gotten. A doll with a purple outfit. Cam totally wanted that purple outfit, so she asked me if we could get another, new doll. I’ve looked recently at her dolls and she has several dolls with darker brown skin, but there are several clearly white dolls. (If you aren’t familiar with the doll experiment look it up. It’s incredibly disheartening and eye-opening.) So when faced with buying her another doll I decided to talk to her about the color of her dolls.

I pointed out that she has a fair number of dolls with skin that looks like ours and only a couple with light or dark brown skin. She agreed. Next I told her to think about her friends and named several of them. I asked her what color skin they had. She, correctly, answered that they had various shades of brown skin. Then I explained to her that I wanted her doll collection to reflect her friends and her world. I told her I would be happy to look for either 

Sadly, Target didn’t have either a purple outfit or any color doll with a purple outfit. Damn. They also changed their dolls a bit so they have these much bigger eyes and less realistic faces. Cam wasn’t much of a fan of those either. She had her heart set on a new doll and after crying over not liking the new look of the dolls she cried over not getting any doll. *Sigh* Being five is tough. 

In the end what did she take away from this? Well, she did finagle my mom into buying her a doll with a play potty (using the potty is a BIG deal for her). Unfortunately it came with a white doll, but in their defense my mom didn’t know about the conversation we had had nor was there an option for any other color of doll in the store. This is another issue for another day. I’m not really sure how much she took away from this one conversation, but we are continuing to have many more so we’ll see what the cumulative effect will be. Ultimately it will be positive. I know that, but it’s hard when your kid is sobbing in Target over all her non-options. I am worried that experience will be what sticks out to her, so I need to be sure we have lots of positive conversations. 

I will say Target seems to be introducing other dolls into their store brand line which is a good thing. There is one listed as Latina and one listed as Asian. They do all have different skin tones and facial features, but with those big googly eyes they still bear a striking resemblance to one another. However, none of the dolls besides the white ones and a tiny handful of the black ones are available in the stores. Many aren’t even available yet online. Do better Target. Get those dolls out there. 

Friday Five: Families

I’ve talked before about how different our family structure looks when you take in all the grandparents. Even though divorce seems to be fairly common it isn’t the majority of families and I think this generation of children is seeing it in the grandparent generation more than, say, my generation did. That being said, there are all kinds of family structures out there when it comes to parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. Today I’m going to feature five books (plus a bonus book) that reflect different family structures. Be sure to share these with kids who have a “traditional” family structure, too. Even if their home doesn’t look like these, their friends’ homes might and we need to build awareness, empathy, and competency around that for those kids.  In other words, don’t hesitate to read this even if you have a “traditional” family. 

families-families-families1. Families, Families, Families written and illustrated by Suzanne and Max Lang

We got this one out of the library and it was a hit. Instead of using people the book uses animals to reflect all kinds of families- step, adoptive, “traditional”, same sex, single parent, grandparent, lots of kids, only children, etc. Each family is shown in some kind of portrait or snapshot that is framed on a mantel or wall and it’s fun to pay attention to the decor in each house you glimpse. After seeing all the different families the point is made that it’s love that binds families together, not what they look like. As much as I hate the idea that animals can count as diversity, I think it’s handled well here and I know for my animal-loving, people-shy kid this book hit home more than any other. 

 

two-is-enough2. Two is Enough written by Janna Matthies, illustrated by Tuesday Mourning

As you might guess from the cover and title this book features families that have only two people. I actually bought this one for my library and haven’t spent a lot of time with it. As you can see there is racial diversity in the families as well as gender. Some are single dads and some are single moms. What I don’t remember is if this book implies that any of the single parent families are single because of divorce. Either way I think a child living with one parent at a time would also find themselves in the pages of this book. 

 

 

one-family3. One Family written by George Shannon, illustrated by Blanca Gomez

This is an interesting take on the counting concept book. Instead of a simple 1-2-3 counting pattern One Family counts parts of a whole. Everything is always one family, but then it counts up to ten looking at things like cookies shared in a family. While kindergarten and younger children will enjoy the predictability of the pattern of the text, older kids (up into first grade) will enjoy the peek into such a range of families. My daughter enjoyed finding all the animals and pets in the pictures, but she also really enjoyed “checking” the math and counting the objects shown in the illustrations. I find the sharp digital illustrations really modern and appealing, too. 

 

 

stella4. Stella Brings the Family written by Miriam B. Schiffer, illustrated by Holly Clifton-Brown

Stella’s first grade class is going to have a Mother’s Day celebration, but Stella doesn’t have a mother in the traditional sense. She thinks a lot about what she’s going to do about the party. In the end she brings all the people who “mother” her and it ends up being the whole family. I particularly like the message that we needn’t be so rigid in how we view parental roles. A mother is someone specific, but mothering people can be done by many people in our families. And I think Stella’s dilemma will familiar to single parent families and families where it isn’t a mother or father who cares for the children (like a grandparent or aunt/uncle family). Be sure to notice the little boy thinking of his two moms on one of the last pages when the kids take home an invitation to a Father’s Day celebration.

 

home-at-last5. Home At Last written by Vera B. Williams, illustrated by Chris Raschka

This one just released a week or so ago and I haven’t had a chance to read it, but it’s about a little boy adopted by two dads. It unabashedly shows the little boy crawling into bed with them when he’s scared at night, just like any child with a mom and a dad would. The little boy, Lester, is scared at night and needs help feeling secure. Despite all his dads’ efforts to make him comfortable and secure it’s the dog who solves the problem. Nighttime uncertainty and fear are not reserved for adopted children and while the story may have special significance for two-dad families and adoptive families, I think plenty of kids will know how Lester feels. 

 

 

After creating this list I realized I have two books with two dads and no books with two moms. (I was going for adoption with Home At Last.) in-our-mothers-houseNecessary Bonus Book: In Our Mothers’ House written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco.

I have not read this one, but I do know Polacco’s work. She often writes books that are a bit longer and deeper than picture books traditionally are. That being said I don’t think there is any reason you can’t share this will young children. I think it really means that it will have appeal much further up the age range. Here the children of two moms are challenged by a lack of acceptance in their neighborhood. They need to rely on the love their family has built to help them feel confident and secure. As I haven’t read it, I can’t be sure, but knowing Polacco I suspect this is a lot more about the love and fun in the house than it is about the negative attitudes of the neighbors.

 

misadventures-of-the-family-fletcherBonus chapter book: If you’re looking for a read aloud that is funny and sweet be sure to check out The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher. It features two dads and their adopted kids. It follows them through all kinds of hilarious and eye-opening situations during the course of a school year. It’s what you would expect from a funny family book, but just happens to feature a two-dad family. It’s well worth reading.  

Science Weekly: Making Crystals

I kind of fell apart this summer on Summer of Science. Oh well. I’m picking up the thread and instead of trying to do one thing a day I’m going for one thing a week. Last week (as this series will run a week behind) we did a little experiment with making crystals. If you follow me on Instagram you will recognize the pictures and the activity. The series here on the blog is intended to document what we’ve done and make it possible for you to recreate it at home. 

Why I chose this project: Cam found her rocks and crystals and has been playing with them. We started talking about minerals and rocks and reading up about them a bit. I thought she might be interested to see how crystals form. 

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What we did:

The set up was pretty simple. String tied to a stick and dangled in a jar. I mixed equal parts hot water and three different substances: table salt, sugar, and Borax. I had Cam help mix up the solutions and then dip the strings into the jars.

We left them out for a week and she would check them periodically throughout the day, every day. The top right picture shows the Borax crystals after about 30 minutes. The picture on the bottom shows them after a week. The sugar solution only developed mold, no crystals. I think next time I would go for another type of salt, kosher or sea, instead. Either that or made the sugar solution more concentrated. 

I had Cam draw pictures of the results in a journal and dictate comments to me about what had happened. She enjoyed that part of the experiment too. Next up is talking about how this relates to actual rock and crystal formation.

Potty Training Round 700

The Saddest ToiletI thought I would put this out there for the moms who have struggled with potty training their kids. I seem to have so many mom friends whose kids just naturally potty trained, or trained super early, or simply needed a couple days at home with mom standing over them. This has not been the case for my daughter. Not. In. The. Least. 

Cam isn’t necessarily an anxious child. She’s a typical first child, cautious, but I would never describe her as anxious. Still, when it comes to trying new things, and wearing underwear and sitting on the potty, she is apprehensive. Usually I can gently push her to try something new or do it with her and have a lot of success getting her out of her comfort zone and having fun. Certainly I have tried these tactics with potty training, but to no avail. With potty training she has ultimate control over how things go and she is exercising that control to its fullest. 

She’s peed in the potty every since last summer and had only a handful of “accidents” which have been the result of being too lazy to actually use the potty while playing. She’s been dry at night since 8 months old (no joke). She knows when she needs to poop and now is wearing underwear the majority of the time, but switches to a diaper when she does poop. Cam has no underlying medical or developmental reasons for this to be happening. It appears just to be her. 

I suppose you could argue the end is in sight for us since she mostly wears underwear, but I think I’ve pushed as much as I can for the time being and it might be another year before she sits on the potty for all of it. She is also oddly uncomfortable wearing underwear to bed. I let her wear a diaper because I am not prepared for a fight and tears and drama right before bed. Still, she’s been dry overnight for years. Where does that apprehension come from?

I’ve wondered over the years if we hadn’t switched to disposable training pants would she have had better luck training? Maybe, but very hard to say. For awhile I had her in cotton training pants, but it simply resulted in floods when she needed to pee and lots of scrubbing when there was poo. She wasn’t ready and it was too much work and water on my part. Diapers didn’t fit her properly at a certain age (or so I thought) so we switched to training pants and by the time she was ready to switch back to cotton pants there were a lot of tears. Buckets full. It was too stressful for everyone involved. It did help having a friend to watch pee on the potty (and weirdly she uses the grown-up potty when we have friends over). So did some of our favorite potty training books. But nothing got her actually ready except herself. She had and is having to come to it in her own time. 

One thing I have noticed about other “potty trained” kids is that that term is loosely applied in almost all situations. Most parents report accidents for years. Many are not actually potty trained to poop on the potty, just pee. Many are not dry through the night. So before you get worked up over everyone else’s kids being potty trained, look more closely at what they mean by that. Doing it on your child’s timeline (instead of one enforced by a preschool program or parental desire) seems to lead to full potty training in the same amount of time with many, many fewer accidents and tears and power struggles. 

There are definitely days and times I think she may go to college in diapers despite the funny saying that no one ever did. She’s past 5 years old now. But I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My point in writing this is to share that there are parents and children out there for whom the traditional methods just aren’t working and I want you to know it’s hard and frustrating and expensive (shit, five years of diapers) and you aren’t alone. 

The Diverse Bookshelf: The Parakeet Named Dreidel by Isaac Bashevis Singer

Parakeet Named DreidelThe Parakeet Named Dreidel written by Isaac Bashevis Singer, illustrated by Suzanne Raphael Berkson

Today the book I’m sharing features religious diversity. While we have a lot of holiday picture books that line up with the religious and cultural celebrations that are specific to our family, but I also love to expose Cam to other holidays and celebrations. Since we aren’t about to crash Friday prayer or someone’s shabbat, I try to share books with Cam that give her a peek inside other families traditions. 

We are bird people in our house with all the chickens and ducks and the conures, so I thought this one sounded interesting. The author is very well known for his works for adults, too. That can be hit or miss with children’s book because, contrary to popular belief, writing good books for children is hard. I was delighted by the story, though.

One cold, snowy Hanukkah night a small parakeet turns up at David’s window. The family lets the bird in and spends a few weeks trying to locate the owner. The only real clue is a Yiddish phrase the bird can say (“Go to sleep, Zelda”). When no one comes forward the family keeps the bird and enjoys his company for nine years. Then, when David is off at a Hanukkah party in college, he tells the story of how they found Dreidel, the parakeet. A girl at the party, a girl David has been taking out on dates, excitedly tells him that she is the Zelda the bird knew. The next day the two families meet and Zelda’s family is overjoyed to see their beloved pet again. Except, with two attached families, who will keep the bird?

The story is set on a backdrop of Hanukkah, but it isn’t a particularly religious story. It’s really a book about how attached we can become to our pets and the joy they bring to our lives. This is a perfect theme for our family with all our animals. I like that it gives a glimpse into Hanukkah, but I wouldn’t use it as my only book about Hanukkah to teach Cam about the holiday and its significance to Jews. Still, we enjoyed the story. 

I had a couple complaints about the story. There are a few places where the text is a little overly descriptive or includes details that seem important to adults, but will just annoy kids. I think this may be a function of the story being written by an adult author or the book was originally a short story forced into picture book format. Also, it’s unlikely that the bird described would be a parakeet. They don’t live particularly long and rarely learn to speak understandable words. Its more likely that this would be a conure.

All told, I’ll be adding this to our collection and repertoire of holiday books. It was such a heartwarming story.