the best day in many days

Today was very full but very satisfying. I was able to forget we were moving and focus on the moment. Despite having a sick fevery boy, I got to get on my bike (after wiping the inch of dust off, hm). Since I have been running the past few weeks, biking felt tremendously good. Normally, I am huffing, mentally beating myself up, and turning back at the first real hill. Today, I felt like I was flying and it was so relaxing to be out riding alone, focused only on how nice the river was, how perfect the wind was, and how I felt taking each hill. Lately the focus has not been about how fast or hard I seem to be running/biking, but my own personal goal setting and breaking. That is so much more satisfying and, ultimately, I perform better.

Later, I ran errands, which normally are less than joyful. And some were not all that fun – give up a little blood, off to discuss ‘issues’ at the sweeper store where I got my new vacuum, return an item elsewhere. But deciding to look at mud kitchen supplies was rather uplifting and exciting. I found some sweet scores at the local Goodwill and, perhaps feeling nice toward me because of the blood donation bandage I was sporting, the clerk made the deals even better with some extra discounts. Wonderful!

We have been admiring the mud kitchens at a few blogs (here, here, and here). I told Elliott as soon as we moved we would set it up. But we are putting a lot on hold here for The Move. When we move we will: live on a farm, get chickens, build a banging wall, make a mud kitchen, get out all the toys we have packed away, get out your work table and tools, and so on. And with many things likely to remain in boxes while we face a possible year in an apartment, I felt tired of saying “when we move”. Plus, I got to enjoy myself finding these treasures and seeing the delight in little boy’s faces.
But the best treasure and surprise for my boys was a little wooden pink table. It was marked $9.99, but the senior discount knocked it down to $7. Elliott has been saving free paint samples we got online – a buttery yellow he picked out – to paint an item all his own. Again, this was something I kept saying we would do soon, once we moved, once we found the right piece of furniture.

When I arrived home, Oliver was in a funk, so I allowed him to dig right in to the giant bag of pots, utensils, and baskets. He was delighted and immediately set to transporting some items right to the mud kitchen. His delight makes me so tickled inside.

 

Elliott jumped in too, forming an attachment to the beeswax pot I got. (Finally, a dedicated pot to melting wax and candle making, which was Elliott’s idea after a visit to Conner Prairie.) He also wanted to organize the shelves and remove stickers to get them ready. It was hard to convince him that tomorrow he would feel more like painting shelves and dipping candles. He was ready to set to work today, fever and all.

 

To put the icing on the cake of a day, my food processor and immersion blender arrived early. Whipped cream for our fruit at dinner and cracker making in the near future made for a very satisfying end to the day. And a little boy’s delight in the packaging was just fantastic.

Now, off to a glass of wine and playing Ticket to Ride with Mike!

food with the bigger wee one

All the trust we have given to big E in regards to meal time and eating have turned out to be wonderful preparation for caring for himself and his family. This has been extremely helpful on days when I have my hands full with little O or I am preparing meal items big E is not able to participate in.

 Some things we have gradually allowed big E to do on his own:

  • access his own dishes and cups in a low cabinet
  • putting away dishes, either handing some to us for high shelves or placing his own in his cabinet
  • setting the table with plates, cups, napkins, utensils, and condiments
  • serving himself a drink of water or milk from the refrigerator

 All of these steps occurred when we noticed big E accomplishing a new skill and needing more trust and responsibility. For instance, when he finally discovered he could open the refrigerator and repeatedly he seemed to get into mischief in there, I gave him something he was allowed to do – serve himself water. Once trustworthy with getting a glass, serving himself water, shutting the refrigerator, and walking to the table, we then placed a child-sized pitcher of milk in the fridge for him. With mastery of one skill he got to move on to a new challenge.

From serving himself drinks, he then decided he could serve himself an apple or a cheese stick from the refrigerator. From there, he thought he could self-serve from our pantry. The trouble is, I did not want him always climbing up to get food items or choosing unhealthy snacks (yes, we have just a few in our pantry!). So after reflecting that telling him “No, wait for me” in an angry voice was not the solution, I made a plan. But this was something that took me a while to see the pattern in and it was only by about the twentieth time I said it that I realized it was not working. He was ready for more independence and showing me.

I placed a small bowl in the refrigerator. In it is a yogurt, a dish with washed and ready-to-eat fruit, a few dishes of washed and cut veggies, and a few cheese sticks. I also prepared small plastic baby food containers for the pantry with various yummy and healthy snacks: raisins, pretzels, nuts, crackers, and cereals. I realized any container for either place would work as long as he could know what he was choosing without opening every container – either by being clear or labeled with a picture or writing. I opted for clear to save myself the work of labeling each one. I also wanted to make sure the container had an easy to open lid so he could be independent in opening it without spills. I placed them on a low shelf in the pantry. Because I know my son’s skill level, I knew he could already open and close the fridge carefully, open a yogurt on his own, get a spoon to eat it, open a cheese stick, carry a bowl of food carefully without spilling, open the plastic containers easily, make a choice from the ones offered, and clean up afterwards. All of this is important when giving a new level of trust or a new challenge so they can succed – they have to have mastered all the other skills to take on some new challenge without frustration.

Today I showed him his choices and explained what he was allowed to do: get a snack on his own if I was unable to assist him when he was hungry, choose one from the cabinet and one from the refrigerator, and how to clean up afterwards, replacing any large uneaten portion to the proper place and placing dishes by the sink. If he needed help with a different snack or cutting something, he would be expected to wait. If I was engaged in preparing a meal, he might hear me tell him “No”. He was receptive to those limitations. He may be less so when we have to enforce them, but that is another day!

The extra time it may take me to help him towards independence is important to me in the long run. By showing him how to care for himself, he becomes more capable and frees me from some of those tasks he can do for himself. And it boosts his confidence in himself, one small step at a time. Unfortunately, I did not have the camera ready to capture his satisfaction at serving himself his entire snack, but it was great!

food with the wee one

This post will actually be a two part post. As I was arranging big E’s snacks for the next few days, a new system we will test starting tomorrow, I was thinking over the steps we took to get him to this point. Which brings me back to the beginning, where little O just happens to be.

Little O has been on the mushy, sloppy food and some finger foods diet for about 2 1/2 months now. He knows how to have a bite, can pick up some items with that wonderful pincer grasp, goes after the spoon to do it himself, and is tickled that he can slurp water. With big E, we followed the Montessori method and used a small chair and a weaning table (the white table pictured in this post). It was wonderful for snacks and meals. I found it easy to clean up, easy to keep him seated. And it kept him near the ground so he could crawl/walk to the table when hungry or leave when done (after a hasty clean up by Mama). But with little O, he is just not interested in the weaning table because the first few times he came to the big table in his high chair, he had so much fun watching big brother eat. So now, we exclusively give him solids at the big table and will just reserve the weaning table for crafting and activities as he grows.

There are a few elements that I have found to make meal time more conducive to our children’s sense of independence:

– the table and seat/high chair

– the bowls

– the utensils

– the cup

– the language and attitude

While a weaning table and low chair would be my first choice, it just is not always easy to fit in another piece of furniture or, like the case with our #2 child, baby just does not want to be left out of all the fun! Since we do snacks with big E too, little O is never alone at the table. For a high chair, I chose the Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair because it fit right up to the table we owned. We did not want a tray that forced him to sit farther from the table or a chair that was taller or shorter than the table. We wanted him to be right in there with the rest of us. With the Tripp Trapp, there is a nice baby rail that comes off to allow easy clean up or fully remove when the child is ready. When big E was around 18 months or so, we removed it and gave him a lesson on getting up and down safely. With many reminders, he learned how to be independent getting up and down from the table. (And when he got down, he was down. The meal was over!)

The bowls we use are child-sized, about the size of a small 1-cup storage bowl, similar to these or these. They are clear so little O can see the food he is being served. And they are glass. Contrary to popular belief that you should give a child plastic since they might break glass, Montessori principles encourage the use of glass, porcelain, and metal in the classroom to show a young child they can be trusted, they are worthy of that trust, and they must learn to take care of these items. Plastic feels cheap and is thus treated cheaply – tossed on the floor or beaten on. And if one feels an item is indestructible, one is also less likely to intervene and stop abusive, inappropriate behaviors immediately. I am not suggesting that I let little O have at them and break one though! Through language and gentle actions, I hold the bowls while he investigates them. I stop him from throwing them overboard and demonstrate how to place them on the table. And this is not accomplished in one day, or two days, even in a month. But we reap the rewards later, much later, when a child cares for the dishes – they can help set and clear a table, empty the dishwasher, and serve themself a snack – with an inner satisfaction that they are trusted and a responsible part of the family. And, another perk – we no longer have oodles of cruddy plastic bowls taking up space in the cabinets. (But we do occasionally break this plastic ‘rule’ – for on the go car snacks, we actually opt for plastic dishes or cloth snack bags or *gasp* plastic baggies)

For utensils, I loved the idea of a simple, all metal baby spoon and even own a few. But while my babes have cut teeth, these spoons have not been easy on their gums. For this reason, we did purchase coated spoons. They hold a small manageable bite, they are easy for a baby to take hold of and try to feed him or herself, and they are so simple they do not detract from the learning process of eating.

Since we chose glassware for bowls, we also chose a clear glass for a drinking cup. So many people laugh at the idea of the ‘baby shot glass’ but then after a moment, they realize that a baby can go from breast to cup and totally skip a bottle. Or, if bottle fed, they can be transitioned much earlier to a cup without the sippy cup transition. To some people, this is just shocking news. Not a sippy cup, but a real cup. From the moment we offered solid foods, we offered water in the cup. At first it was only 1/4 of the way full and I offered the water up to his mouth. Eventually little O learned how to hold it with two hands, but not tilt it back to drink (so I took over for that part). Now, he can hold it and tip it (but I have to slow him down if he gets too happy and pours it on himself). To get to this point was 2 months of skill development, and I know there are still more things to learn: controlling the cup to only sip the amount he wants, setting the cup down on the table, asking for more, transitioning to a larger cup (but not an adult juice glass yet!), learning how to drink with control on the go with straw cups, and learning how to drink from different sized cups while out and about. But look at the satisfaction!

If you are venturing to try this approach with a child, you must have patience. I still am frustrated the day carrots get dribbled down my leg, but I try to recognize each day what little O is learning at the table and when he ‘masters’ a step, oh, I feel his happiness at HIS victory! If it is overwhelming, start slow with one new change and observe how it goes over several days. That will be better for your baby too. You cannot totally mix up their routine in one day and expect an easy transition. We also have found sign language to be extremely helpful for meal times and eases a baby’s frustration since they eventually learn to express they want more or that they are full and done. Eventually you could move beyond those two basics and add done, drink, milk, water, even please. It tickled me to no end to see big E at such a young age sign ‘please’ ‘more’. Start early, as soon as you start with solids even. Results may take some time, but communication early on is so helpful and rewarding. And don’t worry: signing does not hinder verbal language development. In fact, it often allows them to speak sooner along with many other benefits.

And since all these skills revolve around food, feed your baby what you grow, shop for good foods at a local farmer’s market, or buy the yummiest foods you can find! What they are fed now sets their eating behavior and tastes as they grow. Let them try new tastes ‘straight up’ – no need to hide veggies in anything! Let them eat what you are eating when possible, grinding it up if needed. We love the Kidco grinder. Meal time is full of valuable life-long lessons in behavior, nutrition, socialization, and care of self and personal belongings. 

Just remember, with wee ones, independence is slowly, s l o w l y, learned. With each new opportunity you offer, there are a lot of restrictions until they can be trusted. Observe them and how they are mastering something before adding more challenge than they can handle. I will be back tomorrow to show what we are now trying with big E to give him more independence.