Friday, September 27, 2013

The incredible disappearing sandwich

Y'all know what this is? It's what was left of Liam's peanut butter and jelly sandwich I made him for lunch today. Also known as the sweet picture of success.

In an effort to make lunchtime more fun, I cut his sandwich quarters into the shape of stars with a cookie cutter. He loves biting off the points!

I think that brings the total to Mom:1, forces trying to keep my son from eating: 0. And it only took about 8 sandwiches.

In other (but related news), I just picked up French Women Don't Get Fat, written by Mireille Guiliano, from the library, and I can't seem to put it back down! Ooh la la! Can't wait to write about this one, too. :)

Happy Friday!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bon Appétit!

Liam having fun with the salad spinner. And yes, at lunchtime he was still in his PJs. So was I.

It took me a while, since every few minutes I stopped reading to jot down notes (I could have noted every word, really), but I finally finished French Kids Eat Everything. I have to admit, I'm feeling a lot more hopeful about our food éducation now than I did when I started reading.

I'm a rule follower. For a right-brained creative type, I like hard and fast, tried and true formulas. I take great comfort in knowing that X plus Y equals Z every time. So I began this journey expecting to find 10 rules that, when applied, would absolutely change our son's eating habits for the better. What actually happened was a renewal of my feelings about food. I have had food issues for as long as I can remember. I have a vivid memory from when I was seven, riding past a restaurant called Fat Tuesday, and getting a sinking feeling that I was, indeed, overweight. (Isn't that silly?) Later that afternoon, I remember being at my cousin's house, asking for carrots because I felt I needed to diet. At seven years old! Food has never been pleasurable for me; every bite is obligatory and guilt-ridden.

But there's nothing like having children to motivate us to change, because the last thing we want is for our children to pick up our bad habits, right? I started parenthood resolved to keep my children from having food or weight issues: we would eat only the healthiest choices and learn to despise junk food. But what have created is an anxious environment about food, where eating vegetables is a chore, and treats are forbidden fruit. And if I indulge in a sweet treat, it's done after Liam is in bed so he doesn't ask me for any and, I'm afraid, catapult him into a lifelong struggle with obesity.

I identify so strongly with the French way of eating, and parenting, because it's like a breath of fresh air in an atmosphere where I, and undoubtedly my whole family, have been suffocating.

So, these are the rules. And when articulated, they have the ability to prevent power struggles and arguments between parent and child, simplify life, and create structure and boundaries, which the whole family will find security in. As Le Billon puts it, food rules are the basis for good habits and routines.

But the key is moderation. And if I could only pick one rule to follow, it would be the last, and perhaps most important, rule: Mealtimes should be joyful, so for the love of God, relax. Listen to music and dance in the kitchen together while you cook. Create beautiful table settings together. Sing silly songs about food, decorate foods together, and ENJOY the community of mealtimes together. Children will be much more likely to eat if it's fun.

You haven't heard the last of our food renaissance. Even though I'm finished with the book (which you just absolutely HAVE to read, seriously), our food adventures are just beginning!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The joy of cooking.

I would like to say, "Bonjour!" to the author of French Kids Eat Everything, Karen Le Billon, who actually took the time to read about my efforts to improve mealtimes in our home. I'm so glad she had a chance to see how her book is transforming lives in sweet home Alabama! In some way I feel like Julie in the movie Julie and Julia, except let's hope I don't let it go to my head. :)

Tonight, I made homemade veggie pizza, similar to this recipe I've shared before. This time, I topped it with freshly sliced zucchini and red, yellow, and green bell peppers (and left off the tomatoes and garlic; the brand of sauce I used had both in it, along with carrots). Following Le Billon's advice, I got Liam involved in the fun by letting him sprinkle the cheese on top of the pizza. He took his job very seriously! I turned the oven light on and let him watch the pizza bake, the cheese on top melting and browning. The anticipation was almost too much for his little two-year-old soul to bear, and he gave an enthusiastic "Okay!" when I told him to help Daddy set the table.

And guess what. He ate five bites! And not just bites with sauce and cheese, but bites that had vegetables on them. I'm such a proud mama!

I have to make a confession, though. Even after reading the chapter about eating food slowly to really appreciate the taste, I did NOT eat my pizza slowly at all. It was so yummy that I pretty much inhaled it. The French are much more self-controlled about delicious food than I am; they eat slower and so consume less than us Americans. I'll work on that...eventually.

I also toasted turkey and cheese hoagies for lunch with homemade guacamole spread. I made my own salsa to add to the guacamole (instead of the On The Border brand I mention in the recipe), and I let Liam watch as I explained the process. At one point, he even wanted to taste a piece of onion. He didn't eat it, of course; he made a face and spit it right back out, but I'm pleased that his interest in food is growing.

Conclusion: The guideline about making food fun and festive seems to work. 

Another discovery: Cooking every meal is a LOT of work. And a LOT of time. I spent so much of this weekend in the kitchen. I'm not sure how the French do it, honestly. (Except I think that the majority of their meals are a little simpler than ours.) I won't be able to do this for every meal; we eat lots of leftovers in this house. But with some careful planning and organization, I think fresh homemade meals can be the rule and not the exception. (Maybe if I spend less time engaging in social media every day, I'll find the extra time I need to make it work.) At any rate, I think we're off to a good start!

Thirty's a-comin'...

Y'all, I turn 30 this year. Thirty. Like, in three months. I'm no spring chicken anymore.

And since I'm pretty sure we're done having kiddos (did I just hear you chuckle, God?), now is the time to start paying more attention to my health (not that I shouldn't pay attention if more kids were in our future, but you know what I mean). I want to start my 30s off in tip top shape. Tip. Top.

My bright idea to accomplish this: superfood smoothies. Smoothies are such a stealthy way to add more nutrients into your diet. Didn't you know this? At least, this is the approach I've taken with Liam. Throw in vegetables but mask them with sweet fruits and he'll never know the difference. (The French would be appalled.) So, this morning I enthusiastically throw every green food I can find into the blender: spinach, kale, apple, pear, avocado...and then I throw in some vanilla yogurt and some orange juice for good measure. Blend.

Wow. That is really green. Ummm...I start thinking maybe it's a little too green (read: gross), so I throw in some frozen cherries and some more yogurt. Now it is a drab brown color. Much better.

Oh well. It is going to do wonders for my health, I tell myself. And of course, my husband's and Liam's as well. Yes, Kelley and I had been discussing recently how we both wanted to lose those last 10 pounds, and then the size we will be is the size we should maintain from here on out. So he's included in this smoothie adventure.

Of course, it doesn't do any good if we don't actually drink it. So I put it in styrofoam (read: not see-through) cups. Liam takes one sip, thinking it's his regular tropical smoothie. He's sorely mistaken, and he refuses anymore. Think Amy Poehler's character in Baby Mama when Tina Fey makes her try the Green Monster smoothie. Next, I serve it to Kelley, telling him not to look at it or think about what's in it. Just drink it down, I tell him. He makes the same face Liam did after one sip, but I tell him he has to drink it. His feelings toward it are just psychological; he already made up his mind that it was going to be disgusting, I tell him. Of course, mine stays in the fridge for a while before I work up the nerve to try it.

My first sip isn't bad. Granted, it is a small sip, but I mainly taste the pear. It tastes pretty fresh. So I start drinking the rest until I gag. It has the same taste and texture as applesauce, but it smells like a salad. And it looks uncomfortably similar to Riley's last diaper that I changed. (Just keeping it real, y'all.) There's nothing smooth about it. It's chalky and a little gritty and has the same visceral affect on me as hearing fingernails on a chalkboard.

But mind over matter, right? If I sip it just right, not allowing it to pass over certain taste buds, I can get about half of it down without gagging. And three ounces is better than none. I feel healthier already. But I throw the rest of it down the drain.

So it's an acquired taste, I guess. Better luck next time, right?

Updated (September 23, 2013): This morning, I opened the fridge to find my own Green Monster staring me in the face. So I tried something. Since it reminded me of applesauce, I decided to eat it with a spoon instead of drinking it through a straw. This made a world of difference! I served it to my husband this way, too, and we both easily finished ours this morning. It also helped that it had been chilled 24 hours in the fridge. We actually liked it!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Serious fun.

I should have known better than to start trying to change our mealtimes without having read the rest of the book.

Once I had decided to be Militant Mom about getting Liam to try foods, I read the next chapter, which confronts the issue of the picky two-year-old. French children do sometimes go through the phase of refusing food when they become a toddler. And their parents see this as normal and temporary. (Although this is less common across the pond, where parents rigorously begin expanding their children’s repertoire of tastes and textures in the first year. They aren’t slow in introducing new foods.)

To minimize the effects of this stage in development, French parents avoid turning mealtimes into a power struggle. The book states:

“Opposition to food can’t persist if there is no opponent. In the face of a child’s refusal to eat, the best parental response is serene indifference. Parents should remind themselves: ‘I know this will pass. My child will not continue refusing to eat if I simply refuse to react.’”

Well, that’s a reassuring kick in the pants. I’ve been handling this wrong, too!

If French kids refuse food, their parents would simply take it away, with little fuss. But they are adamant about offering no substitutes. And they break the rules to encourage children to try new foods, like offering them in a more informal, festive setting. For the French, this usually comes in the form of appetizers before dinner, offered in the living room instead of at the dining table. This is “a ritualized way of breaking the rules that feels festive and fun,” Le Billon says.

The French don’t fuss, hover, or become anxious about their kids’ eating habits or refusal of foods. As a result, food never becomes a power struggle. Mealtimes are routine, but the French are serious about making them fun.

So my new tactics are:

·   When introducing new foods, make the setting fun and festive and add a sense of mischief.

·   Meals are eaten at the table, but if Liam won’t try a food, simply take it away (instead of our method of force and coercion, or commonly used bribes and threats).

·   Use positive language always when talking about food.

·   Do not use punishment when Liam refuses food, but rather natural consequences, such as no dessert or being hungry until the next meal. These are usually better motivators.

Speaking of motivation, I’m now more intent than ever to get off to a good start with Riley. I even found this cookbook that I’m going to try when we start solid foods!

Friday, September 20, 2013

It takes a village…

You know, the French style of parenting and mealtime education is really no different from the way I, and many of you, were raised. Twenty-some-odd years ago, this is how things were done in the United States, too. My mom didn’t make separate meals for my brother and me because, well, we couldn’t afford it, and because it defied common sense.  Whether my parents were in charge was never even a question. I just knew better than to usurp Mom’s authority at the dinner table.

Do you remember growing up like that? The general consensus from most of my friends is that this was how things were back then. So what happened? Now that our generation are the parents, it seems like the experts are trying to make us all wimps. And to make our children wimps, who can’t withstand any form of authority or discipline for fear of breaking their ridiculously fragile egos.

The luxury that French parents have, I think, and what makes this food education thing work, is that EVERYONE in France believes the same way about food. And not just about food. Their mealtime behavior is simply an extension of their overall parenting philosophy. The parents are in charge. All of the time.

The author, Karen Le Billon, words it so perfectly that I just have to quote her directly from what I read this morning:

“French parents seemed to exercise a natural authority around their children that I, and most of my friends back home, lacked…French children sat patiently, waiting until everyone was served before starting to eat. French children compliantly tried new things with a sense of open-minded curiosity. French children didn’t have tantrums at the table. And, most amazingly, they were taught not to interrupt adults. When we sat at the table in France with our children, the adults could actually carry on extended conversations.”

She makes a few more beautiful points:

When the French reprimand their children in public, this is not seen to be humiliating. Rather they are committed to instilling discipline in their children...Yet most French parents are not overtly forceful. They’re loving while being firm…French parents were in charge. This impressed me, because in our family I sometimes wasn’t sure who was in charge…I begged, threatened, and bribed my kids. French parents did none of these things. They calmly and firmly (but usually gently) told their children what was expected, and let their kids know (in no uncertain terms) who was boss. And their children seemed to miraculously comply.

“How do French parents achieve this? Well, they demand more of their children, are stricter, and are less indulgent. They do not romanticize childhood. Imagine a nation full of unapologetic tiger mothers dedicated to producing well-behaved children rather than violin prodigies, and you would have more or less a good idea of how French parents think and behave.”

This is how I want to raise my children. (Maybe not so much a tiger mother, but you get the idea.) This way makes sense to me and is consistent with even my spiritual beliefs about how we should train our children. I want to train them to be a blessing to all people at all times and in turn, be blessed themselves. But it’s a parenting style that seems foreign in our culture. We’re too mushy. We want well-mannered children without putting in the work or dealing with confrontation. And by we, I mean me. But not anymore. Time for a French Revolution in the Thompson household!

Progress report: Just look at that sandwich. PB&J number five this week, and he’s starting to take bites of more than just the crust! 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


After last night’s dinner debacle, I’m having to remind myself today of why I decided to change our eating habits. Why go through the struggle? Why deliberately make more work for myself, especially when, with both a toddler and an infant, I’m doing good if I remember to brush my teeth each day? I mean, chances are Liam would just outgrow his pickiness eventually, right? Why make such a big deal about how he eats?

Because it matters. As much as I’d like to think it doesn’t, it does.

“Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and who was given to you by God? He bought you for a price. So use your bodies for God’s glory.”
1 Corinthians 6:19

What we put into our bodies affects every other aspect of our lives: our IQs and learning ability, sleep habits, strength, energy, attitudes, ability to deal with stress and fight diseases, and on and on. We normally are willing to go to great lengths to look good on the outside; why wouldn’t we take that same care for what we eat? Being good stewards of the bodies God gave us and lives inside of is important.

Why are the French so obsessed with and rigid about mealtimes? While Americans count practically anything edible as food, the French view food as aliment, as complete nourishment for body, mind and soul. Mealtimes should be fun, communal, and should contribute to the edification of our whole person, not just an opportunity to fill our stomachs.

Why do it the French way? Because they are worlds healthier than us Americans: their obesity rate is very low, and their life expectancy is higher than ours. They have less disease than we do. Which, when you think about it, isn’t that what eating is about at its core? Fueling our bodies and minds to run the way they were created to?

But where do I start? I’m doing everything wrong! Everything! Serving the wrong foods, at the wrong place, at the wrong times, with the wrong attitude. How in the world will I turn this around?

The following are changes I can make immediately, inspired by the French:

Scheduled mealtimes: breakfast (8 a.m.), lunch (noon), snack (4 p.m.), and dinner (8 p.m.—ours will be at 7). We pretty much do this anyway, except that I also add in a morning snack, which I have now eliminated. And, like the French, Liam will only drink water between meals, no sugary juices (he doesn’t anyway) or filling milk (which will only be served at mealtimes). He will not graze all day long so that he’s not hungry for meals.

Mealtimes are spent at the table. The French eat at a well-dressed table for every meal. Mealtimes are social events centered on tasty, nourishing food and edifying conversations. It’s where families come together and children learn about news and about conversing with adults. It’s where they learn to appreciate new flavors as a family. They don’t eat standing up in the kitchen, watching the television, or in the car. And they try to avoid eating alone at all costs.

This will be hard for us because I usually let Liam eat his breakfast in his high chair while I do other things in the kitchen like make coffee and prepare Riley’s bottles. And my husband gets home from work at different times during the evening, so eating as a family every single night for us is not very realistic. And who has time for tablecloths and linen napkins? But instead of just trying to feed Liam dinner like it’s a daily chore, I’m going to be more purposeful in sitting down with him to eat. That I can do.

I was convicted by this idea, though: If we’re too busy to sit down and eat meals together, then perhaps we’re too busy? Maybe the French are reportedly happier than us Americans in part because they make quality communal mealtimes of utmost importance? Something for me to think about.

Everyone eats the same thing. This is also something I’m bad about. But the French do this to ensure that children get a good variety of tastes and textures. I usually feed Liam oatmeal or waffles for breakfast because these are two foods I know he’ll eat, while I fix myself a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter, something he’s only tried a few times. This is an area that will not just require cooperation on Liam’s part, but somewhat of a lifestyle change on my part. Like, when I eat cereal for dinner. Or skip lunch because I’m too busy feeding Riley and Liam. These are habits that will be good for me to change as well.

If the child refuses, he goes without. There are no short-order meals. This is probably the hardest for me. Liam is SO thin, you’d think I never feed him. And the thought of him going without dinner breaks my heart. What if he lies in bed all night, stomach growling, unable to sleep because he’s so hungry? What kind of a mother would I be to let my child go to bed with an empty stomach?

It turns out, the right thing to do is not always the easiest. And sometimes, as parents, we have to make hard decisions to accomplish long-term goals. Instead of doing what’s easiest right now, sticking to my guns will be what’s best for Liam in the long run.

No longer will I just let Liam eat blueberry muffins or a Nutrigrain bar when he refuses spaghetti. The only sure-fire way to cure picky eating is not to provide choices for children at mealtimes. He will never learn to eat what’s good for him and try new things if I allow him a way out every time.

What's left of Liam's lunch...
Progress report: Tonight, we had breakfast for dinner: cheese grits, cinnamon toast and apple slices (I was scrambling for dinner ideas tonight). Liam ate all of his toast (of course; it’s bread), an apple slice, and he even tasted the grits (by that I mean he didn’t spit them out when Kelley forced the spoon into his mouth). Also, I’ve been feeding Liam peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch for the past several days. He at least eats the crusts now (what kid does that?!) instead of refusing to even touch it!

Small steps…

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Because French kids eat everything...

Welp, tonight’s dinner didn’t go so well.

We’ve taken on the task of teaching Liam to eat well (at least, better) because of this book I’m reading, French Kids Eat Everything. This is how dinner went:

I set three place settings at the table. Liam’s plate had exactly what ours had on it: Mexican beef stroganoff and salad. We all sat down to eat, and Liam picks up his fork before making a face at what he sees on his plate. Bypassing the casserole, he stabs some lettuce leaves and takes a bite. I smile to myself, thinking, “Wow! This is going to be easy. My boy’s eating salad!” He then takes two more bites. Then he spits out the third bite. Uh-oh. We don’t let him spit out food (and he knows this), so I correct him (we’ll leave it at that). He takes one more bite of salad and actually swallows it. But he refuses to touch the stroganoff.

Well, mimicking the French way of eating, I decide that Liam is required to taste everything on his plate. He doesn’t have to like it or finish it, but he does have to at least taste it. But how do you convince a child to try a bite without forcing it down his throat, using threats or bribes, or smothering it in ketchup (all of which I’m vehemently against, thanks to those darned French people…They’ve completely ruined me!)? Kelley and I actually begin to discuss this under our breath, so Liam can’t hear us trying to decide his fate. Of course, he knows we’re making all of this up as we go along, and he begins to play to our weaknesses. (By the way, at this point, we’ve explained that he has to try his food, and dinner isn’t over until he does. He’s had three meltdowns already.) So, he looks at Kelley with tears in his eyes and says, “Daddy?” in this soft, pitiful voice as he lifts his arms up for Kelley to hold him.

“Stand strong,” I mutter under my breath. Kelley, who’d already slumped over to hug Liam, stiffens up a little and tells Liam he loves him, and he has to taste his food. The struggle continues. We’re losing. It kind of goes downhill from here, and I’m ashamed to say we tried putting the fork in his mouth through his tightly pursed lips, threatening and bribing. (Way to stick to our guns, right?) Not our finest moment. Kelley has his head resting on his folded arms on the table, wishing this could be over. “You’re not the only one who feels like crying,” he tells Liam. Liam looks at him, then clutches his bear and sucks on his fingers, staring straight ahead.

Then Kelley and I simultaneously get the giggles. Something about seeing Liam just sitting there calmly like that sets us off. We can’t stop laughing. Liam starts laughing, too, just to be included. I think it’s nervous laughter. We just needed a way out, so I finally tell Liam that if he takes a bite, he can have a cookie. Just one bite. Liam brightens and says, “OK!” I put the bite in his mouth, and he cringes and spits it back out. Dinner over. At least he tasted it, right? But since he spit the bite out, no cookie. Sort of defeated and really exhausted, we put him to bed.

The thing is, he did so good yesterday! He ate most of his stroganoff the night before and loved it. So I wasn’t being unreasonable. I’m not being unreasonable, people! I just want to teach my child to eat well.

It can be done. I’m convinced, and no one can convince me otherwise. Because French kids, they eat everything. EVERYTHING. There are no short-order meals or ketchup-doused anything. The French believe that picky eaters are made, not born; that a child only dislikes a food that he hasn’t been exposed to enough; that eating well is a skill that must be taught, and it’s the parents’ responsibility to teach them. They take food education VERY seriously over there.

This book is changing my life. Seriously. It’s completely changing the way I think about meals, about food, and about my precious picky eater. So, I’m on a journey to revolutionize mealtimes in our household. Stay tuned to see how this turns out!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

FROM THE KITCHEN: milk chocolate frosting recipe

I found a picture of these monkey cupcakes on Pinterest, and of course, I had to make them for Liam’s birthday! Guests seemed to enjoy them at his party, so I thought I’d post details on how I made them. I used a butter recipe cake mix (and added in a little vanilla to the mix for good measure) and then made a variation of my mom's delicious homemade frosting: 


2/3 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 can evaporated milk
3-4 cups powdered sugar (depending on desired consistency)
1 tsp vanilla

Whisk cocoa into melted butter. Add vanilla until blended. With an electric mixer, alternate mixing in evaporated milk and powdered sugar until you reach desired consistency/richness.

Then I cut Nilla Wafers in half for the ears, and I cut 1/3 off of the other Nilla Wafers for the nose/mouth part. I used miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips for the eyes, and Wilton’s cookie icing for the nose and mouth. I used black instead of red for the mouth to look more like George and less like a sock monkey like the ones I found online.

They were actually very easy, but the trick is to fully decorate each cupcake as you frost it because the decorations won’t stick if the frosting hardens. And they were so yummy, I ate my weight in them!

9/11: I remember...

I was 17 years old. My senior year of high school should have been spent worrying about term papers and college applications, but instead I started off the year worrying about the safety of my friends and family, about the future of our country.

In AP English, my class watched in awestruck horror as the first World Trade Center tower burned with huge billows of smoke penetrating the morning sky. Then we watched live as the second plane plunged into the side of the second tower. Then, we couldn’t tear our eyes away from the horrific sight of people hurling out of windows, smoke chasing them into the open air.

What a day. I’ll never forget. For me, 9/11 was the day that I started paying attention to world events. I’d never been interested in the news growing up, but this day opened my eyes to the evil in the world around me. It showed me that there were in fact people out there who would seek to do our country harm. It made me realize that what happens in our country affects me, too. It taught me that the freedom and safety we enjoy in this country come at a high price, paid by countless men and women who fight to ensure it. It only comes with a fight, and it’s worth every piercing blow.

As our high school yearbook editors, my friend and I were responsible for the 9/11 tribute page for our senior yearbook. This is what we wrote:

“It started out like a normal morning with club meetings and class assignments. Remember what you were doing when the announcement came over the intercom? The normality of the morning came to an abrupt stop as everyone watched in horror the events that took place. Suddenly, learning about comma splices and geometry seemed insignificant as we watched our country struggle. Everyone asked the question, “What will happen next?”

“Americans everywhere were affected by the attack on our country. Churches were filled with those seeking comfort, and friends clung to each other for support. We put all our differences aside and for a moment our country became one nation undivided. Patriotism flourished and flags waved with confidence.

“Unity was present within our school as well. On September 19, our annual “See You At The Pole” took on a whole new meaning as the students of Southside joined hands not only to give praise to our Lord, but to pray for our country, its leaders, and the victims of the terrorist attacks. As prayers were lifted up in word and in song, not only was our country undivided, but our school was also.

“Normality. An idea we once took comfort in seems undesirable now. Do we really want to go back to the way things were, floating through our everyday life with only a subconscious appreciation for the freedom we were given? Instead, let us cling to the abnormal, to a respect and love for our country and fellow Americans that we have never known before.

“The actions and feelings that followed the events on September 11 changed the face of our school and country and are forever etched in our minds. We will forever carry a feeling of despair for all that happened and a hope that it will never happen again.”

I tearfully read the 91st Psalm at a club meeting the week after the 9/11 attack. Hopefully, the words of the psalmist will bring you comfort as you remember this day:

“I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” Psalm 91:2

Riley showed his patriotism today!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The boy with an iron will.

Last night at church, I was talking with another mom about the challenges of raising a strong-willed child. We agreed that though the trait will serve them well later in life, it takes a lot of work to bend their wills to ours.

For example, a few weeks ago I walked in Liam’s room to find every one of his books scattered on his floor. When naptime rolled around, I cheerfully told him it was time to pick up his books (something he’s perfectly capable of doing and usually does well), but he flat out refused. I persisted, and he started to throw a tantrum. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck stick straight up! I decided that even though he’s stubborn, I’m even more so. The battle was on!

Have you ever had those moments where your child challenges you, and you just decide that you will not bend, no matter that you end up making a mountain out of a molehill? What started out as an innocent request turned into a mommy-son standoff, a battle of wills. It became about way more than just the books. It turned into a lesson in obedience and submission to authority, and I was determined to win. He WOULD pick up every last one of those books, even if it took all day! (And he did pick them up, thanks to my guerilla tactics and DEFCON-1 strategy.)

When we decided on Liam’s name, which means “strong-willed warrior,” I used to downplay the “strong-willed” part in hopes that our son would not be stubborn and difficult to deal with. My husband and I believe that the meaning of a name carries much weight, like in the Bible where names were more descriptors than anything else. My husband didn’t really see a problem with naming him “strong-willed,” but I could see the potential for heated battles and a child who resisted authority.

I’m learning that a strong will is an admirable trait. I pray that we will raise our boys to be men of strength and persistence, who refuse to give up and who persevere under intense pressure. I want to raise men who stand up for themselves, for others, and for what is right, even if it means digging in their heels and putting up a fight. I want to raise men who have backbone and resist the urge to be passive.

Even so, a strong will with no boundaries is a disaster waiting to happen. It’s important for them to learn to respect the authority figures God places in their lives, for their own protection and safety. What a great responsibility we have as parents! All I can do is pray that God will give me the wisdom to guide our sons to be obedient and respectful while knowing when to stand their ground.

How do you handle your strong-willed child?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Riley // 3 months

Riley is three months old today! At his checkup Friday, he was 12 pounds 7 ounces, 24 inches long. He's down to the 20th percentile, so I'm realizing I must come to terms with the reality that both of my boys are going to be long and lean, just like their daddy. No chubby babies for this girl!

He's talking so much now, and he seems so proud of himself. Mostly he's a laid back baby, and he loves watching his older brother play. I love watching them become more and more aware of each other! He's eating every three hours now, instead of two and a half, and that extra half hour makes a big difference. And his hair still sticks straight up. :)

He has started not napping well during the day, and I haven't quite figured out if it's just a growth spurt or if he is already ready for cereals. (Liam had to start them about 3 1/2 months.) Is it a universal thing that boys just eat all the time?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Happy birthday, Liam!

This weekend we celebrated Liam's second birthday with a Curious George party. And by that, I mean I made monkey cupcakes and put a couple of character stuffed animals on the table. Ha! It was very low key, but having some of Liam's very special friends and family there made it a wonderful day.

I keep saying this, but I can't believe our Liam is two! I'm a little emotional about it, actually. He seems so grown up that my heart is just brimming with pride at the little man he's becoming. What a sweetie!

His GQ pose. He's so handsome!

He blew out his own candle.

Icing goatee.

Spitting image.

Liam wanted to give Riley a kiss. Riley wasn't having it.

First real family photo! (The iPhone photo from the hospital the day of Riley's birth doesn't really count.)

Important Liam stats:

Vitals: At his checkup Friday, he weighed 23.75 pounds and is 34 inches tall. He also had to get a shot on his birthday! Poor guy.

What he eats: Ehhhh...We're working on the food department. For now, the only go-to foods I can count on are whole grain waffles and oatmeal. He usually eats a big breakfast and not much else the rest of the day. He does love oatmeal cookies, though. I usually whip up a batch every week. At least they have some redeeming qualities, right?

What he likes: He's getting to be really into horses. We pass by a pasture near our house, and he yells out, "Hi, neigh!" (He calls animals by the sound they make.) Every time we pick him up from the church nursery, he's walking around with a toy horse in each hand. He also likes naps! In fact, if I haven't put him down for a nap when he gets tired, he'll say, "Nap nap," and go stand by his bed. He loves to hug and kiss, especially his baby brother.

What he's learning: He's learning to count, and his speech is getting a lot better. He has learned how to stretch and "exercise" with me. We play Ring Around the Rosie around the dining room table. He's also starting to be able to open doors now that he can reach doorknobs. This will be interesting!

What he's saying: "Where ARE you, fish/daddy/bear, etc.?" "Where'd bear go?" "Call Laney, please?" "Oh, gosh!" "Ohhh, cool!" "Aunt Amy coming?" and a whole host of new words. He has started repeating what we say, so we're learning how to keep a tight rein on our tongues!

This is such a fun age! I'm looking forward to the terrific twos!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Bringing up bébé

I have a friend who recently suggested an interesting read to me: Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman, an American journalist who is raising her children in France and studies the art of French parenting. Not like that's a thing, such as French fries or French kiss. But it's fascinating (and somewhat common sense) the principles that the French follow while raising their children.

A few nuggets of French wisdom:

Children are not the center of your universe. Nor is it healthy for them to be. They are an integral part of the family, but they are not the center of it. So don't treat them like they're the king.

Teach your children to wait. Patience is a virtue, yet we Americans are so quick to respond to our children's every beck and call. What does that teach them? To be demanding and impatient. Instead, the French look for opportunities to delay their children's gratification, so their children learn how to deal with frustration and to distract themselves while they wait patiently for their needs (and wants) to be met.

Train your children to be polite. The French are militant about making their children greet adults in their company. It teaches them respect, and helps others see your children as people, not afterthoughts. I love this one.

Say au revoir to the kids' menu and goldfish crackers. Apparently, kids' menus don't exist in France, and you'll rarely see a mother pull snacks out of her purse. Children eat at specific times during the day: breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner. And they eat the same things adults eat. Mealtimes are experiences built on discovery and enjoyment. The French support the idea that picky eaters are made, not born. I may have screwed this up with Liam, but I'm going to try meals the French way with Riley.

Set firm boundaries. Unlike a lot of us Americans, the French do not let their children run wild in the name of exploration. Kids are given very strict boundaries, but much freedom within those specific limits. Boundaries give children a sense of security and help them develop self-control; they prevent children from giving themselves over completely to their every desire. It seems like American parents give up all their power to their children to prevent "stifling their independence" or "breaking their spirit." Blah. Children aren't nearly that fragile. The French are living proof.

Let them be. Children need permission to discover who they are independent from their parents, and independent from who their parents want them to be. French parents don't hover over their children at the playground or rush to teach them their ABCs. They let their kids play by themselves and discover new things at their own pace. And their children are calmer and more confident because of it.

Strike an ideal balance between training and discipline. Better yet, call it éducation. That's how the French see parenting; they see training (and correcting) their children as a normal part of the child's learning process. Teaching their children not to color on the walls or touch the family antiques is just a normal part of daily life. And they spank their children. Not over every little thing, but over important lessons that must be learned. They don't apologize for it, either. 

Druckerman also observes how French women relate to one another. There are no girls' nights where women confess their many failures and shortcomings to get a resounding dramatic response of "Me, too!" They don't obsess over their weight or make lists of foods they aren't allowed to eat. They don't see pregnancy as an excuse to eat their weight in doughnuts, and they waste no time losing the baby weight (but they don't allow themselves to gain that much in the first place). They "pay attention" to their diet, but they don't drive themselves mad over it. They aren't negative and demanding or sit around complaining about their kids and husbands. And they are much healthier and more laid back because of it. 

I can definitely take a few lessons from the French and aspire to bring some simplicity and calm to my parenting skills. How about you?