Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Just Say "Yes"

As the mother of two children under the age of five, there are a lot of times that I find myself saying, “No.” “No, you may not have ice cream for breakfast.” “No, you may not lick the dishwasher.” “No, you may not bring that earthworm/dead mouse/giant tree branch into the house.” “No, you may not run around the neighborhood naked.” “No, you may not have a third popsicle.” “No, you may not go to the grocery store wearing only Perry the Platypus underpants and a plastic crown.” And despite the fact that I know I am saying “no” for their own good, sometimes I feel like I’m always the bad guy, always putting the kibosh on my kids’ fun.

So I decided that every time I start to say “no,” I’m going to stop and think about whether I really, truly need to say it. When the question is, “Can I stick a fork into this electrical outlet?”, the answer obviously needs to be “no.” But when the question is, “Can I have a popsicle for supper?”, or “Can I wear my tutu to church?”, or “Can we go outside and stomp in the puddles while it’s raining?”, sometimes the answer can be “YES!” When the issue is not danger, but rather my own convenience or my own comfort, sometimes the answer needs to be “Yes.”

Last week, my daughter wanted to paint in the kitchen. Being 2-1/2, her painting tends to cover not only the paper, but also the easel, the floor, the sink, her clothes, herself, and me. I knew we needed to go pick up her brother from preschool in an hour, so I initially said, “No.” But then I thought about it, and realized that no-one would care if I brought her to school with paint streaks covering her arms and her face. No-one would care (or even know) if I left the kitchen floor covered in dried paint until I got a chance to scrub it off later in the day. So I took a deep breath and said, “Yes.” I stripped off all her clothes except her diaper, gave her a handful of paint brushes and an entire jar of purple paint, and let her loose. She started off with a few tentative brushstrokes on the paper, but was soon slathering her palms with globs of paint and announcing, “Pawprint!” while slapping her hand onto the paper, flinging bits of paint across the room and all over her face and mine. She dunked her hand into the cup of water, happily watching it slosh over. She noticed the drips of paint on the floor and touched them with her toes, at first tentatively, and then sliding them into long colored streaks with great glee.

It looked something like this:

Actually, this was only the midpoint. But the time she was done, her face was covered in purple war paint, there were purple streaks in her hair, her legs were coated from thighs to toes, the cup of water had been knocked to the floor, and we’d even added a bit of pink and yellow paint for contrast. The kitchen floor looked like a demented rainbow.

And we were both grinning and laughing.

She announced she was done 15 minutes before we had to leave, so I tossed her in the bathtub, sprayed her off with the showerhead (which made us both grin and giggle even more), and got rid of most of the paint. I put her in fresh clothes and we hopped in the car, happier and more relaxed than either of us had been in a long time.

It’s not always easy, you’re often tempted not to do it, but sometimes, the best thing to do is to just say, “YES!” Because although “yes” rhymes with “mess,” it also rhymes with “de-stress” and “success”!

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Monday, June 23, 2014

The Care and Feeding of Picky Eaters

I was a picky eater myself as a child (and, to a lesser degree, still am as an adult), so it was no surprise that I gave birth to a couple of picky eaters. After much trial and error and putting on a few pounds (okay, more than a few) from eating my failures and tearing out my hair, I’ve discovered a few survival tips for moms trying to cook for picky eaters.

1.  Presentation is key
Food that is appealing to a kid’s eye will also be appealing to his or her taste buds. Instead of serving fruit on the side of the plate, use it to make a smiley face right on top of whatever you’re serving – scrambled eggs, pancakes, a sandwich, a slice of meatloaf, a scoop of pasta. Instead of (or as well as) fruit, pick whatever random treats your kids like: a couple of jellybeans, a handful of breakfast cereal, pickles and olives, goldfish crackers, chocolate jimmies. You can even add some "goop" for dipping, like ketchup, ranch dressing, hummus, or jam. Your kids will eat the fun stuff and then forget to stop when they reach the healthy stuff underneath. (Hopefully.) And don’t underestimate the value of cutting things into interesting shapes. Cookie cutters aren’t just for cookies; they work on sandwiches, toast, cheese, cold cuts, pancakes.

And on the flip side of this one, if you make it look – or sound – over-the-top disgusting, kids (especially boys) will eat it out of pure curiosity. Be sure to make lots of repulsed noises while the child is eating. Thanks to Calvin’s mom for this advice.

Admittedly, this approach has a few drawbacks.

2.  Creative use of leftovers
If your kids are anything like mine, there are always leftover bits on their plates. One of my kids eats the hotdog and ignores the bun; the other demolishes the bun but ignores the hotdog. So I offer each of them both bun and dog, then swap their plates. Or I’ll save the uneaten hotdog slices and throw them in with some leftover mac & cheese at the next meal. When I make soup and there’s lots of leftover broth, I throw in that half-serving of rice, handful of cooked carrots, and few bites of grilled chicken left over from last night’s dinner and make myself a bowl of soup. If sandwiches are on the menu, I use their uneaten sandwich crusts to fill out my meal of that same leftover rice, carrots, and chicken. 

But my favorite use for leftovers is to do a "smorgasbord" lunch. Fill a plate with tiny servings of a lot of different things: a few bites of pork, a tiny spoonful of peas, a plop of applesauce, six blueberries, half a graham cracker, two broccoli florets, a few cheese cubes - whatever's on hand. Mix a few treats in with the healthy stuff, like a small handful of sweet cereal or pieces of their favorite fruit, and get creative with dipping sauces - let them try some spicy mustard, salsa, or balsamic vinegar along with more familiar sauces. 

Sometimes I sneak in a few "exotics," like marinated artichokes.

3.  Let them help
My kids love to help in the kitchen, and they will eat (or at least try) almost anything that they helped make. Even the littlest kids can help tear up lettuce, beat an egg, stir together batter, and mix meatballs. Kids who can read can help you follow a recipe or directions. Older kids can break eggs, measure ingredients, chop vegetables, and use the stove. As well as keeping them where you can keep an eye on them while you make dinner, you get the added bonus of an opportunity to teach nutrition, hygiene, chemistry, math, and reading. Not to mention, it’s laying the foundation for having them prepare dinner on their own once in a while so you get a break from kitchen duty!

This approach may take a good bit of practice before it’s successful, however.

4.  Variety really is the spice of life
I’ve read all kind of statistics stating that children need to be offered a food X number of times before they’re willing to try it, or that they need to try a food Y number of times before they decide they like it. I’m not sure if I buy any of those statistics, but I do know that kids are moody and sometimes they’re not willing to try something but other times they are. So I keep offering them different foods, even if they have tried them before. I don’t force them to eat more than a taste, and sometimes not even that, but the foods are there if I happen to catch them in the right mood. Maybe it’s only a 1 in 100 chance that they’ll try it, but if it’s not on their plate, it’s a 0 in 100 chance.

Even when it doesn’t work, the results can be quite entertaining.

 5.  Reverse psychology really works
My husband often puts a forkful of food on the edge of my son’s plate and warns him sternly, “Do NOT eat this. This will make you grow tall and strong, and I want you to stay little. You had BETTER NOT eat this!!!” Naturally, my son immediately grabs it and sucks it down, giggling triumphantly as my husband moans in mock horror. Likewise, my daughter won’t eat a bite of the food that’s on her own plate, but if I leave a forkful of the exact same food on my own plate and tell her, “That’s mine, don’t eat it!”, it will be gone before I can blink.

The grass broccoli is always greener on someone else’s plate.

The bottom line is, you just never know what might make a child try or like something, so just keep experimenting and offering. With apologies to Thomas Edison, you haven’t failed. You’ve just found 1,000 things your kids won’t eat.

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Remembering Dad(s)

My dad passed away when I was in my 30s, years before I met and married my husband. I often wish they had been able to meet. I have no doubt they would have been fast friends, bonded not only through their mutual love of me, but because they were cut from the same cloth.

My favorite memories of my dad are from my early childhood. I remember him as a dad who involved us in what he did, whether it was fixing the car or noodling on the piano or the guitar or setting up the camper. When I was little, my "help" was along the lines of holding the flashlight or passing him a screwdriver or reading the next step in the instruction manual. When I was older, I got to actually use the wrench or the soldering iron or the hand saw. I never truly appreciated what he did for me until I saw my husband doing the same thing with my own children. That was when I realized that a child holding the light does not really help Dad see anything, that the screwdriver passed to him was often the wrong screwdriver (or, frequently, not a screwdriver at all but a wrench or a drill or pliers or whatever else was handy that seemed to fall in the "tool" category), that a 6-year-old attempting to read directions including words like "torque" and "receptacle" and "ventilation" is not particularly conducive to understanding what you should do next. And seeing my husband's endless patience with our children as they "help" him makes me appreciative of my dad's endless patience with me.

I also see my dad in my husband in their remarkable shared ability to be both stern and silly. Sometimes, when my husband barks at the kids, my heart jumps in a visceral, deeply-ingrained (and probably Pavlovian) response as in my mind I hear my father's voice barking at me. I often have to stifle a sense of unfairness as I realize my husband is right in chastising them, since they are generally doing something dangerous, foolish, or clearly forbidden. And I realize again that my dad's barking, like my husband's, comes from a place of deep love and a need to protect his family. That deep love also sparks a delicious - and often unexpected - silliness and playfulness. I also see my dad when I see my husband carelessly shed his dignity to roll on the floor and wrestle, to start a tickle fight, to make silly faces, to allow a small child to wrap him in a blanket like a mummy or put a sparkly tiara on his head or whack him with a pillow.

Even though my dad has been gone for 10 years, there are many moments when I miss him so much my heart hurts. There are so many parts of my life I wish I could share with him. I wish he could have been there to walk me down the aisle at my wedding, to see that his quiet and wise advice and example had led me to choose such a good man to be my partner throughout life. I wish he could have been there to see my beautiful children, his grandchildren, take their place in the world. I wish I could watch him be stern and silly with his grandchildren. I wish he could be here so I could tell him how much I learned from him, how he made me a better person, a better wife, a better mother. But since he isn't here, I can tell my husband the same thing: Thank you, sweetheart, for being the kind of dad I had, for being loving, and kind, and tough, and silly, and all the wonderful things you are.

I look forward to seeing my son carry on his grandfather's and his father's legacy as a dad. I know he'll be fantastic.

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Red Carpet Review: The 2014 Tony Awards

The Tony Awards aren't usually the same sartorial explosion as, say, the Oscars, but there are generally a few noteworthy or at least interesting gowns. I'm going to jump right in with a critique of the gowns that stood out to me, for good or for ill. In no particular order:

Fran Drescher has always had a striking sense of not only what is fashionable, but what is flattering on her. This multi-shaded orange gown hugged her amazing figure and made just the right amount of splash. I loved that some of the fabric had a sparkly finish and some was matte. This girl knows how to walk the fine line between tacky and elegant, and she fell nicely on the side of elegant here. 

Vera Famiga was a fashion flop in this dull black column. The geometric details at the shoulders and hips were flattering, but they weren't enough to relieve the unrelenting boredom of the dull black. Boring neckline, zero sleeve details, somehow managing to be shapeless even while snugly fitting her curves, even the train somehow seemed lifeless. Perhaps it could have been saved with a better hairstyle or some flashier accessories.

Sutton Foster's gown was an example of how simplicity CAN work. Every detail, including the bold color, full skirt, slim belt, criss-crossed bodice, matching gold cuff and clutch, and smooth updo, set off her feminine but muscular figure. Very eye-catching!

The silhouette and fabric of Anna Gunn's dress really worked for me. The shiny-backed brocade and princess seams had a nice vintage look, and the long hem trailed into a graceful puddle. But the overblown, oversized crystals at the neck seemed to match neither the scale nor the style of the rest of the look, and her limp updo seemed like an afterthought.

Maggie Gyllenhaal is a beautiful woman, but she (or her stylist) has no idea how to dress herself in a flattering way. She consistently attempts to wear unusual styles but just can't pull them off. This feathered monstrosity might possibly have worked on a more petite, more curvy figure, but on her tall slender body, it looks like she got herself tarred and feathered. And then stapled on some extra feathers at the hem for good measure. And I won't even talk about her hairstyle, other than to wonder if it was done with an egg beater. Her light, natural makeup is lovely, at least. 

Adriane Lenox started off with a pretty terrific but unusual look. The structured, vivid orange coatdress with matching belt over what seemed to be either a romper or a pair of white shorts was striking and intriguing. The clunky shoes were a bit of a misstep, but it was the hat that threw the whole shebang completely off the rails. Was it a gourd wearing a crocheted tea cozy? Was it a 1970s fringed lampshade? It was a hot mess, whatever it was. More emphasis on "mess" than "hot."

Lucy Liu's black and white gown with plunging decolletage and asymmetrical bubble skirt had a beautiful line that managed to not overwhelm her tiny size. Her tall, bouffant-style hair balanced the width of the dress with a bit of added height. And the simple black sandals and diamond choker were lovely, proportional accents. 

Kate Mara seemed to be channeling the worst of the 1980s in this dress. The mix of black and silver was striking and interesting, but the giant squared-off shoulders and puffy texture of the fabric made her look like she was wearing a formal parka. The slicked-back hairstyle did nothing to improve her her look, nor did the severe eye makeup and the vaguely pained grimace (although that may have at least been evidence that she knew this was not a good look for her). 

Audra McDonald's huge poppy print dress was surprisingly successful. Her long, wavy 'do and chunky bracelet and ring balanced the large lines of the gown beautifully, and the coral lips perfectly matched to the gown were a nice touch. Oh, and that SIXTH Tony statuette she toted home was a pretty sweet accessory, too. 

Presenter Leighton Meester fell victim to the overly simple gown trap, as well. If her simple white column had been made of a more flowing fabric, or had an contrasting detail at the hip, or had a more interesting neckline, it could have worked. But as it was, it looked a bit too much like she grabbed a bedsheet on the way out the door.

The gorgeous iridescent color of the fabric in Idina Menzel's gown would have had me in love with anything made out of it, but the style of this gown would also have been fabulous in almost any different color and fabric. The angled, flared shoulder straps; the soft ruching along the diamond-shaped center panel; the soft, not-quite bow draped across the bodice; the swirling mermaid flare at the hem - I loved it all. The soft, shiny hair, nude lips, and barely-blingy earrings and clutch were the icing on the cake.

Kelli O'Hara did slightly better than many in the category of simple gowns. The champagne color worked well with her complexion and golden blond hair, the softly draped lines flattered her figure without being too va-va-voom, and the halter provided cleavage but support. Not one of the more memorable looks of the night, but certainly elegant, lovely, and flattering.

Anika Noni Rose did well with a less traditional style. Her one-shouldered, belted, chiffon animal print had a slit up to there showing off nicely toned gams. Her choice of minimal accessories and simple hair and makeup was a wise one. 

Emmy Rossum's sleek silver gown was one of my favorites of the night. The woven detailing of the bodice created the flattering silhouette of a corset without looking as restrictive, and the center front braid leading down into a soft, ruffly slit that moved beautifully softened the entire look, blending sleekness and movement flawlessly. Her dark hair and barely-there lip color were lovely contrasts to the sleek silver, particularly against her gorgeous alabaster skin.

And because it just seems right, I'd like to end with one of the technical awards that was presented earlier and not included as part of the Tony broadcast: Linda Cho, who won Best Costume Design of a Musical, for A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder.
I'm not sure if she designed her own gown or not, but it was so terrific that she deserves credit for it (as well as for the beautiful costumes for which she won the award). The soft curve of the top of the bodice echoed in the gently curved side panels, the flowered hem details echoing the bodice flower, the bright purple shoes, and the sheen of the apple green fabric all worked together to make this gown as much of a winner as its wearer.

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