Thursday, January 23, 2014


Genevieve was born on the first business day of 2012. One of my blog readers warned me to be careful not to let the holidays eclipse Genevieve's birthday, mainly from her own experience of having her New Year's Day birthday eclipsed every. Single. Year.

"I won't do that," I promised myself. "What kind of mother lets the holidays overshadow her baby?"


In the whirlwind of the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year's madness (now with more madness! One less week!), I didn't realize that Genevieve's birthday was a mere TWO DAYS after New Year. As we say around these parts: Oops.

"Peeeem!" [Cream]

[For her "real" birthday, I whipped up some cream and put some candles in it. Fact: she liked this even more than the cake she got at her party.]

So, I let all of our family (and closest friends) know that we would be celebrating the following weekend.

"To give everyone a short break from all the holiday business," I said, flexing the truth, just the tiniest bit.

Then, I promptly went to Pinterest, my favorite source for finding other people's brilliant, creative, marvelous ideas. I searched "Two year old birthday party."

Pinterest is also where some of us go (myself included) to see the beautiful things parents do for their children. Clothes, creative ways of serving food, beautiful cakes, elaborate party games. I get vicarious joy from these things, and also, more than a little bit of that horrible Mommy GuiltTM. And envy. Oooooh, the envy. (Pinterest Moms, I admire you. Really, really, really.)

Instead of wallowing in the "I barely remembered the day," guilt, and the "There is no way I have the time or energy to do ANY of this," I thought about what the most important part of Genevieve's birthday celebration should be: Genevieve.

When we were younger, my mom would say, "I can do things FOR you, or I can do things WITH you." Meaning, if she spent all of her time doing laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, etc, then she wouldn't have time to do fun things with us. [My mother is a GENIUS.]

The same applies to a child's party that takes twenty hours of prep time. Twenty hours of doing things *for* Genevieve, when really, she'd prefer to read with me, or play together on the floor, or do anything other than play by herself while I work myself mad.

I really feel like an important part of parenting is recognizing what your kids *really* want and need. I could do the elaborate stuff, but Genevieve would get maaaaaaybe ten minutes of fun out of it. Not a great return on the time invested.

So, I thought about what Genevieve loves to do. Play at the park. Read books. Play with balloons- BINGO! We would fill the living room with balloons, and she could play with them as much as her fuzzy little heart desired.

Having fun together

We took her to Affordable Treasures, where they have (what I affectionately call) a balloon bar, where you can pick from a kajillion kinds of balloons. We let Genevieve pick as many balloons as she wanted, got some Sesame Street party plates, cups, and whatnot, and brought it home. (The total for the balloons was in the neighborhood of about $15. Tops.)

(I would like to point out that Genevieve was *exquisitely* well-behaved in a store full of tiny, fun, grabbable things. She held my hand or the shopping basket the whole time, said "thank you" to the checker, and helped carry the reusable Sesame Street shopping bags out to the car. These bags have been a fantastic investment, since she always wants to help carry them. Full hands = helpful = well-behaved. Another of my mother's brilliant ideas.)

We served crudités for snacks (Genevieve's favorites, of course), and did a build-your-own sandwich bar for lunch. We got a couple of different cakes from Bijan's (our favorite bakery), and part of the entertainment was blowing up the balloons, of course.
Hours of fun for the whole family!
(By the way, if you have a bunch of balloons to blow up, I highly recommend this Balloon Pump.)

We scheduled the party from 10-1, so that naptime could be observed without interruption and that all parties involved would have a great day. And after playing in the balloons all morning, I can tell you that she went down for that nap HARD.

When she woke up the BALLOONS WERE STILL THERE. So, we played in them some more.


There was crazed laughter.


Crazy hair.


Enormous smiles.


And joyous arms!

Wiped out.

Balloons are fun. But exhausting.

Since we're all about returns on investment, and getting a good value? The balloons are still in the living room, and as they lose their oomph, they slowly disappear.

Which is why our Christmas tree is still up. We're maximizing the return on our investment.

(That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Sympathy, Empathy, Elphie

When we adopted Elphie, all those years ago, she came to us with some serious baggage. She had been horribly abused, and was found wandering the streets with a pack of wild dogs.

When her time at the Humane Society in Tracy had run out, they called local a no-kill rescue. Amanda, who ran the rescue, took Elphie in and posted her on Petfinder for us to find and adopt. Elphie was five months old when we she joined our family.

That was in May of 2005, and we've worked hard to socialize her and make her feel comfortable, safe, and loved. For the most part, she's pretty chill, but specific things just set. Her. Off.

Like fireworks.

We had *six weeks* of fireworks every night before and after the fourth of July. Six weeks. Under the supervision of our vet, we had tranquilizers for her, and on the recommendation of a friend, Thundershirts for both dogs. We put white noise on loud in the bathroom in our bedroom (where she likes to curl up sometimes), and did our best to drown out the noise.

(We are also trying Through a dog's ear for fireworks, on the enthusiastic endorsement of our incredible dog trainer. Results tbd.)

Life has a way of throwing curveballs to keep things interesting, and while the Fireworks Bonanza of 2013 was a MASSIVE pain, that was five months ago. So many developmental milestones have come and gone, and Genevieve is still a cheerful, happy, great, well-behaved kid- but she's not always 100% cooperative.

I was anxious about the fireworks, and I was anxious about Elphie, and Genevieve noticed that Elphie was getting more attention than normal and started to act out. Yelling. Crying. Completely out of Genevieve's character.

Thanks to Positive Discipline: The First Three Years, I had the tools to calmly collect Genevieve into my lap, and really communicate with her. The book focuses on communication, understanding, and educating in a kind way. (They have a HUGE age range in their books. You want to read these books.)

I asked her if she was upset because Elphie was getting more attention than normal. [Yes.] I told her that the loud noises were scaring Elphie.

"When you're scared, do you like it when Mommy snuggles you close?"

"When you're scared, do you like it when Mommy gives you hugs and kisses?"

"Do the snuggles and hugs and kisses make you feel better?"

"Elphie is really scared right now, and I need you to be cooperative and helpful tonight. I need you to help me take care of Elphie."

Once both dogs were suited up in their Thundershirts (Niki isn't a huge fireworks fan, either), and Elphie had been medicated, we were waiting for the meds to kick in. At this point in the process, I give the dogs some peanut butter as a special treat because (a) they really like it and (b) Elphie forgets to freak out while she's eating peanut butter.

I started with a tablespoon of peanut butter for the dogs, and Genevieve on my hot on my heels. The dogs polished it off pretty quickly, and Genevieve spoke up.

She asked for more peanut butter for Elphie. Specifically, signing while she was speaking so that I would understand what she was saying right away, "More, PEEEEASE. HEPP Effie."

My heart nearly burst out of my chest. I was so proud of her. So, I told her. 

"Thank you for being so cooperative and helping take care of Elphie. Let's help her now," I said, and we did.

This kid totally gets it.
Other than being INSANELY proud of Genevieve,  it's important to tell this story for another reason. I was at a book signing for an *incredibly* popular children's author when Genevieve was less than a year old.
I forget the context of the discussion, but the author pointedly and factually told me that children under the age of three simply *aren't developmentally capable* of either sympathy OR empathy. I thanked her for signing Genevieve's books, and left knowing in my gut that she was wrong.

In the bigger picture, it's not about being right or wrong. I think it's recognizing that sympathy and empathy look different on a toddler than they do on an adult. Not to compare children to dogs, but there are also people who believe that dogs don't have souls, or personalities. If you've ever loved a dog (or two, in our case), you know they're just wrong.

I really feel like Genevieve has learned that we all take care of each other because we love each other. Sometimes we "hepp Effie", and sometimes Elphie helps us.