Fathering a Korean-American girl, two years in

I wanted to be a father.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I had to be a father, to realize a subconscious image of myself: the vital Dad, in the midst of his loving and active family.

But my mind was near capacity, with little room for fatherhood duties. I spent more time preparing for job interviews than I spent deliberately preparing for fatherhood. Still, I felt pretty sure that fatherhood — like marriage — is what you do, if you’re an upstanding gentleman. And I sure wanted to be one.

I decided we would have two kids, for two reasons: One, I was raised in a two-kid family, which was — in retrospect — a not-too-chaotic family unit. And Two, from an Earth-stewardship perspective, replacing myself and my wife with two equally-fantastic specimens was an attractive plan. A pathway to a kind of conservation of cosmic energy. Soon after my daughter was born, a third reason to stop at two kids revealed itself: childcare is exhausting.

On the spectrum of fatherhood, I gravitated towards a more-involved Dad image. “Naturally I’ll be better at it than my Dad was,” I thought smugly. I don’t know what led me to believe this, as my Dad was already ahead of his time in the 1970s. His résumé included fathering two kids, a stint as a widower, and then a second stint as Dad, fathering two more beautiful kids. He also helped to found a children’s puppet company in the 1980s, a fact that instantly differentiated him from the other dads.

My own kids would come, I figured, but I wasn’t in a hurry to initiate the process, content instead to enjoy the freewheeling DINK lifestyle (Double Income, No Kids) with my wife. She wasn’t anxious to start popping out kids either. She was smart, driven, and determined to bring home income — fast. The end of graduate school and her entry into the workforce brought a welcome spike in that regard.

My specs for the Dad role looked good on paper: married, MIT graduate, healthy (at least physically). But I had zero years of experience. I spent zero time visualizing the real nature of the work: sleepless nights, long days hanging around the house, and frequent bouts of in-law exposure.

Before my daughter was born, I didn’t appreciate the many ways a father can provide for his kids. A counselor once told me — in a manner clearly unperturbed by political correctness — that a man’s role in the family is threefold: leader, provider, and protector. “So old-fashioned,” I thought as the counselor tried to drill those three words into me. Try as I might, I couldn’t dismiss them outright.

My wife and I were active DINKs, and her pregnancy barely impacted our social schedule. Some days she didn’t feel great. Other days she had oddly-specific cravings, like the day we went to the farmer’s market and she spotted a big, expensive jar of pickled purple cabbage that she had to have.

The B.C. era (Before Child) continued regardless: domestic and international trips, fooling around now and then, and eating out at top-rated restaurants exhaustively researched on Yelp. Sex during pregnancy was awkward (though not much more so than usual). Maternity clothes hid her belly most of the time, but it wasn’t all that big to begin with. She seemed to expand in all the normal places.

I was nervous around my in-laws from the beginning, for reasons perhaps only a student of Korean culture can fully appreciate. I became infatuated with Korean culture and my wife around the same time. But as years passed, my gaze settled on certain imperfections in the culture. One was the honorific form of speech used by younger Koreans to address their elders. It was a product of the hierarchical Neo-Confucianism that dominated Korean thought throughout the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910). Honorific Korean was designed to create distance between people. My rudimentary understanding of the language only made the perceived distance between me and my in-laws greater. When the right words didn’t come, I tensed up. I didn’t hear their jokes half of the time, and the rest of the time I didn’t get the humor. I was stuck in a cultural limbo. So when my in-laws arrived to help out three weeks before the baby’s due date, a new layer of anxiety descended onto my already-thin skin.

I read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”. Cover to cover. My wife read just the most relevant sections (did I mention that she’s smart?). I also spent undue time attending classes and reading parenting blogs — time I wish I could get back. To pass the time in waiting rooms, I started creating new titles for “What to Expect”, like:

“Well, It Could Happen…”
or
“Developing Your Pregnancy-related Anxiety for Dummies”

If you feel your life is lacking in anxiety, I recommend that book.

I enrolled us in a couples’ program called Centering Pregnancy at Kaiser Permanente hospital, because I thought it might be fun to experience pregnancy in community with other couples. Each Centering session started with quick individual check-ups with the OB/GYN in a private cubicle, followed by an interactive class and forum for the couples to ask questions. It was fun, for the most part, to commiserate and laugh with some new faces instead of doing all the doctor’s visits just the two of us. The excruciating part was listening to endless pregnancy-related hearsay from the other couples.

The classes ended and our daughter was born, and then a weird thing happened: I became obsessed. The build-up to labor and conversations with friends and family had convinced me (at least intellectually) that it would be a life-changing event. But I was unprepared for how much I loved my slimy frog-of-a baby, and I wanted to protect her. At times I even felt an urge to protect her from her own mother. (Mother bears have been known to consume their young, FYI.) I became defensive about every little thing grandma and grandpa — or, in Korean, Hammi and Abua — wanted to do for the baby. Hammi wanted to co-sleep with her every night, and I resented being ousted from the protective role. When the umbilical cord fell off, my wife and Hammi wanted to wash the little pink nub every day. I just kept my mouth shut.

I couldn’t get used to the sound of my baby crying. It stressed me out beyond belief, a dull heartache lingering after every crying session.

My wife pumped and breastfed and pumped again. It was brutal. In the maternity ward, our daughter’s postnatal weight had dropped by more than the allowable ten percent, so we met a lactation consultant. She stressed the urgency of getting our daughter to feed at the teat. Ah, the lactation consultant. A midwife, with a very particular set of nipple-related skills. When I was born, a solitary midwife helped my mom to deliver me in our own apartment. At Kaiser hospital, there was a baby-measuring nurse, a bathing nurse, a lactation nurse, and a nurse named Wilma, to hold mom’s right leg in the stirrups.

When we first came home from the hospital, I had watched with Hammi and Abua, fascinated by the sight of my wife and daughter wrestling each other. Two weeks after breastfeeding began, I was 99% desensitized to the sight of my wife’s breasts. We stopped fooling around, but I didn’t mind for the first two months. I wanted to care for the baby.

So I learned how.
It was mostly about being present and committing certain movements to muscle memory. I learned to change diapers. First, the disposable Pampers at the hospital, and later, the cloth tri-folds we bought to reduce the guilt of watching disposable diapers pile up in the trash can. Rather than admitting when I was ignorant, I felt obliged to stand on a pedestal and criticize. (After all, I read “What to Expect” cover to cover). It seemed important to confidently proclaim a hodgepodge of facts acquired from the pregnancy books and blogs, because that’s what our other childless friends were doing.

I wanted to protect my daughter from harm, and also from stupid parenting trends. To that end, I prepared diatribes on various topics, but most them proved useless as the Koreans seemed to have studied from a different parenting manual entirely. Some of their methods struck me as odd and I watched disapprovingly, occasionally summoning the courage to voice my concerns. For instance, Hammi believed that after childbirth, my wife should eat miyeokguk (Korean seaweed soup) at every single meal — including breakfast — for approximately two months straight. When my wife’s breast started hurting, the baton passed to my father-in-law — and then to me — to administer a vigorous breast massage, the assumption being that a clogged milk duct was causing the inflammation, and massaging it would clear the blockage. I grabbed the flesh reluctantly and started to mash it between my hands, administering the cruel and unusual punishment like a lowly soldier ordered to torture an innocent civilian.

My family came for a short visit, and I relished the chance to relax and reconnect with them. The baby’s routine relaxed in kind.

Our simple rancher house, chosen to optimize cost, comfort, and commutes, was transformed into a Worry Zone, its air polluted with excess anxiety. I inhaled too much perhaps, and soon found myself plagued by health issues. Morning vertigo episodes floored me for a couple of hours at a stretch, until the room finally stopped spinning. I entertained the romantic notion that I might be suffering from Couvade syndrome, also known as “sympathetic pregnancy”. But in reality there was no “sym” and the pregnancy was over, which left… “pathetic”. I began sleeping on a single mattress pad on the floor, because I couldn’t handle the stress of waking up every time my wife awoke to breastfeed with her mother in the other room.
I know what you’re thinking. Poor you.

One night, I awoke around 3am and puked into a trash can beside my bed. I hadn’t been drinking since before my wife got pregnant. Quitting drinking was a good solidarity move, and in my early thirties alcohol had stopped agreeing with me anyways. My wife and her parents began to worry about me almost as much as they worried about the baby. “Take a rest” became their mantra during the first few months. They didn’t intend to ostracize me, and yet I stewed on the sidelines, looking for outlets for my blame. The language barrier had seemed a minor hurdle, but it suddenly transformed into a high-jump bar. I could barely express my desires for my daughter’s care in English, let alone Korean.

Before the baby was born, I had asked my boss what to expect, since he was Dad to two grown kids. He said he remembered driving people around a lot. Sure enough, I took charge of carting everyone to Korean stores (and American ones) to buy ingredients, medicines, and other infant-related gear. My father-in-law went to the gym regularly in Korea, so I got us both memberships at 24 Hour Fitness during his stay in the U.S. Despite his kind disposition, my father-in-law still gave me agita, a feeling that diminished only slightly when he came to the U.S.

Five months after our daughter was born, the grandparents returned to Korea and I took over daytime childcare duties. Airborne anxiety levels decreased measurably at home. Still, the in-laws’ childcare style left an indelible impression. My wife and I exhausted ourselves for the first week after they left, trying to maintain the same standards. Then we gave up, and cleanliness at the dinner table — and pretty much everywhere else — dropped a few pegs. The nervous feeling of invisible Korean laser beams on the back of my neck lingered, because we still spoke with the grandparents daily on Facetime. As we fed the baby her dinner, the grandparents watched, chiming in in Korean. “Give her some water, please.” “What’s that on her chin… Can you wipe it?” I had inculcated in myself a Korean-style absolute filial piety, and yet I had to pause sometimes, allowing my individual will to surface for air. My backbone — not particularly stiff to begin with — seemed as soft and malleable as the baby’s.

I spent a lot of time watching my baby girl. The nice part about watching her all day — besides the angelic moments — was discovering (and learning to accept) my parenting style. Some dads are content to work for the boss, I think, while others are more entrepreneurial. Watching the baby on my own, I observed the following differences:

Quicker house entries and exits.
More time outside at the park randomly exploring, blissfully unhindered by contingencies.
More naps.

Our daughter didn’t sleep as much when the grandparents were around, perhaps because they were light sleepers themselves. But during full days with Daddy, we napped. Hard. I needed the naps to relieve that first-time-parent tension caused by the problematic pair: inexperience and overambition.

My image of dadhood was relaxing in the living room, laughing, singing, and playing games together. That came much later, around the time our daughter turned two. Before two, it went something like this: Find the nearest wet wipe and clean baby’s nose. Change baby’s diaper. Change baby’s clothes. Prepare baby’s food. Prepare a contingency bag. Struggle to put baby into the car seat. Hover around baby at the park to make sure she doesn’t hurt herself. Coax baby into leaving the park before she gets too tired and starts wailing. Put baby to sleep, without putting yourself to sleep in the process. Forget the idea of working while baby sleeps, and pass out next to her. Take pictures and document everything for your spouse and extended families. Deal with the guilt of missed picture opportunities. A benefit to staying at home with my daughter was having some additional time to observe and master my guilt. Now I take pictures when I want to.

After tending to our daughter all day and making dinner on my assigned Daddy-dinner nights, I was too tired to devote much energy to my wife. Many nights we watched one short TV show and then slept, or caught up on chores.

It’s said that women begin to nest after giving birth, and in our house the twigs and leaves (i.e. hand-me-down toys and clothes) piled up rather quickly. In an unexpected twist, the owners of the house we were renting decided to sell it, offering it to us directly a few months before our lease was set to expire. After much deliberation, we bought the house from them before our daughter’s first birthday. In less than a year, I went from freewheeling DINK to frightened dad with an adorable little creature to protect and a big, ugly structure to maintain. My wife would probably be happiest in a brand-new house, airlifted straight from the factory to an empty plot of land on our move-in date. But instead we got an old, post-WWII rancher that scores high on location and “character” — and I love it.

My wife and I have different priorities about what needs to be fixed. My wife: “The sink is not draining fast enough.” Me: “I think we need a tree house.” Don’t get me wrong, I like fixing stuff when I’m able. It’s the satisfying part of an otherwise thankless job.

My wife’s the primary breadwinner in the family, but I still believe that fatherhood is basically a leadership position, as that counselor hammered home to me years ago. I am starting to get the hang of the leadership part. I’ve also started to accept that my daughter is a reflection of me. She’s a sponge and she learns everything by example, so caring for her and caring for me are inseparable tasks. In those moments when vertigo put me out of commission I missed out, but so did she. Other times, I relaxed, laughed, and connected with her at a deeper level, and she fed off of my energy. There are many ways to provide for your child. She needs food, sure. But she also needs energy. She needs Fun. Smiles. Confidence. Direction. Clearly-articulated Positions. All things that I — the Dad — can provide.

Why Our Sons Should Definitely Be Watching Carmen Sandiego

It’s not every day, or even every month that my son and I are infatuated with the same TV show, but the new Carmen Sandiego changes everything! I’m feeling pretty damn hip right now TBH because Netflix’s new re-boot of the iconic character has only been out for a few weeks and I have seen it all. Cutting edge — à la mode — Zeitgeist — finger on the pulse — that’s me.

The show impressed me so much, I’d watch it again. I can’t wait for the live action movie and the next season to come out! Season two is already confirmed! I’m becoming a total fan-girl and getting a red coat and fedora for my Halloween costume (maybe for everyday wear,) maybe even a temporary tattoo!

I don’t usually get this excited about a TV show. Is it nostalgia? Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego stands out in my memory as a show I used to watch on PBS when I was little. But all that’s left of it is the song and some vague notions about geography and maybe math?

So, how do I love this iteration of a character that has morphed from several game versions to TV and now streaming on Netflix?

This is Carmen. Still image from Carmen Sandiego on Netflix.

Let me literally recount for you the ways:

  • Carmen (Red), the eponymous hero, is a female main character who is confident, daring, whip-smart, talented, principled, and a kick-ass thief for a good cause. She has close trusted friends who all stick together, but none of them are perfect. They make mistakes, they experience conflict, they improvise as needed, and they learn.
  • Carmen is Latina. Representation matters! There just aren’t enough strong mainstream female characters, let alone Latinas out there. Carmen is an Argentinian orphan who was raised on the Isle of VILE, the hideout/HQ for a secretive group of criminal masterminds and their crime school.
  • Carmen Sandiego, the show, in addition to the hero, is Feminist AF. It gives feminism a well-deserved place in the spotlight with action, wit, intelligence, and equality all wrapped up in a trendy, modern bow for the viewing pleasure of children and adults alike. My six-year-old son LOVES this show and I am thrilled.
  • Even though she leaves them behind when she realizes what they’re really up to, the people who raised her are highly diverse — villain representation matters too! There are three women and two men: a large, imposing, yet maternal white woman, an eccentric (possibly) Indian woman mad scientist, a glamorous countess, an Asian male martial arts master, and a pale creepy old psychopath guy.
  • Good and evil isn’t portrayed as black and white. Carmen’s tech angel, Player, is a “white-hat” hacker. Carmen is a shadowy thief who steals from other thieves and returns the spoils of her work to their rightful owners. But she only becomes a “good” thief after she does some soul searching when she discovers that VILE’s mission hurts people and takes cultural treasures away from the masses. ACME functions “in the grey” or something to that effect is explicitly stated at one point.

Ivy & Zack. Still image from Carmen Sandiego on Netflix.
  • Zack is an admirably NON-TOXIC white man with a sensitive stomach who isn’t afraid to take orders from a woman and even to dress in drag to help execute a mission successfully. His older sister Ivy gives the viewer another positive representation on the femininity continuum with her more butch fashion choices, and demeanor.
  • ACME, the super secret organization trying to stop VILE, is headed up by an unapologetically fierce black woman, Chief, who appears exclusively by hologram projection. She recognizes the intelligence of underling Julia Argent. When this happens, Argent claims she was not working alone and refuses to take all the credit for herself. Her deductions are almost always right on the money — as her name would seem to suggest.

Agent Devineaux asserting his undeserved authority over Julia Argent…AGAIN. Still image from Carmen Sandiego on Netflix.
  • Agent Chase Devineaux, former Interpol agent turned ACME investigator, is a hyper-masculine, mansplaining, French douchebag, who rarely listens to his more thoughtful female subordinate, Julia Argent, and he frequently suffers the humiliating consequences of his stubbornness. (I’m married to a wonderful Frenchie who is nothing like Devineaux, for the record.) While he doesn’t change his behavior much, Devineaux seems to gain some consciousness of his problem throughout the season admitting that his assistant will probably be running ACME one day.

Dash Haber. Still image from Carmen Sandiego.
  • Dash Haber is another refreshing male character. He may be working for Countess Cleo on the wrong side of crime, but his dandy/fop persona is deliciously non-binary.
  • There is cool educational content: difficult moral quandaries, geography, problem solving, culture, humanity in general…
  • It gets kids thinking. My son remarked to me, “That inspector should be able to follow the clues better if he’s an inspector. Argent is much smarter. Why would they choose him if he’s not good at the job?” I’m still swooning from his budding feminist powers of observation. Later he asked, “Did you know that Ivy is a girl? And that other one with red hair is a boy? So, there’s two girls and a boy?” I reminded him that player is a boy, too. He’s still way into categorizing as best he can to understand his world, but I love that he’s seeing multiple ways of being female, male, non-binary, good, bad, and somewhere in between.

I could go on…for a while. But instead, I’ll wish you happy viewing and let me know your thoughts.

Thanks for reading!

A slightly different version of this post originally appeared on www.livingimperfection.com.

“Noble Have I Created Thee” — A paradigm shift in parenting

I’d like to begin this post with a couple of questions. Take a moment to ponder the following questions and take stock of your answers and attitudes towards children.

  • When you think of children, what thoughts immediately come to mind?
  • What are or were some of your assumptions about children before you had your own?
  • Do you attribute intent to a child’s behavior?
  • What are your beliefs about the nature of a child or a teenager?

Too often, adults associate negative traits to children. We hear statements like, “he keeps pushing my buttons,” “they drive me crazy,” “children can’t be trusted,” “if you give them an inch, they will take a mile,” “they are manipulative.” I’m sure you can add a few more to this list.

We are well aware of the behaviors expected of teenagers, and they are mostly negative. Adults often attribute negative intent to children’s behaviors. Where do these assumptions and beliefs come from? What is our collective paradigm about children and how do we shift that? Does it stem from the belief that humans are created sinful?

I’d like to challenge these assumptions and suggest a paradigm shift around our attitude and assumptions about children by drawing your attention to these two quotes that invite us to view children from the lens of their nobility and innate potential for good. Both of these quotes are by Baha’u’llah — The prophet founder of the Baha’i

“O SON OF SPIRIT! Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou wast created.”

“Regard man as a mine of gems rich in inestimable value, education can alone cause it to reveal its splendors and discover all the pearls of wisdom that lie hid in its midst.”

The first quote draws us to the fact that every human being is created noble, and when we abase ourselves (behave in a manner that belittles or degrades us), it calls us to rise and remember that we are noble. It acknowledges that we are going to make mistakes, but reminds us that can always choose to rise to our nobility. Noble, besides meaning “of noble birth,” also means having moral principles and ideals; virtuous, honest, ethical, self-sacrificing, brave and more.

The second quote gives us another lens through which to see others. As parents, our job is to educate our children so that they can reveal those “pearls of wisdom” that lie within each and every one of us. The word educate comes from the Latin word educare, which means to “bring or lead out, draw forth.” Our job as parents, and by default educators, is to draw forth that which is already within them.

When we label a child as a troublemaker, it changes our attitude and other people’s attitudes towards them. Eventually, they live up to our expectations. Labeling a child limits them because they stop trying to reach for something better. I believe if we spent our energies learning how to mine those gems that lay hidden within each child and thought of them as having inestimable value, our attitude towards them would change and we would inevitably help raise children that embody virtue and character. Wouldn’t the world be better as a result?

This is the paradigm through which I have chosen to raise my children. These quotes have been a part of my parenting mantra. They helped shift my mindset and remind me, particularly when parenting is challenging, that my children are created noble. As a result, I have held myself and my children to those high ideals. This has led me to see misbehavior as teachable moments, that mistakes are for learning and that a misbehaving child is trying to meet a need. My job as a parent is to figure out what that need is and when possible, problem solve together and seek solutions.

We are all created noble and have a tremendous capacity for love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and so much more if we are nurtured and disciplined in a way that draws those qualities forth. Think of a diamond, it doesn’t start out shiny, but it has the potential to be shiny. Someone has to mine it, cut it, polish it, and care for it in order that it may reveal its light. So too, children have to be nurtured, loved, guided, disciplined, and educated in order to reveal their splendor.

Let’s stop picking on their weakness, or reminding them of their wrongs, or expecting that they will behave badly because they are children. Let’s instead focus on their strengths and their potential for good.

How do we do this? Here are a few simple ways to start.

Use the language of virtues to shift the narrative

  • “Be polite” versus “Don’t be rude.”
  • “You need to practice moderation” or “What would help you…?” versus “You are being so greedy.”
  • “Be patient” versus “Stop whining, you are driving me crazy!”
  • “I need (or expect) you to be gentle and play peacefully with your brother/sister“ versus “Stop hurting Johnny.”
  • Think about your words and the goal of your statements. What is it you are trying to get through to them? Young children are not always sure what to replace the unwanted behavior with; they need us to spell it out for them. If we want them to be careful, polite, loving, peaceful, or patient, then we should communicate that to them. Saying “don’t be rude” doesn’t communicate to a child that you want them to be polite.
  • One statement focuses on the bad behavior or on what not to do, the other on the expected behavior on their nobility. The tone of your voice can reflect the seriousness of what is expected.

Model nobility

Modeling the behavior we expect from our children is our greatest tool. How do you deal with challenging situations? Your children are watching you. When you mess up, do you apologize, make reparations, and take responsibility, or do you blame others? Do you use yelling as a discipline tool all too often? Show your children how to be virtuous.

Acknowledge them when they are being virtuous.

We are quick to let our children know when they do something wrong or have made a mistake, but do we acknowledge them enough when they do something right? The following are examples of ways to acknowledge them.

  • I acknowledge your courage or I see that took a lot of courage on your part to…
  • Thank you for being helpful this morning by putting away the dishes, cleaning up after breakfast etc. (be specific about what they were being helpful with).
  • I have faith in you to figure it out (depending on their age and situation).
  • I trust your judgment

Share their stories and yours

Stories are a powerful way to connect and remind us of who we are. When children are having difficulty being virtuous, remind them of a time when they were virtuous so they know that they can do it again. Here are two ways to use stories.

  • Remind them of their stories and successes. “Remember how patient you were when we were stuck in traffic for over an hour on our way to grandma’s…?” Or, “Remember the first time you went on stage and you were so scared? That took courage, but you did it.”
  • Empathize with them by sharing your own stories and struggles. They will remember the stories about your personal struggles better than any story you might read them. Knowing you have struggled through tough experiences helps them see that you understand what they are going through, and it gives them strength.
  • When relevant, share stories of other family members, your people, and ancestors, so they know who paved the way for them to be here. It can help them become more resilient and courageous when they know that they are a part of something larger and nobler.

Shifting paradigm is by no means easy, and these are high ideals to work towards. I was raised with this mindset and yet it is challenging and time-consuming to parent in this way. I still find myself losing my cool with my children and reverting back to what seems easier (yelling and imposing consequences). But it never actually solves the problem. However, with practice, it gets easier. Nineteen years into it, I have learned to yell less and problem solving more.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope this has been helpful to you.

I would love to hear your thoughts, so please comment below or drop me an email at info@ridvanfoxhall.com

Originally published at www.ridvanfoxhall.com.

One Game Dad 17: Looking Back to Future Regrets


That Butterfly Motherhood Moment

Two days ago in the shower, it came to me. I’m not a caterpillar anymore. The moment that every mother knows so well and why the most difficult job in the world makes it all worth it. Together with the hot stream of water, a profound feeling of joy was pouring over me. String and Zoe were in the living room and I knew it deeply and profoundly. Those two people are my “everything.”

Paradoxically, this little child is a perfect blend of both of us but she’s also her own individual being. And this little being appeared out of nowhere. Like there was nothing and then mummy and daddy made love and a tiny cell appeared. Then it grew in mummy’s belly for nine months and voila!

Little Zoe was born.

Anyhow, back to the shower. At that moment I felt immense love that was greater than me and everything else and I knew. Nothing could ever substitute or even come close to this feeling. It had a rich texture and it had no beginning or end. It was smooth and delicious. It felt better than happiness.

It felt like nothing else matters. It’s almost the same as the magical feeling of oneness. Everything sits still. There is nowhere to go and nothing to do. You’re just there and now, intensely in the present moment. You realize how small you are in the grand scheme of things in the world. How the Universe exists with or without you and nature stays on its course. Then you understand that your daily troubles are so minuscule and unimportant. What matters is here in front of you. What matters is that my family is now a little more complete and that she is in my life. And I feel joy. And I feel peace and surrender that’s independent of what someone else has done or said. It’s just there.

It took me three long months.

At first, I went through a shock. Physically, emotionally and mentally. I didn’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do with this strange looking human child. I thought we would give her back at some point. I didn’t understand what this child wants and why is she here. For about two weeks I was a robot on hormones just doing what needs to be done: waking up every 2–3 hours feeding the baby and changing diapers. I was dreading going to sleep because I knew she could wake up at any moment. Quite honestly, I was hating this new life.

Motherly instinct is a myth. What kicked in instead was responsibility. Day in and day out, hour by hour I was feeding, shooshing, rocking, watching, and changing diapers — 24/7. Oh, and reading tons of books and being parts of dozens of mums’ groups on facebook. I became an expert at sleep and feeding routines and schedules. I have obsessively tried to compensate for my lack of knowledge and experience about taking care of a newborn instead of just RELAXING and GIVING IN. I hoped it would all end very soon.

For three long months of this “fourth trimester”, she wasn’t showing any human signs or reactions. No interaction at all; just lying on her back, staring into the distance and moving her tiny little legs and arms uncontrollably. Sucking on my breasts and sleeping. That’s all.

And then little Zoe slowly emerged from her little dream world waking up to the fact that she’s here now.

It slowly started sinking in. Day by day we were getting to know each other. I was finding my own rhythm in this new life as a mother blending together my old and new self. Picking up the pieces I left in pre-motherhood life and trying to put them together with the new me — the mother me.

And slowly, day by day the puzzle of this new me was coming together. I fell into a routine, Zoe was becoming more like a human having a clearer look, making sounds and noises, reacting to us, smiling and even giggling.

So we both were kind of “waking up” to this new reality, to this new world: I to motherhood and she to being a new human in this world. And now her eyes are bright and clear, I see my reflection in them and this look of unconditional love is EVERYTHING. Nature is taking its course tying me to this child with an invisible bond that is stronger and tighter than any other.

I am on my way to becoming a butterfly. Here is an excerpt from Tracey Askew Anderson, my CalmBirth and CalmParent facilitator:

“The caterpillar goes about its business being a caterpillar, not thinking too much about the future or the past. Then one day it starts to respond to strange new inclinations it is having, the desire to eat vast amounts, to be quiet and still, to wrap itself up and protect itself, to opt out of life as she knew it — let’s call this pregnancy.

Now when the caterpillar goes fully and completely into the cocoon, it is making a transition to becoming a butterfly. It loses all of its previous form and structure. It becomes caterpillar soup, no longer the old self but yet to step fully into the new self. The changes are happening without any apparent effort by you, and yet these forces and new inclinations, feelings, thoughts, and aspirations start to emerge. Let’s call this nesting.

Then one day, the need to break free from the confines of the cocoon starts to emerge. There is struggle and hard work, and intensity, and the fear of the unknown of what lies on the other side starts to intensify. It is then in that struggle, the butterfly emerges strengthened by the struggle and hardship, preparing her to face the new world as a fully formed butterfly, and strong enough to fly. Let’s call this birth.

You see the new version of you — the butterfly is much greater than the old version — the caterpillar. Now suddenly you see life from a different perspective, a higher perspective, allowing you to take in the full view, the importance of life, the importance and fierce desire to protect this little, vulnerable baby. You have a new respect for other parents, the hardship seems greater, but the joy to seems greater. Confidence that you once had, escapes into the darkness and leaves you floundering, how does my baby work? Where are the instructions? Why didn’t anyone warn me about this? Life itself comes into a sharper focus, priorities change, your capacity to love expands, your resourcefulness comes out, your ability to survive and preserve yourself becomes more important.

You have gone from the woman to the mother, to man to the father. The mother and father are bigger versions of yourself — you have to get bigger — be bigger — your new role demands it from you. You can’t just dwell on your own self, you must broaden and expand to serving many selves, your baby, your partnership, and/or community.”

As a father and a mother, we are absolutely smitten by our daughter. Sometimes we can’t decide who’s the one to be picking her up. When she wakes up, both of us can’t wait to get in there, unswaddle her and watch her stretch. It’s the cutest thing in the world.

But with this immense feeling of love comes fear. I am afraid that something will happen to her and she will be gone. I feel it every day and think about it often. Sometimes I have nightmares about this and I can’t help it. So I want to protect her from everything. Nature taking its course again.

I’m looking forward to all the amazing things we shall do together: the countries we’ll visit and adventures we’ll explore. But I also am excited about the little things she’ll be discovering in the next year learning about how the world works, touching leaves and dirt, hearing the sound of birds and music, discovering colors, textures, smells and tastes.

I am looking forward to rediscovering the world through play. Looking at the world through the eyes of a child is a great gift. And, perhaps, this is our greatest lesson: a chance to learn about the world again, rethinking and reimagining what’s possible.

Icarus’ Daddy Ain’t Got Nothing on Me…

I Made My Kid’s Wings

You might be thinking that I’m speaking metaphorically about a parenting feat of raising an independent child. If so, you’re wrong.

I actually spent two days making my daughter a set of expertly constructed paper wings and about six other pieces for her mas costume.

Some context…

See, we live in Trinidad and Tobago. Our island’s carnival is world renowned. Months of preparation. Weeks of cultural performances, competitions, feting, revelry, music, and food. Even the schools get in on the act by hosting mini carnival competitions and celebrations called Carnival Jump-Ups.

These mini-celebrations serve as an opportunity for even the youngest Trinbagonians [1.5 to 2 yrs old]to begin to learn about their culture. The history and intrinsic rituals of carnival permeate so much of what makes Trinidad and Tobago the twin-island nation, it is.

I am a Trinidadian by descent. I have citizenship because I was born to Trini-parents abroad. Perhaps, that is why I love Carnival so much and delve head first into it [also because I was born in February, the month that often times hosts carnival]. I learned much of what I know about my culture abroad.

Don’t get it twisted, I grew up in a concentrated Caribbean enclave in Brooklyn, NY. There was no shortage of Trini-ness there but it is not the same as being reared on the island itself.

Thus, I get so excited for my daughter. She was born here and her proximity to her culture cannot be questioned or diluted. She does not have to thirst or search for it, it is everywhere. It is her.

And this year she had wings…

Melissa A. Matthews

The week before carnival, plenty of mommies and daddies turn into mas makers for their little masqueraders.

Luckily for my kid, I have an art degree and own my own business. This meant I could design her costume and take two working days to make it.

The theme was announced a month or so prior to the school’s jump up and competition: Birds of A Feather.

I just knew most parents would go with one of our two national birds, the Scarlet Ibis or Cocrico. I wanted my baby to stand out. So obvious choices like parrots and peacocks were also out.

I googled “beautiful birds” and there it was…a Golden Pheasant. I showed the picture to my daughter. In all her four-year-old wisdom, she too knew it was a winner!

In hindsight, perhaps its funny that neither one of us cared that it’s basically a glorified chicken.

That chicken summoned the ants, though!

I set out to make the costume starting with the wings. I designed them methodically after a four-hour Youtube/ Pinterest binge on how to make paper wings. I had never done this before.

That first day, when my daughter arrived home she tried on her 75% completed wing and proclaimed “I love it, mom!”

By the second day, both wings and most of the rest of the costume was complete.

It was gorgeous [ if I say so myself]. The moveable wings were gilded in red and gold glitter. Individually hand-cut red, gold, and blue feathers fashioned out of thick stock paper and glued within an inch of their lives — there’d be no melting wing on my watch — looked effortless. The matching glitter-gilded face mask, head, hand-painted neck, and waist pieces provided texture and visual interest.

She tried it all on and choreographed the dance she would do to present her mas.

“I’m going to flap my wings and shake my tail feather,” she demonstrated via video for grandparents, aunts, and others.

She spun around so proud; wings-a-flapping and tail feather just shaking.

Her dance summoned the ancestors — my granny and great grannies — who used to say “If I’m gone, the ants will bring the news.”

Somehow, I just felt my granny and my granny’s granny all around us. They too were masqueraders.

We were flying!

Her sheer excitement and joy around dancing her costume meant I did a damn good job. I was flying high on a mommy win.

My daughter was flying much higher though when they called her to collect the second prize trophy. She leaped up into the air and jetted forward to claim her prize.

I couldn’t convince her that she didn’t win first place and after two tries, I wondered why I had even tried.

She was soaring so high that no other birds existed.

It’s true what they say…

“There are two gifts we should give our children; one is roots and other is wings.”

In those wings that I made, I like to think I gave her both.

Accenture Report Finds Working Moms Just As Ambitious As Women Without Kids

This past Tuesday, Senator Larissa Waters made history when she became the first person to breastfeed on Australia’s Parliament floor. In an ideal world, the image of Waters and her baby wouldn’t be so newsworthy because it would simply be normal. But with Mother’s Day around the corner, there’s no better time to think about this milestone in the context of how working moms are faring in the workplace.

Accenture, a company with a longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion, is doing just that. In fact, in honor of Mother’s Day, the company decided to probe deeper into their recent “Getting To Equal” research — which was originally published to coincide with International Women’s Day — to get a sense of what mothers, specifically, are experiencing in the workplace.

I recently spoke to Mary Hamilton, Accenture Labs managing director based in Silicon Valley, to get a sense of what this research means and how it might be used to make workplaces more welcoming to mothers. A mom herself who has just returned to work after having twins, Hamilton spoke candidly about her own experiences in conjunction with this research.

At the outset of our conversation, she clarified, “This is really an extension of the research that we had done — looking at the statistics and all the data that we already had and taking a different spin on it. We wanted to think about not just how women are managing their careers, but think about that from a mother’s perspective and consider what that means for working mothers.”

The research tackles a debated question: Does motherhood diminish career ambition? According to Accenture’s research, the answer is absolutely not. Hamilton explained that the research was conducted, in part, to debunk this myth. “It’s assumed that when a woman becomes a mother, her professional ambitions shift — but what we’ve found is that’s absolutely not true. They return to the workplace aspiring to senior leadership positions — even aspiring to start a new company. From my personal experience, we may change how we work, but our ambition doesn’t change.”

Indeed, Accenture’s research reveals that working mothers have the same or even a higher level of career ambition as those without children; working mothers in the U.S. are just as likely to aspire to be in a senior leadership position (70% and 67%), they are more likely to change jobs for a promotion or for higher pay (2.5 times vs. 2.0), and more U.S. mothers than those without children say they would like to start a business within the next 10 years (53% vs. 35%).

Moreover, Accenture has found that digital has helped mothers return to work with more ease. U.S. moms are leveraging digital to juggle commitments and increase their own flexibility; 76% of those surveyed say they believe digital is important for career advancement, while 60% use digital to balance career and family life.

So what can companies do to better support working moms and eliminate bias — whether unconscious or otherwise? Hamilton, who feels lucky to work at a company where she hasn’t seen an ambition bias toward moms, shared her insight. She’s taken maternity leave twice now, and says that after both periods of leave, she was offered additional opportunities and responsibilities soon after returning to the office.

Mary Hamilton delivering the keynote at the Opticon Conference after returning from leave with her first child. Photo courtesy of Accenture

“For me, it was really important to take on new opportunities, and Accenture really did offer me an opportunity to stretch and take on those roles,” she said, adding that she proved she was capable and committed. “I think I became more efficient,” she reflected. “As a mom, you really have to make the most of your time in the office.” She added that she’s worked with various leaders at the company, but all have been “extremely supportive.”

Hamilton also noted the importance of using sites like Fairygodboss to help women understand which companies do support working mothers. She explained that as a woman in tech — particularly in Silicon Valley, which is known to be dominated by men — it’s especially important to work toward building more inclusive environments.

“I’m in research development and tech, where the number of women is really abysmal, but I’ve worked hard in Silicon Valley to grow our women’s footprint, and I know for a fact that when we’re able to show the women we recruit what we offer here [at Accenture], that allows us to bring in the next round of really successful women.”

Hamilton added that it’s just as important to retain female talent: “If we can show them all the way through their career that we don’t look at them differently [if they choose to have kids],” that helps women feel they’re being appreciated for their work, no matter what kinds of priorities they’re juggling.

For the women who do experience mommy-tracking, Hamilton stresses the importance of networking. She recalls that when she returned to work after her first son was born, she and other moms came together to think about how they could help make this transition easier for the next generation. Accenture wound up doubling the amount of leave they offer (from 8 weeks to 16), so Hamilton was able to enjoy that extended time off the second time she gave birth.

In addition to networking, mentoring is a powerful tool for working moms. Hamilton suggests “finding a leader who you trust; find advocates both within and outside of your organization who can look out for opportunities that might help you on a slightly different trajectory or help you find increased responsibility or flexibility. Find those advocates and use your networks to support you.” In other words, she said, if you’re feeling stuck, it might be because of bias, but you might also need to be clear about your ambitions.

She also emphasized the importance of cultivating a pay-it-forward mentality and making sure women in leadership roles are proactively making sure their workplaces and teams are family-friendly. For example, Hamilton says that when she recently worked to plan a retreat, she had the idea of inviting all parents and families to make it a more family-driven activity.

“I reached out to the team planning the retreat and said, ‘I’m a working mother, so here are the things I need (which included time and a place to pump, without missing any important meetings or discussions).’”

Hamilton reiterated that she’s extremely proud to work at Accenture, especially because her company is digging into their research from a mother’s perspective. If other companies follow suit, working moms will continue to gain long-overdue respect.

This article originally appeared on Fairygodboss, an online career community that’s devoted to improving the workplace for women by providing crowdsourced reviews, career advice, interview tips and job search strategies.


Originally published at www.womenwhocode.com.

The Start of Reducing Technology

Technology has been rapidly increasing through the last several years. not many years ago we just had a tv only in black and white and a dial up phone. Now we have new technologies being invented constantly and that has taken a toll on todays society. We have become so dependent on technology that we would fail without it. We feel the need to constantly check our phones for text messages and social media, we are always watching television and we rely on computers for all of our daily actitities including school and work. But how did we really become this dependent on our screens? After doing some research on the uses of technology and how it has evolved we came to the realization that the start of this issue is with our kids. At a young age we are introduced to all these technologies with no idea how influencial and addicting they can be and some with parents who dont care how much time their kid spends in front of the television playing video games instead of playing outside. In a typical day, children consume just over three hours of media. This includes computer use, cell phone use, tablet use, music, and reading. Two thirds of this time is spent with screen media, such as televistion computers and smart phones, while reading is less than 20 minutes per day. It is very difficult to control this issue when new technologies are being developed and schools are starting to use these technologies in the classrooms. Many studies have showed that minimalizing how much time children spend on screen time can help them in the future to not be addicted. Others have showed that the technology kids are using should only be to learn and not to play. Taking all of this into consideration we have decided to create a device for kids that contributes to both of these findings.

This device we have created can be used in school or at home. It consists only of school related programs or activities that can get them outside and away from the screen. This product can be for kids ranging from 6–12, having different levels of difficulty for each grade level. This device will be around the size of a typical ipad with programs consisting of math, reading, spelling/vocabulary, getting active, scavenger hunt, and experiments. The math, reading and spelling will be strictly device use only. However, getting active, scavenger hunt and experiments will allow kids to go outside, be active and have fun. To get specific about each program, math will consist of simple math equations for each grade level. Reading will be similar to iBooks, where there will be different childrens books for either them to read or for their parents to read to them. Spelling will consist of different images and the child will have to correctly spell what the image is. Experiments will consist of a list of many different simple science experiements they can do with friends or family. It will tell them all the items they need to complete the experiement and step by step instructions. Scavenger hunt will consist of a list of simple items a child can find outside or inside the house, each item will count for a certain amount of points, the child must take a picture of each item to recieve the points. Get active will be similar to scavenger hunt except it will have different activities to do outside to receive points. We decided to create a point system for some of the programs because kids need incentive to want to do something willingly. This device also tells the child when it has been on it for too long and tells them to take a break and play outside.

Below is the paper prototype we created

To introduce our idea of a specialized technology for kids in a hands on way, we decided to create a paper prototype of what our tablet and it’s apps would look like. We designed our tablet to mimic normal iphones and ipads so kids would feel like they are using what grownups are using. There is a home button, and apps are presented in small squares on the home page. This paper prototype worked because we were able to show illustrations, words, and instructions for the tablet in a simple way that its intended audience would be able to understand (kids).

When it came to testing our prototype with real users, we decided the best testing method would be usability testing since our tablet is a interactive piece of technology. Even though our prototype is made of paper it is still somewhat interactive because it gives you buttons to press and activities to complete. Our targeted users are kids aged 4–12+, so the first person we tested our prototype with was Marissa’s 7 year old brother. We briefly explained the idea of the tablet but did not go into depth on any of the apps or how it was used. Our ‘home page’ paper prototype was the first he looked at, he read the title out loud and then looked over the six different apps shown. He put his finger on the square illustrated with different types of sports and said, “how do i look at this one?” We handed him the paper for the sports app which encourages physical exercise and gives unorthodox ideas for outdoor activities that can include multiple people so they don’t have to use it alone. He looked over the suggested activities but had to have some help with reading them. Once read aloud, he laughed and began to jog around the room (the first activity is ‘Run around your house once’ for 5 points). He said it was easy and wanted to do more of the activities, he asked marissa to race him and he asked how many points he had gotten so far. This first usability test demonstrated the problems and solutions our tablet faced. Because our target users are young children, many of them cannot read/are at different reading levels. We decided to add a feature where a computerized voice reads off the instruction if you press a sound button next to the description. This is helpful to those who have trouble reading and it also teaches children words without them even knowing it because they are seeing and hearing the word. It was also clear that marissa’s brother was mostly interested in the sports app, which is normal for a 7 year old boy. But the point of the tablet is to give children a balanced learning and activity experience, so we decided that the tablet would need to have pop up reminders to visit other apps such as math or reading if a child is spending too much time on one specific app. A pop up would say something like “Take a break and do some subtraction for 5 points!” with a button that then takes them to that activity. Or “relax and read The Cat in the Hat for 10 points!”. This feature not only encourages them to complete a task in exchange for points, but also gives them an idea to switch it up if they are getting bored/lethargic on another app. We also realized that our point system needed some sort of reward or end point. Instead of just racking up random meaningless points, we created point milestones that will encourage users to continue using the app/ make them excited to complete activities. Once you reach 25 points, you receive an electronic ‘badge’ that congratulates you and encourages you to keep going, this goes on for every 25 points earned. And at every 100 point milestone you receive new unlocked games, exercises, and activities that become more and more advanced to stimulate learning and challenge the user. Usability testing opened our eyes to the many small but detrimental problems of our tablet and how to easily fix them and improve the technology to make it a better and more sustainable experience for the user.

Our educational tablet for developing children is multifaceted, encouraging, and most of all usable. Children having access (unlimited or not) to iphones and ipads can be permanently damaging because although there are apps for kids, those tablets are not made for children. Our tablet is designed only for children with their health and wellbeing in mind. In this age, all kids want to use technology Especially when they see their parents or older siblings using it constantly. With this specialized technology designed for developing kids, children won’t feel as eager for their first computer or iphone because they will feel as if they have their own ipad already. There is no access to the internet which eliminates chances of children being exposed to harmful content. Our solution definitely meets our standards of success because it encourages kids to exercise, learn, expand interpersonal skills, and have fun. We knew that trying to eliminate technology from children’s lives would be futile, so we created a technology that results in only positive behavior. In 2017, technology is deeply rooted into our society, but there can be positive ways to incorporate it into children’s lives. We had to think of things that children would want to do and that would also be helpful to development. After our prototype testing, we realized there was so much that goes into a useful and educational tablet like this. All children are different, so a tablet like this needs to cater to many different personalities. Something we wish we would’ve done differently/added to our tablet are more apps for different kids. There are millions of different types of recreation and learning activities we could have included such as different languages, basic cooking/baking, art, star gazing, yoga. This app would greatly benefit from an art centered app that gives you artistic challenges to complete. For example, drawing a self portrait or a family portrait would encourage kids to explore creative outlets that maybe aren’t encouraged in their home or school life. This tablet has the potential to be pushed so much further to enhance the user experience, due to resources and time we could only take the idea so far. For what our group did come up with, I would give us a 10 for our process and development of our original idea. From our first instinct of wanting children not using any technology, to the realization that that wouldn’t work, to developing ideas to solve the problem, finalizing a solution, and improving it as we went along. Through this process we learned that you must always push your idea as far as it can go for the best result, never stop asking questions, and design not for yourself but for your user. We had to put ourselves into kids shoes to try and design something that they would want to use. The problem that our society faces with technology is a big one, and addiction to technology today starts at such a young age, which is so damaging to development into adulthood. This is why we decided to go to the root of the problem and focus on children’s interaction with technology. We know that not every child will flourish using this app or will even like it, but it will definitely prevent some kids from getting too attached to real technology so early on in their life. Our solution 100% solves this problem on a basic level, but it is ultimately up to parents and teachers to stop technology addiction in children before it’s too late.

  • Marissa Cody and Brenna Flinn

I love Romania, but here are our baby’s Murphy Laws

These did not happen to us. I’m writing for a friend. *wink wink* I swear they are the cheekiest little wankers that feed off these type of moments. Below you’ll discover 15 of my baby Murphy’s Laws, but feel free to join in the fun with your experiences in a comment below.

  • If you are going out or just changed clothes, he will spit on you even if the meal-n-burp-time went successfully a while back.
  • If you change the stinky one, rest assured he will stinky up the next nappy because you just didn’t wait long enough. Even if you did wait long enough.
  • At night you change and feed the nugget, then burp and hopefully you put him down only to hear the boom of a stinky nappy and you have to do all the change/feed/burp/fall asleep steps again.
  • During bath time, or when changing a nappy, if you wait a nanosecond more pee will go all fountain like around you.
  • When eating and you see that he stopped, that's when he’ll start again.
  • When falling asleep angelically on your shoulder and you try to put him down the two flashlights come back on.
  • While sleeping, he screams like a police siren for the milk maid to come feed him. Eats for 3 minutes and falls asleep only to wake up again in less than an hour.
  • While sleeping, he will scream like something bad is happening only to wake him up with kisses and see the brightest smile of them all: “oh, it was only you mommy?!”.
  • When you tell on him how naughty and fussy he’s being to a friend and relative only to come for a visit and see that he’s the epitome of the perfect baby, thus making you look like a drama queen.
  • If you have a bunch of fresh onesies, he can wear and keep clean just one for days on end. But if you’re down to your last clean one, be sure that he’ll dirty it up in the the first 10 minutes.
  • When he’s fallen asleep and you think the burp isn’t coming, that’s when it comes and you just have to keep at it in case there’s more.
  • Friends don’t understand why sometimes it takes up to 40 minutes to feed — eats for 5 minutes, burps for 5 more, gets fussy right when you think you’re done. And if you’re going through a wonder week, when he eats every 60 minutes, this is hell because you don’t count since he ended, but when he started…40 minutes back.
  • When you’re patient and soothe him to sleep, it takes 40 minutes. When you’re done being the indulgent parent and swaddle him up while putting the white machine on, he falls asleep in an instant.
  • When out and about he’s going to be asleep instead of tiring himself up with new sights. But when you get home, he’s up all fresh after the little nap.
  • If you go away and you express a lot of milk for somebody else to feed him, you’ll come back to a half eaten bottle. Yet, when you express a little, he’ll want more and more and more.

To be continued…[these are only the first two months].

(Car) Camping with Kids: The Basics – Elisabeth Hedrick Moser – Medium

(Car) Camping with Kids: The Basics

Maybe instead of asking how you can go camping with kids, you’re asking, why in the h*** would I want to go camping with kids? Camping is kind of funny. We take a whole bunch of our stuff to the great outdoors and set it up out there so we feel like we’re at home. It’s a lot of work. It’s exhausting. There are bugs. Those criticisms are totally true, of course. But even so, I still think that the reasons to haul your gear and your kids outweigh the practical naysaying.

I’ve always believed that being out in nature made me feel better, not just a little bit, but in a deep-down, in touch with my soul and balanced with the earth sort of way. Scientists are now mapping what causes these feelings and finding compelling evidence that just being in natural spaces, (or even just near them!) physiologically lowers stress, which in turn lowers heart rate, blood pressure, cortisol, and negative feelings. Contact with nature also lights up the parts of the brain associated with empathy and altruism and improves concentration. These effects can be seen after just a 15 minute walk in the woods. (“Call to the Wild,” National Geographic) Imagine the changes that happen in your body and mind when you stay in the woods for the weekend! There’s nothing better than being out for a hike, and, as the sun goes down, not having to return to the highway, to the daily grind, but instead, to enjoy the falling night, hear the nocturnal sounds, experience the stars coming towards me instead of away, and feel the fresh air waft across my face as I try to sleep. I want the experience I have while hiking to keep going. If you can relate to that, then camping is probably a good fit for you.

If camping is good for you, it will be good for your kids. Kids will experience all the same physiological and psychological benefits that you will. On top of that, they’ll benefit from being with you when you’re less stressed. Being out in nature will teach them a myriad of lessons that they can’t learn inside. They can learn to take risks and know their own limits. They can experience discomfort —in the different elements, with bugs, with minor scrapes and bruises — and learn to adapt. They build resilience in the outdoors (for more on this see Last Child in the Woods). They can connect with the world without a timeframe pushing them to just keep walking and stop looking at every daisy along the way. When they’re camping, they have the freedom to just look at a daisy for days. Maybe at the end of the trip, you’ll even want to take a look, too.

So, what about the practical matters? What makes for an enjoyable camping trip with kids? For me, it boils down to bringing the necessities and letting go of what is not essential. (Also, letting go of what you forgot).

Here’s my list of essential things to consider/bring:

Shelter:

  • You’ll need a good tent to fit your family. If you’re just starting out, you may be able to borrow a tent from a tent from a friend. Be sure to bring the instructions! If you don’t have one and are going to invest, as with most outdoor gear, spending a little more will get you something that will last longer and be more enjoyable to use. A less-expensive tent will likely work just fine.
  • We also bring a big tarp with rope to make a shelter over our fire pit and table when it’s raining steadily. This really helps to keep from getting stir-crazy, so you don’t have to just sit in the tent together.

Sleeping:

  • A foam sleeping roll will be perfectly comfortable for most kids. These are pretty cheap to purchase. Several blankets folded up would also work fine.
  • Try to get them a warm sleeping bag, depending on what season you’re camping in. The degree comfort levels marked on sleeping bags are pretty accurate. Be sure to check the nighttime lows for when you’re going. It’s really not fun to worry all night if your kids are freezing.
  • Sometimes we have issues with our kids rolling out of their bags and waking up cold. I think it’s generally a good idea to bring a few extra blankets — to cover over their bags and to place beneath all the sleeping pads. A lot of the cold seeps in from the ground.
  • Strange things can go on at night while camping (well, and at home.) This can be the most difficult part of camping — dealing with kids waking up and not going back to sleep when you’re exhausted. A good friend of mine shared this perspective with me: I asked how her night was, and she said, “Great.” I asked how she slept, and she said, “Well, I didn’t sleep, but I don’t plan on sleeping much when I camp.” While this philosophy is a bit much for me (I always plan on sleeping, even when it’s not likely), I think it’s a useful attitude for camping. Just know it’s going to be very different from home. Try not to get angry or stressed about it, but try instead to focus on the sounds you can hear out in the woods that are so rare in normal life. Remember that kids are learning how to relax in a very different environment, and learning to be comfortable in the wild is lesson that will go deep in their bones. The work you may do in helping them rest at night will go a long way.
  • I like to put my kids in the tent, read to them and snuggle for awhile and then go back out for a drink by the fire. I think it’s good for them to learn to fall asleep by themselves, even if they cry a little. I always go to check on them and reassure them that I’m right here. After a few nights, they become more comfortable with the night, and it’s beautiful to see them developing that capacity.

Chairs:

  • Having a camp chair is nice for everyone. It makes sitting around a lot more comfortable. But if you don’t have one for everyone, don’t sweat it. Unless you have specific health reasons to use a chair, sitting on the ground or a tree stump will be fine. Bring a picnic blanket to sit on.

Les toilettes:

  • If you have kids that are potty training or even just still little enough to sit on one, bring a portable potty. That way, if your kids have a hard time peeing on trees or squatting, they can use the potty for the million times a day they have to pee, and you won’t have to walk at a toddler pace back and forth from the restroom all day. You can toss the pee away from camp.
  • When they poop in the potty, just take it to the restroom and flush it. Be sure to bring wipes to clean it out. If you can’t take it to a restroom, you can also bury it. Go about a hundred feet from your camp, others’ camps, and water sources, and bury it at least 6 inches deep. Use a rock or stick to dig if you don’t have a trowel. But hopefully you can just take it to the restroom.
  • If you have a child who is newly potty trained at night, you may want to take extra precautions at night while camping. One good trick is to put a diaper outside her underwear. They won’t feel like they have permission to pee in the diaper, because they’ll feel the underwear. But the diaper will keep the pee from soaking the sleeping bag and ruining your night. See my post about backpacking with children for a detailed glimpse of what this look like.

Food:

  • Eating while camping is for some reason extremely pleasurable. Being outside just makes you more hungry and makes food taste better. Maybe the scientists will tackle this benefit of nature next. Maybe they already have?
  • I like to make a little chart to figure out exactly what I need and then make a grocery list from that.
  • I make things that I can prep a little bit ahead of time, or even have pre-cooked. Kids love to help with camping food. Try to slow down and remember this is part of what they’re learning about the work of living outside. Let them help assemble, stir, whatever they can do safely.
  • Don’t forget the coffee, salt, and cooking oil/butter!
  • Coffee: We use a French press, which works well, except the clean up is messy. Percolators are fun, but take awhile. There’s always instant coffee!
  • Try to do meals where you can use ingredients for more than one meal. This will cut down on your groceries considerably.
  • Bring a stove to make cooking much easier. Cooking over a fire can be tricky, and having a fire is never a certainty. Don’t forget a pan and spoon to stir. A two-burner Coleman style stove is pretty ideal for car camping.
  • Dishes: I like to bring metal plates and utensils, to cut down on trash. These can be cleaned with a sponge (or fingers) and a very small dab of soap, then rinsed with a little water and wiped down with a bandana. I know a lot of people heat water and have washing stations and all that. I admire that. But I’m usually totally worn out by that point and just do the bare minimum. Follow your own hygiene tolerance!
  • Trash: Bring a trash bag or two and tie it to the pole that’s likely provided if you’re in a public campsite. Bring another bag for recyclables and tie it up too.
  • Keep food in your car at night, or inside a heavy-duty, well-sealed box. Raccoons and skunks (we don’t have bears in Texas) can get into ice chests. Your safest bet for not being up with scavengers all night is to put it in the car. Don’t bring food in your tent! Some critters, like skunks, can also open zippers (really!).
  • Resist the temptation to toss food scraps, even fruits and veggies, into the woods. It seems fine — it’ll just decompose, right? — but think about all the people at a public campground who think the same thing. The effect of all these food scraps is that animals are attracted to the site. If you don’t want to be the main raccoon attraction when you’re trying to sleep, put your scraps in the trash, or burn them thoroughly in the fire.

Fire:

  • Bring your own firewood. Most state parks don’t want you to gather wood. Bring newspaper, cardboard boxes, dryer lint, or even fire-starter sticks to help get it going. Don’t forget matches.
  • Kids are actually generally respectful of fire. Teach them clear boundaries and enforce them strongly. But sometimes getting a little too close to the fire is the best way to learn. Kids usually back up when they get too hot.
  • Keep water close by to put out any errant flames.

Dirt:

  • Resign yourself that the kids are just going to get dirty. Don’t worry; it’s actually good for them. They’re building up their store of good bacteria (more on this Let them Eat Dirt). I let mine get dirty all day and then clean them off before they get in the tent. Also, no shoes in the tent is a rule kids can learn pretty early. Mine had grasped it by age 2. Before that, you have to enforce it yourself or else you will sleep in a sandy sleeping bag. Also, teach the kids to keep the tent closed all the time. You’ll be amazed how many bugs will find their way in just so they can buzz around your light when you’re trying to read.

Babies?

  • How young is too young? We waited till our first was 6 months old before we went on our first venture. Then, that weekend was the first time she learned to put things in her mouth! She spent the entire weekend trying to fit an assortment of sticks of rocks in her mouth, so I spent the whole weekend getting them out. Is this reason not to camping? Nah, I’d be the same thing at home, right? I’m just saying that it’s actually easier to go with an infant than a baby who is moving around and getting into mischief. As soon as you recover from labor is probably the best time. The baby doesn’t move, you’re already not sleeping…why not be camping?

First-Aid:

  • Definitely bring a first-aid kit. It doesn’t have to be an actual first-aid kit. Just gather the basic supplies you’d use at home if someone was injured. I like to include:
  • Band-aids, iodine or alcohol or some other disinfectant, a relieving cream like Neosporin
  • Benadryl and Benadryl cream — a real lifesaver if someone finds their way into a fire ant pile
  • Dr. Zarbee’s kids cough syrup (honey and melatonin) — I’ve had kids get sick suddenly while camping, and this syrup really does help.
  • Ace wrap
  • A few larger bandages
  • Tweezers
  • If someone gets seriously injured, do your best to stabilize and relieve the pain and high-tail it to the closest medical care center. It’s a good idea to find out where this is before you get to camp, in case you don’t have cell service.

Finally,

  • there’s the whole letting go philosophy. On a canoeing trip with my dad and step-mom in Big Bend, we had a guide in Big Bend who told us, “If you don’t got it, you don’t need it.” It’s always interesting to make do. Use your creativity, and learn to adapt. Everything is an adventure when you’re camping. Everything that goes wrong can teach you something about yourself and your relationship with the world around you. If you can hold this attitude for most of the time you’re camping, your kids will catch on, and the minor catastrophes will be great stories for your family to laugh over.

Is it possible that something catastrophic will happen while you’re camping? Yes, definitely. But it’s also possible in your front yard, or even in your house. For me, the risks that we take in being outside the security of modern conveniences are worth it because they let us avoid another catastrophe: living life without being connected to the wild, natural world.

Well, those are the basics of camping with children in my world. What are your essentials?