Thursday, May 29, 2014

"Don't hit, kiss!" 5 ways we help our daughter love herself

Amaliya throws epic fits, as most almost-two-year-olds do. When her limited vocabulary fails her and she is overcome with anger and frustration, she bites.  For a while she was sinking her sharp little baby teeth into my forearms when I brushed her hair, or into my legs when I was cooking dinner.  If that didn't alleviate her stress, or if my tender haunches were out of reach, she would bite herself instead.  It was hilarious at first, I'll be honest - watching her shove her hand into her mouth or take a bite out of her own forearm and look shocked that, hey, that hurts!

I realized, though, that this probably isn't a good behavior to encourage.  I know this is normal for her developmental stage, but its never too early to discourage self-harm as a means of dealing with difficult emotions.  I started telling her, "Don't bite yourself!  Kiss yourself, because you love yourself!"  And she does!  It is amazing actually - in the throes of a mad fit when she is centimeters away from chomping on her own arm, she will pause to say, "No bite!  Kiss!" and will give herself a loving smooch (sometimes two or three, depending on how angry she is!).  Instead of running up to bite me when I'm cooking, now she wraps herself around my legs and showers my knees with kisses.

I've always had a healthy self-esteem.  Well, mostly.  As a teenager I had my share of "I don't want to be me" moments, occasional feelings of worthlessness because so-and-so didn't like me or a friend said something harsh, but these negative feeling were very, very few and far between.  My self-talk was largely positive: I am smart, I am a good listener, I am funny, I have beautiful eyes, I look cute when I wear that shirt, and so on.  I have no idea how I ended up that way, though.  High self-esteem certainly does not run in my family. I experienced bullying in elementary and high school (though not to the debilitating degree that many kids today are going through it).  I was always independent-minded.  Not very sensitive.  Tough, I guess, and I never let my own failures or the cruelty of others get to my heart.

Good for me, however, this has left me rather clueless when it comes to my own daughter.  She might turn out just like her father and I, functionally self-absorbed to the point that she doesn't give two craps what other people think of her.  Or, she might be different.  Sensitive.  Inclined to be her own worst critic, and let the judgements and opinions of others weigh on her.  It hurts me to think of her in the world by herself, doubting her awesomeness just because of what other people say about her.

It is never too early to start emphasizing self-love and acceptance.  Here are a few things we're doing now, and will do in the future, to make sure our daughter grows up with a healthy, positive sense of self.
  1. I will never bash my body, or hers, in front of her.  I've posted before about how we love our bellies, and bodies, in this house.  I let her see me naked, and I talk nicely about my own body in front of her.  I tell her that I love my shoulders, or "look at mama's muscles," or that I put on lotion because it makes my skin soft. We talk about how beautiful her curly hair and brown skin are.  We three compare our different bodies, and shower praise on all of them

  2. We use lots of positive verbal reinforcement, and not just limited to her physical appearance.  We applaud her (literally) whenever she tries to do something new, pronounces a tough word correctly, or shows kindness to others.  This article, all about the importance of praising a child's character instead of only acknowledging the good behaviors, has stuck with me.  I try and emphasize her good character as often as possible, telling her, "you are such a helpful person," when she puts laundry away, or, "You are a very loving girl," when she comes up and gives me a hug for no reason.  Conversely, when we need to correct her, we comment on the behavior ("that is a bad thing to do") instead of her nature ("bad girl!").


  4. We exercise together.  I try and incorporate little workouts here and there in my evening routine, and Amaliya is now old enough to watch and try and make sense of what I'm doing.  We make games out of it: we hold hands and "run fast" throughout the house, collapsing at the finish line (the beanbag).  I do pushups in the living room, with her on all fours imitating me.  We do crunches in front of the TV and squats at the kitchen sink.  I tell her, "Go, Amaliya!  Strong girl!"  I want her to understand from an early age that movement is not punishment, and exercise is joy and play instead of regimented obligation.  

  5.  We're going to involve her in activities.  She's a bit young now for serious structured play, but by this time next year we're going to start introducing her to sports, music, and whatever else catches her fancy.  I want her always to be involved in at least two activities - one that benefits her body, and another than benefits her mind.  Everyone I know who really struggled with self-esteem as a kid had something in common - they were never really involved in anything, never had the opportunity to cultivate their passions and learn about themselves by pushing their own limits in sports or the arts.  These things build confidence, a sense of self, and social skills. It is important to us that Amaliya have the opportunity to try different things and find her niche.  

  6.  We surround her with positive people.  I know that we will gradually lose control over this aspect of her life; she will make her own friends and relate with her friends' parents who may send her conflicting messages.  However, as much as I can help it, I want the people that I bring around her to be joyful, optimistic, energetic people who show love to themselves and others.  If she sees that we surround ourselves with life-affirming people, and do not entertain drama and negativity, hopefully one day she will be able to chose friends and partners who add value to her life instead of dragging her down.

No parent wants to see their child struggle with self-esteem issues.  I'm really hoping that, by surrounding her with lots of positive reinforcement and giving her the confidence and opportunity to define herself, our daughter will grow up to know what I know already: she is perfect, just as she is.

Did you grow up with a healthy self-esteem?  What are you doing to encourage self-love in your kids?

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Life-ish, 05/25/2014

I absolutely fell off the wagon with posting this week.  It happens.  I feel like I have a lot on my plate right now, lots of good things in the works, and so much to do. 

Good things come to those who hustle, as I was reminded by a dear friend earlier today.  This, above all, is what I live by. Forward motion. Never stop trying. Don't let fear or self-doubt cause you to stall out in pursuit of... whatever you need to pursue.

I'll have a more substantive post up later this week.  For now I'm going to lay in bed with a copy of It Starts With Food, checked out from the local library. I'll thumb through the marathon training plan (gulp) that I have programmed into my phone, and the pictures I took today of Amaliya having a wonderful time with her great aunt and uncle.  I'll take a few minutes to be grateful for sleeping in until 7:30 this morning (for the first time in months!), getting to see a friend's first art show, a lunch date with my husband, and the fact that I get to spend a rare Monday with my family tomorrow.

I hope you all had a wonderful, meaningful, memorable weekend.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Buying local, eating well: fun with CSA

Three weeks ago I took the plunge and did something I've been wanting to do for a long time.

We signed up for a farm share!

Farm shares, also knows as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), are such a fun way to support your community.  To participate, you simply pay a certain amount to the farm up front for a share of its crop during the season.  Every week, you go and pick up your portion.  What you get depends on what is in season and available - sometimes there is a different selection every week!

As soon as I saw an advertisement for Old Grove Farm Shares, which is a coalition of 28 farmers in inland Southern California selling shares to help support their farms, I knew I wanted to participate.**  Over the last couple years, we have transitioned to buying primarily local, organic produce.  There were so many reasons to make this change, including:
  • The quality of the produce.  Nothing compares to the taste of vegetables that were just picked that morning, that haven't been cooled and shipped hundred or thousands of miles.  And oh, the fruit!  There is just no comparison between store bought strawberries and the fresh, ripe, juicy offerings at the farmer's market. We have never been disappointed by any locally-grown product we've purchased.
  • Minimizing our footprint.  I really hate the thought that so many fossil fuels are burned and water/electricity spent moving produce to our grocery stores and keeping it alive.  The low cost of produce in the stores is appealing, but when you consider the environmental impact of the supply chain, it really makes you wonder why they are so cheap.  I love the thought that the foods I eat are grown just down the road, breathing the same air that I am, and no resources are wasted on unnecessary packaging or preservatives.
  • Feeling like a part of the community.  I know all the vendors at the local farmer's market now.  They tell me stories about the food I'm eating, they describe their offerings with love and convey a genuine passion for what they do.  I tell you, it is impossible to eat mindlessly when you can picture the face of the person whose time and sweat went into growing your carrots.
We paid up front for a half-share, which comes out to $18 per week for 13 weeks.  Our first bag included everything in the picture above - oranges, tangerines, strawberries, kale, lettuce, carrots, red potatoes, and an avocado.  The next week's bag contained purple carrots, two avocados, 2 bunches of a different kind of kale, lettuce, a grapefruit, and assorted citrus.  This week was much of the same, but with some radishes thrown in.  Everything has been incredibly fresh, perfectly ripe, and delicious.  A full share is $28 per week, paid up front.  If we can afford it, I wouldn't mind signing up for a full share next season.

I know, $18 a week is not cheap - especially since this is just part of our total produce consumption every week.  We are not rich.  We are not even "comfortable."  Money is tight, and we struggle often to make ends meet.  But there are some things I will not compromise on, and eating good food is one of them.  We skimp and sacrifice in a lot of other areas to be able to afford to eat organic and local, but that is just what's right for our family and how we choose to live.

I would encourage you to check out Old Grove or CSAs in your area.  If that doesn't work for you, or the cost is prohibitive, try to swing by a local farmer's market every now and then!  At the very least, you'll talk to some interesting people.  Chances are, though, you're going to be hooked. 

Especially if you try the strawberries.

** I was not compensated in any way for this review. I found the service on my own, loved it, and wanted to share my honest opinion with you all.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Making it happen, doing what scares you.

Toddlers grow.  They change almost daily, maturing and learning, regressing, and passing through all sorts of phases.  One moment they're climbing stairs by themselves, or asking for a blanket at night and saying "Goodnight, Mama" as you leave the room.  The next moment they fall down and cry and want to be rocked in your arms like a little baby again.  It is so hard to keep up, when they are neither kid nor baby but somewhere in between.

Amaliya has been going through a period of intense shyness for the last few months.  New things scare the daylights out of her.  She is especially wary of new places, or crowds of people she doesn't know (even crowds of people she does know make her nervous, sometimes).  Her daddy brought her home a pair of fairy wings this week, but every time she saw them she would vigorously shake her head "no," back away, and cry hysterically if we tried to bring them close to her.

I understand.  She is only just realizing that the world is larger than Mama and Daddy and grandparents and daycare and the grocery store, and the knowledge overwhelms her. She can predict us, her family, but the world outside is full of unknowns.  She doesn't have the words or the understanding to make sense of explanations.  So she buries her face in my neck and wishes it all away.

Things have been better lately, though.  Mostly thanks to the unique empathy of eight- and nine-year-old girls, a couple of whom we are privileged to know.  These girls take her by the hand and lead her away from me to play strange little games, explaining themselves gently, speaking in soft little-girl voices and seeming to understand her soft incoherent-toddler replies.  I see her bloom in front of them, her eyes meeting theirs and the sunshine of her smile breaking through.  I am grateful for the presence of little girls in our lives.

Watching Amaliya overcome her fears has helped me to overcome some of my own lately.

I entered 2014 rather tentatively.  I was afraid to reach out, afraid to act, because it felt like so much of my life was out of my control.  I've spent a lot of time, since Amaliya was born, just waiting for things to happen to me.  Waiting for other people's efforts to pay off and change my circumstances.  I was afraid to step out and seek change for myself because I felt that everything had to line up just so before I could try.

Somewhere along the way - at the end of January, when I put myself on a training plan and started really focusing on my running goals - I had an epiphany of sorts.  I was tired of waiting for circumstances to align in my favor, sick of feeling like, as a woman with a family and hefty responsibilities, I wasn't permitted to take any risks.  I realized that I was stunting my own joy for no reason.  When I got honest with myself, it occurred to me that I am not actually afraid of risk, rejection, or being open and vulnerable.  I was simply not used to taking control, reaching out to the amazing support network that surrounds me, and making things work.  That had to change.

I've dedicated myself to regular posting on this blog, and have plans to expand it in the near future.  I trained for and PR'd at a half marathon.  I walked up to a stranger and asked him, point blank, what it would take for me to work for him.  I applied for, and WON, a space on a team to run the Ragnar Relay in Napa Valley this fall.

I am not letting fear or insecurity stand in my way anymore.  I am making things happen.

My daughter is my inspiration in this and in all things.  Every time I see her, still so new to the world, semi-verbal with a still-growing brain, take the hand of a new friend and step out, in faith, on her own... I am proud. She is nervous, she is unsure, but she's trying new things and building new relationships every day.

She's making things happen.  We all are.  Together.