Thursday, January 31, 2013

Toddler TV Time

A friend recently asked if I had started letting Ellie watch TV. For the longest time I was the scrooge mom who steered my daughter away from all media (and sugar, but that's another post). How things change with two kids. 

I wrote this post a while ago about my thoughts on TV. Wow. It's an interesting post with plenty of statistics and written from my high-horse-only-had-one-easy-baby perspective. I still believe that watching TV should be limited and intentional for children and is 100% unnecessary for babies. But, two of the reasons I listed (and berated) for using TV are exactly mine now: taking a shower and nursing my baby. At the time I wrote this I had one child and couldn't understand why these parents couldn't just teach their kids to play by themselves. Oh boy. For those of you who read that at the time and laughed at my idealism and or inexperienced naivete, you had every right to, although at least at the time I foresaw the possibility of changing my mind after having baby #2.

Ellie started to watch short clips of cartoons or Sesame Street around the time Hazel was born. She was about 20 months old. I felt guilty. I had wanted to wait until she was at least two before letting her watch consistently. Even five or ten minutes made me uncomfortable. Somehow I felt like I was being lazy or letting her brain rot. Around the same time we started housing my brother's TV temporarily. Up until that time we didn't have a TV in our living room, which made our no TV policy much simpler. 

We started to use I-Phone games as a reward for Ellie going #2 on the potty. This increased her screen time (and her success on the potty).

We watch Netflix or Hulu and don’t turn on the TV to surf. We still don’t have cable or get local TV. There are only a few shows Ellie watches and they are considered educational. She was addicted to several Sesame Street books before her world changed and she learned that Elmo was alive and real. 

When we let Ellie watch TV I position Hazel away from it and will do this until she is much older. She doesn’t need to see the TV even for a few minutes. I still believe that to be true. She should be exploring the floor or toys or staring at her hands in front of her. There’s zero “educational” screen time at this age, no matter what Baby Einstein or any other video manufacturers claim. 

Ellie went through a stage of waking up much earlier than normal. We’d turn on an episode of Sesame Street and crawl back to bed (15-20 feet away) for a few more minutes of guilt-ridden sleep. Quickly a routine formed where she’d wake up in her way-too-early sleepy state and demand Elmo, and we realized that had to stop. Instead, books, puzzles, and Mr. Potato Head have become good early morning activities, with only the occasional Elmo as a treat.

I try to limit TV to when I’m desperate for Ellie to be preoccupied: usually, when I’m nursing Hazel (and Michael isn’t home) or when I want to take a shower.

I feed Hazel in another room and encourage Ellie to play, but if she’s doing anything other than watching a show she lasts less than five minutes before she wants to be near me and Hazel. Unfortunately, Hazel is at the stage where even the slightest noise, especially from her Daddy or sister, causes her to stop eating and look around. This is not conducive to a good feeding. In a normal week there’s one daily feeding when I need Ellie distracted, so that has been Ellie’s TV or game time for the day. I try to have days where there is zero screen time when I can manage it. 

This week Michael has been out of town and Ellie has gotten more screen time than usual. The reality is Hazel’s full tummy is very important and as long as I’m giving Ellie good attention and having lots of active play time the rest of the day, I do what’s needed, and I no longer feel (as) guilty. And, she's even learning Spanish to prepare for our move to Guatemala! My former blogging self that wrote the above post would not be happy with me, but I am more than fine with that. I no longer believe that a little exposure to media will rot her brain. On another note, I have no idea what our TV exposure will be like in Guatemala. 

And so, my ideas (or should I say ideals?) of parenting practices continue to morph with each new child and each new set of realities. This is just another way I judged other parents until I discovered, once again, the adage that as a parent, You do what you have to do. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Goodbye, Stuff

We’ve been slowly sorting through our belongings. Files. Books. Clothes. Toys. 

Honestly, I’m a little sad about a few things. Mostly, toys for the girls, which is probably silly, but it’s how I feel. There are things like their kitchen set, certain dolls or stuffed animals, or their recent Christmas gifts that we can’t take. (Don't worry, Mom, we will take Clifford with us). We will re-accumulate toys and play things in Guatemala, but for now, I can only see what they’re not going to have right in front of us and that’s what I’m struggling with.

Officially, being less attached to stuff is one of our values and motivations for doing all this. I'm a sentimental person, and my memories of Ellie with certain toys won't change. But there’s a part of me that wonders if my girls will somehow miss out on some childhood milestones or memories in the US by being in Guate. Silly ones, but no less true.

I know that the benefits outweigh the sacrifices we will make (bilingual! living in another culture! more family time!), but I can’t help but think of this new, redirected childhood my girls have ahead.

Instead of having little buddies that they grow up with since infancy, they will experience people coming and going throughout their lives. I’ve moved enough to know that I’m strong and resilient and have learned to dive right in as a result of being mobile. And yet, I envy those who have years of history with their local friends and family. I don’t have that. 

I have good, kindred spirit friends who live all over the world, and when we get to see each other it’s always such a blessing. Unfortunately, those visits are often rare, and it’s not the same as living near each other, experiencing life together on a regular basis, actually building friendships beyond the occasional visit from out of town. Not to mention the community we will leave behind in Fresno.

It may sound overly dramatic, but t
hese are things I am slowly releasing. I just remind myself that there are amazing experiences in our future, and then I take a deep breath and release my hold on our "stuff" just a little bit more.  

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Few Random Facts About Guatemala

The country of Guatemala is about the size of Tennessee.

Guatemala City, also known as "Guate":
  • Is the largest city in Central America. Some say the metro area population is almost 4 million.
  •  Is nicknamed the “Land of Eternal Spring” because of its pleasant climate all year long (70s are the average).
  • Is the fourth capital of Guatemala.
  • Has super malls and shopping which includes stores like PriceSmart (a superstore like Costco), WalMart, Sears, Starbucks, an IMAX movie theater, and even an organic grocery store.

A 36-year civil war ended in 1996.

There are distinct rainy and dry seasons. The dry season is November through May. From May to October, heavy rainfall happens consistently every afternoon.

The school year is January through mid-October.

A large number of museums, including a children’s museum, and a zoo with 110 different species are available. (I can't wait to take my girls to these). 
For those who want to come visit, flights from some of the major US cities are only a few hours (2.5 hours from Houston and 5 hours from New York), and flights can begin at $300 depending on time of year, location, etc. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

It's a Small World, After All

I've been getting the most random emails and texts from people about Guatemala. I'm amazed at how many people we know have connections in Guatemala and El Salvador. Several people have told me they have friends or family who live there, or work there, or are from there, and many have had the opportunity to visit. Offers to connect with people who know Guatemala is a huge blessing. After moving several times, I know from experience that even knowing one or two people in a new place is super helpful and comforting. It's encouraging to know that though we will be moving to a city of nearly 3 million people, we will have at least a few ways to feel a little bit connected. It really is a small world in so many ways.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Five Years

We've committed to five years in Guatemala, after language study and training are finished.

5 years means a lot of life will happen both in the States and in Guatemala. Babies, deaths, weddings, vacations, family time-we will miss much. I've never been more thankful for Facebook and email and the internet. It will be our lifeline to "home." (We will have at least one opportunity to come back within the five years.)

5 years means we will return with a 7 and 6 year-old (and hopefully more). Babyhood will be a thing of the past. Formative life years will happen for our children. 

I try to imagine what life may be like in 5-6 years. It’s impossible to fathom, though when I think about life five years ago, I’m baffled. Technology like Smart Phones are so commonplace now, and even a couple years ago were obsolete to the masses. What every day technologies and realities will be part of 2018 that seem unimaginable today? Who will be President? We will return to a very different US, of that, I’m certain.

But oh, the things we have to look forward to in Central America.
-Becoming a bilingual family.
-An entirely different culture and pace of life. This is all our kids will know. 
-Seeing and understanding the depths of poverty found in Latin America, and hopefully making some small difference and positive change in the plight of relief and development.
-Hopefully living a more simple and less "plugged-in" life.

Now begins the process of sorting and packing our belongings-what to take, what to store, what to get rid of. What's worth keeping in storage for more than 5 years and what should we release? We plan to store our stuff in Oregon and will spend at least a few weeks there visiting friends and family before we start language school.

We are in our fourth year of living in Fresno. That’s a record for us by a long shot. Leaving will be bittersweet. My girls were born here. We’ve connected and shared our lives with many people.

Truthfully, we’ve always felt a bit like outsiders. The vegetarian, hippy, cloth diapering Oregonians. I honestly can’t think of a single person we know here that doesn’t have at least one family member in the area, plus lots of history. People live here and stay here and so do their families. That’s made it hard to connect deeply because everyone we meet has longtime friends and family here to take up their time, and we never felt like we would be living here forever.

And so, we prepare to say good-bye in a few very short, quick months. It will be sad to say adios to yet another chapter of our lives, and I’m terrible with goodbyes. TERRIBLE. But we press on and look forward to what is coming. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Our Next Chapter

In 8 years of marriage, Michael and I have been on several adventures. 2013 promises to hold many more, and this time we get to experience life and calling as a family of four.

For those that don’t know, Michael has an MBA in International Development. The goal and hope has always been that we would end up abroad doing community-based work in the areas of disaster relief, development and justice issues. After spending time in Rwanda a few years ago we felt that the best plan would be to spend time in the US to get work experience, have a baby (or two), and then search for opportunities abroad.

Michael’s current role with MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) is in the field of fundraising, and though there are parts of this role he has enjoyed, his heart and passions have always been in supporting programs more directly through his administrative and leadership skills.

That brings us to our news:

We have accepted positions with MCC to be the Representatives for Guatemala and El Salvador. Michael and I will share the responsibilities of this role, with Michael working full-time, and me part-time. MCC primarily works through local partner organizations and so our responsibilities will be to support MCC staff and those local partners in both countries while living in Guatemala City. We are excited to get to work together and combine our skills and talents to balance each other. 

We will fly to Guatemala at the end of April to begin a 3-month language study, followed by MCC orientation in Pennsylvania before we return to Guatemala for a five-year commitment.

We took the holiday season to discern this decision and felt a lot of peace accepting this role. This decision brings a lot of change and unknowns, but we will hold on to that sense of peace as all of the details come together.

Thanks for your prayers as we make plans. We’ll continue to post updates and information here as we prepare for this next chapter in the life of our family. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

6 Months Already?

I can't believe my baby girl is 6 months old (on Monday)!

Hazel's sixth month was full of some big milestones:

- Hazel's first Christmas.

-She finally stopped needing her swaddle for naps and bedtime. She rolled over with it on and I had to drop it immediately. After a few rough days of naps she adjusted quickly and now sleeps fine without it.

-On Christmas Eve Hazel started rolling from her tummy to her back and pivoting in full circles. She's more mobile every day. 

-Hazel cut her two bottom teeth over the last few days.

-I finally dropped the dream feed, the 10:00 PM feeding where I'd wake Hazel up and "top her off" for the night. I probably could have done that months ago. After two nights of waking up a little mad, she's over it and sleeping all night. I've been waking her up at 8 AM several mornings. Even better, she is nursing better during the day.

-Today, Hazel had her first bite of real food: avocado. 

Before the first bite
Considering it...
Not too sure.
Ellie saw us taking pictures of Hazel eating and wanted us to take a picture of her eating her own lunch.
Ah, siblings. 
Here's Ellie taking her first bites of avocado at 6 months old.