The best birthday in the whole world

We spent a good chunk of the weekend celebrating Gabriel’s fourth birthday with family and friends.  Four is indeed a fun age, as evidenced by his excitement and enthusiasm for [almost] everything.


The first present he opened was a pirate ship.  This was an unplanned gift — less than two weeks before his birthday, I was searching Craigslist for a pirate costume (he specifically wants a Captain Hook costume).  I didn’t find any costumes (not really the right time of year), but I did find someone selling this fabulous wooden pirate ship.


It’s in really good condition, and it was quite a steal.  G is a big fan!


But he was equally elated about the little things, proclaiming, “I LOVE banana chips” as he opened this [bandana-wrapped] present.

After gifts and breakfast, Matthew and Gabriel headed out to the garden for the day, leaving me time to prepare for Sunday’s party.  (I was pleasantly surprised at how easily G separated from his new gifts.)

We met up that night for dinner at Papa and Nana’s house.


We enjoyed a delicious birthday meal of spanikopita, Caprese salad, and fruit salad.  Then is was time for the main event . . .

Seeing the birthday cake for the first time

. . . a homemade (by my FIL) black forest cake!


The above picture was a little fuzzy, but I loved his pose.


Spontaneous joy at turning four!  After eating his piece of cake, G declared it, “the best birthday cake I have ever had in the whole world!”

After dinner, we headed over to the fireworks show at Sublette Park.  The display is usually closer to the 4th of July, but they also always choose a Saturday night, and I’m guessing they didn’t want to compete with the fireworks on the actual 4th.  It worked out well for us though — fireworks on your birthday, what could be better?


Well, a lot of things, as it turned out.  The above photo was taken at the very beginning.  A few moments later, I looked down to see G with his hands over his eyes.  He was wearing earplugs, but it was still quite loud, and we had front row seats, and I think it was just too much sensory input.  (This was also WAY past his bedtime — the first time we’ve ever kept him up for something.)

I tried to help by covering his ears, but he just didn’t look like he was having a good time.  I finally asked him if he wanted to stay or leave, and he said leave.  We were parked a couple of blocks away (parking was a mess, and we regretted not biking, but we didn’t have time to go home for the bikes after dinner), and as I carried him to the car, he was able to look back and see some of the show.  He seemed much happier in that position.

Once we were a block-and-a-half away, I paused to look back with him, and a woman sitting out on her front steps invited us to sit with her.  My arms needed a break, and Gabriel was game, so we sat.  She then offered Gabriel a popsicle.  I temporarily shushed the “corn syrup and food dye” monologue in my head, and said yes.  It was his birthday after all, and I wanted to end the note on a good night.  (When people asked him on Sunday what he thought about the fireworks, he simply responded, “Good.”  I think we’ll skip a few years before trying that again.)

Sunday was “friend party” day.  We rented a pavilion at a local park.  Gabriel and I made a piñata, and I brought musical instruments so the kids could have a parade.  Otherwise, we kept things fairly simple (though I wouldn’t mind simplifying further for future years!).


My MIL made angel food cake (“the best angel food cake in the world”), which was G’s special request.  After cake, came the piñata.


He did have a breakdown when it came time to let his friends have a swing at the piñata, proving that turning four is not a magic pill for such issues, but he recovered fairly quickly.


As the party ended, he declared it “the best birthday party in the whole world!”

G at Three

My days of being able to write a post titled “G at Three” are numbered!  I first started drafting this post almost a year ago, with a collection of cute words and phrases from my little guy:

  • “I not mind about it” (wishing this attitude hung around for a little longer, though it may be making a bit of a resurgence)
  • “Maybe yes, maybe no”
  • “Mommy Teapot, wake uuuuuuupppp” (his morning greeting, which he still uses; ideally we do not hear it until after 6am!)
  • Bo-nanas (for “banana;” also pronouncing the name of one of his teachers as Mo-donna, instead of Madonna)

There is no doubt that Gabriel is no longer a baby, nor a toddler, but a little boy.  A little boy with a mind of his own.  Lately, he likes telling us all about his “plans,” and heaven help us if his plan is not actually what is going to happen!


While there were challenging moments, we made it through the “terrible two’s” without much of the terrible.  The first few months of the three’s were similar, and then the bottom dropped out.  My easy-going little guy turned into a completely irrational creature who would melt-down and be inconsolable over THE most ridiculous things:

  • I used the wrong knife to put the peanut butter in his oatmeal
  • I gave him a spoon when there was already a spoon on the table

I’m sure there are many other examples, but those were two that happened with some frequency.

A friend suggested Susan Stiffelman’s Parenting Without Power Struggles.  It was a useful book — I took a lot from it, and will likely revisit it.  One of the main themes was “coming alongside your child,” rather than fighting them, by acknowledging their emotions, and while it makes sense in theory, finding the patience to empathize with Gabriel feeling really sad that his favorite knife wasn’t clean (for the hundredth time) was challenging.

I often thought, and sometimes said, “That isn’t even a thing.  Who cares what knife I used for the peanut butter?  You cannot be upset about that because it isn’t even a thing.  Be thankful that you have peanut butter!”

The good news is that, after several trying months (Tyrannical Threes?) things do seem to be getting better in the ridiculous breakdown department.  And, looking back, even at its worst, these were only moments within days that were mostly good.

In the last few months, we’ve moved into the “why” stage.  For some reason, I was thinking that happened earlier, and we just got lucky and missed it, but no.  Sometimes it is fun explaining, but it can get old quickly.  This too shall pass!

Other highlights of three:

  • G loved his Montessori preschool (and who wouldn’t, with Grandma as a teacher?)
  • He continued to received speech therapy, and make good progress
  • He loves his “green bike” (the Burley Piccolo tag-a-long), and we’re going for longer rides
  • He does not like riding Lightning (his two-wheeled bike with training wheels), much to my dismay and frustration
  • He’s continued to be quite the little foodie, and he’s a pretty good kitchen helper
  • When he’s in the mood, he’s also a good helper at the garden
  • He tells these amazing stories, often centered on his toy cats (Mama Emily, Little Emily, Meow, Watermelon, Flower Hiding, and Knocking Crane (a stuffed tiger cub, who is the latest addition to the crew))
  • He’s also very into art projects and loves making things for people
  • He loves books, but is not reading yet (I know it’s technically early, but I have friends whose kids were reading by four, and while I enjoy reading to/with him, I’m looking forward to this sometimes being an independent activity).
  • He also likes dressing up; favorites include his tiger and Peter Pan costumes, and, most recently, “Super Cape,” a made-up costume using a beautiful scarf made by Matthew’s great aunt

Gabriel loves parties and celebrations, and I’m looking forward to celebrating with him on the upcoming fourth anniversary of his birth and to seeing what this next year will bring!



Avoiding pitfalls in raising a healthy eater: Part 2

We left Part 1 with my struggles handing over the Whether and How Much reigns of meal time to Gabriel.  There are times we do a decent job of this, but there is certainly room for improvement.  The information in Fearless Feeding helped me see that G doesn’t need as much food as we do (by this age, growth slows dramatically, so it’s natural for appetite to decrease and choosiness to increase).  If he passes on the beans one day, it’s not the end of the world.

Little changes
Most nights, I plate meals in the kitchen.  We all get a bit of everything, with G getting slightly scaled-down amounts. But part of letting G take an active role is letting him serve himself.

I am a bit hesitant to do this for a couple of reasons: 1) it would mean he could take tons of, say, noodles, while ignoring the rest of the meal and 2) since we use dinner leftovers for lunch, this could lead to disproportionate amounts of things for those future lunches.  For now, I’m taking a scaled approach, plating some meals (or parts of some meals) and doing others as self-serve.  It’s fun to see him serving himself, and so far he does seem to take a bit of everything, even when it’s something he’s not crazy about, like lentil sloppy joes.

While it takes a bit of self-discipline, Matthew and I are both trying to refrain from encouraging G to eat “one more bite” of this or that, but rather to tune in to how he’s feeling.  If his stomach is telling him it’s full, then it’s fine to stop, even if it means leaving some food on his plate.

If we had already planned to offer a bit of dessert, and communicated those plans to G, we’ll go ahead with it, but make it a very small portion if he did not each much of his dinner (I know, that’s not letting him serve himself, but little changes, right?  Not to mention modeling that those foods are part of a normal, health diet in moderation).

Tummy troubles
Our new way of approaching meals and food may have other timely benefits.  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about our stomach weirdness.  While Matthew and I seemed to get back in balance, Gabriel continued burping A LOT, and started asking why he was having “throw-up burps.”  Not good.

I got pretty freaked out about GERD and possible esophageal damage.  We started looking into possible causes (food allergies, high stomach acid, low stomach acid), tests (not fun to contemplate most of the tests on a 3-year-old), etc.  I wondered if the re-introduction of carrageenan-containing soy milk was to blame (though it had never seemed to be a problem for him before, the time-frame matched).  We started tracking symptom-timing and what he was eating.

At some point, we realized it might not be WHAT he was eating, per se, but how much and how fast.  He’s always had a big appetite, and, while it seemed a little crazy that he ate almost as much as me at some meals, I didn’t think much of it.

But it seems he somehow got into a habit of eating way TOO FAST, which led to him eating TOO MUCH (when you eat fast, you’re more likely to miss the “full” signals).  So, in addition to letting him serve himself and not pushing extra bites, we’re really focusing on eating slooooooooowly: taking small bites, noticing the flavors and textures in our mouths, chewing thoroughly, waiting until our mouths are empty before taking another bite — basically mindful eating.

This takes a good bit of effort, especially when he’s sooooo hunnnngry, but it seems to be paying off in terms of his stomach troubles.  The burping still surfaces after some meals, but not all, and usually to a much lesser degree.  We’re hoping that this is indeed a relatively simple solution, and we’re all benefiting from bringing more mindfulness to our eating.

Avoiding pitfalls in raising a healthy eater: Part 1

Over the past year, our foodie toddler has grown into a preschooler, and, while I don’t want to label him as picky (and by most standards, he isn’t!), he has been making his preferences known a bit more.

These days . . .
Legumes, which are an important part of our animal-product-light diet, are often a tough sell, unless we’re talking chickpeas or black-eyed peas.  Now, I love both chickpeas and black-eyed peas, but I don’t want to eat them every day.  Variety is important — each type of legume has a unique flavor, texture, and nutrient profile.

While he’ll eat 100% whole wheat pasta and bread (homemade, with lots of crunchy things in it!) until the cows come home, during meals where we serve non-wheat grains, like rice or millet, you’d think the kid was on the Paleo diet.

On the plus side, he’s pretty into almost any and all vegetables, and he is usually willing to try new things (and sometimes he surprises me by being into new things that I’m not-so-into, like the okonomiyaki).

Little by little, we’ve started allowing a few small sweets into his diet, but figuring out the balance is tricky.  We don’t have dessert every night, but we do like to bake, and sometimes it’s fun to share a bit of something special.  While I don’t want dessert to be a reward or bribe for eating a “good” meal, I’m also disinclined to offer him a cookie when he’s barely touched his dinner.

Avoiding food fights
In many ways, I felt like we were doing all the right things.  Offering a wide variety of nutrient-dense, wholesome foods — check.  Making one meal / he eats what we eat (no short-order cooking) — check.  Not using food as a reward or bribe — check.

But I also felt myself sliding into some not-so-great patterns, such as encouraging “just one more bite,” as well as my own overly-concerned response and frustration to what he was or wasn’t eating.

I sought some expert help, and found this post on the Raise Healthy Eaters blog, written by Maryann Jacobsen, RD.  While numbers 8 and 10 on Jacobsen’s “10 Things You Should Never Say to Your Child About Food” list are not issues around here, I recognized some form of most of the other comments as things I’d said (and often regretted as it was coming out of my mouth), not often, but more often than I liked.

A bit more digging led me to the book Fearless Feeding, co-authored by Jacobsen and Jill Castle (also a registered dietician).  Fearless Feeding is based on pediatric dietician Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility.  In this system, it’s up to the parents to decide What, When, and Where.  But it’s up to the child to decide Whether and How Much.

After reviewing the chapter on toddlers and preschoolers, I realized that I’ve pretty much got the What, When, and Where.  The trick is trusting Gabriel to the Whether and How Much — that’s where I struggle.  More on that tomorrow, in Part 2 . . . .


My vaccine journey

Despite her intense fear of needles (which I do not share), my mom made sure that my sisters and I were fully vaccinated.  As a child of the 80s, this meant I received vaccines for polio; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus (DTP); and measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR).  I was not vaccinated against chickenpox (varicella) or rotavirus.

My [two] younger sisters and I all had chickenpox (at the same time), when I was about seven or eight.  It wasn’t pleasant, but, fortunately, none of us had serious complications.  We were all out of school for the standard week.

As a toddler, my youngest sister had rotavirus.  My main memory of her illness is of watching Indiana Jones movies in our den.  However, her vomiting and diarrhea were severe enough and prolonged enough that she was hospitalized for dehydration.

Prior to starting college, I received the Hep B and meningococcal vaccines, and I took advantage of the free, on-campus flu shots throughout college.

Soon enough, I was faced with choices about vaccinating my own child, and as many intelligent, well-meaning parents do, I started asking questions.  I’m not sure exactly what fueled my inquiry, but the views of some in the local home-birth community may have been a factor.

I also had a friend who had followed an “alternate” or “delayed” vaccine schedule, and, after reading some of the Dr. Sears books, I rather liked that plan.  As someone who had never seen measles, polio, pertussis, etc. (except in those scary videos, which don’t really work, though the pertussis one is pretty gross), it didn’t seem like a big deal.  Matthew wanted to learn more before going that route, but I went about finding a supportive pediatrician.

At the time, I was working for a local county health department, and the epidemiologist, who was also a good friend, was aghast at hearing my plans to deviate from the standard vaccination schedule.  She was both vehemently opposed to my plan and shocked that I, who worked in public health, was even considering it.

Interestingly enough, her reaction did little-to-nothing to sway me.  I did not feel like discussing it further with her, and, if anything, it made me more entrenched in my position (because it’s natural to be defensive, right?).

For better or worse, I had easy access to one of the few medical doctors in our area who is considered “anti-vaccine” friendly.  While I was planning to vaccinate, working with this office seemed the easiest route to getting my alternate schedule.

And then we took G to see this doctor for his 2-week check-up.  And I don’t really remember how it came up, but sometime during the course of that office visit, the doctor recommended that, to avoid disease exposure, we not take G out in public for three months.  Granted, never leaving one’s house would be a way to avoid most disease exposures, but this suggestion struck me as completely absurd.

“Really?”  I thought.  “Not taking a baby out of the house for the first three months somehow makes delaying [or skipping] vaccination okay?  That’s absurd!”  First, with the standard immunization schedule, infants don’t receive vaccines (except for Hep B) until they’re two months old anyway.  Second, what happens after three months?  Everything is magically okay?

I left the office feeling more than a little uncertain.  After some discussion, Matthew and I decided we preferred having a dedicated pediatrician for G’s care, and we made G’s four-week appointment with a different practice.

I went into that visit still planning on using an alternate vaccine schedule.  I liked our pediatrician, who also has a Masters in Public Health, right away.  After I asked about an alternate vaccine schedule, he basically said, “I’m not going to make you vaccinate, but every time you come in for a well-child visit, we’ll talk about the vaccines that G should be getting.”

In response to a friend’s recent post on pediatric offices mandating vaccines, I wrote,

While I can totally understand pediatric practices refusing to see patients who don’t vaccinate (especially now, in light of the recent measles outbreaks), I, too, considered a delayed / alternate schedule for G, and may have gone that route if it weren’t for my pediatrician’s gentler approach.  At that point, if he had issued an ultimatum, we may have ended up at a different practice that was VERY lax re. vaccination. Instead, we went with that pediatrician, and ended up following the standard vaccination schedule.

At the time, there were multiple reasons.  The idea of extra trips to the doctor’s office for an alternate vaccine schedule (on top of the every 3-month well-baby visits, plus any sick visits) was not appealing.  And I knew that once we hit kindergarten, if not earlier, he’d have to be caught up anyway (he did need them earlier, for First Steps services), as I had no intention of home-schooling and I was not comfortable with the idea of lying on an exemption form.

I am now pretty firmly in the vaccinate, and vaccinate as-recommended and on-time camp (though I still have some reservations/questions about vaccinating young children against STDs).  Vaccinating is not only for your child, but it’s also a public good, helping prevent outbreaks that would affect the most vulnerable — babies too young to be vaccinated, pediatric cancer patients, etc., but my journey here makes me cautious in how I express my position. 

My reaction to the conversation with my friend/colleague, along with recent research on the ineffectiveness of delivering pro-vaccine information to parents who have reservations about vaccinating (articles here, here, and here — this is quite the conundrum, and certainly a challenge for health communication research, a field in which I used to work), has certainly influenced the way that I approach others.

I’ll conclude by saying that, despite the recent measles outbreaks, and the revelations that some communities have very low vaccination rates, overall, in the U.S., we have very high vaccination rates.  The vast majority of parents ARE vaccinating their children.  Those who are choosing to not vaccinate their children (without a medical reason) would be wise to not encourage others to follow their lead, as they are relying on almost everyone else being vaccinated to keep their children safe.

In addition to the links above on why current vaccine messaging isn’t effective (at changing the minds of those few who choose not to vaccinate), here are some other good vaccine-related reads: