Sumner’s non-sequitur board book review: Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton

My baby loves owls (an affinity orchestrated by my partner who hung three little canvass prints of ridiculously adorable, brightly-colored cartoon owls with enormous eyes over her crib), which is why this book originally caught my eye at the library. I would have checked it out just because of the owls. But in the end, it’s Squirrel who steals the show. Never has a children’s book had an ending so perfect as this one.

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SPOILER ALERT. I’m gonna tell you how it ends.

The story opens with Mommy Owl and Little Owl asleep in their nest. Little Owl leans a bit too far over the edge and tumbles out. LO falls to the forest floor, where we meet Squirrel. LO is not hurt, but is rather lost, and asks Squirrel where Mommy Owl could be. The two embark on a search for Mommy Owl, which follows a trajectory not unlike the P.D. Eastman classic Are You My Mother? In the end, they meet Frog (mistaken for Little Owl’s mommy by Squirrel because they both have “BIG eyes,” as described by LO). Frog leads them all to Mommy Owl, who has been frantically searching for LO. She thanks Frog and Squirrel for finding her baby.

And then (here’s where the story just makes you want to die of cute), almost randomly, Mommy Owl asks if everyone wants to come up to their nest for cookies. “Yes, please,” says Squirrel. And here’s the clincher – the most perfect line ever uttered by a neon pink, talking woodland creature: “Cookies are our favorite thing.” 

The End (Basically. I’m not going to give the WHOLE story away).

So, to sum up, cute owls, cute forest animals, funny dialogue, suspense, emotional family reunion, brilliant ending involving baked goods. Best book ever. Go check it out.

Tantrum City

Tantrums. Every kid has them. Little Bear has been throwing some real good ones lately. My partner and I have been both feeling frustrated. I won’t speak for Rebecca, but I’ve been feeling downright angry when Little Bear pitches a tantrum. I want to give her space to work through emotions and feelings, but sometimes I need her to put her boots on. Now. 

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Little Bear and wall collage!

Lately, what I’m trying to work on is not reinforcing that pitching a tantrum works, which is harder than it sounds. A recent example: Little Bear pitched a tantrum over not getting to walk up the stairs one night before bed. I had been repeatedly saying we were going to go upstairs and use the potty and get ready for bed. I finally just picked her up and carried her, and she sobbed and cried about “My go upstairs! My walk upstairs!” So I took her downstairs and let her walk up herself and we carried on with the night. This is perhaps not a super dramatic example, but I had been saying it was time to go upstairs and trying to corral her for a while before picking her up. I reinforced that whining and crying would get her something she wanted (and let her delay bedtime, which is already a long process in our house).

One technique that we’ve been using is saying something like “I’m going to count back from five, and when I get to one I’m going to help you put your boots on.” Then I count back from five and do whatever it was I said, even if she continues to tantrum. To be honest, one of the reasons I’ve been liking this is that it gives me a second to breath and think about what I’m going to do instead of reacting in the moment and yelling or letting the tantrum work. I also like it because it gives Little Bear really clear communication about what we’re going to do and when. She gets warning instead of just getting picked up out of what might feel like nowhere. Now, most of the time she’ll keep whining up until I get to two or one and then she stops and does whatever I was asking her to do. 

How do you deal with tantrums? What are your favorite strategies for redirecting tantrums? How do you keep your cool and not throw a tantrum right back?

On being extra arms

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Dylan’s busted clavicle

As Levi mentioned last week in his post last week, I was recently doored by a car two weeks ago. My clavicle was fractured in several places, and I had surgery last week to put a plate and several screws in to realign the break. Fortunately I didn’t have any other major injuries other than some pretty colorful bruising.

The past two weeks have been a bit of a blur, but I have been reminded of how valuable our friends and family are to the FaB Family. People have stepped up to fill in for my injured arm and then some. My partner’s mom was coincidentally in town when I was hit and she extended her stay by several days to help take care of Little Bear. My mom then came to help and stayed for a few days. She took me to surgery so Rebecca could work. Both of Little Bear’s grandmas handled soothing her if she woke in the night. Our friend Billy set up a schedule of friends dropping off dinner for us for a week, even though I was being Minnesotan and waffling about needing dinner help for the whole week (Billy was right, we totally needed help for the whole week).

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Dylan’s fixed clavicle

Friends cooked us dinner, helped play with Little Bear, mowed our lawn, and generally offered to do whatever we needed help with and I am so grateful for it. I suppose my general point here is that even if it doesn’t seem like much, keep offering to help out the parents in your community. Be that extra arm or two to put the kid in the high chair, sing a silly song, mow the lawn, read a book, whatever. Even if you frequently get turned down, or if you asked to do something that seems sort of odd, it all helps and will be appreciated even if the parents can’t always thank you fully. We are still tired over here at the FaB house, but doing so much better than if we had needed to cope with my broken clavicle without all the care and help we’ve been given. While I am tired and sore and angry about getting doored, I am also fortunate and grateful to have such a strong network of chosen and biologically family.

Little Bear has definitely noticed that I’m injured. Granted, it’s hard not to with the giant “Ultrasling III” I am wearing. The night I got home from the ER right after getting hit she climbed into my lap and sat quietly without wiggling while I read to her. Let me tell you, having an almost two year old sit still in your lap is pretty miraculous. Now that I’ve had surgery Little Bear keeps pointing to my bandage and saying “Dada owie, ba ba!” Translation: Daddy has an owie and is wearing a bandaid. I went up to sooth her when she woke up in the night and she tapped my bandaid, said “Dada owie,” kissed my other clavicle, and then clapped because she was so pleased with herself. It still took a while to get her to go back to sleep, but at least she was adorable.

Exhaustion Guilt

Today I am exhausted. Little Bear has moved into full on toddler-hood, tantrums and all. She hasn’t been sleeping very well the past two nights. She’s not running a fever or tugging on her ears, just screaming and crying. Both my partner and I are tired and frustrated after several nights of only a few hours of sleep.

Several people I know have been posting that New York Times article “Cheating Ourselves of Sleep” about the long term impacts of insufficient sleep. It just made me mad. Trust me, I know that I am not getting enough sleep and that it is bad for me. I am also frustrated because I think about how people who are more likely to get insufficient sleep are probably working multiple jobs for not enough pay while trying to take care of their families. I’m willing to bet most people with “insufficient sleep” aren’t consistently not getting enough sleep by choice but by circumstance.

I know I tend towards overly mushy posts about how much I love being a dad and how much I love my kid. Today I am giving myself permission to be tired though. It is ok that I am tired and exhausted and maybe can’t give 100% to my job or my kid. It is ok that this morning all I could really do was stare at my partner with glazed eyes and apologize for the shitty sleep we got before I staggered out the door go get croissants from the bakery instead of making breakfast.

Caregiving is hard work. Like so many other parents who want to be more involved in organizing and activism, I am wiped out at the end of the day. When Little Bear goes through one of her bouts of not sleeping well, neither my partner nor I have much time to do anything other than wipe the dinner remains off the table and maybe wash a few dirty dishes. I feel guilty about not getting this blog post up on time, turning down invitations to organizing meetings, not picking up my old volunteer shifts at the shot clinic, still not having gone to a radical families group that has been meeting in my city for over a year, not going to fundraisers and events, and so much of the rest of the activities that made up my life before being a parent. Today I am going to do my best to absolve myself, and let go of that guilt. To use the words of Ethan, my friend and fellow blogger, “let’s take care of ourselves so we can take care of others.”

Ready for what’s next

On Sunday, Little Bear officially become an 18 month old. On Monday I graduated from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. My parents and my sister came from out of town over the weekend, it was great to celebrate with my partner, at least part of my family of origin, and of course Little Bear. I am grateful that my partner and I decided to have a kid when I was in grad school, and that we were able to be flexible enough each semester to figure out schedules for both of us to balance working and caring for Little Bear. While I am quite proud of the work that I’ve done in school, and think it was worth the time and investment to slog through the hoop jumping and hierarchy of higher education, becoming a dad has been the best part of the past two years.

Yeah, I learned some fancy math and statistical analysis techniques, did a lot of homework, and learned how to create and evaluate policies along with a whole slew of other things. But I’ve also grown into both actually feeling like a dad, and like I often even know what I am doing. When Little Bear was born I was thrilled and excited. I wasn’t scared, but I was certainly a little anxious about screwing up. While I technically became a dad, I didn’t start feeling confident as a dad until later. I know I felt fiercely protective of this little being from the moment I scooped her out of water she was born in, even if I didn’t know much beyond getting sustenance in one end and keeping the other as clean as possible.

I recently have had some really great conversations about parenting with new dads, soon to be dads, and fellow toddler-dads. These conversations have been full of excitement, fears, and deep reflection on what being a dad means to us. So much of the cultural narrative about fathers and infants is the bumbling dad who means well but is clueless until the kid is potty-trained. This isn’t the kind of dad any of the people I’ve talked with want to be, which makes me hopeful that there’s a shift in how we view parents and caretakers.

I can’t say exactly when it happened, but somehow I’ve turned into someone who is confident in his parenting skills and has fully integrated “dad” into my identity. Heck, I even do the tuneless half-singing half-humming thing my dad does when I’m washing dishes. This is not to say that I have everything figured out, or that I am not going to screw up multiple times in the future. Right now my partner and I are trying to figure out how to get better at having time together, even when we are tired and our brains are fried. I am also trying to figure out how to be patient with the toddler temper tantrums over nothing.

I know parents so frequently get told “oh just wait for [insert your favorite awful age here]” but I’m excited. I know we will have tantrums and arguments and Little Bear isn’t going to do exactly what we want because she is her own person. Living into who she is means she’s not always going to listen to us. I can only hope I remember that as she continues to grow up. I am a dad, I am a parent, I am ready for whatever is next.

Lit Review: Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type

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I am entering the headlong rush towards the end of the very last semester of my grad program, so in lieu of a more thoughtful post today I want to share a little bit about one of our favorite books over at the FaB house. 

 

“Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type” was a present from our friend Sumner who has an excellent blog about activism, queer issues, and gender over at Queering the Line. In “Click, Clack, Moo” the cows and hens are recast as agricultural laborers seeking to negotiate for better conditions. The cows, knowing the value of their labor, have found an old typewriter and request Farmer Brown provide them with electric blankets to keep warm in the cold barn at night. They form a coalition with the hens who are also cold. When Farmer Brown refuses to provide electric blankets, they strike. As the strike continues, eventually the cows propose to exchange their typewriter for electric blankets. Duck, the neutral party, functions as the go between during this deliberation. In the end, the cows and hens get their electric blankets. Instead of returning the typewriter, the ducks have taken it and have written a note requesting a diving board for their rather boring pond. 

We’ve been reading the book to Little Bear since she was little. It has become a big favorite. Little Bear is fond of rushing over to the shelf and pulling the book off while emphatically saying “moo. moo.” We’ve been using baby sign, so she enjoys pointing out the chickens and the sheep and the ducks. As Little Bear gets older I am hoping to have deeper conversations about why it’s important that the cows and hens have banded together, talking more about strikes and the importance of labor laws, but until then I’ll keep her giggling with my humorously realistic (if I do say so myself) “click clack moo, click clack moo, clickity clack moo!”

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Little Bear at six months browsing the kid bookshelf in our living room

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the books we have available for Little Bear. I love reading, and even as a child reading was part of the way I made sense of the world. I really resonate with Hermione from the Harry Potter books in that my first response in the face of a problem is to check the library. While I recognize that Little Bear is probably not going to have the same relationship to books that I have, I want her to have access to books that help her make sense of the world. As a parent and a book-lover, I want to be able to have ways of introducing age-appropriate discussions about difference, inequalities, and justice.

I was doing a little research about children’s books and race, and found some really disturbing statistics over at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center about books by and about people of color. For example, in 2012 there are approximately 5,000 new children’s books published. However, only 119 were about African-Americans and only 68 were written by African-Americans. There were only 6 books about Native Americans and 22 by Native Americans. There were only 76 books about Asian Pacific Americans, and 83 books by Asian Pacific Americans. Only 59 books were by Latinos and 54 books were about Latinos. To be clear, I am not saying I think all children’s book authors who are people of color should only write or illustrate books about people of color, nor am I saying that white people absolutely shouldn’t write books about people of color. To be honest, I am still wrestling with notions of authority and authenticity when thinking about who should or shouldn’t be telling stories about marginalized communities. However, on the whole I try to operate on the basis that people in marginalized communities know their struggles, joys, lives better than someone not in that community.

So why is this important? Why are kid’s book in particular important? In Don’t Tell The Grown-ups: The Subversive Power of Children’s Literature Allison Lurie writes that

The great subversive works of children’s literature suggest that there are other views of human life besides those of the shopping mall and the corporation. They mock current assumptions and express the imaginative, unconventional, noncommercial view of the world in its simplest and purest form. They appeal to the imaginative, questioning, rebellious child within all of us, renew our instinctive energy, and act as a force for change. This is why such literature is worthy of our attention and will endure long after more conventional tales have been forgotten. 

The stories we tell are powerful. Stories help shape our sense of the world, of what is right and wrong. Children’s books have explicit and implicit messages about race, gender, class, ability, power, and culture. Being able to share books that explore these issues is important to me as a parent. My partner and I have tried to provide Little Bear with books by and about a lot of different types of people and families. As we saw above with books by and about people of color most books are still by and about white people. I am willing to bet all the coffee in my cupboard that a similar trend emerges for ability, sexual orientation, class and gender identity.

In a pretty quick search for children’s literature by and about people of color, I found a few decent lists and essays at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center and a list at my local public library website.  Where have you found good lists of books by and about people of color? How about books about sexual orientation and gender identity? Books about ability? Am I over-emphasizing the importance of children’s books? Whether you are a parent or not, what are your thoughts about finding a variety of books for the kids in your life?

CCBC Multicultural Children’s Literature Page

CCBC’s 50 multicultural books every kid should know

Hennepin County Library Birth to Six book list on Helping Kids Relate