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Body-centering Babies (and Mommies!)

When babies cry “for no reason”, people usually try to distract them. I had the realization the other day that doing this might encourage habits of dissociation + escapism when they get older, instead of being present with their feelings (“I’m upset, oh I’ll go into the next room and look at the computer for a while”, etc).

Today I was caring for a 5-month-old. Right after a nap, bottle, and diaper change, the baby started to cry. I knew it wasn’t one of those three things she needed, and she had that glazed-over look that babies sometimes have when they are crying “for no reason”, so I thought she might like me to help bring her attention back to herself. I moved her legs and rubbed her belly and said “here you are!”, and she IMMEDIATELY stopped crying and regained focus in her eyes. She looked at me with a deep, fully conscious look, and let out a delighted laugh.

How awesome is THAT?

I also sometimes need help coming back to myself. My husband (who conveniently for me, is skilled in teaching various body-centered somatic psychotherapy practices) is an awesome resource for me when I am stressed and want to just go on autopilot instead of confront those feelings. When I am lost in thoughts, he’s there like a light in the fog to tell me “here you are!”. And here I am, needing nothing in this moment other than what I have already.

The Tao of Tantrums

I have a toddler, and I nanny a not-yet-sitting-up-by-herself baby full time. So far, it has been very interesting, delightful, and occasionally completely chaotic. My daughter is just now entering into the phase of “tantrums”, where her frustrations can quickly explode into very intense emotion. Now all of a sudden she has to share mommy with another baby, so she sometimes must WAIT instead of having her needs met immediately. Recipe for disaster? Not necessarily!

When a baby is crying, it is instinctual to check on them to see what they need. When a more self-reliant toddler is crying, it is easier to assume that they are “just being whiny” or “can wait a little longer while I finish the dishes”, etc. But ignoring children sets a bad example, and soon they will start to ignore YOU when you want them to pay attention! Despite knowing this, I have recently been doing something foolish…

Whenever I would bring the baby in to the diaper changing room, my daughter would follow us in and start crying with RAGE. I didn’t understand why she was so mad, but I knew the baby needed a diaper change or SHE would start to freak out too, so I would just try to do it as quickly as possible. Usually I’d try to distract my daughter with an interesting object (ooo shiny!). But then the next time the baby needed a diaper change, it would be the same thing over again.

At some point, I realized that perhaps my daughter just didn’t know WHY I was bringing the baby in there and doing something on a high table she couldn’t see the top of, WHY she was being made to wait, WHY mommy was hurrying and being stressed in response to her cries instead of LISTENING. I decided to take a moment – breathe – and explain! I knelt down with the baby on my knee, and said to my daughter very slowly, and simply: “There’s POOP in the baby’s diaper!”. She stopped crying, and said “DI-PUH”, pointing to the baby’s diaper. I said “Yes. POOP! In the diaper. She wants a NEW diaper. Should we give her a new diaper?”

After that, she seemed to understand. The next time the baby needed a diaper change, my daughter pointed down the hall toward the changing room as if to say “Let’s go!”

When you are tired, trying to finish something, and there is a tiny person screaming at you for a reason that you don’t think is reasonable, it is sometimes hard to know what is best to do. Really, the best thing you can do is BE CALM yourself, and notice your kid. They are trying to tell you something that feels very important to them. The dishes can wait. The diapers can wait. What is actually needed might only take a moment.

Curry Banana Matzo Ball Soup ?!

So my friend Louis and I just created the best soup in the world and I want to write down what we did before I forget, because I’m definitely making this next Passover! Basically, he was making fun of me for making vegan matzo balls in the past and was like “What did you use instead of eggs? Bananas?”, and I was like “THAT’S A GREAT IDEA! It can be like a Thai curry soup”. So we made it together this evening and it was quite delicious:

CURRY BANANA MATZO BALL SOUP:
3 cups matzo meal
3 cans coconut milk
2 soft bananas
2 sweet potatoes
2 yellow potatoes
1 onion
5 tbsp Thai red curry paste (or more, to taste)
salt (to taste)
optional: rice cooked with lemongrass

TO MAKE MATZO BALLS:
- Mash the bananas in a mixing bowl with a fork.
- Mix with matzoh meal until doughy.
- Form into 1-inch balls (add more matzoh meal if the dough isn’t thick enough to form into balls)

TO PREPARE THE BROTH:
- Chop the sweet potatoes, yellow potatoes, and onion.
- Put all chopped ingredients into a large pot and add water until they are submerged under about 2 inches of water.
- Bring to a boil, then add the matzoh balls
- Lower head to let simmer for about 30-40min or until potatoes are soft and matzo balls have risen to the top.
- Add coconut milk, curry paste, and salt.
- Let simmer for another 15 minutes.
- Serve over lemongrass-flavored rice.

Azuki Bean Biscuits!

Azuki beans already have a somewhat sweet flavor. For this reason, they are used in many Oriental desserts, including red bean cake and mooncake. I developed this recipe so that my toddler + I can share healthy snacks that are wheat-free, sugar-free, AND delicious. They are chewy and hold together well so they don’t make a crumby mess, and they make very tasty (and adorable) tiny-sandwiches. The flavor is sweet and satisfying. Recipe and more serving ideas below!

About the beans:
Azuki beans are a small, reddish bean with a sweet flavor. They are highly regarded for their nutritional and healing properties in Oriental medicine. To prepare dried azuki beans, first let them soak overnight. Rinse, and boil for 1 hour or until soft but still firm. Drain and leave to cool.

AZUKI BEAN BISCUITS
Ingredients:
5 cups rolled oats
2 cups azuki beans (cooked + cooled)
2 cups sweet potatoes (cooked + cooled)
4 eggs
pinch of salt

Directions:
- In a large mixing bowl, lightly mash the beans + sweet potatoes together with a fork.
- Add all other ingredients and mix well.
- Form tiny (2-inch wide) biscuits onto a greased baking tray.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 min
(makes about 36 baby-sized biscuits)

Fun serving ideas:
- Cut biscuits in half and make little sandwiches or mini-burgers
- Top them with tomato slices, fresh basil, and a drizzle of olive oil
- Use them to scoop salsa or dips (a yogurt-dill dip would be good)
- They go well with anything buttery or cheese-like
- Top them with your favorite jam (pepper jelly would be awesome with these)
- Serve them with soup!

Easy and Nutritious Baby Snacks (Carrot Peanut Butter Cookie Recipe)

Babies need snacks while you’re out and about, and preferably ones that make the least amount of mess possible (especially if you’re visiting friends who don’t have kids and aren’t accustomed to having bright red tomato sauce splashed all over their nice white couches… and carpets… and ceilings…).

We try to stay away from wheat, dairy, and sweeteners, AND we’re on a budget so we can’t just go out and buy fancy organic gluten-free snacky things (which are usually pumped full of so-called “healthy” sweeteners anyway). This means I have to get creative when it comes to packing snacks that will:
a) actually get eaten by a toddler
b) not spoil in the summer heat
c) not destroy someone’s house in 2 seconds
d) be extremely easy (and cheap) to make in the first place

I’ve been tinkering around with ingredients that we normally have around the house anyway, but today I had a stroke of genius… COOKIES! I NEED COOKIES!!… wait… I mean, super-healthy cookie-type-things! YES! Something yummy that my toddler can snack on without needing to be watched like a hawk, and will fortify her with protein + vegetables!

The recipe I developed requires only 4 ingredients, 5 minutes of prep time, and is so delicious that I keep snacking on them myself… I seriously can’t stop. The carrots are what really tie it all together, as they add a bit of sweetness and are just perfect with the peanut butter. Carrots have a lot of awesome health benefits too, as do the other ingredients: rolled oats, peanut butter, and eggs. Here is the recipe:

CARROT PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES
(makes about 24 baby-sized cookies)
3 cups rolled oats
2 medium sized carrots, grated or finely diced (approximately 1 cup)
4 eggs (or other binding ingredient)
2 large heaping spoonfuls peanut butter (approximately 4 tbsp)
optional dab of butter or oil (to make softer)

Super-easy Directions:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Mix all ingredients together in a bowl + then roll out tiny (baby-sized) cookies onto a greased baking tray.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes
- Yum!

Being Controlled by Being ‘In Control’

I am a person who likes to have a plan. I like efficiency and cleanliness. “A place for everything, and everything in its place”, as they say. I usually think that having everything clean, organized, and well planned will make me feel “in control”, and therefore safe and happy… but in reality, it DOESN’T. In reality, I often become uptight about “the plan” and end up becoming very upset if (and when) things don’t work out exactly as I think they should. When my husband leaves a dirty dish in the office, it is a travesty. When I am running late for a casual lunch with a friend, the world is surely about to end.

Today while taking a walk, I was planning out how when I got home, first I would clean the dishes while Brian watched the baby, then make a specific dinner, and so on. But I suddenly realized that this kind of thinking (which I often do) doesn’t add to my happiness, or even make things happen more efficiently. In fact, this kind of thinking just makes me rigid and less able to handle change. I squeeze myself around the thoughts of “it NEEDS to be this way” and I become a prisoner. So I said to myself: “I release you”. And it felt pretty good. In that moment, I was freeing myself from the NEED to know how the rest of my day would turn out. I was not giving up control– I was refusing to BE controlled by my thoughts!

Of course, this is something that you need to do repeatedly, in every new moment, for it to make any real difference at all. So I kept saying it all evening: “I release you!”, while unclenching myself from whatever new thought I had decided was important in that moment. And remarkably, the dishes still got washed, dinner still got made, the baby still got fed + washed + put to bed. Everything that needed to happen happened the way it needed to happen. I did not have to plan the sequence out beforehand. I did not have to be in control of the details. Certain things happened that I would have normally interpreted as happening “wrong”, but I did not mind– I was having an amazing time!

I am still a person who likes cleanliness, and efficiency, and plans. I am still a person who writes lists that reference my OTHER lists. But in this moment, I am realizing more deeply that I can DO all of that with joy instead of rigidity!

Cosmic Marriage

Shavuot is thought of as a cosmic marriage between G-d + humans. It is a time for us to renew our vows with G-d, but what are those vows? For me, I experience G-d not as a separate superior, but as an all-enveloping living love. And my marriage with THAT has vows that can be best expressed through the following Rumi poem:

This Marriage
- Rumi
May these vows and this marriage be blessed.
May it be sweet milk,
this marriage, like wine and halvah.
May this marriage offer fruit and shade
like the date palm.
May this marriage be full of laughter,
our every day a day in paradise.
May this marriage be a sign of compassion,
a seal of happiness here and hereafter.
May this marriage have a fair face and a good name,
an omen as welcome
as the moon in a clear blue sky.
I am out of words to describe
how spirit mingles in this marriage.

This time of year can also be a time in which you renew your vows with your romantic partner, and rededicate your lives to each other. Today, I rededicate my life to my partner, Brian, and together we strive to create a container of consciousness + delicious heart-exploding love in our home.

Why Tantrum-throwing Children Aren’t “Brats”


Imagine that you have just heard the most upsetting news of your life (your best friend died, your home town was bombed, etc.) and picture yourself totally LOSING IT. You’re on the ground crying, overwhelmed by suffering, and not even noticing/caring if anyone else is witnessing it. Now picture your partner responding to your suffering by angrily whispering “Be quiet! Behave!“, and maybe even smacking you a few times. Picture a crowd around you frowning, saying “What a spoiled brat“!

We generally think of a child’s tantrum as different from REAL suffering, because the child’s reasons for being upset “aren’t valid”.

It’s been a while since we were that small, and most adults have forgotten what it actually felt like to be a toddler. But people who DO remember describe it the same as the scenario above– as if they’d just heard the most upsetting news of their lives, and had no ability to cope with the resulting intense emotions.

If someone is experiencing suffering, then they are experiencing suffering. The reason behind it absolutely doesn’t matter, but we often dismiss people’s suffering if we don’t agree that they SHOULD be upset (especially if that person is a toddler). But if someone is upset, they SHOULD be. Here’s why:
* They don’t have the skills of dealing with stress in any other way yet (or in that specific moment).
* There may be factors that we aren’t aware of that are adding to the upset. The reason you can see might have merely been the “last straw”.
* What is upsetting to one person might not be upsetting to another. Just because you don’t understand WHY it is upsetting, that doesn’t mean the other person isn’t experiencing real grief.

So I’m just supposed to GIVE IN or I’m traumatizing my kid?
No that’s not what I’m saying at all. I’m saying that once a tantrum has begun, the best way of dealing with it is by giving the child the sort of interaction someone would want if they were experiencing REAL GRIEF (hug them and show them genuine love). Of course, showing genuine love is sometimes a difficult task if YOU are also upset in that moment. An “I love you” coming from a stressed parent just isn’t going to cut it. Kids pick up on your stress, and then escalate.

How do you LOVE when stressed?
Love is an action, and so is stress– they are not just happening to you at random. You can decide in the moment which one you want to embrace. It is unrealistic to expect a toddler to be able to recognize that their tantrum is something they are DOING (instead of happening to them), but YOU have a better chance at realizing this and turning your own silent tantrum back toward the direction of calm + peace. It is easy to think of a child’s tantrum as a problem that demands an immediate solution. But really, the best thing you can possibly do is be aware of your emotional state– be aware of the physical sensations in your chest– breathe– and notice that you can be present and compassionate in the middle of the storm.

Other resources:
Here’s what Dr. Sears has to say about tantrums
And here’s some tips from “Happiest Toddler on the Block” Author Dr. Karp

Kittens, Pink Unicorns, and Trucks

When I was pregnant, I had all kinds of ideas about how I was going to raise my child without enforced gender roles (such as “girls wear pink + play house” and “boys wear blue + play football”). I was determined to only have gender-neutral colored clothing + toys. But at some point I realized that banning the color pink was just as foolish as FORCING it upon a daughter. I realized that I can provide a full spectrum of colors + styles + themes, and let my child decide what s/he actually likes.

As it turned out, I had a daughter. This makes the whole situation easier, since (for the most part) girls are allowed to have “boy” clothing + toys + activities without seeming weird. Her tastes are all over the map, but I’ve noticed that most people are very selective in what they notice about children. Pretty much all toddlers like mud, toy balls, cuddly animals, and sparkly things. But adults observing children playing with such things tend to see it through a filter of “boy” or “girl”. People focus on the girl when she’s playing with a dollie and say “what a sweet little princess”, while dismissing the fact that this same person was covered in mud + throwing rocks moments earlier. If a girl is playing with a ball, it is more likely to go overlooked. But if a boy is playing with a ball, people make “cute” comments like “he’s practicing for the NBA!”

My daughter IS pretty stereotypically girly in many ways. She likes to give her dollies hugs + kisses, and try on jewelry. She is also small + dainty looking (and when dressed in something frilly + pink, it is probably very hard to see her actions through anything but “girly” filter). But she also is obsessed with trucks, toy balls, and trains. Pretty much anything with wheels is fascinating to her right now, but she favors her yellow dump truck + her front loader. When we pass by construction sites and sees REAL excavators + bulldozers + loaders, she becomes EXTREMELY EXCITED and insists that we stay and watch for a long while.

My daughter is now starting to take an interest in what clothes she wears. Her clothing drawer is close to the ground, so she is able to go through it and select what she wants to wear. When she finds something, she hands it to me and insists I change her into it right away (otherwise she tries to put it on herself, then generally gets it stuck on her head and becomes very angry). So far, she’s been favoring things with BRIGHT colors, but sometimes prefers brown or black. When I laid out an assortment of bathing suits for her to choose from (including “boy” swimming trunks, “neutral” colored full body swimsuits, and “girly” swimsuits), she immediately picked one covered in hot pink cherries with a frilly skirt + bow on it. Then as soon as I helped her put it on, she went over to a puddle and began splashing in it, laughing with glee as mud splattered all over her face, hair, and pretty pink swimsuit. Toddlers of all genders are like little cave-people that are amused + amazed by every new experience. I’m happy that we aren’t limiting hers by keeping her away from “boy” things OR “girl” things.

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