To be or not to be: Why asking questions is a necessary and important means of learning

When I was still studying in the lyceum (long long time ago), we had the so-called “Day of Shadows” when we could arrange to go and spend a day with any businessman, politician or other known person we wanted. I chose, together with 4 others, to be the “shadow” of the CEO of a large factory in Latvia. The idea of the day was that we had to follow the guy around, see all his daily activities and ask any question we wanted. I was 16. I always had a lot of good questions in my head. I still do, but nowadays I have no problems asking them anymore. However, back then my level of self-doubt was way too high. I still remember that day, Continue reading To be or not to be: Why asking questions is a necessary and important means of learning

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Prepare the battlefield: Childproofing your home

Before I had kids the first thing I noticed when I entered a new location was the interior design, the color palette, the furniture and so on. Then came kids. I still do notice interior design and color palette, however the first thing I see is potential dangers and objects of potential demolition (giggle). It is like I am in the computer game – the red target immediately lights up the attention points.

Even though it is not possible to completely childproof your home nor it is actually needed, there are still certain things that makes sense to take into account. With childproofing like with everything else in life I prefer to stay reasonable. Of course, you can buy an indoor helmet for your kid (imagine, they really do exist!), remove all furniture, every potentially dangerous item and cover all surfaces with a sport mat, but that’s not the idea, is it?

Cutting long story short, below I have assembled some points with respect to childproofing which I personally consider important. This list is probably not going to be anything new for somebody who has several kids or who already has successfully survived through the first 5-6 years of a kid’s life, yet for “fresh” first-time parents it might provide some useful insights. 

  • breakables will break. That’s a rule. So if they are valuable to you pack them carefully for better times (those times will come, don’t worry!). I am referring to that Chinese vase you got from your granny, or nice collectible figurines, or even picture frames which used to nicely stand on the side table. Just put them all away.
  • all small items – and by small I mean everything the size of a pet-bottle cap and smaller – have to be unreachable, otherwise they will end up in kid’s mouth in no time.
  • sockets – we have safe ones, but if you don’t – buy those click-in protectors.
  • cords: any type of cords is a potential danger – either for a kid, or for the thing the cord is attached to. Here I am talking about all the electric cords, dangling cords of blinds and drapes, in other words – anything that so temptingly says: “pull me!”.
  • same logic for tablecloths – put them away for now, as babies just love to pull them down together with everything that’s on them.
  • elaborating on appliances – if they are anywhere reachable unplug them after use. I mean: toaster, coffee maker, stand-mixer, you name it.
  • we don’t have sharp edges anywhere, so for us it made no sense to buy all these corner and side protectors. At my mom’s place, however, the kitchen table has some silicon corners attached because otherwise those little heads can get injured. An alternative to special “equipment” that sometimes can be costly is to cushion sharp edges with cut pool noodle or with cut tennis balls, or simply have a look at aliexpress or even in your supermarket – they always have something cheaper than in kids specialty shops.
  • furniture, like bookcases, chests of drawers and other potentially unstable objects has to be secured or blocked, or removed.
  • medicines need to be put totally out of reach for kids! And another thing here – never refer to medicine as a “candy” when you talk to your kids. I still remember how I ate a whole jar of C vitamin myself when I was something like 5 years old. It was standing in the fridge and it was so tasty! Like candies… Luckily for me nothing major happened, but some throwing up. But don’t take any chances with this point!
  • same applies to all cleaning products – the further the better. Luckily most of the cleaning products nowadays have the “anti-kids” cap but still. And your cosmetics – that’s a bit less of a danger, but if a kid drinks your facial tonic that will cause serious poisoning as well. And garbage. Keep it safely away.
  • when you are cooking, even if you are sure that your kid is playing somewhere else, even if you are 100% confident that you are not moving anywhere yourself, please turn pot handles away from the edge, so that they are impossible to be grabbed and pulled down together with a boiling content. You would amazed how fast it might happen and how often it does.
  • I don’t lock the drawers, but it is in general not a bad idea. In our case I made sure that the lower drawers don’t have anything dangerous in them. Yes, the upper drawer of my kitchen island has a nice set of very sharp knives and my 3 year old can easily reach them. However, by this age she knows that it is dangerous and why it is so, and she actually knows how to use them, as I wrote already before (link). Another small lifehack – even though opening kitchen island drawers without my permission and immediate supervision is not allowed, there is one compromise drawer – the one with my baking “equipment”: silicon muffin cups, silicon cake forms, some other silicon kitchen helpers (yes, I love Lekue!). If kids get into their special exploratory mode I would allow to get their hands into this drawer, and as kids love winning (who doesn’t?), they enjoy that little victory of theirs and keep hands off everything else.
  • if you have stairs, install gates at the bottom and at the top. Also for fireplaces – use special fences. We don’t have neither stairs nor fireplace at this moment so for us the only gate / fence is in front of the door to the garden. The part of the house where we currently live is basically a glass cube that doesn’t have windows, it only has doors. Thus if I want to ventilate the house I have to open a door, and if I open a door and turn away for a split second, kids will run frrrreeeeee. Hence – the fence (LOL).

Phew! Two more points and I guess the main idea is clear:

  • even if everything is childproof (you hope) you need to explain to your kid why certain things are dangerous from the very early on. Don’t expect them to understand and obey, but keep on explaining. And not just “because I say so”. It is easy to show in a controlled way what is sharp, what is hot, what does falling mean.
  • and finally, after you think you have childproofed your home entirely, get on all fours and crawl around. That would allow you to discover a whole new “world of possibilities” (and maybe some dust here and there, and perhaps even your lost earring).

As a final note just be reasonable – not overly worried about how dangerous this world is (easier said that done!) but also not too reckless. Be aware and be prepared, but don’t forget to notice the interior design either!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Work-life balance when you don’t have a salaried job

What defines “work-life” balance? And can we speak of a “work-life” balance of a stay-at-home mother that doesn’t have a salaried job?

On one hand, somebody might say that all she has is “life”. However, on the other, I’d bet many stay-at-home mothers strongly believe that all they have is “work” with a tiny speck of “life” on it. The funny thing – there is a grain of truth in both statements. If it energizes you or relaxes you even household chores can qualify as “life”. And at the same time, if your toddler drives you crazy with yet another hysterical outburst that accounts for “work” on your balance. Thus, I guess more accurate would be to talk about a balance between “what drains your energy?” and “what replenishes your energy?”. And this is very relevant for everybody whether you do have or do not have a salaried job, and actually in general whether you are a mother or not.

We need energy to stay alive. We need nutrition for our bodies and, maybe even more importantly, we need nutrition for our minds and soul. Same as with food our taste for, so-to-say, “moral energy” differs. The only thing that is constant is that we really truly need it, otherwise sooner or later we will break down… And if this happens to a mother it is a disaster for a whole family.

Did you pay attention to the security information announced before every flight? “In case of a sudden loss of cabin pressure… <…> Passengers traveling with small children should put on their own oxygen mask first“. It might be somewhat counter-intuitive, because you as a mother, are focused first of all on the safety and well-being of your kids, your kids are the most important thing in life and that’s true. Yet, what is also true is that your kids need you and if you break down that’s going to be a tragedy for them. I wouldn’t want that my kids experience this so I make sure my energy is replenished.

Personally, I get energy:

  • when I create: a new poem, a new cake, a new embroidery…;
  • when I go to an opera or a theater, or at least listen to some good old Bach or Mozart;
  • when I play golf;
  • when I lie in a jacuzzi in a SPA-center;
  • when I have my second cup of coffee in the morning (first one is usually a ristretto or a dopio that is consumed in a moment and serves the only purpose of opening my eyes, but the second one is a latte that I enjoy without a hurry);
  • when I read a good book;
  • when I play with Lego-blocks together with my kids. Yes! That is so zen!
  • I am not a religious person, but somehow and especially when I am traveling, I like to get into a church and sit there for a little while. It also gives me sort of energy. Maybe it is because of the special aura of a church, or maybe it is because the huge Gothic construction of a lot of European churches makes you realize how a human being is simultaneously tiny compared to all this greatness and magnificent because he in fact co-created this greatness (and here I am purely talking about admiration of an architectural beauty).
  • sometimes even just having a long walk with a kid in a buggy (preferably with a sleeping (!) kid in a buggy)…

There are lots of ways how energy can be replenished, but most importantly it has to be replenished. For everybody. And especially for a stay-at-home mother who does have a lot of stuff that drains her energy out.

So don’t forget to put on your own oxygen mask when there is a loss of cabin pressure and… preferably before it gets too late.

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Square peg in a round hole: Why it is perfectly normal not to fit the norm

Norms… Sometimes I am under the impression that a lot of norms that exist regarding different aspects of life are just there to make us feel bad.”I don’t feel happy every day, what’s wrong with me?”, “My kid is 5 month and he doesn’t roll yet, what’s wrong with him?“, or “Oh, but my kid is almost two and he doesn’t talk yet, what’s wrong with him?“… Did somebody actually ever wonder if there is anything wrong with the norms?

I almost failed my physical education class in school because I could not run the 4000-meter torture that I was supposed to. I got 4 out of 10 (the last passing score) merely for my persistence. I ran the first 1000 or so meters and the rest I walked. I am no runner! Does it make me a failure? My daughter started rolling only at the age of 5 months. Only the lazy one did not ask me if I was not worried. I was not. She was physically in a perfect condition. She did not want to roll. Does that make her a failure? My son started walking at the age of 9 months. But that’s not normal! And what should I have done? Tied him to the chair?!

It gets worse. You should go to school, you should get a degree, you should get a job (and preferably in the same domain where your degree is), you should buy a house, you should get married, you should have a ring, a dress, a party for 200 people, you should go on the honeymoon to the fancy location at the sea, you should have kids before 30, you should lose weight  in the first 10 days after giving birth, you should have a career, you should have a dog/cat/hamster/horse/alligator… You should… Have a riffle to use every time you hear it? That would be a great idea.

I did not invent this quote but I like it:

All I should is enumerated in the Tax Code; all I should not – in the Criminal Code; all the rest is in my discretion!

I don’t believe in “shoulds”. I don’t believe in norms. And most importantly what I don’t believe in – is in being worried and feeling yourself down just because you or your kids don’t fit some stupid norm written by somebody. What I do believe in, however, is in respecting the choice of others that they made for themselves and their family. In the end you are the only one who knows what’s right for you.

You breastfeed until your kid is 2,5 y.o.? Good for you both! And you stopped at 6 months and your kid already eats steak at 1? Perfect! You chose to work and your kid goes to day-care? That’s fine. And you decided it’s best that you stay at home? Also great. You do Montessori and a whole bunch of other early development activities? Good choice. And you don’t believe in the value of an early development? You’re also right. You co-sleep with your little one? Super! But yours learned to sleep in his own bed since the beginning? Wow!

Bottom-line is: Universal “normal” applicable to everybody does not exist. Normal is defined by lots of factors, amongst which your unique life circumstances, but also your vision of the world, your attitude, your values and your perception. It is what you personally feel comfortable with and what is acceptable for your family, but not what somebody else tries to force on you.

And by the way all the great minds of the past and present were not “normal”: they did not fit, they challenged the norms, they rebelled against them and went their own way. They followed their own normal. They were square pegs in a round hole and that’s what in the end contributed to their greatness.

 

Family yearly book: Keeping memories without cluttering home

Even though my taste and preferences have evolved quite a lot throughout the years, one thing stayed permanent since something like puberty – I am an adept of minimalism. That implies amongst others that even though I have a lot memories I don’t have that much memorabilia. I don’t have fridge magnets (but I do bring them for my mother who collects them). I don’t have art works of my kids hanging in all possible places. Every (numerous) piece of art my kids produce is admired for a little while, then I take a photo of it and it soon continues its journey towards recycling. I don’t collect tickets from museums or maps, or mugs, or any other travel-related junk. However, if it has a sentimental value it will also end up in the camera roll of my iPhone. I didn’t keep the hospital wristband from when I was delivering my kids (but, yes, I do have a photo of it!). Same with echo’s. Same with some hand-written notes. Same with a lot of other stuff.

So… As you might have guessed I have a lot of photos. However, that is also a problem. In the digital era we tend to have tens of thousands of them that we seldom ever look at. Even if you structure them, it is still too much. I must admit that I don’t follow the “eliminate” route and don’t delete photos, maybe because the capacity of my external hard drive allows to keep everything. But what I do with our photos – I sort them, pick out the most important/beautiful/memorable and I make our non-traditional family yearly book. 

I am not into scrap-booking, yet this in a sense is a digital scrapbook that includes all the memories of us as a family that we would like to keep. This is not a classic photo album, it is more of a memory register, capturing what that particular year meant for us.

In just one book of about 50-60 A4 pages.

What is in there? First of all, it’s not really chronological, but rather thematic: I made one theme per spread. To illustrate, let’s take “art” again, as I am somehow in a bit artistic mode today – we have a spread dedicated to “art”:

  • there are photos of my kids in the process of drawing or sculpting, or cutting, you name it;
  • photos of art created by them;
  • photos related to us visiting art exhibitions, also those of my father-in-law (Riwart);
  • as well as some general notable events in the context of art that we would like to remember. For instance, last year the painting by Paul Gauguin “When Will You Marry?” was sold for a record $300 million and that triggered a lively and extensive discussion in between my husband and myself about appreciating art. It was fun and we wanted to remember it! That is how Gauguin ended up somewhere in between a drawing of a rainbow by my daughter and first attempts at using crayons by my son.

Another spread in our book of the last year is dedicated to the year’s favorite cartoons of our kids and the year’s favorite movies and TV-shows of my husband and myself. We could not have skipped a sad picture “R.I.P. Top Gear”, now could we?! Likewise some other notable events of the year like a discovery of water on Mars or a discovery of “super-hendge” were included, just to name a few. There are also themes “fashionistas”, “travel”, “parties”, “cars”, “studying”, and so on.

As to the practical side of the matter there are numerous websites where you can easily make and order a photo-book. I personally do it via Albelli because I find their software very user friendly and simple as ABC, but as I said – there is a big choice on the market. Time-wise compiling a yearly book of course requires some time and probably if you were not making mental of physical notes (I personally write down things in a Note on my iPhone) about certain events, it will be time-consuming at first to remember everything that happened. But, trust me, once you do it regularly you will have a neat, nice, clutter-free way of keeping memories worth keeping.

How can a parent master time, continue self-growth and follow her true dreams

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