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Trees Make the Best Mobiles: Simple Ways to Raise Your Child in a Complex World

Trees Make the Best Mobiles: Simple Ways to Raise Your Child in a Complex World

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Books like Simplify Your Life and Don't Sweat the Small Stuff have encouraged millions of readers to slow down and enjoy life more. Now, Jessica Teich and Brandel France de Bravo help new parents- who barely have time to return a phone call or wash a sock- learn to do less, listen more, and spend focused, fruitful time with their children. Practical and fun to read, Trees Make the Best Mobiles urges parents to treat every task-even diapering and feeding-as a chance to connect with their child, and gives calming advice about hot-button issues from pacifier use to temper tantrums. Parents will be relieved to discover that they don't have to buy lots of stuff-a tree outside a baby's window can serve as a mobile-or shuttle kids from one activity to another. In fact, in today's hectic, high-speed world, children need less "stimulation" and more unhurried interaction with the people who matter most. The authors call their approach "present parenting," because they believe being "present in the moment," without resentment or distraction, is the greatest present any parent can give.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312303259
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/21/2002
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 208
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.47(d)

About the Author

Jessica Teich is a journalist and filmmaker.

Brandel France de Bravo is a poet and health educator. Both are mothers of young children and long-time students of RIE, a unique method of infant and toddler care.

Read an Excerpt


the anatomy lesson

changing a diaper

* There's a Zen Buddhist saying, "Haste is a form of violence." As parents, we rarely leave ourselves enough time. Our children sense our frenzy and are unnerved by it. Often they become upset and less cooperative, which leads to more rushing. Think of every activity as a chance to slow down, to fill the moment with your concentration and care. Even changing a diaper can become — dare we say it? — pleasurable. It's a moment to connect with your child, especially if you've been away from each other all day. Don't use toys or a mobile to distract your newborn. Your eye contact is more compelling than any rattle. Think of diapering as an activity you engage in together, and tell him so: "Now we're going to change your diaper." Talk your infant through it, letting him know exactly what you are doing. Soon he may lift his legs ever so slightly in anticipation of a diaper change.

Changing your baby's diaper can be the equivalent of an anatomy lesson. He learns the contours of his body, that you and he are separate, and that his body belongs to him. The short-term goal of a diaper change is, of course, obvious, especially if your baby has been eating asparagus. But the long-term objective is profound: to involve your baby in the most intimate details of his nurture and care.

Let even the smallest infant feel he is in charge. Later, when he's older, you'll need his collaboration: A mobile child can easily scurry away. Toilet training, or learning, follows inevitably from your child's sense of participation. When he's of appropriate age — and most children under age two haven't developed the sphincter muscles for wearing underwear — start to talk to him about using the potty, and invite him to tell you when he's dirty or wet. Involve him in the changing of diapers, and let him fetch the new diaper or wipes. You may even consult him about location: "Would you like to be changed on the changing table or the floor?" Or perhaps he's just mastered walking and cherishes his verticality. Acknowledge his independence by asking, "Would you like to change your diaper lying down or standing up?" No child attends his high school prom in a rented burgundy tuxedo and Pampers. When he's ready, when he can predict and control his body's movements, he'll leave his diapers behind. Meanwhile, make the task as pleasant, and as mutual, as you can. Don't rush through it. Changing a diaper isn't a chore; it's an opportunity.


i want to be alone

the need for solitude

* In the first three months of life, your baby will be as mysterious as Greta Garbo. "Is he passing gas or smiling at me?" This transition period — in which adults tread the choppy waters of parenthood, and the onetime fetus adjusts to leaving the womb — has been referred to as the fourth trimester. During this period parents, and especially mothers, feel they must hold their babies all the time.

Holding your newborn is one of life's greatest joys and privileges. Do it when you can devote yourself to it fully and savor the closeness. With the possible exception of a colicky infant, most babies do not need to be held all the time. Many new parents carry their infant from room to room and even take showers with the baby in a car seat on the bath mat. Car seats are necessary and lifesaving ... in the car. There's very little risk of whiplash in your bathroom.

As parents of newborns, we assume our babies are fragile, incompetent, and utterly dependent. We think they cannot survive without us. But they can. In 1985, Mexico City suffered one of the worst earthquakes in its history. Thousands died and whole buildings collapsed like accordions, including the maternity wards of two public hospitals. More than a week passed before rescue workers arrived to sift through the rubble. Imagine their surprise, and joy, when they discovered fifty-six newborns, bruised and hungry, but alive. These babies had survived unimaginable trauma. They did so on their own, with no baby monitor in sight.

If your baby is flat on his back on the floor in a safe area, or in a playpen or crib, it's okay to leave him alone for a few minutes. After all, the umbilical cord was severed for a reason. In fact, he may prefer being left alone to constantly being moved about and introduced to new surroundings. Besides, wouldn't you like a little time alone yourself? If your baby gets some private time he'll learn to need it. A child who cherishes solitude is likely to become an adult who's rarely lonely.

Every year the citizens of Mexico celebrate the birthday of the "earthquake babies" as if it were a national holiday. Believe in the daily miracle of life. Life — especially in the form of your infant will not disappoint.


the long and the short

the "real" quality time

* Our children are our darlings. We adore them. We dote on them. Every juice spill is a Jackson Pollock. Every trill is an aria. But we all have days when we can't wait to hand off the baby like a ticking bomb, when we stare at the door, willing another grownup to appear.

Child rearing is the world's second oldest profession, but it's a job for which few of us feel qualified. What's more, few of us have the time to be the parents we want to be: Every art project gets shelved when the toilet overflows. But sometimes it's straddling the two realms — yours and your child's — that's most exhausting. Plunging headlong into your child's world can be a relief. Try to immerse yourself fully in what your child's doing, even for twenty minutes, even just once a day. That single focus is what your child craves. Let her know she's not competing for your attention with the grocery list or with your assignment for tomorrow's meeting with a client. Just sit against the wall and watch her gurgle or play, or get down to her level on the floor. Don't feel you need to interact, especially to direct or stimulate her. Imagine how you would feel if your spouse barged in on you, grabbed the novel you were reading, and insisted you take tango lessons instead?

There's a saying, "If you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it." That's true ... except if you're a child. Getting things done isn't the goal of very young children. Very young children simply want to be. It's difficult for highly accomplished and efficient people to put down their palm pilot, just as it's difficult to shutter one's ambitions for one's child. But children don't want to have to perform for you, especially when they're playing. They simply want to know a grown-up is there. They may not acknowledge your presence, but they'll take pleasure in it. This is the real quality time: time simply to be. In truth, you, too, may welcome a chance to throw off the pressures of the day. With your child, you don't have to be organized, capable, adult.

Soon it'll be your child who has places to go (if only to the mall). Every charming, beckoning toddler becomes a teenager. Each time you say, "I just need another minute to finish this ...," you squander a moment with your child, never to be reclaimed. Remember, the days are long, but the years are very short.


baby talk

speaking to your infant

* Yyy-eee-sss, you ARE! You ARE the cutest! I'm gonna eat those toes-ies. Yyy-eee-sss, I will! Ohhh, whadisit? Mommy's little baby sleepy? Go night-night?

Stretching syllables, speaking in a high-pitched voice, and mimicking your baby's sounds can be fun, especially when it elicits a smile from your little one, but it's not everyone's cup of tea. If goo-goo, ga-ga is as foreign to you as a radio broadcast from Ougadougou, try this definition of "baby talk": It's talk directed to your baby, concerning her care. Whether you're feeding, bathing, diapering, or dressing your baby, give her a blow-by-blow account of what you're doing and let her know what she can do to help. Your newborn won't be able to give you a hand with the snaps on her "onesie," but it won't be long before she's choosing — by pointing and grunting — between the tie-dye and the stripes.

What your baby doesn't need to hear about are the receipts you need for filing taxes or the items you're packing for a trip. If you're constantly thinking aloud, your baby may tune you out. You don't want to become the human equivalent of Lite FM.

Avoid talking about your baby as if she weren't there. If you need to brag or vent frustration, try addressing your comments to the friend or relative and your baby. Instead of saying, "Emily isn't a good sleeper," try "Neither of us is sleeping very well these days. Emily is waking every couple of hours. Isn't that right, Em?"

For someone new to the world, life is a bumpy ride, unpredictable and even treacherous. Your job is to pave the way. Think of your own visits to a doctor's office: One nurse jabs you with a needle, and the pain lasts minutes. Another explains that the alcohol swab is cool, that you'll feel a little prick, and that she's removing the needle now. Funny how the latter experience is painless or nearly so. That's because the "nice" nurse is talking you through the experience, helping you anticipate what's about to happen and make sense of what's just occurred. Too often we point out the poodle across the street, or exclaim at the ambulance shrieking past, never thinking to tell our little one about more mundane matters, like when we're simply going to lift her out of the stroller or strap her in.

Our babies, of course, do a much better job of this. Their cries prompt us to pick them up, but what cue do we give when we want to put our infant down or pass her to someone else to hold? Your baby needs a voice-over narration to explain what's happening right now, but she also deserves a preview of coming attractions: "In a minute, I'm going to give you to your grandmother. I have to go to the kitchen and fix dinner." Imagine leaving a movie theater, holding your husband's hand, when suddenly he yanks it away and you feel someone else's fingers — without a wedding band — fumbling to entwine themselves with yours. That's how your baby feels when you place her in another's arms without warning.

If your husband left the house nights without telling you, would you continue to trust him? For your baby to trust you, you must build that trust brick by brick. Telling the truth, even when it makes a child cry ("I'm going out now, but I'll be back in three hours"), is the mortar that holds the bricks together. Soon enough you'll need and expect the truth from your child: "A man at the park told me not to tell you, but ..."

When the big, bad wolf of adolescence is at your door, you'll be glad you built a strong house.


safe at home

keeping your baby safe

* No creature comes with more stuff than your baby. Even before his or her arrival, you may feel overwhelmed by the number of things you "need." There are antiquated terms what the heck is a layette? — and complex equipment whose instructions would tie a string-theory physicist in knots. New parents often feel that a squalling newborn should come with his own apartment, one with plenty of storage and soundproof tiles on all the walls. Certainly, as a new parent, your world expands, and you can feel your family line stretching forward into the new millennium. The only problem is, where are you gonna put all that stuff?

Don't forget that most infants can sleep contently in a sock drawer. They don't need a nursery stocked with the latest NASA-approved toys. What they do need is a safe play space, free of electrical cords, top-heavy televisions, and impulsive pets. You may love your glass-topped coffee table, but think about lending it to your sister for a year or two. Even parents whose homes shrink when baby takes up residence can close off a corner, securing it with a simple wooden barrier or gate. Think of the area as an oversized playpen, one your child won't easily outgrow. It's a place your infant should be introduced to before he's seen the world-at-large, meaning before he's had the run of the living room. Otherwise, he won't be content in it for long. He should regard the area as a haven, a meditation retreat, a study. It's not meant to be a prison cell.

You can begin this process about the time your baby is six months old, but don't put him in this space when he's tired or hungry. Before you leave him there for extended periods, spend some uninterrupted time there with him yourself. You may find this process works best if you attempt it at the same time every day, after breakfast, for example, or after a nap. As long as the space is safe, your infant can spend time alone there every day, free to lie on his back and think his thoughts. Soon, you may find yourself welcoming these interludes: You can use the time to answer phone calls or prepare a meal. When you're juggling your baby and other tasks, you're forever policing him, taking dangerous objects from his hands and mouth. If he's in a safe space, he's free from constant scrutiny, and you no longer have to monitor every move. A safe space means never having to say, "I'm sorry ... you can't play with that." What's more, your baby will discover he's very good company to himself.

By devoting a safe space wholly to your infant, you will be freed from having to baby proof your entire home. It's still a good idea to put plastic covers on electrical outlets and to do so long before your child notices them. Always anticipate your child's explorations: Put a gate on the stairwell before he decides to scale Mount Everest. But children shouldn't be raised in a plastic bubble; their development and immune systems are bolstered by contact with their environment. What's more, you won't always be around to deter them from unsafe choices. Your job is to demonstrate how to interact with the world. Think of yourself as a tutor, not part of a SWAT team. Show him how to touch a glass gently or, with an older child, how to use scissors with care. If you must take something away from your child because it's unsafe, always do so with an explanation. That will help him make connections and may prevent him from picking up something inappropriate the next time. Be calm, clear, and complete: "That's a sharp knife. It can cut you, so I don't want you to play with it," or "Those pushpins are for the bulletin board. It looks like you want to put them in your mouth, but that's not safe."

Keep in mind that, for toddlers, safety means more than locking a door or securing a bottle top; it means giving them a safe space to explore their feelings, not just what's at their fingertips. Small children rely on their parents to help define the contours of their world, emotionally as well as physically. After a long day at preschool or in day care, a young child needs the chance to unwind, just as you do when you come home from work.

Adults may kick off their shoes or loosen their tie to ease the tensions of the day. Children, too, need a chance to let it all hang out. Being with a caregiver, or at school, requires enormous concentration for a small child. He really has to work at it; it's the equivalent of a job. Your child is greatly relieved to return to you at the end of the day because he doesn't have to be "on," to perform. Child psychologists say that the young patients they treat are rarely kids who have the freedom to "act out" at home.


Excerpted from "Trees Make the Best Mobiles"
by .
Copyright © 2001 Jessica Teich and Brandel France de Bravo.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

the anatomy lesson changing a diaper,
i want to be alone the need for solitude,
the long and the short the "real" quality time,
baby talk speaking to your infant,
safe at home keeping your baby safe,
thumbs up pacifiers and thumb-sucking,
k.i.s.s. choosing toys,
just (don't) say no empathy,
you're only a baby once developmental milestones,
hickory, dickory, dock predictability and routine,
it's all relative coparenting,
unplugged television and videos,
do as i do setting an example,
more creating a soothing environment,
brain aerobics offering choices,
food fight feeding your baby,
being there slowing down and doing less,
body language active teaching,
be a believer having faith in your child,
baby steps following cues,
the apple and the tree respecting your child's choices,
walking the walk learning to walk,
octopus mom setting priorities and simplifying your life,
in loco parentis finding a caregiver,
if it ain't broke, don't fix it baby gear,
mind over manners etiquette,
it's my party and I'll cry if i want to temper tantrums,
ashes, ashes telling the truth,
seen and not heard learning to listen,
mirror, mirror on the wall seeing, not judging,
the committee of sleep getting your baby to bed,
take my wife, please! sharing,
thought for food focusing on food,
days of whine and roses whining,
potty on! learning to use the toilet,
the color of water recognition versus praise,
crime and punishment discipline,
sticks and stones teasing,
carpe diem flexibility and cooperation,
playing for keeps the benefits of free play,
sound and fury spanking,
keeping the peace siblings,
the real stuff tv, computers, and books,
footprints the search for identity,

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