Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere...Except in our Apartment

Just one more week until we are back in America! Never before have I been so excited about the luxury of having running water all day long. Of course, I haven't before been in a place where the water is off about 18 out of 24 hours. Imagine being able to flush the toilet and wash your hands any time! Juliana can paint and play in the dirt and do messy activities because we can actually clean her up afterward. Kevin can take a shower when he gets back from playing sports all hot and sweaty. We won't have to plan ahead to get the laundry and dishes done in the short “water windows.” If our child should throw up in the middle of the night, we can actually clean her up (unlike last week when we had no water).
Juliana's idea of a fun playtime
After a couple of months of this, we are getting better at filling up basins and jugs so we can wash hands and flush toilets during the day, but if we forget it's a real pain. Usually we have water from 7-8am, 12-1pm, 6-7pm, and about 9-11pm. We have finally been remembering to fill up Juliana's tub with water before dinnertime so we can give her a bath before bed. After playing outside every afternoon in the heat and dirt, she definitely needs it! Laundry is trickier. I have to remember to put it in as soon as the water comes on so it can finish before the water turns off again. Our washer may be small but it takes forever to fill up! Fortunately, it's so dry here that we could hang up laundry at 9pm and it would probably be dry by bedtime.

We live in on the edge of the desert, so if our lack of water was due to actual water shortage, I wouldn't mind it so much. Saving water is a good thing, and nothing helps water conservation like not having any water to waste! However, our water is not off because of water conservation. It is only consistently off during the springtime, and it's because they are busy flooding the grass. Not watering – flooding.

The typical “watering” method seems to be: Place an extra-large hose on one spot in the ground. Eight hours later, move hose to a new location. It makes no sense to me. And yes, sometimes when I see all that nice water making a mess out of the ground, puddling on the sidewalk, and forming lovely mud playgrounds for children, I'm a little bitter that we can't wash our hands.

Our friends in another neighborhood have had similar water issues, but some in a third neighborhood always have water, so it seems to depend on where you live. My tutor said the water is always off in their dormitory as well. “It seems strange,” she said. “The grass gets lots of water but the people don't have any!”

(I know you are on the edge of your seats for all of my stunning parenting wisdom in the posts I mentioned before, but those will have to wait until after finals, which I am obviously busy studying for...)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

This is Christian Parenting?

As I mentioned in my last post, most parenting decisions are not worth the division they often cause, but I feel there are a few definite exceptions. I have recently been reading about some teachings of “Christian parenting experts” Michael and Debi Pearl that I find deeply disturbing. I have not read their book, To Train Up a Child; I had heard of it before but didn't know much about it. I usually don't like to make judgments about something I haven't read since I don't want to take things out of context. However, after having read a number of direct quotes from the book and website, and I cannot think of any context in which I could consider them acceptable.

For example, in their book the Pearls recommend spanking babies under one year old to train them, giving an example of switching their 4 month old daughter!
At four months she was too unknowing to be punished for disobedience. But for her own good, we attempted to train her not to climb the stairs by coordinating the voice command of “No” with little spats on the bare legs. The switch was a twelve-inch long, one-eighth-inch diameter sprig from a willow tree.
In another particularly disturbing quote related to the philosophy and goal of “training up” your child, the Pearls say:
However, if you are just beginning to institute training on an already rebellious child, who runs from discipline and is too incoherent to listen, then use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise.” (Emphasis added)

I find these teachings deeply troubling on many levels. In fact, I felt physically ill as I read. It would be bad enough if these were the teachings of a strange cult, but the Pearls' book has sold over 670,000 copies, and they have a website and magazine publication as well. In 2010 they said on their website that “one out of every 75 Americans have been introduced to our ministry.” Somehow these ideas have been accepted as good Christian parenting.

While I mentioned that we do not plan to spank, I do not think that all spanking is physically or psychologically harmful. I was spanked (though not much) as a child, and I don't think it caused me any  lasting harm. I am just not convinced it is a necessary part of discipline, the best method for our family, or “the Biblical method.” Maybe I will talk more about that later. Fortunately, most of the parents I know who spank (the majority of the parents I know) do not practice the extreme methods as outlined in the Pearls' teachings.

If you do follow their teachings, I'm sure you are offended by my attack. I generally don't like to offend, even through the internet, but in this instance I am very offended by your parenting. I don't believe this falls under the category of “personal differences in parenting;” I believe it is harmful and wrong.

I am ashamed that teachings such as this are equated with Christianity. Not only are they harmful to children, they seem to completely ignore the grace and mercy that God shows toward us in favor of continually reminding children of their sinfulness and their need to earn good standing with their parents and presumably also with God.
“The parent holds in his hand (in the form of a little switch) the power to absolve the child of guilt, cleanse his soul, instruct his spirit, strengthen his resolve, and give him a fresh start through a confidence that all indebtedness is paid.”
I have been thinking a lot lately about what Biblical parenting actually means. It is clear to me that these teachings are not truth, but what does it mean to parent Biblically?  I plan to write more of my thoughts on this, even though I know I am no expert!  

After reading some of the Pearls' disturbing teachings, I saw these verses in my daily devotional (Daily Light):

* He arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.
* The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.
* You received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
* You who were once far off have been made near by the blood of Christ. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.
(Luke 15:20; Ps. 103:8-13; Rom. 8:15-16; Eph. 2:13, 19)

What wonderful reminder of the kind of God we serve and the grace that we can reflect in our parenting!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Getting Past the "One True Way" of Parenting

There are a lot of things that bothered me about the now infamous Time's breastfeeding cover. It wasn't the woman nursing her three year old. It was the sensationalism, the obvious attempt to get a good rise for the sake of money making. It was the stupid caption, “Are you mom enough?” - what does that even mean anyway? It was all the ensuing comments – a lot of judgment on every side, a lot of ignorance, and a general negativity toward mothers of all types. Somehow public controversy really brings out the stupid in people.

I didn't read the actual Times article (you have to pay for it), but there were about 5000 articles, blogs, and random, unrelated people talking about the article (for free), so I read some of those. Some I appreciated and some that made me angry, but today I read a related article that I really, really like.

“Parenting websites, Facebook pages and forums are consistently bogged down with people debating the right and wrong way to parent...sometimes there's even a bit of smugness or nastiness, as AP parents take the moral high ground over bottle feeding cot users, who in turn accuse the AP'ers of being enslaved to their kids.

If we try to cut through all this, what really matters? If we look at what we as parents are actually trying to achieve - healthy, happy adults...what is really absolutely crucial to healthy child development, is not 'Attachment Parenting', but 'Responsive Parenting.'” (click here to read the rest - it's good!)

I consider myself to practice “moderate attachment parenting.” This means that most hardcore Attachment Parenting people wouldn't consider me AP at all, while many people who make more conventional parenting choices think I'm a little “out there.” It's a wonderful place of being too weird and not weird enough.

To give you some examples, I had a natural birth with a midwife in a hospital. I am still nursing Juliana at 21 months, but only twice a day. Juliana slept in our bed part-time for most of the first year, but now we are all happy with her in her own room. We felt strongly about not leaving Juliana alone to “cry it out” even though she woke up 3-39843x a night the entire first year. When we were once again up with her for hours every night at 18 months though, we decided it was time to let her cry (which by that point she did surprisingly little of). We have four different types of slings and baby carriers but in recent months I almost always use a stroller. We didn't put Juliana on a schedule as a baby, but she gradually developed a pretty consistent routine, and we put her to bed whether she thinks it's time or not. We lean toward “gentle discipline” principles and don't plan to spank (which is not the same as no discipline).

While I have made each of those decisions because I think they are important and work best for our family, I don't think everyone should do things the same way as me. Okay, sometimes I do, but I really try not to! There are some parenting decisions that I honestly think are terrible and potentially harmful, but most don't fall into that category.

It's easy to obsess about the specifics and say, “you MUST do things THIS WAY to be a good parent.” Some AP people say you must sleep with your baby, only wear your baby in a sling, breastfeed for years, etc., etc. or you are neglecting your children. Some popular parenting philosophies say you must put your baby on a schedule from birth, they must learn to sleep on their own, they must be spanked, etc., etc., or you will ruin them for life.

These decisions are important, but when it comes down to it, the most important thing is loving responsiveness to your child. Knowing your child's personality and developmental level and individual challenges and abilities. Parenting should be thoughtful – and we should spend a lot more time examining our own parenting instead of others'. There are good parents and bad parents represented in every style of parenting, and most people I know really are good parents and really care about their children.

I want to be less judgmental. I want to remember that each person's situation and children are different, and I don't know the specifics of why they make the choices they do. I want to stick to my convictions about what is best for Juliana and our situation while also being flexible and knowing I might change my mind. I want to be tuned in to Juliana, not expecting her to be like other people's children or like a small adult. I want to be confident in my parenting, not trying to measure myself with others. I also want to be humble and learn from people who have a lot more experience than I do. And mostly, I want to be loving.

'While children need food, sanitation and access to health services to survive and develop optimally, a warm and affectionate relationship with an adult caregiver who is responsive to the child’s needs is equally important' and that responsiveness is 'parenting that is prompt, contingent on the child’s behaviour and appropriate to a child’s needs and developmental state.' - World Health Organization

Sunday, June 3, 2012

My Alternate Hippie Self (plus a good bread recipe)

Sometimes I imagine what my life would be like in an alternate reality. I don't feel discontent with this life; I just wonder what life could be like in another place and another situation. I think I would be a hippie. Some sort of Laura Ingles Wilder meets Madeliene L'Engle's Austin family.

We live in a big, old farmhouse in not quite the middle of no-where Kentucky, but close enough that there are fields of cows (not ours) and crops (not tobacco) all around. The house is weathered and comfortable. All of the windows are open, since it's springtime, and there is a fabulous breeze. The house is surrounded by a big porch overlooking rustling trees and open pastures.

We have about five kids, all of whom were born at home. It doesn't seem like too many because they can roam around all over and we never have to travel by airplane. I do very wholesome things like baking bread, sewing clothes, and canning. We have a giant garden full of vegetables and flowers that are actually growing. Of course the super helpful children take part in gardening and cooking and all those other wholesome tasks. We have a big old tractor but no livestock. Maybe a few chickens. Far away from the house and not very smelly. A nice dog and a couple of cats that wander in and out but stay remarkably clean.

I get up at sunrise to enjoy coffee on the porch while it's still quiet, unaccountably a morning person. I cook all kinds of healthy, from-scratch meals, and we don't eat any processed food except boxed mac and cheese because it's irreplaceable. We all run around barefoot, and we are never fashionable. I probably home-school. We read books under big trees and catch fireflies after dark. We are so relaxed that we may not even have clocks in our home...we just go by the sun and the seasons. It's all very earthy.

In real life I live in a sixth floor apartment in a Chinese city. There are plenty of (live) chickens at the market waiting to be eaten, but that's about all in the way of livestock. I can't really imagine having five kids, and while I find home-birth intriguing, I was quite satisfied with my hospital/midwife birth. I don't really like to cook that much, Juliana has yet to turn me into a morning person, and I always like to know what time it is.

But have started making bread again, a remarkably simple recipe from my sister Becky that turns out well even in my small China oven. We have a pet cat, puppy, bunny, kiwi bird, and several giraffes – they just all happen to be stuffed. I will likely home-school, since we'll be living in China, and I'll probably mostly enjoy it. I have one house plant which I have kept alive for over a month. And the not-fashionable part seems to be working out quite well. So I'll just take what I've got and enjoy the rest in my imagination.

Ruth's Hippie Bread (aka Amish White Bread)

This recipe makes 2 loaves so you can eat one and freeze one, but it can easily be halved if desired.

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Total time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

2 cups warm water (110˚F)
2/3 cup white sugar
1-½ tbsp active dry yeast (2 pkgs)
1-½ tsp salt
¼ cup vegetable oil
6 cups bread flour

In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in warm water, and then stir in yeast. Allow to proof until yeast resembles a creamy foam. Mix salt and oil into the yeast mixture. Mix in flour one cup at a time. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Place in a well oiled bowl and turn dough to coat. Cover with a damp cloth. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about one hour.
Punch dough down. Knead for a few minutes and divide in half. Shape into loaves and place into two well oiled 9”x5” loaf pans. Allow to rise for 30 minutes, or until dough has risen 1” above pans.
Bake at 350˚F for 30 minutes.

* Whole Wheat: Substitute up to 2 cups of whole wheat flour. Add 1 tbsp honey with salt and oil.
* Use half sugar and half honey (I substituted all honey once, but it turned out a little too mushy.  You can also add a tiny bit of baking soda if you use honey.)
* Substitute 1 cup of pureed squash for 1 cup of water.  (My pureed squash turns out pretty watery.  The bread is not quite as light as originally, but otherwise the squash is unnoticeable and a little healthy addition.)
*Add a bit of wheat germ (I never actually measure).

Friday, June 1, 2012

Don't Run In The Street (and other perplexing problems)

“Don't run into the street” seems to be one of those basic childhood rules. It's an unquestionably important issues to have squared away, but it is also one that I find rather perplexing. It seems very sensible to tell Juliana not to run into the street; I just have to figure out first what “street” means.

Obviously I don't let Juliana run around near the big road outside our campus that is filled with cars, buses, taxis, bicycles, and motorbikes. I usually let Juliana walk on the sidewalk, but there are probably more people walking on the road than on the sidewalk. The sidewalk, which is partly for walking but is also where you get your bike repaired; get your shoes repaired; hang out and drink yogurt; buy newspapers, snacks, milk, fruit, and honey. It is the parking lot for small shops and an alternate bicycle route.

What about the little roadway going through campus? At some parts of the day it is mainly a walkway for students going to and from their dorms, grandparents walking with their young children, plus a few bicycles and motorbikes. During these times I let Juliana walk on the road because pedestrians outnumber drivers and a lot of other toddlers on the road as well. In the evening, the road is busy with bicycles, motorbikes, and cars – as well as lots of pedestrians. Even though there are lots of children walking home from school and preschoolers skipping beside their parents, I don't let Juliana walk on the road at this time because it's so busy. What percentage of vehicle traffic vs. pedestrians turns a walkway into a road?

What about the area outside our apartment where little children often gather to play? Toddlers run about and ride around on their little toy cars. Babies hang out with their grandmas. School children kick around balls. It's also directly in front of the bike-shed, so bikes and motorbikes often come through. It is also a parking lot for the occasional delivery truck or car stopping by the small store next door.

Perhaps Juliana will be confused that sometimes she is allowed to walk on the road and other times not. The again, she's grown up in China, so she might already have a much better grasp on the flexibility of life here. The lines between street, sidewalk, parking lot, store, and play area all blend together, and I'm sure it doesn't bother her in the least.