Raising Citizens of the World

It started when my boys were born, wanting something different for them, but this past weekend confirmed my decision. No more. Enough is enough. I’m done. 

I’m raising citizens of the world.

We started our Saturday morning wondering what we could do with two one year olds when our “small town” city of Austin was currently flooded with millions of show goers visiting us for the SXSW music festival. The thought of manuevering our toddlers through crowds, sitting in traffic, and being bombarded with music virtually everywhere (some soulful, but most is just hectic noise from unexperienced hopefuls). We decided to venture an hour away to San Antonio.

After circling the city blocks a few times looking at parking signs ranging $10-30 (to place your car on top of concrete safely), we found a spot. We stood in line with the crowds to pay for our spot, inhaling car fumes, cigarette smoke, other people’s ill chosen parfumes and deodorants and then began our excursion.

First stop- food. Dining out with twin toddlers is more fun when the ambiance is kid friendly so we chose Rainforest Cafe. Now, I’ll preface this post by saying I loved our day! Every moment watching my children’s faces light up with wonder is worth every harsh moment, but…my worldview shifted drastically on this day.

We walked our babies around the restaurant pointing out the rubber, plastic, and mechanical animals. We faked amusement when the lights flickered and the “thunder” roared from the speakers hidden behind the fake leaves surrounding our table. Then we paid $50+ for a meal of fried, over-processed, preservative laden food, leaving our meals half-eaten because American portion control is lacking. We showed our waiter our rewards card for this restaurant chain. This reward program allows us to get more artificial food when we eat enough of it over time at various locations. I was disgusted by this thought. Then we tipped the waiter because, in America, no matter how bad the service, the waitstaff is entitled to getting tipped. Blech!

Nextstop- downtown. Then, we paid $120 for a wristband that allowed us to get into several of the attractions for one “low” price.  Handing over the credit card made me feel so powerfless. They know they’ve got us because we’re there, we’re consumers, we want to be entertained. Sure, take our money and run.

Again, we had a good time, but is this it? We rode on a manufactured safari car wearing plastic 3D glasses and shot lasers at holographic zombies. I’m humiliated as I write this. We stood in line for 40 minutes for a 4D ride; another simulated experience (monkeys ziplining through the jungle). We walked down a red carpet through an old building looking at celebrities and athletes made of wax. Then, we took our children to a playscape IN a mall and watched them play on trees and ponds made of rubber. We paid $1 for them to ride in circles on painted, fiberglass animals.

After weaving through more crowds, stopping at umpteen million restauramts trying to find a place that could provide a table without making us wait close to an hour for service, we settled on another restaurant with overpriced, artificial food, and terrible service.

I drove home feeling disgusted. Disgusted with myself for participating in these shenanigans; for playing a part in this artificial world. I was disgusted for my children that we had simulated artificial adventures for them. I want more. I want something different.

Lucky for me, my husband felt the same way. As we drove home we began discussing. We’ve made the decision, not lightly mind you, to raise citizens of the world. Sure, we’ll shop at malls from time to time, we’ll even take our boys to amusement parks and local attractions occassionally, but our worldview has changed and we’re going to make a change for something better. It may be now, or it may be when the boys are slightly older, but we will not be raising them in a society driven by consumerism, gluttony, greed, technology, and materialism anymore.

We plan on raising them in the natural world, to appreciate relationships, experiences, and love. We want them to learn by doing, not sitting in a classroom or staring at a screen. We want them to love because they’ve felt nothing but love amd aren’t surrounded by morally compromised people we have to shield them from. We want them to be grateful by living simply and plan on simplifying our lives.

Stay tuned, friends. The Vails are making changes!

That Girl

The “Rules” of Play

The rules of play are simple. There are no rules for the child. There are, however, rules for the adults. Adults can either hinder, or help, play be what it is intended to be. Play, by definition, is intrinsically motivated, self-directed, and natural. “Play is a child’s natural language and the toys are their words, ” Garry Landreth (The Art of the Relationship, 2001.) Play is not only how children communicate, but it is how that express themselves, process experiences, and make sense of the world around them. 

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These “rules” are what we Play Therapists live by.

Disclaimer: Although these are the rules Play Therapists follow in the playroom with clients, following these rules does not make you a Play Therapist. Sixty-one graduate hours and several thousand clinical hours under direct supervision have taught me to use these guidelines in a very specific way to form a therapeutic relationship with my clients and create an environment for positive change to occur in the child’s perception of self, the world, and circumstances.

That being said, parents can apply these same rules if they’d like to encourage a more active imagination, independent play, and allow more learning to take place naturally through play.

Rule #1: Allow the child to lead.

Play is natural for children. They do not need an adult to intervene and show them how to play by moving objects, making sounds, or deciding what happens next. Child directed play is best. This is why toys with batteries or electricity actually work against play. Imagine being a child playing in what looks like a kitchen and placing something on the stove and the stove responds, “Yummy. I like spaghetti!” But, you weren’t cooking spaghetti. In fact, you were pretending to be a mad scientist concocting a potion to kill aliens from the planet Zonkatron. Or, the adult in the room intervenes and says something idiotic like, “Oh, are you making something special for me?” This not only pulls the child out of the fantasy, anchoring them to reality, but also changes the motivation of the play to serving the interest of the parent and pleasing the parent, not the child.

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Rule #2: Play is not a time for education.

Learning takes place naturally during play. The infant/toddler brain is maze of channels, twists, turns, and roadways, but if not all of the passageways get engaged often, “roadblocks” go up. Parts of the brain actually die off and get pruned away if not activated. Just the same, parts that are engaged often become stronger. Do your best to fight the urge to teach the child colors, numbers, shapes, and sounds. Quizzing the child on what they know is also not appropriate during play. Things like, “What’s the horsey say?”, have no business in play. Learning letters, numbers, and so forth will happen in due time, in the classroom, or while you’re out and about as a family and talking about things you see.

Rule #3: Don’t ask questions you know the answer to.

I see adults break this rule ALL the time. They walk up to a child holding a ball and say something like, “Are you holding a ball?” or, a child slams a car into another car and screams, “Boom! They just crashed!” and the adult says, “Uh oh, did they crash?” Asking questions like this can make the child feel misunderstood (and make the adult look stupid). Remember, play is about expressing one sef so if there’s enough information for a question, there’s enough for a statement. Instead, try, “Whoa, they crashed hard. I heard the boom”. The child feels seen, heard, and understood.

Rule #4: Grant in fantasy what you can’t grant in reality.

This is a big one! Children’s play is not always an indicator of their deepest, darkest secrets, nor is it predictive of future actions. The child who plays “good guy, bad guy” and has the two beating each other up isn’t necessarily going to be aggressive or violent as they grow up. Just the same, the child who plays army and blows up the whole town isn’t necessarily going to make bombs in their garage and blow up their school as a teen either. Children use play to explore different sides of their personalities, try out various behaviors and actions, and sometimes something like blowing up a town in their play makes them feel powerful and strong n a day when they may have felt weak and misunderstood. Children may also use play to give alternate endings to real life experiences, but they don’t need to be reprimanded for pretending they punched Aunt Helga in the face for that smelly kiss. It’s pretend and it’s natural and therapeutic.

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Rule #5: Don’t label things the child hasn’t labeled.

To the adult it’s a stick, but to the child it may be a sword, a hammer, a magic wand, a syringe, a whip, a light saber, lipstick, a cane, Cruella Deville’s cigarette, a plane, or something that’s never even been invented. Don’t assume you know what the child is pretending, or that they even want you to know, by interfering and giving their object a name. If you’re wrong (which you probably will be), you’ll pull them from the fantasy into reality and distract from the process.

Rule #6: Don’t set limits until limits need to be set.

The average two year old hears the word, “No” over seventy-five percent of the day. From their, it just continues with “don’t touch that”, “don’t put that there”, “don’t do that”, “stop that” and on and on. Play should be a time in the child’s day where rules don’t exist until there’s really a problem. A child shouldn’t pick up a doll, walk to the pretend kitchen and hear, “Remember not to dump the food all over the place and be sure you don’t get her wet this time”. I roll my eyes and shake my head at this parent. I just want to scream, “Why not?! Who the eff cares if the plastic doll gets wet?” Play should be freeing, unlimited, cathathartic…so only set limits when there’s danger or the possibility of irreversible damage to something.

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There are many more I won’t get into, but these are my favorite of the basics.

So, as a parent, what can we do? Let them play! Let them lead! Let them decide how objects are used, where they go, how they move, who gets to be what and say what. Let the child explore, imagine, be creative, be destructive, and be expressive. Respect play for what it is, don’t try to change it, and recognize it’s value in your child’s development metally, emotionally, socially, and even physically. Children need play free of adult interaction, intervention, and direction.

Stay gold,

That Girl

Baby on a Budget

It’s true I’m a wee bit obsessed with baby gear, and have been since WAY before my boys were born; however, most of this gear is not considered a necessity. I even had some mom-troll comment on one of my posts one day, “Seems like you have to be a millionaire to have a baby these days”. I chose not to respond at the time, but here’s what I would’ve liked to say, “Actually, all it takes to have a baby is an egg, sperm, and a vagina”. But, tthat may have been considered rude, even though it’s true, lol. 

You don’t have to be a millionaire to have a baby. Here’s how to avoid breaking the bank when you’re preggo.

Breastfeed.

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Formula is not only lacking in nourishment and high in unnecessary toxins, but in pales significantly in comparison to breastmilk and it’s expensive! The sticky, stinky powder will empty your pockets so fast it’ll make your head spin, plus you’ll need bottles, nipples, warmers, bottle cleaner, etc. Something like 97% of the female population can breastfeed successfully so only 3% of you may have trouble. No need for fancy nursing covers either. If you’re shy, say goodbye…and walk away to somewhere peaceful and private. Otherwise, sun’s out? Boobs out!

Babywear

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A babywearing wrap can be as cheap as $40! Know what’s even cheaper? Fabric. It cracks me up when I’m out in public tying on my ACK Wrap or Happy Wrap and someone comments, “Wow, they didn’t have things like that when I had my babies.” Yes, they did! All over the world people have worn their babies using not much more than a bed sheet or cut of fabric. Tie your baby on and there’s no need for a fancy schmancy stroller.

Cloth Diaper

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Yes, there’s some money up front and it’s suggested to have about 24 diapers to start with, but you could get by with less than that at first and build your way up to more. You’ll just have to do laundry a bit more until baby is using less diapers per day, but the upfront costs of cloth will save you thousands down the road. Get a starter kit of 24 diapers plus diaper pail liners and wet bags from ShopWholeHeart.com

Feed the Baby What You Eat

Jarred baby food costs about $.50 for one little jar, but you may go through 3-5 per day, which adds up to $1.50-2.50 a day, or averaging about $40-60 a month. Yikes! Make your own for a third of that price or, even better, just feed baby from your plate. Around six months baby can start eating soft foods and doesn’t need purees. Mash up that banana, potatoes, avocado, egg yolk, or bone marrow delicacy you’re spreading onto your toast points! Studies show babies who ate what the family ate before two years of age are far less likely to be picky eaters.

Clothes

Hand me downs from...somewhere

Hand me downs from…somewhere

Facebook is your friend! Join local garage sale pages, or swap sites, and post every few months asking for hand me downs. Trust me-people don’t want to go through that big box marked for Goodwill and price everything out to sell you individually. They just want it out of their house. I’ve gotten stuff from Baby Gap, Janie and Jack, even Feather4Arrow for FREE!!!

Bathtime 

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You do NOT need expensive organic soaps and lotions. Babies aren’t dirty and their skin produces natural oils to moisturize and protect. For bath, fold up a towel in the kitchen sink, fill it a little ways with warm water and wash baby off with a washcloth and natural oil (such as coconut oil or almond oil) every few days.

Toys

The best toys for babies and toddlers are “real world” items found around the house. Commercial toys are often overstimulating, which can actually stunt imagination and development rather than enhance it.

  • Create a sensory board using plywood and attach things such as sandpaper, buttons, locks, zippers, old calculators, ribbons, cotton, or various fabrics with different colors and textures.
  • Create a “sandbox” with a large rubbermaid container and cornmeal (safe to injest).
  • Use kitchen utensils like spatulas, ladles, measuring cups, or measuring spoons to play in sand or water.
  • Make shakers with old pill bottles and fill with beans, rice, coins, or beads.
  • Save toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, ribbon, bubble wrap, yarn, egg cartons, and milk jugs. All of these things allow for open ended, creative play.

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I won’t lie to you and say I didn’t splurge on the top of the line baby gear for my babies. I did. My stroller cost more than most people’s first cars (I’m embarassed to admit that); however, at the end of the day it’s not about the stroller, the diaper bag, or the clothes a baby had. It’s all about the love they received!

Stay Gold, 

That Girl

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How I’m Surviving the 4month Sleep Regression


If you haven’t heard of the dreaded four month sleep regression, you either don’t have children, have one too young (just you wait), or you birthed a unicorn child that was able to avoid it. I have not been so lucky so as a public service I’ve decided to let you mamas in on how I’m surviving the regression times two. 

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First of all, I’m not.

I tricked you into reading this post by letting you think I’m surviving it, but I’m really not. Each evening at 7pm I shiver in fear wondering what the next 12 hours might have in store for me. And all night long I cry to myself feeling like a failure as a “baby expert” and sleep guru. But, each morning at 4, 5, or 6am depending on when I finally throw in the towel and get up, I stumble into the kitchen where I fill a vat with coffee and chug it like a frat boy the morning after bid day. There’s tip #1 I guess…coffee. Part of my evening routine is to prepare my coffee and set it to go off in the wee morning hours so it’s ready when I am.

Second, go the eff to sleep when they do. 

I’ve embraced an early bedtime since the twins were born and I couldn’t see straight after 7pm. Some nights I try to party like a rock star and stay up until 8:30 or even 9 to spend time with my husband, but the next morning I have visions of stabbing him in his sleep because I’m so tired and this negates the romance (Tosh.O watching party) of the night before. Yes, my marriage is important to me; however, I prefer to meet him for a midday meal after my gallon of coffee and catch up then. We’ve had plenty of conversations about our time together and he realizes this is a short period in our lives where he’s taking third place. He understands the babies need me 100% right now and he’s supportive. Thank the Lord I didn’t marry a selfish man. So, like I said, go to sleep when they do. Most babies have their longest stretch of sleep up front so if I’m able to get down at 7:00pm, I might get to sleep until 10 or even 11. This may be all you get so cherish it!

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Third, throw everything you know out the window.

If I only had one baby I would feed them only every 3-4 hours overnight and if they woke up in between that time I would quietly soothe them back to sleep in hopes of teaching them it’s not time for food yet. With two babies, this is damn near impossible. I sleep while nursing, I let them sleep in bed with me, I hold them while they sleep from time to time. Last night I even let Cash play with one hand while I used the other to hold the effing pacifier in Cannon’s mouth and I attempted to sleep in plank position across he bed with my legs hanging halfway off the mattress.

Let me walk you through it. We go down at 7:00pm as a team.

10:00pm Cash wakes up, but Cannon is still passed out. I decide to feed Cash since it’s been 3 hours.

11:00pm, Cannon wakes up at 11 for food, which disturbs Cash. Cash won’t go back to sleep without being nursed again so I nurse both.

1:00am, Cash wakes up because technically he had his best feed at 10am and his breast wasn’t full for the 11pm feed so he’s hungry again. Feed him.

2:00, Now Cannon wakes up at because he ate at 11pm. Feed Cannon.

3:30 am Cash wakes up just for kicks. Rock, soothe, pat him down. Now it’s 3:30am and I try to go back to sleep.

4:15 am rolls around and Cash can’t figure out how to transition into his new “adult” sleep cycle. Pat, rock, soothe, but he’s so pissed off he won’t go back to sleep and I’m fearful he’ll wake up Cannon. I’m so tired, angry, and frustrated that I pull him next to me and finally decide to let him nurse while I try to sleep without rolling over and suffocating him at 5am.

5:30am, Cannon is up ready to eat again and I have to wake Cash up in order to get into position to feed Cannon, too. Now both boys are too stimulated (and rested) to go back to sleep so we all get up at 6am and start the day.

6:00am, I yell the F word to myself through a loving mother’s smile and stumble to the kitchen for coffee.

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The point is, there are no rules during this fourth month of hell. Bloggers and sleep trainers will advise not to get into bad habits and hell, I’ve given that advice myself, but this was before I experienced it myself times two! I would much rather just get through this time, try to get as much sleep as I can, whether that means nursing on demand or holding them while we sleep, and then break those bad habits later.

As tough as this mini phase is, I love the baby breath and warm lips on my neck in the mddle of the night. I love Cash’s soft chubby hand smacking my face while he fights sleep. When Cannon wails for food, I know he’s screaming for me and knowing I have what he needs to feel safe, calm, and satisfied is a powerful feeling. So, I guess, that’s how I’m surviving the four month sleep regression. I’m trying to focus on the beautiful parts. I’m looking for joy in every challenging moment and it’s not hard to find.

Stay gold, 

That Girl

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How to Raise a Wuss

We’ve all met that kid. You know, the one who’s scared to try anything new, won’t talk to strangers, and punks out from challenges. You may have even dated the guy in college whose bark was way worse than his bite? Now that you’re a parent raising a son, perhaps you’d like to know how you too can raise your own sissy. Well, you’re in luck. As a Parenting Specialist and family counselor I’ve figured out the magic formula for raising a wuss…guaranteed!

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Step 1: Tell him he’s a wuss

This is probably the most common method I’ve seen used. Many parents mistakenly think that by calling their son a wuss, sissy, or pansy that he’ll grow up to be tough, but the opposite is true. By calling your son names like this, his self-esteem will plummet and he will likely grow up to be just those things. Even better? When he cries or “wusses out”, tell him he’s being a “vagina”, too. This way, not only will he grow up weak,  but he’ll also grow up disrespecting women and believing they’re an inferior gender.

Step 2: Show him how strong you are

Don’t allow your child to figure things out on their own, especially if they struggle with it because they’re not developmentally ready to master it yet. Be sure to show them how easy it is for you. They’ll likely start to admire you, think you are a superhero and believe there’s nothing you can’t do. This will foster more feelings of inferiority, create a lack of initiative, and scare them away from taking on things that might be challenging.

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Step 3: Make fun of people together

This one is a surefire way to raise a wuss. Make fun of people for things like their skin color, hair dos, clothing choices, and the way they walk or talk. This will teach your child that other people are probably making fun of them too, which will undoubtedly crush their confidence and cause them to be inhibited in public. Leave no one untouched! The weaker the person being picked on, the better the results for your own child.

Step 4: Never Follow-through

There’s several ways to pull this one off. You could try threatening things like spankings, grounding, or other punishments without ever having intentions of doing them. You could also make empty promises about things you’ll buy them, things you’ll do, or maybe trips you’ll take. This teaches your child that words don’t have meaning. They’ll grow up thinking they can say things they don’t mean, they can be dishonest if it makes things easier, and they may even become that guy at the bar that says “let’s take it outside” when everyone around him knows a fight will never happen. People love that guy, right?

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I have two sons. This has made me very sensitive to societal issues involving men. What defines a real man has gotten blurry and how we raise boys into men is even blurrier. I’ve observed the empty threats from angry parents, which is confusing for children and damages relationships. I’ve overheard, “But, dad, you said…”, too many times, and I’ve witnessed the belittling of the small child who cries because the dad wants to “toughen him up”. It’s heartbreaking because these things don’t create men, they create weinies. We’re raising generations of little boys to become men with no follow through, men whose words have no meaning, men who struggle with their identities, men who confuse masculinity with masoginism, and who make themselves feel superior by preying on the inferior. It’s up to us to make a change. 

Stay gold, 

That Girl

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The Old Lady Who Swallowed the Fly Might Die: Get Over It

The Old Lady Who Swallows the Fly Might DIE. Get Over It.

I picked up a board book yesterday about the old lady who swallows the fly and began to sing it to my twin boys. I wasn’t paying much attention to the written print at first because I know the song by heart from my own childhood; however, a few pages in I realized that instead of the lyrics “perhaps she’ll die”, I read the words, “we’ll ask her why”. Huh? This is bullshit!

We can’t say the word “die” in a children’s song? If some crazy bitch decides to swallow an entire food chain of animals to chase after the tiny little fly she started with, that’s up to her. She’s the one who overreacted and created a monster problem out of a tiny incident. In fact, now that I think about it, that’s the whole point of the rhyme. She died because she overdramatized. Also, I don’t want to send the message to my kids that this is a chick you want to deal with. If you see an old lady swallowing a farm full of animals you run the other way. You do not walk up and ask her why. And, let’s not forget, she’s fiction! I hope my boys won’t lose sleep over the death of a fictional character in a silly song.

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This got me thinking, when did everything get so weeny-fied? The newest versions of Little Red Riding Hood have her escaping the wolf and being rescued by a hunter, but I remember her getting gobbled up whole because she made the stupid ass move of telling a big bad WOLF exactly where she was going and who she was going to meet. She needed a lesson about stranger danger and being eaten alive might do the trick. What’s next? I guess the third little pig invites the wolf in for a marathon viewing of Fixer Upper? Perhaps they share a bottle of vino and chat about Joanna’s unique ability to mix farmhouse chic with modern elements. I’m banning this crap!

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For my kids, Bambi’s mother got shot by hunters just like daddy leaving her orphaned. The cradle falls out of the tree and the baby plummets to the ground from irresponsible parenting, The old man who played knick knack on the kid’s knee is a probably a pedophile and you should stay far away from him. I’m not going to rewrite nursery rhymes or children’s songs out of fear that my kids can’t handle something dark, or try to protect my children from the realities of the world. We live in a scary place. I’m not doing them any favors by acting like nothing bad ever happens and raising them in a bubble of lemonade and gumdrops.

Sorry, boys, but the old lady who swallowed a fly, a spider, a cat, a dog, a goat, and a cow probably died. Serves her right.

Stay gold, 

That Girl