Double Book Review: PK Hallinan’s Let’s be Thankful and Thank You, God

If you are a Christian, you should buy Thank You, God for your child. It’s a hard book to track down but I ordered my copy through abebooks.com.

This book’s only mention of Jesus is on the page that reads as follows:

And thank you, dear God,

For all that you are —

From the cross on the hill

To the Bethlehem star.

I like this open-ended reference to the importance of the cross, because I don’t think we need to get all into atonement theology with our children right away. I’m still figuring out what the cross means in my own life, and I may very well spend the rest of my life still trying to work it out. So I think it’s good to introduce the cross as an important symbol to children, but not to try to give a tidy explanation about what it means.

This book also does not refer to God with any gendered pronouns. Inclusive language win! Because I don’t want to have to explain to RJ some day that even though I’ve been reading her books for years in which God is a “he,” God is not actually male.

Thank You, God has lovely, lilting rhyming verse, and highlights all the sweet and simple things in life that kids enjoy and parents sometimes forget to enjoy. It concludes with reminding us to be grateful for God’s love. Although I find the illustrations are nothing spectacular aesthetically, they do succeed in conveying the excellent message of this book.

If you are not a Christian, you could consider buying Let’s Be Thankful. Same author, similar premise and rhythmic verse, and if you live in the city of Winnipeg, you can just take it out from the library.

Even though these books are by the same author and about the same topic (gratitude), there is something that fundamentally changes when God is removed from the story. In a world, or book, where there is no God, gratitude is no longer directed to a giver or a provider of all the things we enjoy. Maybe you want to direct your gratitude towards “the universe” (people do that, right?). Well either the universe is indifferent or, if the universe is not indifferent, isn’t that kind of the same as believing in God?

Anyway, in an indifferent universe, the exercise of gratitude is mostly an exercise in self-improvement. On some level, Hallinan acknowledges this on the page where he writes:

For when I am thankful,

It’s easy to see,

I tend to spend life

Living more joyfully!

So in a way, this secular gratitude is a little self-serving. But hey, religious gratitude also can function in a self-serving way, and appreciating the world does bring more joy into one’s life. And the more joy you have in your own life, the more you can spread it around. And that is something we can all believe in and be a part of whether we believe in a higher power or not.

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Book Review: French Twist: An American Mom’s Experiment in Parisian Parenting

You’d think that after having read Bringing Up Bébé and French Kids Eat Everything (And Yours Can Too) I might be finished reading French parenting-style books written by North Americans. Well after reading French Twist, perhaps I am.

Not because French Twist is the be-all, end-all of American-French parenting books (I actually liked Bébé and French Kids better) but because I am finally tiring of this sub-genre (and have started reading biographies of Canadian political figures, reviews of which don’t really belong in this blog).

French Twist is different than the other two books because the author didn’t actually live in France ever. So this book loses the armchair travel dimension that the other aforementioned books had. Also, it makes her observations about French parenting more indirect. The author has some French-American friends and she gets parenting tips from them. In a way this is helpful because she is using French parenting techniques in a North American context, and something that I found disheartening about the other books was the realization that societal infrastructure (e.g. daycares, schools, close-knit family) that differs between France and North America has a huge influence on the process of raising children.

This book is also different from the other two books because the author attempts a lot of humour. This was okay for about half a chapter but then it felt tedious.

All three of these books really boil down to a few very useful principles though. Some ideas that have stuck with me include:

  1. Authority: A French parent is an authoritative parent. There is no bribing (rewarding) your children to do things. They do things because they are told to do things. That’s how it works.
  2. Dignity: I’m not sure if this is the right label, but by using the term ”dignity” I mean not always getting on the floor to play with the kids. Children and adults have separate interests, and adults are not expected to drop all of their interests to entertain their children. The children learn to be self-sufficient and entertain themselves.
  3. Food: You can never talk about French parenting without talking about food. I think some of the key concepts are that French adults don’t eat junk food, and French kids occasionally eat junk food but then grow out of it. I remember a scene from one of the books where there was a child’s birthday party with cupcakes, and only the children had cupcakes, not the adults present. That’s just not the way we operate in North America. French kids are introduced to a variety of healthy foods from the time they start solids (blue cheese for babies? They do that… but I have not tried yet with RJ. She has, however, had Brie and Camembert). French people, in general, eat fresher and whole foods. The parents eat healthily so the children eat healthily.

These are just a few of the ideas that have stuck with me. If you are interested in reading more about American-French parenting, I would recommend you start with Bringing up Bébé.

Video Baby Monitor Reviews: Summer Infant Ultrasight and Clearsight

After testing both of these and agonizing over the decision, I have decided to replace my old broken Summer Infant Secure Sight monitor with the Ultrasight. Here’s why:

The Ultrasight

The Ultrasight has a wide angle lens that shows the entire crib at one time, plus a zoom and pan so you can zoom in on baby. The Clearsight does not show the entire crib from where it’s placed across from the crib on a dresser in the room. The Clearsight has a zoom but no pan which makes the zoom pretty useless. Unless you have a baby who always sleeps in the middle of the crib (RJ always sleeps at one end or another).

The Clearsight

This is nitpicky but the Clearsight talk-to-baby button is next to the volume button on the receiver which means I accidentally pressed it a few times, never actually waking the baby, but I could see that it might happen at some point. My old monitor did not have a talk-to-baby button and overall I think it’s pretty useless other than to scare the crap out of your spouse when they are in the baby’s room.

The reason that choosing between these two monitors was so hard was that the Clearsight video quality is much better. But like I said, occasionally she is out of the frame. The Ultrasight video quality is good enough to see if she is standing, sitting, lying down, or lying down with her head down (these are the factors that really influence how I’m going to respond if I hear noise from the nursery). It is easier, however, to see on the Clearsight whether baby’s eyes are open or shut and what sleeping position she is in (back, side or stomach).

Both the Ultrasight and Clearsight video feeds are more jumpy than my old monitor though. What is up with that?

I’m not thrilled with either of these monitors because I feel that my old monitor did everything that it needed to (the pan, zoom and talk-to-baby are pretty unnecessary features) and had smoother video. Summer Infant discontinued my old monitor though, otherwise I would have bought it again. Hopefully Summer Infant will improve their monitors in upcoming models, because adding useless features and not improving the lacklustre video quality is kind of lame.

Book Review: Goodnight, Canada

Once you’ve read Goodnight Moon so many times that the thought of reading it one more time makes you glum, Goodnight Canada is a great book to pick up. Because RJ has a short attention span, hubby and I usually skip the first few pages that have 4-line stanzas of introductory verse and go straight into saying goodnight to all the provinces and territories. The illustrations (which I believe are done by pencil crayon) are fun and have lots of imagery that represent distinctive geographical and cultural features of the provinces.

This is the type of book that can be enjoyed with babies and I imagine it will also be enjoyed by older children as well. If you’ve traveled around Canada a bit you will probably find that this book will make you happily reminisce about your trips.

Book Review: French Kids Eat Everything (And Yours Can Too)

Do you fantasize about moving your entire family to France? I know I do. And Le Billon, a Canadian who married a French man, did just that and then wrote a memoir about it (I just started typing “momoir” which I have just discovered is an actual word that would also describe this book).

This book was a bit of a downer actually. In reality, being a foreigner is France is not always that great (I related to this because I have also spent a year living in France). France is culturally very different than Canada. Do they have a better food culture? Yes. I felt that this was the case before I read this book, and reading it confirmed it for me, while elucidating the methods whereby this food culture is promulgated.

At the end of the book Le Billon talks about her return to Canada and how certain aspects of French food culture were pretty much impossible to continue in Canada. Farmers markets and local produce are harder to come by and more expensive (although the French spend a higher percentage of their income on food than we do: check out this nifty diagram). French schools and workplaces are equipped with cafeterias with high quality food, and it would be unusual (and probably considered antisocial) for people to bring their own food from home and eat alone.

There are some food habits that Le Billon’s family picked up in France that they were able to continue in Canada. Some of these were: making time for sit down meals, making meals feel special (I liked the idea that tablecloths were used regularly and setting the table was part of setting the mood), not snacking in between meals, not feeding “kid’s food” to kids but having the whole family eat the same thing, and not using food as a reward or pacifier.

This book also had some tasty looking recipes. It was an interesting read, and like Bringing up Bebe, Parenting without Borders, and How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, it is a good reminder that as authoritative as those BabyCenter emails or your mother-in-law sounds, the North American parenting way is not the only, and perhaps not even the best, way to parent your child.

A

Book Review: The Happy Sleeper

I finally hit the wall and decided to sleep train RJ. For six months I slept in the same room as her (usually with her in the crib and me in a bed). But finally I felt too exhausted to continue waking and feeding her every two to three hours. I had also read that the best time to sleep train was before 8 months because that’s when separation anxiety starts. And I also know people who didn’t sleep train and have 2 year olds who don’t sleep through the night. I realized I was not cut out for this.

I found this book at the library after I had already ordered Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West on a recommendation from my Nurse Practitioner. Since I got my hands on The Happy Sleeper first, it became my go-to sleep training method. Good Night, Sleep Tight is gathering dust somewhere after I briefly flipped through it after it arrived in the mail.

The Happy Sleeper though, I flip through it almost every second day.

Here’s how the Happy Sleeper training method works (spoiler alert!): you have a consistent bedtime/naptime routine, put the baby in her crib, leave the room, and let her cry for 5 minutes. After 5 solid minutes of crying, you go in and recite a verbal reassurance script, then leave the room. The key to this method is consistency. The theory is that the baby will detect your pattern and know that you are close by. If you break the pattern (e.g. by breaking down and picking the baby up out of the crib to cuddle her) you will just be providing “intermittent reinforcement”. This is the same principle that makes gambling so addictive…

Full disclosure: this is a Cry-It-Out (CIO) method. It differs from Ferberizing because in the Ferber method the time interval between room checks changes. Good Night, Sleep Tight is also a modified CIO method that involves sitting in a chair next to the crib during the crying and then progressively moving the chair out of the room in stages.

The Happy Sleeper book contains much more information than just this method. It contains a lot of information based on sleep research about sleep cycles and how to create positive sleep associations and encourage self-soothing. The authors argue that children’s sleep problems are caused by over-parenting. By continuing to feed/rock/etc. your baby to sleep once they are able to learn how to self-soothe (around 5 months), you are preventing your baby from developing the skills that will help them (and you) get some quality shut-eye.

The CIO method in this book is sort of a last resort for people like me who didn’t know all the content in the other chapters about how to develop good baby sleep habits starting at birth. This book has separate chapters on sleep for 0-4 months, 5 months-2 years, and 2 years and up.

Having to resort to a CIO sleep training method is painful as a parent. This book did a good job at presenting research that helped give me the confidence to be consistent in this method. There was even a sidebar in the book with mantras to repeat to yourself when the baby is crying. For example,

I want my baby to go to bed feeling confident in her ability to get comfortable and fall asleep on her own.

Now, close to two weeks into this method, I feel that this has been happening for awhile already. This book has improved my life a lot. RJ seems to be just as happy and fond of me as she was before we did sleep training, if not more so. Being less sleep deprived and having some free time in the evening has noticably improved my mood, thus improving my relationships with my spouse AND with RJ.

I plan to buy a copy of this book and hope that if I have another baby I can use the sleep principles in this book to help that baby be a happy sleeper too.

Review: The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook

Baby-led weaning seems to be a trendy thing in the mom-o-sphere right now, so I took this book out of the library. It isn’t hugely different than the booklet I was given about starting solids that is produced by the provincial health authority (see link for .pdf access). The main difference food is never puréed in baby-led weaning (BLW) and the baby feeds themselves with their hands (so the parent never spoon-feeds the child).

It sounds intriguing, but it also sounds messy. The authors admit that it is, and suggest laying a plastic sheet over the floor under the highchair. A more serious concern I have about this method is that I’ve been told that at 6 months a breastfed baby has depleted iron stores and needs iron-rich foods. Hence the advice to start feeding a baby meat and iron-fortified baby cereals first and then move on to other foods.

My perceived problem with BLW is that the book suggests that the first few months of solids is for exploring foods and that the baby may mainly play with the food, perhaps chew it and spit it out, not actually consuming very much of it. So how would I know if RJ is getting enough iron for her growing body?

This book does have some tasty-looking recipes for the whole family (because another principle of BLW is that the entire family eats the same thing) and useful advice about how to cut foods into shapes that are easily handled by a baby.

After flipping through this book I decided to give RJ a chunk of solid mango. I was nervous that she might choke, but as this book points out, a baby’s gag reflex is closer to the front of their mouths and babies will frequently gag when eating new foods: it’s very protective for them. RJ gummed the mango and swallowed some impressively big chunks. And things looked pretty well processed when they came out the other end. So it was an interesting experiment.

Ultimately though, I’m planning to continue feeding her iron-fortified baby cereal. She’s also had some jarred baby food, mashed tofu, banana, mashed avocado, and minced chicken so far. I am hesitant to feed her table food because of the recommendation that babies avoid cow’s milk until they are 8-9 months old, and many of our adult foods contain dairy products. Also, I tried giving her scrambled eggs a few weeks ago (as both the provincial booklet and the BLW book recommend) and she developed hives. So I don’t want to feed her anything with eggs in it for awhile. I hope she grows out of her egg sensitivity because eggs are great. On the other hand, I was a vegan pre-pregnancy so I am confident that I could run an egg-free household pretty easily if I needed to.

RJ's hives
RJ’s hives