Thursday, May 17, 2007

Hey June, it's okay to cut yourself some slack

When Monkey Man was about 18 months old, I remember spending one night obsessing over making the perfect heart-shaped brownies for his preschool class, complete with lightly tinted pink frosting and a chocolate heart placed on top. Each one had to be perfect, you perfect that I think most of the kids licked the frosting off and turned the rest of the brownie into microscopic crumbs that they're still probably trying to get out of the carpet in that classroom. Oops.

Then there was his Halloween party in the 3-year-old class, where I spent two hours making cupcakes that looked like spider webs complete with little piped-on spiders. Again, icing was a big hit and more crumbs. I hope they had a good vacuum cleaner handy.

So other than an obsession with baked goods, I consider these just a few small examples of my effort to be SuperMommy. Minus the cape, because capes make my butt look big. I never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom - it's not me, not my style. By the end of my maternity leave, I was climbing the walls and ready to tie some bedsheets together so I could get back in the trenches again. And I felt awful. Guilty. Ashamed. What mother drops her child off at daycare on her first day back to work and happily walks out the door on her way to work? Um, me.

So when I was asked by ParentBloggers if I would be interested in reviewing a book about parenting, I hesitated. I'm not a "self-help" book type of person. Heck, I barely touched the "What to Expect" book when I was pregnant. Then I read about this book and was instantly taken with the subject and practically fell over my desk trying to get to my email and request a copy.

Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box, by Ann Dunnewold, tackles the battles that many mothers face - we overschedule, overprotect, and overparent our kids to the point that we're doing ourselves a great disservice. Dunnewold explores the idea of being a "perfectly good parent"; you don't have to be perfect at everything, it's okay to cut yourself some slack and live by the mantra that what you are doing is "perfectly good." Yeah, you might not have spent two days making a life-sized donkey pinata for your child's class party, but spending that time on coloring with your kid or going to their T-ball game will mean a lot more to your kids in the long run.

Dunnewold also encourages parents to show emotion around their kids versus trying to mask everything and make life hunky-dory all the time. It's vital that our kids learn that you can be mad and still love someone. It's okay to be sad sometimes, because life has disappointments. And it's okay to celebrate the little victories in life, too. Learning how to cope with these emotions are life skills that our kids need to know in order to be happy, well-functioning people.

Another part of "June Cleaver" that I found helpful was the discussion about competitiveness among parents. Heck, I remember after Monkey Man's entrance exam for kindergarten I must have gotten ten phone calls from other parents in the class wanting to know what his score was. And that irritated me. Yes, he did extremely well, but I don't measure his success by a number - nor do I want him compared to other kids as being better or worse than they are. Dunnewold explores overparenting and how we drag our kids to a zillion clubs, sports practices, and other things with the hopes that this will make them successful people. In reality, her belief is that we should let kids make their choices about what they want to do and not force them into things in order to fulfill our own needs of making our dreams come true.

I found that a lot of my own parenting philosophies were already outlined in the book - and I appreciated having a little confirmation that some of the things I'm doing aren't going to make me a bad parent nor will they have Monkey Man destined for prison or whatever. So when I decided to buy pre-cut canteloupe from the grocery store salad bar last week for his "fruit tasting" at school, I didn't feel guilty about it at all. Not to mention that we got to read two really good books in the time it would've taken me to disembowel enough canteloupe for his class. And that, in my opinion, is how I would rather spend my time as a parent - and Monkey Man will remember storytime long after he forgets that Mommy didn't spend all night cutting up fruit.

I also want to echo what some of the other reviewers have said in that Dunnewold has a really great reading list in the appendix, and I plan on checking some of those books out too.

So if you are feeling overwhelmed by the whole parenting gig (and really, who isn't from time to time?), check out Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box. I promise, you'll feel a heck of a lot better if you do.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Boca Beth es magnifico!

When your five-year-old, who normally eschews all things requiring brain power at the end of his day in favor of Power Rangers, insists on watching an educational video while he's eating his dessert and develops a little bit of attitude when it's time for his bath instead of finishing the video, you know you're onto something.

This something is Boca Beth. Developed by educator Beth Butler, Boca Beth focuses on teaching children a second language in a way that's lighthearted and fun. I received a DVD called "I Like Animals/Me Gustan Animales", a CD filled with songs, a coloring book, a Boca puppet (that was immediately commandeered by Monkey Man), and a little mini-maraca (also stolen by him). It was like Christmas!

The DVD, which features Beth Butler as the narrator, isn't as slick as some kids' videos that are out there. But what it lacks in video wizardry, it makes up for in Beth's sheer enthusiasm for Spanish that shines through the entire DVD. And not only is she enthusiastic, but her voice is very pleasant and soothing. She talks about the animals in English and Spanish, along with subtitles at the bottom of the screen. I found this part of the video to be the easiest to follow along with. Interspersed throughout are songs, which are typical kid songs like "Five Little Monkeys" that are sung in English and Spanish, with some songs given new lyrics to teach new words. It's very cleverly done without being cheesy.

At the end of the video, there is an instructional session that Beth Butler does with a group of preschoolers and toddlers and their parents. While the group is genuinely enthusiastic (and the kids are absolutely a riot to watch as they are totally hooked at this point), the audio quality in this part of the video is pretty disappointing. The songs that she sings while using puppets and props have great promise, but it's hard to understand at points and perhaps either better sound engineering or some subtitles at the bottom would help a lot. Despite this, though, Beth's passion comes bursting through in her interaction with the kids and it's hard not to get caught up in the little class. Even Monkey Man was bopping along with the songs.

We listened to the CD in the car a few times - honestly, Monkey Man is way more visual so he liked the DVD a lot better. He has never been a big fan of children's CD's, much like his mom - if it's not Def Leppard, he's pretty much not into it very much. I thought the songs were very catchy and decided to try them out the other weekend when we had friends over that had younger children. They were dancing out in our driveway like a bunch of fiends, so I would say that despite Monkey Man's music issues, the CD is popular with most kids who don't get into headbanging. Ahem.

Monkey Man was totally enamored with Boca, the puppet that goes along with the set. He has carried Boca around quite a bit since he came into our life! And to go along with that, the coloring book features Boca and is just as good as a textbook in my opinion - each page has a word in Spanish and English, and we've gone through the coloring book a lot to not only color but to go over the words.

Boca Beth might not be as slickly produced as Baby Einstein videos are, but in my own opinion the educational value of the program is far superior. Beth Butler has done an excellent job presenting Spanish in a way that is not only appealing to a wide age range, but it's done in a way that's downright infectious. Not to mention that after watching the video myself, I probably learned more Spanish than I did in two years of college-level Spanish classes!

Check out Boca Beth - they have several other videos available as well as other products. You can purchase them at the Boca Beth website, or at Amazon.

Want to win some cool Boca Beth stuff? Stop by Parent Bloggers and leave a comment about Boca Beth, and you'll be eligible for a chance to win!

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