Food and the Toddler

Picky eating and toddlers go hand-in-hand, right?

When we think of toddlers, culturally speaking, we think of “terrible twos” and picky eaters. Every moment is a fight or ramping up to a tantrum of some sort and there’s a parent in the background praying for this stage to end soon.

But it doesn’t have to be like that.

In a nutshell: picky eating is about exerting control over what a toddler puts in their body. It may stem for a genuine dislike for a particular piece of food, an unknown allergy, modeling behavior seen, or just testing to see what they can get away with at mealtime.

With this in mind, a parent can respect a toddler’s need for control, respect their desires, and give them a safe space to experiment without causing food issues down the road.


Note: there are going to be periods of “picky” eating with every child. I am not suggesting that this will stop those moments, but this will help manage those moments so it doesn’t become the norm. Also, consider the personality of your child: some children have a personality that is drawn towards assertive behaviors. Honor that personality type and find ways to work with them to help manage mealtime.

I acknowledge that this post will not help in situations where the child has sensory issues with food. Experts may label it as picky eating for brevity, but that is a separate issue from a child refusing to eat as a means to defy a parent.


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Toddler Life Lessons

Toddlers are too young to understand deep, philosophical lessons. They are too young to understand moral quandaries. They are too young to really grasp right from wrong.

As parents, we know that just because they can’t understand it, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taught. I feel like this is a “no, duh” moment many parents are saying to themselves right now.

Yet an issue I run into as I parent Jai with Ash is knowing what lessons to teach and how best to teach them. Questions I ask myself on a daily basis: is this something worth correcting Jai on? How do I correct him, with a warning or straight to time out? Should I follow the mainstream recommendation or go with my instinct?

A mentor once told me years ago, well before I met Ash, that you are never truly prepared to have a child. So if you want to have one, you have to just jump in and learn as you go. It won’t be easy, but the payoff will be worth it in the end when you have a functioning, well-adjusted adult that wants to have a relationship with you after they’ve moved out of the house.

But in order to achieve this, I have to begin training Jai to be polite, thoughtful, a good listener, able to share, and comfortable with adults as a toddler. The list is a bit longer than that, but those are the main concerns I have on a daily basis with a toddler.

As I am training Jai, I have to be mindful of several things: I’m an adult, what battles to pick and being humble throughout the whole experience.

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Prepping for Pre-School

Jai is going to be two soon. I still can’t believe it.

What that means is that we have another year before we need to consider enrolling Jai in pre-school. The cultural narrative is if he isn’t already enrolled in a quality pre-school before being born, I might as well accept the fact that he’ll never get into college.

I exaggerate but I do have that fear.

Ash and I looked at a couple of local pre-schools but to the extent of checking out their programs online. We haven’t visited, we haven’t contacted them, we haven’t really discussed our options other than: should we?

For a person who likes to be on top of everything and stresses out when I’m not, this “lack of planning” is a new feeling for me. Part of me is concerned that I am not concerned and another part of me isn’t ready for the idea of sending Jai way for portions of the day to be under a stranger’s care.

I am torn between being more proactive or just waiting until I absolutely have to make the decision to enroll him, around age 4.

Jai may make that decision for me: if he isn’t ready developmentally to join pre-school before 4, then I don’t have anything to worry about other than getting him into a decent program when he’s ready.

Right now, because I have a year to go before he can even be considered for pre-school, even part-time, I am not stressing too much. But I do need to start thinking about it because of applications, enrollments, and other deadlines that come up fast.

I also have to consider: what does he need to know before he steps into the classroom? And how can I, as a parent, work with his future teachers to provide him with all the tools he needs to get the most out of his education?

To be clear, this post isn’t about the first day of pre-school or finding a pre-school to send a little one. It’s about what I can do for Jai before I send him to pre-school so he’s prepared when the time comes. I will cross the bridge of the “do I send him at 3 or do I send him at 4” when I get to it.

This is something I can work on now.

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Organizing the Family Schedule

Creating a schedule for yourself is one thing. But scheduling the whole family? It can be like herding cats, particularly if several members of the family have different schedule styles or rarely check the family calendar.

In our house, Ash and I approach scheduling differently. While we have a shared calendar, how we maintain it differs. This doesn’t cause conflict, but we had a conversation a few weeks ago over how I schedule things does not work for him and vice versa. It was an interesting conversation and gave me more insight into how his internal logic works.

Communication is key to any relationship, so setting up a family schedule that everyone has access to and can update helps keep everything straight to avoid conflict and double-booking.

Analog or Digital Calendars: Why Not Both?

We have several different ways we highlight the month’s schedule in our household: analog and digital. In our closet, we have a hanging whiteboard that I update every month with the main activities going on in the household. Ash’s roleplaying games, Jai’s playdates, my appointments.

This helps me plan out my day as I am getting dressed. Do I wear nice clothes for that appointment/coffee date? Or do I spend the day in comfortable clothes because we’re staying home all day?

It allows for quick reminders and conversations that we might need to have in the morning before Ash leaves for work or I go for my morning run.

Digitally, Ash and I have a family calendar that we share together that contains the events pertaining to the family as a whole. Additionally, we keep separate calendars for our own activities, but we mutually share them so we’re aware of each other’s schedules.

Ash put down a reoccurring event in his calendar that highlights two days each week he can help me out should I need it. That way, if I am in the middle of setting up an appointment, but know that Ash will be the only one to watch Jai during that appointment, I can schedule it for a day that won’t conflict the most with his work schedule.

Likewise, Ash knows when he’s able to schedule is medical and social events around me because he can see everything on the family and my personal calendars. Once Jai is old enough, he’ll gain access to and control over his own calendar which will sync with ours so he can be responsible for his own activities.

It seems like common sense, but I’ve seen in several different parenting forums about the struggle of maintaining a common calendar between partners and children. It can be hard to set up, but if using a digital platform, easy to maintain.

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Creating a Productive Schedule

Next to maintaining a clean house, having a daily personal schedule helps keep everything running smoothly because I love efficiency.

Ash will tell you that I get annoyed in the store if other customers navigate the aisles inefficiently and interfere with my shopping experience. Likewise, when I feel inefficient in my day-to-day routine, I get frustrated with myself. I am constantly trying to figure out the best way to manage my schedule in order to get the most efficiency and productivity within my day.

Having a toddler makes this doubly difficult because I have to be mindful of his needs and flexible to his own schedule. If he refuses to eat a meal when it’s time to eat, that can throw the day off because I will have to make sure he’s fed when he’s ready an hour later.

MS & Scheduling

With MS and any chronic illness that has some sort of energy or movement inhibitor, there are a limited amount of hours each day a person has to get things done. Those hours aren’t guaranteed because of the nature of the illness, therefore you have to account for the possibility of spending the day in bed and being okay with that scenario.

I’ve mentioned how important scheduling can be when dealing with children and MS. The key is to be mindful of when I have the most natural energy (un-caffeinated and no early morning exercise), what I want to get done during that period, and how I want to get it done.

My reasoning for this mindfulness:

  1. Knowing my daily natural energy peaks provides a baseline for the most I can expect to get done without any “outside” help. Drinking my morning cup of coffee or going for an early morning run/yoga session give me energy boosts that may not be there every day. If I set my daily goals based on my natural energy when I have days with an energy boost, I feel more productive which might help me get even more done.
  2. MS has forced me to prioritize my life where I have to set 3 major goals for the day during my high-energy periods. The first item is the most important where the third can be pushed back to tomorrow’s top item. Anything on my list that I complete beyond that helps feed the productivity ego boost.
  3. Figuring out how I am going to get something done is equally important. With my MS and a child, simply stating I will sit down and write a bunch of emails doesn’t cut it. I have to squeeze communications in while Jai is asleep or decide to multi-task laundry while I clean the kitchen during nap time.

Additionally, being mindful of my energy valleys is important. I know that around noon I start to get fatigued and after Jai eats lunch I am ready to lay down for a nap or rest between 2 – 4pm. On days where I am out of the house or so busy with a project that I miss my rest means that Ash has to take over parenting as soon as he gets home from work until it’s time to put Jai to bed.

I try to not overdo it, but I do find that because of the unpredictability of MS, it’s like a light switch. I will be fine, fine, fine, and then something flips and I am immediately exhausted with no warning. I try to be aware of any warning signs so I can rest before I overdo it, but most days I am too busy to pay attention.

I am still not sure if I have any warning signs.

Below are my tips for how I create an effective schedule that works with my MS:

  • Take a week or two to track your natural schedule. This will include your energy peaks and valleys, what you do when, and how you feel when you do it. Try to be mindful of whether or not you take an energy boost and how that affects your energy (medication, coffee, exercise, etc.).
  • Analyze your schedule and see if you can find a pattern. This is difficult with MS because each day can be completely different, but you might be able to see that around 10 am you have more energy than you do at 2pm.
  • Try to adjust your new schedule to reflect these high energy periods and schedule a rest during the low energy ones. Prioritize the more important items/appointments during a peak period of your day and not stress if the less important stuff doesn’t get accomplished until tomorrow.
    • If you work outside the home, napping at your work may not be a possibility, but finding a quiet space where you can sit with your eyes closed and undisturbed for 10 minutes might be something you can fit in. Scheduling meetings and important projects doing your high-energy periods work as well.
  • Embrace the productivity energy boosts when you get them. I find it invigorating when checking items off my to-do list. Those little boosts can be so energizing that it feeds into itself to get more done. Just be mindful to not overdo it and wear yourself out.

I think these tips are helpful for people without MS or an illness that interferes with energy levels, but it wouldn’t be my go-to set of suggestions for them. What follows are some broader observations/techniques that have helped me boost my productivity.

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