Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book Review - Last Child in the Woods

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Richard Louv - ©2005

I Read This Book Because:
Many of the aspects of my life growing up could be considered unlucky, but where I grew up is not one of them. Growing up in a small rural town, nestled into the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, provided the exact Rx to treat the emotional wounds we all endure while growing up. While immersed in nature, either damming a small creek, or building sandcastles along the river, or blasting off into space in my rocket ship/maple tree, I was completely at ease with myself. I was alert to noises, sounds and sights—relaxed, yet fully engaged. There, my imagination ran as free as I did, and I hardly noticed the hours slipping by as the shadows grew long. I came home refreshed and unburdened, capable of handling the next days’ crises.

As I grew from an happy-go-lucky kid to an anxious teenager, I’d retreat to special places in the woods, or near the river to think. Somehow, confiding in beings infinitely more ancient than myself, my problems seemed trivial. As the tension drained away, thoughts came clear and focused. I made every important decision of my youth in these places; if not all, then most certainly the good ones.

Knowing what nature has done for me, I’m now burdened with the worry that my suburban grown children will be denied that same sanctuary I had, during their times of stress. Sure, we have lots of city parks and forest parks, but the city parks are relatively devoid of any natural landscapes for play and the forested parks are so restricted that going off the trail, picking a flower, or eating a berry is tantamount to vandalism. Neither of these places are going to provide even a fraction of the possibilities that sticks, mud, leaves, creeks, and a little freedom, provide naturally. I fear that this look-but-don’t-touch attitude is actually going to discourage them from seeking experiences in nature in the future. I can see it in the looks on their faces, we have to go hiking again mom?? But it’s so booooring. I have to say, they have a point there...

There Has to Be Something I Can Do
I was looking for hope and inspiration when I picked up this book. Instead I got a lot of what I already felt. Wild places are disappearing from city and suburban landscapes. Kids are getting fat, wired-in and antisocial. Problems like ADHD are on the rise in ridiculous curves. The book spends most of the time exploring these problems, making a case for it’s importance and sharing stories of people who have achieved a meaningful relationship with nature. I was depressed reading about the trends toward de-naturing our entire culture, such that Naturalists are almost all elderly, colleges rarely even have nature related science classes, due to lack of interest from the student body, while microbiology and technology and such are fast rising.

I kept waiting for something I could use to help my children. That part did come, in a few pages towards the end, but it was everything I was already striving to do on my own. It was then that I finally ascertained the purpose of this book. It isn't a book with creative ideas for helping parents and children bond with nature, it is meant to educate people who were unaware that something is missing, and to call them to action. We need to build public spaces and communities that are conducive to children nurturing a relationship with nature. A love that will inspire, offer panacea, respite, recreation, and spirituality. All of which would make conservation and green-living an obvious afterthought. We love it, so of course we want to preserve it. I agree, but it’s not really what I was after when I bought this book; I already have a thorough understanding of the importance of nature in our lives and would already support any moves made by our society in that direction.

Although I was a bit disappointed, this book had some truly excellent points, here are a few:

Childlife Reserves - There are so many activist creating sanctuaries for animals but what about children? Couldn't a small portion of that sensitive sand dune/stream/pond/forest be cordoned off for playing, even if it was unintentionally “destructive”?  I love this idea and was inspired to write a letter.  (I'll link to it once it's finished.)

Criminalization of Natural Play - In urban and suburban areas kids can barely step off the sidewalk without trespassing. Parents feel compelled to force kids to drop that piece of gravel lest we be accused of stealing landscaping material. Forget about climbing that really inviting low-branched tree. Same goes for any commercial spaces. Even at the city parks, I see parents pulling kids out of the trees and pointing them towards the play structures—dead metal and plastic things surrounded by shredded trees that poke through their socks. No creativity, no inspiration, no exhilaration from being up high, no thrill at the thought of a branch breaking beneath your shoes leaving you dangling by your hands... Just safe, rigid, and exceptionally boring.

Legal Bogeyman - The ‘gator were really scared of? The litigator, we are so worried about the possibility of being sued if a child injured themselves while playing on commercial or personal property that many areas are unnecessarily marked off-limits. A few well written play-at-your-own-risk laws could fix this...

Bad Guy Bogeyman - The world today isn't safe! Or is it? Statistics (in this book) show that the rates of crime to children are actually lower than when we were growing up. And when children are hurt, it’s generally perpetrated by someone they know and trust.

Biophilia - Term coined by Edward Wilson describing the innate urge to associate with other forms of life. Why we like pets and houseplants, why we react so positively to a open field or stand of trees.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Book Review - The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Elizabeth Pantley - © 2012

I Read This Book Because:
I couldn't wait for my first baby, Danielle, to start trying food. As advised by Your Baby’s First Year, I started Danielle on vegetable purees: peas, sweet potatoes, green beans—she loved it all. The fruits were also well received. Soon, I started making baby foods and she ate it up, broccoli, carrots, yum yum! Then she turned one. Suddenly her head started to turn when I’d present a food that she ate with gusto only yesterday. OK, we’ll try something else. Oh OK, she likes this one. I’d try the refused food again the next day, having saved it in the refrigerator, nope, no-go. Humph. That’s all right we have plenty of other foods and new delights opening up every day. Right? Wrong. Every developmental milestone included wondrous new abilities and new food rejections. The only food she hasn't outright rejected, you ask? Excellent question.  That would be foods in the salty, cheesy, refined grains food group. What!? That's not a real food group? Uh oh. I’m in trouble.

Danielle is spirited; meaning she has all the same thoughts and feeling as other five-year-olds except that her emotional dial hovers somewhere around 7-10. So foods that she doesn't like aren't just kind of yucky, they’re super gross! disgusting! makes me barf! Just like she’s sure that tag in her jammie pants is digging a bloody hole through her back. CUT IT OUT—PLEASE! Any new foods I introduce are met with trepidation, and all foods she has rejected in the past are on a permanent mental gross list.

Then I discovered the No Cry Picky Eater solution by one of my favorite parenting book authors, Elizabeth Pantley. I snapped it up and read it through. This book is easy to read, trim with only the most pertinent and highly usable information. This book shines by giving the reader an understanding and empathy for what our children are going through and comfort that their behavior is normal, (our children aren't trying to drive us nuts).  I no longer feel guilty about my daughter's food preferences and can focus that misspent energy on tactics that are guiding her towards making healthy choices.

How This Book Works
This book is divided into four sections:

What You Really Need To Know About Picky Eaters
This section defines what a picky eater is and gives you some reassurance that picky eating is not only normal behavior for kids is part of our biological wiring. For example, kids crave energy dense foods that are easy to break down, (i.e. carbs) to power their rapidly growing brains and bodies as well as their constant motion. Also, bitter flavors can be an indicator of a toxic substance and kids' natural aversion to bitter is a evolutionary protector against ingesting toxic plants. Perhaps this could be used to our advantage, I’m thinking kale flavored crayons and Play-Doh...

This section also contains Food Facts that delineates some of the common problems in our modern diets and offers gentle solutions for rectifying those issues.

The Fundamental Four: Attitude, Environment, Amounts and Rules
Attitude reminds us to keep our eye on long term goals by not waging war on our children each mealtime. Environment reminds us that if we want our children to eat healthy, then our pantries and refrigerators need to be filled with healthy foods and they need to see us enjoying those foods too. Amounts has easy-to-read charts that show daily calorie and nutrition requirements and how to meet them through your child's meals and snacks. The Rules section covers many of the contemporary food rules and whether or not following each is a good idea. Some of them are surprising, such as “Rule: Make your child's diet nutritionally balanced at each meal.” (Something I've always strived to do.) Verdict: Break it! Upon reading the logic and research as to why, I think to myself... OhHHhhh...

Tips, Tricks and Tactics: Solving Picky Eater Problems
Now that we the parents are properly educated on the topic of feeding our brood, it's time for the fun stuff! The next 70 pages are filled with fun, gentle ideas for improving your child's overall diet while saving us some grey hair. I've been battling this issue for quite some time so I was doubtful that I'd find anything new. There were perhaps a dozen ideas that had never occurred to me and the ones I had already tried, I found I gave up too soon or could have tried it in a slightly different way. One surprise was learning that a child may need to be exposed to a new food 10 to 15 times before they'll even want to taste it. My daughter was lucky if I'd let her get away without trying a new food on the first day! No wonder she's worried whenever I set down an unfamiliar meal, she's sure I'm going to be pressuring her into eating some. That anxiety and pressure from me is going to ensure she rejects it out of hand. Another ah-ha moment for me. Play it cool... and hamm up the mmmMMMmmm—soo good.

The Experts' Favorites: Recipes Even Your Picky Eater Will Love
This section provides recipes from the authors of seven different kid friendly cookbooks! I plan to try them all except the two by the author whose book I already own. I have picked up the Sneaky Chef cookbook by Missy LaPine no less than a dozen times, during trips to the bookstore, only to put it back on the shelf. Now I can try out a sampling of her recipes before I invest in another would-be doorstop. Thanks Elizabeth!

Prior to reading this book I was frustrated and unwittingly making mealtimes a time for Danielle to feel bad about the choices her biological composition is driving her to towards, by laying on pressure and guilt. I don’t think pressure and guilt ever wrought positive changes in anyone, but what else could I do?  Lots apparently.

After reading this book I'm easier going about her food choices. I don't make food choices a power struggle anymore, so she's not losing because she's not giving in to me. I'm more conscientious about modeling good eating habits, I'm eating like a grown-up again, instead of eating what I know they’ll eat. When she sees us enjoying these foods, she wants to like them and I've noticed that she keeps trying it (yay!) knowing she's missing out on something good. I'm trying to make mealtimes more fun and playful. I make the most out of snacks nutritionally, by giving my girls choices based on what they've been missing that day. For example if they're light on fruits and veggies I say, “You can have raisins, apple slices, carrot slices or applesauce.” Or if they’re light on protein, “You can have a hard boiled egg or mixed nuts.” These changes plus a dozen or so others have us back on the right road. It's a long road, but in the interim I’m much more relaxed, Danielle is much happier and my two-year-old benefits from these techniques at a much earlier age. Just as my venerated pediatrician reminds me, “We have 18 years to help her become a good eater.” Thanks to this book, I'm confident we'll get there in a positive, gentle way.