I Need You to Know That I Loved You.

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I need you to know, more than anything else, that I loved you.

I was so scared. I have never known fear as great as the day I found out that you would be coming to this world. But I loved you. So much. I still love you and I will always miss you.

There were so many things I wondered, worried and agonized over. Almost every waking moment, and many of my sleeping ones, I ran over every possible scenario that I could think of. How much of that did you feel? How much of my stress caused you harm? Could you feel my love too?

Never have two little pink lines been so terrifying. I am so sorry that there were no tears of joy and squeals of laughter. All babies should be welcomed that way. You weren’t any less beautiful, miraculous, or amazing. I was so angry when I realized I was pregnant. Not at you, or because of you, but I was angry at how it could be possible for a responsibility and a privilege so great to be given to someone like me, who had no way of providing, protecting or loving you the way that you deserved. The way every beautiful, precious, miracle of a baby deserves.

Your amazing beating heart flickered there on the screen for me. It was weak and you were small but you were fighting. You lived, if only briefly. I wanted not to worry. I wanted to be joyful but instead there was just gut wrenching fear.

How do I explain who your father is? What he is? Where he is? What he did? How do I conceal that you even exist to protect you? The world is small and eventually he would have found out…how do you trust a broken governmental system to protect the most vulnerable among us? How could I provide for you? How could I walk away from you every day to leave you in daycare? How would I afford daycare? How do I face each day, being the mom you need, stretched too thin, with no financial resources? How do I deserve you? How will it feel for you to watch your siblings leave to go see their father and you won’t have one to go to? What will you say? How will I explain it?  Will my love be stronger than the pain he caused? Am I a good enough mom? How will I afford any of this? How do I face my fears, acknowledge them, and let them go? How do I trust that the world will be here for us when the world has felt so dark?

Darkness. Everywhere things just feel dark. How could all of this happen? What did I do to deserve this? How do you keep faith in humanity when things keep going wrong. Consistently, irreparably wrong? I have always been a positive person. Looking on the bright side. Trusting the good in people. In the world. Little by little, the world is changing me. How do I stop it from changing me? How do I stop from becoming dark myself?

I tried to be brave for you. To think of the beautiful birth you would have. Would you be born wide awake and curious like your sister? Huge and quiet with one eye open like your oldest brother? Or would you sleep through a fast and furious birth like your youngest brother? I imagined wearing you in a wrap and nursing you. I imagined rocking you and holding you and our quiet days together, when your siblings were with their dad.

Were you the little girl we’ve all been hoping and waiting for? The sister that’s been longed for? Were you going to teach me that I am stronger and braver than I give myself credit for? Would you show us with your beautiful smile, your sweet grasping hands, those deep soulful eyes, and that indescribable baby smell that despite the darkness in the world, that each amazing, beautiful life possesses the power to bring meaning and light?

I will never know the answers to those questions. Your little heart stopped beating and you, my brave, sweet baby, with your short powerful life, will leave me forever wondering about you. Missing you. Loving you.

I am thankful that you have been spared the fears and possibilities that I agonized over. I am grateful and relieved and yet pained with guilt, remorse, pain, and loss. But above absolutely anything else… I love you.

-Mom

Garrett turns 2!

Garrett turned two on August 15th. This last year has gone by so fast.

Garrett is such an amazing little guy. I’m not sure how one child manages to be such a melded combination of characteristics but somehow he is able to do it. He is my snuggler and a complete mama’s boy. He still finds his way to my hip or in my lap for much of the day. At the same time he is very independent and the phrase we probably hear most often from him is, “Garrett do!” or “Garrett too!”. Mike has taken to calling Garrett, “Garrett too.” Over the last several months and especially the last few weeks Garrett is developing a deep love for his daddy. He wants to do everything daddy does and is starting to miss him when he is gone. For the last six months or so when Garrett wakes up in the morning he will say, “dada?” wanting to know where daddy is. When I respond, “at work” his usual response used to be a somewhat disappointed “ohhhh.” The last week or so he has started saying “missssss. dada missssss” with a very sad face. He is truly sad and distraught when daddy is gone now.

Garrett is also very stubborn, strong willed and frankly, rebellious. For someone who has just barely turned 2 he is amazing at toeing the line. If you draw a line he will run to the edge of it, look you square in the eye and then calmly put his foot over it taunting you to see what you’re going to do about it. He does this not only with Mike and I but with other adults and children. He likes to provoke reactions, usually just for fun. This has caused me, as his mom, a lot of stress. I have learned to loosen up, to enjoy his nature and to give him a bit more wiggle room.


Garrett is a rough and tumble all out boy. He likes guns, dirt, water and sticks. What he wants is “his”, what he looks at is “his” and what anyone else wants is “his”. He is not afraid of taking it by force even from a child (or adult) bigger than he is. He sometimes takes great joy in snatching things from others even if he has no desire for what he has snatched. He reminds me of a little lion cub looking to dominate anything and everything around him. He will push down little babies that are minding their own business, just to know that is able to do it. It is to the point where if we are with a group of children and one of them starts to cry, I usually have to jump up and remind Garrett that we do not hit, push, take…etc

Unfortunately, his sister receives the brunt of Garrett’s attempts at family domination. She will often comment about how she doesn’t like him much but then carefully add that she loves him but that it’s hard being his sister. Thankfully their relationship has taken a turn for the better in the last two weeks or so and they are beginning to have as many positive interactions throughout the day as negative and are starting to really play together. All of my parenting techniques, theories and patience have been worn thin by this little boy. But despite this, I love him with all my heart. His sweet nature is so apparent and he is a loving and giving boy who’s empathy is really starting to blossom. He is beginning to treasure and love his sister and despite his behavior towards her sometimes, he can not stand when she is not with us. He calls her “nana” (his attempt at saying Camden) and is sad whenever she is not with us. He is beginning to worry and cry when she is upset and tries to make her feel better. He also wants to do everything Camden does. He even decided he wanted to ride a horse despite his initial terror over them because Camden loved riding so much.



Garrett has so many quirks it is hard to know where to start. He has developed a hate of “tags” and will not allow one to be in his shirt or on most objects for that matter. Even during his Birthday party he made his dad cut of a “tag” on one of the gift bags. He is a funny blend of liking “boy” and “girl” things. He turns every available object into a gun (including alphabet letters and veggie booty) yet at the same time begs to wear Camden’s dresses, butterfly tattoo’s and prefers to sleep with pink blankets. He even asks for pink nail polish. Of course Camden and I find this hilarious and often oblige him with his requests. He will hate us for this someday, I’m sure.  His favorite color is orange and he takes great joy in any object he finds or owns that is “ownge”.


Garrett loves musical instruments and especially likes the drums and guitar. He likes to color and paint and his favorite food in the world is candy. Meal wise he loves things with a lot of flavor. He enjoys spaghetti (with rice noodles) and beef stew. Development wise he is really in a big growth phase right now. His expressive language has been exploding the last two weeks and he is repeating much of what we say and is learning new words every day. He is learnings his colors and wants to do everything the big kids do. He learned how to peddle a bike yesterday, on his Birthday. He is fully potty trained now, both during the day and night. We have weaned him from nursing at night but he still wakes up anyway. I am hoping he will start truly sleeping through the night within the next 2-3 months. He is still nursing and though I would prefer to be done with our nursing relationship I am waiting until we can get a vitamix to make sure he is getting enough nutrition.

Garrett continues to have serious allergies to many foods. Though his reactions have greatly reduced in frequency he is continuing to lose foods. He is currently allergic to: wheat, dairy, egg, soy, peanut, nuts, sunflower seed, sesame seed and dogs. Recently he has come up allergic to rice all though we have not removed it from his diet at this point because we are not seeing any reaction from the rice and his diet is all ready so limited. Feeding Garrett is definitely a huge challenge all though I am getting more used to it. What is frustrating is the things he can eat sometimes are quite ridiculous. It makes me mad that he can eat things like french fries, all manner of candy, soda, chips, sugar cereal like Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs but I can not give him an egg or a piece of bread. I have had to let go of my concern for many foods not because I have changed my mind on whether or not they are healthy or good for you but out of necessity and a concern for his quality of life. For example I did not have the money, time or energy to find and edible recipe for a wheat free, egg free, soy free, dairy free, seed free Birthday cake. So instead, I made him a rice crispy treat cake chock full of corn syrup, petroleum based dyes and all manner of artificial flavors. But it was delicious, he loved it and it was simple. I’ve just had to learn to let go, some. He eats way too much candy and french fries for a kid his age or for any kid for that matter but you try telling your child day in and day out, “No. Not for Garrett. That will make you sick.” It’s hard and frustrating. I do my best to get high quality whole foods in him but sometimes it just doesn’t work that way. I am so excited to be saving for a Vitamix blender that I plan on using to increase the amount of vegetables in his diet since he refuses pretty much any vegetable besides corn, carrots and potatoes.

For his Birthday this year we had an Elmo themed party. I’m not quite sure how he has become so fond of Elmo since he has never seen Sesame Street but he recognized Elmo in the dollar store the other day and we had leftover Elmo party supplies from Camden’s 1st Birthday. He was sooooo happy when he woke up from his nap to find an Elmo party. He also has Elmo sheets now that one of Mike’s friends from work gave us and he loves having them. We had a spaghetti dinner for him (one of his favorite meals) and I made him a Rice Crispy cake with Dots and sprinkles on top. We also had ice-cream sundae’s for everyone else. To make the cake I used Spectrum Vegetable shortening which is made of palm oil rather than soy based shortenings. You can not tell a difference in flavor or texture and it is delicious.

Despite how challenging these first two years have been for me I would not trade raising Garrett for anything. He has required me to rise above my fears, selfishness and insecurities in order to be a better mom and a better person. I am a less judgmental and more forgiving person because of him. His love, precious hugs and kisses, laughter and sense of humor bring so much joy and entertainment to our family. His presence in our family has given me greater spiritual strength and faith.

Garrett Michael Reid, we love you with all our hearts.

No More Diapers for Garrett

Well, it is now safe to say that Garrett is officially potty-trained for daytime. He’s been going diaper free during the day for the last two weeks or so (even at nap time) but I thought I’d wait awhile to post it here so as not to jinx myself. He is 21 months old. We are still using a diaper at night and he is peeing in those about 40% of the time and the other days he wakes up dry. I’d imagine within a few months or so he’ll be completely potty trained.

Overall, I really loved our E.C. (elimination communication) experience. I took a pretty laid back approach to it and decided we’d try it but that if it didn’t work out for us, no biggie. We had an expected set back around the 11-14 month range which I expected after watching the experiences of my friends. Most kids that are E.C’d go through a phase in which they want nothing to do with the potty because they’re figuring out their own independence, busy crawling/walking, etc. I just diapered him through that phase and waited and it worked out great.

Recently Garrett was potty trained during the day if he was naked (that’s been for the last several months) but he can now wear underwear and clothes and remember to take them off first before sitting on the potty. If he can’t get it off by himself (footie jammies for example) he will tell me he has to go “poo poo” or he will goo “psssss” which I think is absolutely hilarious since that is how we cued him with the “pssss” sound when he was an infant but I have not used that cue sound with him since he was six months or so. It amazes me that the cue sound is still in his memory. In fact, the whole E.C. thing in general is just amazing to me. The amount of control that Garrett has over his bladder and his awareness of it is just really impressive, not because he’s some magical kid or anything but just because we are taught that young children don’t have control or awareness over it when in fact, they do if we don’t teach them to ignore it at birth. Garrett can hold it for hours and hours and hours and he will even tell me while we’re driving in the car that he has to go potty and if I told him to wait for a minute, he can!

Anyway, it’s been a great experience and I’m happy we’ve done it. I realize it didn’t “officially” potty train him that much sooner than kids can potty train anyway but to me it made a world of difference in so many other areas and really he has been potty trained for a lot longer he’s just needed help with the aspects his fine motor skills couldn’t control yet.

I plan on taking the same E.C. approach with our next baby. We’ll give it a go and if it works great, if not no biggie. :)

Climbing Back on the Wagon

My cousin has pleaded with me to start blogging again. So, like I promised, here I am. :)

Part of the reason I stopped blogging is because I really just can’t find the time to do the research and write the articles that I used to write and that was my favorite part about blogging. Really, all I have time for these days is to do family updates and I didn’t figure anyone wanted to read about those or if they did, they could  catch up with us on Facebook. Nevertheless, I will try to do better at keeping this blog active. It was such a big part of my life for so long and I do miss it.

I will start first by announcing that we are expecting another baby! We are due late November or early December from what we’re able to tell. We will go in on the Wed, May 19th to try and listen for the baby’s heartbeat. I am currently 11 weeks along. The first trimester was a breeze. In fact, I had no idea I was pregnant until I was 9 weeks and took a pregnancy test. LOL. I didn’t really start having any symptoms until a few days after the test and didn’t start getting nausea until a few days ago so I’m not completely convinced that I am 11 weeks along. I think it is possible that my uterus is measuring large and that this will be a late December baby like Camden. I guess only time will tell.  I have started to “pop” however. Here is a picture I took today.

Camden was over the moon excited when we announced to her that we were going to have a baby. We told her at a family gathering for Mother’s Day and we let her be the one to announce it to both mine and Mike’s families. She is so excited to be a big sister again and is hoping for a sister.  We have also told Garrett that there is a baby in mommy’s tummy and he will point to my tummy throughout the day and say, “baby!” and then “baby, nee nee!” since we told him that when the baby is born the baby will nurse. At this point, Garrett is still nursing and as much as I’d like to wean him for my own sake with all of his allergies he is just not getting enough nutrition through food and nursing is still the best way to get him the nutrients he needs. I never intended on tandem nursing (in fact, I really don’t like the idea at all) but logically I can not think of a good reason not to since it is still very important that he nurse.

Here is a recent picture of me and the kids at the Tulip Festival. My friend Shilowe took this picture when she was in town visiting in early April. Turns out I was pregnant when she was here and didn’t have any idea. LOL.

I have finally purchased all of the items (well, except for the seeds) that we need for our garden and I’m really excited to get it all put together this weekend. This is our first garden. I decided to go with the square foot gardening method. Camden is really excited to plant some veggies and flowers and I’m looking forward to all of the yummy food.

Garrett has started sleeping in Camden’s room with her. Well, okay, let me rephrase. Garrett has started sleeping in the “kids” room since it is supposed to be both of their rooms and has been sleeping on the bottom bunk bed. I’ve weaned him from nursing at night and he is doing pretty good sleeping in there. It was his idea to sleep on the bunk bed. Sniff. Sniff. They grow up so quick. He is still waking up every 2-3 hours but that is mostly because I am having to retrain him on the no nursing at night thing since he recently had an illness and when he is sick we forget about the no nursing at night rule and he can nurse as much as he wants. I stop nursing him when he falls asleep (I nurse him to sleep) and then he doesn’t nurse again until the sun comes up since time is still obviously arbitrary to him. When we get back to the point of nursing in the morning I have been bringing him in bed with me because I can’t stand having to get up out of bed over and over. Seriously, how moms that don’t co-sleep cope the first year with all the night waking is beyond me. I dislike oh so very much getting out of bed when he wakes up and I can’t stand that panicky adrenaline rush when I am startled awake by his cry. It’s funny though, I am just surprised how ready he is to transition to his own bed. I was also shocked at how well he did nightweaning. I thought it was going to be a really hard process for him because of his personality. Anyone who has met him probably understands what I am referring to. Underneath that amazingly cute little smile of his is a whiny clingy mama’s boy. The good news is that he appears to be growing out of it. I knew that he would someday I just wasn’t sure if that someday was going to be in my lifetime. LOL.

Camden is getting so big too. It’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like to send her off to Kindergarten next fall to disappear for a full day of school. We are homeschooling her, however, so we won’t be doing that anyway but still to realize she will be that old soon is strange. Especially since it doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was pregnant with her. Camden is a beginning reader and read her very first book a month or so ago. It was called, “Stop the Tot!” She really seems to like reading but she does get easily frustrated if she makes a mistake and rather than just reading the particular word over she has to go back and read it from the start of the page and do it all over. Trust me, not my idea…all hers. She is somewhat of a perfectionist unless I’ve asked her to do something (like say, clean her room) and then she is a minimalist. :)

Well that is all I can think of for now.

Garrett’s E.C. Progress (taking himself potty)

Garrett is 17 months old now and I’d say our Elimination Communication (E.C.) journey has been a pretty half-hearted one. I took the attitude of pottying Garrett with a grain of salt because I didn’t want any stress involved. I attempted to have the attitude of “it if works, great. If not, I’ve lost nothing.”

In the beginning I took him potty all the time and he did excellent and as a young baby he refused to poop in his diaper. As he got older he didn’t mind as much and would poop in his diaper if I didn’t get to him in time. Then around the time he started walking or thereabouts he started fighting the potty quite a bit. He was too busy and didn’t want to be bothered so I didn’t push it. I just let him go in his diaper but I would try to remember to take him when it crossed my mind.

A few weeks ago we picked up a Baby Bjorn Potty at a consignment shop and since then our potty success has skyrocketed. We all ready had a Baby Bjorn Little Potty (which is much smaller) and I like it but it’s size makes it difficult for Garrett to take himself to the potty without help because it’s so low to the ground. The blue potty we picked up is the perfect size. He backs up to it and goes.

Combining the new potty with keeping him naked from the waist down while we are at home has equated to him being “potty trained” during the day. He will completely initiate going to the potty and take himself without any assistance as long as he doesn’t have any clothes on. If he has underwear or a diaper on he will sometimes go in it without seeking me for help to get them off. I expect it will be another three to six months or so before he can reliably get his clothes off by himself to go potty. I have also noticed that since keeping him naked at home he has also started holding it better when he is in a diaper when we go out for the day or during nap.

Garrett mastering the potty has been just another reminder that my “baby” is quickly outgrowing his babyhood. So sad. But this is definitely a welcome change. He gets very excited when he goes potty and sometimes in his eagerness he tries to carry it to me (the little white part removes from the base) which has resulted in potty being dropped all over the carpet (yuck).

All though the concept and process of EC is very natural and makes total sense to me I am still sometimes baffled to watch a 17 month old stop in mid-play run over to the potty, go, and then resume playing as if nothing ever happened without any interference from me (except to wipe his bum after he’s gone poo). It’s a little amazing at times.

Rethinking Praise and Self Esteem

I will be the first to admit that I have to consciously stop myself from dishing out unwarranted and undeserved praise to my children. Sometimes, it slips out anyway.  However, I understand on a very logical level that this doesn’t achieve what I want it to. This article was passed to me today and I think it is important to keep it going.

Interestingly, when reading this article I had constant flashbacks to my own childhood (specifically my experiences in public school)  and could remember instances when the praise and similar tactics failed for me as well. I remember what a shock college was because for the first time in my life I could not “get by” on effortless work. It was a shock and I remember being angry (not at myself) but at the “unfair” notion of having to actually put forth effort and hard laborious study to learn something. I will never forget a project that we had to do for a biology course in High School. We were supposed to work on it for the entire semester. I didn’t touch the  project until the night before and stayed up until the wee hours of the morning and skipped the first two classes before biology to finish the project. I turned it in and got an “A”. Meanwhile, a friend who worked on the project diligently and throughout the semester got a lower grade. This did little for me except to reinforce that public education is less about learning, being held accountable and diligently working towards something and more about figuring out which hoops to jump through. High School for me could be summarized as learning how to do the least amount of work for the desired outcome. I graduated Cum Laude without ever working hard. I could go on and on about public school and my distaste of the system and what it teaches but that is another subject.

I am looking forward to reading this book.

Here is the LINK to the article

Excerpt: NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children

by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children
By Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Hardcover, 352 pages
Grand Central Publishing
List Price: $24.99

Nurtureshock

Chapter One: The Inverse Power of Praise

Sure, he’s special. But new research suggests if you tell him that, you’ll ruin him. It’s a neurobiological fact.

What do we make of a boy like Thomas?

Thomas (his middle name) is a fifth-grader at the highly competitive P.S. 334, the Anderson School on West 84th in New York City. Slim as they get, Thomas recently had his long sandy-blond hair cut short to look like the new James Bond (he took a photo of Daniel Craig to the barber). Unlike Bond, he prefers a uniform of cargo pants and a T-shirt emblazoned with a photo of one of his heroes: Frank Zappa. Thomas hangs out with five friends from the Anderson School. They are “the smart kids.” Thomas is one of them, and he likes belonging.

Since Thomas could walk, he has constantly heard that he’s smart. Not just from his parents but from any adult who has come in contact with this precocious child. When he applied to Anderson for kindergarten, his intelligence was statistically confirmed. The school is reserved for the top 1 percent of all applicants, and an IQ test is required. Thomas didn’t just score in the top 1 percent. He scored in the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent.

But as Thomas has progressed through school, this self-awareness that he’s smart hasn’t always translated into fearless confidence when attacking his schoolwork. In fact, Thomas’s father noticed just the opposite. “Thomas didn’t want to try things he wouldn’t be successful at,” his father says. “Some things came very quickly to him, but when they didn’t, he gave up almost immediately, concluding, ‘I’m not good at this.’ ” With no more than a glance, Thomas was dividing the world into two — things he was naturally good at and things he wasn’t.

For instance, in the early grades, Thomas wasn’t very good at spelling, so he simply demurred from spelling out loud. When Thomas took his first look at fractions, he balked. The biggest hurdle came in third grade. He was supposed to learn cursive penmanship, but he wouldn’t even try for weeks. By then, his teacher was demanding homework be completed in cursive. Rather than play catch-up on his penmanship, Thomas refused outright. Thomas’s father tried to reason with him. “Look, just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you don’t have to put out some effort.” (Eventually, Thomas mastered cursive, but not without a lot of cajoling from his father.)

Why does this child, who is measurably at the very top of the charts, lack confidence about his ability to tackle routine school challenges?

Thomas is not alone. For a few decades, it’s been noted that a large percentage of all gifted students (those who score in the top 10 percent on aptitude tests) severely underestimate their own abilities. Those afflicted with this lack of perceived competence adopt lower standards for success and expect less of themselves. They underrate the importance of effort, and they overrate how much help they need from a parent.

When parents praise their children’s intelligence, they believe they are providing the solution to this problem. According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85 percent of American parents think it’s important to tell their kids that they’re smart. In and around the New York area, according to my own (admittedly nonscientific) poll, the number is more like 100 percent. Everyone does it, habitually. “You’re so smart, Kiddo,” just seems to roll off the tongue.

“Early and often,” bragged one mom, of how often she praised. Another dad throws praise around “every chance I get.” I heard that kids are going to school with affirming handwritten notes in their lunchboxes— and when they come home — there are star charts on the refrigerator. Boys are earning baseball cards for clearing their plates after dinner, and girls are winning manicures for doing their homework. These kids are saturated with messages that they’re doing great — that they are great, innately so. They have what it takes.

The presumption is that if a child believes he’s smart (having been told so, repeatedly), he won’t be intimidated by new academic challenges. The constant praise is meant to be an angel on the shoulder, ensuring that children do not sell their talents short.

But a growing body of research and a new study from the trenches of the New York City public school system — strongly suggests it might be the other way around. Giving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it.

Though Dr. Carol Dweck recently joined the faculty at Stanford, most of her life has been spent in New York; she was raised in Brooklyn, went to college at Barnard, and taught at Columbia for decades. This reluctant new Californian just got her first driver’s license — at age sixty. Other Stanford faculty have joked that she’ll soon be sporting bright colors in her couture, but so far Dweck sticks to New York black — black suede boots, black skirt, trim black jacket. All of which matches her hair and her big black eyebrows — of which is raised up, perpetually, as if in disbelief. Tiny as a bird, she uses her hands in elaborate gestures, almost as if she’s holding her idea in front of her, physically rotating it in three-dimensional space. Her speech pattern, though, is not at the impatient pace of most New Yorkers. She talks as if she’s reading a children’s lullaby, with gently punched-up moments of drama.

For the last ten years, Dweck and her team at Columbia have studied the effect of praise on students in twenty New York schools. Her seminal work — a series of experiments on 400 fifth-graders — paints the picture most clearly. Prior to these experiments, praise for intelligence had been shown to boost children’s confidence. But Dweck suspected this would backfire the first moment kids experienced failure or difficulty.

Dweck sent four female research assistants into New York fifth-grade classrooms. The researchers would take a single child out of the classroom for a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles — puzzles easy enough that all the children would do fairly well. Once the child finished the test, the researchers told each student his score, then gave him a single line of praise. Randomly divided into groups, some were praised for their intelligence. They were told, “You must be smart at this.” Other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”

Why just a single line of praise? “We wanted to see how sensitive children were,” Dweck explained. “We had a hunch that one line might be enough to see an effect.”

Then the students were given a choice of test for the second round. One choice was a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researchers told the kids that they’d learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. The other choice, Dweck’s team explained, was an easy test, just like the first. Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The “smart” kids took the cop-out.

Why did this happen? “When we praise children for their intelligence,” Dweck wrote in her study summary, “we tell them that this is the name of the game: look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” And that’s what the fifth-graders had done. They’d chosen to look smart and avoid the risk of being embarrassed.

In a subsequent round, none of the fifth-graders had a choice. The test was difficult, designed for kids two years ahead of their grade level. Predictably, everyone failed. But again, the two groups of children, divided at random at the study’s start, responded differently. Those praised for their effort on the first test assumed they simply hadn’t focused hard enough on this test. “They got very involved, willing to try every solution to the puzzles,” Dweck recalled. “Many of them remarked, unprovoked, ‘This is my favorite test.’ “Not so for those praised for their smarts. They assumed their failure was evidence that they weren’t really smart at all. “Just watching them, you could see the strain. They were sweating and miserable.”

Having artificially induced a round of failure, Dweck’s researchers then gave all the fifth-graders a final round of tests that were engineered to be as easy as the first round. Those who had been praised for their effort significantly improved on their first score — by about 30 percent. Those who’d been told they were smart did worse than they had at the very beginning by about 20 percent.

Dweck had suspected that praise could backfire, but even she was surprised by the magnitude of the effect. “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,” she explains. “They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

In follow-up interviews, Dweck discovered that those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort. I am smart, the kids’ reasoning goes; I don’t need to put out effort. Expending effort becomes stigmatized — it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.

Repeating her experiments, Dweck found this effect of praise on performance held true for students of every socioeconomic class. It hit both boys and girls — the very brightest girls especially (they collapsed the most following failure). Even preschoolers weren’t immune to the inverse power of praise.

Jill Abraham is a mother of three in Scarsdale, and her view is typical of those in my straw poll. I told her about Dweck’s research on praise, and she flatly wasn’t interested in brief tests without long-term follow-up. Abraham is one of the 85 percent who think praising her children’s intelligence is important.

Jill explains that her family lives in a very competitive community a competition well under way by the time babies are a year and a half old and being interviewed for day care. “Children who don’t have a firm belief in themselves get pushed around not just in the playground, but the classroom as well.” So Jill wants to arm her children with a strong belief in their innate abilities. She praises them liberally. “I don’t care what the experts say,” Jill says defiantly. “I’m living it.”

Jill wasn’t the only one to express such scorn of these so-called “experts.” The consensus was that brief experiments in a controlled setting don’t compare to the wisdom of parents raising their kids day in and day out.

Even those who’ve accepted the new research on praise have trouble putting it into practice. Sue Needleman is both a mother of two and an elementary school teacher with eleven years’ experience. Last year, she was a fourth-grade teacher at Ridge Ranch Elementary in Paramus, New Jersey. She has never heard of Carol Dweck, but the gist of Dweck’s research has trickled down to her school, and Needleman has learned to say, “I like how you keep trying.” She tries to keep her praise specific, rather than general, so that a child knows exactly what she did to earn the praise (and thus can get more). She will occasionally tell a child, “You’re good at math,” but she’ll never tell a child he’s bad at math.

But that’s at school, as a teacher. At home, old habits die hard. Her eight-year- old daughter and her five-year-old son are indeed smart, and sometimes she hears herself saying, “You’re great. You did it. You’re smart.” When I press her on this, Needleman says that what comes out of academia often feels artificial. “When I read the mock dialogues, my first thought is, Oh, please. How corny.”

No such qualms exist for teachers at the Life Sciences Secondary School in East Harlem, because they’ve seen Dweck’s theories applied to their junior high students. Dweck and her protege, Dr. Lisa Blackwell, published a report in the academic journal Child Development about the effect of a semester-long intervention conducted to improve students’ math scores.

Life Sciences is a health-science magnet school with high aspirations but 700 students whose main attributes are being predominantly minority and low achieving. Blackwell split her kids into two groups for an eight-session workshop. The control group was taught study skills, and the others got study skills and a special module on how intelligence is not innate. These students took turns reading aloud an essay on how the brain grows new neurons when challenged. They saw slides of the brain and acted out skits. “Even as I was teaching these ideas,” Blackwell noted, “I would hear the students joking, calling one another ‘dummy’ or ‘stupid.'” After the module was concluded, Blackwell tracked her students’ grades to see if it had any effect.

It didn’t take long. The teachers who hadn’t known which students had been assigned to which workshop could pick out the students who had been taught that intelligence can be developed. They improved their study habits and grades. In a single semester, Blackwell reversed the students’ longtime trend of decreasing math grades.

The only difference between the control group and the test group were two lessons, a total of 50 minutes spent teaching not math but a single idea: that the brain is a muscle. Giving it a harder workout makes you smarter. That alone improved their math scores.

“These are very persuasive findings,” says Columbia’s Dr. Geraldine Downey, a specialist in children’s sensitivity to rejection. “They show how you can take a specific theory and develop a curriculum that works.” Downey’s comment is typical of what other scholars in the field are saying. Dr. Mahzarin Banaji, a Harvard social psychologist who is an expert in stereotyping, told me, “Carol Dweck is a flat-out genius. I hope the work is taken seriously. It scares people when they see these results.”

Since the 1969 publication of The Psychology of Self-Esteem, in which Nathaniel Branden opined that self- esteem was the single most important facet of a person, the belief that one must do whatever he can to achieve positive self- esteem has become a movement with broad societal effects.

By 1984, the California legislature had created an official self-esteem task force, believing that improving citizens’ self- esteem would do everything from lower dependence on welfare to decrease teen pregnancy. Such arguments turned self- esteem into an unstoppable train, particularly when it came to children. Anything potentially damaging to kids’ self-esteem was axed. Competitions were frowned upon. Soccer coaches stopped counting goals and handed out trophies to everyone. Teachers threw out their red pencils. Criticism was replaced with ubiquitous, even undeserved, praise. (There’s even a school district in Massachusetts that has kids in gym class “jumping rope” without a rope — lest they suffer the embarrassment of tripping.)

Dweck and Blackwell’s work is part of a larger academic challenge to one of the self-esteem movement’s key tenets: that praise, self-esteem, and performance rise and fall together. From 1970 to 2000, there were over 15,000 scholarly articles written on self- esteem and its relationship to everything from sex to career advancement. But the results were often contradictory or inconclusive. So in 2003 the Association for Psychological Science asked Dr. Roy Baumeister, then a leading proponent of self-esteem, to review this literature. His team concluded that self-esteem research was polluted with awed science. Most of those 15,000 studies asked people to rate their self-esteem and then asked them to rate their own intelligence, career success, relationship skills, etc. These self-reports were extremely unreliable, since people with high self-esteem have an inflated perception of their abilities. Only 200 of the studies employed a scientifically-sound way to measure self-esteem and its outcomes.

After reviewing those 200 studies, Baumeister concluded that having high self-esteem didn’t improve grades or career achievement. It didn’t even reduce alcohol usage. And it especially did not lower violence of any sort. (Highly aggressive, violent people happen to think very highly of themselves, debunking the theory that people are aggressive to make up for low self-esteem.)

At the time, Baumeister was quoted as saying that his findings were “the biggest disappointment of my career.”

Now he’s on Dweck’s side of the argument, and his work is going in a similar direction. He recently published an article showing that for college students on the verge of failing in class, esteem-building praise causes their grades to sink further. Baumeister has come to believe the continued appeal of self-esteem is largely tied to parents’ pride in their children’s achievements: it’s so strong that “when they praise their kids, it’s not that far from praising themselves.”

By and large, the literature on praise shows that it can be effective a positive, motivating force. In one study, University of Notre Dame researchers tested praise’s efficacy on a losing college hockey team. The experiment worked: the team got into the playoffs. But all praise is not equal and, as Dweck demonstrated, the effects of praise can vary significantly, depending on the praise given. To be effective, researchers have found, praise needs to be specific. (The hockey players were specifically complimented on the number of times they checked an opponent.)

Sincerity of praise is also crucial. According to Dweck, the biggest mistake parents make is assuming students aren’t sophisticated enough to see and feel our true intentions. Just as we can sniff out the true meaning of a backhanded compliment or a disingenuous apology, children, too, scrutinize praise for hidden agendas. Only young children under the age of seven take praise at face value: older children are just as suspicious of it as adults.

Psychologist Wulf-Uwe Meyer, a pioneer in the field, conducted a series of studies during which children watched other students receive praise. According to Meyer’s findings, by the age of twelve, children believe that earning praise from a teacher is not a sign you did well — it’s actually a sign you lack ability and the teacher thinks you need extra encouragement. They’ve picked up the pattern: kids who are falling behind get drowned in praise. Teens, Meyer found, discounted praise to such an extent that they believed it’s a teacher’s criticism not praise at all that really conveys a positive belief in a student’s aptitude.

In the opinion of cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham, a teacher who praises a child may be unwittingly sending the message that the student reached the limit of his innate ability, while a teacher who criticizes a pupil conveys the message that he can improve his performance even further.

New York University professor of psychiatry Judith Brook explains that the issue is one of credibility. “Praise is important, but not vacuous praise,” she says. “It has to be based on a real thing, some skill or talent they have.” Once children hear praise they interpret as meritless, they discount not just the insincere praise, but sincere praise as well.

Excessive praise also distorts children’s motivation; they begin doing things merely to hear the praise, losing sight of intrinsic enjoyment. Scholars from Reed College and Stanford reviewed over 150 praise studies. Their meta-analysis determined that praised students become risk-averse and lack perceived autonomy. The scholars found consistent correlations between a liberal use of praise and students’ “shorter task persistence, more eye-checking with the teacher, and inflected speech such that answers have the intonation of questions.” When they get to college, heavily-praised students commonly drop out of classes rather than suffer a mediocre grade, and they have a hard time picking a major they’re afraid to commit to something because they’re afraid of not succeeding.

One suburban New Jersey high school English teacher told me she can spot the kids who get overpraised at home. Their parents think they’re just being supportive, but the students sense their parents’ high expectations, and feel so much pressure they can’t concentrate on the subject, only the grade they will receive. “I had a mother say, ‘You are destroying my child’s self-esteem,’ because I’d given her son a C. I told her, ‘Your child is capable of better work.’ I’m not there to make them feel better. I’m there to make them do better.”

While we might imagine that overpraised kids grow up to be unmotivated softies, the researchers are reporting the opposite consequence. Dweck and others have found that frequently-praised children get more competitive and more interested in tearing others down. Image-maintenance becomes their primary concern. A raft of very alarming studies — again by Dweck — illustrates this.

In one study, students are given two puzzle tests. Between the first and the second, they are offered a choice between learning a new puzzle strategy for the second test or finding out how they did compared with other students on the first test: they have only enough time to do one or the other. Students praised for intelligence choose to find out their class rank, rather than use the time to prepare.

In another study, students get a do-it-yourself report card and are told these forms will be mailed to students at another school — they’ll never meet these students and won’t know their names. Of the kids praised for their intelligence, 40 percent lie, inflating their scores. Of the kids praised for effort, few lie.

When students transition into junior high, some who’d done well in elementary school inevitably struggle in the larger and more demanding environment. Those who equated their earlier success with their innate ability surmise they’ve been dumb all along. Their grades never recover because the likely key to their recovery increasing effort they view as just further proof of their failure. In interviews many confess they would “seriously consider cheating.”

Students turn to cheating because they haven’t developed a strategy for handling failure. The problem is compounded when a parent ignores a child’s failures and insists he’ll do better next time. Michigan scholar Jennifer Crocker studies this exact scenario and explains that the child may come to believe failure is something so terrible, the family can’t acknowledge its existence. A child deprived of the opportunity to discuss mistakes can’t learn from them.

Brushing aside failure, and just focusing on the positive, isn’t the norm all over the world. A young scholar at the University of Illinois, Dr. Florrie Ng, reproduced Dweck’s paradigm with fifth-graders both in Illinois and in Hong Kong. Ng added an interesting dimension to the experiment. Rather than having the kids take the short IQ tests at their school, the children’s mothers brought them to the scholars’ offices on campus (both in Urbana-Champaign and at the University of Hong Kong). While the moms sat in the waiting room, half the kids were randomly given the really hard test, where they could get only about half right inducing a sense of failure. At that point, the kids were given a five-minute break before the second test, and the moms were allowed into the testing room to talk with their child. On the way in, the moms were told their child’s actual raw score and were told a lie that this score represented a below average result. Hidden cameras recorded the five-minute interaction between mother and child.

The American mothers carefully avoided making negative comments. They remained fairly upbeat and positive with their child. The majority of the minutes were spent talking about something other than the testing at hand, such as what they might have for dinner. But the Chinese children were likely to hear, “You didn’t concentrate when doing it,” and “Let’s look over your test.” The majority of the break was spent discussing the test and its importance.

After the break, the Chinese kids’ scores on the second test jumped 33 percent, more than twice the gain of the Americans.

The trade-off here would seem to be that the Chinese mothers acted harsh or cruel — but that stereotype may not reflect modern parenting in Hong Kong. Nor was it quite what Ng saw on the videotapes. While their words were firm, the Chinese mothers actually smiled and hugged their children every bit as much as the American mothers (and were no more likely to frown or raise their voices).

My son, Luke, is in kindergarten. He seems supersensitive to the potential judgment of his peers. Luke justifies it by saying, “I’m shy,” but he’s not really shy. He has no fear of strange cities or talking to strangers, and at his school, he has sung in front of large audiences. Rather, I’d say he’s proud and self-conscious. His school has simple uniforms (navy T-shirt, navy pants), and he loves that his choice of clothes can’t be ridiculed, “because then they’d be teasing themselves too.”

After reading Carol Dweck’s research, I began to alter how I praised him, but not completely. I suppose my hesitation was that the mindset Dweck wants students to have a firm belief that the way to bounce back from failure is to work harder sounds awfully cliched: try, try again.

But it turns out that the ability to repeatedly respond to failure by exerting more effort instead of simply giving up is a trait well studied in psychology. People with this trait, persistence, rebound well and can sustain their motivation through long periods of delayed gratification. Delving into this research, I learned that persistence turns out to be more than a conscious act of will; it’s also an unconscious response, governed by a circuit in the brain. Dr. Robert Cloninger at Washington University in St. Louis located this neural network running through the prefrontal cortex and ventral striatum. This circuit monitors the reward center of the brain, and like a switch, it intervenes when there’s a lack of immediate reward. When it switches on, it’s telling the rest of the brain, “Don’t stop trying. There’s dopa [the brain’s chemical reward for success] on the horizon.” While putting people through MRI scans, Cloninger could see this switch lighting up regularly in some. In others, barely at all.

What makes some people wired to have an active circuit?

Cloninger has trained rats and mice in mazes to have persistence by carefully not rewarding them when they get to the finish. “The key is intermittent reinforcement,” says Cloninger. The brain has to learn that frustrating spells can be worked through. “A person who grows up getting too frequent rewards will not have persistence, because they’ll quit when the rewards disappear.”

That sold me. I’d thought “praise junkie” was just an expression — but suddenly, it seemed as if I could be setting up my son’s brain for an actual chemical need for constant reward.

What would it mean, to give up praising our children so often? Well, if I am one example, there are stages of withdrawal, each of them subtle. In the first stage, I fell off the wagon around other parents when they were busy praising their kids. I didn’t want Luke to feel left out. I felt like a former alcoholic who continues to drink socially. I became a Social Praiser.

Then I tried to use the specific-type praise that Dweck recommends. I praised Luke, but I attempted to praise his “process.” This was easier said than done. What are the processes that go on in a five-year-old’s mind? In my impression, 80 percent of his brain processes lengthy scenarios for his action figures.

But every night he has math homework and is supposed to read a phonics book aloud. Each takes about five minutes if he concentrates, but he’s easily distracted. So I praised him for concentrating without asking to take a break. If he listened to instructions carefully, I praised him for that. After soccer games, I praised him for looking to pass, rather than just saying, “You played great.” And if he worked hard to get to the ball, I praised the effort he applied.

Just as the research promised, this focused praise helped him see strategies he could apply the next day. It was remarkable how noticeably effective this new form of praise was.

Truth be told, while my son was getting along fine under the new praise regime, it was I who was suffering. It turns out that I was the real praise junkie in the family. Praising him for just a particular skill or task felt like I left other parts of him ignored and unappreciated. I recognized that praising him with the universal “You’re great, I’m proud of you” was a way I expressed unconditional love.

Offering praise has become a sort of panacea for the anxieties of modern parenting. Out of our children’s lives from breakfast to dinner, we turn it up a notch when we get home. In those few hours together, we want them to hear the things we can’t say during the day — We are in your corner, we are here for you, we believe in you.

In a similar way, we put our children in high-pressure environments, seeking out the best schools we can find, then we use the constant praise to soften the intensity of those environments. We expect so much of them, but we hide our expectations behind constant glowing praise. For me, the duplicity became glaring.

Eventually, in my final stage of praise withdrawal, I realized that not telling my son he was smart meant I was leaving it up to him to make his own conclusion about his intelligence. Jumping in with praise is like jumping in too soon with the answer to a homework problem — it robs him of the chance to make the deduction himself.

But what if he makes the wrong conclusion?

Can I really leave this up to him, at his age?

I’m still an anxious parent. This morning, I tested him on the way to school: “What happens to your brain, again, when it gets to think about something hard?”

“It gets bigger, like a muscle,” he responded, having aced this one before.

This excerpt from NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman is used by permission of Grand Central Publishing.

Remembering the Simple Things

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There are some days where I believe that my brain is literally melting. All manner of intelligence and the ability to think logically or rationally just oozes from my ears. The culprit? Whining. Whining is my kryptonite. It does me in every time. It turns me from the calm, sensible and problem solving mother into a raging, scary mom-beast. I try so hard to disengage. To elevate myself above it and be the adult, you know…the parent.

Sure, I can handle a bit of whining but not at the levels that my dear Garrett is able to summon from his larynx. Those who have seen the worst of his whining usually comment, “Wow, he sure is cute when he’s not whining.”

I agree.

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During the summer, however, I began to make some observations. The first “aha” moment came during our first camping trip of the summer. There was no whining. I chalked it up to the fact that there was so much for him to “do” and “watch” and that we were finally out of our cramped apartment. The next time I saw him that happy was at a family trip to the bay while the tide was out. He was so happy and content sitting in the sand, getting dirty and wet and enjoying everything there is to enjoy about the beach. There were many more park and outdoor experiences like that throughout the summer.

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I’m not sure why it didn’t really click until this weekend. It’s rather obvious and simple. My son needs the outdoors. It isn’t something he wants or should have a chance to “do” every now and then. It is something he needs. This realization brought me back to the book I began reading at the beginning of spring but had to put down because of the kids illnesses and is now loaned out to my mother-in-law. I can’t wait to begin reading it again.

It is called, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder and it was written by Richard Louv. He touches upon things I have known intuitively for most of my life and that is the importance of children being outdoors. And not just in a fake, community planned, structured and supervised “outdoor space” but really being let loose in unadulterated nature. To do whatever their hearts drive them to do. Alone.

I grew up this way and I believe it benefited my in innumerable ways. We were allowed to run loose in a place called Sudden Valley in Washington State. We roamed the woods and followed creeks. We climbed trees and dug holes. We walked for miles every day.  Sometimes there was no “we” and it was just “me” and I loved that too.

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This weekend we took our kids to a local elementary school playground to kill time after going to the farmers market. They got bored with the playground after a few minutes and the big kids noticed Garrett and I looking for some sticks under some big oak trees. They came over to see what we were doing. I showed them the acorns and how the tops came off and how they looked like little hats or even little bowls when you took off the stems. We decided to collect them so Camden could use them as bowls for her doll house and because we thought that we could paint little people out of the acorns. We spent time dissecting the acorns and peeling back the shells to inspect the nuts. Mike even cut one of the nuts in half for the girls to feel and smell. We were able to hear and see the acorns falling from the tree. I’m not sure what else we really did but we spent over an hour playing under the oak trees having a lot of fun. Including Garrett. He ran around with his sticks, rocks and dirt and enjoyed every minute of it without letting out one whiny peep.

In the house Garrett runs around creating one destruction after another, most likely out of sheer boredom. He dislikes toys for the most part and tires of them quickly. He clings to me because really, he has nothing better to do. Realizing that what Garrett needs is unfettered access to the outdoors is a bit frustrating as we  currently live in an apartment complex with no fenced in area to let him loose in. I realize I need to “plan” our outings to give him access to the outdoors and that is frustrating in its own way. So now my goal is to come up with a feasible way to get my kids  outdoors on a regular basis yet still find time to get the normal household tasks accomplished.

But back to my original point. I think in our parenting world today there are so many theories and ideas and “things” that we are supposed to be doing to our kids in order to help them grow up and become the people we hope they will be. Sometimes it can seem complicated and overwhelming and just downright frustrating. My big “aha” this weekend is that doing the simple and most basic things often reap the biggest rewards.

I could have spent countless hours researching, reading and attempting to implement parenting “tools” to curb Garrett’s whining and redirect his behavior to something more desirable. In the end I would probably be left with a lot of lost hours, some lost dollars and a kid that was still whiny. Instead I have realized that Garrett is bored. He doesn’t need more open ended toys or more “one-on-one” time. He needs to be outdoors. He needs to be doing real tangible things with the freedom to roam safely.

It’s so simple yet so powerful. It’s also comforting. With the economy being the way that it is there are many families that are struggling. My own husband has been out of work since April. I have found myself occasionally lost in worry over providing my children with this or that item or experience. I have sometimes felt bad about not being able to afford ballet or pre-school or toys for Christmas. Then there are weekends such as this that provide me with the comfort that sometimes simple is really better. Even if our children had absolutely no toys or belongings besides the clothes on their backs they would go on finding away to enjoy childhood and everything that childhood is about. It doesn’t need to be manufactured.

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