Category: writing

My first cover story! I wrote a feature article for New Beginnings, the magazine published by La Leche League USA, on nursing babies with allergies and food intolerances. The issue came out a couple of days ago, and I’m just so proud. It’s really something to see my name on that byline.

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Let’s talk toys. The recent epidemic of toy recalls has generated a lot of conversation at our dinner table, at my mommy&me playgroups, and (I’m sure) in millions of other homes. The question that comes up for me is, “What am I going to do about it?”

For starters, I’ve never been a big fan of a lot of the types of toys that are being recalled. Susan Linn, a psychologist who has studied media & marketing’s influence on children, says in her book CONSUMING KIDS: THE HOSTILE TAKEOVER OF CHILDHOOD:

“Play requires physical and/or mental activity. The impetus for play comes from
within children. It is their way of learning about the world. It is inherently
satisfying in and of itself and requires no goal. Once a goal is more important
than the activity, that activity is no longer play. In competitive sports, for
instance, once winning becomes more important than the process of playing, the
games or matches cease to be play. The ability to play and be playful is a sign
of health.

Once we acknowledge the importance of play, it makes sense that
toys—the things children play with[sic]—are also of critical importance. There’s
some unintentional irony in the face that so many toys today are labeled
‘educational’. The best toys are inherently educational in that they serve as
tools for helping children actively explore, understand, and/or gain mastery
over the world. Even if they have multiple parts, they are simple enough to be
put to many different uses, and to become different things in a child’s
imagination.

The recent proliferation of computer chips that enable toys to
move or make sounds on their own renders children passive observers rather than
active participants in play. Because children are attracted to glitz and because
these are the toys being marketed to them, they may desperately want stuffed
animals or dolls or action figures that walk and talk independently, or toys
that whiz, bang, whistle, and hoot at the press of a button. However, because
they discourage active, imaginative play, toys that do only one thing soon
become boring; children use them a few times and then are ready for a new toy
that does something else.”

I’ve written about this before. When we flood our kids’ playrooms with toys that do all the playing, all the exploring, all the thinking for them, we are taking away the most precious task of childhood. We’re not doing our kids any favors when we buy the plastic crap that sings and dances and shimmies and laughs. That’s not what kids are wired to need, anyway – they need real, live, caring adults to sing with them, dance with them, do some silly shimmies, and laugh and cry with them. But now I’m getting off track. When it comes to toys, kids have legitimate needs, too.

For kids in Jonas’ age group, the needs for play are in a few basic categories:
–sensory/exploratory play
–dramatic/pretend play
–social/interactive play

Sensory and exploratory play is how toddlers learn about the

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Like the conductor’s baton, rapping his stand and calling all to attention
I hear the tiny “tink tink tink” and my heart perks up
along with the coffee.

This sizzle and spurt makes me happy
in a way I can hardly describe.

I’m drinking decaf
so it’s not about a jolt
of chemicals to wake me up and make me move.

Fixing a cup
I feel connected
to my mom – warm hands circling a cup, then cupping a child’s face
to my grandmother – that pink-on-the-inside mug we all want the most
to my dad – enormous mugs that lived in the motorpool for days without washing
to millions of parents all over the world who are starting their days

just like me.
Black? Light? Light & sweet?

I nod to them, over my steaming mug. First sip in the silence
of a dark and quiet house.
It’s not about caffeine, I decide.
It’s about the sisterhood of motherhood.

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Oprah revisited the ultimate mommy question on her show yesterday. “My Baby or My Job: Why Elizabeth Vargas Stepped Down.” I don’t think I’ve blogged about this here before (though I’ll look through my archives and check), so I want to do so now. I’ll give you a rundown of the show – especially a few of the comments that really struck a chord with me – and then share my thoughts on the subject.

I came into the show late – about the last half hour. Apparently in the first part of the show, Oprah interviewed Elizabeth Vargas about her choice to stay home with her newborn baby instead of staying in her high-profile job as anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight.

The part I saw dealt with the members of a discussion panel – if you visit the link above, it starts on screen “6 of 13.” I don’t have a transcript of the show, so I’ll just do my best from the notes I scribbled as I watched and the recap provided on the Oprah Show website.

First of all, my biases. My son was born in February of 2006, and I returned to work for nine weeks in March-May of 2006. I have been a stay-at-home mom for the fifteen months since then. Now then, on to the show.

Barbara, a working mother of three, said that

“If you don’t have something that is your own, then your kids become everything. And you need to make that separation about what you’re doing for your kids and what you’re doing for yourself.”

I can see her point, to a certain extent. It’s not healthy to sublimate your every thought, emotion, and need within the roles of housewife and mother. As an adult woman, you need to have time and space for yourself – time to affirm your intellect, to nourish your spirituality, to nurture your emotional self. However, I disagree that the only way to maintain your sense of self is to pursue employment outside the home.

Women who stay home make a powerful choice to do something “for their kids” and they often make sacrifices which make their choice possible. They also make the choice to find necessary “separation” in other avenues. You can enjoy adult conversation at church – a great, stimulating debate at a book group – a peaceful meditation during naptime – a “break” from the day to day doldrums at the spa – a creative outlet in a hobby, a class, or a blog (:-). For women who stay-at-home because they BELIEVE they are making the best choice for their children, Barbara’s comment rings empty and hollow – it’s a false argument in favor of working.

She went on to say that it’s

“more important… that you’re around when your kids are teenagers. You know, anybody can read your kid a book or cuddle your kid.”

One stay-at-home mom took exception to her remarks.

“I think that sometimes using phrases like that minimizes what being a stay-at-home

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Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful women in my life – my moms: Mom, Donna, Trish; my grandmothers: Grandmama, Granny, Nana, Nancy; my aunts: Linda, Alice, Angie, Twila, Audrey, Corinne, Andy; my sister-in-law Missy; my friends: Courtney, Staci, Barbara, Genny, and Holly (who is not a biomom yet, but is a fabulous teachermom to her pack of precious kiddos!). I love you. Thank you for the love and nurture you’ve poured into my life. I could not call myself a mother today, without you.

I wrote this many months ago, and it appeared on another website, under a pseudonym, for awhile. I’m sharing it here now because it captures how I feel on this day that celebrates motherhood.

She is three years old, with bright blue eyes and mousy brown ponytails. Her favorite doll has only one blinking eye; her roaring great-uncle from Up North bounced the other one out in a round of boisterous play on his last visit. Her vocabulary is enormous and she takes adults by surprise, but her parents are used to their loquacious daughter and so much of her daylong prattle falls on deaf ears. She loves being asked direct questions, and loves it even more when the asker takes her seriously. “A mommy.” She cuddles the cyclopsian blonde baby close to her heart, pats its matted hair, strokes a finger over its eyeless eyelid. “I want to be a mommy.”

Her hair falls over one eye, and she hastily pushes it back behind her ear. Surrounded by a stack of books, the ones to her left are waiting to be read and the ones to her right have just been finished. They will all be on the right by the time she goes to bed. At seven, she is quiet and bookish and introverted. She loves music and horses and the Old West. Authors have taken her places beyond her own four walls, where her family is the biggest part of her world. She has bigger dreams these days, and her answer has changed. “A vegetarian. And a veterinarian. With a Ph.D. from Harvard.” In what? She has time to figure that out.

It has been a shock, entering public school. After a few rocky months, she has a rhythm to her days now. There is a gaggle of friends waiting for her at lunch, another at church youth group, and there are still her friends with leatherbound spines. She is in Advanced Placement classes, and she has fallen in love. There is a boy, a hulking awkard heap of hormones who gives her messy kisses at the school bus. She writes angsty poetry full of sappy rhymes and hackneyed phrases about loss and misunderstanding and longing and love. But there is also the deep pull of old Southern voices: Faulkner, Williams, Twain. Her answer now is a safe one: “a teacher, maybe English? Or, um, elementary school?” In her heart, though, there is another answer that scares her, so

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I read a lot of “mommy bloggers,” and I especially love the blogs out there by and for moms who are embracing and encouraging and challenging to Christian moms. The best of the best are moms who have been there or are still there – in the trenches, having good days and bad days. Making victorious choices and taking responsibility and learning the lessons from poorer choices. Sharing the Scripture that edifies them, the wisdom of great writers, the moments from their own unvarnished lives that can humor and uplift and chastise all the rest of us.

One of my very favorites is Barbara Curtis, who is mom to TWELVE beautiful kids, has written a number of books – is still writing a couple!, and manages to keep up with her MommyLife blog on top of all that. I found a neat website a few days ago through a link in someone’s signature at my parenting forums, and it immediately reminded me of Barbara’s testimony and example. I emailed her to share the link, and included a “thanks for all you do, and here’s how I’ve used it” thought. She decided to share it with her (many!) readers, and you can find it here.

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Meet the author

MICHELLE NEBEL

I write uplifting women’s fiction woven with threads of faith, grace, and Southern hospitality. My blog is where I share a glimpse of my life, and I hope you’ll find the thoughts here encouraging!

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