Monday, January 28, 2013

She's Such a Great Talker!

"Why thank you!" I usually reply when this compliment is paid to me about how great Gemma's verbal communication is. It seems weird to receive a compliment on behalf of her, and even weirder to say "thank you" as if her ability to speak so well is somehow because of me. So I spent some time pondering on this idea recently, and came to an important conclusion - it is in fact somehow, at least partially, a result of my efforts that she speaks so well! This is a video of Gemma a few weeks before her second birthday:

Now, there are many factors, some of which could probably never be measured that contribute to a child's ability to communicate verbally. Of course, part of it is simply their natural level of intellect, and if there are any communicative barriers present in the child, such as the presence of Autism. Another part is their personality type - some kids are just really talkative by nature, whereas others prefer other methods of expression. Still another factor is their physical development. Oftentimes a speech impediment can be attributed to a tongue tie or other anatomical anomaly in the child.

But beyond the various elements which are more or less left up to nature to decide, I do believe that there are several factors that can be controlled by the parent which can contribute to nurturing a child's ability to verbally communicate well with others. I am SO not an expert in this field and my experience with it is simply anecdotal so keep that in mind as I continue! :) This is what I've found to have contributed to Gemma's verbal development in a positive way:

1. Talking and reading to her.
I know that might sound silly, but I think it is SO important. From the time she was still in my womb, we began to talk to her, Rocky and I both. Especially in the last few months of my pregnancy when I was no longer working and Rocky was gone all day at work... well, I needed someone to talk to!! Haha! So I would talk to her and sing to her all day, and this continued after she was born of course. I would look right at her and just talk. Didn't matter what I was saying, just that I was engaging her verbally. I would narrate my day to her, tell her how adorable she was, ask her what was wrong when she cried, etc. I'd read books to her, even if she seemed entirely uninterested in those first few months. A key element to this was that I never distorted the pronunciation of the language to her. It's one thing to whisper or raise the pitch of your voice when you talk to a baby - it's normal to talk to them in a "cutesy" way, but I knew that from the very start, we'd always communicate the language itself to her properly. Now believe you me, I had my cutesy baby voice I would often use with her, but I'd still say "What's wrong with my little baby?" not "What's wong wiv my wittle baby?" Not condemning folks who do this, but it just seemed to me that if I eventually wanted my kid to know how to pronounce our language properly, I should probably start modeling it myself as early on as possible so that we all didn't develop bad verbal habits.

2. Baby Signs.
Implementing some simple signs early on really helped her to gain confidence in her own ability to express her needs and wants to me. We started introducing a few signs when she was about 6 months old, and over the next few months she mastered a handful of fairly simple ones, and would often use one sign to express more than one thing, but I wasn't a stickler. What mattered to me was that she was communicating to me! It was awesome. Now here's the tricky part - I really think that there needs to be an end to using signs as the primary means of communication between parent and child. They're called Baby Signs for a reason. Pretty much as soon as Gemma started to show an increased ability and desire to use her voice to communicate to me, we stopped using signs. She was around 12 months old, so for us we only used the signs for a brief period of time as her communicative launching pad. Like I said, I'm no expert, so I could be way off here, but I somehow just felt that continuing to use signs when she was ready to communicate verbally would have been an impediment and a crutch to her overall development in the area of communication, so we switched gears once I observed she was ready.

3. Labeling and Narrating.
Once she was about a year old, and showing a propensity towards verbal communication, I started labeling everything to her. Every. Single. Thing. She had a sock in her hand? I'd point to it and say "sock." She started walking towards a bench? I'd lead her there and say "bench." She was watching me make myself a sandwich? I'd narrate the entire process to her: "This is bread. Now I'm putting mustard on it. See? Mustard. Now I'm putting cheese on it. Cheese." And so on and so forth. This just became our little norm. As I said, she was already used to me talking to her all day every day, so it came rather naturally to us, but I really make a distinguished effort to narrate and label the items and actions that her daily life was filled with, so she could start to build an organized and meaningful vocabulary.

4. Repetition and Encouragement.
So simultaneously with step 3, we began this process. Anything I said, I'd encourage her to repeat it. In the beginning, she rarely would. Sometimes she'd just stare at me blankly, other times, she'd completely lose interest and move on, and lot of times she'd just laugh at me. It's cool. I have a thick skin. I never pushed her, but by persistently encouraging her to repeat my words throughout the day, it took very little time for her to become interested in the process. Eventually, she'd attempt to say something after I prompted her. I'd pick up a book and say "Book. Can you say book?" and in the beginning the sound that came from her very rarely sounded anything like the word "book" but hey, she was trying. I'd encourage her again "Book. Book. Can you say book?" She'd try again. As days and weeks would pass, her repetition would become much more clear and her words sounded very much like the words I was encouraging her to say! It was awesome. Seriously! Any parent will tell you how cool it is when their kid starts to talk. Something really crucial we did during this time was to always encourage proper pronunciation. Of course the first few times she was working out a new word, we'd be happy to hear her say just about anything that sounded similar to the word we were trying to teach her. But once we had observed she was pretty confident with a new word, we'd work on her saying it the right way. Learning the word "marshmallow" for example. She said a few different things at first that sounded pretty close to it. Then she started calling them "mushrooms" so I'd slowly say "Marshmallow. This is a marshmallow. Say marshmallow." "Marshallow!" Okay, this was closer than mushroom, so I'd let it pass. After a few more times talking about marshmallows, I'd encourage her further. At this point she's calling them "Marshallows" so again, I'd say really slowly "Marshmallow. Say Marshmallow." And she'd get it! "Marshmallow!" Yay, we did it! :)

5. Conversation and More Encouragement.
As we worked on repeating almost anything and everything she touched, saw, or experienced throughout her day, I watched her vocabulary grow quite rapidly, and we very naturally just shifted into a more conversational relationship. I could ask her all kinds of questions and she was now equipped with enough words to actually communicate a meaningful answer to me. Now, of course, this was really, really simplistic early on (12-15 months). I'd say "What's this?" and she could reply "Book!" Woohooo!!!! Now we're really making progress! I could ask her "You're hungry? What do you want?" and she could answer me with a whole variety of words now, but usually her answer to that question at that point was "Milk!" haha my little nursing champ :) But as she grew, she could really tell me what different foods she was in the mood to eat.

6. Empowering Her and Overcoming Challenges.
Communication is a powerful thing. Giving the child the tools they need to communicate their needs and wants to you effectively is so vital to their well-being. Think of how frustrating life would be if you could net tell anyone around you what you needed or wanted! Up to this point, Gemma's verbal development was really flourishing and she was gaining so much confidence. We'd read a million books a day to grow her vocabulary and play all kinds of games to give her practice (What does a cow say? Moooo. Where does the birdie live? Tree. Who am I? Mommy!). But of course, there would come many occasions in which she would be trying to communicate something to me but didn't have the words yet. Bring on the tantrums. Almost all her tantrums at this stage of development (18 months +) seemed to have been very simple - she needed or wanted something, and could not figure out how to ask me. So I would do my best to empower her. I'd work with her to solve the problem and give her the words she needed. I'm making this sound so complex but we're talking really simple issues here, folks. Example: We're sitting on the floor and she starts making a fuss. I realize she's looking for something. She'd begin throwing items around and shouting, at which point I'd step in and say "let me help you find what you're looking for" and I'd begin listing every toy or item I could think of that she's come into contact with in the last 24 hours. Eventually we'd make progress "Is it a book?" She'd nod or say yes  or something and then I'd start picking up and naming every book in the vicinity. No, no, no, we're not finding it! Her frustration would increase again... Okay, I'd have to think outside the box. What else is there that a 20 month old might interpret as book but is indeed something else? Hmmm... well she was coloring on a pad of contraction paper earlier... So I find the pad, hold it up and suddenly, the storm is over. We've found the magical item she so desperately needed, but now to save ourselves from this terrible problem in the future, I need to give her the words to communicate this to me next time. "Paper! You wanted paper. To color. Do you want to color?" "Yes!" "Okay, can you say paper?" "Paper" "And can you say color?" "Color!" Okay, awesome. Deep breaths all around. Now she's ready to communicate that need to me better next time, because I've empowered her with the words she needed! :)

7. Establishing a Safe Environment for her to Talk.
So remember earlier when I said some kids have a personality where they like to talk and other kids not so much? Well, I have a talker. Kid loves to jabber. Ask anyone who knows her. I can't tell you how many times she'd be yammering on an inch from my face when I was trying to read, or on the phone, or what have you. While there were definitely moments I'm not proud of, most of the time, I do try really, really hard to just let her talk. I stop what I'm doing, return her gaze, let her engage me in conversation and listen to her happy babble. And we talk. I'll answer all kinds of silly questions, oftentimes ten or twenty times in a row, because she so loves to repeat herself :) But it's important for her to feel that we care about her words. Now that she is so darn great at communicating, I certainly wouldn't want to squash her love for it. And when she makes mistakes... calls a cotton ball a marshmallow for example, I always try to respond positively to correct her: "You are so smart! That looks just like a marshmallow, doesn't it? But come feel it... look... it's all fuzzy. And we can't eat these. These are called cotton balls!" Sometimes it's hard not to giggle when she says certain things because she'd so stinkin' adorable but I try to never make her feel stupid or that I don't care about what she has to say. I always want her to feel confident and comfortable communicating to me and others.

So there you have it!! That's really all that comes to mind at this point as to why I think Gemma has become "such a great talker" as we've been told time and again. I've even had two speech therapists comment on how impressive her speech is for a two year old. Now again, how much of that is just nature? Is she just a natural-born talker? Has an IQ of 160? I don't know. I think that sure, she's pretty smart, and sure, she's naturally extroverted. But like I said, to say that those are the only factors which have helped her develop her verbal communication would be silly. I'm really happy about the steps that we took to encourage her development in that area, and would like to think that they did at least somewhat help her along the way in this area.

Now, what will be really interesting is to see how these steps will contribute to our new baby's verbal development! She'll probably have a way different personality and develop at a different pace than Gemma, so who knows what will happen? Maybe I'm just a nutcase and am patting my back for nothing at all! Watch this baby get to be Gemma's age and be hardly talking at all, even though I followed the same processes with her as we did with Gemma. Then I can really enjoy a big, fat piece of humble pie :) Time will tell!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Unalienable Right to Life

So, yesterday I was driving home from some errands and I was listening to a very popular, mainstream Christian radio station. The woman dj was commenting on what a special day it was - to be celebrating the Inauguration on the same day we commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. She said "If people in Heaven are allowed to look down on the affairs of our world, I would bet Martin Luther King Jr. is looking down today and is really proud of how far we've come."

His niece and I couldn't disagree with her more. 

The most current stats on abortion in our country show that one of every two African American pregnancies ends in abortion. Half. HALF! This group is aborting itself out of existence! I doubt very much that MLK is proud of that, he who fought so hard for human justice, for equal rights for ALL American citizens. 

Why am I bringing up abortion? 
Because today is the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court Case Roe vs. Wade which legalized abortion in our country, and since then, the yearly abortion rate has risen to a steady 1.3 million abortions per year. But many will read that and roll their eyes, because we as a nation have become numb to statistics. Numb to the reality behind giant numbers like 1.3 million. And most of all, numb to the word "abortion." After all, what is an abortion? A medical procedure? A fundamental right? A moral conundrum? 

Most basic dictionaries define abortion as: Induced termination of a pregnancy with destruction of the embryo or fetus. 
Most medical dictionaries define it as: An operation or other procedure to terminate pregnancy before the fetus is viable. 

(Hmm, so I wonder what it's called when a woman undergoes an operation or other procedure to terminate her pregnancy after the fetus is viable, which is still legal and available in 16 US states...?)

And while we're in the lexicon mood, let's take a closer look at that phrase "terminate pregnancy." Various medical and dictionary definitions exist for the term "pregnancy", but here are a few:
1. The state of being pregnant; the period from conception to birth when a woman carries a developing fetus in her uterus.
2. The condition of carrying developing offspring within the body.
3. The period from conception to childbirth.
synonyms: maternity, gestation

So now that we've done some research on the verbal and medical definitions of these words, let's revisit my original question: "What is an abortion?" 
We can accurately answer: An abortion is an operation or procedure which can take place anytime from the conception of offspring until the birth of that offspring that a woman voluntarily chooses to undergo in order to put an end to her current condition of carrying a developing human within her uterus, by destroying the gestating embryo or fetus. 

Supporters of abortion get all up in arms when people define abortion as "Ending a life." 
But the fact is... that's what an abortion is. 
Seriously. For once, let's put semantics aside. When a woman is pregnant, she's carrying a new human life inside her womb. Call it a zygote. Call it an embryo. Call it a fetus. No matter which term you choose, the reality remains: it's a human with its own genetic code and it's alive. Ask any doctor in any hospital or clinic around the country and they'll tell you the same. And an abortion intentionally removes that human life from the mother's womb, thus ending its life. Sooooo.. you tell me how defining abortion as "ending a life" is in any way inaccurate. 

The reason people turn their hearts and minds away from the realities of abortion is because it truly is too horrific to behold. Even many who are avidly pro-life cringe at the pictures of aborted fetuses. Myself included. It's too hard for anyone, pro-life, pro-choice, pro-whatever, to really internalize the reality of what it actually means when a pregnant woman goes into a building with a child in her womb, and leaves with her womb empty... her child dead in a pan or trashcan somewhere in the bowels of the building that her boyfriend, mom, friend, husband, sister, father, or unknown cabby is driving her away from. So people cover up the realities with gentle euphemisms, twisted language, empty words. And all too often, it works. For a time, at least. You know why? 
Because language is powerful. 

Words go to battle every day in wars of politics, morality, and philosophy. Weak words will be quickly forgotten, and profound words will live forever. Such immortal words include those of he whom we honored yesterday, Martin Luther King Jr: 
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." 
And he quotes the profound, immortal words of the Declaration of Independence, the creed upon which our nation was built:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."


An unalienable right, endowed to men by their Creator.

Have you ever read the next few lines of the Declaration of Independence? The lines that immediately follow? Here ya go:
"That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,  That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

When they say "these ends" they're referring to those unalienable Rights - Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness - that were endowed to us by our Creator. Dr. King fought for those rights. He believed in America, and he believed that every single citizen deserved to have a fair shake at life. He worked for social justice, knowing that without an equal playing field for all, oppression would never end. Many battles have been victorious in securing social justice for African Americans, but today the war is being lost at an alarming pace. 

Social justice begins in the womb, for if the most basic right to LIFE is not valued, all other human rights are robbed of their value as well. And this is a war that is being waged not just against African Americans, but against humanity as a whole. 

Today, I remember the millions of Americans who have been legally killed since the legalization of abortion 40 years ago. And I will take a strong, vocal stance against this Holocaust. I will not be afraid to say abortion is morally abhorrent and I refuse to support it. 
It's not always easy to take a polarized position on an issue that many say is "too complicated" for black and white answers. It's not always popular to say things that you know will potentially enrage certain friends or family members. It's not always fun to stand up to your peers and speak the truth when you know they may very well alienate or persecute you for it. But as hard as all those things may seem, it's not nearly as hard as it would be to stand by as a silent witness to a generation's genocide. 

During the Holocaust in Germany, every single death executed by the Nazis was legal. It was sanctioned and supported by the government, propagated by Hitler who was voted into power by the German people. And the German people, because of their ignorance, their silence, their blindness to the realities of the horrors going on around them, were forever and deeply scarred by the scourge of these mass murders. After it was all said and done, and the Nazi regime had fallen, the German citizens were walked through the death camps where they saw first-hand the atrocities that were being carried out there just days earlier, in their own backyards. The Germans left these camps wailing and weeping for what had happened, their eyes finally opened... their hearts broken. 

America, how many more of our citizens must be slaughtered before the scales will fall from our eyes? When will we be freed from this oppression? When will we be walked through the halls of the abortion mills and be horrified by what we see? When will we finally stand up for the voiceless and say "No more"?  When will be be strong enough to defend the weakest among us? 

When will we live up to our nation's anthem and truly be "the land of the free and the home of the brave"?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año!!

Something I was so excited to do this year for Christmas was making handcrafted and homemade gifts for my family and friends!! There were so many ideas to choose from (thank you Pinterest), that the hardest part was narrowing it down and choosing projects I could actually do without overwhelming myself. So I went with the following:

Homemade bbq sauce and peach jam!

Homemade aftershave
all-natural, alcohol-free! perfect for sensitive skin :)
Homemade simmering potpourri - smells SO good!

This year, we spent Christmas morning just us! All during Christmas Eve, we were preparing Gemma for what was to come. We'd tell her "Guess who's coming tonight?? Santa!! And guess what tomorrow is? Jesus' Birthday!!!" She got the Jesus' birthday part and was pretty excited about that, but she was still struggling to understand the whole Santa thing.
Now, we're not exactly convicted on pushing the Santa story on her, but she at this point definitely understood that there was a big guy in a red suit with a white beard named Santa that seemed to be everywhere. She wanted to know more. But she's 2, so ya gotta keep it at her level. Like I said, she understood the Jesus' birthday part of it, so we went from there. Here's how the conversation went ("Us" is Rocky and myself - yes we speak in perfect unison when teaching lessons to our child):

Us: Well, baby, Santa is a guy who realllllllly loves Jesus and is so excited that it's his birthday that he goes around and gives gifts to everyone to celebrate.
Gem: Santa Cwause comeeng to town??!!?!
Us: Yes! That's right, he'll come here tonight and leave you a present under the tree so you can celebrate Jesus' birthday too!
Gem: I Gemma. This is MY twee for Happy Burtday Jesus! (point to Christmas tree)
Us: That's right, you are Gemma. And Santa's going to come to Gemma's house and leave a present under Gemma's tree for Jesus' birthday!!
Gem: (Unblinking, terrified silence for 15 seconds).
Us: You okay baby?
Gem: Santa Cwasue comeeng to Gemma's house??
Us: Mhm!
Gem: Dat's weally scawwy!!!!!! (runs behind Daddy's legs and starts crying)
Us: It's okaaaaaaay Gem!! It's not scary baby, Santa is really nice and just wants to spread joy for baby Jesus!
Gem: Santa Cwause WEALLY scawwy Mommy!!!
Us: ..........yea, I guess it is kinda scary, huh? It's okay! Santa Clause doesn't have to come tonight! But baby Jesus will still have his birthday tomorrow okay!?
Gem: Okay. I LIKE Jesus.

Sooo, all in all, so long as Santa apparently scares the crap out of our kid, I guess we'll just leave him out of our Christmas celebrating altogether. Fine by me! We care way more about our kids getting excited for Jesus' birthday anyway! And Gemma is definitely solid on that, so maybe we're not awful parents after all.

Here's some pics of our Christmas this year:

Christmas Morning
Action shots - opening presents!

The after-carnage :)
Playing with her new toys after Mass
Gem and her Rudolph! 
She loves him :) 
She thought it was so funny to make Rudolph "bite" her finger while he sang. 
Big hugs!
26.5 weeks!

One of the things I love about celebrating the liturgical seasons of the Church is that Christmas is so long!!! And we really have been carrying the Christmas spirit with us all these days since the 25th. And we're not done yet - we'll keep the carols spinning and the cocoa pouring till Epiphany! :)

I'd say that our best Christmas gift this year came to us on the fourth day of Christmas. We went as a family to have an ultrasound and got to see our beautiful baby! I absolutely love baby boys and of course would love to be blessed by a son some day, but during this entire pregnancy, both Rocky and I have sooooo deeply desired this baby to be another daughter. Well, I guess God was preparing our hearts for what's to come because sure enough our hopes were fulfilled - we are having another baby girl!! I thought I would cry when I found out because eeeeeeverything makes me cry these days, but just the opposite happened - I burst out laughing! I was SO overjoyed and just could not contain my happiness. The u/s tech actually had to stop for a minute so I could compose myself enough for her to continue with the anatomy scan!! Which, was just a continued blessing as our baby is perfect in every way. She's camera shy though - she hid her face the entire time so we never got to catch a glimpse of her profile for even a second. Just an ear :) The cutest little ear ever of course. So we won't get to see her beautiful face till her debut - which is getting ever closer! Only three months to go!

I am so looking forward to all the blessings God has in store for us this 2013. Although I kicked off the New Year in the worst way ever. Oh sure, we went to a few parties and saw our friends and had tons of fun. But right around 11:30, the stomach beast from Hades violently overtook me, and we had to rush home. I was writhing in pain in the backseat and just praying I wouldn't have any issues in the car. Somehow I made it till we got home, and while the world was watching the ball drop, sipping champagne and kissing loved ones at the stroke of midnight, I was crying and hugging a toilet bowl. I'll spare further details. Problem with being pregnant is as soon as you tell anyone you're sick, or that you got sick, they think it's pregnancy-related. Nope. Just ate something that didn't quite sit with me too well. Not too well at all, actually.

So, this rather dismal ringing in of the New Year episode made me think. Wouldn't it be cool to start keeping a personal record of how you spend each New Year's? Who you're with, where you are, what you're doing right when the clock hurdles us into a New Year... I think I might start. I'll back-log the years I can remember, and maybe if I'm feeling super-momish, I'll keep a separate log for my kids so they can have it and take over when they're old enough to track their own. I just think it would be such a neat thing to look back on when your 70 years old and see all the different chapters of your life, all the different friends and homes, all the different ways your life changes as the years roll by.

As for Resolutions, I'm keeping mine simple this year:
1. Love more, yell less.
2. Write. Write for work, for fun, for relaxation, for prayer, and for no reason at all sometimes.
3. Finish my TSOL certification. (Certifies me to teach English as a Second Language)
4. Set small goals; be optimist and positive in completing them.

I have all kinds projects and improvements I want to make this year - in my personal life, my relationships, my work, my home organization, etc. I'm not going to list them all out as my "New Year's Resolutions" because I know I get overwhelmed easily by long to-do lists. So instead, I'll just pick a project and complete it. When that's done, onto the next. Small goals, one at a time!

I hope you all are having a lovely Christmas season and I pray your 2013 will be very blessed. What are you thankful for from 2012? What are you looking forward to in 2013? Any resolutions?
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