13 June 2013

Baby Bites: Squash and Zucchini Quinoa

We harvested squash, zucchini, and red onion recently from our garden, so I wanted to come up with a recipe for Nerd that included it all. And the squash and zucchini will be producing boatloads all summer. This will probably be one of many ways we prepare it this year!

Both squash and zucchini are good sources of potassium and dietary fiber. Quinoa is also a great source of fiber, but it also contains iron, manganese (great for bone health), folate, and protein. Onions supply vitamin C. Together, these ingredients make a great balanced main dish for your tot (or side dish for yourself...because I totally ate spoonful after spoonful straight from the pan). Nerd asked for thirds.

Fresh, homegrown zucchini and yellow squash with quinoa.

Ingredients:
  • 1 yellow squash, diced
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1 small onion, sliced in half moons
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2-2/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4-1/3 cup quinoa (I used red quinoa from Trader Joe's)
  • freshly-cracked pepper, to taste
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
***Note: The reason why there are variances in the amounts of chicken broth and quinoa is due to the fact that I had to add more chicken broth during cooking. The quinoa will differ depending upon how much you want. I think I'll be adding more next time.

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, allowing it to cook only long enough to release the aromatics (1-2 minutes). Then dump in the diced squash and zucchini. Sauté for 5-7 minutes, or until the squashes become soft and lightly translucent.

Add the chicken broth, quinoa, and pepper. Bring to a boil, throw back the heat, cover, and allow to simmer for roughly 20-25 minutes. You'll know it's done when the quinoa is tender.

Finally, take a potato masher and squish everything in the skillet. This isn't required, but I did it because it reminds me of the texture of my mom's cooked squash when I was a child.

Alternatives:
  • If you want to make this meal for a child under 12 months, throw it all into a blender for a tasty puree.
  • Use a micro-zester to grate a little fresh Parmesan on top. (Anyone notice a pattern in my recipes? I love Parm as an option for topping so many dishes!)
  • Want a little more spice? Add 1/2 to 1 tsp of ground cayenne pepper.
  • Don't have zucchini? Double up on yellow squash. Or vice versa if you don't have yellow squash.
  • Have the grill fired up? Throw your veggies on the grill for an added smoky flavor before simmering in the broth.

Let me know if you try a recipe! I'd like to hear feedback or any tweaks in ingredients or methods you try. Enjoy!

11 June 2013

Update: Nerd Changed her Tune about the Pool

So remember this post from a few days ago? Yeah, Nerd hasn't liked the water since we started swim lessons this summer, despite her affinity for it last year. But since that post was a rather long read, here's the Reader's Digest version: four lessons in, Nerd cries like she's having bamboo shoved under her fingernails; I ask for a refund; jackmuffin employee tells me I'm giving up on my kid; new instructor swoops in and offers me private lessons; I accept and schedule another lesson; I promise to take Nerd to a pool in the meantime.

Upon hearing my desire to find a pool for Nerd, our neighbor recommended an aquatic center in Gainesville where she has taken her kids before. She tells me the place is super-duper kid friendly. Slides. Fountains. Splash pad. Zero-entry pool. Water buckets and guns.

In other words, it's Stimulation City. Water every-flippin'-where, and it would be noisier than a dryer full of quarters. It sounds perfect. If Nerd cried, we wouldn't have a room of judgy parents staring and wondering why we won't leave. No one would care that water makes her cry because they'd be wrapped up in their own kids having fun.

So we drove Nerd out to Gainesville last Saturday to give this place a chance. Aside from the fact it's being run by a bunch of overly-tan teenagers who know everything about puka shell anklets and jack about swim diapers, the place is amazing. It's clean and appealing. I wanted to be 10 again.

We get Nerd in her swim diaper and take her to the splash pad. She's not having it. We try the zero-entry pool. She starts the "bye pool" screaming fits. We push and encourage and show her she's safe. There's no convincing her.

We take a popcorn break, and all is right in the world.

But of course we didn't plunk down $20 to leave after 15 minutes. She's going to cry, but we're going to keep pushing.

Back in the water we go. We put our hands in the mini-geysers and splash in the water, smiling hard enough to lock our jaws and singing every song we can think of that makes Nerd happy. Still nothing. Happy songs in water does not equal happy Nerd in water.

We take another popcorn break.

We're still not done. We take her back to the fountains, where this time, two other toddler girls are playing happily. One is roly poly with black curly hair in a single ponytail. She is straight up shoving her little face into one of the geysers and running away squealing to her mom. The other is very tall for her 21 months and practically bald. Her geyser play included stepping on them and waving her hands through them.

Nerd takes notice.

And then this happened:



And this:


Happiness. Pure joy. "Let ME put my face in it!" I almost exploded from the amount of pride I was experiencing.

This happiness continued even in the zero-entry pool where she repeatedly squatted to dunk her belly (on command), blew bubbles, and played Humpty Dumpty from the pool wall.

The only tears Nerd shed after that were when we had to go home.

Now who wants to say I give up on my child?


04 June 2013

Acting on a Gut Instinct at My Toddler's Swim Lesson

A friend of mine posted this Infant Swimming Resource video on Facebook a few months back.

Holy toddler survival swimming! The child in the video has to be 12 months, maybe 13? Whatever the child's age, he looks younger than Nerd--and he knows how to save himself if he accidentally entered a body of water.

Formal swimming lessons for our toddler had never really entered my mind. I was the overly-confident parent who thought I could teach her to blow bubbles and then put her in water wings until she was four. We'd get around to lessons when she was in preschool. But who has two thumbs and a fear of drowning? This mom. I was researching swimming programs in our area as soon as the video was over. I was not going to raise a child who shared my fear.

So I talked to a few of my friends about my interest in classes. Another couple, Ben and Krissy, shared the interest for their two young children, and we used lessons as an excuse to spend time together. We narrowed down swimming venues and eventually joined Mommy and Me classes together at an aquatic center between where each of us lives. Turns out the commute from our house is 30 miles one direction. To me, Nerd learning life-saving swim techniques would be worth the distance.

We arrived to our first class with a handful of other parents and their toddlers. Nerd was intrigued, but cautious. Once in the water, we formed a circle and sang along to "The Hokey Pokey". Nerd cried at times, looking to me for reassurance. While other tots tried blowing bubbles or kicking their legs behind them, I was distracting Nerd with lots of smiles and clapping and words of praise. Anything to keep her positive for the 30 minutes we were in the water. There were still some tears, but I figured she'd cry less with repeated exposure.

One thing you should understand: Nerd L-O-V-E-D the water last summer. I had her in the pool roughly once a week, and she took to it like a champ. In her floaty or splashing water while in my arms, she was a happy child in the pool. I asked Lauren, our instructor, if Nerd's behavior was normal. She told me that because it had been so long since Nerd's last pool experience, she had forgotten how fun it was. If Nerd had never been in the pool, the lesson would have been much worse--inconsolable crying and obvious fear. We had seven more lessons. Lauren put my mind at ease by telling me it would get better.

We attended the second and third lessons, and by a stroke of good luck, Ben, Krissy, me, and our children were the only ones in the class. But even with the small teacher-to-student ratio, Nerd's resistance to the lesson wasn't just growing, it was becoming downright uncomfortable. Not so much that she was howling in front of my friends. They were sympathetic and supportive. It was Nerd's distrust of Lauren. She was making a connection: pool meant lesson, lesson meant Lauren, Lauren meant bad.

This sucks for Lauren because she is a great instructor. She obviously knows what she's doing. She approaches Nerd with a calm and positive demeanor, walking away if Nerd really starts to lose it and banking on the moments when her crying is, um, less intense. There was even one "tough love" moment that I appreciated being a former educator. Lauren took Nerd in her arms, saying, "If you're going to cry with Momma, you're going to cry with me, and that's OK." My tot was only a foot away from me, wailing of course, but getting a moment of much-needed instruction.

Then the aquatic center changed the lesson schedule before the fourth lesson. They moved it to half an hour later so that they could combine us with other Mommy and Me classes, which were held in the same pool at the same time as another class for slightly older tots. This meant a lot of extra people in the pool room.

Nerd was as happy as could be, watching the lesson ahead of us and making friends with a little boy who shared our bench. She let me put on her swim diaper. She ate cheddar bunnies. She beamed when she made attempts at saying the word "pool". She even tried walking right up to the edge a few times.

When it was our turn, I scooped her up and started toward the water. Nerd saw Lauren and started crying. Out of instinct, I grabbed her stuffed penguin and brought it with us into the water. Hey, that's what washing machines are for, right? We were only on the second step, and Nerd started screaming, "Bye, pool! Bye, pool!" through her tears and snot. Lauren came over to us to gently ask about her penguin, and Mal screamed harder. She buckled her body and clawed at mine. If her penguin had been a real animal, she surely would have squeezed it to death.

I tried to move her hands and feet to the appropriate sections of "The Hokey Pokey". It was like trying to separate industrial-strength velcro. Krissy gave me a look of wanting to help, but the other mothers in the water were obviously disturbed by my child. We moved the class in a circle to encourage belly floating and kicking. Again, Nerd couldn't be pulled from my torso. And every time Lauren came near, Nerd would only shriek.

Eyes of parents from all around the room were watching the momma of the screaming child. Whether they were judging on the fact that I was pushing my child to her limit or that I allowed her plush binky in the water, I couldn't tell. But now I was every parent who ever had a child pitch a fit in public, and they were waiting for me to handle it.

So I did. Ten minutes into the lesson with all attempts at comforting my child having been exhausted, I removed my child from the pool. My gut told me this wasn't working, that Nerd needed time to forget Lauren and the chance to love the water--without an instructor. All three of us were dripping (penguin included) when I sat down with Nerd on the bench. I held her while she recovered, and we created an impressive puddle that ended up soaking our diaper bag. It took another ten excruciating minutes to change her into dry clothes, and our audience continued to glance over at us.

I walked out of the pool room, frustrated and confused. I was promised progress, and the opposite was happening. I asked the girl at the front desk for a refund for the remaining classes that we would not be attending. She could only guarantee a phone call from the instructor.

Out at our car, I strapped Nerd into her car seat, threw the wet diaper bag into the floorboard, and cried. I turned around in my seat to look at my daughter and told her how much I loved her.

Lauren left me a voicemail during our drive to ask us to keep coming to lessons. I appreciated her desire to push through, but my gut kept telling me we needed time.

Unfortunately, the frustration didn't end with me getting a refund. When I called the aquatic center back to speak with Lauren, she had already left for the day and I ended up speaking to a gentleman. I forget his name, but he must have been some sort of manager or owner. He listened to my concern about how my child was only putting up more and more of a fight, that I didn't think the instructor was a match for my child, that I felt we needed separation and the chance to come back when I felt she was ready, and he went on the defense:

Maybe she can sense your fear of water and she's reacting to it. Sometimes, you just have to be told things you don't want to hear. You're not doing your child any favors giving up on her now. I've been in this business long enough to know that you do a child this way, and they'll go off to kindergarten with serious separation anxiety issues.
Who in the hell did this guy think he was talking to? Had I spoken to one of my students' parents the way he was speaking to me, I would have been taken before the board and fired. But we weren't in a government-funded classroom, and I was the customer instead of the service provider. If he was going to play the "it's my profession" card, then I was going to throw down mine:
I think I know a little something about encouraging children to persevere and issues with separation anxiety. I was an educator for almost a decade before I decided to stay at home with my child!

This ass waffle would never know that I used to spend an hour trying to encourage a child on the autism spectrum to sit still in her chair or bubble in her scantron during CRCT, despite bouts of screaming, biting, and pencil-breaking. He would never know how I lost sleep over trying to figure out ways to teach my ELL students how to divide in a way that made sense or that I stayed after work every Friday afternoon to tutor kids who needed it.

But upon hearing "educator", he backpedaled a bit. No refund could be offered, nor any promise of a solution if the next four classes were only met with uncontrollable crying and koala-level clinging. The best they could do was offer private lesson conversions with a different instructor. I was more open to that idea, but the way the guy was handling the conversation had me fuming. He doesn't know my child. He hadn't been the one holding her in the water through four unbearable classes.

The conversation ended with him taking my name and number, promising a returned call from an instructor. No one called. I tried them this morning, again being told they would get an instructor in touch with me as soon as they came in for morning classes. Still no call.

I acted on instinct, and I stand by my decision to leave the class. It's hard enough to be a mom, and even harder when you are trying to enjoy a class that's meant to be learning masked by fun, like water safety instruction. If that guy thinks I'm giving up on my child, then he can just continue to think that way and be a jerk. I am staying open to other options they want to offer me, as long as they uphold their end to treat me as a customer who isn't satisfied with the results I was promised. It looks like we'll get private lessons, or the Better Business Bureau will be getting a phone call.


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