Sunday, September 28, 2014

Seeds of bad habits can be planted early

“I smokin’.”

I looked up from the laundry bin I was putting clothes into as my 2-year-old came into the bedroom.

“I smokin’,” he repeated.

He had a giant plastic bolt — far too big to be a choking hazard — sticking out of his mouth. I watched in horror as he breathed in deeply, removed the toy from his mouth and blew out into the air.

“Where did you learn that?” I cried, but he was already running out of the room, oblivious to my panic.

I racked my brain to try to figure out just where he would have been exposed to people smoking.

No one in our families smoke, he spends his daytime hours in the comfort of a completely smoke-free daycare and smoking in businesses and restaurants has never been legal in this state for his entire life.

So … it begs the question: Where did he get exposed to smoking? And not only that, but how did he know what it was called and know enough to imitate it?

The only conclusion we could come to was media exposure, and we are now being more vigilant than ever about what he sees on television. But what else has he seen — that I would rather he not — that he isn’t verbalizing yet?

It’s terrifying to think about what else he’s picking up as he studies the world around him, absorbing so much along the way. And it’s impossible to know what lessons or truths he is taking away with those observations.

For example, when I was a girl, I had a grandfather who smoked heavily. I didn’t know him to be any other way. In my late teens, I took up smoking; I’m sure, in part, it was the early exposure to it and the fact that seeing someone I loved do it made it somewhat permissible.

Then again, I had a cousin who also shared this grandfather, and it had the opposite effect. The boy asked grandpa repeatedly to quit and even went so far as to having no-smoking signs attached to his bedroom door (I gotta hand it to the kid — he was committed).

I’ve been smoke-free for nearly a decade, and haven’t really even though about it just as long. I thought when we started our family that it was enough to keep my kiddo away from direct exposure to cigarettes, but now I realize that exposure can be much more subtle and still very effective.

Even commercials on television nowadays features adult themes — even under the guise of tongue-in-cheek humor — we never saw 30 years ago.

There’s still no way to know what is going on in that little, beautiful brain of his. I will start by reinforcing that smoking is yucky, and do everything I can to influence him into healthy habits, but honestly I never imagined I would be having this talk with a toddler.

— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Parent’s curse amusing, if not exasperating

“You will be destined to have at least one child exactly like you.”
I can’t remember the first time I heard what my grandmother teasingly dubbed “the parent’s curse,” but I know it was mentioned several times during my childhood.
It wasn’t something I paid much mind to back in those times. It was funny to think about eventually having a son or daughter that was just like me: nerdy, verbal and, above all, excruciatingly sensitive. It was so comical, in fact, that I dismissed the notion for decades, for surely such talk was nothing more than an old wives’ tale.
Fast forward to present day with my darling 2-year-old.
Now, there’s no way to know yet if he inherited my nerd gene, and although he is extremely vocal, his vocabulary is still quite limited. But one thing is for certain: He is sensitive — boy howdy is he sensitive.
It can be a look of disapproval that sends him into a 10-minute tailspin — only to have him snap out of it when something else diverts his attention.
The mercurial nature of such creatures is not to be underestimated. I find myself having bizarre conversations, trying to explain things to a mind that can’t even grasp the use of conjunctions and articulation.
A few days ago, we were quietly watching television and a commercial came on for a chain of restaurants that offered breakfast sandwiches.
Son: “I want have breakfast sammich.”
Me: “No, honey. It’s 10 minutes to bedtime and you already ate.”
Son: “I want have breakfast sammich!”
Me: “Sweetie, we don’t have breakfast sandwiches.”
Son: “Breakfast sammich! Aaaaaahhhhh!”
Me: “We’ll go to the store and get some this weekend.”
Seriously? Like my 2-year-old, who just had the feral instincts of a jungle cat for that sausage sandwich is going to appreciate the nature of time, space and grocery list planning in order to calmly accept the fact that he won’t get what he wants?
I’m only beginning to grasp what I put my poor mother through with my similar tendencies as a tot — the stories of my moody nature are legendary around the Thanksgiving Day table.
I’m sure she’s smiling down, knowing that now I get to contend with my perfect, little capricious clone.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Taming the dreaded toilet training

When I first became a mother, I couldn’t wait for several milestones. I watched with wonder as the developmental hurdles kept coming, and I couldn’t have been happier.
But I never thought I would get hung up on one milestone in particular — the milestone all parents must start pining for right around the time their child reaches the 2-and-a-half-year mark: When will the never-ending parade of diapers end?
I think human development is structured in a way where we become potty-trained right around the time our parents approach the point of snapping if they have to empty a dirty diaper bin one more time.
If biology didn’t work with such synchronicity, we probably would have some sort of syndrome named for parents who curl up into little balls at the mere thought of having to change one more stinking diaper.
I feel the Diaper Craze gripping me now.
And, as if the diaper-changing gods heard my unspoken prayers, my son finally took interest.
“Momma, I wanna do poop on the potty!”
Now, my son has said many things to me in his short life that have made my heart nearly burst at the seams with love. When he first said, “Momma,” I thought my rib cage would break with love. When he could finally say, “I love you,” it was an amazing day.
But I have to admit that him expressing interest in the glorious workings of the toilet makes the top five. In fact, I’ve never looked more forward to a poop in my life.
And I gave him his just reward: A Sour Patch Kids. He quickly realized the incentive-based system could be very beneficial for his sweet tooth. For the past week, we have had great success.
Now, we’re not there yet, and it will take time to get the training fully implemented, but this milestone is one that I will be celebrating in perpetuity.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (6161) 546-4278 or

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Helping ring in a special moment

I woke up with steely determination.
As I was brushing my teeth, I gazed at the formal outfit hanging behind me, going over in my mind what we needed to do.
We had rehearsed the routine and six months of preparation had led to this one, special day. “We are ready,” I told myself.
Getting the outfit on was a bit of a chore, mostly because of all the little buttons involved. And I experimented with three different hairstyles before settling on just the right one for the occasion.
But all the preparation was worth it by the time we arrived at the venue.
A perfect day was upon us, with brilliant blue skies, puffy white clouds and warm temperatures. It was the best kind of day for a wedding.
We greeted family and friends as they arrived. A smile was on everyone’s face as we starting shuffling to our seats. I found my spot with just the right vantage point and went over the routine one more time in my head.
Had I thought of everything? Did I have an escape route if things went wrong? Did I have all the tools I needed?
“Yes,” I told myself. “It’s going to be great. This is going to be awesome. It’s go time.”
The flute music drifted beautifully across the lush grass as the bridesmaids and their groomsmen slowly made their way down the aisle. The groom — my cousin — looked so dapper and handsome as he awaited his lovely bride.
And then the moment finally came.
My 2-year-old son stepped into view, clutching a little pillow. His miniature teal bowtie and suspenders perfectly matched the bridesmaids’ dresses, and his newsboy cap made him look like the man I know he will one day become.
I held my breath for a few moments, praying that he would make it to his mark. As I heard the “awws” from the crowd, I knew he had done his job — to charm the pants off of everyone. He beamed from ear to ear as he slowly made his way to my open arms, and I smothered him with kisses in appreciation for his perfect performance.
His reward was a small handful of Skittles and his favorite blanket, and my tot sat peacefully on my lap for the rest of the ceremony. We watched as the couple promised to love and cherish one another forever, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Twenty minutes later, his outfit had grass stains. He was covered in sweat from finally being free to run, his disheveled appearance a true testament to the boy he is becoming.
Yes, it was perfect, and I couldn’t ask for a better ring bearer on such a special day.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or

Monday, June 30, 2014

Out of the mouths of babes

“Oh s---.”

“What did you say?” I asked.

My 2-year-old stared at me for a solid 10 seconds before glancing around the room, his eyes finally resting on a far-away wall.

“Pictures!” he said, pointing at a collage of images documenting his first year of life.

I wasn’t buying it.

“Buddy, what did you say?” I asked.

He hesitated, then repeated what I had feared he said.

I sighed, knowing this day would come sooner than I wanted. I would love to claim that I have never uttered that phrase in front of my son, but sadly, I am no innocent. What’s worse is his father doesn’t seem to have the self awareness that he often swears like a sailor.

So now it was time to face the music.

“Buddy, that’s a bad word and you’re not supposed to say that word. It hurts people’s feelings,” I said.

He looked at me intently for several moments. Then … tears, lots of them. After all, I had shamed him for saying something, for the first time in his little life. I felt terrible, too, because we were directly responsible for him ever hearing that word in the first place.

“It’s OK,” I said softly, letting him climb into my lap and giving him hugs and kisses. “I’m sorry because Mama and Papa shouldn’t say that word either.”

Later that day, I recounted the story. What I found as a harrowing parental moment, my husband found hilarious.

“Come on,” he said, “you’ve got to admit it’s pretty funny.”

“No,” I said, seething. “I don’t want to have ‘that kid’ who says whatever he wants. We have to have limits and rules and I wish you would take this more seriously.”

He brushed it off, saying I was taking the situation too seriously.

Until a week later when our son came home from daycare with a note from the staff. It said our son had a “bad day” and was pushing the other children in his class. I suspected that all the roughhouse play my husband instigated with our toddler might have had far-reaching influence.

“You have to understand that what you say and do with a kid matters,” I said. “He takes what he learns from us and re-enacts things with the other children.”

My husband seemed a bit more contrite this time. He put his arm around our tot and gave him a big hug and said, “Buddy, we have to not roughhouse as much, OK?”

Our son gave his best wide-eyed look at his dad, thought considerably for a few moments, then jumped on him for a tickle fight.

— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sudden ailment helps bring things into focus

It’s a feeling every working mother knows all too well.

When the incoming phone number registers as your daycare facility, you know it’s not a good sign.

“We are calling to inform you that your son had a fall,” the woman said. “He is holding his arm close to his body and seems distraught.”

“Do you think he broke something?” I asked, terrified she would say yes.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “In my experience, when kids break a bone, they are screaming pretty consistently.”

I was not convinced. My cousin fell off a couch at the age of 2 — onto carpet — and never freaked out. But consistent low-grade whining days later led to an X-ray that revealed a broken elbow.

“Do you think I need to come get him?” I asked.

“I don’t think so. We will watch him closely, but I think he will be OK in a little bit,” she said.
That was an immense relief. My day was packed with work meetings and other tasks I just couldn’t put off.

But the peace didn’t last long. Not even 30 minutes later, another call came in.

This time, the woman said my son had not calmed down and would not move his arm at all. It was that moment where my primary consideration instantly clicked into place.

“I’m on my way,” I said.

When I walked into his daycare room, he was lying down, and tearfully said, “Momma get me. Doctor.”

It ripped my heart out to hear it. I gingerly put him in the car, as he whined any time his right arm moved. As we drove to the doctor, he kept rubbing his favorite blanket gently on his arm, saying it was “kissing ouchy.”

After about two hours of exams and an X-ray, we found out he had a partially dislocated elbow. Once the doctor manipulated it back into place, he was back to his old, precocious self.

And I was able to breathe again.

It’s these moments where your priorities crystallize. Suddenly the meetings that just couldn’t be postponed and the work tasks that just couldn’t be put off seemed so silly and trite.

My son needed me, and it was a good reminder that I’m a mom first and a journalist second — and that’s fine with me.

— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Yearning for a softer side of parenting

“You have a clone,” I said to my husband.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Behind you,” I answered.
My husband turned around to see our 2-year-old wearing his dad’s cowboy hat and sunglasses, beaming from ear to ear.
“I’m cowboy!” he yelled.
And that he is.
Whether it’s tractors, trucks or bugs, I have a dude’s dude on my hands.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing — he tends to be easily entertained — but it definitely has doubled the testosterone in the house, meaning lots of little boy shouting and rough play.
My poor shins look like they’ve been to war, the signs of little shoes trying to scramble up into my lap, and the other day he head butted my chin so hard (accidentally) I saw stars.
And then there’s the fascination that boys have with their, ahem, personal areas. In some sort of leftover ancestral instinct he points at it, identifies it and pulls at it every chance he gets.
It’s a little bewildering for a first-time mom (this isn’t exactly covered in the baby books I read). I’m told that it’s a natural extension of developing boys, but I can’t help but cringe when he starts thrusting his pelvis under the faucet during his bath.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my boys. We even have a male dog and two male cats. It’s just, well, I’m outnumbered.
I want to share some of the more feminine interests with my son, but so far, he’s not really interested unless dinosaurs or tools are involved. I want him to learn how to cook (a lost art for many men), to read (and not just car maintenance manuals) and to appreciate the arts (beyond “Sesame Street”).
Hopefully, our road to Baby No. 2 isn’t too much longer — a need a girl to balance this house out.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or at