Shannon Keough
The Uncensored Toddler
As a lifelong practitioner of the book-reading arts, I’ve always been gung-ho to read to my kids.What I’m not always so excited about are the actual books on offer. With outdated gender norms, subtle (or blatant) racism, idiotic rhymes and a surplus of just plain-old bad writing, there’s definitely some problematic stuff out there in the world of children’s literature.But you’re the parent, and therefore you have the power to protect your children from the creeping rot otherwise known... more
Reading can help
Are you feeling alienated and alone, with no time or money for therapy and no friends to speak of?*There’s a book for that.Our extroverted culture puts a premium on working things out interpersonally. We’re encouraged to use “I statements.” Being “best friends” with our spouses is an aspirational state. “You are not alone,” urge generic... more
In praise of toddlers
Everybody loves babies. Helpless and cute, propped up on a pillow, wearing a tiny cap that looks like a strawberry: What could be more adorable? Take your baby out in public and you’re virtually guaranteed to encounter at least one stranger who will gush over your baby’s singular sweetness. (Exception: Going out in public with a... more
The rise of the child king
Scene: An adult dinner party at your home. You: [Pouring a glass of water for one of your guests.] Guest 1: “Is this ice water?” [Tone more demanding than actually inquiring.] “I want ice water.” Guest 2: [She hasn’t touched the second piece of apple pie she specifically requested 45 minutes ago; you are now clearing... more
Getting through this winter
Let’s hear it for winter in Minnesota! It’s that time of the year when we separate the wheat from the chaff. You know what I’m saying — the polar vortexes, the beardsicles, the Halloween blizzards: “You know about the Halloween blizzard of ’91, right?”Yup. There’s nothing we Minnesotans like better than meeting a recent arrival... more
Go somewhere? Alone?
“So, I just heard that Steve Almond is teaching a class in Maine this summer,” I said to Nick, my husband. Almond is a favorite author of mine. Maine just happens to be where we travel every summer to visit Nick’s parents. “Oh yeah?” said Nick. “You should totally go.” “Really?” I said. This was, of course, exactly what I... more
You: Not in control
This column was going to be about tantrums — why they happen, how to avoid them and what to do when they inevitably occur. I read a bunch of articles and consulted my favorite parenting books. I Googled “Paula Bomer and tantrums” to see if Bomer (one of my favorite writers) had any enlightening thoughts on the subject. I couldn’t... more
Imagine you: Sober
“I can’t imagine what you’ve been going through, Shannon,” said Mary. “I’ll grab you a glass of wine.” I had just arrived at Mary’s front door, stopping by to pick up my two kids whom she had generously hosted for the afternoon.This was back when my husband, Nick, was going through cancer treatment. Our friends had been so helpful... more
The introverted parent
I used to work for a consulting company, a job where new clients and projects were introduced on a weekly basis. One day I was kicking off a project with a more experienced colleague. We needed to talk things over, so I could be adequately prepared. “We can have lunch today and talk about the project,” he said. “But just today... more
Tips for easier toddler parties!
It happens every year, without fail — your little ray of sunshine’s birthday! It’s a momentous occasion, and it needs to be commemorated. But how? In the baby/early toddler years, I would argue that your child’s birthday celebrations can be more focused on you, the parent. After all, they’re tiny — it’s not like they’re going to... more
Dining out? Just do it
“What could be more kid-friendly than momo?” This was our reasoning as Nick and I approached Himalayan Restaurant on East Lake Street, our two toddlers in tow.We sat down and ordered the signature steamed dumplings as well as some chicken tikka masala and a couple glasses of wine. Despite our standard speech about “restaurant... more
Sorry, not sorry
It’s a story as old as time: Two toddlers play together, or at least in close proximity to each other. (Future topic of discussion: the transition from parallel play to cooperative play.) Suddenly, a conflict erupts. A toy is grabbed and not returned upon request, for example. Sofia is shoved unceremoniously into the sandbox.... more
In the Laura Ingalls Wilder book By the Shores of Silver Lake, there’s a scene in which the family toddler, Grace, gets lost. First, the family searches the perimeter of their prairie shanty. Then suddenly, Pa exclaims in horror: “The Big Slough!” Ma and Pa and go running off into the nearby swamp grass, calling out Grace’... more
A parenting philosophy of less
In this world of modern parenting, there are certainly plenty of things we “should” be doing for our children — such as providing healthy, home-cooked meals; urging them into the great outdoors for “unstructured play;” and enrolling them in empowering martial arts classes, to name just a few. There are also things we most... more
I definitely have friends
"Shannon, is that you?!” I was at a south Minneapolis playground, zoning out on a bench while my young children cavorted in the sand. I looked up expectantly at my recognizer. “Samara?!” Wow, I hadn’t seen her in ages! We hugged like old friends suddenly reunited, excitedly inquiring about the latest happenings in each... more
A lack of childcare solutions
I think it’s fair to say that childcare concerns have impacted every major decision I’ve made since my children were born. For example, consider the first big question after my daughter joined the family: Do I return to my job?The job was a pretty good one. It provided luxuries such as health insurance and paid time off, at a company... more
Are you enough?
“Mama, you are enough.” — omnipresent inspirational mom memes.When I was pregnant with our first child, my husband and I toured the hospital where I was planning to give birth. Renowned for its low rate of C-sections and its army of beloved midwives, it was the place to have one’s “natural” childbirth experience. The tour guide led... more
Cancer Wife, Part 2
The nurse practitioner squinted at the mysterious spot that “lit up” on Nick’s lung scan. My husband had recently been diagnosed with throat cancer. And the next step was to do a more comprehensive body scan to see if the cancer had spread anywhere else. Lo and behold, the scan revealed something troubling in his right lung.... more
The power of retail therapy
“Oh boy, I got such cute outfits today! What else can I need?” — Aline Kominsky-Crumb, poking fun at herself in her comic Of What Use Is a Bunch? The idea of “retail therapy” — shopping as a balm to soothe the soul — chafes against everything I like to think I stand for. “Look at those conformist robots!” I scoff to myself as I... more
They’ll figure it out
Back when I was a new mother with a  cute little baby, I was happy — but also, sometimes, just a little bit bored. And like many people, when I’m bored I tend to start daydreaming about an imaginary future. In my make-believe future with my toddler-to-be, I thought about all the educational, life-affirming things we would... more
Eat it or wear it?
There’s a memorable scene from Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing involving a parent-toddler showdown at the dinner table. In it, we’re presented with a classic toddler situation — Fudge Hatcher, age 2½, doesn’t want to eat his cereal. His parents beg and plead; Fudge continues to refuse. Finally, Fudge’s dad gets mad. “... more
The downside of consequences
Dig if you will one of my finest parenting moments: I was in a grocery store with my two young children. Realizing the outing could be dire, I bribed them: “If you stay with me in the store, you can have a treat on the way home!” I’m not fond of bribes and rewards for desirable behavior, but I was desperate that day. I just wanted... more
Quality screen time
"We all know that screen time in excess can be harmful to infants and toddlers, and that it isn’t great for older children, either. And I would guess that there aren’t too many parents out there that would want their children struggle with things like obesity, ADHD or cognitive and language development.” This comment is... more
Unpretentious summer fun
While reading Achtung Baby by Sara Zaske, a book about an American couple bringing up their two young children in Berlin, I noticed the author made reference to the old German saw about how there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inadequate clothing.She then goes on to elaborate on how children in... more
Cancer Wife, Part I
When my first baby was about 2 months old, I went to visit my coworkers. They invited me to a lunch meetup so they could see the baby.It was one of those things that had been carefully planned in advance. In other words, it had been planned in the worst possible way for someone with an unpredictable infant.... more
Losing your illusions
Awash in pastels, a young woman — with clear, dewy skin, a cascade of subtly highlighted blonde hair and a beatific look on her serene, unlined face — lovingly cradles a baby. “This is motherhood,” seems to be the implied message. “This is what you should expect.” These soft-focus Madonna-and-child images were omnipresent... more
Real survival strategies
In my January column, I wrote about the topic of self-care — in particular, how self-care is not enough. With no guaranteed maternity leave, childcare payments as big as second mortgages and a rising maternal death rate, it’s tough to be a parent in the U.S. I think we need policy and cultural change — not tai chi and coffee... more
The music of our lives
Back when I was a judgmental young woman with no children of my own, I had some strong opinions about parenting. If you asked me to make a complete sentence out of the phrase, “No child of mine will ever …” I could have offered a variety of options:Wear a fleece Minnie Mouse sweatshirt in public;Eat... more
Self-care is not enough
Self-care. There’s something about that term that makes my skin crawl. It sounds so squishy and self-involved. I hear it and a certain image comes to mind — kind of a cross between Gwyneth Paltrow and that “life coach” who hawks her services as yoga class lets out. I don’t know what my problem is. The basic premise of self-care... more
Road trip!
Since becoming a parent, I’ve learned some hard truths about traveling with children. For example, air travel is brutal. It’s bad enough if you’re traveling alone or with a friend or partner — the absurdity of wedging 3-ounce bottles of conditioner into a small plastic bag, the indignity of being ordered to remove one’s shoes in the... more
Let's talk about toilets
When it comes to toilet training (or as some prefer to call it, “toilet learning”), people have strong opinions.Judge-y comments are sometimes made: “Oh, Hugo is still in diapers?” observes an acquaintance. “Lennon was all done with that before his first birthday!” She was no doubt referring to her success with “elimination... more
Think before you praise
“Good job, Sasha!” enthused a fellow mother at the park as she tailed her preschool-aged daughter up and down the slides. “Great climbing! I’m so proud of you, strong girl!” This was one of the more effusive examples of “positive reinforcement” I’ve witnessed since becoming a parent. But if you spend any time at playgrounds or... more
Restaurants: Enter at your own risk
So, just because you have kids doesn’t mean you have to change anything about how you live your life, right?I mean, all the stuff you used to do just needs to be done in a way that includes your little cherubs, who — by definition — do nothing but broaden and enrich the experiences you already enjoy.This is especially true in restaurants... more
Let’s talk about preschool
In preparation for writing this month’s column, I spent considerable time skimming articles online about the benefits of preschool.  And the prevailing wisdom seems to be that preschool probably has the biggest positive impact on kids who don’t have the advantage of super-engaged parents. Preschool for those kids is crucial.But for... more
You’re the Decider
“So, honey, do you want to go to the park now?” Wait: Let’s pause for a moment. Toddlers tend to enjoy going to parks, right? In fact, your toddler (let’s call him Max) this very morning demanded a visit to the park. Of course, you didn’t appreciate his whiny tone, and you reminded him that polite requests can get you far in... more