Friday, October 31, 2008

my favorite thing

My new favorite thing about being a mother is the sincere, enthusiastic smile and the shriek of happiness that comes from River when I come into his room to get him from his crib. Nobody else is this happy to see me with such regularity. Feeling wanted and loved and appreciated really fills the heart.

I know it won’t last. I imagine him slamming the door shut behind me and diving under his pillows during his teenage years. In the meantime, I can enjoy the smiles when I enter and the happy hugs when I pick him up – mommy to the rescue.

Just in case you are wondering why there are piles of stuff in River room – we live in a very old and small house that doesn’t have closets. So River’s room doubles as the nursery and the family closet.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The next book to help me be a better parent

I’m still in that searching for good parenting advice period and have now finished my second book. Before I tell you about the book, I want to mention that I’m recently getting to know a few babies in a more intimate way than just waving at them in the stroller while I chat with their moms. Of course there is Mirena, who now comes over two afternoons a week. And last week, we watched my friend Laura’s baby on Saturday and she watched River on Sunday.

Both of these experiences make me recall my Spanish friend’s saying, “Every baby is a world unto themselves.” And they are. Each of the three is entirely distinct. Which makes me wonder how people can really presume to give advice. What works for River may well not work for Mirena. And what works for Isabela doesn’t match River’s needs. I suppose people advise toward the mean. But for our purposes, I can’t put my faith into any single idea or author, because none of them know River’s needs precisely. The best I can do is to read widely and then pick and choose among the ideas presented those I think will have a positive benefit.

So, the book I read is Parenting, Inc. by Pamela Paul. I first saw it reviewed in Brain, Child magazine (my new favorite magazine). I didn’t pay much attention though since the subtitle “How we are sold on $800 strollers, fetal education, baby sign language, sleeping coaches, toddler couture and diaper wipe warmers – and what it means for our children” didn’t apply to me. The only thing we have used from that list is a teeny bit of sign language. But even with that, we are only teaching him 10-15 signs and we’re not spending any money to do it.

But then, I passed by a table of books outside a bookstore and began to flip through this one. I landed on a page about hiring consultants to help toddlers learn to get potty trained. She mentioned one in particular called Booty Camp. For $250 ($300 now) parents can get their toddler potty trained in a day.

On the parent listserv I belong to, there had been a lot of discussion lately about parents unsure of what to do with their toddlers. One recent discussion had centered upon a 4-year old, who pooped in his pants at daycare and got it all over the rugs. After requesting advice, the parents decided to send him to preschool in diapers and to include going to the potty with changing clothes, but otherwise allow him to choose when to train. Of course, I can’t know the child or the situation. But the prevalence with which I heard of these types of cases in the U.S. (look at all the sold out classes at Booty Camp to see how many people need help with this) doesn’t seem right to me.

So I was intrigued by the Booty Camp founder’s method. She loads the kids up with sugar and salt, as much as they want to eat and drink. They wear only underpants. She tells them that when they need to go to the bathroom, they must use the potty. She says it’s “unacceptable” for them to go in their pants. If they do so, she says it’s gross, dirty and stinky and the child must clean it up. The parent is instructed to not react to any attention-seeking behavior. The child is also not provided with any rewards. If anything, toys are removed so that he can focus on paying attention to his body. She believes that there is a point at which a poop is no longer an “accident” but a decision, and should no longer be excused. It worked for the parent profiled in the book and from that day on, her son used the potty.

I picked up the book due to this potty perusal. It’s not so much a parental advice book as it is a manifesto against the heavy hand of consumerism on parents these days. The book is easy to read and the beginning and end are strongest. The book contains some interesting facts and statistics, some of which I’ll probably refer to in future posts.

I can say that it made me feel better about our decisions to not be participating in baby classes (besides swimming), to go with mostly used clothing and toys and to focus on what we believe matters – quality time, access to experiences and saving for education when it’s really needed.

Read any helpful books lately?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Halloween and Babies

Following up on yesterday’s post, I’m thinking about what to do on the real Halloween, October 31st. Up until the family Halloween party, I didn’t think we’d do anything. Maybe hand out some candy at home.

Seeing how much fun River had with the festivities and the ghoulish items made me think he’d enjoy more than sitting at home. I thought I’d take him treat-or-treating. The idea hadn’t occurred to me before, but hey, we have a costume, we have the time, we have plenty of houses in our neighborhood and I haven’t been trick or treating in about 20 years. I’d enjoy it too.

I was all excited about my plan, until I saw some people grousing online that they don’t like it when adults with a baby come to their door because they think they just want free candy. Granted, my income is low at the moment. But my husband’s is decent and if I really wanted candy, I could buy it at bargain prices shortly after Halloween.

Basically, I want to have a fun time with River. I want to have pictures of his first time trick or treating. I’m not sure whether we’ll still be living here next year, but this is an amazing place for a first trick-or-treating experience – safe streets, lots of kids, some fantastic houses to visit. One house within walking distance looks like the Munsters and I know of at least one Nobel Prize winner who will be handing out candy.

So, what would you do if you had a sociable, friendly almost 11-month-old who cannot say trick-or-treat, nor eat the candy, but would probably have a blast being out with other kids, meeting people, and having things dropped in his pumpkin?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Family Portrait

Family Halloween Fun

Ever since my nieces came along, 9 and 11 years ago, my mom has held a Halloween party in her home for them. Each year, she tries to add another scary tchotchke to her collection. Every year, the decorating gets better and better. But the traditions remain the same – a family dinner together, pumpkin carving, a search for the big hairy spider, photos with all kinds of corny accessories, and dessert.

I participated once, years ago, when my nieces were still small. I wore a blond wig, someone else wore a cat’s face. My nieces had a small table just to themselves, where I helped them frost Halloween cookies. I still love the goofy pictures from that celebration. And I was so excited to bring River for his first ever Halloween party.

Here are the decorations:

And the fun:

These days, they get gift bags.

We might start replacing Christmas with Halloween as the high priority annual visit.
Do you have any special Halloween traditions?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Two Buckets of Dirt

Because I want this blog to be a venue for exploring the true experience of parenthood, I’m going to reveal one of my less illustrious features of motherhood. I’m very liberal when it comes to what I allow River to put into his mouth (especially since I read that taste is a prime means of exploration at this age) and it doesn’t bother me at all when he eats something off the floor.

This isn’t something I announce widely. I suspect a lot of mothers would criticize me for this. I know I’m not the only one though. At least one of my friends has told me she thinks it’s great when her daughter comes across leftover food on the floor in their house.

“Hey, it’s a snack,” she says.

I thought about this issue today due to an incident at a pizza joint. After going to the gym late this morning, I carried River, my bag and his bag of stuff out to the car. It was drizzling and we’d had to park far away. River is now in the 25 pound range and it’s truly hard to balance him and the stuff. I put the bags in the car, picked him up again and stopped in a pizza place to get myself a slice for lunch. Upon reaching the counter, my tired arms placed him on the floor. I received a couple of surprised or critical looks, but they didn’t bother me.

After a few minutes, a woman approached me. “His food is on the floor,” she said, in a very concerned tone, referring to the half-bagel he’d been working on. I didn’t think it was worth discussing my parenting values with this woman. So I faked concern and picked up the bagel. When we walked out of the shop and were out of that woman’s eyesight, I handed the bagel back to River.

“Here you go,” I said. He took it gladly. I would have liked to have seen her face if I’d told her River may well have eaten his own poop.

Doing something I felt I needed to hide from that woman made me wonder if I was treating him badly. I thought that I would eat the bagel myself so I guess it’s not hypocritical to offer it to River.

My husband has a significantly lower grossed-out threshold than I do (though it’s rising since River’s birth). But when I told him this story, even he thought it was perfectly rational to give River the bagel.

“People can get so funny about those things,” he said.

I thought back to where my comfort with a little dirt comes from and one of my grandmothers came to mind. I was lucky enough to have three grandmothers growing up. All were Midwestern, hardworking and strong. One in particular always encouraged me to eat food after I’d dropped it. “Everyone will eat two buckets of dirt in their lifetime,” she would say.

I have no idea where she got the two buckets from, but I took it as gospel and have repeated it to myself every time I drop something. Unless I drop it in a puddle of mud, I’ll probably salvage it. What is a few specks in comparison to the buckets that will be consumed? Nothing. Just now, curious to see if I could find a figure, I did a google search and found this article. Unsurprisingly, it comes from the Midwest. Then, of course, there are people who gobble down vast quantities of soil, even make cookies with it.

So yes, it’s not ideal. I don’t feed him dirt on purpose. But if a few specks happen to get in every so often, in the long run, I don’t think it will do him any harm.

Friday, October 24, 2008

the joy of being home alone

At this time last year, I was 8 months pregnant, still new to daily life in America. Mark was working long hours then and I was spending long, lonely days and nights at home. I could never imagine that one year later I would long for those quiet hours that flowed slowly from one into another.

Today Mirena’s mom had an important event to attend for work and needed more than our standard afternoon hours of childcare. So our babysitter went over to Mirena’s place and River went over there too. For seven hours.

I had seven glorious hours to myself at home. Only when I had the time did I realize how infrequently it happens. I had thoughts of great productivity. Not only was I going to get a lot of work done, I was going to cook dinner, make pesto, go out for lunch and send some long-overdue thank you notes. Maybe I’d even pick up a bit.

I didn’t manage all of the above. But I did get some work done, I did pop a ready-to-cook stuffed chicken into the oven, I actually did make and freeze arugula pesto. But I didn’t go out for lunch. No way was I going to leave during my quiet, peaceful time.

I’ve always liked it that River is at home with the babysitter and I can see him throughout the day. I like to be able to pop into his activities, to give him a quick hug, to breastfeed him when needed. But when he was gone for such a long time, I surprisingly found it a relief. A vast calmness settled over me. I had no one and nothing to step over, but could move freely through our small space.

When he came home, I showed him with hugs and kisses. I breastfed him. I talked to him. I took him on a long walk with a friend. But I really enjoyed that quiet time with only my own tasks to focus on and plenty of space to work on them. If Mirena’s family wants the childcare to take place in their home sometimes, I will not object.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New Recommendations for Maternity Care

Consumer Reports is spreading the word about a new study released by a group called Childbirth Connection, a non-profit organization aiming to improve the standard of maternity care in the U.S. It was only after I became pregnant that I realized how disappointing the level of maternity care truly is. Complaining about what is lacking doesn’t do much. Having an organization like this to advocate for improvements is much more promising.

Childbirth Connection released a study this month that concludes that high-tech interventions are being overused, making poor value for health insurance companies and Medicaid. The report itself offers pretty interesting reading.

According to the report, the average cost of an uncomplicated vaginal delivery in 2005 was in the $7,000 range, a C-section $16,000. My vaginal delivery in 2007 was around $21,000, before the health insurance company negotiated its discounts. That $21,000 was for childbirth only at my local hospital. I don’t even want to think about what the number is with prenatal visits. I do know that I spent my first two trimesters in Bolivia and received care meeting or exceeding what I received in the U.S. at only a fraction of the cost.

The report states, “The following practices would…be consistent with the framework of this report: avoiding induction for convenience, using labor support, tubs and other validated nonpharmacologic pain relief measures and stepping up to epidurals only if needed; and applying the many available measures for promoting labor progress before carrying out cesarean section for “failure to progress.” Such protocols would require considerable change in many settings, but would lead to a notable reduction in the use of more consequential procedures and an increase in cost savings. Available systematic reviews also do not support the routine use of other common maternity practices, including numerous prenatal tests and treatments, continuous electronic fetal monitoring, rupturing membranes during labor, and episiotomy.”

I am by no means a proponent of natural birth. But the above recommendations make sense to me. I think what people tend to forget is that we are all paying for this. If someone is forced to use electronic fetal monitoring (as I was) and then charged several thousand dollars for it, everyone else has to pay higher health insurance premiums to cover that. Same deal with the "free" formula bag, etc. If you get your health insurance from your employer, they pay higher premiums and you get a little less salary as a result.

I believe that at some point, people should get upset not only that women aren’t allowed to make the choices that are best for them, but that you and me and everyone else foots the bills for interventions foisted upon women who don’t want them.

My personal views on what interventions should and shouldn’t be used are:
In all cases, a woman should have the right to use or refuse whatever intervention she wants.

If she wants to refuse any or all interventions and it’s necessary for her to sign papers accepting full liability, so be it.

If the woman’s care is being covered by health insurance, Medicaid or any other plan in which others contribute to the cost, an intervention she wants should be covered if it is statistically shown to be effective (Dr. Norman Hadler cites minimums of helping at least 5% if it’s a serious threat to her health, helping at least 20% if it’s minor). If it is not statistically shown to be effective, she should still have access to the intervention, but should pay for it herself.

In no cases should an ineffective intervention (such as electronic fetal monitoring) be forced upon a woman or a health plan.

A nurse commented on another blog that she’s on the receiving end of things gone wrong. She cited cases of three babies who died due to the mother trying to give birth at home. She said she supports any and all interventions if it keeps one person from death or serious injury.

It’s a noble sentiment to want to protect people. But I think what medical professionals forget is that it’s not their job to protect women from themselves. Of course, litigation against medical staff has probably forced them into this position (in addition to convenience and hospital profit). Therefore, I think that women who want to reject interventions need to be ready to waive any litigation. However, in the end, it’s a process happening to a woman’s body. Only she has the right to determine what she does and doesn’t want to happen to her as she goes through the experience of giving birth.

So what can you do:
Join Childbirth Connections Maternity Matters campaign

Find out the policies at your local hospital before you give birth. If you don't like them, lobby for change or take your business elsewhere and be sure to let them know you did so.

If you think women should have the right to give birth at home, lobby against the AMA's plan to introduce legislation banning home birth.

Any other ideas?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The inevitable shrinkage

Has occurred. My size E (yes, that’s right, E!) nursing bra had been feeling a little loose lately. When I took out a pre-nursing days bra for a special event this past weekend, a 34B, I found it fit. From an E to a B is quite a fall.

One part of me was disappointed. As a small-chested woman for almost 20 adult years, it was pretty fun to experience life as a big-boobed babe for a while. The experience lasted long enough (about a year and a half) to lead me to believe it could become permanent, that I’d never return back to little boob days. That bubble has been burst.

On the positive side, if my memory serves me right, the newly smaller versions don’t appear all that different from the pre-pregnancy days. Those frequent 2-4 hour nursing sessions don’t appear to have done permanent damage. I also see this boob shrinkage as just one more sign that I’m entering the end zone. Life just feels easier now. I’m nursing, but not that much. I sleep well on a regular basis. River is increasingly self sufficient. I’m increasingly comfortable in my role as mother. Now is the time where I’d be much more comfortable being away for longer periods of time. In an ideal world, 10-11 months would be my perfect maternity leave. My body is slowly moving back towards its normal form. I barely pump any more. I feel pretty confident that we’ll reach River’s first birthday still nursing. For me, anything beyond that is just bonus nutrition and bonding. If we make it to a year, we done good in my book.

I’m not entirely in the end zone yet. While I’ve lost 13 pounds since July (I suppose a decent chunk of that was boob weight), I still have another ten to go until normal weight. Among those ten is a big chunk concentrated in the hip and rear section. I recently attended a talk by a reproductive anthropologist, Peter Ellison. When asked whether it was true that breastfeeding helps women lose weight (not true in my case), he said that fat cells are needed for the production of milk. So the cells on the hips and derriere in particular are unlikely to disappear until nursing is over. I also still haven’t started menstruating yet. I’m in no hurry for that one and fairly curious to see how long it stays away. It’s been a nice 19 month absence!

My goal is to get back to my normal self by River’s birthday in December. I don’t know whether 10 ponds in under two months is very likely but I’ll do my best. I feel like I’m looking out the final portion of a tunnel, that while it hasn’t been a very dark journey, it is still brighter ahead. Yay!

When did you find your life beginning to return to normal after having a child/children? When did your chest size and cycles return to normal? Did some things never change?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It all changes with mobility

My nervousness at our flights this weekend turned out to be justified. I wouldn’t say River misbehaved. However, he Did. Not. Sleep. At all. And a little bundle of awake energy requires constant and creative entertaining to remain content with a very limited perimeter.

We did get an empty seat next to us on both flights. On the second flight, I was traveling with Mark and the flight wasn’t too full, so we got a whole row. On the first flight, I was traveling alone with River and had to fight like a crazy momma traveling with an infant to get that empty seat.

Upon check-in online, I changed my seat to the very last row to increase the chances of an empty seat. When I checked in my luggage, I checked with the agent and yes, it was still open. I asked her to tell anyone fighting for that open middle seat that they’d be next to a baby. I figured that would scare them off.

When I reached the gate, I checked again with the agent there (you can never be too sure). No! My middle seat was gone. The agent told me there were four middle seats open on the flight and I could ask a flight attendant to help me. Rows 7, 10 and 11 she told me.

I got on the flight carrying River strapped to my chest in his Ergo. One flight attendant gave me the evil eye. Another, an older gentleman, told me we’d have to wait until everyone was seated. He suggested I take my seat and he’d see what he could do. I knew they’d forget about me way back there in the back corner, so I asked if I could wait outside the plane until everyone was seated. Fine.

Until they told me there was a medical emergency on another flight and we had to leave asap to clear the runway. You must get on board I was told. OK, but how bout that empty seat?

“We don’t have time to deal with that!” the nasty lady said.

The kind man had already gone and asked someone if they’d be willing to switch seats. Score for the middle seat in row 7. But on the downside, we were smack in the middle of a sea of middle-aged male businessmen – probably not River’s biggest fans.

I tried my plan of attack. I stuffed him with as much food as he wanted to eat – a good 40 minutes worth. I ignored the disgusted look from the guy sharing our row as I cut grapes in half with my teeth, removed the halves from my mouth and fed them to River. I couldn’t help laughing when River later tapped the man while he was sleeping, causing him to visibly recoil from us.

All the rest of the guys were surprisingly good sports – even the silver-haired man ahead of us whose hair River couldn’t resist reaching out for. Breastmilk plus a bottle of formula failed to knock River out. He didn’t want to sit in the empty seat. So I could do nothing but entertain and entertain as I became especially conscious of the very limited square inchage of my lap in an airplane seat. I looked at my watch counting down the minutes until the end of the 3-hour trip.

I think I became overconfident after carting River through six states and four countries during his first six months. It seemed easy. If we could handle that, we could handle anything.

But the mobility changed everything. Even though he was relatively content staying within a prescribed area, there was too much to see and to explore to allow sleep. No sleep means no rest for parents – not even a listen to the ipod. And no sleep means River is tired upon arrival.

I can’t say I’m good at this yet. Below are a few tips I learned from my two flights, followed by what I’ve heard from others.

My tip: Figure out whatever your child needs to be content and bring this – plenty of it. In our case, it’s food. As much as I want to reduce the bulk, a solid food supply is essential.

My tip two: Check again and again and again to try to get that empty seat next to you. It is so worth it.

My tip 3: Try to schedule flights for the times of day with the highest likelihood of sleep, such as evening. Even if this doesn’t work (it didn’t, this time, for us) at least baby can get some sleep shortly after you arrive.

My tip 4: Connecting flights are looking more and more attractive these days. Short time in air plus time to run around at airport plus short time in air seems preferable to long time in air.

My stupid tip: Umm, don’t put the baby supply stuff you were going to bring on the flight into your check-in suitcase. Sadly, we did this on the return flight. We were lucky to have enough snacks and some formula in my backpack. We were lucky River took a pee for me in the toilet, allowing us to stretch his single diaper out for five hours use. We had to feed him formula from a Sigg water bottle, then from a bottle lent to us by a kind fellow passenger. Don’t follow in our shoes here.

Other tips I’ve heard from moms:
Suckers (dum dum pops) work magic once the kids are old enough for them, helping with ear popping via the sucking reflex and the sweetness keeping kids happy.

One friend told me of an organic oil a fellow passenger applied to the foot of her screaming young toddler that calmed the child immediately. It's called Gentle Baby and is made by a company called Young Living.

Other tips or suggestions are welcomed, appreciated, begged for. I was considering an overseas trip this winter, but unless I take an airline unpopular with Americans and snag a whole row (I’m considering that idea) I don’t know if I can manage 5-10 hours in the air. What travel tips do you have for flying with a 10-24 month old?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Experiment in co-sleeping

When I was pregnant with River, I didn’t have strong feelings either way about co-sleeping. I thought the security and warmth sounded good for parent/baby bonding. I also thought that the parents having some bonding time alone could be a good thing.

I ended up not having to think very much about the issue. River demanded to be held while sleeping for at least the first two months. While we traveled during his third month of life, we were able to substitute a carseat for arms. When we returned home near his third-month birthday, he accepted his co-sleeper for the first time. We moved it from the side of the bed to the foot of the bed so we could all sleep a bit better. Less than two weeks later, with River waking due to the smell of milk, mom waking with River’s sounds and movements and dad waking with River’s cries, we moved his co-sleeper to his own room about eight inches from our own. I felt a twinge of sadness and nostalgia, but realized we’d all sleep better. River didn’t seem to notice any difference.

Each step seemed to come naturally, at its own time, without any fights or resistance. So for six and a half months now, we’ve been sleeping in our separate rooms and all is fine.

Last night however we returned from a long trip that was rough on River. He had a cold and didn’t sleep while traveling. So when we returned at midnight, he was sick and exhausted and suffering. Our house was also cold and River’s room was the coldest.

We put him down and he cried. I brought him back to our room to feed. I hated the thought of putting him back into a chilly room, where even the heater doesn’t reach easily. So Mark and I decided to let him sleep with us.

Both Mark and I put in earplugs. Mark has done this ever since River was born. I don’t usually wear them. But I hoped that putting them in would reduce my reactions to his little noises that used to keep me up.

At first it was great. I loved having him in the crook of my arm. I loved the sound of his soft breath, his high-pitched cough, the feeling of his limbs beside mine. I loved keeping him warm and protected, of the whole family being together, safe and comfortable. I could see how people enjoy co-sleeping. I did, at least until I took my earplugs out.

Don’t ask me why I did it. It was during the middle-of-the-night stupor. Perhaps I became too comfortable and didn’t think River was making much noise. Perhaps I feared I wouldn’t hear an important little sigh. Maybe it was just annoying me to have things in my ears. In any case, I took them off and threw them under the bed. Once I realized my mistake, it was too late.

I couldn’t move. River was lying peacefully, his two balled fists over his face. If I sat up and tried to retrieve my earplugs, I’d surely wake him. Same thing if I went to the bathroom. So I held in the pee, for hours and hours, did without the earplugs, and ended up listening to River’s heavy breaths through a stuffed nose and feeling his twitches throughout the rest of the night. When he woke at 7 a.m., I was exhausted and so was he. I put him in his crib with a bottle and he slept a few more hours.

Tonight I’m glad to know that he’s safe and comfortable asleep in his crib. I’m looking forward to heading toward a large bed where I can move freely.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Good news for pregnant sweet tooths

A friend of mine forwarded me this study that should make pregnant sweets lovers feel a little better about their cravings. Women who ate high levels of chocolate during pregnancy had a better chance of having happy, smiling babies than those who ate lower levels of chocolate. Even if the woman was stressed out during pregnancy, if she indulged her chocolate cravings, her baby was less fearful of new situations at six months old than her stressed out compatriots who abstained. Researchers say it's possible that the chocolate consumption and happy babies might be related to a third, unknown factor. But they think that perhaps the chemicals in the chocolate resulted in positive mood changes in the mother passed on to the baby.

In my case, pregnancy brought on a sudden craving for Snickers and french fries. I continued eating at least one chocolate bar a day, probably more than one more often than I'd like to admit. I'd say River ranks very highly on smiliness, happiness and ease at adjusting to new situations.

So, if you are wavering between saving the calories and the caffeine from chocolate and making yourself feel better, indulging yourself might have positive benefits for baby.

How does your chocolate consumption or lack of it compare with the study results?

Vestiges of Racism

I’ve had racism on my mind this weekend. We’ve traveled to the Midwest to attend a wedding and to visit family.

The first negative situation came when my mom told me that my grandmother, her mother, will be voting for McCain. My grandma is a lifelong democrat and we share the bond of caring about social issues that the rest of our conservative-minded family rejects in favor of lower taxes. I was surprised and disappointed this spring when she rejected Hillary Clinton, saying that the Presidency is a job for a man. She supported John Edwards. I guess she meant the job is for a white man, because she’d rather change parties than to vote for Obama.

“Grandpa would turn over in his grave if he knew I was voting for a Republican” my grandma told my mom. It seems he’d jump even higher in his grave if she were to vote for an African-American or a woman for President.

I always knew my grandfather had some racist notions and I always appreciated that despite her upbringing, my mother was able to teach us to respect and value everyone regardless of their skin color. I hadn’t realized my grandmother was also racist.

“That’s why we never told anyone that Brian (my brother by adoption) is 25% Mexican,” my mom told me. “They wouldn’t have accepted it.”

A cousin of mine is now dating a woman of Hispanic origin. Everyone in the family seems to like her. Even my grandma said nothing but good things about her. But you never know what’s below the surface and that’s sad.

The next racist incident this weekend occurred during my dear friend Jessica’s wedding. She married a Vietnamese man named Luc who she has been dating for years. Luc’s parents immigrated from Vietnam, apparently with the hopes that their children would limit their choices of spouses to the small percentage of Vietnamese in the U.S. When Luc’s older brother married a Caucasian divorcee, he was banished from the family. Until the wedding yesterday, no one had met their five year old daughter.

At first it was thought that Luc’s parents wouldn’t attend the wedding. Then, not only the parents, but all the siblings agreed to attend. The whole family would show up in support for their son, which seemed a wonderful thing. The fact that they skipped the rehearsal dinner to go to the casino was probably not a good sign. But most disturbing of all was the parents behavior at the wedding. They didn’t show up for photos, they refused the flowers offered to them as parents of the groom, they greeted the mother of the bride only when she chased them down to introduce herself, they refused to speak English, and most hurtful of all to Jessica, they exited out a different door than everyone else so that they wouldn’t have to greet or acknowledge the bride. Of course, they didn’t come to the reception.

I think their treatment of her is the most blatant and direct racial discrimination I’ve ever seen. Yet while so much attention is paid to Caucasians discriminating against others (like my grandparents) this is an extremely open, accepting and welcoming Caucasian being discriminated against. I thought it was heartbreaking that her sister offered a kind toast welcoming Luc into the family, but no one from his side spoke welcoming her in.

Both she and Luc have overcome prejudices on either side of their families to love each other and build a life together. But it seems like their future children will face the same future as the five-year-old daughter of the banished brother – with no contact with the grandparents and uneasy relations with other relatives.

I want River to be able to love whoever he wants to. I want him to be able to build a family with a woman who loves and appreciates him. I could care less what color her skin is or where she comes from.

I try to take comfort in the fact that all of these people are old. My grandma is well into her 80s. Luc’s parents are grey and aging. I know that such attitudes aren’t dead among younger people, but I hope the prevalence is less. I hope that River can grow up in a world in which love of any and all kinds can be appreciated for the beauty and the happiness it brings. I just don’t understand the point of condemning people for loving.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Just yesterday I had the first inkling of what life with an active little boy might be like. I’ve been spoiled during the past few weeks in that I’ve been able to leave River to his own entertainment for little chunks of time. He still has no problem entertaining himself, only now his entertainment has suddenly picked up mischief. I think this correlates with his vast increase in mobility and physical confidence over the past few days.

Last night he pulled over the overflowing garbage can, dumping the contents onto himself and the floor. He didn’t seem to mind and went right for the empty pudding containers, probably hoping he could get a lick. I saw him grab the garbage can, saw him pull it toward him, but despite being only about two feet away, wasn’t able to get there before it fell.

Before the garbage incident, he got into a bag of onions and amused himself by pushing one across the floor, stopping every so often to try to eat it. After the garbage, he scooted over to the supply closet, opened it, and looked for something to pull out of there.

This morning, he stood up along the coffee table, turned my mug of tea upside down (it was no longer hot), then ran his hand back and forth through the liquid piling up at the table’s edge. This is going to be an interesting few upcoming months (or years?) to say the least.

At the same time I see he will soon have the ability to run our small house amok, I’m also at a very rewarding point of feeling I know him well. Last night I took the bottle Mark was feeding him away so that I could breastfeed him. River wasn’t very interested in breastfeeding, so I let him play. At eight on the dot, his usual bedtime, he began to fuss, indicating it was time for bed. I tried to feed him again, but he wasn’t interested. Normally, he’s milked to sleep. Since he was refusing the milk, I decided to put him in his crib without a bottle.

He cried and I came downstairs conscious that the crying wasn’t bothering me as it often does. I knew it was a fussy rather than a pained cry. I thought it wouldn’t last long. If it did last more than 10-15 minutes, I would have gone in and breastfed him in his room, when maybe he’d be ready to pay more attention. In just over five minutes it was quiet and he was asleep for the night. No feeding needed. Success. I knew what to do.

I am now the world’s foremost expert on River. Sometimes I feel sorry for him that almost every movement of his life is watched. But we try to watch with love and from our observations, learn what he needs.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Morning Rituals

Today I managed to get my butt out of bed at 6:30 a.m. for the first time in a long time. It seems like ages ago that River used to get up at 6 a.m. on the dot. Even as his wake-up time moved later, I’d still get up at six to pump before he awoke. But I haven’t been doing that for a while either Since I haven’t gone out of town since early August, I don’t need a lot of extra breastmilk filling up the freezer. And I admit I luxuriate in the sleep, staying in bed until River wakes me between 7:15 and 8:30.

I do remember though that once I pushed myself out of bed and down the stairs that I kind of enjoyed that post-pumping morning time. So I’ve been trying to get myself up earlier lately. But today was the first day I was successful. I thought about all the successful writers who pulled themselves up much earlier than 6:30 in order to write their masterpieces. There was no reason I couldn’t.

I probably had just over an hour to myself, but it felt like ages. I was able to make a cup of tea and actually drink it. I could sit in front the computer with a focus that I don’t have at other times of the day, when many things are competing for my attention. I got things done, I felt relaxed, I was ready and glad to greet River when he awoke. I hope I can get myself to do this more often.

River and I spent a relaxing morning taking a three mile walk, then attending the baby story hour at the library, where we saw some of our friends. I had allowed River to sit in the leaves along the trail we walked. I hadn’t realized they were wet. So his grey sweatpants and white socks filled with dirt. I thought about not going to the story hour since he was so dirty. But I decided to go anyway (removing the socks, since they were the dirtiest). I also got up the nerve to park our stroller outside the story room door instead of leaving it at the library entrance. The strollers form a line there as though it’s a baby-time train. Ours was the only one that didn’t look shiny and new. I’ve gotten over my feelings of inadequacy about that though. It works for us.

Now I’m trying to get ready for a flight I’ll be taking with River tomorrow. Mark will join us the next evening, so I’ll be traveling on my own. Flying in the past has been relatively easy. But now that River is more eager to be on the move, I don’t know how easy it will be to keep him in the seat for three hours. The flight leaves at 6 p.m., which is close enough to bedtime. I’ll feed him at the gate, have breastmilk and a bottle ready on the flight, and hope the combination of a full stomach and the plane’s movement will knock him out into tranquil sleep.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Could I Have Some Unbiased Advice Please?

I am starting to lose whatever faith I might have once had in the American Academy of Pediatrics. I think it’s really sad that the “preeminent” organization of pediatricians cannot be relied upon for unbiased advice on how to care for our children.

I came across this article today on CNN. As I read through, my thoughts were very skeptical. A sudden need to double the amount of daily vitamin D intake? Millions of kids needing to purchase supplements? What about spending more time playing outside? It seemed kind of ridiculous to me.

Then I got to the last paragraph, which reads, “Several members of an academy committee that helped write the guidelines have current or former ties to makers of infant formula or vitamin supplements.”

I looked on the New York Times, which has the same article, but without the informative disclaimer at the bottom. The fact that people who set the guidelines and the standards for our children’s health and nutrition have sold themselves to corporations, at the cost of parents’ pocketbooks and the health of children makes me very, very sad.

From what I understand from the current recommendations – you must buy sunscreen and that means you also have to buy vitamin D. Also, you must buy either formula or vitamin D.
On wikipedia, I read that the lack of vitamin D isn’t “a defect in the evolution of human breastmilk but is instead a result of the modern-day infant's decreased exposure to sunlight.” I also read that “a sufficient amount of ultraviolet in sunlight each day and adequate supplies of calcium and phosphorus in the diet can prevent rickets. Darker-skinned babies need to be exposed longer to the ultraviolet rays.”

Why isn’t anyone talking about the easiest and cheapest solutions – spending more time outdoors and using sunscreen only in very bright weather, making safe places to play outside, constructing sidewalks and bike paths so that people aren't tied to cars, eating foods that contain calcium and phosphorus as part of a healthy diet? Because these solutions wouldn’t make money for the baby industry, which unfortunately seems to be the AAP’s priority.

I wish I did have a source of professionals who could provide good advice in the interest of parents and children. But since I don’t, I’ll have to go on being an independent researcher so that I can make decisions in the interest of my son and not corporations. We’ll continue to take daily walks (15-30 minutes a day is enough Vitamin D exposure), we’ll eat milk products and fish, but I won’t purchase another bottle of vitamin D supplements.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

It's a Boy!

When I became pregnant last year (was it only last year?) I knew it was possible I could have a boy. The timing of conception led that way. I felt it would be a boy. But psychologically, it was hard for me to imagine anything but a girl.

Once I knew it was a boy, after I tried getting beyond the strange images of a penis growing inside me, I thought about the positives. With a girl, I’d be more likely to project my own experiences and my own development trajectory onto her. With a boy, since I didn’t have anything to go off of, I’d probably be more accepting. That would be a good thing because it meant I’d be less likely to be like my mother, less likely to encounter the years of adolescent fighting that characterized our relationship.

Since River appeared, we have bonded marvelously. I am head over heels in love with him. He seems to like me quite a bit, lately even preferring me to dad. I’ve started to understand the Russian women who coddle their sons to the point where these men expect the same from their wives. I’ve started to understand the overbearing mothers-in-law. I hope not to be like either, but I now empathize with where they are coming from.

Even though the adjustment has so far been easier than I expected, even though so far River and I have been able to communicate and more or less balance each others needs, I feel like there is still a lot I don’t understand about boys. So I picked up a book at the library called It’s a Boy – Understanding Your Son’s Development from Birth to Age 18.

It’s written by the psychologist Michael Thompson, the author of Raising Cain. The chapters are divided into age ranges: birth to 18 months, 18 months to three years, 3-4, 5-7, 11-13, 14-15 and 16-18. I don’t know whether or not I’ll make it through the whole book, since newer information might be available about teenagers 16 years from now. But I did read the part on birth to 18 months and a few months from now, I’ll return for the 18 months to three years section.

Probably the most useful fact I learned is the importance of early interactions with adults in determining the baby’s ability to attach and have good relationships with adults. Thompson says that 15 months is a safe marker. If a baby is well attached at that point, he is likely to relate to his parents and other adults in the same way at age six, and possibly throughout life. So far I’d say our attachment is pretty good. River’s needs are met quickly, he’s content and even-tempered. We feel lucky to have gotten a relatively easy baby and keep hoping he’ll keep this personality long-term. Only five more months to get an indication of what he will be like in the future. That’s exciting.

I also received reaffirmation of what I learned from the Buryats and what I intuited made sense. These people believe that no matter what you do, children are going to grow up anyway. They love and care for their children, but elders are higher in the order of respect and children are brought up to be obedient and respectful of their elders. Parents feel their job is to love their children, to help them, to be there for them (expecting assistance in return from their adult sons), but they don’t feel they can shape or mold their kids as so many Americans parents do.

This book confirmed both that parents do not mold their child’s development and that the fancy learning toys really don’t do anything that the world itself can’t do for a child.

Thompson tells readers they are not in charge of their son’s development. “Your son’s development will be his own to live, his to manage, his to determine,” he writes.

About the toys, he writes, “Every moment your son is awake he is learning as fast as he can and in the best possible way. He is doing it naturally, cultivating his intellectual curiosity and creativity through the joy of discovery. Your son is just as happy, and his neurons are just as happy, playing with a wooden spoon, shiny aluminum pie pans, colorful plastic bowls, or a clattering bundle of plastic measuring cups or spoons. Save your money – you’ll need it for pizza a few years from now.”

My husband has bought River three new toys – spending a total of $25-30. I’ve gotten him some things for free on freecycle, or cheap at garage sales, spending about $6 so far. I’ve visited friends’ homes who have spent more than our entire 10-month toy budget on a single toy. Yes, the $30 texture-rich ball my friend bought at FAO Schwartz was really cute. It did momentarily make us feel like deficient parents for not getting River anything that cool. It even made us want one for him. But I don’t believe that her son will be any smarter in the long run, or even appreciative of that purchase. It seems it’s more gratifying to the parents than it is helpful to the child.

We do have a couple of fun toys and I’m happy that River enjoys them. But I’m probably even happier when he is able to enjoy an autumn leaf with the intensity he does or to point repeatedly at certain objects that catch his attention or find joy in pushing a plastic doorknob cover across the floor.

River is in charge of his exploration of the world right now. All I can do is set the stage for a safe and varied experience. It may change as he grows older and wants to assert himself more. But for now, I’m happy to allow him to be the master of his universe. The love he shows for me is plenty of reward for the help I give him along the way. In the meantime, I look forward to see how this boy develops over the life cycle.

Does this information ring true to parents of boy? Any tips on what boys need from parents that is different from girls?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Ready Frugalista

“All over the web, people are talking about how to save money,” I said to my husband last night. “It looks like being frugal is starting to become cool.”

“You are going to enjoy this recession way too much,” he said.

No, I’m not going to enjoy it. I never like to see people face fear, uncertainty and deprivation. But I do think that learning to live within one’s means would be a positive thing for our culture and for our children.

I recall when I was living overseas and I’d come back to America. I’d sit in traffic in a little car completely surrounded by SUVs. I’d drive by box stores. The atmosphere felt to me large, suffocating, selfish (via the waste of gas and resources and the fact that the people in SUVs were putting the lives of people in small cars at risk so that their lives would be safer). In the past few years, with the rise of eco-consciousness, I’ve felt and seen the shift and it makes me more comfortable and happy to be here. Small cars are cool now, as is reusing items, even cloth diapers. I feel more accepted for who I am.

Cutting coupons might not quite be cool, but I think it’s getting there. I’ll actually be interested to see how the pressure to save money interests with the values-based spending (local, organic, etc.).

When I was in the dating world, I tried to hide my frugal tendencies. I thought it was dorky. My husband now says it’s actually pretty attractive. “No guy really wants a woman to want to spend all the money,” he said. I didn’t hide it too well though, since I showed up with a coupon giving us a discount on a horse and carriage ride in the Amish community we visited.

If anything, I’ve become less frugal since I met Mark. He didn’t have much to spend his income on, so he urged me to do what made me happy. He said I deserved to be treated. I learned to enjoy that feeling of a splurge, of feeling that I was worth it, that it was OK to spend money on myself. I no longer denied myself if I really wanted something. He convinced me to stop my monthly tracking of expenditures, to go with the flow.

That was all fine when we had two incomes. But I’m currently earning an average of $118 per month. So we need to be more conscious of our spending. This month we are tracking everything we spend and we’ll analyze it from there.

I welcome this opportunity because I think it will help us to return to a spending pattern based on our values. Before I met Mark, I identified health, education, charity and travel (because of the learning that takes place during travel) as my priorities for spending. I kept every other category to the minimum. I still have similar values. Only now I also value proximity to either work or the center of a community and quality food. I think Mark values a bit of comfort. So we’ll have to sit down and discuss our values and how that will impact our spending. I hope that River will see these values in action as he grows up and will embrace a spending pattern based on what our family deems important rather than peer or commercial pressures.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Wanting to Go Back to Work

I’ve been aching to occupy myself with something besides motherhood ever since River was six or eight weeks old. Luckily, Mark has been very supportive and despite the fact that I’m not bringing in any income, we’ve invested in the help of a babysitter so that I can write in the afternoons. It’s nice to have this time, but after months of no colleagues, no bosses, and no deadlines, I feel like I’m not accomplishing as much as I should in this period of time.

I did finish up one book and I’m getting close to finishing another, so I’m not a total sloth, but I feel like I could do more. I miss the community of colleagues, of discussions, of helping each other do better, of the pressure of having to show one’s work to others.

When I visited New York recently, I came out of the bus station and my first thought upon seeing the hustle and bustle is that I wanted to be part of the world’s operations, I wanted to be hooked into the activity.

I did have the chance to recently. I applied for a job I knew I was overqualified for. But it sounded interesting and was close to home. I’d also heard the employer was flexible, which would help with my concerns about balancing work, family and personal life. When the employer showed interest in me, I asked for part-time and a higher salary than they mentioned during the interview (but within the range for the position as advertised).

I probably would have gotten the job if I hadn’t requested less hours and a higher salary. It was a bummer to not get it, but I figured I’m not that desperate yet.

I know many women work full-time, including some of my friends. But it seems to me that between full-time work, commuting, taking care of baby/child and maintaining a marriage, what really falls through the cracks is the female’s personal time. I want to include personal time into my pie because I value having time to exercise, to cook healthy foods, to learn, to travel and to write.

I’m also looking at some employment or study options that are more intriguing and exciting, but less likely to be close to home or flexible. I’m grateful to have options, but I’m feeling stressed at trying to find the right balance between bringing in an income, finding professional fulfillment, having time for my family and having time for myself.

My new neighbor, a wonderful 40-year-old English woman and a mother to three school-aged children, told me to hang tight for the right job. She has been working 25 hours a week in England and thought that was a good balance.

Mark and I discussed it last night and I will hang tight, at least until January. In the meantime, I need to start making more of an effort at looking into options and figuring out what I’d really like to do. One positive note is that I sold an essay this week for $600 (yay)! That brings my earnings for the past 5.5 months to a grand total of $650, or $118 a month.

It’s at times like this that I really wish I lived in Canada or Europe, where women can stay home for a year or a few years and be guaranteed their job afterwards. Where they receive some financial benefit while they are not working so they aren’t so stressed about income. Where state-subsidized daycares exists for toddlers, reducing the horror of having to pay high rates for more than one child at a time (this seems to me, a good possibility why many women don’t work. I have a friend who, after staying home over three years, has recently put her two toddlers in daycare at a cost of $3,000 a month! And she’s now, unsurprisingly, pretty desperate to find a job. I have a happier Canadian friend who has been out of the Canadian foreign service for over five years – one year to pursue a Master’s degree and four years to raise her two young children. She can return next year, after six years out, and resume her career right where she left off.) That promotion of both the family and women’s professional achievement, is what I think a good society should aspire to.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Flying with Small Infants

A friend of mine is going to take her nine-week old baby on her first flight this week. Since we took River on his first flight at just over two months old, then continued to subject him to more flights – as well as train, bus, cable car, boat and car rides – she asked me for advice on how to ease the travel stress.

My number one tip – which probably counters the standard advice of make sure you bring this and that – is REDUCE THE CRAP TO THE ABSOLUTE MINIMUM. Travel is much easier if you are able to focus on baby and her needs rather than how you are going to lug or carry all the junk you have with you.

This is my super-light packing list for plane travel with a young baby:

Couple of diapers
A travel pack of wipes (you could skip this if you want and use wet paper towels
from the restrooms instead)
One change of clothing
An extra bib or two if baby is still spitting up
A blanket if you think it’s necessary
All of the above can go in whatever carry-on you are using for yourself. No extra diaper bag is needed.

Travel equipment:
A really lightweight frame stroller (we had the Graco SnugRider) with an infant carseat gives you maximum ease of portability and you are also set for vehicle travel at your destination. You can roll this through to the gate. If there is an extra seat available, you can take the carseat on board. If not, you can check the whole thing at the gate. If you don’t need a carseat at your destination, then a baby carrier (BabyBjorn, Ergo, etc.) works well but you’ll have to keep baby on your lap on the plane.

If you are breastfeeding (which I think is just fine at airports and on airplanes) you don’t need anything. If not, I haven’t had any trouble bringing milk (either breast or formula) through security, even in large quantities. Pumping in the airports can be a real pain (except at Minneapolis/St. Paul). Bringing breastmilk in a small cooler/carrier would be easier than pumping. For formula, Enfamil (and perhaps others) has little handy travel packs of powder. You can add water to a bottle plus one packet for each 4 ounces you need. Using these lightens the weight since you don’t need to carry the water.

Tips besides packing include:
If you are self-conscious about breastfeeding, go for a window seat and put your travel companion (if you have one) next to you.

If you choose your seat online, look for seats with the highest likelihood of not having someone sit next to you. It’s worth it to sit in the back if you are able to get a free seat for baby. When you check in, ask again to see if there are two seats open together so that the baby could have one.

Any other travel with baby veterans able to offer advice to my friend?
Photo: first flight - 2 months and one week old.

Really good sale

I don't get anything in return for posting this. A friend passed along news of this sale today and it's so good (good enough that I actually spent money on new clothes when I generally believe in using secondhand) I thought I'd pass it along.

Talbots Kids is closing their kids division. So now, the infant and kids clothes available online is on clearance - big clearance, like 75% or more off. Go to and click on outlet. If you enter the code "CHARMING" upon checkout, you'll get an additional 20% off your order.


Monday, October 6, 2008

He's alive!

Don’t you think that by the time my son is almost ten months old, I would have realized that by now? But the truth is that I still have surreal moments in which I stop whatever I’m doing, awestruck by his presence.

One year ago, he was alive only as part of me. A year before that, he was non-existent. It blows me away that within such a short time the cells have grown and the synapses connected, the bones formed, the organs functioning, the teeth and the hair beginning to come in. Somehow, all of us who were alive before him had been able to live without his smile, without his laugh, without his hugs or wet kisses. We were missing out though.

River and I have recently gotten to a point that seems highly interactive to me. He can point to things he’s interested in, he reacts to things I do, we can enjoy things together. This weekend, sitting side-by-side with him at a bench at the bagel shop, I felt like I was having breakfast with my buddy.

My buddy, my friend, a little person. A person? Wow.

Finding Time to Get Something Done

What do you know – we seem to have reached the stage where it’s possible to get something done and have a baby underfoot. Perhaps I’m reaching this realization late. My husband doesn’t seem to have any problem doing what he wants to do while he’s on baby duty. But I don’t like River to feel as though he’s losing out on attention.

River doesn’t mind not being the focus of attention though if he’s fixated on something that’s important to him. This morning, after breastfeeding him and giving him some time with dad, I put him in the highchair for breakfast. Here’s a tip – if you want some time to get things done, try a day-old bagel. I gave him a chunk of day-old high-fiber power bagel that I’d purchased for myself but didn’t get around to eating. He likes it, but it was chewy and getting a little firm. So it took a long time for him to gnaw on it.

While he was busy, and safe in his chair, I managed to sort through his clothes, get rid of everything under size 12 months, bring up some bigger clothes from the basement, sort through them, and put some of them away. We received a ton of clothes from a woman who had clearly spent a lot on her two boys, then ended up having a girl for her third child and wanted to get rid of the stored clothing. It’s fun to bring up a new box and see what surprises are there. I enjoyed finding a black sweatshirt with glow-in-the-dark letters that read Boo! It should work well at Halloween time.

I fed River some yogurt, cleaned him up and took him to the bathroom. The one downside of letting breakfast drag on for well over an hour is that he doo-dooed in his pants. It was worth it this morning though.

Then I gave him some free play time, and again I was able to pick up and arrange things while he moved around. When I wanted to do something on the computer, I let him play in the exersaucer in the office.

Usually our mornings are taken up by the eating routine and then a long walk with the stroller. I missed out on my exercise this morning, but was really pleased to realize that it is possible to get a couple of things done with a baby underfoot. I can’t imagine doing anything that required concentration or analysis, except when he’s sleeping, but this still helps.

What tricks have you found to occupy your kids so that you can get things done?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

What is it about the poop

that makes it more enticing than an entire roomful of toys strewn across the floor?

We came home from a long afternoon of errands. I put River on the potty, he pooped, I was proud of him. After getting him back in a diaper and his clothing, I left the room for 2-3 minutes. I returned as soon as I heard what sounded like the potty being dragged against the floor.

He had pulled the wipe out of the potty, as well as a bit of the poop. He had poop on both of his hands and was clearly entranced by the small piece on the floor. A bevy of colorful toys surrounded him, but the poop was far more interesting. I’m afraid I don’t understand what the attraction is.

I'll have the same thing as baby

My mother-in-law recently sent me this article from the New York Times, saying that we are in the vanguard of parenting. If I’d known it was newsworthy to feed a baby the same food I eat, I would have written an article myself!

Like the author, we’ve been feeding River the same food that we eat (minus refined sugars or white carbohydrates) since he was six months old. I started with the slow introduction of cereals at four months, then vegetables per current guidelines. Then I met baby Mirena and her parents and saw she was already eating bananas with avocado. At around the same time, I read an article, which told of an Indian woman living in America who ignored most of the U.S. guidelines and had a 13-month old son with very sophisticated tastes who was happily munching on a raisin, walnut bread in a NYC cafĂ©.

I began to think that small children in other countries eat very spicy food and they must get used to it from a young age. I thought how the extreme pickiness I hear of seems to be largely a U.S. phenomenon and wondered if the bland early diets encouraged a taste for bland foods later on. I realized that River wasn’t at particular risk for allergies. And should he have a reaction to any dish I’d serve him, we could narrow it down to 3-4 ingredients and figure it out from there. I no longer saw the need to introduce things one at a time.

We had used spices since the beginning of the non-cereal foods – carrots with ginger, green beans with basil, peas with mint. So I just ramped it up a notch and started to puree (in a food processor or blender) whatever I was making. Early on he had turkey and blackeyed pea soup with collard greens. He loved a chicken, kale, tomato and corn tortilla casserole. He goes bonkers over borscht. Spaghetti squash with a beef and pancetta tomato sauce – yum! When I was eating spicy palak paneer and didn’t have his food ready yet, he ate mine eagerly rather than wait. He eats collard greens with red pepper, is comfortable with garlic and onions and has even had a taste of jalapenos.

Just in the past week or two, he has begun to reject some items – sweet potatoes and squash that he liked before, pureed roasted vegetables that he ate happily whole. I began to worry. I would really, really like to avoid having a picky eater. My husband (who had a very limited diet over many years of childhood) won’t eat anything that’s been touched by vegetables and refuses most fruits, no beans, baked or mashed potatoes and is unexcited by wholegrains. He has plenty of wonderful qualities and I know a picky eater is not the worst thing that someone could be. But it does make it very hard for us to eat together, and very boring for me to have to eat the same pot of soup day after day after day. It’s been wonderful to be able to share things with River.

I finally realized that River’s rejection was not coming from the taste, but that he’s getting sick of purees. I was giving him whole foods as snacks or desserts, but I tried to incorporate them into the meals.

On Friday night I made a chicken with vegetable tangine for guests. For River’s next two meals, I mashed the vegetables from the tangine (spiced beets, parsnips, potatoes, olives, eggplant, garlic, raisins) only slightly with a fork, together with some cooked brown rice. He loved it. Today I was running errands with him over his lunchtime and didn’t have any baby food with me. We stopped at a restaurant and figured I’d share my meal with him. I ordered a cup of cream of spinach soup and alternated bites with him. He danced with excitement. Then I got some tilapia and filled him up on chunks of fish, eaten in bite-sized pieces. For dessert he had the lemon slice from my soda. It was a healthy meal for him, and easy for me – no advance preparation needed.

I’m crossing my fingers that River’s culinary openness continues, especially when he sees what daddy’s diet is. Since dad does recognize the importance of example-setting, I’m hoping he’ll also work on eating healthier when River is around. In the meantime, I’m thrilled to share my cooking with an appreciative audience and glad that River is able to gain a good amount of vitamins and minerals from his food.

For those of you who were more adventurous in what you fed your baby, did your child continue to be open to various foods as s/he grew older?

Photos: going after the couscous at 8 months and later the same day, lemon num-nums.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

It Never Hurts to Ask

Enfamil has a new formula, Next Step, that the company is trying to market to 9-24 month olds. It seems like a smart plan from a corporate perspective – get the babies on it during the last three months they need formula, then convince the parents to spend the money on formula for another year.

The company recently sent me a $7 formula check to try to get me hooked. Since I’ve yet to spend over $8 on any formula in this country, a $7 check wouldn’t get me to buy it. I knew other people who had received samples of the formula. I wondered why I hadn’t.

So I contacted the company and asked how I could request a sample. A few days later, a 13 ounce can is here. It just happens that today I also found 13 ounce cans of Similac on clearance at my local drugstore for $3.99 each. With just over two months to go, we’ll definitely make it through River’s first year with a total formula expenditure of about $100.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Business of Being Born

I finally picked up a copy of the DVD The Business of Being Born, a film that was recommended to me both by a doula and by a babysitter. It’s a film initiated by Ricki Lake, who found her at-home midwife-attended second birth much more fulfilling than her first standard, hospital birth. In the film, she calls attention to the problems facing obstetric care in the U.S. and seems to promote giving birth at home.

The points she made that I agree with are:

  • Being in a hospital can make one feel like they are on a timeline. I felt this both in the process of giving birth (I felt pressure to give birth before the staff shift change at 7 a.m.) and in the discharge (I didn’t feel ready to go home when they thought I should leave). Having a doula there definitely helped me to reject suggestions (such as breaking my water early on) that would have speeded things up without a clear benefit.

  • Technology is often used because doctors think the high-tech things are cool, not necessarily because it’s helpful to the mother or child. Case in point – electronic fetal monitoring. For more details, check out the good book A Thinking Woman’s Guide to A Better Birth.

  • One intervention can lead to another. I think this is true especially if one isn’t careful. But if you are careful, and especially if you have a trained advocate with you (in our case, a doula) this doesn’t have to be true. I had the epidural, but no pitocin or other inducing drugs (as the movie says is common with an epidural), nor a caesarean. I did have an epiosiotomy, which I didn’t want, but the doctor didn’t give me much of a choice. Soren was a big boy (8 pounds, 10 ounces and 21.5 inches) and I’m not so big down there, so I guess overall I’m impressed I got him out at all.

  • Doctors are not trained in seeing what a natural birth looks like. This I think is unfortunate and I hope doctors who care will voluntarily seek out this experience.

Points I disagree with:

  • While it’s true that the medical establishment can push women into choices they don’t want, if you prepare for this in advance, you are not entirely helpless. I thought having a doula with us helped immensely. Discussions with the doctor were also of some use. I’d asked him about a “birthing bar” which goes over the bed, so instead of pushing lying down, I was sitting up and had something to grab on to. I was ready to do what I could to avoid induction. Unfortunately, the promise made by my doctor to not force me to use electronic fetal monitoring with the epidural went against hospital policy and was not honored. I learned that next time, I’d have to speak to the hospital admin and the anesthesiologist ahead of time.

  • Natural birth is made out to be beautiful and possibly comparatively easy. While I had an epidural, I felt a heck of a lot of the natural elements – several hours before the epidural and everything during the pushing. Most people I speak to who did it naturally usually say that they did ask for an epidural at one point. I’m sure that overcoming that pain makes one feel strong and I admire them for doing so. But the pain is intense, hard, horrible. I don’t think it’s wrong to ask for relief if it’s needed. I also think the film failed to bring up the risk of tiring oneself out from excessive pain, and needing a c-section because there is no energy left to push (I know someone who had this circumstance).

  • I recognize problematic cases are the minority, but I think the difficulty of transferring from home to a hospital at a critical point is underestimated. I live about six blocks from the hospital, an easy 15 minute walk from my house. When I went to the hospital, around six hours after labor began, I was in so much pain I didn’t know how I could possibly endure the ride there. I also had great problems remaining seated. The ride was extremely, extremely uncomfortable. My husband was thanking the stars that I didn’t chose another hospital I was considering one hour away. And I don’t think I was any more than three centimeters dilated. In the film, viewers see a ride to the hospital and it’s not pretty in her case either.

I do like the idea of a home birth. I wish it was possible to have a home birth plus an epidural-like medication. My sister-in-law had one baby in a teaching hospital and another with a midwife in water. She said the second was more painful, but less traumatic.

When I look back on my birth experience, I do feel a certain sense of trauma. It was scary and bloody and painful and I didn’t feel entirely in control. But I don’t know that I could or would want to handle any more pain than I did. And because I was strep-B positive, I needed an IV no matter how I gave birth unless I wanted to put my child at risk. Though the film makes me wonder whether doing without the epidural would have made me feel better at the end, I wouldn’t want to be the place of Cheryl Strayed, the author of an essay in the current issue of Brain, Child magazine. Because she felt an epidural could put her baby at risk, she gave birth at an off-site location and went through 42 hours – 42 hours! – of natural labor to give birth to her just-under-11 pounds baby. Thank God she said she “truly suffered’ during her non-intervention birth, “literally..ripped apart at the seams” or I would really feel like a wimp.

Thinking back on the experience, if I had to do it over again, things I would do the same are:

  • Having a doula or midwife, especially if giving birth in a hospital
  • Having my husband sneak food in
  • Avoiding induction and drugs to speed up labor

The main thing I would do differently would be to speak to the hospital administration and anesthesiologist ahead of time, though I know that wouldn’t be easy. From the anesthesiologist, I’d like to know what the drug combinations are and what effect they will have. Those last couple hours in which I felt everything were probably the most traumatic part (in large part because I thought the major pain was over). From the hospital administration, I’d like to know what rules are and aren’t negotiable. I wasn’t happy to be forced onto the electric fetal monitoring, nor was I happy that they wouldn’t let me have my placenta (it’s my body part and I don’t see why they should have the right to sell it to cosmetic manufacturers). I had wanted to copy the Vietnamese tradition of planting a baby’s placenta in the yard of its first home, so it will always have a place to come back to.

In sum, I appreciate Ricki Lake bringing up the subject. I feel like it’s one that not talked about. By the time a woman looks into these issues and begins to think about it, she’s probably already pregnant and doesn’t have a lot of time for advocacy. I wish the film had brought up suggestions for advocacy, things women can do beyond having a home birth that will ensure greater choice for and respect for women in childbirth.

I think the most critical change needed to improve the care women and babies receive is for the medical establishment to loosen strict regulations (if this means signing something absolving them of any responsibility, so be it), for doctors to learn about how birth works naturally, and for hospitals, staff and insurers to give women the freedom to make their choices and deal with their labor on their own timeline.

I think having a caring person at the side of a laboring woman during the entire labor would be a good start. In Spain, a midwife goes through the birth with a woman in the hospital. A doctor comes in only when needed. It seems the perfect combination of trained support and medical attention. A doula can provide the same support in the U.S., but they might not receive the same respect from the doctor as midwives do in Spain. And you need to arrange for them yourself.

I also think it’s important for women to not be thrown out into the abyss of the unknown after birth. In England, midwives stop by and visit the mother at home several days after the birth. This is done for every family under the national healthcare. The mother is able to ask for advice and assistance. And it’s paid for by public funds because it’s deemed important that infants are well taken care of early on and that mothers are helped in doing this. Because of the realities of the U.S. health care system, the success of these things changing will probably be tied in to the possibility of a nationalized health care system – where people are treated as people and not as profit-making patients.

Just thinking back on the experience of birth, just watching the movie, brings up so many emotions – fear, anger, joy, pain, wonder. There really is something to be said for women feeling a bond with others who have gone through the birth experience. No matter how someone chooses to go about it it’s a life transforming experience.

I feel like it’s so hard to know what to do during a first pregnancy because one can’t know exactly what it’s like or what your individual experience will entail until you’ve been there. For those who have given birth, how satisfied were you with your choices? What would you do differently if you were to do it again?

Writing this post motivated me to look at the video my husband shot immediately after birth for the first time. It took me almost ten months to look at it because reliving those moments was just too scary. River is lying on my chest, I continue to pant and to cry out, even after it’s over. I look at him as a strange, heavy weight suddenly upon me. I say owie, because it still hurts down there and still will for some time to come. In all the photos from his birthday, I look awful – puffy faced, shocked. I also see a photo of him on me and blood and guts still dripping out of my lower region. I understand why the Kyrgyz don’t allow men to accompany women in childbirth for fear that they will no longer be attracted to their wives. I respect and appreciate my husband for being there, for holding up and for still finding me attractive. I think it was enough to subject him and the other people with me to that though. So this video is not of the birth, but within the first hour afterwards.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Parenthood Blogging

Around the time I decided to start a blog on the motherhood experience, I also thought it would be helpful to find some other parenting blogs to read – to see what others are doing and how they are getting through the trials and joys of parenthood. Given the huge numbers of parents out there, I thought it would be easy to find some good stuff. I was wrong.

I have sorted through hundreds of blogs in order to find a couple worth reading regularly. I went to Technorati, looked at the blogs under parenting and copied the top 200 or so. Out of those, I liked only about five of them. And most of the ones I liked were at the bottom of the popularity list.

What I am looking for in a blog?
1. Honest, intelligent and insightful writing
2. Not a laundry list of I did this or child did that
3. A focus on sharing information or experiences rather than a focus on trading links, gaining a larger audience or appealing to the masses.
4. A voice I can trust rather than someone beholden to sponsors

I think it’s number 3 that turned me off of so many of the blogs. Technorati rates blogs by “authority” by counting the number of blogs that link to that particular blog. So in an attempt to get more links, more authority and more readers, blogs find all ways to get people to link to them. Ie. put a link to my blog on your blog and leave a comment and you’ll qualify to win A, B or C. Number 4 often becomes an issue after a blog has reached number 3. Once they have become popular, they are able to attract sponsors and their posts may begin to spend more time advertising than providing quality information.

I also suppose that the more popular a blog becomes, the more the blog owner is pressured to appeal to the masses, which can mean refraining from stating unpopular opinions or fearing to criticize something some of the readers believe in.

Here are the blogs I’ll be checking in at in the near future.

All and Sundry
Ask Moxie

Crunchy Domestic Goddess
Frugal Fu
Her Bad Mother
Suburban Bliss: Birth Control via the Written Word
Unruly Scrawl
Velveteen Mind

I’d love to find others, especially among the less popular blogs. If you have a favorite, please share.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Living Life as a Poem

“You know I think the tendency of one’s life is to harden into commonplace living. We ought to struggle against it, for surely the world about us is a living poem, and every one has the power to make life a living poem or else a dead letter.”

This is a quote from Anna Leonowens, of The King and I fame, to her daughter in 1880. I came across it in an excellent biography I just finished of Anna called Bombay Anna.

I love this quote firstly because it shows the character this woman had. This was a woman who adventured around the globe, finding success for herself and her children, at a time when it was rare for a woman to do so. I admire her curiosity, her intellect, her adaptability.

I also feel a certain kinship with her. I share her desire to question social norms, to travel the world, to learn and to write. It was a fear of the commonplace, of the boring routine of the lack of challenge of living where I knew and understood how everything worked that drew me overseas and kept me going back.

Now that I have a 9-month-old child and a husband, I’m tied to my home country in a way I never was before. I can still travel, and I have, even with baby. But it’s more difficult for me to live overseas for long periods. I’m at much greater risk for hardening into commonplace living.

I thought I’d be unhappy living in a small town where I rarely see anything too surprising when I walk outside. During my first few months here, while pregnant with River, I wasn’t very happy. I did appreciate a lot of things – the gyms, the safety, the length of the colored-leaf season. But I also felt bored.

Now that River is here, I’m surprised to find that I don’t mind living here too much. A trip to someplace new every couple of months helps. But I think what helps most is River’s ability to remind me of things I long since stopped noticing. The way he finds newness in the commonplace is similar to what I found by landing in a foreign land. By seeing this place through his eyes, I can once again appreciate the excitement of a door lock, a 7-month old withered balloon, a leaf, a man cutting tree limbs hanging over the road.

That said, I am concerned about how I’ll continue to live a living poem. River is a big part of my poem for now, a beautiful lyric song. I appreciate the nature that surrounds me, my family, the people I’ve met, the details of a sprig of flowers or the construction of a church. However, to fully live out a poem, I know I need to be involved in the issues that drive me – poverty alleviation, economic development, equality, social policy, literature, health. I have to find a new way to contribute my skills to the world, to live and to learn, to be a good mother and to feel fulfilled. I have to remember that life offers far more beyond the commonplace and it's up to me to find a way to grasp it.