Saturday, June 27, 2009

the dichotomy of motherhood

Mark has abandoned me for the comforts of a home bed. I told him that if he was leaving, he should take River with him. If River slept at home in his crib, both Mark and I would have the chance for a good night’s sleep. They’ll be back early tomorrow morning for another day of fun.

So, now I find myself alone in a tent at a campground. I hear a young woman singing to the accompaniment of a guitar, the flicker of flames, the sound of childrens’ voice, the night-time sounds of the forest. And I feel torn in two.

When they first left, I immediately felt an intense longing for River. I saw his clothing in my suitcase, came across his cheerios in my backpack. Each object I saw made me miss him, despite his being gone only minutes. Yes, he keeps me on my toes. Yes, I’ve been tired over the past few days, physically as well as emotionally. But at the same time, I’m enjoying the job.

Shortly before they left, I had the challenge of talking River out of eating a rock and instead, throwing it on the ground. Could I talk him into doing it himself so that he’d understand, so that I wouldn’t have to grab it away, so that he wouldn’t scream? It took a while, but I succeeded. And that felt good. I’m constantly being forced to grow with my child, to help him in his latest stage of development. Sometimes it’s difficult, but it’s not too threatening. Overall, he’s affectionate and shows his love for me. Unlike with a teenager, I don’t have to worry about him hating me for the long-term. Even if he gets upset, I know that within a few minutes, we’ll be on good terms again. This is a very forgiving way of allowing me to test out my role as a parent, without the threat of real rejection. I thrive on both the challenge and the expressions of love.

At the same time, what joy to roast marshmallows at leisure without having to look up every few moments to make sure that River is not running down a road with a car coming toward him. How nice to read a magazine, then a book. To luxuriate in a hot shower without him underneath me. To have quiet time alone, in a forest, in a tent that really, is a tight fit even for two adults.

At the same time, I miss his energetic little body crawling across the small space, forever seeking and exploring. How can I miss him and long for him so intensely, and at the same time, be so grateful for this time alone? One other wish would be a quiet evening with Mark in a tent in the forest. For that, I’ll have to hold out until our vacation later this summer, when we’ll be leaving River with my parents for two weeks.

I suppose this is the unresolvable dichotomy of motherhood – the child forever in ones heart and thoughts together with an ongoing need to live an independent life as one’s own person I feel lucky to have the love that makes my heart ache this way. At the same time, I wish I could draw a clearer line between my life as a mother and my own time, and not feel guilty as I’m living out one role or the other.

Have you found a good way to deal with this dichotomy?

disposables on the road trips

After our last weekend out of town, we decided that on future road trips, we were going to use disposable diapers. Yes, River puts a lot in the potty, even while traveling. And yes, he rarely poops in his diapers these days. However, the pee that does go into the diapers can be copious. Even stored in the trunk, it doesn’t take long before the whole car stanks something terrible. I feel bad about adding to the landfill, but we’ve gone 15 months using almost no disposables and we will only use them occasionally, and for short-term periods.

So before we went camping, I added disposable diapers to the shopping list. Yikes they are expensive! Since it had been so long since we’d used them, I’d forgotten. I could get a 30-pack of Shoprite store brand diapers for $7.99, or I could spend about $20 for a 70-pack of Pampers on sale.

What to do? I recalled that while traveling with River when he was two months old, the store-brand diapers leaked. Mark refused to use them and had a strong preference for Pampers, regardless of how much they cost. But the 30-pack of Pampers was $15. I didn’t want to pay twice as much.

So I ended up buying the Shoprite brand, hoping they would hold up. So far, so good. He has yet to poop in them (all poos have gone in the potty), but they hold the pee well, even on overnights. The sizing is generous, which also helps. I bought the 27+ pound size. Even though he’s over 30 pounds and has a big rear end, they are plenty big, so no leakage.

Just thought I’d share that Shoprite diapers do the job if you are in need of inexpensive disposables.

In the meantime, our Bumgeniuses were showing their signs of wear. The Velcro had gotten so worn that some of them were almost impossible to use. My friend who uses BumGenius isn’t having this problem, but she doesn’t put hers in the dryer. I found a woman willing to replace the Velcro for $1.50 per diaper. A few days later, she gave me the diapers back, I handed her $23 (the cost of buying 1.5 new diapers), and the diapers now work like new. Hopefully they will get us through the rest of the diaper stage. Looking back, I wish we’d bought a few less Velcro dipes and a few more snap ones since the snap diapers don’t show any signs of wear.

A nap in the woods

Right now, I look out ahead me of me and see a tent, then a portable crib. Mark is asleep in the tent and River is sleeping in the crib. We are on our first family tent camping trip. The experience of all sleeping together in a two-person tent last night didn’t work so well (see last post), but the naps, with each person in their own quarters, seem to be working well.

I love the thought of the fresh air and the breeze caressing River’s skin as he sleeps. I’m thrilled that the first thing he’ll see upon opening his eyes are the towering trees and the vast, fluorescent greenness of the leaves. I love that the chirp of birds and the gentle sounds of outdoor living make up the background noise to his dreams.

This might be one of those things that, when he grows up, he’ll complain about what we put him through. But for now, it makes me so happy to be able to surround him with nature. It’s a wonderful feeling to put so much of the world at his fingertips that over the course of a weekend, he neither needs nor misses toys

I have a strong need to spend time in nature, removed from the internet, from the phone, from the fast pace of life. Getting out here, clearing my head, feeling more in touch with nature, is pretty important to keeping myself whole. I hope that River will continue to develop his bond with nature, to find connection and peace with the world around him.

A failed experiment in cosleeping

While we slept with River for the two months of his life (often taking turns, so that one of us could get some quality sleep), from about three months on, we’ve all been happy sleeping in separate quarters. River sleeps 12 hours a night without waking up (and has done so for a long time) We get some personal time, as well as uninterrupted sleep

Still, there is the draw of a sleeping child, of the beautiful innocence lying by one’s side So, though I knew co-sleeping had not been a good thing for us in the past, I didn’t think it would be a big deal over a weekend

A couple of things I forgot:
1. Since we leave the room after putting River to bed, we don’t know exactly what his process of lying down and falling asleep is. Sometimes we know he has thrown his toys and/or bottle out of the crib. Sometimes we hear him talk to himself. Now we know the whole routine – a routine that does not work very well with two sleepy parents around. With parents around, it takes him a good hour to go down, even when it’s well past his bed time. He crawls across one parent, to the other, across them, back again. He knocks both parents in various areas. He reaches for whatever he can find (lantern, ipod) and plays with it. He drips milk from the sippy cup on mom. He laughs and giggles and talks to himself. It’s oh-so-sweet, but oh-not-so-sleep conducive. I put in an earplug (I lost the second) and put on an eye mask. I thought if we were quiet and didn’t respond, he’d eventually go down. He sat on my legs, like an armchair, and slid down them. He then stood up, sat down and repeated process four times. Only then did he finally assume the stomach-down position and fall asleep

2. One person’s nighttime twitches affect all. River ended up sleeping with his head on Mark’s legs. Mark didn’t want to wake him, so he was locked into a certain position for a long time, depriving him of sleeping. The insomnia that resulted caused him to twitch all night, searching for a more comfortable way to sleep. All the movement kept me up. So only River slept well.

3. While in the crib, he can wake up, then fall back asleep if there is no immediate attention; in a tent, mom and dad are aroused at his first babbling. There is no going back to sleep for anyone.

4. The black-out curtains really make a difference, especially in summer. With black-out curtains, River sleeps until 8 or 8:30. Without, only until 7, if that.

Mark ended up so tired that he is taking River the hour-drive home to sleep in a bed/crib this evening, leaving me to sleep alone in the tent. Initially, I was disappointed, as I was looking forward to the family time. But then I thought – hey, an evening in the forest alone, with the freedom to read and to write without interruption. Yippee!

I would like for us to be able to camp more often. Both because I need the connection with nature, and because we need to work on keeping expenses down and this is an affordable way to travel. Especially for this easy type of camping, where we pull the car up to the lot, I think we need to move up from the two-person tent to a sent that can accommodate a sleeping toddler and somehow put some space between parents and said toddler.

Can anyone recommend some good options?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

River can find his way home

The other day, we were headed home down the block. Without directing him, River turned in on the path to our house and headed up the front steps. It was so cool to think that he knew which house was his. Today, coming home from the opposite direction, he did the same thing.

Each little evidence of brain wiring is an exciting movement – from the first time he answered my question by bringing me a shirt when I asked where his clothes were, to his first correct verbal response, to various signs of memory. But for some reason, knowing where his house is really strikes me. At only 18 months, he already has both a sense of direction and of home. That makes me happy.

Can you like a friend but not their baby?

Recently, a dear friend visited from far away. She came together with her baby and spent several days with us. It had been years since I saw this friend and I was glad to see her, as well as to meet her baby. But as one day passed into the next, my friend and I caught up, we did lots of fun things, I didn’t find myself bonding with her baby.

The baby was skinny, squirmy, physically unstable and full of complaints. She’d smile occasionally, but never belly laughed, never seemed truly happy. She didn’t inspire an instinct to cuddle or to comfort. She screamed so much that even River got annoyed, screaming back at her as though to say “shut up!” She’d scream at him, as though to say, “Don’t tell me what to do!” and this wonderful symphony continued in the car for a good hour.

I felt bad that I didn’t feel a bond with this baby. I realized that perhaps it’s the wonder of nature that cause parents to bond with kids that others can’t feel the connection to. Mark thought that perhaps I was put off that my friend didn’t seem to bond with River – who probably seemed huge, massive and stocky in comparison with her baby.

On the last day, my friend put the baby in the pack and play, right in front of me, as I was trying to get some work done. She needed some time to pack. Very soon, the baby, who demanded constant attention, began to whine, then to poop, then to cry. With other babies, I might have picked them up, played with them, interacted with them. But with this one, I really didn’t have the inclination, terrible though that might be.

Perhaps, I recalled, this was why some of my friends didn’t rush to pick River up, to hold him, to spend time with him when he was young. Of course I expected them to because I thought he was wonderful. Perhaps the parent is unique in thinking their child exquisite while the rest of the world looks on dispassionately.

Have you been in a similar situation, where you love a friend, but feel no connection to their baby? How did you handle it?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Yikes, the toddler has appeared

I read in the helpful manual to boys, It’s a Boy, that 18-21 months is a common period for boys to declare their independence and separate themselves from their parents. I’d been seeing this independence for a while. But to date, it had been expressed in a friendly, loving way. He wanted a little more freedom, I granted it to him, he was happy, sweet, and kind.

But in the past week or so, since the MMR, a new phase has appeared. Now, he’s distinctly unhappy to hear no. He throws a tantrum a good 2-3 times a day – crying, arching his back, falling to the ground. One day he was so upset when I put him back in the stroller that he writhed until he fell out through the bottom of the stroller, hitting his head on the stroller. I had never strapped him in before because there was no need to. Until he started throwing tantrums.

This stage is even harder on Mark. Since River is currently showing a strong preference for mom (except when I’m not around, then he’s fine with Mark), Mark gets the tantrums without the love.

Parenting is a fascinating journey. Just when it becomes easy, just when you think you’ve got it down, they enter a new stage and everyone has to adjust again. It keeps us on our toes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


The result of the MMR was:
• A red rash that looks like measles on his knee and down the leg. This lasted more than a week.
• A reddened face
• Soreness, tiredness, crankiness.
• This may well be correlation, rather than causation, but just after the MMR began his first real angry temper tantrums.

After seeing the effects, it’s clear to me that it’s a powerful shot. I think even Mark wishes he could go back and separate the shots. I kind of wished my concerns would be proven wrong and that he would have no effects from the shot. Since that didn’t happen, I do regret that we got it, especially combined with tetanus (which is a painful one too). I’m glad we waited a little longer than usual. With a future child, I would try to separate it. Or at the very minimum, would not combine it with another shot.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Friends are having second babies already

Today I received a birth announcement from a pre-natal yoga buddy who had her first child around the time River was born. She had her second child this week.

She told me about her pregnancy at River’s first birthday party, as did another friend with a child of the same age (she’ll give birth next month). A third friend, whose son is one month older than River, is also expecting. At the time that I found out about the first two pregnancies, I felt a slight quiver of jealousy, as well as being happy for them. There was a short period around the end of breastfeeding where I was willing to take a risk. I knew that getting pregnant then wouldn’t be ideal, but I figured we’d managed.

Now I want to thank the stars that I didn’t risk too much. I can’t imagine having a second child right now. I can’t imagine going through pregnancy and childbirth again anytime soon. Things are now just becoming fun and easy. I’m enjoying it. My body is mine again. I have no desire to either suffer the physical discomforts of pregnancy, nor to deny River the individual attention I can give him at this exciting stage of discovery in his life.

I’d like more children in the future, but it’s more of a distant wish. Right now, there is no immediate urge, even when I see baby pictures. It’s nice to be present within myself, for Mark and for River. I like the balance I now have.

Did you experience a longing for another child? How long after you had your first?


Ever since River’s miserable two-month checkup, when he got five vaccines at once and had the worst day of his life, we’ve been getting only one shot at a time. I’ve read the evidence citing that MMRs are not linked with autism. However, I still wanted to separate it. I’m still concerned about possible immune system overload and I figured since we have the time and the money, we might as well play it safe.

Since River is now a strapping little toddler, I thought we could move up from one shot per visit to two. So when Mark took him for his 18-month checkup today, I suggested he get two shots, but only one live one.

I thought he might get measles as the live one. Instead, poor River came home having receiving the MMR (!!) and tetanus. Mark said it was the worst experience of his life having to hold River’s arms and legs down on the table, having to see the tears flow and the look of betrayal in his eyes that dad would allow such pain not only once, but twice. I’m sad that he had, in effect, four vaccines in one day. He’s sleeping them off right now and I’m crossing my fingers that there will be no effect.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A surprise find

In digging through the freezer, I came across a surprising discovery – six bags of frozen breastmilk. The sensation was one of weirdness. That is my body fluid in the freezer, I thought. How strange.

I remembered back to the days of collecting and storing it, of stressing about it, of managing my life around it. It seems like another era entirely.

Overall, I’m glad I did it. When we saw other babies develop crawling, walking and speech skills more quickly than River, we thought he was going to be of average intelligence. But lately, we’re seeing signs that perhaps he might be smart after all (he has very high levels of empathy). If breastmilk does in fact add up to five IQ points, I’m now thinking those will come in handy.

At the same time, I’m so glad it’s over. It’s so nice to not have liquid leaking from my breasts. It’s so nice to not have to attach myself to a machine. It’s great that anyone can meet River’s need for nutrition and I no longer need to plan my life around it.

However, remembering how much work it took to get that stuff out, I wasn’t about to throw it away. Who knows how old it was – a year? More? Less? I figured he’d reject it if he didn’t like it. But, like usual, he didn’t react at all. Sustenance is sustenance and he doesn’t seem to care whether it comes from a breast or a cow or a can.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Just another reminder to look beyond our borders

Quoted from the book Free-Range Kids:

“What we think of as normal child rearing is not the way a lot of other countries do it. And activities we consider far “too risky” for our kids do not make the smallest blip on other countries’ risk radar screens. Even the ones rich enough to have radar screens….

In the rest of the world, most children do walk to school, and they start at age five or six or seven. Their parents do not accompany them. By age ten or sometimes even before that, kids may board a public bus to get to school, and no one looks at them askance. The other riders know that children are capable of getting around, and they don’t consider this a rogue activity.”

How free should kids be?

I just finished reading an interesting, and thought-provoking book, called Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy. The book is subtitled “Giving our Children the Freedom we had without going nuts with worry” and the author’s name is sub-titled “America’s Worst Mom.”

Her point, in the easy-to-read and funny book, is that crime rates have decreased drastically from the time of our childhoods, that only 150 children are kidnapped by strangers per year in America and only about one third of those are killed. That is still horrible. No child should have to go through that. But when there are millions of kids in our country, the question is: do we want to restrict their freedom, independence and exploration in order to avoid an event that is very improbably to begin with?

My gut feeling is no, I do not want to restrict River’s independence. I think I’m already on the far end of liberalness in letting him explore. I get my share of disapproving looks from people who think I’m not hovering enough. Like the librarian yesterday who said the poles marking the line for checking out books “are extremely heavy and could cause him serious injury.” When I didn’t react by scooping up River away from this terrible danger, but instead continued to check out my books, she stood there and guarded the poles until we left. Of course, I don’t want a heavy object falling on my baby. But really, if the odds of serious injury are so high, then why would such a dangerous object be put in the path of every patron checking out a book? My friend from Germany became very nervous when I allowed River to walk in front of me on a sidewalk that was on a busy road. Yes, he admitted, the odds of River rushing out into the road weren’t very high. But if he did, it would be certain death. I was ready to grab him at any sign of veering off the sidewalk and into the road. Since he wasn’t making such moves, I thought he had the right to walk and explore as we did.

I have a very strong confidence in River’s abilities. I taught him not to put earplugs in his mouth, he already has a good sense of right and wrong (uh-oh is a frequent phrase he says when he sees something he knows is wrong or problematic), he knows to not eat flowers, he can understand things I’m telling him. Mark says my confidence level is too high. When I read about the tragic story of Mike Tyson’s 4-year-old dying on the home treadmill, the article mentioned that some parents have an artificially high sense of their children’s abilities.

Oh no, I thought. River is going to die or get hurt and it’s going to be my fault. Then I read this book and I felt better. Yes, he may have some injuries along the way (although he hasn’t had a single one to date), but that is how he will learn. In exchange for those potential injuries, he will develop confidence, independence and pride in his abilities. I will also have a more sane life by not worrying about every single thing he does.

I dipped back into the book It’s a Boy to read about the 18 month to three year stage. That author made a similar point. He says that at this age, young boys need to have a certain amount of freedom from their parents. They see their parents as a stable source of support to return to when they need refilling. So River can walk away in another direction and I should let him explore as he wants to when feasible. But I remain in the area and when he needs a hug or a hand, he can run right back to me for more fuel. I like that role and I’m enjoying this time. I’m still needed, but not so much. The pressure is reduced and I get the joy of watching him find the thrill of an inclined driveway, the physics of an old twig that breaks, the happiness of jumping in a puddle-filled pothole.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Add this to the annals of super gross motherhood moments

River takes a poo in his portable potty and stands up. Sitter goes to dump poo. Mom goes to fridge and grabs homemade oatmeal/dried fruit cookies. Mom breaks off pieces of said cookies to share with River. Mom realizes River’s shorts are around his ankles and pulls them up for him, still holding cookies. Mom shares a bit more and then finishes cookies. Mom sees brown smudge on right hand. Thinking it’s cookie remnant, she licks it. It is not cookie remnant. Poo and cookies do not mix.

Unless there was a moment in very early childhood that I no longer remember, I have never before eaten poo. I don’t recommend it. Even though it was a fairly miniscule amount, the immediate reaction was one of complete disgust. I’m sure it was partly a conditioned response. In the same way, I couldn’t enjoy the seven varieties of dog served at a dog cafĂ© in Vietnam, even though I strongly dislike dogs, because I’d been so culturally sensitized to consider dogs as pets. But in contrast to the dogs, the taste of this was gross – a deep bitterness that remained even after multiple spittings, a brushing of the teeth, drinking sodas and eating food. A bitterness that is still there even an hour later, a grossness that I really can’t do anything about other than to try to not think about it too much.