Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Favorite part of the day

Nothing makes my day more than River’s reaction to my arrival home. He hears the door open as I enter and regardless of where he is in the house, I hear him exclaim, “Mama! Mama esta aqui!” then comes running to greet me.

He is usually wearing his pyjamas, which highlight his increasingly long and lean body. I get to breathe in the scent of his freshly shampooed hair and kiss his clean, smooth cheeks. I feel loved, appreciated, lucky.

It makes up for whatever I’ve experienced during the day.

Monday, June 28, 2010

How long can one not show?

I had a doctor’s appointment today – pretty useless in that nothing was done beyond measure my uterus and take blood for a thyroid test. I’m now in the second trimester. The doctor said this is when many women start to have more energy and feel better. But since I never felt too bad to begin with, I don’t expect much of a change.

It’s odd to think that six months from now, I could very well have a second child in my arms. That both seems so near and so far. So near in that it’s only six months and it’s within this calendar year. I think not crossing into another calendar year during this pregnancy somehow makes it feel shorter.

At the same time, when I think about how many weeks of my stomach growing are left, then it seems like a very long time.

I have occasional flashes of wow, our lives will change this year. Or crap, can I really handle a huge belly and labor again? But generally, I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. Usually, I don’t even know what week I’m in at any particular time.

I asked the doctor how much growth was expected in the next few weeks. Could I wait until after the second set of screenings to inform my work?

He said that depended on the person, but that because I’m tall, I probably wouldn’t be showing.

Last time I told my employer around the 4th of July for a due date in the first third of December. This time it will probably be the second half of July for a due date towards the end of December. Basically, I’ll be giving about the same amount of notice.

I didn’t think that would be possible, since I heard that women show earlier the second time around. I do think I’m showing more than last time, but it’s still not enough to attract notice. Or at least not enough notice to cause anyone to comment yet. If it’s because I’m tall, I guess I’m grateful.

Bouncing already

They say you feel the baby moving sooner the second time around and so far, that seems to be true. I’ve been feeling it for quite a while, especially when I first wake up in the morning. But this is the first time I’m feeling consistent bouncing around, so much so that it’s briefly painful. When I had the ultrasound recently, I saw how it bounced up at regular intervals. I wonder what causes this. Instinct, boredom, development?

Now I feel these bounces as sharp pangs in my lower left abdomen. More than 25 more weeks of this? Yikes.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

No news is good news

It’s been over a week since the first triple screen and I haven’t heard anything. So hopefully, despite my slightly advanced maternal age, I’m not in the category demonstrating a strong likelihood of Down’s syndrome. That’s a relief. I didn’t think that it was very likely to begin with, but I didn’t want to deal with the stress and the difficult decisions associated with either a false or a true positive.

Monday, June 21, 2010

late night experiment

About nine months ago, I met a local woman with similar interests and she suggested I come over some evening, with River and Mark, for pizza and a movie. I agreed and we tried to coordinate. It took nine months to finally set a date that worked for us both.

In that time, it became less easy to lug a portable crib around and let River get a few hours sleep. He tends to talk to himself for a while upon going down. If we wake him up after an hour or two, it’s painful, both for him and for us.

So I decided to skip the bed accessories and just let him stay up a bit late. We were meeting at 7 and agreed that if we decided to do a movie, we’d go back to our place for that and River could go to bed. I forgot that these friends have European and South American backgrounds, which meant that a simple dinner (without movie) took four hours. At 11 p.m., River came over and put his head on my shoulder and we gobbled down our dessert so that we could leave.

He had a great time and did remarkably well until 11. He was excited and happy and cheerful. We were glad to see that he was flexible and that he could enjoy a late night out like the little Spanish children we’d been around recently.

But it was definitely not easy to get over and took a full day or two to readjust. Maybe it would have helped if I hadn’t waken him at 8 the next morning. But I didn’t want to skip our planned bike ride. He was tired when he woke up and exhausted by noon. When I took him to a park, he ran over to the equipment, but then didn’t go down even a single slide. I think he was too tired.

It wasn’t until the following day that he was more or less back to normal, but we saw the effect that even one night of short sleep had on his ability to function. It’s nice to know we can have a fun night every so often. But I think we’ll save that for extraordinary cases. He is a little boy and he needs his sleep.

School lunches

I wrote recently about how I was pretty appalled seeing what the kids were eating out of their brown bags at a visit to the zoo. This blog shows what they might be eating on a school day and is a fascinating read. Scroll down to the peanut butter "sandwich" lunch. Unbelievable.

Somehow, I remember school lunches as being good. Perhaps it was because I usually wasn’t allowed to buy them and because the lunches my mom packed were both healthy and not sufficiently filling. The school lunch was like a smorgasboard, a big treat to me. I remember greasy tacos with crunchy corn shells, apple cobbler – yes, perhaps it was the unhealthiness that appealed to me.

I remember in high school, where we were given the option of an a la carte snack line, myself and many other teens fed themselves the most nutritious lunch of a salted soft pretzel and soft serve ice cream/yogurt (not sure what it was). Thank goodness I was really active in high school, because between that and my incessant candy bar sales (which I snacked on constantly), I really could have packed on the pounds.

I don’t know what lunches are like at our local schools. We’re still several years off from experiencing them. Part of me thinks there is enough of a health and eco-conscious community that they might not be so bad. I’ve definitely seen signs of activism among parents of local schoolchildren. However, at church, where the congregation is also very eco-conscious and supportive of people’s nutritional choices, River regularly gets goldfish and juice boxes as a snack. I don’t really mind since it’s only once a week. But boy do I hope his school lunches don’t look like the ones on this blog. I’m already dreading packing a preschool lunch one day a week. I really don’t want to have to do it daily.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

More toxic stuff

Lead in juice boxes and canned fruit:

Luckily, I’ve never bought River juice, so I don’t have to worry too much about this one. Hopefully, the very occasional canned fruit and/or juice box he has received outside the home are infrequent enough to not worry about either. I really don’t need anything else to stress about right now.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Activity, creativity, downtime

I’m a fan of formulas, so I liked this one, by the author of Simplicity Parenting: “Payne's prescription for summer — and the rest of the year — is this: One-third of a child's life should be busy; one-third, creative time; and one-third, downtime.”

Since our little one is still in bed for about 14 hours per day, there are 3.3 hours left for each. At this point, we are in no pre-scheduled activities, though I try to attend as many free events, festivals and library programs as possible. I think we’ll be fine with the busy and the downtime in the near term. I could use some help with the creative though and find it tempting to send him to a lesson or activity to get exposure to creative things.

a little overwhelmed by life and the mean mother next to me at the grocery store

I’m feeling overwhelmed by evil people right now, or at least people that act that way. The situation in southern Kyrgyzstan is giving me an anxiety attack. I’m so worried about friends there, so appalled by the violence that has taken place, so angry at those who could orchestrate something like that. I have so many beautiful and kind memories there, memories that take place in a safe and colorful landscape that is now dangerous, pained and charred. At the same time, we’re have continuing problems with our mean former landlord, who refused to let us out of our lease and is now trying to charge us for everything under the sun. And the oil continues to spew out into the ocean.

Just as I’m writing in my journal these worries, evil mother of the world sits in the booth next to me at Whole Foods. She emits a constant stream of harsh, nasty words to her children in Russian – eat! Now! Faster!

I started to glare at her, especially since her super sweet toddler had waved upon first seeing me – a little glimpse of innocence in a world I’m feeling right now is pretty sad. Then I saw the mother slap her daughter across the face as she told her to eat. As she was talking to someone on the cell phone, she started to scream at her daughter (for what, I don’t know - holding a plastic fork?) and shook her arm. By that point, I wasn’t the only person staring at her. She then went back to talking to this person on the phone, who for whatever reason didn’t seek psychiatric help for her, and continued the conversation.

At one point, she told her daughter, “That lady is going to take you away because you haven’t eaten.” She was referring to me. The little girl looked at me. “No,” I said to her in Russian. “I’m not going to do anything to you.” And I gave the mother a nasty look, communicating that yes, I do understand what you are saying and you are a crazy nut.

When it was time to go, she asked her son to take the garbage to the bin. He walked carefully, as though terrified he’d drop something. “You, you can’t do anything,” she said to the toddler girl.

When they left, the little girl waved at me again. “Paka,” I said, bye in Russian. And the feeling of helplessness again overwhelmed me. There went two little people to face anger and abuse and there was nothing I could do. The same way there was nothing I could do to stop the violence across the world that was putting my friends in danger.

“What the hell was that?” the store employee seated nearby asked me when they left. I told him what the lady said about me and how I responded. “Haha! That’s great that you understand Russian!” he said. “I bet she wouldn’t have guessed it in a million years. That’s a slap in the face to her.”

Unfortunately, it’s not really. Especially compared to the slaps the kids are getting.

I know some parents have bad days and some kids act up. But this kid wasn’t doing anything terrible and the mom truly seemed abusive. I know that my ticking her off could just result in more abuse to the kids at home. But she was screaming loud enough to attract the attention of everyone seated nearby. It’s impossible to ignore anyone being treated that way. What does one do in such situations? Is there anything one can do?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A visit every four weeks?

What is up with the need to visit the ob/gyn every four weeks? I’m only 11-12 weeks along, had an 8 week appointment, had an ultrasound today in which I saw the fetus was alive and well, and I’m supposed to go see the doctor on Friday. I called the office to cancel my appointment and encountered resistance.

“You must be seen every 4 weeks,” I was told.

“There is really nothing for him to do,” I said. “Is there something special he is looking for?”

With great effort, I was able to push it back about 10 days. I tried to make it later that week and she said no. “That’s July,” she said.

“Why does that matter?”

“We last saw you in May and we must see you in June.”

I wondered if it was just this doctor’s practice, so I googled it and saw that others also recommend a visit every 4 weeks until the 28th week, then every two weeks.

We pay a significant co-pay under our current plan and I’m trying to control costs. I’m not interested in paying 10-20% in order to have the doctor feel how big my uterus is and take my blood pressure. I was overseas during my last pregnancy and I didn’t see a doctor every four weeks. I saw one only at the big appointments – the screenings, the 20 week ultrasound and then for my third trimester appointments. That worked just fine.

I really want to cancel this next appointment and just let the fetus do what it needs to do for another month. Unless there is a blood test that is critical to do now, I don’t see the point of medical care.

Sequential screen, step 1

I had my first sequential screen today. It went better than my 8-week ultrasound in that the staff at this place was much nicer, which makes all the difference in the world. Whereas at the 8-week they prevented Mark and River from coming in until the end and wouldn’t even let me look at the screen until the sonographer had finished her work, here they had a second screen that was just for me to look it. I was able to watch the whole thing and she pointed out much of what she was doing. As a result, I feel a lot more connected to the fetus (apparently, it has now graduated from embryo to fetus) and the process.

“It looks human this time,” I said, as I saw the head and face (which looked like River, even in its fuzziness), the limbs, and the way it bounced up and down.

“It is human,” she said. “It’s only as big as your pinky, but already has everything.”

I saw the placenta and the umbilical cord, was reassured it was alive with a 170 beats per minute heartbeat, and saw close-ups of my ovaries. They were kind of gross-looking, like craters on the moon.

Looking at all the tissue, blood and cells made me marvel how this all works and how a little person, who will come into being at the end of this year, is starting out its life there. And how I started my life in a similar environment within my mother.

I hoped there was nothing wrong with the fetus. I wanted it to be perfect. I didn’t want to abort that little bouncing bag, nor did I want to give birth to a child with birth defects. I resented knowing that the results were going to come back with more caution for me, just because I hit this magic number of 3-5. I didn’t think they were taking note that I’m healthy, eat well, and just biked 200 kilometers. I must say I was relieved that the fetus seems to have survived the bike ride OK. And in fact, I’m relieved it’s alive at all. I still have trouble believing that a pregnancy can be this easy.

The results of the screening won’t be available for a couple of days, but based on the sonographer’s comments, I think things are fine. She said it looked “perfect” and was developing very well. She tried to look at the gender, but the legs were crossed. So no dice. I am a little more excited now that I see it as a more human-like form.

In other news, a friend of mine gave birth two weeks ago and had the same type of epidural as I did, where it blocks the contractions, but not the pushing. She was very lucky in that she only pushed 13 minutes to get a 9 pound, 6 ounce baby out. She said that part was very painful.

“I wonder if they give that type of epidural on purpose,” I said.

“Yes, they said they needed me to be able to feel when to push.”

She was using the same group of doctors I used last time. But I have friends who have delivered at that same hospital (with different doctors) and have had the nice experience where they don’t feel anything. That’s what I want next time and my current doctor says he can make it happen. He says we’ll set up a meeting with the anesthesiologist before the birth. I hope so because for me, that pain was positively traumatic. I would feel super blessed to have both an easy pregnancy and a (relatively) easy delivery. At least I can hope.

On a search for kids' books in Spanish

Just because I recently blew $350 on kids books in Spanish in Spain doesn’t mean my continued hunt is over. No, I’m no longer searching ebay for boxes full of random books. But I am keeping my eyes open. I was happy to find one more potential source this week.

Our library sells used books at the entrance for a small fraction of their original price. I had flipped through the children’s books before, but never saw anything in Spanish. Then, I noticed a small, low shelf with a tag reading “Children’s foreign language books.” There, they clumped together books in any language but English – German, Russian, Spanish and others. There were only a few, but I managed to find two worth buying at $1 a piece. As it’s near the entrance to the library, I’ll be stopping by that shelf regularly, ready to pounce when someone donates their Spanish-language collection.

I thought the days of book collecting were already past, that technology made it unnecessary to buy and hold books. But in this specific area, I’m finding that getting my child exposure to a variety of quality material in Spanish requires collecting in the most traditional sense. The fact that internet ordering has not caught on in Spain and that there are no real online bookstores there makes it even more challenging. I feel like I’ve stepped back a few decades in which a book was a treasure to hold and admire and enjoy.

Monday, June 14, 2010

More evidence of the benefits of sleep

One of the things I found hardest to adjust to in Spain was the different sleep schedule, especially the late and erratic hours kept by children. I can see the benefits – more family time, easier to go out, etc. But the kids did seem cranky. Mark and I joked about whether or not we should tell them that sleeping more would help their children’s brain development. We figured they probably wouldn’t appreciate it.

There has been a lot of evidence coming out lately on the benefits of sleep, and here is one more. Most notably, having a rule about bedtime was associated with 6-7% higher math and language skills among preschoolers. In Spain, we saw kids negotiate with their parents about bedtime. We asked some friends if their child did that regularly and they said it happened every night and could last an hour. Neither Mark nor I wanted to spend an hour of our days in painful fighting about bedtime.

So I guess we’ll be sticking with our 8-8:30 p.m. bedtime for our toddler, even if he does occasionally babble in his crib until 10. And no negotiations, except in exceptional circumstances. So far, he’s cool with the bedtime ritual. Since he enjoys each part of it, it’s generally not difficult to go from one step to the next. But he has begun to negotiate in other areas. Should he try applying that to bedtime, we will have to remember what is good for him and stick to our schedule. Looking back, I would have been much better off with more sleep from about ages 13 to23.

I’m trying to decide on the hours we’ll take him to preschool in the fall. Part of me wanted to make it 8 a.m., to maximum the time he has there in the morning. But he doesn’t usually get up until 8 and I see no reason at this point in his life to wake him before his body is ready. I’ll see what time he’s waking up in August and then set a start-time that allows us to get him up and ready with minimal rush and to get to work at a reasonable time (perhaps 8:30 or 9).

It's so nice when something that is good for the child is also good for the parent (quiet time - yay!).

Letting in the world

We’ve made the decision to enroll River in a daycare/preschool program one morning a week starting this fall. This is the facility that is really cheap, but probably not great quality. My goals for his time there are just to have some time with other kids, to have something of his own before the sibling arrives, and hopefully to make some friends who speak Spanish.

Nevertheless, I’m starting to think about all kinds of issues that make me realize what the larger issue is – letting in other people to influence my child. Truthfully, I’m not very concerned about the adults. Even if the care is not great, I don’t think one morning a week of substandard care is going to have a huge impact on him. I’ve been very free about leaving him with a variety of adults throughout his life.

I am, however, more concerned about the kids. I think that at this stage in his life, what other kids do can have a big impact on him. I also realize that you can control a lot of variables in the selection of a care facility, but you can’t find a class that is guaranteed to have sweet, well-behaved kids.

Mark tends to want River to have the top educational opportunities. But I don't see a correlation between expensive care and great kids, especially at this age. We recently had a toddler over to play who came from very highly educated and privileged parents. Yet he was a terror. He went around the house systematically breaking River’s toys (River himself has never intentionally broken a toy), and had at least three major tantrums in an hour. Basically, he is not the type of child I would want River to be spending time with because I didn’t see much in the way of positive examples from him.

I know kids are different, some boys are more aggressive, and that may even out in time. But I don’t want my child learning from that kind of example. Nor do I think there is much benefit at this age of putting River in the path of difficult children so he can learn to sort out social difficulties. I’d rather he be in a safe, loving and nurturing environment, which is what he has outside of a group setting.

The reason we picked this place in particular is due to the high percentage of Hispanic children. I worried that putting him in a predominantly English-language environment would make him feel ostracized for his Spanish. I wasn’t willing to run the risk of that kind of peer influence.

I have no idea what the other kids in his two-year old class will be like. On the day we visited, the kids seemed fine. But what if there is a biter? What if there is a bully? What if low hygienic standards result in him getting sick (he has never had more than a cold or flu to date), just as I’m in my third trimester or we have a newborn in the house?

And what about lunchtime? I’ve heard at the more expensive places around us, there is huge pressure for parents to provide fancy, organic lunches. This place caters to low-income kids, so I think we’ll be spared that pressure. But are the kids going to be coming with bags of chips and cookies and candy?

I visited the a zoo recently and saw hordes of kids having lunch during their school trips. I was appalled by the lunches, which were exactly along the lines of what Jamie Oliver rails against – juice boxes, bags of chips, Cheetos, lollypops, lunchables. There were lots of sandwiches and a few baby carrots. Otherwise, huge amounts of junk.

I’m nervous that River will feel denied if other kids have this junk and he doesn’t. I’m worried about kids mocking things he eats (like kale chips) and thereby causing him to reject them. Already, I don’t think I’d pack him kale chips as I wouldn’t want to run that risk. I’m nervous about super-picky kids making their preferences known and influencing River.

All this is making me wonder if I should even let him eat lunch there, or take him out before lunch time. I also wonder if I’m being super anal. A friend whose child goes to a center three days a week said she thinks it would influence him if he were there every day. But she doesn’t think one day a week will do much.

So perhaps, I just need to sit back and let society influence him once a week. I need to let him venture out into his own peer group and make some judgments for himself. But it’s not easy, especially knowing the intense powers that peers can wield over the young. I do feel an incentive to direct him towards peers I think will be a good influence on him.

So much easier the second time around

Since I’ve been back from vacation, I’ve been hit with heavy fatigue again, usually in the afternoon and evening. This is a bit inconvenient as it makes me unable to accomplish much more than basic tasks or watching TV. Over the weekend, I struggled carrying River on the bicycle around town. The extra 35 pounds really made a difference. But overall, things are so much better with this pregnancy than the first one that I can’t complain.

First off, the fatigue disappeared during my vacation and bike trip. Thanks, body. Its appearance late in the day means I can still function normally at work. I haven’t needed a sick day yet.

I’m generally not paying much attention. I know when I’m due, but I forget what week I’m in and am never truly sure of it. I have no idea what is happening developmentally at the moment and don’t care too much.

Despite a pop that was apparent to me at 8 weeks, I’m still not showing to other people yet and I appreciate the freedom to take some more time, to get the testing done, and to break the news when it’s the right time, not necessarily when my belly forces me to. I’m thankful that my stomach has always been one of my slimmest parts. I can handle a little extension there and still look normal. Whereas, if a baby was to come out of my hips or a butt cheek, I’d have a lot less room for growth there. I’m still at the same weight as I was pre-pregnancy, which I feel great about.

In a sense, I’m grateful for the fatigue, because at least it’s a sign I’m pregnant. Otherwise, I’m just not feeling it much. I have the first of the triple screen tests tomorrow and I’m grateful that the sonogram will check for a heartbeat. I do need a little reassurance that it’s still living, still growing. Because it’s been very easy to forget about it this time around.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The green, salty, crunchy chip

If you don’t belong to a farmshare, you may not have run into the issue of what to do with big bunches of kale that wind up in your fridge. My previous solution was to blanche and freeze it for future use. But that stuff is still in the freezer from last year and I’m now receiving fresh bunches again. This time it must be used or donated.

I think I found a way for us to get through the stash – kale chips.

Of course, it’s no substitute for a potato chip. But they are surprisingly tasty – crunchy, light and salty. Appealing enough that I ate at least a quarter of the bunch of kale in the form of chips. It’s hard to imagine another way of snacking on that much kale.

When I offered “chips” to the two-year-old this afternoon, he was excited and ate up the entire portion. Of course, this was immediately after spitting out the borscht, frozen since January, I was trying to feed him. So perhaps almost anything seemed better in comparison. If he’s still willing to eat kale chips tomorrow, I think we’ll have ourselves a winner in this recipe.

Update: months later he requests them and he stuffs them into his mouth like popcorn, coloring his mouth, clothing and the floor green. It may be due to the salt I add to the “chips” and high sodium content. But for all the good stuff in kale, I think it’s a worthwhile tradeoff. Still, I’ve been afraid to pack them in his school lunchbox. I’m too nervous that other kids will mock his version of “chips” and he’ll lose his taste for them.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

a little more bacteria might make you smarter

Back when River was a baby, I wrote a post about our decision to not freak out about a lack of perfect hygiene. Turns out, a bit of bacteria may well be a good thing after all.

Masculinity and fatherhood in Sweden

This so makes me want to live in Sweden. I’d happily pay up to 45% taxes for equality and a happy, balanced life.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Whose decision is it?

One thing I wasn’t prepared for when traveling to Spain was the extent of the allergy problem. I had already gone through seasonal allergies at home and thought I was done with it for this year. But upon arrival in Spain, they hit hard, causing me to rub my eyes until they were raw and swelling my sinuses until I could neither inhale nor exhale air through my nose.

I was able to get a generic form of Claritin tabs from a nice pharmacist, even though in Spain, they don’t recommend it during pregnancy (in the U.S. and on the internet, information indicates it’s fine). But I was still having severe problems, especially with my nose. I had difficulty eating and sleeping. Even talking when closing my mouth meant I had no air supply.

I went into a pharmacy looking for a nasal spray. One of my Spanish friends had told me that the Spanish culture expects women to suffer to the point at which they cannot breathe at all before they will be given a medication while pregnant. Some pharmacists are more flexible, but others aren’t. So I didn’t plan to say anything about my pregnancy. I believed I was suffering significantly, I didn’t think an over-the-counter nasal spray posed a high risk, and I thought the benefits outweighed the risk.

Unfortunately, my friend entered the pharmacy with me and told the pharmacist I was pregnant. The pharmacist refused to give me anything. She sent us to a medical clinic, where they also refused me anything. They said if I had asthma and came in unable to breathe, they would give me a shot of the medication in the arm. But since I could still breathe through my mouth – nothing. This was a Saturday, a day on which most pharmacies are closed – and we were in the middle of the Pyrenees. So I had little chance of being able to find anything.

My friend apologized for putting her foot in her mouth. She said that she miscarried her first pregnancy late in the first trimester. “That makes you question everything you do,” she said. She told me she had plans before her second pregnancy to get a vaccine for allergies. When she found out she was pregnant, she refused the shot. “The doctor told me it was fine, that I could get it. But I said unless he gave me a guarantee in writing, which he wouldn’t, I wasn’t going to do anything with even the smallest chance of hurting the baby,” she said.

I’m sympathetic to those who have suffered miscarriages and I know that if I went through that, I would doubt myself and would be extra cautious. But as I told her, I think there is too much of a tendency to blame the mother. Mothers may wonder if they did something wrong. But they can never know. Most miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities and probably have nothing to do with the decisions a mother makes. Nevertheless, I believe it was my friend’s right to refuse the allergy vaccine. And I believe it’s my right to take an over-the-counter medication when I believe I need it.

I understand there is now a medication available in the U.S. that helps a lot with continued morning sickness. There are some who say a woman should suffer through morning sickness as a normal part of pregnancy. Others, including a woman I know, says no one else would be allowed to suffer endlessly from any other illnesses for weeks or months at a time. Yes, there is a potential effect on an unborn life. But there is a definite effect on an already existing life. I believe that an adult, with the advice of medical professionals, should be able to decide if relieving her pain is worth the odds of potential harm to the fetus. In Spain, I felt that ability to decide for myself was taken away from me, that they put the well-being of the embryo above my own. That made me feel devalued and powerless. I didn’t like it.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Heading home, and Spanish thoughts on childrearing

I’m heading home and I think the length of this trip was just right. We were able to do the things we wanted to do, I think we avoided overstaying our welcome, and I’m now anxious to see River.

We spent time with other children on this trip, all of whom were good kids. But those close to River’s age appeared to be more difficult. We appreciate how easy we have it and I want to see my baby to show him how much I appreciate him.

Today I asked my friend what the Spanish recommend regarding potty training and she said people are advised to get their children out of diapers when they turn 2. She thought that was too generic of a recommendation, that it doesn’t take into account the differences between children. But in general, it sounds like most Spaniards complete daytime training between 18 months and age 2.5. She said no one goes to school still wearing diapers.

Regarding dental care, they don’t make their first visit to the dentist until age 5 or 6. Our friends still put their 3-year-old to bed with a bottle (a bottle, not a sippy cup) of chocolate milk. I wouldn’t want to emulate the bottle, nor the chocolate, and we are trying to move away from milk in the bed. But I did like their lack of mania about dental care, especially since I have peers where I live urging people to bring their kids to the dentist at age 18 months or earlier. When I called the dentist, he said not to bring River until age 3, which is what I plan to do.

“I think Americans tend to be kind of manic about teeth,” said our friend’s husband. “Not just about dental hygiene, but also appearance.” They also thought it was strange, and going a bit overboard, to have hair salons (or dentists) that focus just on serving children. “There is nothing traumatic about sitting in a chair and getting a haircut,” one of them said. “Our local hair salons will cut a child’s hair for 5-7 euro. There is no need to make a big deal of something that isn’t really.” They said when they were growing up, their mothers cut their hair.

I do agree with them, but where I live, there aren’t a lot of other options. The man who cuts my hair said only a few people in the salon will agree to work with children, and they charge something exorbitant. I could take him to a cheap place, but then one is rolling dice as to the quality. I still have memories of when my mother took me for a cut at a training center for hair stylists. It’s just not worth the possibility of such mistakes.

While I liked their more relaxed attitude regarding dental care and haircuts, one Spanish practice I’m glad we don’t use is the late bedtimes. I found the evidence in the book Nurture Shock of greater hours of sleeping being related to better brain development to be convincing. Another study that found negative effects from co-sleeping, due to reduced hours of sleep achieved by both mother and child made sense to me. The kids we spent time with often didn’t nap, then they went to bed very late – 10 p.m., 11 p.m., later. When it was time to get up, they were tired and clingy. During the day they were cranky. The lack of a set routine seemed to make the bedtime routine a fight and/or a negotiation.

We weren’t so much into a routine when River was a small baby. At that time, I figured we’d follow his signs. But as he’s gotten older, he’s fallen into a routine and I think it’s a good thing for all of us. He knows what to expect, which is the same virtually every day. Since he likes most of the steps of the routine (potty with his favorite program, book, milk), there is no resistance as we go through the steps. In the process, he’s settling down. And when it comes time for bed, that’s just a natural extension of the process. He gets plenty of sleep. We get plenty of down time.

One thing I do love about the Spanish culture is the strong tie with the family. Perhaps there is a tendency to coddle and to spoil their children. But family connections are strong and children remain close to their parents well through adulthood. My ideal would be for River to be empowered and independent and for him to be well-behaved and respectful, and for him to feel so loved by his family that he wants to remain close.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Bike circuit completed

I made it! Over 200 kilometers in mountainous territory. I was the only female cyclist I saw until the very end of the trip, when the terrain was easier. I always like accomplishing a goal, so I’m proud of doing it and am appreciative of the chance to both get so much exercise and to explore an interesting area.

But right now, on the evening of the day four of biking, I’m exhausted. Utterly exhausted. I’m sitting at a train station waiting for a late train and dreaming of a bed. Mark was having a harder time cycling today than I was, and he got less sleep than I did last night. “It must be the pregnancy,” he said. “Because you got a good night’s rest.”

I was just thinking, during the final leg of the trip, how cool it is that I barely feel any pregnancy symptoms at all. My gratitude was tinged with a slight bit of worry that perhaps something is wrong. But I took reassurance in the fact that both my stomach and my breasts appear to continue growing.

At the end of the ride, I was able to check email and received a note from my dad, who appears to be holding up well while caring for a 2.5-year old. He said that River is going to the pool, the beach or the boat every day, which sounds like a summer camp vacation for him. He also said that they have taught River to say things like “I like hot dish,” and “Ya sure, you betcha,” that I’ll be picking up a real Swede.

I think it’s good for him to be exposed to that aspect of his heritage, so that’s fine with me. But I’m going to have to try to figure out how to say things like “I like hot dish,” in Spanish.

After this bike trip, I’ve decided I want to do another, and I’d love to do it a few years from now with River. If you have any recommendations of good bike tours to do with kids (I’m ideally looking for luggage to be transferred to the lodgings each night, the ability to set our own pace, and a route and a bike that would be appropriate for hauling a youngster) please let me know. I have a preference for Spanish-speaking areas, but would consider any place. Also, I’m terrified of dogs, so places where dogs don’t roam freely and run after cyclists also get bonus points.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

How are you liking this, little embryo?

I had a little chat with my embryo today as I was slogging through a 10 mile stretch of virtually straight uphill mountain road. Unfortunately, I’m not in good enough shape to be able to ride uphill when it’s neverending, when an extra little push won’t get you to the top, but you have to keep going and going and going. So I walked most of it and it took a while – 3 hours. And that was just the beginning of my day – followed by 20+ more miles of biking with another huge uphill at the end.

Since Mark skipped the 10 mile uphill leg, I was on my own. So I asked my embryo what it thought. I asked if I was enjoying this, if it wanted to do more of it, if it would be my adventure companion in a few years. I told it that if it was really miserable, it wasn’t too late to self-abort and try its luck with other parents. From what I’ve read, the chance of a child being born to parents in a developed country that can provide it a solid income, shelter, food and education is extremely small. So it would really be rolling the dice if it was going to try its odds elsewhere. However, I’m sure there are plenty of parents in developed countries more likely to support sleeping in late and watching TV than pushing climbing mountains. So it could perhaps do better if it’s not into this stuff.

I wondered whether my increased heart rate increases its heart rate, which gets it used to (and perhaps liking?) exercise. Mark worried that the increased heart rate would just be stress to the embryo, since it’s not actually exercising.

I had River on a bike as a fetus and in a bike seat at four months old. I imagine it will be similar with this one. Hopefully seeing exercise as a normal part of life will help it/them consider exercise to be a positive and desirable thing. Hopefully they will want to accompany me on what Mark calls my “death marches” and what I call my “health marches.”

In the meantime, I am dead, dead tired. I hope my legs can function tomorrow, because I have another 50k or so to bike, plus a bus, plus a train.

The best thing about biking, besides the physical challenge, the great scenery, and the ability to take in an environment with all the senses, is being able to eat – lots. I ate like a horse today, every half hour during the hardest parts. And it was GOOD. I don’t appreciate food quite as much when I haven’t biked beforehand.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Creating an adventure buddy

So far the bike trip is going well. I’ve completed two of four days. Despite a slightly sore behind and eyes red from the high pollen count, my energy is up and I’m hopeful I can make it through the 17 kilometer up-mountain climb tomorrow morning.

Mark isn’t doing as well. He skipped the first day of the ride and will take a taxi for the 17 km uphill portion tomorrow. He made it through the ride today and I respect him for pushing through, but it was hard for him and he’s suffering.

There is nothing I love more than being out in nature for several days at a time and exerting myself towards reaching a goal. Being in a foreign culture and having exposure to a different diet, people, way of life, etc. makes it all the more enticing.

But if Mark isn’t up for it, that means either going alone (not so fun), or bringing River. I enjoy taking River on adventures, but as much fun as it may be, it’s also extra work, adding to what is already a fair level of exertion. Nevertheless, I think he’s my main prospect in the near future, so hopefully I can figure out ways in which he’ll have fun and I can manage.

I spoke to Mark about how fun it would be to do a bike tour in Spain with River. Not only would he get to ride and to enjoy the scenery, but he’d be surrounded by Spanish language, Spanish culture and Spanish food. What a great immersion experience. Then Mark said he’d like to take either River or number 2 to London for a long weekend to enjoy a soccer game. I asked why he couldn’t see a soccer game closer to home and he said that it’s the tradition of the long-existing league and the passion of the participants that make it fun.

So perhaps, we’ll both be able to provide our child/ren with special experiences that reflect our own interests, we’ll be able to cultivate those interests in our children that our partners haven’t picked up, and we’ll have an excuse to do the things we enjoy most. That of course is dependant upon having the funds to do these kinds of things. Guess I need to continue working.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The scary gene

Now that we’ve passed the period of worrying about autism, we are instead starting to worry about the mental illness gene that runs in Mark’s family. Mark’s grandfather was brilliant and successful, but endured depression so serious he tried to take his life several times. He passed this to at least one of his daughters, who passed it in lesser forms to Mark and to his brother.

It has appeared in a more powerful form in Mark’s niece. The first sign came from serious nightmares as a small child. By age 8 she was having panic attacks. By 11, she was institutionalized. It took them forever to come up with a diagnosis. For a while they thought she might be schizophrenic; now it seems to be bipolar. She’s back at home on medication and functioning, but with difficulties. She still has delusions of grandeur, thinking she can support her family on her singing and acting skills and has a hard time socially. Another daughter seems to be OK and the third is adopted.

Mark’s sister doesn’t show signs of depression, but she contracted a rare and life-threatening illness (Guillain-Barre’s), which made her so afraid she would die that she turned from a Ph.D. candidate in science to a born-again Christian stay-at-home mother of four. Her first born has some learning issues. Her second born appears to have anger issues. He has flown into rages and been destructive since his earliest days. The third is adopted and the fourth is too small to tell.

So something has come through the children of both of Mark’s siblings. I knew this was a risk when I married Mark and when we decided to have children. The members of his family are also extremely bright and I think there is a fine line between brilliance and madness. Nevertheless, you always hope that it’s not going to be your child, that you’ll be the lucky one that is not touched. I guess I just counted on that, and to a certain extent, still do.

Because River is so social and gets along with people, I figure he’s fine. But Mark still has worries. The fact that River chatters to himself at night and used to do so in the morning upon waking up is a gift in my opinion. No crying, no screaming, just calm self entertainment. Whatever he is doing is so entertaining to him that he often laughs. Mark wonders if the talking to himself is a sign of a problem.

I know several parents whose kids have or have gone through night terrors. Most of these kids seem to turn out fine. River has not yet had a night terror as these parents describe it. But he has an occasional bad dream in which he’ll call out. I figure it’s a normal part of sleep and of childhood. Mark thinks he could be following in the footsteps of his cousin.

I suppose it’s good to know the family history, to know what to watch out for, and to pay attention for signs so that problems can be addressed. But I also don’t like leaping to the worst possible conclusion, especially when there are innocent explanations available and the worst is so ugly.

We’ll continue to be thankful for his overall happy, calm demeanor and keep our fingers crossed that this gene doesn’t express itself in him (or the one on the way).

Do you worry about illnesses that run in your family striking your child? How do you balance vigilance with realism?

The long blob period

Upon visiting a friend with a five-month old child recently, Mark kept asking me questions about what River was like at that age. “Didn’t he interact more by then?” He asked. “When did he first sit up?” That was easy enough to calculate because it coincided with my first overnight trip away from him – at around age 5.5 months.

Later he commented, “I just realized how long the blob period is. That they don’t come out fully formed like little Rivers (thinking of him in his 2.5 year old state). That there is a long time in which they are only full of demands.”

I agree. The baby period is pretty boring and I’m not too excited about the blob period, or the fourth trimester. Yes, this baby’s skills seemed to be limited to smiling, waving her arms around, cooing, grabbing toys and fingers and lifting her feet. And no, these skills didn’t seem too momentous to us as bystanders.

But I do remember celebrating River’s first coo. I remember feeling so proud of him rolling over that I couldn’t wait for him to show off his new skill at mom and baby yoga (as if anyone would care). These things took on more meaning to us as parents because we knew what complete dependence he started from, and each move towards independence, however tiny, was a cause for celebration. Also, each little milestone met helped to reassure us that he didn’t have a hidden disorder that would make his life more difficult.

Hopefully, we’ll be touched by the strong parental interest again and that will help the blob period pass more quickly. That said, I do expect my butt to be tied to the couch in the initial weeks and I’m not really looking forward to that.

Taking the embryo for a bike ride

Today I went a good 35 miles by bike, probably more, in the region north of Madrid. A good chunk of this was uphill, including a switchback mountain road that I walked up in the intense late morning heat, huffing and puffing. I realized I haven’t panted so much in a day for quite some time. I also wondered how this was affecting my embryo. Was it positive in that it’s improving my fitness and perhaps giving the embryo exposure to an elevated heart rate? Or was this going beyond the recommended moderate exercise and potentially causing harm?

I thought back to the bike ride I took when I was four months pregnant with River. Then I biked in the Ecuadorian Andes and I really stressed out about the one-day trip because it began at an altitude of 4,000 meters. It turned out the altitude wasn’t a problem and the ride was a breeze because it was all downhill. I had to do nothing but apply my brake constantly and barely broke a sweat.

This one I didn’t stress out about in advance. I’m only two months along. I’m gloriously not sick. I can use the exercise. And this is the last opportunity I may have to do something like this for a while. But now that I’ve started, I start to worry a little.

While on the quiet country roads today, I thought about how nice it is to not have to think or worry about the state of my belly and who notices or doesn’t notice. No one here cares. And I don’t care what anyone here thinks. My belly can do what it needs to do and I can focus on other things.

Then, while showering at the end of the ride, my belly did seem noticeably expanded to me. Is it going to be obvious upon reappearance at work, the change that has taken place in a week and a half? Can I get the Down’s Syndrome tests done before people start to notice?

Smoking 18 month old

On the Spanish news last night, the last item of the broadcast was about how the rate of smoking has gone up five percent recently (in the past year?) despite someone dying once each minute due to cigarettes.

To illustrate their story, they showed an obese toddler from what appeared to be a low-income community in Indonesia. He was sitting on the porch of a hut, his fat congealed into rolls, puffing away on a cigarette. With his family looking on calmly and a gaggle of kids staring, he took one cigarette and lit it from another lighted cigarette. After his smoke, he lay down with a bottle of milk.

The accompanying text said he started smoking at age 18 months and that his parents started him and encouraged the habit.

This was contrasted with news about Chinese children speaking out against smoking and preparing posters depicting the dangers.

I wonder what in the world (other than an extremely low education level) would inspire parents to start their 18 month old smoking. They seem to be treating their child in the same way I’ve seen people treat monkeys or other simians behind bars, giving them dangerous substances to get a laugh at how difficult it is for them to handle the effects.

Is this child abuse or parental perogative? What do you think?