Friday, July 30, 2010

Birth from the male perspective

I’m feeling large and not very comfortable. I’m definitely in that in-between stage of not being obviously pregnant, yet not being not pregnant either. I’ve gained six pounds so far and four of them have been within the past two weeks. I guess it makes a difference to eat in the evenings.

Last night Mark gave me the description of what birth looked like from his perspective. “Your vagina was like a large, stretchy plastic bag being pierced by a basketball. I saw you poop on the table and there was enough blood pouring out of you to look like an abattoir (slaughterhouse, in case you, like me, don’t know that word).”

How romantic. Really, how gross. And how amazing he can still be attracted to me after seeing that. While I suppose viewing it is easier than experiencing it, it can’t be a very fun thing to go through. I have to be grateful to him for holding up as well as he did and providing support when I needed it.

In one Central Asian country I visited, I was told that men don’t enter the maternity wards until after the birth because otherwise, they wouldn’t be attracted to their wives anymore. Clearly, the many men who support their wives around the world prove this to be untrue. And I think it’s more important to support your spouse in their time of greatest pain and suffering than to be thinking of future sexual pleasure. But still, it’s a painful, dirty and ugly process and I’m kind of shocked we are going to go through it again.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Week 17/18 belly shot

A definite pouch, but still not too noticeable.

Maternity leave

At my doctor’s appointment today, I had to ask him to fill out the first of several forms for maternity leave. As this is the first time I’m giving birth while working for an American employer, it’s my first time being exposed to this paperwork. If I recall correctly, all I had to do for my European employer was write a short note and I believed I offered a note from my doctor stating when I should return to the U.S., but they didn’t require that.

While he was filling out the paperwork, he checked the box that I could return to work six weeks after delivery.

“How many of your patients actually return to work after six weeks?” I asked him. That seems so very early to me. His office is in a upper-middle-income area, so I’d expect his patients are, on average, middle or upper middle class.

“About 50%,” he said.

I was shocked. “Is that for financial reasons or because their employers require them to return?”

“It’s mostly for financial reasons,” he said. “Most of them would prefer to stay home longer with the baby.”

He works in an area where people receive some paid leave, not a whole lot, but it’s still one of the best maternity leaves available in the country. But it’s still not enough for 50% of his patients to be able to afford more time with their newborns.

It is my hope that within my lifetime and hopefully sooner, our country will follow the lead of every other developed nation (yep, Australia, the only other former holdout, now offers paid leave) and allow parents the realistic option of spending the time they need with their newborn infants.

On a positive note, my employer approved my leave request – about 2 weeks off before the birth, 6 months after, and transitioning back at 50% time the first month, 60% the next three months, and then back to 80%, where I am now. It will be a financial squeeze for us to lose that income, but it’s less than a year of our lives. We’ll prepare for it as best we can and try to make up for it afterwards. I'm really grateful to have choice in the matter and hopeful that the gradual transition won't force me to chose between work and breastfeeding.

Also, I got my sequential screen results back. Though the risk at my age is 1 in 200 on average, my results for the likelihood of Down’s Syndrome came back at 1 in 10,000. We are very happy about that.

I fail at making cool lunches before I even begin

I follow a couple of food blogs and I love opening my reader and looking at the daily photos. If it looks delicious, and something I’d be likely to make, I star it to try for later. This is an act of faith on my part, since I generally prefer to see a large number of five star reviews before I attempt a new recipe. But for certain bloggers, with really great pictures, I trust them.

This blog, Another Lunch, also has amazing pictures. The blogger’s children have the happiest, healthiest, funniest, most delicious looking lunches ever. But instead of feeling inspired, I feel inadequate. There is no way I am going to cut every ounce of River’s food into a cool shape, such as an angel, a bunny, a mouse or a monster.

It’s even less likely that I would ever take the time to affix edible faces onto each of these creatures. Or purchase and maintain the variety of food items necessary to have a selection of six or so different items every day.

1. I’d have to go purchase special food prep items to do these things, and I can’t see spending the money.

2. It seems like the kind of thing where once you do it once, or a few times, regular food won’t seem the same. I’d be stuck in a rut of obligation to keep it up.

3. I don’t have the time to do this. Or as the time-management book 168 Hours says instead, “It’s not a priority.” In the extra 20 minutes minimum it would take me to beautify a lunch in this way, I could have 20 minutes of sleep, I could read a chapter in a novel, I could take a walk with River, I could cook something that the whole family would enjoy.

This is not meant as a criticism of people who make these lunches. Wow, they are beautiful and I’m in awe. Their kids are lucky. But man, I really hope no one in River’s preschool comes to class with a lunch like this. It’s one of those things that if he doesn’t know it exists, he won’t miss it. He’ll have a happy life, and I’ll have more time.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sleep schedules

We’ve been pretty lucky in not having many issues with sleep, besides difficulty with daytime naps until River started to walk. But every so often, River's schedule changes a bit and we wonder, Is this normal?

For a long time now, he’s been going to bed at 8/8:30 and getting up between 7:30 and 8. But recently, he’s been happily chatting to himself in bed for up to two hours after we put him down. And sometimes he’s getting up as early as 6:30.

Several friends who have experienced sleep problems with their children recommended the SleepyPlanet website for guidance and assistance. In the process of passing on those suggestions to a sleep-deprived friend and parent of a 4-month old, I found this sleep schedule on their site. It's pretty much in line with what we’ve experienced, especially at night, and I think the sleep has been a big factor in his generally cheerful, easy-going disposition.

It’s interesting to see that going forward, we should prepare ourselves for earlier wakeups (in the 6:30-7 range). And that perhaps we should make more of an effort to have him in bed by 8 (it’s often 8:30, especially when he has napped 3 hours until 6 p.m.).

I was also glad to see the recommendation that children not be moved from a crib to a bed before age 3, unless they are climbing out of the crib. My instinct was to keep him in the crib as long as possible. For me, the main reason to move him will be when he is capable of pulling down his pants and going potty on his own. At that point, I wouldn’t want to prevent him being able to go. But until then, I think the crib provides safety, security and comfort, and minimizes distractions and entertainment that could detract from sleep.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Support to working breastfeeding moms

Compared to my first childbirth, this time I need to be more strategic about building up a supply of milk to ease my return to work. I thought about trying out a local La Leche League group as a means of getting advice and support. Looking at the groups in my area, only one (not the closest) is held in the evening. I looked at another major city and saw that all meetings were on weekday mornings.

That may be fine for the period right after birth or for those with the finances or the luxury to afford more time off. But come on people, if you really want to support breastfeeding, you should not be ruling out those who have to work. Since working women are probably not able to be around their babies around the clock, they may need even more advice and assistance than those who are. Very slight modifications, such as a weekend morning meeting instead of a weekday morning, would be a lot more inclusive.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Little trooper

Yesterday I had the bright idea of taking River on a hike with me. I recently bought a book of local hikes and selected one that was 1.2 miles through the woods. The description said it was appropriate for all ages, but it also said that jogging strollers can’t pass, due to tree roots and a stream crossing.

I waited until later in the evening, until the temperature got down to 95 or so. Upon arrival, I saw that the path was closed due to construction. There was a detour sign, which we followed and we soon found ourselves in the woods.

River is very cautious physically (he didn’t take his first unassisted step up or down stairs until 2.5), so I thought the experience of walking up and down hills, over roots and fallen trees, etc. was good practice for him. Within a matter of minutes I noticed increased confidence. He was also taken by all the details of nature – the leaves, nuts, fallen fruits, insects and trees. It started out great.

As we continued on and followed the arrows, I realized I had no idea how long this “detour” was. He is only 2. I had no stroller or carrier. I’m four months pregnant. And night was approaching. So while I tried to remain calm for his sake, walking quietly behind him and responding calmly to his inquiries, my heart was pounding with worry about what I’d do if we ran into a psycho in the empty woods, how far his little legs could do, how far I could carry him, and what we would do if darkness fell.

Eventually, the path came to a road that I recognized and I knew we’d be able to get out. According to my pedometer, we walked a total of over 1.5 miles (it would have been a bit longer, but towards the end, we jumped a few barriers). This included a substantial hill at the end. While his pace slowed a bit, my little trooper did not complain once. He didn’t ask me to carry him, he didn’t ask me to stop, he didn’t ask me how much further we had to go. He started to sweat first at the nape of his neck. By the end of the walk, his hair was soaked, making his thick mane look like a thin, wet comb-over. He had sweat dripping down his face. But his little legs kept on moving. He continued to smile and to point out sights of interest.

Mark calls my hikes “death marches.” I counter that they are “health marches” since long walks can only do good things for your health. I think Mark would have been complaining on this one. I was so proud of my little toddler for covering such a distance in the woods without complaint. I may just have a future (and current) hiking buddy.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

still here

Though it may certainly seem as though I’ve disappeared (a six-month lag in posting would give that impression), I have in fact been writing. I just haven’t posted what I’ve written. Over the coming days, I will try to get these entries posted and bring my blog up to date.

If you are still out there, thanks for sticking around.

Infant self-stimulation update

According to Google Analytics, by far the most popular search term that brings people to my blog is infant and/or toddler self-stimulation. I’m going to hope these are other parents wondering if what they are seeing in their children is normal and not perverts. So for anyone that comes to the blog based on the post I wrote about that subject way back when, I thought I’d provide an update.

While we occasionally see a little self-comfort stimulation, it’s really not an issue anymore. We did nothing and it eventually went away. Not worrying about it seemed to be the right thing to do.

Adopting an older child

During college, I was traveling in a taxi to Fez, Morocco. We stopped in the middle of nowhere to take a photo and a group of children ran across the sandy dunes, seeming to appear from nowhere. I was impressed by their friendliness, the remoteness of where they grew up, and the obvious signs of poverty. At that point, I made the decision that I’d eventually join the Peace Corps.

It wasn’t long after that, when I’d had several other encounters with loving children, born into poverty and without a stable family, that I promised I would one day provide a home to one of them.

I fulfilled the first pledge, but haven’t fulfilled the second yet. I still intend to, but there are barriers. Among them, Mark’s nervousness about adoption (though he agreed to allow me to fulfill my promise to myself before we got married), the difficulty of finding the right match from overseas, the emotional, legal and financial uncertainties, the additional challenges of an older child vs. the greater demand for younger children, ensuring that the child has not been trafficked, etc.

For me, it’s important to adopt a child that would not likely have a family otherwise. If ten families are all lined up for a baby, my joining that line isn’t going to do a lot to help that child. I was so very inspired by the successful true adoption story of an older child in the movie Welcome to Sarajevo. But the adoptive father in this film had the chance to get to know his future daughter while on assignment in Sarajevo. I think it makes a big difference to be able to spend time with a child and see if it’s the right fit. Yet, at this point in our lives, it’s not so easy to take off for several weeks to go volunteer in an orphanage. Nor do we know enough to ensure we could adopt a particular child if we’d find the right fit.

So I was intrigued to find out about this organization, KidSave, which brings older children (8-15) into the homes of families who will either consider adopting them, or will serve as their advocate (promoting their adoption, supporting their education, etc.) for either a weekend or for five weeks of summer.

When I was in high school, we hosted a Spanish exchange student for six weeks during the summer. I just visited her at her home in Spain last month, about 15 years since I’d seen her last. She suggested that when our children get older, we exchange them for a summer, allowing all of our kids the opportunity to live with a caring family in a foreign language environment. A single 6-week visit led to a connection that has lasted decades, and perhaps generations.

Portland tries to break a world record

The fat stage

17 weeks, I think (I’m not keeping very good track), and I’m at the fat stage. I’ve gained six pounds. When I dress for work, I don’t think people can tell that I’m pregnant, but I still walk around with the extra six pounds, which must show in some way. On weekends, when I wear more form-fitting clothes, I feel like I have a bit of a rubber tire hanging from my belly. I know this is normal for some people (I carry my excess weight elsewhere) and I imagine some people just think I have a belly, as well as hips and thighs.

It’s an uncomfortable stage, in which I can still fit into many of my usual clothes, but I’m finding myself much more comfortable in one size up.

During my first pregnancy, my sister-in-law recommended buying larger sized clothes rather than maternity clothes. At the time, I didn’t listen. I found the prospect of buying bigger clothes depressing. Maternity clothes were for a reason – maternity – then I could go back to normal.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy as I imagined. The first maternity clothes I bought, when I about in this stage, I quickly grew out of and had to replace. Then there was a long and painful period after the birth in which I was far from fitting in my normal clothes. So I continued to wear maternity clothes, which feels discouraging months after the birth.

This time around, I bought a few pieces in the size larger than I usually wear, and I collected a few more pieces from freecycle. I’m grateful to have a little bit more flexibility in first moving up a little bit, then eventually transitioning to maternity wear (which I haven’t done yet, but imagine is in my near future). I think it will also be helpful in what I’ve heard called the fourth trimester.

In the meantime, my appetite has suddenly strengthened, I’m gaining weight, and I’m feeling fat. It’s time to prioritize exercise and to remember that while there are benefits to being clearly pregnant vs. fat, a couple months from now I’ll probably look back fondly upon this time.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Learning moral values

Interesting op-ed in the NY Times today on anti-bullying efforts.

This highlights some of the tension I’m feeling about putting River into a classroom. Part of me wants him to integrate, to learn how to deal with people, to make his own way. But another part of me thinks kids are mean. I was sometimes mean and I definitely suffered from the meanness of others.

This is not purely child’s territory. There are plenty of uncomfortable, dangerous and morally ambiguous situations to navigate as an adult. But does going through this as a child teach kids how to handle it better as adults? I’m not so sure. I also think there is more meanness off the radar screen among kids. 4.5 instances per hour on the playground? How many of those are witnessed and addressed by an adult? Probably very few.

A friend of mine told me about how difficult the transition was for her from a Catholic grade school, where children were expected to be kind to each other, to a public school, where teachers did little moral enforcement outside of breaking up fist fights.

We aren’t religious, so attending a religious school is not on our radar screen. One of the main reasons I want to enroll River in the Unitarian religious education system though is to have some education and role models in his life on how to respect and treat other people, how and why it’s important to think about others and the role he plays in the larger world. Mark is not excited about this idea, as he’s suspicious of any organized religious group, regardless of how inclusive it might be. But I think it’s important for River to see both adults and children who embody the morals I want to teach him. I don’t think that hoping for a few in his public school class is sufficient nor do I feel confident that the children of good parents always behave in an ethical/moral manner around their peers.

Outside of attending a religious school, how do you expect your child to learn morals? Do you plan to teach him/her to be one of the few who intervenes when witnesses bullying? If so, how?

Nothing to do this weekend

I have a rare weekend just around the corner in which we have no obligations, nothing we must attend or do. I’d like to take River to church, and that’s about it.

“That’s great! You’ll have time to work,” Mark said. He knows I should be working hard on a manuscript this month, which I have been. “Activities are just an excuse to avoid work.”

That’s partly true. But I’d also like to have some family time and it’s more fun and easier if someone else is hosting something and we just have to show up and enjoy ourselves. I find myself actually wishing we had a kiddie birthday party this weekend, a thought that I doubt will reappear too often in coming years.

Perhaps it is a good time to just hang back, catch up on some things around the house and try to get some work done. I’ve already claimed the first half of Saturday as my work time, giving Mark time to himself on Sunday morning. It’s rare that I get weekend morning time to myself, so I hope I’ll make use of it, and not fritter it away on minor errands.

Let's get some juice

Last night I took River on a walk to buy bread. On the way, I offered to stop at a frozen yogurt place that advertised juice. I bought a mango-peach smoothie, but after one sip, he thought it was gross and didn’t want any more.

“Let’s go to the juice store,” he said.

“What juice store?” I asked.

“It’s up ahead.”

I knew there wasn’t a juice store and forgot about it. Just as we approached a liquor store, he pointed and said, “There it is – the juice store!”

I have no idea where he got that from, except from perhaps the images of the bottles outside, which he might assume are juice. I’ve never been in that store and I doubt Mark has either, so I don’t know where he’d have the exposure.

In any case, I’m sure the owners would appreciate knowing that toddlers point the place out to their parents as a place to buy juice.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Raw milk

This story on NPR talks about the enthusiasm a small percentage of the population has for raw milk.

I recently stopped by a farm that sells raw milk and other dairy products made from raw milk. I bought a large quantity since it’s a good distance from home. What I liked about it was that:

  • It was really fresh

  • It feels nice to buy directly from the farmer

  • It lasted quite a while. It’s been a week and we are still drinking it.

  • They also sell meat products from their free-range, organic cattle.

What I didn’t like was that it’s only available in whole milk, which is a bit too rich and creamy for me. The taste was OK. It’s a little different, like the fresh milk I’ve drunk overseas, and takes some getting used to. I have to say I prefer the pasteurized milk sold in glass bottles from a local operation that has grass-fed cows. To me, the most important thing is that the cows eat grass and aren’t injected with hormones. Whether or not it’s raw is not of prime importance to me. That said, I’m willing to return to this farm for the butter, the cheese (very good!) and the meat. And as long as I’m there, I’d pick up some milk for my child, and perhaps make some yogurt and/or ice cream from it.

Whether or not there are any great nutritional benefits from some nutrients not being killed by pasteurization, I don’t know. It appears there is a lack of scientific evidence on this question, though if anyone knows of any, please share. I have some intelligent friends who believe in it, but they also believe in vaccine avoidance, acupuncture and some other non-mainstream practices that I’m not convinced by.

As to the risks of unpasteurized milk, I do know they are real. I’ve gotten sick from drinking fresh milk overseas and it’s not fun. But then again, that was milk likely processed with dirty hands, poured into old soda and vodka bottles, carted without refrigeration to the local market, and sold outdoors. The farm where I bought my milk was clean and they said they do tests for bacteria every single day. In fact, they even post the test results on their website. With proper practices and oversight, is it possible to reduce the risks to being negligible? Do the health benefits, if there are any, warrant taking small risks?

What do you think? Have you purchased raw milk? Would you like to be able to?

Friday, July 16, 2010


I’m officially back to reading again. My goal is to stick with it this time. Why?

1. I love to read and always have.

2. It’s nice to escape into another world.

3. In my spare time, I’m a writer. In order to improve, it’s a good idea to spend more time studying the craft.

Time has been an issue recently. I’ve also felt a distinct decrease in my ability to concentrate. I used to be able to read for hours on end. Not so these days. So I’m starting out with novels and hope to eventually get back to reading more serious non-fiction.

I have higher standards now. It bums me out to spend hours on a book that only turns out to be mediocre. It used to be sufficient to be entertained. Now I want literature. I want beautifully crafted sentences. I want characters that resonate with me. I want a world created that I can jump in to. I know I’m asking for a lot, but hey, my time is valuable these days.

Unfortunately, it’s fairly rare that I come across a book that meets these standards. A book that I can read from cover to cover thinking Wow, that writer has talent, this is a marvelous piece of work. If you have read some books like this, please, please share.

A few I can recall from the past year or so include:
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I read this in Spanish, but based on the reviews on Amazon, people think pretty highly of it in English too. Exquisitely constructed tale set in Barcelona. A mixture of fantasy, mystery, love, adventure and tale of growing up.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This novel brings Nigeria, and Biafra, to life through a series of unique characters. Having just visited Nigeria, I can say she did a good job with the aspects I recognized. Not having been to Biafra, and not very familiar with the devastating war there, she also did a fantastic job educating me on the origins of the conflicts, the beliefs of those who lived through it, and the effects on the population. I plan to check out more of this talented writer’s work.

The Emigrants Series by Vilhelm Moberg. I heard about this author from a Swedish man I met traveling. His novels have made Minnesota legendary among Swedes. Now that I’ve read them, I can see why. Probably the most vivid depiction I’ve seen of the immigrant journey and the process of settling on the frontier was like.

The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley. Unique tale about a girl of Icelandic descent who returns to her roots, it both tells the fascinating story of a group of Icelandic emigrees in Canada, who escaped the aftereffects of a volcanic explosion, and a portrait of Iceland today. I went to Iceland shortly after reading this book and felt a certain acquaintance with the land as soon as I arrived.

A couple of other favorites:
The Road to Wellville by TC Boyle (I love TC Boyle!)
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Children of the Arbat trilogy by Anatoly Rybakov
Gods Bits of Wood by Sembene Ousmane
Segu by Maryse Conde
The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Fifty Russian Winters by Margaret Wettlin
How We Die by Sherwin Nuland
Gulag by Anne Applebaum
A Piece of the Action by Joseph Nocera
Journey into the Whirlwind by Evgenia Ginsburg
Shadows and Wind by Robert Templer
Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
The Feast of the Goat (La Fiesta del Chivo) by Mario Vargas Llosa
River Town by Peter Hessler
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
DNA by James Watson
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

What are the best books you have ever read?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Blueberry picking

Today was a first for both me and River – we both had our first experience blueberry picking. I enjoyed seeing where blueberries come from, seeing the difference between the green berries, the pink and the blue. I enjoyed learning how to pick more efficiently, and of course, snacking a little in the process.

River liked eating them, and that’s about it. I thought he might put some in the bucket once his stomach was full. No. When I put some in his bucket to show him how it’s done, he promptly removed them and put them in his mouth. When he finally did become full, he sat down on the ground and waited for me.

Until, of course, he heard the tractor coming by. Then it was, “c’mon mama.”
The only thing that troubled me was the clearly visible residue of pesticides on the berries. Unlike apples I purchase there, that I can wipe off on my shirt, I had no way of cleaning off the berries before he ate them.

I have no idea if it had anything to do with the berries, but he did develop a runny nose and frequent sneeze while at the farm. By the time he woke up from his nap, his eyes were puffy. He was clearly having a reaction to something in a way he hadn’t before. There were all kinds of grasses, weeds, plants, flowers and animals there, so it could be anything. But I do feel better about my child snacking on things that are not covered in white residue. I found an organic berry farm a bit further away. When I called, I learned they were already out of blueberries this year. But perhaps next year we’ll go there instead.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

An unexpected invitation to a party

We went to visit a friend with a 5-week old baby today and took a walk to a small park by her house. Though it was only 9:30 a.m. and threatening rain, there were several children there playing already.

When we arrived, a woman approached River and asked if he’d like a birthday hat.
“He’s not a member of your party,” Mark said.

“That’s OK,” she said. “We don’t want him to feel left out.”

So he played on his own while wearing a colorful cone hat. When the rain seemed imminent, we decided to leave. The party-goers also left, to a table set up under the awning of an old train station, where they had cupcakes and train-shaped cakes. Mark tried to lead River off the main sidewalk so that we wouldn’t pass so close to the cake, so that it wouldn’t be such a temptation.

But the same lady who offered him the hat approached again. “Would you like to join us for cake and cupcakes and to sing happy birthday?” she asked.

So River stood in the group of strangers and sang happy birthday to a child he didn’t know. I don’t think it mattered to him that he didn’t know anyone. For him, the birthday song and birthday cake is probably one of the most anticipation-filled moments in his life. Then he walked away with a train-shaped cake, chocolate licorice, Kit-Kats and a goody bag.

I was very surprised, though pleasantly so, at how these strangers welcomed him into the celebration. I suppose we won’t need to worry about birthday party in park protocol. With two December birthdays, it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever have a party outdoors. But for those who celebrate in summer, what do you do when you celebrate in a public space? Is it common to welcome children who happen to be nearby? Or was this lady exceptionally nice?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Big Boy

Everyone is saying it – myself, my husband, caregivers, family. “River, you are so big now.”

“No, soy pequeno, por favor,” is his typical answer.

He is only a pound more than he has been for the past year or so, but he must be taller, because he looks large, slender, and mature. People have been commenting that he looks older and more mature than a 2.5-year-old.

He’s had a bit of a temperature for the past two days and hasn’t been eating much. Today I noticed that his legs are truly slender. The rolls of fat are long gone, and the little chubbiness also seems to be disappearing. He’s turning into a boy, on his way to becoming a man.

When I tell him that, he says no - he’s a nino, he’s pequeno, and thank you very much.

Maybe I should listen to him and treasure his smallness while I can. Because I can tell it’s not going to last long. He’s already looking like a big brother.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

music lessons?

I’ve been thinking about music lessons for River lately. He shows a definite interest in music and musical instruments. While visiting family, he sat at the piano and while he did a bit of random banging, his exploration of the keys and the sounds they made were quite methodical.

So I called about lessons yesterday. I was considering violin (which I could help him with, since I used to play the viola) and piano (which seems to interest him). The Suzuki method starts at age three. I found a not-too-expensive place that could offer piano lessons. And I found that the local music conservatory offers classes, but you have to commit for a year.

Part of me says yikes, you are becoming the uber-schedule parent. He doesn’t need lessons at 3, it’s expensive, and what if he ends up not liking it. Mark tends to think this too.

Another part says, well, now is when he’s not uber-scheduled. In fact, he has pretty much nothing scheduled, beyond going to the wading pool twice a week and regular visits to library story time. So wouldn’t this be a good time to help him develop a skill? And wouldn’t the development of the skill at this early age do good things for his brain development? It’s once he gets into school and other organized activities that I think overscheduling is an issue. Right now he has space to pursue an activity and still have loads of down time.

I do tend toward the overscheduled side for myself. I’m not much for sitting around and “relaxing” with nothing to do. So I know I’m definitely at risk of overscheduling my kids. I try to keep in mind the need for downtime to create and explore and I thought I’d make that a priority. Then I saw some kids over this weekend who didn’t have much planned this summer and they were bored. One in particular complained frequently about boredom. I remembered back to those days.

Yes, it was nice to sometimes have time to write in my journal in the woods, to read lots of books, to do silly exercises, to make tapes from the radio. But sometimes it was just boring. When I recalled that heavy, sticky feeling of nothingness, it didn’t seem so attractive to me. I started to think that perhaps half a day of structured activities would probably be a good goal for summer, with another half for downtime and family time.

But the more I read, the more I thought it might not be worth the investment, at least for another year, if not longer. Perhaps he doesn’t need one-on-one instruction on a particular instrument right now. But I would like for him to have exposure to more instruments, and to some musical ideas, so that I can see how strong his interest is and what he gravitates toward. I’d like him to have some exposure to music that is more playful.

Plenty of my friends take their kids to the infant/toddler music classes that are so popular now. I’m sure they are fun, but I’ve been a bit doubtful of their effect, beyond being a fun (and pricey) social hour. I see the local conservatory offers a music class for toddlers that seems playful, but perhaps is a little more focused. It requires the parent to participate until age 3.5, then the child can attend alone. It’s also within a couple of blocks of home, which is a bonus if we’d keep it up longer term.

I think I’ll attend the sample class in early September and see how it goes – to see whether it’s worth the money and my time (unfortunately, I don’t think Mark would be up for taking him, though I’d really rather he do it – especially since it’s in English) or if we should just hold off for another year or more.

When did your kids start music? What age do you think is the best time to start?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The first outgrown shirts

This morning, in the process of looking for an acceptable shirt for work, I first tried on two that did not fully close. The first two to go into the no longer fit pile.

It’s not really a surprise, as my stomach is pronounced to me, if not to others. But still, it reminds me that the process is just beginning.

It was a relief to not have to worry about a bit of a bulge showing over the holiday weekend. I thought it was showing, and yet when I broke the news to some family members, they said they couldn’t tell.

It will be nice to soon just be able to focus on finding something that fits, rather than something that both fits and doesn't show anything. I’ll probably break the news around two weeks from now. I’m not looking forward the conversation at all. But I hope the aftermath will be less stressful by allowing me to be open and let whatever shows show.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The IB program

The International Baccalaureate program seems to me to be a promising way to raise educational standards and to open students up to more of a (much needed) world view. This article in the New York Times writes about how it's catching on in the U.S., though only for the last two years of high school. I'm really excited that a new public charter school in our area is using this curriculum starting in preschool.