Category: parenting

motherhood and the myth of the american bootstrap

lifestyle, parenting, Uncategorized December 25, 2013

20131225-092034.jpg

How our country treats pregnancy and motherhood is social issue, it is a public health issue, it is a moral issue. Yet our public policy on these matters lags behind many if not most other countries. The statistics are horrifying. At a time when insurance is a national discussion, maternity leave should be a bigger part of that. (I did see a headliner at Fox News asking whether it was unfair that men had to pay for insurance that covered prenatal/maternity costs. Are you kidding me? Who here came into this world but through birth. It is infuriating). At a time when minimum wage and social aid are at issue, let’s remember what those things pay for: our families. At a time when abortion is a hot topic, the rights of the mother and child unit should equally be at issue. If you try to separate mother and child, as we are doing legally, things get crazy. There is no meaningful physical separation until weaning, and there is no emotional separation for long after. This is insanity, and it is the core of everyone’s life and should be the core of our society. I have so much regard, respect, and gratitude for this country. This makes me angry though, this monumental aspect of every life, not even just human life, is relegated to the sidelines. It is not just women who suffer, but children and families and ultimately society.

I was completely taken by surprise by how hard it is to be a mother. I’m not even talking about the late nights, the diapers, and the child that needs you endlessly. I am talking about the ridiculous choice you are faced with if you are a professional or working woman in this country. The choice I initially faced was: 1) continue on as if you are not having a baby, work until your due date take 6-12 weeks off un-paid, then put your very young baby in (expensive) daycare and see them on evenings and weekends; or 2) quit your job and be poor, potentially uninsured, and isolated (partly because of the long hours my husband needs to work, and partly because I can’t make enough at a part time job to justify child care). I chose the latter.

I pretty much had to work up until my due date. I was exhausted and in pain, but I had to hoard my sick days and administrative leave days in order to eek out as much as I could during my ‘maternity leave’. In some countries, Germany I believe, women get time off BEFORE they give birth. It makes so much sense to not be exhausted before you go through this incredible physical feat, followed immediately by what will most likely be the most exhausting year of your life. I believe it also leads to more successful vaginal births and higher birth weights. (How much money do we spend in this country on c-sections whose rates are constantly on the rise?) Ok, fine, so I had to work until my due date. I might have done that anyway because of my personality. What about after the child is born?

My boss came into my office and counted off six weeks on the calendar to work out my return date. (My boss, who was a female and. a mother.). When is the last time you held a six week old infant? That we expect children to go into day care as a matter of course at that age, or a little older is insane. Our education system is in decline, the party of family values is fighting aid to poor families, and the choice many mothers face is financial doom or placing their tiny child in the hand of strangers. Do we really think this is the best thing for the next generation? Children need their mothers. In most instances, their mothers and fathers are the best, most capable caregivers. Babies that age require an incredible amount of patience, nature allows for that with the intensely strong parental bond. Hired caregivers just cannot provide the same and patience. Much like the studies that seemingly endlessly show that eating fresh fruits and vegetables are good for you, it is obvious and yet we are still discovering reasons why it is important. I realized that above all, me being the one to care for my child was the most important thing I could be doing. I agonized over quitting my job. I liked my job. We needed insurance, we needed money. I was terrified about letting that bottom drop out from under us, but every time I thought about returning to work and leaving my son, I sobbed.

I am angry because I followed all the rules and have worked hard, and here I am writing a blog on how to live off very little so that I can be a parent to my child. I started working as soon as I could drive. I got good grades in highschool, went to a decent college and got good grades there. I worked throughout most of college, and did my obligatory time as a waitress through grad school, tolerating all the condescension that comes with it. Got married, went to law school, graduated and took a low paying job as a public servant because that is why I went to law school, to serve. Imagine my surprise when it was time for me to start a family and all my diligence in laying this solid groundwork for a career and way of contributing to the community was rewarded with nothing. My super expensive state insurance wasn’t even covering enough of my pre-natal costs, my husband and I were both working full time jobs and we had to ask family for help. Thank god we had that option. (Which is by the way, the ONLY reason we are able to get by on just my husband’s pay as it is).

There has to be a better way to raise the next generation. I don’t know what it is. All I know is that I spend a great amount of time trying to think myself out of a box I put myself in by doing what I thought was right, and working hard. It is scary that at this point in our country, you can work very hard, make the right moves, get the education and bootstrap yourself all the way to poverty by having a child. Maybe if my husband and I had different degrees (though I have three to choose from), maybe if we stayed in the city, it would be different. I hate feeling powerless. I have always said that if you don’t like where you are, change it. I honestly feel that I have done what society asked of me, and now it is asking more. I will not give up my child. We as a country need to think this through as a policy matter, as a political issue, and as a moral one. The premise and promise of America is that if you work hard, you will succeed and get your piece of the pie. A corollary to that is that if you have not succeeded, you must not have worked hard. This may have been true once, but it is no longer the case. The notion that the poor are lazy and intent on voting in representatives who will give them a free ride is crazy and out of touch, and yet it is very popular. I will offer that it is popular, because in order to justify having so much more than others, it is better for those at the top to believe that they deserve it and are morally entitled to it because of all the hard work they have put in, where the have nots have just not tried.

There is a very old debate in philosophy as to whether altruism really exists. One arm of that debate is that it doesn’t because, often, what is good for others is really good for you as well. So this Christmas, in the interests of self service, I implore you to consider what is really good for our families and our children and our society. We need economic and social policies that at the very least, feed hungry bellies and at the best enable families to exist and thrive. This hits all arenas from national budget decisions, to tax codes, to the federal minimum wage, and health insurance. Let us make decisions about these issues based on the good of our people, and not on the notion that the growing lower class is poor because of laziness and moral deficiencies. Merry Christmas to all!

screen time: beautiful apps for children

parenting, Uncategorized December 14, 2013

When I was pregnant with my son I was resolute about the role I wanted technology to play in his early life. Wood blocks, books, dirt and the great outdoors. No smartphones decked out in baby proof cases, no TVs in the car, no tablets at the table. Now that’s he is 15 months old, I am beginning to question my earlier convictions. We are still strictly a no TV house and I am not running to the apple store for a jr. iPad, but I have indulged in some app purchases for the younger set.

I understand that ‘screen time’ detracts from the never ending experiment that toddlers are engaged in, that repeatedly transferring a spoon from the countertop to a bowl is a vital activity. I have come to believe that our family at least, cannot pretend that iPhones and tablets and laptops are not hopelessly ubiquitous in today’s world, and that like it or not, the kid is going to take interest. My hope is that I can guide my son’s engagement and keep it contained so that it doesn’t overwhelm and prevent him from engaging with the ‘real’ world.

Here are a few apps that I have found, I have searched for apps that are beautiful and educational. I found that some are elevating applications to art and am happy to expose my son (carefully and in small doses) to what will likely be a great area of creative effort in the coming years (as well as a great opportunity to waste time).

1. Christoph Niemann’s ‘Petting Zoo’
This app is amazing, artfully done and very amusing.

20131220-121224.jpg

2. Eric Carle’s ‘My Vert First App’
This one is very simple and showcases Eric Carle’s well loved children’s art.

20131220-121351.jpg

3. Disney’s ‘It’s a Small World’
This is as close to TV as my son gets. It’s a sweet musical trip around the world and he loves it.

20131220-121612.jpg

4. Charley Harper’s ‘Peekaboo Forest’. This is a simple app with an attractive design that teaches the names of various woodland creatures.

20131220-121809.jpg

5. Moonbots ‘The Numberlys’. This is basically an animated short with interactive abilities. It is too mature for my son, but my husband loves it. It has very cool graphics and is quietly witty. I look forward to when I can share it with my son.

20131220-122113.jpg

crunchy

green living, lifestyle, parenting December 13, 2013

After a big batch of homemade sourdough pancakes and spending the weekend planning a greenhouse food garden while folding a load of cloth diapers and lamenting my 15 month old’s constant desire to nurse, this blog post was just what I needed.

Here’s what I would say about it all if I were funnier:

http://crappypictures.com/crappy-mohs-scale-crunchy-mamas/

We clearly fall somewhere in the ‘only eat local organic food blessed by vegan unicorns.’ Live and let live, toss your disposable diapers in the landfill and enjoy boxed Mac and cheese! (Both of which I also did this weekend). That is all the news that’s fit to print from me today. I also realize it is Friday, but my husband’s days off are Tuesday and Wednesday, everything is relative.

our patriotic efforts to stimulate the economy

parenting May 1, 2013

I didn’t know when I started this blog whether I wanted to do product reviews or not. In the end, I decided not. However, I spent a good deal of time (as any good consumer and over-eager new parent would) thinking about what to buy for my baby. Here is a link to our Amazon list for anyone who cares. The focus is on stuff that will last, stuff that isn’t toxic, and stuff that is nice looking. In the end, it is still just stuff, but I like it. Having a child is another time in your life when you can think about the difference between what you want and what you need. It is also another place where you can vote with your dollar. Making choices about what, why, and how much can be important parenting decisions. Shopping for a baby is also just fun.

baby stuff

20130501-163504.jpg

to sleep is to dream.

parenting April 19, 2013

This topic is only interesting to new parents, however, it may be one of the only things new parents are truly interested in. Sleep. Where to begin a post on sleep? Sleep has been the biggest challenge that my husband I have faced as new parents (besides the run of the mill identity changing, the relationship rocking, and the life altering aspects of parenthood). Sleep, or lack thereof has turned us into different people, changed our marriage, and made our lives a fuzzy, swimming-in-molasses, exercise in endurance.

We started off all right. Our approach was simple: babies are babies, they need to be loved and snuggled and protected and held and nursed and rocked. However, we would give it a minute or two, a pause ala “Bringing up Bebe”, before doing all of the above. Our sweet son slept pretty well, pretty early on, even giving us up to 11 hours at around 3 months. We were over the moon, amazed that we had apparently hit the baby sleep jackpot. I felt that parenting wasn’t so difficult after all, and quietly started thinking about a little sibling for my good little sleeper. Then life started happening.

My husband had to move to a different town for his job, while the kiddo and I waited for a house to open up where he was. This took a month. I was a single mother for a month and it really gave me the motivation to work out whatever problems my husband and I had. I shudder when recalling that month. Then we moved. We moved and moved and moved. The house we moved into had to be cleaned out. Then our house had to be cleaned out. This all happened while my husband worked 10 hour days. That was another unpleasant month. Then mother in law came to visit. I won’t go into that. Then cousins came with children and boisterous fun. Meanwhile, the sleeping was on a long slow decline. We dropped from 11 hours to 8. Then from 8 to 5. 5 to 4. 4 to 2. 2 to 1, and finally one horrible night, it was down to 20 minutes. I still don’t know what it was. 6 month growth spurt, teething, moving, houseguests. All of the above. Whatever happened, at some point we decided we could no longer survive in this state. We fought often. My patience was running thin. One particularly frustrating and desperate night, I actually bit my own fingers in frustration and anger while I tried to lovingly, patiently, and calmly nurse my son back to sleep for the gazillionth time. It was time to do what we had previously, and somewhat smugly, assured ourselves we would never do: cry it out, sleep train, ferberize, control cry. Whatever we wanted it. We wanted it badly.

Whatever your thoughts on it are, I am now convinced that it was what our son needed and what we needed. He was ready. We were ready. It worked, and he slept from 7pm until 5:42am last night, the 7th night on our new program. Did I mention that as I write this, my son is taking his morning nap, contentedly in his crib? Not on my lap, or by my side, in a carseat or stroller. In his crib, which I put him in while he was awake. I cried, for the first few nights because I missed snuggling. He cried less. A part of me enjoyed being up all night with my sweet baby love. However, he is 7 months, almost 8 months old and it was time for him to learn to sleep and I am glad he did. I am a happier, more patient, even more adoring mother. What I believed to be teething pain was actually sleep deprivation, and my formerly fussy baby is now all smiles. I should also mention that my house is cleaner, we are eating better, and I actually went to yoga on Sunday.

We used the controlled crying method, as taught in the “sleep easy solution.” Having someone tell us what to do really helped when we began to question the plan on the first night. The book even has a portion dedicated to the moments of panic a parent experiences when their baby cries and they are intentionally not doing anything about it. The author tells us that this is one area where our instincts may not be trustworthy, after all we had been rocking cuddling snuggling nursing and loving our baby to sleep for months and he was only getting worse. He had dark puffy circles under his eyes and he was no longer the quick to smile baby we had come to know.

The first night was the hardest because he woke up every two hours as usual and cried. He didn’t cry long, but it was painful. It was painful to go in and see his sweet face in tears and not be able to pick him up and make it better. Now I know that I did the right thing, I did make it better, but what a lesson. With my next child, I will snuggle that baby sweet as much as I want, but I will put him or her down to sleep while awake early on. I will not repeat this mistake.

The second night was better, he slept for five hours before waking, then was up every hour or two for the rest of the night. The third night he slept for five hours, babbled and cried a little for half an hour, then went back to sleep for another five hours. The fourth night, he slept for five hours, woke up, then went back asleep for another five again. Day five, he slept until 3:45. Day six the same, and finally last night until 5:42. The naps have gotten better every day, longer asleep and faster asleep. He is now almost up to the 14 hours that is recommended for his age. I am so happy we did it. So relieved that my life isn’t so painful anymore. So satisfied when I count up the hours the boy has slept, knowing he’s getting the rest he needs. I am also enjoying our pre-bed/nap routine. I read him a book, and amazingly, this 7 month old sits calmly in my lap while I do so, occasionally looking up at me and smiling. The other day, he actually flashed me a gummy grin after I put him down in the crib. That was one of my fears, that being alone and frustrated in the crib would make him hate it and dread bedtime, but he actually seems calmer. Perhaps the consistency is a comfort in itself.

Update as of November 2013: this worked that once, and we haven’t been able to repeat it. We are co sleeping, and when my son cries we either feed him or soothe him. Most of what I said before is just words. I now realize that we aren’t going to sleep as much as we want, but what I do want is to be close to my son and give him as much love as possible.

I know that none if this is new, that there are a thousand blog posts out there just like it. I just thought I’d throw my own experience into the debate because it has been so life changing in such a short amount of time.

20130419-135520.jpg

To new mothers who may be wondering where they went

parenting February 13, 2013

An old friend, newly pregnant, recently posed the following on her Facebook page and asked mothers she knew to respond. I read it eagerly and gratefully. So glad that someone was giving voice to something I keep trying to talk to people about without much success. I am including the link as well as my response to my friend to lend my own voice to a topic that is monumental, but seems to get a little lost.

I became a mother and died to live

Hi friend,

First of all, congratulations! Its going to be wonderful. Second, thank you for the article. It is nice to have someone actually give a little attention to this, without quickly saying ‘but atleast you have your precious baby,’ as if it is not said, you somehow don’t love your child.

My babe is a little over 5 months, and I decided not to go back to work at 3 months as originally planned. Perhaps these feelings wouldn’t have been so strong if I had, perhaps not. I was just beginning my legal career when I got pregnant, something I had been working towards for years. I was in court, in suits, thinking a lot, thinking fast, constantly moving. Now I am at home staring at a sleeping child, wearing leggings and thinking about his poop. I love it, more than I ever imagined possible, but I am struggling to find myself in all of this. I and Me are enveloped in him and love for him. My body as well as soul belong to this little creature. Its a change, the biggest one possible, and it has been very difficult for me. I probably have been going through some PPD, and I also had a lot going on in my life before and after the birth. I think it’s great that you are thinking about this beforehand. It took me by surprise, I think I was too busy to really give it much thought. It is also hard because, the father, the one you are closest to, can’t possibly understand the extent of what you are experiencing.

All that said, it is amazing and I want to do it again as soon as possible if we can figure out how to afford it. Lots of love to you and congratulations.

20130213-081543.jpg

Organic chemicals and nothing but the best for your baby

parenting February 8, 2013

Nearly everything these days comes in an organic version. Apples, mattresses, diapers. The price also goes up considerably on these items. I decided to write a quick post about this because I encounter it daily and it is hard to know whether the benefits are worth the price. Here is my take: We simply do not know what effects the multitude of chemicals in daily use may have on our bodies. Our society is producing massive amounts of new chemicals every day. They may be innovative and make our lives easier, but there are a lot of unknowns. The history books, and legal books, are filled with man-made substances that were created to better our lives, but turned out to be dangerous. The case law about lead paint is heartbreaking. Cigarettes also come to mind. These are old examples, but we are producing so much, so fast, that is hard to stay on top of them. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors which one study has linked to obesity. New York Times. Will your pleasantly plump baby turn into an unpleasantly plump adult unless you shell out the extra money for a phthalate free mattress? It’s uncertain. My policy is then to avoid what I can because we already know a decent amount about the safety of things produced by good old Mother Nature. When it comes to the safety and health of my child, I’d rather not gamble on unknowns. I am not trying to vilify the producers of all of these wonderful products, I just don’t implicitly trust capitalism or the Federal Government to leave every stone unturned with regard to public safety. As an over-protective first time mother, every stone is important and I do not have the time to research everything myself. So yes, I go organic when I can.

Here’s a new article on the toxic substances act: http://nyti.ms/159SlDA

20130213-081845.jpg

The Dirty Work

parenting February 8, 2013

What to put in is easy, breast milk or formula; dealing with what comes out is less pleasant and can be somewhat more complicated. When my husband first suggested cloth diapers, I was horrified. I just wanted to get the dirty work done as quickly as possible and deal with excrement as little as possible. I warmed up to the idea as my pregnancy progressed, and now I am as happy with cloth diapers as one can be with expensive pieces of cloth that contain smelly bodily fluids.

We have tried: fitted diapers, all in ones, pockets, and pre-folds. These are essentially all of the types of cloth diapers as far as I can tell. A fitted diaper looks like a disposable and is entirely made of absorbent material. You must use a cover with fitteds and they are expensive $15-$25. All in one diapers are probably as close to disposables as you can get. Just put it on, then take it off and throw it in the wet bag or pail. I have one, a Bumgenius Elemental. It is made of organic cotton, and it is pretty absorbent. I like to use it for running errands, and would probably have more if they were cheaper. Pocket diapers have pockets that you stuff absorbent inserts into. I have some Fuzzibunz pocket diapers and one Bumgenius. I hate them. I think that this is mainly because the synthetic liners will repel from time to time with buildup. I have boiled them, stripped them with dishsoap and all the other tricks floating around the internet. They leak every single time. I am over it and plan on sticking to natural fibers. Cotton and hemp have been working great.

This brings me to what actually works for us. We have a sizeable collection of Flip diaper covers, 12 large Osocozy prefolds, 12 small prefolds, about 6 Flip inserts (the synthetic “stay dry” inserts), and a variety of hemp Joeybunz doublers and Thirsties prefolds. We just fold the prefolds in three and place inside the cover. Unless there is a large amount of excrement, this protects the cover and we can generally get through a day with two or three covers. This is the most economical option. Covers cost $15-$20, and you can get 6 pre-fold diapers for the same. You can also get organic inserts or pre-folds if you prefer. I also like to use the Flip inserts throughout the day (when I am pretty sure there will be only urine). They are super trim, and I have had no problem with leaks. They just don’t contain liquid poo all that well, and it gets on the cover. I would like to try the organic Flip inserts, but have all I need for now. (I got the “stay dry inserts” for $30 with two Flip covers on sale at Babies R Us).
For night, we use a hemp pre-fold with a hemp doubler, or the fitted with a cover. This works for now with our 20 pound, 5 month old son who will sleep up to 11 hours. No leaks. No rash.
When using the cotton or hemp pre-folds, we also use a fleece liner to help wick moisture away from our son’s precious pampered bottom. These are about $1 a piece and are worth it.

A few months ago, I decided to go for cloth wipes as well. I love this. It’s easier than disposable wipes, since we already have the wetbags, and there is nothing to buy once you are set up. We just bought a bunch of little flannel wipes and keep them in the wipe warmer with water. I have various sprays, Kissaluvs diaper lotion potion, and California Baby sensitive area wash. We spritz a little on the boy’s bottom and wipe away. No chemicals, nothing to throw away, not much to buy. People use Dr. Bronners, baby soap mixed with water, their own potion with essential oils, or just water. These things also tend to smell better than disposable wipes, which I like. I’m not sure if we need it, but we will either use coconut oil, or the Grovia Magic Stick to protect from diaper rash, particularly at night. The Magic Stick is great because you don’t have to touch anything, and you can call it the “magic butt stick.” These are safe to use with cloth diapers without having to worry about getting into the whole ‘stripping’ situation. Google it, I don’t have the energy to get into it here.

As for laundry: We have two wetbags, and throw them into the wash with the diapers as well. Pretty easy, just another load of laundry. I highly recommend Charlie’s soap. We ended up buying the massive bucket of it and now use it on all of our laundry. Everything comes out soft and fresh with no smells or residue. You also use a tiny amount, it is pretty darn cost effective. We have hard water, so also use the Charlie’s hardwater treatment. Works as far as I can tell.
* update after 18 months of cloth diapering: just use tide free and clear. Everything else we’ve tried doesn’t get out the stink.

You are not supposed to use fabric softener with cloth diapers as the buildup can cause the diapers to repel liquid, so we use wool dryer balls. They work great for static and seem to reduce drying time. Also, you don’t have to buy more every month. Oh, we also use Biokleen Bac Out to spray on stains. It works great, and if you combine that with some sunshine, everything is clean as new.

So that is it, the quick and dirty on the dirty work. All in all, I really enjoy the fact that we don’t have to buy diapers, wipes, or fabric softener. I also like reducing our contribution to landfills. Finally, I can rest easy knowing that my son’s precious bottom isn’t swimming in chemicals. If you are on the fence, I say buy a Flip ‘daypack’ and give it a shot. I am considering doing the same for my sister who is completely sold on disposables. She is pretty stubborn, so you never know.