Friday, February 25, 2011

My Work-At-Home Journey

For many families, having one parent stay home is ideal. However, it is not always financially feasible to move to a single income. Working at home provides a compromise. I have been working at home for almost a year now, and have become a sort of go-to person among friends and family. I thought I would share how I got started.

My first work-at-home job was taking inbound customer service calls for West at Home. I provided an office phone and a dedicated phone line, and they forwarded calls to my home. They paid reliably, but ultimately the job did not work out for me. It required a quiet environment in which to take calls, and there simply were not enough hours available when the kids were asleep. Inbound customer service would be ideal with moms of older kids who are at school or who can be entertained quietly. Anyone interested in this type of work can e-mail me for a list of companies that offer virtual call center positions. There are too many to list here.

Next, I found a job I could do any time of the day or night: writing freelance web articles for Demand Media Studios. Most writing assignments require about 400-500 words. Compensation varies by article, and if you’re a quicker writer than I, you could potentially earn $15-25 per hour writing for them. Occasionally, I still write an article, although I have now found more steady work that takes most of my time.

My "regular" gig is with Lionbridge Technologies. For the sake of confidentiality, I am not at liberty to discuss details of the position. I will say that it’s interesting work and that I am fairly compensated. This type of work is a good fit for people who like surfing the 'Net and have a decent command of current events and pop culture. If you want to learn more, I encourage you to apply for any of the positions listed on their careers page. Leapforce at Home offers similar opportunities.

If you’d like to work from home, but none of these jobs are your cup of tea, there are plenty of other legitimate work at home opportunities available for transcriptionists, secret shoppers and more. The best source of information is often others who work at home. You can network with them on message boards such as or Work Place Like Home. You can also create your own opportunity by starting a home-based business. Really, the only limit is your creativity!

As well as it works for us, working at home is not all peaches and cream. It can prove challenging to care for three small children while working. Planning ahead and setting up the environment can help your family life run more smoothly. I have some insight to offer there as well, which I will share in my next post, two weeks from today.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bed Sharing Past Infancy

Co sleeping looks different for every family who practices it. The term co sleeping encompasses many arrangements from baby`s own bed in the same room as his parents to sharing a family bed with parents and even siblings. In my house we bed share. our sleeping arrangements evolve and change from stage to stage, but bed sharing has always been at the centre.

In the beginning, the family bed was just my son Oliver and I. My husband, convinced of the safety and benefits of bed sharing with an infant supported it whole heatedly, but was uncomfortable sleeping next to such a tiny infant himself. This arrangement was fine with me, with the intensity & frequency of Oliver's night nursing, it was easier for me to switch sides every few hours with the bed to ourselves. 

As Oliver grew bigger, and my husband became more comfortable with the idea of sharing the family bed he started napping with us on weekends and then eventually joined us full time. I LOVE this arrangement. I love night waking to see both my guys sleeping peacefully in front of me, I love the way their sleep noises sound like a long & quiet conversation; a sigh answering a grunt which answered a hum. I love that I've never woken for the day to a crying baby, just big blinking eyes & toothy smiles, and my husband's apologetic grin because he didn't mean to wake us getting ready for work. I even love the WAY we sleep; when my husband and I lay on our sides facing each other with our legs curled up towards the centre of the bed, the negative space between our bodies, the place where our baby sleeps, is almost womb shaped.

Even now that our baby is now a toddler, we still fall asleep this way. All love and smiles and quiet contentment (Most nights anyways). But it should be said that co sleeping with a toddler is a whole different animal. Most nights we end up turned away and protecting our sensitive areas and vital organs from the onslaught of sleeping toddler thrashing.
But you know what? I STILL love it. I love that many nights Oliver and his father end up holding hands in their sleep. I love that I get to spend all night so close to my son now that most of his days are spent running and climbing and just generally being too busy to be held. I love that my husband has the family bed to look forward to at the end of a long day, to bond & reconnect with us after being gone for work. 

While we have plans to introduce a secondary sleeping surface for occasional/part time use, I don't see our family bed breaking up anytime soon. While there is a bit of a space issue in our queen sized bed with two adults and a toddler, there really is nothing wrong with our sleeping arrangements. 

Just like breastfeeding, the benefits of the family bed don't disappear after infancy. Emotionally, by sharing sleep with Oliver we are still fostering the kind of connection and attachment that is at the center of our parenting philosophy. Physically our continued breastfeeding relationship is strengthened by our proximity to each other during the night, and the quiet 'sips' of milk Oliver takes from me throughout the night have many healthy benefits. 

Will Oliver be in our bed until he's a teenager if I continue on like this? Probably not. Will he forever lack the ability to 'self sooth'? I doubt it. Will my husband resent me for continuing to bring our toddler to bed with us? Not at all likely. 

Co sleeping looks different for every family who practices it. In our family we share a bed, we are happy with this arrangement and we don't plan to change it any time  soon.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

To Be or Not to Be a Stay at Home Parent

I should preface this by revealing a couple of things: (1) I am a stay at home mom and (2) I don't think that everyone should be. I feel it's necessary to get those two caveats out of the way so you can know that this blog really comes from the heart and is not meant as a campaign of guilt either way. The decision to have a parent stay home is a deeply personal one that must be made by every family. I say every family because I'm pretty sure that every family at least evaluates whether or not they can afford it or whether or not they have the urge to do it (often both). I recognize that not everyone lives a lifestyle or has a partner with a job that allows "staying at home" to be an option and I respect whatever decision a family makes and truly believe that "laissez faire" is more often than not the best policy when it comes to other people's affairs.

Some people are much happier working part time or finding a work from home option than they would be going to work full time or staying home full time. I respect that choice as well. In fact, that's what I honestly thought I would do. My plan was actually to use my master's degree in English (a degree that has been gathering dust professionally for years now) to get a job teaching at a community college part time. However, when I should have been getting my resume out, there was a family emergency and by the time that was remedied, I had missed my chance at finding a job for the fall semester after my baby was born. Then a colicky baby and moving plans conspired together to keep me a full time stay at home mom, and here's what I discovered: I love it.

I don't mean that I love it ALL the time, but I do love it. Everyone has a day or two when they wonder about the grass on the other side of the parenting fence. Sometimes I spend whole afternoons or evenings wondering: What would my life be like if I didn't stay home? Would my son be a better talker by now? Is he missing out because his social experiences are limited to playdates, play groups, and the occasional mommy and me classes? Will this mean that he will have a lot more immune system building to do when he gets into school? Will anyone ever hire me to teach special ed after I take however many years I plan to take off? However, those days are actually fewer than I would have believed they'd be. The days, so far, have been busy and I find that by making time for reading and visiting with other moms (both with our children and without them), I feel every bit as "myself" as I did when I was working in a regular job. I do often evaluate whether or not there is room in my life for a part time or work from home job just because I worry sometimes about contributing to the family finances, but so far we are doing fine with just my husband's income.

I think of these years that I'm spending with my son and any subsequent children as my true retirement. Not because these years are proving to be relaxing, but because I know that every year I stay home now will probably be tacked on to the time I will need to work before I retire. We've made the decision that my husband will likely retire years before me and we're okay with that. Thinking of these years as my "golden" years helps me to realize what a special time this is. I can work until my sixties or seventies. I can travel as long as I wish. I can only be with my children while they are young once.

It is likely my son will live to at least one hundred (or at least that's what an article I read a few weeks after he was born told me). Of those hundred years, I only get the first eighteen or nineteen years. Of those eighteen or nineteen years, I only get the first five exclusively. (After that, he will likely be enrolled in school.) When you look at it that way, these years start to look "golden," indeed. There are even days when I wish the thirteen waking hours my son is up and about during the day would not go so fast. (And the days do go fast between activities, doctor's appointments, and even around the house stuff!)

I say this not as a guilt trip for those who must work (either for financial or emotional well being reasons). After all, when you come home with your children everyday, you appreciate them in a way I likely never will because I see mine all day (and night) all the time. I certainly see in my husband a kind of heightened excitement when he spends time with our son that seems more intense than my time with our son. If missing out on my career opportunities hurt as much as I currently feel not staying home would hurt, I would find a way to sacrifice and go back to work in a heartbeat. The same would be true if I really believed that my staying at home and having less income were limiting my son's opportunities or my own. I've met parents who stayed at home when their heart was not in it and neither they nor their children benefitted from it.

Instead, I offer this as a testament to how worthy the goal is of spending part or full time at home. For those who really want to stay at home, it is worth the creative sacrificing you may be doing or are planning to do to make it happen. People everywhere are sharing ingenious ideas for how to conserve money, the environment, and spend time with their children for at least part of the week. (I just read this article about a mom of six whose family has learned to economize and live sustainably on only her part time salary: ). It's up to you to decide what lifestyle changes might be necessary to accommodate staying at home if that's what you want. We have decided to cloth diaper, breastfeed, and we never bought jarred baby food which made things cheaper in the long run as far as typical child expenses. Others I know have cut their grocery bills by growing extensive gardens and cutting cable or internet bills. Some have downsized their houses or cut out one of their cars. If staying home is an honest dream of yours, you might be amazed at what you might be willing to do to obtain it.

For those of you who are on the fence about the decision (as I was for awhile) and do think there is a way for you to stay at home part or full time, but are unsure if you should do it, I think the best way to make that decision is to ask yourself what decision you would regret the most in twenty years. If you would regret not working or not providing money or opportunities for your family that working brings, than you know you should work. If you would regret not staying home, than you have that answer as well. No choice will make you happy 100% of the time, but the right choice will feel the most "right."

Connected Mom Shawna

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Raising Children Who Love The Earth

I worry about my son's future. 

I don't tend to be a big worrier. I have only so much mind to use from minute to minute and for the most part I can find infinitely better things to do with it then worry. The comment I hear most from others about myself as a parent is that I am 'so relaxed', and whether it's meant as a compliment or not I tend to take it as one. 

But never the less I worry about my son's future, and I am sure I am not alone in this. The fact is that every time I see a TV commercial for Kleenex brand disposable hand towels, or a news story like the continuing effect of the gulf oil spill, and every time I throw out my food waste because we haven't yet figured out a good way to compost from our apartment, I am overcome with a sense of fear and hopelessness about the future of this planet. A future that belongs to my son, and to your children as well. 

When I think about the continued UNsustainability of the world and culture that we live in, I start to worry.

I can hope to teach my child earth friendly habits like energy conservation, repairing, reusing and recycling, and eating whole foods found locally whenever possible, or any of the hundreds of other small ways my family chooses to lessen our effect on the environment.

But how do I fight back against the 'more, more, more, 'instant, convenient, disposable' mentality of the culture that we live in as it finds newer and more creative ways to push its way into my child's mind? How do I raise a child who has love and compassion for the earth and the good sense to know the difference between sustainable solutions and a marketing ploy? More importantly, how do I raise a child who, given the choice between easy and right, will do the right thing for himself, his community, and the world around him?

I want to try and model all of these things to my child as he grows. I am not sure exactly how, but I believe teaching is a process which is born from relationships of trust and respect. There will be many lessons taught between us, him to me and me to him. But I want to also create an environment where these lessons come naturally, where questions that lead to discussions which lead to learning and problem solving can happen organically. How do I do that in a culture so far removed from the natural world?

The obvious answer to these questions is to spend time out doors. Almost everyone I've talked to about these worries of mine is confident that a few hours a week at the neighborhood park and some precious memories of camping or sailing or hiking or fishing will be enough to raise children who are passionate about nature and protecting it.  

I am not convinced that that is all there is to it.  Lots of people spent time outside as children but don't 'have time' to recycle, don't care where their food is coming from so long as it's convenient, who buy SUVs only to drive them alone and in city for their daily commute.  For every advocate who credits childhood camping trips with their love for nature, there is an oil loving climate change denier with the same experiences and none of the compassion. 

It is true that our children are spending far less time enjoying the great outdoors then many of us did as children, and far more time plugged into various devices. I am certainly not denying the importance of getting them out there, it's a huge part of the equation, but it's not the final answer. 

So what is? How do we encourage our children to love and respect nature AND have the passion to protect it?

My kid doesn't have to grow up to be a revolutionary. I mean, that would be really rad if that's what he wanted, but my aim isn't to groom one necessarily. I just want to raise a connected person who is mindful of his place in the world and how his actions effect the world around him. I want to raise a curious person, who questions what he sees and what cannot be seen and approaches global issues with compassion. 

I am just not sure HOW to do that!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Finding The Provider For You

One of the very first things you need to do before finding the provider that fits with you is finding out what you believe about pregnancy and birth. If you don't know what you want, you won't be able to find a perfect fit.

Not only do you need to know where you want to give birth, but what you want to happen.

Do you believe birth needs to be managed, that it needs to be medicated and numbed? Do you believe birth is a natural bodily function, that needs to be worked with rather than feared?

Depending on how you view birth depends on what kind of provider you will be looking for.

There are two agreed models of care. There are many layers inbetween the two, but these are the basic foundations either side bases their practice and thoughts on.

I got these from Natural Parenting, they are just perfect for the definitions
Obstetric Model:
Basic Principle - Separation
1. Mechanization of the body
2. Isolation and objectification of the patient
3. A focus on curing diseases, repairing dysfunction
4. Agressive, interventionist approach to diagnosis and treatment
5. Alienation of the practitioner from patient
6. Reliance on external diagnosis
7. Supervaluation of technology
8. Hierarchical organization, the patient as subordinate to practitioner and institution
9. Authority and responsibility inherent in the practitioner

Midwifery (Holistic) Model:
Basic Principle - Connection
1. Views the body as an energy system interlinked with other energy systems
2. Insistence that total healing requires attention to the mind-body-spirit-emotions-family-community-environment
3. A focus on creating and maintaining health and well-being
4. Nurturant, relational approach to diagnosis and treatment
5. Essential unity of practitioner and client
6. Respect for the value of inner knowing (instinct)
7. Technology at the service of the individual
8. Lateral, webbed organization - networking
9. Authority and responsibility inherent to the individual (true informed consent and refusal)
Now, not every Obstetrician believes in the Obstetrical model and not every Midwife believes in the Midwifery model. I know some that are in different camps.

Which is where knowing what exactly you want comes in handy. If you are able to understand what kind of birth you want, if you are able to understand what kind of relationship you want with your practitioner, it is that much easier to find someone that clicks with you. A provider that agrees with you and will treat you as such.

Once you realize what you want, then you can go about finding the provider that fits. Whether that is the obstetrical model or close to it or so far from it you are at unassisted birth, you have made the first step to taking charge of your own birth. You have made the first step to finding out what YOU want and now you can go about finding the provider that fits with you.

When you decide to go about interviewing providers, one of the best things, especially if you want a natural birth, is to ask doulas, childbirth class teachers, La Leche League leaders, and anyone else that works in the birth community. I know a lot of people find their doctors through their friends, but know that what one person wants might not be what you want. Just because that midwife or doctor was great for your friend does NOT mean they will fit for you, even if you both want the same kind of birth. The best way is to truly find impartial support that has worked with all the providers, like the ones I listed a bit ago.

Have a list of at LEAST three different providers to interview if you can. That way you get different opinions, you interview more and you are able to better find someone that can fit with you.

Some great things to do, regardless of whether they are a midwife or a doctor are:

1. Make sure they are accepting new patients, and make sure they aren't overbooked. If your provider is overbooked for the month you are due, they won't be able to give you the attention you deserve during pregnancy and labor.

2. Write all your questions before going in. It is really easy to forget what was important when you start talking, and having them all written down can help you remember, and that way you don't regret not asking things.

3. Bring your partner with you! You both need to feel comfortable with this person, especially if your partner is going to play an active role in the labor and delivery.

4. Give them the benefit of the doubt until you learn otherwise. Don't go in there thinking they will be opposite or that you know what their answers will be. Go in with an open mind.

5. Make them give you specific answers. If you ask about their cesarean rate, don't let them say "it's average". Have them give you a percent. You need to know specifics so you can make an informed decision.

Some great questions you can ask:

1. How many babies they have "delivered" (I hate that word, a baby isn't a pizza)

2. Who you can contact in an emergency

3. Who covers for them if they are unavailable

4. How they handle high risk pregnancies

5. If they will help you write a birth plan and help you with what you want to do.

6. Ask about their percentages for:
-Transfers (mainly for homebirth or birthing center midwives)

7. Ask what practices they use that are routine (ie: vaginal checks before labor/during labor, electronic fetal monitoring, IVs, food and drink in labor, using water as pain relief, waterbirth, how they want you to give birth/if you can choose your own position, what happens to the baby after birth, if baby is suctioned, if baby is bathed, rooming in policies, etc)

8. When they want you to call (if homebirth) or come in (hospital/birth center) once you are in labor

9. What they do if your water breaks before labor

10. If a midwife, do they transfer your care for anything? If so, what/why do they transfer for?

11. What they consider overdue.

12. What they do if you reach 42 weeks or their definition of overdue

13. How long their average prenatal visit is

14. If in the hospital or birthing center, do they give you the consent papers before or during labor?

15. How often do they use ultrasound in normal low risk pregnancy

16. Do they use ultrasound to find baby's position or do they palpate the belly

And this is just the bare minimum! There are so many more questions that you can ask, depending on your own personal views on birth. The one thing to remember is to get straight answers, not "yes/no/maybe". You need someone that will be honest with you, not someone that is just in it for the paycheck.

Also, see if you can get referrals to patients they have used. See if you can talk to other families while you are in the waiting room. Talk to the nurses and assistants they have. A lot of what you will learn will not be from the actual interview, but what you see and hear around the office.

And ultimately, remember that this choice is never set in stone. Until that baby is born, you can change your mind. You can fire your provider at any time, even during your labor. It isn't set.

Your provider should not be restricting you during YOUR labor and delivery. You shouldn't be made to do anything. You are paying them, they are providing a service. Get what you pay for and don't stand for anything less.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mommy Time

Of the 14 beers on tap at my local pub, I have trouble deciding which one I want. It is a Wednesday afternoon (as a mom you gotta take your time when you can!), the bar is mostly empty and yet the few faces illuminated in the low yellow light are ones I recognize.

Just over 2 years ago, and for nearly 3-4 years before that, there was hardly a day I didn't make an appearance here. A pint after work, sometimes 6 or 10 of them. Saturday night dance party and Sunday pub trivia. Tuesdays were Alexander Kieth's days, 5 bucks a pint. I met my husband here.

Yet while walking through these doors still feels natural, and it is almost comforting (If a little sad) to know that little has changed. The feeling is also alien. I am alone. Just me. It's mommy time and I am nervous.

It's not that my child is not with me. I know that he is safe with his father exploring the natural history museum a few blocks away. It's that I feel like a fish out of water. No one here wants to talk about baby wearing or breastfeeding or birth activism. In all likelihood, no one here will even ask how my son is doing, what I named him, how old he is now or if he's talking yet.

For now the only question I've been asked is 'what would you like to drink?' but even that is too much for my culture shocked brain to handle. "Something dark and heavy on the hops has been said to help milk production." I think to myself. The bartender gives me a curious look as I roll my eyes at myself. This isn't about Oliver, This is about me, I don't even like hoppy beer, it leaves this bitter aftertaste that takes forever to get rid of.

The sad truth is that I haven't been here in nearly a year. In fact, the last outing I had without family in tow was a quick walk to the post office 2 weeks before Christmas. Before that it was a game of beach volleyball in July.

I settle on an Alexander Keith's, if it's still the special on Tuesdays then, today being Wednesday, the keg will be a fresh one.

I am not really complaining. I LIKE being home with my son all the time. Although I am constantly told by friends, family, and media that I should feel tied down and trapped by attachment parenting and extended breastfeeding I don't. I feel lucky that my husband and I have been able to find a way for me to stay home full time for 2 years, even though we can't really afford to.

I do get a little caught up in it though, as I am sure many parents do. I become so focused on the attachment and teaching and comfort and playing that I completely forget that I wasn't always this person. That the person I am as a parent is only part of who I am, and the part of me that really likes a fresh pint of beer and the constant stream of indie hipster music at my local pub is still there. As are all the other parts of the person I was before motherhood.

I need to make time for that person I am outside of parenting. There is a large amount of lighthearted fun and creativity reminiscent of 'the old Me' that goes into my parenting. All of the parts of my personality have, to some degree, merged together and I feel like that person I was has had a great effect on the way I approach parenting. But I also need time away. Time when I am not parenting, or reading and talking about parenting, or thinking about parenting.

That time starts right now, with this pint of beer and some old acquaintances. These people don't care about my new found life away from this pub. But that's almost a good thing. At the very least, everyone here calls me by my name, and really, what else could I ask for? This hour or so away from home and family is like a trip back in time.

Adam the artist still draws page after page of idealised naked women in tattered notebooks, and there are still too many Dan's to keep track of, and Geoff still hates it when I call him "Gee-off" instead of 'Jeff'. One owner is still old and Greek and adorably romantic, The other, an Irishman, still wears a giant nervous grin like he's not quite sure he's dreaming that this place is such a success.

And me, I still have an opinion on everything without enough social grace to know that I should sometimes keep those opinions to myself. The people I am with will call me 'Jules' and not 'ma-ma'. I am going to drink this beer, and probably another one like I haven't a care in the world. But I am out of practice, so unlike 2-3 years ago, I am going to be quite tipsy from only 2 pints.

Do you get time away from parenting? How do you choose to spend it? How do you honor and nurture the person you are outside of "Mommy" or "Daddy"?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

50 Ways to Seduce a Mother (or a Father)

In honor of Valentine's Day, I thought it might be fun to write a little about seduction. The true art of seduction is not to convince someone to do what you want, but to get someone in the mood to want what you want and to ask you for it. It's a subtle distinction, but an important one and it can be one that's difficult to achieve after you become a parent. (After all, it's really hard to switch gears after you've been "mommy" and "daddy" all day and you might have to slip back into those roles at any given time throughout the night.)

However, there are many romantic things you can do for your partner that will help her (or him) feel more inclined to be romantic. (And most of them are cheap and easy!) I offer these as some inspirations with a little help from The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman and some real life inspirations from friends. My ideas are geared toward women, but that's just because in my family, it's my husband who has the most trouble coming up with Valentine ideas and it fits better with the title to stick with "moms" as my focus, but most of these ideas will also work for men!

Seduce a Mother with:

1. Write a short love letter/post-it/email every day for a week. Say something very specific that you love about her and the way she looks. A lot of women start feeling unsexy after having children. Let her know that she still is every bit as sexy to you!
2. Compose a poem or song for her. (Bad writer/singer? No problem! You'll get bonus points for being brave and trying!)
3. Make a list with the kids of all the ways you want to show her you love her as a family. Post the list in a public place and make sure everyone tries to do something from the list every day.
4. Write her a long love letter or text like the ones you probably sent to one another when you were first together. Detail exactly how much she means to you and leave it some where she can find it!
5. Change the words to one of her favorite songs (or a love song that reminds you of her) to fit her and sing it to her. (Once again, she will only give you bonus points if singing isn't your usual thing!)
6. Get everyone's attention at dinner or another public meal and make a detailed speech/toast about her and how amazing she is.
7. Make her a mixed cd or playlist with songs that are special to you two.
8.If you have saved old emails or letters between the two of you, print them out and put them in a special book. If you have the time add pictures alongside the letters and surprise her with them.
9. Interview the kids on camera about what's special about her and have them interview you, then edit the videos together and surprise her with them. (Thanks, Nici, for the inspiration!)
10. Choose a word every day that you think describes her and slip her a note that tells her the word and why it represents her. Then find ways to use the word all day. (If you have older kids, you can co-opt them in the plan, too.)

Seduce her with Special time:
11. Surprise her by taking a day off work or getting her to take a day off work and plan different activities for you to do as a family (including all of the meals). If you have small children, make sure that you do most of the kid wrangling that day!
12. Plan a special "gift" hunt with the kids to help her find small presents that you've bought together for her. (Think gifts that are easy to hide: her favorite treat, a homemade bracelet, a small bottle of perfume, etc.) Come up with clues she can follow to get to her gifts.
13. Spend an evening with her just looking at old photos/videos/or listening to music that is special to her. Make sure she knows this is all about her memories that you want to hear about. Candlelight will definitely make the evening cosier.
14. Take her mini-golfing or some other silly activity you ordinarily wouldn't do. It's up to you if you bring the kids, but if you do, remember to be the one who steps up first to take care of them. This is about getting her in a more relaxed mood.
15. Go on a winter's walk and make her hot cocoa or tea at the end of it.
16. If you can find a sitter, take her someplace where she used to spend a lot of time before becoming a mom (to a show, to the gym, a bookstore etc.) Anyplace that will remind her of who she is besides being a mom.
17. Spend an hour or two just daydreaming about where you want to go as a couple. Dream about vacations you'd like to spend together, places you'd like to live, jobs you'd like to have.
18. Take her on a picnic. Too cold? Take her on a romantic picnic in your living room after the kids have gone to bed. Surprise her with it when she comes down from putting the kids to bed.
19. Plan a game night for the family or just the two of you. It doesn't matter what you play as long as she gets a chance to relax. Board games allow for more interaction, but if you want to play video games, that's fine, as long as she gets to choose what she wants.
20. Make a dinner or desert together after the kids go to bed. Try to find a recipe neither of you know how to make so you have to work together.

Seduce her with Gifts:
21. Give her a spa day. No money for a professional spa? No problem. Ask one of her best single friends to help you pick out lotions/face masks/whatever will make her feel refreshed and give her a girl's night to spend with that friend or team up with another couple and the two "givers' can help taking care of the kids while the two recievers get a spa day together!
22. Give her a day to go out on her own and tell her to buy for herself whatever makes her feel sexy. Tell her that you will not take no for an answer. You may be surprised by what she buys (it might be a new hair color, it might be a new cd, it might be a pair of shoes), but it isn't about her looking sexy for you. It's about her feeling sexy and that's a big difference.
23. Hire a "chef" for the night to come in and make a romantic meal (it can be a friend she knows who is a good cook). Alternatively, hire a housekeeper, an organizer, or a personal shopper for her. You know what would make her happiest.
24. Make or buy her something that you know she will use every day. Enlist the kids for ideas. It doesn't have to be something big. Just something that she can look at every day and know you care for her.
25. Make an investment in something she believes in. Is she a huge recycler, but you usually don't care much? Does she cry at ASPCA commercials? Is she a big believer in homebirth? Find a cause she cares about and make a donation. The fact that you paid attention, did the research, and contributed to her cause will mean a lot!
26. Ask her if she has a "bucket list" and make sure that you help her do something from the list! If she wants to travel somewhere buy a ticket or create a jar to save money in toward the trip. If she wants to learn how to fly, get her a lesson or create a jar to save money toward it. She'll thank you for it! (Thanks, Karen!)
27. Fund a girls' weekend or night. Get other partners involved and share the childcare and expenses!
28. Make her an appointment at her favorite salon for pampering.
29. Take the kids to pick out a small gift from each of them. Example? Buy her a charm bracelet and let each kid pick out a charm!
30. Buy her something that always makes you think of her. Does the smell of roses always make you think of her? Buy her some rose water or roses and let her know! Does the color blue match her eyes? Buy her a scarf and tell her so!

Seduce her with Acts of Service:
31. Make her dinner. Bad cook? Get the kids to help or ask relatives for easy recipes. You will get bonus points for trying!
32. Do her least favorite chore for her every day for a week.
33. Find her "to do" list and do everything on the list! (Thanks, Chris!)
34. Clean her car for her (if it's something she hates to do) or clean the snow off of her car for her. (This is something my husband excels at!)
35. Take over diaper/feeding duties for one day if you have small children.
36. Take on a house project that you know she wants done or if she really loves doing those projects but usually can't because she's tending to the kids, give her a chance to do one!
37. Give your bedroom a romantic transformation for her, buy new bedding or just change things up a bit. Bring in fresh flowers. Make the space special for her!
38. If it's been snowing a lot where you live, clear some space for the kids to play outside or clear sidewalks that don't always get cleared for her. She'll thank you.
39. Do the laundry for a week or even a month. (If you aren't sure how she likes to do it, ask for directions from either her or the kids.) Stick to it!
40. Make the bed for her (or do some other daily chore) every day.

Seduce her physically:
Note: It can be tempting to try to take these farther. Resist the urge. Let her know if she wants more!
41. Give her massage (foot/back/neck) for at least 30 minutes with her favorite scented oil or baby oil. Play her favorite music for her in the background and keep the lighting low. If she falls asleep, let her rest. She'll be more than grateful when she wakes up!
42. Make out with her. Act like you are teenagers and make out with her without pushing for more.
43. Feed her a dessert after the kids have gone to bed. This can be especially fun if she's adventurous and will risk be blinded while you feed her or letting you feed her in the dark. Finger foods are safest.
44. Spend a little time daily offering her extra touches. A few seconds extra added to a morning hug. Squeeze her hand. Take her hand when you are walking. Those extra touches add up quick over a week and can make her feel extra loved.
45. Spend time every day making extra eye contact with her. You don't have to stare her down, but eye contact of 3-5 seconds can let someone know that you are deeply interested in them.
46. Dine alone just the two of you in the dark or in low light. It might be even more fun to dine in a room you don't normally eat in, just don't freak out if a spill happens! Just laugh it off!
47. Offer to brush her hair/scrub her back or do some other small act of grooming for her. It's a gentle way to show affection.
48. Spend an evening gently tracing messages on her back and have her guess what you are writing. It sounds silly, but it can be a sweet way to show her affection.
49. Run her a bubble bath with some special bubbles and buy her a new fuzzy robe or pajamas. It can make her feel treasured and relaxed.
50. Kiss the top of her head, behind her ears, her neck, places that you probably forget to pay attention to now that you are so focused on being parents together. If you remind her of the playfulness of when you were first exploring your love, it will help her to be more playful now.

So there it is, 50 ideas to get your started. Combine them, add to them, and make them work for you! Happy Valentines Day!

-Connected Mom, Shawna

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I Nursed a Baby Cow!

Ok, so technically, it was a stuffed cow and I only nursed it at the behest of my son (who insisted he had to share the same boob with said cow), but the moment was no less ironic for me.

What made this moment especially sweet was that no mama cow has ever given her milk to my baby boy. It's not because I'm anti-cow milk. (In fact, I was raised on it my entire life from birth onward. ) It's because my son has had a milk allergy from birth so profound that I have been eating completely dairy free to keep my breast milk safe for him from the time he was less than a month old forward.

When I first shared news of my son's allergy with people almost everyone had the same question. "Do you think the allergy will go away? What will you do when he gets to be a year old or older? What will you give him to drink? Toddlers and kids need milk to grow, you know." I would always answer sheepishly, "I suppose I'll have to continue nursing him." You'd think I had announced that I was going to become a topless dancer from the looks of shock I sometimes got out of people. Even though Vermont, the state I currently live in, has one of the highest rates of extended breastfeeding in the country, it's still not considered completely "normal." "You'll nurse him until he's eight! You'll be one of THOSE mothers!" a friend teasingly predicted. A part of me was worried, too, not because I actually thought I'd be nursing him until he turned eight, but because I was afraid of being abnormal or weird.

Well, here I am with a baby who's a year and a half old and I'm still nursing and, to me, it is completely normal. Perhaps even more normal than it would be if the milk he were getting was in a sippy cup and came to him through some mama cow's boob instead of my own. It turned out that my breast milk has all he needs in just the right amounts and he is thriving despite having multiple food intolerances. Although, if you really think about it, that should be no surprise . . . after all, humans began making breast milk for other humans long before cows were domesticated! Don't get me wrong, I don't think giving your kids milk is evil or wrong or anything like that. I just want to point out that the milk toddlers are actually designed to need is human milk and that cow's milk (or goat's milk, or soy milk, or almond milk) is actually the socially acceptable substitute we've decided it's more appropriate to give them.

Every time I open most magazines, I feel inundated with ads extolling the virtues of "graduated" formulas or the necessity of having your kids drink milk, but what is missing is the admission that while it is good and natural for mammals like us to drink milk (after all, we get the name "mammal" from our attractive lactating mammaries), we are genetically designed to benefit most from the milk of our own species. (No offense to mama cow whose milk makes darn fine ice cream and other yummy treats!) In fact, if you think about it, it is downright weird that we don't encourage women to breastfeed longer considering all the benefits of breast milk past early infancy. Breast milk is magical stuff! It does not cause tooth decay. It contains nearly every nutrient the human body needs. It even might prevent cancer! (Just check out the links on the bottom for more information on the nutrition of extended nursing.)
I think the biggest scam ever perpetrated on our society was the one that worked to convince new mothers that their breast milk wasn't good enough and that formula was somehow better. The only thing that wasn't good enough about the breast milk was that it was free and no profit could be made from it. Greedy manufacturers made money on what is a potentially a life-saving product (formula) for people who really can't nurse by selling it to people who can but think that their milk is somehow inferior or that nursing is somehow "dirty" or socially unacceptable. I am convinced that if breast milk became known as "Super Milk" and came from an animal or a plant that could be mass produced and sold at a high value and not from our own sexy boobies for free, there would be an agricultural revolution like the world has never seen! People would buy it in gallons for everyone and no one would ever eat cow's milk ice cream or cheese again! Poor mama cow would end up nursing only her babies instead of feeding the world because "Super Milk" would corner the market!

So, does that mean that I really do plan on nursing my son until he is eight? No. But it does mean that if we all think about this logically, we should be content to breastfeed for as long as we are content to hand our children glasses of cow's milk. After all, human milk is actually designed for them. Does that mean that I am immune to the societal discomfort about extended nursing? No, in fact, I'm actually sort of hoping that he will wean himself sometime around two with little or no help from me before people really start treating it as awkward. (I'm just not sure I have the courage that some other mamas have!) On the other hand, if my son is really struggling with not wanting to wean, I'm not sure what I'll do then, either. I guess I'll just wait and see. In the meantime, I am perfectly content to nurse my son (and any of his stuffed friends) any time he needs it. After all, poor beleaguered mama cow is doing the same for many of our human babies and toddlers!

--Thanks, Connected Mom Shawna

Links on Extended Nursing (nursing past one year):

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My Daughter's Nursing Story

Sadly, this is the closest thing to a nursing picture I have with my daughter. I always tried really hard to be discreet with her, and didn't like to show my breasts at all. She is about six days old in this picture, still in the NICU, and if I remember correctly, we had figured out the latch but she wasn't interested in nursing because she still had her feeding tube.

She was always an amazing nurser. It took us about a day to figure out the latch, since she didn't nurse until she was five days old, but once we learned, she could empty my breast in under five minutes. The NICU nurses had me worried since to them babies are supposed to nurse for fifteen minutes minimum, so we had to lie about her nursing length, even though she was having wet and dirty diapers and was gaining weight.

I did so many things with her I regret. Not only the birth, but with breastfeeding and starting solids. Thinking about all of it just makes me hurt for our lost breastfeeding relationship because I took the advice of others instead of going with my gut.

She was a month early, but when her actual age was 4 months old, we were told to start rice cereal. Her adjusted age was 3 months. Saying that makes me cringe. She was so young, so basically we sat her in her carrier and dripped rice cereal filled with breastmilk down her throat. I don't even know why we bothered with it. The rice was so watered down, we might as well have put it in a cup for her to drink.

At 5 months (4 months adjusted) we started orange vegetables. ONLY orange, just like her doctor said. She was yellow for the first three months of her life because her jaundice level had gotten so high and it was taking a long time to work out of the system, and then we started the orange foods. My baby was actually orange for a few months. Looking back I see how completely ridiculous it was.

At 6 months (5 months adjusted) we started green vegetables. Her orange slowly faded out as we added more foods, but even then, she never really liked food that much. We used the baby food jars, and if you have tasted them (besides some of the fruits) you know how truly disgusting they are.

I went back to work when she was almost six months old, and when she was about eight months she started nursing constantly. She was eating three solid meals a day, and we wouldn't ever really nurse during the day, but she would nurse ALL NIGHT LONG. At the time I had no idea it was normal and she was just reverse cycling and comfort nursing, so I thought something was wrong, and at nine months, I weaned her.

My family told me stories of how I was weaned at nine months and went straight to cows milk, so that's what we did.

My nine month old baby went from breastmilk to cows milk.

I heard it was fine, and we didn't have money for fomula, so I didn't see anything wrong with it.

After we stopped, she got sick more than she ever had been in her life. My milk never truly dried up, but there was no way I would be able to get my supply back, so I sucked it up, and realized that our nursing relationship was over.

When we had issues getting pregnant, I craved that missed relationship. I wasn't able to comfort her like I used to, and it felt like I had been replaced since the one thing only I could do for my daughter I had willingly given up. In place of a gallon of milk from a cow.

Fast forward to this August.

I had started learning earlier this year about the benefits of nursing toddlers, and even though I loved the idea, I had been raised thinking that toddlers did not need to be nursed and that it was "creepy". I was slowly coming around, but even now, sometimes the thought creeps into my head and I feel guilty for thinking about it.

I lost my pregnancy at 14 weeks and started pumping to donate my milk that had come in after the birth. Glade, who had been weaned at nine months, 28 months ago, started becoming very interested in my breasts and the milk. I had little jars in my freezer and I would fill them with milk and she would eat them like popsicles. She was healthier, and it made me feel good that I could do something for her.

She loved to help me set up my pump and help me attach everything I needed, and after I was finished, she would pump her breasts. She loved being involved with it all.

Then, about the end of August, she wanted to drink from my breast directly.

I was amazed. I had wanted to do this for so long, and I thought it would be as easy as pulling my shirt down and she would latch and go to town.

I was so so so wrong.

No matter what we did, neither of us could figure out how to get her to latch. When I weaned her she didn't have teeth, so that was one struggle on its own. Plus, she is very active, so she didn't like lying still for that long, since the easiest way for us to practice was side lying. We tried watching movies, having her suck on my finger, me showing her how to suck with my finger, I tried talking her through it, and all it did was end with me in tears and her wanting to go play.

She became disinterested, and I kept giving her my milk in cups or in her popsicles, and I thought we were done trying. It was like I had failed at nursing her all over again.

In Septembe, I had just finished pumping, and so my breast was still hanging out of my shirt, and Glade dove. She looked so excited that she just went for it.

And she latched!!

She was so thrilled that she popped off, looked at me completely shocked and said, "Mom, there's milk in my mouth!" and went back to nursing. I couldn't believe it!

My three year old, after 29 months off the breast, had successfully latched and nursed!

Even now, I cry thinking of how good that first time felt.

She didn't nurse very often, once or twice a day and sometimes if she gets hurt or upset, but even then, I know she is getting nutrition from me again, and hopefully it will keep her healthy this winter.

I know a lot of people would think I'm crazy for being so excited about nursing a three year old, but to me, this is one gift that my body knows how to give. I have never had a problem with breastmilk supply, and it feels like even if my body sucks at other things, it can sustain life through its milk.

My three year old is now also getting that gift, along with the two babies I donated to.

And for me, right now, this is something that I also needed. I am unable to give her a living sibling that she so desperately craves. I felt like a complete failure when I let her down and ended our relationship early. It shouldn't have been my place to decide that.

This time, I am doing it different. This time, we will do this as long as she wants. This time, it is her choice.


In the end, she nursed for a month. One day she never asked for milk. And yet, this time, I am completely okay with it.

I miss our relationship, but this time, it was completely her choice to stop. I knew that we wouldn't have much time left since she was three and hadn't nursed in over two years, but I loved every second of our new relationship.

I don't have the guilt that I had when I weaned her before she was ready. I still have frozen milk in my freezer that she drinks or eats whenever she wants. It isn't as much as before, but she is healthier this winter already than years before.

I still sometimes think I should feel guilty for nursing a three year old, but I put it aside. The culture in the United States towards breastfeeding needs to change. Nursing toddlers is not a creepy thing. It won't make them sexual deviants, and it does not mean they will be dependent on their mother for the rest of their lives.

Breastfeeding is a special bond that I am so glad I got to re-do with my daughter. It is a gift that every child and every mother should receive, and age has nothing to do with when to stop.