Sunday, September 14, 2014

Boys will be Children

Recently, my four year old son went to the barber with his father.  It was a barber shop he had been to before, but only once, where they use no scissors, only electric clippers. The first time, he was visably nervous, but the barber was very calm and assuring with him and it ended up being a positive experience overall and his hair looked great.  This time, however, the experience went differently.

This time, with a different barber at the same shop, my son started to cry.  He said it was because it felt like the clipper was pulling his hair.   I know that he is especially sensitive to sensations around his ears and if the clippers seem to be pulling more than last time, I can imagine that it would be cause for him to cry because it's hard for any four year old to distinguish and react to conflicting sensations and emotions and crying is a good way of processing those emotions if you aren't fully ready to express it in words.  I imagine that it must have been uncomfortable for the barber on a busy Saturday, in a small shop, to have a strange child crying while he's trying to cut his hair. I am not without compassion for the man.  However, he was without any compassion for my child.  My husband said he handled it horribly, even telling him to "suck it up, buttercup."  Among other actions that clearly let worry one know how disgusted he was by my son's outpouring of emotion.  

Here's my issue.  I know that not everyone can handle children crying.  I also know that reasonable adults have bad days, but I also know for a fact that he would not have been treated that way if he were female,  I know it for a fact because I cried off and on even I got my hair cry up through age ten or so and although I got a range of flustered reactions, that was not one of them.  I got empathy, I got frustration, I got irritation, but no one ever told me that I needed to "suck it up."  I may have been exasperating, but I was never invalidated.  Here's the truth, whatever gender expression children have, it has nothing to do with whether or not or how they express their emotions.  Babies cry, girls cry, boys cry, women cry, men cry, intersex people cry.  Crying is a healthy expression of emotions.  It is only our culturally trained discomfort with strong emotions and our culturally trained level for tolerance that make us believe that tears are more acceptable for some and not others and the intolerance that is shown for the emotions of boys is absolutely reprehensible.  I can't count the number of times my son has been applauded for times he doesn't cry and scorned and mocked when he does.  I've even heard relatives telling him to "man up."  Man up?  He's a child!  And what kind of individual refuses to cry when he or she is hurt?  An unhealthy one.  A repressed one.

Boys will be children.  Children (and all humans) will cry.  If it's uncomfortable for you or someone around you, try to grow up a little.  Don't take it out on a child.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Remembering Dr. Maya Angelou, Mom-spiration

Not enough can be said about Dr. Maya Angelou and the impact she had upon the world and particularly this country in her 86 years of living.  She led a rich, full life and was an activist, actor, singer, dancer, writer, speaker, poet, teacher. ..the list goes on and on.  She was also a mom.  A mom who once wrote that "[t]he birth of my son caused me to develop enough courage to invent my life" (Letter to My Daughter).  It's pretty safe to say that Dr. Angelou was never fated to live an ordinary life, and by the time she was 42, she had already been an activist with the Civil Rights movement (working with both Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), traveled the world as an actor, worked in foreign countries, raised a son who was then a man who was 25 years old, and led a very full life.  What she had not yet done was publish I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings, the work she is now most famous for.  Had she not published that book and the many she would go on to publish afterwards and taken full advantage of the opportunities that arose from them, it is likely that while she would have been a rich person in history and a colorful friend/mentor to those lucky enough to be around her, she would not be the iconic voice of wisdom that she became and that we lost last week.  It is awe-inspiring to me that much of her success was due, she believed, to her experience of raising her son, Guy.

Much is made of the way motherhood takes us "away" from who we are and what we want to accomplish.  We do "sacrifice" a lot, particularly to the early years of parenting, however, there is also inspiration and motivation and reinvention inherent in being a mother that was, perhaps, too emphasized in the past and not mentioned enough now.  Now that we know how many years we were fated to have Dr. Angelou, I suppose it is only natural to wonder how much better off we all might have been if we could have had those first 42 years she spent with a semi-private life (I mean, how private can I really call the life of a performer and dedicated humanitarian and civil rights activist?).  However, much of those years were spent experiencing what would become the material for her writing and her life's work. She was raising her son into manhood, and she was also raising herself beyond the limitations she never knew she had placed on herself before learning who she really wanted and deserved to be (and also who Guy deserved her to be).

I wonder if, during those years, she felt many of the frustrations I feel as a mother of young children.  How many books did she compose in her head only to lack the time to write them down?  How much of her wise counsel to the world was lost in  a world of scraped knees, stomachaches, and sleepless nights?  I can't even seem to get my weekly blog done on time, not from lack of ideas, but from lack of opportunity to get my ideas down.  Entire novels have been born, flourished, and died from lack of time (and increasingly) lack of talent.  My fiction skills are rusty from lack of use.  The metaphorical number two pencil in my brain has a cracking, dried eraser and a broken tip.   I am not comparing myself to Dr. Angelou who clearly surpasses me in all things, but I am drawing a parallel between the life a woman leads while parenting young children and the life she can lead once her children are grown.  I don't think Dr. Angelou would disagree with me as she writes in one of her autobiographies, it was only after her son grew up and said to her, "I love you, Mom.  Maybe now you'll have a chance to grow up" (The Heart of a Woman) that she felt released to really focus solely who she wanted to be and what she wanted to accomplish (much of which was for the benefit of us all).

The truth is that Dr. Angelou might have been able to be more productive (incredible thought!  a woman who was so productive could have produced even more!) had she never been a mother, but who she was and what she had to say might not have been as wise.  She let being a mother not only define her, but also refine her into the woman we would all grow to love after she was in her forties.  I am no Dr. Angelou, but I am inspired by her.  I know there are women out there who do it all and I am inspired by them, too, but I'll bet if I talked to those who I think are "doing it all," I will learn that they feel that they are not doing everything as well as they would like, either.  I do not know how much time I will have on this earth and if I had to make a choice between raising my young sons or honing my skills into be a great writer, I will choose my sons because the experiences I am having raising them and learning from them are making me a better person and (I hope) making them better people, too.  However, it is my hope that I am not choosing one over the other, but rather choosing one first and then the other.  I am taking the chance that while my skills may be getting rusty that I am keeping as sharp as I can with the writing I do manage to accomplish (as flawed and rife with embarrassing typos such as it is) and, more importantly, I am using my experience as a mother to grow as a human being and to develop a wiser, kinder, and sharper mind.  God willing, I, too, will have a second act in me and I will get all of the cobwebs and dust out of my mind and begin to write again perhaps better than I ever did before because of all my sons and family have given me to experience.  Not all of us can be a Dr. Angelou, but all of us can learn and be inspired by her and the way she used motherhood to inspire her to be a better person.

Rest in peace, Dr. Angelou.  You were a mother, friend, and teacher to us all.
Thanks for reading,

Monday, May 19, 2014

detective case files: parent edition

I remember a conversation with my husband when Gwen was just a babe, about the daily daycare sheets. Every morning the person doing drop off (my husband 99% of the time) would fill out one side listing last diaper, last food/bottle/nursing, how they slept, and asking for any other important information. I noticed that he was writing basically the same thing every day. Now because we had a specific morning routine, the nursing time and diaper time really didn't change; but the "how they slept" part... well that changed drastically. But day after day, "fine." I questioned him about it, and he shrugged it off, asking what it mattered.

What I pointed out was this: Being a caregiver is like playing detective sometimes. Especially when you are watching a baby who isn't a great communicator yet, any clue that you can find which might help explain their actions is a huge help. Knowing that she had a horrible night sleep could be the difference between them recognizing her need for an earlier nap, or missing the window and ending up with a overtired mess of a girl on their hands. The same way that we learned from her sheets at the end of the day, that she might be extra hunger if she didn't eat a lot, or we might need to start bedtime a little early if she didn't nap well.

Gwen is four now, and there are no more daily logs of every bite, bathroom break, and certainly no more naps (::sigh::). But those little clues are just as important now. On evening that she's having a particularly hard time, its easy to just get frustrated, but its more productive to look for clues. Has she been sleeping well? Ask her about her day, did something happen? Its not always so cut and dry, but having some idea what might be causing the crankiness can make it a lot easier to handle, and be a bit help in figuring out what she needs to pull it together. Does she need sleep, or maybe just more hugs? Maybe she needs to be reassured that something that happened during the day isn't the end of the world.

As she gets older, there are more and more times when we can have real conversations about what is bothering her. But there are still times when I need to pull out my detective badge to figure it out.

Monday, May 5, 2014

one year post weaning... and still a lactivist!

This month marks one year since Gwen self-weaned. It blows my mind that its been so long already, but on the flip side, Gwen seems so grown to me now, and its hard to believe that she was still a nursling only 12 months ago. Breastfeeding was such an integral part of our lives for such a large part of her life, that when I stop and think about those moments, its hard to believe that something like that could just end. One day, be done.

Breastfeeding was such a joy to both Gwen and I. There were times when it was hard, times when it was frustrating and I was touched out. But there were many more times when it just made me so eternally grateful for what my body was able to do. For almost 6 months I used my body alone to feed my child! And for almost 3 more years I was able to be a source of nutrients, and just as good, comfort. When nothing else would help her sleep or ease her heartache, nursing could sooth her. It was a labor of love for sure... and I loved it. 

But just because we aren't nursing anymore doesn't mean that breastfeeding isn't still extremely important to me. Gwen and I talk about nursing (both humans and animals feeding their young), and about how she nursed. She speaks of it fondly, still. I talk about nursing in general with friends, especially the run of friends who have gotten pregnant and had babies in that time.

Many times when you love something, but then stop "practicing" for whatever reason, it can fade into the happy memory section of your brain... occasionally promoting a warm sense of nostalgia but not a part of your day to day anymore. When I realized that even a year out, breastfeeding was still an important part of my life, well it spurred some action on my part. Starting this summer, I'll be taking a college course to become a Certified Lactation Educator Counselor. I will be able to teach pre-birth breastfeeding courses, and advise Mamas on nursing. Hopefully it will be just the first step towards becoming either a IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), or a Doula, or both!

I'm so excited to pursue this certification. It's amazing to me that something I did because it was 1) natural, 2) the best choice for my baby, 3) comforting for both of us ... has become such a passion. A year post-weaning and breastfeeding continues to change my life! I can't wait to see where this leads me!

If your babies have weaned, has breastfeeding remained a part of your life?
If not, do you have a favorite breastfeeding memory? 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Parenting: The Ultimate Destruction of Perfection

I had 38 weeks of almost perfect mothering.  I didn't scream, yell, or scar my child in any way.  I may not have eaten has healthy as I should have, but other than that I was golden.  I remember thinking about that.  I remember savoring what it felt like to be a perfect mother with a spotless record, knowing it was all going to end because my water had just broken the night before.  The next day, I gave birth and I immediately started making mistakes.  This is what being a parent is really about: giving up any chance of perfection.

As a child, adolescent, and even young adult, I was a bit of a perfectionist.  I only did what I was really good at and if I wasn't fairly sure I wouldn't be pretty good at it, I didn't do it at all. Sometimes, it held me back.  There were things I wanted to learn, but I *knew* that I wouldn't be great at them, so I was too embarrassed to try them too often.  I used to watch the food network and Top Chef and I desperately wanted to learn how to cook, but really cooking stressed me out so I stuck to very simple meals and became very edgy and grumpy when I did try to stretch myself.  If it didn't turn out like the recipe, I panicked and felt incredibly embarrassed.  I only cooked things for people I knew I could cook reasonably well, and when in doubt, I'd suggest we go out or order in.  In college, I majored in something I loved, but also that I knew I could succeed in.  Partly it was because of my passion, partly it was because of my fear of failure.  Before anyone ever came over, I cleaned feverishly.  I agonized over what I would say when I met people or what we would talk about when we spent time together.  (Actually, that was a waste of time because I always felt afterward that I had said all the wrong things, anyway.)  I always wanted a clean slate and to do things right.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that motherhood is the antithesis of all that.  With children, you learn quickly that no one can ever be "on" 24 hours a day.  There is no planning what you can and will say for every situation because children are completely unpredictable.  You can mess up horribly, horrifically, in ways that are sure to lead your children into years of therapy, but you can't even allow yourself an hour to obsess about it because they still need you to take care of them moments later and there is no escaping the mess you just made.  You have to face it and move on, immediately.  Everyday, I feel like I live a thousand books or movies on parenting and about half are tales of triumph and the other half are cautionary tales like "Mother Dearest."  My first year as a mother was demoralizing because I had to let go of any idea that I ever would be "great" or "perfect" again.  Even in my physical body!  I have never had a very attractive appearance ("okay" would probably be my highest rating) and, honestly, I probably have a better chance of getting in shape now than I ever did in the past, but there were features I liked about myself back then, my hair among them and wouldn't you know as soon as I had my first baby, I found I immediately had some gray hair!  And saying/doing the right thing all the time and trying to be the "perfect" mother?  Forget it, I could barely function at all on the ten minutes of sleep it seemed like I was getting at night.  I was so sleep deprived by the time I reached the six month mark that I lost my ability to make short term memories.  People came to visit and we went places with them and less than a year later, I DIDN'T REMEMBER anything about the visit because I had not been able to form any memories I was so sleep deprived.  My quest for perfection had to end and the world actually got a little better when it did.

For one thing, I can cook now.  After having to change my diet dramatically to nurse both of my sons, and having to juggle multiple food allergy issues, I had no choice but to cook.  My meals aren't always glamorous or perfect the first time out, but they have gotten better and, after working through what was a surprisingly short period of mistakes and unimpressive entrees, they have become not only healthier, but actually quite good.  I'll never be a chef-testant, but I am probably a better cook than a great many people out there and my food (even with all its food allergy restrictions) tastes a lot better than what I was eating before.  For another thing, even though I probably mess up more on a lot more important things, I'm much better at letting things go and starting over.  Are there days when I miss those fantastic 38 weeks of mothering perfection?  Sure.  I was an excellent mother before I had kids, full of patience, wisdom, tolerance, and creativity.  But like all perfect things, it wasn't real.  It wasn't tangible.  I could think about it and plan for it, but I couldn't snuggle up with it and kiss away tears with it like I can real motherhood.  So, as much as I might romanticize making a new start to parenting and doing it better this time, I know in my heart that I've done the best I can with who I am every step of the way and that has involved some pretty stomach wrenching mistakes and some serendipitous triumphs.  Everyday, I learn a little better how to embrace them both and lessen the former while enjoying the latter.

I used to dream of accomplishing great things and leaving a legacy that could stand for years.  I was obsessed about it.  Motherhood has taught me to accomplish small things with great love.  My new goal is to try to create ripples of kindness that can echo throughout the lives of my children (and if I'm lucky) their children and maybe their children's children.  Even if no one remembers my name anymore, I hope that I can pour enough imperfect kindness and love into my children so that they will feel empowered to pour their own imperfect kindness and love into the world.

Now, I'm off to make a few hundred more mistakes today. . . and if I'm lucky, a few hundred and one more miraculously good moments.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, April 21, 2014

the gifting dilemna

We love holidays in my household. Any excuse to get together with family for great food, celebrating, and together time is fine by us. Our favorites are Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, all for their own reason. But Easter has its own charm. Its just starting to warm, and the weekend is often spend enjoying some egg hunting outside. What is not to love?

However there is one thing we struggle with a little. Presents. Specifically how to find that balance between not having the holiday be all about what our daughter is going to get, while still treating her a little. Finding the balance of enough, but not too much.

My husband is very much a gifter. He loves finding things that his family and friends will really enjoy and treating them. There is something really special, for both him and the giftee, about opening something that reflects just how well a person knows you and values you. I love that too. I love giving!

BUT I don't want my daughter's biggest associations with these holidays to be getting "stuff," and frankly, she doesn't need anything more anyway! She has plenty of toys, and our house is not large. Plus, we have lots of family that we know she will be getting things from as well. So what do we do?

Well first we reduce: get rid of this idea of quantity being important, and focus on quality. One or two main gifts that we know she's going to adore.

Second, we advise: if we know that certain friends or family will be gifting Gwen we something we will offer gentle guidance. We don't force, and we aren't offended if they buy something else, but we've found that most people who don't have 4 year olds are grateful for a little guidance!

We think beyond toys: Gwen loves getting new clothes, which most people might think would be an unappreciated gift. So we often advise people of what her current sizes are and what gaps her closet has. She loves having fun new items to pick from (superhero anything is a BIG hit right now), and we appreciate not having to break the bank clothing our ever growing girl! We've also had people take Gwen for fun activities instead of gifts, which its been proven provide longer lasting happiness thing things do!

So far we've managed to stick a good balance. Gwen has always been happy and appreciative for what is given to her, without it being the main focus. I hope we can keep this going for all the years to come.

What is your happy medium with gift giving?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Slugs and Snails and Duck Down: Remembering what Individuals are Made Of

I try to be a mom who sees her kids as individuals first,  I encourage my sons (and husband) to be demonstrative and open about their emotions.  I am ridiculously protective of gendered stereotypes such as telling a boy he's "brave" or "tough" only when he doesn't cry (I tell them they are brave and tough anytime they face their fears and if they need to cry, cry! It's what humans do!). I was pretty vocal in combatting the "he's all boy" type comments we got when he broke his arm for the second time before Christmas.  I try to give my boys opportunities not just to destroy, but also to build, not just to drive cars, but also to nurture.  They play swords occasionally, but those foam pirate swords can only be used to touch other swords or weapons. They actually play with their play kitchen a bit more often.  I am not trying to raise them in a gender-less environment, but I am trying to help them define their gender as part of the identity they create for themselves and, mostly, to learn about and be themselves first and foremost.  So, imagine my surprise when I realized this morning that I have been in the midst of the silliest kind of gender stereotyping for weeks and had not realized it!

  It began innocently enough.  As spring begins to emerge rather sleepily and sluggishly throughout the Midwest, I decided to try to interest my eldest son in more animal and natural world activities.  His father has been taking him in the yard to help with beginning yardwork and set up the bird feeder his uncle got him for Christmas in front of our living room window so he could watch the birds as they reentered our yard. We've been enthusiastically playing outside, going for walks, and marking the changes in the yard as the new season awakens.  Meanwhile, I decided to try showing him a larger natural world by getting fun videos from the library.  While a decent idea, my selections were ridiculous.  Remembering what my brothers loved when they were young, I checked out dinosaur videos, shark videos, and old crocodile hunter videos.  Week after week, my son was completely uninterested in watching them.  I never "made" him, but I was perplexed as to why he wasn't interested.  This is a child who loves watching Anerica's Castles with me and documentaries on bridge engineering, so surely the content wasn't too boring for him! What was wrong?  Didn't he like nature?

This morning I found out.  Confident he would like Steve Irwin if he only gave him a try (everyone loved Steve Irwin, right? Even my mother who hates snakes, lizards, and anything that crawls with the burning passion of a thousand suns loved Steve Irwin!), I put in an episode of Croc Files.  It was one on marsupials.  My son initially was resistant, but eventually relaxed as the episide continued.  

"Mama, I like this kangaroo and koala part, but please turn it off before we get to the part with crocodiles.  They scare me."   
"They scare you?"
"Yeah, the teeth are scary like sharks and dinosaurs.  I don't like them.  I don't like those kinds of animals with big, scary teeth . . . Like tigers or other scary things."

Suddenly, a light bulb went off in my head.  Instead of picking out nature videos that would appeal to my son (the individual who adores birds, especially ducks, and desperately wants to go fishing), I had been wasting my time picking out videos that would appeal to my preconceived idea of what "boys" like (sharks and crocodiles)!  While he probably will want to learn about other creatures someday, a much better choice for first nature documentaries probably would have been dolphins, fish, and ducks!  He is a cautious child and has never shown any interest in predators.  What was I thinking?  I had been so concerned about picking up stuff that "boys" would like, I had forgotten what my son would like.  

We turned off Croc Files since that was the only episide without crocs, and turned on a netflix "Duck-umentary" and my son was enraptured.  At the library, we checked out videos on fish, birds, planets, and constructing domes (my little engineer is particularly keen on that one).  This time, he's excited for the science movies and I'm excited to give him views of the natural world beyond our backyard that won't scare him.

Gender stereotyping can sneak up on you when you least expect it.  As embarrassing as it might be to admit you've made a mistake, apologize and move on quickly.  I hope my son knows that I am seeing him for him again and not just as what I imagined a "boy" to be.  I also hope that my own accidental stereotyping doesn't sneak up on me again for awhile!

Thanks for reading, 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Broken Toe Mothering: How an Unfortunate Accident was Actually Good Fortune in Disguise

I remember the moment like it was yesterday even though it was three weeks ago.  I was rushing around the house and felt completely overwhelmed.  Both boys were crying.  Everywhere I looked was covered with things I needed to put away or clean.  I had dishes to do, a meal to cook, the floor to clean, bathrooms to scrub, a diaper to change, and I was fairly certain my four year old and I had not done a single educational thing together all day.  I felt like screaming and I had been a bossy, grumpy, mama all afternoon.  Then, things got worse.  While vacuuming with my youngest on my back, I took a step forward just as my other son called for me and I stubbed my toe on the vacuum and broke it.  Not the vacuum.  At least one bone in my toe.  I felt the crack and the pain after you've felt it once is undeniable.  This was the last thing I needed.  It was also the exact thing he needed.

You see, I learned something the next day as movement of any kind caused agony.  My problem wasn't the number of things on my to do list or how little I was accomplishing or even that my kids needed more than I could give.  My problem was what I was expecting myself to accomplish and my way of trying to make those accomplishments.  With my toe broken and in pain, I relaxed my expectations for myself because I had to rest my foot.  Imagine my amazement when I discovered that even though I was able to do much less, everything seemed less stressful.  My eldest son, whom I'd been randomly attacking with educational ideas that he would then push away, suddenly began to come to me with educational ideas.  "Let's do puzzles, mama.  Let's do mazes.  Let's build bridges.  Let's build houses.  Let's do tangrams."  It turns out that he was dying to do fun learning activities with me, he just didn't want to do it when I was in a hurry.  Likewise, because I was spending less time running around the house attempting to clean like a mad woman and more time sitting in the living room or playroom with my children, my youngest became a lot less demanding because he had what he wanted, my attention.  Dinner still got cooked every night (although admittedly at the end of cooking more complicated meals where I am on my feet all the time, my toe is killing me).  The clothes still got washed and folded.  Chores still got done, but sometimes things had to be shifted to the next day in order to give my foot time to rest.  Surprisingly, while my house has not gotten cleaner, it hasn't gotten any messier, either.  It turns out that the more time I spend in the room with my boys, the less time they have to make ridiculously huge messes because I'm there helping them to clean as we go instead of there some of the time and then missing while I frantically clean stuff in another area of the room.

I think what I finally realized is that this is a "Broken Toe" period of mothering.  It is a time when expectations of myself, my house, and my life need to get a little more relaxed so that I can appreciate the hard work that is going on.  All mothers of young children are a little handicapped by the circumstance of being mothers of young children.  Young children cannot be independent.  The job of taking care of them is messy and time consuming and it precludes perfection (or even really good work) as a housekeeper. It is also rewarding and time sensitive.  While I will have the rest of my life to scrub dishes, floors, windows, laundry, etc.  (although hopefully in decreasing amounts as the years go on!), I only have a few years to be a mom of young children and when this season ends, it ends. Never to come again.  I can either relax my expectations of what "accomplishment" looks like right now or I can be constantly disappointed when I don't measure up, because my kids' needs are not going to lessen for awhile yet and they will always come first.  They might was well come first with me smiling and watching and (occasionally) resting and healing.  After all, it's better than if they come first because they have to demand it from me when I'm grumbling, preoccupied, and frenzied.

So, lesson learned, Universe.  Now can I please have my toe completely healed in the next week or two?

Thanks for reading,

Monday, March 24, 2014

midnight snuggles

Gwen hasn't bedshared full time since she was still a baby. It just didn't work for us past infancy. But I love our morning snuggles when she comes to bed with us on the weekends. And sometimes I love the calls in the dark night.

Recently there was such a night. She was having trouble settling, so I squeezed in her little bed with her. She lay her face against my chest and we had warm snuggled under her soft fleece blanket. In that moment, I could see how people do it full time. In that moment there was no where else I could be but snuggled with my girl, warm and sweet. There was no where else I wanted to be, it just felt right, comforting, contented. She fell asleep quickly and deeply; and I lingered for a bit.

We've always done our best to respect her sleep needs, while making sure our needs are getting met as well. For people who NEVER thought they would bedshare, the bit that we did was a lovely surprise, and I don't begrudge its ending. But sometimes, in those moments, I wish it had lasted.

Monday, March 10, 2014

the end of babywearing? another AP milestone.

Napping in the wrap; 10 months.
My daughter is four years old now. It's been just about a year since she started to wean from nursing (almost 10 months since she fully weaned), six months since she switched from her crib to a toddler bed. Both were such milestones for us (though weaning especially!), and a huge line in the sand for me. My little girl was shedding the last of her ties to babyhood. It seems that another of those milestones is upon us. Our babywearing days are nearing their end.

Its such an old feeling to realize that. In so many ways it is so much easier then weaning. We never wore her daily, we just didn't have that kind of need; and we haven't been at a stage of wearing her regularly for a while now. So to say it will end gradually is an understatement! But at the same time, when she weaned I still had babywearing and bedsharing to hold on to. Now there are only our weekend snugglefests to tie us to the main things that helped me first feel and feed the physical and emotional bond with my baby. While I've talked before about how my AP-ness is about so much more then these well-known things associated with Attachment Parenting, it still makes me take pause. I have remind myself that AP is about more then the boobies, beds, and babywearing... its a mindset, a whole parenting approach, and I am still VERY much AP.

Hiking in the Mei Tai; 3 years.
There are other emotions there too. As I picked out a carrier for a pregnant friend's babyshower I imagined her wearing her newborn... that soft head brushing her chest, that sweet baby smell tight against her. I'm so happy for her. And I'm jealous.  But I'm also excited for all the new things we have in store, the things she'll be able to do as she gets bigger.

I don't think we've had our last time yet. I'm sure they'll be another long walk we pull it out for, another hike, a time she just needs some help and a little rest. I'll happily tie up the MT and have the satisfying weight of my ever growing girl on my back. But when I do, it will be with the knowledge that anyone of these times could be the last.

 In the ring sling after a fall during a walk this past weekend (her suggestion to bring it!). 
Tearful four year old... but moments later a happy girl thanks to some snuggles.  :-)

What was the end of babywearing like for you? And the big question... what did you do with your beloved carriers?! 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why Children Need to See Breastfeeding . . . Especially in Public

"You can't play with that baby right now.  His mama is doing something you shouldn't have to see." It's hard to convey the disdain uttered in those words spoken about me at a hockey game a few weeks ago.  Moments earlier, we had been friendly strangers.  The six or seven year old girl in question had been playing peek a boo with my eleven month old and letting him play with her game day pom poms.  As action on the ice heated up, all of us had been drawn to the ice and conversation and interaction had lulled.  Well, most of our attention was on the ice.  My sleepy baby had decided he was hungry and soundlessly nudged that it was time for him to eat.  As I was wearing a very modest nursing shirt, I was able to accommodate him on the stands and while I was not wearing a full nursing cover, no skin was showing (too cold. . . it's been non stop arctic blast here in Michigan).  However, when the little girl turned to tickle the happy, nursing baby's foot, her mother sprang into angry action, forcibly moving her to the other side of her and giving me looks that had they been translated into words would have been unprintable.  Deciding to not push the woman into saying more things that might lead her daughter to figure out that feeding the baby was what her mom was so angry about, I quietly ignored her and let my son nurse until he was finished.  Although the woman probably thought she was looking out for her daughter, I know I was doing the right thing and me nursing my son was exactly what her daughter needed to see . . . and her mother, too. Children need to see nursing especially in public because that is the only way it will ever become a normalized, supported part of the culture again.

I nurse in front of my elder son and other children all the time.  When I do that, I am also teaching.  I am teaching them that nursing a baby is not a sexual, private act (any more than bottle feeding is a sexual act).  I am also teaching them that breasts (and women) are not just sexual play things.  If I could have had a calm, private conversation with that mother, I would have explained that.  When we teach children that nursing should only be done in dark rooms or under blankets, we perpetuate the idea that breasts are purely sexual and that nursing is somehow a deviate act.  I am a naturally modest person and so the nursing I do publically is very modest, but that is a very personal choice.  In other eras, cultures understood breasts as both sexual and functional and had healthy cultures around it.  (In the Victorian Era, for example, when ankles were considered "racy" and women were swathed in dresses from neck to toe, nursing dresses of the time reveal almost no cover for nursing mothers and paintings suggest that nursing was done very publicly with no cover.)  In early American colonies, saturated with rules about the dressing and layering women must abide by from head to toe, paintings depict church, community meetings, and other public venues with women nursing very publicly uncovered.  Were these societies ones in which women had healthy non-over sexualized representations?  No.  However, these were socities in which breastfeeding was clearly not sexualized.  Nursing in public now, in this culture, is very important because it is an act that both desexualizes feeding babies and also works to de-hypersexualize women in our slightly more self-aware culture.

 Adults really struggle to be comfortable with this because they are products and participants in our
hypersexualized culture and, frankly, after decades of bottlefeeding as the cultural norm, breasts have become increasingly associated with sex.  Children, however, have no such suppositions and discomfort.  More children than ever are growing up in homes where breastfeeding is at least attempted if not completely successful than in many decades.  Children not growing up in those homes may be more curious when they see nursing mothers in public (the same way they are more interested in anything not found inside their homes and every day life), but they are equally open to seeing the act as normal as long as the adults around them present it as so.  This is why I did not engage the obviously angry mother in conversation.  I did not wish to goad her into saying in front of her daughter that nursing should not be done on demand or in a normal setting because it is not normal for her.  Her daughter had no awareness of why her mother was so on edge and I wanted to keep it that way.

So, what is the real effect of nursing in front of children?  It becomes completely normal and even dull.  How do I know this?  The photos in this blog are all taken by my four year old.  A self proclaimed photographer, he hasn't quite got the knack for composition and instead takes pictures of unposed inanimate objects, body parts, and other subjects that, frankly, most of us would find pretty uninteresting because his focus is learning how to work and focus his camera.  Among his photos of completely ordinary objects are pictures he's taken of me nursing his baby brother because nursing is so normal, it's boring . . . like blocks, feet, or a baby crawling .  This is what nursing looks like (whether in public or in private) in the eyes of a child who is used to it.   If children see enough public nursing, they won't notice, care, or see it as abnormal when they are older. Let's make nursing in public so normal and "boring" that our daughters and sons won't even notice it or care if they see a stranger at a hockey game feeding her baby. 

Thanks for reading, Shawna

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Real Nappies Cloth Diaper Review

I love cloth diapers.  I've saved about a thousand dollars so far, but we also don't buy paper diapers unless we are travelling somewhere, which isn't often.  I have enough diapers for three days, so I wash every three days, though less often recently since she has started potty learning on her own.

We've used cloth diapers since our youngest was born 15 months ago.  I started with covers and prefolds, and as she grew and became mobile at about four months old, pockets with prefolds became our standard.  Nights have always been a struggle for us, since she would sleep on her side or stomach, and by morning she would be sopping wet with leaks and a lot of times end up with the start of a rash.

I received the Real Nappies Cloth Diaper Top Up Pack to review, which has been an incredible addition to our collection.  It came with two Velcro covers and six Indian Cotton prefolds.  My daughter is on the smaller side, just barely over 19 pounds, but their crawler size from 18-31 pounds fits beautifully!

We use these diapers for night wear.  They're bigger than the prefolds we were using, so we don't need to double up anymore, and they are so absorbent.  I prepped the prefolds and diapers before using, and I have been so impressed with how they've held up and how much moisture they hold.

At first, I was nervous at how long they are, but we have also been using the infant size from cottonbabies, so we should have upgraded awhile ago to a longer and bigger prefold.  She is smaller, so we fold it in half after trifolding, but this makes it perfect for her since she is a stomach and side sleeper and we have trouble with leaking.

I'm not a fan of Velcro on cloth diapers because it does wear out faster, and my daughter learned to peel those off at six months old so Velcro has only been for night use with full pajamas for awhile, so that didn't need to be changed.  The cover is designed really well, and they fit better than a lot of other covers we tried.  Not only does she not leak, but the diapers don't move very much while she is sleeping, which was a problem with other Velcro diapers for us.

We haven't had these as long as our other prefolds, but we also haven't had the rash problems yet with these prefolds, which is a big plus.  I'm sure over time they will need to be stripped and washed, but for now, they are much easier to use than our current night set up.

Real Nappies come in four sizes - 6-13 pounds, 11-19 pounds, 18-31 pounds, and 29-40 pounds. I like one size diapers because they grow with the baby, but my kids grow slower so they are in sizes like this for a lot longer, so we aren't spending a lot of money upgrading sizes.  I like how their sizes are set up.  They're big enough gaps that you will use a diaper for more than a month, but small enough so as your baby grows and wets more, the next size up is around the size you would need.

The company also has other baby and kid products, not just cloth, so take a look at their site to see.  A lot of their products are green and all are safe for kids and babies, and shipping was so fast.  Overall, just a great company to work with!

Monday, February 17, 2014

I Why not just switch to formula?

2 day old Sullivan nursing with the help of a nipple shield
I have to admit that I don't really want to write this post. Well. That's not true. There is a lot I want to say but I'm never sure who it is I need to say it too. Parents? Healthcare providers? Other support people? Or really what exactly I'm trying to do by saying it. Encourage other parents? Call out bad healthcare providers? Challenge those who support pregnant and breastfeeding women to think about things in a different way? Demand better support and care for women and children in general? 

What I can be sure of is that by writing this and publishing it online I will no doubt be spending the next few hours/days/weeks moderating comments and emails from people who think I am being hard on or unfairly 'judging' parents who formula feed their babies even though I'm writing this entire paragraph to say that I AM NOT. 

What I am doing is addressing some of the suggestions and questions I have been getting since my second son was born 6 months ago. All of which boil down to the same thing. 'Why don't you just switch to formula?'. 

A little history: after having breast reduction surgery in my late teens breastfeeding my first son, Oliver, in my early twenties went relatively smoothly, a few bumps in the hospital that resulted in unwanted, coerced and non-evidence-based formula supplementation and latch issues that left us reliant on a nipple shield for over 5 months but over all he gained weight (slowly), blebs & plugged ducts happened here and there but were never serious, and we "successfully" breastfed for over 4 years. 

I use the quotations around "successfully" because when I became a doula and learned more about breastfeeding through other birth and lactation professionals I found that many if not all of the trouble my oldest son and I did have could be traced back to a tongue and lip tie. And as it turned out many things I was told were 'normal' or dismissed as 'not a big deal' were actually huge red flags that we had some serious problems. Everyone survived so I'm not going to think on it more than lessons learned, we struggled but we managed and I don't regret it for a moment. 

Pregnant with my second son, Sullivan, I did a lot of research, identified the red flags I had missed the first time around and was very glad when a dentist in my area started offering laser frenectomies in his practice. 

I cannot begin to say how thankful I am that Sullivan was my second. While Oliver and I had struggled a little and he was, in hind sight, a slower gainer than he should have been, he never lost any weight, he always filled diapers regularly, he was alert and met milestones early or on time. 

Sullivan, on the other hand, struggles with the scale constantly, when my supply drops in the slightest he immediately stops dirtying diapers, and he regularly goes through phases of being sleepy at the breast eating just enough to take the edge off his hunger but no more. Had he been my first, had I not known that I was capable of nursing a baby well into childhood, had I been less aware of not only the risks of formula use but the absolute joy that the breastfeeding relationship brings, I would have folded at my ten week midwife appointment when my midwife looked me in the eye and told me no one would blame me for giving up if all the work I was doing to breastfeed became too much for me. 

(Note: while that statement may be technically true, that no one would have blamed me and it would be 'ok' to switch, suggesting that, as a professional, to a tired new mom when that's not what she's asked you is about as helpful and supportive as telling a labouring woman it's 'ok' to have an epidural when she has expressed that she wants a natural birth. And if you don't know why THATS not helpful or supportive I suppose I'll have to write a whole other post about it.) 

Nursing with a homemade at-the-breast supplementation system
Instead, under the close supervision of an IBCLC,  I max out doses of herbs like fenugreek, blessed thistle, alfalfa, fennel, and lemon balm. We limped along with a nipple shield (properly this time) to get him feeding without swallowing too much air and transferring milk effectively, I pumped regularly every day to supplement his intake with an at-the-breast-supplementer off and on for months. I feed him almost hourly at the slightest cue of hunger doing breast compressions to make sure he gets enough without tiring too quickly. I have not used any artificial nipples what so ever, no soothers, no bottles, not even my fingers, if he wants to suck he does it at the breast. I weigh him every day to make sure he's on track. Sullivan has now been to the dentist for frenectomy not once but twice and we have been seeing an osteopath regularly to improve the mobility he needs to feed effectively. He is growing, he is happy and fed, but it doesn't come 'easy' like it did the first time around. 

So why do I do it? Why not 'just switch to formula'? 

  • Because to me making the switch to artificial milk should not ever be the first suggestion or made out to be the easiest or best alternative when breastfeeding hits a bump. There are literally dozens of other ways to manage supply issues and other common problems.
  • Because using artificial milk, even prepared properly (which most people don't), has very real and sometimes serious health risks for both mothers and babies. 
  • Because breast feeding isn't just about health and nutrition. It is an integral part of the way I parent my children. It provides biological protection for my babies in our family bed, it soothes them when they are hurting or teething, it settles them when they're overstimulated, it provides security and builds trust, it forces me to slow down and engage my children even when life gets hectic. 
  • Because becoming reliant on artificial milk would be a huge financial burden on my family, thereby negatively impacting my older child and my family's food security in general. 
  • And mostly because the way we start our life is important. Everyone needs to stop discounting that. 

Do I expect that every mother should work as hard as I did to breast feed exclusively no matter her situation or support network? NO, absolutely not, I get that it is my privilege and my connection to a network of well trained birth and lactation professionals that allows me to do so. 

But I do expect that every single person who works with, provides any type of care to, or even comes in the slightest contact with mothers and babies understand that when we do things to interfere with or damage the breastfeeding relationship between mother and child we are interrupting vital biological systems that can drastically effect not just the health and development of that baby, but also entire communities. So maybe there is a small part of my brain that just wanted to prove even with multiple factors that can negatively impact breast feeding, bottles and formula don't have to be a part of the management plan. 

We need to stop treating breastfeeding like it's a great thing to do 'if it works out', and start treating it like a vital biological system that must be protected and maintained. It isn't binary, and bottles of formula aren't the inevitable conclusion when things don't start off or continue to go well. 

In short; If you are a mother who's baby isn't doing well and the only advice you are hearing is EITHER "just keep feeding, just keep feeding, you can do it, he's just small" OR "you're starving/harming your baby, you need to give him formula right now" know that there are amazing care providers out there who can give you real answers and help you find a management plan that will help you achieve YOUR goals. If you are one of the people handing out the above advice on either side, please search out the amazing professionals who have real answers and let them educate you. 

"Why not just switch to formula?" Because you don't really have to. Not if that's not what you want, and you can find the right support. 

To find a qualified IBCLC you may search for your area at: 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Why Changing Birth Culture is Important for Our Sons as well as Our Daughters

My son loves books.  When we are at the library I try to preview most of what we check out, but sometimes books surprise me.  Recently, I checked out a book my son asked for that I thought was a standard book about welcoming a new baby into the family.  It turned out to be a very realistic and well done book (Hello Baby) about what a homebirth is like for young children.  The story is honest and simple and the illustrations are beautiful and specific without being too scary or overwhelming for the very young.  In fact, my son was fascinated by them.  The book actually brought about one of the coolest conversations I have ever had about birth with anyone.  After explaining that the illustration of the baby crowning was not the mama "pooping" out the baby, although I let him know I could understand why he would think that from the angle of the picture, I explained to him that a mother pushes a baby out of her vagina.  Instead of being repulsed or shutting down when he heard that word  (the way almost every male has reacted my entire life especially in a context about birth),  he was awestruck.  "That's why mamas have vaginas and not penises?  God makes them able to grow babies AND makes a way for the babies to get out into the world?  That is so AWESOME."

I forget sometimes what a new culture I am working to build for my sons, but moments like this remind me of why I am so dedicated to it.  No matter what he learns from the culture at large as he gets older, no one will ever be able to take away the honest, frank wonder and respect he felt for women that first moment when he realized how a baby is really born and why women are designed differently from men.  It's not because women and their reproductive organs are "yucky" or "impolite."  It's not because they are just mysteriously "different" just to confuse men.  It's because women have to be biologically different for us to procreate.  It is what we are designed to do. My son knows from the start that women are designed to birth babies and that a woman birthing is awe inspiring.  Imagine how he will feel about the woman who may one day birth his child.  Imagine how he will feel about being a birth partner if his initial memory is always one of wonder and not disgust or fear.  How much more prepared is he to be a good birth partner than most of our male partners were initially just starting from a place of understanding and respect rather than from ignorance and fear?  One day, he can look forward to his child's birth not only to meet the child, but also to see the wonder of his child's mother as a capable birther.  He doesn't need to be overwhelmed by any feelings that he does not "belong" there or that birth is scary or a secret that was never shared with him.  He can know what many of us didn't know until we were preparing to birth our children:  women are made to birth and birth may be powerful and life changing, but it  is also beautiful.

Changing birth options and birth choices may be couched in our understanding of women's rights and we may fight for best practices for our daughters to experience birth in a supportive, understanding, and safer environment, but we are also changing things for our sons who will one day support and love our daughters.  If I can teach my sons to be able to say the word "vagina" without giggling and to think of birth as natural and wonderful and I can teach my sons that breasts are made for breastfeeding first and sexuality as an additional, lovely bonus, I am normalizing birth and breastfeeding for men and women and creating a more supportive culture for women and men.  That's an awesome thing in and of itself.

Thanks for Reading,

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Woman's Birth Deserves Respect

I've hinted at a few things people have told me about my freebirth, but one that is permanently fixed in my mind is someone giving my baby a nickname having to do with the color of the water when she was born.

Someone decided to give her the nickname "Jello baby" because the water was red when my husband sent out the announcement picture.  She had been born less than 10 minutes before, so we were still in the pool, and yes, I bled in the water (which happens in a waterbirth) so the water was red.

Now, if this nickname was because she's a chubby baby, I wouldn't care.  I never thought I would have a chubby baby and I'm loving it, so the nickname for that would be endearing to me.  But simply because you are making fun of how she was born because it's not a common choice?  That is not okay on any level.

Let's say I had a hospital birth or another cesarean, whether scheduled or not.  If our announcement of her birth had been sent out with me in the hospital holding her, or of her in the OR, or anything like that, no one would dare make a nickname based on that.  There would be no jokes about how the room looked, how she looked, what I was wearing or where I had her.  Everyone would be so supportive of our choice to have her in a setting they understand.

The thing is, it doesn't bug me as much as it did when I heard the nickname the first time.  What bugs me is that women that give birth in a situation others don't understand have to face scrutiny for it.  Sneers and jokes and comments about bravery and risks.  It doesn't stop.

Just like how we need to take control of our own births, we need to respect the births of others and not poke fun at them if they are different than the "normal" birth we imagine.

There is a huge difference between spreading information on birth choices and picking the births apart for a joke.  There is a huge difference between sharing links and resources with someone looking for change or hoping to help someone feel empowered in their own choices and hoping they don't see the underlying mean spirit.

I am not ashamed of my birth choices.  What makes me feel ashamed is how others treat those choices.  When other homebirthing mothers call me brave and roll their eyes, I wonder what I am lacking in their eyes.  When women hear about my birth and then instantly change the subject it makes me wonder what was so wrong with my choice that I can't talk about it like I could if I had chosen to have my baby in the hospital.

I hate that I feel I have to justify my choice to others.

No woman should have to justify her choice for her birth.  You may not agree, I know I don't agree with many choices others make, but that doesn't give anyone the right to make them feel less because of it.

If we want to change the way that women birth, we have to believe their birth was special.  It doesn't matter how they birth, it was special.  A mother is created, and a baby is born.  How is that not one of the most special things that anyone can do in their life?  Creating life should be treated as the sacred act that it is, regardless of how that came about.

We all deserve to take power from our births, and that starts with changing the way we treat the births of others.

Monday, February 10, 2014

the dance of winter - dealing with the dreaded snow day

Here at Connected Mom we run the gamut from Stay at Home Mamas to Work at Home Mamas to Work Outside the Home Mamas. I fall in the latter category. Each of these choices has its pros and cons. In the pro column for us is that, as an only child, we love that Gwen gets to play with a whole group of kids everyday, and that she has made some great friends. I love that I get to see other adults everyday, and talk about things completely outside the realm of parenthood. However this winter, which has been a doozy, has shown that a con is definitely the occurrence of multiple snow days in close succession.

I remember before Gwen was born. My office rarely closes for snow, but when it did, it meant a day full of hot chocolate, PJs, and lazy hours of movies and books. Now though, my daughters daycare/preschool closes far more often then my work does, and has no concern for when I have important work meetings. Suddenly snow days are full of guilt because you cut out on your coworkers, guilt that you aren't giving your child enough (if you are attempting to work from home), and possibly a cranky child who doesn't understand why we can spend all day out in the snow.

So here, in no particular order, are my top 10 tips for surviving unexpected snow days:

1. Talk to your boss beforehand. Figure out what works best for both of you in the event of a snow day. I know some parents that will probably be using half their vacation days before spring arrives. See if you can work out a half-time arrangement, so you don't have to take a full vacation day. Something has to get done? Promise you'll telework over nap. But let them know that you will be entertaining your child and that you just won't be able to give the same 100% you would if you were in the office.

2. Talk to your spouse beforehand. My husband and I check out the weather at the start of the week, and if there are big storms brewing, look at our work schedules to see if there are days one or the other of us can. not. miss. Having an idea of who is staying home when, before the morning of, is a huge stress reliever.

3. Try to get outside, if only for a little bit. Lots and lots of layers, maybe culminating in only being outside for the same amount of time it took to get all those layers on and  back off, but the fresh air and energy release is worth it!

4. If you can't get outside, make sure you get some physical play going. The cold has been intense this year, some days in the negatives when accounting for wind chill. Those days, its just not safe to go outside. But my daughter and I will have races in the hallway, or do yoga together, to burn off some extra energy. My girlfriend taught her daughter how to do jumping jacks, which her daughter loved and practiced for a good half hour on her own. Remember that your child is used to running around all day with a handful of other kids, all of whom probably have more energy individually then you do!

5. Make it special. My favorite memories of snow days when I was a kid are hanging out in my PJs, and my Mom's from scratch hot chocolate. My daughter, like me, loves the chance to spend some extra hours in her PJs... so that's what we do. She also gets a movie in the afternoon, which she loves, and gives me a few hours of work time that won't leave her feeling neglected.

6. If you have to work, reconnect throughout the day. We've had so many snow days lately that my days at home have mostly been work from home days. Its hard for my daughter to not have my undivided attention, and I feel guilty that I'm not giving 100% to either work or child. So I'll make sure to take 15 minutes or so after I finish each work project to be silly with Gwen, read her a book, ask about her game, or just give her some cuddles. And at lunch, I give her my undivided attention and lots of conversation so she feels heard and loved.

7. Keep your cool. For me at least, if I'm having a day when I'm feeling too torn, and the guilt of not giving my all to anyone who needs it can make me cranky. It helps me to remember that Gwen is off her game too. She didn't ask for this snow day either, and while she was excited about it initially, that doesn't mean she isn't going to miss her friends or her school routine. So it helps us both to do something silly to change it up and remind her (and me) exactly why she was excited to be home in the first place. I try to do something that will get her laughing, and gives me a chance to breathe and reboot. Throw on some music, break out your best/worst 80s moves and have a dance party in the living room. Just try to be frustrated when you're doing your version of the moon walk!

8. Provide them with their own work space. Gwen has gotten much better about playing independently while I work, and one of the biggest helps to that has been making sure her little desk (next to our computer desk) is stocked with paper and markers, and making sure to rotate the toys in the toy chest in that room as well. She's happy that she can be in the same room as me, I'm happy that she has options to keep her imagination running wild. A spare blanket has become a fort, and her toys all got a trip to the dentist the other day, all while I knocked out my work a foot away.

9. Keep a special activity in your back pocket. When its been a week or two in a row of multiple snow days, my daughter starts to get a little tired of her same toys with no other friends around and Mama working. That's when I pull out something different. It could be a sheet of stickers I picked up at the store, or a toy of hers that I stashed away when it wasn't getting a lot of play (its amazing how not playing with something for a few weeks can make it seem new again!), sometimes just changing the mix a little can reignite that imaginative play!

10. Remember that these days are fleeting. Soon enough spring will be here and we'll be wishing for a day at home!

Only 37 days until spring!!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Sacredness of an Imperfect Pregnancy and Post Pregnancy Body

I hate that my body doesn't show pregnancy until I am in the third trimester AND is back to prepregnancy size in six weeks or less.  Yes. You read that right.  I hate what most magazines tell you that you should kill for.  However, I have good reason for it.

A pregnant body and, for that matter, a newly post pregnant body is a sacred space.  It is meant to be different, curvier, and fuller because your life is different, curvier, and fuller.  Desiring your prepregnancy body at such times might be an attempt to feel "normal" but the changes you see are the message to the world that "this" IS the NEW normal.  Why would your body not reflect the emotional and spiritual growth that is happening within?  The fetishism of youth and life before children is not only ridiculous but also pointless.  Your life before children transitions into something else post children; your body makes that transition, too.  That doesn't mean you won't be fit again or you won't look good again, but it does mean you may not look or feel the same and that's alright.

You have earned the right to look the way you do.  You are accomplishing a great thing.  You have grown or are growing another perfect human being.  You have kept an entire human being safe and nourished when no other could.  Your body is sacred.  It is a universe onto itself in which your baby will spend or has spent every second of his/her existence before birth and when the birth needed to happen, YOU did that whether by natural means or c-section. What could possibly be more beautiful than that? A size 6?  A size 2?  I don't think so!  Who the heck can/should care whether or not you look as traditionally, culturally "sexy" as you did before you created an entirely new life?  Consider this. . . Which is a healthier view of beautiful or normal? An eternal image of what you looked like in your teens and/or twenties or an ever evolving image of the rest of your sixty to eighty years on this planet?  Who really wants their lives to be exactly the way it was pre-children? Why would you want your body to be that way?  

Love yourself and your post baby body.  Forget about its size and its relationship to what others may construe as attractive.  Forget about getting back to "normal." Embrace the awesome abnormality and sacredness of your birthing years.  That is true beauty. (In the meantime, I will try to find the beauty of looking about the same on the outside while being transformed on the inside.)

Thanks for reading,

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Gift Ideas for Young Children that Aren't in the Toy Aisle

 As I look around my house at the overflow of Christmas abundance and think about my youngest son's birthday in six weeks, I can't help but feel like the last thing he needs is more toys. But I know his relatives love him as they love his brother and I know they want to treat him and let him know he's loved.  I just think that sometimes inexpensive gifts and gifts outside the toy aisle are what my boys need most, so here are some gift ideas for young children that don't involve the toy aisle.

1.  Scarves
Not winter scarves, but fun silk/printed scarves.  I used to play with my grandmother's as a child and now my sons play with her collection as well as my collection.  Almost daily, those scarves are used to play dress up, peek a boo, or just be tossed in the air. $5-$15 new or go to a thrift store and buy them for $.50-1.00. Prewash and they are ready for play! Buy a bunch and watch a baby pull them out of the box one by one.  Magic!

2.  Kitchen utensils
Measuring cups, spatulas, whisks, cookie cutters, almost everything that doesn't have a blade is a fun and multi functional toy! Go to the dollar store and stock up! If the kids tire of them, they can be used to make dinner.

3.  Card board box collection
Keep a number of card board boxes, buy some crayons and markers, maybe even some paint.  Help the child make robots/cars/airplanes/houses/whatever!  You will be the coolest gift giver at the party!

4.  Gift memberships to zoos/science centers/local play areas.
  These are great! We have a few and use them often on the weekends!  The child gets fun, free, quality time with the family.

5.  Spend an afternoon teaching a skill
Do you sew, whittle, hunt, fish, cook, knit, paint, garden, camp, play an instrument or have another skill?  Wrap up some representation of it and spend an afternoon (or more) teaching my small child about it. Even if s/he doesn't like doing it him/herself, chances are they will enjoy your demonstration or just getting the chance to spend time with you!

6. Get tickets
Take my children or my family to hockey games, baseball games, plays, or concerts.  Take them to historical reenactments or renaissance fairs.  Help me show them the world in its variety.  Give the gift of a memory that lasts a lifetime.

7. Wooden Craft or Toy Building Kits
These are a huge, huge hit with my four year old.  Most large craft and home improvement stores have them and each one has been a hit at my house.

8.  A Whole Bunch of Stickers and Paper
No explanation necessary, but best for kids over two who won't try to eat the stickers or place them in inappropriate places.

9.  Old Magazines and Newspapers
These can be used for a variety of projects and skill building, from ripping and cutting to paper mâché.  Throw in some other craft supplies and you have kid heaven.

10.  Crazy Hats
Babies to big kids love playing with fun hats.  As a teen, I used to keep my littlest brother entertained for a good half hour to hour every time we went to the store by playing in the hat department.  You can afford a variety by buying used, but prewash and if possible dry!

11. Magazine Subscription 
(Idea suggested by Monica!)
Get my son a magazine subscription and he can do all of the craft ideas suggested  in number 9 and have something new in the mail every month.

What toy less gift ideas do you have?

Thanks for reading! 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

From Unschool to Public School

We planned on homeschooling. As things progressed, unschooling became more our style.  Our daughter was able to learn what she wanted when she wanted, we were both infinitely happier, and she was learning.

Fast forward to her sixth birthday, less than a month before the school year.  We were on a walk, and as we passed the local elementary school, she turned to me and said she wanted to go to school.  This has happened before and normally she forgot by morning so I nodded and said we would talk about it tomorrow.

She woke up the next day, a Friday, announced she really wanted to go to school and asked when it started.  So, I called the Montessori Charter school to get a private tour. Strangely, people where I live don't like how this elementary school doesn't test as well so they are barely half full.  And for a Montessori school that's huge!  It's free, it follows a Montessori philosophy, and there are so many openings.

That afternoon we had our tour.

I have never seen her so happy.

The Assistant Director gave us our tour, answered all our questions, and it felt right.

Less than a month later, she was starting first grade in a public charter after we originally wanted to unschool.

To many, this is a little out there.  Unschooling isn't the most popular view to begin with, but then it seemed like we gave that up for the exact opposite when she started public school.

To me, we were following her wishes.  I've never been a parent that pushes their own ideals and wishes on their child, to the amusement of many, and we let her choose this too.  Why should I force a decision I wanted on my child when she clearly wanted something different?

Now, I will admit, a public Montessori Charter isn't the same as public school.  There are no desks, most learning is very hands on, there are no group lectures, no forced learning.  She is allowed to learn what she wants when she wants, the Montessori way. 

At first I felt like a homeschooling failure.  How could I want to do something so much, and then love it more when she is at school?  How could we both love this new system more than the freedom of the old?

It took a long time for me to understand that our lives are not a fantastical whim.  Rarely, if ever, do things go exactly how you planned.

For me and my daughter, this is the best thing we could have done.  Both of us are happier.  She has such a hard time when school is out!  She loves the new environment, loves her friends, loves that she has control over her learning.  I love that she is so happy.

In the end, I trusted her.  I was nervous and worried, but she is thriving.

Some children would not thrive in a public schooling atmosphere.  Others would not thrive in an unschooling atmosphere.  Trusting them to help make that decision is so important.  Yes, I understand that not everyone has the resources to make these choices, and it can be so hard to decide when your choices are much more limited, but you can still trust your children.

Talk to them.  Find out how they learn.  Find out what they want to do.

They might surprise you with how much they truly know and understand about what they want.

Monday, January 27, 2014

memories of Mama

A mommy who plays in the snow!
One day, I remind Gwen, she will be a grown up. Its weird to her that she would ever live anywhere other then with us, its weird to me too! But I think she started to understand it more when she suddenly realized that I have a Mommy and Daddy too, and I don't live with them. A-ha!

I think about those days, and what she will remember of this time in our lives. A time that often feels too full of the mundane, with not nearly enough excitement. I had to have my own a-ha moment when I think about what my fondest and most common memories are of my childhood. Yes, I remember that school trip to Disney, but I don't think of it often. The memories that I think of the simple ones: My mom making me noodle soup. My dad reading to me while we waited for the bus in the morning. Playing in the woods behind our house. Lots and lots of time spent talking with my Mom.

Sometimes its so easy to get stuck on the idea that bigger is better when it comes to the special, fun things we offer to our kids. And these extra special things have their worth. We are excited for our trip to Disney for her birthday next month! But while Sesame Place was fun, and the zoo was exciting, I know that in the end its the repetition of "small" acts that will stick with her. Family dinners, where we all get a turn to talk. Back rubs and quiet singing at bedtime. Getting bundled up to play in the snow.

Those are the things I want her to remember anyway. I don't want her to childhood to be a wash of so many big things, I don't want her to think I always got what I wanted. I want her to think: everyday my parents took the time to listen to me, I know that my voice and feelings were important, and my parents loved to be with me.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Help for First Time Pregnant Mothers

As two dear friends announce their pregnancies and begin on their journeys into motherhood, I want so much to ease their transitions. I want to wrap my arms and love around them and comfort them. I want to give them words of wisdom, but I'm not sure I know how.  I still feel a lot like a new mother myself.  So, what I can do is say the things I wish I could hop in a time machine and tell myself five years ago, knowing that my friends are on different roads of motherhood and have different hopes, fears, and experiences ahead of them than I had and as I have transitioned into having now.  

There is no way to be a perfect mother, but there are a million ways to he a good one.

You will mess up. You will make wrong decisions. You will have regrets in your journey as a young mother.  Accept that and accept yourself at every stage. There is a wonderful quote about motherhood:
"The moment a child is born,
the mother is also born.
She never existed before.
The woman existed, but the mother, never.
A mother is something absolutely new." -Rajneesh

Remember in the early days that you are every bit as new and vulnerable as your baby. Just as life in the womb does little to prepare newborns for life outside the womb, your life before children does not really prepare you for the realities of mothering.  Be patient with yourself as you discover the mother you are meant to be.  Dust yourself off when you fall down and believe that with every stumble you are learning to run by learning your own boundaries and balance. Love yourself with the same compassion you give your baby.

Take your pregnancy to do two things: really connect with your partner and get as many house projects as you can done.

No matter how long you've been together and what your relationship has been and is like, having children is going to shift your relationship dramatically and sleep deprivation, stress, and finding your post baby equilibrium will all take a toll on your relationship. Build up as much romance and goodwill as you can.  Snuggle up and smooch as much as you can.  Make love both physically and emotionally with the things you do together.  Really savor these last few months when you are "you"--a couple without kids. It will be nearly twenty years before that will be the case again. As for the house projects, you cannot conceive of how much harder it is to get things done once the baby arrives. You may not think you have any time now, but post baby you will marvel at all the time you currently have.  Use it productively!

Learn about your birth options.

Educate yourself about your birth choices and know that you do have choices.  You do not have to give birth in the nearest hospital with a doctor a friend, cousin, or sister used.  Studies show that planned homebirth with a midwife can be just as safe and may result in a shorter labor with less interventions.  If you really are not comfortable with that option after researching it, you also have the options of birth centers with Certified Nurse Midwives, and independent birth centers with midwives.  You can also go to another hospital a bit further away.  You can still go the doctor at your closest hospital route, but learn what else is out there before you make your decision.  When you are in labor, the last thing you need to do is have things suggested to you that you know nothing about.  Take a good birthing class preferably not affiliated with a particular location and its practices so you can learn as much as you can.  Consider hiring a doula for your birth.  They are awesome women who will support you and your husband and greatly enhance your birth experience.

Learn about babywearing.

Wearing your baby is the absolute best thing you can do for both you and your baby.  Your baby gets to feel the security of being curled against you and you get the benefit of smelling that sweet baby smell and kissing the softest skin in the world while you get stuff done and eat things like burritos.  What's not to love?  Invest in a high quality carrier that protects your baby's hips.   You can learn all about them here and buy them used (Just in case your baby has other ideas about what s/he likes.). I will blog about that and the many benefits of baby wearing some other time. (Seriouslyinvesting in a good carrier, wrap, or sling is the best baby item you can have.)

Buy used.

Whenever you can, buy gently used. Even the most well used baby clothes are still used for only a few months. If you want to cloth diaper, I highly recommend diaperswappers.  You can find huge lots of baby clothes of all sizes on ebay and craigslist, too, for a fraction of what you would buy new.  Consignment stores, donation stores, and specialty children stores are filled to the brim with gently used, like new, baby items.  If you have friends who already have children, see if you can borrow items that can really only be used a few months like swings, bouncy seats, infant bathtubs, etc.  Save your money as much as you can for the unexpected and for items you might use longer like high chairs, booster chairs, good car seats, and baby wearing gear.

Ask for gift cards instead of trying to register for baby items you may or may not use. 

Grandparents and family members are always excited about a new baby and particularly excited about a first baby.  They will want to help you as much as they can in their excitement.  Take them up on it, let them throw you a showerbut don't feel you have to register for a whole lot of stuff when you can often get it used for a fraction of the cost at Mom to Mom sales, garage sales, and gently used kids stores.  Instead ask for gift cards.  Gift cards for your favorite department store like Target or even your grocery store are particularly useful.  That way, once your baby
gets here and you learn more about what works for him/her and his/her personality, you will have the money to accommodate those things.  And don't be afraid to ask for things like gift certificates to stores that sell nursing bras/tops/etc. and for websites like etsy where you can buy washable nursing pads, unique diaper bags, slings, babywearing coats and all kinds of fun baby gear.

Most of all, love yourself and be open with whatever you are feeling when you are feeling it.

Pregnancy and first time motherhood are times of great emotional tumult.  Do not judge yourself too harshly for it.  Sleep in, baby yourself, and be open with how you are feeling!  Get into the habit now because it will only become harder as time goes on to get into the habit.  When your baby comes all your doubts and fears may go away, or maybe not.  You might feel instantly in love, but maybe not.  None of this means you will be or are a "bad" mother.  Just like babies are not born instantly knowing how to nurse, talk, walk, etc.  A woman who has just birthed a baby does not know everything all at once, either.  

Don't ever worry about what others "think" or even what you think you should "think," instead, go with what you "feel" is right every time.

Study all you want during your pregnancy, but be kind if the answers you find beforehand are not the ones that "feel" right once you have a baby.  Mother's intuition is real and don't be afraid to listen to it.  You will still make mistakes, but at least you will know that you did what you did because you were trying your best.  

I have a friend who was sure she would love bedsharing, full term nursing, cloth diapering, and a whole host of other "natural parenting" practices.  She learned through experience that while she did like some of those things, she did not like to do them for as long as she had thought and she actually couldn't stand some of them.  I just "knew" for all nine months I was pregnant with my first (and for years beforehand), that I would never, ever let a child sleep in my bed because I am too light of a sleeper, I would never be able to cloth diaper, I would nurse for twelve months maximum, I was too busy and lazy to worry about too much nutrition, and I would be a strict, traditional disciplinarian.  Now I am a co-sleeping, cloth diapering, full term breastfeeding, mother who believes passionately in gentle parenting and consequences rather than punishment and eating whole foods whenever possible.  I truly believe that this is the best course for my family and we are all better for it, but it took me a long time to get over the disconnect between what I had always "thought" was right and what I "felt" in my heart was right.  Then, just when I had everything figured out with my first, I had a second and discovered different things worked for him!  That's why comparing yourself to other mothers or trying to just clone what they do will never work. Every baby, every mother, every situation is different. Advice (even my advice) may be kindly offered, but don't feel you have to take it too seriously.  Save yourself some pain.  Go with your gut.  

Finally, get your mom and your best friends, both other moms and at least one non-mom, on speed dial.

Being a mother is the toughest job you'll ever love, but no one should feel like they are doing it alone.  In addition to working hard to stay open and connected with your partner, make sure to connect with other women.  They will know exactly how you feel and will not judge you for your "off days."  Your non-mom friend will help you remember who you were before you were a mother when you need it.  You will not believe how easy it is to forget that if you get too consumed.

All my love and good wishes for you on this journey to the woman and mother you were always destined to be.

Thanks for reading!