Friday, December 10, 2010

Things I Have Learned From Children's TV

So the Bug is starting to get to an age where she can tell the difference between suitable television programing and my secret pleasure, the Real Housewives. (I can't get enough of 'em, although I totally think all the New Jersey Housewives are completely whack-a-do.) She's been a bit under the weather the past few days, so I've been letting her watch more TV than usual, since she hasn't been as into chasing the dog around the sofa as she is when her energy level is normal.

So I've been watching Sprout and Nickelodeon.

Okay, so it is time to date myself a bit. The TV I remember watching when I was a preschooler is pretty much Reading Rainbow and Sesame Street. Beyond that, my mom watched Days of Our Lives and Another World.

Some things I have learned from this new generation of children's shows.

1. Australians are really freakin' weird.

Example 1a: Dirt Girl World

Okay, so it is actually a co-production of the CBC and the ABC, but all the creepy little people and bugs have Aussie accents, so I lay this at the feet of the Aussies.

2. Brits are a bit odd as well. (Perhaps I should have combined these into one and just laid it at the feet of the entire Commonwealth. Perhaps this oddness is the lasting influence of the royal family?)

Example 2a: Rubbadubbers, a series that takes place entirely in a bathroom in stop motion.

Example 2b: Fireman Sam. It seems that Fireman Sam and his cohort are Welsh, and it is interesting to note that when the show originally aired, it was in Welsh. Even for a kids show, however, the morals seem a bit tidy. Also, I find a few of the voices a bit off, and the Welsh accents make me think of the show Torchwood, so I keep waiting for Capitan Jack Harkness to swoop in and blame the rift, and possibly hire and/or sleep with Fireman Sam or his sidekick who is, inexplicably, named Elvis.

3. Math can solve anything. The Bug loves a show on Nick called "Team UmiZoomi" in which 2 Smurf-sized children and their handy Robot solve Umi City's problems with their Mighty Math Powers. The show actually reinforces important skills for preschoolers like shapes, pattern recognition and counting, but the breadth of problems they solve with math is nothing short of stunning. They've found lost toys, gotten planes off the ground, made sure Grandma got her "I Love You Day" cookies. The part the Bug likes best is the song at the end.

4. It's all good if you can end the day with a song. Just ask Team UmiZoomi or Dora the Explorer.

I still want to know what Dora would do if she didn't find her objective and couldn't sing the "We Did It" song at the end of an episode.

Stupid Stuff I Love

So I have this in-law. She knows everything. Just ask her, and she'll tell you everything there is to know about everything. When presented with any question, this particular relative will emphatically tell the asker why her opinion is RIGHT. When I seek out friends to help me edit my dissertation, I won't ask her, largely because she will suddenly develop a deep knowledge of my field and attempt to debate points of methodology with me.

When I registered for gear for the Bug, this particular relative called me to critique roughly half of the baby stuff I had picked out. She has 2 kids, and of course she knew what we needed. She has, in fact, given us a lot of hand-me-downs, and I'm not saying we don't appreciate them, but I'm also a grown person and I would like to make a few decisions on my own for my child. And while I am all about the frugal, one of the advantages of a middle-class existence is that one has the means to get a few frivolous things.

Indeed, there is at least one baby item that DH and I use in part to spite this particular relation.

In light of this, thanks to the anonymous nature of the internet, here is a short list of baby stuff that I have loved so far that she thought were dumb.

1. Our wipe warmer. It is pretty frivolous in its own way... after all, the Bug survives when we are out and about and she has to deal with a room-temperature wipe. But the warmed wipes are particularly nice when she has a diaper rash or when she has woken up in the middle of the night and needs to be changed, as it eases the shock of suddenly being unwrapped down to a naked bum. If you get the right sort and maintain it correctly, it doesn't dry out the wipes.

2. The Boppy Newborn Lounger.  This thing was awesome when the Bug was smaller. She was never one for chilling out in mechanical moving things (i.e. bouncy seats or swings), and has always been one for being near people.

We were able to put her on it next to us where ever we were and she could just chill out. I loved this thing, the Bug loved this thing.

3. The nursing cover. I happen to have one by Balboa Baby. We like it, mostly. It is either appropriate or an evil thing of covering my child. I prefer this to the know-it-all relative's  approach, which was to nurse her children in public restrooms. I'm sorry, but that's kind of gross, if you ask me.

4. Newborn sized diapers. In these days of 8 and 10lb babies, there are a number of kiddos who never need these. The bug was 6lbs 5oz when she was born. For the first few weeks, the size 1s were just way too big. Sure, the size 1s mostly kept poop off of us, but the newborn ones fit so much better. We didn't need a massive case of them or anything, but they did the job so much better than the size 1s, which the nosey relative assured us were all we would need.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Nine Month Old

So every time the Bug goes for her check ups, our pediatrician (who we love), gives us a hand out about what she should be doing at this stage. I thought I'd share where she stands on the milestones that they outline in this month's hand out.

1. "Sits Alone"

What you can't see there is that she is actually leaning forward from the back of the crib, not just leaning on the headboard.

2. "Crawls or scoots, then pulls to standing."

The poor dog. Dude can't escape if the baby gate is up.

And the list of stuff she can mess with just tripled.

3." Picks up small objects with thumb and forefinger... and feeds self..."

What they fail to mention is how pleased she'll be with this particular skill or she will feed herself paper.

4. "Babbles 'ma ma' and 'da da' and enjoys music."

They don't mention that she will also imistate inflections and start sounding like a miniature professor.

They also don't mention that baby ninja will cut her mommy in the middle of the night as some sort of warning. (Sweat heart, if you didn't like the Turkey Vegetable puree, you could have just told me.)

Ninja baby gives her target a warning slice while the target ... on Twitpic

They suggest that she might be afraid of animals. (See above.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Attachment Parenting and the Real World

So recently, feminist Erica Jong published an essay called "The Madness of Motherhood" in the Wall Street Journal. In essence, it decries the form of parenting known as Attachment Parenting (or, in internet-speak, A.P.) as stifling to women, something that families choose out of guilt or a misguided sense that they can make their children more perfect through perfect nurturing.

I've read it. I've also read Ph.D. in Parenting's refutation of it.

Then I read the comments that followed her entry in response to it. When I read the comments in response to things on the internet, this is often where I get into trouble. I don't fully agree with the author of Ph.D. in parenting, but I see her point that Jong made some flawed assumptions based on a limited understanding of attachment parenting. But one of the commenters said this about attachment parenting:

No one I know who practices A.P. to any degree feels like it is stifling. On the contrary, we feel it is freeing because it is easier and creates fewer battles with out [sic.] children
 Here's the thing. A.P. can be stifling.

Wait. Let's back up. I'm going to assume for a few minutes that some of my tens of fans don't know what A.P. is. So, first, a quick and dirty primer on it might be useful. Attachment Parenting is a style of parenting largely advocated by pediatrician William Sears and his wife, RN Martha Sears, that argues that the best way to raise a child is for them to have a secure emotional attachment to his or her parents. The most concise reading material on the subject is the Sears's book The Baby Book. But in a nutshell, they advocate bonding as soon as possible after the child's birth, breastfeeding, baby wearing, sleep sharing, respecting a baby's cry as a communication tool, and finding balance with parenting and oneself. It does put, if one were to aspire to the ideal presented in the books, a large portion of the parenting duties in Mom's lap.

In a lot of ways, this sums up how we're parenting the Bug. She sleeps in our room, sometimes our bed, she's breastfed, we don't let her "cry it out," and the Sleepy Wrap is still one of our favourite things. But I am wary to say that I am an "attachment parent." I am wary of this, because any number of unfortunate things have been perpetrated in its name over the years. Ideally, it is not overly permissive. But in practice, sometimes it is. I've seen how this ends in college students who have never, not even once, been told "no." This isn't how AP should be practised, but sometimes it is. This is certainly a large part of the media portrayal of AP and the "easy" way to interpret it.

My whole goal as a parent is to put myself out of business.  I want to raise the Bug to be an independent woman who knows her own mind and can deal with the pressures of the real world. To do this, DH and I will have to craft our own style that deals with the Bug's unique temperament and communication style. Right now, a lot of our tools come from AP. Later, they may come from elsewhere.

But I read the Sears Parenting Library books as references because they give me useful tools. Because I live in the real world, not fantasy mommy-land where magical faeries provide us with food and shelter, I am not the ideal AP. I fall out of balance. I get frustrated. I use the stroller instead of the carrier. I occasionally fantasize about how, in some ways, bottle feeding would be easier. (No public nudity. No fear that I am the cause of any discomfort she may have.)

I read the AP literature and handbooks for the same reason I buy the special edition Martha Stewart holiday cookie magazine every year. (Dudes, it just hit news stands. That's like my porn.) I can't do everything in there. I'm not going to hand pipe 100 gingerbread reindeer then sprinkle them with disco dust or sparkle sugar so they look perfect. But I will use some of what I learn. I won't do every AP thing 100% of the time. I will use other caregivers, I will start solids "early."

Because I live in the real world. And sometimes you just have to admit that you aren't going to make the cute little cookie mice with the licorice tails and almond sliver ears. Sometimes you can't cope with the baby crying, and let someone else handle it. Sometimes your back hurts and baby wearing is just out for the day. But you need the whole tool box to know what does and doesn't work, what you can and cannot balance with your real life.

I resent the hell out of parenting sometimes. And sometimes, I think if we had chosen a different way to parent the Bug, I'd resent it less. But, in the end, I know the tools we've chosen are the ones that will let her grow up into the kind of adult that we want her to become. Sometimes it isn't freeing.

Because in the real world, everything is a pain in the ass sometimes.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Authors of Baby Sleep Books are Big Fat Liars

Because the truth, as I have discovered it, wouldn't sell books. It would be boring and depressing.

The truth of baby sleep is this: their little brains are developing, their little bodies are developing, and their sleep habits are constantly changing.

It doesn't matter what you do, if you let the poor little dear cry until they vomit, come console them at regular scheduled intervals, snuggle with them in a family bed, or some hybrid of the above. They're going to do what they're going to do and not consult the adults whose very sanity lies in their precious little hands as to what would make those adults happiest. Sometimes they're going to go down easily at 8pm and sleep quietly until 7am, and sometimes they refuse to even consider sleep until 10pm, and then wake up at 1am and 6am.

The one thing I have found is that snuggling seems to keep the crying at a minimum, and I just don't see how letting the Bug cry it out would change anything, except possibly to get me put on blood pressure meds. I have friends who are firm believers in cry-it-out, and they deal with the same sleep issues we do.

The problem with the sleep books is that they lead a mother to believe that she is a moral failure if her child doesn't sleep a beautific 10 hours at night and take two easy two hour naps during the day, promptly at 10am and 2pm.

I am not a moral failure. Those guys (and they are, for the most part, men) are just assholes. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pendulum Swing

Back in 1963, Betty Friedan published a ground-breaking work of American feminist literature, The Feminine Mystique. In that book, Friedan suggested that many American women felt trapped as housewives, in part because the vast majority of housework (the expected primary occupation of women) could be accomplished by an 8-year-old child. She decried the infatalization of women and the several intellectual systems (including Freudian psychoanalysis and certain social sciences) which created a belief in society that women were less capable than their male counterparts.

The Feminine Mystique is not without its problems. It over-simplifies the issues, has a marked middle-class bias, and the writing could be better. But it raised an important point, than now, in watching the early seasons of AMC's Mad Men can be seen acted out in lovely costumes and exciting plot lines. Women were treated like small children, first by their fathers, then by their husbands. Anyone who existed outside this mold was likely a lesbian or otherwise mentally ill.

In the nearly 50 years since the publication of that book, society has changed. Women now have higher rates of achieving university degrees and have access to fields they didn't in the 1960s. Our mothers were told they could have it all, by the women's movement, then later by the manufacturers of hair colour and cigarettes.

As women have taken more responsibility outside the home, however, something odd has happened. They haven't let go of their responsibilities in the home. Instead, many women work what has been called "the second shift," coming home and bearing the responsibility for kids and household. And our popular culture represents men as idiots.

That's right. Watch any family sitcom, listen to any stand up comic who talks about his family, and... well, if the space aliens are learning about us from our television, they must assume that the average married American male is functionally retarded.

This clip is just one of dozens of examples.

My point is this: we've gone from treating women like infants to treating men like infants. We find it funny when men can't manage to change a diaper or clean a kitchen, but a woman must do this in heels, while supervising everything her children do and holding a full time job.

If said woman fails at any of these things or asks for help, she is a failure. I know dozens of intelligent women with university degrees who spend much of their time trying to keep all of these plates spinning.

But I don't think I should have to ask for help. Simply put, when I have to ask my husband to help, that is one more bloody thing I have to do. Furthermore, it creates an unequal power dynamic. All at once, it sets me up as the weaker party: I am coming to him because I cannot handle my role in the household. (As opposed to his role which is to bitch about the water bill and overstimulate the baby.) It also, however, sets me up in a supervisory capacity for things that regard our child-- he does it and asks me if he did it right.

And I'm supposed to be proud of him for getting a diaper on right, or not letting her drown in her bath, or cutting her nails without damage to either party involved. I'm just over it.

We need to treat men like adults.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Working Mama

That's right, I got a job.

I'm going to be an adjunct instructor of *insert liberal arts discipline here.* Translated from academic-ese, that basically means I get paid peanuts and am considered one, very tiny step above the cleaning crew in importance. My office, assuming I get one, will be in a basement of a building no where near where I teach or where my department resides, and will be tiny and mostly likely shared with 2 or 3 people who likely bathe infrequently and need said office exactly when I do.

But it is a job. Three days a week, I will have to get up early, leave the house alone, and converse with grown ups regularly about topics other than the Bug's bowel movements and sleep habits.*

I am terrified. Of leaving her, of realizing I like working more than I like being at home with her, that I will no longer like the work I enjoyed before her.

But I don't really have time for that. We have to find daycare instead. Yikes. Also, I have to relearn how to walk in big girl shoes.

*Please note that I use the term "grown ups" a bit loosely here: I will be teaching college kids. According to the law, they are adults. In my past experience, they don't behave as such, but they won't generally talk about poop with me. Nor, in fact, will they poop on me.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Babies Have Personal Space, Too

I'm not a germaphobe. DH is, but me... I figure most germs won't kill her, so I'm not going to get goofy about it.

For example, DH feels that if a pacifier touches the floor, it needs to be sterilized in boiling water. I, on the other hand, when he's not looking, brush off the visible dog hair and give it back to her. Maybe this blog shouldn't be "Mom Snark" but should instead be "Slacker Mom," I don't know.

But, we were just out to lunch, and this random woman, en route from the washroom to her table, felt it was completely her right to run her hand over my child's head. She didn't say a word to us, just touched my baby and carried on. Now, no doubt, she is one of the 97% of women who say they wash their hands. My problem is this, according to the Minnesota Department of Health, only 75% actually do wash their hands. What if she's in that other 25%? 

I understand that it is unlikely that the Bug will come to harm due to this incident. But, seriously. If it a situation where you wouldn't touch an adult, why would you touch a child?

So for all the people who think it is okay to touch the babies of people you don't know, let me explain it simply:

Keep your freaking nasty hands away from my child unless I say it is okay. If you don't, I will feel free to caress your head or feet or whatever.

Thank you very much. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

How to Accomplish Some Academic Writing

How to write a 400-500 word abstract supposing one would like to present at an academic conference.

Before motherhood and maternity leave:

1. Go to office.

2. Piddle for a while: get a coffee, chat with neighbours, check mail, read e-mail and internet forums.

3. Open blank word document.

4. Stare at said document.

5. Surf internet again. There's this big world out there, and you need to know what's going on in it. Barring that, there's always YouTube.

6. Bang out 500 words at a rate of roughly 3 buzzwords per minute.

7. Show said 500 words to your neighbours who will offer helpful ideas like "you could put another buzzword there" and "are you sure 'intertextualize' is a word?" and "wanna grab a beer instead of write this abstract?"

8. Hit save button. Assume it is good enough.

9. Call it a day and go for the afore mentioned beer.

How to accomplish this same task during maternity leave:

1. Attempt to write during nap time.

2. Discover that it is impossible to simultaneously worry about the 700 lbs of laundry that have piled up, because no matter how hard you try, you just can't manage it without help that, because of your employment status, you cannot afford.

3. Give up, start laundry, discover that darling child has woken up and is hungry and messy.

4. Try again. Fail miserably, because how could anyone manage to write anything intelligent when the kitchen is this messy?

5. Remember that the above is why you used to go to the office to work, and why you miss having an office desperately.

6. Mention to Darling Husband the difficulty of trying to write while being a mommy. Have him offer, from the goodness of his heart, to baby wrangle for a couple of hours while you go write for a while.

7. Provide sexual favour to afore mentioned spouse for spending 2 hours doing what you do every day.

8. When the appointed day arrives, remind your spouse that he said he do this. Do not accept, even for a minute, his claim of forgetfulness.

9. Leave baby with husband, trying very hard to ignore mom-guilt and pile of dirty laundry. Pile of dirty laundry won't get substantially worse whilst you are gone.

10. Go to café. Set up laptop, pretend decaf is just as good as the real stuff.

11. Write like a crazy person.

12. Realize you aren't 100% sure if the buzzwords you used to use are still buzzwords or are now just lame.

13. Pee. Decaf may not be all of that, but your bladder ain't what she used to be.

14. Try to ignore all of the interesting strangers at the café.

15. Relish being in public without people criticizing your parenting or commenting on the handsomeness of your baby boy, who oddly is dressed in a pink dress.

16. Realize that your 2 hours are nearly at an end, and speed home with 350 passable words, and remain unconvinced by decaf.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Non-Mom Uses for Mom Products

While it is tempting to make a joke of this and say that the best non-mom use of a nursing pad is as an on-the-fly young boy's yarmulke, in all seriousness, I've found some great uses for stuff I didn't even have in my life before the Bug.

1. Diapers: disposable diapers absorb vast quantities of liquid. They are awesome for wiping up spills. Recently, I used some ones the Bug had outgrown to get the standing water out of my dishwasher which crapped out on us mid-cycle. My mother-in-law who is a painter uses outgrown disposable diapers

Traditional and pre-fold cloth diapers are awesome for dusting and washing windows. Just be sure to clean them first.

2. Wipes: OMG! these things are awesome. They can be used to clean almost anything, they remove make up gently, are gentler on hands than hand sanitizer, wipe up messes, and make passable kleenex. If there is a "fur baby" in your life, wipes can be used to clean dirty paws, face smudge, and messes that the furry little bastard may make. Hint: get the "gentle" or otherwise marked unscented option... firstly, it is better for baby's delicate skin, secondly if you use it on your face, you won't smell like whatever some chemist thinks a baby bum should smell like.

3. The boxes diapers come in are fantastic boxes. They have handles, they are sturdy. I'm totally waiting until after we've finished moving to even consider switching to cloth.

4. Diaper rash cream: it works by almost anything that makes you red or itchy. Just don't use the Boudreax's Butt Paste... it is great on baby bums, but it smells like bacon. Trust me, you don't want to smell like that all day because of a mosquito bites.

I'm going to continue looking for new uses for these things. I'm all about frugal, and I'm all about having fewer stacks of crap and not having a 500 lb diaper bag.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Priorities (the Mom Snark Manifesto)

I read a variety of Mommy Blogs and various forums about babies and children. There is at least one forum I participate it because I genuinely love the people there, but there are some that I read largely for the fun of judging people.

One of those, however, recently made me think about something, and think hard. It posed the following question:

I was just curious about how other moms feel, do you put your DH/SO first or your kids. It seems like a hard choice to make but my vote is for my kids. I do believe that if I am happy my son will be happy, but I feel as though I will always be a mom not necessarily someone's spouse.
The poster then continues to offer a poll which allows people to rank what order they prioritize the elements of their life. In the comments below that, the general consensus is either that paying attention to one's spouse is important, but anyone who says that they put anyone other than their children first is clearly so selfish that they don't deserve to have children at all.

All I can think of, though is the old saying "if Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." Ignoring the double negative there, it is true. If I don't take the time to be right with myself, how can I take care of my child or my spouse? If I'm strung out, unwashed and still in my PJs at 6pm who does that serve, even if the Bug is bathed, dressed, and entertained in the scientifically proven best way for her developmental stage? I'm not saying that I plunk her in front of the TV while I have a spa retreat, or hand her off to the homeless while I get a bikini wax, but I do try to take time for myself every day. I look at taking time to renew myself as my responsibility to her: if I am refreshed, I can be fully present to being her mom. If I am fulfilled in my own being, I can have the energy and love to give to her.

Furthermore, if she sees me being a fulfilled individual apart from her, she will have an example of what it is to be a well-rounded adult, which might lead her to aspire to be many things, not only a mommy. I want her to be a great mom someday, but I also want her to have a career that challenges her, friends she enjoys, and a sense of self-confidence. Also, I would like to be more than a husk of my former self as I see her off to college. While being a parent doesn't really end, it will certainly be less time-consuming when she's 30 (I hope).

So I take care of myself. I do this because it is the only way I can have something of myself to give to my daughter, my husband, and my friends.

(Next time, the lighter side: non-mom uses for mommy products)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Things I Swore I Would Never Do

or Famous Last Words

Before I became a mother, I swore that there were things I would never do, ways I would never behave, things I would never say. Some of them, I have stuck with. I would like to imagine that my conversations are not 100% about the Bug, and I would also like to imagine that I have never said "well, you aren't a parent, so you can't understand."

But, here is a list of the things I never thought I would say or do that I do, in fact, say and do.

  • Sniff at my child's bottom to determine the status of her diaper. It looks full on nutters, but really, it is easier than peeking in after pulling around her clothes.
  • React strongly to stories about harm coming to other people's children. I saw this episode of Oprah the other day about children who were starved by their adoptive mother and I almost cried. On the weather channel yesterday, they had a story about a 5-month-old (the same age as the Bug) who was left in a hot car while his mother went to work and died. The mother said that anyone could do it, and I was outraged. 
  • Get hyperactive about food additives, and the latest chemical scary stuff. I would like to say that I have become the BPA avenger, attempting to remove anything containing BPA from the planet. Seriously, I would shoot it into space if I could. Except then it might hurt Martian children, and... well, see above.
  • People who ask how old my son is, when she's in head to toe pink. Dang that peeves me more than I thought it would.
 Things I thought I would have a strong opinion about that I just don't:
  • Co-sleeping. I understand why sometimes it is the only way for everyone to get some sleep. That said, when we do it because the Bug is having a bout of night-time fussies, I don't get a good night's sleep, so I would rather not. Who knows, I might feel differently after we move and get our king-sized bed back.
  • Stroller v. Baby wearing. Do what works. Share with people who ask for advice. I use both. 
  • Cloth diapers. I wanted to use them, the DH didn't. Said he wouldn't handle poop, wouldn't help with the washing. I'm not as irritated by disposables as I thought I would be. 
Things I may yet change my opinion of:
  • Separate meals for toddlers. Right now, I think it is a crime to feed children different food than parents eat. If in 2 years, I am fighting her to eat 2 bites of yogurt, I might change my mind. 
  • Buying a honkin' huge SUV to accommodate 2 kids. With one, my Forrester feels a bit crowded. But, it sure gets better gas mileage than the V6 I used to drive.
  • Moving to another county just for the primo schools. If we stay in our current urban area, I strongly believe that the schools are fine. The magnet schools are better than fine. Why would I move when she could go to one of the country's top high schools?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Am I Immodest?

So I'm breatfeeding the Bug. Breast is best and all that. Also, frankly, it is cheaper. I have the time and luxury to do it, so I am. I'm not a fanatic about it, though. I understand that there as many reasons not to as there are families who elect to feed their babies formula. Furthermore, it really isn't my business why another woman makes the choices she makes regarding her own body or her own family. (I won't go into this too much, since Ph.D. in Parenting already did it better than I ever could here.) (See, I told you I was a feminist.)

So I nurse in public. My choice is that or stay at home except when someone else can travel with me until the Bug is between 6 and 9 months old. Like many babies, she refuses to take a bottle from me. I try to use a nursing cover, not so much as an issue of my own modesty, but for the comfort of those around me. Our nursing cover is patterned though, and the Bug decides sometimes that playing with the walls is more fun than eating in her tent. I've nursed at the Y, at the yarn shop, in my car in parking lots, and at the doctor's office.

Last week, we were out running errands. The last thing on the list was the Y, and we rolled in just as she was getting hungry. Usually, when I nurse her there, I take her to one of the rocking chairs in the infant area, but this day, it was before the child care opened for the afternoon, so I took her to a bench near the child care in a hallway really only frequented by Y staff and parents taking children to activities or child care. I got comfy, changed the Bug's diaper, and started nursing her. We started with the nursing cover, but instead of eat, she just played with it. Since I wanted her to eat, I finally gave up, and stuffed the cover back in the bag.

There is a trick to nursing in public with out a cover, and I'm pretty good at it. Simply put, I wear 2 shirts, one that I pull up, and a lower layer that I can pull down. To a casual observer, between the shirts and the baby, less of me is visible than if I wear my favourite beach bikini. That's what I did. The Bug was happy, the few people who passed by largely ignored us.

But, within the same several minutes, I got two comments. One was "awww, isn't that sweet," from one of the supervisors, and the other was "you should really use a cover, a lot of men come down this hallway," from one of the child care staff. My response, as it is to most criticism of my personal quirks, was "if they have a problem with it, that's their problem, not mine." To which the woman said, "well, it's just an issue of modesty." Her tone was along the lines of the lone teetotaler at an Irish wake.

I don't think it is an issue of modesty at all. I think it is an issue of prudishness. If my baby needs to eat, I'm going to feed her. My body, through my breasts, is how I feed her for the moment. When she's older, I won't be embarrassed to give her a ham sandwich in public, will I? Indeed, aside from being rather proud of how well breastfeeding is going, I think I'm being quite modest. Furthermore, breasts aren't dirty. I can even say "nipple" on TV, even if I can't show one there. Our culture has simply hyper-sexualized women so much that it is impossible for some people to see breasts as anything but sexual.

Later, when the same woman came to fetch me out of the hot tub to console my crying daughter, she had an entire conversation with me while I was in my bathing suit. In this case, I was the uncomfortable one.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Separation Anxiety

The Bug is in the advanced class. She may not roll over as consistently as I might like, but on one developmental milestone, she's at least 2 months ahead.

Because all the books, the baby doctor, and all the websites agree that separation anxiety doesn't set in until around 6 months of age. See: here, and here, and here. My little girl, however, is advanced. At 4 months old, I can leave her with the child care at the YMCA for less than 30 min before she completely melts down and they have to come get me. For a while, she refused any way of eating except nursing.

This is exhausting for me. At a recent family party, she wasn't willing to be held by DH's aunts if she couldn't see me. I suddenly have pity for my sofa, as I am constantly her favourite place to sit, and I would sell the dog for the ability to go 15 freakin' minutes without being touched. (DH finds that last bit charming and exciting, I'm sure.)

I hope this is just a phase, and I hope I'm able to have some personal space before she goes to college. Because I'm so not letting her sleep in the Sleepy Wrap between classes.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


So I despise insipid music intended for children. The tinny, tiny voices of supposedly adorable kids or the faux-classical music constructed of bastardized Mozart and Beethoven makes me want to stab myself in the head. I'm all for singing nursery rhymes and lullabies but I also think that the Bug can handle any music, and can handle the "real thing" when it comes to classical music.

I'm not going to play gangsta rap for her, but when I play Mozart for her, it is from a CD of Mozart symphonies, not a cheery, synthesized version. The Baby Beethoven DVD we got as a gift is going back. I'll buy a book with the store credit. (Dudes, seriously, what is up with the creepy march of the puppets? I might not sleep again. And why is that teddy bear wearing a rubber suit?)

I think hearing "real" music is just as educational if not more so than playing fake children's songs for her. I also sing "the itsy-bitsy spider," but that's part of play, not forming her musical tastes. I'm a bit put out with the baby books that make classical music sound like brocoli, that is good for you but unpleasant. (I also like the green stuff, though, so I'm a bit odd.)

Since I don't actually know any lullabies, but have a head full of protestant hymnody, the other day to calm her down, I did an impromptu hymn sing after her immunizations. Don't knock it, it worked.

More to the point, thought, is that I think kids are capable of handling more art than we give them credit for. I'm not saying I'm going to take her to a performance of Pierrot Lunaire, Eight Songs for a Mad King, or a death metal concert. What I am saying, however, is that I can play her real music and it will help her develop just as much as the cheesy stuff.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Honey, You Aren't A Rock Star

No, my DH isn't having a mid-life crisis. He's still his dorky, lovable self. (If you're into the dorky thing, that is. Good news is that I am.) No bimbos or sports cars in his future.

Nope. He's great, as far as it goes. He changes diapers, he plays with the Bug. He's a good dad.

But. Since I'm on a year's leave from school/work and he's the breadwinner*, I stay home all day with the Bug, and he leaves and goes to work. When he comes home, he sometimes "cooks" (in quotations, because he just buys frozen stuff at Costco, applies heat and calls that dinner. I'd complain more, but nursing has left me so hungry that I happily eat almost anything.) and changes a few diapers in between doing the raid-of-the-week in the World of Warcraft. He does the same thing on the weekend.

For this, I am fairly certain he thinks that our fair city should throw him a parade. I hate to burst his bubble, but he ain't a rock star. (Trust me, I'm a popular music scholar, I know the signs of rock starness. First hint: rock stars don't wear golf shirts to work. Ever.) When I tell people about his help, they act like they want to march in his parade.

If we are any sort of feminists at all, which I for one am, we have to stop rewarding men for doing minimal housework and childcare. We have to recognize that while outside jobs have a defined start and end time, parenting is 24-7. If one chooses to stay at home with a child, that is awesome, but they deserve some R&R, and their partner who is employed outside the home should be responsible for some household stuff. Not as a favour, or a way he is awesome, but just as a mater of course. After all, we talk all the time about "working mothers**" but one almost never hears the expression "working father," because it is just assumed that Dad is in the workforce. I've slowed down my career path for a year for this, sweetie. You can deal with a bit of poop and give up raid tanking.

So don't tell me how great you are for walking the dog or screwing up a load of laundry. (Hint: the expensive running clothes never go in the dryer. Ever. They haven't at any point in the 8 years we've been married.) You're a big help. But since you're an adult, you don't get a gold star. You don't get a parade. You just get a quiet thanks and the satisfaction of a job well done.

*I actually hate the expression "breadwinner." It sounds like rather than sitting in a cubicle making RSS feeds and databases work while also drinking coffee and going out to lunch, he is in some sort of gladiatorial contest for marble rye.

**I also hate the expression "working mother," as though stay at home moms don't work. The SAHM game is hard, and not just because of the hours. Parenting, cooking, cleaning, it is all a lot of work. It also seems like a lot of pressure, as the primary responsibility for my child's wellbeing and happiness is on my shoulders. This is why, frankly, I don't aspire to being a SAHM permanently. Too much pressure. I want to work (and use day care and/or a nanny) to help enlist the whole village, as it were, to help the Bug grow into a well rounded adult.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Other People's Voices

My late mother was a huge do-it-yourselfer. She worked on her own cars, knitted, sewed, gardened, built things out of wood with tools, all of that good stuff. (Of course, she didn't always finish the projects she set her mind to, but she could have.) She was pretty good at most of it.

The problem for me is this. Any time I want to pay someone to do something that she taught me how to do, I hear her voice in my head saying something like this, "Oh, don't waste your money. Any idiot can hem pants. Paying someone to do it is just stupid."

And I do know how to hem pants. I do a decent job of hemming pants. Given enough time, I'll hem the crap out of a pair of pants. Oops... sorry, I got carried away there. The point is, if my pants are too long, I can fix them. But in this new mommy game, I just don't have the time or inclination to sit down and do it. Since I've lost weight due to nursing and never sitting the heck down, I've had to buy some new pants, some of which are too freakin' long, and I've been struggling to find the time to pin and hem them. And then it occurred to me that, much though I loved my mom, I need to tell her voice in my head to shut up, and get the pants fixed by someone who has the time to do it, if I'm willing to pay them enough.

This same inner dialogue happens to me about choices I make as a parent-- I make a particular choice-- how long I think I'm going to breastfeed her, to go back to work or not, pacifier or no, TV or not-- and I can hear the voices of various people in my life responding and telling me what to do. Then I hear the voices of the so-called experts in my head, and I feel like I might go a bit nuttier. (If you were wondering, the authors of What to Expect the First Year sound like every bitchy sorority girl I knew in college.)

What it comes down to is that, like my mother's voice on the pants, I have to shut those voices down. They only leave me confused and exhausted. At the end of the day, what I have to remember is that we're all just doing the best we can with what we've got. I can't make myself crazy with this stuff. When it comes right down to it, the correct answer here is to do what works best for my family. The decision as to what that is will largely be based on intuition and common sense. "Experts," relatives, and the random people on the street or in stores who feel it is their right to give unsolicited advice, ultimately, can back off.

And, yes, I'm taking my pants to be hemmed. There's a place right next to the yarn shop. I think even Mom would have approved of that.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Stuff I Love

So there are tons of websites devoted to reviewing the stuff you need for babies, and babies need a ton of stuff. So this entry isn't about the baby stuff. Maybe, when the Bug ends the infant phase, I'll review the things I found most useful versus the junk. I may never want to look at the hateful stuff again, who knows.

There are a few things, however, that I have found extremely useful that I never would have expected would be so useful.

1. My BlackBerry Storm with Pandora Internet Radio. (The DH gets similar results with his Motorola Droid) There are several layers of usefulness here:
  • While I am nursing, I can read e-mail and catch up on my social networking. Not that nursing isn't great, and I am thrilled that I am able to do this for my daughter, but I can only gaze lovingly at her for so long before I get a crick in my neck.
  • Babies like repetitive patterns/ noise. White noise, machines, heartbeats, periodic phrase structures in music. (Sorry, that last one is a nerd shout out.) Therefore, the Bug loves her some Bach and some Mozart. I have a Pandora channel that plays exactly that music. So much better than the out-of-tune awfulness that the noisemaker on the bassinet makes.
  • The phone simplifies the process of taking and sharing photos.
  • I can't keep track of stuff right now. The lack of sleep and the brain drain of mommyhood make getting me and everything for the bug out with us. When I go workout, I can only keep track of the phone, and listen to my K'naan channel, and not have to worry that I have the iPod, the armband, and the headphones. Just the phone and the headphones.
2. My Camelbak Better Bottle. Again, freaking awesome. The first night we were home with the Bug, I managed to spill water all over DH while he slept because I was trying to open a bottle and drink one handed, while holding the nursing Bug with the other hand. Nursing is thirsty work, and this bottle lets me drink with one hand and doesn't spill easily. Within the next day or two, we somehow found our way to REI, where we bought this bottle.

3. A YMCA membership. I love to exercise, but this isn't what I like best about going to the Y. What I like best is that I am able to go, put the Bug in their childcare program, run or whatever, the get a worry-free shower. (Okay, worry-slightly-less shower... part of the Mommy territory is worring some all the time.) Also, they have a whirlpool and a steam room, and this Mom business, thanks to the above worry factor and the Bug's increasing weight, makes my body tense all over. Plus, when I get the Bug ready to go, there's a wildly inappropriate song for me to sing.

4. String cheese. Nursing is thirsty work, but it is also hungry work. I am hungry pretty much all the time, although it is slowing down some recently. It requires an extra 300-500 calories per day, and then if I work out, that adds that much more that I need to be sure to eat enough. I'm stoked about the weight I've lost, but I don't want to loose too much, too fast, because I don't want to get sick.

These aren't baby products, but they have made my life with the Bug much easier. I'm going to keep watching for these things, because it might be my civic duty to point them out as needed.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dog v. Baby

No, this isn't about a new Animal Planet special program. In a cage match, the Bug would totally win, because the dog would never have a chance-- I'd rip open the cage with my bare hands and rip off the dog's head. Clearly my human child is much more important to me than the furry one.

But... the dog was in my life long before she was. He gets me. He knows to hide when I start swearing, unless I'm in the kitchen, then he starts scavenging.

See, he's cute too. There are reasons he's easier than she is. There are ways they are similar. There are ways she's 1000 times better. So, this will be Mom Snark's first entry of lists.

Points for the dog:

1. I can put him in a crate and leave him unsupervised for a few hours.
2. He will sleep on my feet and keep me warm.
3. He's potty trained. (See next lists for the caveat to that)
4. He's just a dog. If he's upset or sick or unhappy, he's just a dog. I've never wanted to cry because he doesn't feel well.
5. I haven't had any nightmares about ways I can screw him up or injure him.
6. As he very rarely wears clothes, his laundry needs are considerably less.
7. If he kept me up all night for more than a night or two, I could just leave him and a bowl of water out in the yard.

Ways they're tied:

1. In both cases, I have to handle poo.
2. No matter how crappy I feel, I have to take care of their biological needs.
3. No matter how much I explain unpleasant things to them, they just don't get it. (Shots, leashes, car seats)
4. Both instinctively do sweet things that make me happy.
5. Both are capable of interfering with one's... um... romantic life.

Points for the Bug:

1. Eventually, "potty trained" for her means I won't have to handle poop.
2. Eventually, I'll be able to explain things to her... immunizations might still make her cry, but at least she'll understand it. (I cried when I got an MMR at the age of 22. In my defense, it was after having my blood drawn by the least competent student nurse they could have found. So, even when you understand, it might not make a difference on the crying.)
3. She's way cuter.
4. Eventually, walking the dog and handling his poop can be one of her chores. (Okay, not this dog, he probably won't live that long. But some theoretical future dog.)
5. Her biological messes are, at least for now, smaller and smell better.
6. She melts my heart at the most unexpected times just by being herself.

So clearly, the Bug wins, but in part because she is a long term investment. Getting up every three hours sucks, but watching her grow and change is pretty amazing.

Coming next time: some product reviews. (Don't worry, non-parents. These are some odd products that, on their surface, have very little to do with parenting. Mostly.)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Brooke Sheilds or Betty Draper?

So babies really only come with a limited skill set. Eat, sleep, poop, cry. The Bug is no different. And she's hit a patch that the baby doctor calls a "bit of colic." I call it, alternately, "demon baby time" or "the witching hour." Whatever it is called, it goes like this: she is pleasant and cute and sleeps for blocks of time during daylight hours.

Then 10pm hits, and she yells for no good reason until around 2am. The DH tries to help with this, but google is only so useful. He does try, but he doesn't feel her crying in his body the way I do. (Stupid let down reflex; a baby cries on TV, and I spring a leak) Furthermore, he can sleep through anything and has to work in the mornings. Just to mess with me, this doesn't happen every night, just often enough to make me crazy and sleep deprived.

This leaves nights wherein I sit up with her, sometimes watching bad TV, and we both cry. I'm pretty sure that the mommy doctor would call this a case for vitamin P. And I'm not dismissing that it would be possibly useful. Nor am I pulling a Tom Cruise here and claiming that psychiatry and psychiatric drugs are a conspiracy of the evil alien overlords. (Although I would love the opportunity to spew crazy all over Matt Lauer. I've always wanted to be on TV.) Here's the thing, for me right now: I actually think that what this might call for is a drink with some girlfriends while the Bug stays at home with my husband.

So in this case, "Mother's little helper" may not be a pill. It may be my very recently acquired Medela Pump in Style Advanced so I can leave a few bottles with DH and go be a grown-up for a bit. I'm certainly going to try this before I try medication.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Dress Like a Mom

I was recently socializing with some of the yarn ladies at a yarn shop.* We were talking about the adjustment to motherhood, and one of them, a 40-ish lady with a middle-school aged son related that when said son was an infant, she told her husband that she was dressed "like a mom" and he said "well you are a mom." This was, for her, the moment it sunk in that she was actually someone's mother.

I've been thinking about this, and here's the conclusion I've come to: I don't know what "dressed like a mom" is. I know how I like to dress and how I generally dress for going out in public, but what I don't know is if I dress like a mom. I do know that my clothing preferences haven't changed substantially since the Bug was born. Okay, nursing tanks weren't a part of my wardrobe before her birth, but an outfit built around jeans and a tank top was a pretty central feature, to be honest.

Just because I'm not happy about my ab muscles (and let's be honest here, I wasn't happy with them before the Bug), I'm not going to start wearing high waisted jeans**; I'm just going to accept muffin top, and start running as soon as the doc gives me the okay.

I might wear a trifle more lounge wear than I used to, but I assume my desire to do that will diminish as my postpartum discomforts also diminish. Washable items seem essential (she spits), but then I'm lazy enough that they were a fairly significant part of my wardrobe. Button downs and wrap-fronts might be more important than they used to be, but she won't be nursing forever (no matter how much it feels like it when she eats every 2 hours overnight during a growth spurt).

I will admit that I don't get make up on every day. But this is something I've gone back and forth with over the years; times when I won't leave the house in full "face" and times when I just accept my blotchy skin for what it is. In recent years, I had found a happy medium of minimal make up that still covered anything I was self-conscious about. But mostly that was what I did for work. When you work with teenagers and don't quite look your 30+ years, you have to find ways to make sure you aren't mistaken for one of them. One that I picked was subtle, tasteful make up.*** I'm not working at the moment, so...

I guess if some hormonal shift triggers me to start dressing badly, I'll have to ask Lady to let me know. Because the DH isn't stupid enough to say anything about it. I hope.

*By the way, hanging out with my knitter friends is possibly the easiest way to get some grown up time with people I'm not married to. As most of them are older than me, most of them have been parents, and know how babies work. Furthermore, if the Bug wants to be held, there are all of these folks who are up for it-- most of them have grandkids in other states, and really want a baby "fix." I get to sit and enjoy the company of adults.
**Sorry to my non-US followers: this inspired SNL clip isn't available on youtube, and I'm betting the Hulu link doesn't work for you. Here are some monkeys dancing, though. Meagre consolation, but... it's the best I can do.
***As opposed to the utter lack or whorish tartiness favoured by most of my students.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Cast of Characters

I’ll start with myself: I am a 30-something Ph. D. candidate at a major-but-not-too-major university in the humanities. At my current academic stage, I’m starting to look for the balance between research and teaching. I’ve been aiming for an adjunct post in my current city. I am the new mom of the Bug.

The Bug: The darling, 22 day old tornado that has struck my life. She is beautiful and perfect in every way (easy to say now… she can’t talk back yet).

The Darling Husband (DH): My patient, uber-nerdy partner in this endeavour. He seeks, primarily, to find balance between MMORPGs and fatherhood.

The In-Laws: I somehow married in to a large, close family. I come from a smallish, close-mouthed, passive aggressive family. His family seems to be completely overbearing and overwhelming for me most of the time. Their philosophy is butt-in first, apologize later. (Not that they’ve done anything wrong, but “if it will make you feel better… I’m sorry.”) Due to an odd set of circumstances, DH and I live in his mother’s house for the time being (we’ll be moving in a few months).

The Out-Laws: My family. As previously mentioned, they are, for the most part, close-mouthed, and unlike the in-laws, would never give unsolicited advice. They’ll think it, and talk about it amongst themselves, but they only help when asked. (Except they might bring a ham or some cookies. I would kill for a ham or some cookies right now.) They mostly live in another state, but still figure fairly large in my life.

The Yarn Ladies: In this postpartum recovery period (and most other periods in my life, let’s be honest), my greatest refuge is in yarn and knitting. Through my string-related hobby, I have managed to make a number of friends who I knit with. Most of them are 50+ women, but there are also women my age and even a dude or two.

The Up-North gang: my friends, colleagues and compatriots in my Ph.D. program. These are awesome folks who have my back and recognize me as an intellectual, not just a poopy clean-up service.

Lady: My intrepid BFF, a single gal, who is up for almost any adventure with me. Like DH, she is one of my rocks, and she always supports me, no matter what craziness I suggest. Between the two of us, we are one competent human being.

Others will be added, and some of the categories will be fleshed out by individuals as we go along.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New Beginnings

I have a perfect, amazing new daughter. She is beautiful, and I'm not just saying this. Everyone says this.

Really. She's freakin' adorable.

That said, I have been left with something of the impression that my culture expects me to cease being the interesting, grown-ass woman I was before she came into my life. Suddenly a surprising number of my conversations (and not just those with my spouse or the Bug's doctor) are about the poop of another being. Random strangers feel as though it is their absolute right to offer unsolicited advice as to how to parent. Our culture seems to grade parents based on the completeness with which they submerge their identities into that of their children. By this argument, I am no longer "Jess" or at least Jess is unimportant. I am merely the Bug's mama. Her success is the only sort of success I should be concerned about.

Yes, having a child shifted my priorities. Absolutely. But I am also still a grown woman with my own interests and goals that do not involve poop.

I have a unique parenting philosophy, one that I personally think is healthier than this "your child is the fulfilment of your destiny, so don't be concerned with your own goals, just support your child" thing. It is this: be the best parent you can be by being the most well-rounded person possible. I love my daughter, and I want her to know it. I plan on telling her often (indeed, I already do, although she won’t be acquiring language for a few months now), and showing her every chance I get. But because I love her, I want her to grow up to be an awesome adult. Part of what I think will allow her to be an awesome adult is seeing her parents be, themselves, awesome, well-rounded adults. Part of that means that we will have social lives independent of her. In my case, it means I will continue to pursue my career goals, even though I am at the very early stages of that career. (I’m not against, IN ANY WAY, stay at home mothers. It just isn’t the life for me.)

My first goal with this blog, then, is to attempt to chronicle how I maintain the balance between devotion to her and having my own life. At first, it will be hard; She sleeps in 3 hour increments, which means I sleep in 2 hour parcels. Drooling on the self doesn’t go over well in public, nor does falling asleep while socializing. Currently, I am her only food source, and so can only be away from her for an hour or so without things getting dicey. But I’m on a year long maternal leave from my job (hail academia!) and I assume that as this year progresses, I will find some semblance of balance. In my head, it is something between Cameron from Modern Family, Betty Draper, and my own mom, who managed to raise me while working, having friends, and being fun. My second goal is to find the humour in my peers, and share my observations with my tens of fans.