Thursday, July 26, 2007

the *right* way to parent

When Frances was first born several things became quite clear to me, one of which is that there is no “right” way to do things with a baby. Sleep schedules, feeding routines, whether or not to co-sleep or baby-wear or offer a pacifier. It differs for each baby, for each family, for each combination of personalities and situations into which this individual baby is born. I believed this strongly. I didn’t judge any other mother for her decisions, including ones I was sure I wouldn’t have made for my baby.

But in the last nine months I’d forgotten some of that.

Which is why, I believe, I felt so guilty about the breastfeeding thing. I’d come to believe that there’s one way, and that way is to breastfeed, at least for me. While I may have remembered that things differ for other mothers, I’d forgotten that I too needed to be flexible and adjust to this baby’s personality. Now I need to remember again.

What brought this thought on just now is a book my friend Anna gave me to read: Momfidence. It’s a fun read, and insists that these days we moms are way too wrapped up in being superheroes that we forget to enjoy being a mom all together. I’d argue that it is the Boomer Generation that created this view of moming, the generation that in the 80s first suctioned ‘Baby on Board’ signs to the inside of their minivan windows. It’s the generation that instituted laws for car seats, created an industry of childproofing, and coined the term SoccerMom. It’s the generation that created the Just Say No campaign and Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, that censored rock lyrics and insisted on school testing. So how does my generation respond to this when it’s our turn to be parents? The standards have been set… This is what it looks like to be a good mom.

And this generation is still in control to a large degree, due to the opportunities of fertility treatments. The Boom Generation now has children in their 30s, but it also has John and Elizabeth Edwards and their preschoolers.

The question all of this raises is: what kind of mom do I want to be? I’m not sure I fully know the answer yet, but I currently see that as a good thing, something I’ll feel my way through as I go along. My friend Erynn will buy books but not video games, which is interesting because one of her kids loves to read and the other loves electronics. She says maybe it’s unreasonable but that’s the way it is. I don’t see it as unreasonable at all… Seems to me it embodies the ideal of putting your values into action.

When I was in Seattle we had to drop by the Target to get some pacifiers because I’d managed to lose the ones I’d brought. I had Frances in her sling, and in the pacifier/bottle/bib/booster seat aisle there were a pregnant woman and her mom, the two of them picking out things for the baby registry. When I had chosen my pacifier color, the mom asked me how I liked my sling. (Did you know, by the way, that they are now selling Hotslings at Target?? I’ve been wondering when one of the baby carrier companies was going to get on that wagon—seems to me someone needs to get Mei Tais in mainstream stores as well.) So I chatted for a while about slings and carriers in general (I can go on for a good bit about that subject) and then she said, “I see you have pacifiers in your hand. How do you feel about those?” To which I said, “I am a big fan of the pacifier.” Later it occurred to me that in their eyes, it was possibly confusing, or at least contradictory, that I was baby-wearing but pacifier-using. This seems funny to me now—it probably wouldn’t have before Frances was born. But these norms, these ideas of what kind of parent you are (that if you baby wear you won’t like pacifiers, or if you use the infant carseat as a carrier you don’t sleep with your baby, etc.) are clearly for those who don’t actually have kids. I suppose there are some folks who have very stringent ideas about how to parent and really stick to one “style” or another, but my guess is these are few. When it comes down to actually being a parent, you do all kinds of things you thought before you had kids you’d never do. And it’s not a compromise, or a forfeit, but an acknowledgement of reality. Yes, kids do get flat heads from spending too much time in the carseat, and I do believe that the invention of this convenience has created a problem for the children of some unknowledgeable folks. But a child carried in a carseat might also spend time in a sling—it's had to judge. Just because you have your kid in the carseat on top of the shopping cart, this doesn’t mean your kid spends 80% of her time there. It’s okay.

I also believe it’s my job as a parent to prepare my child for the actual world. Not for constant success in the world, because that’s not the real world—that’s some fantasy. There’s something to be said for the experiences of fear and failure as blessings. We need to teach them that it’s okay to be afraid, it’s okay to fail; these don’t mean they are failures as people. The kids I teach at Elon University are so unused to failing at anything, even when they aren’t particularly good at it. They at least “gave it their best shot” or “had a good attitude.” How on earth are these kids going to fare as adults? We’re setting them up… Sometimes trying doesn’t help one succeed, and what we need to teach our children is that this is okay. What we are inadvertently teaching them instead is that if they don’t succeed, or aren’t the best, they are failures in full—which just isn’t true. The reality is that they don’t have to be good at everything; they don’t have to always win. They are still of value. What I want Frances to know most is that not only is she of value when she fails or when she wins, but that her essential value doesn’t depend on these things at all; her essential value is constant. It is her experience of the world that fluctuates, and this depends not on her success, but on believing in who she is, on acting in ways that she believes to be right, on walking in the light and telling the truth.


First thing: Being constantly sick from pregnancy makes changing a poopy diaper a completely new (and unpleasant) experience. Not much to be done about that.

Second: Frances and I got in last night from 5 days in Seattle. I was scared to death to go… I actually bought earplugs for everyone around me on the airplane because I had no idea how Frances would do. It turns out she’s quite a traveler. It was fully and completely exhausting for me, but she was great.

Third: Frances got stung by a yellowjacket today, right in the middle of her forehead. We had a fella come to cut back a tree that was hanging over our roof and my mom was here. My mom brought Frances out onto the porch to see what was going on while I was talking to the guy about what we wanted done. And there’s a yellowjacket nest somewhere near the porch… maybe under the porch itself; we can’t tell. Suddenly my mom is screaming “They got us! They got us!” and running toward the door, Frances’s face contorted in a huge silent cry, the kind that is followed by en excruciating wail. Turns out my mom was stung on the finger and when I asked where they got Frances she said she didn’t know. It was pretty clear—the big red spot on her forehead was very angry. She cried and cried, this odd shrieking cry I’d never heard before. I’m sure it hurt like mad, and kept on hurting for a good while. Right away I made a baking soda paste with water and put that on it but I don’t know how much it helped. I had to walk with her and hold her hands down to keep her from rubbing it while Mom called the pediatrician, who didn’t really tell us anything except to put soda on it and watch for a reaction. Surprisingly Frances didn’t really react to the sting—by the time she was up from her nap it wasn’t even swollen. She did, however, still have a glop of baking soda paste on her forehead with a spot of blood right in the middle. Mitch asked on the phone if she looked like a Hindu. Now we've got to figure out where the hell the yellowjacket nest is...

Saturday, July 14, 2007


A funny thing: I find I’m embarrassed about the pregnancy. We wanted our babies this close, talked about its happening, made an active decision to try again for another. Was not an accident. But then, I find when I have to say it, I feel silly because I have such a young baby. But what is it that I’m embarrassed about? Do I worry that folks will think we are irresponsible and cavalier? Foolish? (It’s quite possible we are indeed foolish.) Yesterday I went to the OB for them to confirm the pregnancy—the girl that waited on me at the front desk is the same girl I saw (very) frequently at the end of my pregnancy with Frances just last September. Since Frances was so late, I was there every couple of days, and the receptionists would see us and say sweetly, “No baby yet?! I don’t want to see you back here again.” Yesterday Frances was in her stroller and the girl recognized me and smiled, said, “Oh, I wanna see the baby!” Then she asked what she could do for me and I said, “I’m here for a pregnancy test.” I could feel myself blush. How funny of me. She said, “You all don’t waste any time, do you?” I suppose that’s not an inappropriate response….

Thursday, July 12, 2007

to tell or not to tell

We aren’t telling yet that we’re pregnant. Yet here I am posting for the whole world to see. What to do? I also haven’t announced this blog yet so perhaps I can continue to write away until we’re ready and then send out invitations for the blog. But that could be 6 weeks away! ~ since I don’t know how far along I am…. (I had to send in all sorts of information by email to the nurses at my OB and one of them called later to say, “I’m entering in your info and I just wanted to see if this was an error—It says the date of your last period is 2005.” “No error,” I said. “That’s the right date.” “The computer won’t even let me enter it…” she said. And then, “So you don’t know how far along you are?” “Nope.”) My best guess is that I’m 6 weeks—I’ll find out on Monday. I don’t think I want to write to just strangers until we find out. So this leaves a dilimma.

Nearly 3 years ago we got pregnant for the first time and were so excited. It was only the 2nd month of trying and I could barely contain myself. I knew the common wisdom to wait to tell folks but I didn’t understand it. Why would you wait? Even if you miscarried, wouldn’t you want these same folks to know? (These folks being family, of course, and not the random woman you work with… ) A week later I miscarried and I discovered rather quickly why it is that you’re not supposed to tell. It was awful. I went to a ballet with my mom and kept running into teachers she taught with whom she had told and when they would hug and congratulate me I’d have to say, “well, nothing to congratulate now…” It was bad enough having to talk about it when I felt so blue, but it was horrible having to convince them that I was fine when I absolutely was not. That, and people say the most ridiculous insensitive things. Things like, “That’s the risk you take when you get pregnant,” or “At least you already have a kid,” or “You’re young; it’ll happen,” Well-meaning, I know, but really really stupid. You’d never say anything like this to someone whose spouse had died… “that’s the risk you take when you get married,” “you’re young, you can marry again.” Seriously. Grief is grief and it’s amazing that our society is so ignorant about this particular form of grief. Okay. Done with that rant.

So what does this mean about posting on this blog? Perhaps I’ll delete this post before it ever becomes public. Maybe this is just an exercise for my brain to empty out and see how it feels. Or perhaps I can make it all public and then if anything goes wrong folks can read about it here. I could even give specific instructions as to appropriate responses. Well, for the time I’ll go ahead and put this up. My family won’t yet read it…


Yup, grouchy. And weepy. Cried at the 5 minutes of Oprah I watched today. Wasn’t even a moving episode.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Crazy talk

You’ll never believe… So it turns out that it wasn’t the weaning that was making me grouchy and moody…. I'm—get this—pregnant. Pregnant. Omigawd. O. My. I’ve been having this achy sensation in my womb but thought maybe I was getting ready to start my period any minute, and then yesterday I decided to take a pregnancy test on a whim. As I was tearing the wrapper I was thinking, “This is a waste of $5 because it’s going to be negative. Why don’t I just not take it and wait another couple of weeks and save the money?” But, since I often give in to irrational desires, I unwrapped it. I watched the wetness slide across the viewing window on the stick and it immediately showed a + symbol. I thought maybe that was the “test” section and didn’t mean anything at all, so I yanked the box from under the sink to check what the symbols meant, and by golly… Then I yelled for Mitch, who by the tone of my voice thought something was wrong with Frances. He just looked at me when I showed him the stick, sort of a blank look that wasn’t frightened or especially happy, just curious. He says it doesn’t yet seem real to him. We took Frances to the Museum of Life and Science and the whole time I walked around saying to Mitch, “Did you know your wife is pregnant?” or “Hey guess what? Pregnant,” or “Wow, I could really use a nap since I’m pregnant.”

Did I mention that conceiving Frances took two full years and four attempts at intra-uterine insemination fertility treatments? I'd already made an appointment for next week with the fertility doctor, which I now need to call and cancel. Well, it saves us some money and energy!

There was a cute woman in a snappy wrap dress today at the grocery. We were standing at the deli together waiting to be waited on, and she asked how old Frances is. When I told her, she said she had a 3-week old at home. Wow—she looked amazing in her stylish little wrap dress! I was lucky to be standing upright 3 weeks after Frances was born… Had a twinge of something akin to jealousy, or fear about the next one, or something. Yesterday I was all excited thinking there will be another, another little babe to hold, another little person with little person smiles, but today I’m nervous. I drove to Winston this morning to my mother’s house, over an hour away, to have lunch at my mother’s with an old friend of mine and her children. The friend has a 17-year old (this child was born when she was in high school—the scandal of the year!) and now she has an 18 month old and a 3 year old. Note: 18 months apart. Which is about what I’m looking at here. So I asked questions, and she admits that she doesn’t leave the house with them much because it’s so difficult. And my gawd—she even has a teenager/ 2nd mother to help out! What in the hell am I going to do with 2 babies so close together??? My friend Erynn’s younger sister had two pregnancies very close together and the second turned out to be twins. So now she’s got 3 children under two. How how how? How does one not lose one’s mind? Or perhaps I will indeed lose my mind. Perhaps this is just the thing I need… Perhaps then I could let go of attempts to “hold it together” because, really, we all know that’s an illusion anyway. There’s no “together” to hold. We’re all floating in space, completely out of control of nearly anything that happens in our lives. We like to build up these images of ourselves as somehow responsible, but it’s all a farce. Ah, to be able to see that clearly~ It only comes in glimpses for me.

Monday, July 9, 2007

weaning work

Well, I’m done now—done with the pumping, pump washing, pump sterilizing, bottle storing, milk freezing. We’re on to formula, plus bits of food she tries to stick in her mouth with the flat of her palm. When I googled (in many different word combos) the hormonal effects of weaning, all I got was results for the effects on the baby. But—hello?—what about the mother? Frances is fine, let me tell you. Since she is the one that initiated this thing, I don’t have to worry too much about the emotional repercussions of taking my boob from her. But the emotional rollercoaster that it has set off in me is not pleasant. Crying, general grumpiness, depression that makes me wish I had the freedom to lie all day on the couch looking at the television set. Needless to day, I don’t, and I suppose hanging out with the girl probably helps the blues overall. So does my morning walk, it turns out, which I didn’t take this morning and which I regretted not much later but could do nothing about since it was 98 degrees by noon. I feared I would die if I tried it then. Tomorrow is always another day, albeit a hot one.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

breastfeeding is not the only thing

I’m a leftist kind of mom: I make my own babyfood; I cloth diaper; I own five different baby carriers. And to suddenly have my child decide she doesn’t want to nurse has been a struggle for me, and not in just the expected ways. I am, understandably, concerned about when it is “okay” for me to stop breastfeeding—when it is that she’s gotten enough of the good stuff from me such that her health benefits are maximized. No one can seem to tell me this. The World Health Organization says one should breastfeed for two years, the national health blah blah says one year. My family practice doctor recently said, “oh, give it up already,” with a slight shake of her head and intonation that indicated I was being obsessive and ridiculous. Which is possible. I’ve been known to do that before on other issues. But this is my baby’s health we’re talking about! In any case, for the past month I have participated in this gymnastics of pumping and bottles that is less than convenient. The question is: am I indeed being overly conservative about this issue? Is there truly no longer any benefit to her getting her milk from me at this point? Does it really not matter? Because if it does, if there is some benefit to her, I can continue this hassle. There are worse things.

And there’s the emotional stuff—the fact that it’s hurt my feelings just a tiny bit. We had a good thing going; she would cry, I would pick her up, lie us down on the double bed in her room, which is also the guest bed, and when I lifted my shirt she would curl toward me. I was able to soothe her. It was a nice trick, this soothing ability, and a sweet snuggle during which she used her free hand to absently finger my shirt or my hair or the back of her head. Who says these things should be rational? Now when I lift my shirt she screams like the thing I’ve suggested is painful. Sigh.

A couple of weeks ago she was drinking her bottle of pre-pumped breast milk and started banging her head into my chest. I thought perhaps she wanted to nurse so I lifted my shirt. And she looked at my boob like she’d never seen it before. Just looked at it. She put her lips on it just for a second, pulled back, looked up at me, and giggled. Then she did it again—put her lips on it, pulled back and giggled. Hilarious. She really cracked herself up. She did this three or four times and while she was quite cute doing this, I did not find it funny. I’ve been replaying it in my darker moments.

I’ll get past it. She’s enormously healthy and there are other things I will eventually focus on, I’m sure. If she were adopted she would have been on formula from the beginning and I never would have worried about what she isn’t getting. Besides, the next thing we’ve got to work on convincing her to eat vegetables.

Quick hello and introduction

My baby is already 9 months old. In some ways I wish I had begun this blog much earlier in my mama days, but I was lucky to get through those first weeks with any shred of dignity, much less with writing to show. Besides, Anne Lamott caught that time pretty accurately in Operating Instructions (a great book).

Her name is Frances Eleanor. She is a bit of a drama queen, her responses often so completely out of proportion to the situation. She has only a patch of hair on the very top of her head; thinks she should be able to always feed herself; squints her eyes shut in the cutest flirt; is unabashed about staring; throws a fit if I won't let her pull my hair; loves the dog more than anything. Does every parent think their baby is the cutest baby ever to exist on earth? I suspect so. Frances is seriously cute, has seriously won my heart, seriously tests my patience and makes me confront, over and over, who it is I want to be. So far I'm doing all right. I have a lot of support from other wonderful mamas with babes near her age. This helps enormously, to not feel you're swimming all alone in the cold dark waters. And they can be cold, let me tell you.

I teach English at a small university and am currently off for the summer. Initially going back to work (when she was 3 months) was a good thing, as my patience didn't wear all that well when she was tiny. Now I'm loving being home with her and wish I didn't have to go back. But, as my husband is finishing up graduate school, we need my full time income. It's possible that I'll be able to stay home when he's more gainfully employed.

I was 35 when she was born--a solidly GenX mom. This means some pretty specific things about my mothering identity, but we'll have to get to that in another post. This is just an introduction. I've always wanted to be a mom--was one of those little girls who dreamed of being a bride and named my future kids. And here I am. Here we are. We'll see if we can explore it some in print.