Thursday, December 27, 2012

Some new beginnings

I've been off the radar for awhile, I know, and there have been a lot of reasons, the main one being Christmas. Andrew and Peregrine and I spent the first half of my Christmas vacation in Hawaii with his family. It was wonderful and warm and relaxing, and once Peregrine got used to the idea of sand, he loved playing on the beach. I have pictures, but they're still on my phone. We took a red-eye back to Seattle on Christmas eve, and picked up my family at the airport shortly thereafter. So it's been a crazy busy Christmas, but a good one.

The other big reason I've been a bit out of commission is that I found out, a couple of days before we left for Hawaii, that I am expecting baby #2! I am so excited, if exhausted and sick. I'm not going facebook-public with this yet. But, the circle of people who read my blog is significantly smaller, and I really want to be able to write about this pregnancy as I experience it. 

So far, everything has been pretty much the same as it was with Peregrine. I feel symptoms so early (as in, before I miss my period), and they come on strong from the get-go. Honestly, I'd forgotten just how nasty and disgusting the feeling is. It goes beyond nausea. It's like my whole body is nauseous, not just my stomach.

With Peregrine, though, everything was so new. I had no idea how long this period would last, what kind of foods and stresses my body could tolerate in its new state. It felt so long, and I never really knew what was going on. It's different this time because I know what to expect. I know what my body can handle, and I find myself instinctively doing things that I had to learn how to do before. I'll hold my breath, for instance, before I open a trash can instead of catching a whiff of fresh trash, choking, and then holding my breath. So in that way, it's easier. And I also know I've done it before, I can do it again. I worked four days out of five with Peregrine, and one of those days was ten hours of teaching dance. I didn't skip a day of work due to morning sickness (although I badly wanted to, most days!), and I know I'll survive this one, too.

But on the other hand, it's harder. I have a toddler now. Sure, I worked four days with Peregrine, but I crashed and did nothing in the evenings. Parenting a toddler is 24/7. He gets hungry, he gets bored, and worst of all, he creates poopy diapers that I and my stomach have to change. It worries him when I lie on the floor and close my eyes. He has to confirm I'm okay by sitting on my head, yelling "HI!!!" in my ear, and crawling all over my terribly sore body. He gets whiny and clingy when I'm not my normal self. That's the worst, that I have to be "on" all the time. That I can't just sink into oblivion and try to sleep my nausea away. That my child still poops in his diapers, and if my wonderful husband isn't home, I have to change them. Please, please tell me people survive simultaneous morning sickness and diaper changing. Preferably without vomiting.

So that's the news here. I'll post Hawaii pictures soon. And more pregnancy updates as time allows!

Sunday, November 18, 2012


A few weeks ago, Andrew and I were having dinner with some friends who recently had a baby. Along the way, we got to discussing different parenting styles. Our friends mentioned some other friends who have a very spontaneous approach to parenting and have already taken their months-old baby on several camping trips and vacations.

"I just can't imagine doing that," my friend said, "Don't they ever worry about nap times? I know they'd  go crazy if they had to be tied down to a schedule, but I'd go crazy if I didn't have one!"

I know both moms. They're both wonderful women, and my friends. They both have beautiful, healthy, happy children. But they're different people, with different personalities, and they have different limits.

I think sometimes we'd like to believe that we base all our parenting decisions on philosophical or moral grounds, on what we believe is best for our children. And really, for the most part, this is probably true. But when it comes down to it, we're human. And part of being human means we have unique personalities, and that means quirks, pet peeves, inabilities, intolerances, and physical limitations. A lot of our parenting, for better or worse, is a result of those things.

Selflessness is glorified in motherhood. As well it should be, because it's necessary. I know of few other roles that require such constant setting-aside of ourselves and our desires, except, perhaps, marriage. But sometimes I think mother-sacrifice is put on such a very high pedestal that we feel incredibly guilty at the thought of making any parenting decision based on ourselves or our personalities or preferences. It's much easier to defend our decisions philosophically. It's a lot healthier though, I think, to cultivate a knowledge of our own limits and to be okay with letting them dictate some of our parenting choices. There's a lot of difference between selfishness and simply counting oneself as a valid element of the equation.

So let's talk co-sleeping. I could tell you any number of reasons why I don't usually co-sleep. I could tell you it contributes to unnecessary night-waking, that it is unsafe, that it makes transition to a child's own bed difficult, that it interrupts and complicates a couples' sex life. And I could find any number of testimonials and expert opinions and probably even valid research to prove these things. But those aren't the reasons I don't co-sleep (And I don't actually believe them anyway-- I know co-sleeping can be done (very) safely; I know plenty of families sleep better because they co-sleep; I know that many children make the bed transition easily; I know people have sex in places other than bed.)

I don't co-sleep because I can't co-sleep.

As a rule, I sleep extremely well, and I always have. Typically, I put in about nine hours a night, and before I had Peregrine, I slept, dead out, all night long. I've learned to sleep through all my roommates' various late-night or early-morning habits (including alarms), and it took me only a few weeks of being married to Andrew before I could sleep through his multiple middle-of-the-night bathroom trips.

But if I have any reason to worry about my sleeping so deeply, I won't sleep at all. I have a hard time sharing a bed with people I don't know extremely well, for fear that I'll kick them or steal their covers or pillow in my sleep. If I have an alarm set for a different time than normal, I'll wake up hours before I'm supposed to, in case I don't hear it. And if there's a baby in my bed, I'm terrified I'll forget he's there, and either roll over on top of him, or push him out in my sleep. (And trust me, I've done both to cats. Sorry, cats. But did I ever indicate you were welcome in my bed? No, no I didn't.)

I've read a lot about co-sleeping, and I know these are fears a lot of women have when considering it as an option. And I've read plenty of reassurances explaining that mamas have sixth senses when it comes to their babies, that babies are very different from cats, and that most mothers who decide to co-sleep don't ever worry about rolling over on the baby because they just know they wouldn't. I'm sure this is true for most women who co-sleep. But for me, I'm either sleeping or I'm not.

Once, back when Peregrine was a newborn, I had nursed him in the middle of the night and dozed off while doing it. I woke up, dazed and confused, wondering why I was lying in bed with a baby asleep on my stomach. I checked the clock and two hours had passed. Two hours, and I had no memory of stopping nursing, unlatching Peregrine, or lying down (on the edge of the bed no less). Another time, I started going to sleep as I was putting Peregrine back in his bassinet. I lost my hold on him and he fell. All of six inches, and into his soft little bed, but still, it terrified me. Both incidents terrified me. Mostly because I realized I didn't have the sixth sense. I had no sense when it came to that strange world between sleeping and awake. And so I resolved that, when Peregrine was in my arms, I would always be fully awake, and I would keep myself that way, no matter what it took.

Running up against our limits is hard. Especially when other people don't seem to have them. If it's just basic mother instinct that causes mothers to just feel the presence of their babies in their sleep, what kind of mother am I that I don't have it? And it gets muddier, messier, when the idea of sacrifice comes into the picture. Shouldn't I always put my baby's needs above my own? If I choose not to do something because I have a really hard time with it, isn't that just being selfish? Couldn't I just set my own interests aside, sleep with my baby, and deal with the sleep deprivation like the grownup I am?

But what babies (and older children!) need most are present, engaged, loving parents. Which means that sometimes, parents have to take their own needs, and even preferences, into consideration. Sacrifice that makes us less functional as people isn't meeting our children's needs. It's burning out. Burning out, in the long run, benefits no one. We have to know our own limits and be truthful about them. And we have to be okay with factoring them into our parenting decisions.

Every one of us, without exception, has limits. But we also have strengths. I may not be able to co-sleep with an infant. But I'm a pretty patient person. I'm perfectly willing to let a job take five times as long as it should so that Peregrine can "help" me with it. I don't mind narrating each and every article of clothing I put onto Peregrine or take off of him. I can answer the same question many, many times in a row. I don't get easily touched out. And I compose pretty awesome songs about various aspects of hygiene and safety. Not all mothers can do these things, even the ones that can co-sleep just fine and then be fully awake and functional the next day.

And you know why? Because we're human. None of us is perfect. None of us can give absolutely everything to our children. And that's okay. I think the most important is giving what we can, even when it comes with imperfection. And knowing when we can't give something, and being okay admitting it.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

15 Months!

His joy grows with him. Just when I think he can't possibly get more excited, more passionate, more intense about living, he does it. This child lives life well.

He greets Andrew--"Morning! Morning!"--when he goes to get him out of bed. He insists on saying hi to strangers. He's learned to go for old ladies and people in wheelchairs. I guess they're the most likely to respond.

He doesn't miss a beat, this kid. Not one. He hears, and sees, everything. Especially animal noises. And trucks. And sirens. And he listens for his favorite words: dinosaur, morning, water.

He says "three!!!!" any time he wants some extra adrenaline in his life, which is pretty much always. Because Andrew always counts to three and then throws him, or swings him, or hangs him upside down.

He snuggles, but on his own terms. Occasionally he will hug me and pat me on the back (actually, it's more like beating, but hey, the kid never does anything halfway). More often he comes and buries himself in my lap, shrieking with glee, for about 1 1/2 seconds. Then he's on his way again.

I'm pretty sure he can walk. He just doesn't know it. And mister Fastest Crawl in the West has no real motivation to adopt a (for now) slower mode of transportation.

He still eats like a horse. We went to the restaurant in the Space Needle the other day and the kid downed two cheese sticks, a whole baby-food can of squash, a fair bit of avocado and egg off my salad, tons of other people's french fries, and a huge kid's meal consisting of about half an entire filet of salmon. I debated ordering him a kid's meal, but he did it justice.

He's learning all about body parts. Noses are his favorite. He had a lightbulb moment the other night when he realized everyone in the restaurant had a nose! His world got so much more exciting. If you sing "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes" really, really slowly, he tries to keep up.

He recently discovered the joy of slides. Head first. At top speed.

Favorite foods: grapes, hummus, beans of any kind, string cheese, whipped cream. Also, chocolate. Though I deal out caffeine very, very sparingly to this particular child.

Favorite toys/games: his ride-on dinosaur, his block pounding tower, drums, balls, tunnels

Favorite books: Animal Sounds, The Very Busy Spider, Where is Your Nose

Latest obsessions: facial features (especially noses), water bottles (nothing new there), helping with the laundry and dishwasher, baths (yes, he finally likes them!), shoes and socks

Learning: standing on his own, climbing, finding his own pacifiers at night, all sorts of different animal noises

Challenges: molar teething, learning to actually stop doing something when mom or dad says no, transitioning between two and one naps, napping anywhere but at home.

I love you, little one. You fill my life with joy.

Friday, November 9, 2012

On Being a Parenting Mutt, Part 2

When we were in college, Andrew and I and some of our friends discovered a card game called Munchkin. It's basically a spoof of fantasy role-playing games. Your cards have different identities, and they spend the game trying to fight various tongue-in-cheek monsters (like the Potted Plant) with various tongue-in-cheek weapons (like the Pantyhose of Giant Strength). It's an absolutely hilarious game and Andrew and I may or may not still play it pretty much every time we get together with our best friends from college who live, unfortunately, across the country.

Anyhow, one of the rules of this game is that you're limited by the dimensions of a normal human body; for instance, you can only carry one weapon per hand. You can wear one helmet, one suit of armor, and one pair of footgear. And that's it. So, if you draw the Dagger of Treachery, but you're already holding the Rapier of Unfairness and the Huge Rock, you have to decide which you want to keep and which you want to discard. (Unless, that is, you draw the Cheat card, which allows you to break any game rule, your choice.)

I think sometimes we see parenting as sort of a game of Munchkin, only with (obviously) higher stakes.

Do you breast or bottle feed?

Do you co-sleep or does she sleep in a crib?

Do you babywear or use a stroller?

Do you use cloth or disposable diapers?

Because apparently, in Parenting Munchkin, you can only carry one Feeding card, one Sleep card, one Baby Transportation card, one Diaper card, and so on.

I don't honestly know why there seems to be so much pressure in the parenting world to choose a side. I don't know why it seems so important to us, as mothers, to identify ourselves by which of these cards we hold. Because most of these things are not mutually exclusive. Some choices (a very, very few) are all-or-nothing choices. But most are not.
This absolutely melts my heart. So does his sweet little nursing face.
I've both breast and bottle fed Peregrine. I started pumping bottles for him when he was about a month old because his hungriest times of the day never seemed to sync with my highest production times. When I went back to work, I continued pumping bottles for him. I consistently struggled with low supply, and when I ran out of my meager freezer stash, my sister-in-law started pumping bottles for Peregrine as well. She also breast-fed him sometimes on the days she took care of him. When he started solids, I began occasionally supplementing with formula as well.
The pillow is mandatory. The bed? There have been a lot of them (he's even slept in a laundry basket).
Peregrine has slept all over the place. He's spent most of his sleeping hours in a bassinet or pack-n-play next to Andrew's and my bed. He took his naps in the sling or Moby until I went back to work; then he started napping in his crib. Usually, when he was small, Andrew or I snuggled him to sleep in our bed while we read aloud (our long-standing nightly tradition!), and then transferred him to his bassinet. When he got old enough to be woken up by our reading, we put him to bed in his room, in his crib, and then brought him into our room when he woke up to nurse. Eventually that was too distracting for him, so I started getting up and nursing him in his room and then putting him back to sleep in his crib. And on difficult nights, or when he wants to wake up too early, we co-sleep (and by we I most definitely mean Andrew; I can't sleep with a baby, and we made a pact early on that if Peregrine is in the bed he's Andrew's responsibility).
All the comfort and security of the womb, right here. Including the head-down part.
I wear Peregrine when we both feel like it, or when he's clingy or sad or sick and I need to get something done. I've also used, at various times, his bassinet, the Bumbo, the swing, or a blanket on the floor. If I'm walking on a trail, I wear him; if I'm on the road, I usually use a stroller.
Admittedly, much cuter than the Costco diapers that he also wears.
I have a lovely set of cloth diapers, and I use them most of the time. I started Peregrine in them much later than I'd planned, primarily because his umbilical area took literally months to stop oozing. Apparently that's quite normal, but the midwife told me to hold off on the cloth diapers and to use those belly button cut-out ones as long as possible. Now I use cloth when I'm at home, or when I forget to change him out of them. I use disposables when I'm out, at night, and occasionally when I know he's going to poop and I want to just throw the nastiness away (sorry, environment). A note on cloth diapering, though: you have to use cloth enough to wash a load at least once a week or so. Otherwise, especially if you live in a humid place, you end up with disgusting mold in your diapers (not that I know this from experience or anything). So in that sense, you do have a bit of a commitment to make.
Me and my breast-fed, bottle-fed, breast-fed by other people, donated-milk fed, formula-fed, crib-sleeping, room-sharing, co-sleeping, laundry-basket-sleeping, sling-worn, suitcase-worn, stroller-riding, cloth diapered, disposable diapered child. And that's only a fraction of the all the various parenting choices I've made with him!

And I'm only one person. Each person's combination will look different. And will look different from one child to the next and from one stage of development to the next.

And you know what? It's also fine not to mix and match. There's nothing wrong with only co-sleeping, or only disposable diapering. It's just that, in most cases, you don't have to "only" anything. You really, really don't.

I think it's helpful to think of parenting less like a game of Munchkin, and more like a giant chest of tools. Owning one sleep tool, or feeding tool, doesn't keep you from owning another (or two, or three, or four). Sure, maybe you can't use them at the exact same time (you can't co-sleep and crib-sleep simultaneously, unless, I guess, you all sleep in a giant crib). Some tools may not work at all for the particular job you need to get done. And maybe you know that you absolutely can't (or don't want to) use certain tools. That's fine. But you're not limited in what you can use. (Choosing a night, or a season, of co-sleeping, for instance, doesn't mean you can never use a crib.) And if one tool doesn't work, you can use another. Without having to give up the old one forever.

Because in the end, it isn't about the tools.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My Career as a Composer

Never underestimate the power of stupid songs as a parenting tool.

Seriously. They're amazing.

I've spent many years of my life in various childcare and education roles, and it's always baffled and amused me how much power songs have over children. Children who would otherwise throw screaming tantrums at having to leave the playground will cheerfully sing "Goodbye, swing set!" (think  Good Night, Ladies) and then hop into line with the rest of the class. As long as a class is younger than third grade, I can always restore my students to order by singing a song they know. It cracks me up. No matter how dead set they are on running around and ignoring me, they can't not sing when they recognize my tune. This saves my butt almost daily as a music teacher.

I doubted that I would start using stupid songs in my parenting till I had a preschooler, but one day, in desperation, the Zipping Song and I discovered each other. Peregrine inherited most of his clothes from his older cousin, and the seasons were slightly off, meaning most of his last winter's clothes were actually summer clothes with sweatshirts over them. For some reason, Peregrine really hated the necessary zipping/snapping of the sweatshirts. I think it had to do with the fact that I would sit him up to put his arms through the sleeves and then I would lay him back down for the zipping part. All his hopes of being picked up were cruelly dashed, I guess. No matter how engaging I was, no matter how quickly I tried to go, he always cried and fussed. And one day, without even thinking about it, I started singing about zipping to the random tune I had stuck in my head.

He loved it. He stopped crying. He remembered it the next time. Zipping and snapping suddenly didn't phase him anymore. I sang that song for months. It was stupid, but it totally worked.

Next up was the Diaper Song. At some point in time Peregrine started resenting the fact that I pulled him away from his exciting discoveries to stick him up on a table and change his diaper. Quite by accident one day, I started singing about diapers ("DIA-per, diaper! To the tune of the Hallelujah Chorus. You're welcome.) He loved it. He still loves it. It baffles me completely. No matter how invested he is in whatever he's doing, the opening lines of the Diaper Song send him off at full speed to his changing table.

That's when I started doing it intentionally. Pretty much every time I notice that Peregrine consistently has difficulty with a transition, I invent a stupid song to go with it. Due to my background in classical music, I have a wealth of sophisticated-sounding tunes in my head to draw upon and then pair with lyrics about seat belts or bibs or waiting while I go get a wash cloth. And it works every time! Like a charm. Plus I get to feel like a rockstar, as my one fan starts grinning, dancing, and singing along to all of my lovely original creations.

I know a day will come when Peregrine will call my bluff and will realize that singing the Seatbelt Song doesn't at all negate the fact that he still has to put on his seatbelt. A later day will come when he realizes I'm actually kind of terribly uncool for making up songs about hygiene and safety and singing them in public. But I'll bask in his gullibility and admiration while I have it.

However, I'm afraid there is perhaps an unfortunate side effect to the success of my songs. The other day, I was absentmindedly humming the Hallelujah Chorus to myself in the car, and I heard Peregrine start bouncing up and down and hyperventilating with excitement because he knew that one! And the next thing I knew, he was singing along--"Bopper! Bopper!"

There goes my child's classical music education.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

On Being a Parenting Mutt

I once ran across a comment by another mom, lamenting the fact that she never felt like she fit in with other mothers. I believe her words were, "I'm too mainstream to be crunchy, and too crunchy to be mainstream."

I kind of wanted to hug her. And then be her friend. And then hang out with her all the time and eat farmers' market beet greens for dinner and Safeway Select ice cream for dessert, and go on walks with our woven baby slings and Target-bought strollers, and wash out our cloth diapers and sterilize our bottle parts. Because I knew exactly what she meant. I can so relate.
This is my beautiful little hippie child, eating homegrown kale by the handful.
Same child, eating a non-organic baseball cap while waiting for food (probably French fries) at a restaurant in Texas.  
Let's set aside the fact that I am not a huge fan of the idea that the entire world of mothers is divided into the two halves of "crunchy" and "mainstream" (actually, I kind of absolutely loathe this idea, but, moving on). There's a lot more to this issue, really. I think it really comes down to this: parenting, at its core, is about a lot more than categories.

When I was probably, I don't know, about 30 weeks pregnant with Peregrine, I opened my weekly email newsletter (you know, the ones that tell you what type of fruit your child most closely resembles that week), and found myself confronted with an article telling me it was time to choose my parenting style. I don't even remember what my options were. The link suggested three or four, explaining their basic principles and the different strategies and choices each employed. I was kind of floored.

On the one hand, I get that it's important to think carefully about parenting. As much as a lot of parenting is flying by the seat of your pants, that doesn't negate the importance of knowledge. But I was a bit baffled by the thought of choosing a "style" (before I'd even had a baby no less!), and then sticking to it. Like I was choosing a club to belong to.

Even when Peregrine was in utero, I focused on eating healthy organic fruits and veggies...
...and queso dip made with Velveeta. Welcome to rural Texas. (That's my dad's cousin on the right).
I think there's a certain amount of confidence that comes with any label or name. If I agree with the vast majority of what a particular author or doctor or researcher says, it's easy to just start considering myself   That Type of parent, whatever it is. And suddenly, I start thinking that whatever That Person endorses is something I ought to be doing.

Let's take, for instance, one of my favorites: Free Range Parenting and author Lenore Skenazy. The basic philosophy behind this movement is that we give our children far too little freedom and that we tend to parent out of fear of what might happen instead of allowing our children to take risks and grow on their own without always monitoring them. Overall, I love this philosophy. It syncs with a lot of what I believe about raising healthy children. I love that there are parents out there who are starting to let their kids walk to school, and play in the dirt, and bike to the store on their own, because of Skenazy's blog and the book she wrote. But it is so, so easy to get sucked into the label. It's so easy for me to say, "Okay, because I agree with so much of what Free Range Parenting has to offer the world, I'll buy it. I'll buy the label, get my membership card, and voila! I'm a Free Range Parent."
The dirt. It's good.
But then, for some odd reason, I then feel like I should think like she thinks. When I have to decide whether or not to let Peregrine play in the freezing muddy creek, or ride his little "car" on the driveway near the (quiet, carless) street, instead of weighing my pros and cons and making a decision based on all the circumstances, I'll find myself wondering "What would a Free Range Parent do?" Like I would somehow have to turn in my Free Range Parent card if I made the wrong decision. But the truth is, I'm not a Free Range Parent. I'm a parent. Who happened to read (and agreed with a lot of) the Free Range blog.

I think it's something about human nature to try to find a category that fits us. But the truth is, when it comes to parenting, there is none. Each one of us has a unique personality, a unique spouse, a unique set of children. Not to mention a unique extended family, a unique set of friends, a unique community. Those are the things that will determine our parenting, which will in turn be unique.
This. It's mine. 
I don't know how many times, both before and after giving birth to Peregrine, I've run into questions like this:

"Can I be an Attachment Parent and still use a crib? What about sleep training?"

"Would a Waldorf Parent use plastic Fisher-Price-style toys?"

"Can I be a Babywise Parent and nurse on demand sometimes?"

And while I know that most people asking these questions are generally concerned about how different practices fit in with certain principles, I still think it can be very confusing, both for moms-to-be and moms-who-already-are. Because it's not about categories. Can you be an Attachment Parent and still sleep train? Maybe, maybe not. I don't know. But can you be the parent of your child, who agrees with the majority of attachment parenting principles and also believes in training a baby to have good sleep habits? Yes, you absolutely can. It's okay to pick and choose. It's okay take only most of a style, or only part of it. Adhering to a style is not near as important as adhering to the quirks of your particular family.

And you know what? Some of us will end up looking like poster children for certain parenting styles, because that's what works for our families. I know plenty of people like that, and they do it well. But for a lot of us (most of us, probably), we'll end up looking like parenting mutts. And that's okay, too.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Concerning My Stomach, Which Is Still So Big

When I was pregnant with Peregrine, I worked part time teaching music at a small private school. I told the kids about my pregnancy early on, and they were an eager audience all the way through. They monitored the weekly growth of my belly and the baby it carried. They kept me supplied with guesses (and actual money bets) on gender, suggestions of names ("Sean O'Reilly Nelson! That's a good Irish name!"), and plenty of free child-raising advice ("Let him watch Star Wars by at least the third grade!"). Then the school year ended, I had my baby, and when Peregrine was about seven weeks old, I started teaching again. My students were thrilled to finally meet him, and continued to ask weekly about how big he was and what new skills he was learning. But, at least for the younger ones, they didn't stop there.

I've been working with children for many years now, and in many ways, I'm used to their unfiltered honesty. Most of the time, it makes my day.

Mrs. Nelson, nothing in the world is as beautiful as your skirt!

Mrs. Nelson, you look a princess!

Mrs. Nelson, we've just voted, and you're our second-favorite teacher in the whole school!

Other times, it's mortifying.

You have hair under your arms! Did you know that both men and women have hair under their arms?

Why are you growing a mustache?

Mrs. Nelson, I can see your belly! I CAN SEE YOUR BELLY! That is against the school dress code, didn't you know that?

Other times, I have no idea what to think.

Mrs. Nelson, I like your hat--it looks like a Nazi hat!

Let's just say I've learned to hold my vanity pretty loosely.

Still, I couldn't help but be a bit taken aback when this one came out at first-grade circle time.

Mrs. Nelson, why is your stomach so big when you already had a baby?

Hello, daily dose of postpartum body love.

Adults are always so polite about it. You look so great for having just had a baby! Wow, you look like you're practically at your old weight! And it's not like they're not sincere. We know, as adults, that baby-growing takes a toll on bodies. We know the weight doesn't just magically disappear. We know that people need to feel good about their bodies, especially when their bodies have been through such upheavals of change.

Kids don't know these things. They just notice what they see.

And really, the only way to respond to an honest question is with an honest answer.

So I said, "Remember how big my stomach got when I was pregnant with Peregrine? Well, it's still really stretched out from how big it was. It will take awhile to get small again."

And they took it in stride. Question answered. They weren't judging me for not losing weight. They just wanted to know. They're learning everything about the body in first grade. You have a right and left side to your brain. The bone in your leg is called a femur. Your stomach stays stretched for awhile after you give birth.

I'm grateful for that day, for that moment, for having to face that question honestly and answer it in simple, true words a six-year-old could understand. Because I'd asked that question so many times myself. Only I wouldn't say it out loud, for fear that it might be true. For fear that my stomach might actually still be big, even though I'd already had a baby.

We need both, I think. The encouragement from other adults. The reassurance that we still look good, great even, that our bodies are awesome and resilient and our beauty is still there. That we aren't ruined because babies use our bodies as houses and restaurants and stretch and sag and change them.

But we need the honest curiosity, too. The questions that need answered. Because it's good to have to answer them. It's good to have to say what's true. To have to say, well, a baby grew in there and stretched it out. If nothing else, it makes you realize how awesome the first part is. And that somehow makes the second part a little bit awesome too.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Housekeeping, This Season's Edition

Housekeeping is something I struggle with daily. I'm not sure exactly why. I enjoy a neat, clean space, and I honestly do like cooking and making things look nice. But the day-to-day monotonous maintenance of a house does not come naturally to me. I don't need a well-kept house in the way a lot of people do, and it's easy for me just not to bother. But I want a peaceful home. It doesn't need to be perfect, or anywhere near perfect, but I do want to have a home that neighbors and friends can drop by. I want my house to be a place my whole family enjoys hanging out in.

I've lived in five different places since I first moved out of my parents' house at age twenty, and each time I've moved, I've tried to make a few small changes in order to keep house better than I did at the last place. For the most part, I've succeeded. I'm not about to win any Model Homemaker contests, but at least I'm improving over time.

I probably won't write many housekeeping posts. But I'm really happy with the few changes I've made after moving into this house this summer. They've made my life a lot more peaceful and actually made housekeeping easier. I think in the past I've focused a lot on figuring out a chore system and making general resolutions to clean more, cook healthier, and keep organized. This time I've focused more on setting up my house and life so that housekeeping comes more naturally to me. It's made a lot of difference, actually. I give up on resolutions and schedules easily. But I do like a nice house, and the easier housekeeping is, and the less thought I have to put into it, the more likely I am to do it.

The first thing that has really helped is grocery shopping weekly and meal planning. I'm not sure exactly why, but growing up, my family had a stock-up-for-the-apocalypse approach to grocery shopping. We always bought in bulk, and bought extras of everything. Our pantry was seriously loaded at all times. And it's the style I've carried into my married life, simply because I'm used to it. Before moving here, I shopped monthly (or less!), and bought a lot of everything each time.
I remember when I took this picture thinking "My fridge is practically empty!" Never mind that we could have lived off Costco babybel cheeses for a month.
 Unfortunately, when all I did was stock up on necessities, it seemed like I never had the right ingredients for anything. Far too often (and especially after Peregrine was born!), I found myself going for the frozen pizza or quick canned-sauce-over-pasta because it was just too much effort to figure out what I could make with 16 jars of artichoke hearts, 5 lbs of freezer-burning Italian sausage, 3 variously-flavored packages of bagels, and a whole Costco flat of canned black beans. But I've come to realize it's not the cooking I dislike. It's the figuring out what to cook. Honestly, making mac-n-cheese is just about as much work as making soup (okay, less chopping, but still). The difference is that mac-n-cheese comes in a box and tells you exactly what to do. By figuring out what I'm going to cook each week, and buying the ingredients specifically for those meals, it's like having my own personalized stash of almost-prepared meals. No thinking required. All I have to do is find the ingredients for each meal and put them together. It's remarkably easy, and we eat a lot healthier. I buy a lot more vegetables when I know exactly what I'm going to put them in. And then they don't mold in my fridge. Which brings me to--

Mold reduction. I hate mold. With a burning passion. I grew up in the dry prairie-mountain air of Colorado where growing things have to fight to stay alive. I still am not used to this soggy climate where--I am not kidding--a little seedling sprouted once out of my dish cloth.
Photographic proof! See that thing? That's a plant. In my dish cloth. Welcome to Washington State.
In the summer, the earth explodes with rich fruits and vegetables and flowers and it's amazing and wonderful. In the winter, the earth explodes with mold, and it's absolutely disgusting. Everything molds here! I fight it all winter long. And part of what keeps me from cleaning and cooking is the knowledge that sooner or later, I'll have to deal with some colony of green fuzz or pink slime or nefarious black stuff that sprouted up overnight. So, in this house, I am doing everything I can to prevent mold. It helps that this house is significantly less leaky than our last one, and that the windows are relatively new. But there are other things, too. Mold and I have been officially at war for the last four years, but I'm learning better strategies. Less food in the fridge is one. But the most important, I think, is not harboring things that grow mold easily. One of the worst culprits? Bath mats and rugs with non-stick bottoms. I went out and bought the kind that are basically just thick towels. $20, less mold, absolutely worth it.

Okay, the next change is kind of embarrassing to admit. But here's the thing: some chores I don't mind doing and I always get them done. Laundry, for instance, pretty much never overwhelms me. Even if I have loads of it do to. Folding laundry is oddly therapeutic for me. Cleaning the kitchen, however, is not. And if the dishes start piling up, I end up postponing the whole job just because I dread doing it. But in this house, I've decided to make sure all dishes end up rinsed and in (or near) the sink. 
This job always gets done. It would get done several times a day if Peregrine had his way of it.
Part of what makes dishwashing so overwhelming to me is that we kind of eat all over the house. When Andrew is home, he goes through multiple mugs of tea and coffee in a day. Peregrine's bizarre obsession with water bottles means they are scattered everywhere. Andrew and I often have ice cream or hot chocolate while watching movies downstairs. It's not that hard to decide to carry dishes to the kitchen and rinse them whenever I notice them around. And making myself do just that--not wash them and put them away, just rinse them and put them in the sink--makes the big dishwashing job a lot more compact and easy to do. It also makes the house so much more presentable, too. Rinsed dishes in the sink are expected sometimes. Dirty dishes all over the house are not.

And finally, the biggest thing that has made my life so much easier in this house has been intentionally arranging the house so that taking things out and putting them away is easy. Most importantly, not layering important items underneath and behind each other. Here's the thing--if I have a space for something in my house, I will put it there. If I have to move something else or rearrange anything, I just won't do it. Maybe I'm horrifically lazy, but realizing this about myself has kind of revolutionized my housekeeping. If I feel like I have to pack and unpack in order to get something done, I will probably leave it undone. Not because I don't want to do the job, but because I don't want to deal with the packing and unpacking. A few weeks ago, I realized I was putting off vacuuming the house (and had been for far too long) because the vacuum was in the back of the closet behind the laundry hamper and I would have to move the laundry hamper to get to it. How embarrassing is that? But it's true. And in the past, I've tried really hard to get over that and just move the dang laundry hamper already. And it will work, once or twice. But the issue is not that I'm not moving the hamper, it's that I'm not vacuuming the house. So this time, I rearranged the closet, moved the vacuum to the front, and pulled some stuff out that could move to a more remote closet. And guess what? I vacuum my house a lot more frequently now.

I'll probably never win any prizes for housekeeping, and I will probably always err on the too-messy side instead of the too-neat side. But hey, small victories, right?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Baby Carriers Part Two: Things With Straps, Buckles, and Ties

All right, picking up where I left off and beginning the other half of my completely arbitrary categorizing of baby carriers. Let's start with mei tais. I recently learned it's correctly pronounced may tie. As in the month, not the drink. You learn something new every day.

This is my mei tai. It is another thrift store find, also for about $10. It is extremely bizarrely proportioned; it appears to have been designed for someone with my torso and about three times my hips. The straps are made from an odd and very heavy canvas-like fabric. Also, it has a cell phone pocket dangling near the end of one of the endlessly long hip ties. Let's put it this way: I understand why it ended up in a thrift store.

What I love: I wish I had had a mei tai earlier. It is super easy to put on, and I think Peregrine would have liked it as a tiny baby. My sister-in-law has one (an expensive, much higher quality one), and she would swaddle Peregrine tightly and sit him upright in it. He could see, and he wasn't scrunched. But I didn't want to buy one new. Peregrine loves it now though, and I use it a lot, especially when running the vacuum cleaner or the blender, neither of which are his friends. He hyperventilates with excitement when he sees it, and always has.

Also, it works well for front and back carries. And it isn't bulky (unless you count the ridiculous canvas-y hip straps on mine).

What I don't love: Aside from the obvious manufacturing deformities on my particular mei tai, there isn't much I dislike about this carrier. Most parents I know really love theirs, too. Mine is a bit feminine for Andrew's taste, but I know dads who find mei tais really comfortable. The length of the straps does matter, though; and I've read plenty of complaints from women who have had difficulty finding mei tais in bigger sizes (they make them, you just can't guarantee any particular one will fit you unless you measure).

Also, it's worth noting: when you're wearing a baby on your back in a mei tai, it makes your belly pooch out. Just be prepared.

Next up, we have soft structured carriers. There are several brands and styles of these, and they can get pretty pricey, mainly because they are, for the most part, extremely supportive and well-made. 
Okay, so not a very clear picture of the Ergo. But it does prove that it's a great hiking carrier.

What I love: The Ergo is perhaps the most versatile baby carrier out there. It works for tiny newborns and three-year-olds. It is comfortable for working around the house, and for hiking all day. It's (simply and easily) adjustable, and wearable by almost all shapes and sizes. It's self-explanatory and easy to give to a babysitter or grandparent without a lengthy tutorial. It's not feminine at all, and the vast majority of dads I know feel completely comfortable wearing it (it's a backpack, not a flowy piece of fabric).

Andrew and I got our first Ergo as a gift, and when Peregrine was just a few months old, we left it at the airport. Despite multiple phone calls, filing a lost and found report, knowing exactly where in the terminal we left it, and knowing that if an actual person could just physically look for it they would find it, we never got it back. I hope it's been donated somewhere and some lucky mother got it for cheap (or free!) instead of it rotting in a lost and found forever. I searched for months to find one used. I tried Craigslist, Facebook, local thrift stores, everywhere. Finally, we decided to just buy a new one. They're expensive, but so worth it. We do a lot of trail hiking as a family, and neither strollers nor slings are good when you're hiking up a mountain. So we bought one, and, as Murphy's Law mercilessly dictates, my sister-in-law called a few days later, excited, saying she'd found us a used Ergo at the thrift store I had been to less than a week before, at half the new price. We'd already used our new one and gotten it dirty. Murphy: 1; Nelson family: 0.

What I don't love: I know a lot of moms use the Ergo around the house for general lifestyle babywearing. I don't. It feels like a backpack to me. I would much rather use something lighter. As Peregrine has gotten older, I do use it more around the house, but I tend to go for the mei tai first. I'm not sure exactly why. It just feels heavy. I seem to be the exception here, though, not the rule.

My sister-in-law doesn't like wearing the Ergo in front with a baby past a couple of months old. I've never minded at all, but she feels like the baby's head is too high and gets in the way. As always, it's worth finding a carrier and positioning that are comfortable for both you and the baby.

There are other soft structured carriers, such as Beco and Boba carriers. There are some differences, but they are essentially the same. I have heard of babies who hate the Ergo and love the Boba. Go figure picky babies. If you have a baby who seems uncomfortable in a specific type of carrier that you love, it can be worth finding a similar carrier you can borrow and try out, just to see if your baby likes it better. Facebook is full of babywearing swaps and support groups that are great for this type of thing.

Okay, there are few different types of carriers I don't own that are worth mentioning as well. Hard-frame backpacks are great for hiking and longer walking trips if you want good back support (although my parents had one and used it around the house all the time). Obviously, you can't stuff them into a diaper bag. Hip carriers are similar to mei tais, but the baby sits on your hip instead of resting against your chest or back. If I'd had one, I probably would have used it, especially since Peregrine has always loved being on my hip. They can be goofy-looking, and are obviously not as versatile as most other types of carriers, but they have their niche. 

And finally, a word about the Baby Bjorn and similarly-styled carriers. There is a lot of Baby Bjorn hatred in babywearing discussions online. When I first discovered this it felt, to be completely honest, like walking into the high school cafeteria and realizing that even among the cool kids, there are cooler kids, and that the popular table has a popular side. I know, though, that a lot of the discussion about Bjorn-style carriers is fueled by parents who had no idea there were other carriers out there and are honestly sharing their experiences. So let me boil some of it down, as I understand it.

Baby Bjorns can be uncomfortable when worn all the time. Okay, all carriers can. But if you're babywearing for hours, and especially if you tend to choose on-the-body carriers over strollers for walking, going to the store, etc, comfort is critical. If you have back problems, shell out the money for a carrier that will really support your back. Moms who wore their baby in the Bjorn for hours and hours and hours and then discovered the Ergo or the Boba are usually floored by the difference in comfort. Some of the anti-Bjorn vehemence is simply passionate excitement at having discovered a more comfortable carrier. But for some, the Bjorn is really quite comfortable. People have different bodies. 

Some people object to the way the Bjorn supports the baby's spine, hips, and legs. This has earned Bjorn-style carriers the unsavory label of "crotch-danglers" in some babywearing circles, and there is a lot (a lot, a lot) of discussion about whether or not this is beneficial for babies. Most of it is on personal websites, blogs, and parenting forums. As I understand it, there is not a lot of truly medical research. The Hip Dysplasia Institute does say that the "dangling" position is not as ideal for a young infant (under six months old) as a position where the knees are above the hips. But again, I think it's worth considering how often you use a carrier. Constant exposure to one position is very, very different from occasional, or even frequent exposure. Babies can get flat heads from constantly lying in car seats. That doesn't make car seats themselves bad. As always, if you're concerned, talk to your actual doctor.

Some people think the Bjorn looks uncomfortable for the baby. Again, the crotch dangler thing. I don't know how many times I have read the phrase, "How would you like to be carried around by your crotch?" A few things are worth noting here. First, adult crotches and baby crotches are different. I sat on fence rails (crotch dangling all the way) quite happily as a child. As an adult, that would not be at all comfortable. Second, the Baby Bjorn does not sit the baby on a piece of rope strung between the legs. There is a fair bit of support. And finally, I think if your baby is uncomfortable, she will let you know this. Some babies may not like it. If your baby doesn't, by all means, find another way of carrying her. But I see happy, comfortable babies in Bjorns all the time (and I crotch-dangled Peregrine in the Moby; he loved it). In fact, I know babies who prefer the Bjorn over any other carrier. I don't think there is any reason to worry that your baby is uncomfortable unless she is acting uncomfortable. Which she might do in any number of carriers.

To conclude all this talk of baby carriers: ultimately, the goal of babywearing is to hold your baby while having your hands free. If the baby is safe (i.e. breathing), and you are both comfortable, and you can still get work/shopping/exercising done, babywearing is doing its job. And if it's doing its job, it's a fantastic resource.

Baby Carriers Part One: Large Pieces of Fabric

In the continued belated celebration of Babywearing Week (which was last week), here is my rundown of the various carrier options out there. I'm dividing into two parts, simply because it's long.

I'm not going to go into definitions of each type of carrier. That would make two already long posts even longer, and the definitions are easy to come by. Babywearing International has excellent definitions; so would a simple Google search. I will focus instead on the carriers I own, and what I have found helpful (or not) with each one. I'll also briefly touch on the types of carriers I don't own, and what I know about them.

Also, it's worth saying that I have never mastered the art of simultaneous babywearing and nursing. I know plenty of women who do, but it's just never worked for me. Either my shirt or the carrier would always get awkwardly twisted, and I would have to take the whole ensemble off and start over. I gave up early on. But it is possible to nurse while wearing virtually any carrier. Some even double as their own nursing covers.

All right, let's start with slings. I love the idea of slings--they are super easy to use, and relatively un-bulky. I had the advantage of "trying out" a sling with my niece for several years before having my own child. She loved it, and was always happy in her sling, but I could get tired easily from having all the weight of the carrier on one shoulder. I knew a sling wouldn't work for me in terms of lifestyle babywearing. Then I had Peregrine, and I soon found out he just wasn't a sling baby. Something about the scrunched-up position required has always rubbed him the wrong way. I've seen so many babies so completely content in slings. Peregrine never was. That said, I own two slings, and they have seen their fair share of use.

This is my pouch sling. Not the greatest picture, but unfortunately, the only one I can locate.

What I love: This is easily the most portable and useable baby carrier I own. There are no rings or adjustments, you just throw it over your shoulder. It fits conveniently in a purse or diaper bag and is super easy to pull out, put on, and insert baby into. It was my go-to carrier for shopping before Peregrine if I didn't need (or didn't want to bother with) a cart. I got all sorts of strange comments on it. More than once, I was asked if my baby could breathe. (What is the correct response to that? "No, he can't, but did you know that closeness to the mother's body is a perfectly acceptable substitute for oxygen during the first three months of an infant's life?")

What I don't love: Peregrine was rarely ever comfortable in it past a few weeks of age. Even during those first few weeks, positioning him just so was a pain. Also, it may look hands-free, and it is, but if you're wearing it correctly, your shoulder is pinned down. It's great for shopping and washing the dishes, but not for reaching up high and putting things away. I always forgot that when I put it on.

Pouch slings are not adjustable, and that means that if anyone else is going to wear your baby, they will probably need a sling of their own (length of torso matters more than anything, but so does your chest measurement). This sling fit both Andrew and me until I washed it. Then it got too tight for Andrew. I ended up getting him a bigger one (it is worth noting here that Seven Slings, the company I got it from, has occasional amazing deals where you pay only shipping and get whole slings for free. This is how I got Andrew's.)

This is my ring sling. I scored it at a thrift store for $10. That was a good day.

What I love: Anyone, of any size, can wear it. That, and its portability, makes it a great option for taking to (or leaving with) a sitter. Also, it is the only carrier I know that you can put a child to sleep in and then remove from your body, with the child in it, and put the whole package peacefully to bed. This is a huge advantage. Most babies go to sleep easier in carriers; some (like Peregrine) have stages where they don't take kindly to going to sleep anywhere else. He would sleep in bed, it just took forever to get him to sleep. Enter, the ring sling. Swaddle baby, insert baby into sling, rock/walk baby to sleep while doing something else, wait for baby to sleep, loosen rings, remove sling, carry to bed, and voila! Peaceful nap! If he fell asleep in any other carrier, I was stuck with him on my body for the duration of his nap. Which sometimes I didn't mind, but sometimes I did.

Once Peregrine could sit on my hip in this sling, he liked it a lot better. I still wear him in it this way, especially when he is sad or sick. It's his preferred snuggling position, he can still see my face, I can even keep my arm around him--but my hands are free and I can get things done.

What I don't love: I am still trying to figure out the ring thing. My sister-in-law, ring sling wearer and expert extraordinaire, has shown me how to do it multiple times, but I've never fully gotten the hang of it (oddly enough, Peregrine liked slings a lot more when she was wearing him). And the one-shoulder thing wears on me after awhile, way more so than with the pouch sling. Once I mentioned this to my midwife, and she said that often, it is men and stronger women who tend to be most comfortable with slings. I have a very weak upper body. Maybe that's the explanation.

Pouch slings and ring slings are the main sling styles, but they come in all sorts of fabrics. I saw a lady recently with a pouch sling that was stretchy (mine isn't at all), and it looked quite comfortable. Some ring slings have padded sides, which can be snuggly and soft, but can also pose some suffocation risks when the baby is incorrectly positioned. I highly suggest trying to breathe through the fabric of your sling, just to see if you can. It's generally suggested that you avoid the "bag" style of sling (you can google it for pictures; I hardly ever see this style used anymore).

All right, moving on to wraps. This was the type of carrier my midwife suggested I try when I mentioned disliking having all the weight on one shoulder. Wraps distribute the weight evenly over both, and some of the weight rests on your hips as well. I have much stronger hips than shoulders.

I have a Moby Wrap, and I cannot believe I don't have a decent picture of it. I wore that thing daily. I guess it often happened when I was home alone. Andrew is wearing the Moby in the picture in my previous post, but you can't see it at all.

What I love: I love my Moby wrap. It is my favorite carrier in terms of comfort, and the one that most approximates the feel of "wearing" a baby. Peregrine actually really liked it, and I didn't mind him taking whole naps in it because it was so comfortable. I loved it for walking him outside, because my coat zipped over it--no need for a coat or extra bundling for Peregrine, just my coat and body heat. So easy. And once Peregrine's hips and legs got stronger (around four months, I think), we could wear him facing out, and suddenly, Peregrine really started to like being in a carrier. It was short-lived, because soon he could start reaching for dangerous items, but it was nice for awhile. Peregrine was not an easy baby to make content. Excited, yes. Content, no.

I wish I had more than one, and with a successive baby, I just might invest in another. Peregrine spit up a lot, and since the Moby covers such a large area, there was no way to keep it clean. One good wet burp, and it was unwearable. I always wished I had a spare.

What I don't love: It's kind of rocket science, wrapping it correctly. Once you know how, you can do it in about a minute or so, but even then, get one piece wrong, and you have to start all over again and adjust it. Which means removing the baby. Which may not sit very well with the baby. (Also, I recommend not doing the initial instructional-video-watching while your baby is screaming. Just a suggestion.) My experience was that it is very difficult to get too tight, and very easy to make too loose.

A few other things worth noting: the Moby wrap traps body heat like none other. Which was great for me, but I am very cold-blooded. If I got overheated too easily, I would hate this carrier.

Also, I know some friends who have had chunkier babies who don't like the Moby as much, and say that the stretchiness makes it less supportive with a bigger baby. I didn't use it past about six months with Peregrine, because that's when he started liking the ring sling better, and started being more content away from my body. So I haven't had experience using it with a heavier baby. Apparently woven wraps (non-stretchy wraps) are a lot more supportive. I don't have one and have never used one, but they are fairly popular. Their huge advantage over the Moby (and the reason I will be stalking thrift stores again if I have another baby) is that you can wrap a baby (even at a very young age) on your back. Housework is worlds easier with a baby on your back instead of your front.

Well, that wraps up part one. Part two will be arriving shortly.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Happy Babywearing Week!

Actually, that was last week. But never mind. Happy babywearing anyway.

Babywearing is one of the more relaxing topics to research online, I think, because it doesn't seem surrounded by the same amount of controversy as a lot of parenting topics. The bottom line is, everyone carries their babies. And everyone sometimes needs their hands free.

I think the biggest hurdle for me to get over when researching babywearing and baby carriers is that Baby Wearer is some sort of identity, and that there is some magical rite of passage that initiates you into being one. It always confused me a bit, seeing people identify themselves online as "babywearing mamas" or the like. What does it take to actually be a real babywearer? Buying a carrier? Buying the right carrier? Using said carrier a certain number of times or hours per day? Not owning a stroller or bouncy seat? Using your stroller or bouncy seat as a bookshelf or toy storage unit so you're not even tempted to put your child into it? You get the picture.

I think parenting topics are often portrayed as all-or-nothing, either-or situations. Where you're in or you're out. That's a whole post in and of itself, and one which I will definitely write someday. But for now, I think babywearing is a perfect example of the reality that parenting is not  an all-or-nothing scenario. There is no point at which you magically become a Babywearer and can sit at the Babywearers' Table in the high school cafeteria. Babywearing is a tool. A good one, if it works for you. One to throw out, if it doesn't.

So from now on, when I use the term "babywearing," it will mean simply this: "carrying one's infant or toddler on one's body in a hands-free carrier." Sound good?

I will also refer to "babywearing as a lifestyle." This will refer to the practice of generally choosing an on-the-body carrier over other means of baby containment, such as bouncy seats, strollers, blankets on the floor, etc. When I talk about "lifestyle babywearing," I am assuming several hours per day spent with a baby in a carrier.

Gratuitous Daddy babywearing picture. Because I could look at those all day.
I own several carriers and use them several times a week. I used them daily when Peregrine was small. But honestly, I babywear less than I thought I would. I definitely imagined myself as a lifestyle babywearer, but Peregrine was a tricky baby when it came to carriers. Don't get me wrong, Peregrine loved being held. Just not necessarily in carriers. And he knew the difference. So I ended up doing a lot more holding, and a lot less wearing, than I had imagined. Often, when I was wearing him, he wasn't really quite content. But sometimes, I needed my hands. 

As far as babywearing information, Babywearing International is a good place to start. All of the basics--different types of carriers, safety and correct positioning, etc--are covered, and the website is really easy to navigate. Also, it's not overly political, nor does it make you feel like a bad parent for not babywearing. It's just information if you're interested.

But from my own babywearing journey, here are some lesser-known facts about babywearing.

1.) Babywearing is not an all-or-nothing scenario. I know I said it before. But it's important, so I'll say it again. Babywearing isn't something you either commit to doing, or swear off completely. It's a parenting option that can be very helpful. Use it as often, or as little, as makes for peace and convenience within your family.

2.) Babies don't always like it. This one came as a shock to me. A huge shock. Most of what I read on babywearing led me to believe that babies always like it, and are always happier and more content in a carrier. This simply wasn't true with Peregrine. Babies can be picky about carriers. Some have positions they love and positions they can't stand. It is worth making sure you are using your carrier correctly and that your baby's body isn't strained awkwardly. But if you know you're using the carrier as it's meant to be used, and your baby still isn't happy, maybe he just doesn't like it. That's okay. Babies are allowed to have preferences. It doesn't make you a bad parent.

3.) No matter how perfect the carrier, you will still feel the weight. Believe it or not, this one surprised me, too. I think maybe it's the term "wearing," which makes it sound as though it's just like an extra sweater. It's not. It's seven pounds, or ten, or twenty, that you're carrying. You'll feel it. 

4.) If it's not comfortable for both of you, it's not worth it. It just isn't. If either you or your baby (or both) hate your carrier, it will be a miserable experience that will not promote bonding or peaceful living. You will feel the weight, but you shouldn't have chronic pain or irritation. Likewise, your baby shouldn't be constantly squirming or acting uncomfortable. Pain means something is wrong. Make sure you're using your carrier correctly. Find another carrier. Or, just don't do it as often. Disliking babywearing doesn't make you a failure. It doesn't mean you don't want closeness with your child. It just means babywearing is uncomfortable for you. There's no shame in that. 

5.) Most baby carriers are quite expensive. Babywearing websites act like you can own a whole arsenal of cute little carriers and select one to match your outfit every day. Okay, so that's exaggerating a bit. But seriously, they are expensive. I highly recommend borrowing carriers, if you can, before you buy one. Or asking rich relatives for them as gifts. Or doing what I did, and obsessively stalking thrift stores. 

6.) Babywearing generates a lot of heat. A lot. In that way, it is just like a sweater. With a little body inside. As a cold-blooded person who spent her first year of parenthood in a very cold house, I will freely admit I often wore my child just to stay warm. But I've also encountered people who don't babywear at all for this very reason. Again, it's not worth forcing. If it's uncomfortable, find another solution.

7.) There are other ways to bond with your child. Babywearing is an excellent way to provide safety and security to infants and toddlers alike. Babies do tend to be happy, on the whole, in carriers, and it is one of the easiest ways to build a close relationship with a child because it allows you to continue the flow of the rest of your life at the same time. But it's not the only way. Choosing not to wear your baby all the time, or most of the time, or at all, will not doom you to detachment from your child. There are lots and lots of ways to love a baby well. There is absolutely no reason to feel guilt for choosing others.

8.) Even if you do a lot of babywearing, your baby will learn to crawl and walk. I think this is the most common criticism of babywearing, and one that people who practice lifestyle babywearing can get very tired of hearing. But unless you are forcing your child, against his will, to remain constantly attached to your body, he will go through normal development, which includes the desire to get away from mom and practice movement skills. Babies want to learn to crawl and walk, and they will let you know it. Wearing a baby will not somehow prevent this. I suppose it might postpone it. Peregrine spent the vast majority of his first nine months either in a carrier or in arms, and he did crawl later than most of his peers. Who knows what all went into that. But he did learn to crawl when he was ready, and became very good at very quickly. 

At some point in the not-too-distant future, I will write about my experience with different carriers and what options are out there. But for now, Peregrine just handed me the Ergo, smiled, and said "Boody!" Which is Peregrine-ese for "Please!" Highly appropriate, I suppose, in light of the fact that it's Babywearing Week (or was). I think I'll go celebrate.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Nap Schedules and Baby Enrichment Classes

I've tried really consciously not to plan the way I'll be as a parent. Mostly because I just know that if the words, "Oh my goodness I would never---" come out of my mouth, I'll end up eating them someday. And because I don't want parenting to be about My Plan For My Child, because I know that if that is the focus, I'll end up seeing my child as a final grade on me. And because, honestly, I'm just not that much of a planner.

But every now and then, I do end up doing something I didn't really see myself doing as a parent.

The big one has been scheduling. I've never really been one for schedules. I never saw myself being one of those parents whose baby had to eat and sleep at certain times. They eat when they're hungry and sleep when they're tired, right?

Newborns, it turns out, do just that. A lot of babies, it turns out, continue doing just that. Peregrine, it turns out, did not continue doing just that.

Peregrine would eat constantly, if he could. But when he snacks all the time, he never gets enough, and so he's cranky and hungry, and the cycle keeps perpetuating. He does best with intentional, focused meals. In his high chair, no distractions. Just him and the avocados/hummus/meat/cheese/whatever else loaded-with-calories thing I can dig up.

And Peregrine doesn't sleep when he's tired. You know those cute pictures everyone has of their child falling asleep in their high chair/exersaucer thing/the middle of the floor? Yeah, I don't have a single one of those. Because the more tired Peregrine gets the more manically awake and alert he becomes. I guess I just assumed, before I had him, that he would just get droopy a couple of times a day, and at night, and I would soothe him and put him to sleep. If I left it to him, he would possibly never sleep. Except for a few short hours at night when he did drop from absolute exhaustion. Seriously, I can't believe how few hours he would sleep if I just let him fall asleep on his own.

But, it turns out, he thrives on a schedule. By making his mealtimes and sleep times intentional, I can catch him before he becomes cranky with hunger, or manic with tiredness. He's a much, much more peaceful little person. And while I don't necessarily like being tied down to his schedule (seriously, it would be much more awesome if he'd just nap in the car when he got tired), it's part of living with a person who isn't me. It's weird, though; I never imagined saying things like "Peregrine will need to nap around 2:00." Because I'm not really a person who naturally does things around 2:00. I do them sometime in the early afternoon. Or later, if something else comes up.

Today, I clocked in another I-didn't-see-myself-doing-this parenting moment. I packed food to go, put Peregrine in the car, and drove up to the hipper part of town for a Baby Gym Class. As in, an enrichment class for one-year-olds.

I'm a bit bound and determined not to be a soccer mom (which means I'm probably doomed to be one). And I've never really seen the point in baby classes. I mean, you don't really need a teacher and some peppy music to teach babies how to clap and bounce, right? And I believe pretty strongly in the importance of free play and in letting children do their own thing in their own time.

Well, winter is settling in here in the Northwest. And by winter, I mean months and months of rain and cold. I've been dreading this season with a toddler. What do you do with an energetic child when going outside (or outDIE!!! as Peregrine says) means freezing rain, and wind, and mud? When going to the park means toweling off every slide and dressing your kid in trash bags in some vain hope of keeping them marginally dry? I asked a couple of neighbors with toddlers how on earth they stay sane in the winter, and one and all they recommended The Little Gym. So I bit the bullet and signed up for the free class.

And Peregrine loved it. Adored it. He explored every corner of his classroom, crawled across colorful mats at top speed, clapped and booty-shook to all the (terribly corny) music, shrieked with delight when he learned how to shoot baskets, and even, entirely unasked, gave his teacher a hug at the end of the class. I can't even begin to describe how much fun he had, and how much energy he burned off, and how much more content he's been the rest of the day. So here comes my first step down the Slippery Slope Of The Soccer Mom. When I think about the long, rain-filled days, and Peregrine's ever-growing energy, I think it will be worth it.

I guess all this is to say that it's worth holding expectations lightly, and letting parenting grow and evolve. Having ideals is a good thing, to be sure. I have a lot of ideals. But children, and reality, are usually more important than ideals. Flexibility is a good thing, too.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


I was at the doctor's office the other day, making small talk with the receptionist. She smiled at Peregrine, asked me how old he was, and started talking about her little girl. We compared development and talked about crawling and talking and teething. We got on the subject of birth, and started trading stories. She asked me if I'd had an epidural, and I said no.

All of a sudden something changed. Something subtle, but there. A barrier of some sort. We weren't on the same level anymore. She told me she hadn't wanted hers, she had tried to go natural, but the doctors thought it necessary, they had made the decision without her permission. She hadn't wanted it, did I know that?

I don't doubt her story, and I'm really sorry her birth involved her feeling forced into a procedure she hadn't wanted. But this is not the first time this has happened. That sudden break in sameness. The loss of something we shared--until now. I hate it. It's happened with strangers and friends alike. It's like people feel the need to apologize for their hospital births, their epidurals, their c-sections, just because I didn't have these things. Like it somehow makes me tougher, braver, somehow better than them.

It started before Peregrine was born. People would ask me about how I planned to give birth, and when I mentioned with a midwife or unmedicated I felt the same sudden distancing. Or people would shrug, and tell me I was "so brave."

I love natural birth. I love midwifery care. I love that I have those options, and that in the part of the world I live in, they are safe, viable, wonderful options. A lot of things went into my decision to birth with a midwife and not to have an epidural. Toughing out pain was not one of them. (If it had been, I probably would have opted out of the soothing rice pack, the anesthetic while stitching, the ridiculously high doses of ibuprofen to deal with after-pains. Just saying.)

I have a friend whose water broke early, and labor never started. She had to go on pitocin, and needed an epidural to manage the (much more painful) pitocin contractions. She is so brave.

I have a friend whose labor progressed much faster than intended, and her husband delivered the baby in the parking lot of the hospital. She is so brave.

I have a friend who was able to fulfill her dream of having a successful VBAC. She chose an epidural early on, and spent the rest of her peaceful, pain-free labor resting, praying, and talking to her baby, sharing her hopes and dreams for her new daughter's life. She is so brave.

I have a friend who chose not to have a VBAC. She scheduled her second c-section because that was the decision she felt most comfortable with. She is so brave.

I have a friend who had a ridiculously long labor due to her daughter's awkward positioning. Labor was intense and painful, but she made it through, in the end, without drugs and without sleeping for nearly two days. She is so brave.

I have a friend who fought long and hard to labor without drugs. Her labor was difficult, and painful, and lasted more hours than her body could stand. She was eventually transferred to the hospital, and had a c-section at the last minute to save her baby's life. She is so, so very brave.

I have a friend who found out at a prenatal ultrasound that her baby had a serious heart condition. She had a c-section at 34 weeks and her daughter was rushed into the first of many surgeries. She is, perhaps, the bravest of all.

Birth is hard, no matter how you choose to go about it. It is harder if the ways you choose do not work and you are forced to consider other options. I believe absolutely in the power of women's bodies and the beauty of birth. Women have been doing this awesome thing for centuries, millenia. But women have been dying of it too. It takes courage to face, courage to perform. With or without drugs, knives, midwives, doctors.

When I hear the story of a baby's birth, the last thing I am doing is comparing (or even thinking about!) pain tolerance. Everyone's story is different. Everyone makes the choices they make. Just because my choices in that one area happened to be higher on the natural spectrum doesn't make me better. Natural doesn't equal better. Natural is an option. With advantages and disadvantages. Like any other option.

So here's to you, receptionist with the nice smile who let my kid flirt with you and play with your cell phone. Here's to you, birth-er of a beautiful little girl. You know what? You are so brave.