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Summer’s True End

Summer’s end has been celebrated here for the past few weeks: one last swim with friends, one last trip, one last time eating ice-cream for dinner, one last beach day, one last let the kids stay up til they are stupid-tired and tip over when they walk.

I’ve been preserving the harvest, allowing the kids to watch one more TV show so I can get the jars packed and sealed in the proper time.  For the last month, I have shelved every possible project that seemed like it could stay on hold until they all went to school, all day, for the first time since I had my first baby 12 years ago.

That day is tomorrow. Summer’s true end was bedtime tonight, with my husband scrubbing down the children after a sticky long weekend  and with me filling out the last bits of the school paper work at a kitchen table littered with jars of sauce, salsa and chutney.

Our kindergartener  is asleep.  In a matter of hours he will be off and away with his brothers and friends. I have no idea what tomorrow brings for me – aside from sorting through the endless projects, ideas and tasks that I have spent my summer brushing aside with what has been become a mental tick of so many years making, “this can wait til everyone is at school.”

I am going to have to stop saying that.

Everyone is upset -kids, parents, dads, therapists, teachers and soccer coaches. We are parenting wrong, again, and all the real grown ups are fed up with the whole thing. They are so fed up they will take away your toddler if you spank her. They will also take away your toddler if you breastfeed her. If all else fails, they will just write about you in Slate and Atlantic Monthly because you are doing it wrong and there is no fate worse than having your parenting be disapproved of by the real grown ups.

I should confess right up front that I have three children who are all good sleepers. Aside from the 6 month window in which we were trying to figure out why Henry was growing in the wrong direction, we have enjoyed very good sleep. For the most part, it has been all in our separate spaces. We did sleep with our babies, all of whom began to sleep through the night once they reached 20lbs. This did not take very long for Theo who was 9lb 3 ounces at birth. At that point, we sort of cheerfully deposited them in a crib or pak-n-play in a room with their brothers. So, while I found Go The F*ck To Sleep  to be very funny, it didn’t really send me rolling on the floor laughing (IFYWIM). Not the way, Parenting Illustrated With Crappy Pictures does. (Extreme lack of ice cream!)  Still, hearing Samuel L. Jackson read it made me laugh. While sleep is not the issue, I do sometime find it impossible to resist the urge to tell my kids to “man up!” when they cry about, say, stopping for gasoline on the way home from the YMCA. Kids are frustrating. It’s part of the gig.

This morning, Liz of  Mom 101 fame, pointed me in the direction of  an article at Slate in which Katie Roiphe asks, “Why So Angry Dad?” I was really surprised to find out that it is all my fault! Roiphe believes the reason we all find the book so funny is because of our pent up rage at our children, I mean wives, well, the mommies. It is the mother’s unsexy blanket, movie and popcorn night creating all this rage inside the father, you see. He is blaming the child but he should really be blaming his wife. “Put on a f*cking dress!” she imagines the child to say to the mother. Yes, we who cannot “manage” to hire a babysitter are to blame -never mind if you cannot afford to hire the babysitter (I would like to know the going rates in your area, just to find out if what we are experiencing is normal or crazy.) Never you mind, if you actually want a quiet night in – if you are tired from working nights and weekends and truly just want to collapse in front of the big screen. I was surprised by the interpretation. But then again not really. Clearly if you are frustrated and tired, you are doing something wrong. It could not possibly be that the job you are doing is hard and demanding. Everything worth doing should come easily with little effort. Also, anytime your husband is upset it is because he needs more sex. By the way, you are lazy.

So, that upset me. It upset me because I was taught by my parents that rewarding things require effort, attention and sacrifice. So, I can blame them right? And so can Slate? Maybe Lori Gottlieb also help me figure out why I am doing it all wrong – or really you – because I am  better than you and we both know it. Much better – except that I feel worse. It is so confusing!  Truly, I found “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy” to be a pretty good read. Again I should state up front that I am not, by nature, a helicopter-parent (whatever that really may be – I assume we know it when we see it, or rather, it is fun to point it out in others.) For example, my 12 year old wakes up and gets ready for school with no assistance from me. Often I am still in bed when he comes to say good bye for the day. If I am up, I am wrangling his two younger brothers. I will keep them out of his way so he doesn’t miss the 7:15am bus. I consider this to be good parenting because it works. I have no idea what his therapist will say.

What I found troubling is Gottlieb’s assertion that the underlying reason that my generation of parents protects, tends and overall oppresses with love our young is “precisely so that they wouldn’t end up on a therapist’s couch one day.” Are any of you thinking about this, you know regularly, seriously, without your tongue in your cheek? Maybe this is the type of thing only a therapist thinks about their own children. I don’t know. When I do anything for my kids – be it the right thing or the wrong thing – I can say with certainty that I am not the least bit motivated by want to protect them from one day needing help sorting life out. I must have missed the parenting theory about making sure the kids know that once they leave my nest they should never, ever seek counsel, help and support by talking out their problems with skilled professionals.

I will say I agree, kids always keep score in soccer. It is silly to pretend that sports are not competitive and that Bs are just As in disguise. I like it when my kids are successful. There are many things I will do to support and encourage their success.  I am unsure how the compare to the lengths my parents would have gone, or the lengths my generational cohort of parents will go (If you are keeping track, I am 36, with a 12, 7 and 5 year old.) I believe in letting kids experience and express frustration, anger, sadness. Whether I believe in it or not, they are going to experience those things, so I figured I would just get on board with reality. Maybe I am just lazy.

The problem I have with the Atlantic Monthly piece is that it completely ignores the cultural reasons for this particular attachment style parenting. I am not parenting in a vacuum (much as I would love to do that because I hear vacuums are quiet.) What’s on tap here in my time and place: a struggling economy and a board of parenting experts that have promised if I meet enough of my kids needs they will not have any later – which of course, makes no sense, but that what is advertised.  Let us also remember the marketing of camps, extra curricular activities, sports, classes and book groups – all the ways I am told that if I spend my time and money,  I will have better kids, that if I do not invest in their gifts and talents now, it will be too late. In a rough economy, this is a particularly low blow. Spend money now while your kid is 8, so he will be well rounded enough to be hired at 20! The notion that somehow my kids are not good enough as is breaks through the haze. This is my own idea. I must swim uphill to standby it.

Through all of this marketing of books, theories, classes and ideas,  I still contend with- as I imagine mothers at every time and place have – those perfect strangers who assert their right to barge in and let me know how what they think about it all.  And overall, I consider myself very lucky in this regard. My mother and mother-in-law think I am a good mother. My father, step-father and father-in-law think I am a good mother.  I live in a community that overall supports my parenting style – though I think I would be considered more strict than most. I am absolutely in favor of telling my kids to “knock it off” if they are acting like lunatics. I have even been known to use the word naughty in public. (Stop chucking acorns at the squirrel; that’s naughty!)

Still I find the microscope on mothering to be taxing and a distraction from my real work. I wonder if  people around me think I am too strict, too permissive. I wonder if when my children cry in public, people think I must be indulging them, or maybe they think I am being too harsh. From the first moment I held my first baby,  I began to receive conflicting advice. Never wake a sleeping baby. Wake your baby to eat every 3 hours. Don’t fuss so much over your kids. Hey, why don’t you have a jacket on him?  It’s cold out there. Kids these days have no manners and are too busy. Stop scheduling all their time. Don’t let them play Wii all day. Mothers need to relax. Why is he crying? He should be sleeping through the night by now. Stop worrying. This is not the type of village I am looking for. Please send lasagnas and a housekeeping staff.

 

Lean Back

Borrowed from my work space, a post on the benefits of skin to skin contact between mothers and newborns.

Skin to skin contact is something that many moms desire to have with their baby after birth. We know it is healthy. We know we want to warm the baby with our body. We want to bring the milk in soon. At almost every birth I attend, moms and babies do enjoy some immediate skin to skin contact. Yet sometimes after I leave the hospital, I hear from the new parents that breastfeeding is not going that well.What do we not know about skin to skin contact? Sometimes it seems like just another item to check off on a birth plan. How can we move beyond treating it as a ritual that lasts a bare minimum number of minutes before we start providing “real care” to the newborn. I spent some time at the Partners In Perinatal Health Conference learning more from Debbie M. Norris, a lactation consultant at Newton-Wellesley Hospital. She inspired me re-envision skin to skin contact as the best medical care for newborns and moms.Skin to skin contact between mother and newborn has almost the same benefits as breastfeeding with none of the effort. Babies are often birthed onto the mother’s abdomen. Sometimes before we move them up to the vertical position between the mother’s breast, we cover them and wrap them with layers and layers of blanket. We take them away sometimes  – <em>just for a minute</em> – and then bring them back bundle and ready to nurse. Then the babies are sleepy, and mothers are sleepy. Mothers are also hungry and sore. The first few days of motherhood are all about taking in the experience. Reva Rubin’s research on postpartum emotional adjustment shows us this time is for her meet her own needs, talk about her birth, and care for her body.

Often at the hospital we sit mothers right up in bed. In an effort to support her and the baby, we surround them with pillows and blankets. We want to get their babies as close to them as possible for a good latch. We want to prevent neck and shoulder injury pain. So we prop up more pillows. She sits on her sore perineum. 24 hours later she often complains that breastfeeding is uncomfortable and not going particularly well. Maybe she says, “I don’t know if I can do this.” Already feelings of failure are creeping into this sacred time. We might strip the baby down to the diaper for a few minutes, but visitors come and go. The door opens and shuts. Moms cover up their breasts. It is our system that is failing this nursing pair.

What are we missing?

 Follow me over to the Gentle Balance Birth site to explore more.

Out and About

It’s spring here. It took til the first weekend of May to bring us the gift of sunshine, warmth and flowers blooming. All of New England has been hanging in there since March 1st. I’m not 100% sure, but I think there is no more snow in my zipcode. We’ve been out and about with the kids and so has been writing.

I hope you’ll visit me here at Hilltown Families to read about my first vernal pool walk with Theo, here at MotherWoman to participate in our very first blog carnival to honor Mother’s Day, and here where I am revisiting an old theme of waiting.

I hope you’ve been out and about too.

Birthdays and Love

Theo is the third child, our third boy. When we saw him by ultrasound at our 20 week appointment I had two feelings – some sadness that there was no girl child for me & some concern that we would be searching for our 5th and 6th boy names.  We really felt we had hit it out of the park with Henry. There could be no more perfect name for that child.

It is no easy thing to be the younger brother by just 22 months of the irrefutable fact of a person that is Henry. I think maybe only Theo could do it. He respects his place in the world and ignores or protests anyone who does not agree. This week he turned 5.

His birth was a sort of birthing gold standard of laughter, love and peace – a midwife and doula have confirmed. He had rolls of fat on his newborn neck – at 9lbs 3 ounces – all the more remarkable as he had a true knot in his cord that was as big as a child’s fist. The boys have their father’s height come down from Viking genes somewhere back up the line.

By the time Theo was a week old, when frustrated he would close his eyes and tune us out- usually during a diaper change.  He continued this for well into his 3rd year of life when he decided to rise up and make himself heard. I was relieved. He has such a charming, funny personality. He can lighten Henry’s mood – and mine. He sees himself as capable, strong and smart. He is not above crying to get his way, but is normally looking at me out of the corner of his eye to see if it is working.

He is unintentionally hilarious. When asked at the pediatric office what his middle name was he answered, “It’s adore. or maybe a door?”  Theo Adore -or maybe Theo a door? – is always striving to catch up to Henry but honestly thinks Isaac is another adult. “Can Isaac drive me to school?”   Yes, in 6 years. Isaac is as likely as mom or dad to be given a full tour of the artwork he brings home, or shown how he learned to read a new word. Isaac is likely to fix jammies  so they are right side out, pull out a snack and get the toothpaste to stay on the toothbrush.

And this is how Theo came to say one day, “It is the job of everyone bigger than me to take care of me. Problem at school is not that many kids are bigger than me. ” Theo loves the love. He loves to be taken care of, buckled up, snapped up, fed, showered, and adored.  My sister Jen was at his birth supporting me. Now he sees her as the one who has always been around with extra love. He never ever says hello to her – he just picks up his story midstream reporting in on his day as if she has been there the whole time sitting on his shoulder. When she married, he firmly adopted her people as his. If we go to his cousin’s soccer game, he will plunk himself on uncle Brian’s lap without a second thought to me or Matt. He needs to soak up all the love he can.

In the fall, he will go to Kindergarten with a teacher who already knows and loves him. She knows he can read and do arithmetic at least a year above grade level. She knows he likes to be babied a bit and might try to hide some of his skills. She knows he is capable, but loves to be helped because he loves feeling nurtured.  I know she will cajole him to keep going, to stretch himself, to try new words, new letters, new math problems. And she will do this with skill and warmth, because it is the job of everybody bigger than our kids to take care of our kids.  

Hey you, out there, want some cake?

Uncomfortable

Henry is uncomfortable. He has always been uncomfortable. Clothing itches. Slightly too long hair distracts him. His sock seam is not straight. It must be corrected. I know it sounds like no big deal. It is thThe quality of the winter light gives him a persistent headache that is the background his whole childhoodough.

He hears too much. Phones are too loud. Firetrucks, fire alarms, ambulances and occasionally even the chime of our downtown crosswalk – all of them are too loud. Lightbulbs are sometimes too loud. The buzz in his ear. Bugs are too loud. He can hear them too. He can hear the breeze, the traffic and the dogs 3 block away. The planet is too loud for someone who cannot screen out background noise.

While trying not to hear all of this, he is seeing too much. The quality of the winter light gives him a persistent headache that is the background his whole childhood. People in motion, classrooms crowded with signs, posters, artwork. In an effort to make sense of it all, he will hyper focus on one thing – if it is a computer screen, or TV screen that will trump all other visual stimulations. If not he will focus on reading that sign in the hallway, an effort to block out the moving kids, the traffic outside, the patterns on the floor and the buzzing fluorescent lights.

I don’t know how he gets through lunch in a cafeteria swarmed by first graders. He smells and tastes too much too, though this seems to cause less discomfort than seeing and hearing too much.

At nearly 7 he knows he is uncomfortable. He knows he is not as comfortable as some people. He does not understand that neurological dysfunction in vestibular sense prevents him from feeling grounded and connected to the earth. Sometimes I feel mildly disoriented if I miss the last step on the stairs, or if my chair isn’t exactly where I thought it was . I land a bit sooner or later than I planned. Gravity misbehaved. Henry lives like this. He is perpetually seeking that grounded connected feeling. I remember running down a steep driveway with my friends when I was his age. Our mouths open making the same ahhhh sound we would for the doctor listening to our own impact with the pavement changed our voices. The impact of my feet on the pavement shooting up my legs into my core. Henry seeks that daily. His body crying out to say it: Pound, pound, pound, I am here, I am connected. I am earthbound. Most kids with SPD have anxiety. Henry spent 3 years afraid the wind could make him blow away.

Henry is uncomfortable. He doesn’t know he muscle tone is lower than average. He is working on his pronunciation of proprioception. So am I. He knows but cannot explain that his body needs extra input to know how much strength to use for its tasks. Sometimes he uses too much, sometimes he uses too little. He struggles to locate his body parts in relation to others. We go to Karate and yoga to help with this. He works harder than anyone to get his body in the right position. Voice modulation is also controlled by proprioception. Henry is perpetually too loud. He speaks loudly both to hear himself over the background noise and because he has no idea how much effort to put into speaking in a normal tone.

When he was younger he hated drawing. He could not grasp a crayon an He had no idea how much force to use. It would slip over and over again. Once he figure this out, he still hated it. He had to figure out how to get the crayon to make contact with the paper in the right spot. He also had to figure out how to hold the paper still with his opposite hand. Then he could draw. It took him 18 months to enjoy this simple childhood activity of coloring. He never gave up. Henry writes three sentences every morning in first grade.

My name is Henry.

Today is a cloudy day.

I am __________________.

He has filled that blank in with many typical words. I am happy. I am excited. I am tired. I am hungry. Last week he wrote,

I am a hard worker.

No joke.

It’s too insane to be real. A baby-swinging mother, from Russia now living in Egypt, can show you on the internet how to do ” intense baby yoga” with your newborn. And it is crazy. Sane mothers everywhere look at their screens and hope it is a newborn doll – like the slightly surreal looking ones used in childbirth classes at hospitals.  The video quality is just poor enough to allow for disbelief. But then, Gawker says it is real.

I’m hanging on to disbelief – yes, for the obvious reasons – I don’t really think this is a safe newborn practice. I am old school:  swaddle them, support their heads, keep them warm! Plenty of time for nose-dives when they are 2, that’s what I say. I’m also hanging onto disbelief because this woman seems to be offering herself as a path for mothers to take – come, you can belong here, be part of our baby-yoga-swinging community. You can do this and belong.

We seem to be finding smaller and smaller camps to divide ourselves into as mothers. Are we so unwilling to hang out with people who do not mother similarly to ourselves? Do we do this while we tell our children they are unique and special? Do we do this while we teach them to celebrate the diversity in their communities, be that home or school, town or country?

Did our mothers so sub-divide themselves, or where their fewer divisions. You were poor, middle class, or rich and  you were black, white or latina. You lived in the suburbs, country or city – but that is all. Are we more fearful? More confused? More lonely?

When I had my first child the term “Attachment Parenting” was just hitting the streets of my community. There was no internet in the way we have now. No websites, coaches, groups and fan pages. There was one sling for sale in the whole wide world.  I visited an attachment parenting play group and felt it was a group too exclusive for me.  I could not believe there was only one right way to mother. I could not be so vehement about umbrella strollers. I’d grown up in an odd little corner of Manhattan where Harlem met Columbia University. To me, attachment parenting meant rigid hippies in suburbia who had Subarus. If they had to walk as far as the mothers of Harlem, they’d have umbrella strollers too.

I never went back. I continued to breastfeed. I continued to use a stroller and a baby carriers of various sorts. I continued to “co-sleep” until none of us slept well and then we put the baby in a pak-n-play. We didn’t call it “co-sleeping.” We called it sleeping and the babies slept, with us, until they didn’t. When friends or family asked how we slept, we said, “great!” or “terrible,” depending on the day. I breastfeed and let them grab food of my plate – and formula fed when faced with Henry’s intense medical challenges.

Before the wrath of the attachment parents visits my blog in the night, I have many friends now who refer to themselves as attachment parents. They use strollers, have a long way to walk (and some of whom have Subarus.) But I won’t pick.  I won’t pick breastfeeding or formula feeding or extended co-sleeping or cribs, schooling or not – nor will I pick attachment or whatever its opposite may be.  And I will not pick intense baby yoga swinging. I’m assuming you won’t pick that one  either, but I’d love to know what you won’t pick. Or if you have picked, why it works.

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