Saturday, March 31, 2012

I fail at lettuce

I've had no trouble growing tomatoes, herbs, peas, or beans. So I thought this gardening thing was easy. But then I came up against lettuce.

Really, it shouldn't be too hard. Everyone grows lettuce. The gardening books have no special warnings, and act like growing lettuce can be easily described in three paragraphs before moving on to melons.

I tried to grow it last fall. I didn't know what date to start it on, so I sowed more every week or so throughout August and September. I tried different methods. I planted it 1/4 inch deep, 1/8 inch deep, sprinkled a dusting of fine soil over it, or left it right on the surface. I tried two different varieties (Mignonette Bronze and iceberg). In the end, I got about six seedlings, of which three actually made it so far as to be eaten. They made a very small salad.

This year, I've tried more things. I tried them early, direct-seeded in the garden, but no luck. I figured the soil hadn't had time to warm. I started them inside, and they did okay. That is, the iceberg lettuce sprouted, grew leggy, and collapsed before it had even unfolded its cotyledons. The Mignonette, despite being leggy as well (the light isn't great in any room of the house, and even with being carried from sunny spot to sunny spot all day, it's definitely not getting enough) actually did develop a few spindly true leaves, so I set it out and am hoping for the best. The first few days were like a horror movie ... every day I'd go out, and there would be one fewer. Vanished without a trace. But now I have 12 that look like they're going to pull through.

I direct-seeded some more lettuce two weeks ago, with no results. I've done similarly with carrots and spinach. I'm beginning to think there is just a rule around here: If it comes in a tiny seed, you will not be able to grow it. I mean, why would it survive? These seedlings are so teeny tiny when they sprout. A raindrop would flatten them. (Perhaps that's what happened.) Or wash the seeds away. The wind blows the mulch over them and smothers them. The sun is apparently too much for them. The seedbed gets dry and crusted if I don't water it really often, but if I do water it, am I just washing all the seeds away? (It's really hard to achieve a fine mist over the seedbed with just my thumb in the hose, but I don't have a proper sprayer or a watering can. I'll probably have to spring for those if I ever want to grow anything from seed.) I can sprout pretty much any seed in purchased soil, but my garden soil is so full of clay, I'm hardly surprised to find nothing is growing there.

Otherwise, my garden's going fine. My peas are all up and looking hearty. I know I shouldn't have done it so early, but I planted some beans just for kicks when it was hot. It promptly turned cooler again, so I will probably have to replant those. I also transplanted my herbs. I've been growing them inside since February, and they haven't been doing too well, despite my setting them outside every sunny day. When I turned them out of their sour cream containers, I mean pots, I saw the trouble. Though there wasn't much to see on the surface, their roots had filled up all the available space. So they should be much happier there in my garden. As an added bonus, the sky is not going to forget to water them or expose them to the sun the way I tend to do. My usual habit of total neglect does much better outdoors than in.

Today I peeled up the newspaper and mulch in the bed where the green peppers will grow. It's the only part left completely undug. I did the other half of that bed, which is destined for pumpkins, by just cutting the sod off and turning it over before replacing the mulch. I had to call in John's assistance for the tomato-and-cucumber bed, where he did the same thing. But I wasn't up to digging the pepper bed, and there was grass sticking up in rips in the newspaper. I figured it was pretty much a lost cause. Turns out, except for those few isolated grass clumps I could see, most everything was decomposed under there. There was some white, withered grass, which I carelessly yanked up some handfuls of and left the rest. I pulled up the big clumps that were sticking through and filled in the gaps in the newspaper. I honestly don't think I'll bother digging there at all. The soil texture looks great. Of course, if I remove the mulch, the grass will grow again. That stuff is really invasive, and the roots are still there waiting for a chance. The onion grass is even worse. But if I leave the mulch right where it is, and just cut holes to stick the pepper plants in ... it might work a lot better than trying to remove the paper and add a new mulch. I can do the same with the tomatoes in the other bed, leaving the newspaper on all summer. I'll just have to clear spots for the cucumbers and the pumpkins, since those are direct-seeded.

This is my first season trying to do a "full" garden with all the things I want to grow. I have to admit, I'm greener than I thought, even after spending all winter reading gardening books, making charts and calendars, and daydreaming. There isn't a ton of work -- less than I'd like, in fact, because I'm so anxious to get moving -- but I'm realizing I don't really know what I'm doing.

Can you grow lettuce? What's your secret?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Planning for postpartum


Wet hair from my first postpartum shower ... four days after Marko was born.

I didn't really plan anything for when Marko was born. I did manage to pack a hospital bag! We had the carseat and Moses basket set up, and that was pretty much it. I went into labor, went to the hospital, and came home in a state of bewilderment. I was ready to pop the baby into his Moses basket and go to bed, only to find that he did not want to go to bed at seven or eight or nine p.m., and also that he had apparently totally forgotten how to eat. I spent all evening camped on the couch with a boppy pillow and a feeling of desperation. How was I supposed to make dinner?! I had expected to be tired and sore, but not THAT tired and sore. So when John's mother asked if it was too soon to drive down, I said "PLEASE COME NOW." By the time she (and four of my sisters-in-law) had left, I could actually walk, so it wasn't so bad. Still, I lived off Chips Ahoy and leftover casserole for about three more weeks after that.

So this time, I'm doing a lot more planning. However, I have a toddler to worry about, now, too, so I imagine a lot more planning will be required. It's quite likely that I will plan just enough to be as hopelessly lost as I was last time!

This time, I won't be having family coming right around the birth. Since my own family lives in Korea, they can't exactly fly over at a moment's notice, and I wanted to be sure I would have the baby in time for them to see it, so I asked them to come later in May. I've just heard one too many unfortunate stories of perfectly planned visits and two-week late babies, ending up in grandma having to go home while her grandchild is still on the inside. No thanks! I want very much to be relaxed about when this baby comes, not freaking out about it being too soon or late. John's family is coming, too, about a week after the due date, so we'll have some time with no family, and then help coming later in shifts.

John, however, is NOT going to be in another state this time, thank goodness, so he will be taking some time off work that first week. So it looks like I won't have too much time to fend for myself: first, John will be around; then his family; then my family. But depending on the actual day the baby is born, I might have a week or so in between where I'm on my own during the day.

The number one thing I'm trying to plan for is food. If it were just me, I could probably scrounge enough to get by on throughout the day, and just starve the rest of the time. It's what I did last time (I lost the baby weight so fast! And felt so lousy!). But there's Marko to think of. He's not going to want to wait until the end of a marathon nursing session for me to go and scrounge spoonfuls of peanut butter for him. He will want actual food, food that can be prepared quickly and food that he likes. John might be able to manage dinners (though maybe not, since he comes home at six p.m.), but for breakfast, lunch, and the many snacks Marko and I usually eat, I'm on my own.

That's what I'm stocking up on right now. I've got a lot of baked goods in the freezer waiting for me: carrot muffins, homemade hot pockets, and English muffins. I'm also planning to keep the fridge well-stocked with lunch meat, cheese, and bananas, which are Marko's favorite snack foods. For me, I'll make sure I have celery and carrots to munch on (I remember how desperately I craved raw, fresh veggies last time), and I should probably make sure to have some hummus in the freezer too. I also need to keep up on making yogurt in big batches, so I always have some at the ready. I usually make four pints at once, every week or two when I buy a gallon of milk.

There's no way I can make and store all the dinners we'll be eating in the first few weeks, but I've got a few containers of chicken soup in there now, and I hope to put up at least a lasagna or two and some tuna casserole as well. For the other days, I think John or I should be able to manage at least some very basic dinners: chicken and rice, or baked chicken with potatoes. (John is quite capable of cooking stuff like that: it's just the "fancy" stuff I make that he doesn't know how to do. But what he makes is plenty nourishing and delicious even without a fancy sauce.)

Chores -- ha! I'm going to let the place get messy. John can do some picking up here and there, and I may do some picking up here and there, but let's face it: we'll be stepping over toys much of the time. I really don't care. Dishes are the one thing that really MUST be done ... so John will have to pick up whatever I can't do.

Entertaining Marko is the big challenge. I mean, that's a lot of what I do all day. I'm trying to keep the house well stocked with library books, which are always a hit. If we spend the day sitting on the couch nursing the baby and reading books, he'll be at least relatively happy (since books are usually more of a treat for a few times a day -- he always wants more long after I'm tired of reading them) and I'll get rest. I'm also going to buy a few new toys for him at Goodwill or the dollar store which will come out once the baby's born. A new toy usually buys us one really easy day as he tinkers with it and exhausts all its possibilities. Finally, we're lifting the TV ban for awhile. I just am not sure I could make it through with no hypnotizing backup available for when they both want attention. (I spent Marko's first month of life watching documentaries on Netflix. This time, perhaps some Discovery Channel shows on Hulu. What do you know of that's a hit with toddlers and available free online?)

The hard part for me is probably going to be taking a break from my online life. It's my main social outlet, and I know I'll be lonely without it. However, I just can't imagine having time for much other than an occasional Facebook update here and there ... it may be awhile before I can get the time to blog. I may not even be able to manage many phone conversations, if they are both needy and/or hollering when I am trying to talk on the phone. So I'm very likely to be lonely on those days when I have neither John nor either of our families.

On the other hand, I actually do have friends who live in the area! Who have asked what I need! I'm not really counting "help from friends" on the list of things I'm preparing for, but I am sure if anyone does come over to help out, it will be a tremendous help. So here's my list of things I think I would like, to share with anyone who plans to stop by:

*I would really like to sit and talk to an adult. I know many people just want you to drop off dinner and leave ... but I am pretty sure I would prefer at least a short visit.

*I would like dishes done. It's going to be hard for us to get all of those. So visitors may make themselves quite at home in my kitchen, to wash a dish or two or the whole sinkful. Every dish washed will help.

*I wouldn't say no to food of any kind. Dinners are helpful, but so are snacks, baked goods, etc. I am not planning to be on any special diet, and Marko isn't on one currently either. Of course, if the new baby is fussy or rashy, I may start eliminating things, but I expect to be eating everything in sight at least for the first few weeks.

*I would like playdates for Marko. So friends with toddlers are welcome to come over and play ... especially if you are going to be doing all the "jumping up and breaking up fights" part. Not sure if I will be up to jumping anywhere. But Marko loves to have friends over and it would be a load off my mind knowing he was getting some outside interest. (Friends without toddlers can just come play with Marko themselves, of course, if they want to!)

*I would like to be told in advance when you're coming so I can let you know if that's a good time. Facebook will probably be the best way to do that.

I'm not sure how much help, realistically, my friends will be able to offer, since most of them live at some distance and all of them either have jobs or kids, but I can tell you right now, a visit from a friend would probably make my whole week, even if they didn't bring or do anything! Phone calls are nice, too, though (like I said) I'm not sure I will be able to talk long.

I'm hoping that by the time my own family leaves, I'll be ready to take on full responsibility for the house again. It took me four weeks last time to really feel strong enough and confident enough as a mom to get back into the swing of things. So my plan is as follows:

*Week 1: care for self and new baby. John does everything else. (How I do love that man.)
*Week 2: care for self, new baby, and Marko. Survive till six p.m.
*Week 3: care for self, new baby, and Marko; and prepare food as needed.
*Week 4: care for self, new baby, and Marko; prepare food; and wash dishes.
After week 4: do all my usual chores, plus take care of the new baby, of course.

The scary thing is that Marko doesn't nap, so I won't be able to "sleep when the baby sleeps." Then I remember that, once my in-laws went home last time, I never, ever slept when Marko slept. I finally started doing it when he was about five months old. That's a lot of naps I really should have taken, and didn't. And somehow I survived! And this time, with cosleeping and hopefully getting the hang of nursing lying down, I should be getting more sleep at night. As long as Marko manages to make a habit of sleeping through the night!

Moms, especially of multiple children: what did you do to get ready for those first few weeks? What do you wish you had done?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Physical affection for the non-snuggler


I complain a lot about my very physical, very non-snuggly son. When he's feeling the least bit crabby, and sometimes when he isn't, he climbs all over me. He isn't at all gentle. He pulls at my hair, climbs up my pregnant belly, and pokes at my eyes. I've tried and tried to teach him to be gentle, but for some reason this is a really hard lesson for him to learn.

If he gets too rough, I do put him down. But he gives a wail like his heart is breaking, and I just know he has some need that he is trying to meet by what he's doing. He wouldn't be so attached to doing these things, and do them specifically when he's unhappy and needs comforting, if there weren't some comfort he was getting out of it.

So I would try to pick him up and hold him on my lap. But he refuses to snuggle. This child does not melt into you like other kids do when they snuggle. He doesn't sit quietly. First he tries to rotate around so he's facing me, then he grabs two fistfuls of hair and starts to climb. I force him back to my lap and he starts to slide off ... but if I let him slide off instead of catching and holding him, he cries. Then he leans way backward so he's hanging upside-down. My arms just can't keep him in that position for long, but again, if I stop him, there are more tears.

I've been puzzling over this for a long time -- pretty much his whole life, actually, because he has never, ever been a snuggler -- and I've come up with a few things that really help.

I just concluded that what he really needs is physical touch and stimulation. But it has to be rough touch. And he has to be moving. If snuggling is at all confining, it's like torture for him. So the number one best thing for this kid is tickling. I've always tickled him from time to time, but it hasn't been a big thing with me. I made a resolution this week to tickle him for a significant block of time every day.

Because tickling can make a child feel helpless or out of control, I leave it up to him: "Would you like a neck nuzzle? What about a belly blow?" He almost always yells "Yes!" If he says "No!" a moment later, I stop. More often, though, I stop for a breather and he yells "More tickles!" I always want this to be something he wants and asks for.

In addition to tickling, I'm trying to do more roughhousing. This is hard for me because I'm worried about getting kicked or elbowed ... he is a big kid, after all, and a strong one. But I've figured out a lot of rough games that don't put anyone at much risk for being hurt: chase, rocketship, dangling upside-down, and so forth. Daddy does all this better than me, but I've stopped leaving it all for him -- I make sure I'm doing it some too, generally in the morning after chore time when Marko needs a bit of attention anyway. We wind down with big bear hugs and kisses (lately, Marko does like these).

A final thing Marko loves is being carried. Since he's in motion, he doesn't get antsy like he does with other forms of physical touch. Unfortunately, I can't do that. It sucks, and I sometimes feel like I'm failing him as a mother because I can't give him that comfort. Especially because I did very little babywearing -- basically only at work -- when he was smaller. He probably needed it then, and didn't get it, and still needs it now. On the other hand, we have been transitioning into other forms of physical affection that he does like, and which he won't grow too big for, so hopefully not getting carried as much won't do him any harm.

The only downside of all this is that I don't get what I need. I know this isn't something most people bring up -- you don't want to sound like you're selfish! But the fact is, I need physical affection, too. It's one of my primary love languages and I have always known it makes me a better mother the more physical contact I get. That was the wonderful thing about cosleeping, and why I want to do it more next time. I would wake up feeling much more tolerant and patient about whatever little thing was bothering us when we went down for a nap. Sleeping alone on the couch while Marko slept in his crib has never had the same effect.

So I try to get my snuggles in where I can. I still rock Marko to sleep in my arms, and I very often keep holding him for awhile after he's asleep. If he wakes at night, I go in and lie down with him, rather than picking him up. (This is mainly for the sake of my back, secondarily so he learns to go back to sleep in his own bed, and only lastly for the snuggles -- but those are nice too.) And if I'm feeling impatient, frustrated, and angry, I offer to read a book. A book keeps Marko quiet and happy, and he doesn't even notice that my arm is around him. (I wish this would satisfy his physical needs, too, but it doesn't seem to.) I always feel calmer and more loving toward him after reading time.

I've spent most of Marko's life thinking, "How sad, my son just doesn't need snuggles!" He didn't want to be held much, so I gave him lots of floor time. Now I'm thinking he does need snuggles after all -- he just doesn't know it, and is too high-energy to get the kind of snuggles I most readily hand out. My addition of tickling and roughhousing, though, has really helped. Perhaps it's really that his cold is getting better and his teeth are finishing up coming in. But this week has been a much easier week than the past couple. And the climbing and hair-pulling has virtually ceased! When it does appear again, I offer tickles or chasing or some other physical thing, and Marko accepts readily. And once he's had that, he goes back to playing, not climbing.

You have no idea how much better this revelation makes me feel. I hope it continues to work -- but if it doesn't, I think the train of thought that brought it up will suggest another course of action. I just have to ask, "How else can I fulfill the need he has that he's trying to fulfill right now?" Hopefully that will lead me to new answers. All I want is to show my little boy the love he needs.

*Note. I know some of what I describe sounds like sensory processing disorder. I don't think he has that, because it's not as extreme as I make it sound sometimes. It's not all the time, and it's not beyond what some other toddlers I've seen also do. But yes, I do keep an eye on that possibility, for what it's worth.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Why I don't criticize other parents anymore


If you can find at least 4 things to judge about this picture, you win!

Ever heard the saying, "I was such a great parent before I had kids"? Yeah, that was me. With years of big-sistering, nannying, and teaching under my belt, I figured I knew a thing or two about kids. I knew how to manage them. I could get results out of them their parents couldn't. (I didn't know, at the time, that most people can get results out of kids that their parents can't ... because kids act the worst with their parents, since they feel safe.) And when I saw a kid acting up, I knew how to fix the problem.

John, being the second of ten, also knew a thing or two about kids. So when we would go out pre-kids and see a child misbehaving, we would look at each other and shake our heads. "Our children won't do that," we would say sagely.

Ha. Ha. Ha. I think God heard us, laughed, and picked out a very special kid just for us, to humble us. I'm pretty sure by now he's done every single one of the things I've ever judged someone else's kid for. Only he did them more, and worse.

There are a lot of ways that we parents can criticize other parents. I break it into four categories.

1. Directly to the other parent. "You are handling that completely wrong. Do it this way." "Well, no wonder he's doing that. You aren't strict enough/are too strict/don't care enough about his diet." "Obviously he doesn't know who the boss is. You must let him walk all over you." Whatever.

2. Specifically, but to others. "I saw a mom today with her four-year-old running 30 yards ahead of her in the street. That's just bad parenting. Someone could have walked by and snatched her child before she could have done anything about it." Usually this kind of thing is posted on Facebook.

3. Generally, talking about a certain group. "Isn't it disgusting the way some moms let their kids run around with no pants on?"

4. In our own head. "It sure seems to me that woman could just pick up her child and take him out of the store instead of trying to negotiate him out of his screaming fit. Maybe if I avoid eye contact she won't know I'm secretly judging her."

#1, most of us don't do, because we look like jerks when we do. There's always a mom (or dad) here or there who does that, and no one likes them. We all want to yell, "I'm doing my best, dangit, parent your own child and leave mine out of it!"

#2 still strikes me as rude, though. Even though the person will never see it. But the main issue is that I always think, "Are people doing the same thing to me?" Because I totally let my kid run up ahead of me on a quiet enough street. Is Facebook exploding (in some corner I don't know about) with my bad parenting? And is that particular friend saying things like that about me behind my back?

#3, I think a lot of us do. I've fallen prey to it from time to time. But I try so hard not to. You never know who, of the people who read what you write or listen to what you say, might fit into that category. In response to this example, for instance, I am so tempted to say, "I let my kid run around with no pants on because it allows him to take himself to the potty and not pee all over himself while waiting for me to get his pants off. He has no sense of modesty yet, and no one is staring at him. Isn't being potty independent worth a little nudity?" Only I don't say that, because then I would reveal myself as one of those awful, terrible, bad moms. I suddenly don't want my friend to know that my kid is running around pants-free at this very moment. I start to feel embarrassed of my choices, like I will have to hide them around this friend.

If I do comment on one of these, the person always says, "I didn't mean you. I meant other people, the ones who ...." and then it goes on into some other description, which also could possibly be applied to me. Once I've applied it to myself, it's hard to unstick the notion that, if this person really knew me and the way I parent, they would hate and judge me. Or, if not me, some person I know and like. I imagine some third party I know reading it and thinking, "Oh. X thinks I'm a terrible parent." It's just that it's never safe to assume everyone you are speaking to agrees with you and doesn't do the things you mentioned. (As I learned recently when running my mouth off at a party, only later discovering that one of the people listening to me actually strongly disagreed with me, but didn't say anything -- presumably because of my know-it-all tone and obvious assumption that everyone did agree with me because they weren't idiots and only an idiot would disagree with me. I spent almost a week agonizing over my tactlessness and arrogance. So easy to NOT say something ... so impossible to UNsay something.)

#4, I admit it. I do this all the time. I try and try not to, but I do. Presumably because the judging faculty is given to us for a reason: so that we can imagine ourselves in different circumstances and decide what we would do. In fact, it's probably good practice, especially when we're looking at children older than ours, to think, "What would I do in that circumstance? What would the right thing be?"

But I try never to assume that the person actually is a bad parent. Because chances are very good that you don't know everything there is to know about the situation. Take the kid having a tantrum in the store. We all see it sometimes. There are a dozen possible reactions, and we probably have in our heads what the "right" one would be.

Maybe the child is way too old to be behaving that way. But you don't know he isn't developmentally disabled. Not all disabilities show. And many of them, like SPD or autism, manifest themselves in epic meltdowns that don't appear "age-appropriate." The last thing I would want to do in that situation is assume it's because the parent is a failure. They're probably an awesome parent who is somehow managing to cope for years with behavior our own kids got through in a few months. They're probably a better parent than me. I don't know.

Maybe I think the mother should stop shopping and actually listen to their child. After all, the kid's probably upset due to some legitimate need the parent is ignoring as they keep rushing through the aisles, throwing stuff into the cart. But, legitimate need or not, she might be a on a strict schedule to get home for the babysitter (where her other nine children are waiting for her). She doesn't have time for a "time-in" with the screamer. She's weighed her options and realized pacification isn't going to work and she doesn't have time for a long comforting session, so she chose the "race through the store and try to get out before it reaches disaster proportions" tactic. She may be a better parent than me. I don't know.

Maybe I think she shouldn't be losing her temper at him, yelling right back at him to shut up while he screams and cries. But I don't know what else she's got on her plate. Maybe she hasn't slept in two nights and her husband is deployed in Afghanistan ... and missed their last phone call, so she's worried. The kid is cutting teeth; he's been screaming like this for days and she knows perfectly well nothing she does is going to help. And yet, despite her stress and anxiety, she doesn't hit or punish him. She might be a better parent than me. I don't know.

I'm probably always going to judge other parents. That's the way the human brain works, and you all know I got me some strong opinions. But I try very hard not to criticize them out loud. You never know who's listening and might be hurt by your words. I've hurt people with my thoughtless words a heck of a lot and I would like to stop doing it.

What is your rule of thumb for criticizing other parents? How do you police yourself to make sure you don't break your own standards?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Turns out I'm an introvert after all

I have always identified myself as an extrovert. After all, I love to talk. I love to share information. And I really enjoy hanging out with friends. Most of the time, I'm longing to get out more, not longing for more time alone.

But somehow, every time I took a personality test, I came out as introverted. (An INFP, to be precise.) The description really does sound just like me. My husband definitely recognized me when I read him the description of an INFP. An ENFP is quite different, and not nearly as much like me.

So I'm realizing a few things. The first is that at very few times in my life have I had enough social time in my life. I was homeschooled, and only rarely participated in any of the homeschooling groups that many other kids did. (In junior high, we had a group once a week and it was awesome! But it was once day a week ... and much as I loved it, I was exhausted afterwards.) Currently I don't usually leave the house except on weekends. When I do, to go to the park or the store or the library, I don't generally talk to people. So of course when there's an opportunity to get together with a friend or go to a party, I jump all over it. "Introverted" doesn't mean "never wants to talk to another human being, ever."

The second is that I've associated with people much more introverted than I am. My brother is extremely introverted. John is introverted. My mother is introverted (I think). So I have always characterized myself as "the social butterfly," because I do like talking and hanging out with people sometimes.

The third is that I suffer from social anxiety. Which makes it hard to judge. Am I an introvert who is just extroverted enough to want to meet people but not enough to do it, or an extrovert who suffers from too much social anxiety to meet people? All I know is that I hate talking to strangers. I can do it -- I like to make small talk with the checkout lady at the store, or the bus driver, but after the first few sentences, I want to stop talking and go back to what I was doing. I don't like it when strangers talk to me at the park, at the library, or over the fence of my yard. I feel awkward, don't know what to say, and wish they would leave me to what I was doing. If I wanted to be social, my thinking goes, I would go to a social event. But when I'm just trying to read a book, watch my toddler, or garden ... I don't want to meet someone new. Meeting someone new is high-pressure.

And don't even get me started on phone calls. Ohhhhh I hate calling people I don't know. Calling businesses is the worst. No, even worse than that is leaving messages. I often call three or four times before I get up the guts to leave a message. And that's after putting off making the call for days or weeks. Recently I finally made the call to get my online bank account fixed ... after putting it off for a YEAR. The inconvenience of always asking John what our balance was was less bad than the scariness of calling someone.

Boarding school, which I thought would help with this situation by giving me instant friends, didn't at all because the rules for social interaction were so different from those in the "real world." I haven't gotten to that part of my story yet, but for the two years after leaving, I had an extremely hard time even speaking to someone I didn't know extremely well. I would freeze up completely and not be able to speak. It wasn't until college that I began to socialize like a normal person. Then, I felt like quite the party animal. Three or four other girls and I would hang out in the dorm and eat olives and talk. That was me, livin' it up! By senior year, I sometimes went out with half a dozen people to IHOP ... at ten p.m.! Sometimes I didn't get home until midnight!

The fact is, I have a certain comfort level. That comfort level is to hang out with a small number of people -- ideally, just one -- and talk a lot. I don't like big parties. I like small parties, but after each one I have to obsess over everything I said and didn't say, who I talked to, and whether this or that friend really likes me or is just putting up with me. John and I have come to the conclusion together that we are happiest when there is one thing going on each weekend. An event on Saturday and a different one on Sunday makes us tired and unready to start the next week.

When it comes to sharing information, I sometimes seem to overshare. I am comfortable sharing a lot of information about myself and my feelings. (Hence this blog.) But it's always after the fact. If I am actually in the throes of a strong emotion, if I'm truly upset and haven't found a solution, I don't usually blog about it. I don't usually even tell my husband about it. After I've mulled over it a few days and come to some preliminary conclusions, that's when the blog post goes up or my mom gets a phone call or John gets kept up till midnight hearing about it. Minor upsets -- sure! Stuff that really bothers me deep down? Forget about it. This kind of explains why all my teenage journals are full of stuff I never even remotely considered telling my mom. I'm sure talking to her would have helped ... but the thought never occurred to me. You don't talk about stuff like that. You talk about the stuff that's kind of bothering you, but not the stuff that's really bothering you. And if there's the slightest risk to saying something -- if, for instance, it's something that might make someone mad, start a fight, or cause people to judge me -- it's just not worth it to me. I keep my mouth shut.

So, all that tends to add up to being an introvert. An introvert who loves to hang out with her friends and talks a mile a minute. In short, an introverted who isn't very introverted, but is a little. I could flatter myself and say, "I'm balanced. I'm adaptable." I mean, it's good to be good at social situations and still like being alone.

On the other hand, I've always seen myself as an extrovert and been very proud of my extroversion. I impress all my more introverted friends with how outgoing I am, how many friends I have, how much I have to say. It's part of my identity that I'm attached to. So thinking of myself as at least partly an introvert is kind of humbling. It's like I'm giving up the image of myself as a peppy, friendly, fun person. Only, of course, I'm still a fun person. I just need to accept that the part of me that is scared of ordering a Subway sandwich and needs to decompress after a party is a real aspect of my character too. I am both of those things, and I can't deny either one of them by taking on a certain label.

I think I'll still describe myself as "more or less between the two" when people ask if I'm an extrovert or an introvert. But I really need to work on accepting and dealing with the introverted side, because it's not going to go away.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

THIS is the terrible twos


Every month or two, I find myself saying, "That thing that was going on a few months ago? The thing I called "the terrible twos"? Well, that wasn't it. THIS is it." I am hoping it doesn't keep going on like this till the kid's third birthday!

There are a few things going on right now, not all of which are Marko's fault. He has a bad cold, which makes him not always sleep very well. He's also cutting molars. The other day, when he was screaming his head off, I caught a glimpse of two of them peeking out. Until those two are all out and two more join them, he's going to be a little crabby, I assume.

So for the past week or so he's been melting down at the slightest provocation, raging for up to an hour, saying "no" to every conceivable option (do you want your pants on? NO! do you want your pants off? NO!), and being generally difficult to please. I don't blame him, though, because he doesn't feel good. It's just wearing.

What really gets to me is his other new thing, which pops up when he's feeling a bit better and starts running around and playing again. He goes straight up to something he knows he's not supposed to do, and does it. Take the most common example, pulling up seedlings. I've explained to him many times not to touch them. For awhile, he seemed to get it. He would stare at them, mesmerized, whispering, "Just look at them. Don't touch them." Then his little hand would reach out and yank up half a dozen of them. What the heck?

I've tried different things. I stop his hand as it comes reaching out .... but he struggles with me, brings in his other hand, and is soon engaged in a full-fledged fight with me, trying to get those seedlings. I yell at him, but he thinks that's hilarious and keeps going. In fact, the bigger a deal I make of it, the more eager he is to do it.

Finally I landed on the method of very simply and quietly saying, "Don't touch the seedlings. You touched them, so we're going inside now." He doesn't care for this at all, and will scream and cry and grab at the doorframe to stop from having to go inside. But I have discovered that I do NOT want to kneel on the edge of the vegetable bed for half an hour trying to stop him from getting those seedlings. The second I take my eyes off him, he's back at them. A little break inside helps him forget about them, and we can get ten minutes or so of good playtime in before he is drawn inexorably back to the seedlings again. By then, hopefully I've finished whatever I was doing in the front yard and we can go play in the back, where there's nothing he can't have (at least, nothing that tempts him).

Still, it's puzzling. Like yesterday. We were having a grand old time playing on my bed when he reached for my hair and pulled it hard. I moved my hair away from him a bit and said, "No, that hurts Mama. No hurting Mama." He laughed hysterically and dove for it again, yelling "Yes hurting Mama!" I stopped him again and he dissolved into tears. "Marko WANT to hurt Mama." Why is not hurting Mama such a tragedy to him?!

I know he's more fragile about this kind of thing because of how he's feeling. But on the other hand, this level of willfulness is new. I can't help but worry that I've created a monster -- by taking the gentle approach that I do, I have made him into a little tyrant. Since he didn't use to be like this, I fear I've ruined him. And yet -- and yet. For one thing, several of my family members were just the same way at this age, despite having a different discipline system than what I use. For another, I hear it's normal toddler behavior. And for a third, the closer I get to a harsher disciplinary system, the worse it gets. If I get into the ring with this kid, he will fight me with everything he's got. So doing it more often, about more things, can't possibly be the answer.

I have never mentioned this on the blog before, but we did try a more punitive system almost a year ago now. When we would tell him not to do something and he did it anyway, we'd slap his hands back away from the forbidden object. I was sure this would have the Pavlovian effect of -- obviously -- making him not want to touch the forbidden thing. But it actually made it worse. He would laugh hysterically and keep doing it over and over. It was a game, and the pain was minor compared to his love for the game. It was only when we would refuse to play, walk away, ignore him, or move him away from the forbidden object that he would look down at his hand and start to cry, realizing for the first time that he was hurt.

That just broke my heart. On the one hand, I just HURT my kid. Which makes me miserable, because I gave birth to him and spent a year trying to keep him from getting hurt ... my instincts are against hurting him in any way. And on the other, it made things WORSE, not better. I believe that a parent has the right to do things that cause pain to their children -- like shots -- if it is truly necessary for their well-being. But if it's causing harm and not good, I could not believe we had the right to continue on that path. So we didn't.

But the result of this is that our child is not "obedience-trained" in any way. He knows what "no" means. Usually he listens -- especially if it's said in a panicky voice as I lunge for him. With the dangerous stuff, he instinctively knows to listen up. But sometimes he tries to turn a no into a yes. And if he can't get us to change our minds, he just does what he wants to do and waits to see what we'll do.

It's a terrifying thing. I've got a small, unformed person looking to me to find out what I will do if he disobeys me. And at least half the time, I have no idea what I will do either. Will I calmly show him how to do gentle touches? (No dice.) Will I yell at him? (Backfires horribly.) Will I just physically remove him from the situation? (Works, but I keep wondering, "What will I do when I can't do this? What will I do when I have two children? What will I do when he's too big to carry? What will I do when it's big stuff? Am I setting a terrible precedent for his entire future because he doesn't snap to it when I say something?")

I don't think I'm ruining him. I don't think so because I believe there are only two ways to go with a strong-willed child like this one: either dominate them so completely that they are incapable of resistance, or don't go head-to-head with them at all. And I also have gotten a lot of comfort from the parenting books I've read lately (specifically, Parenting With Love and Logic and How to Talk So That Kids Will Listen). Sure, they're not for a kid the age of mine. But they assume that I already have a school-aged child, and that school-aged child is not obeying me. And then they have solutions for that, based on reason, which the kid possesses by that age. When he is rational, there will be so much more I can do.

Even now, there are a few things he obeys me for perfectly because he knows why. He leaves the kitchen when I am going to open the oven because the oven is hot. He stays away from the broken cellar door in the back yard because it is dangerous. And today, when I thought I was going to rip out my last hair over his insistence on banging on my new wall mirror, I thought to say, "Don't bang on it that hard, or it will fall, and you will be hurt." What do you know, he immediately stopped and started banging it gently. If I can always get my child to avoid dangerous situations because he knows that they are dangerous, do I need to have him "obeying" me? Some would say we've failed at raising our children if they only obey when they know why, and don't obey when there's no discernible reason to obey. But ... it kind of seems reasonable to me, especially once he's built up the ability to understand more complicated explanations, and has learned to trust that I don't ask him to do things for no reason.

So, for now? I guess I'm just sticking it out. Every day is a learning experience for both of us, as I try to get through to him and he tries to understand what I want. It's hard, because he used to be so eager to please that if I could manage to explain what I wanted, he would do it, nine times out of ten. Lately he hasn't been. Maybe he feels pushed around and is pushing back (I happen to know at least one person to whom he is related who does the same thing). Maybe he's just feeling contrary because he doesn't feel good. Maybe he's trying to get even with me because I'm not fulfilling what he sees as his needs -- constant carrying, allowing myself to be climbed on, and complete access to my hair.

But I am finding ways to cope, in order to make sure he doesn't hurt me or destroy things while we're waiting for him to be more rational. If he pulls my hair, he has to get down. If he hits me, either I am going to have to go to another room, or he is. If he pulls seedlings, we go inside. These are, on the one hand, logical consequences that hopefully will (someday) make sense to him. And, on the other, they keep me sane because I'm not sitting around getting hit while trying to reason with a "knee-high Neanderthal." Yes, he screams and throws a fit every single time. He acts so surprised. I'm willing to comfort him, to give him another thing to do, and even let him try again at being outside or on my lap in a few minutes, but he isn't much consoled.

Last night he was furious because I had to make dinner instead of playing with him. He demanded so many things: go outside, read books, pick up, hit Mama. I nixed those and suggested others: have a piece of tortilla, play with Gilbert, play with your toys. He said no to all of those, and there was a lot of crying. But eventually he sniffled, "Mama sing a song?" Finally something I could do for him while cooking dinner! He was much comforted, and I realized he is successfully navigating his limits, trying to find something that is good for him and acceptable to me. In the midst of my frustration over his tantrum-filled evening, I felt hopeful. Maybe, despite my horrible, weak-kneed, hippie parenting, he is actually learning something.

I've been afraid to open up or ask for advice about our struggles for fear I will get one of two answers: either "You have to smack him/put him in the corner, or you WILL raise a monster and it will ALWAYS be just like this," or (and I saw this just today on Peaceful Parenting's facebook), "He must have some need unfulfilled. When you fulfill his unmet needs, the behavior will disappear." The first one, I don't believe, because I know people who have raised great kids without that, and because, well, it just doesn't feel right to me. And the second one, it wouldn't matter if I did believe it. What if his "unmet need" is to still be nursing? To be carried around more? To not be teething? I can't give him everything he wants and needs, much as I would like to. And I really think his "unmet need" in this case is "to find out what will happen if I do what Mama said not to." So I don't think I would win that way.

Still, I'm putting it all out there for you, so if there are any words of wisdom or advice that have helped you, I'd love to hear. What do you do with a strong-willed toddler, if the behavior is one you can't ignore but you don't want to smack him?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Tell me why ...

... weed seeds can last 10 years in the soil, waiting for the right conditions, but if I plant peas two weeks early, they rot in the soil?

... Marko likes pulling up seedlings so dang much?

... the dog can spend almost all of his time outside, almost all of his inside time in his kennel, and still manage to cover the house with huge fur clumps in only four days?

... the dustpan, which I use almost every day, was on top of the tallest cabinet in the kitchen, where I can barely even see it, much less reach it?

... Marko can go for hours without an accident while we play outside, but half an hour after he goes on the potty, he goes on my nice bedspread with no warning?

... he has such an aversion to seeing me sit down, to the point of throwing a huge temper tantrum because I dared to sit down after a solid hour of housework?

... the night I decide to stay up till midnight is the night he sleeps like a newborn -- up SIX times between 12 and 6 a.m.?

... molars coming in coincides so perfectly with a nasty cold?

... the yard that is convenient to play in is also the only one where vegetables can be grown, and the toddler's only idea of "helping garden" is uprooting stuff and walking on the beds?

... the dog totally ignores his chew toys and spends his time ripping up stuffed animals and digging giant holes in the yard?

If I knew the answers to these questions, I think I'd be a lot closer to uncovering all the secrets of the universe than I am now.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My greatest fear

At the moment, I have only one big worry as the birth comes up. (Especially because, out of the blue, thanks to the kindness of others, my two biggest "things to buy" are crossed off the list -- the carseat and a new bed for Marko!) I'm not worried about labor. I think it'll go great. I'm almost positive our nursing relationship will get off to a great start.

But I am SO worried about Marko. First, I worry about what he will do during the birth. We have a babysitter lined up, and we practiced by hiring her for two other things, and he did fine both times. (Well, one of those times he was asleep. Leaving him is such a big deal for me, we had to start really slow!)

But the longest he's been without either of us is still two hours. Two carefully-planned hours far from bedtime, wake-up time, or possible nap time. How will he manage for an unknown number of hours, at an unknown time of day? As far as separation anxiety goes, he's pretty average -- sometimes he freaks out when Daddy or I leave, and sometimes he's cool with it. How will he be this time? If he's totally melting down, what will I do?

I don't want him at the birth. Not when his way of showing affection is to pounce on me and climb all over me. It would drive me nuts. So I really do want him to be with the babysitter, either in the yard, at the park, or at her house. Maybe I could see him for short times if things are going smoothly. I just don't know how I'll feel, or how he'll feel, but I do know for sure that if I can't handle having him around, and he can't handle going, I will feel like the worst mom in the world as the babysitter drags him off, kicking and screaming, for what could be a whole day or more.

So I daydream of going into labor right after I've put him to bed, say at eight p.m., and having a brief labor so I can go to bed at midnight or so with my newborn. Marko wakes up in the morning, and surprise, he's a big brother. Hey, it could happen.

I think this anxiety is based on a bigger fear: the fear that I won't be able to be a good mom to two kids. I mean, I'm barely a good mom to one kid! What if I don't like the new baby, if I feel s/he is an imposition on my established relationship with Marko, if I resent not being able to do the things with Marko I used to? Conversely, what if I fall instantly in love with the new baby (as I didn't with Marko) and then just feel annoyed that Marko is intruding? Or what if I feel perfectly loving of both, but just can't do everything they both need? What if the new baby needs to nurse, Marko wants a snack, and I'm worn out from giving birth and don't even want to move? What if they BOTH wake multiple times at night? (Marko has been doing better with this, but it's still a work in progress. He sleeps through the night unless there's something that wakes him -- like a stuffy nose, or a cough, or a nightmare, or rolling off his bed, or something mysterious. And a few nights lately he's been up every three hours, for some time each time, because of this dang cold. I can't rock both of them all night!)

This fear is particularly increased because Marko's had a cold and been very needy lately. All he wants is to climb all over me, digging his feet into my belly (ow!), pulling my hair (ow ow!), and kicking. I don't let him do all this, obviously. I want him to learn to respect me and that some things hurt other people. But he just doesn't get empathy yet. He doesn't understand that it hurts me, no matter how much I tell him. He just sees me as a mean, unloving mother who won't comfort him the way he wants to be comforted. I can't even pick him up and walk him around the house, which is the other thing he loves when he's cranky, because my back can't handle it.

What the heck am I going to do when I'm getting pounced on like that and I have a baby in my lap? How will I be able to help being furious with my older child for being so rough with his baby sibling around? Won't I be ridiculously touched-out?

I try to remind myself that I've kind of been living a life of leisure with only one child. When he needs me, I'm there; when he doesn't, I've generally had plenty of time to do my own thing: blogging, facebook, gardening, housework. He doesn't even take up half my time, most days. But what about those days when he demands ALL of it? What about those inevitable days when the baby will demand ALL of it? What if they both have that kind of day at once?

It would help if I had more friends with multiple kids. This is the downside of being one of the first people I know to have a child, and one of the first people I know to have a second child. I really need to schedule another playdate with my only local friend with two kids, so I can see how someone else does it. Because I honestly don't see how it's done, not with an older kid like this one.

Please tell me it's possible to be a good mom to two kids. I need to hear that.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring fever


I love spring. Really, who doesn't? Except maybe for T.S. Eliot and people with allergies.

What do I love about it? Gee, pretty much everything. I love feeling warm again. I love being outside, getting fresh air, having the windows open. I love watching things grow. I love digging around in the dirt and planting stuff. I love seeing bugs and birds come back to the neighborhood. I love waking up with tons of energy even though I got hardly any sleep. (Seriously, by past experience, I need 1-2 fewer hours of sleep per night when the weather is warm.) The warm weather makes me want to hug my son, kiss my husband, go jogging, plant flowers.

About three weeks ago, in a hopeful mood, I planted some peas. That spell of warm weather didn't last, and they didn't come up right away. Well, during this warm spell, they came up! I have plants! Sprouting! In my garden!

This warm spell, by the way, is no joke. It hit the 80's yesterday. No freezing weather is to be seen anywhere in the 10-day forecast. So I abandoned restraint and just started planting stuff this week. On Sunday: more peas. On Monday: some iceberg lettuce I'd started inside. On Tuesday: a row each of iceberg lettuce, leaf lettuce, and spinach. Today: indoor pots of tomatoes, green peppers, and marigolds to set out after the last frost.

I am so freaking excited. I water my seedbeds obsessively. I read the backs of all my seed packets and browse through garden books. Marko's getting into it too -- mostly in the realm of playing in the dirt. He needs a bath pretty much every day.

I've said before that children are like plants. Indoors, they're a ton of trouble and you can never seem to give them everything they need. Set them outside and they suddenly start flourishing without any input from you. Marko plays inside for short spurts before coming to me, climbing into my lap, and demanding attention and entertainment. But outside, I've watched him play in the dirt for a solid hour without even looking at me. Just today, I was worried how I might get him to nap and make up some of the sleep he missed last night. Well, around noon he got tired of playing, climbed into my lap, and passed out in five minutes, just watching the birds and the bugs and listening to the droning of the bees. I hated to bring him in, so I plopped him in his stroller in the shade and he's sleeping still. Really, in this weather, there's no need to go inside much at all.

The only downside right now is my back. My pelvic girdle is in as bad shape as ever. Its recipe for success is very light exercise only. My desires include digging garden beds and taking hour-long walks and chasing a toddler around the park all day. I really overextended it yesterday so that I'm not doing "anything" today. Meaning I roamed around the yard with clippers and trimmed stuff before admitting that I really ought to be sitting down. Outside. Reading garden books.

All I can think of right now is: Two more months and it will be summer for real! (Around here at least.) And I will have this baby out! And I'll throw the baby in the sling and we'll walk and garden and go to the park and do everything I want to do! I am so, so glad I've so far had babies in the spring. Spring is such a lovely time for babies.

Considering I'm seven months pregnant and it's acting like spring, is it any wonder I'm a little bouncy and excited?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Baby to-do list

I've revised, lengthened, crossed out, and otherwise obsessed over this to-do list for a month. Next best thing to doing anything on it seems to be blogging about it!

To do:
Get down and sort baby clothes -- DONE!
Get down bouncy seat from attic
Collect birth supplies into one place
Prepare food for freezer [already partly done. At the advice of my midwife, I now put half of every "big bake" in the freezer instead of eating the entire batch at once. I cannot believe I didn't think of this on my own]
Write birth plan
Find my Moby Wrap
Go on a date, in part so Marko can get used to the babysitter
Find a doctor who will actually treat me
Make homemade "laborade"
Install carseat
Set up sidecar crib (?)

Purchase the following things:

Infant car seat -- since Marko's got a convertible seat, I'm thinking we'll get an infant seat this time. By the time the new baby is ready to forward-face, Marko should be in a booster. I don't care much about the brand, since all the major brands seem to be quite safe and pretty much the same. But it must be new -- it is not recommended to buy used car seats.

NoseFrida nasal aspirator -- I will never forget that awful stuffy nose Marko had at a week old, how he could barely breathe or nurse or sleep, and what a battle it was to try to suction his nose while he was screaming. The bulb aspirators don't do a thing. I finally got a NoseFrida and it was like a miracle. That thing WORKS. And then Marko took it apart and lost all the pieces. So we need a new one.

Diaper covers -- about two of these and two of these

Snappis -- because I can't stand pins and was astounded to find someone had come up with a workable alternative

Birth kit (from the midwife) and the following birth supplies from the midwife's list:

Plastic sheet to cover the bed at the birth
12 washcloths (bet I can get these at the dollar store, right?)
Hydrogen peroxide

New bed for Marko -- Marko is currently still sleeping on the crib mattress. So in order to get the crib set up, we need to get him a new bed. BUT, a new bed is kind of expensive and money's a little tight right now. So, perhaps I should wait until the baby really needs the crib -- we will be cosleeping at first, right? The thing is that a sidecar crib solves the three problems of cosleeping for me: 1. I don't have to worry about the baby rolling out of bed, because the crib's right there. 2. I don't feel claustrophobic, because I can scootch the baby into its own space. 3. I don't have to worry that the baby will never get used to sleeping in a crib. I spent two months carefully teaching Marko to sleep in his Moses basket. And he did great! For one month. And then he outgrew it. He never, ever slept as well in the crib as he had in that basket.

Soooooo, I'm on the lookout for a good alternative for a bed for Marko. Just a mattress is really all that I need. Preferably a thinnish foam mattress, which is what the crib mattress is, so he isn't too high off the ground. They have them at IKEA for $99, but even that's a little much just now, what with the other stuff on this list. Perhaps Craigslist or Freecycle will have something for me.


This doesn't count non-baby-related things I would like to do (finish preparing garden beds! plant peas!) or non-baby-related things I would like to buy (new shoes for Marko! birthday presents! tomato stakes!). But it's enough to keep me busy for the time being, I think.

In other news, wish us luck! We're getting an ultrasound tomorrow. I won't be revealing the gender on here, though ... so those of you whom I don't tell personally (that is, if baby doesn't have his/her legs crossed) will get to be surprised in eight weeks or so.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Negative emotions

The other day I read How to Talk So That Kids Will Listen and Listen So That Kids Will Talk. It sounded great and I'd definitely recommend it -- with the caveat that I haven't tested it because it's intended for fully verbal, rational children and I don't have any of those. It sounds like it would work, though, because it's based on, "Well, how would you like to be treated?" And that's always a good place to start.

The part that I found the most important was the part on accepting your children's negative emotions. This is hard for all of us, at every stage, I think. We don't want our children to be unhappy. In fact, we don't want anyone we like to be unhappy. So we try to "fix" our children's bad feelings. But the message we're sending is, "Your feelings are invalid/unreasonable/not worth sympathy."

I mean, think how you would feel if you were upset and heard the following things:
*"Aren't you too old to be crying about that?" Would you feel better, or would you feel upset PLUS ashamed?
*"It's not a big deal, you will get over it." Would you feel better, or would you feel upset PLUS angry that they don't think you have a reason for being upset?
*"If you don't stop crying, I'll give you something to cry about." Would you feel better, or would you feel upset PLUS afraid that you will be punished?

It's my opinion that there's no shortcut to bad feelings. I was told growing up that how you feel is a choice, and if you choose to feel happy, you will. I've tried that approach pretty thoroughly, and it never worked for me. It's true, with knowledge and practice you can manage your emotions fairly well. You can keep them from festering and having little sadness kittens inside you. But if you have something to be upset about, you're darn well going to feel upset for awhile before you feel better. That's life.

If we spend all our lives hearing, "Your negative emotions are unwelcome here, you will only be loved and accepted when you are happy," we're going to try to get a shortcut out of those feelings, but we're going to fail. Among adults that I know, we all sometimes deal with bad feelings in a dysfunctional way. Some of us playact at being happy, which works really well. Looking happy is just the same as being happy! Until suddenly we either blow up for what looks like no reason, or we spiral into depression. The negative feelings get worse, because we're not just not expressing them. We're adding to them with more and more baggage. We feel guilty for feeling that way, angry that we aren't free to express those feelings, afraid that people will despise us if they find out. Instead of letting the bad feeling just be what it is -- a transitory feeling of regret, hurt, or sadness -- we allow it to transform into aggression, self-loathing, or despondency.

My personal dysfunction is to "make nice" and pretend to be happy. I can do it for quite awhile if I put my mind to it. But inside I'm getting angrier and angrier that I "have" to do this, until one day I jump down someone's throat (usually my longsuffering husband's) and scream at them that I've been miserable for ages and it is ALL THEIR FAULT. Which it usually isn't.

(If you do any of these things, by the way, you might want to try reading the book Feeling Good. It's billed as a book for helping treat depression, but even those of us who don't suffer from depression are often in need of some new tricks to help deal with our negative emotions. I found it really helpful, even though I haven't suffered from depression since high school.)

Back to children. When they're babies, we do everything to stop them from crying. That's natural -- if they're crying, something is wrong and they have a need which isn't being fulfilled. But as they get older, sometimes they cry because they have a want that isn't being fulfilled. Sometimes that want can't be fulfilled. We try to cure our children's crying or grouchiness by saying, "It's okay. It's not a big deal. Stop crying." Or even, "For shame, a big girl like you crying!" We're in the habit of thinking, "Crying = bad."

But isn't it better to realize that crying (or crabbiness) is the natural result of being a small person in a world that doesn't always go their way, and being disappointed or hurt or just feeling mysteriously grouchy? It's not a bad thing any more than a fever is a bad thing. It's a symptom, and if we know the disease (not getting a cookie, or having to come inside from playing, or not getting to go to the library today) isn't deadly, we don't actually have to DO anything about it. We don't need to fix it.

It does help to understand and sympathize. It can help to "put a name to the feeling" like the book suggests. Kids don't always know what that feeling is called, and it can make them feel better to hear, "Oh, you sound frustrated," or, "Gee, you must be disappointed." It can also help, if the child is willing, to show them some of our own (healthy) coping techniques: drawing a picture, taking some quiet time, talking through how they feel, making a plan for how to fix the original disappointment, and so forth. These things are all worth doing. But the really important thing to take away is that a child crying or complaining or feeling sad is not a child who is broken and in need of fixing. They don't deserve to be shunned, scolded, or punished. It's just a feeling. We all have them.

Incidentally, this helps with grown-ups too. I can't tell you how much it helps to change from saying, "Well, it's not a huge deal. It will get better soon. I'm sure things will turn out for the best," to, "Boy, that is upsetting. I'd be disappointed too. You must be really worried." The first set of statements leads to responses like, "You don't understand. This IS a big deal to me. You just don't care how I feel," and the second gets responses like, "Yeah, I am upset. I'm going to do X, Y, and Z to make things better." And regardless of whether I am actually being any help or comfort, the person usually at least feels gratified to hear that I think their feelings are reasonable.

At any rate, this book was a good reminder to me to treat my son's emotions -- positive and negative alike -- with respect and understanding. It's such a strong temptation to try always to fix, advise, and chastise kids who are upset, but sometimes the best thing we can do is to listen.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Some links

I've been collecting links for months and never posting them. So most of these aren't recent. But they're also not time-sensitive, so go ahead and enjoy them!

6 Myths You Believe About Feminism
If this is what feminism is, then butter me up and call me a feminist. I don't mind. I think I agree with pretty much everything in this post.

Sourdough English Muffins
These are excellent and I've been making them a couple of times a week lately. But I must say, read all the comments before you try them. You might not want to follow the recipe exactly. (I myself mix all the ingredients the night before, except the baking soda, which I omit. Saves trouble trying to work stuff in to the sticky dough in the morning. I also skip the kneading and the rising! And I keep my stove on its next-to-lowest setting ... I'd burn them otherwise. I do them in my cast-iron and they turn out great.) The dough can also be used to make calzone/hot pocket things, so I've got some of those in my freezer for after the baby shows up.

John Paul II's Teaching Concerning Marital Submission
You know me -- always obsessing over whether or not I should be obeying my husband. He himself says it has nothing to do with him, because that part of the bible is addressed to wives and not to husbands, and there's no corresponding "husbands, boss your wives around" mandate. But I feel that, as a wife and a Catholic, it's my job to figure out what I'm supposed to do and do it. However, I also believe that men and women are absolutely equal, within marriage and elsewhere, and I cannot imagine decisions that affect both spouses being made unilaterally by one of them. That just seems wrong to me.

The good news is, John Paul II apparently wrote a lot about mutual submission, and I like what he had to say. As an added bonus, it's supported by other writings of popes and Church fathers throughout history. The St. John Chrysostom part is especially good. If this is an issue you care about, you should read the whole article ... long as it is.

The Backlash to Breast Is Best
Yes, yes, yes. The best part: "We tell women that breast is best, we tell them to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, we even tell them it will raise their kid's IQ (and we should give that a rest), and then we send them home with formula samples, or with a baby whose throat is too sore to suckle, or a mom whose milk is delayed because of surgery, and we don't teach technique, and we are offended when a woman breastfeeds in public, so we make her feel housebound, and we don't give a mother and her partner paid leave, and we send her to go back to a workplace without on-site childcare, and so her only alternative to formula is to plug her nipples into a machine, and if she's lucky she gets periodic breaks and a "non-bathroom lactation room" in which to pump, and if she's not she gets a toilet, and so on and so forth."

In other words, we've got enough pressure. Give us support!

Freedom to Learn
I love this blog so much I can't pick a post to send you to. I've been reading through them bit by bit. Basically, it's actual science supporting what I've always felt: that children grow up better with less micromanaging, not more; that their instincts tell them what they need, and we parent better when we're responsive to those needs; and that most of our pressuring, schooling, and punishing is all backfiring.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

No luck at the doctor's office

So, we finally have health insurance! The midwives encouraged me to go see a doctor right away to get some bloodwork done. I also needed to find a doctor who was willing to give me the Rhogam shot after birth. (For those who don't know, this is because I have Rh- blood and my babies will all have a good chance of being positive. The Rhogam shot keeps me from forming Rh antibodies which would attack my future children. So, kind of important!) I have to receive it within 48 hours of birth, so I wanted to find a doctor well ahead of time who would be willing to have it standing by for me at his office.

The third thing I wanted to see the doctor for is a referral for my insurance. I found out recently that my insurance may actually pay some or all of the midwives' fee! Since it's a lot of money for us, I leaped at that possibility. A call to my insurance company informed me that it will be a little difficult to get the midwives covered. I need an exemption because they are out-of-network. But, I should be able to get one! However, I can't request it myself. My primary care provider has to call the insurance company with all the midwives' information and request it for me. That sounded awfully complicated, but I carefully collected all the instructions the doctor would need and made an appointment.

Going to see the doctor on a weekday is a big deal for me. First, I had to drive John to work -- 45 minutes there, 45 minutes back. And then do that again to pick him up. That's what I have to do every time I need the car. I also decided to get a babysitter for Marko because I couldn't imagine wrangling him in a tiny consulting room while also discussing the ins and outs of my health insurance. I also had to arrive half an hour early because I'm a new patient -- so that the total time I was gone was an hour and a half, for what I thought could have been a fifteen-minute appointment.

The senior partner who was recommended to me is apparently hard to get in to see, so I was scheduled with a younger doctor, a very nice D.O. She kept me waiting for 20 minutes (sigh) but she was very friendly and actually took her time with me, so that was good. But when I told her all the things I needed, she kind of puckered her forehead. "I don't know if we can do that," she said. "We don't do backup care for homebirths."

"I don't want backup care," I said. "I just want a blood draw, a Rhogam shot, and this referral. I'm not looking for prenatal care. I'm just coming to my primary care provider for some primary-care stuff."

She looked kind of doubtful and said she would have to ask the higher-ups in the practice. She left for quite some time (leaving me a chance to read Diabetes Monthly and a horror story on the bulletin board intended to convince me to get the flu shot -- I had already finished American Baby (and planned several letters to the editor of that magazine -- it is full of misinformation) while waiting for her to come in the first time). When she came back, she was disappointed. She had hoped they could do something for me, but sadly, they could not. A blood draw and a Rhogam shot are both prenatal care. They only give prenatal care as a package deal -- all or nothing. And if I got my prenatal care with them, I would have to deliver with them or another doctor they approved. Otherwise they would be assuming liability for my homebirth and they couldn't do that.

And as for the referral -- no way. Referring me to a midwife would imply that they approved of my going to a midwife, which would imply that they were taking on responsibility, which means -- more liability.

The doctor also told me she wasn't sure I could find any doctor anywhere who would do what I wanted. I only hope she is wrong about that. She advised that if I can't find another doctor to do the Rhogam, to show up in the emergency room after the birth, and they will have to give it to me. Which I suppose is an option, though hardly my favorite.

It's annoying to be healthy as a horse and yet have this crazy medical condition that requires nothing but a simple shot -- but a shot which must be prescribed by a physician and administered by a nurse, no exceptions. And no physician wants to take on the liability of treating me for this simple condition ... because, to them, pregnancy is the disease, not Rh incompatibility. Whereas I believe that pregnancy isn't an illness and I don't need a doctor for it -- I need a doctor for the actual medical condition I do have.

The insurance part is even more annoying. The insurance company would rather pay $10,000 plus to a doctor than $3000 to a midwife. And to get them to pay a midwife, I have to get a doctor who will refer me to one -- but since there is absolutely nothing in it for the doctor, and it would be, in effect, referring me to their competition, I just don't see why a doctor would agree to that.

Really, the only answer to all of this is to change my primary care provider to someone else and do this whole runaround again. And again, if necessary. The driving, the babysitter, the hassle, the copay -- just to speak with a doctor, who might turn me down. If it were just the insurance money, I'd be tempted to give up. (Though don't get me wrong -- we could really, really use the money. Especially since this insurance is really freaking expensive and more than we can afford ... it would be nice to recoup some of the money we're paying for it.) But since it's a question of the health and safety of my future children, I have to try my best to find a doctor who I can be quite sure will care for me.

Being "alternative" in any way is rough. I've already been "let go" by one pediatrician by our unwillingness to vaccinate on schedule. Apparently the way of the medical field nowadays is just to refuse to treat you unless you do everything their way. It just isn't fair.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A smaller but more faithful Church?

You know how, once you start noticing something, you see it everywhere? For me lately, it's been a line of Cardinal Ratzinger's (now Pope Benedict). In any conversation on a Catholic forum, someone's got to bring up, "Well, you know the Pope said we would have a smaller and more faithful Church."

First, it was with this whole fiasco with a priest denying a lesbian woman Communion at her mother's funeral. (My opinion on the matter: there is a canonical procedure for denying someone communion, and he didn't follow it. That's why the diocese apologized. No, the Eucharist is not for those in a state of grave sin. However, leaving the altar during her remarks and refusing to attend the burial was unnecessary and uncalled for. The priest's duty was to follow canon law as regards respecting the Eucharist -- not to make a point.)

A lot of people were saying, "This kind of attitude is just going to drive people away from the Church! How are we to help people who are living a sinful lifestyle if we are not welcoming them and being kind?"

The response was, "Well, the Pope said we would have a smaller and more faithful Church." They actually suggested that gays and other "obvious" sinners should be banned from attending Mass and other parish functions because if they really cared about being Catholic, they'd change.

Call me a flaming liberal, but I don't think it's ever been the Church's way to cast sinners out and demand they change before associating with them. Instead we show them respect, kindness, and mercy. I mean, what odds are there that, after being kicked out of the Catholic Church, someone is going to randomly think years later, "Hey, you know what? I'm going to turn away from sin and go to confession"? Not nearly as good, I think, as those that they might have that idea after sitting in the pew Sunday after Sunday, hearing the Gospel and the homily and watching the example of their fellow Catholics -- who, despite popular opinion, turn out to be really nice and also happy in their faith.

The other one was in a discussion of little children at Mass. The writer of the article said that young families were leaving the Church because they were being made to feel unwelcome with their children. Most people agreed -- but a few announced, "Well, church isn't about being made to 'feel' welcome. It's about the body and blood of Christ, and if they don't get that, they can leave. After all, didn't the pope say we would have a smaller and more faithful Church?"

This isn't a matter of doctrine. This is a matter of not giving people dirty looks because their two-year-old yelled "Is Jesus here?" during Mass. Sure, people should be so faithful that they will stay in a Church even where people are nasty jerks because, after all, we're here for Jesus. But is it fair to say that no one should be in church at all unless they're so perfect that they no longer are upset by uncharity?

When I hear the "smaller and more faithful" comment, it's a sure sign that someone is saying, "We don't need a Church composed of sinners. We need a Church composed only of the perfect, of which I, of course, am one. Let's get rid of all the sinners."

I don't think that's what the Pope meant at all. I think he meant, "Our doctrine is very challenging, and as it comes more and more into opposition with the values prevalent in our time, people are going to leave." And they are, most certainly. But to those of us who say, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of everlasting life," Jesus does not say, "Well, you'll have to leave anyway, because you're unworthy." His way has always been to say "Follow Me," and it's up to us to follow. We can say no, turn him down, prefer our sins. But to whatever extent we are willing to follow him, he's willing to take us.

Jesus was the type to forgive sinners first and then tell them to stop sinning. Sometimes he didn't say a word about their sins, but they were moved to abandon them when they saw there was another option. It gave scandal to many, who demanded he stop associating with tax collectors and prostitutes. But he knew that, when they had been forgiven much, they would love him much, and their love would surpass that of those who had never sinned.

Sure, the Church is slowly becoming smaller, and it does seem to be getting, in many ways, more faithful. But our job is not to slam the doors of the Church against anyone. Instead we need to keep doing what we have always been doing: living a life worthy of imitation, and showing charity to all, so that they want what we have. We win converts one step at a time. My own mother didn't know many of the Church's teachings back when she converted. She didn't spring from the ground a fully-formed Catholic. But through years and years of attending Mass, reading the Catechism, going to Bible studies, she became more educated than most cradle Catholics. Are people going to say now that in order to be a "real" Catholic, you have to pass a doctrine test before you're allowed to show up for Mass?

Many will leave Christ on account of his hard teachings. But let it not be through our lack of charity that they go.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The joys of routine


I keep hearing that routines are good for toddlers. That's probably true. But routines just don't come very naturally to me, so we haven't had any.

Well, that's not quite accurate. We have some getting-up and going-to-bed routines. In the morning, Marko gets up, I open the door to his room so he can come out, and then we sit on the couch, read a book, and eat a banana. This helps with the cranky transition from sleeping to being awake. Sometimes he's so chipper in the morning he doesn't want to bother with any of that stuff and goes straight to playing. Meanwhile getting his pajamas and wet diaper off, getting him to sit on the potty, and getting clean clothes on him has often been a battle.

Our night routine is down to a science and works very well. I credit it with the fact that we rarely have any trouble at bedtime. Marko will even ask for the next part of his routine. It goes like this: Daddy gets home at six. We eat dinner right away. After dinner, we dim the lights and put the dog in his kennel, but Marko can keep playing for awhile. But only as long as he's cheerful and chipper without much attention. Once he starts getting clingy or whiny or tantrumy, we start bedtime. First, some time on the potty. Then, a pathetic attempt at brushing his teeth. Then diapers and monkey jams. (Pajamas must have monkeys on them.) Then a book, usually his longest library book or else Babar. It is crucial that he have no toys in his hands for this part or bedtime is totally ruined. We keep reading until he starts getting snuggly and yawning. Then the book mysteriously gets shorter (I skip to near the end). Then I carry Marko into the bedroom -- again, if I let him walk, bedtime is ruined. We sit in the rocking chair and rock while I sing "O God Our Help In Ages Past" or "The Glory of These Forty Days." If I jump right into the song, there isn't usually any argument. But sometimes there is and we have to bargain over the song for awhile. The rocking and singing continues for ten minutes or so and then he passes out. I put him down exactly the same way every night, cover him with the same blanket, and tiptoe out.

These two routines really help with big transitions, and they also mean that either John or I can handle those times because we both do it the same exact way.

I've been trying lately to establish some more routines that can help the rest of our day move more smoothly. They might also help me to get more things done in a day!

The big one is "housework time." I established this at the beginning of Lent when I discovered how dang productive I am if I turn off the computer for one day. I have no desire to try to live without it every day, but I'm trying to make sure I am away from the computer first thing in the morning. I can check it over breakfast, but once I've eaten I have to minimize everything and walk away.

See, once Marko is up for the day and feeling pretty chipper, it's his easiest time of day. It's also my groggiest. So the easiest thing in the world is to wile away that time online while Marko entertains himself. But when I do that, that precious time is lost and I never seem to regain the momentum for the rest of the day. So now that time is housework time: one solid hour in which I don't use the computer or read. I am allowed to play with Marko, read to him, whatever he needs, but I can't waste the time on myself.

So far I've been using that time to do the dishes, clean the kitchen, and tidy the living room. It's also a great time to get laundry started. And Marko loves it. He likes following me from room to room and sometimes helping. Nothing thrills him like getting to sort the silverware or take one diaper at a time from the laundry basket and put it in the diaper basket. Sometimes he insists that housework time continue well past an hour. Sometimes, shockingly, I just keep going anyway. Momentum, you know. It's kind of addictive, getting things clean.

The advantages are really showing. I get a clean kitchen first thing in the morning, which makes me happy all day. I get some time to remember those little chores I tend to forget, like feeding the sourdough, filling up the dog's food container, gathering dirty clothes from around the house so I can start a load without forgetting anything, pulling out something to defrost for dinner, and so forth. Sometimes I use part of this time to bake.

(Side note: I have a baking addiction. I've been baking every day or two, and every single time the whole batch of whatever we've made is gone within 48 hours. This is a problem! I don't feel good eating that much baked goods, but they're ... well ... there. My midwife gave me a great tip: as soon as the rolls or biscuits or muffins are ready, take half of them and put them away in the freezer for after the baby's born. So now I have a half batch of carrot muffins and a half batch of English muffins in there, and I intend to keep adding to that stash ... saving me both a stuffed belly now, and a lot of trouble later.)

I've also fit "dressing Marko" into our routine, and he has been reliably wearing clothes every day this week. He went on an anti-clothes kick lately and would scream when we tried to dress him. I don't mind him running around naked, but it does mean I can't take any adorable pictures of what he's doing ... at least, not that I'm willing to post. At the same time he went on an anti-potty kick and would scream bloody murder if you suggested he use it. He'd be saying he needed to go, doing the potty dance, but the second the potty came in sight, EPIC MELTDOWN. And then he would pee all over my lap five minutes later. After one day in which he peed on me FOUR times (four pee puddles on the floor is not a big deal to me. Five complete outfit changes IS), I figured I would try putting him in pants again. Worse came to worst, he'd go through a lot of pants.

He did, but he loves wearing pants (it's the shirts that were freaking him out) and was willing to change them as often as necessary. For a few days, he came up to me all the time and announced, "No pee in your pants!" (meaning he just had) or "Your pants are wet, let me change them." (Yes, he talks as if he were me. Pronouns are hard, man.) And then ... he seemed to get it a lot better. He's been much more willing to sit on the potty when it's time (mostly still at my direction) and much better about not going in his pants. Which is nice because he only has about six pairs of pants and it's a shame to use them up in one morning. So we'll see.

The result on our routine is that after the banana and perhaps some playtime and some more breakfast comes "time to take off your monkey jams and put on clothes!" And he's been fairly cooperative. He still hates getting the pajamas off (which is weird because he also hates getting them on). But once they're off he's very excited about wearing actual clothes. I get dressed at this time too (no more whole days in pajamas for me!). It's all fitting together into a nice "get ready for the day" time. I know that after two years of being a parent, it's kind of late for me to figure this out. But it sure is handy.

The rest of the day is still pretty much routine-free. We don't even eat lunch at anything like a regular time -- sometimes we have one lunch at ten and another at two, and sometimes just one lunch at noon. And I could set a clock by Marko's 3:30 p.m. tantrum. Which is kind of why I think I could use some more routines. Planning a snack at that time doesn't help, but making it a quiet book-reading time seems to. So perhaps we should schedule a snack at three, then reading books for an hour or so. It might help.

I imagine that when Marko is older and I have more kids, having a set housework time every day will be really handy. First, everyone can participate, so that the big kids get in the habit of getting their chores done first thing in the morning and the little kids get to practice cleaning. Second, I'm sure I'll have more to do, so it will help me get a good running start to the day.

Right now I feel like a domestic GODDESS and the most ultra-efficient mother ever. Probably for doing something every other mother figured out four weeks postpartum with their first child. But hey. It's something, right?

Do you have any routines that save your life?
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