Monday, February 28, 2011

Rough couple of weeks

I know that my blog tends to be very sunshiney. Either I talk about how awesome my life is, or I talk about abstract things. And there's a reason for it -- my life is awesome, awesome enough that I don't feel like I can really complain about the less-nice parts because they're so far outweighed by the wonderful parts. Reason #2 is that when things are horrible, there's no way I'm going to have a chance to write a blog post about it.

But, just for the sake of 1) reminding you that I am not the Uber-Mother and 2) making you laugh and feel grateful you are not me, here's the story of what I've been doing lately.

Things were going great until Thursday -- not this past Thursday but the one before. I woke up with the baby, felt his forehead, and knew there was no way we were going to work. He was snotty, feverish, clingy, and whiny all day. Finally I managed to convince him to sit in his high chair -- my first chance to put him down since I'd gotten up. (I was still in my pajamas at 10 a.m. or so, and had had to do the unenviable task of going to the bathroom while holding a baby.) He started demanding food but snubbing everything I had available. What he wanted was the potato on the counter -- but it wasn't cooked. So I put it in a pot to cook it. I had a Pyrex filled with rolls on the front burner, so I put it on the back burner, too worn out and lazy to actually move the Pyrex.

You can see where this is going, can't you? I put the potato on the back burner -- but I turned on the front burner. The one with the Pyrex on it. I had turned on the burner and stepped away when it exploded. Literally. It sprayed hot glass shrapnel all over the kitchen. The baby instantly started screaming. The rolls fell onto the burner and started to smoke. I stepped quickly -- in my bare feet -- to the stove and turned the burner off, burning my foot on a bit of hot glass (but luckily not cutting it). Then I checked myself for glass quickly, grabbed the baby, and sailed out of the kitchen.

After a great deal of careful checking, quite a bit of screaming, and some playing with the light switch, I determined that Marko was not hurt. Later I found that the high chair was the only thing in the whole kitchen not dusted with shards of glass. Thank you, guardian angel! I think I was between him and the stove. I shudder to think of my boy getting hit by the hot glass. I was, though it didn't cut me, and it stung!

Trying to clean out the kitchen while taking care of a sick baby proved very difficult. A couple times he did calm down enough to be put down, only to want to follow me into the (very dangerous) kitchen as soon as I disappeared into it. I made a blockade, put on my clogs, and swept up what I could. Then I wiped everything with damp paper towels to get the last little bits. But I'm still picking shards out of the crevices in the stove and the counters.

Friday was worse. Baby just cried and cried. Miserable. Again, I didn't get dressed all day. No shower. No tooth brushing. Nothing but baby bouncing. I was desperate for a nap -- it wasn't like he was sleeping well at night -- but he would only sleep upright in my arms. He was terribly congested. At one point, when nothing I did would comfort him, I laid him down and took a video of him screaming and wailing. Now I have to delete the file, because even seeing it on my computer makes me feel like a horrible mom. How could I get so callous as to just let him scream while I taped him? And what kind of sadist would ever want to watch that? I guess I just wanted proof for anyone who said I had it easy of how horrible it had been.

The weekend was a bit better because John was there. While he was sick, the baby got even more attached to Daddy, to the point that I was little better than a nanny. Only Daddy would do. When John would leave the apartment, the second the door closed behind him he would begin to wail.

On President's Day, I had work while John didn't, so I left the baby with him and went to work. Marko wasn't feverish, but was still as congested and cranky as could be. Afterward, John had to go down to Christendom to use the library, and I begged to go along. First, because that way I wouldn't have to get through the whole day without Daddy's magic powers, and second, because at least I could get out of the house. I ended up pushing the baby all over campus in the stroller, and getting caught on the wrong end of it in a cold rain, so that I had to push him back while he got drizzled on. Bad Mommy Moment # ... gosh, I don't even know what we're on anymore. Especially as I haven't even mentioned everything!

The rest of the week was sort of better but sort of not. John and I both caught the baby's bug, though more mildly, and felt crummy all the time. The baby spent most of the time medium-cranky, with a few moments of relatively-okay and some moments of wailing. There were a couple nights where the baby would not sleep lying down and we had to take turns sitting up with him. There was a point where I dozed on the couch with him in the sling because that was the closest I could get to "real" sleep.

Finally, on Saturday, he was better. But I wasn't. I was running a light fever and felt horrible. Yes, a second bug has been running through! This one I got the worst and John and the baby had mildly. We had promised to help a friend move, so I took some ibuprofen and went. I know that wasn't all that smart, but I was just dying to get out of the house. And all of our friends were going to be there. We get together only every month or so, so I hate to miss a chance. By the time we got back, the chills were overtaking me again, and all I could do was wrap myself in blankets and feel sorry for myself. I ached all over from sheer frozenness, but John and the baby felt the temperature of cool water. I didn't take my temperature again, but I think it was pretty high.

John rose to the occasion and helped me get the baby to bed (where he slept quite well for awhile, thank God!) and then tucked me in with a hot water bottle and a drinking-water bottle and three comforters. By three a.m. I knew the fever had broken, and by six a.m. I felt great. But John and the baby were gone. He came back into the room and asked if I could please take the baby: "I've been up with him for the past two hours." What a saint! I got up and held the baby upright, whereupon he slept fitfully for two more hours. I don't know what was troubling him, but something definitely was. I could blame the remnants of the cold, stuff he'd eaten the previous day, or teething.

Because, yes, this morning I discovered he had cut a new tooth! All the tooth fussing was so mixed in with sick fussing, we didn't suspect a thing.

That wasn't the only new development. Last night, after his bath, he was feeling a lot more cheerful. John held him up to let him stand on his own (something he's done for awhile now). He stood there a second and then walked right over to me! About four steps! On his own!

So, that was a gratifying moment to help balance out the yuckiness of the past week and more. He's been rather demanding today, but nothing like he was. It's funny; despite how miserable it is when he's unwell, those times seem to bond us all the most. Now that he's feeling a little better, the smallest smile is just a ray of sunshine!

But I'm a little sad, too. My kid is walking. Toddling. If he doesn't count as a toddler yet, he will very soon. Babyhood is coming to a close. I like babyhood. I know babyhood. I don't know anything about toddlers. I'm afraid I'll make quite the hash of it. I like snuggling and nursing; I'm not much into playing really. And already the baby (toddler?!) is getting bored. This morning he emptied out the bathroom cabinet, one kitchen cabinet, and one bookshelf before getting grumpy and wanting to be played with. So I stacked his cups and let him knock them down, but he quickly got bored with that and I was stuck.

I just miss my easy-to-please, teeny-tiny, cuddly baaaaaaby!

Can you believe he was ever this small?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Training vs. teaching

When you get a pet, you can train that pet to do things you want him to do. But the animal generally already knows how to do them -- the training is to get them to do them when you want them to. For instance, my cat knows how to go to the bathroom when and where she wants. Her mother taught her that. She had to be trained to use the litterbox.

Children may be "trained" to do a few things. But for many things, they actually need to be taught. They don't already know how.

I mean, you can't train a child to read by leaving him alone with a book until he is able to tell you what the it said. And you can't train an adult to speak Spanish by smacking him every time he speaks English. Some things need to be taught.

Here's an example: sleep. I tend to hear people say, "It was time to teach my baby to sleep, so I let her cry for an hour until she fell asleep." That's not teaching -- that's training. Eventually, under enough stress, the baby may learn how to do what you're asking -- but he wouldn't be crying like that if he really knew how to do it already. A baby who can't fall asleep on his own usually doesn't know how to relax and compose himself for sleep. You can let him wear himself out till he is so overtired he'll fall asleep no matter what. But you haven't taught him to sleep.

I am teaching my son to sleep on his own by introducing it to him gradually. He knows how to fall asleep while nursing, because that's easy. I'm trying to move slowly from falling asleep while nursing in the rocking chair to falling asleep while nursing in his bed, to falling asleep right after finishing nursing, till he begins to associate sleep with his bed rather than nursing. It's a long, slow, patience-requiring process, and when he gets sick or cuts a tooth, things move backwards. I'm okay with that. He is slowly learning to sleep on his own, and I trust that in time he'll get it. It just seems more gentle to me than throwing him in at the deep end and making him work it out himself.

I recently had a conversation about children and their emotions. Most children don't know how to manage their emotions. They throw fits about the tiniest things; they cry when they're tired; they hit when they're wound up. But you can't blame them for this -- they don't know how to do it differently. That doesn't mean you should just let them do it, because they do need to learn. But punishing them for emotional outbursts seems unfair, too. They have to learn how to work with their emotions, something that can take years and years to figure out. I think most of us are still working on this ourselves!

Spanking a child when he throws a temper tantrum or yelling at him when he cries just strikes me as unfair. He doesn't know how not to do these things. He's got really big feelings that just overwhelm him. I remember very well how that felt. (It wasn't really very long ago at all!) You just feel out of control, and you can't seem to act the way you're supposed to. And if an adult comes along and punishes you for it, it feels like double jeopardy. The feelings are hurting you and now the grownups are hurting you, too.

On the other hand, we do our kids a disservice if we never teach them how not to scream, shout, flail, and hit when they're upset. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert at this; I'm still figuring out what I think the ideal approach is. I have a few ideas, though.

1. Modeling. There is no better way to teach anything than by modeling. Does the child ever see you upset? How does he see you react? Do you shout, throw things, stomp? Or do you shut down and refuse to talk about it? How would you like him to react when he's angry? Model that instead.

For example, the toddler accidentally dumps a container of flour on the floor, making a huge mess. You lose your cool, shouting, "How could you do that?!" But then you remember you're trying to teach him something, so you say, in a slightly quieter voice, "I'm so mad because now I will have to clean up the mess!" And then, maybe a bit quieter, "I know it's not your fault, though, and I'm not mad at you." And then, in a normal voice, "What will make me feel better is to clean up this mess." This is just an example (it's what my mom usually did, naturally, and it was a good model for me), but it's a good one, if this is how you would like your child to react when he is angry. Your model should include actually having and showing those negative emotions, though, because it's unreasonable to expect a child never to show negative feelings.

2. Avoid triggers. Every kid has them -- things that mess with his emotions and make him a basket case. Lack of sleep, too much sweets, too much excitement, too little attention -- if you know what gets a child upset, try to avoid those things. And then, when you can't avoid it and he melts down, try to understand. Sometimes I get so annoyed at how whiny and clingy the baby's been lately. But then I realize he's still feeling a little sick, and it makes me feel more patient.

3. Calm him down. If you know what calms your child down, do it. This might take some trial and error. Some kids want to be held during a tantrum (even I do, and I'm 24) and some don't. Some just need to be left alone for a little bit (you may need to remove him from the scene, or leave him where he is but call the other kids into another room). Yes, if ignoring the tantrum helps the child calm down faster, do that! But don't shun them if they turn to you for help.

Sometimes a change of scene or topic can help. Yes, it's distraction, but that's not a bad thing. I distract myself from bad moods all the time. So long as it's not bribery -- offering candy in the middle of a meltdown, for instance. That one's probably not going to teach what you want the child to learn!

As a child gets older, you can talk through the feelings: "Why are you so mad? Gee, that is frustrating! What could you do to solve that problem? Do you want to sit with a book for awhile until you feel better?"

4. Set limits. What I've said so far makes it sound like anything goes. It doesn't. There are things you don't have to put up with. That's the way to teach that it's okay to have the bad feelings, but it's not okay to take them out on others. So, you could decide that it's okay for your four-year-old to fling herself on her bed, kick her feet, and wail, but it's not okay for her to push her little brother on the way there. And it's okay to discipline for these things, but you should be clear about what action you're punishing: "I know you feel bad, but since you are hitting Joey, you will have to be in your room for now." And for an older child, reminding them that others are hurt by their words and actions is very important. A sensitive, emotional child may be motivated very well by the desire not to hurt others.

All of this depends on age. At 10 months, Marko sometimes flails around wildly when he's upset. He might smack someone in the face by accident or pull their hair. But it's not deliberate; he's just out of control. So sometimes I put him down so that I don't get hurt, but I don't punish him. When he's older, I'll expect more. I think it's okay for a three-year-old to wail loudly when he's upset, but not a ten-year-old. It all depends on the child -- you can train him to do what you know he's capable of, but if he isn't capable of doing something, you have to take the patient way and teach him.

I know this probably sounds very presumptuous of me, talking about all this when I only have a baby. It's drawn from my experience as a nanny, but mostly from my memories as a very emotional child. I know I am no expert. These are just a few ideas knocking around in my head of what I would like to do. I'm sure sometimes I will just drag a screaming child out of the store without following any of my own steps. But this is an ideal.

Anyone who's been through it have anything to add?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Weekly grocery shop

The baby's been sick all week, hence the lack of posting. He's needed to be held upright for all his naps and half the night, too. The level of sleep deprivation around here would probably qualify as torture. But things are much better now.

I doubt I'll make a habit of this, but I thought it would be nice to post the receipt from my trip to Aldi today. I now go every week, because going every other week was leaving us with wilty produce half the time. I have to remember, though, to buy less on each trip.

You'll notice we're no longer grain-free. John experienced a return of symptoms even when grain-free, and after that bout we reintroduced grains without trouble. So, the problem is still a mystery. Diet does seem to be a factor, but I don't think it's the only one. I've considered vitamin deficiency, metal poisoning (he has a pin in his foot), fructose malabsorption, and many other things.

Flour 1.69
I'm getting really into baking lately. Plus it's cheaper than buying bread. Unfortunately Aldi didn't have any yeast this time like they did last time, so I'll have to get it at Shoppers. That and whole wheat flour.
Ramen noodles 1.79
John's guilty pleasure. He loves these.
Canned beets .59
Canned apricots .99
These two are my "guilty" pleasures. Luckily they're decently good for me.
Salt .35
Butter (1 lb.) 2.39
Swiss cheese (sale!) 1.69 each for 2 half pounds
Bologna .99
Fresh carrots 1.69
Bananas 1.13 (39 cents a pound)
Lettuce (1 head) 1.49
Tomatoes (6 Romas) 1.29
Fresh mushrooms .69 (a steal! usually they're over a dollar)
Green peppers (2) 1.69
Chocolate baking chunks .99
Another guilty pleasure. I want to bake cookies, and John doesn't like my other favorites (molasses cookies, peanut butter cookies, and snickerdoodles).
Sardines in mustard .79 each for 3
John likes these. I prefer to be out of the house when he is eating them.
Pork chops 5.39 (2.85 lbs at 1.89/lb)
I don't really like pork, but it was awfully cheap.
Flour tortillas .99
I have tried making them, but they just won't fold around a burrito.
Paper plates 1.19
For a friend's party.
Eggs (1 doz) 1.25
Penne pasta .89
White bread .79
I prefer wheat, but John likes white, and it's probably easier on his gut anyway.
Taxes .88
Total 34.89

I didn't buy many vegetables because we have a lot of canned and frozen vegetables already. I just restocked the fresh ones. Tomatoes, lettuce, and green peppers are for John's beloved baloney sandwiches. He's missed them. Other things I didn't buy because we have plenty of them include milk, potatoes, and meat, except for the pork chops. And I no longer buy yogurt, because I make it myself regularly now. I've finally found a good way to incubate it -- in my multi-cooker pot, on the "warm" setting. I put the jars in and fill the pot up with water, and it keeps the milk at a constant temperature.

I usually buy ground beef and whole chickens at Aldi (chicken is only .85/lb), but other meat is not particularly cheap there. I found a corner of the meat department at Shoppers, our "other" store, that sells cheaper cuts of meat, so I've been relying on that more. Shoppers caters to immigrants, so I am able to find cheaper (and often more healthful) cuts of meat like neck bones, liver, pigs' feet (okay, haven't tried those yet) and so forth. I also find beans much cheaper there -- I can get a 4-lb bag for less than $4, and Aldi never sells them for under a dollar a pound. That's good, because we rely on beans a lot.

Overall, it was a success -- topped us off from last week, and spent only half of what I do at a biweekly trip ($70 is my usual goal). Eating grains again has been a big help. We eat a lot, and it's helpful to have such a cheap source of calories. Ideally I'd like to keep our grain intake low permanently, but for now we're eating some grains at about half our meals. Once we've moved (knock on wood) I hope to buy some meat in bulk because the house has an additional freezer. I may be able to get a half or whole sheep, which would be a nice change. And once our garden is producing, that can be a money saver as well.

Friday, February 18, 2011

My dream garden

When I was a kid, my grandparents' house was my favorite place in the world. No. That's not quite true. My grandparents' yard was my favorite place in the world. My grandma is a Master Gardener and has the most gorgeous landscaping I've ever seen. My grandpa's specialty was the vegetable garden. All around the yard were blueberry bushes, strawberry plants, grapevines, and fruit trees. We kids would wander around the yard and just graze. Fresh, delicious food, as much as we wanted, whenever we wanted it. Beats candy hands down, every time.

I wanted to grow things myself, but never was able to do it. Seriously, I tried to grow dandelions once and failed. Of course I had no idea what I was doing. My mom doesn't garden, and our yard was not a good place for gardening. But I did enjoy helping my grandma do soil testing or helping my grandpa pick cherries.

Growing my own food is the part that really appeals to me. I don't care particularly for flowers. Those I do like are generally wildflowers; I don't think I could make a landscape I liked as well as a natural one. But food, now -- I have always wanted to put seeds in the ground and have something come up that I can eat. I guess it's a natural extension of my desire to cook from scratch. What's more "from scratch" than digging around in the dirt?

As we go forward toward buying a house (things continue to look promising!), I'm getting closer to my dream. The house has a mid-size yard, mostly shady, but with some sunny areas on the south and east sides where I could garden. Enough for me to grow a few of my key favorites.

The soil around here is heavy and full of clay. I'm going to have to do a lot of cultivation to make it fertile. My plan is to build raised beds and fertilize them with compost. I've been studying a TON about it (from Composting 101 on a gardening-advice blog to the nitrogen cycle on Wikipedia) but I still have no practical expertise aside from growing basil on my porch. Here is my chance to get my feet wet.

Here's what I want to grow. For the first summer (I won't have time to get a spring crop in), I want to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, and green peppers. In the fall, I'll add garlic and perhaps lettuce and spinach (I hear you can grow these in the fall?). And next spring, I'll do all those things and also some herbs. I'd like to do root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and beets, but I hear they don't grow well in heavy soil. Perhaps once I've enriched the soil for a few years, I might be able to add those.

I'm really, really excited, but still not very knowledgeable. Do any of you have any good advice for me, or any links that might be helpful?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I'm not an environmentalist, but ...

I've discovered that I say this phrase a lot:

"I'm not an environmentalist, but I prefer walking to burning gas in a car."

"I'm not an environmentalist, but I think that if you cut down a tree, you'd better be using the wood."

"I'm not an environmentalist, but factory farming upsets me and I would like to see more pasture-based farming."

"I'm not an environmentalist, but I believe in wasting as little as possible."

I don't even say "I'm not a tree-hugger" because ... well ... it's kind of comforting to hug trees. Surely I'm not the only person who has done this? Trees are just so ... huggable. Please don't laugh.

Maybe it's time for me to stop prefacing my statements for fear of sounding like some extreme Greenpeace type, and just say, "I believe in being a good steward of the environment." Because, well, I do. I don't think we're just trespassers on this earth, but I also don't think we are owners. We're stewards -- renters. We should care for it the way we would care for someone's home if we were housesitting -- not like frat boys trashing a beach house on spring break. It's simply good manners to take care of the earth, so that people who come after us can enjoy it too.

Anyway, this was brought to mind recently by our house search. You know how I'd mentioned we'd found a nice house? We did, and we're still waiting to hear back from the seller's bank whether our bid was approved. I know some people who live near there, and asked if there was anything we should know about. They sent me this.

It's a long report, so I'll summarize. In the 1930's, a synthetic textiles plant was built in our area. It produced rayon, nylon, and other similar materials. During World War II, it produced needed textiles for the war effort. In the 80's, it produced materials for the space program.

Synthetic textiles manufacture uses a lot of toxic chemicals. At first, there were no specific regulations as to what could be done with the plant's various wastes. Later, the plant was a big violator of environmental regulations. It dumped contaminated water into the Shenandoah, buried toxic slurry in unlined pits, and billowed toxic gases. There were even deaths of employees due to insufficient safety measures (i.e. no gas masks provided in parts of the plant with carbon disulfide, a very toxic chemical).

The company was threatened with heavy fines for its pollution, and eventually went out of business, saying it could not find a way to comply with all the regulations. But it was bailed out by several federal agencies, including NASA and the Air Force, because they needed its products. This was right at the end of the 80's -- not long ago. Once they had produced a stockpile for the government suppliers, they again went out of business -- leaving a vast amount of cleanup to be done and no one to do it:

"Meanwhile, 60 acres and several stories of decaying plant, were steeped with acids, mercury, lead, PCB’s, asbestos, contaminated with carbon disulfide, a yellowish explosive material that causes nerve damage; hills of coal ash, moonscape-like land created by waste sulfides; and 200 acres of chemically loaded lagoons and sludge pools right on the bank of the river remained unattended." (from link above)

No one could fish in the Shendandoah because of contamination with PCB's (polychlorinated biphenyls) which are highly toxic. Chemicals had leeched from the plant's disposal pits into the water table, causing the local inhabitants wells to produce water that “smelled like sulfur and looked like weak tea." The river was contaminated; land across the river became contaminated as well, as the owner alleged when he sued for damages -- as property intended to be developed as residential became worthless. An area where previously people had moved to get jobs at the factory became a place no one wanted to live.

In the twenty years since this time, significant cleanup has been done, paid for by a variety of corporations and government entities that had connections to the original company. The money it's costing to clean up the area is vast. The temptation is to cut costs, and I can only hope they are not cutting corners as well. As recently as last year, I read that a town hall meeting was held in our would-be neighborhood asking the residents to approve a plan to simply seal off leaking waste basins rather than removing all the contents, for a saving of tens of millions of dollars. Supposedly this is just as safe, but I confess myself unconvinced.

I asked a friend of mine who lives there whether she thinks it is a bad idea to move there. She asked for the specific neighborhood and then said, "Oh, no, all the huge cancer rates are south of town." Yes, inhabitants of the region get cancer at significantly higher rates than other places. Hardly a surprise -- there's such a chemical soup in the area, it's hard to say what might be causing it. My friend's only other remark was, "I'd drink bottled water, though -- the water's treated but it still tastes nasty from all the chemicals they treat it with." Nice.

This whole revelation was very shocking to me. I come from the Northwest, where you can't toss an apple core out your car window without people getting on your case. And you had better be sorting your recycling! We just don't deal with this kind of pollution. Big cities complain if it happens near them, too -- one of the big complaints about this plant was that it's "100 miles upstream from the water supply intakes for the nation's Capitol." However, just because an area is less densely populated doesn't mean that it doesn't matter if you pollute it. Northern Virginia is a lovely place, filled with history, charming people, vineyards, and an active tourist industry. People settle there to stay -- they don't want to leave where they live, even when it becomes polluted. The area is not wealthy, but that, of course, should have no bearing on anything. They deserve to live healthy lives like everyone else.

It reminds me of West Virginia and other coal-mining areas. In order to produce coal for the nation, a few lower-class people risk coal dust inhalation, cave-ins, and other dangers. They do it because it's a way to get a job in an economically depressed area, but the risks are high. The rest of us are willing to pay for them to do it because it allows us to live a certain lifestyle. But most people don't know (or want to know) the details of what areas are being destroyed or contaminated, or whose health is being put at risk, for various products they consume.

The part that makes me angriest is that the federal government stepped in to bail this company out, even though they knew it was not in compliance with regulations, because they needed what it produced. Without the rayon the factory was making, they wouldn't be able to mold the noses of the space shuttles -- or of certain missiles. It was called a "matter of national security." Keep in mind, this was right at the end of the Cold War, in 1988. It bothers me that people in our government thought that contamination of an entire region, through the dumping of mercury, lead, arsenic, PCB's, and more, was an acceptable cost. The people of the Shenandoah Valley were not asked or informed.

Maybe the people behind the decision, like the people running the factory, didn't think. They thought of what they were doing as comparable to throwing an apple core out the window. It's ugly for awhile, but it eventually breaks down and no harm is done. The outdoors is a big place, the mercury should spread out, right? People aren't really thinking that "the outdoors" happens to be where other people are living. Or that gathering up molecules of mercury and lead once you've scattered them about is harder than putting the feathers back in a pillow. Yet even a very low level of these chemicals is very toxic.

In any event, the whole thing gets my goat. I thought I was living in modern America, where we're careful about what we put into the environment, and that I could plant a garden and eat the crops without worrying about mercury and lead. I try not to be a germophobe, and I like walking barefoot and eating snow, but I am afraid of chemical poisons, so I will forgo those pleasures if I have to. I just don't want to have to.

I had no idea the production of synthetic fabrics was so toxic. It makes me want to wear only cotton. But I know cotton uses a lot of pesticides which are probably in someone else's back yard. Why can't people be more careful? Why do we spend a ton of money and effort deriving chemicals out of nature, and then go and dump them back into nature, where they won't break down?

I don't believe in heavy government regulation, but I do believe the government has the right to protect all of us from pollution. I don't believe animals have immortal souls or that trees have rights, but I want to preserve animals and trees for all of us to enjoy. I want things to be taken from the environment only as needed, and replaced as possible. I want there to be wild lands where we can all go.

Is that really so much to ask?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Baby shoes

The other day was a record day: I had people ask me why the baby had no socks on three times. Once was a complete stranger in the store.

This happens to me a lot. One lady at school mentions Marko's lack of socks almost every day. We are always indoors at the time. But she's convinced his feet are cold.

It's not like I never put him in socks. Sometimes I do. They stay on for about ten seconds and then get pulled off. I could put shoes over the top, but a ten-month-old in shoes? When we go outside on very cold days, I wrap him thoroughly in a blanket. It's easier than putting him in socks, mittens, a coat, a hat, and have him try to pull all of these things off on the way out to the car. Then I can just tuck the blanket around him in his carseat and away we go, instead of having to unzip his coat to buckle him in.

It's just what I choose to do, what works for me. I have never gone around telling people not to put socks on their kids. But everyone seems to think I need to be told he has no socks.

There are a couple things that go into this. First, some think I'm an absent-minded mother. I just didn't remember to put socks on my kid and have absolutely no awareness of how cold his toes might be. So people address the baby, "Where are your socks? Did mama forget to put them on?"

Then I might answer, "Oh, he won't keep them on." And then I look like a mother who gives in to every whim of her child, even if it's bad for him. I don't think I do -- after all, I keep him in his diaper and in his carseat even though he's taken to fighting me on both of those. So these people will say, "Well, you're the mom!" To which I sometimes want to answer, "Exactly, so how is it your business?"

I know I am hardly the first mom ever to get unwanted advice from strangers. The second people know you're pregnant, they have all kinds of advice for you. It's even more so if you're young. And usually I just listen to it all, because I know I've got lots to learn and I like to get different perspectives. But the sock thing is just getting old.

The fact is, I have several good reasons for not putting socks on my baby. The first one is that his feet aren't cold. If it's not cold enough for him to need mittens, it's not cold enough for him to need socks, not when he spends most of his time in my arms anyway. I sometimes tell people to just feel his feet. They feel cool, but not cold. If they were really cold, they would be pale, blotchy, purple, or blue -- not healthy pink. Marko is happy as a clam and showing no signs of feeling cold. I know how he reacts when he's cold -- clinging to me, snuggling into my coat, turning away from the cold air -- and he's just not cold. People -- particularly older people -- often have an exaggerated notion of keeping babies warm that involves keeping them out of every draft and swaddling them in tons of layers. But once a baby's out of the newborn stage, he can maintain his temperature pretty well. And, for what it's worth, a lot of studies have shown that exposure to cold air does not increase your chances of getting sick.

The second is that he likes his feet to be free for a reason. He's trying to learn to walk. When his feet touch the ground, he likes to grip it with his toes, not slide around in socks. Baby shoes are a crutch; they don't teach him how to spread out his feet flat for a good stance. Inside the shoes his toes might still be all curled up -- not a recipe for good balance.

The third is that shoes just aren't such a good idea for babies and young children in the first place. When the feet are still developing, it's good for them to have room to grow in all directions. Deformities like flat feet, bunions, hammertoes, and others we consider "unavoidable" do not occur in shoeless populations. Podiatrists agree that children should wear shoes as little as possible. I don't intend to prevent Marko from wearing shoes in church, in the snow, or any time he would rather wear them, but I'm not forcing him into footwear that he doesn't want just for appearance's sake.

I'm not completely sure why people insist on socks for babies and shoes for children. John says it's a class thing; it looks like you can't afford shoes. The stereotype of the backwoods Southerner is barefoot. So people insist that their children (and the children of those they care about) wear shoes to appear above this class.

Some people claim it's unsanitary to go barefoot, but I disagree. Of course you shouldn't walk barefoot on a farm with rusty nails (tetanus) or through human excrement (hookworm). But who would want to, anyway? Can anyone prove to me that there is any risk in letting my baby's bare feet touch the relatively clean floor of the school hallway? I've talked about germs before; I really don't think the standard, everyday microbes on the floor are likely to be harmful.

I love my baby's feet; I think they're cute. I don't see any reason to smother them in socks 24 hours a day. I put them on him when he's cold; otherwise, neither of us cares for them, so they stay off. Nothing wrong with that.

Now as for the people who say that my baby is too small ... sigh. If it's not one thing, it's another.

Some links on going barefoot:

Barefoot running from Mark's Daily Apple
From the same blog, how to strengthen your flat feet -- with pictures of healthy feet and shoe-cramped feet
Parents for Barefoot Children -- loads of information on why to let kids go barefoot
Society for Barefoot Living -- more reasons to go barefoot, and places you can go barefoot (almost anywhere -- even driving!)

Monday, February 7, 2011

10 months

So, the baby turns ten months today. Can you believe it? His first birthday is only two months away! He's practically a toddler!


He's been very curious lately.

His favorite things include looking at himself in the mirror, turning light switches off, opening cabinets (and rooting around inside), cruising around everywhere by holding onto the couch or the wall, really crawling (I mean on hands and knees instead of elbows and stomach) at last, and easily pulling up on things and lowering himself back down again.

Right now he is emptying a box of memorabilia and stationery onto the floor, paper by paper. I could stop him, but I think it's easier to use the time for blogging and clean it up later. After all, if I move the box, he'll just find something else.

I recently got some new diaper covers for him. They're called Proraps and I like them a lot. At about $7 each, they're quite economical, especially compared to more famous brands like the Bummis Whisper Wrap (which they're almost identical to). I bought four of the large size, to see if I liked them, and it turns out that's pretty much all I need. With a polyurethane lining, they don't absorb smells like our vinyl pants do, so I just wash every couple of days when I do a cold load -- or whenever they get anything on the elastic edge. They have a Velcro closing, which I find extremely convenient. And they hold the prefolds in place without pins -- definitely a plus! With how wiggly this guy has gotten, I was getting afraid I'd stab him with a pin sooner or later. These covers have definitely cut my diaper changing time down, and they also leak less than the vinyl pants. In fact, the only leaks I had were out of the leg holes at the beginning, probably because he was only about 20 pounds and the large size are supposed to start at 24 pounds. I just wasn't going to get medium sized covers and use them for one month.

He really lost interest in solid foods for awhile there. I'd put him in his high chair and he'd just shove the food around and shriek, eating a tiny bit here and there, but then wanting out. Just the other day, I made beef stew and it all became clear to me. He'd been holding out for beef. I'd been having a lot of soup and other not-very-meaty dishes, and he wants beef. Pork is also a big hit -- he ate at least a grown-up serving of it today.

I've reintroduced dairy products again in small amounts, this time without problems. I even found some goat's milk yogurt at the store, and it's been a real hit. He'll eat as much cheese as I give him, but I kind of hesitate to give him too much, especially considering he's not a huge vegetable fan.

Sleep is my big obsession right now. I've realized that a lot of his occasional clinginess and grumpiness (okay, more than occasional, if I'm honest) is due to a lack of napping. He's a highly scheduled kid and only naps at certain times. My challenge is to watch for these times and get him to nap then -- while avoiding letting him nap too late (it interferes with bedtime). My obstacle is that we're in the car from six to six-thirty every day picking up John from the train, and an evening car ride is the perfect recipe for an evening nap -- which is something he is not supposed to get!

Ideally, his sleep schedule would go as follows: up at 6:30 (to go to the train station, this one's non-negotiable), nap at 10 (he always falls asleep on the way home from school), up at noon or one (I think one tends to result in less grump), nap from three and a half hours after his last nap ends (so 3:30 or 4:30) until five. Then he HAS to be up for four hours before he will sleep at night, so bed at nine. I used to try put him to bed at eight, but I've been finding lately that he sleeps way worse if he goes to bed at eight. As in, he falls asleep only for 45-minute increments or so, he can't sleep alone, but he can't be still either, he rolls over constantly and wakes himself up, then cries because he's awake, he climbs up on the bars of his crib, rolls into my bed, pulls my hair, and decides to be up for the day at 5:30. No thanks. Nine p.m. bedtime works much better -- he tends to be up about twice, around one and four a.m. And, insanely, I think I'm getting a good night's sleep.

It helps that I nap with him at least once per day, because he sleeps so much better that way. Once we have his schedule really fixed, he sometimes sleeps well without me, but unfortunately we never get to that point because every weekend messes things up. We go to church during his naptime, or he sleeps late, or what-have-you, and the whole schedule is messed up for days. Which means either he won't go down when he needs to, or (most often) he goes down but won't stay down. He sleeps for half an hour, gets wide awake, and then five minutes later realizes he's still tired but can't go back to sleep, so he whines for three hours while waiting for the next sleep cycle. Seriously not fun.

Lately that's been made worse by teething, but he's almost finished with this bout. One of his top two teeth is out, and the other is peeking. I miss his adorable two-toothed smile (and I still miss his adorable gummy smile), but this one's cute too. I can't really get a good picture of the new teeth, though, so you'll have to wait till they're a bit further out.

In other news, we've been continuing our search for a house. Further from the city, the prices are much better, and we've found many promising listings. Problem is, they all get snapped up before we can even go look! Though the housing market is slow in general (or so they say), houses in our price range actually are moving pretty quickly. Yesterday we saw a lovely little white house with green shutters that I'm in love with, and actually were able to put in an offer before it got listed, so hopefully that will work out. It seems almost too good to be true -- on a quiet street with a lot of families with children, within walking distance of the church, and a block away from some people we know! It is tiny, so it won't work forever (unless we added an addition) (that is, assuming we have more kids, which I fervently hope we do), but it has two decent-sized bedrooms, which is all we need for now.

Another two friends of ours have gotten married, bringing us more into a "set" of married friends and less the sole married couple among a bunch of single friends. We still do have single friends, though, and I'm glad for the variety. But it'll be exciting when (hopefully) our friends have kids too and we can have parties that include them.

And ... that's all I can think of for now, but I have more posts in the hopper that I've been planning out and mulling over. Sadly, the more mobile this baby gets, the less computer time I get. I've always got to be keeping him out of things, or else he wants to be on my lap and pushing all the computer keys. If it isn't one thing, it's another. But hopefully I'll get more good blogging time soon.
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