Thursday, March 31, 2011

Unplanned parenthood

It seems everywhere I go, I hear the same sort of thing: "We are going to wait three years, then have four kids spaced about two years apart." "We're trying to decide whether to have another child." "Two is enough for me; I'm done."

I hear this in mainstream circles, all-natural circles, attachment parenting circles, and Catholic circles. It's everywhere, this assumption that the parents choose how many kids they have and when. I admit I feel like a bit of a freak!

We ourselves don't "choose" when our children will be born. We let them come when it's time. I could write a long post explaining to non-Catholics why we don't believe in artificial birth control, and another one explaining to Catholics the problems we see with using natural family planning in everyday circumstances. Perhaps I will at some point. For now, I just want to talk about what it's like for us.

I didn't feel ready when we found out Marko was on the way, though I was still happy about the news. By the time he was born, I was ready. But if I'd been waiting to be ready, I'm not sure when I would have chosen to have our first child. Presumably once we'd been able to afford him -- which, in some sense, we still can't! We don't have a lot of extra income. And yet, that job that John started two weeks after the baby was born has been enough to make ends meet. Shortly before he was born, we had no idea how we were going to make it work.

Of course we planned what we could. We saved every penny we could spare out of my paycheck, and we bought good health insurance. And we prayed for a better situation, one that could actually pay the bills once I went on maternity leave and then was out of work for at least the summer.

With the baby's due date upon us, it all came together. A good job, in a place we much preferred. When the baby was five days old, John found us an apartment down there, and we moved for good when he was four weeks old. We're living in comparative comfort, with a paycheck that allows us, if we are frugal, to sock away a little bit each month for a rainy day. There was no way we could have known, the month Marko came into being, that this would work out. But it did.

People might miss the point and say, "Well, it could have happened differently." Of course it could. But I don't think that God would send us a child and not give us any way to raise that child. Though we try our best to be responsible and plan for things, we know that "unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it." If God exists, if he cares about us, our plans will bear fruit; if not, it's no good trying. True, God might lead us places we don't want to go. He might make things harder for us than we would choose. But it does work out. If we couldn't trust him that far, I daresay we'd be in a panic most of the time, terrified of getting hit by buses or losing jobs or getting sick. These things can happen -- but nothing will happen that is outside the will of God.

The same holds true for our emotional situation. Sure, we never had that "time alone before kids" that some people recommend. We were married with no children for about four weeks. And that nine months of pregnancy that I thought would be great couple time, wasn't so much: first I was sick for three months, and then we worked opposite schedules. But all that turned out to be such a trial by fire for us, in a good way. Now that we're past all that, we're incredibly close. Three months of watching John come home from work, clean up, make dinner, and lovingly care for me while I was sick has proven to me that he loves me without measure. And surviving Marko's babyhood has been a bonding experience for us -- and it's beautiful to watch him becoming such a wonderful father. I was pretty scared we weren't ready before he was born, but again, we were ready by the time he got here. Or at least, like every parent, we rose to the occasion even though we could never really be ready! And we don't yearn for those halcyon days of being a childless couple -- from the first, we've learned to make time for each other around many other commitments. We've actually had an easier time spending time for each other now that the baby's here!

Now I'm learning to accept God's will in another way. I would love to get pregnant now. I've had babylust in increasing quantities since the baby was three months old, and still no baby. People ask why not, and the only answer I can give is, "God must not want it." Perhaps I'm not as ready as I feel. Maybe God knows Marko needs me all to himself for a little longer. And I can accept that. In fact, it would seem ungrateful not to. Could I honestly look into my son's eyes and tell him, "You are not enough"? Some people are never blessed with a child; I have been blessed with one, and I'm not going to gripe at God for not giving me more. Even if I never have another, I can still be grateful.

Because the alternative to letting God plan my family would be doing it all myself. I would have to puzzle over questions like, "Are we ready now? Do we have everything emotionally and materially in place for a child? Is two years enough between children? Is three years enough? Will my kids be close friends if they are close together? Will my oldest have too much responsibility if they're too far apart? Is it fair to my child not to give him a younger sibling -- or to give him too many?" There are studies upon studies as to what the "perfect" environment for kids is, and it's always changing. And we could get pregnant under ideal circumstances, and then watch those circumstances change. Jobs end, people get sick, disabilities are discovered. We would feel it was our fault, because we had chosen to get pregnant. I simply don't feel I can do a better job than God. I'm not even sure I could do a better job than blind chance -- because what do I know about it?

This isn't to say I would never do anything to affect when those kids come. If there were a truly serious reason, we would use natural family planning, which the Catholic Church does allow. If it were life-threatening, neither NFP nor artificial birth control would seem secure enough, and we would probably practice total abstinence. We'll cross that bridge till we come to it. Till then, we're happy to let God send us His gifts, while we spend our effort planning how to care for them and learning to thank Him for them.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A couple safety reminders

Okay, now that the baby is walking a lot...

... it's time to review some safety rules for "into everything" babies!

*Check everything that comes in a bottle in your house. Is it toxic? Then it should be BOTH in a childsafe container AND out of reach in a locked or high-up cabinet. Marko likes to rummage through the bathroom cabinet, and I thought there wasn't anything toxic in there. Today he discovered the bottle of camphor for the humidifier and was toddling around with it. It's in a childsafe container, but when he shook it, it leaked! Camphor is very toxic and causes seizures, so you better believe I grabbed it away from him and washed his hands right away. Camphor is also the active ingredient in Vicks' VapoRub, which generally does not come in a childsafe container. Keep it out of reach.

As for things not specifically marked "keep out of reach of children" or "toxic," you may still want to keep them out of reach. Just today, Marko figured out how to open the snap tops of lotion bottles. I was fine with him playing with them up to now, but lotion isn't exactly edible and I don't want it smeared into the carpet either, and so I'm going to have to gather up all those bottles and put them away too.

*Go around the house and try to wobble all of your heavy furniture: bookshelves, dressers, small tables, etc. Can you make it wobble? Imagine your baby's whole weight on one side of it ... could it make that dresser tip? Then bracket it to the wall. A particular danger is anything with drawers. If the drawers are left open, the center of gravity shifts forward and it may be much more unstable -- and a temptation to climb. When I heard the story of a toddler who died from a dresser tipping on him, I immediately checked everything. And even so, Marko managed to pull over our two-foot-tall printer table onto himself by yanking out the drawers and tugging! Luckily he was unhurt, but it gave us a scare. Wall brackets are the safe way to go.

*Brush up your first aid. Choking is not terribly uncommon, but a quick reaction can make all the difference. It will give you a boost of confidence to know that you have the Heimlich down and won't forget it all in a tense moment.

*Give only the recommended doses of medications. I read in supposedly reliable sources that it's okay to give a double dose of Tylenol. It isn't. Tylenol (acetominophen) is pretty safe in the doses marked, but it's one medication that is very harmful to the liver in higher doses. Give the amount suggested in the time suggested -- never any more. If it's ineffective, try baby ibuprofen instead, if you must, but don't ever give more than the recommended dose of Tylenol. The same goes for adults -- if the container says "two tablets every six hours," that's how much you should take. Tylenol overdose accounts for many deaths and hospitalizations every year.

None of this is to scare you, because you all should know by now that I'm not an overprotective mother and I try not to live in fear. A little dirt won't hurt your child, and a pinched finger or bumped head now and again is part of being a kid, but the above tips are important things that everyone should do. Yes, even if you're watching your child constantly -- toddlers are FAST!

Any tips to add?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Food sensitivities

A few weeks ago, Marko had a couple of colds. He was coughing a lot and had a runny nose. The colds are long gone, but the cough remains. I've started to get worried.

Then I remembered I had reintroduced tomatoes, the last thing to add back into my diet, weeks ago. At the time I didn't notice any new symptoms -- but I hadn't thought to look for coughing, and he got that cold very soon after that, as I remember. So I cut tomatoes back out for a couple days to see if it helped.

Two nights later, he slept through the night. Seven hours. I don't think he's done that since he was three months old!

But I forgot about it the next day at dinnertime, and made chili with diced tomatoes in it. I was up at midnight and two o'clock with a coughing baby, and from four to five with a crying baby. He wasn't feeling well, and I blame the tomatoes. I'm going to be more careful to avoid them now, and see if I can get this cough gone.

After a lot of experience with this boy and his ways, it's become a habit, every time he seems extra fussy, won't sleep when expected to, or has some odd symptom, to look at food first. What new foods have I been eating? What foods have I not been eating? What foods have I introduced to him lately? When everything he eats agrees with him, he is almost always happy. He naps regularly, plays independently, explores the world, and doesn't get upset easily. But when he's not feeling well -- either sick, teething, or sensitive to a food -- he is clingy, weepy, and doesn't sleep well. I've stopped writing off his bad days as "just out of sorts today" and starting to find causes. Even going through my notes from when he was a newborn, I can see that he was incredibly fussy and stuffy-nosed at two weeks old, and that was the same time I was eating that tomato casserole every night! Bingo.

Food sensitivities are widespread

Food sensitivities are, in my opinion, underdiagnosed. We all know people who are violently allergic to nuts or bee stings, but what about people who feel unwell from milk or get heartburn from tomatoes? Often a person reaches adulthood before they make the connection. And it seems quite likely to me that this connection is sometimes never made: people with IBS, acid reflux, eczema, chronic acne assume that there is no cure, when, in some of these cases, a diet change might help. It's easy to say, "Oh, everyone's got allergies these days, they're just making a fuss over nothing," but my reaction is rather, "A nagging health problem could be cured by making a simple diet change? Sign me up!"

When kids have food sensitivities, they're not always able to make the connection. Sometimes they're not even aware of what's bothering them; they just feel out of sorts and act up. Or those food sensitivities can cause mental and behavioral problems that we think is "just the way they are." This article amazed me with its claim that two-thirds of kids with ADHD improved with an elimination diet. Two thirds! I've even heard of kids with autistic-like symptoms improving when certain foods were eliminated.

Not all food sensitivities are allergic reactions. Some may be a problem with digestion -- tomatoes, for instance, are very acid, and some grains are hard to digest. Celiac disease is an example of a severe food sensitivity not caused by allergies. (If you suspect you or your child have celiac disease, see a doctor. But be aware that a blood test for celiac will only show up positive if the disease is very advanced. A good doctor or naturopath can try other tests or lead you through an elimination diet.)

Food sensitivities and babies

Babyhood is the ideal time to find out about what foods a baby handles well. First, because you have no prior data. This is when you discover that your kid is one of those who is allergic to nuts or shellfish -- the big allergies that adults know they have. Now is the time to find out, so it's important to watch your baby when new foods are introduced. Second, as you introduce solid foods, it's like doing an elimination diet in reverse: add one food at a time, waiting three days or longer between new foods, and watch for a reaction. If you're not sure, it's easy to skip the solids for awhile until a symptom goes away.

Most food sensitivities come with the baby actually eating the food himself, but food proteins are also passed through breastmilk, so a child can be sensitive to something you eat, as well. A formula-fed baby's at a disadvantage here: he may be sensitive to his formula, but since he's always had the same one, you think it's just his personality. If a formula-fed baby seems colicky, refluxy, or gassy, it might be wise to switch for awhile and see if that helps. Many babies who are sensitive to cow's milk are also sensitive to soy, which does make things difficult. Hypoallergenic formulas may be the only option for very sensitive formula-fed babies.

The bright side of this is that babies do sometimes grow out of food sensitivities. A baby's gut is much more porous than an adult's, and it begins to seal around 6-8 months. You may not have to be cooking without eggs or cow's milk forever, but just until the baby's tummy is ready for it.

Symptoms of a food sensitivity

So how do you recognize a food sensitivity? Here's a list of symptoms, most of which I have noticed when Marko has had the wrong thing to eat. None of them is a surefire proof of a food sensitivity, but if you see one or more of these, especially after introducing a new food, be wary and write it down!

*Unexplained crying, colic
*Excessive spitup, reflux
*Sleep problems
*Stuffy or runny nose, coughing, repeated ear infections
*Rash, eczema, severe diaper rash
*Very red cheeks, as if they've been slapped

*Green stools, diarrhea, extreme constipation
*Nursing strikes, nursing aversion, hunger strikes
*Behavior problems, hyperactivity, tantrums

These are just a few things that might appear suddenly when a child, particularly a baby, has had a food he is sensitive to. It might be nothing; it might just be the way the baby is normally. I mean, what baby doesn't have "sleep problems," by adult standards? But if these symptoms appear suddenly, and they're a big change from the way he normally is, they may be a warning sign.

How to identify and cure

When you see these warning signs, start keeping track of them right away. A food journal is really helpful, especially when your mind is full of naptimes, change times, mealtimes, and so forth. Write down what the baby has eaten and what symptoms he has each day.

Depending on how severe the problem is, there are a number of courses you can take. If it's mild, you could try cutting out one potential allergen at a time and seeing if it helps. Eliminate it both in baby's food and in your food if you are breastfeeding. Give it at least a week, preferably two, before adding it back in and cutting out something else. The downside of this approach is that it takes forever, and it won't help if the baby is allergic to more than one thing.

A more effective approach, for a more serious problem, is to eliminate all of the most common irritants: cow's milk, wheat, corn, peanuts, cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and cauliflower), onions, garlic, spicy foods, tomatoes, chocolate, citrus, caffeine, and soy. Give it a few weeks. Milk, the most common allergen for babies, may take three weeks to get out of baby's system. You'll need to eliminate ALL foods made from these products, including all dairy products. It will be rough! But, if you see improvement in your baby after a week or so, it will encourage you to keep on. Once the baby has improved, you can start adding things back in. Consult your food journal to see what symptoms were the most common, and watch particularly for those. It takes 2-24 hours for a food mom eats to appear in her milk, and may take another day to cause symptoms in the baby, so it's probably best not to reintroduce foods more closely than every other day.

If the problem is very severe and you're in a rush to cure it, you can do what I did for a brief time and go on a very limited diet. Pick one meat, one grain, one or two veggies, and one fruit, and eat those for a few days. If there is no improvement, switch to a different meat, starch, veggie, and fruit. Don't stay on this diet for too long, or you run the risk of vitamin deficiencies. When you do see improvement, start adding foods back in, starting with the ones you eat most often or the mildest foods.

With any elimination diet, if you cheat at all, you have to start all over. That means that you should probably do it at a time that you can make all your own food instead of eating out, from boxes, or at other people's houses.

This is a lot of work and very difficult, but, if the child suddenly perks up, stops fussing, starts laughing, and his rashes and sniffles go away, it's definitely worth it. And if not, at least you know you've ruled out that possibility.

Some people believe food sensitivities can be healed in time using the GAPS diet. This is a diet intended to heal a gut that has become too porous and is "leaking" allergens into the bloodstream. I haven't tried it, but it may be useful, especially for a child who has multiple allergies. You can avoid tomatoes forever, but when a child is showing up allergic to wheat, dairy, nuts, eggs, and who-knows-what-else, there may be something wrong in his digestive system that is causing this.

As for Marko? His cough is not gone yet, so we'll give it a few days, and not add anything new into his diet for a bit. I'll let you know if we manage to get rid of that cough!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Weekly grocery update

I didn't go shopping on Tuesday as I usually do. We're shifting money around between accounts to have money ready to buy the house (if it all doesn't fall through) and didn't have any handy to buy groceries with. So I went today, not a good day for shopping (the traffic over the half mile to the store is ridiculous), but surprisingly didn't have any trouble getting it done and getting home again.

In the intervening week, we made two small shopping trips. On Sunday, we were having a party and I realized we needed carrots, cheese, and celery, so John got those at Wal-Mart. (I served shepherds' pie as planned, but twice as much, and then we ate leftovers the next night.) I told John before he left, "Don't get much cheese unless it's under 23 cents an ounce, because I can get it for that much at Shoppers." He came home with two pounds of cheddar that he found for 17 cents an ounce! We've been eating a lot of that this week, especially the baby. He sure does love cheese.

Then I went out again early in the week with the $8.86 I had in my bank account to take advantage of a St. Patrick's Day deal at Giant. They were selling corned beef for $1.50 a pound and cabbage for .29 a pound. So I got one of each, and we had quite a bit of corned beef and cabbage. In fact, we're having more of it tonight, this time as corned beef hash for variety's sake. I spent 8.25 or so and went home with less than fifty cents. I kind of like shopping with very little money on me ... it makes me much more careful not to spend too much.

So, here's what I got today at Aldi:

Whole milk (one gallon) 2.59
Sardines 2 cans @.79 each
Tuna 4 cans @ .52 each
Apricot preserves 1.49
Peanut butter (small jar) 1.49
Macaroni (1 lb) 1.49
Canned apricot halves .99
I am beginning to realize these are just one step up from candy, so I only bought one. The heat processing destroys all the vitamin C, so they don't "count" as fruit very well.
Butter (1 lb.) 1.79
Tomato sauce .25
Dish detergent 1.69
Ground beef (3 lbs) 5.99
Mixed frozen vegetables .99
Frozen corn 2 bags @.65 each
Frozen raspberries 2.89
These were such a huge hit with the baby that I bought them again. Funny that last time I thought they were a mistake. Getting a fruit that he enjoys, doesn't go bad, and can be served in tiny portions is definitely worth $2.89.
Chocolate ice cream 1.99
Frozen peas .89
Swiss cheese (half pound) 1.69
This is the only cheese I bought, because we still have about half a pound of cheddar left.
White bread .79
Green peppers 1.69
Grapefruit .49
Pears (2 lbs) 2.69
Pretzel sticks 1.29
Iceberg lettuce 1.49
Fresh mushrooms 1.69
Roma tomatoes 2.49
Eggs 1.09
Bananas (2 bunches) 1.37

TOTAL $47.45

I've decided I win at groceries if I can keep the cost under $50 a week. So all I need to do to make it a winning week is not to make any "quick trips" to the store for one or two things the way I did the past week.

I had a chance to price-compare a bit at other stores lately, and I'm realizing how incredibly cheap Aldi is. Milk for 2.59? It was 3.99 at Shoppers! And butter, 1.79 for a pound at Aldi, was over $3 at Shoppers too. Beef seems expensive at $2 a pound, but it's almost always more other places too. Other stores are useful if there's a great sale, or for things Aldi doesn't carry, but I am so glad to be able to do the majority of our shopping there. It helps that the baby can ride in the cart and so I don't have to try to hold him and bag groceries at the same time, like I did when he was smaller. I didn't much like it when I was pregnant either. But now it's no extra work.

So, thank you, God, for Aldi.

My only caveat to my praise for Aldi is not to go the day before restock day. For us that's Monday. I've gotten so many wilted, half-rotten vegetables there on Monday, and faced so many empty shelves, that I simply won't go on Mondays. It's also useful to check your produce carefully, because I've occasionally found a bad fruit or potato in a bag. That's easy to avoid, though. And, of course, don't get sucked in by the low prices on the packaged stuff. It is still cheaper to make it all from scratch. Plus, the stuff is even lower quality than usual: MSG is often the second or third ingredient, and very little is actual food. So leave the canned soup, the hot pockets, the alfredo sauce envelopes, and shop the edges.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My first vlog

Vlogging is something I just don't do. WAY too embarrassing. But Katie, one of my favorite bloggers ever, from Kitchen Stewardship, is collecting videos of people taking cod liver oil, so I promised I'd post mine. I've developed a super-genius method that solves both the taste issue and the oiliness issue ... because that's worse than the taste, in my book -- the feeling of swallowing oil.

I made one big mistake here: you see how I touched the side of my mouth with my hand? That hand smelled like fish the rest of the evening.

My mannerisms totally remind me of my mom. I guess I've never seen a video of me eating before ... my expression is exactly what she does when someone asks her a question while her mouth is full. Good thing I like my mom, and don't mind the fact that I'm growing into her younger twin. It's just a little disconcerting.

Thanks to my videographer, whom I also happen to be married to. This is apparently the angle John sees me from all the time. He's kind of taller than me... by a lot.

Edited to add: Here's the baby taking his. At first he makes a face and I thought he didn't like it anymore, but I think it's just because I shot it to the back of his mouth too fast. He prefers to suck on the shooter. I just give him some of my oil mixed with water before I take it.

Those who are familiar with baby sign might notice that he is signing "all done" while saying "more." He's kind of confused about signs right now. He just cycles through all the signs he knows until he gets what he wants. He does "milk" reliably though; that's a new development in the past couple days.

Teething biscuits

I'm still trying to avoid wheat for the baby (though I have given him a few saltines now and again, without incident), but sometimes, there's nothing so handy as a cracker. I've been experimenting, and I've developed a cracker recipe that works for me. I used potato starch, but you could also use arrowroot powder or any other alternate flour. If you try it with something different, I'd like to hear about it!

Teething Biscuits

1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon olive (or other) oil
about 3/4 cup potato starch
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Herbs or cheese

Mix the liquid ingredients first. Add the baking soda to 1/2 cup of potato starch and mix it into the wet ingredients. Then add more starch, a tablespoon or so at a time, until it becomes difficult to stir. Be careful -- if you add too much, it will become impossible to stir! Add in some salt, herbs, or whatever your baby likes. Next time I think I'll try some rosemary.

Spread the batter out thinly on a Silpat or sheet of parchment paper placed on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with grated cheese, if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until dry. Cut into crackers with a knife or pizza cutter -- you may need to break them up with your hands after scoring them with the knife. Store in an airtight container, if you want an actual edible cracker. If you leave them on the counter, you'll get a teething biscuit that will stand up to hours of chewing, without much cracker ending up inside the baby. ;) They get stale really easily. I've been keeping one in my pocket when we go out, so the baby can have something to chew on and taste without making a mess.

Egg yolk is rich in iron and not allergenic like egg whites are. For even more iron, add a bit of blackstrap molasses to the wet ingredients.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A bit about dirt

I'm getting so excited about the opportunity to grow my own garden (provided the house deal doesn't fall through at the last minute!). However, I'm also becoming aware that I won't get much in the ground this year, and I'm not likely to get good results from what I do plant. Why not? Well, the soil isn't ready. It's never been gardened in, to the best of my knowledge, and it's never been wild either. It's just the stuff that was dug up when the house was built, and has had patchy grass growing on it for 60 years.

Plain dirt, where nothing's ever been grown, is just a random collection of minerals. It can be clay, like mine, or silt, or sand. Clay is very dense, holds water, turns into brick when it dries out, and is generally unmanageable. I thought the way to fix it was to add sand -- but my reading tells me that the cure for clay and sand is the same: add organic matter.

That's also the cure to nutrient-deficient soil, either because it hasn't been grown in, or because it's been used up by a lot of past gardening. Whatever your problem, working in organic matter is the cure. It aerates the soil and provides nutrients. Organic matter might include dead leaves, kitchen scraps, animal waste, seaweed, and bones, all properly prepared. These provide the nutrients that plants need: nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and trace minerals. Plants use these minerals to produce all the vitamins and amino acids they need, and which we so gratefully obtain from them.

In the wild -- say, a forest floor, or an open meadow -- the soil cares for itself. Plants shed leaves and branches. Earthworms aerate the soil. Animals poop on the soil, and later die on it. Microbe activity is high. Everything dropped on the ground eventually decays, adding its nutrients to the soil. It's the CIRCLE of LIFE! (Sorry, couldn't help myself!) If you look at a cross-section of wild soil, you'd see organic matter, like leafmold, on top, slowly decaying into humus underneath. After some nice topsoil of mixed humus and dirt, there is the original packed clay, silt, or sand. Building topsoil is a very slow process in the wild -- it could take as long as five hundred years to make an inch! (1)

With careful stewardship, we humans can build topsoil much faster. On rocky islands near Ireland and Scotland, topsoil has to be built completely from scratch. Hardworking farmers spread seaweed, which is an incredibly rich fertilizer, over their fields from year to year until they build up sufficient soil over the rocky ground. In other places, manure and compost are used. Rotating cropland and pasture can build up topsoil quickly -- as fast as an inch per year!

There have been times in man's history where we haven't had the knowledge to produce good topsoil, and land would be depleted in a few years. Yields would be good the first year, middling the second, and completely insufficient the third. Nitrogen, in particular, gets depleted very fast and is hard to restore the soil. Then farmers discovered that legumes, like beans or clover, improved the soil. This is because they harbor bacteria which "fix" nitrogen out of the air and into the soil to make it available to plants. It became common to rotate crops -- one field of wheat, one of legumes, and perhaps one fallow (wild). Plowing the stubble under also helped build topsoil, as the stubble rotted underground.

This method is highly preferable to the one in use by some South American farmers, who use the soil until it is depleted and then burn a few more acres of the Amazon rainforest, which has extremely rich soil. It's also preferable to the modern industrial farming method, which depletes the soil freely and then fertilizes with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium chemical fertilizers. Yes, those three vital nutrients are being returned to the soil, but not all of the necessary trace minerals are. Produce you find in the store may have as much as 75% less of the various trace minerals. Also, these chemical fertilizers pollute the rest of the environment in runoff, causing poisonous algae blooms in the ocean, contamination of the water table, release of methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere, and numerous other problems. I've just been reading the Wikipedia article on fertilizer and am quite shocked at the amount of documented harm that chemical fertilizers do!

In nature, animals and plants complement each other, each trading off what the other needs. Animals inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, while plants need carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. Plants use nitrogen to make amino acids; animals use amino acids to make protein, but eventually return the nitrogen to the air and soil. Bringing chemicals into the picture is a shortcut, but one that doesn't lend itself to a perfect, self-sustaining, closed system like nature does.

I used to think "organic" produce was just a label. After all, aren't all living things "organic"? The term organic simply means fertilized with organic matter (plant waste, seaweed, bone meal) rather than non-organic matter (chemical fertilizers). Organic produce is more sustainable than conventional produce: it doesn't require factories or petrochemicals, and it doesn't pollute the environment. It also results in a crop that is richer in trace minerals than conventional produce. And that's without even considering potential pesticide contamination.

Well, what's the catch? Some people believe it would not be possible to feed the world with only organic methods. We have a much larger population than we had 100 years ago, before the advent of chemical fertilizers. This growth has been made possible in part by an easy, cheap food supply. Unfortunately, we cannot keep it up indefinitely -- not only is the soil becoming more and more depleted, but our sources for chemical fertilizers (petroleum and mineral mines) are not renewable. We're going to have to find new ways to grow food that are sustainable.

On the other hand, some believe it is possible to feed the world organically. Definitely we wouldn't be able to have feedlot beef anymore -- so a burger a day would no longer be possible. A book of mine on Roman cookery, written in 1936, predicts that we will "soon" no longer be eating so much beef: "Today lives a race of beef eaters. Our beef diet, no doubt, is bound to change somewhat. Already the world's grazing grounds are steadily diminishing ... With the increasing shortage of beef, with the increasing facilities for raising chicken and pork, a reversion to [ancient Roman] methods of cookery and diet is not only probable, but actually seems inevitable." (2) The invention of the feedlot has staved off this eventuality, but if we weaned ourselves off this food-raising method, we'd be back to eating chicken, pork, mutton, and goat like ancient Europeans often did.

We would also have to spread farming education to areas where food is limited. Cry, the Beloved Country describes the poverty of South African farmers, not because the land is poor, but because the farmers don't know how to work it. They deal with erosion and drought due to poor planning. Those South American farmers who are burning off the Amazon need to be stopped, not with fiercer laws protecting the rain forest (which there already are), but education about how to preserve the soil they already have. Currently, the world relies heavily on a few food sources, while often not having sources close to home. Thus, when civil unrest breaks out (as it so often does, especially in Africa), the people have no way to get food. They are relying on a complicated infrastructure to feed them, and when the infrastructure fails them, they have no recourse. A family cow, a garden plot, a couple of acres of farmland would be much harder to deprive them of. (This is why I love charities like Heifer International.)

So, can organic feed the world? I don't know. I do know, however, that I feel a lot better about nourishing my own soil, growing my own crops, and eating my own handiwork than I do about supporting conventional agriculture. That's one big reason why I want to garden.

(1) Wikipedia, "Topsoil"
(2) Apicius, Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome, edited and translated by Joseph Dommers Vehling

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Am I a full-time mom?

Yesterday I read this blog post, in which The Feminist Breeder objects to the term "full-time mom." Her point is that "full-time mom," when used to refer to a stay-at-home mom, suggests that working moms are "part-time moms." Obviously, if you're a mother, you're a mother all the time. You don't leave the mother part of yourself at home, and if your kids need you while you're at work, you have to leave work and go take care of your kids. Not to mention that your income goes to support your family. We don't call working dads "part-time dads" -- I think people more readily acknowledge that dads are doing part of their job as a father when they're at the workplace than they do for mothers. But if a mother needs to work to feed her family, working is mothering. It's caring for her family.

And I agree with all that. Definitely, if people find the term offensive, I won't use it.

But still. The discussion on the post annoyed me.

First off, what am I supposed to call myself, then? Stay-at-home mom is the average term, which is okay I guess, but I don't care for it. I don't stay home all day. I stay with my son all day, and we go places. Homemaker and housewife and "domestic engineer" are all worse. Because I don't stay home to take care of the house, I stay home to take care of my child. I wouldn't stay home just for the house -- when I was working full-time, I still had to take care of the housework. And I don't think the fact that my husband earns money for his job and I don't earn money for mine automatically exempts him from the housework and makes it my job. We both work on housework whenever we have time after we're done with our other jobs.

If someone asks what my occupation is, my occupation is mothering and I do it full-time. If someone asks what my state in life is, it's mother, wife, etc. with no addenda. Because you can't be in a state in life, or in a relationship to another person, part-time.

The whole debate between stay-at-home mothers and mothers who work outside the home is called "the mommy wars." It's fueled a lot by news articles and such, but I do think it's a real conflict. Mothers want so badly to believe they are making the right choices for their family, and they feel very threatened when people imply they aren't. So when someone says that a working mom isn't a "full-time mom," she gets upset, and conversely, when someone says a full-time mom isn't a "working mom," she rightly might argue, "I work just as much as the next mom, I just don't get paid!"

The general answer to the "mommy wars" that the blogosphere has come up with is, "We're all good moms. We're all making the best choice for our family. No one's choice is any better than anyone else's."

On the one hand, yes, mothers make the best choice for their family, or at least they try. If it's a choice between staying home and food on the table, what mother would insist on staying home? Mothers who work, believe that they are doing what is right for their families. Mothers who stay home, do it for their families. Most mothers are pretty darn selfless and wouldn't do what they do if they thought it was hurting their families.

On the other hand, is it necessarily true that no choice is objectively better than the other choices? Surely someone's got to be right -- either children flourish best with non-parent caregivers around, or they flourish best in the near-exclusive care of their parents. (I'm speaking mainly of children too young for school; at school age there's a separate question of homeschooling vs. outside school, which goes beyond the question of whether mom is at home or not.)

I've made no secret of my opinion that children need their parents around if they can get them. Children form very strong attachments to their caregivers, and having that caregiver be a parent or close relative means that those bonds won't be damaged or severed when the parents switch daycares or the nanny quits. Love is something that is given so much more easily by family than by paid labor, but it's something that kids need -- and not just outside of work hours. It's not like a two-year-old can save his crisis to talk to Mom about after work -- either she's there when he needs her, or he will have to be comforted by someone else.

Sometimes having at least one parent around at all times just isn't an option. And that's okay -- the parents will have to pick trusted caregivers and try to cram all the love and attention they can into the hours they have with their child. But it still makes me sad, reading about moms who drive like the wind to get home with their baby by six, play with him for an hour or two, and then put him to bed. I can't imagine this can be what any mom wants. Worse still is the situation of, say, military moms who are deployed far away from their children for months. A very young child might not even remember his mom. It breaks my heart.

Back to the blog post, and the mini-mommy-war in the comments. Someone said, "It bothers me when employed mamas treat SAHMs like they do everything we do and more." I agreed with that statement -- and got blasted for it by the blog author. The argument that working moms are full-time moms too ends up arguing something along the lines of, "Well, I am a full-time mom too, PLUS I work for eight hours a day." Does that mean that mother has 32 hours in a day? Perhaps her 24 hours are more packed with activity, like packing lunches, running errands, cleaning the house, and so forth. But she can't give her kids more than 24 hours of her time. And from the kids' perspective, they're only getting 16 hours a day with their mom, a big chunk of which is spent sleeping. With all that lunch-packing and errand-running, they don't get a lot of time to just play, snuggle, and connect with their kids.

That's sad and I know most working moms would love to get more playing, snuggling, learning, and connecting time with their kids. But they just don't do as much of it as stay-at-home moms do! Is that so offensive to mention? Eight hours (or so) of the work that stay-at-home moms do, mainly the childcare part, is outsourced. Working moms are getting help for it.

I'm not saying they have it easier. Sure, it must be nice to get a shower every day and to be able to take a bathroom break. Some moms go back to work simply for the opportunity to dress up nice, get out of the house, and get adult company for eight hours. Work seems way easier when you've tried being a mom! But almost all working moms end up with most of the at-home burden when they walk in their front door too. They have eight hours of paid work and sixteen hours of unpaid work that they're doing. Whereas a stay-at-home mom has 24 hours of unpaid work. The working mom's 24 hours might be more or less difficult or pleasant than the at-home mom's 24, depending on the number of kids, the type of job, and how much help she's getting from others. But I don't think you can generalize and say, "ALL working moms have it harder and do more than ALL stay-at-home moms."

I don't think the mommy wars are ever going to go away, as long as stay-at-home moms say, "You're not caring for your kids as well as I am," and the working moms say, "Yes I am, PLUS more." But how can women stop saying these things when they made the choices they did for a reason? Why would women stay home unless they thought it was better? And why would women work outside the home unless they thought it was just as good? Even when they didn't actually have a choice, they still prefer to believe what they're doing is as good for their kids as what someone else is doing for hers.

So what do I do when people ask if I stay home with the baby or work? I generally answer, "I stay with him full-time, but I also work for an hour a day." That causes some furrowed brows, since most people aren't accustomed to jobs where babies are welcome. I think it puts me in a rather privileged position of being BOTH a stay-at-home mom and a work-outside-the-home mom, and I've never been judged or sidelined for my choices. But just because I am responsible for childcare 24 hours a day and working one hour a day doesn't mean I am working 25 hours a day. My thought when accepting the job was, "Well, I have to take care of the baby anyway, I may as well teach at the same time." Is it harder than taking care of him at home? Sometimes, and in some ways, but not in others. Finding time for grading is the hardest, because I don't have childcare. But I fit it in around baby time, like I fit in everything else.

Maybe it would help if people didn't assume that others' self-descriptions were about them. Me saying I'm a full-time mom doesn't mean you're a part-time mom -- I just describe myself that way because I'm doing specifically mom stuff during the 40 hours a week that would otherwise be used for a full-time job. You calling yourself a working mom doesn't mean I don't work -- you just have a job outside the home that you call "work." What does it hurt me what you call yourself? It has nothing to do with me. I'm fine with the person who has the job deciding what she calls it.

So, sure, since people find the term "full-time mother" offensive, I will have to think of something else. Unfortunately, everything I can think of that affirms and defends my choices will probably also offend someone. If I say, "I stay at home because I think my baby needs me with him," doesn't that mean that a working mom isn't fulfilling all of her kids' needs? Or if I say, "Nothing is more important to me than spending time with my son," doesn't it suggest that someone else has the wrong priorities? Perhaps I should just hang my head and mumble, "I stay home all day," and if people criticize me, judge me, or say I'm "less than" or "lazier than" other moms, I should just keep my mouth shut. When someone says "What do you do all day?" I should answer that I sit around doing nothing during those 40 hours a week when others work ... because, clearly, if they're doing all the mothering I'm doing plus 40 hours a week of work, than I must be wasting some time, somewhere. Playing stacking cups with my son just doesn't rank as useful work to some people -- if I suggest it is really vitally important, and that it's the kind of work that can't be outsourced, won't I make someone else feel bad?

I'm not really sure what to do about that. I truly don't judge others choices. I was a nanny, you know, and every working mom I worked for longed to be with her kids more. What they wanted was not more pats on the back for "having it all," but more support so that they could have actually had what they wanted. I was so impressed by this women, and yet I knew that I, as the nanny, could never take their place.

I try not to make other mothers feel bad, either. But there is a point where I think it's okay to be proud of what I do as well. I think I can say, "Kudos to you for fitting in all that you do. You must be really busy," and yet also say, "I don't think I could be doing any work better than the work I do all day." I'm not talking about you, I'm talking about me.

This has been a long ramble, and I'm not sure I've made sense. I would love some input here, especially from working moms, if there are any reading!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Prayer request

Remember my friends, Dave and Stephanie, that I'm always talking about? This week, their baby was born very premature and died two days later. So please pray for tiny David Edward. If you're Catholic, you can pray to him as well -- he was baptized during his brief time with us. Pray for comfort and healing for his family, and for all of us who wanted so much to meet him and know him.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tuesday grocery shop

Last week I meant to post my receipt from Shoppers, but I lost it. I spent about $30 and got baking supplies, cheese, frozen vegetables (there was a great price!), and meat -- beef heart and beef knucklebones which I used to make stock and stew last night. I also got beets and cucumbers, which I lacto-fermented and which should be ready in a couple of days.

We were out of almost everything when I went today, so I have to admit I spent too much. My goal was $40 -- I went more than $10 over. Where could I have cut it? A couple of places ... I definitely could have done better.

10 lbs russet potatoes 4.39
White onions 2.59
Whole milk 2.49
This will end up in one or two quarts of yogurt for baby and me, and I drink the rest.
75% lean ground beef 5.99
I hope to make this last for at least four meals. Since it's Ash Wednesday tomorrow, we only have five meat-eating days this week. Not sure I can stretch the beef that far though! So the fifth night our only meat will be the chicken stock I have in the freezer from last week.
Light fruit cocktail .79
Apricot halves .99
Frozen raspberries 2.89
Impulse purchase ... shouldn't have ... sigh. We hadn't found much fruit that I wanted to buy, so I caved when these were by the door. But we do have mixed berries in the freezer, so I shouldn't have gotten these.
Diced tomatoes .49
2 cans of tuna @ .52 each
Tomato sauce .25
Elbow macaroni (1 lb.) 1.49
Diapers 5.39
I go through about a package every month and a half or so, because I use them out of the house. But I'm beginning to think I can manage cloth full-time, or at least on shorter trips. I usually put the baby in plastic when we go to work, but today I put him in cloth and we made it to work AND to the oil change without leaking. So I can definitely make it work! Hopefully this package of diapers will last longer than the last one.
Bananas .96
Sour cream .99
3 8 oz. packages of cheese 1.49 each
Baby only wants to eat cheese nowadays. I got a pound last week and it's almost gone. But cheese prices are awful, no matter where I buy it ... perhaps I can get the baby eating more yogurt cheese (which I make from strained yogurt) at least.
Bologna .99
Ham lunch meat 2.49
Another purchase I could have cut. I was really torn about it. The baby's a real meat eater, when he's not scarfing down cheese, and I don't always have leftovers to give him. So a couple of times last week, he had bologna. And I really don't feel good about giving that to him, because it has so many additives. Only, as I got home, it occurred to me that the ham probably has additives in it as well. There's no winning, is there?
Mild salsa 1.69
A "luxury" purchase ... but I do love it. Someday I'm going to make my own ... especially once I have my own garden.
Honey 4.49
I used up my last container of honey baking bread. I suppose I could use plain sugar, but I think honey's more healthful, and it goes better with whole wheat anyway.
Grapefruit .29
Just for me, a treat. Couldn't beat the price.
Iceberg lettuce 1.49
Green peppers 1.69
Roma tomatoes 2.49
White bread .79
TOTAL $53.05

So, that's our food for the week. Like I said, we're out of most other things, so that's pretty much what we've got, except for eggs, tortillas, and some pantry staples.

I'll do this week what I never do and actually write down my menu plan. I don't usually because the meat that I buy determines what I make -- I make the same things pretty much all the time.

Tuesday: broccoli-cheddar soup, using the chicken stock in the freezer (chicken stock, broccoli, potatoes, onions, cheddar cheese)
(Ash) Wednesday: bean burritos (beans, cheese, sour cream, salsa, lettuce, tomato)
Thursday: add meat to the burrito ingredients for tacos (beef, beans, cheese, sour cream, salsa, lettuce, tomato)
Friday: tuna-noodle casserole (tuna, macaroni, frozen peas, sour cream, cheese)
Saturday: spaghetti (beef, tomato sauce, onions, garlic, noodles)
Sunday: shepherds' pie (beef, stock, onions, peas, corn, mashed potatoes)
Monday: chili (beef, beans, diced tomatoes, onions, garlic, corn, salsa)

Lunches for John are leftovers from the night before (though I'll have to wrangle a little bit with the meatless leftovers to make sure he has meatless leftovers Wednesday and Friday) and/or baloney sandwiches. Breakfasts and lunches for me are eggs, yogurt, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, lacto-fermented veggies, and homemade bread. Food for the baby includes leftovers, cheese, yogurt, veggies, and ham.

Top 10 Breastfeeding Misconceptions

Welcome to the March Carnival of Natural Parenting: Natural Parenting Top 10 Lists

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants
have shared Top 10 lists on a wide variety of aspects of attachment
parenting and natural living. Please read to the end to find a list of
links to the other carnival participants.


When you're pregnant, feeding your baby is something you might give some thought to. As in, "Hm, breast or bottle? I think breast. It's best, right?"

Then you have the baby, and you have a few struggles, so you do some research. You find out all kinds of information, so much stuff you wish you'd known sooner! And the next thing you know, you're so brimful of knowledge that every time someone says something ignorant about breastfeeding you are just dying to speak up.

However, when what people are saying is, "I wanted so badly to nurse my baby, but it didn't work out," you don't exactly want to come back with, "Actually, you could have, had you had the benefit of my amazing knowledge." So I tend not to reply ... but I store up these stories in my head so that I can share with people who have not yet had these problems, and my answers might do some good.

Without further ado, here are 10 things people say about breastfeeding that are not always true.

1. My baby never wanted to nurse.
All babies want to nurse. The question is, what is stopping the baby from being able to nurse? There are so many reasons. A healthy baby, placed skin-to-skin with mom immediately after birth, will usually nurse on his own within the hour. But if the baby is separated for some reason, he might not want to nurse immediately when he comes back. You may have to wait till he's awake and hungry. To help get things moving, you can put baby skin-to-skin (meaning naked on your bare chest) and let him nurse when he is ready. Check his rooting reflex by stroking his cheek. He'll turn in that direction and open his mouth. That means he wants to nurse!

Sometimes a baby might not want to nurse at birth because of discomfort. If he's been suctioned (like mine was) or if his jaw was hurt in the birth, it might take longer as well. Try to be patient, and see if you can get help.

2. I wanted to breastfeed, but my milk never came in.
My question is, how do you know it never came in? Were you nursing frequently? Did the baby's diapers turn from green and brown to yellow? Then your milk came in. Not everyone gets engorged when their milk comes in. If you're in doubt, express a little and look at the color. Colostrum is yellow; real milk is white. Transitional milk can be anywhere in between.

Some women don't have their milk come in as quickly as others. It may be delayed as much as a week due to some medications, having an IV during labor, or even no reason at all. Keep feeding the baby colostrum, supplement if necessary (preferably under the supervision of a lactation consultant or knowledgeable doctor) and be patient.

3. I knew I didn't have enough milk because my baby never burped.
Burping has nothing to do with having enough to eat, and everything to do with swallowing air. If a baby has a good latch, he might not burp at all. That's not a problem -- just one less thing for you to worry about!

4. My milk disappeared at six weeks.
This is another misconception caused by the "engorgement = milk" myth. During the first six weeks, most women have an oversupply. But around six weeks, the supply starts to regulate. Is the baby still producing enough diapers? Is he happy after nursing or screaming? He may nurse a lot at six weeks old because of a growth spurt -- but if he's just switching from side to side, nursing all day long, but happy and wetting regularly, he's getting enough.

5. My baby preferred the bottle/a binky to me.
This is not so much a "preference" as nipple confusion. A baby sucks differently at a breast, a bottle, and a pacifier. An exclusively breastfed baby can even vary his sucking based on what he wants -- deep sucking for hunger, and shallow sucking for comfort.

That shallow suck does not keep a pacifier in, so if a baby is always given a pacifier, he'll learn to suck deeply for comfort as well. And then you get a baby who can't comfort nurse, because he sucks hard and keeps getting milk. So frustrating! So he ends up with the binky, and chances are milk supply begins to decrease, baby starts getting hungry a lot, and you end up mixing up a bottle of formula. Then the baby "prefers" the bottle too, and next thing you know, you've weaned. Pacifiers and bottles may be introduced later (say around four weeks or older), but even so, they sometimes do cause confusion. Things only went really well for us once we lost the binky.

6. I didn't have enough milk -- I could only pump an ounce!
Some women respond very well to a pump, and some don't. The pump may get an ounce out while your baby gets six ounces. Lactation consultants often determine how much milk you are producing by weighing the baby, having you nurse him, then weighing again. That's the only reliable method to find out what he's getting.

Now, sometimes it's vital to be able to get out more milk with the pump. In these cases, it's helpful to have a slight oversupply. Some people have success with herbs like fenugreek or medications like domperidone. Others will find the secret to success is nursing a lot when they are with their baby -- at night, especially. Many moms will not be able to produce enough while exclusively pumping, which is why it's so vital to get the baby latching right from the get-go. If you do have to pump exclusively, be aware that it's going to be difficult. Some are successful and some aren't -- so don't beat yourself up if it doesn't work.

7. It was incredibly painful -- and his latch was perfect!
A baby's latch may appear "perfect" from the outside, but if he's not sucking properly, it will hurt like the dickens. When Marko has a stuffy nose, he can't suck well, so he tries biting. Not so nice! One common reason for a bad suck is tongue tie. There are many kinds of tongue tie and some are hard to detect -- so if you are experiencing pain, have him looked over by someone familiar with tongue tie. A tie can be clipped by an ear, nose, and throat doctor; it is not usually more than a pinch for the baby. And the difference can be dramatic!

Other suck problems may be caused by an injury to the jaw during birth -- a chiropractor or physical therapist can help you with that. Others just require practice. I've heard of "training" a baby to suck by having him suck your finger -- ask your lactation consultant.

The last reason that breastfeeding can be very painful is inverted or flat nipples. There's no cure for this one, but the pain will go away after a week or two. Other than that, nursing is NOT supposed to be painful, especially not very painful. Please see someone who can help you if you are experiencing pain!

8. I should not have had problems with nipple confusion, because I used a special "breast-like" bottle.
Sadly, there's no bottle that can imitate the breast. It might be a similar shape, but it will never require the serious sucking that a breast does. I've heard drinking out of a bottle compared to trying to do a beer bong! The milk just drips out, whether baby works for it or not. The baby might still want to nurse, but not remember how to suck, or that he'll have to suck for a few minutes before the milk appears. Don't introduce bottles before four weeks at the earliest!

9. I should not have had problems when I put my baby on a three-hour schedule. My sister did it and it worked fine for her.
Women have a different storage capacity for milk. Your sister might be able to hold three hours' worth of milk, while you can only hold two hours' worth. So if you feed your baby every three hours, he gets two hours' worth of milk every three hours. That's a recipe for disaster! Soon you will stop producing as much milk, because your body thinks it isn't needed. And the baby will stop gaining weight, or even lose weight. He may become dehydrated or fail to thrive. Please do not use these strict schedules -- feed your baby when he is hungry!

10. My baby self-weaned very suddenly at nine months.
Weaning is not usually sudden, and very rarely (if ever) do children wean themselves before the second year. Self-weaning happens when a toddler slowly reduces his nursing sessions, dropping them one by one. A sudden halt in all nursing is more likely a nursing strike. The baby loses interest in nursing for awhile, because of a new distraction like solid food. But he still needs milk. You can take the opportunity to wean to a sippy cup of formula if you want to, but otherwise, keep offering the breast, especially when he's sleepy. You may need to pump to keep up supply. A baby might stop nursing for a week or more and then come back to the breast! So if you wanted to nurse longer, don't despair just because of a temporary disinterest.

None of this is to say that there aren't real reasons why women can't breastfeed. Some really don't have enough milk. This is less common than people think, but it does happen. If you suspect low milk supply, watch wet diapers and weight gain carefully. Others don't breastfeed for myriad reasons -- incompatible medication, sickness, a medical crisis after birth, psychological discomfort, and so forth. Others could have overcome their difficulties in a perfect world, but didn't have the support to do so. Some women are devastated that they couldn't nurse. So it's important to be accepting and really listen to people's stories, instead of giving a ton of facts. This list is intended more to help other moms before they wean.

Can anyone think of more misconceptions? Did I miss anything?


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon March 8 with all the carnival links.)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Counter of days

I have always been a counter of days.

When I was a child, I longed to be older, to grow up. I climbed to the dizzy height of my treehouse, gazed out toward the lake, and dreamed of bigger things. I never knew I would miss that treehouse so much, even if it was only a few boards from an old fence dragged laboriously up the tree, one at a time.

When I finished high school, I could barely wait to be in college. At college, I imagined I would enjoy life more as a sophomore, or junior, or senior. I thought once I graduated, life would really begin. I didn't realize what an incredible period college was, where all my friends and mentors were in one place and not busy all the time, until it was almost time to leave.

When I was single, I was lonely and hoped I'd meet someone. Once I met someone, I was always wanting to define the relationship, not realizing he was courting me in his own original, hesitant way. When we were finally in a relationship, we walked arm in arm against the wind and dreamed of having a place of our own out of the cold. I didn't know how much I would miss those long walks, where we could talk and talk with all the time in the world. It didn't occur to me that in our own place, I wouldn't have the wind to blow me into the state of elation I lived in then.

When I was pregnant, I literally counted every day. I didn't realize that I was wishing for the end of the only time we would have for a long time as just the two of us.

Now I warn others in stages of life that I hurried past. "Enjoy it!" I urge them. "No hurry! The future will be here before you know it; live in the present!" And yet they never seem to listen. I tell dating girls not to stress about when the guy will propose: "Now is the time to build up your relationship and get yourselves in a good financial position. You don't want to marry before you're really ready!" I tell girls who haven't gotten pregnant, "You'll never be this free again, spend some time fixing up your house the way you want it and learning to cook!" I tell expectant parents, "The due date's just an estimate, so don't count days! Go out on a date, it'll be forever before you can again!"

And they don't listen to me. They probably know I'm right, but it's just so hard to stop counting days. To stop wanting a little more than what they have, imagining that life will get so much better in some number of days.

When Marko was born, he was tiny and precious and everyone told me, "Enjoy it! It lasts such a short time!" I looked at my tiny peanut and settled in for the long haul. I didn't want to spend too much time just staring at him, because then when would I get things done? I didn't want to wait too long before getting out again, because sooner or later I was going to have to get used to taking him out. I was looking forward to him learning to smile and sleeping through the night.

Around the time he did these things -- about six weeks old -- I had a moment of utter shock. They said fast, but no one had said six weeks. I kind of thought the newborn stage was pretty much what things were like for several months. But I looked at my baby and he didn't look a thing like he had when I first held him in my arms. He was so big! Where had the tiny one gone?

He is gone. Tiny Marko will never come again. I will never have a chance to watch him sleep in the fold of my elbow ever again.

I could spend time sniffling over that. (I may have done this a little.) Or I could get impatient for the next one. (I've done this some too.) But it's occurred to me that two, three, four months from now, I'll be crying out, "Where is crawling Marko? Where's the little guy who took those first, hesitant, staggering steps and fell into my arms shrieking with laughter?"

So let me never again be a counter of days. Let me look at my boy today and love him today. Yesterday I laid him down for a nap, but didn't feel like sleeping myself. I could have gotten up to do something. But instead I just lay there with him snuggled into my arm and watched him sleep. He will soon be too big to sleep with his head on my arm. A month ago, he didn't look like the big boy he does today. A month from now, he may not sleep in his baby way with his head turned toward me, making sure I'm there. I have only today to love my son.
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