Thursday, April 26, 2012

Life with Michael

Approximately eight seconds after this picture was taken, Michael was awake and fussing.

The thing about being a second child is, you're always bound to be compared to the first, whether for better or worse.  I spend all of my time noticing all the ways Michael is like Marko was, and how he's different.

He looks pretty similar to me.  But in personality, he couldn't be more different (so far).

Marko's main trait people noticed at this age was that he was SO alert.  Eyes wide, looking around, upset if he was held facing you because he couldn't see.  He liked to be down on the floor, even at a week old.  He liked to be held upright, and he only slept on his tummy ever.  The slightest sound woke him.  I could not cosleep with him at all -- we kept each other awake.  By three days old, he had settled into an every-three-hours nursing schedule and never ever comfort nursed.  For comfort, he wanted motion.

Michael barely opened his eyes for the first few days, and now that he's five days old, we still don't see them often.  He sleeps a lot, but not for very long stretches.  His favorite thing, by a long shot, is eating.  He was nursing about a half hour on, a half hour off, for his first couple of days.  Now that there's plenty of milk to go around, he has cut back a bit, but anytime he wakes up, gets a change, or gets jostled, he starts rooting around to nurse again.  (It's hard to tell if that's the only reason why I'm sore, or if there's a problem with his latch, but I am super sore.  It definitely is a triumph that he's latching at all at this point, since Marko didn't, but I would love for this to be easy.  I'm sure I will be blogging more on this topic soon.)  He likes to be lying down horizontally, and doesn't care to be upright.  When I bring him up to my shoulder to burp him, he soon starts trying to slide back down.

Our first night (that is, from three a.m. till about eight a.m. when we were all up for the day) I tried to lay him down six inches from me in our bed.  Apparently that was way too far.  He wanted to be latched on all night.  And for the first few nights, he pretty much was!  I drifted in and out of dozing to switch sides every hour or so.  Now he has moved to sleeping for two hours at a stretch, but he still wants to be in the crook of my arm the whole time.  In the daytime, he's pretty good at sleeping through any noise (and Marko does test this theory frequently!), getting handed from one person to another, getting switched from arm to arm and carried around the house, but if you put him down?  Forget about it.  Sitting up in his bouncer, lying on his back, lying on his tummy -- they do not suit him.  He wants to be IN. YOUR. ARMS.  As sore as my arms are, this does gratify me a lot.  I wanted a snuggler, after all!

I wonder how many of these "personality" differences have to do with how they each spent their first few days.  Marko, in the hospital, learned separation early on.  He slept in his little fishtank of a bassinet his first two nights, some of the time in my room and some of the time under a warmer in the nursery.  He was swaddled tightly by the nurses and didn't eat anything till twelve hours old.  When he did nurse, it was with a silicone shield that wasn't very comforting.  His earliest memories of comfort don't include being touched or nursing.  We fell onto motion as a way of comforting him when everything else failed.

Michael was crying soon after birth, once he noticed he was out of his warm comfy womb, and it was automatic for me to nurse him right away.  And there was no moment in his first hours when anyone wanted to put him down.  So from 15 minutes old he had made the connection of sad --> nurse --> happy.  And not-being-held --> something's wrong --> pick me up, please!  Some might take this as a reason not to have such a peaceful birth.  But I think it's great to have a baby whose original instincts to nurse and get skin-to-skin with an adult are completely intact.  And I know, having brought one child through infancy already, that there are real advantages to a baby who relies on people rather than props for comfort.  As long as he just wants nursing and holding, there's no need for a certain setting or a strict schedule.  And hopefully, hopefully, he is too attached to nursing to start starving himself when he decides nursing doesn't suit him, like Marko used to do.

Who knows what he'll turn out to be like.  I mean, at the moment, he's just being an ordinary newborn (which Marko wasn't), and he could turn out to be very different in a month or two.  But for the moment, I like feeling like I have a baby who wants to be a baby, wants to be held, and is as unwilling to let go of me as I am of him.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Michael's birth story

Writing a birth story is hard.  Not emotionally, this time at least.  But when do you ever have a newborn AND two free hands?  This will probably be written in several segments, because I have no idea how long that teeny tiny little guy will be happy sleeping alone ... or how long I feel like letting him do it.  I so prefer holding him.

I'd been having contractions off and on for ... well, months, I guess.  Mild ones, though.  They'd been stepping up in the last week or two, but still nothing quite like I had on several occasions before Marko was born.  Every time I had some "real" contractions, John would say, "Maybe you're going into labor!"  I would answer, "Not till Friday, I have plans!"  On Friday, I was going to be hanging out with some good friends, and there was no way I wanted to miss that.  Besides, there was so much that wasn't ready.  So I spent last week getting things ready -- following up on my insurance company, writing my birth plan, making a plan with the babysitter, and so on.  John said that ideally, I would go into labor Friday night, right after we put Marko to bed.

Friday, I had pretty much everything done, except for some inessentials.  But I told John I wasn't going along with his idea of going into labor that night, because we were pretty much out of food and I needed to go shopping on Saturday.  So I went to my friends' house as planned, and had a great time.  In the afternoon, we took a walk around the neighborhood, chatting, and I had to keep telling them to slow down.  I felt fine, but I was having a lot of contractions, and I didn’t really want to encourage them.  When we got back, I just had to sit down – even standing up, following the toddler around the yard, was getting the contractions going.  Annoying.

By the end of the day I was pretty tired, and I just wanted to get home and relax.  My friend said, “Hope you go into labor tonight!”  I thought, “No way.  Sometime next week.  I am NOT ready.”

Everything was ready, I know that.  But I didn’t feel ready. I wanted to be done being pregnant, but I didn’t actually feel that uncomfortable, so why rush?  And I wanted to see the new baby, but that would happen soon enough, and I was enjoying my one kid in the meantime.  But the main thing was, I was beginning to remember what labor was like, and UGH.  I wasn’t looking forward to going through that grueling ordeal again, even at home.

So I put Marko to bed that night, and went onto Facebook, posting that I really didn’t mind being pregnant another week.  Not half an hour afterward, at about nine, I felt a goosh.  My first thought was, “Please no.”  But by the time I got to the bathroom, it was clear that my water had definitely broken, and also that I was going to have to change my pants.  I told John what had happened, and he was like, “Right on schedule!”  But I immediately started freaking out.

First, I was upset because I didn’t want to be in labor.  Second, I was upset because I wasn’t in labor.  I hadn’t been having any contractions to speak of – maybe two or three in the past hour, and not particularly strong – and I expected those to come first.  My mom had an awful time with labor that didn’t get going after her water broke, and in the end it took 36 hours for my little brother to be born … so I was really worried this would happen to me.

I bustled around the house more or less aimlessly, trying to “get stuff ready” and worrying about things I couldn’t get ready at the moment.  I was so freaked out I was shaking all over.  I had two contractions in the next half hour that seemed to mean business, so that made me feel a little better.  I called the midwife, and she said she and her partner would come on over, see how I was doing, and then decide whether to stay all night or go home and come back in the morning.  Then I called my mom and freaked out to her on the phone for awhile.  She was very happy to hear from me.  For once in my life, I was thankful for the time difference – I knew I’d be able to call her at any time during the night.  While I was talking to her, I had two more contractions, and these hurt enough that I wanted to kneel down and lean on my bed.

The midwives arrived about ten and took a listen to the baby.  All was well, but they weren’t quite sure of his position and thought he might be posterior.  My back was killing me during contractions, so I thought they might be right.  I was so worried that, with my water broken, he wouldn’t be able to rotate easily.  So I kept on my feet after that, leaning forward over the table with every contraction.  The midwives were just shooting the breeze, trying to decide whether they should go grab something to eat before coming back, and one asked, “How far apart are those contractions, ten minutes?”  By this point I was timing them on my cellphone.  “About every five!” I answered.  A few contractions later they were every three minutes.  I started commenting that this was not very much fun, that I was remembering now that I don’t LIKE being in labor, that these really actually hurt and I wasn’t looking forward to “real labor.”  But I was still being kind of casual and humorous, so I’m sure I didn’t seem serious.  I had John there by now with each contraction, rubbing my back.  Sometimes he would jiggle and shake the muscles of my back and hips, and that felt really good – it forced them to relax.

This whole time I kept feeling all constipated and going in and out of the bathroom.  One of the midwives got nervous and asked if I was pushing the baby out in there!  I was like, “No, I’m quite sure I’m just constipated.”  (Ha ha.)  That feeling of pressure just kept getting worse and worse, but I wasn’t able to go.

At this point (probably about 11), the midwives’ chitchat was annoying me and I went into the bedroom.  They just followed me, though, which hadn’t been my intent.  They kept talking about how I was nearly there, trying to ask me about what position I might like to try for pushing, and I was like, “They’re crazy. I’m nowhere near there yet.”  (Ha ha.)  Between contractions, I felt perfectly clearheaded, unemotional, and normal.  I knew transition involved feeling panicky and despairing, so I knew I was far from there.  I did feel sick to my stomach, but other than that didn’t feel like I was anywhere near transition.  The contractions themselves were getting a lot worse, though, so I was moaning through them.  I had decided that I was NOT wasting my time trying to look like I was handling things well, and I was just going to make whatever noise I wanted.  (Quietly, though, so I wouldn’t wake Marko!)  I wasn’t timing anything anymore, but I could tell the contractions were getting longer and the breaks were getting shorter.  The midwives talked me into taking off my underwear because they were afraid I wouldn’t get it off in time to get the baby out!  I thought this was silly, but went along with it because I figured I wouldn’t want to move later on.

I tried some different positions, at the midwives’ prompting, and didn’t like anything except kneeling on the bed with my head on some pillows.  John was by my head holding onto me, which I found very comforting.  The midwives kept asking if I needed to push, and I kept thinking, “No way!  I just keep feeling like I need to poop!”  (Ha ha.)  I did try pushing a little, but it didn’t feel quite right so I stopped.  Instead I just made low noises, because I remembered last time those noises had gotten me started pushing involuntarily.
Finally I said, “Do you really think it’s okay to push?”  (I had declined all cervical checks because first, I hate them, and second, that information did nothing but make me anxious last time.)  One of the midwives said, “Definitely, he’s on his way down now.”  That blew my mind.  I reached down.  “What’s this I’m feeling?”  “That’s his head!”

Then I started pushing for real, but trying not to push too hard this time.  John kept reassuring me, “There’s no hurry, you don’t have to rush,” and I tried hard to listen to that.  It’s just hard not to, you know?  There was this overwhelming pressure, which wasn’t really helped by pushing, but which got way worse if I didn’t push.  Meanwhile I was really feeling the “ring of fire” this time (I never felt it last time because I blasted through it too fast).  So I was mostly shouting “Ow ow ow” and pushing tiny bits and stopping, meanwhile feeling that fuzzy head slide more and more into my hand.  That was pretty neat.  I felt in control, being able to feel what was going on.  The midwives didn’t coach me at all, saying, “You know better what you’re doing than we do!”  I loved that.

Then the head was all out and I remembered to wait for a moment.  Sure enough, he rotated sideways, and then a little push sent him sliding all the way out.  I could feel his shoulders, legs and everything!  Then shloop, down he plopped onto the bed and I scooped him up.  My first thought was,  “I never saw a newborn before!”  This was what I’d longed for so much, the chance to see and hold my baby straight from the womb – wet and covered in vernix and everything.

I lay down against the pillows and just held the baby for awhile.  He was kind of snuffling around, but not looking like he had any idea what to do next, so I put him to the breast and he latched on.  That was the best moment.  I had been so afraid I would have trouble nursing him, and there he was nursing away at fifteen minutes old!

I still wasn’t ecstatic or over the moon or anything I’ve heard about.  I guess I just don’t get very emotional about birth?  But I was feeling very pleased with myself and kept repeating to John that this was perfect, that I got every one of my wishes in this birth.

If you’re a man or squeamish at all, you should probably stop here.

About fifteen minutes after that, I started asking when we were going to cut the cord, and when the midwives would check to see if I’d had any tearing.  (I don’t think I’ve mentioned on here that I had a third-degree last time.  It was a big worry this time, and I wanted to know if I’d dodged that bullet this time.)  They said they didn’t want to do anything else till the placenta had arrived.  By 40 minutes after the birth, they were giving me various tinctures and asking if I was feeling like pushing again.  I still wasn’t.

By an hour after the birth, they were really getting antsy about it and wanted me to try to push a bit, which I did.  Nothing happened for quite awhile.  I had a few crampy contractions which I tried to work with, though I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing.  Eventually I did manage to push it out … most of it.  But there was this long trailing membrane that was still stuck inside.  That had the midwives a little spooked – they were afraid it would break off and I would retain it.  At this point my cervix seemed to be closing again and they were afraid it would get trapped.  So they had me pushing hard, coughing, trying to squat, etc.  That part was really miserable.  I just didn’t have it in me to push, I couldn’t put the baby down because he was still attached to the cord, and my hips were so sore.  Plus, the way the midwives were talking had me a bit freaked out (although I did understand clearly what was going on – John didn’t, so his only comfort was that I seemed to think they knew what they were doing).  Finally, about two hours after the birth, the dang thing came all the way out.  

(As an aside, because I can’t remember how much I told you about Marko’s birth, a similar thing happened then, though faster and more brutal.  The instant Marko was born, I was injected with Pitocin and the doctor yanked the placenta out by the cord.  She “massaged” my uterus into submission -- which is a big ouch, by the way, and not made any less painful by being told "stop whining, you just had a baby, this is nothing."  Then she told me she thought there was a bit of membrane left inside … so she manually cleaned out my uterus (I believe – she didn’t tell me exactly what she was doing, but I’m pretty sure that’s what it was … this carries a risk of infection, by the way, so it’s not exactly a good idea where avoidable).  This also hurt a lot and won me zero sympathy from Dr. Awful. This time, through more patient management, we were able to handle things better, though it still wasn’t pleasant.  One thing that can be said, though, is that this time I had WAY less bleeding afterward.  I still wonder what would have happened if they’d waited just a little longer for that placenta, though.)

It was two a.m. and we were all exhausted.  But we still had to cut the cord, do the newborn exam, and check for tearing.  There was one small tear.  Again, the midwives talked about it a lot before deciding what to do.  This kept annoying me – they couldn’t seem to just make a decision and give me their recommendation, but instead kept sort of waffling.  When I finally figured out that they both thought the tear should be stitched, I was like, “Well, get to it!”  They did, but it took forever.  Then there was the weighing and measuring (7 lbs. even, 20 inches long – a little bigger than Marko). Even though the birth was at 12:15, it was 3:30 before they left and we could go to bed.  We were exhausted.  But I was still pretty happy.  I had a new baby, that baby was nursing like a champ, and I honestly felt I could do this a dozen more times, no problem.

Oh, and then Marko woke up at six the next morning.  So we got the babysitter to come after all, just to let us sleep.  And Marko was fabulous with her.  I needn’t have worried!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Michael Joseph

born at 12:16 am
on April 21st, 2012
at home
after a surprisingly easy three-hour labor.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Things are finally growing!

It felt like spring for a long time before anything would really grow. I admit I jumped the gun and took all springlike weather as permission to plant stuff. Some did grow a little ... but it didn't really get off the ground until a few weeks ago. I think the real trick was day length. Until those plants were getting a summerlike dose of full sunshine each day, they weren't going to grow much no matter how warm it was. Especially since my front yard gets kind of a lot of shade in the afternoon.

Now, though, I have peas! I planted these way too early (some Feb. 21st, some March 11th -- which came up within a week of each other, because February was just too early) but they grew all the same. For a long time they were just teeny things, prone to being stepped on by the two-year-old. But now they are really beginning to put on size, and I finally had to build them a trellis!

After all my griping about lettuce, some did sprout. Five plants, to be exact. I also transplanted two dozen that I started indoors ... of which two very pathetic ones survive now. Every day another would keel over, despite my trying a number of different things to save them. They just weren't having it. But the ones that sprouted on the spot look great, although I think that's got to be maybe a 3% germination rate. All in the same general area. I wonder if there's something different about the soil there. The sad thing is that I'll have to thin them, while leaving the rest of the bed empty.

Spinach I've planted twice and nothing's come up. Carrots I think I've done three times, without seeing a sprout. I know they're supposed to take a long time, but the one bed's been sitting empty for a month now. I think I must have been too careless about keeping the bed "constantly moist." How the heck are you supposed to do that, anyway? (And yes, I tried putting cardboard over it. It dried out anyway, and became a home for about a million pillbugs.)

But the garlic from last fall is shooting up. Can't wait to see how big those bulbs get.

Next bed is tomatoes and cucumbers. I took a leap of faith and transplanted my tomatoes. They could have stayed inside longer, and it's nowhere near when I'm supposed to plant them, but I was going crazy. I felt like there was no way I could have this baby until those tomatoes were in the ground. Because there's no way I nurtured them for over a month just to let someone else plant them. Is anyone else this possessive over their garden? I can't let anyone else do anything because I'm afraid they'll do it wrong, but I can't seem to explain what I want so they can do it right. That would be why I keep hurting my back doing all this gardening work when I'm really way too pregnant to be hunched over digging in the dirt. (You would think it would be good for my back to be on my hands and knees. But it sure does hurt afterwards.)

Here are the Jersey Giants. It's a new variety to me, which is supposed to be good for sauce. Of these two lovelies, one is going to have to go. There were two in this pot and I couldn't bear to thin them, so I decided to transplant both in case one keeled over. Only they both handled it great so now it's still a matter of choosing which perfectly healthy plant to kill. I keep wondering if I can carefully pick one out and move it without disrupting the other's roots.

I'm also growing the Cherokee Purples again, because how could I not? They did so fabulously and tasted so good. (The trick is to learn what "really ripe" looks like and not touch them till they reach that point -- they are much too bland until they are kind of soft and purplish on the bottom while the shoulders are just a little green.) I transplanted in two of each variety, and direct-seeded two more of each. Direct-seeding tomatoes? Worth a shot, I figured. I've heard they grow much better taproots that way, and so are less sensitive to the flood-and-drought summers we have here. Also, I kind of stink at growing things indoors, especially with no good south-facing windows. Direct-seeded stuff, if it comes up at all, always does so much better in my garden. I think it's because it's already adapted to the environment it'll have to live with later.

I'll have to show a better picture of my cucumber-and-tomato trellis when it's done. Right now you can only see the cucumber part. But I'm connecting the two cucumber trellises with long pieces of twine on each side, so that the tomatoes will be confined to a long rectangle. Hopefully that will give them just a bit of support without restricting them too much. All I know is, tomato cages are not good enough for the punishment my tomatoes inflict. What kind of cage would it take to support an 8-foot tomato plant?

You can see how I just pulled back the mulch from the middle of the bed to stick the tomatoes in, leaving the rest to continue to mellow and not grow a crop of weeds for me. This area is the one that always grew the best, thickest, longest grass -- which tells me it will be very fertile, but it also means there are still a lot of runners in there. Once the tomatoes are bigger and the cucumbers are up, I'll re-cover the whole thing. I'll have to keep an eye on it, though -- I do want to make sure slug season is past before bringing the mulch too close to my plants. I don't want to make a habitat for the beasts. We did have some slugs last year, especially where I'd mulched, though they weren't a major problem. (I had to explain to my mom, who's only grown tomatoes in Washington, that when I say "we have slugs" I don't mean, "we have giant monster slugs that devour everything in sight." We have teeny-tiny slugs that seem to prefer eating decaying matter to eating actual plants.)

I planted the beans way too early, too. (See a pattern?) I put them in and then read about how awful it is to plant them in soil that hasn't completely warmed. And then we had a cold wet week. But once the sun came out and warmed things up again, they started coming up. The bush beans (Thai Star) didn't seem a bit fazed by the delay.

The pole beans (Kentucky Wonder) have been a little less consistent. First there was only one sprout. Then two. Now there are four, and I haven't yet decided whether to plant more or wait and see if more come up.

You can definitely see my cilantro is doing well! I transplanted it outside on March 27th because it was outgrowing its pot. I've had to set a bucket over it for several frosts, but it wasn't bothered. The basil I later transplanted next to it, though? Vanished without a trace. Most of it was dead before I even brought it outside. I'm not sure what was wrong with it. (Well, half of the seedlings lost out to the toddler. Sigh. But the rest are a mystery.)

The only thing left is the pepper and pumpkin bed. Right now it is a glorious heap of leaves and cut grass, warming up in the sun while I wait for my green peppers to be ready to go in. (I'm not as anxious about them as I was about the tomatoes. They can wait till late May if they have to.) I did pull aside the mulch and dig a bit today to make the pumpkin hills. And then, having made the hills, what was there to do but stick a few seeds in each, just for the heck of it? Yes, I did, and I'll let you know if they come up.

This stage of gardening is exciting. But not half as exciting as the picking and eating phase. Looking forward to that part.

For the record, I'm 37.5 weeks pregnant now ... so we'll see when this baby shows up, won't we? I'll try to at least post a picture as soon as possible so you all know. I can do that from my phone now so it should be easy. Wonders of modern technology.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

My real reason for attachment parenting

I am so tired of reading articles complaining about "those awful attachment parenting moms" and how much pressure they're putting on "the rest of us" to fulfill a certain checklist of attachment parenting things. Apparently elimination communication and placentophagy have been added to the "list" because celebrities did them and now we all are being pressured to do them too.

Whatever. I just don't feel pressured by someone else's choices, least of all by some celebrity I never even heard of before reading the article.

So, for the record? I don't do this attachment parenting thing out of guilt, a sense of obligation, or fear that I'm going to raise a psychopath.

Scientific proof is hard to come by when it comes to analyzing parenting methods. I mean, say you co-slept, breastfed, spanked, and homeschooled, and your child grew up to be a criminal mastermind. Which of your parenting decisions is at fault? It's not like researchers can randomly assign parents to parent different ways. And you certainly can't placebo-control spanking ... guaranteed, if you're being spanked, you know you're being spanked.

Anyway, there tend to be two opinions that are generally supported by some kind of statistical evidence. One is that attachment parenting really does produce better kids. Breastfeeding makes them smarter, co-sleeping makes them more secure, not spanking makes them less aggressive. Every "attached" choice you make helps your kids later in life. The other opinion is that what you do doesn't really matter, it's all genetics, and your kids will probably turn out fine whatever you do.

So, there isn't really any scientific or statistical evidence that attachment parenting hurts anything.

But that isn't why I do it, really. Why I do it is quite simple. It helps me enjoy being a mother.

I mean, I could obsess over sleep training and nap schedules. Sometimes I do. And when I do, it takes away my peace and makes me obsessive about something stupid that really doesn't matter in the long term anyway. Someday, no matter what I do now, my kid will hug me goodnight and leave the room, and that will be the last I hear of him till morning. But meanwhile, I found I slept a lot better when I turned the clock to the wall and just nursed him back to sleep when he woke up. (I miss those days.)

There's a lot of touching in attachment parenting: nursing, cosleeping, babywearing all require a lot of touching. It seems you'd be touched out after awhile, and honestly I thought I would be, since I can be sort of picky about being touched. But in my experience, the touching was the key. Being physically close made me feel so much more emotionally in tune. The nursing hormones didn't hurt, either. Every time we coslept, I woke up feeling patient and loving. It really is a neat trick of human nature, the way touch makes us feel so connected and happy. Science shows it's good for babies, but I maintain it's just as important or more so for mothers.

Nowadays, the struggle is usually over discipline. Having a toddler is rough. They are so determined to do what you don't want them to. And yet, when I yell or threaten or get rough in any way, I feel angrier and angrier. It still doesn't work. But as an added bonus, now I feel like my son and I are adversaries and I seriously resent the fact that he's not knuckling under and accepting who's boss. When, on the other hand, I try to put myself in his shoes and just keep gently redirecting and redirecting and redirecting him, moving him to a new place and comforting him when he cries about it, I feel so much less frustrated. I'm able to see him as a little person who is having a really hard time doing what I ask, but it isn't his fault. And I see myself as his hero, the one who can help him to do what he needs to do. I feel like a Good Mom. And every mom needs things to make her feel like a Good Mom.

Trying to "train" my son, to rush him to grow past nursing or nightwaking or babywearing or snuggles, would just be an endless source of frustration to me. I would see him as broken, defective, because he didn't do these things on my timetable. So I do everything I can to skip that source of frustration and just go with the flow instead. He wants to eat? I feed him. He wants to be held? I hold him. He wants to spend an entire year potty-training, and still has accidents every day? I don't really sweat it. He'll grow up eventually. All kids do. When the time seems right, I gently suggest the new thing I'd like him to do, and slooooowly he learns it. But if it turns into too much of a battle, I back off and try later. I don't need battles in my life.

It's pretty much the same as the revelation I had as a teenager, babysitting my little brother. I used to spend the time surfing the internet, and then leaping up every few minutes to extricate him from danger or attend to some need of his. I would get more and more frustrated. And then I finally realized: the problem was not the kid. The kid was going to have needs, that couldn't be helped. The problem was that I was trying to do something else at the same time. So I logged off (yes, this was in the days of dial-up) and sat on the floor playing blocks with my little brother. I was a little bored, sure. But I felt so much more at peace, happy, connected. And I realized that it's so much easier to just give up your grown-up ideas of entertainment, getting stuff done, setting goals, if you're going to be taking care of a child. They demand that kind of dedication -- but it's okay, because when they receive it, they're happy and, surprisingly, you find that you're happy.

Sure, I do my own stuff too. I do kind of a lot of it, because for all I complain, Marko's pretty self-entertaining and does leave me plenty of time to "get stuff done" as well as monkey around on the internet half the day. But some days, he won't accept that. He whines and cries and has a million things he wants. It usually takes me quite awhile to realize how miserable multitasking is making me. But when I do, I leave the computer, scoop him up, take him to the couch, and read books. Within five minutes, peace returns -- not just to Marko, but to me. I stop feeling like the harried housewife with kids climbing all over her and start feeling like the earth mother welcoming children into her arms.

I have the feeling, too, that if I take the time to enjoy my children, I won't find myself offering them to the nearest bidder later on. (At least, not too often. I am positive there will be days.) I chose to have kids, I like having kids, and I mean to spend their childhoods enjoying my time with them. As the old ladies I run into like to remind me, it won't last. Someday I'll have plenty of time to clean the floor, buy groceries by myself, and sleep alone. This time in my life is for storing up love and memories to think of later.

It's worth reminding myself, as I continue to freak out about the new baby (due in three weeks now!). I'm so worried of being harried, hassled, stressed. I worry that my "me time" -- my gardening, my blog, my incessant Facebooking -- will be a thing of the past. And let's be honest, for awhile, it probably will be. But what will happen if I don't even try to reclaim it for awhile? What if I focus on the moment, filling my two children's "love buckets," and listening to their needs? Will I be totally overwhelmed and "lose myself"? Or will I find, as I found with my little brother and with Marko, that when I lose myself, that's when I find myself? My Self is not some single woman with all the time in the world on her hands to grow tomatoes and comment on everybody's blog. My Self is a mother, a mother of two, and the best way to find that new Self is to quietly listen ... probably while nursing a baby and reading endless books.

Do I think attachment parenting is the best and you should all totally try it, if you haven't already? Sure. But that's because I like it and think you might too. There's no "list" of things you have to do to be a good mom. If you love your kids more than life itself -- and who doesn't -- you're already a good mom. So as far as that goes, I don't care what your individual choices are. I just advertise mine because they make me so very happy.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I LOVE two!

I told him not to cross that string. And he didn't.

You know how I wrote the other day that we're smack in the middle of the "terrible twos"? LinkMaybe we were closer to the end than I thought. Or something.

Last Tuesday, I was at a friend's house. She has a daughter three months older than Marko. And she told me something very encouraging: "When she turned two, it was like a light switch went on. She's so much easier. She understands much more and can follow directions or wait for something." I thought, "Let's hope this happens to us, because seriously I am wanting to trade him to the gypsies and he won't even be two for another five days."

On Wednesday, things suddenly began to turn around. We went to the store together, and Marko was a delight. The rest of the afternoon, he was a little clingy, but not too bad. We read a lot of books, weathered one or two tantrums, and made it to the end of the day happy. I peeked into his mouth -- sure enough, it looked like those last two molars were pretty much through.

Thursday, he woke up happy and continued happy all morning. Then he got drowsy and climbed into my lap, where he fell asleep while I was on the phone with my mom. I decided to just let him sleep, even though he doesn't usually nap. Eventually I did have to wake him up. I lay down next to him and quietly jostled him awake. He sat up and started stroking my hair, smiling at me and saying, "Gentle pets, like this!" Not only is this HUGE for a kid who almost never wakes up from a nap happy, but I couldn't help thinking of last month ... you know, when he was crying "Marko WANT to hurt Mama!"

The rest of the day was a bit rough, because I had to take him with me to a doctor's appointment which lasted an hour* and then drive an hour and a half to pick up John from the airport. We were gone from home a total of five hours, and almost none of it was toddler-friendly time. But he was incredibly good at the doctor's office, even though there were hardly any toys in the waiting room and none in the examining room. I planned a brief stop at the park before going to the airport to smooth things over, and encouraged him through the 90-minute drive with reminders that we were going to the park. It was clearly very hard for him to stay buckled in that long, but he didn't cry. He just would ask plaintively, "Yes we are going to the park?" every five minutes or so. And when we hit a red light, he would ask, "Shall we keep driving?" (Yes, apparently this is how I talk to him. So weird to hear myself parroted back.) He held my hand in all the parking lots, went where I asked him to go, sat still on my lap in the airport, and was amazingly patient for the trip home, too.

Since then, he has been AWESOME. Sure, there's a meltdown here or there when he's getting tired. But nothing like how it was. And best of all, he's getting it. He's understanding what I tell him. When I say, "Please don't touch that," he puts the thing down and finds something else to play with. When I say, "Do you want to put this book on the shelf for me?" he gets all excited and runs to put it away. Not 100% of the time -- but often.

Language has taken a huge step forward, too. He parrots less and makes up more of his own original sentences. Sure, he still uses pronouns exactly backwards. (He calls himself "you," exclusively, never ever "I.") But I was reading to him today and pointed out that there was a monkey standing on the table in the picture. He said, quite disapprovingly, "He must not do that." I'm quite sure I never told him that. In fact, he never used to care much for the pictures in books, except perhaps to name individual items. Now, he likes to describe what is happening in each picture: "They are eating the cake," "That man has a balloon," or whatever. Sometimes he just repeats what I've said on previous read-throughs, but sometimes he really does come up with the whole thing himself.

I'm beginning to understand how Montessori works. I read a book full of Montessori activities a few weeks ago, and I just couldn't fathom how you would get kids to do them. Now, Marko very eagerly imitates the same sequence over and over again, usually after I show him how. Last night he happily collected every book scattered on the floor in the living room and made them into a neat stack. Then he ran back and forth to the kitchen, throwing away miniscule bits of trash I found for him. He's gotten into puzzles and likes fitting the pieces over and over. His attention span seems much longer than before. So I actually could see him doing some of the Montessori activities with that kind of determined focus that they talk about. Not that we are set up to do any of that here; I'm not that on-the-ball.

Is he suddenly an easy child? Well, no. He's kind of hyper sometimes. Today he spent quite a while dancing and jumping up and down with the dog while laughing hysterically and throwing his stuffed animals in the air. But it's a nice kind of hyper, not the kind where he buzzes around the room until he smashes into something and then cries hysterically. Which is what he was doing last week. This time, I think all we need is for the weather to warm back up so we can spend all day at the playground.

In any event, so far, I can honestly say, I LOVE two. I'm really enjoying my last weeks with Marko as an only child. I know I may have said this about other ages, but this, this is the best age.

*Dealing with the issue in this post. This doctor was incredibly helpful and immediately agreed to everything I wanted. The office staff was not pleased to have to do the referral for my insurance company, but they had to because the doctor told them to. So we might actually get some money back from the insurance company after all! Also, he sounds like he'll be a great doctor for the kids. A success!

(Meanwhile the first doctor's office, the one that was no help at all, sent me a bill for the visit and can't seem to explain why they didn't get my insurance company to pay for it. My insurance company says they never sent them a claim at all. I have been bouncing back and forth between the insurance company and the doctor's office for three days now and I am going NUTS because they won't talk to each other. Also, why does asking a doctor a simple question cost $159.38 anyway?)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hygiene? What hygiene?

Welcome to the April 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Personal Care

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 stories, tips, and struggles relating to their children's personal care choices.

As my regular readers know, I was homeschooled until fourth grade. Then, in fifth grade, I found myself facing that impossible question: "How often do you shower?" Being, at that age, absolutely incapable of lying, and also well aware that this was a question intended to obtain more fodder to tease me with, I prevaricated a bit, but it was impossible for me to conceal the basic truth: I did not shower every day.

That's just not something you can get away with in modern America. Laura Ingalls Wilder bathed once a week. Queen Elizabeth bathed once a month. But Americans in the 21st century must shower every day.

Back in fifth grade, I took a shower every other day. My mom thought that was completely sufficient, since I wasn't all that stinky. When I was in boarding school, we all showered twice daily. Two showers a day for sixty girls means a lot of time and hot water -- so we were supposed to keep our showers to five minutes, preferably three. This put me off showers for quite a long time. I took a shower daily for years because "that's just what you do," but I hated it. Finally I started experimenting. Depending on the season, I discovered I could get away with bathing a couple of times a week, and washing my hair once a week. With fewer showers to take, I started taking my time and enjoying showers again.

What a relief that was. I smell fine, and if I feel sweaty, I can take a shower. But I don't have to take a shower every day. I just have to keep my personal hygiene a secret.

Until this moment. Now I just told the whole internet my dirty (haha) secret. One long, luxurious shower each weekend, and a bath or two with the toddler during the week. And I'm pretty sure I don't stink.

Anyway, it seems I'm raising my kid with the same hygiene habits as I have. He gets a bath when I notice he's dirty, or when he's having a bad day and I think he could use some bonding time with Rubber Ducky. So, a couple of times a week? When he was a baby, he got a bath every night because he loved them so much. And then we got out of the habit, and he got a bath every week because he really wasn't stinky or dirty. Once he started solid foods, we took a lot of baths just to get the avocado off. And now that he's a toddler, he tends to get baths when he's been playing in the dirt in the backyard.

Sometimes, though? *whispers* He plays in the dirt, gets all dirty, and doesn't take a bath. I notice when I'm putting his dirty feet into his pj's. Sometimes I get a wet rag and clean them off. Sometimes I just say, "Huh, guess we should make time for a bath tomorrow, kiddo." I mean, it's just dirt. I don't mind it.

Some people have asked, "How do you get a toddler to cooperate with getting his hair washed?" I always have to answer with a question -- how dirty is it, anyway? Just regular wear and tear? Then I don't bother. If it's got actual food in it or something (and it sometimes does) I might wipe it a bit with a washcloth. Sometimes he actually asks me to dump water on his head, so long as I'm careful to avoid getting any in his face (I have him look up at the shower head so the water will flow away from his face). But more often than not, Marko goes no 'poo ... and not only no 'poo but no water, either. (His hair smells lovely and is soft and silky.)

(On this subject, I don't usually use any soap on him. Little kids' skin is so sensitive, and water alone seems to get him squeaky clean if he marinates in it long enough ... and since he has stayed in the bath for an hour and a half without wanting to get out, there's no fear that he won't soak long enough.)

Toothbrushing? Oh, yeah, we do that. When I remember. When he cooperates. When I can find the cute little toothbrush and the fluoride-free toothpaste. I know I should do better about this. I'm a dental hygiene fanatic -- I have had enough cavities, braces, root canals, bridgework, and gum surgeries to last me the rest of my life, so I'm quite careful that I don't get any more of my own fault, anyway. And I know oral hygiene is especially important for kids. I don't give him sweets, I try to limit starches, and I make sure he gets plenty of calcium. It's just that brushing a kid's teeth is not such an easy job. It's taken months of effort to get him to cooperate at all!

To brush his teeth, I need a cute, tiny toothbrush. He would not accept the big ones, and if he got my electric toothbrush, he loved to play with it, but not put in his mouth. So I had to go to the store and buy a tiny toothbrush ... which he gave to the dog and which ended up a shredded mess, so I had to do it again. This time I got a four-pack. I also need the baby toothpaste. I got a kind with no fluoride and with xylitol, which I hear is good. And I need the Song. There's a certain song about brushing teeth which seems to be about someone with OCD who is compelled to get up in the middle of the night and brush their teeth, every hour on the hour. Anyway Marko loves it. So we have a deal: when I am actively brushing his teeth, I sing the song. When he pushes the toothbrush out, grabs it from me, or clamps down his jaws, the music cuts out until I can start brushing again. It works pretty well. I wouldn't say we do a full two minutes. But I do get every tooth at least a little.

That's about all the hygiene that ever happens around here. Hope I am not completely embarrassing myself by revealing this. But my hope is that a few other people might admit to the same transgressions, and maybe even chime in, "You know, there really IS no reason to shower every day!" Either that, or that you all agree to still be friends with me, on the grounds that, since it's the internet, you're never going to have to smell me.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo 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 April 10 with all the carnival links.)

Monday, April 9, 2012

I only know my child

I was obsessing over my blog the other night to John. I was saying, "I just want to share the things I've learned -- but I'm afraid I sound like I'm trying to set myself up as a parenting expert -- and what do I know?" He said something very wise: "I don't understand why mothers keep lecturing and advising and comparing and trying to tell each other they're doing it wrong. Kids aren't cars. There's no manual, and every single one is completely different."

How right he is. What works for my son might be a disaster for yours. What finally cured your child's problem could make (what looks like) the same problem in mine worse. I'm reminded of this over and over, as I tell on my blog what I've learned, and people comment to say, "No offense intended, but I did the exact opposite of what you say and it worked great." Really, it's no surprise. Why shouldn't something totally different work for a totally different child? Even with the same child, the two different parents may find totally different things work. For instance, I never teasingly tell Marko not to do something as part of a game, because I'm afraid he wouldn't be able to distinguish between "Oh no! Don't tickle me!" and "No, I'm really serious, don't hit." But John does, and he uses such a markedly different tone of voice for each that Marko doesn't seem to have any trouble telling which is which. I'm not sure I could do that, but he can.

I have a lot of strong opinions, mainly based on my goals. Our parenting choices arise from our goal of what we want our children to become. I have a lot of goals for my son, like "be a person of faith," "have healthy relationships," "be a generally happy person." John has just one main goal for him, "be an independent thinker." These goals inform our choices. Because I don't want him to be a driven high-achiever (unless he wants to be), and because I don't want him to develop a slavish sense of obedience or deference to authority (because we're such revolutionaries in this house), the methods that achieve these goals don't sit right with me. I am not interested in making him practice piano for hours, a la Tiger Mother, to make him a high achiever. And I don't want to force him to outwardly agree with me and defer to me at all times, because I want him always to challenge the status quo and use his own brain. It's hard for me to be accepting of those who are seeking different goals, because it reveals such a different worldview. And yet I have to acknowledge that, if you are seeking a different goal from mine, it's no wonder you will do different things than I do.

Meanwhile, even if you do have the same goals as I have, you might take a different route to get there and still be right. Your kids are different. You are different. Your home is different. Your life looks a lot different! And yet, whenever I get bogged down in what I do and what I think and how could other people possibly do something different and have it be okay, I remember one thing. I have a number of very close friends whom I admire very much. With one exception, they all think their parents did a good job raising them, and they maintain close relationships with their families. They are in healthy relationships, are independent thinkers, are people of strong faith -- everything I want my children to be when they grow up. And yet, when I took a brief, informal survey of parenting methods at a party one night, I got everything across the board -- from hands-off to hands-on, from free-range to intensive attention, from tiny families to huge ones. They attended a variety of schools. And they all turned out great. Is it such a stretch to imagine that their children, and the children of other people I know, will all turn out great, too? Simply having loving parents who are making their parenting decisions mindfully gives a child an enormous leg up over the "average."

Kids are so different, it's hard to generalize anything. Kids aren't even the same as themselves from day to day. They pass through stages like lightning. So if I can't even make a generalization about my child without qualifying it with "at the moment" -- realizing, of course, that six months ago this would never have worked, and six months from now it will probably have outlived its usefulness -- obviously I can't really talk about other people's kids.

That doesn't mean what I'm doing here, and what we all do when we compare parenting stories and give each other advice, is useless. We're just sharing wisdom. True, my wisdom may not apply to you. But maybe it could give you an idea. That's all we're doing, giving each other ideas and swapping tips. I find it incredibly helpful to listen to other parents and read parenting books, because they inspire me. Hearing from one veteran mom, "I never raised a hand to my children, and they all turned out wonderful," does wonders to encourage me that not spanking won't create a monster. And hearing from another, "I did the opposite of what you do, and my child still gave me a really hard time at two," helps me take a deep breath and realize that not everything my son does is a result of my terrible parenting. But I take it with a grain of salt, and I hope you do, too, when you read what I say here. I have my opinions and my stories and my advice ... but it might not work at all for you. But it may help you, one way or another, to hear that it does work for me.

So, I'm going to keep running my mouth about what I think on here, but please do keep that in mind: I only know my child. I don't know yours. I'd love to hear what you did with yours and how it was the same or different. I'm not sitting behind my computer screen, judging you because you did something different. I'm just picking up whatever wisdom in what you say might be applied to my own situation. And I'm marveling in the way loving parents can find a multitude of ways to pour that love out on their children ... because, you know, that's what you're doing. It's a beautiful thing to watch.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Marko is two

Can you believe it?

One hour old

Four days old

Three weeks old

One month old

Two months old

Three months old

Six months old

Nine months old

One year old

Eighteen months old


How long did it take you to scroll through all those pictures? Yeah, that's about how fast these two years have gone by. Sniff.
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