Sunday, February 28, 2010

Baby Swing: Mother's Helper or Separation Tool?

I'm not against using baby swings and seats, but I just saw a full-page Fisher-Price ad in Parenting Mag that made me think, "Wow, there are really a lot of tools to separate us from our babies."

Swing and exersaucer-using parents, I'm not criticizing the use of those tools- I used them too. But the ad in the magazine shows a montage in which a baby is never held by his parents. In the first shot, the baby is in a bassinet by his mom (God forbid the baby actually touch you while he sleeps). In the second shot, the parents are feeding the baby while he sits in a high chair (sometimes my baby likes to eat while sitting on my lap). In the next shot, the Dad is showing the baby toys hanging on the exersaucer the baby's sitting in (maybe the baby would like a little break from fabric pressing on her crotch). In the final shot, the mom and her friend are smiling and leaning over the baby, who's sitting in a gigantic swing (I thought people LIKED to hold babies).

I understand that this is an ad for those products, not a "how to parent" montage, but I think these images influence people's view of what's normal. I guess that's why FP puts these ads in... so first time parents think, "Oh cool, this is what I need to handle my baby. The baby is sure going to love sitting in this." Maybe some babies do. Mine never really did, although the exersaucer often got me 10 minutes of blogging time. Believe me, I am NOT saying parents should not take time for themselves. When the kid can't sit up to play on his or her own, these tools can be pretty damn handy.

Also, some people NEED these tools to contain their babies in a safe place while they care for other children or accomplish a task around the house. I'm not judging people who use swings and exersaucers and bassinets- we used them too.

But I also see in these ads a fear- a fear about a baby growing too used to your touch. And a feeling that is inconvenient to hold your baby with your own arms. Sure, sometimes it is. But they are only little for such a short time.

Also, that's why babywearing can be so nice- your hands are free, but your baby (or toddler) is snuggled right next to you. Rather than put Q in the exersaucer, I'd often wear him while I did laundry or put dishes away. It's not always the easiest on your back, so I'm not going to tell other parents to babywear if they don't want to. I do think parents should do what works for them, and if it's to put the kid in the swing, go for it.

However, this ad made me think about how a baby can be viewed as a threat- but if he can be contained, you can go about your orderly, adult-oriented life. I think that as a parent who wants to feel connected to their baby, you have to be aware of the subtle messages these ads send. It's one of the many reasons I do not love parenting magazines, and would rather read parenting blogs and websites, such as Phd in Parenting, Hobo Mama, and Amber Strocel's blog.

Taking care of a baby by yourself all day can be exhausting. Often these tools give a mother a much-needed break. Many of the new mothers I know, including me, do NOT have family in the area, so don't have a mother or mother-in-law nearby who could come and give her an hour break- much less a 20 minute break! A swing had to do that, and I think that is fine. I was just struck by the Fisher-Price ad, where people who clearly had free time, and free hands, were standing beside a baby in a piece of plastic.
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Friday, February 26, 2010

Making Breastfeeding and Daycare Work

It can be tough to make breastfeeding work with daycare.

In my case, my baby wants more milk than I can make. Guess what I say to that? Too bad. He can make it up when I pick him up. His doctor and my lactation consultant say the 8 oz I provide should be enough, so if that means I have to rush right from work to get him to feed him, I'm fine doing that until one year when he can take cow's milk.

I blogged previously about my having to persuade daycare that 8 oz was enough milk for him. (That was titled "Approaching 1 Year Breastfeeding: Stubbornness- and Support- Needed.") I can only pump 6, max 7 at work, so I even have to squeeze in extra pumping sessions to make that 8 oz. It's a pain in the butt, but my sights are set on my one year of breastmilk goal and I am forging ahead. My husband wonders if I'm thinking of myself or the baby, but you know what, I don't really expect anyone else to get how I feel about my goal. The baby's fine. 8 oz should be enough for him. He loves solid food, so all the medical professionals tell me that is enough milk.
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The Fullness of Parenting with Friends and Coworkers

I'm a lingerer at daycare, partly because I often breastfeed in the room right before I leave Q and right when I pick him up. This gives me the chance to see other parents drop off and pick up their kids. It's so adorable to watch people effusively love up their kids as they say goodbye.

My coworker’s baby shares a room with mine. She or her husband do dropoff around 7 like I do. Last week I watched her hug her baby tight and say just like I do, "I love you so, so much," when she said goodbye. Then at work we were too busy to even talk. This week, I saw her husband drop off the baby. He picked up the baby, hugged him, kissed him, and told him he loved him, then said a regular friendly "Bye Kristine," to me.

This was actually the first time I’ve watched other parents say goodbye to their kids at daycare and I was really struck by it. It’s the type of affection that we that don't always see other parents giving babies because we don't often witness their partings and reunions. I think it was even more striking to see it in my coworker and her husband, who I've known for 8-9 years, and who I consider good friends.

Our babies together six months ago at a backyard BBQ:

My coworker and her husband are hard-working, relatively serious people. I mean, they are fun, and funny, but they’re not silly, goofy people who run around kissing and hugging people at work or at parties.
It’s not that they aren’t affectionate people. I hug them hello and goodbye at social gatherings. When we gather socially with our kids, of course we all hold our kids, and maybe even hug and kiss them, but at parties, we’re all talking to each other while keeping an eye on our kids- we’re not lavishing attention on our babies because it’s one of our few times to socialize with adults.

That’s why the overt affection from my coworker and husband was so striking- although I have known them for years, I’ve never seen it. Such gentle and loving behavior is reserved by most people for private moments. But daycare breaks that boundary because you have to say hello and goodbye to your most precious thing in front of other people.

Now I can’t help but see my coworker and husband a little more completely. I know them now not just as friends and coworkers, but as loving parents. Even if you know someone IS a parent, it’s different when you see them interact with their child, and it’s even more informative to see them show their most sincere affection. We often don’t get this full view of people because we don’t often work, socialize AND parent around the same people.

I am lucky to work with amazing people, many of whom are parents, many of whom have awesome partners that I count among my friends. It teaches me a lot about how to parent, and how to be a working parent.
Working and parenting and having a marriage and friendships- it’s a lot. It’s a lot to handle. It’s pretty much impossible to find the time to do it all well.
I had no idea that being a working parent was so… busy. And full. And exhausting. And draining. But in many ways, great. I had no idea it would be manageable, but it is.

I like that I have company in this challenging time. I like knowing that other people whom I respect are trying to work the same balancing act. You can’t try to parent alone… it’s just so much easier to do it with your friends! You can learn so much from others.
Even if you’re not a working parent, you need company. Several good friends are staying home with their kids, and they struggle with parenting and balancing too.

I really love this time in life. I’m learning a lot about myself, and about others, and about life in general. My life is so rich and wonderful and rewarding right now. I just wish I had more time to blog about it!
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Fathers as an Essential Breastfeeding Support

I just spoke to a friend who has made it to 3 weeks breastfeeding her baby boy despite cracked nipples, pain, and c-section recovery, in addition to the raging hormones and sleep deprivation that make the first few weeks so difficult.
I am so proud of her for making it this far. She said she never would have made it without the support of her husband. This reinforced the already high opinion I have of him. I have always thought he's fabulous, but to hear what a support he's been to her- well, that means a lot. My own husband was also a huge help with encouragement, caring for the baby while I napped, and bringing me water and whatever else I needed and wanted while breastfeeding. Oh- and he made ALL of of our dinners the first few weeks!

I wanted to give a shout out to my husband, my friend's husband, and all the other dads (and partners and families) who make the often difficult first few weeks of breastfeeding more manageable.

Another friend of mine has a friend who badly wanted to breastfeed, but her husband didn't think she could do it all herself. She ended up giving it up. Fathers and partners, and their opinions, mean more than they realize. I wish more moms knew they CAN do it. I never was sure I could, but I persevered through some pretty bad pain at 5 days with my husband's support and the help of my lovely lactation consulant. Most of us can't do it alone, and we have to ask for help from the right people if we want to succeed. Most of us CAN do it- but most of us need help. I've asked for so much help along the way- from my LC, from my friend Deirdre (a doctor and breastfeeding/pumping/working mom), from twitter friends, and my friend Olga when I needed a pep talk after a hard first week of pumping at work.

Wish I could write more, but need to run and get the house ready to feed TEN people, as my family is in town!
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Friday, February 12, 2010

February's Humorous Teaching Moments

Me to two students who were bickering during group work: “You sound like me and my husband. I say I agree with him to get him off my back, then I give him the silent treatment to show him that I really don't agree.”

My social studies class is causing me to regret letting them work in groups to write skits illustrating the steps that our Neolithic ancestors went through to move from hunter gatherers to more settled communities. It’s going OK, but yesterday, I thought one group of boys might start stabbing each other with pencils. And, when I took a look at the work of a group that is changing the words of a song to show the steps, I realized that the song is about sex. I realized that because I saw that they’d chosen to leave in a line about “let’s skip the foreplay and get right to it.”

Me: “You need to change this section here.”
Kids: “Huh? Why?”
Twelve years of teaching have taught me that 11 year olds do not know the word “foreplay,” among many others, so I just say, “This line has nothing to do with settling down. That’s the whole point of using the song. You CHANGE it, you don’t just sing it like it is.”
Kids: “But we like how it says…” and they start to sing the line for me.
Me: “Stopstopstop. I can see what it says. I’m telling you, you need to change it. What if you change it to…” I offer some brilliant suggestions.
Kids look at me blankly: “Can we just leave it in there?”
Me: “NO. That song is about a romantic interlude, and if you don’t change the words, it’s going to be inappropriate.”
Kids look at me like I’m speaking Martian.
Me: “Trust me. CHANGE THE WORDS.”
Kids look at each other, give each other a “God, she’s weird” look, shrug their shoulders, and go back to work on the song.

A few other funny teaching stories:
 “Discussing Pregnancy- And My Butt- With Students."
 “Debating Britney.”
It’s really the boys that you have the funny conversations with. They're usually a little sassier than the girls. Usually.

I also had a funny conversation yesterday with a boy who I was telling to stop playing with his bangs. It’s the trend for boys to have long hair these days, and every day in my class, this boy arranges his bangs in a perfect line with his eyebrows. Like, several times. I am easily distracted and cannot deal with that, so I’m going to see if he can stop. I mean, if it’s an OCD tic, I’ll gladly allow it, but if it’s a habit out of boredom, he can sort my pen drawer for me.
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Debating Britney

This story is actually from May 2005; I just moved it over from a defunct blog. The post is still pretty timeless.

My students are sharing these magazines they’ve each made. We’ve worked on them for over 6 months and they look great. They’re sharing in small groups, giving compliments to each other’s magazines and helping proofread for errors.

I walk by a group that happens to be all boys and notice a couple of them reading David’s article that starts, “Has Britney Spears gone pregnant or is she just fat, disgusting and ugly?” It was written before she announced she was pregnant, and now I realize I find it a bit insulting and probably too negative for school.

Me: “Excuse me!” (in hushed but outraged voice so the other groups won’t perk up their ears at the controversy) “That is OFFENSIVE to women! She is NOT fat.”

Will, supportively: “Yeah, she’s not fat, she’s just slutty.”

Me: “OK, slutty, not appropriate for school. And she’s not slutty, although she does dance around with hardly any clothes on. But that doesn’t mean she-”

Will: “OK, OK.”

Me: “It’s offensive to women, you guys. If Britney Spears is fat, then I’M fat.”

Mike glances up: “You’re pregnant?”

Me: “What? No! I mean, she’s not fat, she’s NORMAL. If you’re calling HER fat, then you’re saying I’m fat too, because we’re basically the same size. So she’s put on a few pounds, so what? Just because women have to gain weight to have babies, is it OK to call them fat.?”

David and Alex: “Yes-” I stare at them. “-NO! I mean, no. No, no.”

Me: “You guys! There is too much pressure on women to be thin. Women are always judged on their looks. She’s not ugly! If she’s ugly, I must be ugly, cause she’s kind of pretty. ”

David: “OK, OK, you’re right. I’ll change it to, ‘Is she pregnant, or has she put on a few pounds...’”

I ponder that. “...No, forget it. The point is we shouldn’t be judging other people. You know what- I’m taking that. You can’t use it in your magazine.” I take it out of the page protector feeling pleased with my decision.

“What? Nooooo!”

Me: “Yup. It’s confiscated. I’m taking it.” I stomp off and leave them to puzzle over my reaction.

This story is one of the many many reasons I like teaching. Click here to read full entry.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Approaching 1 Year Breastfeeding: Stubbornness- and Support- Needed

It occurred to me this evening, as I was painstakingly pouring the 7.5 oz I painstakingly pumped at work today into 4 separate plastic baggies that I painstakingly labeled with date, ounces, and my baby's name... that trying to breastfeed for a full year takes stubbornness.

In the early days, I was stubborn when we almost tried some formula when the baby nursed and nursed and nursed from 10 pm to 1 am. We made the bottle, then I said, "Just one more nursing session."

I was stubborn at 5.5 months, when after the baby had a weeklong stomach bug and didn't nurse much, my supply really dropped (despite renting a hospital grade pump and pumping whenever I could get time), and I had to nurse the baby almost every hour or two for two weeks straight to get my supply back up. (Thank God I was not working, or I'm not sure I would have had the time and energy to get the supply back.)

I have always stubbornly stuck to the idea that breastmilk, and what I can make, should be good enough. (I must say I have been influenced by my fabulous and stubborn lactation consultants, who I simply adore. Holla, Stamford Hospital Lactation!)
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