Saturday, March 22, 2014

Close Quarters

I’m writing this to the sound of drills and hammers and some screaming punk music.  I’d dig the screaming punk if it were mine, but it’s not.  It’s the neighbor’s.  And for some reason he keeps changing the song every 15 seconds.  I want to scream, “Just leave it, you fucker!”  It’s not even shitty punk -- well, okay, it is, but it’s shitty punk that I like.  The problem is it’s not mine and I’m forced to listen to it whether I want to or not.  To be honest, I was feeling in more of a Naked and Famous mood today, not fucking Suicide Machines.

Sorry for all the swearing.  I seem to feel swear-y when I’ve got a sleeping baby upstairs and the neighborhood seems intent on waking her up early.  The construction site next door is extra bangy, the neighbors are extra punky, everyone and their grandmother seems to be out driving their 8000 dB beater around with no muffler.

This is my life.  And I like it.

No, no really!  I do.  I like the borrowed punk music and the arhythmic hammering.  The loud cars I could do with out, I guess -- oh look, there goes one now.  Better go make sure the baby’s still asleep.

She is, miraculously.  She’s finally seeming to get used to the close quarters of affordable urban life.  I wish I could!  Maybe it’s reminding her of her first home, a tight little cocoon surrounded by the constant swish of blood and crush of noisy organs screaming out their daily grind.  The city is just one giant body, our own womb, noisy with the flow of arteries and the deafening beats of life.

Sometimes I feel smothered by all the noise and people and the fact that I can hear the intimate details of the lives of strangers.  And sometimes I feel exposed with the knowledge they can hear all of our fun moments too, like when the baby cries at 4 am or when I fall out of my dancer pose as I attempt a little livingroom yoga (because who has time to go to a real yoga studio!?).  

But sometimes I do see it in a better light.  Those moments when the hammering next door seems to line up perfectly with the punk music on the other side.  When the muffler-less cars sound like they’re at least 3 blocks away and heading in the other direction.  When the sky is blue and the mountains white and the leafless branches of early spring let all of the glorious sunlight through.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about attitude and happiness.  Happiness is a choice, and so is stress.  Most of us have so much to be thankful for these days, but it’s somehow easier to focus on what we don’t like or what we’d like to change and stress and stress and stress about it.  Some people (like me, I think!) are definitely predisposed to more stress, but it’s still a choice.  I can look at the noise of the neighborhood as an affront to my own personal peace, or I can just embrace it as another quirky part of my life.  Which would make me happier?  

I just introduced myself to my neighbor (“Hey how’s it going?  Beautiful day, eh?”), and he actually seems like a nice guy.  (newsflash: people who listen to punk can be nice! :) )  All of my other dealings with him have been “Do you really need to saw wood at 8pm?” or “Can you please turn your music down?” or just eye rolls and glares at the wall that divides us.  I wrap myself in the stressy, smug blanket of pissed-offy-ness and I never actually have to have a real conversation with him.

But, I haven’t been feeling super happy about that.  I actually felt quite happy to introduce myself to him on normal, neighborly terms.  After all, what’s the point of living in such a densely populated area if I’m just going to glare all the other people away?  (‘BitchBus, please keep back 50 feet’)  I’m going to choose to lose the glare and, hopefully, be a little happier with what I’ve got.  Because, what I’ve got actually ain’t all that bad.  It’s actually pretty rad.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Byebye Baby, Hello Banshee

“Babe, can you open this?”  I hand the jar of honey across to David, who’s just gotten Ebba settled into breakfast.

He struggles for a half-second, the honey-stuck seal pops, and he hands me the open jar back across the half-wall that divides the diningroom from the kitchen.

All of a sudden, Mt. St. Ebba erupts.  “Brrrllllaaaargh!!!!”  Her eyes bulge out of her red face, tongue waggles like she’s doing some sort of butchered Haka, and she shrieks, pointing at the offending jar of honey.  “MMMMAH!!!  AH!!  BLAAARRR!”

I hold the jar of honey up and say “Honey?  This is just honey for me tea, sweetpea.  Eat your breakfast.  You have egg, yogurt, and cereal.”  I put the honey away.  She sees me put honey in my tea at least several times a week.  It shouldn’t be a big deal, right?

“NAY NAY NAY NAY NAY!!!”  She shakes her red head and thrashes in her seat, her wind-shield wiper arms trying to knock her delicious, nutritious breakfast to the floor.  She signs “more” repeatedly, which to her actually means “Give me what I want right now!” (Despite my best efforts as a speech pathologist to show her what it actually means.)

I see we aren’t going to get anywhere fast with this.  Breakfast, as we know it, has ended.  Quickly I run through my rolodex of options.  After all, I’m a child development expert, of sorts, so I should know exactly what to do in this moment, right?  No, not right.  (Or, as Ebba continues to tell me “NAY NAY NAY NAY NAY!!!”)

David, my ever-loving husband looks to me for our next steps.  What should I do, I wonder.  Should I refuse her the honey and end breakfast?  Should I give her a little and then try and reign her back on track?  Should I give her as much as she wants?  Should I put it in her yogurt?  Should I force her to eat “just one more bite” of something and then reward her with some of the delicious, delicious stuff from the jar?
I opt for option 2 and give her a small bit of the honey.  She calms, smacks her lips, smiles.  ...And then points for more.  

“All gone!” I say with a shrug.  “Have some egg.  Mmmm!”  

I can see the blood rising in her face.  It starts around her neck, then to her ears, then up across her forehead, and then she’s all open mouth.  “NAAAAAAY!  Moooore!!”  Well, at least she got the meaning of “more” right this time.

Infant Ebba's tantrums were less intense!
I look at this screaming, writhing body in the booster seat and wonder when she arrived.  When did my little baby go?  That one screamed and cried sometimes too, but usually for things I didn’t have to say “no” to, and even if I did, she was easily distracted.  I remember when she was a little baby, I looked forward to when she was “older” and I could “reason with her.”  HAH!

This thing, this newly arrived Ebba, this kid where there was once a baby, she clings to her desires.  A simple “no” can cause convulsions, and attempts to distract her are met with flailing arms and a look that says “are you freaking kidding me!?”  

She’s a person now.  She wants what she wants.  And even though I hate the scream-fests that appear to be increasing in frequency, I’m happy that she’s arrived.  It’s not what I expected, we’re certainly not doing a lot of “reasoning,” but she is so much fun.  And I’m learning everyday.

It happened so suddenly, the switch from baby to person, that I didn’t have time to prepare my responses, to set my stance.  The key to dealing with these outbursts is to set appropriate limits and to be consistent.  Everyone knows that.  But how do you do that.  You need to know where your limits are and trust your judgement.  Don’t question yourself (something I do all. the. time!).  This morning, I was all “maybe I shouldn’t have given her any honey.  Maybe I should have given more.  What was the right answer!?!?  The thing is, it’s not about a right answer.  It’s about the consistency.  So regardless of where the limit is set, you have to stick to it.  (Like...honey. :) )

And then you have to be prepared for the consequences.  A happy baby is a secure baby, or so I’ve read.  And a secure baby is one who has had limitations set in a consistent fashion.  Despite the fact that I’ve worked with the under-5 set for as long as I can remember, for some reason I thought that setting limits would not yield screaming meltdowns.  If a secure baby (one that’s had limits put on it) is a happy baby, shouldn’t Ebba have been happy and smiling when I told her “no you can’t have a whole jar of honey for breakfast?”  Shouldn’t she be elated that I have exercised my parental muscle in order to make her feel safe and loved?

She did not look very happy thrashing about, red-faced on the floor.  But I took a deep breath and steeled myself.  “I’m doing the right thing,” I told myself.  “I am teaching her what breakfast is.  I’m teaching her that I care enough about her to not let her eat only honey.  And I’m learning too.  I’m learning what Ebba responds best to and how she acts when she doesn’t get it.”

I sound like a hard-ass here, but I’m totally not.  I have made it my parental mission to never say “no” to Ebba unless there is a really good reason.  For me, a really good reason isn’t “I got tired of pushing her in the swing so I made her get out,” or “I didn’t feel like cleaning up the mess when she wanted to play with ALL THE TOYS so I only let her take out one at a time.”  But “we have to make dinner by 5:30 so we need to leave the park at 5” and “picking up and attempting to eat discarded cigarette butts from the sidewalk is dangerous” are both good reasons for saying “no” or stopping an activity.  This is my own metric, I’m sure it will differ from parent to parent.

We’ll see how it goes over the next few months (years!) while I work on setting limits for Ebba and learning from her how best to teach her as she grows older.

How have you other newbie-toddler mummies been dealing with the change from baby to kid?

It's not all tears these days though!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Other Side of the Boob

I had an interesting experience last month.  We had a girl over to interview her for a babysitting position for E, who was just over 12 months then.  E was coming down with a cold (or getting over one, or something.  It’s hard to keep track these days.), and she was getting a little grumpy and clingy with me.  So, while we continued the interview, I lifted my shirt, pulled the cup of my non-nursing bra down, and I nursed E.  The nanny-candidate didn’t flinch.  That’s not what was interesting about the experience.

What was interesting was that I felt weird.  I wondered if she thought I was strange, sitting here breastfeeding my baby who, really, was almost a toddler at this point.  I wondered, also, if E was even getting any milk, and I wondered if it mattered.  I wondered if I was messing up our relationship by continuing to breastfeed or if I was making her even clingier or if I was doing the right thing or...  

Well, that was interesting.  Interesting that I’m still nursing (seems more accurate than breastfeeding at this point).  Interesting that I feel weird about it.  Interesting...

If you had asked me a year ago what I thought I’d be doing now, I definitely wouldn’t have said breastfeeding.  Back then I counted every time I breastfed E, expecting it to be the last, waiting for her to reject the breast.  Back then I was crying over spilled 50mL bottles of pumped breastmilk that took painstaking hours to fill.  Back then, I was pretty certain that when E was 1, I’d sit around watching all of my friends continue to breastfeed and strengthen their bonds with their toddlers while E played by herself in the corner...and then went and made her own poison formula bottle and fed it to herself, you know, since we’d have no bond at all.

Back when I felt a little more desperate to nurse *
But, that’s not what happened.  And I feel like I should be elated because of it.  In some ways I am, but in most ways my feelings are much more jumbled than that.

As most of you know, I’ve had my struggles with feeding E.  I wanted so, so desperately to do a good job, to do what was best, to breastfeed my baby.  When she was 3 weeks old, I bought my first can of formula, and her breastfeeding has been supplemented with it ever since.  I just never made enough milk for her, not nearly enough.  And, no matter what you read or what other people say, it can happen.  It’s not a question of doing something wrong or not trying enough or (god, how could I believe these things!) not loving her enough.  Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.  And that’s why formula exists.  It’s not poison.

From 1 month until almost a year, Ebba’s main milk intake was formula in a bottle, with as much breastmilk as she asked for.  After 11 months, her main milk intake was cow’s milk, still with breastmilk thrown in when she wanted, though not nearly as often.

When E was about 11 months old, I thought she had weened herself. And I wasn’t sad.  I congratulated myself on lasting that long.  At 2 months, I thought we’d barely make it to 3.  At 3, I just knew we’d never make it to 4.  But the months kept coming and E kept breastfeeding.  So, when, before her first birthday she just stopped asking for the breast, I didn’t force it.  I let our nursing rituals fade away.  

Less than 2 weeks later, however, E started asking to nurse again, in earnest.  She wanted it all the time, everywhere.  She would pull and tear at my shirt and whine “boob boob boob.”  And I’d blush and wonder why, in all my infinite wisdom, had I ever thought that her learning that word was cute?

I was confused.  Sometimes I was so happy that she still seemed to feel this connection, stronger than ever.  Sometimes I felt manipulated and used. (by a 1 year old.  seriously, I know how absurd that sounds.)  Sometimes I felt embarrassed, or like I’d done something wrong, or like people were staring.  Sometimes I just didn’t want to nurse her and I’d try to distract her.  Sometimes I would nurse, but I’d sigh and say “I thought we were done with this.” As it turns out, extended nursing is as uncomfortable as all those sanctimommy and lactivism blogs say it is.  I see why they fight for breastfeeding rights.  (Or, well, do I feel it’s uncomfortable because they say it is?  I don’t know.)

Things are a bit better now.  I generally nurse E when she asks (which is getting less and less again), and I try not to worry as much how much milk she’s actually getting, because I’ve realized it doesn’t matter.  I don’t begrudge her asking for it (well, not usually), and I nurse her when and where I feel comfortable.  

I think that’s the main thing about extended breastfeeding (scratch that--that’s the main thing about any feeding.)  At this point it’s not so much for nourishment as it is for bonding and comfort.  And that’s okay, as long as the mom feels comfortable too.  It didn’t feel good to me when I would huff about and whip out my boob for E with a discontented sigh.  It probably didn’t feel good to her either.  So, then, what was the point of the whole exercise?  That’s why I do set limits now on where and when I nurse.  I’ll say things like “wait till we get home,” or “I’ll nurse you over here instead.”

Why would I want a bottle when I can have this!?
Whatever circumstances you’ve gone through as a mum and whatever choices you’ve made, those are the right ones.  If you didn’t breastfeed past 4 months, kudos to you (it was probably much easier to ween then, hah!).  If you’re breastfeeding your 3 year old, wow!  I doubt I’ll be joining you for that.  If you’ve had to formula feed since birth, rock on.  You are amazing and doing what’s best for your baby.  If you’re a single dad bottle feeding.  If you’re a mom tandem nursing twins.  If you’re introducing formula to go back to work.  If you’re exclusively pumping.  If your tits just hurt too damn much to breastfeed past a month.  All of you.  Kudos to you.  It ain’t easy!!  Feeding a baby isn’t easy, no matter how you do it.  It’s also extremely rewarding and builds that bond no matter how you do it.

I see now more than ever the importance of us all supporting each other.  Because all sides are hard.  People do need to support breastfeeding, which is something I never realized before.  But now I get it.  It is hard.  It’s uncomfortable.  Some people do stare.  Sometimes you don’t want to.  It’s not easy.  

But all of those other mums out there feeding their babies how they’ve had to, or how they feel comfortable, well, we all need support.  Feeding a baby his hard.  Fighting about it makes it harder.  The most important thing is building that bond with the baby--well, okay, the most important thing is making sure the baby gets food and survives of course, but after that, it’s building that bond.  And the only way to do that is to feel comfortable and feed with love.  If we’re fighting about whether someone gave up to easily and switched to the bottle too soon or whether someone should cover up their boobs in public or whether someone’s feeding their kid when he’s too old...well, then no one is comfortable.

I feel really lucky that I’ve been able to see so many sides of this issue.  I don’t know how long I’ll continue to nurse for or how I’m going to go about weening.  I’m sure I’ll probably need support to sort out my feelings about nursing my 1 year old.  I know everyone out there feeding a baby needs support, I know it more than ever now.

So, I support you.  I support ALL of you because what we’re doing is just freaking amazing and hard, but we’re still doing it.  Feed on!

Big and Strong and Well-fed!

* A little note about the pictures:  I really wanted to include one of me bottle-feeding Ebba, but I couldn't find one!  I'm not actually surprised.  I have been so ashamed of having to formula-feed my baby that I must never have consented to a photo of it in action.  I should have.  It's adorable and cozy-looking.  Bottle-feeders out there, I'm not forgetting you!  This just goes to show how much we need to shed the stigma.