Sunday, April 26, 2009


On Saturday, I knew we'd be eating lunch out, so I brought along Ben's sippy cup, a bib, and a bag of dreary-ohs and fruit bits. It's not that I fear for his nutrition if he goes a meal without oaty Os and freeze-dried fruit; it's that the time between sitting down and getting served is easier on everybody if Ben has dozens of little foodlets to pick up and put into his mouth.

I used to bring all his food: overcooked organic veggies and strips of whole-wheat bread, shredded cheese, a banana. And I don't look back on those meals out and think I was a chump to do it -- he was new to solids, and I think it was appropriate to introduce each food carefully, prepare it minimally. But now he's a sturdy little nearly-eleven-month-old Big Fan of Food, and I'm not going to let a little breading scare me.

So we order off the kids' menu now. Chicken fingers and steamed broccoli. I cut it all up into wee pieces and set a few pieces at a time in front of him. The server invariably asks if we want a plate, and I'm sure the sight of a baby eating right off the table is unsettling, but he can handle the germs, and he'd just knock a plate onto the floor.

We didn't plan to eat out again today, but it worked out that way. I didn't have a bib or the snacks, but I did have his sippy cup, and I made a mental note to keep one in my purse from now on -- it's really the only brought-from-home lunch item that we'd miss. He ate his deep-fried, mostly-breading, far-too-salty chicken and steamed-but-drenched-in-saturated-fats-and-salt broccoli, and would I want him to eat like that all the time? No way. But once in a while, no big deal. And it's great to be able to eat lunch at a restaurant on the spur of the moment.

These are not fancy or sophisticated places, of course. Yesterday was Pizzeria Uno at the mall, and today was the Ruby Tuesday across from the Lowe's. His restaurant experiences include Cracker Barrel, Panera, Five Guys (where there isn't, sadly, anything I'm willing to give him -- yet), and a cafe in Albany called Peaches. I want him to be the kind of kid who's used to eating out, who can transition easily to nicer places -- and dinner -- once he's past the chucking-stuff-on-the-floor phase, and it seems to me that the way to get there is through a lot of "family" restaurants with fried food and patience.

We tip generously, at least 30%, to make up for the mess.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


A typical day:

4:00 Ben awake and crying; I nurse him, and he goes back down.
6:00 Andy, Ben, and the hounds awake. Andy gets dressed, changes Ben's diaper, puts him in his high-chair, feeds himself and the dogs.
7:00 Andy brings Ben to me in bed. Ben nurses and squirms around. I get up, get dressed, bring Ben downstairs and give him breakfast. We listen to Morning Edition.
7:45 I eat breakfast in front of the computer while Ben hangs out in his doorway jumper.
8:00 Ben loses patience with the jumper; we go into the living room, and he plays with toys and explores his environment while I go back and forth between participating and reading a book. Usually there's a diaper change and a change from PJs into clothes during this time.
9:00 Ben gets fussy, demands to nurse, falls asleep (or gets drowsy); I put him down for his nap. I play on the computer or watch TV and knit or do laundry or some combination.
10:00 (give or take half an hour either way) Ben wakes up. We might go out and run an errand or make an appointment* now. If we're home for the morning, we go downstairs and repeat 8:00's activities. He will usually ask to nurse at some point.
11:30 (give or take, depending on when the nap ended) I give Ben lunch in his high-chair in the kitchen. I make myself something small and quick or else eat some portion of what I'm making for him. We listen to This American Life podcasts (the afternoon programs on WAMC are mind-numbing).
12:30 (give or take, etc.) If there are afternoon errands or appointments, now is when we'd set out. If not, Ben goes back into the doorway jumper and I go back to the interwebs. There's usually a diaper change around now.
1:00 Back to the living room for more toys and exploration. If it's a nice day, we might go into the front yard or out to the park.
2:00 Ben gets grumpy and asks to nurse, falls asleep or gets drowsy, and I put him down for his afternoon nap. I proceed with laundry, tidying, reading, TV, knitting, etc.
3:00 Ben wakes up, gets a diaper change. This is another opportunity to head out for errands or outings. (I like to grocery shop late in the afternoon so that we get back around the time Andy gets home, and he can help put the groceries away.) I usually read him some books as long as his patience for that holds out. He nurses and maybe also gets a bit of an afternoon snack like dreary-ohs or a few bites of my Nutrigrain bar. We play toys, or he does while I read.
4:30 I give him dinner. We listen to All Things Considered.
5:15 Andy comes home round abut the time Ben finishes eating. He changes clothes and grabs some kind of snack.
5:30 Andy and Ben hang out in the living room playing toys, or maybe Andy plays the banjo and Ben smacks it. I feed the dogs, do dinner prep if there is any, and then play on the computer for a while, usually watching something on Hulu while I knit. I might drink a beer.
6:30 Andy takes Ben up and changes him for bed. I go up after a few minutes. Ben nurses, and Andy and Hugo sit on the floor while I go through the bedtime litany of listing all the people and doggies who love Ben (starting with Mom and Dad and Lola and Hugo, going through friends and family and their doggies if any, ending with the babysitter).
6:45 Ben goes to sleep. Andy might go for a quick bike ride, or help me get dinner going, or keep me company while I get dinner going.
7:30 (give or take, depending on how time-consuming dinner is) We eat while watching TV, usually two episodes of Jeopardy on the TiVo.
8:30 I make myself tea and some kind of sweet, feed the cats and scoop their litter, and return to the TV. Andy might be working on some carpentry/IT/other fiddly project while we watch. I am generally knitting.
9:30 We pack it in. We rouse the houndies, who resist, and make them go out before bed. There's some tidying of the kitchen and setting up for the morning.
10:30 Andy is asleep by now; I'm watching TV in bed and knitting.
11:00 I go to sleep.

* Errands and appointments, e.g. Take Lola to the vet for chemo/recheck/CBC, take Ben to the pediatrician, hit Target for diapers, go the H&M mall and check out H&M baby clothes, go to the L.L. Bean mall and check out dowdy clothes for me, meet up with the moms and take a walk somewhere, hit the post office, take a passel of outgrowns to the consignment store, hit the yarn store, hit Barnes & Noble, hit Petsmart, get groceries at the Price Chopper, the Hannaford, the Co-op. Usually more than one destination per outing.

I'm not sure why I thought this rated a blog post. Mostly I sort of wanted to record it for my own future interest.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Toys There Should Be

1. A deck of sturdy, circular plastic cards, each about the size of an adult's palm, with photographs of everyday objects or African animals or body parts or other things you find in, say, Priddy books. If you must make them "educational," the reverse of each could have the word, or the initial of the word.

2. Board books made of sturdy plastic or wood, so that gnawing youngsters don't A) destroy them and B) end up with little pieces of semi-dissolved paper in their mouths.

3. A toy with one very easy to operate switch that turns a light on and off. Bonus if the switch is actually shaped like a real light switch.

4. Boxes with hinged lids and different kinds of closing mechanisms, all slightly challenging, in which parents can stow different assortments of interesting gummable and handleable objects.

If any of these things do exist, please tell me where to buy them.

Friday, April 10, 2009

And Still More about Sleep

So here's where we are with the sleep thing.

It was going swimmingly there for a while. The kid would go down and stay down with a few little bleats of protest punctuating the silence but not turning into full-on screaming hysteria. I was pushing his overnight feed later and later every night, and mostly he was sleeping well past those appointed hours.

And then the teeth. Two more on top, one a little ahead of the other. Tooth A (which is really Tooth E, but whatevs) didn't seem to cause him that much distress. In the past,t he worst pain appeared to happen before the tooth showed itself, and Tooth A erupted without my noticing any difference in his demeanor. But Tooth B, oh my heck. Tooth B was apparently a real byatch, because out of nowhere, his sleep went to hell again. Up every few hours, couldn't be redirected back to sleep, lots of yelling which eventually resulted in my buckling and nursing him, poor little guy.

The day after the third night of this was really bad. I was exhausted. He was a crabtastic crabtacular jumbo lump of crab meat. I was short-tempered. He was short-tempered. The morning began with him biting my nipple and me yelling at him and bursting into tears. The worst part (though I have to say, having your nipple bitten by sharp little fresh baby teeth is pretty bad, and it's hard to name a worse part of any day) was feeling defeated -- not only did it seem like we'd lost the sleep battle it had appeared we'd won, but there was now one less tool in the box, night-weaning having come to naught.

Of course, I hadn't really focused on the teething yet, so all of this seemed like random, unexplainable failure to sleep. Once I realized what was going on and started dosing him with ibuprofen at bedtime, things went a lot more smoothly. I was open to giving him a break and nursing him down when he was having a hard time -- this being a phase requiring mercy rather than a pattern requiring squelching.

But Tooth B is nearly out now, and his daytime mood suggests that he's not suffering anymore, so no more ibuprofen, and no more comfort nursing. I had a plugged duct this morning, so I may do a dream feed before I turn in just in case, but we're going cold turkey till dawn.


My mother taught me to knit when I was ten (I think -- if I'm off by a year either way, who cares?). My first project was a garter-stitch scarf in a variegated white, blue, and purple wool we bought while on vacation in England. I worked it on wooden straight needles, and the number of stitches varied wildly from row to row. My memory is that it turned out hideous and I wore it proudly with a ski jacket bought to match.

Over the next [mumblemumble] years, I made some more scarves, none notable, and several sets of two-needle mittens and basic hats, also not particularly notable, though I do remember going through one Philadelphia winter with a pretty blue hat that turned out rather well and kept my head warm without mussing my hairdo. I tried not to put myself in the position of having to learn any more stitches than absolutely necessary. When I picked up knitting again this year, I knew how to knit, purl, knit two together (basic decrease), knit into the front and back of a stitch (basic increase), cast on, and bind off -- though I had to call my mom more than once to ask, once I'd reached the end of a project, how do I bind off again?

Knitting wasn't chic for most of my life. When I revealed knitting in middle school, in high school, in college, it was regarded as a grandmotherly oddity -- not lame exactly, but certainly not cool. Now it's cool. Well, ok, I admit I'm wholly unqualified to assign coolness, but from where I sit, it sure looks cool. I mean, check out this guy's blog. Cool, right?

Anyway, I picked up knitting again this winter because I liked the idea of knitting Ben a sweater, though it would probably involve learning a new knitting technique or two, which I generally opposed. I'd never made a sweater before. Andy, reading my mind in that magic way spouses sometimes do, got me a bunch of knitting stuff for Christmas, and I took it up with the kind of enthusiasm that generally burns itself out after I've spent too much money on random gear.

And it still might, I guess. But I have a lot of projects going now, and lots more in my Ravelry queue, and I've been reading knitting blogs (three of which I've added to my blogroll), and I'm taking a BSJ class, and I'm sort of annoyed about the approach of warm weather because I prefer knitting with wool to knitting with cotton, and I'm positively eager to pick up new techniques and follow ever-more-complicated patterns.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Boob: Right or Wrong

The Case Against Breast-Feeding by Hanna Rosin in this month's Atlantic.

First of all, it's a wretched title. She's not actually making a case against breastfeeding so much as she's knocking a few holes in the case for breastfeeding, and in fact she concludes the piece by telling us that she herself continues to breastfeed, and even cherishes her time doing so. I've heard that Rosin had a different title in mind, and the editors switched to this more sensational one. Phooey on that.

I haven't read the relevant medical literature, but I have no reason to disbelieve Rosin's representation, which is basically that the evidence behind our culture's current mania for breastfeeding is thin because it's difficult to control for all the other healthy choices breastfeeding mothers tend to make, and the socio-economic group to which they all belong. In other words, if you want the benefits that advocates of breastfeeding claim are the results of the boob, your best bet is to be educated and upper-middle class.

I agree with Rosin that the pressure put on mothers to breastfeed is well out of proportion to the established benefits. Formula is not dangerous, and it's outrageous that it is presented by breastfeeding advocates as tantamount to smoking while pregnant. However, I don't think that the benefits of the boob are to be dismissed simply because they are difficult to prove. And even if the balance only slightly favors nursing, that's a solid argument for giving it the old college try.

Because where I really disagree with Rosin is her notion that breastfeeding is a significant hardship, that it's keeping women down the way housekeeping did in the 50s. "Modesty, independence, career, sanity" are what one stands to lose, she says, by breastfeeding, and that's utter hogwash. Sure, I have the luxury of not working, but I know far too many women who pump on the job without bitching about it to believe that it's that big a deal. And modesty? Come on -- it takes a little practice, but anyone can learn to nurse in public without flashing a nipple, and past the first couple months, you almost never have to nurse in public if it bothers you, anyway. If you stand to lose your sanity because of breastfeeding, by all means, do please stop, but I can't imagine that this is seriously a problem for any but the tiniest and therefore most entirely irrelevant minority. And if independence is that big an issue, don't introduce into your life a tiny creature who is wholly dependent on you -- how you choose to feed it is the least of your worries.

Rosin makes a stab at arguing from the perspective of the working class, but it's not very convincing. Her argument that breastfeeding can only be considered "free" if you don't count the mother's time ignores the time spent sterilizing, mixing, and warming bottles -- which is only "free" if you're paying someone else to do it, which is not generally an option open to blue-collar moms. And, yes, pumping on the job is a lot harder "if you are, say, a waitress or bus driver." But you know what? Everything is harder if you're a waitress or a bus driver, so it's not exactly a winning argument against the boob -- though of course I'm more sympathetic to a mother who gives up pumping because it's genuinely a pain in the ass than one who just can't be bothered to give it a try.

Her only argument against breastfeeding that really resonates with me at all is her claim that it makes for an imbalance in marriage. I remember fondly the very early days of Ben's life, when I felt strongly that Andy and I were a team, were in it 100% together; and I remember the feeling of being at sea when he went back to work, when it became clear that the only way to get the baby back to sleep at night was to nurse him, when suddenly I felt like the parent and he felt like the occasional assistant, when my parenting felt required and his felt optional. That sucked. But some of that would have happened even if we'd been bottle-feeding. With one of us working and the other staying home, there was bound to be an imbalance. And now that we're night-weaning, and nursing doesn't have that kind of powerful sleep magic any longer, the little imbalance that remains doesn't feel at all unfair, and has everything to do with my spending 16 waking hours a day with Ben compared to Andy's eight.

Rosin goes on to posit that this initial inequality leads to others: "[The mother] alone fed the child, so she naturally knows better how to comfort the child, so she is the better judge to pick a school for the child and the better nurse when the child is sick and so on." Talk about hogwash. This kind of gatekeeping is a conscious choice on the parts of both parents, and if you wish to avoid it, you damned well avoid it, and it has fuck-all to do with breastfeeding.

She closes the article by bringing up a suggestion of one of the medical researchers whose studies she's read that perhaps it is not something in the breastmilk, but the physical closeness between mother and child which is responsible for whatever positive outcomes are associated with nursing. And she's right to say that if this is the case, it should be more widely publicized.

I, like many mothers in my generation, have mixed feelings about the debate. I feel for women who try to breastfeed and can't, and are made to feel just awful for their "failure." At the same time, there's still enough cultural squickiness to the idea of putting a baby to suck that without some measure of peer pressure, I think fewer women would make the effort, and I do believe it's an effort worth making. I feel strongly, right or wrong, that I'd have been missing out on a profoundly rewarding part of Ben's infancy if I hadn't nursed him -- and I feel just as strongly that if I'd been unable to, he'd have been just as healthy and every bit as smart on formula.

A quick further thought: I want to make it clear that I'm very much in favor of everybody giving breastfeeding a real go, but I am also vehemently against giving anybody for whom it doesn't work a hard time. I argued against Rosin's characterization of breastfeeding as costing "modesty, independence, career, sanity," and I stand by what I said as a generalization (as Rosin's characterization was), but I'm well aware that individuals do sometimes feel these precise costs -- and others -- and I absolutely support mothers who value their own health and happiness enough to put them squarely on the scale.