Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Food for Thought

One of the most startling discoveries I made upon becoming a mom is that parenting is a competitive sport in which there are no winners. Something as simple and necessary as feeding your child is cause for judgement and snobbery from parents who do it differently.


When my twins were infants, we fed them using bottles. In public, this garnered a lot of attention. Were we feeding them formula? It was scandalous.

The answer, for the first three months, was no. I was pumping my heart and my breasts out daily to give nourishment to my incredibly tiny children. Born at 34 weeks, they had little to no ability to latch. In fact, for the first month, we had to feed them via tube.





Taking a bottle out in public, however, never failed to bring on the stares of other well-meaning parents who were certain our children weren't getting the best nutrition possible. On top of everything else a parent has to worry about, we now need to worry about other people judging how and what we feed our children.

After the three-month mark, I went back to work. I could not continue pumping enough food for them, and so slowly we weaned them to formula. Am I a formula feeding advocate? No, not really. I am a feeding advocate. As long as mothers are feeding their babies, I am content.

There are many reasons that people might formula feed; necessary medication that doesn't mix with breastfeeding being one of the biggest. To me, though, it doesn't matter if one woman is feeding her infant formula because she couldn't produce enough breastmilk, and another is doing it because she's on medication that could be harmful to the baby, and a third is doing it because she doesn't like the feel of the baby at her breast. It's simply not my business.

This isn't to say we should silence our beliefs. There is most definitely a role for the lactation consultants and activists out there. Many mothers are confused about breastfeeding. Many are coming up against resistance from their families who formula fed. Many desperately want to breastfeed, but their baby won't latch, or they're having trouble with technique. Infancy is a time of great stress, and many infants face weight issues that would push any mother to follow her doctor's - her mother's, her sister's, anyone's - advice to start giving formula, lest she hear the dreaded "failure to thrive." Those mothers, though, will seek out help. They will ask you - or their doctor, or their sister, or their mother - to help them learn about breastfeeding, to help them feed their child. A woman in a restaurant or sitting at a bench in the mall is not asking for our help, and we do not know her story. Therefore, shouldn't we reserve our judgement?

I wanted to breastfeed. I wanted to breastfeed for more than three months. Once I determined it would be infeasible for me to do so, I did not want other's opinions on why I should continue to try. I certainly did not invite the stranger on the street to start waxing poetic about the benefits of breastfeeding to me, as I sat outside at a Starbucks and wrestled with two babies to get bottles into their mouths - especially because in that particular instance, I was feeding them breastmilk. Yes, it comes in a bottle, too.

And bottle feeders are not the only women who come up against judgement from complete strangers. Nursing in public has long been an issue for mothers as well as mall-goers. But isn't it every mother's right to feed her child when it is hungry? Someone's five year old may need a mall pretzel to keep him on his feet, and nobody will look at him twice, but another woman's infant needs a snack, and whether she is using bottle or breast, she will get stared at, if not spoken to.

If you feel the urge to judge someone for their choices, I beg you, next time, before you say something to that harried mother, judge me instead. Think back to this picture:



Yes, that's an almost-two year old with a bottle, and, yes, we're working on it. But that's another blog for another day, and I'd rather you judge me than the poor woman in the corner over there nursing her child, or the mother behind you at the post office when all the fenugreek in the world couldn't boost her supply.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Toddler Logic

As my twins and I got ready to walk to the library, I handed them each a hat. As I handed Dulce her hat, I realized that it was slightly smaller than Natalina’s hat, but it was the only one left within arm’s reach, and I wanted to get going as soon as possible, so I put it on her head and off we went.

This was a mistake.

As we started down the first stretch of road, Dulce started fiddling with her hat. It was too small for her liking. She noticed that it didn’t cover her ears, whereas Natalina’s hat did. So, while I’m proud of myself for having seen this problem ahead of time, I still ignored it at the time, and now we still had a mile and a half to walk to the library, and a mile and a half back – all with a hat not quite to Dulce’s liking.

The way there was not so bad. A walk humming with the repeated sound of “hat, hat, hat, hat, hat, hat.” The way back provided a meltdown the likes of which I had not seen since, well, yesterday.

As adults, we’ve learned to ignore the crucial, tiny conversations our mind has with itself over every decision we make throughout the day. Most of the scenarios our unconscious goes through are unlikely, many don’t make sense, and in almost all of them the protests our mind quickly comes up with and discards can and will be ignored for the greater goal. This process becomes so quick, in fact, that we no longer register it. We begin to assume that making as decision is a simple one-step process. Until, that is, we become parents.

I’m still no expert at this toddler logic, but at least now I recognize which tiny part of my logical process didn’t line up with the baby’s idea. That puts me at least three steps ahead of where I was before becoming a stay at home mom. Step 1: break your decisions up into the shards they really are. Step 2: pay attention to each shard as if it is actually important. Step 3: try to determine how your toddler will view this shard of this decision in five minutes.

So, to further exemplify: as I reached for the blue hat that was slightly smaller than the multi-colored hat her sister was wearing, my mind thought, in this order: This hat is blue. It might not have enough color for her. (Overruled, said the adult. It matches her outfit.) This hat is slightly smaller than her sister’s. It won’t cover her ears in the same way. (Overruled, said the adult. Why do her ears need to be covered? We live in Florida.) She hesitated when taking this hat. She probably doesn’t like it and is just excited to get out of the house. I should probably get her another hat. (Overruled, said the adult. The other hats are in another room, and I am also anxious to get out of the house.) All of this discussion in my mind, boiled down to: we’re going out; the babies need hats.

Toddler brains work differently than an adult brain. They put emphasis in places where emphasis simply should not go. They will get tied up in a little detail that you can’t see, so that even when you fix the overall picture, they’re still upset because it’s not the overall picture they’re seeing. So that no matter how many times I adjusted her hat to cover her ears, it was still no use. I still hadn’t procured her another hat. I still hadn’t picked the right hat in the first place.

The easiest way to avoid all this is to offer them choices. Even if they choose something you wouldn’t have expected, something that doesn’t make sense to you, they have chosen something that makes sense to them, something that they will be happy with. And a happy baby means a happy parent.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Moment of the Week - 2

Dulce is going to be an executive when she grows up:




Natalina is going to be a plumber:

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Toddler Tricks - 2

Ways to trick your baby:


Problem: We’re in the middle of potty training, and oftentimes when we need to go out, it just doesn’t make sense to go without a diaper. But after spending all day barebottomed, I know at least my toddlers will throw a right fit about putting a diaper on, to the point where I’ve been pinning down a 27-pounder with the adrenaline strength of baby Hercules with one hand, while trying to strap a diaper on her with the other.

Solution: When we have to go somewhere now, I tell them a few minutes before that we have to pick out our diapers. Then I bring them two diapers to choose from – a pink pullup or a white traditional. The pullups are new in our house, and they’ll always pick that one, but the point is, they pick it out and then they let you put it on. Choices are a huge deal to them.



Ways your baby tricks you:



Problem: Sometimes your new shoes really need to go potty.

Solution: Don’t ever leave the room during potty training time. Alternately, wear only flip-flops for the next three years.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Lesson in Leaving

It’s hot here in Florida during the summertime, but I didn’t let that stop me as I dressed in chic jeans and heels preparing to take my twin toddlers to the library for the first time. The 1.5-mile walk seemed just the right distance for a strollered stroll when we were inside our air-conditioned home.


First, let me say that I only got one blister, and it didn't show up until halfway there. Huzzah. However, not only was I wearing jeans, I'd also dressed Natalina in jeans, and, seeing as it was probably 95 degrees, this was borderline cruel of me.

We finally get to the library - Dulce, Natalina and I - sweaty messes all. I sign up for a card, roll the stroller to the kids’ corner, and we start to play. There are two other children there; the girl is probably five, the boy, probably three. I think, “Great! My kids will get to play with some other kids.” Unfortunately, that’s not really how it turned out.

Natalina kept trying to give the boy a book which he would swat out of her hands. I didn’t like that, but I kept my mouth shut. What can you really say to a three year old you don’t know? Then, I turned around for a moment, and he pushed Dulce to the ground. So I picked her up and couldn’t help but give the little boy a look - a look meant for an adult, a look meant for an adult who has just knowingly and intentionally hurt you or someone you love. I know that wasn’t right of me, but I really couldn't help it. He pushed my kid. He pushed her on purpose. He also kept throwing books, and my girls saw this and started throwing books. I had to tell them, “No, even though that baby is throwing books, we cannot throw books."

I pulled some grapes out of my purse that I'd brought for the babies, feeling like super-mom because I’d remembered to bring a snack. I quickly learned, though, that grapes are like gold to other people’s children. Those other people’s children ate most of my grapes. Where were all the adults who were supposed to be watching these scamps anyway?

It was finally time to leave. I don't know if you've ever tried to tell a toddler that it's time to leave a great new place where they are having fun, but it’s not easy. Compound that with forcing them back into their stroller, and, well, it just doesn’t go over well. This particular time, it went over screamingly badly, in fact.

I was mortified. We were in a library. There were regular people there minding their own business, trying to read. My kids not only screamed at the top of their lungs for minutes-that-seemed-like-days on end, they also struggled so that it looked as if I were beating them into submission. I have never been more embarrassed in my life.

The librarians were nice about it, but I was almost in tears, telling the babies that we would never come back here again and telling other patrons how sorry we were. The librarians said, “Well, that's what we get for combining a kids' library with an adult library. We expect this. Don't worry. Get out of the house. Come back to the library. It will be better next time.”

I decided never to go there again. The librarians, though, were right. It was better next time. It was better because I was prepared. I told the babies over and over again, “No crying when we leave the library. We can go to the library now, but only if you don’t cry when we leave. We are going to go to the library, and then we are going to leave the library, and you are not going to cry. No crying when we leave the library.”

I can’t believe it, but the broken record of warnings worked. We’re now regulars at the library, and everybody knows not to cry. We also wear shorts.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Potty Palindrome

Toddlers are gross. As parents, we tend to forget that this statement applies even to our little ones, especially if they have, thus far, avoided certain disgusting behaviors that we’ve heard others complain about. At least, I know I do. We say, “oh, you poor thing!” We think, my baby would never do something so base, thank goodness. But the joke is usually on us.

Yesterday, I heard my little angels waking from their nap in the late afternoon. I thought I had time to make a trip to the complex dumpster before rousing them completely. I was wrong. We’re in the middle of potty training, you see, and while I still put a diaper on them for naps and sleep, they now know that a diaper isn’t permanently attached to their bodies.

I walked into their bedroom. “Hi!” I was greeted. “Hug, hug! Up! Outside! MUAH!”

I walked out of their bedroom and took a few huge gulps of fresh air.

What had greeted me on the other side of that door was a monstrosity I wasn’t sure I had the heart to deal with. I opened the door again, with grim determination and not a little disgust pasted on my face. I didn’t yell. I didn’t cry. I certainly didn’t hug or kiss them. I looked at my two naked babes, hands caked, feet smooshed. I looked at the room itself, brown streaks on the cribs, on the pillows, on the carpet.

“No.”

“No, no. This is very bad. This is very very bad. No. Don’t move. Don’t move!”

In my misplaced pride, I’d thought this could never happen to me. Since most babies who are going to experiment with this usually do so at around a year of age, or 18 months at the latest, I thought my babies too high-brow for such shenanigans. At least by waiting until age two, they gave me the advantage of having children who can actually listen to the word no and the command, don’t move.

Okay, so how to clean this overwhelming stinky mess:

First, find the big piles of the culprit, pick them up and put them in a bag you can seal. I picked them up using the dirty diapers from which they had been tossed. Second, do a thorough search for laundry. Look at blankets, loveys, washcloths, sheets, toys - anything that you leave loose in the room is suspect. Put all of it in a pile on top of a clean blanket.

Next, soap up a rag and a small towel - really soap them up. Using the rag, scrub the carpet, walls, doors, changing tables, anything that may have been sullied, but be sure to remember where the offensive material was. This is a job that requires more than soap.

Now, turn to your twins (or singleton, as the case may be), and using the towel (a washcloth is too small, trust me) vigorously scrub them down from top to bottom. (If you have a baby younger than 2, you should do this step first. Mine were decidedly not moving at the time, and I wanted them to see the clean up. It wouldn’t behoove a baby to see such a clean up, and a baby wouldn’t know not to move and could further soil himself or put the stuff in his mouth. Clean babies are happy babies.) Remove everyone and every soiled thing from the room. Start a load of laundry; use bleach.

Get the tub ready, and toss in babies. Give a good scrub down and a good rinse. In my case, I left them naked (we live in Florida) and instructed them to sit on their potties. If you have a younger baby, or it’s cold where you live, suit them back up.

Now, turn your attention back to the room in question. Open the window and turn on the fan (if these are possibilities.) It is very important to disinfect the area. You can use hydrogen peroxide, or any cleaner with an enzyme. I further cleaned the carpet using Oxy-Clean.

I can’t tell you how to prevent this in the future. Some parents fully clothe their kids at all times, put footy sleepers on backwards, pin velcro diapers shut, or put socks on their babies’ hands.

I, of course, gave mine a stern talking to, and am taking no further action, still convinced that they will not do this again. How much do you want to bet that the joke, again, will be on me?

(A proud postscript: I was able to write this entire thing without using the word poop. Oh, shoot. There it is.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mall Madness

Mob Mentality: large numbers of people acting in the same ways at the same times. Often blamed for concert riots, car burnings, tramplings, and other explosive actions for which no coherent thought process can be discerned. It’s a phenomenon that spreads across ethnicity, location, background, and, of course, age.


I brought my two-year-old twins to the mall yesterday. It was the third time they’d ever been to a playland, and they’re beginning to feel at home in those surroundings – a result that I expected, but not one that I particularly like.


The Babies at Playland

The mall Playland can be a nightmarish place. People, when allowed to lose their inhibitions, when allowed to disappear into a crowd, can allow unacceptable actions to become acceptable. If it’s spring weekend at your college and you’re 19, this could mean flipping a car, or passing out drunk in the street. If it’s the seventh game of the World Series, and the Red Sox have just won, and you’re 30, this could mean taking to the alleys of Boston and yelling your fool head off in an impromptu jubilee. If you’re at the mall Playland and you’re two, this means throwing your shoes, pulling someone’s hair and screaming at the top of your lungs. When you’re two, however, it’s very difficult to understand that certain actions are only acceptable sometimes, and other actions are never acceptable, even if someone else is doing it.

The first time we went to Playland, it was a Sunday afternoon. The place was mobbed. My girls are small. They are polite. They are quiet. They walk places; they don’t run. They were bullied. Knocked down. Poked at. Kids running everywhere (many far too big to be using the playground setup), flailing about, letting loose, having fun. As a group of five year olds ran past them shrilly shrieking, I saw them startle like an infant would at a loudish sound – they raised their little hands up and opened wide their eyes and everything. It was very sad.

The second time we visited the Playland, the babies felt a little more comfortable, not only because they’d seen it before, but also because it was a Tuesday morning, and the Playland population was halved. They explored, learned how to climb and slide, played with each other, and noticed other kids. When it was time to leave, I had to drag two embarrassingly tantruming toddlers all the way back across the mall, through the parking lot and into the car. I could see that since I introduced a place for typical toddlers into their lives, I was now going to have to better prepare for a typical toddler response. Gone are the days of calmly leaving an area when mommy asks you to leave.

By the third time, they were pros. They ran and jumped and played and screamed. They worked themselves up into a frenzy that would put the biggest eight year old in there to shame. The mob mentality, they had learned, is fun. And isn’t that why anyone allows themselves to get carried away? So, really, these forced areas of play meant to reign in somewhat obnoxious behavior by setting it all in a distinct location away from your everyday life are actually encouraging that behavior, and, to take it a step further, are introducing - are inventing – that behavior.

We all say kids will be kids, but after visiting that Playland, I’m forced to wonder are we simply allowing a child’s nature space to run free in places like that, or are we introducing behavior that might otherwise have been alien to them? Are we, perhaps, encouraging mob mentality in our youth before they are old enough even to process cause and effect? Is the solution actually the problem?

All this being said, I’ll not be that stick-in-the-mud mom. That Playland surely hasn’t seen the last of us.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Baby Fat

“The Michelin Baby” is grabbing headlines everywhere, and I can’t be the only person asking, really, news organizations? “The Michelin Baby?”

I realize that in order to get the public to read your articles and look at your photos, you need a catchy headline – something that people can easily recognize and remember. I fail to see how that need translates into using an offensive comparison to label such a young baby. Yes, his rolls make him look like the Michelin Man – I get it – and maybe my time on the internet has led me to become hyper-sensitive to insult and shaming to the point where I imagine it. Can you even shame a 10 month old? Is it shaming to his parents? Should it be?

Cheng Qingyu says her son’s favorite thing to do is eat, and that “no matter whatever he grabs, he unconsciously puts it in his mouth.”





That sounds like a typical 10 month old to me. Maybe Qingyu has been misreading Lei Lei’s signs of teething for hunger, maybe Lei Lei has a thyroid issue, maybe it’s BPA or formula related (although Qingyu says he’s breastfed.) Whatever the issue is, however, doctors are studying him, the medical field is searching for the answers, and they should be the ones passing judgment and doling out advice – not the internet masses.
I have to admit, it’s a lot easier for me to sit back at my computer screen and judge the news operations and the bloggers slowing down to stare at, point at, and make generalizations about a baby before they know all the facts. This may not be a 20th-century circus, but when I turned my computer on this morning, I certainly felt like I was at an old-fashioned freakshow.

Did you know that Michelin Tire Baby Syndrome is an actual medical condition? The syndrome is also named for the sufferer’s similarity in appearance to the Michelin Man, but it has nothing to do with obesity. It’s a rare skin condition where babies are born with folding skin and scarred tissue. This means that not only is the blogosphere using a catchy, if insulting comparison, to a big, puffy cartoon with rolls, it’s also completely trampling on a term already in use for an actual set of symptoms for an entirely different condition.

Like I said before, maybe I’m being a bit too sensitive, but many of the blogs I’ve read concerning Lei Lei say nothing about the possible causes of his rapid weight gain. Perhaps, if they want to be fit for public consumption, they should provide some information on baby weight statistics, guidelines, possible causes, and tests that are being done. Perhaps they should give advice to other parents concerned about their young ones’ health, fitness and weight, or provide tips on what doctors recommend a baby’s diet be. Perhaps they could do just a little research before using a catchphrase that’s already in use. Perhaps they should do more than shout as loudly as they can: Look at that huge baby! Oh my God, he’s huge! Here’s a picture! Perhaps the baby, the parents, and the public deserve just a little better than that.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Baby is a Four-Letter Word

Fuck.


This is the first and most likely the only time that word will ever be used in this blog. One of my two year olds used it yesterday, in a very factual manner because I’d dropped a pen on the floor.

Since having the babies, I have been very good about toning down my language in while speaking to them. If they make a mess, or do something they’re not supposed to do, my response is “oh no!” or “uh-oh!” or “oops!” What I failed to take into account is that babies are listening to you all the time, not only when you are talking specifically to them. So engrained are swear words in my day-to-day life, I hardly even recognize them as such. While some people reserve such tawdry language for times of extreme crisis, to me, they are more of a habit than anything else. So that when I do drop a pen, or stub my toe, or forget something on the counter and have to go back for it, the f-word slips from my mouth as easily as my name, usually with no meaning attached.

For babies, however, every word has meaning, and it’s that meaning they are striving to figure out on a daily basis so that they might expand their communication skills and finally be able to tell the world exactly what they think of it.

When Dulce did drop the bomb, my husband and I looked at each other silently, over her head. What do we do now?

There are a number of ways we could curb this habit right from the start. The silliest, in my opinion, way people advise you to handle the habit is the “swear jar.” The idea behind it being, of course, that if someone swears around the babies, they are to put some amount of money into a jar as punishment. That will never work in this house. We’re tight enough on money as it is. Not to mention, playing games like that just doesn’t appeal to us. While this idea may work best in a household where there are teenagers about who really need a dollar and for whom putting money in a jar may be a fun punishment, for two adults living alone with two babies, it’s simply too juvenile to make a difference or provide us with anything but resentment on the part of the person being corrected.

We could use “substitution terms” like they do in that Orbitz gum commercial. “What the French Toast!?” But if you’re not consciously thinking that you are about to use a swear word, you’re not going to be able to catch yourself in time. Over weeks, you may make a difference in your speech. Of course, then you’ll go from sounding crass to sounding silly.

The best way to deal with an issue like swearing, I think, is to attack it from its source. Many times, a person will swear out of anger, or frustration, or fear. Perhaps, then, the easiest way to overcome the habit is to change the emotions surrounding it.

How frustrating is dropping a pen, really? Not really all that frustrating. How much of an inconvenience is wiping up that milk you spilled? It only takes a few minutes of your time. If adults can learn to be just a little more flexible, these tiny infractions impinging upon our days will cease to bother us, will cease, even, to graze our consciousness. If we could, in fact, learn from the babies we are teaching, we could be better role models for them.

For example, when something a toddler considers important goes mortally wrong, you can expect a screaming, writhing, excruciating tantrum. As the adult in that situation, we take them aside, calm them down, and essentially explain that whatever it is, it is not that important. What is swearing for an adult other than a semi-acceptable, shortened tantrum? We must learn that it is just not that important. Also, many things an adult considers important, a toddler doesn’t even notice. Messes, spills, schedules, family drama – they’re all small potatoes to a baby. Why should they be that important to adults that we should throw a mini-tantrum over them? No sense in crying over spilt milk, as they say. (This saying does not apply to the pumping mother. It is perfectly acceptable and possibly unavoidable to cry over that spilled milk.)

Since toddlers are sopping up information from their adult counterparts, it’s only natural that they swear if you swear. If you want to change their behavior, you need to look to yourself.

Swearing, really, is a meaningless byproduct of a more important conundrum. As someone once said to me, “You can’t make everyone change their speech around your child, but you can teach your own child right from wrong.” If you teach a child about right and wrong, and they know that swearing is wrong, then you’ve taught the bigger lesson. You’ve sounded the problem out rather than memorizing the solution, if you will.

In this house, I can say that I will be making my best effort to no longer get frustrated over something as small as dropping a pen. The f-word is not synonymous with “oh no!” and it never will be.

To be clear, the f-word is not the only swear word my babies know – but at least when they say “cock,” they mean timepiece, and when they say “shit,” they mean they’re taking a seat.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Toddler Tricks - 1

Ways to trick your baby:

Problem:
If your toddler wants more juice, water, milk - whatever liquid - and the cup is still 2/3 full or more, your toddler is not going to accept that he or she still has enough juice, water, milk - whatever liquid - in the cup.

Solution:
When they ask insistently for more, go to the freezer, take out a small icecube and put the icecube in there.  The ceremony of opening the cup, putting something in, and closing the cup will satisfy them.


Ways your baby will trick you:



Problem:  Babies love aluminum foil, but aluminum foil does not go back to its original roll.

Solution: 1) Don't leave aluminum foil anywhere within reach of babies ever.  2) Buy it in 25-foot rolls, not 200-foot rolls.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Tale of Two Loveys

Meet Blankie and Bear.  For identical twins, you couldn't ask for two more different "loveys."  And ragged and worn as they may look, they've only been used for a year - not to mention, I only just washed them yesterday, so this is absolutely as sharp as they look these days.  But it doesn't have to be this way.  I'm here to help you preserve your children's loveys with knowledge I learned too late.

Bear has been sewn and resewn, at this point.  He's had a long and hard life.

Blankie, as you can see, is missing about a third of her original material because someone thought it would be a good idea to embroider a baby's blanket.  It's not.  The embroidered corner ripped off, as did the hemline around it. By this time next year, I expect Blankie to be the size of a handkerchief.

Bear has been with the twins since before they were born.  A gift from my brother in law, at one point, Bear had a soundcard inside of him that made the sound of the inside of a womb.  I highly recommend this.  Our babies fell asleep five times faster and without me having to rock their crib if the bear was on.  When the twins were too big to share a crib, Bear moved in with Natalina.  She was the lighter sleeper and having the sound-maker right next to her made the most sense.  It is only natural he grew to be her best friend.


Dulce discovered Blankie at around 14 months.  At first, she tried a watering can as her lovey, but it was just too hard.  Blankie happened to be her covering in the crib the day she decided she also wanted a best friend.

In good times and bad, in sickness and in health, in tug of wars, and immersed in bodily fluids, these toys have prevailed.  Natalina sucks on one of Bea'rs ears so much that no matter how clean I can get it, the fur is matted and discolored there.  Lately, Dulce has been using Blankie as a partner in potty crime, cleaning up her spills so mommy won't find out.

So, how can you keep your child's loveys clean - or, at the very least - not disgusting?  Let's start at the beginning.

Choosing:

While, ultimately, your baby is going to grow attached to something on his or her own, you may be able to help guide the choice.  If you can, steer away from the stuffed animals.  They're hard to wash, harder to dry, and often too big to pack on trips without a hassle.  Go the blanket route, I strongly urge you.  If you pick a blanket, try to pick one without any fancy embroidery or buttons or stick-ons, or anything that can tear off.  Your child will tear them off, causing structural and often irreparable damage - I guarantee it.

Washing:

Start washing the loveys on a regular basis right away.  The younger the baby is, the easier it is for them to accept that this is the way things are going to be.  If you wait, like I did, not only are you going to have a bacteria-ridden, disgusting toy to clean, you're also going to have a rip-roaring mad baby or toddler on your hands.  I now wash both Blankie and Bear in the washer, after having tried all other methods.  I find this easier, quicker, and relatively sanitary.

Steps and tips:

Put the lovey in a pillowcase, and knot the open end.  (This preserves the structural integrity of the toy.  It also allows you to "hide" the fact that you're daring to wash the lovey, as it's unrecognizable in its bag.)

Throw the lovey in the wash with the towels or lights.  Use vinegar in the cycle to thoroughly clean.  Do not use bleach if you can help it.

Dry the lovey in the dryer, still in the pillowcase, with a few of the towels for an hour.  Put a tennis ball in there.  It keeps everything fluffy.  Then, if it's a stuffed animal, dry it again for another hour.  I know it feels dry.  It's not dry.

If at all possible, do this in the morning.  Maybe this won't be true for you, but my babies will reject their loveys for hours after they come out of the wash.  A tough naptime is much easier to deal with than a hard night of lovey rejection.

Keep an eye out for rips and tears.  The sooner you repair these, the longer your lovey will last.  If at all possible, have a back-up lovey or two (the exact same toy) and intodruce it the first time you wash the first lovey.  (I didn't do this, and I am dreading the day these toys finally wear out completely.  At this point, my two year olds would know the difference and would not accept any other lovey, even if, to me, it's the exact same thing.  There will be much crying in this house one day.)

Finally, whenever possible, keep the loveys at home.  It's much easier to keep a clean lovey when the toy isn't being dragged around the grocery store floor, being dropped at the doctor's office, or having frozen yogurt dripped on it at the parlor.  My twins are old enough now where we can make this a game: "Okay, time to go out.  Put Bear and Blankie in bed.  Oh, you don't want to?  Okay, I guess we'll stay home then."  (This works almost every time.)

There are exceptions.  When we go on a trip lasting over an hour, I'll secretly pack Blankie and Bear and take them out at crucial we're-going-to-turn-this-car-around moments.  If it's close to naptime, this means almost instant sleep.  Otherwise, it just means happy babies.

Good luck in your lovey-preservation project.  I hope it goes better than mine is going!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Word on the Street is: Disappointment

Talk to any 20 or 30-something year old about Sesame Street, and you'll hear the same refrain - Sesame St. has been ruined, and the decline started with the introduction of Elmo.  While I believe this to be true, it is an oversimplification of the many changes (some necessary, and some not) instituted over the years to my favorite children's television show.

Sesame St. started out as a racy, realistic, magazine-style show, utilizing animation, commercial-like shorts, slap-stick comedy, muppets and a diverse human cast that repeated a certain theme in varied ways over and over again for an hour.  It's brilliance wasn't accidental, but the work of long hours of research.  Over the years, the show has lost its cutting-edge ideas.  It's lost its realism.  It's even lost its magazine style.  It's now a run-of-the-mill children's muddle of nonsense that can compete with any Dinosaur Train or Clifford the Big Red Dog out there.  On a lucky day, an adult who has grown up with the show can still see glimmers of its original greatness, but those moments are becoming increasingly rare.

To be sure, some of these changes were absolutely necessary.  This youtube clip highlights the show's strengths as an inventive trendsetter, and its weaknesses as a cultural timepiece.

Old School Promo

In our politically correct world, many of the famous shorts would be unacceptable.  The blue muppet smoking, for instance, is something I still find hilarious today, but certainly not a message I would want sent to my kids.  You'll notice also that the team of muppet executives is completely male.  But these are small potatoes, and easily remedied for our changed times.  So, why the complete overhaul of Sesame St.?

Apparently in 2002, producers decided that 35 years or so of success was wrong.  Children, they decided, needed their hands to be held throughout a program.  Having letters and numbers jump out of nowhere with no introduction in a sublime series of "illogical surprises," was apparently too much for today's children to handle.  So, now, we're greeted with a hammer on the head at the beginning of each episode.  Here is your letter.  Here is your number.  Here is your word.  Here is your sign.

Maybe I'm too attached to my original Sesame Street.  Maybe the producers are right.  Maybe kids are dumber than I think.  But I doubt it.  And with the loss of sublety came a loss of eloquence - a loss that many adults cannot seem to forgive, although their children now know no better.

Really, though, I'm just hinting at what the real problem in the new Sesame Street episodes is.  By opting to give children long segments in each show at expected times, Sesame St. has essentially turned itself into every other children's show out there.  My children can get mixed animation and live action from Blues Clues; they can get narrative problem solving from Curious George; they can watch a complete lesson from beginning to end on Sid the Science Kid.  By introducing Abby's Flying Fairy School and Elmo's World, Sesame St. producers didn't gain anything.  They lost 30 minutes prime programming: of Super Grover, of animated lines showing how to make a circle, of "One of These Things is not Like the Other Things."  The pinball machine, the opposites muppet, the animated songs about letters, Kermit the Frog reporting on Nursery Rhymes.

What was once a spunky, innovative, surprising show is now a formulaic, unrealistic, boring hour of my morning.  Am I too attached to my youth?  Is my nostalgia going to ruin my own children's Sesame St. joy?  Not likely.

Because, in this house, we have the Old School videos.

References:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sesame_Street
http://www.flakmag.com/tv/sesame.html

Of interest:
http://www.amazon.com/Sesame-Street-School-Vol-1969-1974/dp/B000H6SY8C

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Not Your Grandma's Photo Album

A picture is worth a thousand words, and on the internet you have to worry not only about what they're saying, but to whom they're saying it.  Gone are the days of snapping candid family photos to be placed in a book taken out at your discretion for an audience of your choosing.  Too many people are forgetting that while facebook, flickr, photobucket and the like seem like a family photo album, they reach a long-ranging audience, many of whom will not understand their sense of humor.

Recently, a 19-year-old woman became internet famous after she published this photo on her facebook.  Publicly.




Rachel Stieringer is now facing one count of possession of drug paraphernalia, a first-degree misdemeanor. Stieringer, who lives in Florida, says she thought it would be funny to post a photo her baby with a bong and a lighter.  A Texas resident did not agree, and called a Florida child abuse hotline to report the photo.   Police gave both Stieringer and her baby drug tests.  The baby's came back negative.  The bong, in this case, was just a prop.

Do I think the picture is funny?  Absolutely not.  But I am not here to judge Stieringer.  After all, there are many things I think are funny at which other people roll their eyes.

Like this:


Did you think that picture was funny?  Probably not.  But I find it hysterical.  Still, there is a huge difference between what I posted and what Stieringer posted, that difference being that no one can call the authorities on me for having poppers on high chairs.

If you want to be what I would consider crass, go for it.  If your sense of humor dictates you photograph your little one in a fake compromising situation, well, it's your camera, it's your baby, and as long as no one is getting hurt, it's not my business.  Until, of course, you post it up on the internet, and expect me to relish in your tastelessness.  Even then, most pictures merely end up on snark websites for others to laugh not with you, but at you.  Introduce something that may be illegal, and, well, you cannot expect the stranger on the street to know that there isn't any marijuana in that bong.

What I'm saying is, if you must take a picture of your child with a beer bottle - or next to baby powder squished into a line to look like cocaine, or being 'mauled' by the cat, or whatever else you think is funny that I don't - use the filters available to you on any of those photo-sharing sites.  Privacy filters can be your best friend, especially when your child's image is involved.  You and your buddies still get a laugh, your children still get to cringe in their teenage years, and nobody goes to jail.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Your Mileage May Vary

Jacinta Tynan wrote an article. She thinks parenting is a breeze, and everyone should stop whining. http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/lifematters/is-motherhood-really-that-hard-20100802-1131y.html

To her I say this, for all the parents out there:
There is a popular saying on the internet - YMMV: Your Mileage May Vary. This apology for given advice based only on individual anecdotes and experiences is something Jacinta Tynan may do well to remember the next time she feels the urge to tell mothers to "quit moaning."

To go even further and imply selfishness or self-absorption in mothers who may be having a rougher time than you is crass and short-sighted. It is a short leap from Tynan's words and implications to this message: if motherhood is so hard for you, obviously your kids are not important enough to you. Is this a message she sent with her words? No. Did it take me long to get there? No.

Tynan’s attitude is based on being a mother for only nine months – and of an easy baby who cannot yet crawl at that. One of my friends who is both a mother and a runner likened parenthood and infancy to a marathon.

"[Tynan] is just getting past the first mile wanting to know what the runners at miles 5, 10, and 20 are complaining about. Every woman starts this marathon at a different place. Some come in with the best running shoes money can buy, a backpack stuffed with power bars and a tube of water running into their mouth. Some women come to the race in flip flops or barefoot. Some women come to the race malnourished to begin with or low on energy already.

Both Tynan and I are television journalists. While we may not connect on a mothering level, we do share professional experience. So that I understand perfectly when she says, " Like most mums I have to 'juggle' – just as I was warned – often presenting six hours of live TV news in a fog of sleeplessness." (Although, very likely I would have used the word sleepiness, instead of sleeplessness.) But that may be where our similarities end.

I have twin two-year-old girls. When they were nine months old, I found them both easy and hard, both frustrating and rewarding. Now that they are two, I find the same. Was my ride as easy as Tynan's has been thus far? Probably not. At nine months, my children were the size of three-month olds having been born prematurely. They had reflux, and, yes, my clothing was covered in vomit at all times. I even began to like the smell of "milk pukies."

I may, perhaps, have complained about their reflux. I may have complained about their constant waking, about trying to keep them on a schedule, about juggling two babies in my arms, about feeding and nursing and cleaning and cooking and working - full time - for a television news station. I may have complained about these things, it's true. However, I never, not once, compared my hardships to those fighting cancer. I never compared my trials to those of a woman having trouble conceiving. In my mind, those types of battles are incomparable and analogies like that are hurtful not only to the mother having a tough time but also to the cancer survivor and the woman struggling with infertility.

My mileage on this road of motherhood is still in its beginning stages. My children have yet to learn to talk. They're years from school. Soon they will be teenagers, bringing into my home an entirely different set of problems than crayon on the wall and marbles up the nose. Parenting doesn't stop after baby. Tynan will be a mother for the rest of her life. She may not want a medal after nine months, so we'll save hers for another 5, 10, 15 years. The road of parenting is bumpy, with lots of twists and turns - not everyone's straight and downhill sections occur at the same time.

As for the mothers who came before us, many things about parenting were different even as recently as 20 years ago. Our parents used different guidelines, practiced different methods, and had different outlets. If my mother had hardships when I was a young child, I would never know about it today, as Tynan clearly doesn't know about her own mother's hardships.

"My mum had six children, no help and, on occasion, a job. Yet she gave it her all with grace and joy. Our generation acts as if we deserve a medal."

I find it highly improbable that Tynan's mother, lovely as she must be, was able to give it her all with grace and joy, all of the time. I have a feeling it's far more likely that, given the different forms of outlets in those days, her mother's complaints and anxiety were simply less public.

For instance, in 1982 - the year I was born - one didn't have the internet within which to write down every fleeting thought. Even if my own mother had had a journal, it takes longer to write out a journal entry than it takes to type a blog, and those minutes can be precious in the early stages of parenthood. To assume our parents never complained to their friends and companions is, in my opinion, utterly naïve. Times are changing, outlets are changing, but, I dare say, the parenting hardships remain, including perhaps the simplest of hardships - the crying baby.

And while I thank Tynan for explaining to me that babies don't cry to annoy us – “they cry because they are hungry or tired and we are here to solve that..." - I am sure I am not her only reader who already knew that. Parents worldwide understand that babies cry because they need something; it's toddlers who cry when they simply want something, unfortunately for me.

I'm not angry that Tynan's experience with motherhood has been "a bit of a lark." I'm not upset that she chose to share her joyful experiences with a large audience. After all, many times what a woman needs most is a buoying story to build her up for her own day ahead with her own children and her own challenges. What I am trying to say is, it is not up to Tynan to tell other mothers that their complaints are invalid. It's not up to her to chastise, however gently, the very real hardships others may be experiencing. What I'm trying to say is your mileage may vary.

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