Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Colbert wishes us a happy Halloween!

I was happy to see Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report recognize our delightful hobo upbringing. Quote from tonight's show:

"You know what I call trick-or-treaters? Pre-hobos."

Friday, October 26, 2007

How to make new parents happy

Having had a baby recently, I had the chance to experience what was and was not helpful in supporting new parents.

Instead of spiking my thank-you notes with spite (though it was tempting), I decided to be positive and instead be inspired to treat my own friends and family well when it's their turn to be overwhelmed by a newborn.

So, I thought I should write these ideas down before memories of the sleep-deprived-fog days have disappeared into the ether.

These tips will help first-time parents for sure, and -- I would assume though I have no experience -- parents of a newborn who also have older children.

I'll add to this list as I come up with other ideas, and please do leave your own suggestions in the comments.

  • Having a baby is all about learning to get by with no hands. Be a pal and bring over foods that can be eaten (a) cold and (b) with one sporadically free hand. Ideas: cut-up veggies and dip, cut-up fruit such as melon or apples, pico de gallo and chips (for all of the above: mixed and single veggie & fruit containers and platters can be found pre-made at the supermarket in the produce section), cheese slices (gourmet or otherwise) and crackers, ready-made sandwiches and wraps, hummus and pita slices. Remember, think "Would this taste good at room temperature?" (which is what it will be by the time they finally get around to settling the baby long enough to eat it) and "Can they eat this without silverware?" (because juggling a newborn is hard enough without throwing cutlery into the mix).
  • Depending on environmental convictions, you might also bring over some paper plates and plastic utensils to help with dish cleanup, or volunteer to wash a load of dishes for them.
  • Along the same lines of having no time at all for anything, give the gift of having something done for them. Instead of loading them up with baby blankets and tiny clothes and stuffed animals (which I realize are fun to give, but that's why you can rely on plenty of others will fill the gap), offer them something that will be used immediately and will give them not only a service but, more importantly, time. Here are some options: diaper service (if they're planning on or interested in cloth diapers), maid service (oh, the bliss of a clean house without lifting a finger), laundry service (some areas will have companies or individuals who will pick up, wash, dry, fold, and return regular laundry within a day or two), yard service (if they have a lawn or garden to care for -- my poor neglected plants this summer!), grocery delivery (wrestling a newborn into and out of a car seat to run basic errands is not a joy for anyone), meal delivery (some areas will have ready-to-heat meals available for home delivery, often with organic and vegetarian options -- or, of course, there's always pizza and Chinese food!), temporary employees if they have a home business to run, babysitting or mother's helpers if they have older children to care for, dog walking if appropriate, etc. Check for any of these services online (do a Google search and check the ads along the sides of the results pages, go to Craigslist for your area) or in the yellow pages, or ask around and check bulletin boards. Usually the businesses will offer a gift certificate or pre-pay option for gift givers: You can either schedule the service and pay in advance, or you can pay a certain amount and give the parents the job of actually arranging the service, whichever you think will be more convenient for the recipients. Don't be put off by the perceived price until you check for yourself -- often a one-time or one-month service fee would be comparable to what you would have paid on a physical gift -- baby clothes that will be worn once and then won't fit anymore, or toys that don't fit in a small home, or decorations that don't fit the recipients' style. Isn't it nice to give a gift that will be used up -- with relief? You'll have given them a unique and favorite gift that they will delight in writing a thank-you note for.
  • On that topic, don't pester new parents for thank-you notes. I know the etiquette is to write one immediately upon receiving a gift, but just try -- I challenge you -- to write a note one handed. It seems like it should be possible, because you use only one hand to write, right? But your supporting hand is what holds that cute little notepaper in place so your scribbles don't pull it off the table. So I think there should be general thank-you note amnesty until the baby isn't breastfeeding every 10 minutes.
  • New parents often feel isolated. This is especially true if they're ahead of friends in having kids, because single or non-child-bearing friends often have no idea what the rules are in getting together with families. But, really, bringing a newborn to someone's house or out to eat somewhere family-friendly isn't insurmountable -- no babyproofing is needed, and if the baby's breastfeeding comfortably (a stage it might take a few weeks to get to), then there's not even much needed to bring besides oodles of diapers, a little blanket, and a change of clothes. So, my advice is to invite new parents over or out to eat. Don't be shy, and at the same time don't be insistent or offended if they say they're too tired or overwhelmed right now. Let them know that an open invitation stands, and continue to offer specific opportunities to get together. Offer to come to their place if inviting yourself over doesn't bother you. If done in the right spirit, your reaching out will be greatly appreciated.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

I need a better village

If it takes a village to raise a child, what do you do when your village is incompetent?

Sam & I have had the opportunity lately to travel to visit our families. I enjoyed giving Mikko into the care of others while I could stay nearby (as his sole food source). I somehow thought, though, that our relatives, several of whom have raised children themselves, would be capable of holding him longer than 10 minutes a spell, which is as long as he was content to sit quietly in their laps.

As soon as he fussed in any way, it was up to me to determine what was wrong: wet diaper (which Sam or I changed, every time), sleepy, wanting to be bounced, wanting a finger to chew, bored, overstimulated, hungry.

Now, for the last item, I wholeheartedly accept responsibility to fulfill the need. But it seems like every other need could be met or at least attempted by other people, even the diagnosing of the need.

I don't even blame our relatives, because they were actually all very sweet, and excited to visit with our baby. And if Mikko did need walking or bouncing, several of them were willing to give our arms and legs a rest and do their duty.

But it brought me face to face with my desires and dreams of village living vs. the reality of modern, independent life.

Village life, as typified in books like The Continuum Concept, is a tribal group where mothers parent in community. There are always other women to hold and even nurse the baby, other kids to play with and take care of your young ones. You are free to pursue your adult tasks and interests and still have your baby lovingly cared for, by you but not only by you -- by everyone around you.

Now, mind you, I don't actually want to live in a tribe. I like my modern, independent life. But I can see the value in not doing this parenting thing alone. It's exhausting, and frequently boring, and sometimes frustrating. It would be great to have a life where being an adult with outside interests and activities and being a mother of a young child did not have to be mutually exclusive. Right now I'm lucky if I manage to get in a shower every few days, to the tune of my baby screaming as he waits for me to get out again and resume my full-time care.

So I relished the idea of being with family if only for a little while (well, actually, that it was for only a little while was essential to my enjoying it). I liked the idea of kicking back, having my hands free, eating dinner while it was still hot, maybe working on some writing even before Mikko had gone down for the night.

But I really only got breathers, small moments of time where I had to remain attentive to Mikko and the person holding him, in case that person needed to be rescued. As it turns out, no one likes to forgo the pleasure of eating hot food, people seem to think changing diapers is a disgusting and difficult task (neither of which is true, in most cases), and people tend to be unnerved and, often, personally offended by a crying baby. There were literally hours in which Sam and Mikko and I together or just Mikko and I alone would be left to ourselves, while the other, infant-free relatives would huddle together, cooking or running errands or watching baseball on TV.

Maybe it's my own fault, for hovering, though I tried for insouciance and usually left the room and joined another group of people to demonstrate my trust in the surrogate's care. Maybe it's the natural consequence of what I consider a good thing, that for the most part people respect my autonomy and let me make my own decisions, including how I care for my son. Taking responsibility for someone else's child, even by changing a diaper uninvited, is considered in this culture to be a form of taking away control from the parent, and I do understand that.

But sometimes I wish I had one of those villages where I could sit with the other women, shoot the breeze, make some sort of village-y stew together, and listen to our babies laughing with the other children.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Practice, practice, practice...breastfeeding

"I certainly have not the talent which some people possess," said Darcy, "of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. ..."

"My fingers," said Elizabeth, "do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women's do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault--because I will not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe MY fingers as capable as any other woman's of superior execution."

-- Pride and Prejudice; thank you, Miss Austen

I cannot for the life of me figure out how to breastfeed in a ring sling or wrap. I can do it in a mei tai, though somewhat uncomfortably in a psychological sense, but my baby protests like nobody's business when I try to lay him down, strap him on, cover his head, and walk around.

Still, I assume it's my own fault that I haven't accomplished this feat. If I never get around to it with Mikko, I figure I'll manage with any future kidlets.

So I become puzzled when other women have breastfeeding difficulties and just assume they're incapable and throw in the towel. I'm not even talking here about women who give up breastfeeding entirely, or about women I'm annoyed by because I think they're giving up too easily. I'm instead thinking of women who really want to perform some achievable breastfeeding feat but don't.

One that comes up a lot is breastfeeding without a Boppy or My Brest Friend or other pillow support. I'll hear women say they can't go anywhere or nurse in public because they have to have the right chair, the right footstool, the right cushioning. I sympathize with them wholeheartedly if their baby is within a month old and/or if they're having difficulties beyond the normal new-dyad learning curve.

But sometimes I hear in their tone an assumption that they can't breastfeed without the pillows, indeed that they never will be able to. And my response to each of them is: Of course you can breastfeed without the pillows. Just do it.

I mean, honestly, we get, what 20 chances a day to feed our little tykes (OK, that's what it feels like with mine). That's 20 chances a day to practice a new position, or a new location, or whatever. And if you or the baby doesn't feel like it this time, that's cool -- you'll have another chance in 15 minutes. (OK, that's also what it feels like with mine.)

See, I know my failure with the ring-sling nursing is because I've tried it a whopping 3 times. Three times! In four months of round-the-clock feedings. Obviously, I haven't really been trying.

If nursing without pillows is important to you, you'll figure it out. Practice!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Me & you against the world

A wise woman (my mom) once said to me that a good marriage is when you and your spouse are on the same team. I keep noticing this when Sam & I are around other couples.

There's the couple who keep verbally and physically picking at each other.

There's the duo who tell stories wherein the other person looks stupid.

There's the husband who thinks he's a stand-up comic, with every bit the same theme -- "Did I tell you about my crazy wife?"

I like all these people, and I even enjoy hanging out with them. But I'm glad to go home with my teammate and feel like I haven't betrayed him during our time with others by belittling him, berating him, or something else with a b. (Ha ha!) He does the same for me.

We have plenty to pick apart and complain about in other people without throwing each other into the mix. :)

And that's my marriage counseling for the day: Complain about other people.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Simple housecleaning: mirrors

I have a duh housekeeping tip for the day: I was too lazy to walk from the bathroom to the supply cupboard to get out the window cleaner and instead wet my paper towel with a little water to clean the bathroom mirrors.

Ta da! Streak-free shine.

I wonder when Windex will start marketing its own brand of bottled water with a spray cap.

P.S. I don't plan to post housecleaning tips often, if only because I don't houseclean often.