Monday, December 29, 2008

Signing in sentences

Maybe it's the post-holiday letdown (don't remind me New Year's is still to come -- I'm planning to stay low-key and ignore it), but I'm feeling too lethargic to accomplish a major post today, as I had in mind to do while Mikko is napping. (Yes, napping at 10 at night. Remind me to tell you about his sleep schedule sometime. Or, better yet, don't.)

signing babyInstead, I will just share with you his newest accomplishment in the world of communication: signing in two-word sentences.

I am thrilled. He signed MORE EAT and MORE NUMMIES the other day, at 18 months old. MORE is his code for "I want" -- it doesn't always (or usually) correspond to what we English speakers would mean by "more." In the first instance, he wanted a snack he saw available, and in the second, he wanted the usual. We made up our own sign for breastfeeding, preferring it over the official one and also preferring to leave MILK to mean cow's milk, if needed in the future.

(FYI: Here's a previous post about Mikko and signing, the evolution of NUMMIES, and various Baby Sign resources.)

Mikko has been signing back to us since about 12 months, but this was the first time he'd strung a couple signs together. It sounds like he's right on target in baby-signing development (though no YouTube superstar -- not that I'm concerned!).

Here's a non-signing children's language development chart, though I wouldn't worry too much if your particular kid is behind or ahead of the average. At 18 months, according to the chart, Mikko should have a vocabulary of 5-20 words. He doesn't have near that many -- unless you count signs. In that case, he has about 30.

And he uses them so excitedly. Everywhere we go, he spots the FANs and points out LIGHTs. He signs BEAR and growls for any stuffed animal, and he woofs and signs CAT when he sees a dog or cat. What can I say? He's a little confused about the differences there. He also moos and signs COW for anything vaguely livestock-esque, which funny enough, includes real bears.

I'm just so glad to have a window into his busy mind, and glad that he feels happy telling me what he sees. He will keep signing something over and over until I echo it back vocally, so he craves that interaction, that acknowledgment -- the essence of communication.

You can start signing with your children whether they're 6 months old or 6 years old. Again, I'll refer you to this post, at the end of which I posted several resources for signing with hearing children.

I've gone ahead and added another great resource: I've had a chance to explore Dr. Bill Vicars' site and realized that he has an entire online ASL university that you can complete for free! It's really an incredible gift that he's offering, and the material is exactly what you'd cover in a college ASL course. I've started the lessons for my own education. I really hope to learn more about American Sign Language grammar rather than just stringing a few nouns and verbs into my conversation -- although, if it's with a hearing child, that's good, too! But it's really fascinating to learn more about Deaf culture and to become more conversant in the language as a whole, for whenever I next have the opportunity to communicate with a deaf person. (I think I've embarrassed myself in the past...) And maybe Mikko will want to learn ASL as another language some day!

But really -- I just think signing is fun!

Well, this post ended up being more research than I'd thought it would be. The good news is Mikko slept through it all! You can't see me, but I'm waving goodbye for now. See you later!

Photo of adorable, intensely signing baby courtesy of Ben Earwicker of Garrison Photography on stock.xchng

Friday, December 26, 2008

Join the Facebook nurse-in on Dec. 27

If you're a breastfeeding advocate and use Facebook, consider joining the M.I.L.C. (Mothers International Lactation Campaign) nurse-in, sponsored by the group Hey, Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene!

holy familyTomorrow, Dec. 27, attendees will change their profile picture to a breastfeeding image -- personal photo; image of a sculpture; reproduction of a famous painting, as the Holy Family illustration here, by Francisco de Zurbarah, in honor of the Christmas season -- and change their status to "Hey, Facebook, breastfeeding is not obscene."

Facebook has a history of pulling down "offensive" breastfeeding pictures, even though their official stance is that only images of fully exposed breasts are subject to removal, as per the overall guidelines of the site, including the children who visit. That's right -- Facebook's censoring breastfeeding for the children.

But if you go to the group's page, you'll see Kelli Roman's photo that was originally removed as the profile picture there. There is a tiny pie-shaped wedge of white skin visible under the baby's cheek. There's no areola, no nipple, and barely any breast tissue. Apparently someone found that offensive enough at one point to flag it as unacceptable, and Facebook agreed then -- though it hasn't pulled that one in particular since.

From the M.I.L.C. page:

Facebook continues to classify breastfeeding photos as obscene content. They continue to arbitrarily remove these photos from member albums and profiles, accompanied by warnings of account termination. This is highly discriminatory and an affront to nursing mothers everywhere. In protest of this, Mothers International Lactation Campaign (M.I.L.C.) has planned a virtual day of protest.

Not only is human lactation responsible for the very survival of our species, it is in no way a sexually explicit, lewd or despicable act. It is also protected by law in most countries....

From the Palo Alto Daily Newspaper, by Will Oremus (quoted on the same page; original source here):

“Where I live, I can breast-feed in public or private, and there are laws that say it’s not obscene or lewd or indecent,” said Farley, 23. “If I can do it in public, why can’t I do it on Facebook?”

Censoring such images, she said, reinforces stigmas that discourage mothers from a healthy, natural practice.

Now I just have to go pick out what photo I want for my profile today.

I have so many to choose from!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas pondering

Another holiday, another time to hide from family.

I let the rest go out on a walk while I'm using the opportunity for a little post.

Oh, sad -- they're back. I guess it was too cold for much of a walk.

Red Stars and GreeneryWell, I'll keep it short, then. First of all, merry Christmas to you and yours. I hope your day is filled with family, friends, and cheer.

I've been prompted to indulge in a little pre-New Year's reflection, the kind of pie-in-the-sky wishfulness that makes you resolve to be an entirely other person starting January 1. I keep seeing a disconnect between the parenting I philosophize about and the parenting I practice. I can be doing both at once: holding an ideal in my head while I intentionally do something else.

Maybe that's just everyone. Maybe it's a start to have the ideal. But I'm hoping to get a little closer this year to letting go of some of the things that make me feel sad, regretful, detached -- and move closer to the parent I'd want, the parent I want to be.

Oh, and of course, there are all the other things. I'm going to wash all the dirty dishes every day, even pots. I'm going to revise my novel in a month. I'll take my vitamins like clockwork. I won't let a single junk food pass my lips. And somewhere in all that, I'll also fit in working in our business and taking care of a one-going-on-two-year-old.

Well, a girl can dream. That's what Christmas is for, smoothing over all the tensions and disappointments, imagining the distant past of a wailing child and a hurried birth and an uncomfortable bed, but converting it in our heads into a show with starglow, beatific smiles, and gossamer strands of hay. Today we see the beauty in the mundane, the potential in something as inconsequential as a baby born of a displaced person, a nobody born of a nobody.

Here's to hope. Here's to faith. Here's to becoming more than we seem.

Photo courtesy of Hilde Vanstraelen on stock.xchng

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hiding a nursing toddler

nurslingI was reminded of those breastfeeding covers that are all the rage among the newborn-toting set, when an email about milk supply in my Gmail trigged a Google ad along the side for "secret nursing."

I've written before about my bad experience with any sort of "discreet" blanketing and my reluctance to make a big deal out of covering up what should be considered a normal act of feeding an infant.

But I reexamined the issue in light of the fact that I am now nursing a toddler. A full-blown, walking, talking (sorta kinda) toddler. I expect more and more people will find what I'm doing strange, and the ad made me picture trying to be discreet with my 18-month-old.

Imagine it in your head for a minute. It's a funny picture, isn't it? Long, gangly legs kicking around outside the edges of a blanket, a writhing figure underneath. Mikko refuses to let me put blankets on his legs. I'm supposing if I tried to put one over his head, there would be two possible reactions: If he's in a good mood, he would think it was a fun game of peekaboo (with my breast being the boo!); if he's in a bad mood, say, if he were hungry, wouldn't be pretty. Either way, it wouldn't be useful.

That made me think that the trend for breastfeeding covers assumes that only newborns are going to nurse. Or, perhaps, that only newborns are going to nurse out in public. I have heard that many mothers of toddlers start limiting nummies to home, a practice I've considered but not implemented as yet. I can't take turning down Mikko's legitimate requests for food and comfort just because we're out and about, and just because someone might be offended. I know I always appreciate seeing a breastfeeding toddler, because it means I'm not alone!

I know I have become less discreet as Mikko's grown -- but I also care even less. I used to be able to position him just so and settle in for a long feed, but I've had to change my process because his nursing style has changed so much. He now flits from side to side, having a couple quick gulps back and forth, and then he's off to something else that interests him, before returning a few minutes later for another snack. If I had to arrange a blanket or special shawl every time that happened, I'd scream. As it is, I can barely take refastening my nursing bra in between sessions, and I've adopted the easier habit of just wrenching down my entire neckline rather than trying to deal with layers of shirts. Only if I'm in the presence of someone new or uneasy do I take the time to be more covered. But, hey, I figure Mikko has a big enough head to cover most of it anyway.

Keep in mind that Mikko still nurses frequently and all day and night like a newborn, unlike other toddlers I've heard tell of who nurse, for example, upon waking and before bed. I expect it's because of his large size but his continuing aversion to going whole hog with solid foods.

Oh, and his latest adorableness that might make others squirm: He has taken to pointing out "noses" everywhere we go. He finds his own nose; he finds his dad's; he finds mine; he finds his bear's; he finds the kitty's (and doesn't she love that!). Well, every time he feeds now, he touches a nipple and says "nose" to me, until I echo it back to him and, satisfied, he can start to eat. I thought about giving it the proper name, but then I thought about him saying it over and over while other people are around, and I chickened out. I'm settling on trying to modify it to "nummy nose." Wussy, I know. Hopefully he'll learn the correct term before he uses that one on any future amour.

What are other people's experiences and comfort levels? What do you think of nursing covers in general, and for toddlers in particular? Should I make more of an effort to hide my skin, or say "deal with it" to any glares (which, I might add, I have never yet received)? Is there any age at which it's too awkward to nurse a child in public, and at what age could they understand that? I know it's not 18 months for my guy -- 18 years, perhaps?

And if any of you are breastfeeding toddlers indiscreetly in public, please bring your sweet self near me so we can match.

Here are posts with comments that offer some other voices on the issue from blogs I read and blogs they linked to on nursing toddlers. Feel free to add any other links in the comments here.

Beautiful nursling photo courtesy of Marek Bernat on stock.xchng

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Snow day!

winter tree

In other news, the whole reason I'm able to catch up with some posts is that we're snowed in. Yes, in Seattle!

Yesterday was spent first in a fever of expectation for snow and then a sinking feeling that maybe we'd all been played for fools. For instance, Seattle schools were closed for a snow day without any snow falling, and closer to home, I missed my ballet class because I was so certain the roads would be impassable by then that we ended up planning our last-minute panic errands in conflict with the start time.

Then we were up late into the night, finishing up personal packages (Christmas gifts as opposed to business ones for our online sales), and when we went to bed, I peeked out the blinds -- and what do you know, there it was, fluffy and flurrying in the streetlights.

We're missing our first of three holiday parties tonight. Who knows if the other two will be canceled or postponed as well. Tomorrow we have to get out to deliver our packages for our business. We're kind of like the postal workers in that way, only with a much easier route! We used to run our own cat-sitting business, caring for cats whose owners were away and who needed food, water, attention, and little necessities like insulin shots, and it's days like this that I appreciate we no longer have any pressing need to venture out into the icy mess. We took a walk down our street, and it's solid ice. Add in Seattle hills to the mix and a lack of snow plows an sanding trucks, and you can see how staying home is generally the best option when possible.

Anyway, as I was sitting around yesterday, feeling stupid for expecting a big snow storm in Seattle, I kept hitting refresh on to see, first, if the current forecast told me it was snowing (in lieu of standing up and looking outside) and, two, if the hour-by-hour forecast predicted it would be snowing soon. I kept watching the hour-by-hour snow prediction consistently staying an hour or two ahead of the current cloudiness, and I wondered if snow would just keep running away from us before we could catch up.

While I was wondering at the inaccuracy of the forecast, I Googled for anyone who had studied the issue and found this amusing page:

How good are the weather forecasts?

An enterprising computer whiz wrote a program to check the accuracy of BBC 5-day predictions versus what they stated actually happened on each day in question. Graciously allowing for items like "partly sunny" and "partly cloudy" to be close enough to the same thing, the researcher found that the weather predictors were right a little over half the time for one day out.

That made me laugh, and explained why there was no snow falling even as everyone was scurrying around preparing for it. (Seriously, when we were trying to get supplies for our party that was canceled, we found Safeway was out of Baco Bits, cream cheese and hot dog buns -- you know, the staples.) It doesn't explain why the Seattle public school system believed the warnings enough to cancel all the schools despite nary a flake in the sky, but it's more comforting to think that meteorology's a science rather than a confidence trick.

Photo courtesy of Mark Van Werven on stock.xchng because it's too cold to go out and take some myself

Why don't parents trust research?

lab work
A UK Guardian article titled "Family under the microscope" asks this question:

Why isn't there more research into parenting regimes for infants?

The article references (I assume) this 2006 study "Infant Crying and Sleeping in London, Copenhagen and When Parents Adopt a 'Proximal' Form of Care," by Ian St James-Roberts and a bunch of other researchers (that's the scientific way to say "et al").

The study followed three groups of parents: a group that practiced distant child caring (less holding and breastfeeding, strict scheduling -- also known as the mainstream Western method), a group that practiced so-called "proximal" care (lots of holding and breastfeeding, quick response times -- so, attachment parenting), and a group in the middle. The distant group experienced more infant crying, and the proximal group experienced more night waking, although the article notes that the researchers had to admit that if a baby is put to sleep in a crib in another room, many night wakings might go unremarked by a parent, as opposed to having that baby snuggled up next to you and rooting to breastfeed. The mid-line group seemed to have the best of both worlds: less crying and less night waking. Of course, that's "best" in Western terms, because other research suggests that night waking has a beneficial and protective effect for infants. (Motherland has a wonderful blog post on just this subject.)

To get back to the Guardian article -- I had a dual-sided reaction to it. On the one hand, I completely agree that we need more research in how parental methods affect infants in terms of sleep, quality of life, connection to parents, etc., and, in the long view, emotional and physical health as older children and on into adulthood. On the other hand, the sentence "It is pathetic that this is the only serious study of the question" made me think of all the serious studies I've read about the benefits of attachment parenting of infants, and of sleeping arrangements in particular (see James McKenna for one assiduous researcher into cosleeping), even some longitudinal ones (such as one study of military families that showed no adverse psychological effects later in childhood, McKenna's summary of long-term effects of cosleeping, or the 18-year study by Okami & Co.). For even more research on sleep and parenting, take a look at this Mothering article and this KellyMom page for more links and references to studies than I can go into in one little post.

The research is being done. So, for me, the more salient issue is: Why don't more people believe the research?

Now, I'm a rebel, clearly, or I wouldn't be parenting the kooky way I do. But I'm logical, too. One reason I chose this non-mainstream way of parenting is because I read the research and looked into the effects of different parenting styles on baby wellbeing. I looked at books that studied how babies were designed to be treated. And I took all that seriously, and responded in kind. You'd think I'd be one to question research the way I've questioned mainstream parenting, the medical establishment, my experience growing up, and so on, and the fact is that I do look at any research study with a critical eye. But it's strange to me that mainstream parents, who apparently are blindly accepting what the culture tells them is right and normal for baby rearing, wouldn't blindly accept research as well. So why aren't they? Why is the culture so at odds with the science, when this culture worships science?

Well, it's a dilemma. Eventually people were convinced the earth revolved around the sun -- maybe eventually all Western parents will be convinced babies like to be held, through science if not through commonsense and a tug on the heartstrings.

Photo of Dyon Scheyen (who's presumably not actually researching parenting in the photo) is courtesy of Jean Scheijen on stock.xchng.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Being a retailer at Christmas

shoppersI'm writing this post in lieu of smacking some of my customers upside the head, which is, at any rate, hard to do long distance. Please indulge me in a little rant to blow off some steam, since I try to be nothing but courteous and professional in my customer-service emails.

Sam and I sell DVDs online, on venues like eBay and Amazon Marketplace. It never fails to amaze me that we get customers who berate us for deceptive business practices if they find out that they could get the item cheaper elsewhere, or that we, in fact, did.

Yes, that's right, certain astute customers have found out that retailers sell items at a profit. It was a closely guarded secret, handed down through the ages, but now it's out. Our business model is ruined. Now we will have to pass along items at the same cost we buy them for, because that's only fair. (NB to these customers: This is me being sarcastic.)

Imagine you walk into The Gap. There are jeans there for $60, let's say. Does anyone really think The Gap bought those jeans for $60? They probably cost them pennies. Imagine you walk into any grocery store. I guarantee that every single item on those shelves the grocery store paid less than half what they're charging you at the regular price. That's how retail works! That's how businesses pay their expenses and, afterward, turn a profit. I should think this is obvious, but apparently not to the yahoos who buy from me.

Let's take a further example. Let's say that the same manufacturer in China makes the same pair of jeans for several retailers, switching out thread colors and tags, and selling them for $5 a pair. Wal-Mart buys a zillion and sells them for $10 each. The Gap charges $60. Le Chic Boutique buys 300, claims they're limited edition, and charges $300 a pair. Which of these business models is deceptive? The answer: None of them. Items are worth what a customer is willing to pay for them. People buy from Le Chic Boutique (I made this store up, if you can't tell, since I don't shop at this price point ) for the cachet of owning jeans with a certain tag and stitching color. People buy from The Gap for the convenience. People buy from Wal-Mart because they're cheap (no offense -- present company included).

To bring this back around to me (which I live to do), customers buy from us because they want low price and convenience. We handle shopping around for deals both in brick-and-mortar stores and online, obtaining (often exclusive) coupons, and buying in bulk to maximize savings on shipping and, sometimes, price. We pay for seller's fees, packing materials, sales tax, and gas to the post office. We spend hours each day wrapping packages, placing orders online, answering customer-service emails, driving to stores, and standing in line at the post office's APC. And we get very little sleep in December. We make not very much by doing all this. I won't give an exact number, because you'll tell me to get a real job. But we do it because we like working from home, sharing our lives, and raising our son together.

So, to the bargain hunters out there, more power to you. If you want to buy 1,000 jeans direct from China so that you can get the $5 price, and then deal with the hassle of selling off the other 999 pairs you don't want, that's your prerogative. But there's no point in slamming a retailer for selling it to you for more than that, since they're doing all the work.

Ok, end of rant.

Here's my holiday advice for everyone: Be patient with customer-service reps and cashiers. Smile at postal workers. Remember that Christmas spirit is not so limited that it must be reserved only for your loved ones. Everyone could use a little.

Bah! H--I mean, merry Christmas.

Photo of annoying customers (ha ha) courtesy of pipp on stock.xchng

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Pediatricians less likely to promote breastfeeding

the doctor is inOk, I'm sad now.

I saw a link to the new survey of pediatricians on their breastfeeding attitudes in 2004 as compared with a 1995 study, as reported in Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

The results show that doctors are now less likely "to believe that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the difficulties or inconvenience," fewer had confidence that almost all women would be able to breastfeed, and they found more reasons to recommend against the practice.

In good news, the 2004 pediatricians were more likely "to recommend exclusive breastfeeding ... and follow supportive hospital policies."

One factor that helped with breastfeeding promotion was personal experience of breastfeeding on the part of the pediatrician. Apparently it's not enough just to be taught in medical school that breastfeeding's good for babies and mamas -- you have to see it in action to believe it.

Well, fine. But how are our future physicians going to see it in action if our current ones discourage mothers from doing it?

File this under grrr... I thought things were supposed to be getting better.

Photo courtesy of Sanja Gjenero on stock.xchng