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Archive for June, 2011

Let me be clear: pregnant women do not want your advice.   If they want it, they will ask for it.  And if they ask for it and then realize they disagree with what you are saying, they will probably go vacant-eyed and fantasize about ice cream until you stop talking.  

Mint chip.. Rocky Road... Wait, were you talking?

For the most part, pregnant women or their partners do not want to know what you think about swaddling, whether (and for how long) you believe in breast-feeding, or whether you decry pacifier use as moral downfall or uphold it as your family’s personal salvation.  It’s not that the topics of swaddling, breast feeding or pacifiers don’t interest them.  The problem is that advice givers are so invested in their own choices that their advice, rather than being neutral and informative, is actually a high-pressure sales pitch in disguise.  The expecting parent is like a person who doesn’t yet have a driver’s license but has wandered into a used-car dealership.  “You’re going to buy a car ONE DAY,” the peddler of advice is insisting, “why not buy MIIIIIINE?????  THIS ONE?????  Because I know this one is RIIIIIGHT??!?!?”  And you, the expecting parent, flounder to be polite without committing to anything.

To swaddle or not to swaddle?

My usual approach with expecting parents is to be vague and supportive on any topic.  They don’t need any judgment from me, and if they parent with love everything will probably work out just fine.  My stock phrases are “Every baby is different” and “Whatever works for your family.”  If the expecting parents press me and ask what I did with Miles, I usually answer honestly and then add one of my stock phrases.  Sometimes I finish with, “I’m sure whatever you decide will be fine.” 

Swaddling?  “We did it with Miles.  Whatever works for your family.”  Pacifiers? “Miles refused to take one.  Every baby is different.”  Burying the placenta under a neighborhood tree?  “Ewwww!  I mean, um, we didn’t do that. Whatever works for your family.  I’m sure whatever you decide will be fine.”

Pacifier dreams.

But I have opinions.  I’m not claiming my opinions are exclusively right or that they work for everyone.  (See stock phrases above.)  But here, without further disclaimer or self-deprecation,  are my honest opinions.  This is the stuff that I wish the future me could have flown back and told the pregnant me — the stuff I learned the hard way.

1. Baby wash cloths are not necessary.  They are cute, yes, and registering for them is fun.  But they.  Are.  Wash cloths.  Just use what you have at home and call it good.

2.  Pacifiers.  If you can get your baby to take one, thank your lucky stars.  More time on the pacifier is less time on the boob, which can be astonishingly helpful when you want to shower, make a bowl of cereal, or ride the subway in New York city without stripping.  Not that I would know, because Miles refused to take a pacifier.  He was a boob man through and through.  (In the photo at right, we put it in after he was asleep.  It didn’t last.)

3.  This brings me to breast feeding.  I recommend making it work if you can.  I think it’s better than formula (sorry!), but if you are going to breast feed, puh-LEASE don’t be sanctimonious about it.  Breastfeeding does not give anyone license to berate others. 

Plugged in.

If you try BFing and can’t do it, you are not a bad person.  If you try it and succeed, expect to have mixed feelings about it for the first several months at least.  It will sometimes hurt.  You will not necessarily feel “bonded” when your newborn wakes up every two hours at night wanting to latch on.  You will instead feel furious, cranky and tired.  You will think that all those people who described it as a beautiful experience were lying, and you will want to blow them up.   That is okay.  You (like me) may one day describe it as a beautiful experience.  And even though breast feeding in public is embarrassing and some people will freak out and give you flak for it, just do it.  You are feeding a baby in public, not masturbating, and your alternative is to go home EVERY TWO HOURS to feed your baby in private.  Just use a nursing cover or get used to being bare-breasted.

4. Those little baby outfits with the feet on them? Those are pajamas.  No one told me this.  Miles wore those day and night. 

5. Co-sleeping versus the crib.  As you may know, we slept with Miles for the first year.  Now he sleeps in a crib.  We were happy then; we’re happier now.  This really is an every-baby-is-different-whatever-works-for-your-family situation.  Whatever you do, don’t let anyone give you any lip about it.  Lie if you have to.

6. Speaking of lying, get ready to lie about your baby’s sleep.  Everyone will ask you, and no good can come of their response when you answer honestly.  In my experience, most babies sleep badly. Myths of newborns who sleep “all night” are greatly exaggerated.  Different babies respond differently to sleep training efforts, and those differences probably have more to do with the babies themselves than with anything the parents did correctly or incorrectly.  Yet the more sleep deprived you become, the more vulnerable you will be to other people’s advice, mockery, and judgment.  Protect yourself.  Lie!

Sleep is for the weak.

Different people ask about your baby’s sleep for different reasons.  Some — usually parents whose children are long grown or childless people who don’t want to ever have children — feel a cruel sense of pleasure at your suffering.  It’s true; they want to laugh at you.  People whose children sleep through the night want to confirm that they are better parents than you.  With these two types, you neither want to give them the satisfaction of knowing you suffer nor invite their unwanted advice.  When they inquire, smile sweetly and say, “She sleeps all through the night.” 

Others just want to tell you what you are doing wrong.  They may be well-meaning family members or neighbors or someone you meet in a parenting group.   They’re just sure that any baby will sleep for 14 hours at a stretch if you use their method.  Chances are good that, having tried every method, you will want to punch these people.  Take a deep breath and repeat after me: “He sleeps all through the night.”  If your baby magically sleeps all through the night, and anyone asks about it, just be vague.  DO NOT BOAST OR APPEAR TO TAKE CREDIT FOR THIS MIRACLE.  IF YOU DO, I MIGHT SPIT ON YOU.  Just say, “He sleeps okay.”  If the asker is another parent who looks exhausted and tortured by self-doubt, be vague and compassionate.  Try, “Some nights are better than others.”  If the asker is a friend who is genuinely concerned about your well-being but has no particular stake in the politics of baby sleep, maybe, maybe, MAYBE tell the truth, whatever your truth may be.  But do so at your own risk.

7. I won’t ask you how your baby sleeps, but I might hand you Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West.  It is the baby sleep book that saved us from baby sleep hell.  It’s my favorite because, like me, it’s more middle of the road.  It’s not a strict cry-it-out system like Ferber or Babywise, but it’s not a super-granola attachment parenting manual like The No-Cry Sleep Solution (which I tried valiantly to use for almost a year).  We used the methods in Good Night, Sleep Tight, Miles cried some but in a way I could feel okay about, and now he sleeps so much amazingly better.  He sleeps all through the night.  And I am not even lying.  Get this book.  Now.  NOW.

8. The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp.  People will tell you it saved their lives.  Personally, I think it’s overhyped.  It worked for us about 60 percent of the time, which was helpful.  But you know what, sometimes all the swaddling and sideways laying and sucking and shhhhhing and swaying in the world does not work.  Sometimes they just cry. If you can borrow the book or DVD from someone, do.  If not, meh.  Whatever.

Dear Harvey Karp: You lied.

9.  Now for the best baby advice I ever received: Be gentle with yourself.  If you are a birthing mother, your hormones will be completely wack-a-doodle-doo for several months.  It is very possible that you will not know who you are any more.  If you are an adoptive mom, a dad, or any other kind of parent, you will still be going through intense experiences that change everything.  Everything.  New parenthood is surreal.  At times in the first weeks, I looked down at the crying bundle in my arms and could not remember its name or whether it was a boy or girl — I just knew I was supposed to appease it.  Give yourself a few months (or a year or so) for things to settle down.  You are doing a great job.  Trust me.  And, of course, congratulations!

This post is dedicated to Tina Anderson and Naomi Frame Powell, who have gracefully endured a great deal of unsolicited advice from me. 

Coming soon: The Breast Feeding Advice You Didn’t Ask For, The Stay-At-Home Parenting Advice You Didn’t Ask For, and more!

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Okay, I’m sure by now you’ve heard this, but I must shout it from the rooftops: NEW YORK LEGALIZED GAY MARRIAGE!!!!!

Yay!

 

The world does not contain enough exclamation points to express our joy and excitement.  What does it mean that we can get married legally in our own state?  After 12 years together and 8 years of marriage (in a beautiful winery ceremony that wasn’t legally valid), after getting married by a judge in San Francisco City Hall in 2004 only to have our marriage declared void by the courts six months later, after settling for domestic partnership in the state of California and the city of New York, after vows and daily life and bringing each other coffee and making a baby and then surviving the first year with said baby — after all that, we can get legally married in our state. 

Pretty jazzed.

 

It means that when we have a second child, we won’t have to go through the whole adoption fiasco.  It means that in New York state, our family will be treated as a family instead of as a collection of strangers who happen to live together.  I will

Family pride.

no longer have to check the box for “single” when I fill out official forms.  We can file our state taxes together, and Robin can declare head of household.  There will no longer be an invisible asterisk hovering in the air when I call Robin my wife.

In short, it is amazing.  So yes, we’re going to get married again.  Yes, yes, and yes!

On Sunday, to celebrate, we marched as a family in NYC’s gay pride parade, walking alongside Big Apple Dodgeball. (Yep, that’s gay dodgeball.  Just let the image sink in for a moment.)  Robin has played several seasons of dodgeball, mostly before becoming a mother, and she is well respected within the league for her athleticism and sportsmanship.  The dodgeballers showered love on Miles, the first official dodgeball baby, and cavorted about shooting each other with water pistols.  The crowd held signs reading, “A Promise Kept” and “Thank You Governor Cuomo.”  They wore stickers saying, “‘I Do’ Support Marriage Equality” and “God Made Me Queer.”  Onlookers oohed and ahhhhed over Miles, and he got lots of laughs with his T-shirt that read, “I was hatched by a couple of chicks.”  The mood was ebullient and the weather perfect. 

Miles held up beautifully as we trekked 40+ blocks through the city, ending in the Village, near the site of the Stonewall riots that sparked the gay rights movement.  Close to the end of the parade, the streets narrowed and the cheering intensified.  I felt both enclosed and uplifted, buoyed by the shouts of support.  Sure, some of the people were just screaming for the dodgeballers to throw them free candy and inflatable balls, but still!  It was beautiful!

Dodgeballers.

 

Wonderful and super.

 

California, you are going to have a pretty hard time winning me back now. 

Jubilation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, you have superior produce, access to beautiful hiking, and transcendent Mexican food.  You are home to many of my dearest friends and to much of my family.  But you have broken my heart repeatedly.  You spit on my relationship one too many times.  Despite your reputation for inclusive liberality, you have allowed hate and fear to prevail.  I’ve found a better state, a state that will treat me right.  California, unless you can get your act together, we’re through for good.  And I’m not looking back.

 

 

Having a ball.

 

Giddy optimism.

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Miles got his first potty seats today — one to go on the big toilet and one that sits on the floor.

He was thrilled, and we spent some time rehearsing what goes where. Barry Bear, a stuffed companion who has been with me since the first week of my life, was extremely patient.

20110628-071134.jpg

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Miles, though obviously a budding poet/athlete/astronomer/zoologist/engineer, spent most his first year being stunningly average. At every medical appointment, his height and weight came in at the 50th percentile. I for one felt absurdly proud of this: we had created a child whose measurements were in no way objectionable! No one could find fault with the length of his limbs or the rotundity of his trunk. Passers-by might make their usual way-off-base comments — “What a big boy!” or “Is he (four months younger than his actual age)? No? Well, he must be small!” — and I would smile proudly and, with great satisfaction, announce, “His doctor says he’s average!”

Five months old.

Then, at his first birthday, his weight percentile plummeted to 22nd. He had recently had some minor surgery, and the doctor said he would probably bounce back by the next appointment. But he didn’t bounce back. At the fifteen month appointment, he had dropped off the chart. He’d had the stomach flu recently, we reasoned. Maybe that explained it. At 18 months, the doctor became concerned. (It was not his low percentile that was worrisome but the dramatic drop in percentile — from average to off the chart in six months. If he’d stayed steady, no problem.)

“Often times when toddlers slim down, it’s just behavior,” our pediatrician said, meaning that they become picky and eat less. However, she warned me that we needed to rule out certain other causes for his unexplained decline in growth. We talked a little about Celiac disease (which is gluten intolerance) or “intestinal issues,” but our doctor kept the details fuzzy and the tone upbeat. We took a stool sample, changed his diet to include more protein and fat, limited snacking and milk-drinking between meals, and scheduled a weight check for six weeks later.

Since that appointment, I have thrown myself into packing the utmost calories (and nutrition) into every meal. I carry chicken sausages for his snacks, concoct quiches with bacon and heavy cream (and spinach!), whip up the cheesiest mac and cheese recipe I can find, then top it with buttered bread crumbs. I make carrot-cranberry waffles and spread them with pecan butter or, better yet, use waffles as the bread for his PB&J. I brown ground turkey, slice up spicy chorizo, and churn out cheese quesadillas with guacamole. Once, to Robin’s horror, I fed Miles butter. Just a spoonful of unadorned butter. Most parents scheme to get vegetables into their children; I view vegetables as a necessary evil. They’re low in calories and take up precious belly space. Vegetable tempura I grudgingly accept. At least it is battered and deep fried!

I know I sound a little crazy. What’s new? But the thing is, even as I have been cooking and baking and cookbook-scouring, somewhere deep inside of me I have felt that Miles is really okay. He’s perfect. His arms, his legs, his cheeks, his belly: they all seem just right. He’s happy. He’s healthy. He constantly astonishes me with his discoveries, his curiosity, his questions. He glows with joy, running toward us with his dandelion puff hair wafting in the breeze, and throws his arms up in the air for a group hug. How could a child who is so obviously thriving be sick? How could his immaculate cells hide some unknowable something wrong? They couldn’t.

We have many reasons to assume all is well. People reassure me with some variation of, “All toddlers slim down! He’s so active!” And, “He’s just burning off calories faster than he can eat them.” The pediatrician said he doesn’t look like a child who is suffering from Celiac or any other major illness. His stool test came back negative for all of the things they were looking for (whatever those might have been). Then there’s the fact that I myself was a teeny baby and am now only five feet tall. Couldn’t that explain his diminutive stature? It could. Of course it could. So I have been calm and confident. Except when I’m not.

Sometimes I can’t help but notice how much smaller he is than other kids his age. Or that he hasn’t been growing out of his clothes. In fact, other than getting more hair and becoming more agile, he hasn’t changed physically all that much for a long time. I watch him race about the playground and think, treacherously, too small. The voice of worry starts its whispery taunting.

After his six-week weight check, he had gained 9 ounces but was still “off the chart.” I bit my lip and agreed to schedule blood work. The blood work came back negative — all clear — giving both Robin and me a sense of relief. The next step is another weight check at 21 months, about three weeks from now. If he’s still off the chart, what next? What will the doctor say, and how will we respond?

My worry is two-fold. One is the pure and simple worry that something might be wrong, Celiac disease, some kind of bowel problem, or some other thing I can’t even imagine and don’t want to Google. The other is the more nuanced fear that Miles is fine. Wait, you’re thinking? You’re worried that he might be fine? Yes. Apparently, I am an extremely advanced worrier. My fear is that if we go further with tests or (gulp) see a specialist, we’ll be subjecting Miles and ourselves to needless and stressful interventions, sucumbing to a culture of fear and pathologizing our innocent child’s idiosyncratic growth pattern. Really, I should just recognize him as the healthy specimen he is and get on with the play dates and building blocks. I should tell the doctor to back off and leave us alone. Right? Right?

So I am alternately serene and apprehensive. He’s so absolutely lovely these days, but this weight thing plagues me. I understand that this is not a calamity. Parents deal with actual, real medical problems (as opposed to this phantom of a maybe problem) every day. Yet he’s my kid, and I want to know that he is healthy. I wish I knew a right way to navigate the next few months, if there is a right way. I want to stop the churning and doubting and second-guessing, just shut my brain up. Robin doesn’t churn and doubt and second-guess! It’s not in her nature, I suppose, which is probably part of why we’re together.

So, lucky you, you’re along for the ride. Would you like to see some cute photos of my perfect, obviously healthy kid? Of course you would! Here goes. And thanks for listening.

Joyful.

Barry Bear.

Fighting fires... and homophobia.

Who me? Yes, you. Couldn't be. Then who?

(Disclaimers: our doctor has been very calm and reassuring; Miles seems to be getting taller lately; and no one has even breathed the words “referral to specialist.” I just forget to focus on these things when I’m worrying. Then I reread this blog and hear Robin’s cheerful and optimistic voice reminding me of all these things. Thanks, Robin.)

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Required reading.

I remember when Miles found his hands.  He was just a wiggly little grub, fleshy and bald, grunting and trying in vain to roll himself over.  He’s still exploring his body and what it can do, of course, but lately his awareness has expanded beyond himself.  About a week ago, he discovered the existence of tails.  Before that, he met and befriended his shadow, waving shyly at it whenever the two meet.  And lately, he can’t stop thinking and talking about nighttime — specifically about the moon and stars.     

Cookie!

I blame Signing Time Volume 3 for this; it taught him the signs for night, day, sun, moon and stars, among others.  (Cookie?  Really?  Thanks a lot, Rachel Coleman.  Did we really need to teach him how to demand a cookie?)  Now Miles sits alone in his room, hunting through EVERY one of his books to find moons and stars.  “Mama?  Mama?  MAMA!” he hollers.  I run back to the bedroom, hands drippy with dish suds, convinced that he’s tangled in the curtains or trapped under a bookshelf  — but no.  He holds up a picture of a beach ball with a star on it.  “Star?” 

He spots stars when we’re out running errands, glimpsing the five-pointed beauties on flags, construction vans, the handles of snack cups, handbags, posters, strollers, t-shirts, canned foods, and even tattooed on the toe of a nurse who was checking him for Coxsackie virus (which he had — ugh). And where there’s stars, he’s downright indignant not to encounter their usual celestial chaperone, the moon. 

“Moon?” he asks me beseechingly, holding his hands up in the “where” sign. 

"Ten Black Dots" by Donald Crews.

“No, there’s no moon there, but aren’t those stars on that beer truck lovely?” 

“Moon?  Moon? Moon?”   

At first I was tempted to see profundity in this interest of his.  I heard the booming voice of a National Geographic film narrator in my head, intoning, “From our earliest days, mankind has been entranced by the heavens.” Indeed.  Why is Miles so captivated by the moon and stars of all things?  What does he think they are?  I imagine Miles pondering the origins of life, yearning wordlessly to understand his place in the cosmos.  Who am I?, he might be wondering.  Why am I here?  Then I remember how much he loves garbage trucks and construction equipment.  Hmmmph.  Do garbage trucks and bulldozers evoke the mystery of creation, destruction and decay?  The building up and tearing down of our flimsy plans? The impermanence of human experience? The futility of desire?  Or does he just like loud noises and moving parts? 

Every night, the same two books.

Well, I was enthralled with this moon/stars thing.  But what once was cute, I have begun to loathe.  Must we read “Goodnight Moon” every night now?  We must.  Must Mommy draw moons with the sidewalk chalk every time?  She must.  Miles asks me to draw a star on the sidewalk for the 917th time and before I can finish it, he  shrieks, “Moon?  Moon? Moon!?!” because stars need the moon.  Right now!

In those moments, I wish this whole moon thing could be over FOREVER and I wonder why I ever thought he was poetic or even charming — in fact, maybe he has some mental defect! a moon fixation! —  and he’s pointing at my desperate, smearing moon-deficient sidewalk-chalk galaxy and walking backwards away from me, chanting  and signing “moon, moon, moon” as I clasp my hands over my ears to drown out that hateful word. 

Just when I’m ready to sell him to a roving band of gypsy astronomers, he falls silent.  He stares rapturously at the flowers in the window box.

He approaches the flowers.  Signs flower.  Squats, bends, sniffs.  “Mmmmm.”  Smiles.

Could he be any cuter??  Jeez.  I relax.  For now.

Smelling the flowers. Literally.

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He strikes again.

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Miles recently discovered tails.  Specifically, that they exist and that they grace the posteriors of some (but not all!) animals.  We were playing in his room, hugging his stuffed animals, when he noticed.  He hugs his animals in a very specific way, crushing the poor creatures to his neck while twisting his torso in a rocking motion and patting with one hand.  Not coincidentally, this is how I hug him when he is hurt or upset.  Then, when plopping a just-hugged dog to the floor, he made his discovery.

Hugfest.

“What is this strange, delightful appendage?” he asked me, in his own language of gestures, syllables and eyebrow lifting.

“That’s a tail, Miles.  See, the giraffe has a tail too.”

His astonishment quickly turned to engrossed wonder.  With joyful purpose, he examined each and every animal in the bin, sorting them by tails and not tails.  Dog?  Tail.  Pooh bear? Tail.  Otto the Love Monster?  Not tail.  Chamelon?  Big tail.

Why tails?  Why now?  It baffles me, and I love it.  Sort of.  Over the next day, he started saying  “tail” and invented his own hand sign for tail: pointing at his own bottom.  (Other Miles-invented signs: holding his palms up questioningly for “where?”, holding his hand to his ear for “phone,” and patting his head for “hat.”)  Within two days, the tail thing was getting out of control.  A little scientist, he insisted on personally investigating the tail phenomenon.  He had checked the animals on his wooden farm puzzle for tails and repeatedly confirmed the existence and location of Luna’s tail (a procedure she does not appreciate).  On the changing table, when Robin was putting him in a new diaper, they discussed the tail of a teddy bear he was holding.  Curious, he reached down to his bare bottom and checked himself for a tail.  Robin had to assure him several times that he did not have one.  He seemed disappointed.

Just the other day, Miles was in the bathtub and I crawled away from him to grab the baby shampoo. He patted my bottom inquisitively, not for the first time that day.  “Tail?”

“Miles, Mommy does not have a tail!”  I said.  “I promise!” 

My little scientist smiled.  I knew he would not take my word for it.

Baby doll: not tail.

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