Thursday, August 28, 2008

Convention Fever

After being inspired by the speeches at this week's Democratic National Convention, Violet was a little unsure of how to react to her old friend Mrs. Elephant when she learned of her long-time association with the GOP.
A stuffed donkey that plays lullabies is on the top of her Christmas list!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Twins

I am a Gemini, astrologically speaking. My sign is the twins. Zodiac books describe people born under my sign as seeming to have two personalities, changing mood from moment to moment, being both hot and cold at the same time. I've never given astrology more than a passing thought but the twins seem to be more appropriate for me now than they ever seemed in the past.

Last week, I returned to work after a 3 month stint at home with Violet. I've never needed to call up those dual personalities more. About 6 weeks into motherhood, I felt like I was starting to get the hang of it. Not that I had all the answers, but I was comfortable with my role. I love being the mom to a baby and, after those first scary weeks of feeling like I had ruined my life, it seemed like a natural fit. Violet's need for me was matched in intensity by my need for her. Even on those days when I couldn't wait to pass her off to Shawn when he got home from work, I couldn't ever go very far away or be gone for very long. A short walk around the neighborhood and I couldn't wait to get home. I hadn't been away from Violet for more than two and a half hours and that was ok with me. The closer I got to the end of my time off from work, the more panicked I became.

Now let me preface this by saying that I love my job. I work in a field I like and with a group of people I really, really, like and it is rare that those two things come together. I also know that people from work read this blog (I think that a big professional no-no, but we're all friends at work, that's what makes it so enjoyable) and I don't want them to take any of this personally. If I had been slated to return to any other job, I have no doubt that I would have called up the week before my return date and quit.

My friend Jen hit the nail on the head when she called the feeling of leaving your infant in another's care "unnatural." That is it, exactly. For a mother--let me restate--for this mother, handing off my 3 month old girl and heading out for eight long hours felt really unnatural.

I often look at what our ancestors in more "primitive" societies would have done with their children as a cue to what is the most "natural" for humans. For instance the whole sleeping thing--I've gotten lots of comments on that last post, by the way. It seems to me that putting baby in a separate room of her own to sleep is a pretty modern invention. I am not against modernity, don't get me wrong, my A.C. is cranked to 72 and has been humming all day. I wouldn't live without a lot of modern inventions. But, when looking at earlier societies and even other modern day cultures that are not as into individuality as we are in the U.S., you'll see that sharing sleep is absolutely the norm. People don't make this big fuss over SIDS or rolling over on a baby. If the family sleeps in a one room hut together, they don't get out the sticks and mud to add an addition when they have a baby.

In hunter-gatherer societies, while everyone worked together to raise the children, that intense bond between a mother and baby was respected and the mother was given jobs within the group that she can do with her baby. Once baby gets a bit older, Mom might go further away for longer periods, but more than likely, that wouldn't be for a year or more. During those first months, the mother would be given tasks that would benefit the group where her baby would be in constant contact with her. Is it possible that these "primitive" societies valued the mother-infant bond more than we do today? Is the farming out of this crucial piece of the socializing puzzle--full time child rearing--really a step forward? Are countries like France where the standard maternity leave is one year or Canada where it is 6 months less progressive than we are in this country or are we depriving babies and mothers of a very special and very short-lived season of their lives that is meant to be spent together?

My friend Julie's mom blames the problems of today's youth on being over-indulged by guilt-ridden working mothers. This, I get. If there is one part of my personality that carries over into both of my twin personas--the mommy and the career woman--it is guilt. The guilt I feel for leaving work when there are still things to be done lasts with me on the whole drive home until I open the door and see my baby. Then it is replaced by the guilt I feel for leaving this teeny-tiny person without her mommy all day long. And it's not like I'm leaving her with strangers, Violet is with my own mom, definitely a close second to spending her time with me.

What is amazing to me is how well both she and I seem to be adapting. I still enjoy my job. I have to admit, before I came back, I was sure that everyday would be drudgery as I counted down the minutes until I could get back to Violet. That hasn't been the case. While I am always happy to jump in the car and speed home, I am interested in my work and the days go by fairly quickly. I pump twice a day and so far have been able to keep up with the baby's needs. Violet has been doing her part to make sure that things are working, too. The days I work she has been napping extra long--to the tune of 6 hours a day total!!--and spending most of her awake time with her dad and me. She has been waking more frequently to nurse at night, but that's alright with me. Between Shawn's new job, me being back at work, and Violet's new babysitter, there have been a lot of changes for the Pierce clan lately and I think we're all faring pretty well.

Monday, August 11, 2008

So I'm Raising an Ax Murderer

There are so many different schools of thought on parenting--the Ferberizers, the Fockerizers, the attachment parents, the cry-it-outers, the babywearers, the self-soothers, the baby whisperers, the happiest kid on the blockers, and probably at least a hundred more that I haven't heard of. It seems that if you have been lucky enough to get knocked up or knock someone else up, you have all the credentials you need to write about the way you raised your spawn and why every other parent is doing it wrong.

As far as I can tell, these methods fall somewhere in one of two camps. On one side is the group that believes that babies are creatures that need to be tamed. Infants, they believe, come into their parent's lives as wild, unruly critters with one and only one goal--to fuck their Mom and Dad's orderly world up. The experts on this side advise parents that a well-trained infant is a happy infant and that the reform can't start too soon. "Your 4-month old isn't keeping to your schedule? Well quit coddling that S.O.B. and teach him what you expect out of him!!" They advocate for things like "sleep training" and while I'm not exactly sure what this entails, it calls to mind an image of a large group of babies donning p.j.'s, sitting on benches in a locker room, pillows in hand, being yelled at by Bobby Knight about REM patterns and napping too long.

The other group of experts represents the "babies are born perfect and with good parents who promptly cater to their every need, they can stay that way" philosophy. This is definitely the more hippie-friendly approach to parenting, and includes such catch-phrases as co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding, and the family bed. These experts look to nature for their advice on parenting and recommend pureeing your own baby food and avoiding pacifiers (nipple dildos, as I once heard them referred to!).

My guess is that, like me and Shawn, most parents are going to fall somewhere between these two camps with a tendency to lean more one way or the other. We're definitely a little left on the spectrum and I'm OK with that. I've always been a little more hippie at heart. While I could never bear hearing my baby cry for an extended period of time, I also like my showers. Today, I plopped Violet in front of a Baby Einstein video so I could squeeze one in. She made it through about 5 minutes of my 7 minute shower before she started to howl. I did not jump out covered in suds to soothe her and I don't plan on getting a mesh sling so I can shower with her. I don't think the 2 minutes and 45 seconds she cried are going to be her undoing but wouldn't have let it go on much longer than that.

People are constantly asking about our sleeping situation. "Is she sleeping through the night?" is one of the most popular questions for friends and family to ask. We answer truthfully-yes she is-but then I almost always feel compelled to tell them that her 8-10 hours of sleep are in our bed. "Ohhh," they say like there should be an asterisk on our answer. Like it isn't valid sleep if it's not in a room of her own. Like we've almost made it to that sacred parenthood ground of 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep but we are stuck right outside the door. The fact is, I barely remember Violet's first 14 days because I was so damn tired. Every night I'd nurse her, she'd fall asleep, and when I tried to put her somewhere where babies "belong" like a crib or a bassinet, she'd wake up and cry and need to be nursed again. When I finally realized that I wasn't going to roll over on her or otherwise smother her in our bed, I began to get some sleep again. And, at least right now, I don't have any yearning to move her to another room all night. She is such a little snuggler--why would I want to miss out on some great cuddle time with her? I have no delusion that this stage of her life--or mine as a mother to young babies--will last very long and I intend on soaking it up, even at night. Ferber would surely report me to Child Protective Services.

As parents, we get all sorts of advice, discard most of it, and keep the bits and pieces that work for us. When we talk to another parent with a normal kid who shares our philosophy on something--sleeping, eating, discipline--we rejoice. When our friends parent totally differently than we ever would, we question their judgement, then our own. The thing is, this is such an important job, probably the most important job any of us will ever do, and we all need to believe that we're doing it right. We would never knowingly do it wrong, so we have to take some comfort in the fact that we do the best we can. But it is hard not to be defensive about our choices. We read a lot, trust the "experts," and when in doubt, call our own Moms.

So as Violet naps away in her swing (still the only place she'll log any nap longer than 1 hr), I have to wonder how well I'm doing as her mom. When she's 10 and unable to go to sleep away camp, maybe I'll regret our decision to let our baby dictate when, where, and with whom she will sleep. That's the thing, though, you don't know the ways you're screwing up your kid til the damage is done. Until then, it's whatever gets you through the night.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Has Anyone Seen My Life?

I was 11 years old when I started babysitting. Inspired by the great American novel series, The Babysitters Club, my 3 friends and I made up fliers, handed them out in our neighborhood, and were paid actual money to look after people's children. I knew little about children, nothing about babies, and couldn't have had an attention span longer than 4 minutes. Unlike pre-teens today, I had no cell phone, had never taken a CPR class, and "Safe Sitter" courses hadn't even been invented. I did know how to dial 911, however, and I guess for the trusting young parents hard-up for a night out in 1989, that was about all the qualification that was necessary. Terrifying, actually.

Just for a snapshot of my maturity level, I remember watching the two little boys across the street whose names I'll withhold for their protection. They were probably 5 and 3. The younger one was being potty trained. He did actually make it to the toilet to relieve himself but then (Due to constipation? Inexperience?) could not complete the job. There the poor little guy sat, with what seemed to me at the time to be a GIANT turd 1/2 out, and only 11 year old me to help him. None of the girls in the fictional Babysitters Club had ever dealt with this particular issue. Actually, come to think of it, none of their tales ever had to do with bodily functions. So what did I do? I left the tot sitting on the pot, called my Dad and told him I was too sick to continue babysitting and needed him to walk across the street and relieve me so I could go home. My going rate was $2/hour and even then I knew that there are some jobs you couldn't pay me enough to do.

So Shawn went to the Jimmy Buffett concert this Tuesday and I stayed home. His going away party for Channel 8 is tomorrow but I'll be on Violet duty. Although I often lament the death (or at least paralysis) of my social life, I can't imagine leaving Vi with just any babysitter. I'm sure we would never select a sitter as terrible as I was, but even if she was just 1/2 as bad, it could terrorize the baby.

My Mom is a good option, but given the fact that she's about to be saddled with 32 hours of Violet care a week when I return to my job, I hate to overwork her. And, perhaps making matters even more difficult, is Violet's inability to be soothed by anyone but me and now, thankfully, Shawn, too. I've scheduled one outing per day this week sans Violet while Shawn is off work (a haircut, a lunch) so she could get more consistent practice drinking from a bottle. Shawn says she takes it well. That is a step in the right direction. If all else failed, the babysitter could just let Vi have bottle after bottle until she drank up all I have stored or fell into a breast milk induced coma.

The other thing that I think might make it difficult to leave Violet in a non-family member's care right now is the fact that I still barely know what I'm doing with her and would find it difficult to parlay my half-ass strategies into anything resembling an instruction sheet for a sitter.

1. If she cries, hold her over your left shoulder. Or try sitting her on your lap and swinging on the porch swing.

2. She likes to lay on her changing table and look at stuff sometimes.

3. She may fall asleep while you are holding her after drinking a bottle. Put her down at your own risk. If you MUST go to the bathroom, lay her gently in her swing, turn it on the third level of speed and use the cricket sound effect. Good luck.

4. Bedtime routine is...oh, yeah, there is no bedtime routine. We'll be home at 11 and she will surely still be awake so don't sweat it.

5. Keep 911 on speed dial.

So I guess my social life has to be on hold for awhile. But, now for the sappy part, my life is actually very full and I wouldn't trade any of these three to go to the Wilco concert on Monday night.