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    Entries in attachment parenting (6)


    I am not an astronaut and other failings

    A question I heard on the radio today struck me: would your six year old self like you? I hope that in my case the answer is yes, but what I really got to thinking about was if my adult self would live up to the expectations of my childhood. And that answer is, unequivocally, no.

    Many girls, whether because of social constructs or through their own choosing, dream of and plan to have children when they're still kids, themselves, but I wasn't one of those. I didn't fashion wedding gowns from my mom's cast-off dresses and I didn't imagine myself caring for babies. Once, while walking to my mom's car with her after a school function, she remarked to one of my ten year-old classmates that the baby on the girl's hip -- her own little sister -- was positioned just right, and I remember the eye roll of annoyed pity I shot in her direction. I just won the science fair, but have fun with that baby. 

    You could attribute my disdain for motherhood (because, let's be honest, that's what it was) to any number of things: the fact that the feminism of the time wasn't particularly supportive of mothers (and my exposure to it WHICH I DO NOT REGRET FOR ONE MOMENT through my own mom), my disappointment in the way women were pigeonholed into the role whether they wanted to be or not. But the biggest reason was probably the fact that I had little faith in my own ability to rise above my family of origin and the world around me to turn out happy, functional people of my own making. 

    Now, that sounds really depressing, especially coming from a then-ten year old, I know. It was depressing. I was a depressed kid, situationally, chemically, but my line of thinking also felt plainly realistic. I believed what others told me -- that everyone was just doing his or her best -- and I assumed that anger, cruelty, addiction, apathy and all the other trappings of dysfunctional families were just some people's natural states, and the matter couldn't be helped. The best I could do was take the phone off at the root, so to speak. If others just did the same, I thought, we'd certainly have less unhappiness to deal with.

    In my late teens and early twenties I adopted as reasons for childlessness the issues of overpopulation and environmental responsibility. Having kids was just irresponsible, I railed. I've heard it over and over and over since then, said by young women not (in any substantial ways) unlike I was at twenty to my face while I held a baby in my womb, in my arms, as my only child turned into two. They don't mean harm, and I don't take offense. I've thought the same thing, and don't totally disagree with them, in any case. 

    I don't mean that they're necessarily going to see the folly in their thinking; plenty of people choose not to have kids for exactly those reasons, justifiably, and stick contentedly to their choice. But I don't guess I'm the only one who looked for more socially acceptable, more enlightened, less pathetic-sounding reasons for childlessness than I'm afraid of myself and the world around me. 

    Obviously, at some point, I changed my tune, since I have two children. I never stopped questioning my own desire to have kids (and this is the reason why I try to limit our consumption and live consciously), but I did stop questioning my own ability to grow. Because I don't consider myself a naturally nurturing person, I researched. I researched my ass off, and continue to. I read a lot about child development so I know how to adjust my expectations. So I can forgive myself the time I embarrassed my dad in a restaurant and received a spanking despite my behavior being normal, expected, and incidentally out of character for a child like I was, who had been manipulated into "behaving" because I believed my parents' love to be contingent on my doing so. I contracted with my kids that I would learn everything I could so that I could be the mama they deserve.
    I also stopped telling myself I was doing the best I could. My therapist argued about this for years, literally, but I think this practice can serve as one big crutch to lean on when our pasts loom so large that we feel bent under their weight. Even though I knew that I would fuck up, I birthed these little creatures, and despite fucking up all the time, I keep trying. Yelling is not my best. Manipulation is not my best. Bribing is not my best. I will own up to feeling the tsk-tsk of my conscience when I resort to bad mothering, and ignoring it. I admit that I think, sometimes, I just want you to ___! What will it take? And it's in those moments that I am willfully not doing my best. It pains me to say so; one of the traits I adopted when my family made it obvious that my brain mattered more than my feelings was precision. Correctness. I hate being wrong, and yet. I am, many, many times a day, because I'm a parent. Because I'm human, and we're wrong. A lot. This is not something that ever was presented to me as a possibility, let alone a universal truth. 
    Even though I'm wrong like a million times an hour, I'd like to think that the six year old me, and the ten year old me would be impressed that I've taken the initiative to learn. They'd look at my empirical data, they'd look at my bookshelf and be satisfied that I may not be an astronaut but I am using my brain. In fact, I might be using my brain in a way more beneficial than they teach at space camp. They might like to hang out with me. They might think I was a loser, but guaranteed they'd think I was a nice, respectful one. 



    my son, the weaner

    Oh, this poor, neglected blog. The winter of 2013 will forever be remembered as The Great Nose-Wiping, I'm afraid. Alternate titles: Downton Crabby; The Winter of Our Discontent (With Rhinovirus). We are all sick all the time, and George has been afflicted with the worst of it, thanks in no small part, I'm sure, to his relatively recent weaning. Something I've been meaning to talk about here. Now -- while the boy coughs and watches Shaun the Sheep and the rest of the family buys logs at the farm store -- is as good a time as any. 

    When I was pregnant with Zelda, put off breastfeeding by a serious case of the nursing heebie jeebies, I was determined to make it to George's second birthday before I cut him off. This turned out to be an unnecessary goal, since the return of my milk in the third trimester marked the end of my discomfort, and we happily resumed our normal nursing relationship. I look back on the final month of my pregnancy so fondly, remembering George's little toddler belly pressed up against his still in-utero sister, feeling her kick as he nursed to sleep. Hindsight being what it is, I can see that was the first real, tangible bonding they did, and I was so glad that my body did us all the solid of letting nursing happen pleasantly, as it had before. Our nursing relationship enabled him to experience my pregnancy from my side, not the opposing side to which most siblings are relegated, feeling mama's belly when invited and perhaps thinking about the time when they had unrestricted access, too. 

    When, right after Zelda was born, we were spending a majority of our days in the house, often on the couch, nursing, George was free to nurse as he needed to, also, rather than being put off in favor of the new addition. We didn't suffer from any sibling rivalry until much later, and I attribute some of that to the fact that he didn't feel entirely usurped by the baby. At a time when my toolbox was running low, nursing was still my cure-all for sadness, a late nap, a fall, or need for reconnection. When your sleep is interrupted, you've just experienced a pretty big blood loss and you're trying to remember how to take care of a newborn, you don't necessarily have the resources available to think up creative new techniques for dealing with toddler behavior. Thanks, term breastfeeding, for keeping the peace when I didn't have the energy to respond as sensitively as I should, or playfully parent through adversity. 

    I wish I had a better weaning story. Or, I guess I should say: I wish I had a more riveting weaning story. But, I don't. One day, George just stopped asking. He was 34 months old (nine months after his sister was born), and I waited a week before I brought it up. Are you all done with nummas? I asked him, and his response is forever etched into the mama part of my brain. The part that stores photographic memories of first steps and the first time he said I love you, unprompted. 

    Nummas made me so happy, he said, but now they're for Zelda, and now they're called na-na. 

    Na-na, what his sister has called mama's milk all her life. 

    As simple as that, with no tears or strife. I never suggested he stop, and yet: he did, when his body told him it was time. When his heart told him he was ready. I didn't directly experience a terrible lot in the way of criticism about our term breastfeeding, but, nevertheless, ours is a story for the critics of child-led weaning. For those who argue that it creates whiny weirdos who suckle until pried off the boob sometime before middle school. For those who think it makes unhealthily dependent kids. For those who caution that weaning will be arduous when the child is old enough to articulate his need and the hurt that comes with refusal to meet that need. For those who think children are born manipulators. 

    There are times, like now, in the midst of a slog through illness, when I am trying to find ways to boost my poor little guy's immune system as it struggles, and I wish breastmilk served as the cure-all it once did. There are times when my toolbox is as empty as it was when I was newly post-partum and I wish I could pull him close for a nurse instead of trying to comfort him with words or hugs that fall short. Our relationship is different now, and that change is natural, healthy, developmentally appropriate, but difficult all the same. When I'm lonely for the fat little baby in old pictures, I look at the goofy, gangly preschooler in front of me and am comforted that I didn't force him out of his sweet babyhood too soon. I'm glad that he shared a bit of that babyhood with his sister instead of being metaphorically dumped out of my lap in her favor.  

    Though it was not always fun, I don't regret a single second of our term breastfeeding, and its effects are still making themselves known. When I find myself telling the doctor I'm not sure if George has ever been on antibiotics before. When I see him guilelessly look on at our friends' children as they nurse. When he nurtures his own sister or plays the role of caretaker with his toys. When he suggests that crying toddlers and children his own age might need some nummas. I'm proud of myself for those 34 months, and the 12 and a half I've spent breastfeeding Zelda. We've nursed on lawn furniture for sale in the middle of Target, at the zoo and at the park, in bed, all night, at strangers' houses and on walks, while I looked at the internet with one hand and he slept in my arms, for hours and hours and hours - an unquantifiable amount of time, of such enormous quality. I hope that, should he choose to have children, he carries these memories with him, whichever ones (if any) last to adulthood, and they influence the way he parents. Regardless of whether or not he winds up with kids of his own, I hope he remains a nurturer. And, I hope that this, among all my failings as a mother, serves as a reminder that I was -- and am -- in it for the long haul. 


    an open letter to jessica valenti

    This post could be subtitled: Wherein I Refer Not To Your Book (which I haven't read) But To The Interview I Heard On The Radio The Other Morning. 

    Jessica Valenti founded a website I like a lot and has recently written a book: Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness. She is mother to a toddler (I gather) and has been making the rounds as a "young feminist" who is tackling "the issues" or, diving headlong into the profitable and ridiculous "Mommy Wars" which is a phrase I already regret typing despite that last thing I said being (subjectively) true. I was disappointed at many points during her interview in ways that I frequently feel disappointed with my contemporaries in the feminist community. 

    Dear Ms. Valenti,


    I realize that mine is a difficult undertaking, given that I haven't read your book. To be honest, my reading wish list is long, and includes many things I plan to read for reasons other than providing thorough refutations of Internet Personalities' views on parenting. So, please cut me some slack in that department and I'll stick to what I heard you say in this interview on NPR to which I would link if I could find it. 

    You seem to be taking the position that I've read and heard so often in the past few years: that parenthood is too hard on women. That attachment parenting is demeaning and demanding in unreasonable ways, particularly to women. That "problems" with these newfangled methods are, then, a feminist issue. I heard you smugly chuckle at the idea that some parents choose to watch their babies for elimination cues and take them to the toilet rather than change diapers. You scoffed, audibly, at the recommendation that parents wear their children as much as possible; at co-sleeping. You implied that these choices -- made by adults, generally after doing some research -- are making women unhappy, and that if it were more widely publicized that parenthood sucked so bad, if there were more affordable avenues for leaving your kids with someone else while you get on with your life, maybe fewer people would respond so negatively to the experience of raising children. 

    I'd like to talk a little about this, personally. While obviously not the case for everyone, my children were my liberation. After years of working jobs I didn't like to make ends meet, putting off the possibility of seeking out work I found fulfilling because I couldn't afford to fail, I got pregnant. There was nothing noble or progressive about the job I had when I got pregnant, but quitting it to raise my children has easily been the most controversial parenting choice I've made. Politically active, feminist-identified friends have given me figurative head pats, pep talks about re-entering the workforce someday, and treated me like a twee relic because I choose not to work outside the home. They have congratulated me on being self-sacrificing enough to take on things like cloth diapering because, while they'd really love to, they just can't imagine having the time. Like many people, I've had lifelong struggles with my body image. It wasn't until having children -- birthing them, unapologetically feeding them in public, witnessing their guileless exploration of my flabby upper arms, acne scars, and stretched belly -- that I began to accept and eventually appreciate my body for what it was and expect that others do the same. I found myself hoping for my kids to find meaning and joy in their days and, in trying to engineer that for my children, I've learned to search for and value the same for myself, whether it's a paid, intellectual pursuit or not. Because it almost never is.

    When asked the perfunctory question (why have kids?), you said there were two answers, a real one and a jokey one: you came from a large Italian family, and (basically) because kids say the darndest things. I realize that this was oversimplified but it still gave me pause. I had kids because I wanted to create a family with my partner, because I thoroughly enjoy children and because I knew I'd be good at it. Familial expectations didn't play into my decision, and similarly, I didn't have another child just to give my son a sibling. People should be parents because and only because they want to be, and believe they would be good at it. I agree that parental unhappiness stems in part from the lack of resources, but cheap daycare is not on my list of ways to make parents generally happier (It is, however, on my list of things we should do because it makes sense.). Instead, I take issue with a society that throws weddings to which children are not invited or relegated to a "childcare room" (because 200 adults can't just redirect a kid sticking his fingers in the wedding cake? Or, god forbid, hang out with some children?). I blame a country wherein breastfeeding in public is a debatable issue, and 30-something year old friends meeting my daughter for the first time say they've never held a baby before. We are setting up parents to fail by treating children like burdens we need to escape from, rather than welcoming them into the communities they'll inherit. We keep kids' normal behaviors a secret until those often confusing traits are foisted upon underslept, stressed parents focused on maintaining their "normal lives" and wondering why nobody told them that newborns actually eat every 3 hours...for 2 and a half hours. Including our children in our lives in both meaningful and mundane ways, incorporating them into everyday life so that they become as much a fixture as our phones, exposing others to the normality of childhood so that they know what to expect of young people: that's a way to make people enjoy parenting. Realistic expectations breed success. Attachment parenting, allowing a place for children in our everyday lives, enables that.

    The question: are you mom enough? is not a question posed by well-meaning fellow mothers or even sympathetic feminists. It's yet another shitty patriarchal device used to pit us against one another, and it, along with all the other trappings of misogyny, are what's making women unhappy. Just as I don't allow the patriarchy to dictate where my value begins and ends, I don't want to teach people that their value will begin when they can make themselves useful (by my standards), or that I will put up with their difficult nature as long as it doesn't hinder my own pursuits. I had kids to teach, to love, to pay attention to and nurture in whatever way they need. I hope to have many years of watching my independent offspring fend mostly for themselves, but that just isn't the deal when they're little and I knew that when I signed up for this gig. If it were a more widely known fact about parenting, perhaps that would make for happier parents. 

    Attachment parenting isn't making women unhappy. Following others' whims rather than deciding what works for your family? Sure, that'll do it. Uncertainty makes judgment feel harsher, hurt worse. Trying to squeeze your child into a philosophy that doesn't resonate with her? Failure: that'll make everyone unhappy. But don't blame women who believe fervently in and advocate for a more responsive way of parenting. Don't chuckle about parents who make educated choices that differ from yours. Then you're just throwing fuel on Time Magazine's beach bonfire. Some people find liberation in raising babies and chickens and the freedom to go to the library at 11am any damn day of the week, and nobody gets to tell me that isn't a part of my feminism.






    our journey to dreamland


    That kid right there, he started out as a 12 hour a night sleeper. Does he sleep through the night? people would ask me. Yes! I could say, without lying. Well, without telling untruths, that is, because I was definitely lying. Next to him. All night. And all morning. Because that kid, right there, he slept from midnight until noon as long as he had a bosom for a pillow. Well-meaning folks suggested that I try waiting until he was deeply asleep, then rolling away from him to go about my day. As though I hadn't tried that. Have you ever forcibly waited until noon to get out of bed? If you had, you'd know that the urge to pee strikes around 9:30 and that scenario probably doesn't need further explanation. 

    He woke up if I even thought too hard about scootching over, and it went double for naps. The penalty for my ambition was always the same: an underslept baby with one target for his displeasure. Me. so, I got a Kindle and went with it. I was so well-read back then, you guys. 

    He slept in the sling, with his papa, too. That was nice. On weekends, I got a break from lying down with him (Let us pause for a moment, parents of more than one, to laugh and laugh. 



    Hoo boy! Yeah. Okay. Anyway.) and that continued until he was well over a year old. At fifteen months or so, he nightweaned and moved into a crib, a change prompted by his obvious need for more personal space at night. His kicking and flailing were keeping everyone, himself included, awake, and the crib gave him boundaries he seemed to enjoy, coupled with room to move and make sheet angels. But getting him to sleep at night was HARD. I'd nurse him and hand him over to Nathan, who put in one to two hours per night sitting next to the crib, singing and humming, shooshing and patting. And naptime? I, pregnant and afflicted with a bad case of the breastfeeding heebie jeebies, was unable to nap-nurse like we'd always done. So Nathan dashed home on his lunch break and made a nap happen, then drove back to work, rarely having eaten.

    George was elated to receive a hand-me-down toddler bed, but fell out of it a few times, so we reverted to the crib. It started feeling a little desperate, like this particular toddler was going to need this papa-led patting and shooshing routine well into grade school. Nathan and I had no evening time to ourselves, the lunchtime dash was kind of ridiculous, and, more than once, we both wondered aloud if this level of attention was counterproductive. We knew families who "Ferberized" their kids, and if Facebook and casual conversation were to be believed, their evenings were full of primetime television shows and cocktails. In short, they seemed to be having a lot more fun than we were. But, we persisted, because being unresponsive to our son's expressed needs felt like the wrong thing to do. 

    The funny thing about raising kids is that things gradually get better and sometimes you don't notice. I couldn't tell you the date of George's last dirty diaper (because that would be pathetic, a little), and I don't know exactly when he stopped throwing all of his food on the floor. Similarly, the sleep routine got shorter and shorter until we decided to try something new. 

    For the past month, I've been putting George to bed. We do "stories and nummas" -- books and a nurse -- and then he lies down. I turn off the light and we talk about his day. I sing Moon River and Take Me Out To The Ballgame, really slow, as per his request. And then, I leave. I leave him there, blinking at me in the hallway light, saying no, I love YOU! And I shut the door. And he goes to sleep. 

    I never thought we'd get here. Or, rather, I knew we would, but it seemed a far-off fantasy like I'd imagine when he was a baby. The patter of jammy feet on wood floors, the eating of grilled cheese and soup on blustery days: these feel like distant, hazy idyls to the mother of a six month old. What I'm most proud of, besides his accomplishments as an independent sleeper, is that we got here by honoring his needs, his wishes. We kept him feeling safe, and in that feeling of safety, he grew into what we hoped he would, what we needed. I sometimes miss the feeling of lying there next to his baby body, devouring a novel while he snored, looking down to see his eyelids flutter open that gummy good morning smile. But another funny thing about raising kids is that there's always a next thing, another thing to love. And that retort? No, I love YOU, mama. God, is it good. 



    Patience is not something that comes easily to me. Until, oh... about two years ago, I didn't often see the need for it. The suspension of disbelief was similarly useless; I like facts presented in a timely fashion and the decisiveness that set-up allows. As anyone who's had to wait nine months for something can attest, patience quickly becomes a virtue as there is no other option, and while pregnant I'd like to think I grew more patient than I'd ever been (others might argue; you probably shouldn't ask around). This only intensified (out of sheer need, mind you, not some complete change of character on my part) after George was born but I'm still a long way from calling myself a patient person. There is little to no instant gratification in parenthood. In fact, the first few months or so of your child's life are spent giving of yourself -- your free time, your attention, your hygiene, your rest and a thousand other things -- to a blob that has the audacity to take without offering so much as a thanks, then shit and puke all over your clothes. Newborns, of course, are lovable little tyrants but that doesn't always make their care more gratifying. You've spent, and continue to spend, hours researching exactly the right way not to fuck up your offspring, or, at least, I did. But when the sign language you use, the gentle way you parent them to sleep and the completely organic diet to which you adhere don't have immediate, obvious effects, it's easy to feel like your efforts are futile. Especially when that girl you went to high school with feeds her kid Pepsi and brags on Facebook about how beautifully cry-it-out worked for them, while her child sleeps soundly through the night and smiles in all his photos. 

    I began to think my newfound patience would never pay off. Still nursing George to sleep for naps and at night, unable to leave his side lest his little heat sensor go off and abruptly end the peace. His verbal skills not exactly where I expected them to be when I was naively imagining my child, despite all the hours spent reading, the careful communication and constant narration of daily tasks. His frustration still apparent at times, no matter how many signs with which we outfit him or freedom we give to express himself. 

    But then? It started to come together. Poor George; I am a little slow on the uptake. It's obvious that he is happy. Confident. Communicative. Kind. Secure and appropriately attached to his parents, who he knows are on his side. It's obvious while watching him play with his friends -- visually checking in with me but never clinging, reacting with utter sorrow when he's accidentally hurt someone. When he plays too roughly with the cats and offers up his own "gentle touch" as consolation without being prompted. When he signs that he's sleepy rather than fighting a nap; he knows someone will be there, responding to his needs in waking AND sleep. While watching him navigate our every-Sunday breakfast spot, stopping at tables and waving at waitresses like the mayor of Diamond Jim's, it's clear that he feels good about himself and is open to new things, new people, unafraid to fall on his face on the linoleum (repeatedly) or meet a family of total strangers and quickly, easily win them over. He approaches things with abandon which some might argue is the norm for a baby with few negative experiences from which to draw conclusions. But I've seen enough scared, timid children, unsure of themselves, their surroundings and how they (are allowed to) fit in to know this approach to life, at this stage, is not necessarily a given regardless of circumstance. 

    It didn't really occur to me that I had been parenting all this time with my disbelief suspended, operating on faith that my methods would eventually work. They were, for the most part, the ways I instinctively deal with my child, but so many go against the modern ways we're told to raise children that they no longer go without saying. I mentioned to my therapist that I didn't feel ready to have another child until I knew without doubt that I hadn't screwed this one up. She -- a parent of two grown women -- laughed at me, of course, and said that you never get to that point, but an attentive parent can see in her child when she's perhaps gone astray. Maybe not immediately, but soon enough to turn the whole operation back around and find the fork where you went wrong. This is comforting. Also comforting is watching my little guy, my cat-kisser and identifyer-of-vegetables confidently find his place in the world.