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Saturday
May142011

"Away We Go"!

I’ve been working on this blog post since October 2010. For crying in a bucket, it is time I get it OUT!

Away We Go is the most hilarious birthy movie I’ve ever seen. And there’s no actual birth in the movie! It’s star-studded and I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why this Sam Mendes movie become an enormous hit. Too subtle? Nahhh… not subtle at all!

Beginning the introductions into the quirky lives of Burt (John Krasinsky) and Verona (Maya Rudolph) are Burt’s parents, Jerry (Jeff Daniels) and Gloria (Catherine O’Hara). The elder Farlanders abdicate their grandparenthood for a two-year stint in Belgium, leaving right before the baby’s birth. During a family dinner, we get a lovely glimpse into where their son learned to be verbally effusive and picked up his sharp wit.

Because Burt’s parents are leaving the country, the couple feels “untethered” and begin a search for a home by visiting different cities and a wide variety of friends and family along the way. Of course, they have no idea where the trip will really take them and we are so lucky to go along for the ride.

When you think no one could possibly top Burt’s parents, along comes Allison Janney as Lily. Her dead-pan husband Lowell (Jim Gaffigan) is a great straight man for Lily’s insanity. Lily gives one of the most accurate depictions of an upbeat, but terrible mother I’ve ever seen. And how (why?!) do I know women like her? Mean-spirited, mostly to her kids, you can see the chasm of her horrid self-esteem masked by laughter and obnoxiousness. I about spewed water out my nose when she described what her breasts looked like after breastfeeding. Poor Burt, attached to big breasts, was pretty horrified to hear Lily’s caricaturistic depiction, saying, “They look like an old man’s nutsack. They even grow hair on them! A hairy old man’s nutsack.”

While waiting for Verona’s sister Grace (Carmen Ejogo), Burt and Verona watch as a little boy, maybe five years old? is tested by his mother (who they call “Performance Mom” in the script!) who asks him to name this and that object. I’ve always chuckled about parents that did that, wondering if I did the same thing when the kids were his age.

It is in the interactions with Grace that we’re finally able to see some of Verona’s tough exterior melt away.

For the Natural Birth crowd, it is when Burt and Verona head to Madison to see a family friend, LN Fisher-Herrin (Maggie Gyllenhall), that we’re able to recognize the “Natural Birth Nazi” the non-crunchy crowd often sees. I’ve heard others say they didn’t know why LN and her husband Roderick (Josh Hamilton) were in the movie at all… that they identified quite closely with their style of parenting; “Continuum… practicing the 3 S’s… no sugar, no strollers and no separation.” LN gives one of the best NBA lines ever, talking about why she hates strollers (which Verona and Burt bought for her because they thought she was bereft without one): “Verona, I love my babies. Why would I want to push them away from me?” I don’t want to give away too much of this really, really amusing (in a knowing way!) segment. Just know you’ll probably find yourself laughing and nodding all at the same time. Caricature, people… caricatures.

The pinnacle of the movie comes with our crunchy sister LN, then the movie slides downward in mood as the frenetic pace of the beginning saunters gently towards the end.

In Montreal, we meet Munch (Melanie Lynskey) and Tom (Chris Messina), a “normal” family filled with adopted children, the couple offering a glimpse into yet another facet of parenthood.

Finally, in Miami, Burt’s brother Courtney (Paul Schneider) and his daughter show Burt and Verona the potential for one type of tragedy in being parents.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, the wandering couple finally find their home where none of these friends or family even live; they’ve found their own place, really just taking a roundabout trip to get there all along. Such a lovely ending!

Away We Go is on Netflix and running on the Pay Channels (HBO, Showtime, Starz) right now… I do hope you’ll make time to see it this weekend. It’s a movie that’ll stick with you for a long time.

Saturday
Nov132010

Inhale & Imprint (a letter from a mother to her daughter)

So, not that she’s trying or anything (because she’s not), but Meggie’s the closest to having a kid. There’s so much I want to share, mainly because I don’t want to sound like a midwife-mother during the whole pregnancy. I want her to come to me if she has questions, but there’s a whole slew of stuff I want to say even before she begins. I’m sure I’ll say the same thing (mostly) to the other kids, but Meghann gets to hear it first. Lucky her! 

My dearest Meggie May, 

Meghann Alyssia nursing her Rosie. 

So many things I want to share with you about mommyhood, about raising kids and about attending to your Self as it all unfolds. 

I sat in that first pew at your wedding four years ago, looking at your back in that gorgeous wedding dress and thought, “Wasn’t I just nursing her?” Your sister and brother up there, too; all of you adults.

When did this happen? How did time go so fast? When I was in the mothering part, it all seemed to crawl so slowly, but looking back, it was a blink in time. I’ve often said each year goes twice as fast as the year before and, believe me, it really does. I know, I know. Trite, right? But, true. When I see parents struggling with screaming toddlers, I go over to them and say, “I promise. In a minute, s/he will be married.” They usually sigh with relief, but I know that, in that moment, it seems a forever away. 

I didn’t have the best role models. (Don’t tell my mom I said that!) I was parented pretty crappily… spanked, ignored, yelled at… but, I made it through anyway. And then, when Tristan was born, I mimicked what I was taught. That poor boy, enduring my ignorant stupidity. You know I still apologize to him. 

And then you came along. I learned so much! Bradley classes, La Leche League meetings, Mothering magazine; I was transformed. Well, my parenting sure was. Right from the beginning, you had a delicious A(ttachment)P(arenting) lifestyle, the lifestyle I still embrace –for myself and my clients. 

You were quite the challenge when you were a baby. You cried and cried so much we called you “Megaphone.” I had zero knowledge about coping with a constantly screaming child, but did pretty well considering. Now, as an old mama, I want to impart on new mamas the easier way to handle/cope with constant crying. 

Crying is the baby’s only method of communicating –for a long time. They cry when their foot’s asleep, when they are tired of being on their backs, when they’re hungry, wet and tired. Sometimes they cry because they can’t get in the car, drive to the gym and run on the treadmill for an hour to expend pent up energy. When your baby’s been fed, changed, burped and is being held, but she’s still screaming her head off, it is perfectly fine to shrug, strap her into the sling and go about your day with a noisy chest-buddy. 

Now, there is a difference between regular crying and pain crying and while it can be challenging to decipher them in the beginning, you'll figure it out and know the difference forevermore. Pain crying is high-pitched and shriek-ish. You cannot tune out a pain cry. (You shouldn't tune out any crying, but the pain cry is especially attention grabbing.) Even normal crying absolutely cuts you to the core. Your heart wants to break, the baby seems so miserable. But, I promise, they will be okay. 

One of the best books I ever read and one that made a significant shift in my relationship with you kids was How to Talk So Kids Will Listen& Listen So Kids Will Talk. In there, I learned to talk to your developmental age, not just the age my mind thought you were. You were always mature for your age, but I still needed to remember you had developmental milestones that needed to be crossed and not assume you were always ten years ahead of your time. You were still a child. 

What I didn’t learn until way too late with you kids was patience. I thought I was learning it all along the way. Every year, on New Year’s Day, I would beg for another year of patience. Why is it that we don’t realize how to be patient with young children until they are way beyond childhood? You already know the two major regrets I have with you. (The tears are burning my eyes with shame already and I haven’t even begun to write the words.) 

The first regret I have was when we were in Frankfurt, in the Gibbs Housing. You were… what, two and a half? Three? I can see you sitting in the corner by my desk, next to the balcony door… with scissors in your hands and hair sprinkled on the floor and your lap. I went berserk. I screamed at you as if you were some mongrel dog eating a baby’s leg. What a crazed woman I was! Where did that anger come from? I hadn’t been in nearly enough therapy at that stage to know it was a direct line from my grandmother to you. It seems so stupid now. So incredibly horrible that I would make my child, the flesh of my flesh, feel so scared about her mother. I doubt I made any impact on your sense of self, but I am sure I scared you half to death. This pretty okay person loving you, nursing you, and then I went crazy. For what? For some hair that would grow back? No. No. Please, please don’t do that to your children. When they cut their hair (and they will), please laugh, take the scissors away and hug your son or daughter. Remember how I could have, should have reacted… echo my wishes. Not my actions. 

The second was an episode that shames me more than any other with you kids. Even more than Tristan’s circumcision; that’s a LOT. For some forgettable reason, I was so angry at you (and I assure you, NOTHING you could do warranted my anger) that I began hitting you. You couldn’t have been more than 2.5… right about when you were weaning. I barely remember it, but I was hitting you over and over. And suddenly, Sarah was there, pulling me off of you, pushing me away and grabbing you, holding you, comforting you. She barely knew us at that point, so it was a huge thing that she would just walk in and grab me. I don’t remember if she said anything to me, but I know I cried with humiliation for a long time after that. I forgot about it fairly quickly, but it came up in therapy several times. There is no excuse for that behavior and I know it imprinted your child-psyche; please know I am most humbly sorry for hurting you… not just your body, but your heart. You depended on me for your very life, and there I was, betraying you. I am so sorry. 

There is a lesson in that and it isn’t just not to lose control with your kids, but, if you ever see someone doing that, hurting a child, especially as an out-of-control adult, I beg you to do what Sarah did. Step in. Help the child. Please don’t ever sit complacently by when a child needs you. Especially your own, but also those around you. Our babies need us to protect them and it isn’t always the parent that is able or willing to do that. 

This is sounding like a catharsis of regrets and I don’t want it to be only that. And what’s funny, is you, too, will write a letter like this to your child as she begins considering motherhood. A child’s life rushes so quickly back, flooding the brain with montages of events, crammed into blinks of remembrances. It’s miraculous, how the brain works. 

So, when your child needs to have a procedure done, stay with him/her. Do not EVER let anyone try to separate you from your child if they need something, anything done. Any caring human being keeps mothers and babies together. If the person insists, ask for their supervisor. If they still refuse, find another care provider. Mothers can sit with the babies through MRIs, x-rays (as long as you aren’t pregnant), dental visits, even staying with them in the operating room until they are about to go under anesthesia. If you choose to circumcise (ACK!), please stay with your son while it is done. And if you don’t want to be there, imagine how your son feels! That’s actually a good mantra for parenting in general. 

If you don’t want to be there, imagine how your child feels. I like that. 

In that same vein, there’s the refuse-anything-that-doesn’t-feel-right part of mothering. When you kids were little, I refused all rectal temperatures. Your charts are snottily filled with “mother refuses rectal temp”. I didn’t care. When I learned about perforated bowels from rectal temps, I wasn’t subjecting you to that possibility. Today, rectal temps are very rare outside of life and death circumstances. Haha. I was right. 

I recently had a(n experienced) mom getting her son’s Newborn Screen done, a heel stick that shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes. While they were in the lab, the technician was totally inept and kept poking the baby, squeezing his leg and heel and did the test wrong wrong wrong… and was at it for thirty minutes. When I explained to mom how the test was supposed to be done, she told me she was sweating, crying and kept thinking, “this is wrong,” but didn’t say anything, believing they were the experts, so surely they know better, right? IF IT FEELS WRONG, IT PROBABLY IS. This mom felt guilty for not stopping the procedure. I let her know it was a fantastic lesson in listening to your maternal instincts. Guilt is a wasted emotion. Learn and move on.

Listening to your instincts includes not leaving your child alone with someone that feels creepy, even if they are dear, old friends. And listening to your child if they tell you they don’t want to stay with/talk to/be with someone. Please hear them; they don’t have sophisticated language to explain such complex feelings, but they are articulating it in their heart as best as they can. Please don’t make your kids hug someone hello or good-bye unless they want to. I never forced you kids to hug anyone; they will do it when they are ready, when they know the person enough. And, for god’s sake, PLEASE don’t make them kiss people, either. 

Oh, and teach them sign language! I wish wish it had been de rigeur when you were kids. How lucky moms are today that get to talk to their kids long before verbal skills are developed.

For the rest of your life, people will give advice… unsolicited and weird. Brace yourself. Develop a bucketful of responses, from nice to shut-the-hell-up. If you have researched the topic (and, oh aren’t you lucky to have the Net! I had to depend on support groups and books.), do what you and your husband have chosen to do. Even if your mom cringes. All I ask is that you learn about the topic instead of walking in blindly. It can be hard to know when you have all the information to make an informed decision, but looking at the polar opposites can help you find the middle for yourself and your child. And while some decisions are permanent (circumcision, vaccinations, etc.), others can be changed if it doesn’t work out the way you expected it to (sleeping in a crib, limiting nursing, etc.). Don’t hesitate to change the course if you start feeling icky about where you were going. Contrary to what many “experts” say, you do not have to work through the squirmy feelings, you can listen to them. Your kids will thank you. 

Another trite refrain is to expect the unexpected. It’s hard to do that, but is a mindset that can free you should the universe give you kids like your siblings. I promise, you can be as conservative as anything and your kids still turn into pierced and tatt’d rock stars. Watching you all grow up, I’ve often wondered how everything would end up and while there have certainly been times when I’ve questioned one or the other’s sanity, in the end, all of you have carried the same core values through the firestorms. Now that you all are wonderful, productive, amazingly loving adults, I can breathe a sigh of relief that you all did hear what I said to you when it seemed as if you weren’t listening. 

I love your loving (and liberal) attitude towards people different than you. You will be challenged, though, as your kids head into school. There will be parents that irk you no end, teachers you want to smack and books you want to burn. Everything you swear you’d never do, slams into your mind over and over. Don’t be afraid of the feelings and, of course, don’t act on them! But, having intense anger, even hatred, of some aspects of our lives is real and it’s okay to acknowledge it. 

One of the most difficult times to keep your head about you is when someone hurts your child… physically or emotionally. It’s so tempting to try and fix it, but unless safety is a concern, the push and pull of love from playmates is one way we learn to distinguish who to (and not to) trust in the world. By being a gossip, eventually a child learns to keep their mouths shut. By having the boy of their dreams leave them, they recognize those traits in someone else and stay far away from them. It can be frustrating to watch your child make the same mistake over and over again, but some lessons need to be repeated. 

Speaking of repetition. 

Your children will need to be told something 800,000 times before they get it. Just see the number 800,000 in your head and when they have to be told, “Say thank you” twenty times in one day while visiting me, tick off the numbers in your head, knowing you are making headway. If you expect 800,000, if it turns out to only be 600,000, you will be relieved. If it’s more, what’s a few hundred thousand more after 800,000? And you might as well make a tape of these words: “How many times do I have to tell you?” Teach your kids to gently remind you, “800,000.” 

When your kids are two-years old, please do not call them the “Terrible Two’s.” They are the “Terrific Two’s!” Two is the first of many amazing phases where an attempt at separation from mom is made. Many kids start this at 18 months and it typically ends at two and a half, but learning that they are separate from mom has to be kind of scary for them as well as an interesting concept. Of course they don’t have the language skills to say, “Okay, mom. I’m going to lengthen the umbilical cord a little. I’m going to be sloppy and uncoordinated at it, but if you can just be patient, I’ll figure it out eventually.” Instead, they use the word NO! to say “I’m separate.” 

“Do you want some ice cream?”

“No!” (I’m separate from you and can make my own decisions.)

(and without missing a beat) “Yes.” (That’s my decision. I do want ice cream.) 

“Do you want to go to the park or to Lance’s house to play?”

“No” (I’m separate… I’m thinking.”)

“Park!” (I made my decision.) 

If you are able to translate the word “No” in your head to “I can make my own decisions,” the phase where they say no to everything will be a breeze to go through. It’s when parents see the word “no” as a challenge, as an obstinate child, not wanting to do something (whatever it is), that it becomes exasperating. 

On the heels of “No” comes “Mine!” usually accompanied by pulling a toy out of someone else’s hands. There’s a balance between letting kids work these things out and protecting your kid from being whacked in the head with said toy. Parents have to be aware of what their kids are doing, from infancy into adulthood. If you see the toy, midair, your responsibility is to try and catch it before it crowns the intended target. And know there isn’t malicious intent from the hoister, but they do have a concept that if they bean the other kid, they will let go. They’re smart little buggers! 

Another time when parents/you have to be hyper-vigilant is if you have a biter. Biters throw off signals before they chomp down, even if the signals are only a few seconds long. Get to know your child’s signals and be there to remove him/her if they exhibit them. I remember sweeping two of your siblings up numerous times as they began the frustrated cry right before a giant bite happened. Biting is one of those safety issues that demands intervention. And, whatever you do, please do not bite your child back. It makes me shudder that some moms and dads think that teaches their kid not to bite. Not at all. In fact, it reinforces that biting is a way to cope with frustration and anger. Being there to circumvent the bite until the biter is out of that phase is the kindest and most productive action you can take. 

You already know my If-You-Lived-In-the-Jungle analogies, but they bear repeating. 

Babies don’t know they were born in “civilization.” Their bodies don’t know anything about clocks, cribs or separate bedrooms. Babies are hard-wired to cry when they’re not near their moms/caregiver; if they were left in a crib under the next tree, they’re complete fodder for the local tiger’s dinner. Crying is a survival mechanism and it’s why you will feel the pull (not a mere tug) to go to your baby when she cries. Ignoring that pull, the instinct in you diminishes. While there are cry-it-out folks who orchestrate the elimination of that drive, isn’t it a sad moment for the baby when mom severs the in-born need to caretake? 

None of this means you live only for the baby. You must remember that if you don’t take care of yourself, you will be no good to anyone else in the family, the baby especially. So, pee when you need to (can I tell you how many new moms get a UTI from holding their bladder until the baby’s asleep?). Eat when you’re hungry (have a giant plate of snacks in the fridge at all times so you can sail by, grab something and keep on walking while you pop it in your mouth). 

And drink LOTS of water. When you’re nursing, you’ll be thirstier than you could ever imagine… and the urge to sip comes just as you latch the baby on… so always have a huge thermos/pitcher of water next to you. Once you are nursing the second baby, make sure you have a water bottle with a straw, something that the toddler can’t make a mess with if he makes the grab and run with it. 

When you’re nursing, smell your baby’s head. Smell and imprint it into your heart. I can smell you kids’ heads even now, from this far away… and when I’ve smelled you as I hugged you in the past, you do smell exactly the same as you did when you were in my arms. There is nothing more soul opening than the scent of your new baby’s head. Inhale and imprint. 

My dearest Meghann, I fear I’m verging on the edge of advice overload, so I’m going to end for now, but expect this might be a multi-part’d, on-going letter. I hope you’re able to use some of this mother wisdom someday… you and Aimee and Tristan, too. If Darren ever gets another computer, I hope he’s able to learn some stuff, as well. 

I have so much more to say. I could talk with you forever. I love you more than any words, any actions could ever convey. Know, my sweet Meggie May, how happy, how amazingly happy you have made your mother. Thank you for choosing me to be your mommy. It has been a wondrous journey. Thanks for your patience with me as I’ve learned and thank you for all the lessons you’ve taught me. You’ve prepared me for grandmotherhood perfectly. 

Now, get busy!

Monday
Oct042010

Babywearing

Tristan was strolled in an umbrella stroller. It wasn’t until I went to La Leche League while I was pregnant with Meghann that I ever even considered Babywearing. We got a Snugli, dark blue corduroy one that had zippers, on an angle, so I could unzip and stick my breast through for the kid to nurse, all while remaining covered and modest (a concern I gave up mid-way through my nursing career). This was 1984. 

The Snugli was a puzzle of flaps and snaps; it took an entire family of engineers to strap the thing on. Through trial and error, I finally figured out to put the baby in after putting the carrier on. One try doing it while the baby was inside already ended in with the baby falling onto the bed… at least I’d had enough foresight to be near a bed! I could put it on this very second if someone laid it in front of me. The long strap that criss-crossed my back, the plastic hook grabbing the plastic ring… repeating with the other strap crossing in the other direction. snap snap Each shoulder was gifted with thick padding, helping the wearer to not have cutting cloth leaving dents in his or her flesh. One more long, thinner, belt-like strap wrapped around the waist and also snapped into a ring, securing the carrier in yet another direction. Bolted down, the baby could now be dropped (so to speak) into her seat, a sling of yet more cloth (dang, this thing was heavy!), legs through the seat’s holes. It was important to hold the baby through the rest of the process lest she flip out of the contraption. With hand on the baby’s back, we’d tuck her feet into the outer sack before pulling the drawstring tight around her back. I suspect an earlier version had the baby’s face resting on the corduroy itself, but imprints of lines isn’t what a mom wants to see on her newborn’s face, so someone came up with the good idea of putting a “bib” of flannel wherever the baby’s face might touch; it was white (at least until it got barfed on). It was under the bib that the zippers hid. In order to allow the baby to nurse, the flannel bib had to be unsnapped and left dangling from the other snap. Even writing this, I’m exhausted thinking about all we did to carry a baby! 

As it is now, Mothering Magazine was our window into Natural World… natural birth, extended breastfeeding, not vaccinating, etc. I devoured the magazine, trying to incorporate the foreign ideas into my new life as a homebirthing and co-op working mama. It was there I learned about rebozos, the traditional baby carriers of Central and South American Indians. One rebozo in particular caught my eye. I saved for months to buy it and remember being so excited when it finally came in the mail, folded into a small puddle of cloth inside a golden envelope. I took it out, kept it near me for years, but I never learned how to use it. Occasionally, I’d ask someone to wrap Meggie in it, she on my chest, the cloth ‘round and ‘round my torso, but it seemed like a math problem to learn how to use it, so I found other uses for the rebozo. 

When a mama’s laboring for an extra long time, the suspicion of a malpresentation can set off a cascade of ideas to re-position the child inside mom’s uterus. Using a rebozo, we can sling the cloth under her belly, grasping the ends and lifting her belly (and, hence, the baby) up and out of the pelvis, then allowing the baby a do-over in getting himself/herself into the pelvis at a better angle. We do need to repeat this a few times, but this midwifery trick of old can save a woman from a cesarean for an acynclitic baby. 

I’ll admit, I even used the rebozo as a dining room table runner on occasion. 

After years of non-childwearing use, I finally lost the rebozo in a heap of bloody drapes and chux after wrapping it around the squat bar and having a mom pull on it as she pushed. When her baby was born, the nurse untied the rebozo, dragging it into the birth fluids being caught in the plastic “bowl” at the end of the bed. She looked at me and asked, “Want it?” And in an instant, I said good-bye to the lovely rainbow cloth that’d been in my birth bag for two decades. 

Over the years, I’ve seen rebozo-like wraps come into fashion with the crunchy crowd. Babywearing being an overt sign that a mama has natural ideas and her family choices are surely questioned by the mainstream. When I see a mama “sling her baby” (as I call it), I go out of my way to thank her for doing so. My kids, as they’ve grown up, chuckle when they see me approach an unsuspecting mama (and occasionally dad or grandparent), watching her expression go from concern to confusion to a smile of understanding. (I do the same with nursing-in-public mamas.) 

Not too long ago, I was in Costco and came across a mom and baby, both crying, as mom struggled with her wrap, holding the baby flat against her chest as she tried to adjust the cloth. The baby was very new and I could tell this might have been mom’s first outing after the birth. I smiled as I came up to her and asked her if I might help her with the wrap, that I was a midwife. Her face filled with gratitude and even more tears fell. She said she couldn’t understand the instructions very well and I let her know there were tutorials (of sorts) on YouTube and those would help a lot. I also let her know there are several Babywearing groups here in San Diego and she’d find many like-minded mamas to keep her company during these strange new days of motherhood.

After asking if I could touch her, I unwrapped the material from around her waist, then pulling the cloth that was around the baby tighter, helping the baby down some in the wrap as well. Already, the baby stopped hollering. Mom had also stopped crying. I explained about swaddling, making the wrap around the baby tight, that the baby would feel so secure and loved that way… and she’d have her hands back. (It defeats the purpose of the sling if you’re always holding the baby with your hands.) Once her baby was securely wound around, I showed her how to tie the ends so they were secure, but she could also undo it quickly if she needed to. I also showed her how she could nurse while wandering around the store, no one the wiser; she liked that info lots. I gave her my card and walked away smiling, seeing her a few minutes later down another aisle, leaning over to get something off the bottom shelf, hands-free and the sleeping baby ensconced in love and cloth. 

We all should be so lucky.

(Babywearing is a right our babies deserve! Make your voice heard by writing about your own experiences with Babywearing. Link back here to join those who are tired of being legislated down to the last hair on our babies' heads. We know what's right for our families! Get out of our slings so our babies can stay in them!)