Friday, December 21, 2012

Notes about an 11 month old

I feel like Natalie's development -- gross motor skills, fine motor skills, verbal skills, personality -- has really been taking off lately. Here's a little window into our present normal.

Sleeping in
I know this is destined to end shortly, but this week Natalie has been waking up at 7 a.m. and then calmly lying in her crib until 8 a.m. This is absolutely amazing. She is happy to roll around and talk to herself and play with her stuffed animal, so I have been doing something I have wanted to do for over 11 months: take a shower first thing in the morning. Rather than waiting until her first nap of the day to shower and change clothes, doing this at the start of the day makes me feel like I'm more productive simply by being in different clothes and not looking horrible. Thank you, Natalie.

I think we are in the final pre-walking days. For the past month, but especially for the past week, Natalie has been standing on her own for increasingly long periods of time. She's not holding on to furniture or me. I try not to make a big deal to her about the fact that she's standing because I feel like she doesn't even realize what she's doing, and often when that moment of realization sets in she'll plop back down on the floor. I keep trying to coax her into walking to me. She is almost there.

Natalie's awareness of others seems to be increasing. She likes to hand me books and toys, particularly her blocks from a new favorite toy (this Melissa and Doug Shape Sorting Cube). I keep saying "thank you" and using the word "sharing," but I also know we will hit the toddler "mine" stage somewhere down the road. I think our play group helps Natalie with the concept of sharing, but she is also known to gladly take toys right out of the hands of her little friends, so I know this will be an ever-developing skill. In the last week Natalie has started feeding me Cheerios. If you want to witness something heart-melting, see the smile on my baby's face when she puts a Cheerio in my mouth. It is my second favorite new thing she does.

Rejecting food
But, speaking of food, this has been a major source of tension these last few days. Many foods that Natalie gladly ate in large quantities are no longer cool with her right now. These foods can be homemade or store-bought, they can be finger foods or purees, they can be healthy or not-so-healthy -- it really doesn't matter, she's not interested. I hear this is a phase and we appear to be in it. 

I've been pointing at pictures and words in books for all of Natalie's life, and now she is starting to mimic this action. Watching her "read" her books has been quite entertaining.

Another heart-melting moment came last Friday when Natalie started saying "mama." Although I wish she didn't exclusively say this when crying (and therefore turn it into "mamamamamaa mama") I appreciate the cuteness of the fact that she seems to be aware of me and my name.

Hands down Natalie's best trick is dancing. It started last week when we were listening to music while feeding her dinner, and Matt and I started throwing our hands up in the air. Natalie started throwing her hands in the air, and we kept repeating, "Let's dance! Let's dance!" Then a day later Natalie started dancing by bobbing her head from side to side any time one of her musical toys started playing. Now, most of the time, she will dance on command with some combination of head bobbing, arm throwing, knee bouncing, giggling and squealing. Sometimes I feel like I'm treating Natalie like a sideshow monkey when I tell her to dance, but watching her sheer joy is overwhelmingly worth it. It is my absolute favorite.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

It's a (baby) sign

In the late summer, when I was anticipating cooler temperatures and more days spent indoors, I searched our county's rec center courses online. There are not many options for babies under one year old. Deciding to hold off on baby swim classes until the dead of winter (when chlorinated indoor spaces remind me of my time spent on my high school dive team), I opted for the only other baby class option: Baby Signs and Music. I was keen on the music part and the part about the price -- $80 for two-and-a-half months of classes compared to the exorbitant Gymboree fee of $80 per month. I could take or leave the signs part of class, but Natalie seems to like music (like most babies) so that sounded good.

Fortunately, the class structure involved about 10 minutes of baby play time with various toys strewn across gym mats while moms "learned" a few signs each week. This was followed by about 35 minutes of singing and dancing with our babies. So, heavy on the music, light on the signs -- just what I was hoping to experience.

I've heard other moms talk about the benefits of signing with a baby, in particular how it can reduce some angst around the dinner table. I went into the class hoping to learn a few signs involving food and manners, and I walked out with that basic knowledge. I could have spent time learning the names of virtually all foods, colors, animals, and baby activities under the tutelage of our knowledgeable instructor. I chose not to use up too much mental energy, and I always have the handouts to look back on if I'm really curious.

We started the class in September, and after a couple make-up classes to account for incidents such as bad weather and election day, we finished the class two weeks ago. The instructor would ask every class if the babies were using the signs, and the universal answer from the moms of these babies between the ages of 6 months and one year would be "no."

Then suddenly, during the final week of class a couple weeks ago Natalie started signing "more" and "all done." We're presently working on "please" and "thank you."

Although it's hard to distinguish the sign for "more" from the way Natalie claps her hands, she at least primarily claps when I say "yay" and primarily does "more" when I ask her if she wants more.

Similarly, she will sign "all done" when I ask her if she's all done, but then she'll keep wanting to eat.

Meal time is still riddled with moaning and grunting and generally unpleasant sounds from our baby, but now that she recognizes these terms and seems to be learning how to apply them, I hope she'll demonstrate better table manners.

Baby signing is supposed to, in some people's opinions, be helpful for encouraging language development. Too much of it, though, can in some people's opinions reduce early talking. Who knows. I'm just trying to reduce crying and screaming. And, if nothing else, it's a neat party trick.

Monday, December 3, 2012

What to read (while you avoid the malls)

I like to call the day before Thanksgiving the last day I go to the mall that year. (I recognize that this year could be different as I search for ways to entertain a baby during the day.) I hate malls and shopping centers during the winter holidays. Thank goodness for online shopping. During the days spent mostly indoors, hopefully away from retail madness, you might be looking for some fun materials to read. Never fear. My husband, who has read the entire Internet, is at your service.

I wish I was kidding. Matt sends me the best stuff to read, so I really can't take credit for all of this, but I thought I'd compile the materials I've been enjoying of late.

Although I tend to hate the New Yorker, I can totally appreciate this little take on Goodnight Moon -- Goodnight Nanny-Cam. Here's a fun game: how many of the items listed apply to you? It's OK to admit. I count 11 for our family. (Another Goodnight Moon parody -- Goodnight iPad.)

I'm a sucker for all articles and information related to the rise of c-section rates in America. This Harvard Magazine article provides a good summary of lots of information I've read and heard elsewhere.

In the world of videos, here's something that's just too adorable to pass up. I normally find babies/kids acting like grown ups annoying, but it just works perfectly in this Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros video.

Here are a few Matt can't take credit for:
Although it's been around for a while, in case you missed it this Huffington Post parenting blog entry that went viral offers a sweet moment of reflection about parenting "lasts."

Another Huffington Post parenting blog entry, this one about advice to new parents. I do not agree with all of it, but it definitely sums up some of my main philosophies, including this line: "You don't need a title for how you parent." (Something I disagree with from the post? "This homemade baby food nonsense ends with you." It's really not difficult to puree some peas. We've made our own purees when we could and when we couldn't Natalie has enjoyed the great range of packaged baby foods out there.)

And when you feel like you're a bad parent, which chances are about four times per day, you should read this entry from Pregnant Chicken about Why You're Never Failing As a Mother. Don't have time to read the whole thing? This paragraph was what spoke to me most: "If you think about it, if you had a baby thousands, if not hundreds of years ago, you would have had your mother, all your sisters (all of whom were probably lactating), and your nieces all taking care of your baby. They would help with food preparation, show you how to manage, and make sure your baby wasn’t eaten by a bear. Your kid’s feet probably wouldn’t have touched the ground until they themselves would be able to carry around an infant." The idea of a bunch of lactating women living together makes me laugh, but also sounds pretty great. Also, it reminds me of The Red Tent. (Oh, and if you're looking for a novel to read and you're female, I'd recommend that one. Beware, dudes: if you read it you will probably get your period. This is especially true if listening to it on CD while driving cross country with your wife.)

What have you been enjoying lately on the interwebs?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mama-led weaning

I don't like to label stuff related to parenting, so when friends asked me if I'd be doing "baby-led weaning" with Natalie, I sort of gave a blank stare, shrugged, and said, "I don't think so? Probably not?"

In all honesty, I still don't really understand what baby-led weaning is or how it is different from just giving your baby food and letting it go to town. I do know that baby-led weaning as a movement seems to be against the rice-cereal-as-baby's-first-food tradition, and it's in favor of babies deciding what to eat, but that's about it. If you want to read more from people who have happily and successfully followed this philosophy and actually know what they're talking about, you can read what Kate has to say here and check out baby Finn's mama here.

Baby-led weaning or whathaveyou aside, I have been most surprised and confused by the fact that the term is really a misnomer. Starting a baby on solid foods, most likely no later than the 6-month mark, does not actually have to relate to weaning. In fact, babies who are breastfeeding are still going to be consuming a ton of milk and that milk is going to provide the vast majority of their calories and important nutrients. At 6 months and even, apparently, 10 and 11 months, the baby is still going to be drinking roughly the same amount of milk as it did at 5 months, even though it's eating three solid meals a day. As your child grows you're going to spend more of your day feeding your child, not less. Yes, hear that, mother of a two-week old. I was naive too.

I never gave myself a breastfeeding goal. Friends would ask, "Are you going to breastfeed for a year?" I'd say, "Maybe."

Here's my final answer: I breastfed for 46 weeks. That's 10 and a half months, if you're keeping track. I breastfed my daughter for the last time today.

How do I know we're done?

Well, for starters, she fed once for about one minute and decided she was done. Yesterday she cried after her morning nursing session. She bit me about a month ago. I've been feeling for a while like we were done. Today just sealed the deal.

Plus, today I parted with a friend and foe of the last 10 and a half months.

No, not my baby -- she is more endearing than ever. My breast pump, specifically the one I've been renting from the hospital, is what I kicked to the curb. I could have kept it until tomorrow. I could have extended the pump rental for about the fifth time. But it was more appropriate than I could have ever planned that the day Natalie and I decided we had had enough I drove us back to the place of her birth to hand over the pump.

Although I said earlier in this post that baby-led weaning is just another name for starting solid food -- and I should add that many women I know didn't see their breastmilk supply change when their baby started solids -- my supply definitely started to decrease once Natalie started eating food. Pretty soon after she started solid food we were down to four nursing sessions a day. Then I would have afternoon and evening commitments that caused me to miss a feeding and she'd get a bag of milk from the freezer. Try as I might, I didn't consistently pump to make up for every lost nursing session. So then I'd see my supply diminish. Then I would get stressed out about not pumping or missing a feeding or whatever because my supply was diminishing. So I'd try to pump more on certain days. One afternoon Matt got home from work to a scene that looked like this: the dogs were going crazy, the printer was jammed, I was running late and desperately needed the printer to unjam, Natalie wasn't taking naps, and I was attached to the breast pump in preparation for my departure. I just thought I couldn't do it anymore. Of course, that was about two months ago, so I clearly kept doing it, but I knew it was reaching a point where we'd be starting to shut down this operation.

A couple weeks ago I tried giving Natalie formula for the first time since she was in the NICU. The first time she took a few sips and then started screaming. The second time she had caught on and knew to reject the bottle. She even became skeptical of the next bottle that solely contained breastmilk. After Googling something along the lines of "how to get a breastfed baby to drink formula" I found two solutions: a few splashes of apple juice in the formula or a dash of Nesquik Strawberry. The apple juice solution worked like a charm and Natalie has been accepting and even enjoying formula. I started with one bottle of formula a day, and then went on to two, then three, and today we did four.

Although Natalie's true breastfeeding days are over, thanks to the many hours I spent attached to the breastpump we still have a stash of breastmilk in the freezer.

I'm glad I breastfed Natalie as long as I did (and didn't choose formula a long time ago), and I will say that 98% of the reason I'm glad is because it's what the medical establishment tells me I'm "supposed" to do. From conversations I've had with lots of other moms it seems like medical/societal guilt is a main reason they do it, too. We want what's best for our children, so we breastfeed. Fortunately, the actual act of breastfeeding was never the problem for me. But the actual act of breastfeeding is only one tiny piece of the breastfeeding experience. So much of breastfeeding, unfortunately, also involves being connected to a pump; pumping into the night when all you want is to go to bed; sleeping uncomfortably at night because you were too lazy to pump before going to bed; sterilizing your pump parts; timing your day in three-hour increments; worrying about what you're eating and drinking; worrying about whether or not your baby is getting enough in terms of ounces and nutrients; literally crying over spilled milk (did this a couple times); running out of space in your freezer thanks to your bags of frozen milk; taking your pump on out-of-town trips; timing outings around feedings; feeling unsexy; wearing nursing pads and nursing tanks and nursing bras; leaking. I could keep going, but I know I'll be accused of treason.

I recommend feeding your baby in whatever safe method works for your family. Breastfeeding worked for us for a time. It was OK while it lasted. Statistically, we beat the odds in a variety of ways. My c-section and Natalie's week in the NICU are two factors that decrease the likelihood of successful breastfeeding. Still, formula is a remarkable invention. It will be our baby's main fuel for the next six weeks until she becomes a sage one-year old.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Let there be peace and Cheerios

In her 10-and-a-half months on this planet, Natalie has developed some decent gross motor skills at a reasonably fast rate. Climbing up -- and now apparently down -- all the stairs in our house is her favorite pastime. But her fine motor skills? Not so much. That's why Natalie's latest milestone, figuring out how to feed herself Cheerios, has been especially impressive.

Impressive to me, that is. I am sure this is not impressive to anyone else. But watching her successfully get Cheerios from her placemat into her mouth has been one more milestone that has made our collective lives easier.

Now I can toss some Cheerios on her placemat while I prepare the rest of her meal, and she doesn't scream the way she used to while turning impatient.

Now I can eat my lunch while she contentedly feeds herself Cheerios.

These last couple weeks there's been this renewed peace in our household, all thanks to fine motor skills and Cheerios.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dog, how fitting

I've been waiting for about a week to make it official, but I think we have our first word here: "dog."

Natalie has been saying "dada" for a couple months, but she doesn't really say it to Matt. She never says "mama," but I can ask her, "Where's mama?" and about half the time she at least points at me.

But "dog"! This is where we're starting to see more consistency.

One of the dogs approaches her: "Dog."

Her sort-of creepy Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Puppy starts singing: "Dog."

She crawls over to the bookshelf and pulls out the one non-baby book I let her play with, the one filled with photos of dogs: "Dog."

At first I thought this was a total fluke, so I didn't want to get excited. But she only says "dog" when there's some type of dog -- real, fake, or in book form -- nearby.

It is clear who rules this house.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The short life of the Exersaucer

A number of newly pregnant friends have asked me for baby gear recommendations lately. The most helpful advice I can pass along regarding baby gear would be this: Get as many items used as possible. Bonus points for borrowing.

When I was pregnant I had this mixture of emotions regarding gear. I wanted my baby to have clean, new stuff. But I also hated the idea of acquiring a bunch of stuff in general. Thankfully we received a number of offers of gently used items for us to keep, and then we were able to fill in the gaps by adding other items to our registry.

Natalie is almost 10 months old, and the amount of baby gear we still use has declined significantly. I feel like we used a lot of gear in the beginning when we were trying to find ways to contain her or entertain her. Now that she crawls and climbs everywhere she rarely wants to be contained and instead happily explores. It's also becoming clear which baby gear items have greater staying power than others. Unfortunately, for Natalie the Exersaucer was probably used for the least amount of time out of any piece of gear, but I imagine many other babies get more use out of it if they're less mobile for a longer period.

Here's our gear breakdown:

Gear we're done with:
  • Infant swing -- 0-4 months
  • Bouncer seat -- 0-6 months
  • Infant gym -- 1-5 months
  • Bumbo seat -- 3-6 months
  • Exersaucer -- 4-7 months

Gear in rotation, though not for much longer:
  • Snap N Go stroller frame -- we occasionally still use it for a quick trip when moving Natalie in and out of her car seat seems like too much of a hassle. It got daily use from 0-6 months, and I've only used it a handful of times since then.
  • Infant tub -- still using, but I imagine Natalie is just about grown out of it. She is not OK to take a bath in the regular tub yet, though, which is something her constant screaming made abundantly clear.
  • Boppy pillow -- still using, but I will definitely not be breastfeeding past the year mark.

What are the baby gear items I think we'll keep in rotation for a long time?
  • Infant car seat -- still using. We can use it until Natalie is over 32 inches long, which could be a while seeing as she was 27.5 inches at her 9-month appointment.
  • High chair -- we did not start using this until 6 months, but our Stokke chair grows with the child and eventually turns into a regular chair.
  • Umbrella stroller -- we started using this at 6 months as well. I love how our Maclaren stroller is so easy to maneuver and so easy to fold up.
  • Pack N Play -- although we've only used this a couple times since we folded it away when it was time to transition Natalie to her crib, this has the potential to get a lot more use on trips.
  • Ergo carrier -- Natalie is tiny (only 16.5 pounds at 9 months) so I think I'll be able to wear her in this for a while.

So, while I ultimately am a greater proponent of borrowing/buying used as many gear items as possible than I used to be, I will say that for me it makes the most sense to register for/splurge on those items with greater staying power, such as strollers and high chairs.

(And because this, like so many of my other posts of late, has been in progress for a long time, another blogger I like beat me to it with this similar post of her baby products with staying power. Enjoy!)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

New cloth diaper routine

When I first started cloth diapering I wasn't sure if the probable increase in our utilities bills (electric and water) would still make cloth diapering more financially frugal than using disposables.

I now have close to a year's worth of utilities bills to compare the befores and afters, and though I ultimately conclude that cloth diapering is more frugal, I can also say that our bills are up.

Water in particular has gone up significantly. Of course, water is the cheapest utility out there, at least in our neck of the woods. We pay our bill quarterly, so when I consider how much we pay for water each month (divide each bill by 3) it pales in comparison to the typical energy bills we get each month.

Here's the water bill breakdown:
January -- $111.99 (This bill is dated January 19, 2012, and it was sent while Natalie was still in the hospital, so it's a good baseline for our bills pre-baby.)
April -- $117.87 (We started using cloth diapers in early March, so here you can see the impact on our bill with about 6 weeks of cloth diapering.)
July -- $140.22
October -- $148.82

There's clearly a big increase in our water bill in the billing period covering the last six months, aka the time since we really started using cloth diapers.

So it seems that cloth diapers are causing our water bill to rise a good amount, right?

I assume so, but I also realize that there are other ways caring for Natalie has contributed to an increasingly large water bill. Specifically, we run the dishwasher more often now that her plates, bowls, utensils, bottles and cups are getting used multiple times per day. Also, we bathe her, and now that she's older we bathe her move often than we did when she was a newborn. And we have to wash her clothes, but I've managed to only run a load of her laundry about once every two weeks.

Other forms of baby water consumption aside, I have to believe that running a load of her diapers every other day is the greatest contributing factor to our increasing water bill. So, I've decided to change that routine ever so slightly and wash the diapers once every three days as opposed to every two days. I tried this method out a few times with our stash of 20 diapers and I found that the diapers were barely drying in enough time before I completely ran out of diapers. (In fairness, one diaper is always in our diaper bag, and one diaper is now a dedicated swimming diaper, so it's more accurate to say we were working with 18 diapers.) I ordered 4 more diapers in fun colors that weren't available when we were building our stash this time last year. Now I think we have the perfect amount of diapers for this new cleaning schedule.

Those of you using cloth diapers, have you modified your cloth diaper washing routines? Do you think you're ultimately saving money through cloth diapers over disposables? How many cloth diapers do you have? Anyone given up on cloth diapering?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fall traditions

Matt and I are believers in creating our own traditions. One tradition I'd like to keep as long as possible is an annual fall pilgrimage to Charlottesville, home of our beloved university, for a college football game. We chose this past weekend to attend the U.Va. versus Wake Forest game. It marked almost exactly one year since I walked around the Lawn and football stadium while quite pregnant, and it led to a fun photo op with our little one.

Inside my belly, outside my belly

And baby makes three

I think for years I have disliked fall because I associate fall with grading papers. When I don't have papers to grade I realize that fall is an awesome time with great potential for fun traditions. Revelation! I'll buy into the hype.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Household schedule reality check

This blog keeps me honest and helps me set realistic goals for myself, so I thought it was time to reflect on my baby-friendly household maintenance plan I established back in June.

The good news is that I am mostly sticking to it. The bad news is that I hate to clean bathrooms. I really, really hate cleaning bathrooms.

To be a little more reflective, though....

Writing down a Monday through Friday "schedule" has been useful in giving me just one or two tasks to focus on per day outside of all the baby care activities that consume so much of my time. I definitely feel less overwhelmed.

Even though I do not have a full-time job outside the house right now, I still like to give our family weekends that are as errand-free and chore-free as possible. I'm happy to be a little more insane during the week if it means freedom during the weekend. Also, in reality, there is almost always something I didn't get to during the week that needs to get taken care of during the weekend, so it's nice to have that flexibility.

I have needed to rearrange what days I accomplish different tasks. Tuesday are particularly busy around our house, so I should not make Tuesday the day I dust or clean the bathrooms, since those tend to be more time consuming. The point is, though, that no matter what day I accomplish something, with a schedule generally in mind I am more likely to consistently take care of tasks that need to get done every week (or realistically, every two weeks).

Handling all the dog hair that is inevitably floating around our house is such a Sisyphean task, but a schedule for dusting and vacuuming at least ensures that even if everything does not get accomplished when I want it to, at least it happens roughly around the time I want it to. And that is fine. I am horrible, however, at ever remembering to Furminate the dogs these days. Poor dogs.

Oh, and always dust before vacuuming. Always.

So, if you're tired of looking at your house and wondering where to begin with trying to keep it presentable, I'm a believer in this personalized schedule idea. It will help keep you from losing your mind and maybe cut the dog hair around your house down by half.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Baby manicures

When Natalie was still a tiny baby, just about a month old, I couldn't relate to other moms when they'd talk about things their babies hated. Natalie basically never cried and seemed content to eat, have her diaper changed, take naps/go to bed, be held, sit in her swing, or have her eyes open for those few minutes a day that a newborn is actually awake. Now, though, I can definitely say there are a couple things Natalie does hate, one of which is getting her nails trimmed.

So this is where the TV comes in.

I know TV is "bad" for babies. I don't believe in plopping Natalie in front of the TV to watch anything, really, except when it comes time to do her nails.

Rather than having blood-curdling screams while I struggle to hold Natalie's fingers still, the TV gives me the three minutes of distraction that I need to perform a weekly baby manicure.

Children's programming on PBS is a great go-to option during baby manicure time, but anything on the big screen will do, really.

A Baby Mum-Mum in one of Natalie's hands just sweetens the deal. Or, when we're out of Mum-Mums, as we are today, giving Natalie her little sheep -- affectionately known as Baba -- also soothes her while I perform a task the neighbors might think involves intense pain and cruelty based on some of the noises Natalie has emitted during this time.

What are some tricks you've learned for getting through those tasks your babies/toddlers hate?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

French lessons: Bringing Up Bebe review

As an American, I am used to our culture's tendency to deride the French, as no doubt you are too. This is perhaps part of the intrigue behind the book Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman. "The French are wise parents?" the average American may ask. Putting stereotypes aside, I would have to agree with Amy Chua, author of the controversial Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, quoted on the back of Bringing Up Bebe's book jacket, who states that "parents of all cultures should be able to learn from one another."

At 8-and-a-half-months old Natalie feels more like a toddler and less like a baby. I will happily learn from anyone as I try to figure out how to really be a parent -- up until this point I felt like my title has been "sustainer of life" more so than parent. Now the real parenting begins. For some visual imagery, this... now Natalie's favorite face. I think I have my work cut out for me.

I got through Druckerman's book super quickly, perhaps due to a looming book club/library due date deadline, but also thanks to Druckerman's conversational writing style and compelling observations. Ultimately, I agree with her assessment, based on her examples, that French parents on the whole seem to know what they're doing. I'm also happy to see that we are well on our way to establishing some good habits with Natalie even though there are some newly arising parenting conundrums. I'll try to employ some of these French principles as we move into these uncharted waters.

It is important to note that it's futile to compare cultures in an apples-to-apples type of way, particularly American and French. The French, after all, have a national maternity leave system and government-subsidized childcare, among other differences. So, I've left out those elements of French parenting that are virtually unattainable in American culture and tried to focus instead on what we can control.

At the heart of French parenting are a couple main ideas: delaying gratification and developing independence. You'll see these at work in most of the items listed below. Additionally, the concept of the "cadre" -- or framework -- is central to French parenting philosophy. Essentially parents raise their children to develop within a framework that French parents will admit is really strict in some areas and fairly laid back in others. The idea is to decide what really matters -- politeness, for example -- and not focus one's energy on small infractions, or "betises."

Here are some more specific ideas I took away from Druckerman's book:

1) "The Pause" -- French babies are on the whole amazingly good sleepers. They "do their nights" (aka truly sleep through the night for at least eight or nine hours...not the American version of six hours of continuous sleep) between six-weeks old and four-months old. A baby who isn't yet sleeping through the night in France by four months is considered late. To help babies achieve this milestone, many French parents, knowingly or not, use "The Pause" to determine whether to enter the baby's room. This means after a baby makes an initial noise they wait about five minutes to determine if the baby is truly awake. They understand that babies go through sleep cycles that last roughly two hours and the babies have a tendency to make lots of little noises or cries throughout the night. Many of these noises do not require a response from the parents because the baby is not truly awake. Druckerman quotes French pediatrician Michel Cohen who writes, "'parents who were a little less responsive to late-night fussing always had kids who were good sleepers, while the jumpy folks had kids who would wake up repeatedly at night'" (45).

My reflection: I can definitely relate to this concept, and we've been employing "The Pause" with Natalie ever since she was about a month old. Perhaps "The Pause" does partly help explain why she's such a good sleeper.

2) The French children's meal plan -- We all know that French women don't get fat, right? Well, apparently their children don't either, and it makes sense given the meal plan that virtually every child beyond the liquid-only diet stage consumes. French babies and children eat four times a day -- three meals and one snack, known as the gouter. The protein-heavy meal of the day occurs at lunch. At the maternelle -- France's free public preschool available for children starting at three-years old -- children are served a four-course lunch that includes, you know, a cheese course. The gouter, or afternoon snack, is almost universally served at 4 p.m. after school and often involves a sweet, such as cookies or cake, that parents have made together with their children. French children are discouraged from being picky eaters by eating foods of the same textures and flavors as adults from a young age. It's not OK for French children to subsist on an all mac-n-cheese diet.  

My reflection: There's no way I'm baking daily or even weekly, but I do like the idea of not giving kids food merely as a way to placate them. Constant snacking, an unfortunate American invention, also seems like an easy way to gain weight. Also, I think I'll be using the cheese course concept with Natalie, as in "eat your cheese after you've eaten your veggies." She loves cheese (hooray!) but I've made the mistake of setting cheese out with her main course and sides, and she has been on the edge of throwing a tantrum until she gets the cheese. Cheese course it is! I am hoping that Natalie won't be a picky eater thanks to efforts to introduce her to lots of foods, but I fear the toddler years could do us in.

3) Francoise Dolto's philosophy -- This psychoanalyst/pediatrician is revered by many French parents. Her core principles of child rearing stem from her emphasis on children as rational beings who can be reasoned with from infancy. (One reason some French parents believe their babies almost universally sleep through the night by four months? That's around the time moms start heading back to work, and the moms rationalize with their babies, "Mom needs sleep for work," so babies start sleeping. Right.)  

My reflection: I do like the idea of talking to babies like they are adults, or at least little adults. I hate "baby talk." I find myself doing it at times, but I always try to stop as quickly as the realization sets in. I see Natalie's face light up, and she sometimes looks at me sideways, when I explain to her what's going on. It's not that I think she's really understanding me, but I like to think we're moving in that direction.

4) French children say bonjour -- Once they learn to speak, French toddlers are expected to say hello and goodbye (in addition to please and thank you) to all adult visitors. The idea here is that children are part of the relationship. The mother and father saying hello does not exempt the child from saying hello. According to Druckerman, this seems to be ingrained in French culture, as it's considered offensive to not say hello to a sales clerk before asking a question or to the barista before placing an order. The French parents Druckerman spoke to acknowledge that their youngest children's "bonjours" may not be sincere, but they hope the repetition will eventually bring out the sincerity (155).  

My reflection: I love this aspect of the culture. It brings humanity to everyone, especially the children. It holds them accountable.

5) Adult time -- Children are taught that there are not the center of the universe by parents observing the daily ritual of "adult time" -- from bedtime until morning, children are expected to stay in their room. As Druckerman writes, French parents "treat 'adult time' not as an occasional, hard-won privilege, but a basic human need" (187). This is why it's not unusual for French children to spend 10 days or two weeks with their grandparents or why children as young as four-years old take week-long class trips.  

My reflection: I relish adult time. When Natalie is awake she is my absolute focus, but at night Matt and I need time to ourselves. Although I don't think we're at the level of taking a two-week vacation without her, I am seriously contemplating celebrating her first birthday by taking a little parents-only weekend.

6) Authoritative parenting: "It's me who decides" and "no" -- I remember learning in AP Psychology that authoritative parents (versus authoritarian parents) have the most well-adjusted kids. Apparently the French read my psych textbook, too. They rely on a firm "no" to help set limits for their children and are willing to back up their authority by reminding children that they make the decisions, not the children.  

My reflection: Absolutely kids need firm limits. I am finding myself already telling Natalie "no" when she tries to get into something dangerous or tries to yell to get her point across (a point that was clear before any yelling ensued). Having dogs has at least helped me develop a firm "no." Saying "no" seems like the easy part, though. It'll be how to follow up after the "no" that I'll constantly need to work on.

7) Autonomy -- Ultimately, French parents want their children to learn to be autonomous. They don't want to micromanage their kids by hovering, helicoptering or otherwise controlling. To this end French parents encourage independent play. Not only does teaching a child to be content playing by himself or herself relieve some pressure on the parent to be constantly entertaining the child, it also helps the child develop creativity, problem-solving skills and, in the long term, autonomy. Druckerman frequently conjures the image of French parents at a playground, mostly on the sidelines, chatting among themselves, contrasted with American parents at a Brooklyn playground narrating every single thing the kid is doing in a (competitive) effort to develop early language.  

My reflection: I thoroughly enjoy playing with Natalie, reading to her, taking her to nursery rhyme sessions at the library, and all other shared activities that fill our days. I look forward to the day when she can climb around on a playground and I'll do some of it with her. But I also believe it's important for her to play alone some each day, whether in her crib or on the floor. I enjoy moments to myself and moments of silence; no doubt she does, too. I've even noticed sometimes if I go into her nursery too soon after she's woken up from a nap she'll often cry -- almost as if I'm interrupting her time to herself -- but she doesn't cry when I enter several minutes after she's woken up. Instead, on these occasions, I'm greeted with a smile and sometimes a giggle or an intense happy flailing of arms.

There are definitely elements of French parenting I disagree with, but those are not nearly as compelling of a discussion, so I'll spare you the details. The point for me is that no single book -- or culture, for that matter -- has all the answers. As I move from "sustainer of life" to "parent" I'm hoping this book will help me as I develop a parenting philosophy of my own.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Baby proofing 101

While pregnant I scoffed at the suggestion on The Bump's checklist that families expecting babies should begin baby proofing when the woman is about 3 months pregnant. This is insane. We probably could have begun more baby proofing, though, before the last week or so.

Here's what happened last week:
Natalie stood up in her crib, twice.
Natalie banged her head on the edge of a bookcase.
Natalie unplugged the cord to her baby monitor, accessible next to her crib.
Natalie's crawling took o-f-f.

Before Natalie's birth we'd installed (more accurately, Matt and our gracious neighbor spent 3 hours installing) one of our two Kidco Angle-Mount Safeway Gates. We did this back in December not to protect the baby still in my belly but to keep the dogs contained in the basement when we're away from home or have generally had enough of their humping that always makes an appearance when guests visit. We also drilled some blind string securer thingys into some wall space when we were installing some replacement blinds. The bookcases in our home were secured to the walls when they were assembled.

But that was the extent of our pre-baby baby proofing.

I have been determined to do some baby proofing but not to let it take over our house and our lives. I'm a firm believer in moderation in all things, baby proofing being no exception. I also believe that keeping your house relatively clean and organized is a major element of baby proofing -- when there aren't many small/hazardous items on the floor or otherwise easily within a baby's reach the number of dangers is kept to a minimum.

Still, Natalie, like a lot of babies, is attracted to danger (and my Norton Shakespeare Anthology...but that's something else). She likes glass, outlets, sharp corners, plugs. And she likes to try to put all those things in her mouth.

So here's what we've done in the last week or two:

1) Installed the second baby gate at the top of the stairs leading to the third floor. This is a nice complement to the one previously installed between the first and second floors.

2) Lowered Natalie's crib to the second-lowest setting.

3) Moved the baby monitor plugs to an outlet far away from the crib and secured the now-exposed cords to the wall using the same mounting bases and ties we used when trying to hide cords coming off our new desk.

4) Added foam corner guards to the bookcase and coffee table on our main level, where we spend most of our time. I went with these ones manufactured by Prince Lionheart because they had the most positive customer reviews on Amazon. So far they're doing the job and fit our furniture well (and are not as painfully noticeable as I thought they'd be).

5) Covered nearly every outlet in our home. There are a couple I couldn't get to before I ran out of outlet covers. We registered for this Safety 1st Essentials Child-Proofing Kit which seemed like a reasonable product at the time. Now that we've put it to use, though, these outlet covers seem ironically hazardous to me. Reading the reviews on Amazon it looks like I'm not alone. We might see about returning this product. Either way, I now know that we have over 30 unused and baby-reachable outlets in our home. First-world problems?

6) Moved several glass objects, mostly vases, to higher ground.

What we need to do asap:

1) Put some cabinet guards on our most accessible cabinets containing our most dangerous items (under the sink comes to mind).

2) ummmmm....

So, there are so many products out there and suggestions regarding baby proofing. Maybe I'm being too optimistic, but I feel like what I've listed here should be enough, right? There are spout covers, toilet locks, mesh window guards, bath safety rails, stove knob covers. I don't want to knock anything because, like my hairdresser says about having kids, never say never, but I wonder where it all ends.

What do you think are the baby-proofing essentials? From your experience would you add to my list? And, does anyone have a good suggestion for better outlet protectors that actually stay on the outlets?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Magical mystery kind

This morning at 8:45, while searching for activities to keep Natalie entertained in the time between waking up and nap 1, I put on our iTunes "Natalie" mix and we started dancing. Somewhere between Florence + the Machine's "Shake it Out" and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero's "40 Day Dream" I was overcome with emotion. My 8-month-old baby was holding on to me tight, exposing her four front teeth every time she giggled and squealed, scrunching her nose in delight every time we shook it out together.

I feel like I've been waiting for this a long time. I loved the idea of my baby long before she was ever born. Upon her birth I loved her existence. As she develops into her own little person, though, I feel a much deeper love for her as a unique individual -- I love her, not the idea of her, not just the existence of her. I didn't gush emotion in the early days, but I see our collective love growing exponentially (and yes, this includes her love for her father, since she babbles "dada" all day long, intentionally or not).

So, I express gratitude for this random Wednesday morning in September. I am thankful for our healthy, happy baby. It still feels like a miracle. I don't want to take all this good fortune for granted.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sorting and storing baby clothes

OK, I'll say it: Babies grow quickly. You already knew this, but when you have the physical piles of clothing to prove it you have an in-your-face reminder. This reminder can also become a little daunting to sort and store.

The main reason baby clothes are challenging to sort and store, in my opinion, is that no two clothing brands label their clothes the same way, and even clothes of the same size by the same brand can seem wildly different. Of course, we can't really blame the brands -- after all what does a 6-month old look like, anyway, when mine could be 14 pounds and yours could be 20 pounds? So you've got newborn, and 0-3 months, and 3 months, and 3-6 months, and 6 months, and 6-9 months, and 6-12 months, and 9-18 months. I've tried as much as possible to organize Natalie's clothing not so much by what the label says but how the clothes match up to each other. That 0-3 month footed outfit from Naartije Kids is the same size as the 6-month footed outfit from Carter's, so those items are side-by-side in the closet. If you stick to what the label tells you, there's a good chance you'll wind up forgetting about certain articles of clothing and by the time you remember them your baby will have outgrown them.

Here's my assessment of baby clothes so far:
  • Clothes that fit for the greatest amount of time: short-sleeve onesies and socks -- these stretch a lot and grow with a baby. Natalie can still wear 3-month onesies but nothing else from the 3-month category.
  • Clothes that fit for the least amount of time: footed onesies/sleepers -- so many babies, Natalie included, seem to outgrow the length before the weight.
  • Truest-to-size brand: Carter's -- At 8 months Natalie is wearing a combination of 6 and 9 month clothing.
  • Runs-on-the-small-side brand: Gap -- Natalie could wear 6-12 months at 4 months.
  • Runs-on-the-big-side brand: Circo (from Target) -- Natalie can still fit into a newborn outfit at 8 months.
  • Always-seems-mislabeled-regardless-of-brand item: hats -- Natalie has so many hats, most of which she's never worn because they've never fit her. Her head is relatively small, yet which, if any, hat will fit her is a crap shoot.
  • Most-amazingly-good-quality-for-the-price brand: H&M, particularly the kimono-style long-sleeve onesies made from organic cotton. These fit so well and the material is so thick. 
  • Most-versatile clothes: casual dresses -- turn them into tunics with jeggings when they become too short and you've got one stylin' baby girl.

When faced with a pile of baby clothes, most of which Natalie has outgrown but some of which are toddler-sized hand-me-downs or gifts, I had to devise a system. In reading online about what other people have done I had visions of a garage full of plastic bins of baby clothes divided into tons of different categories. But most people who have elaborate systems also have at least five children -- a basketball-team's brood. We did not need anything complicated.

For now we have two piles that go into two bins: girl and gender neutral. I imagine as Natalie grows we'll have fewer gender-neutral items and more girl items, but for now this seems like a good way to get started. If we have another kid or we loan out/give away clothes, we've already reduced our workload by half just knowing if the clothes are for a girl or either sex. Right now each bin contains two piles of outgrown clothes and one pile of toddler clothes, with room to spare for the 6-month summer clothes and more that will be making their way into the bins shortly.

Now that we've freed up some dresser drawer space I've tried to better organize the clothes that she can still wear now and the clothes she'll be fitting into soon. Baby clothes seem to fall into a number of categories, especially because so many tops and bottoms come together as outfits (when does this trend stop -- with teenagers?). Natalie can still rock some 3-6 month clothes, primarily onesies, but everything else is 6 months or above. I figured I'd keep all the up to 12-month clothes out in her closet and in her dresser and not in the bins so I don't make the mistake of forgetting about any clothes that could fit her in the near future.
Never fear, Natalie has more 9-12 month clothes in her closet not pictured here. Baby clothes seem to not be in short supply, but they are most certainly cute.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

One can never have too many burp cloths

OK, so this is maybe the 17th time I've written about all things spit up, and I promise I'll stop, but clearly this is a major topic in my life these days.

Burp cloths. I always thought we had too many of them. Fear not, one can never have too many burp cloths.

There is the obvious on-your-shoulder use. Whenever I hand Natalie to someone who wants to hold her I always pass along a burp cloth, too, referring to it as our insurance policy. The standard response is, "Oh, that's OK," but I'm like, "No, really, take it."

Here are the three additional ways I've used burp cloths that have come in handy:

1) Before Natalie was mobile, and she could happily hang out in her baby gym, I would put a burp cloth underneath her head. That way, the spit up would at least drip down her face onto the burp cloth rather than all over the gym mat. This did the trick of keeping the gym relatively clean.

2) Every time I put Natalie in the Ergo -- which I absolutely love -- I put a burp cloth underneath my neck almost like a bib. This keeps the inevitable spit up from making its way down the front of my shirt, or, the best, into my shirt. If I was smart I would always travel with a change of clothes for myself, but seeing as I'm an adult and I don't wear a diaper it is difficult to remember to pack a spare outfit and probably more hassle than it's worth.

3) I keep a burp cloth underneath Natalie's head while feeding her on the Boppy pillow. I am still using that pillow. I don't know if that's weird or not, but it works for me, and having the burp cloth under Natalie's head keeps at least some of the spit up off her, off my clothes, off the sofa.
Having a burp cloth on hand = always worth it.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

My routine with a 7-month old

I've written about Natalie's sleep schedule before as well as the unpredictable nature of life with a baby that makes the concept of a routine challenging. Although I am destined to jinx it by writing about it, for roughly the past month I've finally felt like I've got a reasonably set routine with Natalie.

I still divide my day into pre-nap and post-nap chunks. Thankfully, around the time Natalie turned 7 months old she went from three naps a day to two, and that has made a huge difference in my general happiness. Fewer naps = increased ability to get out of the house. Incidentally, the 7-month mark is also right when Natalie started crawling, so she is at last reasonably happy playing a little by herself on the floor with me nearby.

I'm always curious about the routines of babies and stay-at-home parents, so here's what my present daily routine looks like.

Wake up routine, pre-nap 1: 7:30-10:30 a.m.
  • Natalie wakes up between 7:30 and 8:30.
  • Get my breakfast ready before getting her from her crib (I typically feed myself while feeding her).
  • Change her and breastfeed her immediately.
  • Read some books together because this is when she's most quiet and agreeable.
  • Play in the Exersaucer/on the floor. She is most agreeable to independent play this time of day.
  • Go down for nap 1 around 10-10:30.

Post-nap 1: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
  • Natalie typically wakes up from nap 1 around 11:30 a.m. No matter what, nap 1 is consistently one hour long. During that hour I've usually taken a shower, done a couple chores, read some internets...
  • Upon waking up from nap 1 breastfeed her immediately.
  • Feed her solid meal 1 of the day.
  • This is the best time of day for activities outside the house. On those rare days when I don't have something planned outside the house I take Natalie for a walk or run some errands with her. Staying home all day is unpleasant for her and me.
  • Go down for nap 2 around 2-2:45.

Post-nap 2, pre-bedtime: 4-7 p.m.
  • Natalie typically wakes up from nap 2 around 4 p.m. No matter what, nap 2 is consistently longer than nap 1, usually one hour 15 minutes or one-and-a-half hours long. During that time I've usually eaten a late lunch, done some more household maintenance and maybe even a little something I enjoy, like reading a book.
  • Upon waking up from nap 2 breastfeed her immediately.
  • By this time Matt is typically home from work, so we try to go on a long dog walk if we don't have other commitments. Although I'm more likely to schedule excursions during the post-nap 1 phase of the day, we do sometimes makes plans for the late afternoon.
  • Feed her solid meal 2 of the day with Matt, if possible, to establish the concept of family dinner time.
  • Try to read to her some more, if she'll take it.
  • Play in the Exersaucer/on the floor. This is the time of day when Natalie does best when we're interacting with her a lot.
  • Start the bedtime routine by 6:45 p.m. We still give her a bath every other day unless she seems particularly messy or we've done something out of the ordinary, like gone to the pool that day. Once she's changed for the night she's either breast or bottle fed and then rather immediately falls asleep.
  • Natalie is usually asleep by 7 p.m. but almost always by 7:30 p.m. at the latest.

On this schedule, Matt and I find ourselves eating dinner on the later side, usually around 8 p.m. We get in a couple hours of together time before it's time for Matt to turn in for the night in preparation for his early morning wake up for work.

Helping Natalie transition to a two-nap-a-day schedule has not only allowed us greater flexibility in making plans, but it has also allowed Natalie to start falling asleep for naps and bedtime more quickly. Although getting her to sleep usually has never been a challenge, the crying is even less now than it was before, which is probably a good signal that she's appropriately tired when it's time for sleep and she's struck a good balance for herself between sleep time and awake time.

Natalie turns 8 months old next week, and at that point I want to begin feeding her three solid meals a day. So, her routine will adjust slightly with the addition of "breakfast," but hopefully the routine will not change much.