Friday, April 30, 2010

What’s So Funny?

Sex begets parenthood (sorry, kids), so it’s no surprise that parenthood is a lot like sex in another way too: You look ludicrous while you’re doing it. Lust and parenting will both put you in positions you could never have imagined before the madness struck.

You’ll find yourself talking about bowel movements at dinner parties. They won’t even be your own bowel movements.

You’ll find yourself prone on the carpet in the hallway late one night like a sleep-deprived James Bond, trying to look through the crack under a bedroom door to see if you can determine whether your toddler has finally conked out – and see a tiny eye peering back at you.

You’ll find yourself smiling as you remove a melted slice of processed cheese from your DVD player – because at least this time it’s still in the wrapper.

You may once have been accustomed to thinking of yourself as a fairly dignified person. Forget it – that ship has sailed. Parenthood is an exhilarating, confusing ride, and you’re bound to get motion-sick sometimes. Your born-and-raised-in-Asia toddler will squeal delightedly – and loudly – on her first mall trip back home, “Look, Mama! There’s a chocolate man!” Your carsick kindergartener will puke on the Whitman Mission. Your son will get up in the middle of the night and pee in his sister’s tea pot. What can you do but laugh?

Well, you can scream, and I’m sad to say you probably will. You may find yourself issuing ultimatums that make no sense at all, unless you’re caught up in the moment: “All right, Mister! If you make your nose whistle when you breathe one more time, I am going to ground you ‘til you’re thirty, cancel your next five birthday parties and take back your bowling set.” You may also – as I did and do – find yourself grandly announcing absurd New Rules with the somber demeanor of a Grand Vizier:

“Don’t put your feet in the cake.”

“Don’t lick the cat.”

“We don’t save our boogers in envelopes in this house, Young Man.”

The antidote to this insanity is humor. Face it: It’s FUNNY that your kid has been planning to mail his nose-gold collection. And who would have thought during those halcyon college years or the golden blush of young love and early pregnancy that you would one day have to issue an edict against such a thing? There’s a place for honest anger and your kids can respect that – but things will be easier and more comfortable all around if you can laugh at it, too.

Fool around with your kids sometimes. When they are 3 or 4, they will have their favorite books memorized and will know when you depart from the story by even a single word. This puts you in a great position to mess with ‘em: one day, perhaps, Goldilocks will eat the porridge and say, “this porridge is tooo hot. This porridge is tooo cold. This porridge is juuuuuust purple!” (I’ve used this technique on literally hundreds of kids, and the result is always a stunned, “Nooooo!”) Show them (or have your husband or little brother show them) how to do the armpit fart. Teach them the words to the “Batman” version of Jingle Bells:

Jingle bells,
Batman smells,
Robin laid an egg;
The Batmobile lost its wheels
And the Joker got away.

They’re gonna learn it anyway, and the classics are best taught at home.

On the serious side, humor can help you to let go of any lingering delusions of perfection you are harboring; even Mary Poppins was only practically perfect. Remember, this too shall pass – sure, they’re punching each other in the back seat right now, but in a few years they’ll be driving themselves and you won’t have to worry about that anymore. It can also help your kids relax and take their little selves less seriously. They take their cues from you, and if you’re on edge all the time they will be too – without knowing why. A good dose of humor and whimsy will make you all have fun together, building great memories and making them want to spend time with you even when they’re grown and it’s optional.

Besides . . . when they’re teenagers, you can embarrass them.

Revenge is sweet.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


I used several books as touchstones when the kids were small.  Although none of them was able to help me with specific problems we had with preemies, all were good reads, extremely well written, and easy to reference as time went on.  Here's my addendum to Millie's list.

Infants and Mothers:  Differences in Development - T. Berry Brazelton
A very good book that follows the first 12 months of three infants, each on a different developmental curve.  It really helps the new mom to realize that month-to-month milestones are relative and that each child has their own schedule.

The Magic Years: Understanding and Handling the Problems of Early Childhood by Selma Fraiberg
Another good read.  This book covers more of the cognitive issues met by parents raising small children, how they live in a world where magic is a daily occurrence and every word uttered is taken literally.  After reading this book I had a whole new respect for language acquisition and abstract thinking.

Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin by Ashley Montagu
Yet another great read.  This book covers the more kinesthetic aspect of parenting, from nursing, massage, skin-on-skin contact etc.  There's a reason you don't want to put that baby down!

Miss Manners Guide to Rearing Perfect Children by Judith Martin

Of course, a good read; anything by Judith Martin is a pleasure to pick up.  This is the only advice book I kept after the kids were past elementary school.  It is informative, precise, funny, easy to read and entirely correct.  Want to know how to handle children and "Thank you" notes?  Read pages 141-143.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Loneliness of New Motherhood

No political prisoner languishing in a gulag ever felt more isolated than the mother of very young children. Your world narrows to a single moment in time: this one; and a single focus: the baby. You start to feel like a dairy animal if you’re nursing, and even if you’re not you spend so much of your time being peed on and spit up on and screamed at and interrupted that your senses are filled to overflowing and you feel as though your nerves have been peeled and left on the surface of your skin.

That thing where your husband tries to hug you and you scream, “Don’t TOUCH me!!” is a direct result of this sensory overload.

It’s important to take care of yourself. I know, I know; you hear that from everyone and you scoff, “Right! Take care of myself! When? Susie is running full-tilt from the time she wakes up in the morning until she drops at 10 p.m., the baby is teething and won’t stop crying, and my husband has been working late every night. I haven’t showered in a week and I can’t remember the last time I got to eat a meal while it was still hot. There is no time left over for ‘taking care of myself.’”

You’re right: there are no blocks of time, so you have to snatch moments for yourself. Right now everything you do is outward-directed and you’re pouring yourself away. You must be aware of things that can re-fill your pitcher and arrange your attitude so that you are more receptive to them. When your children are older – just a little bit older, I promise! – there will be time again to read a magazine article from start to finish, or take a walk that’s faster than a snail’s pace, or shave your legs and wash your hair in the same shower. Meantime:

Listen to music that you like while you’re nursing/ changing/ cleaning/ burping. There’s no rule that children can only listen to children’s music, and most of it is pretty awful.

Swallow your bashfulness and your pride and strike up a conversation with the other moms you see at the playground or in the pediatrician’s waiting room. They are as lonely as you are, and as starved for adult contact, and you automatically have something to talk about: parenting small children.

Get dressed every day. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? Did you ever imagine pre-baby that it would ever even be an issue? It’s important, though. Get dressed in the morning, brush your hair and brush your teeth, even if you have to do it with a 3 year old hanging off the sink and a screaming newborn in a carseat on the bathroom floor. It will remind you that you’re a person too and make you feel more pulled-together. A slick of lip-gloss or some pretty earrings (studs so the baby won’t grab them) can make you feel as glamorous as a 17 year old in a prom dress.

Don’t forget to eat and drink. Again, would you have believed a year ago that you would have to be reminded of this? A handful of pretzels and the dregs in the coffee pot do not provide enough nutrition for you to recover from the birth and care for your growing family. Of course you don’t have time right now to cook, but try to have some quick-to-prepare things on hand so that you can grab something healthy when you get a moment to eat. Oh, and when people say, “Anything I can do to help?” tell them firmly, “Yes, we’d love a casserole or two for the freezer!”

Go online. Join a support group for new moms or a diary site like LiveJournal or a social networking site like Facebook. You can get support from people who have been where you are and you can do it when it’s convenient for you – with the added bonus being that you can chat with other people without worrying about the bags under your eyes or the sour-milk smell of your t-shirt.

Keep your identity. You are more than a milk cow and a diaper changer. You can’t paint this week but you can notice the colors of the sunrise. You can’t compose right now but you can hum your own compositions to the baby. There’s no one to watch the kids while you go jogging today but you can sure rack up some miles on the ol’ pedometer while you pace with the colicky baby. Remember what it is that makes you YOU, and remind yourself once in a while.

Go out with your husband. I know it’s hard to trust anyone else with your first baby. I know it’s physical agony to be apart from him, however much you want a break. I know you can’t skip a nursing session without wanting to burst or soaking the front of your shirt. I know you won’t talk about anything but the baby even if you DO go out. Leave the kid with your mom or the lady next door and GO, even if it’s just to Baskin-Robbins for a single scoop. You’re partners in this venture, and you need to keep in touch. Nobody but your child’s father will ever love your child as much as you do, but you loved each other before that baby ever came along.

Finally, relax. Make sure your priorities are in the right order and then let the lesser things slide. It really doesn’t matter in the long run if the bookcases need dusted. It does matter that you are gentle with yourself during this high-intensity time. When your baby is sleeping through the night, when you get to watch a TV show from beginning to end, when you can go to the bathroom by yourself – then you can dust the bookcases. Right now you’ve got a baby to cuddle, and that outranks all the rest of it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Millie’s Top 10 Parenting Books

10. It’s Not Fair, Jeremy Spencer’s Parents Let Him Stay up All Night!: A Guide to the Tougher Parts of Parenting by Anthony E. Wolf., Ph.D.

If Millie and Mollie were a male with a doctorate, we could have written this book. Anthony Wolf is realistic, refreshing and hilarious. He will reassure you while he suggests new ideas to try – ideas that might actually WORK! – the whole time making you feel like less of a hopeless amateur.

9. A Child Is Born by Lennart Nilsson

These are probably the most beautiful, awe-inspiring photographs ever taken. Lennart Nilsson developed a camera that can take photos of babies inside the womb, and in this book you follow fetal development from conception through birth. It’s fascinating reading any time, but it’s riveting when you’re expecting a baby of your own. It’s also a great book to have on hand when you’re explaining where babies come from.

8. What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel
This one is a classic for a reason – it answers just about every pregnancy question you can imagine. It’s straightforward, calm and informative – and new editions are printed periodically so it’s also up-to-date.

7. How your Child is Smart: A Life-Changing Approach to Learning by Dawna Markova

This isn’t a manual to prime you for bragging to other moms in the park – rather, it’s an explanation of the six basic learning styles and how to identify where in the spectrum your child falls. This book gives you techniques for teaching your child in the way that will make the most sense to him and will give you insight into how he views the world. It’s a must-read before your child starts school so that you have the vocabulary to explain your child’s learning style to his teachers.

6. Raising Your Spirited Child: Guide for Parents Whose Child is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent and Energetic by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka

This book may save your sanity. There are some children who are just MORE, and if you have one of them this book may make the difference between you resenting the extra claims this child makes on you and you being your child’s number-one fan. It will help with average tantrums and power struggles too, but if you have a child who could be described (by the uninitiated) as difficult, stubborn or too sensitive, it’s no exaggeration to say that this book could change both of your lives.

5. Toilet Training in Less Than a Day by Nathan H. Azrin, Ph.D.

It works.

4. While Waiting by Dr. George E. Verrilli and Anne Marie Mueser E.D.

This was written by a mother and her obstetrician, and it’s chock-full of information about pregnancy and birth. It’s interactive, with pages for record-keeping and questions you want to ask at your next prenatal visit. It’s kind of refreshing to read a book that focuses on the mother more than the baby, too.

3. Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions: Reviving Victorian Family Celebrations of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach

This delightful book will remind you why you wanted to be a parent in the first place. So many parenting manuals are focused on the mechanics of poop, pee, puke and preschool that it can be easy to lose sight of what’s really important. Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions is full of ideas for gentle celebrations of everything from Thanksgiving to Tuesday, easy-to-do things that will make lifelong memories for everyone in your family.

2. The Mother’s Almanac II: Your Child From Six to Twelve by Margeurite Kelly

1. The Mother’s Almanac by Margeurite Kelly and Elia Parsons

Quite simply, these books made motherhood for me. My first pregnancy took place in Japan on an ill-equipped Air Force base before the advent of the Internet, and my quest for information led me to the only book the BX had on parenting: The Mother’s Almanac. It contains everything you need to know about parenting a child from birth to age six, and the sequel will see you through to age twelve. In times of doubt during the kids’ early years, my husband was apt to say, “Better consult the Almanac.” It never let me down. I understand that now there’s a combined Marguerite Kelly’s Family Almanac, which I’ve never read – but you can bet I’m going to.

Thank you, Margeurite. And – will you please write one for twelve through twenty-one? I still have six years to go.

Mollie Answers a Few Questions

What's a Millie?

A Millie is a Mother In Law (MIL).  To some extent, both Millie and Mollie are Millies.  When two of our kids married, we wanted to distinguish who was the Mother of the Bride (MOB) and Mother of the Groom (MOG).  Since the Mother of the Bride was doing all the hard work (helping the bride with the wedding, etc.) we made her #1 Mother in Law. Nobody wants to be a MOB, but Millie goes down easy. Makes sense, right?  It's a job requiring high diplomacy, patience, wisdom, multiple superpowers and a sense of humor.

What is a Mollie?

The Molly is the Mother Out Law (MOL).  She's the mom of the groom who will either sit politely in the background or rush to assistance when help is requested by the bride or the Millie (note:  I didn't say "needed" I said "requested").  I was the Mother of the Groom, and always will be since I have boys only.  This job also takes high diplomacy, patience, wisdom, multiple superpowers, a sense of humor AND a certain amount of detachment.   It's just the way it is.

I didn't want to be a MOG, it just sounded too grumpy.  But a Mollie?  That has panache.  It also has attitude and this Mollie has attitude to share . . .

Why Have Defined Roles?

In terms of organizing a wedding, a family, a life, etc.  the Bride and the Groom comes first.  It's THEIR life, after all.  When our adult children decided to make that long walk down the aisle, the ceremony, reception, honeymoon and other considerations had to be theirs alone.  

Traditionally, the bride plans the wedding with her mother, and really, in a wedding, there's only room for one Millie.  

The Millie gets the joy (get it, Joy?) and the Mollie sits back and remembers that there are weeds in her garden that need her attention.  If the Millie needs help, there's e-mail, cell phones and extra sensory communication that she can employ to summon help from anyone she chooses.

This is good practice for life after the wedding.  Face it, women and their mothers are a force beyond physics.  If I hadn't been so close to my own mom (now an Angel), maybe I wouldn't get it.  But as it is, I do remember that when the chips were down, 1-800-callmom was the first number I dialed.

Why Write a Blog?

In the early days, Millie and I met and hit it off fabulously.  It helps when the two women involved are independently  fabulous.  We had the same take on life, kids, poops and domestic issues.  This blog is a natural off-spring of two fabulous mothers!

Aware of our incredible superpowers, we felt the urge to share our cumulative wisdom.  Parenting was an interesting job in the decades we parented.  So much changed in social dynamics during our tenure - family planning, work issues, test-tube babies, surrogate mothers, marriage, sexual orientation, you name it, the subject came up when we were in the thick of it.  We don't always think "the same," but each of us thinks "the sane."  Why not have a place were at least two aspects of any issue can be discussed with love and wisdom?

Why Ask Millie and Mollie?

We've been there, done that, cried, laughed, bandaged, fussed, ignored, sang, yelled, held jobs and wiped bottoms for a living.  It doesn't get any earthier than that.  And for parenting, what's better than an 'earthy mother?'

Even if we don't have an answer to your questions, we will have observations.  If nothing else, you'll get a good laugh from hearing about our mistakes!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Getting Advice

At first you may think that getting advice is not the problem - avoiding it is! People will be anxious to impart to you their child-rearing wisdom as soon as your pregnancy starts to show, rushing up to you in grocery stores and at bus stops to tell you what you should (or shouldn’t) be doing. The confusion comes when you try to sort out the useful information from the sheer lunacy.

Ignore these whack-jobs. You know your body (and later, your baby) and you know what works for you.

When you do want advice, your pediatrician will be a most important source, so choose him carefully. All doctors are busy, but it’s vital that you feel you can call when you need advice or information. Don’t expect that they’ll drop everything to help you (unless it’s an emergency), but if the office doesn’t get back to you that same day it’s time for some re-evaluation. Your child’s doctor should give you an opportunity during an exam to ask questions (which you should write down beforehand to save time) and take the time to explain things you don’t understand. He should speak directly to your child (when the child is old enough to respond) and he and his staff should treat the child gently. If the doctor has a sense of humor, add 10 points to the “win” column.

If you hold very strong opinions about medical issues such as breast vs. bottle, schedules vs. feed-on-demand, or co-sleeping, be up-front about it at your initial appointment. If the doctor doesn’t agree with you it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker if he is respectful and not dismissive. You need to remember that the doctor is your child’s medical professional, but you are the parent – the final decisions are yours.

If you adore the doctor but his office staff sets your teeth on edge and makes you re-examine the principle of Man as Nature’s last word, keep shopping.

Your own parents are another common source of advice – some good, some not. If you have an adversarial relationship with your parents to begin with, any unsolicited advice from them may feel like a criticism of your parenting – and who needs that? Even if your parents are fantastic, odds are that medical science and parenting theories have changed a bit from when their children were small and they may not understand the latest thinking. (Note to our kids: Millie and Mollie are immune to this time paradox – it’s one of our Super Powers.) Still, they did some things right (look at you, after all!), and undoubtedly learned many of the tricks of the trade which they’d be delighted to pass along to you. Same goes for your friends who are already parents (or nannies or babysitters).

Books are a great source of parenting advice if you can find a few you trust and then stick to them. There are probably even more parenting books out there than there are diet books, all of which contradict each other, and each of which claims to be the One True Way. The truth is that there IS no one true way, there’s only the way that works for you; and what works for you today may not work tomorrow or next week, either. Do some browsing, find a few authors that make sense to you and stick with those unless you need to research something in greater depth later. (I’ll publish a list of my Top 10 parenting books tomorrow.)

Finally – remember to Ask Millie and Mollie! That’s what we’re here for!

Wieners, Continued

There's not much I can add to Mollie's excellent post besides an addendum for the uncircumcised male baby. Both my birth-boys were left as-is and we didn't have any problems keeping them clean once we realized that they're meant to be self-cleaning. Most uncircumcised baby penises have "adhesions" which will go away as the baby grows, but which meanwhile keep the foreskin from retracting. The foreskin and the glans penis are mucus membranes in their natural states, so they will secrete a "cheesy" substance that will collect at the tip of the penis. Just tug the foreskin back as far as it will comfortably go, wipe off anything you see and pull the foreskin up again.

As the baby becomes a boy and begins to take his own baths, teach him to pull back his foreskin and clean inside that "willy pocket."

Side note: If you want to leave your boy uncircumcised, don't let your doctor bully you into it. Adhesions are normal and will usually go away completely by the time the boy is toilet-training age. The only medical reason to circumcise against your inclinations is strangulation, i.e. the foreskin is so tight that it's cutting off circulation to the penis. This is pretty rare.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Baby Grossies

Let's all be grown-ups about this (especially now that somebody else is The Baby) and accept that babies do the grossest things.  It seems that if it comes out of an orifice, it's gooey, stinky, septic, infectious and just plain disgusting.  And all this is from the sweetest little cookie on the planet who seconds earlier smelled like an April morning.  Try as we do, we can't just keep 'em clean for more than a nano-second.  

Be it pee, burp, vomit, snot or feces, babies do it all, sometimes simultaneously.  Here is a list of some perfectly normal baby productions.


I never had the privilege of having a daughter, but I have changed some baby girls in my time.  It seems like just when we get all those little folds clean and dry, she manages to soak herself and her changing pad.  I was hugely cheap and didn't use the disposable pads or diapers, I used the ones that had to be rinsed in the toilet, soaked in the diaper pail, washed in Ivory Snow and bleached.  Sometime changing a little girl results in a small load for the washing machine!

Little boys are another adventure.  First, put on an apron and mask, because the instant the diaper comes off, any urine left in the little guy is headed straight for your eye and chest.  Trust me on this.  Once you've cleaned up everything, it will be safe to diaper the little guy.   My husband and I have video we took when our guys were small, baptizing us in yellow waters.  It's a good thing we each had a sense of humor.

Both our boys were circumcised, so cleaning their penises was easier.  But in any event, the entire appendage needs cleaning - a rash on that part of the baby has GOT to hurt.  Just be gentle but thorough.  

I still think that fresh air is the best bit of preventative medicine around . . . especially with babies.  Most mornings, I'd put the bare naked baby for a short time on a receiving blanket in the playpen.  We never really had problems with diaper rash simply because the kid got a good tidying up and an even better airing out.

Pooping (rocket and other varieties)

Just what is rocket pooping?  For the unsullied, rocket pooping is what a baby does in the early months of life.  It’s perfectly normal although Molly thinks that there aren’t enough baby wipes on the planet to clean up after one.  Here’s a perfect example of how rocket pooping happens.

The sweet young mother is finally able to sit on her episiotomy a few hours after labor.  Daintily, she puts Snook-ums to her breast and experiences her first real hormonal rush that is associated with lactation.  The world is a good place.  The baby suckles and the mommy just glories in her womanliness.  The baby stretches, burps and latches back on to the breast, and just when Mom relaxes . . . thrzzzzzzzppppppppppt - a gallon of orangie green shit ejaculates from the baby’s anus, soaking the diaper, running all over the mommy’s gown and permanently stains any object within 10 feet.  That’s rocket pooping.

Remember, this is perfectly normal.  This, and 10 wet diapers a day, tells the nursing mommy that, yes, her baby is getting enough to eat.  It also tells mommy and daddy to buy stock in Dow Chemical, since the hazardous materials team (Daddy or Grandma or Auntie or entire clans) will be cleaning up for a while.  

As the baby gets older and other foods are introduced into his/her diet, poop becomes a many-splendored thing.  The good news is that the poop develops 'form' and 'substance' and often is easier to clean up after.  The bad news is that it no longer smells sweet.  Either way, be it runny nursing baby poop or well formed manly baby poop, the parent involved gets a heads up when a change is in order.


What baby doesn't earp up milk on a regular schedule?  Just be sure to clean it up pronto.  There are gastric juices in 'em that will eat into anything, be it clothes, skin, hair, etc.  

Projectile vomiting

Projectile vomiting is also perfectly normal.  When this happens, Bubba is usually laying/sitting in his little cot, smiling at you, discussing economics and watching Larry King (sorry Larry).  Suddenly, from out of nowhere, comes an echoing belch worthy of Godzilla, followed by flying streams of vomitus coating all four walls of the room, plus the ceiling and the floor. Once again, daddy races to the garage and gets his hazardous materials kit (or maybe now he keeps it on the top shelf of the baby’s closet?) while mommy bathes the baby and herself.


Yes, even babies nursing on the purest of Mother’s milk get gas, at least if the  mother in question has eaten cabbage, beans, pizza, frijoles or anything else that might give her gas.  It’s natural.  Usually what happens is that the baby tenses, gets really red in the face, squirms, screams and eventually farts.  

Not only are YOU what you eat, your baby is what you eat.  Put down that chili dog!


Of course all babies make snot.  It's their job and they do it well.  Just when you think that YOUR baby is the healthiest little munchkin on this earth, he/she comes down with a cold and the snot factory gets pumping.

John and I would use a cold steam humidifier and one of those blue bulb snot suckers (ok you tell me the proper name!) to keep things under control.  We'd stay away from hot steamers because we were told that often kids actually get worse with warm steam.  

Eye boogers

Yep, babies get 'em too.  We'd just put a drop of baby oil on a Q-tip and dab it away.  Who needs a crusty baby?

Ear Wax

Your pediatrician will obsessively/compulsively check the baby's ears at each well baby exam.  The doctor will tell you if your baby is producing too much ear gunk.  Meanwhile, you can keep the outer ear clean with an oil dropped Q-tip.  Don't go into the ear canal, just keep the outer ear clean.


Both my boys were chubby little things, once they hit their due dates.  When you bathe the little folks, make sure that the fat folds are clean and dry before dressing him/her.  

Scalp Munge

If your Precious develops dry skin on their scalp, be sure you are using a gentle shampoo.  Then, if you have one of those soft bristle baby brushes, once again lightly dab a little baby oil on the scalp and brush gently.  That's usually all she needs, anything more challenging deserves a look-see by the pediatrician.

Frankly, if you find that you are sterilizing your home on a regular basis, you must be doing something right.  Forget the therapist until AFTER the child goes off to college.  At some point they will graduate from diapers and projectile vomiting, but it's soon after that you will find old sandwiches hidden under their beds!

Friday, April 23, 2010


I absolutely cannot let Millie have the only word on crying babies - nope, nope, and more nope.

Our preemie was a world-class crier from the day we brought him home from his stay at the Kaiser Spa and NICU.  We were anxious, exhausted parents obsessively addicted to breast pumping (milk only, boys and girls), insomnia, free-floating guilt and the usual paranoia and low self-esteem that all first-time parents enjoy.  We sang lullabies, burped, fed, changed, and otherwise amused Peter with all sorts of things.  At one point, I ran out of lullabies and began singing the Top Ten Dr. Demento hits.  Nothing worked.

This was 1982, long before we could run to the PC and Google "colic."  I was staying at home and was limited to the books I had at hand (good books but zippo on preemies with colic), so John became our information hunter and gatherer.  Off he'd go to work in the morning, bleary eyed and cranky, and insist that the other engineers he worked with MUST know what to do for a colic possessed preemie.  John worked at a local utility and his colleagues all wore white shirts, pencil thin black ties and pocket protectors.  They seemed clueless.

Then one day, Gerald, a friend of ours now for almost 35 years, came to work with a swinging chair.  I don't know if they still sell 'em, but they are just little swings hooked up to a base with a gizmo that you wind up.  The swing then swings the baby, sitting up, sorta, with a loud "tick-tock" (kinda like Captain Hook's nemesis) until the baby calms down.  At 2 am, after a diaper change, feeding, burping, another diaper change by the HazMat crew, and a good wind on the swing, I could sit in a comfy chair and read while Peter was swung into a trance.  It ALWAYS worked.

Another Pocket Protector showed John how to do the Colic Hold - certainly a wrestling move.  It's simple and is done as follows:  the papa holds the baby, prone,  on his dominant arm, baby's head at the crook of daddy's elbow, face out,  the baby's diaper end near daddy's hand so that daddy's hand can manage the baby's balance.  Then the papa walks around the house for a while, sings, hums, or even curses softly.  For some reason, Peter was soothed almost immediately.

When I figure out the complexities of blogging and locate a baby, I'll post a picture of John performing the Colic Hold.   One picture is worth a bazillion words.

Our third sure fire solution to colic was a trip around the City of Gresham in the wee hours in a Volkswagen Diesel Rabbit (must be diesel!).  Another one of John's friends mentioned that midnight runs around the neighborhood in a noisy, rattling pick-up was a cure for colic.  Well, we had the pre-requisite rattly noisy pick-up, so off John would go at 3:am with the baby strapped in his car seat in the passenger seat.  Our sainted neighbors never complained.

I think that the common denominator here was motion and noise.  There is truly nothing more soothing to a baby than a softly grumbling daddy pacing the family room with a tired baby in the crook of his arm . . . or a softly grumbling daddy driving down Eastman Parkway at 3:am . . . or a mommy reading the latest Ann Rule with feet propped and a nice mug 'o beer next to her. 

What I find amazing, to this day, is that all these tips ALL came from the "EDU" (Engineering Daddy Underground).  Don't let anybody tell you that engineers are impersonal.  Just hand 'em a colicky baby and they will come up with a solution in no time!

On the Job Training: Learning What the Kid Wants

There’s such a feeling of panic when the front door closes behind you and all of a sudden it’s just the four of you: you, your husband, the baby and the sudden realization that you are completely responsible for another human being.

Your moms may come to help out for a while, you may have the pediatrician on speed-dial and an entire library’s worth of parenting books, but the time will still come when there’s nothing but befuddled, sleep-deprived you holding a screaming infant and wondering what on Earth it wants, and what ever possessed you to think that you could do this job in the first place.

First, relax. Yes, really. In the first place, you being tense will make the baby tense, too. In the second place, I’m going to give you the super-power of Perspective, as passed down to me by my own mother:

Your baby won’t know if you screw up.

Your baby is just a baby. No experience. Nada.

As far as your baby knows, what you are doing is exactly what needs to be done.

There now. That’s remarkably freeing, isn’t it? Yes, the kid is purple and won’t stop screaming, there is that. Still, as far as the baby knows it’s supposed to be purple and screaming, so don't worry that you’re causing it irreparable psychological harm. You will probably figure out what’s wrong with it sooner or later.

New babies are pretty much one-trick ponies – all they can do to communicate with you is cry. Even though it all sounds the same to you at first, you’ll figure out pretty quickly that sometimes you can determine what the baby is crying about by listening to the sound of the cry. Baby heads are so small that there’s room in there for only one concept at a time, so if for example the baby’s hungry it will sound hungry when it cries. (It’s my theory that it holds its mouth in an “eating” shape, since NURSE is the command going through its head. My own babies’ hunger cries had a sort of “yang” sound to them, I think because of the tongue-thrust.)

Of course when you don’t know what’s wrong you just go down the list of possibilities and try feeding/ changing/ burping/ rocking/ singing until you hit it. While you’re doing this, dust off the adjectives from your old “Mad Libs” days and really listen to the cries. Sleepy cries sound sleepy, and the baby may have a red nose. (I don’t know why babies fight sleep so hard – one theory is that they’re afraid they’re going to miss something cool.) The wet/ poopy cry sounds a little disgusted, don’t you think? The pain cry is easy to tell because there’s a sort of tremolo to the cries, and the baby often arches its back.

Babies do get bored, and they do get mad, and when they are, they cry. It’s easy for a baby to experience sensory overload – and cry – and some people swear that sometimes a baby will cry for no reason at all but the exercise. Sometimes a baby will have colic, and then boy howdy will it cry. One of the biggest secrets they keep from you in Parenting School is that sometimes you can’t fix why the baby is crying.

This is not to say that you leave the kid on a park bench and go on your merry way rejoicing, however tempting that might sound some days. No, you run through the list, and walk the kid around in your arms for a while, talking to them softly (“Say, Baby, let me teach you to conjugate the French verb avoir.”) Try a baby carrier if your baby likes it, run the vacuum and see if that helps, strap the kid in a car seat and go for a drive. Don’t beat yourself up, though. Babies cry. It doesn’t mean that you’re not doing your job right.

If your baby cries and cries and cries and you feel something is wrong, trust that instinct and take the baby to the doctor. If you have a good doctor she will take you seriously, examine the baby, and either tell you that there’s some physical reason for the crying (such as colic) and what to do about it, or will commiserate with you and make you feel like a conscientious parent. If the doctor dismisses you, is condescending and rude, or makes you feel you are wasting his time, get a different doctor. This is not the person you want making decisions with you in the event of your child developing a serious health problem.

If your baby cries and cries and cries and so do you, take a break. It’s okay to leave the baby with your spouse or a neighbor or your mom and take a couple of hours to shower or nap or go to a movie by yourself. You aren’t abandoning your child, and a screaming baby won’t bother the spouse/ neighbor/ mom as much as it does you because a) they haven’t been up with it for the last 3 nights and b) they know they get to give it back to you. You will be a much better parent if you take these mini-breaks. You need the perspective.

Finally: If, every time you hand the screaming baby to your mom (or sister or aunt or best friend or the butcher at the Safeway, there’s always at least one of these annoying know-it-alls in every parent’s life), the kid stops crying immediately, it’s not because you stink at parenting. There is one of two things going on – either there is something about this person that fascinates the baby and it forgets to cry while it’s checking out the glasses, red hair, perfume or what-have-you; or this person is calm around babies and you vibrate like a violin string because you haven’t slept in two weeks and have barf in your hair. Your baby still loves you the best.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Millie's Memoirs: Potty Training

Once a child can stay dry through a nap (and you have to be pretty prompt, once they wake up, for a diaper check to be of any help in figuring this out!), they are developing enough physically to be able to be potty-trained. There are similar signs that they are mentally ready: they may ask why you use The Big Potty and they don’t, or they may begin to dislike the feeling of a wet diaper. It’s useless to even attempt training until a child has reached maturity in both departments, because it’s doomed to failure. Their little parts just aren’t ready until they’re ready, and if you jump the gun it will only disappoint both of you and make the next attempt harder.

When one of my kids showed signs of being ready to graduate from the Padded Bottom set, I’d prepare more carefully than any general going into battle. I’d do it during the summer so the kid wouldn’t be encumbered by more clothes than necessary when it came time to Do Business – they don’t always get a lot of warning at first! I’d block out a whole week when we had NOTHING else going on – no visitors, no shopping trips, no traveling. I’d lay in a stock of potty-related library books (Everybody Poops is a fun example). I’d stash a jar of bribes in the bathroom cupboard (more on that in a minute). I’d make a list of every single person the child knew: family member, friend, TV character or grocery store clerk.

I’d warn my poor husband and store some pre-made dinners in the freezer.

The day before Basic Training Week began, I would take the child to the store. With much excitement and respect, I’d explain that since they were becoming a big girl or boy, they were old enough to learn to use the potty! Since, starting tomorrow, they were not going to be needing diapers anymore, obviously we would need to get them some Big Girl or Boy underpants. I let them pick out whatever they wanted (I never bothered with training pants – they’re ugly and bulky and you have to change them when they’re wet, anyway) and bought at least 15 pairs. (You could get by with less but I didn’t want to be running the washer and dryer ALL day.)

A word about equipment: I have tried potty chairs, the toilet itself and the toilet with a clamp-on toddler seat with about equal degrees of success. It really depended on the child in question. One of them was a little nervous about falling into the big toilet and another didn’t think the potty chair was very stable and wouldn’t sit down on it. My personal preference was for the toddler seat that fits inside the regular toilet seat – I didn’t much like going through the extra step of having to empty and clean the little bowl on the potty chair. Not to mention the fact that it teaches the kid to carry a bowl of pee through the house.

Now the key to this method is that you must be relaxed, cheerful, and proud of the work your child is doing. It’s a lot for them to coordinate, recognizing the urge not only in time to Get There but to get there in time to shuck pants and sit down, and you won’t help anything if you’re uptight about it. When The Big Day dawns, greet your child cheerfully in the morning and congratulate them – this week they’re going to learn to use the potty like the other big people do! Bring them a bag and make a ceremony of putting all the diapers in the bag, sealing it and giving it away “so that people who are still babies can use it.” (Store the bag in the attic if you’re going to have more babies yourself, or put it in the trunk of your car to drop off at a thrift store or a women’s shelter later. Just get it out of the house!)

Make another ceremony out of putting on the first pair of Big Kid underwear. Dress them in that and a t-shirt – maybe sandals, maybe not. You want them to be able to manage their clothing as easily as possible at this point. Take the child into the bathroom and show them how to pull down their pants and sit on the toilet. Don’t make them sit there longer than they want to or it will become a power struggle; however, the longer they do sit there the more likely it is that their business will do itself, so stay with them. You might have books you will only read to them in the bathroom, or songs you will sing there – my oldest daughter would sit on the pot quite happily as long as we could sing “Baa Baa Black Sheep.” Whatever works for the two of you.

Take your child to the potty when they wake up, after each meal, and every hour or so otherwise. When they can tell you “I gotta go!” get them there fast and praise them for knowing they needed to go, even if they don’t quite make it in time. When they do make it – and they will! – give them a treat. Yup, it’s bribery, plain and simple. Once they connect going in the potty to getting an M&M, you’re halfway there. (If you’re worrying about whether you’ll have to buy stock in the Mars company, don’t be. When training week is over you can explain that the treats were only for learning purposes. For some reason kids accept this explanation.)

Since I was running a toilet training Boot Camp, I did poop AND pee, day AND night all at once. Some people start with diapers at night and concentrate on keeping the kid dry during the day, but I couldn’t see going through it more than once.

Oh yes, the list. I tried not to turn the kids’ day into a Bathroom Gulag, so bodily functions weren’t ALL I talked about – we still watched movies and played games (didn’t take walks, though). Still, I had lots of positive reinforcement ready to throw in there when it seemed appropriate. While we were sitting in the bathroom, I’d casually mention a few of the people the kid knew who used the big potty. “Did you know that Susan on Sesame Street uses the big-girl potty? So does Grandma! She’ll be so proud of you!” “Your friend Krista’s little sister is a baby so she can’t use the potty yet. When she’s a big girl like you are, she’ll learn too.” Charts are good too, with gold stars or stickers for every successful attempt. Everyone does better when they can see their progress.

It is very, very easy to get little boys to pee in the toilet. Just toss a Cheerio into the water. They’ll train themselves in a day trying to sink the thing.

It’s also easier to train successive children than it was to train the first one because they will want to emulate the oldest.

Resign yourself to the fact that you’re not going to go anywhere or do anything for the duration of this week. There will be some accidents, especially in the beginning, but just be matter-of-fact about it – “that’s okay, it takes practice to learn anything new!” – and show them how to strip off the wet underwear, put it in the washing machine and put on a new pair. (Probably you should lay in a stock of carpet spot-remover during your preparation phase, and if you have any of the waterproof crib pads left from their baby days, haul ‘em out again and use them on the kid’s bed and favorite spot on the couch or floor unless you want to be doing a LOT of laundry.)

Wiping is something to think about, too. Show your child how to crumple 4 or 5 squares of toilet paper (otherwise they’ll take the whole roll) and wipe from front to back, repeating until the paper comes back clean. Hint: This will never happen. You will still have to do follow-up poop wiping for a couple of years. That’s okay. It’s better than diapers.

When the week is up, celebrate! Go out to a movie or an ice-cream parlor, or have a toddler-fancy dinner at home with candlelight. There will still be accidents, sure; boys in particularly may occasionally wet the bed until their plumbing finishes developing at 9 or 10. What the hell, you sometimes pee yourself when you laugh too hard, right? Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, even Susan on Sesame Street. The point is: You’re both free!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mollie's Top Ten Parenting Mistakes

Please note that I've limited my list to ten.  If this were a reality show, the list would be MUCH longer.  Thank God there were no data-collecting cameras when my kids were small!

10:  Only feeding the baby orange foods

9:   Believing everything your kid tells you.  Kids lie.  They are supposed to; it's a milestone.  

8:   Taking a 2 year old to Disney Land and expecting them to like "Pirates of the Carribean"  - 
      we spent thousands of dollars taking Peter to Disney World only to have him constantly in  
      tears, not wanting to go on ANY rides other than "Small World."  Consider Disney when the       child understands the line between fantasy and reality (ok, maybe age 30 is too late, but you
      get my point).

7:   Listening to your child's pediatrician over your own gut instinct.  If you have doubts about 
      a medical opinion, get a second.  Or a third!

6:  Don't assume that other parents are as vigilant as you are.  Until you know that another's 
      home is a safe place, no play-dates there.

5:  Kids are much more inter-net astute than you think they are.  You are NOT a nazi-mom
      when you check their surfing history.

4:  We will NEVER have an answer to the spanking issue.  NEVER.  I spanked my kids rarely
      and needed therapy when I did.  Meanwhile, my kids have no criminal records . . .

3:  Not trusting your kids - which is a direct conflict with not believing everything they say
      Yes, kids lie, but they still need your faith in them.   Did we say parenting was easy?

2:  Don't fib to your kids (note I didn't say "lie").  The straight story is the best.  If you think    
      the truth is too much for them, tell them to ask you on their (insert age here) birthday.  Yes
      they will remember come that birthday, and you'll both be glad you waited.

1:   Don't let your kids go to bed without an "I love you"  I pray I didn't make that mistake too 


Mollie writes:

The Zen of the Potty

This really won’t be a “How To” piece, since there really is no way one person can teach another person to potty, either numbers one nor two.  All a parent can really do is sit back and enjoy the process.  Note that the Molly here has only potty trained little boys.  Millie might have all sorts of observations about little girls.

Number One

We decided that Peter was ready to “do it like his daddy” when he’d follow John into the bathroom and watch him do it.  At some point, when the daddy has to go, all around it’s a good idea to take the little one along with you and see if they can “go” on their own.  Mostly, Peter would stand by the toilet, dangle his little self and wonder at the magic of it all.  But at some point he figured out what his dad was doing and imitated it.  Once he had that down, it was imperative that he have his own BVDs; plain like his daddy.  

When Roger started expressing interest in the toilet, John and Peter had no problem introducing him to the whole process.  We have a darling picture of Peter and Roger taking a whiz at the same time, looking all proud and grown up.  Roger is a much more styling kind of guy, so it was Batman BVDs.  But first came the expressed interest on the part of the child, the expressed interest of the anatomically same parent, and a mother who just thought it was all so cute.

We had no flushing issues with urine.  They liked the flushing - must have been the engineer in both of them.

This was a tough chore for a mommy of boys since I didn’t have the same tools.  I wasn’t sure they wanted to “potty with their mommy” since mommy was anatomically deprived.  And I really wasn’t ready to explain the physiological differences between a man and a woman, I was (and still am) too much of a prude.

Number Two

With both boys, number two was easier once they had their BVDs.  When I had my poops in the morning, I’d sit them down on their chair and read them a book while I did my duty.  Once it was done, we’d wave “bye-bye” to my poop as it circled the drain.  I’d heard that some children reacted very negatively to flushing their poops and I wanted to let them know that I was comfortable flushing mine.  

Neither boy wanted to mess his “big boy” shorts, so they quickly associated the urge with the action.  In no time at all, we were waving “bye-bye” to their poops as well.  There is nothing more heartbreaking than soiling your tidy whities.   I honestly don’t remember any anger, etc. associated with potty-training.  Just a crestfallen face or two.

Dry Nights

Going through the night dry wasn’t difficult, either.  Once they were established poopers and pee’ers, we’d simply stop beverages after dinner (Note: if the child’s sick and needs fluids, that comes first).  Once they were waking with dry diapers in the morning, we started letting them sleep in their underwear only at night, just like their dad, no little boy jammies.  They really liked “sleeping like a man” and we have some really cute pictures of tired little guys in their shorties.  At some point, they opted back to jammies (especially the ones with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), but there was a critical time when they wanted to be just like their daddy.

All in all, both boys were potty-trained between 2 1/2 and 3 years old.  They really didn’t express much interest in it until well after their second birthdays, and once they initiated the decision to join their daddy in manliness, it was a done deed.  

My only advice is to let the child potty with the same sex parent as often as possible.  Once they figure out the “specialness” of themselves, just encourage their personal pride and self esteem.  If a child isn’t showing interest in the potty, move on to something else.  Keep your pediatrician in the loop, but don’t pressure your kid.  They grow up fast enough as it is.

This process was made easier since I was a stay-at-home mom and could keep things consistent and positive.  It was also easier since we didn’t worry about dates, times and milestones.  Just make sure that the child who is modeling themselves after you physiologically has ample opportunity to see YOU do it, keep the flushing positive, and make sure they know that they are no different than you in the bathroom.  Accidents are to be expected, but when they get really experienced at it, they will do just fine.

Millie’s Top 10 Parenting Truths

10. Sleep when the baby sleeps.

9. Choose your battles carefully. If it's not the hill you want to die on,
let it go.

8. You will screw up. When you do, apologize. Promptly.

7. Reading the story is more important than washing the dishes.

6. Don’t issue an ultimatum if you are not prepared to follow through.

5. Children, like adults, need love the most when they are acting the least
deserving of it.

4. Keep some perspective.

3. Listen.

2. Trust your instincts, but learn all that you can.

1. The most important thing you can teach them is that they
are loved.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Parenting Credentials: Things 4 through 6

Though I have six kids, only three of them grew under my heart; the other three grew in it. I got married again when Jack was seven and one of my wedding gifts was another set of two boys and one girl – my husband Lance’s children by his first marriage.

They didn’t move in with us until we’d already been living in our house for several months, but we prepared for their arrival just as hopefully and anxiously as ever we’d readied the nest for a newborn. We set up their rooms, accumulated a basic layette (girls’ size 6 and boys’ sizes 8 and 14 instead of diapers and onesies) and alerted our pediatrician that they’d be coming soon. We tried to anticipate every possible outcome so we could prepare Joy, Red and Jack for their new siblings – not an easy matter, because their birth mother (Bertha) was very outspokenly against the whole situation.

11 year old Bender and 7 year old Sassy came first, one hot August afternoon. Bertha arranged to meet Lance at a truck stop about 25 miles from our house. I waited in the car while the exchange was made, so as not to make it any more difficult on the kids. It was not as though we hadn’t met yet – as soon as Lance and I knew we were going to be getting married, we started taking the kids out with us two-on-one so we could get to know each other. Still, Bertha had filled their little heads with every Evil Stepmother story she could devise and when they got into the car the poor little things had eyes as big as manhole covers and were obviously expecting me to eat them alive as soon as we drove away.

Rocky was 13 and spending a few weeks at his Grandmother’s house when the transition happened, so we didn’t get him until nearly the end of the summer. He was delivered to us by train and we picked him up at Union Station, a lone little guy with baggy pants and spiky hair and 80-year-old eyes.

Rocky was an Old Soul wearing a punk rock skin, and he was old enough when his parents separated that he’d already realized that Things Were Not Good at home. Bertha always said about him, “He’s five” (or whatever age) “goin’ on forty, haw haw haw!” and it was true – when Lance wasn’t home, Rocky was the grown-up in charge. He went from that to being the second-oldest child – and a CHILD – with remarkable aplomb, though it can’t have been easy.

Bender was a blue-eyed dynamo. At 11 he’d already been diagnosed with ADHD, allergies and general cussedness – which as far as I was ever able to determine was Valley Talk for “he acts like a boy.” He was a charming Tom Sawyer, a combination of fierce loyalty and a total rejection of any obligations. Thanks to Bender there was never any question of “breaking the ice” in our new family – if he was around, everything breakable was already broken!

Sassy was adorable and terrified. She was Bertha’s pet and spent more time with her than anyone else once the boys got old enough to escape the house, so she’d heard more than they had about the horrible things I was going to do to them and the horrible person I was. She’d flinch in the most heartbreaking way if I spoke to her and her most-repeated phrase in those early days (about everything from her new school to a new food) was, “I don’t twust it.”

Lance and I had decided early on that we were going to start on Day 1 with a firm set of rules, curfews and expectations, and that we were going to stick to them come hell or high water. This was designed to give all six kids a small island of security in the sea of upheaval their lives had become, and it was also designed (with a deviousness of which we were very proud) to give the kids a chance to unite against a common enemy: Us. This worked surprisingly well, and they were astonished to learn years later that we had actually KNOWN about their clandestine midnight poker games, the times they snuck out of the house together to go to the park, and the Spy Club that recorded our every word, move and action. People who meet our family now often say, “I can’t believe they’re step-siblings! They all get along together so well!”

Well, I have a lot of theories about why that is, and you will probably be reading about many of them in the coming weeks. The long and the short of it is, though, that we get along well because we worked very hard at it, and because (step or not) we’re a family. Families have a shared history, inside jokes, semi-healed wounds and great memories.

I will always be grateful to Lance for that wedding present.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mollie Writes


Peter was doing so well we were confident that starting Brunke Number Two was a good idea.  I wanted to have my kiddies as close together as reasonably possible, but with Peter’s prematurity, we decided to wait a little bit.  When he was 20 months old, presto, I was pregnant again.  We were stunned by how easy conception was; we’d hardly winked at each other and I tossing my cookies.

This pregnancy was different from the first.  Although I’d had nausea with Peter, my vomiting was infrequent.  With Roger, I couldn’t keep water down and promptly lost 20 pounds.  This was ok with me since I was still carrying surplus weight from Peter.  Just about the time the nausea cleared up - four months into gestation - my OB/GYN advised me that I had already started to dilate.  She had been keeping a much closer watch on this pregnancy for good reason.  So I went on to limited activities.

This was no joy.  Peter was two and wanting to dismantle the house.  My husband was traveling up a storm with both his full time job as an engineer and his part-time gig in the Naval Reserves.  There was really not a whole lot we could do to change things so I spent a lot of time amusing Peter in confined spaces so that I wouldn’t be running ALL the time.  We hired neighborhood teens to come over and babysit in the afternoon hours so that I could rest and Peter could run ragged all over the house and yard, and some of my buddies would come over and play with Peter as well, so he wasn’t completely bored and pent up.  It actually worked reasonably well.

The second pregnancy, and subsequent pregnancies I hear, slips by a person quickly.  We hired someone to come in and help clean occasionally.  This actually didn’t work out too well since the person we hired was a bit of a diva.  We needed someone to help me clean and she complained when she had to move a chair so we could vacuum under it.  In the end, maybe it wasn’t so important that the vacuuming was done on schedule, but it’s a waste of time, energy and money to hire a cleaning lady who ultimately doesn’t clean at all.

It occurred to me that if baby number 2 was difficult, a third pregnancy wouldn’t be any easier with two other small folk demanding attention.  So during this pregnancy, I seriously considered limiting our family to two kidlets.  The pregnancy stretched on into the eighth month, and my blood pressure kicked up.  I also developed a heart murmur (a fancy way of saying that my heart made extra noise as it pumped blood).  So into the last month of pregnancy, with a diagnosis of toxemia, we decided to induce early.

Once again, my free-floating guilt took control and I decided to try to give birth drug free.  I almost made it, but pitocin, the drug given to expedite delivery, was a manfully strong stimulant.  In the end, I opted for a painkiller in the last bit of delivery.  What a blessing!

In 8.25 months of pregnancy, I initially lost 20, then gained 80 pounds, most of it in the last trimester.  I sloshed around the house at 202 pounds the morning I gave birth and wondered where I’d put it all.  When I pushed Roger out, I lost 7.5 pounds of baby and 15 pounds of water followed in the next few days.

This time around I was the one who wasn’t discharged in a timely fashion, but we’d started nursing already, so I was kept in the hospital an extra day and Rog was allowed to sleep-in.  Another blessing - no separation of mom and babe just after birth.

When we were sent home, it was to a house where two bachelors had functioned in manly bliss for four days.  And my husband’s bags were packed for another trip out of town.  Remember, I was a hormonal woman recovering from child birth with a two year old and a 5 day old.  There was only one avenue for me - I packed our bags and the boys and I headed off to my parents where I was able to snuggle and nurse to my heart’s content.  

Thank God for Millies!

My Parenting Credentials: Birth Stories 2 & 3

Well, after the first birth experience I was gonna do it completely differently the next time around, you can bet your bottom dollar on that. We had planned to have our kids four years apart – so that we could enjoy the “baby and toddler” phase for each one, yet have the newbie there and established before the big’un started school – and on the stroke of four years, I found myself pregnant again.

It wasn’t automatic this time; it took several months to “catch” which sort of took us aback. Hadn’t this been practically involuntary the first time? This time around we lived in the States, and I had access to home pregnancy tests, so I knew right away when we were expecting. (Dave found out through the simple expedient of Joy RIPPING open the front door when he got home from work one night and announcing in tones of astonished glee, “Mama’s got a baby growing in her tummy!”) I signed up with a team of midwives practically before the pee was dry on the stick.

These midwives practiced through the local hospital (though they’d have let you deliver on the edge of a cliff, if that’s what you wanted), so we opted for a Birthing Room thinking it would be the best of both worlds. If you’ve never toured the obstetrics ward of a hospital, a Birthing Room is almost exactly like a regular labor room, but things are upholstered in garish plasticized paisley and there is a rocking chair – but still, it was a far cry from being strapped to a bed in a military hospital. The midwives’ office was homey and friendly, and we got to listen to the baby’s heartbeat at every appointment. Is there a more magical sound than that galloping-hoofbeat rhythm? I’ve never heard one.

Anyway, things progressed very nicely. We called this baby “Mote” and built a soft green bedroom with cabbage rose curtains and a wall of butterflies. It was wonderful to have health care from people who were NICE. We had a lot of serious, sincere discussions about our “birth plan” (what an oxymoron that phrase is). We went to what my sister-in-law called “screaming classes” again. Joy got the Big Sister tour of the hospital. There were no “issues” and in the fullness of time, February 8th came.

And went.

Mote was another latecomer. I did a lot of walking, ate some pizza and had some awkward sex and at around lunchtime the week after my due date – It Was Time.

Of course it was time, because the county was experiencing the worst ice storm it had seen in 20 years. Poor Dave careened home from work 20 miles away, somehow got me into the car and slipped and slid back to town – where I was examined and sent home as being “not far enough along.”

We experienced the pleasure of another trip through the frozen wasteland, with the contractions getting stronger all the time – but at least they were contractions, regular old excruciatingly painful contractions with no puking. By the time they decided I was ready to be admitted I had kinda changed my mind about the whole thing, frankly. The midwife was great, though – there was none of that shaving – enema – sterile zone stuff, and I got to choose positions that were comfortable for me rather than convenient for her.

Still, it seemed things weren’t moving along as fast as she thought they should be; so she took a stick (it looked like something you’d use to push back your cuticles), reached up inside and tore open the bag of waters. Whoo-EE, then things started to move. I had about decided that I was going home and the rest of them could have the baby without me, when the midwife asked, “Did your other baby have a lot of hair?” I stopped mid-whine. “Uh . . . I guess so . . . why?” “Because it looks like this baby has a full head of it. Here, feel,” she answered. I reached down between my legs and felt – the top of a head! It was the most remarkable thing; I’d been so focused on the labor that I’d kind of forgotten there was going to be a baby at the end of it.

The way Dave tells it, I changed instantly and completely. My face radiant, I sat straight up, grabbed the handrails, and pushed like a madwoman. Red slithered out golden and serene – he was born in a caul (the bag of waters stayed around him), so he didn’t get bloody like most newborns are. He cried a little, I guess because someone had told him it was the thing to do, and I held him and kissed him and welcomed him to the world. He had red hair – I’d always known he would.

Having had one Boot Camp forceps delivery, one Crunchy Granola pregnancy, and even a passing fling with The OB Whom Everyone Who’s Anyone is Seeing (that pregnancy ended at four months with a “blighted ovum,” which is when the placenta grows but the fetus doesn’t and is eventually re-absorbed), by the time the third baby came along I figured that I’d proven what needed proving and this time, I was going to follow as much of the doctors’ advice as seemed sensible, ignore what seemed geared toward their individual biases, and give myself permission to have pain relief available at delivery if I wanted it.

Oh, and I had one more caveat: I didn’t care what else he did or didn’t do as labor coach, but Dave was threatened with bodily harm if he didn’t remind me to open my eyes at delivery. I squeezed them shut when I pushed and I had missed the first two!

It took even longer to conceive this time than it had before – not least because there were a seven-year-old and a three-year-old underfoot all the time. Not exactly conducive to romance; eventually the timing was right, though, and we were expecting “Mungo.” I went for prenatal care at our local Family Practice clinic – I adored one of the doctors and eventually refused to see the other one. The first one asked me why; I didn’t want to tell him but he pushed me, and I finally admitted, “He’s rude, he’s snotty and he’s condescending” (which he was). The Good Doc chuckled and said, “Well, I don’t think he means to be rude,” which I found hilarious.

We’d moved to the Big City by this time, and being an Urban Pregnant Woman was a little bit odd. In the first place, as a fat woman I found it immensely emancipating to be Big out in public and to SUPPOSED to be big. It’s a whole new world to be looked at as though you’re doing something good for society when you’re used to the feeling that you should be charging admission. Joy and Red loved feeling the baby kick, and they could get better responses to their voices than Dave and I could get to ours.

Mungo was supposed to be born on Labor Day – he had the same due date as the baby elephant at the zoo, who had the courtesy to arrive ON TIME – but he didn’t show up until the 11th. (That’s right – September 11, though it didn’t mean anything in 1994 besides being a good day to finally be born.) Grandma and Grandpa had arrived to take care of the other kids, so we departed for the hospital in fine style – only to be turned back because, again, they didn’t think I was far enough along. We walked into the house in the middle of a grand living-room re-decoration featuring a truly hideous light-up wall – thing – that I, in my hormone-induced insanity, had lusted for at a neighbor’s garage sale. I don’t know who was more disappointed, us at being recycled or them at being interrupted.

Anyway, we went back a couple of hours later and I was sent out in a backless gown to walk the halls and “speed things up.” I had just completed Circuit #3 when I felt the oddest sensation – it was as though someone had popped a balloon against my cervix, quite audible and completely painless. I’d never experienced the “breaking waters” before but there was no mistaking the gush that followed the “pop.” I felt quite vindicated that I was indeed in labor. The doctor (wouldn’t you know it, Bad Doc was on duty that day) hadn’t shown up yet, but who needed him at this stage? We Lamaze-d until about 6 cm, and then I asked for an epidural.

If I had known what would happen, I would have demanded an epidural at the conception of my first child. The bliss was indescribable. To go from being at the mercy of that vice that grinds into your pelvis and your back, about which there’s nothing to do but to soldier through – from that, to being able to feel the pressure with absolutely no pain at all – it was fabulous. I sailed through transition labor like I was at the beach. There was such pressure in those days to go Completely Natural lest something cross the bloodline into the baby – once I knew what it could be like, I don’t think I’d have cared if that baby came out channeling Cheech and Chong for a day or two.

It was almost time to push when the baby’s heartbeat dropped dramatically and it was determined that the cord was around the head and as the baby descended through the pelvic opening it was cutting off the blood supply. I was terrified but there was no time to do anything and nothing to do but submit. They were taking the brakes off the bed to race me to ER and remove the baby via C-section – no time for anesthetic – when a trainee nurse (mine was the first delivery she’d seen) had an idea. She’d been reading about a very old treatment for this condition and she took charge. “Get up on your hands and knees,” she snapped. I did – I’d have done anything anyone said – and she reached underneath me to support the weight of my stomach. Immediately, as the nurse alleviated the pressure of the skull against the pubic bone, the baby’s heart monitor went from “beep . . . beep . . . . . beep” to “beep-beep-beepbeepbeepbeep” as it had been before. Even the oldest labor-and-delivery nurse there was impressed; by recalling something she’d read in her “back before we got civilized” class, that girl saved me from an emergency C-section at best and saved my baby’s life, at worst. I hope she has flourished.

Shortly after this excitement Bad Doc came in and he was almost too late. He sauntered through the room saying, “Don’t push yet; I don’t have my gloves on,” and I growled, “Doc, if you want to catch this baby you’d better get over here – it’s on its way,” and so it was. He was coming, pushes or no pushes. Someone adjusted a mirror, and Dave said, “Open your eyes!” I did, and there came a dark head of hair, and an astonished face; and then, after the head was almost entirely out, two cheeks! Bad Doc pirouetted through the equipment and the nurses (hands up to avoid touching anything, but gloveless) and got there just in time to ease the shoulders out and flip Jack up onto my belly. He was big and bonnie and beautiful – and then there were three.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Mollie Writes -

The Learning Curve, His AND Ours!

Things flowed fairly evenly after Peter’s first six weeks.  And for a preemie, the first year is significant.  During that year, we concentrated on his milestones (Peter was either on-target or early).  The only problems we ran into were problems generated by operator error (i.e. parental naivety).

Once we passed the pumping phase to direct nursing phase, we moved on to mastitis.  I only developed it with my first, Peter, and only when he moved from rubber nipple to mommy’s nipple.  I suspect that somewhere out there, there will be data that supports the theory that mastitis develops from direct contact from the baby’s mouth to the mother’s breast.  In any event, mastitis is a real ‘adventure’ wherein you dare that baby to nurse from your breasts.  Had I not worked so hard to get Peter from bottle to breast, mastitis might have put a crimp in my feeding plans.  But antibiotics helped and the mastitis cleared up within a week.

 Which brings us to maternal diet.  Not what you think:  I wasn’t concerned with losing weight - that will come later - but the concept that your bambino gets everything you ingest, be it tacos, hot chili peppers, or antibiotics.  Peter was either gassy, constipated, runny, etc. once we started on “On Demand Nursing” meaning you feed the kid when he’s hungry. So a week after the mastitis cleared up, I put myself on a bland diet (no garlic, onions, etc) until he was safely taking solids.  And I drank a lot - water, etc. but watched caffeinated products since I’d pass caffeine to Peter along with my milk.  And I had absolutely no alcohol - unless you counted the occasional beer.

Peter was a bit colicky at first, but it was nothing that a midnight drive in his father’s VW Diesel Rabbit didn’t fix.  I guess there’s something curative in this bumpy, noisy, ecologically preferred mode of transportation in the wee hours.   We also want to nominate the person who invented the wind-up swing for a Nobel Prize in Parenting.  What a genius!

We were in nursing nirvana until he was six months old when we started introducing solids, beginning with pablum and fruits (mostly applesauce), continuing to pureed veggies, Goldfish crackers, and finally scrambled eggs and little chunks of meat.  And we really stretched our learning curve during this time.  

When we first started Pete on applesauce, he loved it, so we gave him plenty.  Within a couple of days he was experiencing gas - except we didn’t know it was gas.  With his screaming and twisting, we were sure he had some terrible bowel obstruction and rushed him to the Emergency Room.  After our interview with the RN and the ER physician, bless their hearts, we were left in a little exam room to wait out the inevitable.   Eventually Peter began farting and all things passed naturally.  But we watched the fruits after that.

We hit another “feed bump” when we started Peter on vegetables.  His favorites were squash, carrots and sweet potatoes.   Things were going well until I took him to  his pediatrician at age 9 months.  Dr. Brodie noticed that Peter’s extremities were turning orange and pointed out to me that there are some nice veggies that don’t dye your baby orange.  Sigh, another operator error committed.

Peter’s first four months were somewhat anxious for us because we worried about problems related to prematurity.  But we’d been told to figure milestones from his due date, not his birthdate, and not think that he was “late” doing anything unless a milestone was significantly missed.  As it turned out, Peter was his own little self and did things when HE wanted to - which means when he walked at ten months, it really was nine months, etc.  The important message I want to convey is that there is really no “early “ or “late” that first year for a preemie, there’s just normal for your kid.   Let the pediatrician fuss over milestones.