Keeping The Peace in the Far East

 

Today we had a little girl over to play. As she was leaving, we suggested that she might like to give Hugo a kiss good bye. Stella, meanwhile, objected. Quite vociferously. “NO HE’S MUY BRUDDER!!” And brothers are not for sharing, and certainly not for kissing by other small children. 

(Okay. So. Dead. Because, ADORABLE.)

And mostly this is how their relationship goes, Stella and Hugo. He is captivated by everything and anything she does because she’s a big kid and he so desperately wants to be a big kid. Plus she’s the sweetest, and quite honestly, I’m captivated too. She loves her brudder, and is quite sure that he is HER baby, and “Mama, wet me howld him, wet me touch him, wet me kiss him, why he sweeping? AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH, *screams* oh, wook! He’s awake! Goodie. Wet me hold him, okay? OKAY?”

So, most of the time things are peachy, if slightly over touchy and under nap-y, in our sibling relationship. 

But, curve ball: Hugo has just learnt how to use his hands. (Believe me, my salad bowl never saw it coming.)

So now, instead of one-sided wrestle-snuggle-fests, Hugo is an active participant, throwing out the odd scratchy hand, or grabbing a little side of face, or a handful of hair.  

And Stella gets UPSET, dismayed that her beloved brother would actually scratch her face or pull her hair, or otherwise inflict bodily harm. She doesn’t get that these are not calculated acts of violence, but rather nearly random movements by a person barely in control of his body. 

So, to keep peace in the far East, I always make a thing of telling Hugo to be gentle, or give him a light scolding for hurting his sister, or ask that he apologise. But other than that, I’m quite clearly out of my depth here.

 

How do I protect my girl’s feelings while getting her to simmer down just a bit about the whole HE PULWED MUY HAIR! stuff, because geeze, he's just a baby!

 

Suggestions? Please?

(Also, please note, these pictures are not staged. I just simply can not keep this child away from her brother, period then end. And okay, one more thing, I kind of love that.) 

 

Another Parenting Expert Who Can Shut The Front Door

A parenting article crossed my path this weekend that turned me 14 shades of stabby. Another hack job, poorly researched with a clear agenda.  Another treatise  based not in science, but in fear.  Another article that equates correlation with causality. Another piece written by expert with an agenda: to justify her own parenting choices while cutting down those whose child rearing philosophies are divergent. Oh, and hey, while she's at it, why not install fear in the hearts of new mothers and fathers, threatening suicidal children if her prescribed method of childrearing is not followed.

 

The article in question asserts that "Modern parenting is making our children miserable" and advocates allowing children plenty of unstructured time to explore the outdoors, fend for themselves, and learn independence. A noble position, to be sure, one with which I take absolutely no issue. The problem comes from the alarmist tone, the chiding remarks, and obvious lack of scientific rigour. Or, even a quick google search for that matter.

 

Jay Girffiths calls for high contact parenting in the early years, followed by plenty of independance from toddlerhood onwards. She starts off her piece with the tired old argument that leaving babies to sleep on their own, crying it out, abandoned in their dark rooms is tantamount to torture. Sure. Obviously. Right. Loving parents teaching their children to get adequate sleep is certainly right up there with water boarding, profound neglect, and abuse. 

 

Griffiths then goes on to explain how other cultures raise their babies in tactile closeness, carrying them next to their bodies, mollifying infants with milk and toys, lest they wail for even a moment, and allowing co-sleeping to continue for many years. Indigenous cultures such as Inuit and the Sami are cited as excellent examples of this early dependence / later independence model. They keep babies close, then send older kids out to play by themselves, learning to hunt and cook their own food, their time unstructured, belonging fully to the children. 

 

 

This closeness is in opposition to Western practices of abandoning their babies in cribs, allowing them to cry themselves to sleep, and then, when the children are older, parents hover and over-schedule, stifling children's independence and freedom.

 

Griffiths suggests physical proximity to caregivers in the early years is necessary for the healthy development of infants. And certainly, babies do need love and attention, security and nourishment from their primary caregivers. But controlled crying is not torture. And the research does not bare out the claim that it actually harms children. 

 

The most manipulative (and frankly dishonest) aspect of Griffiths' argument is her threat that children who are parented according to the Western model of distance then freedom (as opposed to the "indigenous model" of closeness then freedom) leads to higher rates of suicide. 

And, here's where Griffiths equates correlation with causality: she claims that the lower rates of suicide reported in Norway where the closeness then independence model is followed, as compared with other Nordic counties where the independence then closeness model is the norm is proof that babies should cosleep while children should be sent outside to hunt and gather, build their own fires and cook their own food. 

Oh great. Just what every parent needs to hear. Raise your kid my way or, he'll off himself when he's older. It kind of reminds me of other parenting experts who suggest that if you let your child cry, they'll end up with attachment disorder. You know, like children who are abandoned in institutional orphanages and are never shown love, or even held, for that matter. Children who are profoundly neglected get attachment disorder. Not kids who are loved, and cared for, and maybe, perhaps left to sleep on their own if that's what works for them and their parents. 

 

BUT, let's look at this for a moment. Griffiths praises the parenting practices of several indigenous cultures, including Inuit and the Sami, holding them up as bastions of righteousness against our modern, broken system of childrearing. Parent the way these communities do, she suggests, and we'd do away with suicide. Our children would be free from the torture of CIO; they'd be free to to run through the woods; they'd no loger be miserable.  

A cursory google search reveals that Inuit communities in Canada have suicide rates up to 30 times that of the general population. Suicide rates amongst the Sami, similarly, are significantly higher then those of the general population in Norway. Huh. Weren't these the exact populations Griffiths argued followed the preferred model of child rearing? The model that would ensure lower suicide rates?

 

Huh. 

This is all sorts of wrong. I mean, let's set aside the fact that such epidemic levels of self harm amongst indigenous populations is a terrible, tragic, and unfair thing. And ignoring the very real social problems faced by these populations does a tremendous disservice to us all. AND then there's the whole noble savage thing going on which, frankly, denies the the humanity of these people, and is just, frankly, kind of colonialist. Let's just put all that away for another day, and focus on how Griffiths and other parenting experts are hurting parents. 

The guilt trips, the dogmatism, the dubious science, it does no one any good. It's way too simplistic. It's disingenuousand frankly, it's kind of mean. So, cut it out, parenting experts. 

Sure! Making an infant feel loved and secure is a good idea. So is unstructured outdoor play. But maybe, just maybe, your infant (like mine) needs to cry to fall asleep, and no amount of holding or rocking or breastfeeding can change that. Maybe your infant needs to cry it out because hourly night waking are not sustainable for you or for the child. Maybe your baby sleeps best in your bed. Or maybe in a crib. Maybe you live in a massive urban centre where parks are few and far between, and freedom to roam is not an option. Maybe your kid goes bonkers if he doesn't have enough structure in his days. Maybe your kid needs the to roam the woods, catching fish and cooking them over a self-made campfire. And that's totally fine.

 

You know your kid. An expert does not know your kid. You know what your kid needs, and this particular parenting expert can shut the front door. Let's be, as Georgia calls for, experts on raising our own children, and forget about so-called experts in generic child rearing. 

 

What's really happening here is clear: an author bent on selling a book; an author who knows too well that fear is a primary motivator (and what fear is greater than the thought of loosing one's child to suicide?); an author who may be insecure about her own choices so she moulds the evidence to prop up her position; an author who would rather undermine parents' confidence than building it up. 

 

And that, my friends, is a total dick move. And one that's rife within the parenting cannon. You see this same kind of thing everywhere. Do it this way or your kid won't sleep. Breastfeed or your kid will die of SIDS. Ban screen time or your kid will get autism. Do it this way. Buy this book. Use this product. These flash cards. this method. Be on edge. Fear. Fear. Fear.

 

No thanks.

 

Most research actually does not support the idea that parents can actually affect that much influence on their child's personality, development, intelligence, or future. If you want to help your children to grow up to be a happy, well adjusted humans, here's your best bet: Love them. Feed them. Make them feel secure. Be kind to them. Don't abuse or neglect them. Don't worry about the rest. 

 

Ouch. My feelings.

We kicked off Monday with two hours of whining, screaming, crying and other associated displays of general discontent. Major complaints included: pants are assholes; so are toothbrushes; the general bullshittery of toast; the absolute necessity of cereal and then subsequent discovery that cereal is, in fact, total and utter bullshit.

 

Because I am the kind of person who lives for imaginary high-fives from parenting experts, I try to keep my cool and act like a gold-star A+ hippie-type child-haver. I validate feelings (I can see you're very angry about the cereal). I suggest appropriate behaviours (if you want to use your angry voice, please go into your room). I remain firm in my expectations. (I love you, and you need to put on pants).

 

Until I am repeatedly barraged with the following phrase: I NO WANNA LUB YOU! I NO WANNA LUB YOU SO MUCH!!!

 

After two hours of tantruming, I came very close to throwing my hands up in the air and heading straight for the jungle where I was quite sure I would discover that malarial mosquitos and komodo dragons would make more pleasant companions than a certain tiny human I know. 

 

I have a lot of things to say about this: cross-cultural analyses of normative toddler behaviour; techniques that I've learned from our Indonesian nanny that actually work; thoughts on the simultaneous enormity and insignificance of these issues; societal expectations of behaviour and how they shape our responses to shrieking children; explorations of parenting hot buttons, and the reasons we may allow ourselves to be triggered by our kids. But I don't want to write about these things right now. 

 

Yes, true, the above mentioned carry much more merit and interest than what I really want to talk about. But the thing is, ummm, my kid hurts my feelings.

 

 

Back to Monday morning. Remember we were mid-two-hour tantrum? Finally the source of my child's misery became plain: she was pissed not about yoghurt or pants, but because her Papi had to go to work. Because Papi currently holds the position as Number One Parent.  And ouch, there goes my feelings again.

 

I spent the first 12 or 18 months of my child's life being Number One Human. I gave this kid sustenance, comfort, entertainment, engagement, and lots and lots of love. I soothed her in the middle of the night through a year of hourly wake-ups. I sat with her through the colic months. I carried her on my back because she would accept neither blanket nor bouncy chair. I did every bedtime, gave each bath, changed nearly every diaper, certainly washed each one. In short, I did all the shit work. 

 

But, and this is a big but, I was her everything and she was mine. I was the one to whom she turned if a strange face or a loud noise upset her equilibrium. I slept next to her, face pressed to face, all night. Every night. She wanted me. I was unequivocally Human Number One. Validation. Reward. Positive feedback for my martyrdom. 

 

 

Now when Stella cries at the injustice of being forced to wear pants, or being denied the privilege of pouring milk on the carpet, she cries hard. And long. (Did I mention two hours?? Because. Yeah.) And she cries for Papi.

 

She screams with delight when she catches a glimpse of him as we pass through the lobby of the hotel. Papi can brush her teeth, successfully put clothes on her body, and get her to use the toilet. Under Papi's care, she'll co-operate in the grocery store, go to sleep without drama, and remain on an even keel.

 

These days Mr. Chef is able to come up and help with bedtime before returning back to work. I can escape the hazards of teeth-brushing and toddler-dressing while tidying away the dinner dishes. I happily scroll through Facebook while my kid elects her father as bath time companion, bed-time-story reader, song-singer etc., etc., etc.

 

But it also kind of stings. Okay, mostly when she's angrily shouting I NO WANNA LUB YOU! PAAAAAAAPPPPIIIIII STELLA MISSS PAPI! But also when she tells me, No! Papi do it! 

 

Sure escaping one more bathroom trip is rad, but I miss the closeness we once had. I miss being her everything. 

 

I also miss being able to put pants on her without major drama.

 

I don't know how to conclude this post, really, because it's kind of a mess. But I guess I'm just asking for tales of parental favouritism,  tips, tricks, and strategies, and maybe some gentle back-patting and there-thereing. Or, perhaps if you have any secrets on how to get past that feeling of wanting to punch all of the things when you're on tantrum hour two and nothing makes sense any more (It's time to go now. I NO WANNA GO!!!! Alright we can stay home. MAMA WETS GOOOOOO! Okay, let's put on shoes! I NO WANNA SHOES!!!! Alright, I'll carry you then. I WANT SHOES!!! etc. to infinity.)

 

Um. Yeah. So. You know. My feelings.

(Although my feelings would be much improved if you gave us a vote. {How's that for manipulative mommy-blogging shenanigans?})

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Small Style, Potty Style

We've been rocking the potty training look around here, so high fashion toddler outfits are not really happening. In fact, today I was all, HOLY SMOKERS, everything is in the wash, (PEEEE PEEE) and I have no energy and no photos and it's raining and maybe this week Small Style is not going to happen. BUT, my girl chose this outfit all on her own. White shirt, rockin socks, cute bow, and big girl underwear, the latter she is like totally stoked about, btw. (Aside: let's talk about the fact that my child and I spend about 10 minutes straight yesterday going over her very astute observation that SHE was wearing underwear and I was wearing underwear TOO and let's just pull down our pants one more time to be sure that we are indeed BOTH wearing big girl underwear and doesn't that just blow the mind?!?!?!??!!!! Also, we had to do a lot of admiring ourselves in the mirror with big girl underwear on.)

Basically my kid loves underware, but peeing in the potty, not so much. You can read all about that here. Where you'll also find details about my FIRST EVER GIVEAWAY wherein I gain validation as a grown up big kid blogger. Look at my grown up big kid blogger underpants, everyone!!)

Small Style Potty Style

Anyway, potty training. Here's what is appropriate, fashion-wise: Long sleeved shirt. Loose fitting. You want to be compensating for body heat lost to the bare bottom and bare legs, so keep those arms covered, mamas!. Socks (well, better baby legs, because we did have an incident involving wet footprints all over the hallway but don't tell my husband because he might have a germaphobic break and insist on bathroom slippers for all everywhere). Finally, a bow, because, people, we might be potty training, but we still need to look cute.

{Yes, this shirt was covered in pen marks and random black smudges five minutes after these photos were taken, thanks for asing. Also this outift lasted about 30 minutes total. See above mentioned laudry pile which is slowly smothering me, that is all the end.}

Okay. That's what's going on here. Please expect continued mention of pee-pee and poo-poo and bum-bums and OMG PLEASE SOMEONE COMMIT ME; A MENTAL INSTITUTION SOUNDS PRETTY GOOD RIGHT ABOUT NOW WHERE THERE IS NO PEE ON THE FLOOR AND I DO NOT HAVE TO MAKE DINNER.

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Also, everything is peachy.  

The Chef has a day off tomorrow. Praise be.

Stella Wore:

Top & Socks: Polarn O. Pyret

Pants: NONE

Bow: Adorn Me Girl

And remember, if you want to hear more about pee-pee and poo-poo, please do check out my superawesomeexcitingforme giveaway.

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Stella says CHEESE and THANKS!

 

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Pas Possible

“C’est pas possible.”  When I lived in France, I heard this phrase countless times and in countless ways and it infuriated me. It was the rigidity of the answer that bristled. Of course it was possible. Creating gold from stone lead is impossible. Issuing a permit or opening a bank account is, in fact, very possible. You just didn’t want to do it! There’s always a workaround. There’s always an unexplored option or yet-to-be brainstormed compromise. Flexibility. There’s always a way.

 

Yet, after reading an excerptt (linked to on Facebook by a lovely writer friend) from Pamela Druckerman’s Bring up Bebe which appeared, Tiger Mother style, in The Wall Street Journal, the frustration with which I met this phrase has now been replaced by optimism. C’est pas possible might just become my new parenting mantra.

 

I’ve long been interested in the ways, varied and sundry, that parents of the world flout North American parenting advice, yet still, somehow, miraculously (if you’d believe the Searses and Weissbluths of the world) raise well adjusted, happy, functional adults. And, according to Druckerman, the French are doing just that, despite the manifest absence of whirring parental helicopter blades. 

 

Druckerman describes the French notion of a cadre, or frame, which confines children within limits of acceptable behavior. What is outside that cadre is pas possible, and rigidly so. But inside, kids are free to do as they like. For French parents, a firm but polite Non! is what keeps their tots firmly within the cadre. A Non! delivered with authority keeps a child within the bounds of the sandbox while his mother chats, unperturbed, on a nearby bench. 

 

French kids cry it out. They sleep all night, alone by age three moths. Their mothers don’t often breastfeed beyond six weeks. They are not pumped full of goldfish crackers and Cherrios. Yet, they are read to, doted on, and ferried to and from enriching lessons, but family life is not dictated by the needs and wants of the progeny. 

 

Bottom line, it works. French parents love their kids, make them eat their vegetables and sit at the dinner table and their babies grow into adults and they turn out just fine. 

 

Japanese kids, by contrast, seem to have no cadre at all. At least when they’re young. Recently I was with my daughter at a drop in play center, and she was on the receiving end of a pint-sized cuff. While my lizard brain responded defensively, my logical mind, for once, overrode the impulse to shoot dagger eyes at the kid and his mother. The mother of the offending tot did not make any showy displays of discipline; the wee boxer was not sidelined, or timed-out, or even scolded, really. Instead, she proffered an apologetic glance and bow, and then brought her kid to another part of the room. No biggie.

 

It was as if the mother felt that such behaviour was totally possible, in fact, it was inevitable. Kids will be kids, and part of that state of being means occasionally walloping other kids on the head. 

 

In Japan, as I’ve written before, children are not expected to go to bed at a reasonable time. They sleep with their mothers beyond the age that would be acceptable to even the hippiest of North American hippies. Children run freely. Candy is administered liberally.

 

It’s not till much later that the cadre descends swiftly and suddenly, and, perhaps, claustrophobically on Japanese kids. A full, rigorous day in school is followed by an entire evening, and often weekend at juku, or cram school. Kids can’t be kids. They don’t get to play. And when they do get downtime, their faces are glued to all manner of electronic screens. 

 

But. It works.

 

Bottom line, Japanese parents love their kids, let them eat candy, make them study hard, and their babies grow into adults and they turn out just fine. 

 

So, it stands to reason, then, that a parent should not worry so much about what is right and instead do what’s right for them. Maybe for French parents, it’s more desirable to let a child cry it out so they might rest. Or maybe a sharp reproach that corrects a child who is impinging on carefully guarded adult time is what is right. For Japanese parents, perhaps it is right to bypass the hours-long struggle to cajole a sleepless babe to slumber and just keep the kid up till 11 pm. Maybe the value of avoiding whining pleas for candy is greater than the potential damage of tooth decay.

 

Which is where pas possible comes in. For the French, it’s pas possible to allow a child to run wild at dinner or be up multiple times during the night. For Japanese, it’s also pas possible to expect a one-year-old to sleep solo, let alone though the night.

 

It’s a mindset. 

 

For me, it’s been exceedingly vexing that my kid climb my leg and whine and cry and scream and flail and throw her snot-encrusted body on the ground because I’m washing the dishes. But until now, it has still been possible. And it’s been equally possible (and equally infurating) that she be unable to entertain herself while I take five minutes to drink a coffee and write a grocery list. And you know what, I’m giving up my ambivalence about that. It’s now pas possible. And I don’t feel one wee bit badly.

 

Pas Possible. Polite but firm. Rigid. Still kind. But, pas possible.

 

Its my new parenting mantra. 

 

Watch out, kid.

 

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Uniforms and Foreignness

Late afternoon, as school lets out, children pour into the streets, lithe and exuberant. They are unburdened by the texts they must read, the exercises that must be completed, and the kana to be memorized, the heavy load carried by their blue and red leather packs will be ignored until after their okashi. 

 

They all carry the same backpacks. Red for girls. Blue for boys. Subtle differences can be spotted, if you look closely: this one is a pinker shade of red; this cheaply constructed, ignoble in it’s vinyl exterior; this one crafted of the finest leather, whispering of luxury expense, and doting grandparents. But they’re essentially all the same. Same shape. Same size. Same. Same. Same.

 

I asked my friend, a mother to a gaggle of Japanese-born foreigners, if the backpacks were a requirement, a uniform of sorts. “Not really,” she replied. “But what if they wanted, like, a Thomas The Tank Engine school bag, or something? What about individuality? What about personal expression? What about fostering a sense of uniqueness,” I challenged. “You just wouldn't do that. It’s not really done. And anyway, my kids are all blond. I wouldn’t want my them to stand out more than they already do.”

 

Japan is a nation of ingroups and outgroups. Its a place where belonging, and conforming are more important than in any other country which I have ever visited. Japanese wear uniforms their whole lives. At birth, babies are dressed alike, in a kimono provided by the hospital. They enter kindergarten with white shirts and blue shorts, knee socks and blazers. By high school they’re in mao suits or plaid skirts, all sporting the same hair cut --straight black hair, bangs, low pigtails. By adult hood the uniform is less obvious, no less important. Spiky orange hair, fussed over endlessly, and flashy suits for too-cool-for-school young men who hope to emulate red-light district pimps. Sensible dark suits, sensible blue shirts, sensible striped ties for salary men. Perfectly quaffed housewives, in perfectly matched skirts and twinsets, LV bags on the crock of their arms. Young women in the same floral romper, the same pot-pie hat, the same chambray shirt.  Belonging is important. Sameness evokes acceptance.

 

Stella is just starting to notice difference, I mean, for what I can deduce based on gestures and the odd utterance of ammmm!!! (cat). Last week at breakfast, she was mesmerized by a group of caucasian children pictured in a German magazine. She kept pointing to her hair and then stroking her own, as if to say, “Look! they’re like me.”

 

I don’t know when, exactly, children start to become aware of ingroups and outgroups, of difference, of race, of cultural vairances. I don’t know, really, if my child feels left out, if somehow she is, already, at the tender age of one-and-a-half, having a minority experience, longing for role-models who look “like her”, feeling the prick of isolation and exclusion, or if her heart aches, even if only slightly, for feeling different. I have no wise words to offer here, no thoughtful conclusions. I just wonder, and hope that she feels good. (Wise words and thoughtful conclusions would be greatly appreciated from you, though).

 

If she wants one, though, I’ll probably buy her a Thomas the Tank Engine backpack. 

 

 

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Small Style, Real Life Style

The report from daycare today: Miss Stella-chan is officially trilingual. She holds up her little pointer finger when asked, "Nansai desu ka?" (How old are you?) She follows commands. She bows good morning. She totally understands! She also walks around the house going, "bitte bitte bitte bitte bitte" (please please please please in German), before settling on exactly what she wants (usually bread. I mean, she's Swiss), pointing at it and saying "dis!" So, basically, I'm raising a genius. Truth.

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Another thing that is truth: this Small Style post. Totally real life. Stella-chan is helping me do dishes. Where helping is emptying out all the contents of my drawers.

 

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We play with her little toys. There are crumbs on the floor.

 

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And ground up cracker. But let's not talk about that. 


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There's also drool down the front of her shirt. Because there's ALWAYS drool. 

It's real life. Whining because I won't let her take pictures of me. Blurry photos. Warm clothes for this blustery day. 

Stella Wore:

Top - Polarn O. Pyret

Bottom - Tea Collection overalls, Baby Gap legwarmers, Smart Wool Socks

And smiles. 

 

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Previously On Not Sleeping Through The Night

Alright, people, the story of getting baby S to sleep is a long and painful one. My obsession with sleep troubles started long ago, somewhere around the 10 day mark when it became apparent that Stella was not a sleeper. But we’re not flashing back that far, and I certainly won’t revisit the fact that she used to wake up MORE THAN 12 times per night, and at one point would wake screaming like a banshee every 20 minutes between the hours of 7 PM and midnight.*

(*see how I just threw that little chestnut in there so that you’d be fully cognizant of the fact that I’ve been through the wars, thereby justifying my foray into sleep training, assuaging my hippy guilt while also demonstrating my extreme patience and general saintliness?)

No, no, this little recap will only highlight where we were before we started sleep training. So, let’s revisit where we were about three weeks ago: 

 

Previously, On Sleeping Through The Night: (dramatic music here)

 

  • Stella was a part-time bed-sharer, part-time pack-n-play master-bedroom roommate. 
  • She woke up between 4 and 6 times per night to nurse
  • She was awake for long periods of time, particularly after 3 AM. Which meant so was I. And this was sub-ideal. A lot
  • She cried and cried and cried before falling asleep, no matter what I did

So. Basically, our sleeping situation was sub-idea. And we decided that finally, it was really really really time to get serious on sleep’s ass and make it happen. Although I was ambivalent about sleep training (to say the least), and was sad to put an end to co-sleeping, it was apparent that Stella thought of our bed as a playground and not as a sleeping place. So, bye-bye co sleeping. But before I get ahead of myself, I’ll outline what we did on PEZM (Project Ending Zombie Moms):

 

Stage 1 - Git In YER BED!

 

  • I set up a cot in Stella’s room, and determined that she would sleep in her own bed, so help me Easter Bunny, no matter what. 
  • And she did. And it was no biggie. Turns out, she slept waaaaayyyyy better in her own bed.

 

Stage Two - Night Night Milkies 

 

  • I night weened. In one night. Bandaid --> riiiiiiiiiiiiiiipp
  • Mr. Chef took over nighttime parenting duties, sleeping in Stella’s room all night and I bed-shared with a my earplugs. And slept for eight hours in a row for the first time in about two years. Oh my
  • Stella work up 11 times the first night, but didn’t cry once
  • Night two it was down to 4 times. Still no tears
  • By night four, there were two wakeups. Still tear free
  • Then we did a little experiment wherein I took over nighttime duties, and it was an all out scream-a-thon, so me and my earplugs went back to our own room. 
  • Mr. Chef continued to be the baby whisperer, and Stella continues NOT TO CRY while he’s around.

 

Stage Three - Pending

  1. Stella is now Sleeping from about 7 PM until 3 or 4 AM ALONE! IN HER OWN BED! 
  2. She’s WAKING UP ONLY ONCE!!!!!
  3. Mr. Chef continues to sleep in her room from about 3 or 4 am until she’s up in the morning, somewhere around 6:30, but in the next few days, he’s going to start transitioning to sleeping full-time in our room. 

 

So. Stella is sleeping much better. The transition was not NEARLY as painful as I had thought. I’m routinely getting stretches of 6 hours of sleep. I can stay up till 11 and not feel like I have malaria. I can do things! And play babies for a long time! Basically, it’s a win-win-win situation: I sleep so soundly, I don’t even her Stella wake up (win!) Stella still gets to wake in the night the way she likes to (win!), and Mr. Chef gets to spend extra time with his daughter(WIIIIIIIIINN!) See? Win-win-win! (Right, Mr. Chef???? RIGHT??? You love this arrangement, RIGHT?)

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Public Boobies (I hate them)

I’m going to say something a little controversial here: I hate breastfeeding in public. There, I said it. But let me back up a bit. I hate public nursing as a thing I have to do. I fully support other people and their public boobies.

I love breastfeeding in general. It is natural, and healthy, and bla bla benefits for the baby bla. Stella is 14months old, and still nursing like a champ. But I really love breastfeeding because IT ISFREEEEEEEEEEE! And I’m loath to spend money on something (i.e. formula) when there is a better, cheaper (freer) option. Second reason I love breastfeeding: it is the lazyman’s way. Wash bottles and mix formula? Punch me in the throat because I’d like that better. Third reason I like breastfeeding: I eat like a hungry trucker man, and still don’t gain weight. And now that I’m back in Japan where snack options are few and less delicious (oh, falafel chips...*sigh*), I’m actually having trouble maintaining my weight. You can hate me. It is okay.

But still. I hate breastfeeding in public. Not because I think that it is gross, or sexual or anything weird. I mean, since having a child, my shame-o-meter is pretty much set to zero. It is just that stories like this have me convinced that when I do nurse my baby in public everyone is looking at me, and thinking boobies, gross. 

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Wut. That's the best I got. 'Memeber how I don't like doing it in public?

The fact that I live in Japan (which is admittedly pretty breastfeeding friendly), and am a tall white woman who already attracts enough negative bumbling foreigner attention, compounds the anxiety (as in, what is normal practice re. boobies in Japan? Will I be that weird foreigner if I nurse here? OMG, crying baby....what do I dooooooo?) Still, I nurse in public. Because what else could I do? I like to leave my house. My daughter wants to nurse ALL THE TIME, so. I nurse in public. Let me count the ways:

 

  • On the airplane (it’s pretty much boob in mouth about 70 percent of the seated time)
  • In the car while moving with the baby still strapped safely in her car seat. (I am also a contortionist, in case you didn’t know)
  • On a train
  • In a boat. While driving. In torrential rain
  • In many a restaurant, where I may or may not have dropped ramen on my girl’s head
  • In the middle of my german lesson, about a million times
  • Walking down the street, baby in mei tai
  • In the park with a seven-day-old baby (this particular nursing session was interrupted by two Japanese grandmothers who walked right over to me, lifted my nursing cover so that they could more easily admire the cuteness that is a foreign baby. That was not awkward AT ALL)

So, yes, I hate nursing in public. But I do it any way. Because the benefits outweigh my anxiety. And, truth be told, the worst thing that has ever happened re. feeding in public has been an awkward “avert eyes...boobies...omg..don’t look!) More often people smile kindly. And I’m glad of that, for it means that acceptance of public boobies is the norm and public-nursing-phobic a-holes are the exception.  

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I’m celebrating World Breastfeeding Week with Natural Parents Network!

You can, too — link up your breastfeeding posts from August 1-7 in the linky below, and enjoy reading, commenting on, and sharing the posts collected here and on Natural Parents Network.

(Visit NPN for the code to place on your blog.)

 

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Japan with Kids (And Water Fountains)

For all its foibles, Japan is really a great place for young kids. The parks are amazing, cities come fully equipped with all sorts of baby-friendly infrastructure, people are understanding less than cherubic behaviour. And not to mention that kawaii culture is pretty pro-baby. 

 

One aspect of Japanese tot life that I’m particularly fond of is the fact that children here are really free to be kids. The culture of fear that exists in America is wonderfully absent here. Once toddlers are up and walking on their own, they roam the parks pretty freely while mothers chat mostly in the background. Kindergartners (age three to five) regularly walk to school without adult accompaniment. Six year olds navigate the subway system. Free range kids - the notion is totally unheard of here, it’s just how things are done.

 

On  Sunday Mr. Chef and I took Stella to the local shopping center for a spot of shopping (SERIOUSLY!) It was boiling. There was a little outdoor water fountain, and a million kids were running around, clothes soaking wet, slipping, sliding and occasionally face-planting on the slick tile. Nobody worried about law suits. It was incredible. Take that, America.

 

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(Also, because I am a total dork, while Stella was reveling in the waterfuntimes, I had to choke back tears. You see, when Mr. Chef and I visited this city for the first time on a look-see trip, I saw kids playing in this very fountain and I thought, “maybe one day we’ll have a wee one running through this fountain.” That day came, people. And it was beautiful.)

 

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Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About My Child's Eating Habits

Brace yourselves for the most boring "Moooooooommyyyyyyy Blog" post of all time. But with life so idyllic up here in Northern Ontario, I don't have much to complain about and therefore the creative juices are not flowing very fast. I could brag about the sun, and the lake, and the loons, and the wakeboarding, and the baby swimming, and the saunas, and the familyfuntimes, but I'm doing that enough as it is on Twitter. So, I'll spare you the tedium. 

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Sharing a kiwi on the deck with her new BFF / human jungle gym.

Until Stella was about 11 months old, she had no interest in food. I, crunchy granola type-A perfectionist mother that I am, had grand ambitions for baby-led weaning, but she was / is a real gag n' barf champion, so it wasn't right for us. She needed purees.

So I was spooning gourmet home-made purees into her very unreceptive firmly clamped shut mouth (shut, that is, unless she was gagging and barfing up my glorious concoctions). I was certain that in addition to failing at baby sleep, I was also failing brilliantly at baby feeding. I was happy if Stella would eat one teaspoon of food. A miracle would be a tablespoon. Throughout the course of a whole day. Even at 11 months old.

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Requsit naked baby spagetti face shot. I iz creative. 

And then one day my mum, against my omg-I-must-do-everything-exactly-by-the-baby-book rules, gave Stella some very garlicky and lightly salted guacamole. And Stella ate that shit up.

Since then, Stella eats for the following things with reckless abandon: 

  • Home-made (super garilcky) hummus 
  • Chickpea soup (with mad amounts of garlic) 
  • Curried lentils (and a spicy curry at that)
  • Green curry chicken
  • Baingan Bharta (curried eggplant)
  • Goats Cheese
  • Braised lamb shank and swiss chard
  • Dark chocolate (Wut. She's Swiss. Of course I feed her chocolate*)

It is totally weird. I do not understand her eating habits. Except that perhaps, maybe, she should have been born in India. But I am totally sure that her eating adventurousness is directly related to my mumsicle awesomeness. My parenting is absolutely responsible for her taste buds.

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Stella's two new BFFs. There's the geriatric fat white rocket on the left. And ol' deaf n' arthritic on the right. Although deaf n' arthritic is still swift enough to snatch up a slice of toast out of a hand that drooped just a bit too low. And yes, that is a Saveur magazine on the floor, because I want you all to know just how casually awesome and gourmet we are. 

And, one final point: a baby with garlic breath is just so unnatural. 

*Okay, okay, whatever, judgy moms. I gave her a piece smaller than a pea. Twice. But now she has chocolate radar, and screams eeeEEEEEEEEhhhhhhh! the moment she sees me eating some. 

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Expat Parenting: Adjustments, Accommodations, Acclimatizations

Surely all parents can agree that there is a nugget of truth to that familiar expression, "I was the perfect parent before I had kids." In my case, it is more a boulder than a mere nugget. 

 

I've had baby fever since as long as I can remember. In fact my first word was BABY. I started my parenting research at the tender age of 12, reading my parents' copy of "How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk" and dreaming how I would be an unerring progenitor with flawless technique; my perfectly adjusted children the envy of parents everywhere. And then I got knocked up the week we moved to Japan, and suddenly everything changed; for expat parenting is nothing if not an exercise in being flexible and adjusting your parenting ideals*. 

 

At first I resisted the notion of adjustment and flexibility. An unhappy trifecta of homesickness, culture shock, and pregnancy crazysauce had me flailing for control of the fundamentally uncontrollable process of growing a baby. I was convinced that everything, from pre-natal care to nursery decoration to cloth diaper purchases had to be done exactly by the (North American) book. Ultra-sounds at every OB visit? WRONG! For that is not the way it is done at home! Japanese cribs? Obviously a DEATH TRAP for babies, and therefore we must purchase one from Canada at great personal, emotional and financial expense. Thus went my line of reasoning.

 

I continued in this manner, until about three weeks before my due date when it dawned on me, "you know, it's a lot of work resisting the Japanese system. I’m tired. These guys deliver healthy babies every day. I need to trust them." And so I did. And when the arrival of our daughter was imminent I agreed to procedures and interventions that would not likely have been administered in Canada, but you know, it was FINE. The world did not stop turning. And I was happy.

 

These adjustments, of course, continue as Stella grows. I'm introducing food to her diet that, if I lived in a whole-grain, raw-honey, crunchy granola mecca, I would not otherwise allow past our threshold. We make do with what is available and Stella occasionally eats white bread. I drop Stella off at daycare, where I am not allowed to enter the baby room and settle her before I leave. But that's the way it's done in Japan, and I value my working time too much to bristle at this. 

 

I'm sure that as Stella grows, and as we find ourselves in new and different surroundings, our choices will continue to be shaped by the culture around us, and we will grow more flexible as time stretches our beliefs. Will I permit her to eat shark fin soup? Or walk to school on her own at six years old? Or start pre-school at three? Who knows? It will depend entirely on the circumstances we find ourselves in. So in that way, expat parenting is a lot like life; you grow and change and accept things you once held as unacceptable. Raising children in a cross-cultural context forces parents to make these adjustments and accommodations more deliberately. And I'm actually thankful for that. 

 

 

*I've been at this for OVER A YEAR, so obviously I am an expert, OKAY!?

 

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So, It Was Mother's Day, Like Four Days Ago, Just In Case You Missed It

Mr. Chef and I have polar opposite views when it comes to hallmark moments. I believe in feeling sentimental, romantic, nostalgic, joyous or festive, whenever the hell the greeting card companies tell me to. He, on the other hand, has suffered a thousand too many long hours in over busy and understaffed kitchens at the hands of said greeting card companies, slaving away in the name of some fake, made up holiday, feeding the industrial stationary complex. So, he's a tad bitter, let's say.

But, Mr. Chef brought it this year. And he knocked it out of the park. A sleep in; coffee and iPad in bed; my favorite breakfast; a beautiful gift that came in a little blue box; a lovely card with a heartfelt message and a gift for someone who really needs it. Then a day at the park. A trip downtown. And a delicious dinner. Perfection. 

Mr. Chef doesn't believe in Mother's Day. He doesn't even particularly like it. But he did it all to make me happy. He does everything to make me happy. And that's why I am the luckiest. 

 

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Another reason why I am the luckiest? THIS LITTLE GIRL.

Mother's Day is an outward acknowledgment of all the grunt work, all the energy both physical, mental, and emotional that goes into raising children.  For this baby I stay up all night. For this baby I get covered in shit. Many many times. For this baby, I reach out with my bare hands to catch the vomit that is about to spew forth because I know her so well that I can just tell when she's going to barf. For this baby I constantly think about the millions of things I should be doing to ensure optimal development and growth, hatch plans plans of baby enrichment, and then inevitably feel guilty for not doing enough.

But for this baby I would do anything. Because of that smile. Because of the funny way she scrunches up her nose and makes sniffing sounds. Because those brown eyes are her father's. Because she is so determined. Because she giggles when we ride our bike. Because I'm lucky to be her mum.

Maybe Mr. Chef is right and we don't really need a special day to celebrate being a mother. Despite the barf and the poop and the sleepless nights and the worry and the things that are hard I don't even know about yet, it is a pretty amazing gig.

 

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Sacred Spaces for Parenting

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I get a lot of mileage out of complaining about flying with an infant. I whinge about the jet lag, the 24 hours in transit, the airports, the terrible food the cranky people I run into, everything. But the truth is, when Stella and I are locked up in that tin can in the sky, I actually love it. I love it because I have no internet. No Facebook, no Twitter, no blog, no Google no email. Just me and the baby. I'm present, and engaged, and focused, and I enjoy every second of really being with my daughter.

I was thinking about this as I was listening to Krista Tippet present Alive Enough: Reflecting on Our Technology, with Sherry Turkle Director of MIT's Initiative on Technology and Self. The conversation explored a number of ways in which technology shapes how we interact with each other, but what most resonated with me was Tippet and Turkle's discussion of what we as parents teach our children about technology and relating to other human beings.

You might think that this is not something that I, as the mother of an eleven month-old baby, has to worry about. But it starts even now. Stella can't walk yet. She can't crawl. She can't even say Mama. But she can mimic two adult behaviours: holding a phone up to her ear and poking at a smartphone with her index finger. Those and waving are the only two grown-up-esque behaviours she's got. It's kind of a scary thought.

I wonder what I am teaching her when I stop playing blocks to answer a text message, or as I read Twitter as I nurse her to sleep. I often see two teenage girls out together, ostensibly hanging out together, but each plugged into her own MP3 player, in her own individual sound bubble, isolated from the world and each other. I look at them and despair for our collective future. But as I send a twitpic of Stella and my adventures at the park, am I showing my child anything different? 

It's clear that parents model behaviours that their children pick up on. Parents who send SMSs during dinner are sending two messages simultaneously. Thus, I want to be mindful of how I teach my child to relate to technology. I do not advocate the wanton dismissal of technological advances and the new social norms that follow; it is the parents' job to socialize their children according to the realities of the time and place in which they live, and digital technologies are part and parcel with this time and place. Stella will need help navigating the decorum of Facebook (or whatever equivalent is popular twelve years from now) just as I needed to be taught about writing thank you letters.

At the same time, I want to teach my child that there is value in being present with the ones you love; I want her to be free to have moments like the ones we share in the airplane when we are not competing with the roar of the digital world. I want to carve out sacred spaces that are just for us, and not for our phones.

I am going to start with the dinner table. No phones at dinner. And no phones on the playground. And I will begin asking, "do you mind if I text", not that she can answer yet, but to get in the habit. I am not going to give up my bedtime Twitter fix (because bedtime is accompanied by long screaming sessions and Twitter keeps me from swallowing the hemlock), but I am going to be thinking of where else I will carve out sacred spaces for parenting.

I'm interested, what are your rules for family interactions and technology?

 

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