What's Your Mum Talent?

We went to playgroup at my friend's house this week, Stella, Hugo and I. When we arrived, the children scattered, while the mums sat around the dining room table, admiring the Easter cookies decorated in muted shades and trimmed with the most delicate icing. The room was dressed in its Easter finest; seasonal pillows, an Easter tree; a bowl of hand painted eggs. It was lovely, a cultural beacon offering up remembrances of springs long ago when snow melted, crocuses pushed through the dirt, and families came round. 

I thought, then, of my own house: no freshly baked cookies; seasonal ornaments still packed away in the storage room upstairs; no pastel springtime craft; no bonnets, no baskets, no cotton ball bunnies.

In my imagination, however, I had crafted and baked and educated my children about the cultural and religious significance of the holiday. In my imagination there were hot cross buns, hand dyed eggs, and Easter dresses. 

But in reality, it’s Good Friday, and I have done exactly none of the above. Instead of searching Pinterest for preschooler craft ideas, I’ve been passing my days at once incredibly busy, and unbelievably idle, running around Jakarta and lazing on the beanbag chair with my three-year-old.

And this year, for once, I’m glad of that. 

It’s not my lot in life to be a maker of cotton ball crafts, a baker of seasonal treats, or a festooner of mantels. Nor am I the kind of mum who always has a change of clothes, a pack of wet wipes, and a well-balanced snack at the ready. Instead, you’ll find old receipts and loose change from three countries ago rattling around the bottom of my diaper bag (whether or not I actually have a diaper in there is questionable). I won’t be on time for playgroup, I have no idea when my daughter’s school breaks for Easter Holiday, and don’t ask me which vaccines she’s had, because damned if I know. I’m not crafty, bakerly, or particularly organised. That’s just not where my skills, interests or, frankly, talents lie. 

Instead, I hop on a train in a developing country, dragging along my pre-schooler and my one-month-old baby. I traverse unworkable sidewalks with a kid under each arm. I hail taxis, take public busses, and occasionally, hop on the back of a three-wheeled tuk-tuk. I travel down the coast of China with only my one-year-old as company. I fly across the oceans alone with my girl more times than I can count on two hands. I’ve backpacked with my two-year-old, missed a train and instead caught a bus of questionable road worthiness on the side of the road in the back of beyond Central Java, with minimal fret or upset. I’m a mum who’s not afraid to open the front door and get right out into our wild and wonderful world, with my kids along for the ride. 

I've started to think that every mum has a set of skills and talents that that shape her children’s childhoods. Some mums create magical holidays; some are expert memory keepers; some make artful pictures of their children; some create birthday treasures out of thin air; some are unbelievable crafters; some make beautifully healthful family meals; some create engaging educational activities. And me? My mum talent getting out there, traveling, seeing, and doing together with my kids.

So this Easter, we don’t have decorated eggs or actually any easter eggs to speak of now that I think of it. But I’m not going to feel fault for that. I am not going to wish pastel garlands or spring wreaths. Instead, I’ll organise a haphazard easter egg hunt (random Indonesian candies instead of eggs, okay!)  and hold close those memories of taking Hugo on his first train jouney at eight weeks old. And that’s just the way it is, and, actually, the way I like it. 

 

Now how ‘bout you? What’s your mum talent? And how are you embracing it?

Feathering

I'd like to think of myself as a doer. I want my lists long and my days full. I want out in the thick of it, messy traffic and all, seeing, doing, tasting, hearing, fingers in everything, outside, alive.

And I'd like to think of myself carrying on like this, despite a swollen belly or new babe in arms. I'd like to think of myself that way, especially, in opposition to local traditions that keep women (feeble they are!) confined for their pregnancies and cloistered during the first postpartum weeks. I'd like to think of myself as separate and apart from that. Stronger. More vibrant. 

Except, I'm not. 

These days I have little desire to open the front door. My territory doesn't extend much beyond my bedroom. Days and days of rain keep me at home. False labour has slowed my pace. Little projects, even computer-based ones don't much interest me. 

These days a pot of soup on the stove feels like a coup. A few answered emails are a triumph.

I'd rather be feathering my nest. I'd rather stay in bed wehre I whisper secrets with my girl, and play "sleeping party" under the blankets. A cup of tea on the bedside table, messy sheets, and a dvd playing on my laptop is about all I want.

And I'm trying to be okay with that. 

I think i've forgotten how to blog.

 

I used to come here and write my words down on the screen. But now, if it’s not pictures, and it’s not pregnancy, I just don’t know how to write it. Six months ago it was nauseous exhaustion. 

Now, thoughts are too hurried. Fingers can’t type out stories, they can only google “pre-pre-pre-labour signs” and “second pregnancy shorter?” and “how to tell if labour is near.” I can concentrate only on tabbing through endless images of totally essential minimalist Scandinavian baby accoutrements: leggings with the perfect understated modern esthetic; plush toys of the softest, quirkiest alpaca, and whimsically tasteful objects d'art. The simple monochrome brings order.  

 

And now, tonight, with my husband in Singapore and my girl fast asleep, I have the time to linger here, but all I want to do is go cocoon myself in the white sheets next to my sleeping big girl and prepare for the varied and sundry ways in which our life will be turned, ever so gloriously, upside down. 

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More Thoughts on Baby Sleep As Fuelled by Preg Rage

I came across this post in my Facebook feed the other night, and then couldn’t sleep because of ALL THE ire. You know, the kind of rage that makes you want to shout mean things to strangers on Facebook, and then keeps you up composing imaginary blog posts in response to specific comments? That. 

 

And all because of baby sleep.

 

But why? I mean, baby sleep is a beautiful, peaceful, sugar plums and fairies kind of deal, right? Why get so worked up about it? 

 

For two reasons. First, because baby / toddler / preschooler sleep is not tranquil. At least not in my experience. It is fitful, broken, and fleeting. It comes after much effort. Pretending that it is always easy, if you just try this simple tip denies this realty. And also makes me want to throat punch you. 

 

Second: There are all sorts of complicated judgments and insinuations surrounding baby sleep: Your child sleeps badly because you haven’t followed all the tips correctly. You’re child sleeps badly because you are a soft, lily-livered parent failure. Or, my favourite from Facebook, your child doesn’t sleep well because you didn’t co-sleep and breastfeed long enough. 

 

Regardless, the bottom line is this: your kid’s sleep is a direct reflection of how well or poorly you’re doing as a parent, and if your kid’s sleep is not happening, it’s because you’re doing it wrong.  

 

Well. What if I told you that I tired all the tricks. I bought all the books. I hired a sleep consultant. And guess what? No dice.

 

What if I told you that we tried to cry it out. And the only thing we got from that experience was the knowledge that my kid could just out-cry me. You guys. Four hours. FOUR HOURS of cry it out was enough to teach me that it wouldn’t work. 

 

What about you hippie AP lactivists who insist that co-sleeping and extended breastfeeding is the answer? Well, you guys are the worst (and PS, this is coming from a cloth-capering, baby-wearing, long-term co-sleeper). How much longer would you like me to breastfeed my kid? Two-and-a-half years isn’t enough? And, PS, we still co-sleep, at three-and-a-half. My kid still sleeps like crap. So, your smug insinuation that I’m dooooin it wrong is kind of assholery at its finest.  

 

For all you sellers of books and givers of parenting tips, take this: My kid is a terrible sleeper. Always has been. She didn't sleep though the night (as in five hour uninterrupted sleep) until she was almost a year. Despite reading every book, trying every trick and the most well-intentioned sleep plans. She still sleeps badly.

Despite the black-out blinds (never mind the fact that she often wakes up before the sun anyway, so blackout blinds are a moot point.) 

Despite the fact that we fill our days full, full, full, with activities.

Despite soft lamp light evenings and candle-lit dinners.

Despite the fact that breakfast isn’t served until 6:30. Ever. 

Despite the little clock that lights green at 6:15 each morning, signifying that it’s okay to wake.

Despite the consistent bedtime, from which we rarely waver.

 

My three year old  does not sleep through the night. She still wakes a couple times per night (not every night, but several times per week) and is up for the day around 5 AM. 

 

No amount of scheming strategery or smug guilting is going to change that. 

 

From what I can gather after observing infant and child sleep patterns in the non-Western world is this: it’s not that children sleep better or worse in non-Western countries, it’s just that non-Western parents don’t worry so much about sleep. There is a whole lot less anxiety about how, when, and where children sleep. Kids just sleep when they sleep, NBD.

 

Certainly co-sleeping is more normative, in most non-Western countries, which suggests a more relaxed attitude to sleep. And I am guessing, from what I see around me, fractured sleep patterns are more normative, too. In Indonesia, for example, it seems to me much more acceptable to wake during the night (for prayer, for example, or as one guy told me recently, to cook his pregnant wife midnight snacks.) So being disturbed by a sleepless child is just kind of life. Get over it. Catch up on your sleep when and where you can. 

 

 

What if the biggest secret these baby sleep advice dispensaries are keeping from us is this: some kids sleep great regardless of their parents’ efforts. And some kids sleep like crap, every trick and every book notwithstanding. 

 

I think in our family we’re coming around to this: poor sleep is what it is. There’s not a whole lot we can do to change the way our kid sleeps, so we have to adapt.

 

In our family that means that for now, Mr. Chef takes nighttime duties. He’s better on less sleep than I, and, importantly, he’s not pregnant. When he needs to catch up on sleep, I’ll give him a night off, or he’ll have an early morning nap. 

 

Still, we haven’t managed to entirely escape the sleep anxiety. Each morning we ask each other how the little monkey slept. I always want to know how frequently she woke, how early she rose, and whether or not a few nights of good sleep is indicative of a trend, and what precise combination of actions / inactions from the previous nights is responsible for the sustained slumber. 

 

As we get ready for baby number two, I’m really hoping we get a sleep-friendly kid. Failing that, please, please, please remind me to just chill out about the whole sleep thing and for gawd sakes, put down the baby books. 

Pregnancy Weight Gain and other tales of woe.

Hi. So, um, can we talk about something totally vapid and trivial for a bit? Yeah, I know I specialise in the vapid and trivial, but still. I’ve got an extra dose for you today. 

 

Pregnancy weight gain is an asshole.

 

 

As of my last check-up at 24 weeks, which was almost a month ago, I’ve gained 10 (okay maybe 12?) KG. Which is basically about as much as you’re supposed to gain for you’re entire pregnancy. 

 

So, HORRAY! Advanced pregnancy weight gain achievement unlocked! I guess?

 

 

Weight gain got a lot of play in my previous pregnancy. In Japan, pregs are closely monitored and poundage kept in check. A good preg gains only 8 KG.  Suffice to say, I was not a good preg.  

 

At each and every prenatal appointment my caregivers would make a big production of determining the exact extent to which I was expanding. As the weeks wore on, disapproving remarks evolved into stern talking-tos as the scales clicked ever upwards.

 

Admonishments notwithstanding, I did pack on the pounds. I started pre-pregnancy at about 56 KG. I ended up weighing something like 78 or maybe 80 KG by the time I delivered. That’s about a 50 pound weight gain, you guys. 

 

This despite walking EVERYWHERE, and maintaining a pretty healthy diet of whole gains, vegetable matter, and the occasional home-baked treat.

 

 

I hung on to my post-baby weight for a few months, but as my postpartum period progressed, the pounds started dropping. By month eight I was nursing a hungry kid who wouldn’t eat solid food, and no matter how much bacon I shoved into my mouth, I couldn’t keep weight on. I dropped below my baseline weight, and stayed there, basically until Stella was eating like a real human.  

 

I tell myself that I’m a juicy preg, that I need to gain a little extra weight. It’s just the way my body works. That it’ll come off easily this time just as it did last.

 

Still. For a lot of complicated reasons, this whole weight gain thing is kind of hurting my fee-fees.

 

It’s not so much the size that I am now which bothers me. I mean, I’m a fine size. But it’s the transition from being smaller to bigger that bothers me. And I’ve given a lot of thought as to why.

 

There’s the pragmatic problems that come with figuring out how to dress a body that is bigger than normal. And the fact that fatter calves make it harder to sit in lotus position. We all know the the medical costs of weight gain (omg gestational diabetes? Are you lurking in there somewhere?) These things all contribute to my less than gleeful realisation that I’m getting heavier and heavier. 

 

There’s deeper stuff going on, too. Certainly there’s standard story of weight, media, body image, and self-wroth is weighting (hah!) on my mind. Despite knowing better, I do think that images of skeletal models selling me luxury handbags do creep their way into my consciousness. 

 

 

But this stuff is pretty standard issue. What’s really bothering me is that weight gain is also tied up in a complicated web of social status and morality. 

 

<ironic distance>

 

In the West being skinny means that you have extra resources to devote to your body. You have disposable income to invest in yoga memberships and 400 dollar juicers. If you’re skinny, you have the time and the smarts to investigate the many and sundry benefits of kale and chia seeds. You’re clever enough and enough to have a pantry stocked with the latest super foods and a brain stuffed full of the most recent thinking on optimal nutrition. You probably shop at Whole Foods, and care about the detrimental environmental effects of industrial pig farming. In the same way that your Pia Wallen blanket draped over your Eames chair announces your exceptionally good taste, your skinny body sends a message about exactly the kind of upwardly mobile, socially engaged smarty pants you are.

 

</ironic distance>

 

I admit that I buy into this nonsense. Being bigger than normal conflicts with my self image as a nutritional high achiever. I judge myself for getting so much bigger so quickly and worry that others cast a disapproving eye in my (gigantic) direction. 

 

And then there’s morality. And this is the one that really kicks me in the pants.

 

According to conventional wisdom, weight gain is ALWAYS a calories in - calories out equation. If you’re waistline is suddenly ballooning, it’s definitely  because of sloth and gluttony with maybe a hint of greed and lust thrown in? If you’re gaining weight, it’s because you don’t have the self-control to stop shoving peanut butter cups into your face hole. And also, PS, you’re a listless and lazy layabout and maybe you should turn off that TV and go for a walk.

 

Its this underlying stream of thought that has me feeling the need to shout to everyone “Hey! I’m just a juicy pregnant lady! I gain a lot of weight when I’m pregnant! It’s just what I do! But don’t worry! I’m eating all the fruits and veggies! I’ve eaten maybe three burgers and fires in the past six months. My grocery cart is stuffed with whole grains and there are no store-bought snack foods in my pantry at all! Promise!

 

So. That’s why I’m feeling so sub-awesome about getting bigger.

 

Now is the time when I conclude with a hopeful and thoughtful message. But sorry guys, I don’t really have one. I know, intellectually, that weight gain is a normal part of pregnancy. I realise that while I could do better in the nutritional department, I’m already doing pretty well. I trust that post-baby, my body will snap back to normal after a leisurely recovery period. But I still feel like a gigantic glutinous rhinoceros and I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit. 

To the Sea

My Blueprint for Taxi Drivers Makes Me Unhappy And Other Tales of Expat Woe.

 

 

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Yesterday was one of those days. Call them China days, or Indo days, expat days, or HULKSMASH EVERYDAMNTHIGN days, whatever. It was one. And tt started, as these days often do, in the back of a taxi. 

 

I was taking Stella to school. I gave the driver the street name and neighbourhood, and asked him if he knew it. I took his noncommittal silence as an affirmation, that yes, he did indeed know know the place and would guide us there directly. But it wasn't long before I resized, by way of a series of turns in random directions, that he had know idea where our destination was in relation to where we were, but didn't feel like it would be appropriate to, you know, ask me if he should turn left or right at the next intersection.

 

ARRGGGG! SO ANNOYING! Why wouldn't he TELL me if he didn't know the place? Why wouldn't he ask me where to turn? Why did he just turn left there???? Geeze! Taxi drivers are the worst!  So leotarded!!!! 

 

Not long after, we hit traffic. Because of course we did. A tiny crossing had the whole road tied up in knots, and we were stuck for twenty minutes. As the stoplight flashed red, drivers raced forward, hopping to make it across the three lanes of poorly designed intersection before traffic started flowing in the other direction. The result? Traffic locked down. Cars facing each of the four compass points jammed in the middle of an intersection and no one able to move anywhere. 

 

COME ON, you guys. This is basic. Even someone who bought their licence knows red means stop and green means go. If you'd just follow THE RULES, this wouldn't happen. Only jerks stop their cars in the middle of an intersection. You're making me late for all important outside time at preschool , I'm missing mom chat time, and this is obviously a super important, really critical, total big deal problem.

 

So yea. Two internal tantrums even before nine o'clock in the morning.  

 

Tony Robbins has this concept about blueprints. Your blueprint is your worldview. It's your understanding of how you, should be, how others should act, and how the world should function. If you think people should hold doors open for you, that's part of your blueprint. If you think that the work day should start at 9 AM and finish at 5 PM, that's part of your blueprint.

When you encounter situations that contradict your blueprint, you feel negative emotions: frustrationation, anger, annoyance, unhappiness.  

 

My blueprint about the flow of vehicles in an intersection is based entirely upon my North American understudying of traffic. And guess what? That blueprint is totally invalid in Indonesia. (...Duh...)

 

I can't change the way traffic flows in this country (although don't think for a moment I haven't considered jumping out of the taxi and directing cars at that particular intersection, with extra special vitriol saved for those GD motorcycles, who are like TOTALLY THE WORST at following traffic rules. Because I have. Obviously. A lot. I even have ideas about what I should wear, and where I might find a traffic directing wand.)

 

The only thing I can change is my idea about how traffic flows. (Hint: IT DOESNT!!!!!) I can only change my blueprint.

 

But that's kind of a hard thing to do. Like, uhhhhhh, where do I start?

 

Do any of you have stories about blueprints contradicting reality, be they expat-related or otherwise? Have any of you successfully changed your blueprint? Tips? Ideas? Suggestions? Rants? Let me have them!

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. 

 

On expats, adjustment, and carseats.

 

This weekend I got chewed out by an Indonesian mother.

Granted I kind of deserved a stern talking-to because I did go in full blaze, when a more measured approach would have been adequate. 

You see, I have a way of being ornery when confronted with certain triggers (namely rich people with superiority complexes and rules that I deem totally inane). This particular situation had both. In spades. And, PS, if you didn't already know this about me, when my principles get trodden upon and I feel that justice has been silted, well, watchit. (See aforementioned orneriness.) 

Anyway, she left, shouting at me, "You live here. Adapt. Just adapt. Adapt, okay? Adapt." And that phrase has jammed itself into my brain. 

Because you see, I like to think of myself as a "good" expat, the kind that sees locals on equal footing, the kind that doesn't abuse humans, the kind that isn't super into endless discussions of Us v. Them.

 

That call, Adapt. Adapt. Adapt. Well, it stung, as it was intended to, I think. And the sting comes from my insecurity, my own questioning of how far I need to adapt, and how firmly I must cling on to my native norms. 

 

Let's take, for example, notions of safety, about which I've written previously in both the Japanese and Indonesian contexts.

 

We tend to infer a great deal about someone's parental fitness by the way in which they comply to standard safety practices. North American babies spend the better part of their childhoods strapped into some form of vehicular restraining device. My own daughter drove from Northern Ontario to Southern Michigan in a super-safe infant seat, and screamed all the way. Better she scream, purple-faced and angry, than risk the small chance of a car accident. An unrestrained baby, well, that's a marker of total immorality and parental neglect. Just look a the price Britney Spears paid.

 

Here in Indonesia, few babies are put in car seats. Partly because cars are beyond the means of most, but also partly because here babies are held, not left sitting restrained in a seat. A  purple-faced crying baby cruelly left tied down when he just wants to  be held, well, that's tantamount  to child abuse. 

 

We North Americans (well, a certain breed of us anyway) banish all forms of BPA, toxic chemicals, pesticides, and screen-time brain-rot. Here, not so. 

Here hands are washed vigorously, sick littles are set to the doctor at the first sign of a sneeze, and my choice to let my child ride out her illness unmediated is seen as a dubious one.

 

There are ways in which I absolutely have adapted to life in Indonesia. I'm okay with my kid eating white rice, and street food. I carry my toddler in a salandang. I let strangers pick her up, and pinch her cheek. I've adjusted my time clock and my child's schedule to keep pace with daily calls to prayer. I've left *some* of my aggressiveness (picked up in China, BTW, another adaptation, another country) in favour of a friendly smile, because pushiness gets you nowhere here.

 Lunch on leaves. Total adaptation. 

 

Strangers man-handling my kid. Adapted. Yeah.

Appearing in public like this = failure to adapt.

But there are other ways in which I have not adapted. I won't go around acting like we live in a caste system. I'm not following the convention of my social station and engaging a car and driver. I walk places. I take busses and taxis. I still eat Western food, most of the time. I wear shorts. I go places without my hair done. I still think like a Westerner. 

I still get really angry when the rich and privileged go around acting like are better then everyone. 

 

So, I'm just not sure, how far do I need to adapt here to be a "good" expat? Do I really need to adapt to practices and situations against which my values scream NOOOOOOOO! NOT GOOD!! Do I just silently stew, or do I say something (with a little more artfulness than I exhibited this weekend.) How far can you bend and adapt but still maintain your sense of self, your culture, your values?  I'm not sure. 

 

Do you have any insight here?

 +++                                  +++

This post was kindly sponsored by 21st Century Insurance. Thanks, guys! I really dig your community activism and social media outreach. 

 

Speaking of safety, here's a cool thing, 21st Century Insurance is running a contest to promote child safety while driving and they are giving away free car seats to creative people that can redesign the Baby on Board sign. The grand prize winner even gets $10,000 for a nursery redesign. You can find the contest here.

 


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the year that was.

The year in review. Including selfies. Perhaps the most sybaritic piece of blogger trickery imaginable. But. Twelve months ago, at just about this same time, I dove headfirst into the changeover of year. So eager to begin again, I didn't stop to consider what had come before, or what the coming year wanted of me. So. Headfirst with a plan but not much clarity. I didn't achieve many of my professional goals in 2012. A few pieces of writing published, one or two of which I'm particularly proud, but not on the order of what I had expected of myself. And amidst this certain degree of floundering, I don't want to forget to remember what a beautiful year it really was. Now, if you'll excuse me, here comes a picture-laden romp through my memory. Okay. Go.
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137/366 {outtake}

I was going to post a picture I really loved. It was my girl, on the balcony, soft morning light bouncing off her back in the most lovely of ways. But, she was unclothed. And as much as I want to believe that children in their natural state are good and free and fine, and that attaching our own bodily shame to them is unfair, wrong, and pandering to the concern culture that is so rampant in Western parenting. But. Still. I slept on it and decided that I couldn't. That's my line. That's what I'll not post. They're her pictures. They're pictures, and I'm guess I'm just not comfortable sharing that image with the world.

So in its stead, here's an outtake from our Small Style post. 

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137/366 {outtake}

I was going to post a picture I really loved. It was my girl, on the balcony, soft morning light bouncing off her back in the most lovely of ways. But, she was unclothed. And as much as I want to believe that children in their natural state are good and free and fine, and that attaching our own bodily shame to them is unfair, wrong, and pandering to the concern culture that is so rampant in Western parenting. But. Still. I slept on it and decided that I couldn't. That's my line. That's what I'll not post. They're her pictures. They're pictures, and I'm guess I'm just not comfortable sharing that image with the world.

So in its stead, here's an outtake from our Small Style post. 

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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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Why Do You Hate My Baby?

If I were to ask you if I could bring Stella to a grown-up party, would you shoot me eye daggers and mind-punch me right in the kisser? Apparently, you would, if you are a reader of and commenter on NYT’s Motherlode. 

 

KJ Dell’Antonia posted about a timely parenting quandary: to bring or not to bring one’s 18 month old child to a fancy adult New Years Eve party in the wake of a canceled babysitter. A Motherlode reader was invited to a party in a fancy resturant. At the last moment her babysitter canceled, and so she called the host and asked if she might bring her child. Dell’Antonia threw the query out to her audience: was the mother of the 18 month old rude to ask? And how should the host respond?

 

My initial reaction upon reading this post was to think, of course the mother was not rude. In fact she responded appropriately, asking, rather than just assuming her child would be welcomed. And the duty of a host is to accommodate one’s guests graciously. Thus, the doors should be open widely, even to unexpected pint-sized revelers.  Nearly every single commenter disagreed with me.

 

The vigor and vehemence of the commenters collective and universal abhorrence of children at grown-up events shocked me. I thought back to my own childhood, and the adult parties I went to. I reflected on the numerous times I’ve seen small kids here in Aisa out well beyond bedtime. I thought about kids running wild through the halls of five star hotels in China. And all that left me wondering, are we living in an era and a culture of pediaphobia?

 

One need only to look towards the intolerance with which children are welcomed onto airplanes for further evidence in support of this hypothesis. Our culture is rife with parental judgment and competition, as well as with parental anxiety. We criticize, sometimes inwardly, sometimes overtly and viciously, parents whose choices are not in line with our own child rearing practices. We disdain and mock big kids in strollers.  We curse our children for their wakefulness. Still we invest exorbitant  amounts of time, and often money, in baby betterment projects, and are always vigilantly on guard, observing our children for any sign of delay, deficiency, or some sort of diagnosable problem, be it simple as tongue tie or complex as Autism. 

 

The culture of parenting hums along at the low-level frequency of anxiety. We worry that our kids will misbehave, that they’ll not sleep properly, that people will judge our parenting, that there will be something wrong with our kids, that we’ll do something wrong with our kids. We’re frightened of them, their mess, their demands, and what they might say about us. So we want to keep the kids contained in kindergartens and Chuck E. Cheeses’, and the hell outta grown up parties.

 

I wonder what exactly the impetuous to all of this is? Is it the aging, child-free (and thereby sticky, screamy mess-free), baby boomers, with their grasp still hanging on firmly on the tiller of popular culture who are driving this? Is it a backlash against the fetishizing of motherhood? The tabloids celebrating celebrity bumps and celebrity babies? Is it just because we’re selfish and don’t like to be distracted from our drunken revelry by some kid who may or may not be crying?

 

If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them. Because really, what the what, people???

 

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Is Attachment Parenting Even Possible With Number Two?

So, Internet, once again I look to you for validation and the answers to my parenting queries. This time it's about Attachment Parenting. 

 

I'm wondering, is the AP approach even possible for the second kid. (PLEASE NOTE I AM TALKING ABOUT THE HYPOTHETICAL SECOND KID. NOT THE ACTUAL GESTATING SECOND KID BECAUSE IF THERE IS ONE THING THAT SCARES MORE THAN VAMPIRES AND MURDERY BOB CATS, ITS THE IDEA OF A SECOND KID.)

After roughly 14 months of attachment parenting and  14 months of not sleeping, I kind of hate Dr. Sears. A few months ago, I kinda quit the whole AP club. It's a work in progress. I'm slowly tapering. But my hope is to be free and clear, librearted from the AP fold very soon. 

 

Ages ago, when Stella was just a wee pup, I read Erica Jong's piece in the WSJ trumpeting the demerits of the AP way. I thought, this Jong person, what the hell does she know? She only had one kid! She's obviously just a selfish jerk! Well, turns out, surprise surprise, upon rereading her piece 18 months into this whole parenting gig, I'm inclined to agree with many of her arguments.

 

Jong's overarching thesis is that Attachment Parenting harms women. While don't necessarily buy into the political side of her argument - Jong argues that attachment parenting is anti-feminist and a potential tool of the political right - she does make a few substantive points. Mainly that attachment parenting and the broader issue of materphilia sideline women and elevate their progeny to the status of unknowing little dictators, who reign over every aspect of their mothers' lives, curtailing their freedoms and usurping their identity. 

I don't know WHAT sort of Machiavellian plan the Dr. Sears and his AP army have up their collective sleeve, or why they like to remind new and fragile parents, ever so gently of course, about the dangers of crying and the risk of giving your baby a broken brain. But I do know that I kind of want to punch them in the face. Figuratively of course. 

 

Let me explain. Stella cried a lot. She had colic, so that was a solid 4 hours of crying right there. And so of course I go from OMG my baby has colic to OMG SHE IS GOING TO HAVE A CARDIAC ARRHYTHMIA AND ITS MY FAULT BECAUSE SO MUCH CRYING via The Baby Book and Attachment Parenting International. So, anyway, my acute crying phobia lead me to pick up my kid the moment she peeped. To respond to her before she even had a second to whimper. To turn off the stove, stop dinner, and cuddle on demand. 

 

Now that was all fine and dandy, until she expected that kind of response time in the middle of the night. Every hour. Or at all times of the day. Even though she's almost a year and a half. Remember how she won't play by herself? I probably blame Dr. Sears for that as well.

 

Which brings me back to the very hypothetical second child. If I were to have a second child, and if I were to respond to said second child as quickly as I do (and did) to Stella, I would end up in some kind of crazy space-time-continuum wormhole. Because it would be impossible. Having a second kid necessitates a certain degree of disregarded unattended wah wahs. Or so I assume. If you have simultaneous criers, one of them is going to be ignored. It's pretty much science. 

 

So, jerks like Dr. Sears et. all who make me feel like a villainous rogue for expecting my kid to get a reasonable amount of sleep or leaving my kid to cry for five minutes while I do the dishes can just shut their front covers because whateverthelll, you have no idea. 

 

I'm continuing to work through the process of becoming an ex-attachment parent. I'm in Attachment Parenting recovery. And I'm wondering, Internetland, do you attachment parent? Do you have a second child? Are you crushed buy the burdens of AP anti-feminism? Or are you happy and self secure in your hippie fairy dust parenting practices? 

 

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On Needles and Pins and Expats

The waiting has started. We've just sailed right past the two-year mark on this contract, leaving behind stability, security, and knowing what the future holds. Now is the season of anticipation and of speculation. Ears pressed firmly to the ground, listening for murmurs of rumors, suggestions of what might come next. Eyes glaze, and wild fancy takes over, painting a thousand and one imaginary tales of boxes and apartments and new cities and new countries and new foods and  new languages and new friends and and and. We're looking forward with vigour, but we don't know to what. Or when. Or how. Or where.

I suppose that as an serial expat, one never really know what the future holds, but cognitive dissonance allows one to overlook the gaping black hole in the imagined future. The expat starts a contract with an image of life progressing on a linear path of two or three years, and then suddenly: nothing. No concept, no daydreams, no mental construct with which to understand what lies ahead. The serial expat can successfully ignore this reality, happily marching along with time, until she is suddenly standing right on the edge of this gaping hole, with no idea what will fill it. 

Thus, grasping for unknowable answers to the question "what next" is consuming about 98 percent of my consciousness. 

Oh, and did I ever tell you about the time when we had to pack up a house and leave a country with 24 hours notice? That scene is currently headlining in my imagination.

The uncertainty is thrilling, but also, quite frankly, unnerving. We know that a move is on the horizon. There are rumblings and unofficial promises. Vague assurances of "soon" and  "gateway city" and "more exposure" offer hope, yet that hope is awfully slippery when we face the present reality of an incredibly stressful work environment, a poor to non-existent support network, and a country which, although it offers many pleasures, is just a poor fit for us.

Also: it appears as though our much anticipated October European Vacation Extravaganza will be canceled. We already have the tickets. Plans had been made. Concert tickets bought. The aforementioned work stress is a symptom of endemic organizational issues: they are deep. And Wide. And require attention. 

 Suffice to say: doom spirals over at Expatria, Baby. Come join the fun. 

 

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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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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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