Posts in Pretty Deep Thoughts
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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