Time to Nurse the Baby

Breast feeding is the most natural thing in the world. Or so they will tell you when you are blissfully pregnant with your first.  For many of us, it’s not quite as easy as all that.  The last thing we need is public scorn for trying to feed our babies in places other than darkened nurseries.  I have no patience for people who are so scandalized by the possibility of an errant nipple that they insist we feed our children in bathroom stalls.  Get a grip, people. When I was nursing, I couldn’t find a nursing bra I liked, and I developed an entire uniform around a “sleep bra” and men’s undershirts with slits cut in them under huge camp shirts.  I still flashed people, I’m sure.  Because that’s what happens when your baby decides he’s done for the moment and spits out your boob in public.

And yes, I was asked to feed my children in the bathroom.  I am so sorry my breasts inconvenienced you.  By the time I was confident enough to actually leave my home with a nursing infant, I had already overcome the hurdle of bleeding nipples.  “If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong,” advised my la leche counselor.  “This is the only way he knows how to do it,” I replied.  Bleeding nipples are almost as painful as childbirth, and while it only lasts for a few days, it’s enough to make some women give up, and I don’t blame them.  I was educated and determined and I had the support of my family.  I still didn’t manage to nurse either of my children for the full year recommended by pediatricians.

In my state, only 10% of babies are still being breast fed at 12 months.   This is despite the many known benefits of breastfeeding including a decrease in obesity, diabetes, ear infections, allergies, and asthma. Higher IQ scores in children who were breastfed have also been reported as well as a 30% decrease in SIDS deaths.  The cost of formula (as much as $2000 for a year’s worth) is prohibitive and damn inconvenient.  As far as I’m concerned, the number one benefit to nursing your baby is you can do it while you are asleep.

We as a society need to commit to breastfeeding as the healthiest start to a baby’s future.  Pamphlets and free breast pads are not enough.  New moms need our support. Education is certainly a factor.  Some cultures, even in the United States, still see an ick factor to nursing that can only be overcome by patience and exposure.  It would help if women were seen nursing in public on a regular basis.

But let’s be realistic.  Lots of women stop nursing for a variety of reasons.  Lack of adequate milk production is one.   Pediatricians and lactation consultants will tell you this is a rare phenomenon. But a lot of women run into it, especially faced with THE PUMP.  Some women are pumping pros and do both breasts at once in their cars while they are driving while learning French. For the rest of us, we nurse our babies, put them down for a nap, pump so we can leave the house alone, manage to produce 1/2 ounce of milk, cry for 45 minutes, and eventually go buy formula.  But for working mothers who want to nurse, the pump is not a luxury item reserved for date night.  It’s a necessity.

The only reason I was able to breastfeed my children for seven months was because I was not working.  Women do not need better breast pumps.  We need time to nurse our babies.  If we are serious about the health of women and children, we must address the fact that we are one of the only countries in the world with no mandatory paid maternity leave.  Even the Family Medical Leave Act, which is guaranteed unpaid leave, only lasts for 12 weeks.  This is barely enough time to form an initial bond with a new baby.

In a depressed economy, taking time off for a new baby is a luxury few can afford.  A 2012 Department of Labor survey showed that nearly 25% of women took less than 2 weeks off after the birth of a baby, and about half of those took less than a week.   It is no wonder that women with longer maternity leave also report higher rates of breastfeeding.   A generous maternity leave is also associated with reduced rates of depression in women, even years after returning to the workforce.

Some economists contend that maternity leave also benefits businesses as it prevents high turnover rates and training costs.  Some companies are starting to realize this, and maternity leave is offered as part of a competitive benefits package.  For most women, however, this remains out of reach.

If we as a culture believe in the health and well-being of women and children, if we believe that the health of our infants should not be dictated by Nestle, if we believe in work life balance, we cannot accept current American leave policies.  And for those of you afraid of accidentally seeing a nipple while a baby is eating her dinner, go put a blanket over your head.


Chasing Fire or One Evening in the Odyssey of Parenthood

Kid number two and I went fire chasing last night.  We’d had an early dinner at our favorite burger joint, so it was not even 6:00 when we came out of the restaurant to see pillars of black smoke in the sky.

“Maybe we should follow the smoke,” I say although my mind was already half immersed in a honeysuckle bubble bath and an early pajama time.

“Maybe we should,” he says. “Like a mother/son adventure.”  Who am I to stymie a mother/son adventure?  So we follow the smoke.  It was farther away than I had realized, and it took some driving around to locate the industrial building in the middle of town that was burning.  Not to be dissuaded by road blocks, we cut through a gas station and parked unobtrusively across the street.

“Just say we’re press, if anyone asks,” I tell him.

It was a large metal building that I was later told was used for making ATV parts.  I’m not sure what was in there that was burning, but something was shooting flames high up into the air.  While there were multiple emergency vehicles on site, one lonely firefighter stood atop a ladder and directed a spray of water into the heart of the fire.   Everyone else was supervising.

“That actually looks pretty dangerous,” I say.  “That poor guy up there covered in black smoke.  How can he breathe?”

“I’m sure he has an oxygen tank, Momma,” said my child, trying not very hard to keep the scorn from his voice.

“He’s been up there forever.” I say.  “So much water, and the fire is still going.  You’d think there’d be water flowing down the street by now.”

This time he sighed audibly.  “The water evaporates, you know.  Because there is a fire in there. ”

“Right,” I say.  Fourteen years of fascination of things that burn have obviously prepared him for this conversation. It seems to be a boy thing.  But that would be sexist.

“It might be a woman,” I say. “There is no reason to assume that all firefighters are men.”

“Do you think women firefighters get a lot of dates?”

“Hmm.  I don’t know. Maybe some men are intimidated.  Would you be intimidated by a woman firefighter?”

“No. That’d be badass.”

“I fear your predilection for watching anime featuring young Japanese girls with weapons of mass destruction may have warped your view of women.”

“Maybe I just need a badass woman.”

“Yes,” I said.  “I think you do.”


In Defense of the Throwers of Tantrums and the Parents who Love them

When I was in my early twenties, I did a lot of tutoring. A lot of my clients were Korean wives of visiting professors. One afternoon, I showed up for a session with a client. I’m not sure if she had forgotten I was coming or what, but when I got there, she let me in with a sigh. She was in stained sweat pants and a ripped t-shirt. I walked into her kitchen where her one-year old son sat on the floor. Naked. With an entire cake. He was happily licking the frosting off the wall. Tsk. I thought. The way Koreans coddle their children.
Of course, this was before I had two boys of my own. I can tell you now that what ever series of unfortunate events led to this particular scenario, it is a universal human experience of parenthood, not some cultural anomaly. When you have children, you do things you would never think you would do. Like letting your baby suck on sugar packets at a restaurant so you can eat, driving in circles in the parking lot of your apartment trying to get the kid to sleep, or sticking the binky in your mouth to clean it off once it hits the floor.
I was about 10 months pregnant when I went into Babies R Us for some last minute items. I don’t know if all Babies R Us stores are like this, but the one I went to had the loudest toilets on the face of the earth. Any time anyone flushed, there was a pressure change that made your ears pop. My toddler was fully aware of this and was absolutely not going to go into the Babies R Us bathroom. You’d think I would be able to make him, but you’d be wrong. I made it to the door, and he put his hands and feet on the door jam and screamed. I was about to just pee on the floor and hope people thought my water had broken when a complete stranger came up to me and offered to hold my child so that I could relieve myself in the pit of despair.
“Oh God, yes.” I said. “Take him.”
Despite my greatest hope, I mean fear. She gave him back after I was done. He was still screaming.
This is why it makes me cringe when I see strangers criticize the parenting skills of moms and dads just trying to get by. Let me just tell you, you can do absolutely everything exactly right, and your child may still have a complete meltdown in the middle of Walmart. And you’re probably not doing everything exactly right. If we still lived in large family groups, people would know this. But they set out into their single or coupled childless lives with this idyllic image of what they think parenthood should look like. Apparently, some people are blessed with especially well behaved children, or so I’ve heard. They are probably boring dull children.  This is why I am still grateful to that kind stranger. I wish I could send her my son’s handsome Senior Picture and a copy of his ACT and tell her he’d turned out ok after all.
Baby number two was slightly less prone to tantrums, which is why I actually left home with him on purpose. I took him on long walks in his umbrella stroller. We were a mile and half from home when he suddenly determined that Sunday outings were unholy torture. There was to be no more pushing in the stroller. To ensure this, he put his huge baby feet behind the front wheels and made banshee noises. For about an hour. Finally, a grandmotherly lady came out of her home to see what the ruckus was. She spoke to me soothingly with tales of her own children and let me use her phone so I could call for a Dad pick up. Thank you, Mrs. Henson. He’s doing much better now. He still has big feet. Just like your son in Idaho, he wears a 14 now.
Both my kids were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, actually  Asperger’s Syndrome, and perhaps I had more difficult toddlerhoods than many moms. But whether a child is a little bit different or not, he has bad days just like you do. And nobody gives him a margarita after work.
By all means, if you see a child being abused by an adult, notify the authorities. But if you see a kid at the grocery having a complete breakdown because of the way plums smell, he is probably overtired and over stimulated, and so are his parents. Some days, there is a battle of wills, and some days the parents lose. That doesn’t make them bad parents. It makes them human. A kind smile of understanding instead of a dirty look could really make a Mom or Dad’s day.

To Forgive is Divine

Although I am not a Christian, I think I do understand the idea of God’s forgiveness. We are all children in the eyes of God, and we are imperfect and make mistakes.  If we learn from these mistakes, in other words, repent, our relationship with God remains intact.  I think this can transfer to the secular realm as well.

When I was in kindergarten in the mid 1970’s, our school had a handicapped class.  I think that’s what it was called, the handicapped class.  I was aware that it was there.  I’m sure I didn’t give a lot of thought to the pros and cons of mainstreaming those with physical differences.  Maybe I felt a little curiosity, maybe a little compassion.  I must have been told they all went to class together where they could get extra help, where they could be with other kids like them, so they didn’t have to feel isolated or different.

One day I was with 20 other kindergartners standing in line in a hallway while our teacher ducked into the office.  The handicapped class made its way down the hall coming from the opposite direction.  They were noisy and slow as braces clanked, walkers scuffed, wheels squeaked.  I don’t know how it started.  Maybe it was just one kid who had never seen anything like it before, one kid who thought the parade of painful gaits was funny, one kid who laughed.  And then they were all laughing, every single kid in my class was laughing.  It was so loud. And it seemed to last for hours as they went by so slowly. I wanted to cover my ears because it was so loud.  I didn’t think it was funny.  I didn’t know why they were laughing.  But obviously, I was supposed to laugh, wasn’t I?  I didn’t quite know how.  It came out like a throaty bark, a strangled dog trying to get air.  But I gave it my best shot.  I laughed as loudly as I could to drown out all the other laughs so I wouldn’t have to hear them.

Our teacher came out then, and she was furious.  I wish I remembered what she had said to us, if the teaching moment to end all teaching moments was fully realized.  But I didn’t hear a word she said because I was crying.  It was the first time I remember feeling really bad about myself.  I’d done something awful, and I had known better.   It was the first time I had done something truly unforgivable.

But was it unforgivable?  Do you think less of me?  I was five.  And I immediately repented.  In the eyes of God, I would be forgiven. And I hope you forgive me too.  But I wonder about that class full of children who struggled just to make it down the hall.  How many of them, now in their 40’s, remember that day?  How many of them forgive us?

And that’s the thing.  We are not God.  We are slighted and hurt and gravely wounded by those around us.  We are scarred both by accidental slights and malicious intent.  And we inflict pain on others and still walk around thinking we are decent human beings.  Is that why we say we forgive?  So that we can expect others to forgive us?

Once, many years ago, I was picking up my kid from preschool.  Somewhere between the two car seats and the diaper bag and the sleep deprivation, I managed to hit the minivan next to me with the car door.  I rolled down the window and looked for damage.  I saw a microscopic ding, nothing anyone would ever notice.  Crisis #412 of the day averted.  I was still getting everyone buckled when a hugely pregnant woman came barreling towards me.

I AM VERY DISAPPOINTED THAT YOU DID THAT, she snarled quietly.  All I could think was that this woman was not only hormonal, but also clearly had chronic rage problems for which she must have received a great deal of therapy where they taught her to say I AM VERY DISAPPOINTED in the scary quiet voice  instead of cursing people out in the middle of parking lots full of toddlers.  I stammered, red faced, embarrassed.  I started to pull out my insurance card and my checkbook, but she would have none of it.  She slammed her car door in my face and spent the rest of the school year avoiding me.  She wanted me to know I was not forgiven.

I didn’t exactly lose sleep over this.  But I am a little concerned for this woman’s children who probably pissed her off regularly.  Maybe that’s another reason we forgive, to let go of anger. Being angry at someone indefinitely is taxing.  It’s stressful.  And as far as vengeance goes, it’s not particularly fulfilling.  Holding a grudge, according to Buddha, is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  So having this vehicle of forgiveness is a handy out to have.   It’s an acknowledgement that every hit you take is in the end about how you handle it.

I thought about this a lot when the relatives of church shooting victims in South Carolina came forward to publicly forgive the killer for his act of unspeakable violence.  There were those who criticized them for doing so, but if it brought them peace, who should dare take that away from them?  I could only imagine how I would feel if it were me.  I think anger might be the only thing that held me together.  Maybe it would consume me.  Maybe I would be unable to forgive. And that would just be a tragedy on top of a tragedy.

Fill your Freezer for Girl Power: Ten Reasons to Stock up on Girl Scout Cookies

  1. You are really going to wish you had a thin mint straight out of the freezer in July.
  2.  Girl Scout cookies go well with beer. Here is a handy beer pairing guide.
  3. Because 19 and Counting patriarch, Jim Bob Duggar, is calling for a boycott due to the inclusion of all children who self identify as female. You can read about Jim Bob’s ire here.  Contributing to Jim Bob’s ire should be an important life goal for all of us.
  4. Your money stays local. About 75% of the price of a box of cookies goes to the Girl Scout Troop and its local council. That’s right.  75% of the purchase price, not 75% of profits.  So if you buy Keebler instead, all that money just goes to those greedy little elves.  (Actually, Little Brownie Baker, one of the only two companies that makes Girl Scout Cookies, is owned by Keebler.  You might want to keep this in mind if you need a particular cookie off season, but you won’t.  You have a deep freeze, right?)
  5. The Girl Scout programs you support with your purchase include camping, horse-back riding, and field trips.  But did you know you will also provide opportunities for career exploration, particularly in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)?
  6. Because anti-choice organizations are desperate to link your Do-si-dos with Planned Parenthood. Look, they are both kick-ass feminist organizations, and they are bound to rub shoulders, but if the best you can come up with is to whine that Girl Scouts endorsed Wendy Davis as an “Incredible Lady of 2013,”  you cannot expect people to take you seriously.  For the record, on matters related to sexuality, GSUSA clearly states, “Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) does not take a position or develop materials on these issues. We feel our role is to help girls develop self-confidence and good decision-making skills that will help them make wise choices in all areas of their lives.”
  7. To help girls learn they can support themselves. Unlike the Boy Scouts, whose funding is heavily tied to the Methodist Church, Girl Scouts rely on those cookies to the tune of $700 million per year. This has allowed them to grow in the ways the Boy Scouts have not, developing religious recognition programs for all kinds of religions including Islam.  They’ve also made the phrase “to serve God” in the pledge optional.  The Boy Scouts are never going to do that.  You know why?  No cookies!
  8. To support the LGBTQ community. Other boycotts have focused on the organization’s promotion of lesbianism. I don’t recall any lesbian lessons around the campfires of my youth, but I did learn all about inclusiveness when the Girl Scouts, again unlike the Boy Scouts, refused to exclude either girls or leaders who might happen to be gay.
  9. To support girls who are developing leadership skills. The Girl Scouts have a long history of helping girls reach their potential in leadership positions, and selling cookies is a part of that.  If you don’t think sales skills are important to future leaders, just ask former Girl Scouts like Lisa Ling, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Dole, Madeline Albright, Janet Reno, or Sandra Day O’Connor.
  10. Because you will be popular at office parties. Especially if you bring the appropriate wine. Check out this wine guide.

If that doesn’t convince you, how about this: you can make fried shrimp out of samoas (pictured above).  How outrageous is that? In fact, there are all kinds of Girl Scout Cookie recipes.  Buy some cookies and try one.  Don’t forget to invite a Girl Scout to help you cook.  That would include me.  I bleed green.

The Unbearable Loneliness of Being

I woke up feeling lonely.  I think it is because Spock Jr. just turned 18 and got a driver’s license and a car. He now visits me when he feels like it as opposed to living with me half time by court order.  He prefers his Dad’s house, he says.  I suspect it is because of the 4000 square feet of living space and meat-stocked refrigerator and faster internet, but he says it’s because in the apartment in which we share a wall, I snore.

Last night we had burgers and watched Labyrinth.  “That was cheesy,” he said.  He meant the movie, not the burger.  Somewhere, I have failed. He is a man now and unlikely to change his opinion of Labyrinth.

What do I do now?  Every moment of my life for the past 18 years has been intertwined with his very breath.  He is looking for a job and getting ready to go to college (where he’s received a full scholarship) like the independent autonomous person I always wanted him to be.  Trust me. There were days when he was little and kept getting lost on field trips that I was not so sure this was going to happen.

What is loneliness?   I think it’s fear.  It’s fear of the loss of a part of yourself.  The sense that something is missing and you’re not getting it back.  Letting go is not an active choice.  You can’t wake up in the morning and say I’m going to let go today.  It’s something that happens to you, a gradual process that lessens the pain just a little. I’m not sure there is a way to speed this up, but talking about it seems to help.

You’d think your subconscious mind would be onboard with the lessening of your suffering, but mine is a real bitch.  She often sends me dreams of people I have lost.  And I have to go through letting go all over again. The other night she sent me to a party where I ran into a former lover.

“I have birthday gifts for you,” he said.

He handed me a really ugly necklace, a book of maps (I am hopeless with maps), and a headband made of amethyst that must have weighed 12 pounds.

“How perfect,” I say.  “So thoughtful!”

“That problem we had,” he says, “the one that keeps us apart, we still—“

“No!  Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.  I just want to touch your face before you disappear.”

And then he did.

I woke up aching and afraid.  Aching with the knowledge that he is missing from my life and will not return.  Afraid because I don’t know if I will ever again feel how he made me feel.

I am one of the lucky ones.  My life is full, and this feeling will fade if not disappear completely.  I will learn a new normal with a half empty nest. And someday I will survive letting go of Nyx, too. There will be other lovers and other losses.  Such is the human condition.

But today my chest is tight, and it hurts.  I have nothing to do but let it wash over me.  Tomorrow may be a little better.  So I will fill today with a flurry of activity.  I will try to get some sunshine.  I will take my vitamins. And I will text my son and tell him I love him.  He will think I’m cheesy. A little bit of letting go will happen.


The Privelege of Diversity

A few days ago, I got one of those email petitions from concerned parent Jen Reeves.  Now I know some of you think the idea that you can spend 15 minutes creating a petition and make it go viral is somehow cheating.  For all of you who  do the boots on the ground, door to door, back breaking work of social change, I do applaud you.  Keep doing that.  We need you.  For the rest of us, I think it’s a great application of modern technology that we can get our concerns out there, whatever our issue may be.  And Jen Reeves has a problem worth talking about.  Her daughter wants an American Girl doll that looks like her.

American Girl, in case you live under a rock, makes 18 inch dolls in a variety of ethnicities complete with historical backstories, books, outfits, and a variety of accessories.  The dolls represent girls in the 8-11 year old range, and the company creates relatable characters that live any number of American Experiences.   Just this month, American Girl announced the release of its new diabetic kit accessory.  You can now purchase an insulin pump for your doll.  I think that’s just fantastic.

Jen thinks so, too.  And her petition, which you can find here, shows a picture of a smiling girl surrounded by American Girls in a variety of hues.  But, Jen says:

Jordan was born with one hand and she has always wanted one of her American Girl dolls to look just like her. For now, that is not possible. Limb difference parents from across the country have requested the consideration for a custom limb-different doll. Each time, the company replies with a “no.” 

What a great idea!  You go Jen!  Jordan should absolutely have a doll that looks like her.  How wonderfully empowering that would be!

The problem is this isn’t really something that American Girl does.  If you google  “custom American Girl dolls,” you don’t get a website where you can design a chubby white girl with brown pigtails and a lazy eye (that would be me).  You get dozens of dolls with the exact same face and the exact same body with a variety of different hair colors, eye colors, and skin colors.  This isn’t exactly “custom.”  A variety of choices is great, but even the “Truly Me” line is not promising a picture perfect replica.

If you are an entrepreneur looking for a project, I think there may be a niche here, and if you would like to start producing dolls that match specific girls with all their beautiful flaws, I think Jen can afford one.  Do let me know, and I will promote you here, and 12 people will read it.

I still think American Girl is wonderful.  I absolutely love the books you can buy to accompany your doll.  If this company had started up 10 years earlier, I would surely have been one of the legions of girls who was absolutely crazy for these dolls.  But I probably never would have gotten one.  An American Girl doll with her own book and an outfit is going to set you back a minimum of $200.  And it goes up from there.  In today’s money, the average worker in my state would have to work 17 pretax hours to buy one of these dolls.  That’s half a paycheck. That just does not reflect the diversity of many people’s experience.

So when I see Jordan’s beautiful picture surrounded by well over $1000 worth of American Girl, I have to wonder if her mom really understands diversity.  Her approach to problem solving seems overly brand specific.

Let’s face it.  Jen doesn’t just want a doll that looks like her daughter. She wants an American Girl doll that looks like her daughter.  American Girl dolls, no matter how much you play with them, are designed to be status symbols and collector’s items.  This is why they retire certain popular dolls to increase their value. That’s why they are not going to make a doll with limb differences.  It would not be profitable.  And no one over there at American Girl is claiming they aren’t looking for profit. That would be unAmerican.

I really think it might be prudent to take a step back here and reexamine this situation.  Status: You have a doll with two hands.  Problem: You want a doll with one hand.  One and Only Solution: Demand your favorite doll maker mass produce a one handed doll. I’m not sure where the line between championing diversity and capitalist entitlement is.  But I know it when I see it.

Anyone want to help Jen out with some alternative solutions here?  Trigger Warning: doll dismemberment.   Could you possibly bring yourself to um..alter.. an existing doll? I realize this will compromise the resale value. I know it’s going to be hard. You absolutely should have a drink first.  But it would just take a butcher knife and one good whack.  It’s the type of thing we parents just do for our kids, especially those of us who cannot buy them a menagerie of $200 dolls.