Microblog Mondays: 21st century parenting

On Friday, I had a stranger turn up, not unexpectedly, on my doorstep.

Why was he there?

Because he was one half of a gay couple who had just had a baby via surrogate, and I had 150 oz of breast milk in my chest freezer that P would never be able to drink as I pumped it before I realized she had MSPI and cut dairy and soy out of my diet.

The other father had posted a message looking for potential milk donations on a Fakebook page dedicated to facilitating the sharing of breast milk. I’d seen the message and responded and, about eighteen hours later, there we were.

I sent him off with the milk and a box of 0-3 and 3-6 month clothes that P had long outgrown but were too seasonally inappropriate for my nephew, Spud.

We were both thrilled. I didn’t have to pour that milk (the product of pumping sessions at 3 or 4 a.m. back when P. was sleeping so well as a newborn I had to protect my supply) down the drain, and he had a few days of free food for his baby plus clothes for the warmer weather (when it comes).

We’ll probably never meet again.

But that brief encounter reminded me, amidst all the doom and gloom, that many of us, most of us (I hope), just want to do what we can to help each other out.

Do you have a good news story for the week? I want to hear it!

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Microblog Mondays, Nursing, Soapbox

The eighth month

Over a month late again! Sigh.

Dearest P.,

This has been a really big month! There’s been so much for you to do, so much for you to learn, so much for you to explore. In some ways you’re still the same happy baby you’ve always been and in other ways you’ve changed so much, often overnight! You’re now two-thirds of your way through your first year and the time is really flying.

This month you really got on the move in a big way. You spent the entire month doing your asymmetrical army crawl: you reach with your right arm and drag the left, and push with the right leg. It’s an unusual form of motion and that, coupled with your clearly dominant right hand when it comes to playing with toys, worried me enough that we took you in to see your paediatrician, who then referred you on to a neurologist. We had an anxious week or two, but in the end a head ultrasound and a physical examination ruled out any possibility of a stroke or something more sinister. The neurologist said that you were just very strongly right-hand dominant (and that I was very observant for even noticing the asymmetrical aspects of your development). You also had a follow up ultrasound to check your kidney (at the same time as the head ultrasound, which made for a very long morning) and received a second clean bill of health. We won’t have to check your kidney again until you’re 18 months old.

Your method of crawling is unconventional and a bit awkward to watch, but it clearly works for you as it got faster and more confident as the month progressed. From early in the month you could get your knees up under you or push off the ground with your hands, and you could briefly hold a low plank position. By about halfway through the month you’d mastered climbing up and down the little step into our kitchen, and your brother noticed that you hardly ever rolled anywhere anymore. By the end of the month you could climb over our thighs if we were sitting on the ground with our legs outstretched. You also finally learned how to sit! You’re not an independent sitter yet (in that I have to place you- you can’t get yourself into sitting from your tummy) but you were getting progressively more stable throughout the second half of the month. Sitting is a huge game changer- it makes such a difference in your ability to play with toys, interact with us, and just generally observe the world.

You very quickly realized that army crawling is far more precise than rolling. Since we’ve extensively babyproofed the main floor of the house you’ve spent many a happy hour crawling over to your shelves and pulling out your toys or unpacking all your books. But your favourite destinations are, of course, places where you’re not supposed to be. If we forget to put up the pressure gate near the front door you crawl over and try to eat the dirt and the road salt in the boot tray. If we forget to close the doors to the pantry you crawl over and try to eat the garlic skin or the onion bag. If your brother leaves anything on the floor, we can be sure you’ll find it (including the food that he drops on the floor under his chair). We often hear him repeating, “Not helpful, P.” as he runs over to rescue something you’ve discovered.

Eating has continued to pose some challenges. We sorted out the nursing issue- you nurse seven or eight times each day (including twice at night). As for solid food, by the end of the month you were up to a mix of self-feeding and purees. You have a pretty decent pincer grip now, although you do sometimes have trouble getting the food you’ve picked up into your mouth (you often use your other hand to help push it in). For most of the month we’ve managed to avoid any power struggles with purees by always using two spoons- you get to hold one, and I hold the other, and if you change your mind as to which spoon you want, we trade. You show enormous enthusiasm when it comes to your spoon, but most of the time you either fling it around so much that the food falls off, turn the spoon upside down, or stick the wrong end in your mouth. On the rare occasion when you do succeed at getting the spoon into your mouth when it still has food on it you look surprised!

This month we realized that you absolutely have to eat prunes on a daily basis to have any chance at all of keeping your system regular. We’ve started stewing them up ourselves, using our immersion blender, and then putting the resulting paste in the freezer in a ziploc bag. You seem to prefer them still partly frozen, so I’ve taken to advertising them as “Tasty tasty chocolatey frozen pruney bites!”. I don’t think this impresses you when you’re having a rough week and you see the prunes coming for the third time that day. They’re boring, I know, but they work (along as we keep your diet clear of apple, banana, and rice). You also absolutely loathe having your face washed after a meal (unless I’ve taken you directly up to the bath, in which case you don’t mind at all).

You’ve been learning about your own appetite. Some days you eat everything we offer you and other days you barely touch it. One memorable evening you ate an entire puree pouch at dinner (for the very first time) and then settled in for a giant milk feed right before bed. When you’d finished nursing I sat you up and I was just about to put you on my shoulder to rock you and sing your lullabies when you vomited up the entire milk feed and the entire puree pouch. It went everywhere. I had to call in Daddy to clean up the floor and the rocking chair while I changed every item of clothing I was wearing and gave you a full bath. It was spectacular, to say the least, and, given the puree pouch had been “pear and garden greens”, your Daddy and I kept making Exorcist jokes while we dealt with the mess.

In general, though, you’re pretty excited about food. When you’re eating something particularly delicious you will kick your legs and bang your head against the back of the high chair. You’ve also learned that eating is a social activity. One day I was eating an orange and you got very frustrated because you wanted some too! And, of course, eating has been helped enormously by the fact that you finally cut some teeth! You have your two bottom middle teeth now and you very quickly figured out that they can be quite useful when taking bites of peanut butter toast or pancake or strawberries. They both seemed to come through without much trouble, not even the nasty diapers that used to upset your brother so much, so I’m hopeful that this might prove to be a trend. I’m also relieved that the emergence of teeth hasn’t made any difference in the way you nurse.

You are such a cheerful little soul. Although I still get told all the time that you’re “very alert!”, probably the next most frequent statement I hear from the people you meet is “She’s so happy!”. It’s true that you have a smile for almost everyone and everything you encounter. When we take your brother to school each morning a couple of the other parents always come over to get their daily baby smile and you happily oblige. You’re always overjoyed to see your Daddy when he gets home from work, and your brother gets the biggest and brightest smile of all whenever you catch sight of him. It doesn’t matter how short your nap was or how many times you woke up at night, you greet me (and the rest of your day) with a big gummy grin. I can’t help but smile back.

You’ve always been an interactive baby but this month you really became your own little person who has a real role in any conversation. You can now stick out your tongue and blow raspberries (both of which I am quite certain you learned from your Daddy). You’ve also started waving, which is just plain adorable. When we were at the hospital the day of your ultrasounds you waved at everyone else in the waiting room and charmed them all. You babble endlessly and have a full range of vowel and consonant sounds. And you chortle and giggle all the time, especially when watching your brother who is still, without doubt, your favourite person in the whole world. When I’m in the shower he often climbs into the crib with you and I get out to find that he’s reading you one of your books or singing you silly songs that he’s made up. My favourite this month was one about whales to the tune of “Baby Beluga” which had a verse that started, “Deep in the ocean where the sun goes down,/ Where the blues and the killers and the sperms swim around”.

You still adore the (long-suffering and ever so patient) cat and this month you started giving her open handed pats (or smacks) rather than just grabbing fur and pulling her tail. You still have a ways to go before we can say that you’re being gentle with her, but I think it’s clear that you’re trying to imitate what we’ve been showing you.

Your routine hasn’t changed much this month as your day still revolves around your brother’s school schedule. The biggest difference I’ve noticed is that you can sometimes stay up a bit longer between your two naps, and that often means that I have to wake you up from your second nap to go pick E up. I’ve mastered the stealth grab to get you out of the crib, out of your sleep sack, into your hat and your fleece bear suit, and into the carrier before you’ve really woken up enough to protest. You almost never go back to sleep again after all of that, but at least you don’t protest too much at being yanked so unceremoniously from your bed. This early wake up does make dinner a bit fraught as you’d really like to go to bed earlier than is possible if you’re eating dinner with the rest of us. We’re still figuring out the best way to manage this, and I’m sure we’ll find a good solution just in time for you to change your routine again! You get up for the day at some point after 6 a.m. (often only a very short time after 6 a.m.), and I’m still trundling down the hall to feed you twice a night (usually around 11:00 p.m. and then again around 2:30 or 3:00 a.m.). At some point we may have to think about encouraging you to drop those feeds, but we’re not ready yet, even if your Daddy is sleeping in the basement during the week.

Your two teeth have definitely changed your smile. Your hair is starting to grow in a little bit more, especially at the back, but you certainly won’t be needing a haircut any time soon! You’re so big and yet still so little. I’m so excited to see what you’re going to learn to do in the next few months, but I’m also in no rush for you to grow up. You’re so busy and curious now that it’s hard to get a cuddle. You always want to be carried facing out so you don’t miss anything, and even when you bump your head or scare yourself as soon as you’ve stopped crying you want to get back down and keep moving. So even though I am very tired and I’m making all sorts of silly mistakes because I’m so sleep deprived, I take a moment every time I feed you at night to hold you close and kiss your soft hair and feel the weight of your body as you cuddle up against me, safe, secure, and loved.

Love always,
Mummy

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Filed under Letters to P., P.- the first year

When you can’t go home again

My mother is planning to sell her house. It is the right decision: she is newly widowed; the house is much too big for her and too hard to maintain; the property is rural and isolated and requires too much work; she is a long drive away from her siblings, children, and grandchildren; and she does not have a strong support network of friends in the area where she currently lives.

It is a big house that got away from my mother and stepfather over the last few years as he became increasingly unwell. It is in an economically depressed area. Up until a couple of weeks ago, when I’ve thought about the reality of Mum selling the house, my thought process has largely revolved around the fear that my mother will want to sell the house and not be able to, or that she will sell it for such a pittance that she will not be able to move closer to me and my sisters, even if we help financially.

I’ve been afraid that the house will be an albatross, a millstone wrapped around my mother’s neck, dragging her down and chaining her to the past when she is willing to move forward and explore a new future.

When I saw my mother last week, she commented that the real estate agents who have been in to see the house have called it a “breath of fresh air”. There are, apparently, not many houses of its size on the market, and there are buyers who want a larger house.

They don’t think it will be hard to sell.

Whether this is true or not remains to be seen, but in that moment, when the sale of the house became a real possibility, the door that I have been keeping resolutely shut cracked open and the emotions that I have been holding at bay flooded in.

Because it’s not just a house, of course.

It’s our childhood home.

It’s the place my city-born son loves to visit most of all.

It’s where I can see all the stars.

Selling the house is absolutely, without a doubt, the right decision. And yet, last week, when I was sitting in the bedroom that used to be mine, looking out the window at the snow and the trees and the landscape that my body recognizes as “home”, it seemed impossible to comprehend that it might be one of the last times I was there, that at some point very soon visiting my mother will not mean returning to the place where I grew up.

It’s another loss.

How do I make the space to grieve it?

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Filed under Family, Grief, Loss

Microblog Mondays: Learned Helplessness

Last week I was at a gas station with E., P., and my mother in tow. My mother volunteered to pump the gas but had only been out of the car for a moment before she was over on my side asking me to release the lock on the cover for the gas cap.

“I’m sure there isn’t a switch,” I told her.

She insisted, so we had a lengthy look at all the buttons and levers to confirm that I was right, after which I got out of the car and said, “I’m quite sure you just pull it open” and demonstrated. This did work, but it wasn’t easy, it didn’t feel familiar, and it didn’t seem like a very good piece of engineering (which would make it an anomaly in that car).

While Mum was pumping the gas, I got out the owner’s manual to learn how to change the clock, which I couldn’t do without having the car turned on. Stymied, I looked up the cover and discovered that to open it you have to just push on one end- it’s spring loaded.

We have owned this car for almost a year now, and apparently I’ve NEVER put gas in it before last week. If I’m with Q., I guess he’s always gotten out, whether he’s driving or in the passenger seat. And if I’m on my own, Q’s obviously made sure at some earlier point in the week that the tank is full (he tends to use the car more than I do).

There are areas in our marriage where I’m very much aware that I’m largely incapable of doing something which I should be perfectly capable of doing (just because Q. always does it), including cooking meat, making bread, and carrying out home repairs. Q., of course, has his own areas of learned helplessness, especially surrounding the household finances. In some ways it just comes with being a long-established couple: we divide and conquer household responsibilities all the time.

But I really should know how to put gas in our car.

Where are your areas of learned helplessness? Do you have ambitions of erasing them?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Daily Life, Microblog Mondays

Microblog Mondays: Guilty Pleasures

I love real estate.

Before we bought our house, I loved going to open houses, especially when we really were just “looking” and weren’t ready to buy yet.

I’m on the email list for one of the agents who is most active in our neighbourhood, so I feel like I have a good sense of how things are selling (extremely quickly and for stupidly over asking because the market in our city is out of control).

When we bought our house, we bought what we could afford and we bought a house that would not prove to be too big for us if we weren’t able to have children. We’re going to be in this house for a long time now, as we can’t afford to move up to anything bigger in our neighbourhood (see comment above about the ridiculous state of the market). So until recently I didn’t really have any reason to look at listings or go to open houses.

My mother is going to be moving, hopefully sometime this spring or summer.

She’s set me loose on MLS to look at listings in likely areas. When she comes to visit we’re going to go and see some places in person.

I have already spent a couple of hours cruising the website, looking at walk scores and watching virtual tours.

I am SO HAPPY.

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Family, Microblog Mondays

Microblog Mondays: The Unread

Microblog_Mondays

I have put London Fog: The Biography on hold at the library three times.

The first time the hold became available was late January 2016. I was teaching three classes (all new to me) and the most time I had to read non-course related material was on the bus between campuses on my particularly manic Mondays. I realized within a week I didn’t have the time or the brainpower to read this book in tiny snippets and returned it when my borrowing period expired.

I didn’t even attempt to get it out of the library again for more than eight months. But when September came around and E. was back at school and P. and I were settling into a rhythm and the chaos of 2016 had eased a little bit, I thought I’d be able to handle it. So I reactivated my hold just in time for P. to start the four-month sleep regression early.

Again I returned it, not a single page further ahead than I had been in January.

In December, I told Q. I was going to reactivate the hold again in January because surely by then I’d have the brain capacity to read it with the kind of attention I knew it deserved.

Q. bought it for me for Christmas, because he always pays attention and always knows exactly the right thing to do.

It’s sitting on the shelf of my night table, underneath my library books.

I still haven’t read any further. My brain still isn’t ready.

But at least I know I don’t ever have to bring it back.

Do you have a book that you desperately want to read but can’t quite ever seem to manage to get round to it?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Books, Microblog Mondays

On sleep, work, the baby, and balance (or haven’t I been here before?)

I find myself reminded on a daily basis that sleep deprivation is a form of torture.

I am functioning, but only just. It isn’t even that P’s sleep is all that dreadful, more that she’s up twice every night so the sleep I do get is always fragmented into three blocks, compounded by her for the last week or so getting up for the day before 6 a.m.

Every morning I find the last line from Samuel Beckett’s novel, The Unnamable rolling round and round in my head (“I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”)

I can remember being in a very similar stage at a very similar point during E’s infancy (I wrote about it here). The situation wasn’t identical, of course, but it was eerily familiar: I had a baby who was waking up to nurse twice a night, guaranteeing I couldn’t get a block of sleep longer than four hours, and I had a looming academic deadline. In E’s infancy it was the first chapter of my dissertation. This time around it’s the first draft of the book chapter for an edited volume.

We’re running a workshop for the volume in mid-July and all contributors are meant to have the first draft of their chapter available for circulation by the end of May. Given I’m one of the editors (and Q. is another- the book project is really his baby), there wouldn’t be serious consequences were I to miss that deadline. But that’s certainly not ideal.

When we first organized the workshop and mapped out the deadlines, I can remember thinking (this was before P. was born), “No problem. I’ll start reading and collecting sources in March and then I can write the chapter in May.”

I didn’t seriously believe, you see, that I could end up with TWO babies who would get up twice a night to nurse in the second half of their first year. Surely, I thought, by the time P was eight or nine months old she’d be sleeping better than E was. And then she was such a good sleeper for her first two months that she lulled me into thinking she’d be an easy baby.

Ha.

So here I am, with an academic deadline and a brain that feels like mush, and what really gets me is the whole thing is just so.damn.familiar.

Last time around, when I was assessing the impact of my long-term sleep deprivation, I noticed this:

I’m breaking things.

In the last month, I’ve smashed at least four things in the kitchen- a glass, a port glass, a plate, a bowl. I don’t think I’d broken four things, total, in the previous ten years. They were dumb accidents too- I’d reach for something on the counter and knock something else over instead, or I’d pick something up and drop it on something else. They were dumb enough that each time I remember standing there amidst the shards of glass or pottery, thinking, Really? I just did that?

Yep. I’ve started dropping things or being unable to properly hold them when I go to pick them up. It’s like I’m losing my hand-eye coordination.

And there was this:

I forget things.

I forget everything now, if it isn’t written down, and half the time I still forget it even if it is recorded somewhere. Given I’ve always been the memory of this family (Q. being a very clever man but a very absent-minded professor), this is quite disturbing. It makes me feel weak.

Yep. I forget appointments, plans, ideas, even words. A normal conversation in our house now looks like this:

Q. (wrestling with tangled cables): “We should set up a charging station for the mobile phones.”
Me: “Yes! I want to get one of those…things.” *gestures helplessly* “You know! The things with all the things that you can plug in.”
Q.: “A power bar.”
Me: “Yes! Fuck. I want a power bar for my desk downstairs so I can have a charging station for the iPad and my phone and my laptop.”

I have these kinds of conversations with E. all the time. My FIVE YEAR OLD fills in my vocabulary gap when I can’t remember challenging words like “gate”, “streetcar”, or “upstairs” (these are all real examples).

I invited some of E’s friends and their parents to come on a nature walk with us a couple of weekends ago and got the start time wrong. Luckily it was a beautiful day and the family who came didn’t mind being there thirty minutes early, but still.

I had to take P’s passport application in twice because the first time I went to submit it the nice lady behind the desk had to tell me that not only had I forgotten to sign it (which was easily rectified right there in the office), but I had neglected to get Q. to sign it as well (which was not).

I cannot emphasize enough how NOT LIKE ME these types of things are.

My sense of my innermost self is built on a foundation of BEING ORGANIZED.

I am the one who is always on time for everything. Always. Even with two kids.

I remember appointments.

I fill out forms correctly.

If Q. is the absent-minded professor in our family, I am the steel trap memory.

I know the sleep deprivation is temporary- E has taught me that much.

But its effect is enormously difficult for me to cope with, not just because it makes me bleary and fuzzy and short-tempered each day, not just because it means I cannot imagine how I am going to maintain the needed focus to do the research for this book chapter, let alone actually write the thing, but because it fundamentally erodes a not insignificant part of who I believe myself to be.

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Filed under Life after the PhD, My addled brain, Nursing, P.- the first year, Sleep, Writing