Monthly Archives: October 2008

Sleep deprivation

            Yesterday, I started to realize that there was a series of tasks piling up, all of which would require a block of free time without children.  People have been sending baby gifts, and the “thank you” list is getting pretty long.  I have run out of blog posts and was hoping to write a few.  My legs have gotten so hairy that they are themselves now begging to be waxed.  And, I really needed to catch up on some sleep.

            In the afternoon, I got a small chunk of time.  My legs are still hairy.  I have not written any posts.  And you can be damned sure I didn’t write any thank you notes.

            I am, however, a little less tired now.

            So, in lieu of an actual post, I give you this quote from Benjamin, as he ran into the room carrying a Halloween decoration.  “This my skettelin.  Him got bones!”

            If I have time to write today, I might.  Or I might get my legs waxed.

Animal, vegetable, moron

            Liz emailed me awhile back and suggested Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  Sucker that I am for book recommendations, I got a copy, and I am reading it as I breastfeed (and then breastfeed some more.  How big is she trying to get?)  And I am reminded that one of my goals upon moving to Southern California was to start growing a bit of our own food.

            There are a few obstacles.  Our yard is not all that big.  A few spots get a lot of sunlight, but most of it is only sunny for a small portion of the afternoon.  And, most importantly, I don’t know squat about farming.

            Well, that’s not entirely true.  I once grew basil, but I think anyone with an IQ of over 7 is capable of making basil thrive.  And I do know how to tie up and sucker tomatoes.

            That’s all I know about horticulture.

            I guess the first step is starting to compost, right?  See, we don’t like smells or rodents, and our yard is not big enough to put the pile somewhere far from the house.  So, I need to get some sort of composting contraption that will allow the compost to do all the breathing and such that it is supposed to do (but that I don’t understand) and will keep it contained.  We’re willing to shell out for it, if anyone can recommend one for us to buy.

            In addition to knowing nothing about composting, I don’t know when to plant or what to plant or where in the yard to plant.  Is there some sort of book called Composting and gardening in Southern California for Complete and Total Morons?  If so, I would like a copy.  If not, I need some advice.  I think I’ll put in some basil in the spring, but when do I start the seeds?  Then, I want to grow either tomatoes or grapes because we consume them in giant quantities.  What kind of sunlight do they need?  When do I start the seeds?  When do I move them outside (after the last frost?)?  We have a lemon tree in the back – is there anything it is not a good idea to plant next to lemons?

            And, what about keeping away bugs?  All I know is marigolds scare away some bugs.  Any other plants or organic tricks you can suggest?  Books to read?  Websites to visit?  Places that explain it all simply, as though I were a two-year-old.

            See, what Kingsolver did not take into account in her little book is that not all of us grew up on a farm.  I need step-by-step instructions here, people.  Some of us grew up in the suburbs, you know, and we don’t know what the hell we are doing.

Living texts

            A year before we had Zachary, friends visited with a wee tyke.  The cringed as she pulled up and cruised around our coffee table.  “You might want to move that book,” they told me.

            “Why?” I replied.  “Books are meant to be used.  She won’t learn to love books if we keep taking them away.”

            This is a policy to which we have adhered, sometimes to our dismay as our sons ask us to read for hours on end.  One of the drawbacks of all that reading is a certain verbal facility that we could sometimes do without.  But, we stick to it.  Books are not sacred objects – they are living, functioning items that cannot enrich our lives if we are so worried about their physical being that we cannot absorb their magic.

            Unless, of course, the book is a sacred text.  You know, the kind of text that you can only touch the underside and outside, and you have to touch the words with a silver pointer because it is too holy for human hands.  Like the kind of text that is so revered that entire congregations stand up every time it is brought out.  Like the kind of text that the truly orthodox don’t let women touch because, hey, they might be menstruating and could defile it.  That kind of a sacred text.

            You know, like the Torah.  Then, I can understand if maybe people don’t want grubby little people getting too close with their snotty noses and their peanut butter residues and their propensity for tearing things.

            Which explains my surprise last week on Yom Kippur.  This was our first High Holy Days at this synagogue, and, due to the tiny new person in our house, we didn’t make it to a lot of the services.  Zachary and I, however, did go to the family service on Yom Kippur, sleeping Lilah in tow.  Near the end of the service, the Rabbi instructed all the families to bring their children to line one of the aisles. 

            What followed was like nothing I have ever seen before in all the Yom Kippur services I have attended.  After stationing proctors along the human tunnel and admonishing parents to keep a close eye on their children, the rabbis, the Cantor, and the preschool director proceeded to unroll the Torah the entire length of the aisle.  Yes, right through the passageway of rambunctious children.

            The children seemed to understand that this was not a moment for impishness or levity.  All their destructive urges had been left behind in their seats.  They stood there, two-year-olds on up to ten-year-olds with serious little faces, palms upraised to support the underside of the sacred scroll.  Not a single child that I saw even considered tearing, wrinkling, or running through, although the Rabbi’s wife did utter a horrified “NO!” at one point, which leads me to wonder if one of his daughters might have tried to touch the forbidden top part where all the words are.

            I am not sure if the children really understood what an extraordinary experience this was.  While this congregation does it every year, I have never heard of any other doing something as audacious as exposing their Torah to hundreds of germ-laden hands.  Their Torahs may be a little better-protected, but you can bet our kids are the ones who will grow up believing the Torah is a text to be inhaled, understood, and lived, not just worshipped from afar.

Next year in Jerusalem

            “Sorry, Mommy,” he offers. 

            “I know, baby, but you have a two-minute time-out.”

            “I’m sorry, Mommy,” he tries again.  But he is not.  He is not sorry the way I am sorry.  If he were sorry like a grown-up, he wouldn’t do it again.  If he meant the word the way I mean the word, he would never again spit or bite or push.

            But, of course, he is two, and two-year-olds only understand that they are sorry they got into trouble.  Hopefully, the word will be followed by the emotion, but it will most likely be years before he feels any real compunction. 

            I, on the other hand, am careful with my apologies.  I only make them if I mean them, if I will try to never again repeat the action.  That is why I never apologized to certain members of my family.  I was sorry they were hurt, but I couldn’t promise that I would never again voice the truth.  I was not sorry like an adult, and I refused to apologize like a two-year-old.

            I think of this now as I write my Yom Kippur post (writing it on Yom Kippur to post next week because I am just a little behind these days).  On Yom Kippur, we are meant to repent our sins, yet this year all I feel is gratitude for how much happier we are this year than last.  We are not in London anymore, we have a new and unplanned member of the family, and I feel like I have begun to hit my stride as a writer (although not as a published writer).  I even feel gratitude for the things that frustrated me last year, such as the chance to live in London for two years.

            But, because I am an obedient Jew, I am trying to muster up some sense of repentance.  I could be a better mother, a better wife, a better friend, I suppose, but that would require a fundamental personality shift, so it’s hard to be too remorseful about those things.  I could give more to my community, for certain, but it isn’t going to happen when I would need to hire childcare just to volunteer.  It will need to wait a year or two. 

            These are not excuses.  A year or two ago, they would have been.  But now I have come to a place where I give as much as I can and then forgive myself the remainder.  In return, I am growing and actually able to give more.  And, so, on this Day of Atonement, I find myself stronger and better than I have ever found myself before.  Instead of Atoning this year, I instead ask myself to keep on growing and learning and appreciating.

            And next year in Jerusalem – next year may all live in peace.

Sleep while the baby is sleeping

            “Sleep while the baby is sleeping,” the tell me, beaming with beneficence and sure they have just offered sage advice.  “Sleep while the baby is sleeping.”  And I am lucky to have such wisdom heaped upon me, although I find myself with a few questions. 

            When the baby falls asleep in the car while I am driving her brothers to school, do I pull over right there on the 405 and go to sleep in the driver’s seat, or do I ask the four-year-old to take over at the wheel?  Also, when she falls asleep in the Bjorn while taking a walk around the neighborhood, how do I know which neighbors will not mind me going to sleep on their front lawn? 

            Now, I know I am not supposed to sleep with the baby in the bed, but when she wakes up every time I put her down, am I supposed to go with the SIDS warnings against the baby in the bed or the advice to sleep while the baby is sleeping?

            “Sleep while the baby is sleeping,” they instruct me.  This goes hand-in-hand with their other advice.  I am to make sure each of the other children gets a little alone time with me each day.  And I am to be sure to eat well and get some exercise.  And I am absolutely required to take a little time to do something nice for myself each day.  But all that salad-eating and toddler cuddle time and me-time has to happen – you guessed it – when the baby is sleeping.  Plus there are those annoying habits I got into way back before I had children: teeth brushing, face washing, and fingernail cutting.  I tend to find it easier to get those things done without a squalling infant in the room.

            “Sleep while the baby is sleeping,” they insist firmly, so often in fact that sleeping becomes just one more thing to feel guilty that I haven’t accomplished to the standards they are setting for me.  And I love that advice, really I do.  I love the naivety with which they offer it, as though it had never occurred to me that the best time to get rest is when the baby is also asleep.  But by the time I have eaten and showered and pumped (because they also tell me I MUST have a break and so she NEEDS to learn to take a relief bottle), it is twenty minutes before the next feeding.  It is not worth going to sleep, especially because, as soon as I do, someone is sure to call and tell me to sleep while the baby is sleeping.

            It is, however, just the right amount of time to write a blog post.

And, of course, I shall wear purple

            Someday (Lord willing and the crick don’t rise) I will be an old lady.  I will have dry tufts of hair that I do not know what to do with and I will wear too much makeup or none at all and I will walk more slowly than I imagine myself to be going because I will still picture myself moving at the rapid pace I used to stride in my early 20s.  I will be old, and my children will be grown and will have children of their own (because that is their duty to their mother) who are also growing up and playing Little League or are on the high school debating team.  And I will be very proud of all of them, although they live too far away and it is hard for me to fly and I just don’t see them as much as I would like to.

            I will be a feisty old lady, but I will need to see doctor for my Thisitis and my That Syndrome and I am sure there will be regular trips to medical center to get blood drawn to see about my Whatever levels.  When I am there one day, I will see a mother, tired, hair unwashed, milk dripping though her shirt.  She will be cradling a newborn, a wee thing that has just been subjected to blood tests and has finally collapsed in her mother’s arms.

            I will be the type of old lady who stops and talks to the mother.  I will ask how old and what is the sex and is she your first?  The mother will be too tired to answer, but she will be polite, although all she really wants to do is worry about her baby.  I will know this, but I won’t be able to stop myself.

            Because, although I will be an old lady, for a moment I will be in my thirties once again.  I will smell your sweet smell of milk and new skin and faintly of Oreo cookies.  I will feel the fuzz of your hair against my lips.  I will remember you curling into a ball and then slowly stretching out of it as you wake.  I will see the wrinkles of your brow and the angel kiss on your forehead and the eyes as they slowly close off to sleep.  I will hear your mewl as you search for my breast, and my breasts will, just for a moment, feel the tingle of your fierce latch and my eager letdown.

            When I am an old lady, Lilah, you will be the last baby that I remember so well.  It is the moments with you I am working to appreciate because there will not be another.  I will remember all my children, of course, but it is your newborn moments that will stop me as I walk out of the medical center, resting an aching hip, and bring me back to when we were all so young.

I don’t know nothin’ ’bout burpin’ no babies

            It is a grammatical fantasy to turn “burp” into a word with a direct object.  The subject of a sentence can burp, as in “I burped so loudly the windows shook,” but the subject of the sentence cannot burp the direct object.

            As in: “I burped the baby.” 

            Babies cannot be burped.  After having three of them, I have concluded that it is hubris to imagine we have any control over this particular activity.  I know because, try though I might, I never seemed to have any effect whatsoever on my sons’ ability to get out those gas bubbles.  My husband was somewhat more effective, but since he was out of town so frequently, I could not rely on him to show up after every feeding and use those broad shoulders to coax out the burps.  So, I would sit there, holding Zach in an upright position for twenty minutes till he got around to burping on his own.  Benjamin was even worse, and we had to start giving him special drops to help him move his gas along.

            So, imagine my delight the first time I fed Lilah and then positioned her for a sitting burp, only to have her belch before I could even start the process.  Yes, much as her brothers were the world’s worst burpers, Lilah is quite possibly gifted.  Every time she pulls off the breast and looks up at me placidly, I sit her up and she lets out an enormous burp.  She rarely fusses about it; she just pulls away and waits for me to sit her up.  Except for the times, of course, when she burps right there at the breast.

            I never knew a child could be so exemplary at this particular activity.  I never fathomed the beauty of a child who, instead of writhing in discomfort for a half an hour and then spitting up half of a feeding, simply sits up and burps.

            It may be a small talent, and it will probably cease to amuse me when she is eight and having dinner at a friend’s house, but for the time being, I am absurdly proud of her burping ability. 

            My daughter, the frat brother.

Some kind of wonderful

            When I was in junior high school, I was not the paragon of cool I have since become.  Whereas now people come to me for tips on how to be on the edge of cutting edge, whereas now I define hip and trendy, back then I might have been on the geeky side.

            Like, say, the geekiest girl in school.  I was fortunate, however, to find myself a boyfriend.  That’s because there were a few male geeks, as well.  And, the geekiest boy and the geekiest girl, well, it made sense.

            On paper, at least.  We decided to “go out” with each other for a couple of weeks in October, until I broke up with him right before the Halloween dance because I was afraid we’d have to kiss each other.

            Thinking I was free and clear, I went off to the dance in my Cyndi Lauper costume.  And he showed up dressed as an ameba, which, with the gift of hindsight, I recognize as a rather inspired costume. 

            Unfortunately, I spent the rest of the year fending off the nickname “Paramecium.”  Thanks, dude.  You brought me down with you.

            Recently, we have reconnected through Facebook.  And he is married with a child.  He runs a very successful hobby shop.  He writes a newspaper column and has a collection those columns out in book form. 

            I have long since forgiven him for saddling me with the reputation of a single-celled organism in junior high.  I am just happy to know that, as the old people always predicted, it’s the geeks who have ended up with the good life.

Swaddle me this…

Sometime in about 2002, I began to hear rumblings of the latest craze in parenting.  All the Good Mothers, it seemed, were swaddling their babies.  “How very seventeenth century of them,” I mused, but – as I had no children – I thought little more about it. 

A couple of years later, Zachary was born.  I wanted to make sure I was one of All the Good Mothers and I eager to try out the latest trends, even if the last time this particular fad last had been popular was when Martha Jefferson had desperately searched for ways to get her six kids to sleep through the night.  (Actually, come to think of it, Martha herself probably did not get up in the night with her kids, but I’ll bet Sally Hemings practiced the fine art of swaddling.) 

A friend had given us a special blanket designed for Idiot-Proof Swaddling, which was a damned good thing because it was immediately clear to both of us that, when it came to swaddling, we were complete morons.  Whenever we tried to wrap him in a baby blanket like the nurses at the hospital had, he wiggled himself loose in about 4.8 seconds.  But, with this nifty little blanket, all we had to do was wrap Zachary up and Velcro him shut.  We marched bravely forward and began to wrap him in the little blanket.

Damn it if he still didn’t manage to get loose.  Actually, first he screamed furiously, and then he wiggled free.  If he was asleep when we put him in, he woke up, then screamed and busted out.  The kid clearly had not read the manual that explained that all babies like to be swaddled.

Benjamin, two years later, was at least not vehemently opposed to swaddling.  He sort of tolerated it for a few weeks, but we quickly realized it was getting us nowhere.  Our children were obviously Swaddle Impaired.  Or their parents were.

You would think I would have given up completely, and perhaps I would have, but one or two days after Lilah’s birth, it was evident that this baby really liked being burritoed up tight.  When the nurses swaddled her, she settled right down and slept.  I called J and told him to stop at a store and pick up a few more Idiot-Proof Swaddlers, since we had given the old ones away with all the baby stuff.

What I found when I returned home seemed hopelessly complicated.  It involved wrapping each arm separately, tucking in the legs, and then securing the baby with two distinct flaps.  I had to read the directions to figure out how to use this thing.  I was certain we were doomed to failure.

All I can say is that these are the greatest baby item we have ever owned.  Swaddled, she sleeps for several hours at a time.  Unswaddled, she wakes up wailing in a matter of minutes.  They call these things the Miracle Blankets, and I am starting to think it may not be marketing hyperbole. 

I wonder if they make them in my size.

“Babies are extra-terrestrials,” someone once told me.  “As soon as you have figured them out, they change.”  And you KNOW that, between the time I wrote this post on Friday afternoon and posted it this morning, this baby has decided that she cannot abide being swaddled.

Makin’ dinner

Hi, I’m Emily, and I am a successful breastfeeder.

It feels like something I need to hide, to qualify, to be a bit abashed about, because nowadays people are so worried about offending those who don’t breastfeed that they bend over backwards to avoid seeming to celebrate those who do.  But, despite all the complicated Mommy politics around breastfeeding, the fact remains that we all know it is best for the baby and we should do it if at all possible.

What we don’t acknowledge is that, even in the most conducive of situations, nursing is hard.  I mean HARD.  It is tiring and hurts and requires a woman to be with her baby pretty much all the time, unless she is pumping, which is a whole other mess of caterpillars.  It is not easy, but there are a lot of things in parenting that are not easy, from cutting a newborn’s nails to convincing a two-year-old that watermelon alone does not constitute a complete breakfast to negotiating the terms of a cease-fire between siblings.  Come to think about it, just about everything involved with parenting is difficult, although I suspect I bring an unnecessary degree of complication to packing school lunches.

But, like so many other aspects of parenting, nursing is also incredibly rewarding, and given how much I suck at things like remaining-patient-with-a-whining-child and not-allowing-them-to-watch-TV-till-they-are-forty, I am pleased that at least I am able to do this one thing well.

I’ve breastfed a couple of babies by this point, and I am a pretty confident nurser.  I know what works and what doesn’t.  It the beginning, however, I had no idea what the hell I was doing.

When Zachary was born and the doctors suggested supplementing with formula to help with the jaundice, I was too green and bewildered to do anything but comply.  I suspect it did affect my later milk supply, but we muddled on through just the same, perhaps because he has never had particularly high caloric needs and because I had all the time in the world to nurse him.

This time, however, when the doctors suggested formula, I pushed back.  The only reason to give formula to a jaundiced baby is to make her poop more.  Since Lilah was pooping just fine and I had plenty of colostrum, I saw no need for formula.  And I said so.

And then, resident after resident, maternity nurse after maternity nurse, they all kept pushing formula.  When I resisted, they sighed as though I was some moron who was sacrificing her child’s health to an abstract ideal.  “It would just be for the short-term,” one resident told me, patiently trying to explain why formula wouldn’t hurt.  Really?  You think that supplementing breast milk with formula just as the milk is starting to come in has no long-term consequences?  Anyone who knows anything about breastfeeding will tell you that exclusive nursing while establishing a milk supply is essential.

I am one who usually follows a doctor’s advice.  I trust these folks with the M.Ds.  But, in this case, there was no earthly reason to give formula except that the textbook said that in some cases of jaundice, supplementing with formula helps.  Not in cases due to blood type discrepancy, of course, especially when the mother is producing plenty of milk.  The advice they were giving was formulaic, and it made no sense in our case.

But, as Lilah’s bilirubins kept climbing, I began to wonder if maybe I was being too obstinate.  When the attending pediatrician came in, I brought it up.  “Everyone keeps pushing formula,” I said.  “But I don’t want to affect my milk supply later on.”

“Formula wouldn’t help in this situation,” she informed me matter-of-factly. 

“Wow.  I am glad to hear you say that.  Every single resident or nurse has pushed formula really hard.”

“Well, that makes no sense.  I am actually surprised to hear that,” she replied.  “We have a lot of young people just learning, I guess.”

Fortunately, I had not been one of them.  I am experienced, and I am a very successful breastfeeder.  I knew enough to know that starting in with formula could affect my long-term milk supply, and I asserted my authority.

But, there are plenty of first-time moms who do not know.  They are stumbling along in the confusion of new parenthood, and they will take the advice given them.  In the case of breastfeeding, the facile answer can have long-term ramifications, but inexperienced parents may not know that.  Advice like the advice I got can make successful nursing even more elusive.

And that’s a shame, because breastfeeding is not easy, even in the most conducive of circumstances.


Thank you all for your support over the last few days.  Lilah’s bili count has plateaued and she needs no more blood tests.