Your baby or your life: wilderness edition

The family and I went camping and as we checked in heard the same dire warnings that we’d heard before: our local bear problems mean lock up every single thing that smells like food. Not in your car, because they’ll claw it apart. Not in your tent because that’s like gift wrap to a bear. If your kids spill, change their clothes and store them in the bear locker. If you have a chance, vacuum out the carseats before you enter the park.

On and on. Lip balm will draw them. A closed can of soda in a car will draw them. Referring to your unsightly waistline as a muffin top will draw them…okay, not that last one. But close.

So we always heed the warnings. Spouse and I watch the kids carefully and pick up every crumb they drop. We put dirty clothes and washcloths in the bear box. We store the bug spray and sunscreen and lip balm in the bear box. We even lock up the backpacks that might have at one time had a cracker in them.

And on night three it occurred to me: I’m still lactating.

I think Butter has weaned. He went from nursing before bed every night to several nights a week to a couple of times a week to forgetting for two weeks to forgetting again for…I think it’s been a month now. I’m a child-led weaning sort, and I don’t offer, don’t refuse. And he’s a toddler, so he’s busy and he forgets and…

What if a bear can smell that you make milk for months after weaning? I’m not kidding. Tiny babies can smell if mama is in the room. Bears are about seven billion times better at smelling.

When my first child was born we visited a wonderful friend. My four-months’ pregnant friend held my four-month-old baby, who took about two minutes before he opened wide and went right for her fully clothed breast. Made a hilarious (or mortifying, depending on whom you ask) wet circle on her shirt.

Because he could smell that her milk had just come in (at about 20 weeks).

If my four-month-old can smell milk through several layers of clothes and unused milk-delivery system, I’m guessing that a bear can smell me through the single-layer-mesh tent windows better than that closed soda in that closed car.

And riddle me this, readers: What week of the month do you think we happened to be camping? I was surprised to find (on day three of the trip) that it was the time during which an old myth holds that women are attacked by bears and mountain lions much more frequently. Blah blah blah pheromones…blah blah blah bleeding…blah blah blah unsubstantiated claims that mostly apply to polar bears.*

Whatever. These wee hour machinations did not inspire relaxed appreciation for the scenery: firmament, heavens, flora, nor fauna.

So now, wide awake at 3am, surrounded by the most beautiful bear country, after three glorious days with my boys and husband, who do you think felt more small and threatened than any woman should?

I lay there, reeking of honeydew ice cream on one end and of sloughed nutrients on the other, desperately hoping I’d live to plan the next camping trip a little better.

It’s rather unfair, I raged, after I spent an hour *terrified* and flinching at every sound. The two things that give me superpowers, the two things that make me the most vital I will ever be in my biological life…those things should not be a life-threatening liability.

I wouldn’t, even if I could, stuff my breasts and uterus into a bear box. I don’t care if the mountain lions and the bears and the wolverines all planned a hunting party with my photo on their usenet.

I can make a human and feed a human. And that means bears will come from miles around to feed on my superhero flesh?

Oh, hell no.

Except there was no “hell no.”

There was a small creature lying next to me who cried, in his sleep, “No! No! Carry!” And he reached his arms toward the sky lit with more enormous stars than I have ever seen in my life. I silently rolled him closer to me and curled around him. Knowing I couldn’t protect him. Knowing that, if anything, my very existence threatened his.

But he twined his fingers in my hair and settled into the warm, sweet baby sleep of a mammal with its mama.

I wanted to sink into our nest.

But his damned breath was so loud I couldn’t listen for bears. I had to choose whether to take this time to be his mama, in all its painful and scary challenges, or to roll away in the name of vigilance and preparedness.

I woke up exhausted and stiff with his fingers still in my hair, hoping the bear would at least wait until I had my patented campfire coffee and cocoa blend.

Sometimes weakness makes you strong. Sometimes strength makes you weak. And sometimes you gotta hope there’s a bumper crop of blueberries, honey, and salmon several miles away.

*Public service note: the myth about bear attacks on menstruating women is patently false. See this article and this study, to which I did not have access in the wilderness, because apparently a wilderness without cell access seems more attractive to nature snobs like me. Must rethink that position next time I’m awake at 3am.

Open Letter to My Toddler

Dearest Butterbean,

Thank you. You’re right.

I say that because all of the delightful, delicious, maddening, exhausting things you do teach me something. All of them. In a tasty, hilarious, infuriating, depleting way. Did I mention adorable? And exhausting, did I mention that?

Thank you for dragging the step stool over to the kitchen counter to help me. Every single time I try to do anything. You’re right that I was foolish to think I could do something without you. You’re right that your job is to learn, especially from me. You’re right that I need to find better horizontal surfaces to cover with all the stuff I don’t want you touching. Thank you for that reminder.

Thank you for reminding me about yoga. And manners. You’re right that yoga is fun, Butter Curl. You may not do yoga while you’re nursing, sweetie. Bridge and fish pose and chatturanga are all very nice except when you’re attached to someone else’s nipple. Then they are not nice. Please stop the milk-yoga. You may nurse or you may do yoga. Not together. Thank you for making me ponder our house rules on that one. I hadn’t thought of it before. What a gift.

Thank you for demanding your independence. You’re right that I don’t have to open that cheese or tie your shoes or zip your jacket or cut the bread by myself. Of course you need to learn by trying. I know it makes you happy to try and you’re willingly to let me finish if your sweet little hands can’t complete the task. Thank you for reminding me what the whole 18 month to 3 year process is about. You. Not me.

Thank you for headbutting me in the nose when I refused you something. You’re right that angry feels like hitting. We don’t hit, Bug Butt. Good thing I know that or your tiny little face would have a handprint on it. Thank you for the reminder that I need to take a break when someone makes me so mad I see black. Good job, monkey. You’re the best.

Thank you for delighting in playing with simple things. You’re right that we should pour water back and forth from cup to pot for a long, long time. You’re right that it’s fun to open and close doors dozens of times. Thank you for finally slowing down for two seconds to do these things, Butterpat. You’ve been whirling around for so long without stopping that I wasn’t sure I’d blink before you turned Two. Thanks for your new love of repetition (and for setting up my ability to share that love by running me ragged for a year.) Let’s go get the pots and the water, shall we?

Thank you for pointing out that, whatever I give you leaves one of your hands empty. You’re right. You have two hands. So of course you need two chips. Yes. Two bananas. Two sticks. Two halves of the sandwich. Thank you for noticing both halves of your body, Butterbug. Thank you for making me see all functional units in pairs.

Kind of like us, right?

Love you, sweet little man.
—Mama.

This week in Naptime

The big guy has had his last day of preschool. Two years of a loving, supportive, superb play-based outdoor/indoor extravaganza of exploration and choices. He has, in the past month: lost a tooth, learned to tie his shoes, and ridden a bike without training wheels. It’s killing me, but I guess he is ready for kindergarten. [sob] I’m worried about the unfortunate things kindergarten has become and the heart-wrenching ways it affects boys, but here we go.

The little guy is a flirty goofball of performance and projects. He’s only saying a few words, but he signs dozens of words and has fabulous grasp of social relations. He has a great sense of right and wrong and has no problem telling an older child to “knock it off,” to “give it back,” and to “step off or I will bite you.”

It’s killing me, but I think he’s ready for night weaning. [sob] We believe in nursing on demand, we believe in nighttime parenting, we believe in compassion. And I miss sleeping. I need to edit, I want to write, and I have to think. I haven’t slept more than three hours at a stretch since he was born. Between teething and ear infections he’s been up every two hours for a long damned time. Of course, night weaning doesn’t equal sleep. His older brother night weaned at 18 months (forcibly, as a last resort for my sanity by Spouse, who spent three months awake trying to lovingly convince Captain Stubborn that the milk goes away during sleep time). That willful, opinionated Peanut didn’t slept through the night until after he turned 3. Butterbean seems more willing to nightwean. The few times I’ve said no, he cries an angry cry for 30 seconds then lies down and falls asleep. [sob] I don’t like facing this milestone.

But, as with shoelaces and two-wheelers and kindergarten, we have to try. Because sleep and writing and editing and half days with only one kid might make things a lot easier around here.

Wish us luck, would you?

Then and now

What I had forgotten, what I remember all too well, and what’s brand new….

I know, because we raise sling babies who are always close and usually sleep (in the daytime) on a parent, there will always be food on baby’s head or clothing. But I don’t remember Peanut being covered with as much¬† chocolate as Hazelnut has been.

I remember about feedings every two hours, but I had forgotten that means one hour between feeds. And that every-hour cluster feeds mean non-stop.

I’d forgotten how long the Netflix wait when there’s a newborn to peel…

I remembered how heartbreaking is the cry of a brand new baby, but never thought that this time I’d be willing to pee first and nurse second.

I’d forgotten how forgetful I get after meeting a new baby.

I remember how much help kellymom.com can be in the wee hours, but since I know now, after a firstborn with thrush and nipples with Raynaud’s, that ANY breastfeeding problem can be fixed with expert help, that I can logon in the morning and still be fine.

I remember being grateful for help, but I don’t remember bursting into tears so often about people’s generosity. I’ve cried several times over some sesame cashew noodles and homemade bread delivered last Sunday. After reading each email or getting a call of support, especially from those pressed for time and struggling i their own lives. I cried twice over surprise Zachary’s pizza that showed up courtesy of a lovely friend and family conspiracy. Countless times over seeing a clean sink and drying dishes each time my mom comes over. And frequently about the preschool cooperative’s plan to deliver a dinner every night for two weeks just because they have so many volunteers who want to help.

I recall feeling overwhelmed, but I didn’t know this time would be much calmer, much more fully present and in the cuddly moment. Maybe it’s the change in geography, wherein I’m home and surrounded by people and places I deeply love. I’m much less caught up in fear and loneliness and panicked “should” and “have to”s because I now know that everything changes, often daily, and today’s ratio of tummy time to music time to sling time will matter not one whit in four years as long as Hazelnut is loved and heard and warmed and fed.

Screaming, wakeful, gassy, pained babies do get to 13 weeks and do settle into life here eventually. I was too freaked out to know that the first time.

This time I just wonder if scared, angry, intelligent, head strong preschoolers settle eventually, too.

Eh. Probably.

Dire consequences and desperate measures

A discussion last weekend at the playground with a creative, lovely, and wicked smart lady yielded the following observation: we’re all desperate to protect and justify our choices. After reading Peggy Orenstein’s Flux and The Atlantic Monthly’s article “The Case Against Breast-feeding,” the glaring truth to me is not that one side of each debate is right or that each side despises the other’s choices, but that we each have a lot at stake in making sure our decisions were at least good, if not the best.

Breast or bottle, nighttime parenting or cry-it-out, stay at home or work and daycare—we all have the same secret fears that the choice we are making is costing us more than it should. Hanna Rosin’s “The Case Against Breastfeeding” really isn’t a case against breastfeeding. It’s a case against the all-or-nothing mentality that has parents segregating into those who chose wisely and those who are ruining their children. And the root of our belief in our own choices and our disdain for any different points of view is the hope that we’re doing what’s best for our families. And if we’ve chosen incorrectly, we risk not only breaking our children, but also having lost all the effort we poured into our choice. Rosin is not arguing that women should not breastfeed. After nursing three children, she’s simply wondering why she felt that was the only choice, why the pedants on each side of the debate swear the others have lost their minds (or feminism or chance at a healthy child). Why the black-and-white thinking? Because we’ve all gone through a lot (a lot a lot a lot) of trouble to do what we’re doing, so it had better be right.

I postponed (at least0 or gave up (at worst) two outstanding careers, one potential career, and a path toward a PhD to stay at home with my son because I thought, given my endless research that confirmed nothing except that I’d eventually have to make a choice, that staying home was most likely to give him what he needed to grow into a delightfully useful member of society. If I’m wrong, and I should have focused more of my daylight hours on myself and my career, then maybe I’ve wasted these years and he will blame his miseries and failures on me. Or, even worse, I will be an empty shell of a person, having subjugated my only self for a person who becomes a serial killer and about whom the history books will only write that I ruined his life and sense of what the world should be and that he stabbed his neighbors.

Conversely, the women I know who work outside the home, who decided that they needed to create a family in which each person’s work is vital, in which attentive, loving care can come from a paid helper as long as it’s consistent and supportive (they hope) made their decision to give their children what they needed to grow into a delightfully useful members of society. If they are wrong, and they should have focused more of their daylight hours on their children, then maybe they’ve missed the most important years, and their children will blame their miseries and failures on parents who worked their children into the margins of their lives. Or, even worse, these parents will be bitter, unfulfilled shells of people, having chosen empty pursuits and subjugated their children’s needs, resulting in a generation who become a serial killers and about whom the history books will only write that their mothers ruined their lives and sense of what the world should be. And that they stabbed their neighbors.

Wait a minute, that’s exactly the same outcome as the other moms! We’re all screwed!

Or we’ll all just fine.

But nobody is going around saying, “I hope I made the right decision so that my children don’t stab their neighbors.” (At least in my neighborhood. But I lead a sheltered life. Maybe your neighbors say it. Maybe about your kids. Wait, which choices did you make? Quick, tell me, so I can judge you.) Instead, we secretly hope that we made the right decision, missing a large chunk of our children’s or our adult selves, counting each mistake, tallying each proud and loving moment, and hoping it’s all enough.

Ah crap, I didn’t nurse long enough. My child will be obese, stupid, and chronically ill.
Ah, crap, I nursed at the exclusion of my own sanity. My every waking moment has been for someone who really didn’t get that much from it.

Ah, crap, I let my child cry it out and now she’ll have insomnia and a sense of abandonment as an adult.
Ah, crap, I lost years of sleep attending to my child at night and now they’ll get to college and cry for me in the dorm every night.

And so on, ad nauseum.

Because if we made the wrong decision, we’ve screwed not only ourselves, but our children, as well.

So we disdain the people who make decisions different than our own, and align ourselves with likeminded people because we need to know that others feel our pain and share our justifications; because, deep down, we suspect it might be okay no matter what we do. And all things being equal, we might like a do-over. Or a medal. Or both.

FDA-approved formula—now with added melamine!

Boy, oh boy does the government have good public relations. Today they announced that they found melamine in U.S. infant formula, but that it’s safe. (Hey. It’s safe. The FDA says so. You believe the government, don’t you? I know they said in October that no melamine in formula is okay, but now they think traces should be fine. Don’t worry.)

“Traces of the industrial chemical melamine have been detected in samples of top-selling U.S. infant formula, but federal regulators insist the products are safe.”

Sure it’s fine to feed your baby formula with some melamine. It’s not like it’s a LOT of melamine. Just a little. Like how much lead we can have in toys (which is okay, because a midnight regulation just pushed through by Bush ensures there will extra lead in the air. Mmmmm. Tasty.)

I like how the FDA will only say that it found melamine in leading brands. Won’t tell you which brand, how much, or how many tests they performed. The AP article linked above say it’s Nestle, Abbott, and Mead Johnson. How very “some of the meat sold somewhere has been killing people because it’s full of toxic bacteria” of the FDA to leave that out. But it’s only melamine. And it’s only killed a few babies in China and only hurt tens of thousands more, and killed dozens of dogs. But some got better, much like the peasant returned from his newt-like state in Monty Python, right? So let’s not do anything rash, like breastfeed, or anything.

What would happen, do you think, if we started calling “formula” artificial breastmilk? That’s what is it. It’s artificial. Not bad, but not natural, either. So if you have to call imitation almond flavoring and imitation butter by their names, why not call the powdered stuff that babies sometimes drink in place of breastmilk “artificial breastmilk”? “Imitation breastmilk”? Maybe we would have enough parents question the wholesomeness of an artificial, imitation milk in their babies that we could actually cultivate a culture that educates and supports breastfeeding moms, so we wouldn’t have so many drop out of the game who are, metaphorically and literally, breastfeeding in the dark (and in bathrooms and in the car because some people find it offensive to make your baby the best meal possible, instead of feeding it melamine.)

So dioxin is fine. And some mad cow is okay. And lead and arsenic and pesticides in our water are okay. And all those drugs that will be pulled from shelves in a few months for killing too many people are fine for now because they’ve only killed a few people.

Damn. I’d really like to have the clout of the FDA. Because they’ve been endangering lives for decades with their blatant disregard for science. Yay for distrusting science. Yay for greenwashing the harmful effects of chemicals and plastics and bleach and lead-based paint. Yay for maimed and dead children all over the world because we don’t believe in real food anymore. But we do believe in corporate profits. It’s the American way.

Read the pr industry expose Toxic Sludge is Good for You.¬† And then you’ll realize why I quit working in advertising.

Weaning weight gain

So we did the extended breastfeeding thing. We did the child led weaning thing. We did the attachment parenting, gentle parenting, vegetarian, babywearing, eco-conscious, green thing. And you know what? It made me fat.

Not really. But seriously, all my breastfeeding links are happy enough to tell me about the myriad benefits of extended breastfeeding, for mom, for baby, for family. But I haven’t found as many that corroborate my experience–from 18 months on, each feeding Peanut dropped, I gained a pound. When he weaned, I gained 5.

That’s not nice.

My theory (disclaimer: I made this up. I like to make stuff up. It makes me feel all smarty-pantsy when people believe what I make up. It makes me feel all awesomely-smarty-pantsy when it turns out I’m right. Do your own research and let me know what you find): breastfeeding gives you superpowers because it produces oxytocin. That’s the body’s superhero hormone. You produce it when breastfeeding, in labor, and during orgasm. So it makes the world a happy place. It also counteracts stressby negating stress hormones. Guess what your body produces when you’re not sleeping? Stress hormones (cortisol, especially). Guess what cortisol makes you do? Gain weight. So not sleeping makes you fat because of all the cortisol coursing through your veins. Breastfeeding makes you thin because it burns calories to make milk, but also because it erases the late-night-wake-up-call cortisol injections.

So without the oxytocin, my body is really pissed we’re still not sleeping. Hence the poundage.

Yes, weaning made me fat. Breastfeeding made us all happy and attached and healthy and brilliant and whatnot. And now that he weaned himself (with the help of distraction–sunrise hide-and-seek-with-Daddy for a week), I’m going to build back more bone than I had before the pregnancy.

But damned if I didn’t build back more energy stores than I had before the pregnancy, too.

Come on, Buster, sleep. ‘Cuz mama don’t fit in her clothes no more.