Proof that I’m an extrovert

On my way out from work today I passed a woman in the foyer who turned around and said, “Kamilla?”
I turned around, said hello, recognized her but couldn’t place her right away.

“Did you go to any more of the writing group sessions?” she asked. Then I placed her: the interesting and funny woman I shared my first and only university-sponsored writing-group meeting with early last semester. The group I’d loved because were talking about WRITING and ideas about writing and publishing and research and I hadn’t had a space to talk about those issues for way, way too long. So I talked and talked and talked maybe a WEE BIT too much because it was so darn exciting. And though the group facilitator said she was going to get in touch about the next session, and though I checked with her a number of times, she never contacted me about a follow-up meeting. I assumed I’d been black-listed, denied access to a university service because maybe I was a bit too chatty and took over the group, or maybe she just didn’t like me.

“No! I thought I’d been kicked out because I talked too much!”

“Really! I didn’t go to any more either, and I thought I’d been kicked out too. I was telling my supervisor, I can’t take the rejection anymore …”

“I bought the book.”

“I did too!”

“Wow! High five!”

(small pause as she grapples with the fact that this supposed professional literally has her hand up in the air to do a “high five” and is waiting for her to reciprocate. Then she does.)

We talk more about our shared experience of feeling we were kicked out of the group, but still wanting something like it to move us forward in our writing. We agreed that she’ll get in touch with me in a few weeks when some of her work wraps up and that we can try and work through the book (12 weeks to writing your journal article) together. The writing group, all on our own. I’m psyched!

And earlier in the day, I had a lot more meetings than I usually do, and ran into a friend a couple of times, plus some chatty conversation with some faculty I know. Then on the way out, ran into a friend who’s studying/working on campus and got to talk more (hello there!). And headed to my car overflowing with energy and enthusiasm.

Being with people truly energizes me. Yes, I have my limits and do like alone time and sometimes don’t want to be social. But in general, interacting with people feels good to me. I love it. Good to realize about myself.

More Simple Solutions to Stressful Problems

Cutting baby’s fingernails = I can’t do it.
For the first year-ish, instead of cutting, I ripped them (really, there’s science behind that. They’re soft and easy to rip. No damage, and a softer edge than if you use clippers). Now that she’s older, she is highly resistant when awake (to ripping OR clipping) so I try when she’s asleep. However, the lights have to be on, so it has to be during naptime. That means weekends only. And sometimes her nap is entirely on my chest, or she’s in the stroller, or I forget, or it wakes her up, and basically,

I can’t/don’t do it.

Today I tried one of my sister’s tricks: I played a video on the computer while clipping them. Worked like magic! The video also rocked: Feist on Sesame Street. It rocks! The only problem: She wanted to watch it again. And again. And again. And it’s so catchy, whenever we broke into the song later in the day, she started “Unh, UNH!”ing and pointing back to the computer. Not really a problem compared to hazardous fingernails!

Also: what to do if your house is a complete, absolute disaster?

Solution: Go on a walk with baby while your husband cleans! Then go on a purging frenzy, this time with even more zeal than ever before. Things are going OUT of here! Our desks are neat, tasks are getting done: it’s like a new regime is in power. I love it.

Finally: Quick tricks to get rid of stuff when you just can’t seem to let it go:

  • Break it (series of bowls and glasses)
  • Lose it (two toques, baby’s little bird in the grocery store)
  • Sell it (recouping $$ for it helps the pain of separation. Recently sold: old kitchen table)
  • Talk on the phone while purging – you won’t notice what you’ve given away until it’s gone!
  • Recycle it: baby’s drawings, cute glass jars, business cards you feel obligated to keep: our environment depends on your contributions, so let them fly
  • Chuck it: Revel in the clear, empty spaces where moments before grungy sponges and scrubbies stood. It feels good. It is good.

You’re welcome.

 

Getting a Grip on Life

Also known as: something I think I need to do, but can’t seem to manage.
Life is good. It’s fine. We’re healthy, we eat, we sleep. Our house is not a complete disaster. I’m getting things done (some of them). But still: I just can’t seem to get on top of everything that needs doing, managing, attending to.

The house is one of these things. A mess, completely. My desk occasionally clears up, but is covered again within days. The kitchen – forget about it. Bathroom? Please! I change the sheets on the bed once a week, but that’s all the regular cleaning I can claim.

My work. Even if I have a slow meeting week, my to-do list does not seem to get shorter. I keep trying to wrap things up, but they unwrap themselves, scatter the pieces and demand attention.

Writing/teaching? Now we’re talking! Not at all ready to teach. Not at aaaaall. I’m reading a short how-to book for first-year college teachers, loving it, feeling inspired, and knowing it is so not happening for me because I do. not. have. the. time to do any of the essentials recommended in the book, much though I would sincerely love to. As for 15 minutes a day of writing: I bought the book. But haven’t found a minute in months to follow up. I will, I must, but when?

And parenting, aaah, my weak spot. So many musts that are undone. Embarrassing things, like struggling to comb baby’s hair or brush her teeth (honestly, have you met our baby? she is really remarkably resistant to teeth brushing). Feeding here: though she does eat, but still, I know there are a bazillion other dishes I could and should be making for her to max-out her nutrition. Strangely, in spite of my massive omissions as a parent, she seems to be doing well. She is happy. Healthy. Smart. Fun. Secure. How did we get so lucky?

This article came my way today (yes, on Facebook. And I’m swearing off it again) and spoke to what I was feeling. I’m not doing everything I think I could and should do as a parent, but I”m trying. And my daughter doesn’t seem to notice. She really does love and need me. I was running a few errands after work and husband called to check in. I heard a tiny, sweet voice in the background say “Mama?” and that was it. I wrapped things up and rushed home to be with the sweetest person I know. I want to remember that we make magic together, and to relax and enjoy it even if life is messier and less finished than I like.

On that note: two scenes from bedtime.

It’s getting near sleepy-time and she’s wriggling and cuddling and being silly. I ask if I can kiss her. She says “nyew” but smiles her little mischief-smile and leans close. I kiss her and she giggles. Repeat, repeat. Then she kisses the air repeatedly. I ask , “Who are you kissing?” Another mischief smile: “Nana.” (It’s true. Hope you enjoyed your bedtime kiss, mom!)

A bit later, more wiggling and wriggling. Bedtime is closing in. She’s been down and wiggled under the sheets, sat up, rolled, twisted. Finally, she tosses her body over me, snuggles her head into my chest, heaves a deep sigh, and settles in. She drifts off to sleep holding me close.

Baby Yogini

Today baby lead us in a yoga practice. She likes to initiate them whenever the spirit moves her. She lies down on the floor and calls us to practice: “Mama!” (pats the floor on one side of her). “Dada!” (pats the floor on the other side). We follow our inspired leader, dropping whatever mundane task we’re doing to enter into practice.
The session today was more thorough than usual. We started with cobra, and flowed through a series of cobra, cat and dog, downward-facing dog and mountain pose. Baby jumps or throws herself with abandon into each new pose, inspiring us to embrace our bodies and life itself.

We finished up with some butterfly, working our hips and stretching out our backs. And of course, ended with the traditional clapping.

Spontaneous midday baby-lead yoga: yet another thing to love about parenthood

One more reason why I co-sleep

Last night baby woke up at 1-something to nurse. She wiggled and stretched, then latched on and stayed close. And then, rolled back over, wiggled her arms down by her sides, snuggled up under the covers and went back to sleep.
Her next wake-up was at 4-something. She nursed again, on one side, then lay back and relaxed. She patted the front of her diaper. I asked her, “Do you want to go potty?” “Unh!” she said (her word for yes). I asked again, she confirmed again, and then, magically, without ANY fussing, we took off her pants and diaper and sat her on the little potty.

A minute later she was “done” (no pee in the potty – the diaper pat currently signals that she’s just finished peeing) and reached up for me. I held her and she wrapped her arms around me and snuggled in close. I laid her down for another diaper – again, no fussing – and we nursed more. I reached down to touch her foot, and she giggled. She rolled into me and around and wriggled, then was trying to roll over. I helped and she rolled right on top of me. She snuggled in again – head on my chest, arms and legs around me – and I revelled in 30 seconds of being at complete peace with my baby.

She rolled back off, wiggled and wriggled some more, wanted a bottle, and eventually settled for another sleep stretch.

Those magical middle-of-the-night connections: just one of the many reason I’m so glad we sleep with our baby.

Independence Comes to Town

Lord, give me strength: my baby is becoming a toddler.
Homing in on a year and a half, baby is fully into the transition into being a person with her own, fully-expressed, needs and preferences. It’s wonderful. I want to nurture it. I love to discover how she sees the world and what she wants. It’s exhausting. I have no idea how to get done what I need to do while respecting her autonomy.

Her voice is louder now than before. When she’s tired, the melt-downs are a lot more obvious. When she cries, you definitely can’t miss it. When she’s happy, it’s a joy (that hasn’t changed!).

She’s learning and expressing so much. She knows lots of colours, a wonderful variety of other words, all said in her own inimitable style, and a wonderful assortment of other words that we don’t know.

She frequently doesn’t want to put on clothes. Not a problem: unless her extremities feel cold (frequently), or we need to leave the house and it’s not warm enough to go shirtless and pantsless (always). Please tell me pantsless is a word. How are we supposed to manage that? If going cloatheless is an option (I think I just lost my ability to spell) I take it. No problem! I respect her right to choose. If we can delay departure, no problem! I encourage her to keep playing or do what she needs to do until she’s ready to dress and leave.

But, as is often the case, I usually need to get her dressed and out the door far before she wants to go. I can give her minutes, but not hours. Rolling into work at 10 isn’t a great option; and getting home by 7 p.m. is a lot too late to be manageable. So, we give notice (leaving soon, leaving very soon), we model (dress ourselves), we encourage, we distract, we make it a game, we give choices (this jacket, or that?), we inspire (or bribe, or whatever you want to call it: “when you get home, who’s going to be there? Dada!” or “Come play with owl in the car!” or “We’ll walk around outside for a while before we get in the car seat”). For the record, I’m fundamentally opposed to bribing and I don’t think that’s really what we do, but maybe it is.

Husband thinks we need to be firm but loving. I have no idea. I do know that figuring out how to respect her choices and preferences while doing what needs doing is wearing me out a bit. I hope to come up with something principled and useful, but it’s not in sight at the moment.

For now: baby’s asleep, and I’m resting. Aaah.

Observing kids and parenting

On Friday I spent some time walking downtown with my girl and spent some time at the library. There I observed some interesting interactions between parents, kids and authority.
Baby was playing on the big pillows in the kids’ area with another, bigger boy. After his mother reminded him to be careful as he played, he jumped onto her pillow and shoved her off. She fell over and landed on her head. And started to cry. Not nice, but they’re kids – it happens. The mom reprimanded her son, was quite critical of him and told him to apologize. She didn’t focus on his attention on the impact of his actions on the baby – she focused on having him conform to a socially appropriate response.

I then happened into a preschool storytime (I thought it was the toddler age group). Again, fascinating. First off, it was loud. The librarian/story reader used a big, loud voice. The music was loud. I can see how loud seems right when working with kids – they’re loud, it gets their attention. At the same time, their ears are more sensitive than adults. If anything, they are fine with LESS volume. I know it was too much for me. I should add that I’m particularly sensitive to noise, and have been since I was a baby.

The children were expected to take a seat on the carpet and stay there, aside from the songs, when they were asked to move around in prescribed ways (dance in a circle, jiggle your hands, etc.). Both the parents and the librarian made repeated attempts to get non-conformers to sit in the “right” place and “right” way throughout the half-hour. One father whose daughter didn’t want to get on the carpet continued to encourage her to go there. He also, pleasantly, didn’t insist and remained there for her to return to and sit on when she needed.

The librarian brought out different stuffed toys to introduce the various stories. They then went onto the table beside her and, as she told the kids whenever one tried to go up and touch them, they could play with them once storytime was over. But not during. Parents called kids back who dared to go forward and touch. One girl in particular seemed to start it off, then others took courage or inspiration from her and followed. But no: the animals were for looking, not touching.

Overall: I don’t get it. There were maybe 12 – 15 kids, with an almost equal number of parents (plus an assortment of younger siblings). It wasn’t an out of control mob. They were kids! At a FUN storytime! Why was sitting in a certain place and manner required? Why should fun and sensory interaction be saved until the end of the event? How does restricting initiative and curiosity advance children’s development? And why is there such pressure on parents to have their children behave in socially acceptable ways?

I left the event somewhat sad to observe the omnipresence of the demands for what was, to me, mindless social conformity. It leaves me somewhat relieved that I haven’t done too many group activities with baby, as I can see how that pressure could have influenced my interactions with her over time to demand greater conformity rather than letting her be herself. I would love to see children given the space to BE, explore, learn, interact, and be guided rather than pushed into shape. From a more open environment I can imagine children growing up more true to themselves and better engaged with others and the world.

And of course, you are welcome to completely disagree with my analysis.

New Year, New Perspectives?

Happy new year, everyone! Or Naw Ruz, which is what Baha’is call it. March 21, first day of spring, a new start, a new year.
So today, I had a mini meltdown when my daughter wouldn’t put a shirt on. Yes, awesome start to a new year.

We were up, happy, playing, enjoying time at home. I wanted to take advantage of being home on a Wednesday to go to Toddlertime at the library. Getting outdoors; leaving the house; stimulation; and interaction with other kids (thus addressing my guilt that I don’t arrange for her to play with more kids her age).

Baby had other ideas. I managed to get socks (3 pairs at her insistence) and legwarmers on her, but she resisted shirt-wearing. Vigorously. She’s become quite skilled at manouevering a shirt back over her head in one smooth move. I tried repeatedly. I talked to her about going out. We looked outside. I explained that we were going to go to the library and sing songs. I showed that I was getting ready to go.

Nothing worked. She resisted. I asked her, “do you want to stay home?” “Mmm!!!” she enthusiastically responded.

Yes, I could have forced her. But why? After reading Unconditional Parenting, I am significantly not into forcing my daughter to succumb to my superior physical strength. There are times she will have to do things she doesn’t want, but I hope that through discussion and modeling and giving her some options, she will agree to do those things, thus preserving her autonomy and dignity. In this case, going to the library was optional. In fact, the reason to go was that I thought she’d enjoy it. She might have – but she let me know that playing at home with mama was her choice for today. That’s communication, and I chose to respect her choice.

Well, I chose to listen to her choice. Respect? I don’t know. I, frankly, sulked. I was sarcastic. I made idle threats (I’ll go without you. Really???). I let her play and sat down at the table to read. I just could not deal with the fact that my brilliant plans for the morning were shot simply because my daughter didn’t want to put on a shirt.

At some point I got perspective. And shortly after that, she wanted to go to the bedroom and nurse, and had a nap. She was tired, she was enjoying being at home, and it was all good, once I shifted my perspective and worked with her, trusting her instincts.

After that, we went out (VV, groceries), having a great time all round. Back home, played in the yard, played inside, mom & dad over for dinner, bath, play, bed. Awesome.

Happy Naw Ruz, all!

Unconditional

First, a link to follow up on my comments yesterday about work, loving work or not, looking for my passion. I appreciate the comments about procrastination – I do procrastinate at work – and then I think about what  I do even if I’m not paid for it: write; write; read; prepare talks and presentations; organize events I believe in; take on issues I think are important. And declutter 🙂
Now: a book review. I just finished Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn and I highly recommend it as the best parenting book I’ve read. It inspires me to be a better person so I can be a better parent; and it sets out for me a paradigm I can use to consider my parenting choices. And, it’s easy to read, research-based, and resonates with me as truth.

Alfie (he feels like the kind of person you’d refer to by first name – I hope I’m right about that) uses extensive research studies to describe two types of parenting. Conditional parenting, which is by far the most common, teaches children that they are loved to the extent that they live up to the expectations of the parents: behaviour, accomplishments, etc. They are rewarded for doing what the parents want, including praise, punished when they fail. He writes elsewhere about the problems that praise creates. Parenting tends to be of the control, tell and dictate variety. Discipline techniques are based on “love withdrawal” – time-outs, punishment, doing things to children and controlling them. From this approach, children develop a less certain sense of self. They tend to have weaker relationships with their parents; lower levels of moral development (yes. study after study show this.); are less likely to obey the parents; less likely to take on the parents’ values; less likely to be happy and fulfilled.

Unconditional parenting involves letting kids know that you love them always and no matter what: your love isn’t based on what they do but who they are. How do you let kids know this? Rather than a “doing to” approach, you take a “working with” approach. You work hard to take your child’s perspective, and consider it. This informs what you ask of the child and how you respond when what you want and the child wants differ. You refrain from praise but instead let your kids reach their own evaluation of what they’ve done (rather than praise – ask questions; make statements of fact; or just let the child be). You use reason, discussion and modeling to reach collaborative solutions. You avoid using your power as a parent to overpower your child – instead, you respect her autonomy as a person and work with her to facilitate her growth.

There is so much more to the book; I’m not doing it justice here. I was left with a few strong convictions about how I want to raise my child.

  1. Rather than praise, questions or give her space to be.
  2. Let her immerse herself in her work; I don’t need to interrupt her.
  3. Respect! I want her to maintain her dignity even as a baby. I want to work with her, not force her, whether it be into a car at the end of the day or onto the toilet when she’s not in the mood. Talk with her, listen to her, offer her options, listen other preferences. Relatedly: speak about her, and in front of her, as respectfully as I’d speak about/with anyone else.
  4. I need to model much better for her, especially perspective-taking. She was woken up on our walk today by a very, very noisy car. Rather than blame the car, I could inquire, I wonder why they don’t have a muffler – are they too poor? Do they like the noise? OR something like that, just more sophisticated and useful.
  5. Discuss, ask questions, do my best to respect and hear her point of view.

The praise part is a challenging thing to shift. I plan to read the book again and keep discussing the ideas to develop an approach that will work for us.

Peace in the Here and Now

Baby’s favourite words right now are the names of the people she loves. Especially during quiet moments – lying in bed, nursing – she’ll start listing off the members of her family: “Ai’ya. Mama. Dada.” Repeat, repeat, repeat. She’ll often point to where we sleep in the bed, mama on one side, dada on the other, baby right in the middle. Sometimes I’ll ask her who loves her. She can name “Nana. Wawa.” (always in that order, always together) “Dada.” And, with prompting, “mama.”
I’m learning a lot from her focus on her family. I realize what peace and security our baby gets from being in a stable family and being surrounded by a core of people she spends time with who love her. She knows who we are. She knows who belongs with whom. Mama and Dada are always discussed together. A mention of Nana is incomplete without Wawa. Babies get families, they get relationships, and they derive great comfort from them. Her constant repetition of these names and connections tells me that they matter to her, and that she is reinforcing them in her heart, mind and soul.

Families come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe your family doesn’t have a dada, or you’re physically far from Wawa, or close friends are part of the core. All these variations are part of the unique tapestry that each child inherits. I am learning through the first-hand witnessing of my daughter simply how vital it is that children be surrounded by steady, loving relationships. And a reminder that they will create a sense of the fabric of the world through what they absorb in their early years.

Peace starts in each of us, and is cemented in our families. I wish for my family that we can become more loving and united, and for all people that they can create and build peaceful, loving, stable families to nurture the next generation.

Tonight was a repetition of yesterday’s experience of anticipating baby’s sleep too eagerly. I had plans for a full blog post, about an hour of work (we’re all still sick with this cold so I’ll be staying home tomorrow – but still need to get some work done ’cause it’s a busy time), some prep work for the course, and some reading for fun. Hah. Baby seemed sleepy but in the end it took 2 hours for bedtime to happen. Pre-bed activities included many books, water, bottle, potty-time, changing clothes, up down and all around playing, and lots of time with her art project: star stickers on a sheet of paper. She wanted the stickers moved around and put on things in ways I clearly didn’t understand. “Ai’ya … mama … unh … knee knee knee.” This, it turns out, didn’t mean “please put a sticker on my knee, mama.” After about 15 repetitions of this mantra, with me repeating every word, asking questions, and trying to figure out what she wanted, I had a moment of clarity where I realized that I was truly embedded smack dab in the middle of parenting and learning patience. On and on it went, and I kept myself there and focused and questioning and trying to understand what she so desperately needed from those sticky stars. Very glad I stayed there and am being more and more focused and listening and responsive to my daughter on a moment-to-moment basis.

On to my crusade: I submitted some comment sheets to the local library a few months ago about two books I found very concerning: On becoming babywise, and Healthy sleep habits, happy baby. I found out by email yesterday that after considering my comments and the warnings from the American Pediatric Association, among others, they will be withdrawing at least the first and possibly the second of these from the library holdings. I am thrilled.

The first book – Babywise – is essentially fiction masquerading as science. The recommendations for breastfeeding and sleep training for babies have no basis in research and go against ALL the current science and recommendations for healthy care of newborns. They are also disturbing because they pit parents against babies, treating babies as little manipulators who need to be controlled by their parents rather than humans with legitimate needs which should be respected and listened to.

Healthy sleep habits by Weissbluth does have a basis in some selected research. At the same time, it is, from my perspective, lacking in any moral or common-sense foundation regarding respectful care for newborns. The author is obsessed with the need for young children to sleep through the night, treating any cases of not doing so as abnormal and portending life-long sleep problems. If he actually looked at other scientific and cross-cultural research he would know that 1) there are many emotional and physical reasons why babies continue to wake at night, including well past 1 year old, and 2) a majority of babies start sleeping through the night once they get to a few years old. Not to mention, 3) research has shown that the use of sleep training with young babies actually increases sleep problems as babies get older, partially in the way they make sleep a scary and stressful process for babies. My main concern, however, is the harsh training methods he suggests (they are so disturbing I can’t write about them), which could severely traumatize babies and cause physical and emotional damage. This review of research on infant sleep addresses these and other issues.

I have an inkling that at some stage in my future life I will start working on a “rights of babies” movement. There are the rights of the child, and these form a vital foundation. The needs of babies are particular, and there is no commonly accepted standard for how we treat babies. Of course parents need to make best choices for their families. At the same time, I would like to see this from within a context of better understanding of who babies are, what their needs are, and how best to meet those. If anyone would like to connect me with a movement working on this, please do.