Thursday, January 25, 2007

Questioning Everything

Last Friday, I was going to post the following story, with the title "Our kids are in the same class, but we don't inhabit the same universe."

After dropping Miss M at school this morning, I walked to the greengrocer with N, the mom of Miss K; Miss K is a little girl in Miss M's class. Miss K also has a baby brother, Baby E, who is a couple of months younger than AM. N and I aren't as chummy as some of the other moms, some of whom I had known before school started, some of whom I met in September but just clicked with better. It was clear from the first week of school that our parenting differed in one way that's of major significance when you have a small baby; during the transition to pre-school, when parents were required to stick around, I nursed AM while N fed Baby E bottles of formula.

As we walked, N mentioned that she was exhausted because Baby E had been up at 4 o'clock in the morning. I took that to mean that he usually sleeps through the night. (This is not something I've experienced in a while, but in part due to my own choices, so I didn't get into the pissing contest of who's really more tired.) Then she explained that she would have just left him to kvetch himself back to sleep, but he was really wailing and she was afraid that he would wake Miss K. It turned out that he had a soaking wet diaper.

I really wasn't sure what to make of this, but luckily I was saved from further comment by the overpriced clemetines and the rock-hard avocados.

But then I started whipping myself into a frenzy thinking. Never a good thing when you are sleep deprived and often on edge. Who said that how we're raising Miss M and AM is full of good ideas? Maybe we're just lazy?

When Miss M was about same age that Baby E is now, she used to wake up early in the night, howling. She cried and cried in our arms, night after night. We couldn't leave her; it was clear that something was wrong and we were just too dumb to figure it out. Finally our neighbors, who shared a wall with her, slipped a note under our door that said something to the effect of "If you're trying to Ferberize your baby, you're doing it wrong." I was mortified to think that anyone would think we were leaving her alone through such agonized tears, and she didn't sleep in that room again for another year and half.

But she went from a crib, which she clearly hated, to our bed. She was happy there, but after a couple of months she proved to be a rude co-sleeper, constantly twisting and flopping around in bed. (AM is quite well-mannered in comparison.) We moved her to the floor, then to a toddler bed, and finally to a real bed in her own room.

This parenting method is something I'd called "guerilla" or "make it work" parenting. Do whatever you have to in order to make it through the day/night with a minimal body count and without major regrets; don't do anything that necessitates you or your kid to reconstruct personalities to meet the requirements. I disagreed with the Ferber method in general because crying has to convey everything when a baby is small--yes, dissatisfaction and loneliness, but also pain, discomfort, fear, and illness. Too many variables. But even at the very end of our rope with Miss M and her sleep, where we've been a few times, we knew we could never let her cry: because she'd cry all night, despite herself.

I've been applying the same principles to myself. I'd love to say that I could practice gentle discipline and not yell, but it's not who I am. I wish I could do better, but I can't. Not right now, at least; I'm a yeller, I am under-caffeinated, I am teh tired. We don't spank, not for any high and mighty reasons, but for the simple fact that we cannot justify hitting Miss M but then turning around and saying she can't hit us.

There's other stuff too. I love babywearing, but I know that a lot of people think it's weird or inconvenient. I'd never say that if babies that aren't worn are cheated in some way; it just worked.for.US. Both kids have loved hanging out at adult level, making goo-goo eyes at the cashiers, being close to "home base." Over the summer AM had a lot of sling-time when I was tending to Miss M, and I think we were able to prevent some cranky crying because of it, but who is to say that a swing wouldn't have done the same? I personally have found it great for city living, where store aisles are narrow, entry doors are heavy, and winter weather makes huge messes on the sidewalks. But the number one reason I don't have a double stroller? Because I remember agonizing over the "right" stroller choice for Miss M. Hours and hours on websites, hemming and hawing. Italian or British? Made in America or made in China? How will it do on the sidewalks? The roads? Will it fit in our trunk? What if we get a new car? For a stroller, people. I didn't want to do that again. So I didn't. And honestly, there have been maybe three or four times in the past nine months when I've really wished we had one. Four out of 270 isn't bad. It certainly isn't worth the outrageous sums charged for double strollers. (We could have gotten one used for $150. Instead we got a new mei tai for $75.)

The only baby-related concept I feel very strongly about is breastfeeding. As in, if a woman can do so without sacrificing her health or the health of her baby, she really, really, really should. Really. And, remarkably, it is the lazy mom's opt-out.* Fewer (or no) bottles to wash, fewer supplies to buy; if your baby's in bed with you, it minimizes the number of times you have to be vertical overnight, even if you aren't sleeping.

Nursing had served us so well that I didn't want my pregnancy with AM to spell the end of it for Miss M. We got through the nine months. We adapted and adjusted both before and after his birth. And now, another class mom (a child psychiatrist) suggests that my spirited defense of Miss M's right to nurse (and also the fact that I am "attached" to him, i.e. wearing him instead of pushing him in a stroller) is creating jealousy and strife between her and AM and causing her 5:30 am MILK meltdowns.** See, if only I could have ended the discussion with "I believe in child-led weaning." But I don't, necessarily; Miss M's current 150-second, tri-partite nursing schedule was created by me in an attempt to balance everyone's needs.

So, yeah. The parenting-by-numbers, slightly fuzzy picture that I've made, with Taxman's consent, seems to be a forgery.

On the other hand, other than the early morning fits, Miss M seems pretty normal. Happy, smart, rambunctious. Willful as hell. Loves making AM laugh. Tries to wash his hair in the bath. He loves her. I've always said that as messed up as these couple of years have been/will be, we have given the kids the gift of each other. I hope that remains true.

* I am not accusing nursing mothers of being lazy or disorganized. Just saying this shoe fits me.
** A wise, more experienced bloggy friend did point out that if it wasn't the nursing, it would be something else.

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