Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Emmett's First Banned Books Week

It came to my attention yesterday that September 25-October 2 is Banned Books week, and I realized that I wanted to celebrate it by reading some controversial books to Emmett. We started reading to Emmett even before he was born and we try to read a number of books with him every day. I've noticed that picture books with rhyming language tend to work well with him at the moment.

Most of the books that were familiar to me as banned books are ones that are a little old for him (but will be good for future Banned Books weeks), so I had to google to get some suggestions of banned picture books. One of the first titles I ran across was The Lorax, which was perfect for us...I have at least two copies of it and I practically can recite it by heart. So we read that yesterday morning after listening to a brief audio excerpt from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, another apparently controversial book.

Later the same day, I was at Elaine's house and I took the opportunity to read Where the Wild Things Are to both of our boys. Maurice Sendak is a good example of how the coolest writers tend to have stuff on the "most common banned books" lists. The controversy usually just makes me want to read the books more. This was certainly the case with a more recently-published book called And Tango Makes Three, which I'd heard had something to do with gay penguins. I checked to see if the big local public library had it (I love the fact that we can do these searches online), but both copies were signed out. I was disappointed until I reflected on how cool it was that my town had multiple copies of the book and that it was in demand. Luckily one of the branch libraries had it, so I signed it out last night and read it to Emmett and Adam before Adam went off to work today.

And I just have to say...I love this book! It's a great story, based on a real male penguin couple, and is just adorable and touching and sweet. OK, so the two male penguins are in love, but it's not as though the book discusses them having hot gay penguin sex or anything. They swim together, sing penguin songs to one another, and eventually raise a baby penguin. However, the thing about book banning is that it's usually based on fairly stupid reasoning. Take the example of the other book I signed out yesterday: William Steig's Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Apparently the objection to it was that police were pictured as pigs. OK, first of all: all of the characters are animals. Second, the pig policeman is on one page only (and there's another pig in the book who's just a regular old neighbor).

One of our next reading selections was a book called The Rabbits' Wedding by Garth Williams. Williams did the illustrations for the classic editions of the Little House on the Prarie books, for Charlotte's Web, and for many other books. I hadn't realized that there was a book that he'd both written and illustrated. The Rabbits' Wedding is a lovely story about two rabbits who have a down-to-earth, non-bridezilla outdoor wedding and then live happily ever after playing Hop Skip and Jump Me, Find the Acorn, and Jump Through the Daisies. Nothing controversial about that, right? The controversy exists because one rabbit is white and the other is black.

Although Emmett is too young to fully understand the books we're reading, I'm sort of glad that he's also too young to ask questions like, "Why was this book banned?" for which my answer would be something like. "People are idiots. Well, some people."

Friday, September 24, 2010

Kids' Music

The theme of this week at home with Emmett is music. We've been sharing music with Emmett from the very beginning, including my playing/singing selections from two favorite children's music albums, Sandra Boynton's Philadelphia Chickens and No! by They Might be Giants. I've also been making the effort to learn the actual lyrics to some Spanish songs so that we can sing those to him as well. (Recently, Adam and I both sang the Spanish version of "Rubber Duckie" to him). I haven't wanted to limit him to "real" children's songs and thus have opted to add various upbeat songs and soothing songs to our shared music-listening experiences. So, early in the day we might dance around the living room to 80s music, or later in the day I might try to soothe him with something like Van Morrison.

Earlier this week my sister sent me about 15 different CDs of children's music from my nephew's early years. I've been spending all week listening to and cataloging the various selections. It's really propelled me to do even more to expose him to more and more music. Right now the idea is to build up a basic library of songs that I can draw upon at various times in the future. I want to learn many of the songs now while I have the time. I particularly like putting together different songs that relate back to the same topic or theme (probably because I used to do this when I was planning lessons as a music teacher). For example, Emmett and I have a series of "farm songs" and this week we added "I Had a Rooster" to our song mix.

Additionally, I've started playing various songs for him on mandolin. I especially like doing this with some of the classic children's songs that I don't feel like singing. Let's take "Rock-a-bye baby" as an example. The lyrics to that song are disturbing! I seldom find myself in the mood to sing about my baby falling from trees, but I do often find myself in the mood to plunk out a nice calming melody. I also like to play bits of classical music for him. For some reason, I don't typically enjoy listening to recorded versions of classical music (unless it's Yo Yo Ma), but I do like playing the music on an instrument. At one point in life, I was terribly sick of a lot of it (especially anything from the first few books of Suzuki violin music) but 20+ years after I first learned the tunes, I can enjoy them again.

I have grand plans that I will one day compose original children's music that doesn't have disturbing lyrics. When I was working with kids, I was always pretty good at reworking existing songs to create something topical (the Weird Al school of songwriting), but I hope that if I keep things up, I'll be able to move up to the Sesame Street school of catchy songwriting. I'm definitely out of practice at the moment but am working on it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How Puppy Love Can Prepare You for Parenting

In the days before Emmett came on to the scene, whenever I'd get asked if I had kids, my reply would be something like, "No kids, just a dog!" (or sometimes "Does the dog count?"). Most people reacted appropriately (acknowledging that dog parenthood is a valid life choice) but some people (maybe 15%) felt it necessary to point out to me that parenting a human is totally different, as if I had no idea and no imagination. Of course it's different! At the same time, I actually do think that my attachment to Lucy has helped prepare me for some aspects of parenting.

Having a dog made realize that I could easily love someone who is dependent on me. While Lucy isn't completely dependent (she is quite good at foraging for dropped junk food and rotting chicken bones on our walks, for instance), she does need me to open the dog food containers and I do have to make sure to be available to tend to her various other needs. Sure, babies take the dependence to a whole other, all-day consuming level, but still. In the case of dogs and babies, I find the dependence enjoyable. Of course, it doesn't hurt that they're both so darned cute.

With both dogs and babies, complete strangers might start talking to you any time you go anywhere. Often these conversations start with people in a similar situation (another dog parent, a parent of a stroller-aged child). It's a great way to be social, though sometimes you may not be in the mood to be social right when it happens. Friends with kids have told me in the past that it gets weird to be known as "(your child's) mom" rather than by your own name, but hey, I've been answering to "Lucy's mom" for about seven years now, so I'm sort of used to it. (In the best case scenario, people are interested in you as a person rather than you as the parent, but the truth is that there are always going to be at least a few people who wouldn't have noticed or paid attention to you if the dog or the baby weren't in your company.)

Taking your dog to the vet is good practice for visits to the pediatrician (or, as one of my friends puts it, "the baby vet"). This is especially true for challenging things like blood draws or vaccinations. Having watched Lucy go through procedures using needles made me less anxious before and during Emmett's vaccinations and blood draws.

Then there's the excrement angle. I think one of the things that is the most off-putting to people who haven't spent a lot of time with babies is the prospect of changing diapers. However, a responsible, poop-picking-up dog parent comes to people-parenthood with daily experience with poop. While diaper changes aren't fun treasure hunts, they don't seem like such a big deal after daily experiences with dog poop scooping.

Another big similarity is communicating without words. I know it can be frustrating for parents to wonder, "Why is the baby crying? What could he want?" In most cases, though, the wants of the baby are not all that complicated, at least not during the fourth trimester. It kind of reminds me of when we bought a mood collar for Lucydog. Per the "interpretation guide," whatever color the mood collar turned, the "message" was "pet me, feed me, take me for a walk." Having spent a lot of time contentedly communicating with my dog makes me feel pretty comfortable around my nonverbal buddy Emmett.

There are other similarities. I could discuss how putting a sweater on my dog was good practice for dressing my child, or who knows, maybe all of that leash-walking experience will come in handy someday with the kid (hope not!). My main point is that pet parents often do have a bit of existing readiness for parenting.

Friday, September 10, 2010

How'd I End Up On This Mailing List?

About 6 weeks after giving birth to Emmett, I reached another pregnancy/parenthood milestone: getting my first free can of infant formula in the mail. I was beginning to think that I'd somehow managed to stay off the radar of the formula companies. At least one person in the childbirth/parenting classes I'd attended mentioned having received free formula during her pregnancy, so I knew that this sort of thing happened to moms, but it hadn't happened to us. I'd steered clear of many of the "sign up for big bargains" marketing tools in part because my junk mail situation is already a bit unbearable.

I wouldn't have been surprised to get a packet-sized sample of formula, but what I received was a 12.5 oz can of formula. I can't think of any other product where I've gotten a free sample in that large of an amount without having done anything specific to request it. I am certainly not worried about these companies going out of business if they can give away their products in these amounts.

I asked some of the other moms in a breastfeeding group I attend whether this had happened to them and it was a common occurrence. It was One woman said she'd received three cans of free formula. Another one said, "it seems like they prey upon you at any weak moment." Maybe that's what's going on here. I kept wondering which of my actions triggered the "send formula" button--was it that I finally redeemed the coupon for the free subscription to Parents magazine? (Maybe not, I'd done that a while ago.) Was it my enrollment in the Babies R Us rewards program? (Perhaps, but I did that even before giving my address to Parents Magazine.) Is the store Destination Maternity somehow caught up in that? (I seem to recall giving them some personal info when I bought a nursing bra recently.) Could it just be the fact that I gave birth in a hospital? (But...but...the hospital was doing such a good job of promoting breastfeeding!)

I sort of think that maybe the deciding factor was that I'd quite recently purchased a breast pump. Maybe the formula companies thought that the suckiness of pumping would make me into a formula convert?

Shortly before having Emmett, I was reading a book (fictional) called The Wet Nurse's Tale and that book really made me appreciate the existence of things like infant formula...but I have to admit to being a bit creeped out by the aggressiveness of the marketing.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Perhaps I Won't Turn Out To Be a Helicopter Parent

Yesterday was the first time that I left Emmett in the care of someone who wasn't a family member. Granted, it was my friend Elaine who is Practically Family, but still, it was probably good for me to realize that Emmett and I could survive a short separation. It seems like much of the time, if I go off to do something on my own, Emmett realizes, "Hey wait! The breasts are not in the house! I am panicking! Hear me panic!"

Based on these experiences, I was totally prepared for the possibility that I would walk into the door at Elaine's place (I'd been out to take Lucy to the vet for a yearly checkup) and I'd need to immediately console him with some good old-fashioned breastfeeding. I was pleased and stoked to see him nice and calm instead. In addition to using calming techniques like walking and talking, Elaine's son Van had helped entertain Emmett. Emmett had been mesmerized by a green alien balloon that Van had. (Elaine joked that Emmett might one day remember an alien sighting and it would be based on this balloon experience.) I think he also just enjoyed the company of another boy, of course. Anyway, what a huge relief to have this outing go well. Maybe one day I'll be able to leave him for more than an hour and ten minutes.

Right before we left, I got to see for myself how mesmerized Emmett was by the balloon. Wow. There have been times where I've found Emmett staring at something (who knows what!) but it was the first time that I really noticed him getting fixated visually on something specific. I'll be interested to see what other things capture his attention.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pregnancy and Parenting in the Summer

It's been a super-hot summer here in NC, which is pretty much normal, but I've experienced the heat differently due to pregnancy and parenting. Being pregnant when the temperatures are close to 100 F is hard work. As one of my dog-walking buddies put it, "You might as well try to train for a triathlon!" in terms of the physical demands. Among the joys of hot-weather gestating is the need to continually drink fluids, which leads to the need to continually visit the bathroom, all at a time when you already are breaking personal records for time spent in bathrooms.

Parenting in hot weather has had some disadvantages as well. Before I had Emmett, I was really looking forward to putting him in a baby carrier and going on walks around town. I do this despite the heat, but sometimes when I take the carrier off, I'll find the lower half of my shirt all wet and I have trouble figuring out if it's wet from my own sweat or from a different bodily fluid.

As I see it, most of the advantages of hot weather involve clothing, specifically the lack of need for clothing. Sometimes (OK, often) when we've been just hanging around the house we don't put a lot of emphasis on putting outfits on the boy. Lately he's been spitting up enough that when we do put him in clothing, we have to change it an hour or so later anyway.

But most importantly, with the weather being as hot as it has been, I have had no temptation or reason whatsoever to see if I can fit into the pre-pregnancy jeans. Most years, I don't even look at jeans or long pants until around mid-September and this year will probably be no different. It could be that everything fits fine, but I am in no rush to find out.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sleep Fantasies

I always used to get bored by conversations about how sleep-deprived new parents are, but now I really and truly GET IT. The other day, I was driving my sister to the airport at 4:30 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. flight. This was truly not an inconvenience at all, as I was already awake (to feed Emmett). As I was strapping him into the car seat, I started thinking about how wonderful it would be if he fell asleep during the ride, and then stayed asleep for a few hours afterwards. In the end, he didn't stay asleep but I did get a decent nap a couple of hours later. And now, I have to admit that instead of fantasizing about romantic entanglements with celebrities and quasi-celebrities, my fantasies tend to be more along the lines of "if we go someplace using the stroller, will that buy me an hour or so of nap time?"

Meeting Aunt Susan

My sister Susan was in NC last week so that she could meet baby Emmett. It was so great to have her here. It can be really hard to find a good time for this sort of visit. On my end, the second week of being at home on my own with Emmett worked out really well for a visit. We've gotten to the stage where it's somewhat easier to take Emmett on different types of outings, but I wasn't quite feeling adventurous enough to attempt these outings on my own. With Susan's company, we went places by car, stroller, and Beco carrier. We ate four different meals out in public places (mostly just around the neighborhood, but still!) When my parents were here, it was still challenging for me to even walk two blocks without getting incredibly exhausted. It's good to be so much more recovered.
I've added a couple of Susan's songs to my "sing with Emmett" repertoire, and my kitchen is now much better organized thanks to Susan. It was great to have someone who was always willing to hold Emmett if needed. This is definitely something I've missed about my parents' visit! At this stage, anyone who holds Emmett gets to a frustrating point when he gets hungry and needs to go back to The Restaurant (as we've taken to calling my chest). During those times before the switch-offs occur, those holding him might find him trying to latch on to their shoulders, arms, or other body parts.

Although I missed seeing Max (my nephew) and Mitch (my brother-in-law), it's also a special treat to get a visit from just Susan. I imagine that there are conversations we wouldn't have had if there were more visitors in the mix. I do really look forward to the day when Max and Emmett meet one another, though!

Baby Lab!

Last Friday, Emmett had the opportunity to be a special guest in an Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) class at the community college where I work. I have to admit that when I first read the email from the instructor inviting me to bring him to the class, I was pretty sure I didn't want to go. I've been really enjoying not being at work, especially after having to work really hard throughout my pregnancy. However, the more that I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of providing the students with a learning opportunity. One of the things I think about a LOT is that we often don't get a lot of exposure to really young babies. There are good reasons for this: they have immature immune systems and it's not good to just take them anywhere, for instance. In this particular OTA class, there would be babies of different ages (including twins) and the students would be able to look at things like their reflexes and motor skills development.

My sister was in town visiting and I asked her to drive (lately I'm a little wary of driving while sleep-deprived). Having another person with me definitely made it easier to manage Emmett's first trip to my work site...for instance, I was able to send Susan out to check whether any of the rest rooms had changing tables.

One of the big things I wondered about beforehand was whether to try to visit other coworkers while I was on campus. I decided to make that call once we finished up with the class. If Emmett seemed like he could handle it, we'd at least visit my own office. If not, we'd head home after the class.

One of the fun things about going to the class was having everyone fuss over Emmett and compliment him. Although this happens most places that we go or most times people meet him, it never really gets stale. One of the students confessed to having a major case of baby fever and wanted to hold him even though she was in a different group during the assignment.

We started out with a bunch of questions about his behavior and reactions. Some of these were easy to answer (such as how/whether he reacts to my voice, or loud noises, or light), whereas others asked me to compare his behavior with that of other babies his age (hard to answer because he hasn't spent much time with babies of the same age). Next we did a series of movement-based activities. Emmett was asleep during a lot of these activities so it was hard to judge his reactions. We were a bit conflicted about whether to wake him up since he was sleeping so peacefully. He did wake up on his own eventually and managed to remain pretty calm throughout the rest of the exercises. He didn't stay in class quite as long as the other babies but he was there for a good 45 minutes.

One thing that was in one of the questions related to how he reacts to seeing himself in a mirror. I realized he hadn't seen himself in a mirror at all yet, so we've added "mirror time" to his playmat exercise time.

We did have time afterwards to stop by my own office so we did so, and he got to meet three of my coworkers. It was only a few days later that I thought to myself, "I should have checked my mail while I was there!" It's very hard for me not to obsess about work, so I'll just wrap up this post here and now. Overall, the class experience was really interesting.