I’m going to count this as a parenting win

My older son did a sweet thing today.  Little Boy and I were running around the block this morning (or more accurately, taking a walk break during our run around the block) when I saw a penny on the pavement.

“Look, a penny!” I said.  “Pick it up, it’s good luck.”

Little Boy, currently a few months away from turning four, has a piggy bank made from an old Gatorade tub.  We’ve talked about how money can be saved and used to pay for things that he wants, and he seems to have an age-appropriate grasp of how that works.  I thought he might like the penny and he did pick it up, but a few steps later, he became concerned.

“I don’t want this money.  I can’t put this money in my piggy bank.”

“Why?” I asked.

“It’s not my money.  It’s somebody else’s money.”  And he set the penny down on the sidewalk for the original owner to find.

Can’t really argue with that.

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Attack of the birthday parties

Apparently age four is when the birthday parties start.  Little Boy isn’t four yet, but his preschool classmates are starting to hit that milestone.  In the past few months, we’ve received seven party invitations, including two on the same weekend.  (Two in one weekend was too much for me; we attended one and politely declined the other.)  The parties we’ve attended so far follow the same basic pattern: an hour or two of play in a kid-friendly space, then pizza, then cake.

There’s a lot of good about these parties.  Little Boy loves them.  He loves seeing his friends; he loves getting to run and jump and climb in new spaces with new, exciting equipment; he loves eating pizza and cake.  He has so much fun.  Meanwhile, I’ve had the chance to connect with some of the other preschool parents.  It’s nice.

Sometimes, though, I feel like I’m on the edge of a slightly foreign subculture.  The other parents chat about their kids’ gymnastics lessons and other organized activities.  They compare notes on kindergartens—charter, private, Montessori.  (When did “not public” became the default choice for school?)  They drink LaCroix.  It all seems just a tad more aspirational, just a tiny bit up the social ladder.

I don’t know what we’re going to do for Little Boy’s birthday.  I can’t see us spending several hundred dollars on a party space (not counting food and favors), and our house won’t hold a whole class of preschoolers.  We might be able to make something work in the local park, but weather makes that unlikely.  Most likely we’ll have to do something like we did for his third birthday, a low-key gathering with just a couple of kids.  Another in a long line of should I be doing more for this? decisions as a parent.

Anyone else in the “so many birthday parties” phase?

Three years and counting

I published my first blog post three years ago today.  WordPress put a little “Happy Anniversary” badge in my notifications to celebrate.  Woo!

My kids were born almost exactly three years apart, so Younger Brother is now the age that his brother was when I first started blogging.  Little Boy goes to preschool and my spouse goes to work, so it’s just me at home with the baby most days.  I get a strong sense of déjà vu sometimes, which couples oddly with the feeling that we weren’t supposed to stay here this long, here in this lovely rented house with the bright windows and the big garage.

It’s interesting to look back on my old posts about parenting with the experience of a second-time mother.  I can think of several more things to add to the list of what not to say to new parents.  My tips for newborn sleep are still generally good advice, but I laugh a little at the confidence with which they were written.  I’ve pulled the running stroller back out; where Little Boy used to get loudly grumpy about running, Younger Brother just falls asleep.  (In related news, I’ve discovered that some newborns really do have “quiet awake” time.)  And while we’re still struggling to find the right balance of TV time for our older child, we are way more relaxed when it comes to the littler one getting the occasional glimpse a television screen.

There’s been another change to my family, one that I haven’t talked about much on the blog, that also casts some of my older posts in a new light.  More than a year ago, my spouse revealed that he wanted to be a woman, and, with my support, began the long and nonlinear process of gender transition.  I have seen how hard it is for him in the in-between times, as he deals with a deeply internalized sense that “feminine” fashion can’t be paired with “masculine” physical features.  It has reaffirmed to me the importance of making sure our boys aren’t limited to “boy” things as they grow.  My spouse’s true gender identity also makes our earlier fight against falling into traditional husband/wife roles even more striking—turns out we aren’t a traditional heterosexual couple, and yet various factors kept pushing us that way.

I don’t know what the future holds for my blog.  I’m most active on Twitter these days, enjoying its faster, more fleeting nature and greater interactivity.  I can type a tweet with one hand while nursing; a blog post, not so much.  But I’m still glad to be here—and if you’re reading this, I’m glad you’re here too.

Postpartum dispatch #3

With my first baby, I learned that the first three months are the hardest.  I also learned that it gets worse before it gets better: newborn fussiness peaks around six weeks and slowly drops off from there.  This time around, the roughest parts for me were the seventh and eighth weeks, because we’d hit that peak and it seemed like things should have been improving but they weren’t.

We made it through.  Things did start to improve, slowly and erratically but noticeably.  Younger Brother dropped to two night feedings, then one.  His naps are still all over the place, but that’s less awful now that I’m not as desperate for naps myself.  He’s a sociable happy bean when he’s awake, cooing continuously in his delightful baby voice.  He “talks” to me, to the mirror, to the ceiling fan, to the toys on his chair.

I enjoy spending time with him—and with his brother, although three-year-olds require an entirely different sort of energy—and I enjoy having time to think by myself again, too.  There’s still a sort of underlying panic in my mind about all the things I need to do, but I can ignore that feeling much of the time.  At this point, I figure my priority is to get us all through Christmas, and then I can step up the job searching and other activities in the new year.

A fun office trip with Little Boy

Little Boy’s daycare is closed for a few days of teacher training, so I brought him with me to campus this morning.  My office is in a mostly-empty outbuilding, so there weren’t any major concerns about disrupting others.  (Not that there are many other people on campus at 9 AM in early August anyway.)  The plan was to try to keep him entertained with the novelty of it all while I sorted some papers and packed a few things.

It went delightfully well.  When you are almost three years old, there are many new and exciting—and sometimes scary—things to experience at a university.  Parking garages!  Elevators!  Public bathrooms with loud toilets!  And of course, Mommy’s office, with swivel chairs and a dry-erase board and stuffed animals and a vuvuzela (yes, really).  Plus a scientific calculator (he assumed this was a phone at first) and a computer with a mouse that he could click and scroll and use to make new desktop folders!

I had several dozen old pens that had accumulated over the years, and set Little Boy to checking them.  “If it works, give it back to Mommy; if it doesn’t work, put it in the trash can.”  He was quite effective at this task.

The best part of the morning was when my friend, who is also graduating and packing up her office across the hall, arrived.  Little Boy was ridiculously excited to see her, despite only knowing her by name before today.  He spent a good 20 minutes jumping up and down and running back and forth with sheer happiness.  Preschooler enthusiasm is amazing.

When I was Little Boy’s age, my dad was a PhD student.  I’m going to have to ask him if he has any stories about my visits to his office and lab.

Oh hi, it’s me again

Whenever I go for a while without blogging, I get into a negative feedback loop about it.

It’s been a while, so my next post needs to be something Big and Important.

I don’t have the time/energy to write any Big and Important posts right now.

[days pass]

[cycle repeats]

So this post is a deliberately short note to break the cycle.

I’m almost halfway through this pregnancy.  The baby is healthy, so far as I can tell; he or she is a strong kicker.  I’m healthy by the numbers, but ridiculously fatigued, which is pretty much the story of my adult life in one sentence.

Little Boy’s two-year-old cuteness deserves its own post.  The Terrible Twos get a bad rap, I think.  He can be plenty obnoxious sometimes (and has an inexhaustible supply of bouncy energy), but he’s also smart and thoughtful and independent and deeply engaged with his world.

How are you?

There’s new advice for new parents

It’s been a busy week when it comes to telling new parents what they should and shouldn’t do.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released several new policies, and the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) reviewed and updated their recommendations on breastfeeding support.  Even though Little Boy is well past infancy, I’m still very interested in the science of infant care (and we might decide to have another kid), so I’ve been paying attention.  Let’s take a look at each of the new policies.

Kids & screen time

The general message of the AAP’s new policy statement on media use by young children is familiar: choose age-appropriate media, talk to your kids about what they’re watching, and turn off the TV (and other devices) before bed.  But there are a few key updates worth pointing out:

  • They’ve lowered the age of “no digital media” from 2 years to 18 months: you are now allowed to introduce “high-quality programming” to your 18-month-old if you so choose.  I’m pleased with this recommendation, because it agrees with my observations of child development.  Little Boy was 17 or 18 months old when he started really caring about Sesame Street.  By age 2, he knew all the characters and could identify the letter C (is for Cookie) in other contexts.  The old ‘kids don’t get anything out of TV before age 2’ policy seemed frankly incorrect.
  • For children under 18 months, the “avoid digital media” recommendation now explicitly says video-chatting is OK.  It’s a little thing—I mean, we all kind of figured that Skyping with Grandma didn’t really count as “screen time”—but it shows that the AAP put some thought into the various uses of media in modern society.
  • I also appreciate that this statement is included: “…there are intermittent times (eg, medical procedures, airplane flights) when media is useful as a soothing strategy…”

Safe infant sleep

Again, most of the recommendations in the AAP’s new policy statement on infant sleep safety are things we’ve heard before.  Babies should sleep on their backs.  Avoid blankets and soft bedding.  Don’t smoke.  Offer a pacifier (nobody quite knows why, but pacifier use is associated with lower rates of SIDS).  In a few cases, though, the details have changed:

  • Room-sharing (baby sleeps in parents’ room but in his/her own crib or bassinet) is now explicitly encouraged for the first 6–12 months.  Popular media articles seem to be treating this as a shocking new development, but the old safe sleep policy already recommended room-sharing, just without a specific length of time.  The science around this is up for debate, though; it’s not clear if the references cited by the AAP really show strong support for room-sharing.  (Some thoughts from educated folk here and here.)
  • The AAP remains very strongly against bed-sharing; however, they now admit that parents get really fricking tired caring for new babies and sometimes falling asleep with your baby in bed is the least bad option.  While bed-sharing is most definitely not for me, I appreciate their concession to reality:

    However, the AAP acknowledges that parents frequently fall asleep while feeding the infant. Evidence suggests that it is less hazardous to fall asleep with the infant in the adult bed than on a sofa or armchair, should the parent fall asleep.

Supporting breastfeeding

The recommendation statement by the USPSTF, accompanied by an in-depth statistical analysis, addresses whether anything hospitals and medical professionals do actually increases breastfeeding rates, and if so, what interventions are most helpful.  They conclude, “with moderate certainty,” that breastfeeding support has a “moderate net benefit.”

That’s not terribly surprising, but there are some really, really interesting specifics in the report, highlighted in a Journal of the American Medical Association editorial:

  • There is no evidence that the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) does any good.  If you’re unfamiliar with the BFHI, the idea is that hospitals can be certified if they implement a set of ten “baby-friendly” (read: breastfeeding-friendly) steps.  Some of these steps are controversial; for instance, if a new mother wants to formula-feed, the BFHI requires that hospital staff “educate her about the possible consequences to the health of her infant.”  Anyway, the USPSTF report determined that “individual-level interventions” (seeing a lactation consultant, attending a breastfeeding support group, etc.) were useful, while “system-level interventions” (the BFHI and other hospital policies) were not.
  • There is no benefit (in terms of breastfeeding duration) to completely avoiding formula during the newborn period.  Moms who supplement with formula before their milk comes in are just as successful at breastfeeding!  This is a big deal, because current breastfeeding advice tends to take an “any formula ever will ruin your breastfeeding relationship” approach.
  • Pacifiers are also OK!  Pacifier use is not associated with breastfeeding problems.  In fact, because pacifier use is associated with lower SIDS risk, the JAMA editorial goes so far as to say that

    routine counseling to avoid pacifiers may very well be ethically problematic.

Interestingly, when the USPSTF posted a draft of their recommendations back in April, there was apparently some concern about their choice to talk about the “support” of breastfeeding instead of the “promotion” of breastfeeding.  Because people are weird about this.

That gorilla incident illustrates how mothers are basically screwed

The internet’s perpetual outrage machine is busy right now with a sad incident at the Cincinnati zoo.  (Quick summary: small child fell into gorilla enclosure, gorilla behaved threateningly, child survived but gorilla did not.)  A significant chunk of that outrage is directed at the child’s mother: Why didn’t she see him entering the enclosure?  Why wasn’t she watching? 

Now, I wasn’t there.  I don’t know exactly what happened.  Maybe this particular mother was being genuinely neglectful.  Maybe she just had a lapse for a moment and made a mistake.  I’m sure it’s being thoroughly investigated, as it should be.

But all this B.S. about the mother “not doing her job” and the like?  That needs to stop.  If you’re tempted to say that, stop and ask yourself: Have you always done your own job to 100% perfection?  Have you never made an error, out of ever single day that you’ve ever worked? 

From a safe distance, it’s easy to say that she should’ve done this or she should’ve done that, but to do so ignores the cultural context in which women parent.  (And yes, it’s moms who face the fiercest judgement.)  I’ve read piles of “the kid should have been on a leash!” comments, often with a stated or unstated “if she couldn’t handle him” accompanying.  Which is the irony of those very comments—to put your small child on a leash might be convenient and safe, but it will get you branded as someone who “can’t handle” their rambunctious toddler.

People are damn judgemental about those leashes.  “Parenting won’t include those for us,” sniffed one woman in a now-deleted Tweet when the topic came up on my feed a few weeks ago.  A big chunk of American culture has decided that confining children in any way is a mark of lazy parenting—just look at how weird people are about playpens these days.

Another recurring comment I’ve seen is that the mom shouldn’t have brought the kid out at all if the kid was a known “runner.”  Because apparently the punishment for being an actual human being and not a perfect robot is that you don’t get to go anywhere.

For goodness’ sake, people, listen to yourselves!

If you use a leash, you get judged.  If you don’t use a leash and your kid does anything untoward, you get judged.  If you stay three inches from your kid the whole trip, you’re helicoptering.  If you stay three feet away, you’re neglectful.  If your child is any less than a perfect angel, or you are less than 100% perfect yourself, someone will think that you should’ve just stayed home.  But if you stay home, you’re not providing your child with the “enrichment” they need.

We can’t win.  All we can do is hope that our imperfections don’t make national news.

Our evolving toddler TV policy, part III

I have a confession to make: Little Boy’s been watching more TV.  Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Curious George have permanently joined Sesame Street (still his favorite) in rotation, with an occasional smattering of Mighty Machines and Reading Rainbow.  There are two main drivers of this increased screen time.

The first reason is that Little Boy has been sick a lot.  And I mean A Lot.  Just this week, for example: he came down with pink eye on Tuesday and is running a fever today.  Books and friends warned us that the first year of daycare would be bad, but we didn’t realize just quite how much illness it would involve.  I’ve been hoping that it would taper off as cold and flu season ended, but no such luck yet.

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned before, the rules get relaxed when people are sick.  When Little Boy is uncomfortable and cranky, you can bet that we’re going to try to distract him from that discomfort however we can.  We also read, and go for walks, and snuggle, but yeah, TV is a big part of sick time.  After all, what do I do when I’m sick?  I lay on the couch and entertain myself with screens of the TV or tablet variety.

The second reason for the additional TV is that Little Boy has grown to be highly mobile and curious.  He’s also becoming increasingly social and, I think, gets frankly rather bored stuck at home with his mom and dad.  This combination means that he can get into lots of mischief.  Now, that normally isn’t too big of an issue, since we offer plenty of supervision, but sometimes as a parent you have to get things done that require your attention, and that’s where TV can help.

Do I feel guilty about this?  Of course.  I’ll always feel guilty about something.  But Little Boy has made recent leaps in verbal development, and he loves to read books and stack blocks and chase bubbles.  Television isn’t stunting him in some kind of terrible way.  In the end, I suspect it’s like most things: use thoughtfully and in moderation.


I wasn’t quite expecting this topic to turn into a series, but hey.  Here are parts I and II.

“Educate yourself” & “Do your research”

If you’re a parent on the internet, you’ve likely come across the “do your research” folks.  They’re the anti-vax idiots, the über-natural nuts, the ones who are convinced that formula is toxic and that any amount of crying irreparably damages your baby’s brain.  You find it a lot among fad dieters, too.  The phrase “do your research” is an immediate signal that the speaker has no idea what constitutes real research and should henceforth be ignored.

“Educate yourself” tends to come up in a very different context: diversity initiatives. “How to be a good ally” lists, that sort of thing.  Unlike the anti-vaxxers, the writers of these equity-related missives generally have the facts on their side.  Their motivation is also different: they just want the people who interact with them to stop being ignorant trolls.

However, these phrases share a common fallacy: that more information will necessarily convert the reader/listener to the side of the writer/speaker.  That’s laughably wrong in the case of the anti-vaxxers and “natural” nuts.  Such people seem to believe that they’re the bearers of a secret truth, breathlessly informing you of “facts” from Dr. Google.  It doesn’t seem to enter their worldview that we have already heard all that stuff and have considered and rejected it.

Things are much more complicated when you’re telling us how to be good allies to the underprivileged.  Reading other perspectives is absolutely a plus when it comes to being more tolerant.  But… one must always remember that not everyone is going to interpret the same information in the same way.  I’ve lurked in quite a few diversity-related conversations where disagreement was incorrectly blamed on ignorance, and people who genuinely wanted to help decided not to bother.

The moral of the story is: be careful when you say things like this.  Don’t assume that the reason someone has different opinions is because they don’t know as much as you.