The blessing of Tylenol

Little Boy woke in the night with a mid-level fever, moaning and crying and generally unhappy.  I gave him an age-appropriate dose of Tylenol, then sat back in the rocking chair to soothe his wee self.  As we snuggled, his hot head pressing against my shoulder, I felt a surge of gratitude for that basic drug, and for all of modern medicine.  I don’t have to sit through the night, listening to his cries of discomfort and praying for the fever to break.  I can make him comfortable and loved and relaxed and give him the sleep his body needs.

What’s your favorite part of modern medicine? 

Turns out it’s hard to buy a boy a pink shirt

Quite a while back, I wrote about the importance of pink shirts.  Actually, that post is about how I don’t want “gender equality” to mean “girls can be like boys, but not vice versa.”  Pink shirts for boys are just one of the more obvious examples; still, it became important to me that Little Boy have one.  He’s too young to care about his wardrobe—why not offer him a wide selection?

It should’ve been so easy.  Walk into store.  Buy pink shirt.  Dress baby.  But it turned out to be a lot harder than that.

In the store, I got whacked in the face with my own ingrained gender biases.  I couldn’t bring myself to buy my Little Boy a ruffly purple shirt or a sweater with pink sparkles.  I don’t like that, I thought.  And it’s true, I don’t tend to wear sparkly ruffly things myself.  But if my child were a girl, would I have bought it?  How much was my conception of “boy” getting in the way of me purchasing some cute stuff for my kid?

It wasn’t entirely my fault.  A plain ol’ pink T-shirt, it turns out, is a surprisingly rare commodity.  The toddler boys’ section of the department store is filled with staples—T-shirts, jeans, thermals—in a good set of basic colors.  Toddler girls, on the other hand, get to choose from the aforementioned sparkly ruffly things.  “Basics” don’t seem to be a part of girls’ clothing.

After putting it off for far too long, I ordered a couple of shirts for Little Boy from Primary.com, a website promising basic children’s clothing in a variety of colors.  I still had to order from the “girls” section of the website—as if 18-month-old children didn’t all have the same body type!  And the girls’ clothes, of course, run small, so we had to order a size up.

On Monday, Little Boy wore one of his new shirts, in a pleasant lavender, to daycare.  The other new shirt is a jewel-toned pink.  They’re not the most outrageous colors in his dresser drawer; that honor belongs to the blinding plaids given by a well-meaning relative.  Nevertheless, I found myself rather unreasonably nervous.  Would anyone notice?  Would anyone care?

If anyone did notice, they didn’t care.

Of toddlers and tantrums

As you might have deduced from that last post, Little Boy has entered the tantrum age.  He’s smart and curious and loving and he makes noises that sound like a cute gremlin and he giggles like crazy when we tuck him in at night—and he throws a fit when he doesn’t get his way.  Sometimes those fits are rather dramatic.  He’ll fling himself on the ground and angrily refuse all attempts at comfort.

You know what?  I kind of get it.

Some people say tantrums as kids trying to get their way, but I don’t think they’re that, not really.  Trying to get his way comes before the tantrum, when Little Boy communicates via word and gesture the thing it is that he so desperately wants.  Despite a vocabulary of less than a dozen words, it’s usually pretty easy to understand him.

No, the tantrum is the frustration at being denied.  It’s an expression of the anger and vexation and helplessness that comes when you don’t understand why Mommy said no, we can’t put on our shoes and go to the park right now.  I suppose that a kid could learn that tantrums get them what they want, depending on the parent’s response, but they don’t start out that way.

When I say I get it, what I mean is this: I know what it’s like to feel hopelessly frustrated, to the point of great anguish, by something that’s out of my control.  I know what it’s like to be angry about something other people think is totally irrational, or even by something I think is irrational.  Little Boy is experiencing totally valid feelings, even if he’s acting on them in a somewhat socially inappropriate way.

Which isn’t to say that Little Boy’s tantrums aren’t sometimes frustrating and tiresome for me and his dad.  Just that I get where he’s coming from.

An honest chat between parents

My husband and I often touch base on chat when we first arrive at our workstations.  Here’s how that went this morning, when I got to campus after dropping Little Boy off at daycare:

Me:  At school.  Grumpy boy this morning.

Husband:  No kidding.

Me:  He was OK playing with stuff while I signed him in, but got very sad when I handed him to [Teacher A] outside.

Husband:  I don’t know what’s up with him lately.

Me:  Me neither.

Husband:  Well, daycare’s problem for a while.

Me:  Yes, thank goodness.

Husband: #realparents

Me:  “And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again!”*

Husband:  Heck yes.

Me:  I think it used to be more culturally acceptable to say that.  Now we have to go through this act of how much we miss our kids when they start school.**

Husband:  Bleh. 

Husband:  I’m going to channel Red Forman.

Me:  LOL
 

*For those who don’t immediately recognize it, this is a line from the carol “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.”

**To be fair, I did miss Little Boy when he started daycare.  But that was one of the best things that’s ever happened for our mother-son relationship.

We need to banish the phrase “That’s what you signed up for when you became a parent”

If you’re spent any time on the “mommy internet” (forums, blogs, etc.), you’re bound to have come across the self-righteous mother.  You know, the one who made all the “best” choices in pregnancy and birth and parenting and can’t imagine that—gasp!—other people’s lives might be different.  One of Ms. Self-Righteous’s favorite things to say is this: “Well, that’s just what you signed up for when you became a parent.”

Kid wakes up every 45 minutes all night long?  “That’s what you signed up for when you became a parent.”

Bleeding nipples from trying to breastfeed?  “That’s what you signed up for when you became a parent.”

Feeling stuck at home and missing adult interaction?  “That’s what you signed up for when you became a parent.”

It’s bratty, it’s common, and it needs to be banished forever.

For one, it rests on an utterly ridiculous assumption: that the person in question “signed up” to be a parent.  Some people do.  I did: the pregnancy that brought me Little Boy was very carefully planned and sought after.  But half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so chances are good, when you’re speaking to a strange woman on the internet, that she didn’t actually “sign up” to be a parent.  For some people, it just happens.

Second, do you know what this attitude reminds me of?  Hazing.  “You can’t complain about having to run around campus naked in sub-zero temperatures,” says the bro.  “It’s what you signed up for when you pledged this fraternity.”  We don’t allow that kind of excuse when it comes to college students, why should we allow it with new parents?

Third, while all parenting necessitates sacrifice, there is essentially no one specific hardship that is required by 100% of all parents.  Some women (me!) breastfeed with minimal pain.  Some babies actually do go to sleep easily, and some very lucky parents can afford a night nurse or postpartum doula to help when they don’t.  Heaps and heaps of parents balance parenthood and working, or parenthood and community service.  There’s no checklist of things you could “sign up for” to be a parent, even if you wanted to.

Fourth, it’s just plain mean.  Becoming a parent is a huge adjustment, and people need safe spaces to talk about that.  Even if someone is venting about something that seems completely shallow to you (“I can’t go out to the bar as often anymore!”), don’t be a brat.  They’re going through a major life transition and they need empathy, not self-righteousness.  If you can’t muster up any empathy, STFU.

Fifth and finally, this phrase and its variants tell us something very important about the speaker:  When you say this, what you’re really saying is that you’re insecure about your own parenting choices.  You’re angry and bitter about other people taking the “easy way out.”  That’s why one of my husband’s relatives was so insistent that formula-feeding mothers were “selfish”—she couldn’t handle the thought that it would’ve been OK if she’d switched to formula and skipped the hardships she’d faced while breastfeeding.  (For another example along the same lines, see this comment.)  It’s again very much like hazing: “I did it, so you must too, or else you’re not worthy.”

Look, sometimes you have to own your own decisions and accept that you did things the hard way.  We, for example, played a crazy game of alternating shifts to keep Little Boy out of daycare until he was eight months old.  In retrospect, that was unnecessary (except possibly for the money side of things).  We could’ve put him in daycare several months earlier and maybe been happier, without any sacrifice at all to his well-being.

You know what we don’t do?  We don’t go around trying to justify our decision by telling everyone that babies need to stay home with their parents for the first eight months.  We’re OK with the decision that we made, even if we might do it differently in retrospect.  Because here’s the thing: when it comes to parenting, if you really made the best choices for your family, then other people’s choices don’t matter.*  So take responsibility for your decisions and don’t be a smug jerk to compensate.

*Except for vaccination.  You’re putting my kid at risk if you don’t vaccinate yours.  Vaccines are awesome.  Make sure your children get them all.

What other parenting-related phrases should be banned forever?

Our evolving toddler TV policy, part II

Following up on my post about our evolving toddler TV policy, I have a few other thoughts on kids and screen time that I wanted to share:

  • The original post was in no way meant to cast aspersions on parents who let their toddlers watch more or less TV than we do.  Rather, it was intended to be a “here’s one approach and why we take it” post.  Just an example.  As with most parenting choices, there’s a wide range of options that are perfectly fine.  Unless you’re letting your two-year-old watch Game of Thrones, you’re probably OK.
  • When we’re sick, the rules largely go out the window.  I was feeling awful yesterday and Little Boy was getting over a bad cold, so we pretty much just camped in the living room and watched a rotation of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Curious George, and Sesame Street (for him), and Property Brothers and House Hunters (for me).  Except for when Sesame Street was on, Little Boy got bored and played with his toys instead.  I guess we technically weren’t violating our house rule against unsupervised TV, come to think of it.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy against screen time starts by telling us that children aren’t learning from TV before age 2.  Which is fair, if a little conservative in my opinion.  Baby Einstein isn’t going to make your infant a genius.  The second part of the policy, though, warns us that parents speak fewer words when the TV is on, depriving kids of valuable interaction.  Here’s the thing, though: In reality, it’s not a choice between TV and a pair of ideal, chatty, energetic parents.  It’s a choice between TV and Little Boy’s real parents, who are sometimes tired, quiet, and introverted.  If the TV wasn’t on at times, we’d probably be watching Little Boy play while scanning the news on our iPads.  We do plenty of talking and reading and playing, but we’re real human beings and we don’t do those things 100% of the time, TV or no.

That last point is one that’s always worth bearing in mind, I think.  In parenting, you’re rarely making choices between something perfect and something not.  You’re making choices between two imperfect options and looking for the one that works best for your family.  And that’s going to depend a lot on who you are, and who your kid is, and what your circumstances are.  Anyone who says there’s One True Way is full of crap.

Our evolving toddler TV policy

Last month, nicoleandmaggie (well, one of the two) over at Grumpy Rumblings asked their commenting community about TV policies for kids.  I wrote:

Our policy for now is no unsupervised TV. It’s either a family thing (like watching the Rose Parade), or we’re snuggled on the couch with a sick/tired Little Boy.

That has since changed.  Why?  Sesame Street.

The kid lo-o-o-o-oves Sesame Street.

I have a feeling that I did too, back when I was small.  I have no specific memories of watching it (just what my mom has told me), but I know we wore out the cassette with “The Rubber Ducky Song” because we played it so much, and I know that to this day I occasionally blurt out, “Cookie, cookie, cookie starts with C.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics, of course, recommends no screen time of any kind before age two.  I can think of only one person I know in real life who actually followed that.  It was certainly never going to be an option in our house.  Mommy and Daddy sometimes watch TV, and sometimes we watch TV when Little Boy is awake.  I’m also a big believer in the power of vegging out when you’re sick or tired.  Little Boy works hard all day learning how to be a human; he deserves some time when he doesn’t have to think very hard, too.

Our goal was always that TV not be used as a babysitter, hence the “no unsupervised TV” mentioned above.  I’ve also tried to keep TV time to limited chunks—we don’t leave it on all day.  And it’s only for days when Little Boy doesn’t attend daycare.  (By the way, the reason I’m only talking about TV and not any other screens is that we keep the laptops and iPads away from Little Boy.  We’d rather they stay in one piece!)

Up until very recently, Little Boy didn’t show any particular interest in anything specific that came on the screen.  Home renovation shows, superhero movies, Reading Rainbow—it was all pretty much the same to him.  And then one day he recognized Cookie Monster and suddenly he was following us around the living room absolutely begging us to put on more Sesame Street clips.  I’m 99% sure he thinks the word “please” means “that big blue monster who stuffs his face with cookies.”  Not joking.

I know the experts say kids don’t get much out of TV at this age, but Little Boy heads over to his toy box and grabs his stuffed Big Bird when that character appears on-screen.  He knows, at least a little bit, what he’s seeing.  It’s not a completely passive experience any more.  Given that, the rules have changed.  Little Boy is now allowed to watch an episode as “babysitting,” i.e., while his parents keep an eye on him but do something else.

This new policy has brought its own challenges; namely, that Little Boy does not believe one episode of Cookie Monster per day is nearly enough and can become quite perturbed when we tell him it’s time to play blocks instead.  Oh, well.  I guess saying no is what parenting is all about.

It doesn’t take instinct to change a diaper

Recently seen on social media: a long post written by an acquaintance, praising her husband for being such a good father.  Or at least that’s what she thought it was.  What it turned out to be was a rather depressing description of how she learned to accept traditional gender roles in her marriage.  About how she was wrong to expect him to be a mother, because of course he couldn’t be a mother, he was a father.

The line that really stuck in my head was about how she had been unreasonable to expect that he would “instinctively” know when to change their kids’ diapers.  But it was OK!  Because he wasn’t overprotective and he had better insight on discipline and [insert additional stereotypically manly qualities here].

Now, in general, I don’t care all that much about how an individual couple divides the work of parenting and running a household, as long as both are contributing.  What works for you is what works for you, and there’s nothing wrong with splitting chores along your strengths.  It’s when it gets justified with explicitly gendered language that it bothers me.

“Instinct” about changing diapers?  Nobody has instinct about changing diapers, at least not in the very beginning.  There’s a reason why newborn diapers nowadays come with those lines that change color to let you know when they’re wet.  Fortunately, for new parents, there’s a simple set of rules.  You know it’s time for a diaper change when:

  1. Your kid stinks.
  2. It’s been more than 2–3 hours since the last diaper change.
  3. Your kid is crying inexplicably and you want to rule out possible causes.

And that’s it.  No instinct required.  If a dad doesn’t figure that out, it’s because he’s not trying, not because he’s male.

This kind of gendered language about instincts frustrates me for two reasons.  One, it lets men off the hook for doing the work of parenting and housekeeping—work which men are perfectly capable of doing.  (This is a good place to note that my husband changed more than 90% of Little Boy’s diapers for the first week, and continues to share that job today.)  Second, this language implies that I, as a women, am supposed to be “instinctively” skilled at this stuff.  I’m not!  And there’s nothing wrong with that!  I learned by doing it, just like anyone else can.

Tell me, readers, what are you good at?  Is it the stuff you’re “supposed” to be good at?

Newborn vs. one-year-old: a comparison

Lately, I’ve found myself reminiscing about what it was like taking care of Little Boy a year ago, when he was first born, and comparing that to what it’s like today. I present to you the result of that comparison, in handy chart form.

Newborn One-Year-Old
Nighttime What is this thing you call “night,” Mom and Dad? Sleeps 11+ hours straight when not sick.
Advantage: One-Year-Old
Nap Time Keep your fingers crossed that he’ll fall asleep nursing, and pray that he stays asleep for longer than 45 minutes. Lay him in crib with a kiss and an Elmo, turn off light, and close door.
Advantage: One-Year-Old
Breastfeeding: Latching On Carefully hold his head in exactly the right position with one hand while awkwardly squashing the breast away from his nose. Vaguely aim the Boob Piranha in the right direction.
Advantage: One-Year-Old
Breastfeeding: While You Wait Catch up on all your favorite TV shows and Netflix. Ban all sources of distraction including other people, the cat, and the sound of the washing machine.
Advantage: Newborn
Diaper Changes Squirmy with a chance of pee. Kid is bound and determined to grab himself.
Tie
Bath Time Balance baby carefully on a sling above the water. SPLASH PARTY!
Advantage: One-Year-Old
Evening Strolls Please stop screaming and go to sleep please go to sleep… Everyone relaxes and enjoys checking out their surroundings.
Advantage: One-Year-Old
Playtime Playtime? Requires frequent parental intervention to avoid destroying the house.
Advantage: One-Year-Old
Snuggles Almost constant. Infrequent, but the ones you get are real honest-to-goodness hugs.
Tie

And the winner is… the one-year-old!

My kid got a measles shot and I’m so excited!

Hooray!  Little Boy got his first MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) shot!

In fact, he got four shots today.  Besides the MMR, he received his first varicella (chickenpox) immunization, his fourth and final vaccine against pneumococcal meningitis, and his first of two flu shots this season (the first year kids get their flu shots, they need two doses).  His poor legs were festooned with superhero Band-Aids.

From my perspective, vaccines are one of humanity’s greatest achievements.  I will never have to watch my child struggle to breathe as he fights whooping cough.  Never have to fear the coming of summer for its threat of polio.  Never have to remember what diphtheria is or how to spell it.  I’ll never even have to get a smallpox vaccine, because it worked so well in previous generations.

The MMR gives me particular relief, because it means I can stop worrying about measles.  Little Boy has never been in any but the most remote danger of catching measles, but last winter’s Disneyland outbreak spread a little too close for comfort.  Measles is extremely contagious—more contagious than Ebola—and you can pass it on before you even know you’re sick.  When you’re the parent of a small baby, it’s scary, even though the flu is a much bigger risk from a numbers standpoint.

In conclusion: Hooray!