The day I realized I’m a “free-range” parent

IMG_20160308_163827It was the moment I was instructed to ask my 16-month-old if I was allowed to go to the bathroom something clicked inside me. 

Allow me to explain how this happened.

We live in Chicago and in Chicago the search for preschools tends to start shockingly early for parents for many reasons that are too numerous and possibly too politically charged to go into here. Though my friends in New York and DC are want to tell me that Chicago can’t even possibly compare to their situation (“You can still get into a preschool with a child that’s 16 months old? Pshah!”), education – even private education – in Chicago is a notoriously prickly scenario with education intrinsically tied to the politics, unions, and budget crises plaguing the city and state. Many of these reasons are why I, a stay-at-home mother of a 16-month-old, found myself attending a preschool open house. In their packet the kind folks at this particular preschool included articles outlining the values of “free play”, one of which, an Atlantic article outlining the crushing of preschoolers, I had shared on my own personal Facebook wall not three days earlier. “Is this a bastion of free play?” I thought to myself. “What luck to have a place four blocks away from our place that has also read the millions of articles about the Finnish schools allowing children to play that are circulating these days!”

As luck (I thought, foolishly, at the time) would have it this particular preschool also offered a “parent and toddler” class for the littler ones. They again boasted of pure “free play”, no light-up toys, and “dramatic play spaces” (which as best as I can gather in the preschool world now means miniature play kitchens). They offered a trial class to me in order to try the class to which I enthusiastically replied “yes,” and immediately started daydreaming about all the energy my son would burn off while he “free played” and how I could get out of the house and spend a morning talking to other parents. It really was a win-win scenario when I looked at it on paper.

When we arrived it turned out my “win-win” scenario was best left to paper. It didn’t take long for me to be grateful I wasn’t tall, else I’d fear being buzzed with all the helicoptering going on.

Prior to this the only “organized” activities my son and I had attended were a play group at the local German school where I was typically either the only American or one of two Americans and a music class we attended weekly where the toddlers all play together while the parents chat interspersed by songs or books. I very much did not want to get into a habit of overloading my son (or myself) with too many activities per week, mostly due to the fact that, first, I simply don’t have the patience for that and, more importantly, I actually wanted my son to be able to have true free time to explore his own spaces and imagine ways to play without structure. Some days we would go to the park, some days we would go to the coffee shop with a little play area, and some days we play – dare I say “free play”, even – around our home. Needless to say I was ill-prepared for the culture shock of witnessing the true-blue helicopter parenting that lay ahead of me that day.

The setup for the class was admittedly fantastic: there were two rooms, one with all sorts of art supplies such as clay, paints, sand, water, etc., and another room with toys such as puzzles, blocks, balls, kitchen and tea sets, and scooter bikes for the little ones to explore. We arrived, I introduced myself to the teacher and my son was off like a shot, ready to explore and play. I was relieved things were going to plan and then suddenly realized: none of the children were playing by themselves or with each other. I kept looking and was shocked to see every single parent playing with their child. I finally looked closer and realized that was actually a misjudgment: these parents weren’t playing with their children, they were playing for their children.

While pregnant, I read Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman and it resonated with me in many profound ways. One of the items she brought up as a difference between English-speaking parents (as she included Brits and Aussies as having this American habit as well) and the central-Europeans was the habit of a constant narration as their child played. It’s not that the French (or Germans, Italians, Swiss, etc.) don’t speak, read, and play with their children, it’s that they don’t constantly find the need to narrate their child’s every move when there is a perfectly good play environment and other children around them. That time is considered their time to explore and live in a child’s world with other children, and your time to hang back and allow them to do just that while also modeling peer-to-peer communication.

This would have been considered heresy at this mom and toddler class. Not only was a constant narration accepted, it was required. A quick soundbite went something along the lines of, “Oh, Suzy [an 18-month-old], you have a dolly? Oh do you like dollies? Do you want to put the dolly in the stroller? Can you push the dolly? Oh, are you done with the dolly now? Okay, do you want to go over to the kitchen now? Oh my goodness, the kitchen! Look at the kitchen! It’s a plate! Do you see the plate? Look at the plate! Oh, you have the plate! What goes on the plate? Does the tomato go on the plate? Oh, are you done with the kitchen now? Do you want to play with the ball?”

This narration never stopped. I was exhausted just watching these parents within five minutes. What I witnessed was not children “free playing” but children with a constant external voice butting itself into their heads. I couldn’t imagine trying to do anything with someone chattering away at me. “Oh, Taylor, are you putting away the dishes? Oh, do you have a plate? Where does the plate go, Taylor? Oh, no, the plate doesn’t go in the drawer, where does the plate go?” I would be a nervous wreck before finally getting so annoyed I would give up and let the person narrating do the dishes Indeed, this is exactly what happened for the toddlers. Upon finding a new toy and trying to play with it the toddlers would be swamped with an adult’s voice in their ear, not allowing them to discover and play on their own. Frustrated, they would then look at the parent playing with their new toy and move on only to have the cycle start again.

I refused to narrate my son’s every move. It’s simply not in my DNA to interrupt my child’s good time to needlessly narrate his actions constantly or break his ability to imagine and create on his own. The teacher every so often would come over and try to “teach” me what to do and I in turn would try to break her narrative to talk to her on an adult level. I tried making conversations with the other moms but had little to no luck. All conversation responses tended to be short interruptions of their one and only focus: their children. At one point one of the moms saw her child walk not six feet away and she broke in mid-sentence to go over to him despite him being completely content with the activity he had chosen. I felt like I had walked into an entirely different parenting universe.

In my first of what would be many errors that day I stupidly became overwhelmed with the urge to use the bathroom. To this day I don’t know what I was thinking: having a bodily function come over me like that. The bathroom was not only on the same floor as the mom/toddler class, but was so close it shared a wall. Under normal circumstances I would have seen my son happy as a lark playing on a little riding toy and I would have slipped out knowing that even if he became distressed in my absence by the time he noticed I would have been halfway back (to say nothing of the fact that I feel my son needs to learn that everyone goes to the bathroom and he will survive in the time away from me). However, in trying to play nice with the atmosphere I decided instead to notify the teacher I was going to use the bathroom so that she could, theoretically, look after my son since the adult-to-child ratio in the room would still be 1:1 even during my temporary departure.

In this moment I felt time slow between us. She not only looked shocked but appalled. I tried to fill in the space with a meager, “Is the one right next to the door okay for me to use?” as if to say, “I’m not actually asking you, you know.” She in turn filled the space with an, “Ummm” noise, a pause, and then followed with the words that would ring in my ears for weeks to come, “Have you asked your son’s permission to use the bathroom?” I thought about laughing and in a moment of rare clarity held back. I then thought about saying what I thought of this question (something along the lines of, “Why, no, because he is 16 months old and I don’t ask anyone, let alone a 16-month-old, if I may use the bathroom.”) and again, with remarkable clarity of mind, held back. I replied that, no, I had not, but he should be fine, and as I was turning around the teacher stood her ground and rephrased her position. This was not what I was expecting from this willowy teacher whose name I could only assume was something along the lines of “Moonbeam” or “Coriander.” “No,” she replied, “You need to ask his permission first so that he can understand and acknowledge what is going on.”

I walked over to my son. I knew what was about to happen but was so dumbstruck by Moonbeam’s sudden fortitude I decided to cede the ground. I looked down at my son, stammered something along the lines of, “Okay, um, so, I’m going to go to the bathroom, okay? Okay, cool,” turned around, and walked away in one fell swoop. Then, because I had not only alerted my son to my leaving but made a big deal out of it, he lost his composure and started crying as soon as I walked away. It was not lost on me that I could have already been back from the bathroom, hands washed, dried, and ready to go in the time it took for all of this to take place.

I sat down and outside the door and I heard my son’s wails not through the wall but right outside the door to the bathroom. Then I heard Moonbeam “comforting” my son, continuing the “narrate at all costs at all times” pedagogy that has been slammed into her brain, yet somehow this narrative seemed directed at me this time. “Don’t worry, don’t worry, your mom is right inside this door,” she said. “She will be right back, I promise, won’t she?” I heard her face swivel toward the door accusing me of emotionally neglecting my son as I committed the grave error of using the bathroom. I swung open the door, told my son to come in as I washed my hands, and Moonbeam half-flitted-half-stormed off.

We aren’t treating our children like little kings, I thought, we are treating them like gods. The rest of the 75-minute class continued in much the same way.

At one point my 16-month-old stumbled and fell onto his bottom running as toddlers are want to do. Moonbeam immediately comforted him and started to explain to him that, “Sometimes in life we fall down, and that’s okay…” and while I tried to stop her so as to head off another episode of upsetting my son for no reason I joked (what I was thinking I will still never know) that having a 50-pound Border Collie in the house was like a built-in big brother and my son was “resilient.” Moonbeam looked pensive and explained that while, yes, some children might seem more resilient than others, falling actually “crushed” a toddler’s self esteem. I made a mental note that my toddler was surely in the negative digits for self esteem points for all the times he’s fallen and yet somehow seems to still get out of his crib every morning. Were toddlers not designed to fall down so they could learn how to walk with their low centers of gravity and cushy rear ends? If a toddler puts one foot on top of the other and falls then haven’t they learned that’s not how walking works and they will try to not do that in the future? I was under the assumption that accomplishing something after trying different ways of doing it was what created self esteem, but again I was mistaken.

Toward the end of class my son was standing on top of a little platform and one of the older toddlers who was probably 2.5 years old actually pushed him down the ramp leading up to it. In no way do I believe a 2.5-year-old has malintent or was “bullying” my son. Instead I witnessed this preschool’s proudly-touted “conflict-resolution” in action. The adults came in with, “Oh, let’s play with this ball instead! Would you like this ball? This ball is so neat!” I sat there stunned yet again. Did I just witness what I think I witnessed? Did those adults in the room actually reward this other toddler’s behavior of pushing a smaller child down a ramp? The answer I inevitably came to? Yes. Yes they did.

Predictably, this preschool and my family were not a good fit. Moonbeam made a cursory, “Let us know if you have any questions or would…um…like to enroll in the parent/toddler class…” as we left and I made the requisite, “Oh yeah, I’m going to go talk it over with my husband and tell him all about it!” response (which, to be fair, was completely accurate) . We both knew we had just been on the childcare equivalent of one of the worst first dates in history. It was a firm swipe left on both sides.

Prior to this experience I had defiantly opposed trying to “label” my parenting style and getting caught up into a side in the “mommy wars.” This idea of non-labeling was taken straight from Bringing Up Bébé. Unfortunately the key difference between Pamela Druckerman (author) and I is that while not labeling your parenting style works in Europe it doesn’t quite translate for an American in America. By happenstance a few days prior to this entire experience I had started reading How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford, who saw exactly what overparenting had been doing to students and decided to write about not only how not to helicopter parent but also why we got to this point of believing that if a toddler stumbled it could crush his self esteem. She references Bringing Up Bébé often but frames her book from the perspective of an American parent and falls in line with actually labeling the anti-helicopter parent movement “Free-Range” parenting.

After coming home in a huff I realized it was time to decide allegiances and finally declare myself eligible for the “free-range” parenting draft.

To me the term “free-range” parent is misleading. Before reading about it I assumed “free-range” parenting equated to “let your child do whatever they want, whenever they want” when in fact it’s quite the opposite. “Free-range” parenting can better be described as, “allowing your child the space to make informed decisions, become an independent thinker, all while living within a reasonable frame of expectations and rules” parenting. “Free-range” seems a little easier to type out. It clicked with me thinking back to Bringing Up Bébé: expectations often yield reality. Essentially it’s the idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy: whether you expect your child to behave like a tyrant or expect them to act decently they will satisfy your expectations. If you allow your child freedom to act within boundaries they will learn their own limits and feel secure knowing they are safe. I allow my son to climb and fall off play structures at the playground when other parents run to catch their children. As a result my son safely fell off the small obstacles but now respects edges of heights in a way I simply do not see with children whose parents have always hovered and caught them. Risk management is an important skill and begins on the playground and translates to the rest of their lives. If I do things for my son he can almost do, he will expect me to swoop in to finish the final details the rest of his life because he was never allowed to experiment, fail, and finally succeed.

Julie Lythcott-Haims goes into horrifying details about these patterns of young adults emerging into colleges and workplaces. Parents increasingly are asking to be involved in their child’s job interview processes because they have been involved with every aspect of their child’s life to that point and suddenly their children are unable to function. College students’ parents call their professors for them regarding bad grades on tests and essays. They arrive at college unable to perform basic functions such as cleaning their rooms, laundry, or basic cooking. High schoolers have a list of colleges chosen for them by their parents and their applications are entirely filled out for them because parents feel their child’s “only job” should be the job of high school and taking the SAT/ACTs. This lack of self reliance and self-actualization, Lythcott-Haims found in her research, goes all the way back to when parents like me are putting their children on the playground and not allowing them to fall or trip, believing things like “it will crush their self esteem” when in fact what you are telling your child’s self esteem that “you cannot do things for yourself, so I will do them for you.”

Many parents see unstructured, unsupervised time as wasteful. I see it as the time when imaginations and independence grow.We still do many things like reading, playing, and music/dancing together, but that is but one piece of the puzzle. I am not the center of my child’s universe, I am a part of it. An important part, but a part nonetheless. If he cannot find who he is without me he will be lost forever. 

Helicopter parents clearly come from a place of love. There is no doubt the parents in the toddler-mom class I attended love their children and feel they are doing the best they can for them. We all hope that hope. The world is becoming increasingly stratified and parents fear without their help their children will be trampled in the frenzy of college admissions, the job market, and a more complex and frightening world. The 24-hour news cycle does nothing to assuage their fears. However, some of the biggest success stories of our time come from people whose parents were decidedly uninvolved with their paths. They found new ways of thinking because they were allowed the freedom to think differently than their parents.

Parents play an important role in shaping their children’s lives, morals, ethics, and rules. They play important advice-givers and give their children the courage to grow their own wings while being supportive if they stumble. My hope for my son is that his wings will carry him to soaring heights with few crashes along the way. I think all parents hope that but have confused carrying their children on their own wings with their children branching out on their own. It is impossibly difficult to watch my son fall, but it is doubly worth seeing that frustration to see him take that next step up after he has stumbled and finally succeed on his own.

And I solemnly swear I will never ask my son’s permission to use the bathroom again.


Recommended (by me) reading:

Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman (also referenced by me before, here)

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims (shorter Washington Post article can be found here)

Who says there’s no time for reading with a baby?

Protip: if you can eat a bowl of Indian food off your stomach, you're probably not sleeping well.

Protip: if you can eat a bowl of Indian food off your stomach, you’re probably not sleeping well. Also, RIP dangly necklaces. I miss you.

Before Connor made his appearance into the world everyone made sure to tell me to do all sorts of things that would never happen again once I had a squirming miniature human being to contend with. Some of these activities were indeed worth taking one last final breath of, while others were almost cruel because by the time I was told to enjoy them they were no longer feasible. Examples included:

  • Going to dinner and a movie without paying the equivalent of an extra $25/movie ticket in babysitting fees
  • Sleeping: sleeping in, sleeping at night, sleeping without a baby monitor turning on every time someone in another room breathes enough to alert a monitor. I consider this is a cruel one because by the time everyone told me to “sleep while I could” I was so pregnant that sleeping comfortably was a distant, longing memory
  • Taking baths: I took baths while pregnant but seeing as I was never a bath-taker pre-pregnancy I actually just sat in warm water wondering what people tend to do while taking baths. Typically this is how my inner dialogue would go in the bath: “Hm. Okay. So. Relax. Hmm. Do you take a shower after to wash off the human-filth water you’ve been soaking in? How do the movies make such luxurious bubble baths that last indefinitely? Am I too old to make bubble beards while the bubbles are still there? Is the point of the bath that you can make bubble beards on your face without judgment? Does every pregnant woman’s stomach get so chilly because it’s sticking out of the water? No, seriously, everyone takes a shower after sitting in your own human soup, right?” And so on.
    Clearly baths are not my forté.
  • Reading for fun

are you a cowThis last one is the rumor I’d like to dispel: reading for fun. Who says that you can’t read for pleasure (i.e., not books about parenting styles, food, sleep, or that-thing-they’re-doing-in-Brooklyn-with-babies-now) while having an infant? I personally have read many books of all genres during my time as a new mom. Here’s a quick gander into my reading list*.


The Very Hungry Caterpillar

very hungry caterpillarA scientific glimpse into the life cycle of the metamorphosis of the caterpillar while also touching on yo-yo dieting. The caterpillar’s existential moments learning he is, in fact, a beautiful butterfly even after a weekend of eating nothing but junk food is encouragement for us all.


Make Way for Ducklings

make way for ducklingsSubtitled: “The importance of location in real estate” or “The benefits and potential pitfalls of raising a family in an urban environment.” Come learn how to explore real estate and why the first three rules of real estate truly are: “location, location, location.” While raising a family in the middle of the city might still be considered unusual, the main characters Mr. and Mrs. Mallard certainly do find the benefits outweigh the costs in the upbringing of their young ones.


Llama Llama Red Pajama

llama llama red pajamaAn exploration into the complexities of the mother-son relationship. While insightful and ending on an inspiring note, beware of abandoned story lines (e.g., Llama Llama wanting a drink – where does that drink go?!?! We may never know. It’s probably up in The North with Bran and Rickon).


Bear Snores On

bear snores onLearn how to be social when all you want to do is sleep and everyone is having fun around you! This one has been especially poignant for me as a new mom. I would perhaps classify this as “self help.”


Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

chicka chickaAn action-packed cautionary tale of mob mentality and its dangers. This might especially speak to Millennials: where sometimes after going out on your own you fall back and need help from relatives (thanks, jobless recovery recession!), eventually you’ll branch out on your own again. You go, Glen Coco!


We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

going on a bear huntA field guide for putting your entire family – including the dog – in very serious peril and being unprepared for weather, hiking, and animal encounters. I especially relate to this as whenever I encounter any sort of inclement weather I never seem to have the right apparatus with me despite owning every apparatus known to mankind to battle inclement weather. Bonus points for accuracy of panic when bear is actually encountered.


*In all seriousness, these are all spectacular books I have memorized and will personally attest to their enjoyability for little ones and their parents, over and over and over again. I seem to have tricked you into reading a list of some of my favorite baby books. The books mentioned are linked below for your purchasing enjoyment if you do not own them already. 

Other books currently on the consistent rotation (i.e., I can recite) include but certainly are not limited to: 

  • Goodnight Moon
  • Anything by Sandra Boynton (Doggies, But Not The Hippopotamus, Happy Hippo, Angry Duck, The Going To Bed Book, etc.)
  • Madeline
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
  • Little Blue Truck
  • Giraffes Can’t Dance
  • Green Eggs and Ham
  • Are You My Mother?

Sanity saver: how I make the baby’s bed

Making a baby’s bed is relatively easy: mattress pad, sheet, done. Because of SIDS, doctors have advised that babies sleep only a hard mattress with no extra sheets or blankets until they are at least one year old.

What doctors don’t tell you is that in the middle of the night if the baby oozes any variant of liquids out of any variant of orifice, the side effect is you becoming bald from pulling your hair out at the thought of having to change the sheets on the baby’s bed while hoping he doesn’t wake up too much.

Enter what my mom calls the “Linda Bradbury* Method” of making up a baby’s crib.

The idea is so simple it’s almost too good an idea: you layer your sheets with a pad in between them so that you can simply peel off a layer easily for a super quick change, and make the bed only once a week or so in one effort. As my mom put it, “Once you’re making the effort of putting one sheet on, putting 3-4 more on is nothing.” From personal experience now I have found this to be a 100% accurate statement.

felt pad - normal

A closeup of how thick these pads are. Notice there is no batting or fluffiness to them that makes the bed too padded.

Now before you go all, “But! But! But! BUT SIDS! You can’t have that many layers without it getting too fluffy!” I’m not using a traditional mattress pad in between all the layers. I’m using these “multi-use waterproof pads” that cost $8 a piece and are thin and not at all padded like the bottom traditional mattress pad. It is truly just a layer in between the sheets so any liquid doesn’t pass through them. This is the key to the whole shebang. However, if you do this and feel that it’s too padded and it makes you uncomfortable, then don’t do it. I’m just letting you know what we do and what works for us. I have personally never felt uncomfortable using this method because the in-between pads are so thin.

So here it is: an informative step-by-step guide on layering sheets. If I help at least one person from going bald due to ohmygod-I-can’t-have-to-change-the-sheets-in-the-middle-of-the-night-itis, then I will have done my job for the year. I usually layer about 4-5 sheets at a time.

Making baby's bed

*Linda Bradbury was my mom’s best friend in New Hampshire. She passed away in 2005 and remains to this day one of the objectively greatest, funniest, most caring, generally amazing people to have ever walked this earth. Much of my mom’s parenting wisdom comes from Linda and I am so honored to be able to pass this on to you all. Everyone who knew you still misses you, Fru.

So I have a baby now.

Granted, I knew that this was going to be the end result of 9 months of awkward bodily functions, a redecoration of our spare room, and all sorts of cooing and weird questions from strangers, friends, and family members alike.

But it’s still baffling nonetheless.

kissing babyI have a baby now.

Wee Connor was born on October 6th after 26 (!!) hours of labor and an emergency c-section to end it all. The actual labor story is a different story for another day (someone has suggested Halloween as it is, indeed, scary beyond all imagination), but like my cousin said, “Just remember: at the end of it, you get a baby out of the whole thing.” And we have a baby!

As people keep seeming inclined to remind me, I’m a first time mom, so anything I try to do or say or observe about being a mom is seen as somehow adorable and worthy of a semi-sympathetic, semi-patronizing equivalent of a pat on the head. Nonetheless, I have a few observations from my two weeks of first time motherhood that I would like to impart that go beyond the whole, “omg I had no idea how much I’d love this little bundle of tiny human” (even though that is totally true) or “you’re going to be tired because this little person that is suddenly no longer in your insides needs to eat every 2-3 hours and doesn’t care whether or not it’s daytime or nighttime” (which is also totally true).

1. You need more changing pad covers

changing pad covers cropMy friend actually delivered this piece of advice to me via her sister and I sort of listened and bought about 3 more covers immediately. I couldn’t be more happy I did.

Here is what I would advise: think about the number of changing pad covers you think you’ll need. Now double it. Now double that number, and you will maybe come close to having enough changing pad covers. If you are expecting a baby, just start stocking up now.

2. Baby fingernails are the tiniest things in the world

fingernails

I still don’t understand how they are SO SMALL.

They are impossibly small, y’all. IMPOSSIBLY small. They have to be clipped/cut and I don’t know what I’m going to do about it. Thinking about cutting these perfectly, impossibly, inexplicably minuscule nails almost puts me into a nervous breakdown.

3. Cats are perfect practice for babies

If you have ever had a cat, here is what happens when you first get the cat:

  1. Become insanely excited about cat
  2. Buy a multitude of toys that will entertain both you and cat
  3. Attempt to play with all toys with cat
  4. Watch and become disappointed when cat is completely disinterested until it finds a quarter on the floor at which point it goes insane with joy and playfulness
This is right before a breakdown of protests of sleeping in the bassinet began.

This is right before a breakdown of protests of sleeping in the bassinet began.

We got a very high-end beautiful swing chair thing that has all sorts of “human-like” motions that seem to do nothing but annoy my child and make him cry more (though we had one successful soothing session with it moving…yesterday. Progress!). However, completely stationary this chair seems to be the magical sleeping mechanism that my baby will sleep in without question. The beautiful bassinet that came with my stroller? Fahgeddaboutit. There is no sleeping in the bassinet! (Before I get any lectures, yes, we are working on sleeping in the bassinet instead of the chair, but the point still stands.)

This pattern is never-ending. Luckily, my cat trained me well to deal mentally with such changes in use of toys/seats/what have you. Thanks, Miss Madison!

4. There is nothing that can instill self doubt like fastening a baby into a carseat

mesa1The carseat doesn’t care how many times you scream “I HAVE A COLLEGE DEGREE, THIS SHOULDN’T BE THIS HARD!” into the void. The carseat doesn’t care how many times you watch the video on the manufacturer’s website on how to secure a baby into the carseat. The carseat doesn’t care and there is nothing that will instill self doubt into your psyche like wondering if you have secured your infant into his carseat properly.

5. I completely forgot to learn lullabies/songs to sing

Oh, sure, I know the beginning words to “Hush, Little Baby,” but the actual full song? Errrrr…not so much. I know the main words to Sweet Baby James by James Taylor but all of them? Maybe my mind is more like a sieve than a steel trap with age and baby hormones and all, but that last month of pregnancy I really should have been brushing up on songs to sing to Wee Connor, since apparently the only songs I know the full lyrics to are ’90s hits.

Oops.

6. Chest-napping needs to have a time vortex theorem written on it

chest nappingStephen Hawking, I know that you’re busy doing things that make you one of my all-time heroes and generally most revered people I have ever learned about, but I must suggest you begin a study into the time vortex that is a baby napping on your chest.

I think a lot of people have visions of their baby snoozing perfectly in their crib/bassinet from day one. While we absolutely have been trying to enforce this bassinet behavior as much as possible, the chest snooze has occurred. A lot. And seriously folks, it’s pretty much completely awesome. I don’t know what happens to time during this period, and it could just be that the magic of a sleeping newborn speeds up your perception of time, but whatever it is, it’s amazing and highly recommended for a daily dose of pure happiness.

7. There is no joy quite like deleting the labor/contraction timing app off your phone

I think that getting out of the mindset that labor and delivery would be like the movies where you start labor, your water breaks, you scream at your husband/partner for a little while in pain and then you get a baby right after the commercial break was a bit difficult. The reality is you have to stay at home and labor for a good long while before you are admitted into the hospital. Our hospital’s rule was “5-1-1”, meaning that contractions are 5 minutes apart consistently, they last 1 minute a piece, and this pace/length lasts for 1 hour. I started labor around 6AM and we headed to the hospital at 12:30PM, and that 6.5 hours of laboring at home is very normal, if not on the lower end of the scale.

To make things easier on ourselves we used an app called Full Term, which has a few good features such as forcing the app to stay open past your phone’s automatic normal shutoff time, an easily accessible button to start a labor timing contraction (which when you’re in the throws of a contraction you need something excessively easy to press), and the ability to see the contractions over a period of time. The nurses and doctors nowadays will ask you about the measurements of the contractions, and having something easily referrable and tracking just flat-out makes it easy on everyone.

With all that awesomeness of the app, though, I think possibly one of the greatest moments of my life was deleting that app off my phone, knowing that it will literally be years before I’ll need to think about labor again.

Years!!


I have plenty more observations, of course, but I think I’ll leave it at that for now except for this one last one, since having two hands free is such a rarity these days that getting anything published is a near act of god. Though for all the lacking of hands, the constant wakings and feedings, I can say without a doubt and with complete certainty:

8. It’s totally worth it.

 

All The Ways I’ve Failed at Inducing Labor

I hear myself talking to people and all I can think is, shut up shut up SHUT UP! You sound ridiculous! Stop talking! STOP. TALKING. NOW. 

But I can’t.

All I can think – and talk – about is getting this baby out. NOW.

over itI thought I had been desperate last week, but that was until this week. And if Wee Connor decides to be stubborn about this the talks he and I are going to have about this situation are going to get serious.

I’ve been on the doctor-every-week schedule for a few weeks now, which along with continuing to perfect attempt be baffled by how I’ve never gotten better at peeing in a cup the upshot has been a constant reminder of how my body is doing. Last week I was 2cm dilated and slightly “effaced”, which I will never be sure I ever actually understand what that means due to the horrifically bad job my school did at sex ed growing up. But supposedly that combined with the Braxton Hicks (read: false) contractions tell me that I’m ready. My doctor confirmed this as well, especially considering at 36 weeks Connor was measuring at 6 pounds, 7 ounces.

Baby got back. And it’s trying to come through my stomach. Even Sir Mix-A-Lot would not be amused at this point.

As such, I have tried almost everything to try to “naturally”…”encourage” this baby into the world. Now, the thing is that I truly, truly believe that people claiming these things working is because they were ready to go into labor anyway. Getting a pedicure at 40 weeks and 2 days and suddenly you’re in labor? Maybe you were going to go into labor anyway. But either way, at this point, any hope is hope and I am desperate. So here you go. Here are all the ways I have failed at bringing on labor, beyond the options everyone already knows about. (And yes, again, my doctor said everything is ready and I am on my way.)


1. Pedicure

patrick stewart excitedTwist my arm, why don’t you? Best pregnancy bringer-onner…ever? People claim that the foot massage is actually reflexology and the pressure points can induce labor.

It didn’t work in bringing a baby into the world but dang if my piggies don’t look cute. I highly recommend it, but I generally highly recommend pedicures as life enjoyment boosters in general. Honestly this one was a no-lose scenario for me, because even if I didn’t go into labor after (which I didn’t), I had the lovely experience of a pedicure to comfort me.

Enjoyment? A+
Bringing on labor? F


2. Walking

cat walkingI already walk/walked a lot, especially for living in Charlotte. I have continued to walk my husband to work with our perfect little pup Brinkley (1 mile there, 1 mile back), walked to yoga, to restaurants, and anywhere I can. Despite Charlotte being the least walkable city in America, I still have walked all through pregnancy. I don’t know how much it takes to induce labor, but I have a feeling that walking may work for people who have generally not walked during pregnancy.

Maybe I’ll amp it up to wind sprints.

Enjoyment? B+ (it’s getting harder and harder to enjoy walking these days, but I’m always glad after I’ve gone)
Bringing on labor? F


3. Breast pump hookup

ScienceI did this one at the request of my doctor. Supposedly hooking yourself up to a breast pump can release oxytocin, which is what doctors use in synthetic form to induce labor.

“Science”, amIright?

My husband and I took out the breast pump, stared at all the parts, and worked through actually getting it working. Let me assure you: this was nothing short of an ordeal. Also never having been hooked up to a device that resembles the life-sucker Count Rugen uses on Westley in The Princess Bride, my face when it started doing its…sucking…made TLH laugh so hard he steamed his glasses from crying. This was not encouraging.

However, despite the “science” and the “doctor” asking me to do this, it still didn’t work.

Enjoyment? D
Bringing on labor? F, though I might ask my doctor if I didn’t do it long enough.


4. Pineapple

pineappleSupposedly fresh pineapple contains an enzyme that triggers some other hormone that triggers labor.

Delicious? Yes. Useful in triggering labor? No.

(A special shout out to Publix for selling perfectly cut, ripe, cut pineapple at a reasonable price, because it’s saved me a lot of time in hacking up pineapples.)

Enjoyment? A+
Bringing on labor? F (are we sensing a pattern here?)


5. Spicy food

srirachaExtra spicy Thai food? Indian food? Extra sriracha, please?

ALL OF THE ABOVE. Bring it on.

This is one of the ones that everyone seems to know about, and while delicious and enjoyable, it has been decidedly ineffective at bringing on labor.

Luckily though I have avoided any heartburn as a result, so this experiment has brought almost as much joy as my pedicure since I’ve slightly gorged on delicious takeout foods.

Enjoyment? A
Bringing on labor? F


6. The pregnancy “dance”

Funny story: I actually do the BEST impression of this dance, mostly because it's essentially my real dancing style.

Funny story: I actually do the BEST impression of this dance pregnant or not, mostly because it’s essentially my dancing style in real life.

Lawd almighty. I can’t believe I tried this. But some people swear that their doula/midwife/friend/checkout lady at the grocery store gave them the same dance.

What is it? Rubbing your stomach for a minute vigorously, then walking lunges, squatting, and more walking lunges and squatting.

Stick with the pedicures, folks. They’re way more fun.

Enjoyment? D+ (only because I felt like exercise is never really a bad thing, but walking lunges with a horrible new sense of gravity and an extra howevermuch weight I’ve put on is horrible, plus the whole looking absolutely ridiculous doing walk lunges at almost 9 months pregnant thing)
Bringing on labor? F


7. Yoga

cat yogaI’ve done prenatal yoga all through pregnancy and I truly believe it has helped in numerous ways. I really love the atmosphere and the movements have helped with a lot of the hip/lower back pains, and sometimes I think that some of the benefit of yoga is just going for an hour and focusing on your breathing and taking some time away from everything.

However, in bringing on labor? Not so much. I still truly enjoy it, though.

Enjoyment? B (getting into certain moves now is just plain awkward)
Bringing on labor? F


8. “Labor Prep” tea

labor prep teaI’m so ashamed I bought this stuff, but I did.

And I’ve been drinking it.

Seriously people, after a while you don’t even care if it works or not. You will try anything.

Enjoyment? C+ (there approximately a thousand better-tasting teas out there)
Bringing on labor? F


9. “THE Salad” (Not tried, but worth mentioning)

Unfortunately I only heard about this a few days ago, but it has pretty much made my week.

In Los Angeles there is a restaurant called Caioti Pizza Cafe. Overpregnant women flock to this restaurant in Studio City for one menu item and one menu item alone: “THE Salad.” It’s not that the salad is covered in chocolate and Funfetti Cake and everything else you actually want to eat while you’re pregnant. Apparently the salad isn’t even that delicious or special. Why, then, why on earth do overpregnant women go to eat “THE Salad?”

Supposedly this salad dressing has magical powers that induce labor.

The image of it all makes me laugh uncontrollably: a restaurant filled with ready-to-pop, desperate, miserably pregnant women chomping down mediocre salads with the hope that maybe this will be the thing that finally does it.

Supposedly there is a way to order the salad dressing from the restaurant directly, and as such this will now be part of every baby shower gift I attend from here until eternity, as I assure the mom looking at me with inquisitive eyes as everyone else has adorned them with baby blankets and little booties that at a certain point they will be willing to try anything, even if that anything is a bottle of damn salad dressing from Los Angeles.


10. Membrane stripping

This is the one thing on this list I can’t do by myself and was actually done by my doctor. I am about to describe what happens, so if you’re grossed out by anything medspeak, please go straight to the next paragraph. As I understand, when you’re ready to go, your doctor can take the amniotic sac and separate it from the wall of the uterus with her gloved hand. Put bluntly: it’s not fun, causes cramps, and is uncomfortable. The idea is that this separation causes a rush of hormones (much like with the breast pumping) that will then trigger contractions.

If the stripping (also called “sweeping”) works, it will cause labor within 24-48 hours. I had this done today and at the appointment went from 2cm to 3cm dilated, so that’s at least something!

Enjoyment? D- (not an F because of the hope it instills that I will be going into labor within the next two days, but it’s not something I would recommend doing for fun ever)
Bringing on labor? Yet to be determined


The takeaways

I have a few takeaways from all these grand Internet experiments.

1. The Internet continues to be a shockingly frightening place. Not news.

2. Correlation should not be confused with causation. It’s a rampant problem, even in the medical/research field, but it’s important to remember that just because an event correlates with another event, doesn’t mean that one caused the other. Again, if you eat spicy Chicken Tikka Masala at 39.5 weeks pregnant and then go into labor that night, that doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t have gone into labor anyway without the Tikka Masala. The two events correlated, but there is no way to know if the delicious Indian food caused the labor. These methods I’ve listed are more for my sanity in trying to get the baby out than I actually believe they will work.

3. The baby will come out when he is darn well ready, and not a day before.

4. I wish he’d be ready now.

5. No, seriously, I really wish he’d be ready now.

Are there any methods I’ve missed? Did you try anything crazy trying to get labor going?

The nursery is done. Let’s do this.

Eight and a half months.

Eight. And a half. Months.

Everyone told me I would “hit the wall” where the only thing I would want is to have the watermelon growing inside of me no longer growing inside of me. The fact that I think I hit that point around month 6 is no matter. I have really, for really really really real hit that wall. And then I think I put my car in reverse, then in drive again, and then hit that wall. Again.

TLH and I had two separate requirements for me to go into labor. He wanted for his parents to return back from the UK and be on the same continent as Wee Connor, and I wanted the dang curtains hung once and for all in the nursery.

Luckily, both have occurred, and so now it’s go time…I hope.

A few of my friends have asked for pictures of the nursery and so I wanted to give a tour of how Wee Connor’s nursery finally turned out. We are extremely lucky to have such a huge room (with a walk-in closet!) for the room in our apartment with great light. When people asked what the “theme” of the nursery was it tended to throw me into a classic “I’m a terrible mother who can’t even have a theme for the nursery” mental ineptitude shame spiral. I suppose what I went for was “a peaceful adventure. With maps.” I love the way it turned out, even if there is no cohesive “theme” to it. I can’t believe it’s actually (as much as it’s going to get) done. Let’s get that baby in there now!

So here we go!

As an intro to the “map room” I actually crafted. I bought two prints of Italy, craft letters, and Mod Podge from Paper Source and crafted his initials. Here’s hoping we can actually take Wee Connor to the places on his initials!

door initials

I suppose the “crib side” is where the “adventure” portion really comes in. I am obsessed with the baby animal prints above the crib we received for our baby shower from my mom. Despite our attempts at minimalism / “less stuff is more” / we are zen with apartment and urban living, we have two bookshelves already for Wee Connor. What can I say? I hope Connor loves reading and books as much as his parents do!

crib

Sources: Crib (Jenny Lind), Giraffe (Pottery Barn Kids), Infant bouncer seat (mamaRoo), Animal Prints (Restoration Hardware Baby&Child), Pillows (West Elm) 

Here’s a closeup of that corner. I liked the idea of having a bookshelf where Connor can see the covers of the books. The map print of Paris is from Paper Source (hint! Those weirdly-sized maps/prints on nice paper? IKEA’s stupidly weirdly-sized frames fit them!). Paris is one of the overseas adventures Connor has already been on, and so this print just makes me happy in so many ways.

Book corner

Sources: Bookshelf (Pottery Barn Kids), Print (Paper Source) 

The space between the doors right now has a great little cart from IKEA that I have a feeling we will find more uses than we ever could have imagined. I love this little cart. Right now it’s holding little toys and shoes (ohmygodhowaretheysosmall). The print we bought in London, but Paper Source carries the same one. London and Edinburgh was the other grand adventure we went on while I have been pregnant, so having both memorialized in maps on the wall makes me smile.

IKEA cart

Sources: Cart (IKEA), Print (Paper Source) 

My favorite wall in the entire room is opposite the crib. The glider is literally the single most comfortable chair I have ever sat in, which was important to me, as well as the fact that I don’t think it “looks like” a glider, but rather a chair. This makes it possible for it to sit in other rooms of the house later on, if we so wanted that to happen. That map makes me so happy to look at in so many ways: loving maps, TLH loving history (it’s an historical replica), a sense of being near the water despite living in sadly landlocked Charlotte. The dresser was my mom’s when she was a little girl, then mine when I was growing up. This area of the room fills me with an immense sense of peace and happiness, despite the soul-sucking horribleness of putting that map up (it’s all in the past!

Changing Wall

Sources: Glider (West Elm), Map (Pottery Barn – NOT PB Kids), Changing Table (Jenny Lind), Elephant Rocker – I am slightly obsessed with elephants, in case you can’t tell (PB Kids) 

The extra couch in the nursery was an unintended side effect of us never getting off our bums and getting rid of our old couch about a year ago when we got a new one. However, I have realized that having the space for it might just be a blessing in disguise, because it means that more than one person (be it fur person or furless person) can comfortably exist in the room at once for an extended period of time.

Having my little fur baby be comfortable and happy in the nursery was one of my biggest priorities, and I think he’s fitting in quite nicely. My hope is that if Brinkley knows he can always be a part of the room it will reduce jealousy of the human puppy, since he’s still very much a huge part of my life.

Couch shot

And have you heard the good news? Apparently babies sleeping on animal fur reduces asthma risks later in life! Now this is the kind of scientific news I can get behind, mostly because Wee Connor has no options otherwise.

cat on couch

And there you have it! Again, I guess I failed at the “theme” thing, but in the end I figure nurseries are kind of like wine: it’s all about what makes you happy and what you like.

Or maybe I just really want some wine after all of this.

An open letter to my “Nesting Instinct”

Dear “Nesting Instinct”,

I am writing this to you via Internet not only because you are an abstract idea incapable of receiving letters, but more importantly because I have no idea where the hell you are.

I did a Google image search for "Nesting Instinct" and this was the first image that came up. This is what I imagined my life to be right now - completely zen and happy with scrubbing my kitchen cabinet doors. NO DICE, MAN. No dice.

I did a Google image search for “Nesting Instinct” and this was the first image that came up. This is what I imagined my life to be right now – completely zen and happy with scrubbing my kitchen cabinet doors. NO DICE, MAN. No dice.

Among the many side effects of pregnancy such as morning sickness, extreme fatigue, leg cramps, and a spare baby growing in my ass (apparently), the one I was actually looking forward to was this magical “nesting instinct” that pops in around 8th month of pregnancy, supposedly. People rave on and on about how they “feel like a lunatic” because all they want to do is organize and clean and do various other things that I imagine good soon-to-be mothers do, instead of eating cookie dough ice cream and watching Grey’s Anatomy from the start because in some weird twist of female-ness I had never seen it before. While sometimes I feel like the nesting instinct is the classic humble brag similar to answering an interview question of “what’s you’re greatest flaw?” with something along the lines of “oh, I’m too much of a team player!” or “I love my job too much“, I still feel that you, Nesting Instinct, are something I’m missing out on and could really capitalize upon.

I’m not saying that things are slovenly. The nursery is almost completely finished (with the exception of the curtains because my husband and I are hopeless renters who don’t own a ladder stopjudgingmealready). I hired a cleaning service to come in and do a “deep clean” of the apartment because, again Nesting Instinct, you are nowhere to be found. And while not actually doing the cleaning work myself was fantastic, it’s not something I could exactly make a habit, either.

So while you are apparently lounging on a beach drinking mojitos in the Caribbean (not that I would blame you), I am desperately wondering if I’ll ever understand how to wash a blanket inside-out like the instructions on the tag tell me to. (Is this something that becomes clear once your nesting instinct comes in? I literally stared at the blanket for 5 minutes pondering if there actually was a way to wash a one-dimensional object inside out.) Or hang the pictures on my walls that I’ve been meaning to hang for over a year. Or do any of the stuff I was waiting for you to appear and make me want/understand how to do. There is a limited amount of cookie dough ice cream and Grey’s Anatomy in the world, Nesting Instinct, and I’m reaching the upper limits of human consumption for both. Help me out here, okay? 

Yours truly,

Motherhood What