4.25.2009

The Philosophy

I always knew I had a parenting philosophy, but it wasn't until we pulled Peony from one daycare center and placed her in another that I was able to put it into words. The new center asked for one, for one thing, which is a damn good sign. So here's what I wrote:

Provide gentle challenges--reward persistence and achievement and trying
new things--aim for more than just "safe and happy." Lots of love and hugging.
LOTS of outdoor time and natural stimulation. Minimize electronic stimuli,
plastics, commercial influence, as much as possible. Respect her body
completely.

I'm happy with that. We'll see how it stacks up when I have more than four months of experience as someone's mama, but so far, I think it's right. For me there is a big emphasis on respectfully moving out of your comfort zone, every day if possible. That's how I live now. And that's probably why I like being a fitness instructor: I get to do that for other people all the time. Probably not every child loves to live that way, but when Peony was three months old, she watched a train roar by ten feet away from us, giving her little body a huge jolt in my arms, and afraid I'd overdone it, I asked Blue to look at her expression. "She's smiling," he said, and I knew I had a child a lot like me: OK with getting out of her comfort zone because new things, sometimes, new things really pay off.

4.18.2009

Back to Work

As if I ever stopped working. Having a baby is 24-7 work, such a test of endurance and patience for a nursing mother that you can't even imagine it until you've experienced it. Going back to work is a little bit of a break from that, much easier and more comfortable, but none of that mattered on Monday, when I was a forgone wreck. My husband called me at 9:40, after we'd left our baby with strangers. "How is work?" he asked. "I don't know," I said. "Are you not inside the building yet?" No, in fact, I was sitting, nearly catatonic, inside my car, doing nothing, thinking nothing, trying not to cry. I could not believe that I was going to be away from her, and worse, that this was the beginning of being away from her all the time, and how insane it seemed.

Underneath my big-picture angst was another, more immediate problem: the care wasn't good. I could tell immediately. A new general manager was on the premises, and she was irritable and laden with attitude. She seemed not to know that Peony was starting that day. In fact, no one seemed to know, even though we'd just stopped by a couple weeks before. I wanted to tell someone, anyone, about her needs, like her blocked tear duct and her hemangioma, or the things that make her happy, like standing, but I couldn't communicate with any of her caregivers, who speak little to no English. I went in a few hours later, to nurse her on my lunchbreak, and she was crying her heart out. No one near her was going to comfort her; she was just sitting in a swing, alone. That was a heartbreaking moment, especially given how good it had felt to be at work: hugs from everyone, warm faces, a new desk by the window, real clothes that actually fit, blow-dried hair, makeup, and strategy, projects, and details to consider. I was just starting to feel excited when I found her crying: hey, this could work. And then seeing her: wait, this isn't working at all.

So now, as we seek alternate care, there's so much to consider. You stipulate to everyone that you don't want plastic toys and instead amass a nice collection of wood toys painted with organic dyes, and then she spends most of her time in day care with cheap plastic toys that she jams in her mouth. You research Exersaucers and decline to have one since they are proven to delay walking, but at the day care there are four of them, always filled with babies. You strip the lead paint from your windows, but she spends most of her time in a place about which you have no knowledge or control of the levels of lead paint. A family day care we considered has a TV time during the day, even though we try to limit the TV she sees. A nanny seems wonderful or dangerous, depending on how secure you are with letting your baby be molded by someone else. I want a 1:1 ratio, sure, but I want it with someone fabulous or no one at all.

Stressful.

I think before we actually met our baby, we just didn't know how to evaluate caregivers. We followed questions that other moms provided, but didn't know why we were asking questions like, "Do you hold the babies alot?" Now I know why. She's an alert, sentient being who we treasure more than words can describe. Not a little blob who sleeps all day, but a vivid and aware person.

A person just now waking up from her nap.

4.03.2009

Here We Go

"First train ride, or what?" asked the gruff conductor. Peony looked up at him from her front carrier, where she was attached to me as I slid into my seat. I nodded. He gave a sort-of smile and tipped his conductor hat. I gave her a squeeze and we rolled off through the misty woods to Concord. She loved the train---well, she loved looking at the people on the train and the metal grille under the window. Not so much out the window. I saw a deer as she fell asleep on my chest. In Concord, we disembarked and walked to a pond, then got lunch for Mommy, then bought a bonnet for the baby.

I am trying to pack in the outdoor adventures these days as we wind down sixteen weeks of maternity leave. Walks with other moms and trying out the stroller, walking alone with the baby strapped to my body, walking home from downtown, walking huge loops around the northern suburbs. We walked to Davis Square the other day and I bought her ruby colored sunglasses with rhinestones in the corners. We walked to my work, too, and had lunch with my boss, who Peony showered with smiles and love and hugs, and then walked to her daycare, where we toured the rooms yet again and saw the sleeping babies, crying babies, playing babies, and babies getting held. It was cramped, but there were lots of arms to hold babies, and that's all I cared about right then.

She likes other people...she likes me most of all, but she likes watching other people. She fussed until I held her facing outwards the other day on the bus, traveling home from the doctor's negative pregnancy test result and heating up in our coats in the early spring sunlight. It was hard for the bus passengers to ignore her: she looked at each one so openly and full of heart, her dark eyes wide and her little mouth open; the old woman, the tough guys with headphones, the teenage girl with the Jonas Brothers backpack and busy texting fingers. Each one had to look back, and maybe even smile. "She's taking it all in, huh?" say strangers everywhere to me, or commenting on her alertness. She is alert, and she has been for months; she is curious, and I rarely see her distracted from her curiousity. The other day I was looking at her in my husband's arms, stressed and consumed by the discomfort of her little growing body, and I said, "It's so hard being a baby, isn't it? You know, you won't always be a baby, and it's going to be a lot easier when you're a big girl. Your body just has to grow right now." Her whole body fell quiet and her eyes softened as she listened, and she looked at me like she had traveled through the whole universe to come join our family, and she knew she was in the right place, in the now instead of in all time. In yoga, Barrett asked to us to assume prayer position and imagine what we were most grateful for, and my body was flooded with love and power for Blue and Peony, my two beautiful beings, almost actually of my heart.