Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake: Feeding Part II

Just in case the first 6 months to a year of feeding didn't result in stomach ulcers, there is always a new challenge- feeding toddlers.  A quick trip to the a local San Francisco grocery store may be enough to send you over the edge.  Should I buy the Cheerios, the Multigrain Cheerios, the Organic multigrain Cheerios, or just skip right to the millet?  I can't get the white cheddar cheese, because Elana won't eat white, and don't touch the conventional strawberries unless you have a death wish for your child (you've heard about all the chemicals on strawberries, right?).

If you are having trouble deciding what to make your child for dinner, here is a sample meal plan for toddlers provided by the American Association of Pediatrics:

1 slice wheat bread
1 soft-boiled egg
2 oz orange juice

1 medium apple, sliced
2 oz whole milk

1/2 peanut butter sandwich (1/2 Tbsp peanut butter, 1 slice wheat bread)
2 oz whole milk
4 baby carrots, raw

1/4 cup dry cereal
0.5 oz cheddar cheese cubes

1/2 cup cooked pasta
1/4 cup spaghetti sauce with 1 oz lean ground beef
3 broccoli spears
4 oz water

1/4 cup canned fruit cocktail in juice
1/4 cup low-fat fruit yogurt

Here is what my children ate yesterday:

Chocolate croissant from local bakery

Five bites of five different apple slices

4 oz OJ
4 gigantic chicken strips
(Maisy just ate the breading off her strips)

Cheddar Bunnies (they are just fancy Goldfish)
Maisy also had 3 oz of sand at the playground

Three spoonfuls of brown rice with chopped up broccoli, then declared “ALL DONE”
5 oz bathwater

The cream filling from two Oreo cookies

Throw in a booger and finger nail or two and it is a relatively complete diet. 

While I do aspire to be more like this mom: Lunch in a Box: Building a Better Bento, in the end I usually just slap peanut butter between two slices of whole wheat bread, toss in a squeezable yogurt and a apple, and call it good.  I've hit most of the food groups right? 

A few years back Elana and I visited a good friend with two young children Plano, TX.  After marveling at the size of everything, including cars, stores, roads, and asses, we relaxed in the beauty of the Dallas/Fort Worth area.  My friend's eldest had a preschool class party coming up and brought home a sign up sheet for a Thanksgiving Feast.  This is what was on the list:
French Fries
Chips Ahoy
Jelly Beans
Soda (4 large bottles)

For Elana's first year of preschool we enrolled her in a super hippie-trippie, play based, let it all flow, clothes optional, coop preschool.  Here was their sign up sheet for annual Thanksgiving feast:
Whole wheat rolls
Organic beans
Flax seed oil
Green Juice

Well, I am not going to go into a debate over which of these feasts is better, but I will say which one the kids liked better!  But, here is a little food for thought: researchers at Penn State found that restricting a child's access to these "forbidden foods" only increases their desire for them.  In the study researchers divided the kids into two groups, one was given a very limited access to a jar of cookies, and the other was was allowed to eat the cookies immediately off a plate.  They found that when the access was restricted, the consumption of the cookies nearly tripled!
This does make quite a bit of sense to me.  In elementary school I packed the same school lunch everyday: Capri-Sun, Fruit Roll Up, turkey sandwich, and a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritoes to place between the turkey and the bread for added crunch.  Now, I am a relatively healthy adult who just seldomly partakes in a McFlurry.  Ted, on the other hand, was raised on a much healthier menu.  Now, he rarely misses an opportunity to pass by a drive through window.

If it is not what the child is eating, it is if the child is eating enough.  The other day Ted and I took the girls to a local park for a picnic.  Elana was waiting  impatiently for a turn on the swing.  The mother who had been pushing her two year old daughter for nearly 20 minutes looked at Elana apologetically and said "I"m sorry Sweetie, but this is the only way I can get her to eat." Then she shoved a prepackaged crust less PB&J sandwich into the toddler's mouth as she swung forward.  In my head I imagined them waking up at 7 AM and rushing out the door to the park still dressed in pajamas to eat breakfast.  I desperately wanted to say back to her "Really?  You must spend a lot of time here a the park, because that little girl doesn't look like she is missing many meals."

There is a term for these kids that subsist on crackers and air: breathetarians, I prefer to call them "normal".  Isn't that what kids do, assert their power over food?  All day long they are being told what to do, what to wear, when to sleep, but what goes in their mouth is something we have no control over (have you ever tried to pry an 18 month old mouth open and shovel in squash?).  The kids will eat when they are hungry.  I mean, what's the alternative, they starve themselves to death?  That defies human nature.  I have yet to meet a malnourished child in Bernal Heights, and I challenge you to find a middle class 2 year old who is.

By the way, a few minutes later I saw that very mother waiting for her daughter at the bottom of a slide with a cheese stick and a juice box ready to go.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake: Feeding Part I

Breast milk is touted to be the biggest miracle cure in all of history.  Dose your kid have conjunctivitis- squirt some milk in it.  Congested sinuses holding you back- spray some of the miracle fluid.  Baby’s ear infection keeping you up at night- drop in breast milk.  Do you have a broken arm- dip it in a gallon of the magical liquid.

 (My good friend showing off her new milk filled knockers.)

Ok, I think we get it.  Breast milk is fabulous.  It is an amazing, wonder food that is perfectly designed for our little ones' bodies.  But, what happens when breastfeeding is not a good choice for you family?  How do we cope in a world where Gisele Bundchen wants to establish a six-month mandatory breastfeeding law?
When Maisy was born I thought that I would exclusively breastfeed her like I did the first twelve months of Elana’s life.  However, when she was three-months-old, I had emergency surgery and was in the hospital for three days.  Obviously, Maisy had to take the bottle, and since I had not foreseen this development and stashed breast milk in the freezer, she had to have formula.  This shattered me.  Elana never had formula pass through her lips, and I wanted to give Maisy the same care and attention I had given the first born.  However, I was a bit too stoned on morphine to do anything about it. After returning from the hospital, we had to continue to feed Maisy formula another 24-hours as the pain medications left my body.  That was all she needed to get hooked, and she never looked back at my boobs again. 
What was I doing to this precious, innocent infant?  I felt like I was setting her up for a lifetime of failure by not forcing my nipple down her throat.  Will she ever bond with me?  Will she be constantly sick without those magical antibodies breast milk provides?  Will she spend years in therapy sobbing that her mother didn’t nurture her? 
As most of you know we live in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, the Mecca for all the breastfeeding fanatics that throw 500 pamphlets at you about how the “Breast is Best” as soon as your first ultrasound shows a beating heart.  It took well over a month for me to feel comfortable giving Maisy a bottle in public (although I would have gladly walked down the street with her attached to my nipple).  “Elana, climb down for the slide, Maisy needs to eat.”  And I would drag both kids home from the park to feed the little one in the confines of my own four walls where nobody whispered, nor stared at me with judgmental eyes, about the poison I was force feeding my baby. 
One good friend desperately tried to breastfeed her first born, but from the onset had difficulty with latching and milk supply.  After combining pumping and formula, she eventually switched to formula.  However, to make up for this bit of evil, she diapered her daughter in cloth diapers (vs. disposable) so that the other moms at mommy-baby yoga would know that really, truly, she did care.
The le leche league, my pediatrician, and the nosy moms at the park recommended pumping as much milk as I could drain from my sore nipples and bottling that for Maisy.  “Of course” I replied.  Hah, not so easy when home alone with a toddler and infant to find four 20-minute intervals when I could hook myself up to the pump.  Every time I used that device, I imagined myself as a heifer in a dairy farm attached to a rusty milking pump.  The pump taunted me with each motion- “not good, not good” it said.
Yes, of course we know that breast milk is what’s best for most children and families, but the breastfeeding militia is taking it a bit far when mothers who can’t meet the demands of breastfeeding develop massive amounts of guilt and deep depression over not providing it. 
There are numerous reasons women can’t, or choose not to breastfeed.  Many women find breastfeeding uncomfortable and/or inconvenient.  These women deserve the right to CHOOSE how they raise their family.  A woman depressed, stressed, and breastfeeding out of guilt, it not going to be able to provide a nurturing environment.  Even before Maisy weaned herself from my boob, after getting my second case of mastitis I was seriously considering cutting her access.  It is hard to parent two young children while held up in bed with a bright red knocker and 103-degree temperature.
In reality, most studies have shown that the vast majority of the benefits of breastfeeding and breast milk are foremost, if not totally, during the first few months of life (months 0-3).  Recently Professor Sven Carlsen, of the Norwegian University of Science, concluded that there was no difference in the health of a child between breast milk and formula.  He claimed that the difference lay with the inutero environment that the children had.  Breastfeeding mothers tend to have healthier pregnancies and seek better prenatal care than bottle-feeding mothers.  The milk did not make the difference.
(Maisy drinking her bottle of poison.)

I am always a bit shocked when I read that someone on my local parents list serve is asking for breast milk donations for their child.  Really?  Do they really think that some stranger’s expressed milk is better than a $30 can of hypoallergenic organic formula?  Who knows what the person had to eat, drink, or smoke before hooking up themselves up to a milking machine?  I get that they want to give their new child the best of everything, but is the answer the milk from an anonymous donor?   How did this happen that formula is seen as worse for your child than someone else's unpasteurized mammary gland byproduct?

In the end, each mother must choose for themselves what is best for their family.  If nursing your child until early adulthood works for you- great, more power to you!  But for some of us we need to choose between  providing every last drop of milky liquid to our child and maintaining our mental health.  At least for me and my family, I chose sanity.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Technological Polygamy

My husband is a polygamist.   Maisy, Elana, and I may be his first family, but his second, and more extensive family, consists of his friends, work mates, and his other wife- The Blackberry.  Your spouse may be living this double life too.  Here are the warning signs: are conversations constantly interrupted by old school ring tones and text messages.  Does he sleep with the phone next to his head, ready to answer a message in 1/2 second flat?  Has he started calling his phone nicknames like "sweetheart" or "my Precious"?
I don't have a second family, not quite.  You could say that my relationship with the iPhone is more like an affair with a sexy boyfriend.  I don't spend hours texting friends, but I do check Facebook a bit too often, and I flirt with my People.com and Entertainment Weekly apps.

A recent study by Novarra, a mobile service provider, found that parents spend more time on their smartphones than business professionals.  In fact, the only group that spends more time using their smartphones are what they call "Mobile Millennials", which are technologically savvy young adults with disposable income.

This isn't too much of a surprise to me.  Haven't parents always been the original multitaskers?  When Maisy was born, I could walk down the street breastfeeding her in a sling while pulling Elana out of the line of moving traffic.  In the 1800s women used to give birth to their babies in barns and during a session of milking cows.  In the 1950s women would iron the laundry, make a casserole, diaper the baby, all while smoking a Lucky Strike.  Now, instead of multitasking with hard labor chores, we are multitasking with Twitter and Angry Birds.

While looking through the new apps at the Apple App Store, I was thrilled to see a new invention that is sure to make my life so much more fulfilling- the Type n' Walk.  I no longer need to stop to type my messages, I can do it while walking!  I see many uses for this application.  Why not the Type n' Talk (you can look someone in the eyes while texting), or the Type n' Drive (you can shuffle the kids to soccer practice and update your status at the same time), or even the Talk n' Sex!

I will admit that all this technological advances are causing strains on our relationships.  We are spending less and less quality time with our friends and family.  Ted and I could spend an entire date night without actually speaking.  Can I have half of your heirloom tomato salad? he texts me.  Only if I can have the last of the pasta, I text back. 

More and more couples are citing the overuse of Blackberries and Facebook as the reasons for divorce.  It is even reaching the Middle East, where Saudi Arabia has already had two smartphone related divorces.  It basically boils down to math- the more time we spend on the phones the less time we have to spend with each other, doing marital things like talking and sex.  Maybe more married couples should start sexting each other?

My concern about smartphones goes beyond the half-ass parenting it promotes.  What about all the radiation?  Both Ted and I sleep with our phones charging on the bedside table next to our heads.  Are we far enough away for the radiation to dissipate, or is it slowly leaking in through our skulls and causing brain cancer?  One of our friends always places his Blackberry in his right pocket.  That way, when we gets testicular cancer, it will only effect his right one.

And what about the kids?  At a tender age of 10 months Maisy knew how to use my iPhone to play The Itsy Bitsy Spider and flip through the photos stored in the phone.  Are we just setting up this new generation to be completely addicted to their phone? Will she never be able to hold a conversation without the constant need to check her phone?  Will she develop a third ear due to the radiation exposure?  Or worse, will she have a bluetooth headset permanently installed in her right ear?  The possibilities are endless.

Monday, September 6, 2010

My Child Might Be Average

Here’s to all the kids in the 50th percentile!

Is your child a genius? Probably not. Why can’t we be content with the average child? If every child on the playgroup is talented and gifted, then we probably need to redefine our definition of genius.

Every time I take my children to the park I inevitably overhear a group of mothers bragging about how wonderful, bright, and talented their children are. “Oh, Max took his first steps at 7 months!” or “Emma is already speaking in complete sentences, and at only a year and a half.” It takes all my strength not to go over to the happy group and brag, “Well yesterday, my daughter picked her nose so hard and so long that it took two rolls of paper towels to stop the gush of blood draining from her nostril.”

Maybe we all need to step back and look at our children more objectively. Whenever I am in a public place and a little toddler is racing around with a goofy grin on his face, the parent stands back with a proud smile, as if to say "Have you ever seen such a cute child?” In a word, yes. I saw this yesterday, the day before, and the day before that. In fact, I have seen it so often, it has lost all traces of cuteness and is now just annoying. Should little babies really be running all over an airport terminal or a busy restaurant interrupting childless couples' conversations? Those childless couples are the people I stare at and think “Oh, aren’t they cute- all alone and content!”

Don’t get me wrong: you probably will see my children running amok at inappropriate times and places. However, it’s not because I think that the rest of the world needs to discover my amazingly talented and beautiful girls. It’s really because I am too tired and lazy to get off my butt and collect them. It is easier to let them run wild in a crowd of strangers, and deal with the police reports later.

When Elana was a fussy, colicky baby I would spend literally hours bouncing her on my blue yoga ball while watching a rerun of Law and Order. To get in a more yogi vibe (since I was using a yoga ball), I would calm myself by saying that Elana must be so highly intelligent that her screams are expressions of her frustration at not being able to speak. She had so much to say and the only way she could release this voice was through screams. In reality, she will probably be the kid eating paste in kindergarten, but the genius angle did help to relieve some of the pain.

Let’s get back to the theme of this blog: what was this like for our mothers and grandmothers? To answer this question, let’s look to a true 60’s icon, Betty Draper. I have watched every episode of Mad Men and not once have I seen Betty or Don brag about Sally’s exceptional beauty or Bobby’s intelligence (Baby Gene is too young to comment on). And it is evident that the kids are growing up just fine (well, maybe Sally needs a bit of therapy, but who doesn’t?). Maybe the Draper’s have something here. Since they are obviously not expecting Sally and Bobby to achieve extraordinary measures, no one is going to be disappointed with they don’t.

Furthermore, aren't we just setting our children up for disappointment when they find out that they could never be a professional baseball player, prima ballerina, or Disney princess? Why do we tell our kids that they can grow up to be President of the United States when there have only been 44, all men, and only one minority? Shouldn’t reality be part of our child raising skills?

(Photo courtesy of Karin Asensio.)
Now, finally, to add a little perspective about our own children, here are some true child prodigies to compare your children to:
• Mozart: by age 5 was writing minuets.
• Maria Agnesi: by 13 she could speak in seven different languages.
• John Piaget: published his first scientific paper at age 11 (on the albino sparrow).
• Pablo Picaso: painted “The Picador” at age 8.
• Elana: at 8 months was eating fistfuls of sand.
• Maisy: at 1 year could voluntarily throw up on command.

How does your child measure up?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Introduction: I’m Exhausted!

I was warned, numerous times by numerous friends.  However, nothing anyone said could have prepared me for this.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my girls with every ounce of blood in my body, but sometimes I dream of a life without diapers, tantrums, or sleep training.  In my dreams I am young again- the dark circles that now seem to be making a permanent home beneath my lower eyelids are gone.  My hair is lustrous because I am able to shower daily, and my boobs are not the deflated water balloons that now require a supportive bra to look even slightly “perky”.  In my dreams no one says, “You look exhausted”.  I eat at restaurant without grossly over tipping the waiter in apology for the mess on the floor.  And, when I fly on an airplane, I relax with a vodka tonic on my tray table while reading Vanity Fair, or US Weekly (depending on my mood).

Without fail, I awake from those dreams faintly confused and slightly disappointed.  My alarm clock, the sixteen-month-old, demands my immediate attention, but if only I could keep my eyes closed for a few more minutes to enjoy my mirage of a dream.  This is as close as I can get to paradise, and it will have to do.

When I finally go to Maisy, after prolonging my bathroom routine as long as possible, and playing a game of Backgammon on my iPhone while sitting on the toilet, she smiles and hands me her favorite lovey, a white lamb with a satin blanket for a body.  This, of course, melts my heart, and I pick her up, cuddle her, and sink into the glider with her sippy cup of milk and my cup of black tea.  I’ve always wished that I was a coffee person in the morning, but to my mother’s dismay, it never took.

Maisy is about a year-and-a-half.  Obviously she is beautiful and a baby genius (cue the eye rolling).  Being the second born, she can handle a lot of bumps and bruises, and she also knows how to make herself heard.  She is currently learning how to taunt her older sister by: 1- strategically taking Elana’s toys when Elana is most content and happily playing by herself, and 2- looking at Elana cross-eyed when Elana doesn’t want anyone looking at her.  I am proud of Maisy for these things.
(Photo courtesy of Karin Asensio.)
Elana is my three-and-a-half year old first born.  Elana is never in the shadow of anyone, she puts the “D” in drama-queen and the “P” in Prozac (mine, not hers’).  When she was a baby, and very fussy (maybe colic), my friends would joke that she has a cry only a mother could love.  That may sound harsh, but Elana could scream at the top of her lungs for hours without fail.  Once she cried for the entire three-hour car journey from Mendocino to San Francisco; her face was bright red and a white, rabid foam oozed from her mouth.  At times I wonder if she channels a demon, but then she turns on the lovable charm, and I rest knowing the demon is taking a break.

We live with Ted, my husband and their father, in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco.  For those of you that are unfamiliar with the SF ‘hoods, it’s probably the most hyper-vigilant and nuttiest of all of San Francisco.  If your baby is not co-sleeping with you on an organic mattress and has 24-hour access to your breasts, you might as well start prepping her for a life on the streets, or at the very least, a therapist by the age of 5.

Ted is your average working father: he spends a few minutes with the kids in the morning, and returns just in time to kiss them goodnight.  He has a soft spot for the girls and Elana knows, and Maisy is quickly learning, to ask Daddy when she wants something Mommy wont provide.  He doesn’t see the mischievousness in Maisy or the demon in Elana, and imagines that I spend my days having martini play-dates with friends while the kids play nicely in downstairs.

How did these super moms of yore do it?  How could they raise five children under six, while seven-months pregnant with the 6th, and simultaneously milking a cow?  I can’t even raise two kids and bathe!  In this journal/blog, I’m going to explore how they ever managed to do this (and all the while barefoot!), and hopefully relieve some of the pressure placed on today’s overly taxed mothers.