Now Entering the World of Sweater Vests

Since we learned we’re having a boy this time around, I’ve started taking a closer look at baby boy clothes. I found myself wanting to look into and test some of these silly boundaries that are restricting choices for boys. Maybe start a clothing revolution!! … but let’s start small.

According to clothing manufacturers (based on what is for sale in any department store or children’s clothing boutique), the items listed below are what seem to be the general consensus for acceptable imagery references sorted by gender (NOT my personal preferences btw and not a complete list, feel free to add).

  • For Girls – butterflies, flowers, ballerina, cats and kittens, horses and ponies, hearts, moon, cupcakes, ladybugs, zebras, pink, rainbows, strawberries, watermelon, popsicles, “princess”
  • For Boys – robots, dogs, camouflage, dinosaurs, monsters, cars and trucks, pizza, sharks, alligators, baseball, football, lions, firetrucks, “hero”, worms, motorcycles, rocket ships, surfers  (*and for some reason WAY more shirt/pants separates for infant boys v.s. more onesies for girls – can anyone explain that to me??!)
  • Gender Neutral (mostly on infant clothing) – frogs, monkeys, ducks, turtles, birds, stars, soccer, bears, elephants, bananas, giraffes, guitars, green, yellow (However, do note that all the animals will have a bow or a flower if it’s a “girls” outfit).

At J. Crew Kids

At The Children’s Place

Carter’s at Macy’s

So what if your little boy that really likes cats? Sorry, you’ll have a hard time finding them on a boys t-shirt unless they’re much larger felines like a lion or tiger. Or what if your daughter likes big trucks? (mine is a huge fan of buses and garbage trucks). Well, it’ll be near impossible to find a shirt with a big truck in the girls section unless, if you’re lucky, there’s maybe a pink one.

I think few people would say it’s wrong for boys to appreciate the beauty of nature, so why isn’t it “masculine” to have a bunch of flowers on your little guy’s onesie? And every kid I know, boy or girl, will go insane for a rainbow sprinkled cupcake, but only girls get those pictured on their outfits (girls actually seem to have a lot more food images, interestingly). And zebras are only for girls but elephants are fine for either gender, apparently. Who decided this stuff?!

Clearly, graphics on baby clothes aren’t really about what the child likes – or even necessarily what the parents like. Instead it seems baby clothes are designed just to present an image, as early as possible, to announce to the world in no uncertain terms that your child is definitely a boy or a girl (although as my mom likes to tell me, she had me dressed completely in pink and people would still come up to her and comment on what a cute little boy I was – apparently the curse of a totally bald baby). But the more brands stick to the same colors and graphic formula, the easier it is for most people to know what gender baby you’ve got without having to ask and the easier it is for parents to “safely” pick out clothing. But why is this so important? So you brought home a zebra print outfit for your little boy with red hearts on it – are the other 6 month olds going to burst into tears if you dare place his confusing ensemble on the same tummy time mat as theirs? Will he or any of his drooling friends even remember what anyone wore back then?

I remember hearing about a couple in the UK who decided not to tell anyone the gender of their child to prevent outside bias and to let him/her make their own discoveries regarding personal interests and preferences (gender neutral toys, no TV, etc) – people went insane about it! Psychology lecturer, Dr. Daragh McDermott, said in the linked article above, “It’s hard to say whether being raised gender-neutral will have any immediate or long-term psychological consequences for a child, purely because to date there is little empirical research examining this topic.” But the public had certainly already decided it definitely would harm the child – why are we so sure? Why is it so important to make sure your child knows that they are definitely a boy or definitely a girl before they can even speak? Especially when it’ll probably become pretty obvious to your observant toddler that they have parts that look more like either mommy or daddy, and when sexual identity during puberty, or sometimes even before that, can throw a loop in even “simple” gender identification.

Dr McDermott added, “That being said, the family setting is only one source of gender-specific information and as children grow, their self-identity as male, female or gender-neutral will be influenced by school, socialization with other children and adults, as well as mass media.” So it sounds like no matter what parents do, kids are going to eventually be exposed to this super gender emphasizing culture we live in anyway – and yet the majority still felt that withholding the child’s gender was tantamount to child abuse. Very interesting.

In theory I don’t think there was anything wrong with what that UK couple did (I don’t know all the details of what their everyday life was like, etc. so I might be opposed to some of the specifics, but let’s not go that deep into it). If you want your child to feel free to explore and like the things he/she likes without someone saying they can’t, just because of their gender, that’s great! And I do believe it’s extremely hard to avoid unintentional bias from other people (I can’t even count how many times has my daughter been called a princess by strangers).

Green Toys Tool Set in Pink

Manhattan Toy Baby Stella Doll – Boy

Fisher-Price Classic Doodler

Actually I think lots of people try to be a little gender neutral; there are always neutral clothing and bedding sections in baby stores filled with green and yellow – and nobody complains about that. But unfortunately, after baby is born and as they start getting older, parental attempts at gender neutrality are usually directed more towards girls than boys. People now have no problems saying, “oh, I don’t buy pink stuff for my daughter” or “We only give our little girl Legos and tool kits to play with”, but you hear very few people say, “Of course my son can wear a tutu if he wants to.” And you can see this in society too – it has been socially acceptable for women to wear pants and to show more than an ankle for years, but men still cannot wear skirts or even show their legs off in shorts if they’re in a professional business setting!

Don’t worry, I’m not going to hid my son’s gender from him. I am hoping, though, that having an older sister will expose him to things he might not have been exposed to if he were an only child. For example, I might not have just gone out and randomly bought him baby dolls, but if his sister happens to have one and it becomes his favorite toy, fine. Likewise, if he never wants to go near any typically girl things, at least I’ll know he had the chance to do so – and I’m equally not going to suggest he drop the toy cars and cardboard swords and play with something else just because they’re too typically boy-ish.

I just hope that I can at least instill in my son the confidence that he can like and play with whatever he wants, no matter what anyone says (which I think boys have a much harder time with than girls). I want my kids to be happy. And I want them both to know that while there are a few things that are only for girls or only for boys: (childbirth, unfortunately, still only for girls) a pink backpack or a scary dinosaur lunchbox, ballet lessons or a pet tarantula, these can be for anyone.

Visit my Pinterest boards too for my ongoing exploration of these ideas.

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Necessities for Baby Number 2 and Gifts for Second Time Moms

Adorable sibling set by kelseymcmargaret on Etsy
(Love that the big sister shirt isn’t completely pink)

A blogger at Project Nursery posted a list of their Top 5 Baby Gifts for Second-Time Mamas and I totally disagree with her gift ideas! Although they are all very nice products, there’s nothing specifically useful for a second time mom. In fact, 4 of the 5 things she suggested I already have and don’t need any more of: aden + anais swaddles, awesome diaper bag, handmade blankies galore, hooded towels/washcloths – mine aren’t personalized, but definitely don’t need more. The remaining item on her list, a new lovie, is the only thing I agree with. Older siblings are already going through a lot by suddenly having to share mommy and daddy – we shouldn’t expect them to share toys too, at least not immediately.

I’m weird about a lot of things, but I believe most moms preparing for a second child would agree with me here. So, I thought I’d share my working list of the things I need to get to be prepared for my baby #2. Hopefully it’ll be helpful to other second time moms in the planning stages and/or be a good idea list to anyone attending a second-time mom’s baby shower.

  1. Clothes – since my first was a girl and my second is going to be a boy (but read more about that here)
  2. A brand new coming home outfit of his own
  3. Bouncer to replace the one we got rid of (darn it)
  4. Another crib (off Craigslist!) since we’re turning O’s into a daybed for her
  5. New organic baby mattress (not going to reuse a mattress even if they give it to us with the crib, eeew)
  6. A second changing pad and cover (since baby’s crib will be in our room for a while)
  7. A second diaper pail (same reason) – the Ubbi?
  8. Newborn diapers
  9. Shrinkx Hips – did it with #1 and I did fit back into my pre-pregnancy clothes (eventually) – but I know some moms never get back to their original size, so not sure if it was the Shrinx Hips or just my body, but I’m not risking it. No idea where the first one went.
  10. Another mirror to attach to the backseat of the car
  11. Pacifiers – in case he wants to use one, definitely wouldn’t reuse old pacifiers even if we had kept them. I really believe some babies just like to suck more than others so I’ll get one to have on hand just in case and then more if needed.
  12. New baby bottles and nipples – I’m going with glass bottles this time. But even though my first child’s bottles were BPA free plastic, it’s probably not a good idea to reuse any kind of plastic that much especially when it’s getting warmed up and cooled down constantly. I’m going glass this time.
  13. A new Baby K’Tan (since I just found out my old one is horribly stained with spit up) – I think I’ll opt for the Breeze version this time which is mesh and cotton so it’s more breathable and not as hot to wear (although the original all-cotton version wasn’t bad at all)
  14. Baby bathtub for the sink – I’m thinking the Puj tub  (we just took our 1st in the bath with us but I’m worried that might cause some jealousy this time and/or overcrowding, haha)
  15. A gift for our firstborn (definitely don’t forget them at baby shower time too!!)
  16. Baby mobile of his own (made it myself)
  17. Infant Carrier Arm Pad from Itzy Ritzy. Awesome invention! Though we didn’t end up needing it though since we decided to go with an all-in-one carseat.
  18. New burp cloths and bibs – yes we could reuse the ones we have, but brand new, unstained ones would make a nice gift and you can never have enough of these.
  19. Extra crib sheets and waterproof pads – since both our kids are using the same size mattress
  20. Belly cream or oil – mamas can and maybe should still use this stuff for a while even postpartum and it won’t hurt to use it any time on any body part so it makes a great shower gift. I especially love Mama Mio Stretch Mark Butter
  21. Eventually we’ll need a jumper (we got rid of our first one for space reasons)
  22. Probably a Glider board for our Baby Jogger City Mini stroller – our 2 year old doesn’t use the stroller much so a double stroller seems like a waste

Another cool sibling set by
KoolKidzClothing

Your ideas?

One of the 5 Best Pumping Stories at Moms Meet

I just found out my random submission was selected to be one of the 5 best pumping stories in a contest held by the Moms Meet. I won a grab bag of natural and organic goodies. Woo hoo and thanks! Do you have a funny pumping story to share? I’d love to hear it.

Here’s a link to all 5 winning entries but I copied mine below:

I actually pumped for one year (almost to the day because, man, was it annoying!!). My baby never wanted to latch on, I couldn’t get help, we were both frustrated after trying for 2 weeks, and I was working full
time anyway so I figured, why stress about it? My baby was going to get all the nutrients and benefits of breast milk with pumping exactly as if I was breastfeeding from the boob and this way, daddy could handle some of the nighttime feedings – bonus! But I was SOOO glad to be finished (and yet, I still decided to have a second baby, where’s the logic there? haha).

Here’s my brief pumping story – My husband and I went out for our first date night away from the baby and we decided to do dinner and a movie. At the time, baby was feeding every 2 hours so I was pumping every 2 hours in order to keep my supply. We were going to see a movie first but we missed it because we were too slow leaving the house. So we had a leisurely dinner and then walked around the mall waiting for the next movie showing. That plus the drive was about 3 hours. Then we went to the 2.5 hour movie.

Less than half way through, I was feeling uncomfortably full, but by the end of the movie I was ready to cry. I had no idea how much pain engorgement could cause, and of course, I hadn’t thought to bring anything with me because the original plan was to be gone maybe 3 hours tops. I thought I remembered reading something about being able to the relieve the pressure manually. So I sat, in the movie theater bathroom, playing and squeezing my nipples to try to get milk to come out to ease the pain. Some milk did come, but it
turned out it was not enough to do anything for the pain – I usually got quite a few ounces out of each machine pumping session.

But while I was figuring that this wasn’t going to work, I made a huge mess all over the bathroom stall because I didn’t think about needing something to CATCH the milk before starting this. So I’m sitting there
with wads of toilet paper just disintegrating in my hands, on the verge of tears, and god knows what the other people in the stalls around me were thinking. When I realized I was wasting my time, I cleaned myself
up, told my husband to floor it, and moaned in pain until we got home. Good times, haha.

Lesson? After this, I bought 2 manual Medela hand pumps and permanently stored one in each of the bags I used (work bag and diaper bag). Those pumps break down really small so they barely take up any room, are super lightweight, only cost about $30, and not as big a deal to use as you’d think – even though I was used to my nice big pumping machine at home. They were lifesavers (or rather boob-savers) on numerous occasions.

When My Routine Ultrasound Turned Scary

I didn’t post anything about this immediately because I was waiting to see how it was all going to turn out. Luckily, hopefully, everything is going to be okay. But here’s what’s been happening:

As background, I have a bicornuate or heart-shaped uterus – it’s actually a birth defect I never knew I had until I got pregnant the first time. Instead of a being a normal pear shape, my uterus has a deep indentation in the top center and looks like a heart. Depending on where the egg decides to implant, baby might not have enough room to grow to full term, so I am automatically classified as a high risk pregnancy. Even though Baby #1 was fine and Baby #2 is in the exact same spot and position (breech, stomping on my bladder), I still have to go in for fetal sonograms every 3 weeks. On the up side, I get lots of pictures (or I would if he didn’t keep his face smooshed into my placenta).

Well, I went in for another sonogram at 29 weeks to check my cervix length and the baby’s measurements. I had the same technician previously and she was unusually quiet this time, but I chalked that up to everyone having off days. Then I realized something might be going on when she stayed near the baby’s head for quite a while and kept recording images of the same area – I’ve had about a million sonograms now so I knew this wasn’t normal. I casually asked, “what’s that?” As in, what are you continually measuring there, lady? But the technician just said, “oh that’s baby’s head.” And very quickly afterwards said she was going to show these pictures to the doctor and she’d be right back (that is standard practice). Ooookay. But it isn’t standard to wait 20 minutes (ish, I tried to take a nap) with goop on your belly (usually they let me get cleaned up right away). When the doctor came in, she did her own measurements with the sonogram and then gave me the news: our baby boy had higher than normal levels of fluid in the ventricles on one side of his brain. Cue panic.

After speaking a bit more to the doctor and to the genetic counselor there, I came away with very few answers and an appointment for a fetal MRI. It could be nothing, it could be brain damage. This is something seen with spina bifida and Downs Syndrome,  however all my routine screenings showed we had a very low risk of either. The baby could need a permanent stint implanted in his head to release the excess fluid but then maybe go on to live a normal life… or not. I could have a amniocentesis, but since I’m already in my third trimester, there is a small risk of pre-term labor. Funny that they kept asking me if I had any questions after just telling me there were no answers until after the MRI.

Well, we decided not to do the amniocentesis. I’m going to have this baby regardless, so it didn’t seem worth risking a few extra weeks cooking in my belly just to know in advance. But we did still have to wait a whole terrible week for the MRI appointment.

So of course I Googled it. I know you’re not supposed to but I had to get more information. Strangely it didn’t make me more paranoid (as googling usually does) – I found out that it really was an equal chance of being something or nothing, good or bad, just a flip of the coin. I also read that this condition, when it is something, is often called “water on the brain” – and being as the nursery is ocean-themed and the name we’re 99% sure we’re going with is also in that same under the sea genre (more on that later), well… I’ve apparently got an ironic little stinker bug inside me and my love for this baby swelled just a little bit after that. Of course you’re going to choose the thematic disease, you ornery thing.

Don’t you love how when you can’t move, your nose will always start to itch? Other than that the MRI was another good excuse to try and nap (when you have a 2 year old, you take ’em when you can get ’em). Afterwards, the head guy (MRI specialist important title something), who my Obgyn reassuringly told me was one of the top fetal MRI people in the tri-state area, sat down with us and said that it looked to him like our baby boy was just on the high end of normal but he didn’t see anything else (blockages, bleeding, etc) to indicate some other issue. As long as the fluid levels didn’t increase, the baby would most likely be perfectly fine (with disclaimers about nothing being guaranteed, of course). Normal is a range, he said, so for example, a person might be 6 foot 10 and therefore way off the scale when looking at average heights, but that doesn’t mean there’s necessarily anything wrong with them.

At my 31 week follow-up ultrasound, fluid levels are still holding steady and the doctors who reviewed the MRI scans agreed with what I was previously told. I have another sonogram scheduled for 34 weeks (today makes 32 weeks/8 months!) so I’m not stressing (because that’s definitely not good for the baby) and we’ll see what happens. All I know for sure is that I’m going to love this baby, even if he is making me go prematurely gray.  :)

p.s.  yes, I know it isn’t actually irony with the water thing – it’s just a funny coincidence – whatever.

I Could Not Have Said It Better…

My husband is dyslexic so we knew that our children would automatically have a 50% chance of having dyslexia too. This blog post by Lyn Pollard from the New York Times website, Can A Daughter With Dyslexia Learn to Love Words? (link below), conveys exactly what I’ve been wondering as my daughter gets older and while awaiting the birth of my son. Well written.

http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/12/can-a-daughter-with-dyslexia-learn-to-love-words/?smid=pl-share

Confession – I Wanted More Than Just a Healthy Baby

I’m just going to come out and say it. I desperately wanted, with my whole mind, body and soul, for my first child to be a girl. I wasn’t going to love a boy any less, of course, but that didn’t stop me from hoping that I could make my baby be a girl through sheer psychic brain power and force of will (of course I knew that the sperm decides the gender and I had pretty much no choice in the matter, but did that stop me from wishing? nope). In the end I was very blessed to have my wish granted (and I made the sonogram operators check multiple times because I couldn’t believe it, haha).

My baby girl (so long ago!)

I’m sure there are some people who genuinely don’t care whether they have a boy or a girl, but I was never one of them. And getting flak for saying something more than “I don’t care as long as they’re healthy” is crazy. I remember being completely shocked when I read an article about the public getting mad at Vanessa Lachey for saying she was hoping for a boy. Of course Vanessa and I both wanted healthy babies, I just also wanted mine to have a vagina. What’s wrong with that? All babies are going to be one or the other and there are differences between the two, so you can’t help wondering. And I’m sure we both would have loved the opposite gender just as much if that’s what we were given instead.

But of course I had to ask myself why I felt so strongly about it. I don’t think boys or girls are necessarily better; I’m in love with a great man and I know lots of amazing women. I think my feelings came from the fact that I have one sister myself, grew up with my grandmother living with us, and nannied for 2 girls for a few years. I’m just more comfortable around girls, I know what to expect with them,  I know how “girls” (stereotypically) play, etc. And, as a fashion lover, I admit I was swayed by the idea of being able to pass down my clothes, shoes and bags to a daughter as well as by the significantly greater clothing freedom given to girls. My experience with young boys was limited to a few short babysitting jobs – so it was mostly just fear of the unknown.

Now that I’m expecting baby number 2, I was really surprised that I did not have strong feelings one way or the other this time. I actually felt a little guilty that I didn’t have a strong preference! (My only real reason for leaning one way or the other was the fact that we could pass down & reuse a lot more clothes if we had another girl – not enough to make a difference in my opinion). And, in the meantime, my sister had had an adorable baby boy and she and I had already spoken some about the differences in diaper changing. So when my hubby and I found out we were definitely going to have a boy this time around, there was only a tiny bit of panicking and a lot of excitement.  :)  I can’t wait to meet you #2!

Number 2 is a Boy!

Our Summer Bucket List


I found this on another blog and I’m glad I did! First of all, I love making lists period (have I mentioned this before?). So making a specific summer fun bucket list is something I’d naturally gravitate towards and one I haven’t done before. I’m going to try to make sure that my list includes both family fun activities and some mommy fun stuff too. Still a work in progress obviously, but wanted to post the first few things that came to mind.

  1. Have baby #2 and recover
  2. Make sure little O still feels loved, secure and hopefully not too jealous of the new baby
  3. New Jersey State Fair – we miss this every year! And it’s usually in Secaucus which is one stop from Penn Station. Even though O is probably still too short for any of the rides and my prego belly is going to keep me off the fun rides, there’s usually still a petting zoo, fun demonstrations, carny food, etc.
  4. Make initial pancakes (and decorate with whipped cream)
  5. Central Park Zoo – ashamed to admit we still haven’t been here
  6. Make fruit popsicles
  7. Bronx Zoo again – we’ve been to this one but didn’t make it through the whole thing cause this zoo is Huge! Maybe an elephant or camel ride too?
  8. Use the new sand and water table that O got for her birthday from her Auntie & Uncle
  9. Paint with O using the Glob paint kit I just got (probably after newspapering the entire kitchen)
  10. Finally try that Turkish restaurant near our house
  11. Make room for another family member? (no, not #2 – he’s already got space)
  12. Catch fireflies
  13. Go to the beach (more than once!)
  14. Stay up late to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July
  15. Attend storytime at the local library
  16. Ride our bikes with toddler trailer (at least until hubby refuses to let me ride anymore due to the unfortunate combination of clumsiness + prego belly)
  17. Make homemade ice cream (decaf coffee choc chip for mommy!)

My Opinion: Ina May Gaskin and the Battle for at-Home Births in The NYTimes

I just read this very interesting, well-written article in the NY Times but I take slight offense that it is sub-titled Mommy Wars: The Prequel. The piece is a profile of Ina May Gaskin who runs a safe haven in Tennessee for women who want to have an “at-home” or midwife-assisted, non-hospital birth and her efforts to allow this to be a valid choice for all women. This article has nothing to do with the Mommy Wars (which the media considers the “fight” between stay at home mothers (SAHMs) and working moms). But adding that little subtitle makes it immediately seem like just an issue of personal opinion (although staying at home V.S. working is also increasingly not a personal decision either but a forced one) when it really has little to do with each person’s individual preferences; most women aren’t being allowed to have a preference –  that’s the point.

In the comments for this article on the NY Times website, one person wrote that they felt it was “gross neglect” to allow women the option of a homebirth because of the risks. Her opinion arose mostly because her own homebirth had complications and she regretted her choice. It is so ridiculous when people take a single experience and decide that should apply to everyone. Yes, throughout history giving birth has been risky for both mom and baby. But it is also something that had to happen in order for every living person on earth to be standing here now and there are millions of us. Some people have died while bungee jumping, did that suddenly make it illegal? (and no, I’m not comparing giving birth to bungee jumping – I’m using an overly silly comparison of a single experience being the basis for a law or rule to apply to everyone).

Now some women may want an immediate epidural or a c-section and I think that’s fine, but shouldn’t the women who want to be allowed to labor for over 24 hours without being induced be allowed to do so too (crazy as that sounds to me), if neither mom nor baby is in danger? Knowing, as the medical community does, that all women labor differently and there’s nothing inherently abnormal about those differences (laboring for 2 hours versus 18, etc). Right now, many hospitals require women to be induced after X amount of time not progressing or if they are one to two weeks past their due date. And, as the Times article mentioned, 40 years ago women used to be strapped down and forced to have forceps-assisted deliveries – no questions asked. It sounds barbaric, and yet that was just 1 generation ago. 

Here’s a great point though: considering that it is NOT disputed that the US is ranked 50th in the world for maternal mortality (that’s moms dying) and 41st in neonatal mortality (that’s baby dying) – whatever we’re doing doesn’t seem like it’s best for anyone. Shouldn’t that be impetus enough to look at what the countries with the lowest maternal and neonatal mortality rates are doing and try to copy them? That seems to me to be simple step in the right direction #1.

So whether you agree that a non-medicated, “psychedelic” birth option is something you want for yourself or not doesn’t really matter here. Why is a group of law-makers (usually all men) allowed to say all women MUST give birth in a hospital? (yes, in some states homebirth is illegal). That’s what the issue is here. And I’m thinking the reason, as with so many things, is just because of $$$ – think about the insurance companies that refuse to cover the cost of using birthing centers even though they are generally far less expensive than hospitals. It makes the most sense to have natural birth centers attached to hospitals so that women have options and if there is a problem, immediate help is available (simple step in the right direction #2), but that would, of course, involve the people running the hospitals to compromise.

If birth isn’t considered a medical procedure, a lot of things change. Yes, medical procedures and emergencies can arise from childbirth just like (and these are purposefully over simplified, silly comparisons again) someone who eats a lot of junk can have a heart attack, but we don’t ask every overweight person to eat their McDonalds in a hospital, just in case. And we don’t require all smokers to have screenings for lung cancer, though it’s been 100% proven that smoking is the leading cause. But a lot of the time childbirth is simple and uncomplicated. So why do we feel the need to force women to “protect” themselves against every possible calamity during childbirth and only childbirth? We don’t feel so strongly at any point afterwards – where are the clamors to require women to undergo mandatory pregnancy education (to try to prevent more pre-natal drinking and drug use) or mandatory parenting classes!? As a society, it seems like we’re working so hard to get these babies born, but after the baby exists, it’s not our problem. It doesn’t make any sense.

Let me know your thoughts.

Narrated Playtime – Whoa, I Totally Do That!

or, A Review of Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman

I just finished reading Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman. I almost didn’t bother, but when I read reviews that it is more autobiography than parenting manual (which I generally try to stay away from), I changed my mind and I’m glad I did. The book logs her efforts to first define the Parisian/French parenting style (which turns out to be more work that it sounds) and then to understand why it is so different from the current NYC/American style. You can tell from the reviews which people actually read the book and which just assumed it was just another American parent bashing tirade.

I appreciated that Druckerman clearly states her upper-middle-class and central Paris/elite Manhattan biases in the beginning and reminds us of them throughout the book so you know that not everything she describes necessarily applies to all of France or all of the US. But don’t let this dissuade you from reading; wherever you are, I can almost guarantee you’ve seen or done many of the parenting acts she describes in this book and will be able to relate.

The book was clearly well researched with tons of footnotes documenting the studies, articles and people she pulled from (I hate when people just write, “experts believe…” and leave it at that). And Druckerman was careful to interview and compare experiences between persons both native to each country with those who immigrated to the US or France, and between experts and regular moms  – all things I also appreciated and expected coming from a former journalist. But the book also felt very honest (she shares quite a few embarrassing parenting experiences) and was pretty amusing in many parts too. This book is an opinion piece, it is not straight investigative journalism, but even so, it seemed balanced and reasonable (not at all pushy). So whether you agree with Druckerman by the end of the book or not, you won’t regret reading it and it may give you some things to think about too.

But here is the excerpt in question that totally caught me by surprise:

American-style parenting and its accoutrements – the baby flash cards and competitive preschools – are by now cliches. There’s been both a backlash and a backlash to the backlash. So I’m stunned by what I see at a playground in New York City. It’s a special toddler area with a low-rise slide and some bouncy animals, separated from the rest of the park by a high metal gate. The playground is designed for toddlers to safely climb around and fall. A few nannies are sitting French-style on benches around the perimeter, chatting and watching their charges play.

Then a white, upper-middle-class mother walks in with her toddler. She follows him around the miniature equipment, while keeping up a nonstop monologue. “Do you want to go on the froggy, Caleb? Do you want to go on the swing?”

Caleb ignores these questions. He evidently plans to just bumble around. But his mother tracks him, continuing to narrate his every move. “You’re stepping, Caleb!” she says at one point.

I assume that Caleb just landed a particularly zealous mother. But then the next upper-middle-class woman walks through the gate, pushing a blond toddler in a black T-shirt. She immediately begins narrating all of her child’s actions too. When the boy wanders over to the gate to stare out at the lawn, the mother evidently decides this isn’t stimulating enough. She rushes over and holds him upside down.

“You’re upside down!” she shouts. Moments later, she lifts up her shirt to offer the boy a nip of milk. “We came to the park! We came to the park!” she chirps while he’s drinking.

This scene keeps repeating itself with other moms and their kids. After about an hour I can predict with total accuracy whether a mother is going to do this “narrated play” simply by the price of her handbag. What’s most surprising to me is that these mothers aren’t ashamed of how batty they sound. They’re not whispering their commentaries, they’re broadcasting them.

When I describe this scene to Michel Cohen, the French pediatrician in New York, he knows immediately what I’m talking about. He says these mothers are speaking loudly to flaunt what good parents they are. The practice of narrated play is so common that Cohen included a section in his parenting book called Stimulation, which essentially tells mothers to cut it out. “Periods of playing and laughing should alternate naturally with periods of peace and quiet,” Cohen writes. “You don’t have to talk, sing or entertain constantly.”

Whatever your view on whether this intensive supervision is good for kids, it seems to make child care less pleasant for mothers [footnote to a 2009 study]. Just watching it is exhausting. And it continues off the playground. …”

(I wanted to copy more but I’ll stop there)

Now, I know I’m definitely not narrating just to flaunt what a good parent I am because I do it when we were completely alone at the park and, as Druckerman mentions later, off the playground as well. But reading this and suddenly realizing that she was describing me, had me searching for the real reason why – at least my reason why.

So I think part of it came from reading that hearing language (reading and speaking to your child) is good for them and will help build their vocabularies. And since I suspect my 2 year old is dyslexic (her father is so there’s a 50% chance right away) and since she seems to have trouble saying the small sounds in words – I guess it was très américain of me to think the more the better, right?

And the other part was probably because we were alone. I’m a talkative person so I was  probably just chatting to fill the silence and to keep my daughter company. I’ve realized that this could be heading her down a path where she’d become one of those people that has to be stimulated constantly (like some of my college classmates who couldn’t write a term paper unless they had both headphones on and the TV going). Being able to handle quiet time is a skill that needs practice too.

So I went to the park today with my newly 2 year old and I consciously didn’t narrate. And guess what? My toddler was chattering away half the time and quiet half the time but still content the whole time. I also didn’t go up onto the actual playground tower with her this time (she usually asks for my hand to go up the stairs, etc.) but I didn’t sit on the sidelines since my little daredevil monkey loves the big kid area which is pretty high off the ground. I stood near every opening she approached just in case, but I was happy to be of no use there – we didn’t even have a near close call. And she handled every staircase, obstacle and maneuver with ease.

Things were going great! Then, my daughter then decided she wanted to try climb this terrifying (to me) curvy ladder instead of taking the stairs. Think a repeated S shape with a straight bar down the middle of it. Then bend that entire form from the top of the playground to the bottom and add an undulation to it. Fantastic.

Even though she could barely get her foot from one rung to the next, I let her try it (while holding a hand both in front and back of her lest a foot or hand slip, with visions of bloody lips and broken arms trying to force their way into the forefront of my thoughts – as is the normal state of my brain) and didn’t encourage her constantly along the way (which is much easier when you would really rather they back down, haha).

When she reached for my hand to help, I calmly said “You can do it.” And she immediately, without any kind of fuss, tried it herself – if she’d asked a second time, I would have helped or gotten her down, but she didn’t. She climbed that stupid thing 3 times all by herself. She even got stuck at one point and I watched her figure it out. Despite mommy almost having a heart attack, it was pretty cool. If I had been coaching, cheering and helping the whole time, she wouldn’t have had the opportunity to use her brain a bit and it actually might have distracted her.

I found myself pointing things out or mimicking back the words my daughter said (“That’s right, a car”) as we left the park. I was narrating our walk, I guess. But I know the intention of this part of the book is not to say that you should stop talking to your kids, of course not! The point is just to make sure there is balance. And I’m glad this book gave me the opportunity to think it through.

My Favorite Pregancy Drink

I am a huge Starbucks fan and have been ever since I worked in one on campus during my college years – I love everything from coffee, tea and chai to Frappuchinos and vanilla soy lattes. Pregnancy is, therefore, a bummer.

Lucky for me now prego with #2 that I’ve been on decaf varieties ever since finding out I was expecting my first baby. All the nausea I was already having back then made it hard to tell whether I was feeling crappy from the pregnancy or the caffeine withdrawal – so it worked out. Then, after the birth of my daughter, I pumped for a year (so still no caffeine) and after 2 years I was mostly just used to it. I’d probably run circles around my apartment like a hamster if I had a normal cup of coffee now.

But there are a few things I do miss and one of those is a Chai Tea Latte. Tazo does make decaf chai but Starbucks chains don’t sell it from the bar (and not in most stores either). Plus, they do have a LOT of sugar and empty calories – not the best thing for growing a person inside you (of course, Ben and Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk is a totally different story…). So, when looking for herbal teas I noticed that Tazo makes a decaf chai in teabag form (also not usually in Starbucks stores but I found some at Target and online). And now you can make yourself a pretty darn good (and healthier) chai latte just like this:

  1. Steep 1 Tazo decaf chai tea bag in a mug of very hot water about 4 minutes
  2. Add sweetener (I use local honey to fight my seasonal allergies or organic agave nectar)
  3. Add a splash of milk (almond milk or soy milk work equally well)
  4. Your drink is the perfect temperature to enjoy right away and tastes pretty darn close to the real thing!
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