Thursday, September 8, 2011

5 Great Baby Buys

First, let me say that the idea for this post is old. I have read many other such lists but, since everyone has a unique perspective, I will submit my own...

1. Boppy Pillow - A great, multi-use pillow, it provides a level surface for baby to lay on while nursing and a "boost" so mom need not lift baby to the breast or hunch over to nurse. Also, a great support for babies who are beginning to sit but still topple easily. For younger babies who can hold their heads up but are still far from sitting independently, this next product does the trick.

2. Bumbo Seat - Both of my daughters love(d) their Bumbos. Many parents swear it helped their babies learn to sit sooner but I can't attest to that. In any case, it is great at holding little bodies in an upright position and allowing baby to safely* observe the action while freeing up mom's arms. *I must say that while my first daughter, try as she might, lacked the strength to get out of the seat, my second (at 18 weeks) arches her back and is close enough to pushing herself out of it that I can't really leave her in it and turn away. My advice would be to watch how your baby acts in the seat before assuming they cannot escape.

3. Moby Wrap - With my first child, I used the Baby Bjorn carrier. By the time I had my second, my social circle had changed and now consisted, almost exclusively, of other moms. Many of my mom friends raved about the Moby wrap which, at the time, I dismissed as being trendy but probably lacking functionality. Nevertheless, my friend lent me hers so I figured, why not? Well, I have to say, for 1/2 the price of the Baby Bjorn, you can have a carrier that far exceeds the Bjorn in both comfort and versatility. The Moby is just a long piece of stretchy cotton fabric but, as such, the "straps" are thick and cover much more surface area, thus distributing the weight evenly over your shoulders, back and hips, instead of concentrating it all on a narrow section over your shoulders. This allows you to carry an older, heavier child for a longer time. This said, the greatest advantages of the Moby are for newborns, for whom skin to skin contact and comfort are most important. Unlike other carriers, you can use the Moby in a variety of different positions, including the "cradle" hold, where the baby can assume the fetal position (obviously, a very natural position for newborns), instead of being held upright with their legs dangling down. Also, the Moby supports baby by pressing him/ her against your body; the only barrier between you and baby is your clothing. This brings me to the unadvertised feature I like the best- you can nurse in the Moby! When you purchase the Moby, you will see a reference to breastfeeding in the instructional guide but you will not see a claim that you can breastfeed in the wrap. This is probably because you must be very careful that there is enough space for baby to breathe while nursing and that the wrap is not pressing them too tightly against the breast. Nevertheless, it can be done safely and discreetly while in the cradle hold position, which becomes especially convenient on outings or during busy days at home. I never found the idea of nursing on the move quite as appealing until I had my second child, when long, intimate nursing sessions became a luxury. As you have probably gathered, I love the Moby wrap. I would say that the only disadvantages are a slightly longer learning curve associated with putting it on and the fact that the wrap is so long, it is hard to put on without dragging the ends on the floor. Nevertheless, I would recommend it, and do, to anyone looking for the ideal baby wearing device.

4. Medela Quick Clean Micro-Steam Bags- It was my baby gear savvy friend, Jenney, who introduced me to these. And, to be honest, I didn't see a huge advantage of using them in place of a pot of boiling water until I went back to work, where boiling a pot of pump parts in the office kitchen would be very impractical and slightly embarrassing. Five steam bags come to a pack and you can use each one 20 times. So, for just over $5, you get 100 uses. They are affordable and perfect for the breastfeeding, working mom. Munchkin brand also makes them and they are comparable enough in quality and price.

5. Fisher-Price Rainforest Jumperoo- Ok, so I didn't exactly buy this one but if you can't borrow one from a friend as I did, I would certainly recommend it. My 4-month old LOVES this thing and could easily spend an hour in it if I let her. It took her a little while to realize what it was capable of but, once she did, well... I'll just let this video do the talking...

Friday, August 12, 2011

10 Great Feelings In No Particular Order

-Waking up and realizing it is a three day weekend

-Elise is nursing and she locks eyes with me and smiles

-My husband tells me I am beautiful

-Dahlia smiles to herself after accomplishing something new

-Arriving in a country that I've never been

-Seeing my mom after being apart for a long stretch

-Goosebumps after learning of some new technology or scientific discovery

-Meeting a new friend and knowing they will be an old one

-Getting on the scale at Publix and watching the pointer stop before I expected

-Laying in bed together as a family with no schedule and nowhere to be

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Upon Waking

I will resist the urge to begin this with an apology. So, I am back at work after 12 weeks of bliss (and poop, spit-up, tantrums and cleaning). I sit in silence with not much to do, no baby to nurse or change, no preschooler to entertain, no messy house to clean and a paycheck on the way. You'd think I would be relieved to catch a break and make some money again but, as many of the mothers who have been in my shoes would understand, I feel no relief. In fact, I feel utterly EMPTY. Yes, yes I know - there are hundreds of people praying hard every night, desperately pleading with God that they may find work of any kind. Though I feel for them and recognize how fortunate I am, I cannot feel sorry. I live my own reality and not theirs. In this reality, I commute an hour to this place and, for much of it, the memory of my three month old's smell lingers in my mind. How I wish I could bottle it and preserve the indescribable comfort it makes me feel. Nothing smells more like home than my baby. And the eldest, my kind, beautiful, sunny child. My Dahlia, for whom the quickest way to get her to eat her vegetables (besides bribery) is to tell her how happy it would make us. How I MISS my girls! But I am reconciled to do what I know is best for my family at this point. I will try to appreciate my cushy, lax job and spend my abundant down time sitting at my desk, blogging, surfing the web, pumping and dreaming of a day when I can afford to be home, at least part-time.

Elise's birth went smoothly. Dahlia stayed overnight at the hospital with John and I for the duration of my stay, which I was a bit hesitant about at first but, in retrospect, I wouldn't of had it any other way. We had such an amazing time together. Through the haze of painkillers, lack of sleep and intense emotion, I can't remember for the life of me what it is we did other than marvel at our new addition, but I know it was the best time of my life. Even better, I dare say, than when my first was born. Because, for one, we knew what to expect and, secondly, we got to watch Dahlia meet her baby sister. Which brings me to yet another reason I love that kid more than life itself.

After I was reunited with Elise in the Mother and Baby suite, my husband went to pick up Dahlia from our sitter's. When they returned, Dahlia was wearing the "Big Sis" shirt my good friend Jenney made her. She walked right up to Elise and I and stared at her for no more than 3 seconds before reporting with a big smile, "Baby sista. That's Elli. That's my baby sista". I asked if she wanted to hop up on the hospital bed and hold her and she nodded. With my husband standing behind her, I put Elise in her arms and she smiled and kissed her. She did this with remarkable tenderness (for a three year old) and without prompting. After a while, I moved to take her and Dahlia refused! Then, any time a nurse would come to take Elli out of the room for a vitals check, Dahlia would look at me like I was crazy for letting them and say "Where's baby sista? Bring her BACK!". After we were discharged, she would follow me around the house and, still being quite the paci addict herself, insist that I give Elise a pacifier at the slightest hint of an impending cry. Since the moment she first saw her, as if she had known her in another life, Dahlia has accepted Elise as hers. Hers to protect, care for and love. There was no adjustment period for her. And, even when there came a hint of jealousy later, it NEVER manifested as resentment or anger and was never directed at the baby. Indeed, Dahlia is the BEST big sister anyone could ever hope for and if I had one dying wish, it would be that she continue to love and look out for her sister with the same intensity and that Elise grow up to return this love.

The hospital stay was not without issue (however minor in the end). As soon as I was stitched up (C/S), they wheeled me into recovery with the assurance that Elise would follow in about an hour, after some blood work. Ten minutes later, they informed me that, as is common with babies of the chunkier variety (birth weight: 9 lbs 7 oz), her blood sugar was a tad low and they would need to bring her to me to nurse right away. She nursed for about 2 seconds and fell asleep. Normal, I thought, and in about 15 minutes gave it another try. Again, after no more than a few seconds, she was out! She repeated this every time I tried to nurse her for the remainder of that day, feeding for 4 minutes at most before falling asleep. Luckily, and probably because I tried to nurse her at least twice every hour, she managed to get enough colostrum to raise her sugar to an acceptable level. Unfortunately, it was not enough to keep her from losing too high of a percentage of her birth weight (she lost 10%; max is expected to be 8%), so I was asked to stay an extra day. That, combined with the fact that my milk had not yet come in, made it necessary to supplement with some formula on the third night. Finally, she gained enough weight for them to release us with a few bottles of Goodstart. I am happy to say, however, that I did not need to use them. My milk came in the next day and, while she remained a sleepy baby until just recently, Elise soon became a nursing pro!

I am truly blessed that this is the biggest issue our family has had to face since our sweet Elise was born. She is a remarkably good and easy baby. As if she is aware that she is the younger sibling of a highly demanding and spoiled preschooler, she will basically stay where you put her without protest. She rarely ever cries and, when she does, it consist of one little roar and a long pause as if to say "I know you are busy, Mama. I'll just wait right here!". At her two month check-up, she was a healthy 13 lbs. Her latest feat is bringing her hands together, which makes her look like she is praying and compliments her angelic countenance.

Spending 3 glorious (and hectic, work-filled) months with my girls was made even more enjoyable when I met an amazing group of women who comprise a playgroup for preschoolers, organized via Facebook. A friend, who has been a SAHM for several years, knows all the best activities in town for kids and has an uncanny ability to be prepared for anything kid-related, introduced me to them and I couldn't be more grateful to her for doing so. The playgroup consists of women of every color, social status and stage in life. There are moms, grandmoms and nannies of every ethnicity. In fact, the only thing many of them have in common (at least outwardly) is friendship and the fact that they care for preschool aged children. Even through this diversity, they are incredibly open and accepting. And, in a small town (even one with a university in it) surrounded by miles and miles of even smaller, backwoods towns no one has ever heard of, this is a truly rare thing to find.

During the last 6 weeks of my leave, the girls and I had so much fun with our new friends that I asked that my husband, who is currently working from home until my mom arrives to help out with the kids, continue to take them on outings with the group as often as his work allows. And, while he is the only man there, he was met with the same acceptance as I. Knowing that Dahlia is having a blast and that Elise is safe with her papa is the only thing that makes being away from them bearable and, for this, I am grateful. Indeed, hats off to my dear John. After having the experience of caring for them both while working and still finding time to cook dinner every night, he is unlikely to make the all too common mistake of believing it is easy to stay home. Perhaps, one day soon, I will be able to test that. Until then, upon waking, before sleepily dressing and grabbing coffee-to-go, I will take a moment to smell my baby, kiss my big kid and remember to soak up every second I spend with them.

Monday, June 6, 2011


Welcome, Elise Olivia!
April 29, 2011
9 lbs 7 oz

Because the birth of my beautiful Elise has, paradoxically, left me with much to write about but mush for brains with which to write, I will leave you with some photos of one of the two happiest days of my life...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Being a "good mom".

"Almost there... you're almost there." I tell myself this at least twice a day. I say it aloud to my husband at least once a day and to anyone who asks how I'm doing. It helps keep me focused. And, lately, I've needed it because, like most women who've started their 10th month of pregnancy, I'm over being pregnant and am counting down the days until I get to hold my new daughter!

The fact that I know exactly when her birthday will be, as I am having a planned c-section, helps me keep this focus and plan almost every detail around her birth and homecoming. This brings me to a small rant about common attitudes concerning cesareans. I was poking around online and found a comment thread around women who choose surgical births when not medically necessary. I would say at least 75% of the comments were negative. I don't mean slightly negative or critical -but flat out MEAN.

One woman actually said that having a vaginal birth made you love your baby more. Even though this lady was an obvious idiot, her comment amazed me. And, it was not the only one that eluded to a belief that the bond between mother and child was stronger depending on the baby's exit route from mom's body. Never mind the babies that have taken the natural route out of their mother's bodies and into dumpsters or, worse still, have survived birth to live a life of abuse. I am sure you would be hard pressed to find any correlation between abuse and neglect of children by their mothers and mode of delivery. So much for that theory.

The fact is, I think it is idiotic to criticize a mother for how she chooses to bring her child into the world, or to feel superior to another mother because you pushed a baby out of your body while she laid on a table and had one lifted from hers. Similarly, some women harbor the same kind of smugness about breastfeeding -believing themselves to be so much better than those formula feeding moms. Granted, it is almost impossible now-a-days to deny that breast milk is best for babies under 6 months (assuming your milk is not vitamin deficient). It has well established immunological benefits and, having breastfed with my first, I know that the bonding experience (not to mention weight loss) is a beautiful thing. Choosing to breastfeed is choosing a healthier future for your child, I am not arguing that. However, breastfeeding and having a vaginal birth is not what makes a woman a good just makes her a mammal like the rest of us!

I think all mothers should focus their efforts on the things that do make for a good parent. It is not about how much pain you bravely endured to bring your child into the world, or how much milk your body was able to produce for them -it is about using your mind and your love for them to make the decisions that will help them grow up to be healthy, productive and happy. Among these choices could be the one to breastfeed but it is relatively small in weight when compared to the many choices parents find themselves having to make for their kids on a daily basis. Finding, sorting through and seizing opportunities to teach them, to expose them to new experiences, to give them confidence, empathy and love. All of these things should matter more, simply because they will do much, much more to guarantee the quality of your child's life in the future.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Math As More Than Algebra

I recently printed out some preschool concept worksheets to do for fun and learning for my soon-to-be three year old.

Having once majored in and taught math, it's not surprising that I initially gravitated toward the "pre-math" worksheets section. It included an intro to numbers and counting. Below this section was a section for worksheets that dealt with concepts such as "more and less", "small and large" and "same and different". "These sections should be combined under the "pre-math" heading", I thought (because I am a geek and take issue with such things).

If you believe that math is just about numbers, then I am sure you are scratching your head (or, more likely, never read past the title of this post). If, in addition, you cannot easily do arithmetic in your head or failed algebra in high school, you are probably also thinking "I am no good with numbers (and therefore no good at math)" or simply "I HATE math!".

I feel entitled to make these assertions because I am one of those people who failed high school algebra. In teaching and tutoring, I've met many young "haters of math" who have asserted their disdain for the discipline while taking an algebra class. So, why is algebra the culprit behind a youth in rebellion against mathematics, the most fundamental tool humanity possesses?

Well, algebra (actually pre-algebra) is the first time you really hear x = 5. WHAT?! How confusing is that? Confusing because it usually precedes a demonstration of how the rules governing mathematical operations exist independently of the values they are manipulating. It abstracts the grade school arithmetic we have all thought of as defining math, and does so through the use of symbols. It makes math about more than just numbers. It is now about the relationships and operations that exist between quantities.

This conceptual leap is quite challenging at first, probably due to inefficacy in how "pre-math" concepts are taught in American public schools to begin with. And, as is a common tendency of our species, our immediate reaction to something we don't understand is to hate it. However, if your curriculum takes you past high school algebra and into calculus, then you start to see math as describing how things change. How what changes? The position of flea on a dog, the flow of blood exiting a gunshot wound... ANYTHING. And once you understand that, you begin to see how beautiful and powerful of a tool it really is.

If you are in that small minority who agrees and goes on to study a field of mathematics in college, then you may end up taking a course called Linear Algebra. Linear Algebra is algebra applied to vectors, which describe anything having a magnitude and a direction in space. It is heavily used in natural, social and computer science (numerical linear algebra). It was this course that served to completely change the way I thought about...well... everything.

The first few weeks were dedicated to learning the theorems of linear algebra and how to prove them. A theorem, which is different from a scientific theory in that it is deductive and not empirical, has a hypothesis and a conclusion and is simply a statement of mathematical truth. A simple example is Pythagorean's theorem which says that if you square the lengths of two sides of a right-angled triangle and add them, you get the square of the length of the longest side. But what fundamentally changed my way of thinking and reasoning was the proving bit. I think Wikipedia says it best:

"The proof of a mathematical theorem is a logical argument demonstrating that the conclusions are a necessary consequence of the hypotheses".

I have highlighted "logical argument" because it is the exercise of considering a hypothesis and deducing what does and doesn't logically conclude, and repeating this day after day, that sharpens one's ability to reason. This is because "logical arguing"extends way outside the proving of mathematical theorems and into everyday life. Everyone in my class at the time emphatically agreed that, after beginning the course, they were able to catch people in logical inconsistencies more often. And, if they chose to do so and were not particularly shy or diplomatic, could provide an argument that was hard to topple.

If you are still reading this you may not hate math and may even be entertained, so I can go on to what sparked my interest in math and science to begin with. One late night, while I lay in bed watching Nova with my then boyfriend (now husband), a special came on. I can't recall what it was called but it was all about fractal geometry. Now is a good time for a quote from my favorite Mathematician and the father of fractal geometry.

"Why is geometry often described as 'cold' and 'dry' ? One reason lies in its inability to describe the shape of a cloud, a mountain, a coastline, a tree..."

-Benoit Mandelbrot, The Fractal Geometry of Nature, 1977, Ch 1

A key property of any fractal set and the reason I find them so intriguing is "self-similarity". In simplest terms, this is when the smaller parts of a thing look like the whole. Have you ever noticed that this is also a fundamental property of nature? For example, the branches of a tree, if cut from the tree and examined, look like small trees. If you then tear a twig off of the branch and examine it, it resembles the branch and, therefore, the tree. A snowflake is the same way. If you zoom in on a snowflake, it looks similar to the whole snowflake. Below, I list things whose shape can be described as fractal. I will stop short because the list is probably infinite.

Capillaries, nerve cells, clouds, root systems, rivers, lightning, seashells, broccoli, sea urchins...

The power of fractal geometry to describe and simulate so many diverse systems is seriously underexploited. But, the fact that there exist a math to describe something as intangible and complex as beauty in nature, is mind blowing and never fails to move me. Indeed, the "nature of nature", the underlying patterns that tie everything on every scale together, from cells to galaxies, is fractal. So, when people say they "hate math", I wish I could tell them there are such things as fractals. Instead, I hold my tongue because I know how it may received. I hope, however, that more and more people might stumble across these fields and start to think of math as more than just algebra.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Six Month Pregancy Update

I am six months pregnant today and happily realizing that I have more behind me than ahead! Interestingly, I've noticed that some people can't help making a face (usually a rapid signal of sadness or embarrassment) when I mention that I don't really enjoy being pregnant. Maybe they interpret this to mean that I am unhappy about having another child. Quite to the contrary, like my first, this baby was enthusiastically planned and is very happily anticipated. Of course, nurturing another human being within your own body is a beautiful thing... in concept. One of the heights of the human experience, a blessing, etc.. But, for me, being pregnant is the means to an end -a baby.

It is the baby I am excited about. I get no special pleasure from the extra attention (except that which I get from my husband who claims to find me beautiful this way). And, contrary to social expectations, I don't see myself as "glowing" -just having oily skin. I don't think the added weight makes me look "cute" -just fat. In fact, the only part of being "with child" I enjoy is the "child" part; feeling her move inside of me, seeing her on the ultrasound, anticipating our meeting, buying the clothes, the gear.

The truth is I am growing increasingly uncomfortable in my own skin, having horrible heartburn and mild insomnia that only gets worse every night.Coupled with the ever present, somewhat comical and often embarrassing pregnancy brain and mood swings I am, admittedly, no walk in the park- especially for my silently suffering husband.

That said, it is a funny thing duly noted by many of my mom friends that in a year or two I, like them, will look back on the discomforts of pregnancy and think to myself, "It wasn't that bad. It was fun... I can't wait to do it all over again!"

Though, for now, all I can say is no pain, no gain. Pregnancy is hard but oh so worth it -a minor sacrifice for the unparalleled beauty and joy a new life brings. A sacrifice I willingly accept, am grateful for and will want to endure again (and again?). But it is not the sacrifice itself I enjoy, it is knowing what I will get in return.