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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mommy-and-me virgin no more: Tips and observations

1. Pat-Pat-Clap...
...does not mean you're about to break into We Will Rock You. The time you spend lamenting this truth and singing the Queen super-hit in your head will completely distract you from whichever nursery rhyme you're suppose to be pat-pat-clapping to.

Similar, yet deserving of its own bullet…

2. Repeating "hush" twice in a "hushed" voice is not a tribute to Deep Purple. Again, very distracting from baby rhymingness.

3. Those short people are thieves.
My husband and I are only children, which means two things: (1) We don't have siblings, nor do we have nieces or nephews, and (2) we have the personalities of only children. So, our son hasn't had a lot of experience with other children.
His first? A toddler who stole the toy he was playing with. (This is merely an observation, not a complaint. Little Winona Ryder's mom handled the situation flawlessly.)

4. Do not overdress. No one will like you.
There were baseball hats, workout clothes, cardigans and jeans. By that measure, I fit right in. By another, however…

5. Makeup, the great divider
I spoke to one other mom at this slobbery shindig: the other mom who dared to line her eyes. She even wore--not gloss, not Chapstick--honest-to-God lipstick, IN PLUM. What a hussy.

6. Protect your crack.
I must credit my fellow make-up-wearer with this bit of advice.
"I found an extra-long tank top to tuck into my jeans because I knew I'd be doing this," as she reached out for her daughter from hands-and-knees.
Noted, wise one.

7. Book Babies is not puppy class.
When our Treeing Walker coonhound/beagle mix was a four-month-old wild man, we attended a puppy class that began with the dogs freely running around the room. It was social, spirited, energy-zapping and unbelievably entertaining, maybe even for the dogs.
Any thoughts I had about mommy and me being a similar event were quickly quashed.
The experience was completely sanitized by the moms' concern over toy stealing, accidental hitting and God knows what else.
Classify this behavior up there with peanut-free classrooms, sports where everyone makes the team and Gaylord Focker's 6th place trophy.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

When watching football becomes a parenting decision



Here's something I thought I'd never say: The NFL has left me with a lot to think about.

Growing up, football-watching was simple. Every Steeler football Sunday, Mom made a fresh batch of homemade spaghetti sauce; the aroma would taunt me for the entire day, but there was no eating until after the game. Sometimes we'd mute the TV and turn on the radio to listen to Myron Cope. The entire feeling of a chilly Sunday was soundtracked by the NFL jingle, Terry Bradshaw and the feeling of my worn-in sweatpants.

My son probably won't have the same memories.

With the proliferation of child abuse and domestic violence claims--not to mention the drug charges and weapons charges that have polka-dotted the past several years--a league that represented everything warm, family-oriented and pumpkin-spiced on a Sunday afternoon has become a series of negative examples, showing what not to do.

(Maybe there was something misguided in the first place about centering family activities around a sport which promotes aggression and the physical domination of other human beings. ESPN's Hannah Storm astutely pointed out that there's something fishy about encouraging player aggressiveness on the field and expecting the opposite in the rest of their lives.)

We don't own our children; they are only ours to care for. As a result, their (non-self-destructive) preferences are certainly not ours to dictate. However, it is becoming the case that we simply cannot run the risk of the Adrian Petersons of the world becoming idols of the most recent batch of human beings.

It is becoming the case that we cannot be football fans.

And the problem runs so much deeper than the quality of the individuals being drafted by NFL teams.

Roger Goodell--because of his vast experience as a battered woman, one can only assume--has decided that the first incident of domestic violence by an NFL player is aptly countered by a mere six game suspension.

Because the woman's emotional scars will only last that long? Certainly not.

Because the public will only care for that long? Well, maybe.

For some reason, we are quickly distracted when it comes to our athletes. There is emotion wrapped up in growing up a fan, the home team, the rivalries, the tradition of that Sunday afternoon.

Most people had negative feelings toward Ray Lewis, but calling him an expletive is maybe too often as much of a stand as any of us took.

The NFL is preying on our short attention spans and appealing to whatever emotion we have invested in our teams. Domestic violence earns a six week suspension because that's how little the NFL thinks of our integrity, our gusto, our ability to stick to our guns. And, maybe because that's all we've ever shown them.

It might be time to show them something new. Something with a little more guts. Something that is unpleasant for those raised to be football fans. Something that protects our sons and stands up for our daughters.

Maybe Sundays aren't for football anymore.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Crying it out, both of us: Night #1

The so-called crying-it-out method of training a child to soothe and put themselves to sleep is as hotly debated a topic as it comes. It's Saharan. It's a topic on a hot tin roof.

The concept can be traced back to a book published by Dr. Emmett Holt in 1895, but was popularized by Dr. Richard Ferber in 1985.

"Ferberizing" involves leaving your infant (four months of age or older) safely in their crib and returning to the room after increasing amounts of time until the child is asleep. For example, let him cry for three minutes, return (but don't pick up), five minutes, return, ten minutes, etc. Theoretically, the child is crying because they don't have the ability to soothe themselves--because they've always used some "crutch" such as cuddling, nursing, a bottle, etc.--something which the method strives to teach. Three-to-seven nights crying-until-he's-sleeping is supposed to deliver a child who is able to lay down at bedtime and fall asleep, sans drama.

Someone opposed to Ferberizing might argue that the method works not because of a profound psychological discovery, but because you are pushing the child to the point of sheer exhaustion.

Other fears surround long-lasting effects of not responding to the child when they need you.

If you listen to Erik Erikson, this point of a child's life strives to resolve "trust vs. mistrust": Either the child will learn to trust based on having their needs met (are fed when they cry, for example) or the opposite.

This last little tidbit echoed in my mind and rattled my soul for the better part of my son's first year. Then, circumstances changed.

The following is stream-of-consciousness writing that occurred during the first night of my son's cry-it-out training.


It was the night when we both cried it out.
My son is currently screaming his face off, standing up in his crib while "learning to put himself to sleep".

How did we get here?

There was no way, no how I was ever going to employ the methods of "cry it out" (or CIO on mothering message boards)…until two weeks ago.

For 7 1/2 months, we had a so-so sleeper.

He's never slept through the night. (Thank you, Facebook friends, for bragging about your alien newborns who sleep for seven hour stretches, by the way.) He would wake one-to-three times per night, and I was okay with that. My body rhythms had adjusted to these wake ups, and anything seemed better than CIO.

Then came the eight month sleep regression. Regression is, in fact, a misnomer. Regression implies that his sleep returned to some former degraded level. No. It sank to an all-time low. He woke up with every sleep cycle (every 90 minutes) all night, every night.

The only remedy for a quick return to sleep each night was bedsharing.

Don't get me wrong. I am deeply connected to our son, and bedsharing only added to that mother-son intimacy; however, it woke my husband more than was acceptable for what his job requires, which landed me and baby in bed and my first love on the couch.

The first week was cute. It was warm, cuddly and everything I'll probably look back fondly upon when our beautiful son and his hormones are rolling his eyes at me.

And then, it wasn't quite as adorable.

The novelty had worn off for both of us, and his previously deep, comforted levels of sleep were replaced by tossing, turning, head-flipping, kicking and hair-pulling, waking both of us up all too frequently. Not to mention, my 6'5" husband on our 6'3" couch.

Some mornings I was an utter zombie, or, at the very least, was using huge amounts of energy to keep my crabbiness to a minimum and my patience at nearly normal levels.

Plus, husband time had taken a serious hit. Our two nightly hours of time to ourselves was replaced by entertaining an over-tired eight-month-old, and nights of cuddling my head into my husband's chest were a distant memory.

The benefits I thought I was giving our son by not "teaching him to soothe himself" (by crying it out) were now far outweighed by his need for sleep, my need for sleep and his parents need to…not always be parents.

I was doing him absolutely no favors with the current set-up.

So, here I sit. Night number one of crying it out.

He was "drowsy and awake". He ate a fat-kid helping of organic vanilla yogurt with homemade pureed pears.

I can't even write that sentence without second-guessing myself.

My child is (still) screaming, nearly 45 minutes into this "method", while I sit idly by, but I bother with organic yogurt and homemade baby food because I'm paranoid about BPA, pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones? Should I just throw in the towel entirely and feed him Mac 'n Cheese tomorrow?

What a fraud.

No, Abby, you aren't a fraud. You're teaching him to get a much better night sleep than he has been getting. Your Montessori lessons won't do much good to a fussy and tired child, and you'll be the best mother you can be if you're well-rested. Oh, and you'll have a full conversation with your husband again.

Yeah. That's it. That's why I'm doing this.

My body feels like it's shaking a bit. It's not (I checked), but it feels like it. I can feel my heart beating against my rib cage.

My phone is vibrating with 42 alerts from all the Facebook cloth diapering co-ops to which I belong, which is nothing other than irksome.

Again, cloth diapering. I'm bothering to use cloth diapers to avoid the chemicals that otherwise rub against my little angel's skin, to help the environment (and to save a few bucks)…and my baby is screami…

Wait a second. It's quiet. HE'S quiet. Fifty minutes. We survived.

Now, if he doesn't hate me in the morning…

For the record, he didn't.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Effects of chickenpox vaccine on development of shingles yet to be seen

As published in the Washington Observer-Reporter

As though chickenpox isn't enough of a scourge on its own, the virus (varicella-zoster virus) that causes the itchy blisters also gifts humanity with pox's daughter, shingles.

Commercials, brought to Americans by trusty pharmaceutical companies, have taught that one must have had chicken pox in order to be at risk for shingles later in life. The virus that causes both illnesses takes up residence inside nerves until a chance to reemerge later, such as times of increased stress, trauma or immune system compromise.

While this is true, the effect of the chickenpox vaccine, which was first recommended for routine use in 1995, on the incidence of shingles is a slightly more complicated topic. These individuals' immune systems never actually fight the virus but are exposed to it just enough to develop antibodies capable of preventing an actual infection in the future. But, is this low-grade exposure to the varicella-zoster virus enough to cause shingles?

An informal poll of physicians yielded conflicting answers to this question, with many siting the "promise" of shingles prevention as a part of the presumed value of the chickenpox vaccine when it was first promoted.

On the other hand, a recent study discusses a six-fold increase of shingles across all age groups, including children.

The answer seems to lay in the somewhat unpredictable behavior of live attenuated (or weakened) vaccines.

"Since the (chickenpox) vaccine is a live virus, it's possible that the attenuated virus lives in your nerves just like the real varicella-zoster virus," said Dr. Marc Yester, a pediatrician at Peters Township's Pediatrics South. "That makes it possible to reactivate like the real virus; although, it would be a lot less likely to, and, if it did, it should be a much, much milder version."

The "would" and "should" are the result of timing.

"We're just now seeing how the varicella vaccine works as kids grow up," said Dr. Yester, noting that those first vaccinated are around only 20 years old.

A complete answer to the question may not come for quite some time as the number one risk factor for shingles is increasing age. It is estimated that 50-percent of those living to age 85 will have an episode of shingles with 32-percent of Americans expected to have an episode during their lifetimes.

Varicella-zoster virus may cause both chickenpox and shingles, but their rashes have personalities all their own differing in both distribution on the body and pain.

"The location (of shingles) is going to follow one nerve and show up only in the area the the nerve covers," said Dr. Yester. "But, the standout feature is the pain; Very few rashes come with this kind of pain."

Pain that is preventable up to 50-percent of the time by the shingles vaccine, available to those 50 years old or older. Not only does the vaccine prevent these unpleasant episodes, but they also work to decrease the incidence of the chicken pox since shingles, too, is contagious with direct contact--an improvement upon the chickenpox which is also communicated when the individual coughs or sneezes, sending the virus into the air.

While society and scientists wait to witness the effects of the chickenpox vaccine on developing shingles, we can speak in terms of odds.

"It does not surprise me that people can get shingles even if they've been vaccinated," said Dr. Yester. "The vaccine doesn't put up a force-field around us, but having the vaccine should lower the risk."




Thursday, June 5, 2014

Correcting the half-truths of new parent advice

There are the things you're told about being a new Mom (Yes, proper noun.); There are the things you aren't told; And then, there are the things you're told but fail completely in their quest to represent reality.

This list is to correct those lies by omission.

1. Baby clothing sizes are just as whacked as the sizing of women's jeans.

There's teeny three months, huge three months and "three months years". 

The only thing left to do is change the lighting in Carter's to make you look like total crap.

2. Newborn diapers are suitable for 5-8 lb. babies…who make very little urine.

When my "early term" (read: almost premature) baby was still a feathery seven pounds, he began to literally pee through newborn diapers. Each diaper-soaking was, in fact, a complete costume change, until a lightbulb when on: Try a size one.

Size one diapers made my son appear to have quite the badonkadonk, but a dry badonkadonk it was.

3. Each lactating breast has a unique personality…and then they switch.

Like a set of menacing twins, this formerly seductive pair seeks to astonish and confuse. Just when you become accustomed to Leftie behaving as the Niagara Falls of milky cocktails, it then takes coaxing and empty promises to do its work…just before you rename it Cybil.

4. Follow your gut. "Mom" and "Dad" are credentials unto themselves.

On day nine of my son's life, I had a melt down: He was not pooping on schedule. His rectum had not read the text book, and it sent my stress level into the stratosphere.

My husband calmly asked me, "Do you honestly think there's something wrong, or are you freaking out because of what a lactation consultant told you?" The truth was in the latter part of his question, but I didn't have the confidence to trust myself or even him.

I was completely wrong.

There will come a day--and that may be on day one--when your baby cries, and you know exactly why. It isn't necessarily because of the tone of the cry or because "he acted this way the last time he _____", but just because you know.

It's the privilege of being present since this being was a cluster of cells. Trust yourself.

5. Stock your pantry with healthy foods…that can be prepared with one hand.

Buy healthy foods, they say. Cook meals ahead of time, they say.

"Breastfeeding burns more calories than growing a baby."

"Eat several small meals throughout the day."

The parrots who assault our eyes and ears with such advice said nothing about accessibility.

Our house was filled with uncut and unwashed veggies just after our son was born, as were blocks of celebratory cheese ("celebratory" because they were "illegal" in the prior nine months) and honey wheat pretzels that were kept under the padlock of an unopened, noisy, cellophane bag.

At 4 a.m. with a sleeping newborn nestled in the crook of your neck, an unpeeled carrot might as well sing nah-nah nah-nah nah-nah in your unwashed, haggard face.

Want to help new parents? Yeah, the lasagna is nice, but the more practical, appreciated option might be a large container of washed/peeled/cut veggies and fruit, cheese and any other healthy, easy-to-eat option for the 4 a.m. blood sugar plummets.

6. The back pain while pregnant is nothing compared to the back pain with a newborn.

Whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding, the Cirque du Soleil-like contortions of your upper body know no bounds.

If you are breastfeeding and your nipples look as though someone walked over them in cleats, the initial few seconds of each feeding inspires all sorts of subtle and overt clenches that would send any yoga instructor into convulsions.

Before you know it, your jaw is clamped down so tight that it feels like you've eaten five tablespoons of peanut butter; You've hiked your shoulders up so far toward said peanut butter mouth that severe scoliosis would be an improvement, and, generally, you look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Keep calm, and remember that you can now take ibuprofen.

7. Your baby's clothes will fit for approximately five days.

After heeding the advice of the Moms who came before me, we owned only two newborn outfits, with an eye toward several 0-3 month ensembles.

Despite our son weighing over seven-and-a-half pounds, he positively swam in many of the 0-3 month outfits, leaving his feet curled up to his chest while the legs of his fleecy sleepers dangled below him like the limbs of a cheap puppet.

Magically, several weeks later, these outfits fit: The elasticized wrist bands met his delicate wrists and the footies, in fact, held his tootsies. (Because, several weeks after the birth of your child, you will talk like this.)

You bask in the glow of how cute your little bundle looks in his now well-fitting wardrobe. And, a handful of days later, you'll go to bed, only to wake up to 12 pairs of socks whose heel pockets lay at the middle of your baby's foot and footed pajamas whose fibers are holding on for dear life with every baby stretch.

In short, your baby will look like Harry Potter dressed in Dudley Dursley's cast-offs for huge portions of his first few months.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Ode to Mama: 25 things I love about my mother

1. Every time I pull out of her driveway, she's in the window to wave goodbye.

2. My mother cooks nearly everything from scratch, which accidentally makes me a little bit of a snob. Blame her.

3. My mom worked when I was a little girl (and a big girl). I so looked forward to when she would pick me up...and the Juicy Fruit that always seemed to be in her car.

4. Her airy, floral perfume smells like the best spring day, and I can smell it on my baby's head after she's cuddled him.

5. She gives me lots of gifts, and 20% of them are plants.

6. My mother is one of the most quietly spiritual people you will ever meet.

7. She is one tough broad.

8. Stevie Nicks might be jealous of my Mom's wardrobe.

9. Up until I was a teenager, I would play with my Mom's hair while we'd watch TV at night, and there were no limits. There may or may not be photographic evidence of a mohawk made of tiny ponytails.

10. My Mom is a culinary shaman: She has taught me about many of my family members and ethnicities through cooking. She is a Shamom. A Moman. She cooks good.

11. We went to many musicals as a family, but sometimes it was just her and me. When it was, there was a cool restaurant and a virgin drink involved.

12. I ordered ChangesBowie as a part of my BMG subscription (be jealous) as a kid. The night it arrived, me and Mom had a dance party in the living room for no less than 2 hours.

13. Every time we left for vacation, she handed me a bag full of goodies: books, games, other things to prevent me from asking, "Are we there yet?" And, that was before Pinterest.

14. As a little-little girl, the occasional Mom-daughter bubble baths could make my week.

15. She created such an intensely warm feeling around Christmas you could practically touch it. It smelled like spice candles and chocolate cookies. There was an incredible amount of ritual around putting up the tree, baking and present-wrapping. Only now, as an adult and Mom, do I realize how intentional all those things were.

16. She is completely hilarious and goofy and responsible for some of the best one-liners my family has to offer.

17. She's a MILF.

18. She does yoga. A lot of yoga.

19. Quite literally, she is the most patient person I have ever met.

20. She married a rock star. She's that cool.

21. She crocheted me a scarf that took 2-3 years to complete and is capable of stretching from the United States to New Zealand.

22. I can tell her anything. I mean anything. I mean she probably wishes she could un-hear some of the things I've told her because I know that I can tell her anything.

23. Me: "Why are your mashed potatoes creamier than mine?"
      Mom: "You need more milk."
   
      I love that.

24. Her raunchy sense of humor.

25. When I watch her with my son, it's like watching her with me, which makes me know that I'm the luckiest daughter on the planet.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Why Keurigs are bullshit

It is probably clear by now that I view medicine with a wide-angle lens. Alternative treatments: I'm in. Mind-body connection: I can talk for days. 

Admittedly, this blog is likely my most liberal view of what might qualify as a health topic. 

For those who are wagging their fingers and wish to exist in a well-defined box of health discussions, here are a few facts to ease your tension. 

Coffee and tea are chalk-full of antioxidants, which are known to fight free-radicals, which inflame our tissues and tempt cancer.

Coffee is thought to decrease the incidence depression and Alzheimer's disease.

And, for some reason, these beverages are among the very few things that cause us to take a moment for ourselves.

For this reason, I have a french-roasted beef with the Keurig.

Our society is positively obsessed with the instant, the right now and the "I deserve", which has resulted in millions of Americans owning the $100+ contraption of instantaneous caffeine.

Of course, there are benefits to dropping the little pod o' coffee into that fancy doodad, and getting your fix only moments after a little mechanical gurgling. 

But, doesn't it just lose something? 

Coffee and tea are comfort foods meant to be brewed. Even the word "brewed" almost demands us to slow our flapping jaws down just to properly enunciate the word. Entire cultures have created rituals, tea cozies, mini-meals and plenty of snobbery around how these items are supposed to be prepared--traditions which have spit on their face as a result of the dreaded K cup. 

The anthropologist in me--and anthropologists everywhere--take notice of the "universals."

When cultures seemingly evolved independently, but still come to similar conclusions--higher beings, mapping earthly events according to the stars and ritual around coffee or tea. (You know, the important stuff.) I'm no math wiz, but the statistical likelihood of unrelated cultures coming to the same asinine conclusion must be minuscule; so, there's likely something to it.

From ancient Japan to the kitchens of my parents and grandparents, the moments around serving coffee and tea have been sacred. 

As a child, my father and grandfather used the Percolator, which, for those born after 1990, probably sounds like a made-up word. 

I remember asking my Serbian (read feisty), maternal grandfather, to show me how to load up the Percolator's metal filter. He let me scoop the aromatic grounds and directed my hand "north, south, east and west" to distribute them evenly. Childhood summer nights were quenched with home-brewed iced tea, and waiting for a whistling tea kettle served uninterrupted time to discuss they day's events. 

And now, when I wake up in the morning, I am greeted with the rich, comforting smell of my husband's brewing coffee syncopated with "Hey, did you see that…" as we read the morning's news.

The Keurig is quick, and I take advantage of it's speediness myself, on occasion. But, I am a child of sitting around the dining room table waiting for the kettle to whistle. I am an adult woman who opens my eyes in the morning waiting for the aroma of my husband's morning pot of coffee. 

As a society we are busy, overworked, often underpaid, but they can't take everything from us, can they?

We're still our grandparents' grandchildren. We came from somewhere, somewhere that had discussions, took time for each other and stood for something. Unassuming coffee and tea makes people sit and talk--not text, not Tweet--actually talk. I am entirely unwilling to ignore the common thread of all these memories by replacing it with a plastic (non-biodegradable, I might add) cup of pre-portioned…who-knows-what. (Seriously, what is even in there?)

Yes, we own a Keurig, and it is wonderful in its place, but we also refuse to to party on without a coffee pot and tea kettle. 

When there are wee-Mackeys, they will learn how to load the coffee filter. They'll sit around telling the tales of their day while we wait for the kettle's whistle, and they'll hear about the time their great-grandfather's percolator filter fell on its side, leading to the sudden expansion of my four-letter vocabulary. 

Because that, friends, is culture. And we deserve it.