Thursday, January 29, 2009

We May Have Been Slightly Starving Our Child

Countless baby guides for new and clueless parents insist that in order to have a happy, healthy, thriving child you need to watch for "cues". This is just a fancy way of saying your rug-rat will tell you when it's tired, hungry, dirty, or just plain bored. Since words aren't an option yet, for most babies, the cue(s) consists of crying about all of the above.

Now there are those who profess that they can tell the difference between the different kinds of cries their offspring produces. To that I say, they're either much, much better parents than I or (more likely, I'd like to think) they're lying liars who lie. Because whether Otter cries in hunger, tiredness or anything else, it sounds suspiciously like, well, crying.

That's assuming she cries at all. SB will often communicate her needs with a defiant lack of anything identifiable. So the hand sucking can mean "I'm sleepy," "I'm ravenous," or, "I really like to suck my hand." So what's a mother to do? Assume. And we all know what sometimes happens when you assume..

So it went for Otter's mealtimes. Luckily, when offering boob, I didn't really have to worry how much she was consuming. It was up to her to decide when to say when. But with my return to work looming, we wanted her to embrace bottles and the tricky question of how much exactly one puts in them became paramount.

One baby book provided a formula (reminiscent of my days in calculus) for figuring out how much to put in. I did the math, got a result. Did it again, just to check, got a slightly different result. This was like calculus! Would Otter be eating 5 times a day? Six? Would she be waking up at night to feed?

Add to this the complication that Otter's "I'm full" cue is about as vague as all the other cues. Sometimes she finishes feeding with a smile. Other times, jerks her head away and cries. Because she's full? Because she's still hungry? Then why is she refusing to eat? Who knows? On top of this, I think that she just might be a little bulimic. Contrary to conventional wisdom that tells us babies won't gorge, Otter's never met a bottle she couldn't finish. While I've never tested the theory, I have reason to believe that if we were to offer her 16 oz. of liquid, she'd guzzle it down, only to puke up the "overflow".

So we came up with the magic number 5. Five ounces it would be, which seemed like a reasonable sized meal for a not-quite-13-pound human. For weeks, each time she got a bottle, she'd inhale the 5 ounces, grasping for more. But as I've said, this hardly means she's hungry. Or so I thought.

Luckily for all of us, but especially for SB, Susana, our nanny started this week. After just two feedings she told me that she thought Otter might want more. I explained my reasoning, then decided to trust Susana's experience. The next day, we placed 6 ounces in the bottle. I expected the bottle to be downed, followed by barfing and crying. But... Nothing happened. Otter burped, keeping all the food down, then smiled. And that's when it occurred to me - in my search for cues, I may have been starving our kid.

Monday, January 26, 2009

5 Months Old

I've begun to hand my child over.

Which is such a strange thing to say. But the nanny started today, and in the next 5 days (4 days, now) I have to step back, relinquish control and let her start taking care of Otter.

If you had asked me 2 months ago, I would have gladly passed the responsibility for Otter's care to the first willing passer-by. But falling in love is a delicate process, and it happens while you're paying attention to something else and, invariably, takes you by surprise. And in the last 5 months, I have fallen deeply in love with my daughter, so handing her to another - even one who I trust will take good care of her - leaves me a little aching and sad.

It was hard not to play with her as she was introduced to her new nanny, difficult not to step in every time she was sad or cried. I know the game that make her squeal with glee. I have figured out, through days and weeks of trial and error what gets her tears to stop. But I can't take over, I need to let go. Because if this is going to work, both Otter and her nanny need to find their own way and figure out the games and comforting that works for them.

In a way, I think it's fitting that the severing began on her 5 month-day. She's becoming more and more of a person, grasping at shreds of independence. Somewhere along the way, she became a touch more mobile, learning to roll over. Recently, she's taken an interest in solid food, taking a minuscule step away from me as her only form of sustenance. She can spend several minutes playing and entertaining herself, can fall asleep without me rocking her til she's a dead weight. All of these things have bought a bit more freedom for her AND for me. And as difficult as it is letting go, I know that as she grows, Otter and I will constantly redefine our relationship.

So I have this week, to hand over the reigns. After 5 months of learning to take care of her 24/7, I now have to learn how not to.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Death By Cookie

Today Bree tried to kill Otter. He vehemently denies this, but the fact remains. And if anyone were to examine the evidence, (s)he would quickly see that there could be no other reasonable conclusion.

Exhibit A:
Otter has been, and up to this point remains, exclusively breast-fed.

Exhibit B:
For the past month, Otter's been drooling up a storm. My family keeps insisting she's teething but by my estimation, she should have a full mouth of teeth (wisdom included) if she were on their schedule. Which leads me to suspect that she's just sending out gobs of saliva as her body prepares for the introduction of solid food.

Exhibit C:
By some mysterious, internal calculation, I had decided to wait to introduce "real" food until Otter was close to 6 months. I rationalized this by reading guides and pro-breastfeeding websites that advocate holding off. In truth, I am no less driven to wait by the comfort of having one less thing to prepare (we've decided to try and make our own baby food) and the knowledge that diapers are going to get far worse once SB has something less digestible than milk to process. This last fact has me hoping I can keep her on the boob til she's potty trained. Still, time marches on.

Exhibit D:
Until very recently, SB's shown minimal interest in anything that didn't come out of a nipple. The motions we went through to nourish ourselves were no more meaningful to her than vacuuming or doing our taxes. A few weeks ago, however, she became fascinated with things making their way from my hand to my mouth. Though the finer point that I was eating was still lost on her.

Exhibit E:
Today, Otter's figured out what we're doing when we put things in our mouths and chew. And she wants in. Like, now. Suddenly, every morsel eaten by us is a morsel denied to her. She follows the trajectory of every bite with fascinated, envious eyes. She opens her mouth, assuming that much like breast, tea, chip, chicken or whatever else we happen to be eating will tumble in.

Exhibit F:
Unable to ignore the new-found interest, I felt the need to experiment. So, disregarding common sense I took a chunk of carrot and held it out to her. The mouth opened and...she licked. Understanding spread across her face - carrot was sweet. Carrot was good. Otter want carrot.

Now even I know that you can't hand a 5-month-old a piece of carrot and expect any good to come of it. So after the initial lick (or 3) the experiment was done. Which leads me to the crime:

Having observed the carrot licking, and with the full knowledge of all that came before it, Bree took a chocolate, chocolate chip cookie (which, I might add, had been heated and was molten [and hot] in the center) and held it out to her. The aroma of cookie wafted to her baby nostrils and she decided, chocolate chocolate chip cookies were a good thing. The mouth flew open, the tongue began to flick... I dove in to take cookie away.

Now seriously people - I rest my case.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yes We Can

I have long been wary of politics. Blame it on the fact that as a foreigner, I can never be president. Or on my parents' cynicism at the political machine. Or on my own disappointment at years of public figures who don't quite live up to their own hype. Or my belief that to pursue public life at that level, even the best-intentioned must sell their soul somewhere along the way. To paraphrase that Marx brother (actor, not Communist), it's a club I'd never want to be a member of.

Yet this morning made me take pause. As Otter and I sat on the couch to watch President Obama make his way to the White House, I knew that I was watching history in the making. The cynicism was put on the back burner for the moment as this man, this African American man and his wife walked to their new home and in that seemingly simple act changed American life as we've known it.

Otter seemed nonplussed. She doesn't know what the big deal is. In her untainted view, people are people and are all pretty much strange and weird. And she'll grow up in a world where this barrier, at least, has been broken. And with any luck, she'll never know the difference.

I hope for the best in the next years, wonder how much will fall short of our expectations. But as a parent, what you want to pass on to your child is hope and the promise of a future of limitless possibilities, not your own distrust. And today made it just a little easier.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Countdown

After 34 years, I guess I've gotten to know myself quite well. So it comes as no surprise to me that I follow the same, unbreakable cycle each time I'm home-bound:

For the first week or two, I'm very productive, excited by the opportunity to "finally do stuff."
This quickly wears off, and is followed by an extended period of laziness, anti-social behavior, self-pity and the growing belief that I will never leave the house again.
Then, I get sick of myself and rally. I rebound socially realizing that I DO have control over seeing my friends or making new ones. I begin to leave the house and actually find things to enjoy doing while at home. I may even cook (though this is unlikely).
Around this time I get called back to work.
I realize how little time off I actually have left and begin to relish each day. I'm suddenly sad to be returning to work. I take stock of all I'll miss.

After 4 months of isolation, I joined a Mommy & Me group on 1/11.
I got the work call on 1/12, leaving me with 2 1/2 weeks of freedom.
I've now signed up for a playdate AND a museum visit with the group.
I've made dinner plans with a friend I haven't seen in months.
I walked down to chat with my neighbor, a stay-at-home mother and wondered why I hadn't done it sooner, when I'd had time to get to know her better.
I invited people over for a TV night.
I actually got off my ass and began trying to find the floor of our guest room, which had doubled as a walk-in closet.
I've begun really enjoying playing with Otter, taking note of the silly new things she does each day. All too aware that from this point forward, I'll be missing a lot of it. She returned the favor by rolling tummy to back to the right yesterday. With the same, unbridled lack of enthusiasm she showed for rolling left.

I'm excited to return to work. And sad at leaving home.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Universe Wants Me to be a Hermit

I did it. I took the plunge. After four and a half months of avoiding human contact, while wallowing in my loneliness, I joined a local mommy group. The reasons it took so long are many-fold:

1) With the exception of one year of Brownies when I was in fourth grade, I've never really been into joining clubs to make friends. I never pledged a sorority, avoided networking events, choosing instead to make my friends the old-fashioned way: individually, over time, based on conversations that led to the discovery of mutual interests.

2) The names of all these groups (Mommy & Me, Punky-Moms) annoy me. So how could the group not?

3) To further #2, I always imagined that these "playgroups" are filled with content, glowing, stay-at-home mothers who believe that life before children was a barren desert. They talk about themselves in the third person (usually calling themselves "mommy") and compare notes on the undeniable brilliance of the 3-month-old-world-leaders-to-be. They tssk disdainfully at anyone who actually wants to go back to work and bask in the joys of 4am feedings.

All this went squarely out the window after I realized that if I maintained the status quo, I would never meet anyone who was with child, not working and able to socialize. That, and a friend of mine met up with some of these Uber Moms and found them to be (gulp) normal.

So with trepidation in my heart, I signed up for a demo class at a local kiddie gym and prepared to blog about my fall to the dark side. But that was not to be.

This morning, Otter, who's always suffered from a "goopy" eye, woke up with it caked together and red. Though both Bree and I were pretty sure it was just irritation from having it constantly wiped, even the slightest chance that it was pink-eye needed to be addressed. The last thing I wanted was to be ostracized by my new mommy friends for infecting their little angels on our very first meeting.

The doctor was called, the symptoms described, an appointment promptly made. In theory, it all looked so promising: I'd go to the doctor's at 12:15, find out Otter wasn't a leper, and be able to make Tiny Tykes Gym (or whatever it was called) promptly at 1. In actuality, it went a little bit differently:

We got to the office at 12:10. We sat in the waiting room for 20 minutes before being asked by the nurse why we were there (huh?). We explained goopy eye, and sat for another 20 minutes before being told that the doctor filling in for our doctor was running behind (no shit) and would we mind seeing yet another doctor. We didn't mind. Other doctor spent a total of 7 minutes with us, assured us that goopy eye was fine, there was NO infection, and handed us a prescription for antibiotic drops (again, huh?). We left at 1:10, with no communicable eye diseases and too late for gym-ing with mommies.

Later today, I got my start date for work - which will make it impossible to join all the stay-at-home mommies for socializing. I can only draw one conclusion form the day's events:

The universe wants me to be a hermit.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Otter Vs. Magical Cheese

Many years ago, my friend gave me "The Book of If" for Christmas. Basically, it's a collection of philosophical questions, ranging from the mundane (If there was one person you could have dinner with...) to the morbid (If you were lost at sea with only your shipwrecked mates to eat...), meant to inspire droll conversation and witty debate.

Inspired by the endless possibilities of if-dom, and fueled somewhat by 3 sleepless nights, Bree posed the following question to me last night: If you could trade the Otter for a lifetime of the most delicious, delectable cheese, the best cheese of any type you could wish for, the kind that doesn't make you fat, would you do it?

I wish I could say I met the question with righteous indignation. That I instantly and vehemently reprimanded Bree for even suggesting such an inequitable trade. But I really do like cheese... And we're talking magical, perfect cheese in unlimited quantities with no ill side effects. You can see the difficulty in just writing it off.

So I did the only logical thing and created a pro and con list:

Cheese does not wake up in the middle of the night to eat. Point for the cheese.

On the other hand, cuddling cheese could get rather messy. Point for the Otter.

Left to it's own devices, cheese starts to smell kind of funny. But then, so does the Otter. Let's call this one a draw.

Cheese tastes good. Definitely point for the cheese.

Cheese doesn't cry or spit up. Cheese takes another one. Make that two points.

But then...

Cheese doesn't laugh if you put it on top of the refrigerator. In fact, if you put it up there, no good can come of it in the long term.

Cheese doesn't giggle gleefully as you take off it's pyjamas, inspiring me to heartfelt renditions of "Big Spender" while making it kick its legs.

Cheese doesn't hang on to you like a koala (at least how I imagine koalas cling to you) and lean its head into your shoulder when it gets tired.

Cheese doesn't suck on your knuckles. That may sound like a point for cheese, but (hard as it may be to believe) is actually a point for the Otter.

So in the final analysis, I suppose Otter beats Magical Cheese. Because while I can still get cheese, and eat it blearily while a crying, barfing girl clings to my shoulder, there is only one Otter.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Things That Will Too Soon Be Forgotten, Part 1

My mother warned me that this would happen. That before I knew it, Otter would change and what came before would quickly become but a distant memory. Of course, there are a number of things that I don't mind letting go of, and a few, that I would vehemently urge her to outgrow as quickly as possible. I doubt that there will come a time when I will wistfully think back on multiple night awakenings. Every night.

Yet there are those things that she no longer does or is about to stop doing that make me smile. I want to say that I'll remember them for ever, but evidence points otherwise. Already, I couldn't tell you the first time she smiled, or what her first laugh was about. So I want to keep a running record, before the memories are completely swept away by time.

1. When she was born, Otter would make a series of "ah-ah-ah-ah" noises before starting to cry. She sounded like an otter, and that's how she got her name.

2. For the first few months, Otter's hunger cue was to start pecking at my shoulder. We called it "Chicken Ottering".

3. The only thing that would quiet her was the kitchen vent. We spent hours pacing the kitchen in the dark with the vent going.

4. When falling asleep, Otter would bury her face in the crook of your arm and moan, loudly and dramatically.

5. She used to "Sad Talk" - not crying, but babbling with infinite sadness.

6. She loves her feet rubbed, and the "I'm Gonna Eat You" game.

7. She loves sitting on top of the refrigerator and looking over her domain.

8. She loves having her clothes taken off, and being rubbed down with her pink fuzzy blanket.

9. When sad, Otter would sometimes make the most exaggerated frown before bursting into tears. It invariably made us laugh.

10. She used to only like falling asleep on her side.

11. When she wanted to suck, she'd take anything - the bone on my wrist, my stomach. She once gave me a baby hickey.

Monday, January 5, 2009


Like Norma Rae or the Screen Actors Guild, Otter's gotten very keen on protecting her inalienable rights and desires with hard-line displays. In short, she's into striking.

After having the non-sleeping rug pulled out from under her feet, SB took on a new cause. The latest in her establishing boundaries was a hunger strike. As of Friday, Otter was off to the races, convincing us (quite vehemently) that not only was eating a non-compulsory activity, the act of nursing was downright offensive.

Any attempts to feed her were met with locked legs, arched back and high pitched screams. After trying every conceivable nursing position (including a few that call upon the mother to be a contortionist), walking, rocking, diversion techniques and simply letting her wait until she's "hungry enough," I was at my wit's end. I worried that she wasn't getting enough to eat. I freaked that I'd have to pump and re-feed her at every meal. I was afraid every feeding would turn into combat. So I did what I always do, when faced with an impossible situation - I searched the Internet.

What I was hoping to find was a magic cure, or at least some useful advice. What I first found instead was this. Now I know that I'm just being snarky and cynical, and that nursing is wonderful for the baby and is a very beautiful, bonding experience with your baby and many mothers hate, I mean really hate to acknowledge it's coming to an end, blah, blah, blah. But seriously. Seriously. I hate this woman.

"My daughter and I had enjoyed a peaceful, contented nursing session in the wee hours of the previous night. I'm grateful for that memory of peace. Then my world fell apart."

Mind you, her daughter is nearly a year old when this happened. And I know that in other cultures, children breast-feed well into their toddler years, and for the record, I applaud the parents for doing that. But come on. I mean, is it me, or is she WAY dramatic?

"I still marvel at how patient my dear son, then three, was...and how he gave me so many hugs when my eyes were overflowing with tears."

She's got a toddler to care for and she's having a meltdown because she can't nurse? How fair is that to him?

"I related the sudden weaning to my husband and friends as similar feelings to the sudden death of a loved one. I felt despair, anger, and pain. I felt a deep loss. It was the end of our breastfeeding relationship, the end of a way of mothering, a way of nurturing, a way of caring."

Forgive me for sounding so callous at this woman's obvious, overwhelming pain, but if the loss of boob-to-mouth is the death of a way of mothering for you, you gotta really reassess what "mothering" means to you. From what I hear, you still have to nurture and care for them after they eat solids. Maybe now is the time to learn how to love your baby, not just enjoy feeding her.

Oh, as for Otter, we're limping through - me planning feeding times for when she's tired, asking the universe for peaceful feedings and emanating vibes of serenity, and Otter returning the favor by not having a total meltdown at each mealtime.

She is feeding for less time now - perhaps I'll start looking for a "shorter nursing interval" support group.

Friday, January 2, 2009

World War 3

Otter has spent the holidays declaring war on sleep (again). At first, it was just some extra crankiness at nap and bed-time. The willful "losing" of the pacifier over and over again, with all the tragedy that implies.

Then, one day last week, she announced that being put down in her bassinet at all was decidedly unacceptable. One moment, she would be blissfully drifting off to the Land Of Nod in our arms, eyes closed, sucking contentedly. But as soon as she felt even the slightest movement in the general direction of the bed, the eyes would pop open and blood-curdling screams would begin. We would have to retreat from the bed, rocking vigorously and shushing. I had mad thoughts of Otter at 2, 3, 10 years old refusing to sleep unless she was perched on my shoulder. Two days of trying to trick her into sleeping, and we'd had enough. Lines had been drawn, gauntlets had been thrown. We were ready to Ferberize.

Now before we get labeled heartless sadists, we weren't quite ready to go hard-core. The plan, which calls for increased increments of letting your baby settle herself (i.e., scream like she's being impaled in her bed) was just too much for us to handle. So we tried a modified approach, returning to reinsert the pacifier, then starting our 5 minute countdown.

Otter initially met the challenge with determination. As Bree and I steeled our nerves and clung to each other for support, she cried rivers. At the 5 minute mark I raced in, reassuring her that we had not departed for China, reset and left again. The 10 minute cry began. Bree and I passed the time reassuring each other that we weren't horrible parents. The crying went on. In the end, after yet another visit, Otter not so much settled as tired herself out, falling asleep.

The initial verdict: results are mixed. She no longer wails at being put down. Point for Team Sleep. She still mostly gives up, rather than settles. Point for Team Otter. But she has yet to go beyond the 10 minute cry, and all in all she's a good sleeper. We may not have won the war, but I'd say we won this skirmish.