Book round-up: pregnancy, birth, baby-care, and parenting

A friend who is expecting her first baby recently asked me for recommendations on my favorite pregnancy, birth, and parenting books, and, to my surprise, I found myself brimming with suggestions. I used to tell people (proudly) that I didn’t read parenting books — but I see now that this is not actually true. What’s more accurate is that I read parenting books selectively. I’m sure it’ll shock everyone to learn that there is a lot of noise out there around pregnancy, birth, and parenting, and one must be in tune with ones own values and aspirations as a parent in order to tune out the large quantity of nonsense. And boy, there is a LOT of nonsense and gimmicks and fear-mongering out there. So, with my own parenting values guiding the way, here is my short list of favorite books on pregnancy, birth, baby care, and parenting.

PREGNANCY AND BIRTH

Great With Child: Letters to a Young Mother, by Beth Ann Fennelly: This slim, beautifully written book is a collection of letters that poet/writer Fennelly wrote to a young friend pregnant with her first child. Fennelly shares her observations about pregnancy and motherhood and the challenges (and joys) of balancing being a mother, wife, and writer. I found the passages about finding balance in one’s work and home life to be particularly resonant. I leant this book to our former babysitter when she got pregnant and she told me she found it reassuring and sweet.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin: This is a must-read for anyone considering having an unmedicated childbirth. Gaskin, considered one of the mothers of modern American midwifery, has written an essential guide on what happens during birth and how the process can be made easier and more comfortable for women without the aid of medical intervention. In a society in which medicalized birth is considered the default option, I think it’s important for women to understand the natural, physiological and mental processes involved in childbirth so that they can make informed decisions about how they want to give birth. The book is also full of empowering (if somewhat hippy-dippy, woo-woo) birth stories from the Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee. I read this book before I had Lucia and then read it again recently to psych myself up for childbirth. I especially love the reassuring birth stories, as airy-fairy as some of them are, and the photos of real women and babies.

INFANT CARE (SLEEPING, EATING, ETC.)

The Sleepeasy Solution, by Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack: We had to sleep-train our dear Lucia at six months of age because she was THE WORST SLEEPER EVER, no exaggeration. We eventually hired a sleep consultant (Annika Brindley in DC), and the method she used with us closely resembled The Sleepeasy Solution (although Lucia ended up being a tough case who required THREE FULL WEEKS of training, with many tweaks to the system, before she stopped screaming every night at bedtime, so the book alone would not have been enough for us). This book is a good starting place for those looking for answers to common infant sleep conundrums. It is a “cry it out” method, which I understand makes many new parents nervous, but when you’re desperate and the “gentle” sleep learning methods are not penetrating with your willful, spirited, STUBBORN-ASS baby, sometimes you gotta pull out the big guns. I have referred back to this book many times as Lucia has hit little bumps in the sleep road. It is a sensible and loving approach and not draconian, but yes, it does involve some crying.

The Happiest Baby on The Block, by Harvey Karp: I didn’t actually read Karp’s book, but a friend leant us the DVD, which sums up his “five S” approach for soothing infants, and we found it really helpful for calming Lucia when she was very little. These methods are especially helpful for getting an infant to calm down in the early months before sleep training is appropriate.

The Amazing Make-Ahead Baby Food Book, by Lisa Barrangou: I reviewed this book on this very blog and still stand by it as an excellent, straightforward method to introducing solids to baby. At 21.5 months, Lucia is a very good eater (although her palate for vegetables is pretty much limited to broccoli and spinach, but it could be worse, right?) and I suspect a lot of that comes from being exposed to many different healthy foods (in puree form) as an infant.

French Kids Eat Everything, by Karen Le Billion: Le Billion is an American married to a Frenchman who is raising her children in small-town France. When they first moved to France from the U.S., Le Billon’s kids were picky eaters, but by immersing them in French food culture, she was able to expand their palates, cut down on mindless snacking, and initiate a ritual of sit-down family meals. I enjoyed this book (which is a combination of memoir, instruction manual, and cookbook) and found the insights into the French perspective on food and mealtimes inspiring. However, I didn’t take all of Le Billon’s recommendations onboard, because not everything that works in France would be appropriate or even desirable for the U.S. For example, French children are only given one snack a day, period. No exceptions. Le Billion describes the nasty stares she got from other parents when she brought fruit to a school event, outside of the apportioned snack time. This rigidity is not realistic or, I think, necessary for raising kids who eat healthy, balanced meals. Lucia, for instance, gets two snacks a day. I don’t let her graze between meals because I want her to eat heartily at mealtimes. But sometimes she gets a snack at a random time and it’s not the end of the world. Also, the French have a very different perspective on breastfeeding (they’re not super into it past the first few months), they eat really long, late-running dinners, they eschew eating the same food twice in a week, and they have very good systems in place to support all of this. So, take Le Billon’s recommendations with a grain of sel and implement what works for you and your family.

CHILD DEVELOPMENT

The Wonder Weeks, by Hetty van de Rijt and Frans Plooij: Dutch researchers van de Rijt and Plooij have mapped out the ten biggest developmental leaps (or “wonder weeks”) that babies go through during the first twenty months of life. Each leap represents a different developmental milestone, which is great, but each one is also accompanied by crying, fussiness, moodiness, clinginess, bad sleep, and other less-than-awesome behavior as your baby’s brain rewires itself. The authors of the book have helpfully developed a free app that uses your baby’s gestational age (due date) to alert you when your child is about to go through one of the leaps, so you get a little warning before your sweet baby (temporarily) morphs into a hissing demon. The app is actually very good at predicting, down to a day or two, when your child will probably hit each leap. I found it reassuring to realize that my baby’s sudden bad mood and constant fussiness was serving a developmental purpose, and was normal and even predictable. More information here.

PARENTING

My parenting guru is Janet Lansbury and I highly recommend all of her books. Lansbury is a proponent of Respectful Parenting, based on the teachings of Magda Gerber, the basic tenets of which Lansbury describes here. Her perspective makes perfect sense to me and I try to implement it every single day with Lucia. In fact, I wish I had discovered Lansbury’s blog, books, and podcast earlier, when L was an infant, because I think her advice would have brought me a lot of comfort and reassurance. But I’m glad I discovered Respectful Parenting when Lucia was still a toddler, because Lansbury’s wisdom on discipline (particularly the idea that we need to be calm, firm leaders who hold boundaries for our children) has been indispensable for me over the last six months or so. I highly, HIGHLY recommend her book No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame.

JUST FOR FUN

Bringing Up Bébé, by Pamela Druckerman: Say what you will about Druckerman, who comes off as somewhat of a nut in this memoir, Bringing Up Bébé is a fascinating, highly entertaining read about an American raising children in France. Again, it’s important to take Druckerman’s advice and observations with a grain of salt and to appreciate the different cultural contexts in which French and American parents operate. But the book is thought-provoking, well written. and fun.

Be Prepared: A Practical Handbook for New Dads, by Jeannie Hayden and Gary Greenberg: Al and I had a lot of fun paging through this book before Lucia was born. Makes a great gift for any new dad (and does contain practical baby-care advice!).

Real Talk Wednesday: a plea for (occasional) honesty about parenting

People use social media to lie about their lives. This revelation should not come as news to anyone who even casually uses Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or whatever cool new app The Kids are using these days. These platforms provide wonderful opportunities for all of us to lie to each other, to create sparkling, sanitized, envy-inducing holograms of the lives we’re actually living. No one is totally honest on social media.

This is not news. I know. But I want to talk about it anyway.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how parents of young children, in particular, use social media to craft certain, let’s say, misleading narratives about our lives and what it’s like to be a parent day to day. If you scroll through my Instagram feed, among the cute dachshund pictures and soothing portraits of succulents and heirloom tomatoes, you’ll see an abundance of Shiny Happy Parents and their Shiny Happy Children. It’s hard not to be bowled over by the #joy emanating from these pics. EVERYONE. IS. SO. HAPPY!

Except for the occasional “funny” picture of a kid scowling in a cute, photogenic way, there is nary a tantrum — or even a frown — to be seen. Parents are polished, kids are well-behaved, and no one has boogers stuck on their faces or spit-up on their clothes. Everyone is well-rested and smiling and and wearing cute, fashionable clothes! Everyone is doing SO great, you guys! Hey, look at us picking pumpkins! Look at us snuggling lovingly on top of a crisply made bed! Look at us tidily baking muffins together! We’re so happy! Our house is so clean! We’re so #blessed!

It’s all bullshit, and we all know it. And yet, we all do it. I do it. I’ll admit it.

Do I post pictures of Lucia having her fourteenth meltdown of the day because I wouldn’t carry her upstairs when she can walk and I’m 36 weeks pregnant with a bad back? Nope. Do I post pictures of myself right after waking up after a horrible night’s sleep, looking like I’ve been dragged behind a truck for several miles? Nope. Do I post any pictures whatsoever that would give anyone the impression that my daily life with a toddler and a metaphoric bun in the oven is anything but idyllic, full of laughs and smiles and cute hijinks? Heck to the nope.

There are so many reasons I don’t post pictures of tantrums and insomnia and scrambled egg on the hardwood floor. First, I figure no one wants to see it. My guess is that people prefer the shiny, happy version of others’ lives because it’s less upsetting than the raw truth. Honestly, if I posted a video of one of Lucia’s epic tantrums, I’d have to post a trigger warning with it, letting other parents of toddlers know that what they are about to witness could be disturbing or even traumatizing for them and to practice self-care. For real, it’s rough stuff. Why would I want to inflict that on anyone else? Other people are already suffering through their own quotidian nightmares, I’m sure, so why would I want to spread the misery?

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Relatedly, I don’t want to see the bad stuff about my own life, either. When I post the Shiny Happy pics, I’m practicing a form of proactive memory erasure for my own benefit. A year from now, if I’m scrolling nostalgically back through my own posts, I don’t want to be reminded of the myriad horrors of parenting. No, I want to see the good stuff: the dimples, the toothy smiles, the times I brushed my hair.

I learned this lesson the hard way. When I first had Lucia, I kept a diary, in which I faithfully recorded my thoughts and feelings about new parenthood. Big mistake. I should have censored. I should have edited. I should have crafted a version of my own story that I could live with more easily. When I look back at that very honest diary now, I cringe, because it reminds me of all the bad stuff about having a newborn that I would have forgotten about otherwise: the sleepless nights, the worries about poop and pee and spit-up and jaundice, the struggles with breastfeeding and pumping and bottles.

There’s a reason our brains choose to skip over the trauma that inevitably comes with new parenthood: it’s so our species can continue on. If we all had to be reminded constantly of how hard having a baby is, no one would have more than one child. Not to make too big a deal out of this, but our reproductive destiny as a species is one reason to be thoughtful about your social media posts. And if not for that, do it for your own mental health. When I look back at my own Instagram feed now, 21 months into being a parent, I’m filled with warm, fuzzy feelings of love and affection for my family. If my feed was filled with raw footage of diaper blowouts, tantrums, and insomnia, I’m not sure I’d feel the same way.

However, despite the very good reasons that we all edit our parenting experiences for public consumption, there are some very good reasons to let the occasional brutally honest post slip in. The main reason, I think, is solidarity. As a parent of a young child, it’s easy to feel isolated, like you’re the only person in the world whose kid does whatever annoying or trying or worrisome thing she’s doing. You can know, logically, that whatever you’re going through is probably normal, but if you don’t see any evidence of other parents struggling, it’s extremely discouraging. I can’t count the number of times I’ve told Al that I think we must be the only parents in the world whose child does [x]. Al, eternal voice of reason, always reassures me that whatever infuriating or baffling thing Lucia is doing is perfectly normal, but as the pessimist and official Doubting Thomas in the partnership, I want to see proof, dammit. But if you’re hoping to find evidence of other parents’ struggles on social media, you’re going to be sorely out of luck. Because, as discussed above, social media is where we lie to each other about how easy and fun and beautiful our lives are.

So wouldn’t it be great if, once in a while, we all just posted the real stuff that was actually going down with our kids? Along with Throwback Thursday, we could have Real Talk Wednesday (#rtw), where we share the things that we’d normally keep hidden about our lives as parents. I think a tiny, weekly nugget of honesty would go a long way in reassuring each other that, in fact, we’re not alone. I’ll start! Today, my adorable, sweet, funny toddler took a break from being adorable, sweet, and funny to throw a tantrum when I wouldn’t carry her up the stairs. Important background information: her legs are not broken, I am the pregnantest, and I’ve recently thrown out my back. Also, this was pre-coffee. Yeah. You feel me, right?

Here’s my question: if you, a fellow parent (or even a non-parent) read a post like this on social media, would you feel a little less alone? I promise I’d go right back to posting beautiful, beaming pictures of my gorgeous child in cute clothes and picturesque surroundings right afterwards. I know if I saw the occasional honest post from my fellow parent friends, I’d appreciate it deeply. So here is my little plea for some (limited) real talk on social media. I’m not advocating that we all constantly bitch and moan about how hard our lives are, because that’s obnoxious (and depressing). I’m just saying that we can afford to lower the digital curtain just the tiniest bit and let some real honesty shine in, once in a while.

Please?

In the meantime, here’s a cute, happy picture of my daughter! #blessed

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Pregnancy, round two

Big news, everyone: I am expecting a second baby!

… This is not exactly breaking news, since I’ve been pregnant since March. But I haven’t seen fit to write about the impending bundle of joy here because I just haven’t had time. There have been too many other things demanding my attention: working on my manuscript, freelancing, taking care of my toddler, LIFE. Anyway, this failure to write one word about my pregnancy until six months in kind of sums up the vibe of a second pregnancy, at least for me. It’s not that it’s not important or special. It’s just less of an all-consuming fact of my life, because having another child means I have less time to sit around and contemplatively stroke my belly, or whatever the hell I did for nine-ish months with the first one.

I’ve been doing some thinking about what a different experience a second pregnancy is from a first, and I think the basic distinction is that the child who already lives on the outside of your body demands so much of your time and attention that you can’t really focus as much on the one inside your body. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When I was pregnant with Lucia, I was so attuned to every little twinge (and you get a lot of twinges, among other weird happenings, while pregnant), that I worried more, about everything. The second time around, as long as I’m not going into labor, I’m not worried. Sure, I’ve Googled a few symptoms here and there, but there have been no panic moments (so far).

The thing is, you can’t sit around obsessively counting fetal kicks when you have a toddler who’s about to hurl herself face-first into a baby pool. If something were actually wrong with the new baby, I would take time out and focus on it, of course, but what I’ve quickly realized as a second-time preggo is that most of the time, everything’s fine, so I should just get on with life. In fact, there are days when I forget, for huge swaths of time, that I am pregnant. Then the baby will kick me in the ribs or someone will look at me funny while I’m running on the treadmill, and I’m like, “Oh, right. That.”

This pregnancy has also put more pressure on me, time-wise, than the last one did. When I was pregnant with Lucia, it seems that I had all the time in the world to work, loll around, nap, do prenatal yoga, visit with friends, etc. Now, as a work-at-home mother of a young child, the time I have to myself each day is tightly limited, and the extra demands of pregnancy suck up every last drop of that time and energy. I have a babysitter for four hours a day, five days a week. Maybe this sounds like a lot, in theory — four hours a day to myself, wow! — but in practice, it means I have twenty hours a week to do all of my writing work, go to the gym, run errands, take care of the house, cook, and, now that I’m expecting again, practice Hypnobabies techniques (I am a huge Hypnobabies believer and practiced it diligently before Lucia’s birth, but the practice and study schedule they recommend feels pretty demanding this time around). So I find myself scrambling, constantly, to get as much work as I can done while still doing basic things to keep both my body and my household running semi-smoothly. This leaves very little time for reflecting on the beautiful mystery of pregnancy. Which is sad, I guess, but is also just a fact of second-time pregnancy.

With this pregnancy, for better or for worse, there is very little journaling happening, very little lovingly cradling my belly while listening to positive affirmations. But you know what? That’s okay. This child (a boy, by the way) is going to be born into a different Green family than Lucia was. When L showed up on the scene, it was just me and Al, terrified and overwhelmed and tiptoeing around our house like it was rigged with land-mines. When New Baby Green shows up, it’s going to be me and Al, old parenting hands (ha), and a rambunctious twenty-two month-old sister who does not know that you can’t scream when a baby is trying to sleep, among other things. This child is going to have to be adaptable, and flexible, and easygoing. And we’re starting that training early, in the womb.

Even though I haven’t had time to focus on the wondrousness of pregnancy quite as much this time around, I am still thrilled to be having another baby and can’t wait to meet him in November. Until then, I’ll just be chugging along, growing a human and doing a million other things, too.

 

Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open

I am proud to announce that my short story On the Road to the Volcano received an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s March/April 2016 Fiction Open contest!

I have submitted work to Glimmer Train many times over the past couple of years, so it’s really gratifying to have gotten on their Honorable Mentions list. (It’s extremely difficult to actually get published in Glimmer Train; according to Wikipedia, they only publish .001 (1/10th of 1%) of the stories they receive, so I am super-psyched to have made it as far as having my name on their website!).

Just a little, encouraging update on my ongoing quest to get my fiction published. Stay tuned.

Book round-up: what I’ve been reading lately

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a good ol’ fashioned book round-up on the blog. To be precise: it’s been eight months. Oops. As usual, I’ve read more books in eight months than can fairly be reviewed in one sitting, so I will sort them into my handy categories of Great Reads, Good Reads, Meh Reads, and Bad Reads. The Great Reads, I think, each deserve a word of explanation.

So, here goes.

row of books, free copy space on red background

 

Great Reads

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell: Rowell’s sweet, moving novel about a college freshman (Cath) who loses herself in writing fan-fiction as she struggles with her real-life relationships was un-put-downable. As usual, Rowell continues to produce the only “romance novels” that I can stomach. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books review here.

Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell: A sort of companion novel to Fangirl, Rowell visits the universe that Fangirl‘s Cath was obsessed with — a Potter-esque school for aspiring magicians — and creates a love story between two of the main characters. Confused? This NPR review may help.

Fortune Smiles, by Adam Johnson: This collection of short stories is as beautiful and poignant as any of Johnson’s other work. I continue to marvel at his ability to bring to life such an array of rich, believable worlds (North Korea, post-Katrina New Orleans, Palo Alto) with such nuanced, complicated characters. Adam Johnson is such a treasure. Did I mention Fortune Smiles won the National Book Award?

The Royal We, by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan: I never wanted this book, which can fairly be described as the literary equivalent of a rom-com, to end. It follows a pair of Prince William-Kate Middleton analogs (in this case, the fictional Prince Nicholas and his American girlfriend Rebecca Porter) from their meet-cute to their wedding, with lots of juicy drama and intrigue thrown in for good measure. I really felt like I understood the now Duchess Kate’s plight after reading this book. Cocks and Morgan, the geniuses also known as The Fug Girls, make a delightful novel writing team. I recommend The Royal We even to readers, like me, who hate most romance novels and are trepidatious about rom-coms. Read it. Or, just wait for the movie to come out.

Ghettoside, by Jill Leovy: I was turned onto this book by a recommendation from (personal hero) David Sedaris, who encouraged all of his Facebook followers to check it out. Leovy, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, explores the epidemic of violence among African-Americans, the often toxic relationship between law enforcement and poor communities, and the systemic failure of the criminal justice system to prosecute black murders. Fair warning: Ghettoside is not an easy read, but it is fascinating, and gripping, and important. New York Times review here.

The Year of the Runaways, by Sunjeev Sohata: Months after finishing this book, which tells the story of several Indian immigrants struggling to carve out lives in the U.K., and a British-Indian woman whose life intersects with theirs, I cannot stop thinking about it. As soon as this book ended, I experienced that particular kind of mourning one feels when you have to say goodbye to characters you really care about. What makes The Year of the Runaways even more remarkable to me is that it is Sohata’s debut novel and he never read a novel until he was eighteen. What?! Guardian review here.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt: This classic came out in 1994, but I never thought to read it until now. Berendt manages to make a true-crime novel read like fiction — and charming, winsome fiction, at that. Despite the fact that this book is about a murder, it made me want to visit Savannah and stroll through its storied gardens.

Good Reads

Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff

The Turner House, by Angela Flournoy

Troublemaker, by Leah Remini

Challenger Deep, by Neal Shusterman

The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy

Bringing Up Bébé, by Pamela Druckerman

Little Victories, by Jason Gay

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, by Stephen King

The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro

I Didn’t Come Here to Make Friends, by Courtney Robertson

The Expatriates, by Janice Y.K. Lee

The Run of His Life: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, by Jeffrey Toobin

After Birth, by Elisa Albert

The Dark Net, by Jamie Bartlett

Meh Reads

A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler

Loving Day, by Mat Johnson

The Executioner’s Song, by Norman Mailer

We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart

The Red Parts, by Maggie Nelson

Bad Reads

Black Eyed Susans, by Julia Heaberlin

The Tastemakers, by David Sax

 

 

International travel with a baby

Over the years, I’ve blogged quite a bit about travel. Before we were parents, Al and I were pretty big travelers. Al has been to 100 countries (!!!) and we’ve done quite a bit of international travel together, including extended stints in South Africa and the U.K. But since having Lucia, our travel has pretty much come to a grinding halt. I did take Lucia to California to visit my family when she was ten weeks old, but traveling with a tiny newborn is a far cry from bundling a wriggly, restless toddler onto a plane. Tiny babies are adaptable little lumps who can sleep anywhere. Toddlers, on the other hand, are whirlwinds of activity and opinions and demands, who don’t deal particularly well with sitting in one place for extended periods of time.

For many parents, myself included, the idea of packing up one’s toddler and all of her attendant things (travel crib, travel bath, travel stroller, car seat, toys, books, spoon, sippy cup, snacks, etc., etc., etc.) and flying anywhere — let alone overseas — is enough to induce heart palpitations. But Al and I decided to go for it, anyway, our cardiac health be damned. We just got back from an almost three week trip to the United Kingdom to visit Al’s family, and it went… surprisingly well? I’m still kind of shocked we all survived without at least one of us being institutionalized/arrested, but we did!

Here are a few things I learned and tips that we found useful in our travels with baby. As with all things parenting (and all things travel), your mileage (and/or kilometrage) may vary.

  1. Take an overnight flight whenever possible. Here’s the thing: you want your kid to be asleep as much as possible on the plane, because an awake baby on a plane is a bored/restless/whiny/uncomfortable baby on a plane. On the way to Scotland, Lucia slept the entire flight, because the flight took off around 7 pm (her usual bedtime). Of course, the flight was only six and a half hours, and Lucia usually sleeps 12 hours a night, so she was an utter disaster once we landed, but having her sleep the whole time on the way there was nice.
  2. If your kid’s going to be awake on the flight, pack lots of snacks. Normally, I have Lucia on a pretty strict schedule. She gets up, goes to bed, and eats meals and snacks at the same time every day. She has two designated snacks during the day, one at 10 am, and one at 3 pm, and I don’t let her graze or pick at things between meals. However. On the long-ass flight back from the UK to the US, during which Lucia was awake for six out of the seven hours we were in the air, I gave that kid as many snacks as she wanted. Oh, you’re bored and whining because we have read every board book we packed six times and you’ve thrown all of the in-flight magazines on the ground and ripped the barf bag to shreds? HAVE A SNACK. I gave her rice cakes and rice puffs and cheese and bananas and whatever else I could find and it was wonderful because it kept her occupied. Pro tip: give your toddler a snack cup like this and let her slowly pick up and eat small snacks like these. It takes forever and it keeps her quiet (at least, until the snacks are gone). Another pro tip: give your kid something to eat or drink (a straw cup is ideal) during takeoff and landing or pressure changes, because it helps relieve the pressure in her ears.
  3. Take more diapers than you’ll ever think you’d possibly need, and pack a change of clothes for both the baby and yourself. I learned this the hard way when I flew with Lucia to California. She had a poop explosion in the airplane lavatory — the less said about that, the better — and I’d only brought diapers and wipes with me into the lavatory (rather than her entire diaper bag with the extra onesie). Consequently, I had to walk a half-naked baby back down the aisle of the plane in order to change her clothes and get a new shirt for myself (yes, it was that bad). People were nice about it but, you know, my advice is to go ahead and bring the whole diaper bag into the lavatory with you. In general, it’s always good to have extra diapers and wipes when traveling because you never know what kind of delays you’ll experience, and Lord knows babies’ digestive systems don’t always cooperate with our best laid travel plans.
  4. Pack smart. I spent a long time thinking about what to bring with us to the UK, given that we wouldn’t be able to borrow baby stuff from anyone there (since Al’s cousins’ kids are all older) and we didn’t want to deal with renting or buying stuff there. Here is our packing list, which was barebones, but ended up working out well for us: a super-light, super-portable travel crib (which we put in Lucia’s suitcase); her stroller base; her infant car seat (which we clicked into her stroller base); our Ergobaby carrier; a select number of board books and toys (maybe four books and three toys); a portable, battery-operated white noise machine; clothes for various weather situations (but not too many); travel packs of Dreft; baby spoons; weighted straw cups; a silicone bib; a silicone feeding mat; the aforementioned puffs; a jar of Crazy Richard’s peanut butter, and, probably The Most Important Thing, three lovies. Next time, I probably would have packed more puffs and board books and skipped the feeding mat, but pretty much everything else was essential.
  5. To counter jet lag, expose your kid to lots of sunlight during the day, do your best to replicate the home routine, and hope for the best. We had a remarkably easy transition with Lucia once we were in the UK. She only had one Bad Night (and hoo boy, was it a doozy), and slipped right into her normal schedule of one two-hour nap during the day and then twelve hours of sleep at night. I am not sure if this is normal, but I’m not questioning it. However, since we’ve been back in the US, she’s been waking up an hour earlier than usual in the morning (ugh), which I am assuming is jet lag and will go away. I hope. I pray. Because Momma doesn’t like getting up at six unless there’s a Royal Wedding on TV.
  6. Just do it. Al and I are really happy we took Lucia to the UK. She got to meet tons of family, see new places, and have new experiences (including petting lambs, playing in Soft Play areas, and trying meringues). The trip was really good for her, and for us. Yes, there were rough moments, and a lot of hauling around of baby gear. But it was worth it. If you’re debating whether or not to travel internationally with your kid, don’t let the daunting logistics or fears about time changes hold you back. You’ll all adjust, and it’ll be fun. Do it.
Lulu in Exmouth, UK

Lulu in Exmouth, UK

What are your best tips for international travel with a baby? Am I missing anything key? Would you let your baby pet various farm animals that may or may not be carrying weird, farm-animal-borne diseases? Because I did! (And yes, we spent a long time having our shoes disinfected by the Agriculture people in the Philadelphia Airport).

My (current) favorite comedy podcasts

Here’s a completely uninteresting fact about me: I love podcasts! I know, unique, right? Look, I realize that everyone and their mom listens to podcasts and you probably have a million and a half of them sitting on your iPhone right this very minute, but I am of the belief that one can never have too many podcast recommendations. Speaking for myself, a person who regularly cycles through podcasts — trying out new ones and rejecting old ones — I am always on the lookout for new recommendations. So, I thought I’d pass on some of my perennial favorite comedy podcasts, in case you, too, are looking to spice up your ear-waves.

  • Stop Podcasting Yourself: Two Vancouver-based comedians, Graham Clark and Dave Shumka, chat weekly with a comedian (often also Canadian!). For me, SPY is true comfort listening. In fact, this podcast was the only thing that made me feel better when I had typhoid fever (yes, I’ve been listening to SPY for four years; NOT TO BRAG). Dave and Graham are hilarious and, if you’re a Canadophile/hono(u)rary Canadian like moi, you will appreciate the many and varied Canadian references.
  • Ronna and Beverly: Ronna Glickman and Beverly Ginsburg are the alter-egos of comedians Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo. R and B are fifty-something Jewish mothers who live in Marblehead, MA, yet somehow land big name comedians, actors, and other assorted creatives for their podcast. For a highly detailed back-story, check out their Wikipedia page. Or just start listening from the beginning and get lost in Ronna and Beverly’s world.
  • Bitch Sesh: A Real Housewives Breakdown: I am a big fan of actor Casey Wilson, one of the stars of the dearly departed ABC comedy Happy Endings, so I was psyched when she started co-hosting a podcast about Bravo’s Real Housewives franchises. She and co-host Danielle Schneider bring on guests (including such gems as Adam Pally and Jerry O’Connell) to discuss the latest Housewives offerings, offer gentle critique on the ‘wives’ hair and clothes, and to complain about the filthy bathrooms at all of Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurants. Essential listening for any Housewives fan.
  • Mike and Tom Eat SnacksMATES was my first comedy podcast and will always hold a special place in my heart, even though I’m not holding out hope that its hosts will release a new episode any time within the next decade. Hosted by Michael Ian Black and Tom Cavanagh (DREAMY CANADIAN ALERT), MATES brings snacking to a science. Unfortunately, now that Cavanagh is on TV again and MIB is hosting, like, six other podcasts, the guys don’t have a lot of time to bring us new MATES episodes, and that is a crying shame. I recommend diving into the archives with snack in hand.
  • Professor Blastoff: This now-defunct podcast was a true delight, and I’m so sad it’s no longer with us. Hosted by comedians Tig Notaro, Kyle Dunnigan, and David Huntsberger, Professor Blastoff was nominally about science and time travel, but that premise broke down steadily over the years. Anyway, it was hilarious. I made the mistake of listening to Professor Blastoff while running one time and I had to stop and turn it off because it was making me laugh too hard. Kyle Dunnigan, in particular, is a national treasure, and I will so miss hearing his characters in my earbuds (especially Del). Although Professor Blastoff ended last summer, you can still listen to the archives online.
  • Extra Hot Great: Yes, I am shamelessly plugging the podcast on which I have thrice been a guest, but you know what? It’s funny. I suppose EHG is not technically a pure comedy podcast, since its main focus is on television, but whatever. Listen to it anyway!

What are your favorite comedy podcasts? Any good ones I’m missing? (Please don’t say WTF with Marc Maron, but all other suggestions welcome).

 

Writing and motherhood, eleven months out

As the mother of a baby, I spend a lot of time — I mean, a LOT of time — thinking about the balance between motherhood and my would-be career as a writer. Unlike women who work outside of the home or women who embrace the Stay At Home Mom designation, I feel as if I’m caught in a murky limbo wherein I do stay at home with my child, but I also work at home — or, at least, I try to work at home. I’ve heard women in my situation referred to as Work At Home Moms, but that doesn’t quite capture what it is to be a mother as well as a struggling writer or other creative professional whose job is largely unstructured. The problem with having an unstructured — or, rather, self-structured — work life when you have a baby is that the demands of your work — which are often self-imposed — are quickly crowded out by the demands of your child. Eleven months into this motherhood thing, I am still trying to figure out how I can succeed and feel satisfied both as a professional writer and as a mother. Here are some thoughts I’ve been turning over lately.

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Life as a writer, before and after baby

Before I had Lucia, my work life was blissfully predictable. I rarely worried about whether I’d have enough time each day to get everything done. I’d set high word-count or revision goals for myself every day and I’d almost always meet them. Every morning, I would get up, make coffee and breakfast, sit down at my computer, and write for several hours. If I were working on a manuscript, I’d bang out 1500-2000 words, minimum. Then I’d go to the gym, eat lunch, run errands, and finish up any loose ends in the afternoon (freelancing work, short fiction, blogging, etc.) before calling it quits for the day. It was awesome.

But now, my work schedule, such as it is, must bend to Lucia’s schedule. This makes sense; the baby thrives on a predictable routine of feedings, changings, play, and naps. In the morning, my first priorities are getting Lucia changed and fed, and pumping milk for the bottle that she will have before bedtime. After L has had breakfast and the pumping is done, I play with her until it’s time for her nap, two hours after she gets up. When she goes down for her morning nap around 9 am, I have my first sliver of free time. Hooray! But, as it turns out, by 9 am, there’s always a bunch of crap around the house that needs doing: laundry, dishes, picking bits of discarded food off the floor and walls, stashing toys, answering emails, paying bills, returning phone calls, etc. And now that L is almost a year old, her morning nap is rarely longer than an hour, which means by the time I’ve done all of my annoying chores, I’m looking at maybe a half-hour window in which to get work done. I’m a fast writer, and a half hour is sometimes a feasible timeframe for me to crank out a freelancing piece, but for my fiction work, I need longer stretches of time to get any quality work done. It’s a real dilemma. At the moment, my freelancing work is chugging along (yay for deadlines), but my manuscript is languishing. Those halcyon days of cranking out 2000 words in a sitting are behind me, and I constantly struggle to feel productive or like I’m making any progress on my fiction work at all.

Breastfeeding and babysitting

The obvious solution to the problems I’ve just laid out would be reliable childcare, right? Well, yes, except there’s a wrinkle: breastfeeding. It’s true that things on the work-life balance front have gotten much better since I’ve hired a babysitter, who comes three days a week and watches L for three to four hours at a time. Having the babysitter come allows me to leave the house to work (and go to the gym and grocery store and do other adult human activities, sans baby), and it’s great! I’ve gotten more writing done on my manuscript in the past five months of having a babysitter than I did in the preceding six months of no babysitter. But this is complicated by the constraints of breastfeeding. The thing is, I can’t leave for much longer than three or four hours or I will miss several feedings and have to pump to make up for them. I already pump twice a day as it is (in the morning and at night), and the idea of adding a third or even fourth pumping session into the day strikes dread into my heart. When I set the goal for myself to breastfeed L until she was a year old, I didn’t anticipate the crimp it would put on my work life. And now I’m wondering how anyone makes breastfeeding and working work.

I don’t really see this precise issue written or talked about much online or in my group of mom friends. I think this is because most moms who work outside the home stop breastfeeding and/or pumping soon after going back to work because it’s such a giant pain in the ass to try to pump at work, clean and wash all the bottles and pump parts, and then transport the milk home every day. Moms who stay at home (and who don’t need uninterrupted stretches of the day for work) and want to breastfeed can continue to breastfeed (and maybe don’t need to pump much at all) because they’re always near their babies. But what about those of us who want to keep breastfeeding but also need to be out of the house to get work done? The options aren’t great.

For those who have never breastfed or used a breast pump, you might be thinking, “What’s the big deal? Just pump the milk and quit your whining.” The thing is, pumping suuuucccckkkks, literally and figuratively. I’ve been doing it for six months now (since L started taking a bottle at 5 months old) and it’s still the most annoying part of my day. You have to get out your pump, put on a special pumping bra, wash and assemble your pump parts and bottles, hook up the parts and bottles to the machine and your bra, and sit down with a giant bottle of water for ten uncomfortable minutes wherein you can’t move more than a foot away from the pump. Then, once you’ve pumped the milk, you have to pour it into a new bottle, store it, wash and disassemble the pump parts, take off the pumping bra and get re-dressed, and put away the pump. The entire process takes a good 20-30 minutes and it’s just the worst. I really don’t know how any woman does this at an office, since even doing it at home is such a time-suck. (Moms who pump at work: I salute you.). As Hanna Rosin said in her piece in The Atlantic, “The Case Against Breastfeeding,” “[Breastfeeding is] only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing.”

Weaning and writing

The other option, of course, is to just stop breastfeeding and pumping altogether and put L on formula. The thing is, she’s only three weeks away from being a year old (i.e., weaning age), and dammit, I’ve come this far, and I’m not going to quit now! I guess I’m hoping things will get easier once she’s weaned, because I can leave her for longer stretches (say, five to six hours) without having to worry about pumping. In my fantasies about my post-weaning work life, I return to getting real work done on my manuscript every day. I have enjoyed breastfeeding my child and I will certainly miss the sweet, bonding moments I’ve shared with her, but damn, I can’t wait to be free of that damned pump and its terrible accoutrements.

All of this makes me wonder how I’ll handle breastfeeding with my next baby. Right now, at the peak of my frustration with pumping, I’m thinking I won’t breastfeed for as long, or I will do a combo of formula and breastmilk to allow myself some more freedom. Who knows what my writing career will look like by then, anyway. Only time will tell.

Do you have any thoughts about balancing work and baby? I’d love to hear them.

(The day after) Thanksgiving

Happy Day After Thanksgiving! I just scarfed down a plate of cold turkey and stuffing and then sat in a hot tub for half an hour, so I’m pretty much living the American Dream right now.

As is my custom, I’d like to share a few of the things I’m thankful for this year. As always, I have a long list, but this year, the list is topped by my baby, Lucia, who, in my completely unbiased opinion, is one of the best, if not THE BEST, baby in the world. Also: Al, my family, my friends. My health. The uzh! But the baby — oh, man, that baby. Boy, am I thankful for her. This is one of those things I don’t think I was able to fully appreciate before Lucia was actually outside my body. I didn’t know how much I’d love her and be grateful for her four-toothed little smile every day. What a gift she is. I am so, so lucky to be her mother. And I know this is all very sappy and saccharine and stomach-turning, but having a kid has made me way cheesier than I ever thought possible, and I’m just living my (sappy, gross) truth!

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This year, Al’s mom and stepdad are in town visiting from Canada, and they’re staying with my parents, who recently moved here from San Francisco. Finally having my parents local for the last few months has been wonderful, and it’s great having another set of Lulu’s grandparents in town, too. We had a really delicious Thanksgiving meal yesterday, with fabulous, sunny weather, and good conversation, so what else, really, can you ask for? Nothing, that’s what!

I’ll leave you with a short list of some of the littler, sillier things I’m thankful for this year.

  1. Ingenious baby products that make my life easier. Special shout-outs to this thing, which is a baby butt-paste spatula, and this thing, which has allowed me to do stuff around the house while Lucia entertains herself for minutes on end!
  2. Sleep training. Glorious, liberating sleep training. (Actually, this is not a little or silly thing. This is life-changing stuff right here).
  3. Amazon Prime and all its attendant glories (looking at you, Amazon Video).
  4. My Swimp3, for making swimming way less boring.
  5. Our local coffee shop, Misha’s, where Lulu and Al are now regulars.
  6. My Kindle Paperwhite, for letting me plow through books while feeding my kid (since it only requires one hand to operate, and has its own backlight).
  7. Ravelry, the source of much inspiration and relaxation.

There’s more, of course. But there’s another plate of stuffing calling my name, so I’ll leave it at this. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving, wherever you are!