Tuesday, December 23, 2008

West with the Night

Particularly observant readers may have noticed that the "What I'm Reading" section has referred to West with the Night, by Beryl Markham, for quite awhile. I have been done with the book for quite some time, but I couldn't bring myself to change the book in that section until I wrote something more permanent about it, because it is a book that it seems has never gotten the readership that it deserves. It was basically lost until someone reading Ernest Hemingway's letters in 1982 found mention of it. The mention of the book in Hemingway's letters prompted a Californian named George Gutekunst to dig up the book, and get it re-published in 1983. It may have had a short-lived success then, but I originally came across the book on a bargain table, so I think it is fair to say that it has lapsed back into relative obscurity.

This is a real shame. There is some question about whether Ms. Markham actually wrote the book (see the wikipedia entry for a summary of her life and the controversy about the book's authorship), but there is no question that she led a fascinating life. She grew up in west Africa, became a horse trainer and then a pilot in a time (1920s-30s) when women didn't really do either of these things, and went on to fly a historic solo flight across the Atlantic. The book brings her exploits to life, but also paints a vivid picture of Africa at that time. I remember that it made me want to visit Africa when I first read it, and rereading it had the same effect.

I find Ms. Markham's memoir to be inspiring, not just for the things she did, but also for her no-nonsense and fun-loving attitude toward life, which the writing definitely conveys. The book reminds me that there are fewer limitations on us than we usually imagine there to be. If you haven't read it, I wholeheartedly recommend it.


In other news: I won't be posting for a while, because we're going to be quite busy over the holidays. I hope everyone out there has a Merry Christmas/Happy Hannukah/etc. I'll be back in the new year!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Zenbit: Pines to Palms

Look closely at the "palms" on the balcony. They are made of pine tree branches!

Balboa Island, California, USA
November 8, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Perils of Matchmaking, Day Care Edition

I've recommended my day care to several people. Pregnant working women (and working moms who aren't too happy with their current situation) will almost always ask you where your kid goes to day care and whether you like it. I always tell people where we go, and say I do like it, and then answer all the follow up questions as honestly as I can.

Two people who asked me about where we send Pumpkin have ended up at the same day care we use. As far as I know, one is as happy as we are with the place. The other told me today that she is moving her baby as soon as she can find a different day care. I don't think I should tell her story about why on my blog- it is not my story. I will say that when I listened to the story as she told it, I could understand why she was so upset and wanted to move. But I also thought "gee, I think I would have seen these events in a completely different way." If the same things had happened to us when Pumpkin was that age, I don't think I would have even thought about making a change. I don't think it would even have occurred to me that anything might be wrong.

This got me thinking about the match between day care and child, and perhaps more importantly (at least at the younger ages) between day care and parents. Every parent has different things that worry him/her, and no day care can address every possible concern. So when you're interviewing day cares, what you should be trying to do is figure out if the your particular parenting neuroses are well-handled at the day care. Except, you're usually interviewing day cares when you're still pregnant, and you really have no idea what your neuroses will be. (Really, I would never have predicted that I would freak out so much about Pumpkin's eating. Given that our day care requires certain eating-related milestones before a baby moves up to the older infants room, this was a definite mismatch between me and my day care, and it did cause some angst.)

I guess it is a sign of my progress as a working mom that my friend's revelation didn't make me doubt my day care decision. Our day care is a good fit for us, but if it is not a good fit for her and her family, she should definitely find one that is. Or, if she can't find a day care that fits, she should get a nanny, which would give her more control over how things are done.

Still, I feel a strange guilt about this. I feel bad that my friend is going to have to go through the hassle of finding a day care again, when she thought this was done. And I feel bad that the center is having to deal with this obvious mismatch. It is probably creating some stress for the teachers that we really liked. It is sort of like the feeling you get when you try to hook two friends up and they totally don't hit it off.

I've sworn to listen supportively and non-judgmentally to my friend's concerns and her reports of the search for a new day care, but to keep my mouth shut and not offer any advice. Well, maybe I'll tell her to ask carefully about the biting policy....

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sanity Savers, Part I

I haven't posted in awhile because we're all sick here. Its just a cold, but its a bad one. Pumpkin has an ear infection, too. She was sent home from day care on Monday because she was crying non-stop. Few things make you feel like a worse mother than a call from day care to come get your daughter because she's been crying non-stop for over an hour and has rivers of snot coming out of her nose.

My Mom came over to take care of Pumpkin today, and Pumpkin seems happy as can be. She did take a 3.5 hour nap, though, so we'll probably have her stay home with "Mimi" tomorrow, too.

The crud that is in Pumpkin's ears is in my sinuses. On Sunday, I had that "my face will pop any moment" sort of sinus pain that used to send me to my Sudafed. I didn't really want to take Sudafed while breastfeeding, though- my sources (more on that later) say it is safe, but it makes me feel really weird and disconnected, and that seems unfair to inflict on Pumpkin.

I asked the after hours pediatrician who diagnosed Pumpkin's ear infection what I could take, and she said anything over the counter would be fine, but it would go into the breastmilk. I wanted more advice, so I turned to my trusty The Nursing Mother's Companion, which helped me through the early, difficult days of breastfeeding, and has answered many questions since. In the back, there is a listing of drugs that one should and shouldn't take while breastfeeding. One of the ones it recommended as safe under the "Colds and Allergies" section was guaifenesin, an expectorant sold over the counter as Mucinex.

I went and bought some and wow!- what a difference. I'm still not well, but I was able to function again within an hour. Thank goodness for Mucinex- and for my The Nursing Mother's Companion!

This got me thinking about things that have been really helpful during my first year and a bit of motherhood. Here's my current list:

  • The Ask Moxie website- good for advice on just about any parenting topic. If Moxie's answer to a question doesn't have what I need, chances are one of the comments does.
  • The Nursing Mother's Companion. I found this book from an excerpt pamphlet that one of my friends mailed to me after she had her baby and was surprised at how hard breastfeeding was. It was my constant companion for the first few months.
  • My Baby Bargains book, which was very helpful when we were trying to figure out what stroller to buy, etc. Now, we have the confidence to go with our own opinions more, but in the early days (and before Pumpkin was born), we wanted some guidance.
I made this a Part I post, because I'm sure I'll think of more things and want to do a part II post soon. In the meantime- what books, sites, products, etc. help keep you sane?

Saturday, December 13, 2008


I don't know whether I think this is a good idea or a horrifying one:

Breast Milk Alcohol Test Kit

Sure, there may be detectable short term changes in a baby's behavior when there is a little alcohol in the breastmilk, but are there long term effects? Is this a brilliant idea to help moms indulge now and then without worrying, or another manifestation of a culture that seems to want moms to subsume all of their needs/wants to the baby's? I don't know.

Even weirder, I found this while poking around the Amazon gift guides section. It was in the section for "Intellectual moms". So do only intellectual moms drink now and then, or is that only intellectual moms worry about it?

And what is an "intellectual mom", anyway?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Day Care Luck

I know I am not making an original observation when I say that many of the ideas about parenting that I had before Pumpkin was born have turned out to be completely wrong. I don't know why I continue to be surprised by the number of things I didn't know, but I do.

Earlier this week, I had lunch with a good friend of mine. She has a job very similar to mine, and has only recently returned to work after having her second baby. As you'd expect, we spent much of our lunch discussing the ups and downs of working motherhood. I mentioned that we are working with Pumpkin again on "no biting"- after a couple of months of no bites at day care, we have started getting bite reports again. We have no idea what has triggered this, but are back to talking to Pumpkin about biting, reading her the Teeth Are Not for Biting book, and playing out the biting scenario and consequences with her baby doll and stuffed bunny. The conversations are slightly more enlightening now, since Pumpkin has more language skills, but we still can't get her to tell us why she bites. She does tell us who she bites, and that she bit on the arm, and "no, no, bite, hurts". She also is responding better to the play scenarios. She's not biting everyday this time around, and seems to know that biting is wrong. So maybe we'll get past this phase faster this time.

However, it turns out we are lucky that our day care doesn't expel children for biting. My friend listened to my story about Pumpkin, and said she was really glad her eldest had only bit once or twice because several kids have been expelled from her day care for biting, and that the school only gives the parents a week or two to sort the biting out before they expel. Both my friend and I think this policy is unduly harsh- it is very hard for a parent to stop a toddler from biting. I could see expelling a child if the parents weren't taking the issue seriously, if there was some indication that the child needed specialist care, or if there was reason to believe the bites were causing serious harm. None of the bites Pumpkin has ever gotten at day care were bad enough to worry me. They are just little marks on the arm. Her teachers say that the bites she has dished out are similar. Expelling a child who developmentally doesn't yet have the capacity for self control for minor bites seems unfair, particularly if the parents are doing everything they can to solve the problem.

The child is not going to learn from the experience. A toddler is too young to understand why her day care arrangement has changed. But the parents will have a pretty miserable time dealing with the expulsion. Most day cares that take babies under the age of 2 have long waiting lists. The parents of the expelled child would have no option but to hire a nanny, and would probably end up taking at least a week off of work while they found a nanny.

Pumpkin landed in a day care with more lenient policies purely by chance. It did not occur to me to ask about this when we were looking at day cares, and even if I had asked, I don't think I would have realized that the answer I was looking for was the lenient one. If I ever write a book about the things you really need to know to be a working mother, this would definitely be something I'd put in the chapter on choosing day care. This, and the advice about sippy cups.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Toddler Yogi

One of the baby induced changes that annoys me the most is the loss of my ability to remember the little details that make day to day life run more smoothly. For instance, as I was walking to my yoga class this afternoon, I realized that I had forgotten to bring a ponytail holder for my hair. Again. So I spent another class pushing hair out of my eyes and, when in an inverted pose, peering through my hair to see what the instructor was doing.

I have mentioned before that I go to very, very gentle yoga class. I like this sort of class because it helps my longstanding computer use related arm injury. This class is gentler than most because many of the students are referred by the hospital next door to help them deal with mobility issues caused by injury, illness, or just age. I think they are all pretty amused to find me in their class- my injury has no obvious outward manifestations, whereas many of them walk with canes. However, even my gentle class with mostly geriatric students challenges me sometimes. I have never been very flexible. When I went to a yoga class with younger, healthier students, I could never do a proper downward facing dog.

Pumpkin, on the other hand, does a pretty good "doggie", as she calls it:

Monday, December 08, 2008


Hubby went to a movie tonight with my sister- they go to movies every now and then because Hubby really likes movies and I don't.

After we waved bye-bye to them, I gave Pumpkin her snack, laughing with her as I imitated her leaning her head on her hand- she looked like such a big girl when she did that! After her bath, I read her stories, and humored her when she wanted to sit by herself in the "big chair" (my rocking chair) and when she pointed at her little rocking chair and directed me to "sit". I pulled the little chair up to the big one, leaned over and read her stories.

She didn't fuss much when it was time to finish reading. When I first said it was time to stop, she went over to her bookshelf and picked out two more books, which I dutifully read with her snuggled onto my lap. Then I put her in her sleep sack and turned out the light. I held her for a few minutes, but then she wanted to nurse. She hadn't nursed after day care today, so I wasn't surprised. After she finished, I held her close and rocked her to sleep.

Tonight, I didn't mind sitting in her darkened room, holding her next to me for the twenty minutes it took her to fall asleep. I probably would have sat there for twenty minutes even if she'd been asleep after five.

Today, in a neighborhood not far from where I live and work, a military jet fell out of the sky onto a house, killing a mother, her baby, the baby's grandmother, and probably her other child as well. When the news first came in, when we knew that the pilot had ejected safely but before we knew about the casualties on the ground, I was struck by the fact that we had looked at a house on the street where the plane crashed and by the fact that the first house we put an offer on was only a few blocks from the crash site. We didn't get that house, and comforted ourselves partly with the thought of the noise from the military jets overhead. We have many friends and coworkers with houses in that neighborhood. In fact, Hubby works with someone whose house is across the street from the crash site, and who was not allowed to go home tonight.

Since we have learned about the casualties on the ground, I have been unable to rid my head of thoughts of the unnamed father of the baby, husband of the mother, and son or son-in-law of the grandmother. He presumably waved good-bye to his family this morning, and went to work. Then, while he was eating his lunch or sitting in some pointless meeting or doing one of the various workday tasks we all do, he lost his family and his home. He didn't know it yet, but it wouldn't be long before the news of the crash spread around his work place. It took less than 5 minutes at my office before almost everyone knew and was online trying to find out the details. He must have realized quickly that his house was near the crash site. Did he recognize his house from the news footage? Did he try to call home and get a dead line? When did he begin to suspect that it was his house, his family that was gone? And how in the world will he pick up the pieces of his life?

This man and his wife had bought a house in a very safe neighborhood, known for its good schools. They'd protected their family from some of the obvious risks, but life is fragile and you can't protect your family from all the risks. We strap our babies into car seats, slather them with sunscreen, and fret about what they eat and whether their baby bottles are made with the wrong plastics. But nothing we do will keep them safe if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most of us will see our babies grow into children and then into adults, and will be left wondering where that sweet little toddler who liked to climb into the grown up chairs and who was so hard to get to sleep went. Really, all you can do is try your best to keep them safe while not worrying so much that you forget to appreciate what you have while you have it.

So I was happy to hold Pumpkin tonight, and feel her little head get heavy on my arm as she drifted off to sleep, her fingers still twirling my hair. It is a shame that it takes someone else's tragedy to make me stop and appreciate how precious that weight on my arm and those fingers in my hair are.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Zenbit: Really Tall

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
February 3, 2006

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Do It Yourself Expertise

Ask Moxie had a post earlier this week about the trace amounts of melamine found in a few US formula brands. You can read the CNN story about this, or visit the FDA's page about the Chinese formula melamine contamination, which includes a discussion of the FDA's US testing program.

Some of the comments on Moxie's post got me thinking about the decline of the expert in US culture. Many of the commenters clearly did not trust the FDA when it said that the amounts of melamine found in US formulas was not enough to be a threat to the health of infants drinking the formula. It wasn't always clear whether the commenters thought that the FDA scientists were incompetent or under the influence of industry lobbyists or both. Regardless, it is a sad statement on our society when we won't believe the decisions of the experts we've hired to ensure that our food is safe.

I don't think that our food safety system is set up as well as it could be. Read anything by Marion Nestle if you want an expert's opinion on what is wrong with our system. But I don't think the FDA is turning a blind eye to harmful industrial chemicals in baby formula. In fact, I think this is an example of the system working: a new contaminant turned up in another country, so the FDA tested for it here. Trace amounts were found, and that was publicized, which in and of itself will probably motivate the companies involved to find the source of this trace contamination and remove it- this is a public relations nightmare, if not a public health one. At the same time, the FDA determined that the amounts found were not a threat to human health, and announced that, to try to prevent nervous parents from panicking about what to feed their babies.

Except it didn't work- some parents are still panicking, which is really too bad.

This isn't the only example of this phenomenon. The idea that vaccines somehow cause autism (see this Quackwatch debunking if you want a review of the scientific evidence against this theory) is probably the most pernicious example.

I completely understand parents wanting to be very conservative about exposing their children to potential risks, and I also understand wanting to review the evidence yourself to make yourself comfortable with the decisions you are making. I even understand being angry that any melamine showed up in the formula. It has no business being there. But I don't really understand the complete distrust of the experts when they determined that this wasn't a threat to health. It is like we all want to be the experts. The only problem is that delving into the scientific literature to fully evaluate a controversial subject takes a lot of time, and specialized knowledge of various experimental techniques is usually required. Let's face it- most of us don't have the training, experience, or time to critically review all of the scientific evidence. So we are left making decisions based on news reports and what we read on the internet.

Why do we trust some blogger whose real name we don't even know over the scientists who have trained in the appropriate subjects and whose job it is to read and evaluate all of the papers, and perhaps even do relevant experiments in their own lab? Maybe it is the general decline in trust in the government that I'm told started with Watergate. Maybe it is the easy availability of so many opinions and authoritative looking sites on the internet. It is probably both of these things. However, I think there is also a general distrust of the "educated elite" that has made its way into our society. I'm not a historian or a political scientist, so I won't try to pinpoint when it started. But I'm pretty sure it has gotten worse under George Bush. Sharon Begley at Newsweek has an excellent article about the impact of the Bush administration on science policies. I think the problem goes beyond just science, and I'm not sure whether President Bush is the symptom or the cause. I just hope that we can reverse the trend. If we don't, good scientists won't want to work for the government- why work for less money than you can make in industry in a job that has diminishing influence and where your best efforts are subjected to distrust and derision? And if the good scientists go elsewhere, we'll really have problems with food and drug safety.

Monday, December 01, 2008

I Share

I have a few posts kicking around in my head, but I'm pretty wiped out tonight, so I'll just give you random stories instead.

We had my cousin's family staying with us over Thanksgiving. Pumpkin liked my cousin and her husband, but was really enamored with their 8 month old "bay-bee!" She wanted to be near the baby most of the time, which was mostly OK- except for when it was the baby's naptime! She did OK with sharing her things with the baby. The first night was a bit rough- she didn't want to let the baby sit in her old high chair (which she hated) or in her booster seat. Luckily, my cousin had brought a Bumbo chair and could feed the baby in that. Pumpkin also wasn't too impressed with the idea that the baby could take a bath in her bathtub. She handled these things better on the second day, and would consent to let the baby sit in the "baby chair" and take a bath in her tub, as long as she could watch.

It was fun to watch the two cousins play. They didn't really play together, but Pumpkin wanted to sit right next to the baby to play. We tried to convince her to share her toys, with limited success. She would announce "I share!" and then steal a toy from the baby. By the end of the visit, though, she was holding her prized phone up to the baby's ear and handing him toys that she had decided he could play with. It was hard to watch my precious little girl steal toys from her cousin (who, for the most part, didn't mind- he is a remarkably easy going baby), but I think she actually handled her first overnight baby visitor very well.


We were all so busy laughing at Pumpkin's complete misunderstanding of the word "share", that we didn't really notice the first part of her toy-stealing pronouncement: I share. She has started to use "I" as well has her name to narrate what she does. This milestone was so subtle that I didn't even notice it happening. Hubby and I now amuse ourselves by trying to understand which events are preceded with the pronoun and which warrant the full name.


We had a houseful of guests on Thanksgiving- my parents; my grandparents; my sister; my cousin, her husband, and her baby; another cousin, his wife, and her parents. As mentioned above, my cousin and her family stayed with us. Then my parents, grandparents and sister came back over on Friday evening for my Grandmother's 85th birthday. It was a lot of activity for Pumpkin, but she handled it pretty well. There was some trouble with the Friday nap, and some crankiness towards bedtime, but she mostly seemed to enjoy all the visitors. In fact, she seemed a bit bereft when they all went away. She kept asking for everyone on Sunday, when our household was reduced back to me, Hubby, and her. Then Hubby had to go pick up some friends at the airport, leaving while she was still taking her nap. She was quite worried when she woke up to find only me. She kept asking for Daddy, almost as if she was afraid that everyone was slowly disappearing on her.

She is still asking after our various guests. I'm not sure what to do to comfort/reassure her.


Remember the shrunken pie crust? The crust and the accompanying pie tasted quite good, if I do say so myself. Unfortunately, we didn't eat them on Thanksgiving day, because one of my guests showed up with three pies. There had been a misunderstanding- I thought I said to bring a salad and maybe a pie, and apparently I was understood to say "bring lots of pie!" So my pies stayed in the refrigerator until Friday. I'm really, really glad I didn't throw away the misshapen pie crust and start over!