Good News, Bad News, Short News

I have had a migraine since last night; it is responding to medication but I’m not exactly comfortable. This will be a short post.

 

The Bad News:

I have had a migraine since last night. Ow. Hormones suck.

I still have not quite figured out what I want to do with the three days of my week during which I am not working. Do I sub at the school I spent this summer working for? They are sort of crazy about switching my hours at the last minute, and I absorb and internalize crazy like a sponge. Do I ask to sub at another school? I interviewed for a job there, they picked someone with more experience (any experience leading a classroom is more than I have) but offered to let me sub. I haven’t decided.

I spent yesterday in my pajamas. All day. Gross, I know. But I was hyper anxious.

 

The Good News:

I showered, got dressed and went to work this morning. I love my job.

I have had, at most, seven migraines in the past month. This is down from three per week. I know this to be directly related to following:

The evil birth control hormones from the NuvaRing have finally left my system. (It’s an ingenious invention for anyone whose body does not completely hate birth control hormones, by the way. 100% amazing technology. Also? Evil stupid artificial hormones give me crazy migraines.)

I know that the evil birth control hormones have left my system because I am charting my fertility using the Fertility Awareness Method and the chart indicates that I ovulated in October for the first time since throwing out the NuvaRing in July. There will be a future post that goes into detail about how any (obviously hetero) couple can use FAM to either avoid or achieve pregnancy.

In case you missed it: I am ovulating again! I don’t need to be ovulating until next year, but this is still comforting. I mean, step one, right?

I’m gong to see Dr. P in New York City tomorrow! AND WE’RE GOING TO MAKE A BABY TIMELINE!!! (Sorry for the yelling, but I am really that excited.) What does “timeline” mean, exactly? Not sure. What will be on the timeline? Other than “begin trying to conceive a child,” I really have no idea. We didn’t have time to go over that last time we met. But the only thing I care about is that “begin TTC” WILL be on that timeline. Whether it will appear in date form (March, 2012) or event form (after this and that have been completed), I do not know. I do not care. Today, I just care that in 24 hours, I will be able to post it on the darn refrigerator if I want to. A BABY timeline! For MY family!

I get to see lovely New York City dweller friends after my appointment. And eat delicious food in their good company.

Taking 1mg of Klonopin 3x per day seems to be really helping my anxiety.

 

Short News:

Today, I helped a four-year-old start making his first comic book. It. Is. Awesome. You have no idea. If he lets me, I will photograph it and show it to you when it’s done.

Conflict Resolution: “Step Away from the Child!”

I observed some fascinating behavior today at a library story time. Before the story began, the kids were all running around, playing with different toys in what is clearly a wonderful and beloved play room. Since this was at about 11:30 am on a Tuesday, most of these kids were under four years old. And perhaps because many of the parents were strangers to each other, there seemed to be a lot of concern about making sure their children were polite to one another. I try so hard not to judge parents, but this really gets me. Three-year-old children are not quiet, they do not sit still for more than thirty seconds and telling them to “Be a good sharer” doesn’t help them one bit.

Figuring out how to negotiate the use of the pink vacuum cleaner is part of play. It’s how kids learn conflict resolution. When you step in to immediately arrange for nice, neat turns, you take all the critical thinking/problem solving out of the situation. How do I know this? Because as soon as another child tries to take away the toy your kid is using, he looks around for you. That is a learned behavior. Why does he need you to solve this problem? It’s a simple choice: give up the toy or refuse to give up the toy. He knows that. He should be able to make that call on his own. If screaming erupts or violence seems about to break out, by all means, ask the kids what’s going on. But do try to help them resolve their conflicts, rather than swooping in and doing it for them. Does no one notice that swooping in does nothing to decrease the number of conflicts between children? It doesn’t remove conflict. It just makes your child less capable of dealing with it.

I see two valid reasons to interrupt play during an activity like this one. Reason #1: To teach manners. “Your friends can’t hear the story when you play with that loud toy. I need you to either sit and listen to the story or find something quiet to play with until it’s over.” It’s not ok to let your kid play the drums while other kids are trying to listen. And it’s rude to the adult. They will understand that, and it’s important for them to learn when certain activities are and are not appropriate.

Fortunately, I was hanging out with a mom who only interrupted the play to point out that her daughter might miss something. This is Reason #2. Your child might be distracted by something and then disappointed when they find out that they have missed the story they were looking forward to hearing. “The story is starting!” or “Do you want to sing with us?” give a kid the opportunity to make a choice. They love that. They hate missing out. The key to this, by the way, is letting your kid actually make her own choice. If she says “No” and walks away, please do not ask her if she is sure. If she changes her mind, she will let you know. But I don’t know any preschooler or toddler who is unsure. They might change their minds every thirty seconds, but when they want something, they definitely want it. When they don’t, they definitely don’t. “Are you suuuuuure you don’t want to listen to the story?” really means “I want you to sit here and listen to this story.” Even if you think it’s for your kid’s benefit, you are really just being passive aggressive. That’s annoying. And kids don’t understand it.

Please. Unless safety is an issue, step away from the child.

No Relation: The Nanny’s Heartache

The hardest thing about working as a nanny is that when it’s great, it’s a lot like living in the middle of a doomed love affair (if a bit less melodramatic). I know the good-bye is coming, eventually, but I just can’t help myself. I fall in love, hard, every time. I suppose it’s possible that one of “my” kids will stay in my life forever, but until we have settled down someplace, it’s just not likely.

I’ve been thinking of all the kids I don’t see anymore ever since I got to chat online for a minute with a mom I was close to before the family moved back to Norway. I watched her baby turn into a toddler. Several of her words are still English words, because I spoke English to her consistently (due to my complete ignorance of Norwegian). We talk about a visit to Norway, which Nathan and I would love, and they talk about coming back

I’m also thinking about love and good-bye because I watched The Nanny Diaries on TV. It’s hard to admit it publicly, since the movie is pretty terrible, but while I’m at it, I might as well also admit to having read the book. Both had me rolling my eyes and both made it hard to sympathize with any of the adult characters/caricatures. But there’s one moment in both the book and the movie that makes me want to watch/read–the first time the child tells the nanny that he loves her. She narrates something about how it’s going to make it hard to leave her job but she loves him back so she’ll say so. And she tells him she loves him, too. But it’s just that few seconds where the kid looks up with all that love in his eyes that gets to me. I don’t take the jobs with the crazy families, and I have a policy against raising other people’s children, no matter how good the money might be. (In reality, wealthy families usually pay less than middle-class families. Just FYI.) The point is this: while I don’t relate to the heartache of spending days with and being ripped apart from a child whose parents treat him like a custom-made accessory to a fabulous life, I have experienced love for a child I know I will eventually leave.

They move away, go to school, grow up, and I am not a relative. This is one reason I would like to teach in my own classroom; I didn’t feel like an auntie to the kids at the school where I worked over the summer. But who am I kidding? I would miss them; it would hurt. Still–there is something different about spending hours alone with a child over the course of months or even years. I find myself scrambling to capture “firsts” on camera and calling my husband, thrilled to tell him that the baby pointed at something for the first time or practiced standing by herself. (Pointing is a pretty major developmental milestone.) I never feel like their mother. But when the toddler I was babysitting twice a week got into a rather exclusive preschool, I beamed like a proud aunt. This news meant that I would lose a source of income; and yet, I was thrilled. It was probably a matter of names crossed off a waiting list, not even the kind of school that makes two-year-olds “interview.” And yet, I felt pride. I brag about their eyes, their smiles, their curls, their dispositions, as though I share the gene pool these traits came from. This summer, two children I love moved away and, this fall, one went to school.

I don’t want to be treated like a relative by the families I work for. Relatives have fewer boundaries and don’t have to pay me as much, if anything, for childcare. Because I’m not a relative, it would be a strange almost lie, too. Friend of the family is the best I can hope for, and I do enjoy that role. But again–friends of the family just don’t usually bond with the baby while feeding him a bottle, all alone, in a silent house.

I wonder if my desire to have a baby of my own would have taken on this sense of urgency even if I didn’t spend my workdays caring for children. I suspect that the same thing that feeds that desire is what lets me feel so close to the tiny humans whose lives I am privileged to witness for a short time. There are never any tearful good-byes in my world, because in real life, the nanny isn’t fired suddenly one morning and shoved into a waiting taxi, leaving a screaming child on the driveway. I also spend most of my time with children under three, and time exists very differently for the infant/toddler set. Most of them won’t remember me. Their complete absorption in the present moment is what pulls me into the beauty of sunlight dancing through trees. I’m being literal, here: babies love to watch shadows and light. Their despair at Mom’s departure reminds me that yes, it does hurt to see your favorite person in the whole world go, even if she will be back in a few hours. And I love them all the more desperately for not understanding that, this time, our good-bye just might be forever.

Tips For Ignoring Stupid Parenting Advice

When I’m caring for other people’s children, I sometimes get unwanted and unnecessary advice and/or commentary. I’m told that this happens to their actual parents as well, so I feel like it’s good practice for becoming a mother. My favorite is the commentary: “Oh, no! He’s so unhappy!” Wow, thank you. Is that what the crying means? Good thing you were here, random lady at the park! So here are my top five tips for dealing with Random Park Lady, Opinionated Relative and I-Don’t-Have-Kids-But-I-Have-A-Dog Neighbor.[hr]
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  1. Listen/pretend to listen to her, if at all possible. Smile and nod. Or not. She probably won’t notice if you’re frowning. She just wants to feel like you heard her, in my experience, and probably gets more out of dispensing advice than anything else.
  2. Do not say “I tried that, but it didn’t work.” Even if you did exactly what your “friend” advises, she will claim that her tip is brand new information
  3. Along the same vein, do not point out that she is wrong. Example from real life: she says “Oh, he’s so unhappy!” but he is actually very happy and screeching and squawking just for fun. I learned from previous experience that this particularly obnoxious woman loves to argue; so I shrug. I do not commit to agreeing or disagreeing with her. She usually looses interest. If I argue and try to convince her that he is happy, she will argue back, whether it makes sense or not.
  4. If she’s going to be around consistently (like a relative), do not back down, even if it makes you uncomfortable. “No. Thank you. No. Thank you.” Rinse. Repeat. Back down now, and she’ll feel all the more eager to dispense advice in the future. “No. Thank you.”
  5. If it’s absolutely necessary that you not offend this person (or, I suppose, if you’re just really keen on avoiding confrontation), fall back on a higher authority. For the babysitter, that’s Mom. With my own kids, I plan on using The Doctor. Pediatrician, child psychologist, real or imaginary. “Oh, his doctor feels really strongly about that.” It’s vague, and I can always go to “It’s really hard to talk about it” if I feel like making things really awkward.

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Sibling Activity: Make Your Own Volcano!

I babysit siblings twice a week, and the age difference makes it pretty hard to find things we can all do together–18 months + 4.5 years = recipe for frustration. What to do if the older brother just wants to play with his beloved Legos but the younger brother wants to smash that Lego helicopter and chew on the pieces?

Last week, we made a volcano!

We made the base out of homemade play dough and, in case you missed this elementary school milestone, the eruption happens when you mix baking soda and vinegar. First, the base! We made ours out of homemade play dough with this fantastically wonderful recipe. [It really is the “squishiest,” but double the recipe twice–it’s proportioned for small amounts of different colors, about the size of what you’d get in a purchased play dough jar. You need a lot more than that for a good volcano! We did well with a recipe doubled once but could have used more.] Here’s why making play dough was a great activity:

  • Play dough is fun to make and includes only food ingredients (flour, water, salt, cream of tartar, etc.). This means that both kids can measure and pour. The toddler loved doing this with me and the older one was thrilled to do it all by himself!
  • If the toddler sneaks something into his mouth, it’s no big deal, provided you stop him before he consumes enough of anything to give himself a stomach ache. This little dude is a cuddle bear, so he doesn’t mind sitting on my lap, which made this easier.
  • If you’re talking to a preschooler with enough maturity to respect cooking safety, he can stir as the play dough “cooks.” I asked this one to recite the rules before we turned anything on; his mom does a great job cooking with the kids, so he had had a lot of practice!
  • Measuring and pouring teaches the same skill set that kids use to do math and science.
  • We put a little food coloring in our play dough to try to make it brown–you could make it any color you want. We didn’t want food coloring to transfer to our hands after the play dough was all done, though.
  • You can talk about the chemistry of cooking while it’s happening, if you have a youngster as curious as my friend! Why does it form a ball? Because the water made everything dissolve together when it was wet, but it’s not as wet now, is it? Why? Heat makes water turn to gas, as we can see from the steam, so the now stuck together ingredients are getting dry. And that is why it forms a ball in the pan! (Yes, he’s a very smart kid who totally participated in that conversation. So much fun.)
  • While we cooked the play dough, the toddler was mostly happy playing with something else. Chemistry talk seems to bore him, understandably, and signal that it’s time to entertain himself! he did sometimes enjoy watching the chemistry happen from the safety of my arms.
  • Tip: only make the play dough if you have a lot of time. If you’re not pressed for time, you can stay calm and stay unattached to immediate success. Children just do very poorly with adult stress over perfection or time constraints. All of the play dough ingredients are inexpensive, and you can always start over. All of them are easy to clean up. None of them ruin clothes, so you can be playful about spills. If you do have to start over, mention that everyone who has ever cooked anything has had to start over.
  • The play dough cools off in about the time it takes to eat a good snack!
On to the volcano! As luck would have it, my toddler friend needed a nap after his snack. It was easier to make the “volcano” with just the two of us, but we did it in the backyard, so I suspect that if I had given the younger brother some play dough of his own or set him up with the sidewalk chalk, he would have been happy.

  • We made the volcano on a piece of cardboard so that we could move it around and used a baby food jar as the “mouth” for the eruption. Cutest thing C has ever said? “Won’t the eruption wake up my brother?” I explained that this eruption was for eyes, not ears, because it didn’t have fire like real volcanos. SO SWEET.
  • We put baking soda (lots–I let him pour) and food coloring (red + yellow) inside the baby food jar. Lots of baking soda turned out to be a great idea, because we could just pour some more vinegar inside every time we wanted a new eruption!
  • We used an ENTIRE GALLON of vinegar! I was so glad we had set up outside! C also experimented with putting baking soda on his hands, putting his hands in the puddles of vinegar we had made and feeling it fizz! He giggled with pure joy. He may even be interested in helping clean the bathtub, since I told him that I use the fizzy mixture to clean mine…

After the smashing success of our science project this week, I wanted a chemistry reminder, so I thought I’d include this for you:

[quote/]What actually happens is this: the acetic acid (that’s what makes vinegar sour) reacts with sodium bicarbonate (a compound that’s in baking soda) to form carbonic acid. It’s really a double replacement reaction. Carbonic acid is unstable, and it immediately falls apart into carbon dioxide and water (it’s a decomposition reaction). The bubbles you see from the reaction come from the carbon dioxide escaping the solution that is left. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air, so, it flows almost like water when it overflows the container. It is a gas that you exhale (though in small amounts), because it is a product of the reactions that keep your body going. What’s left is a dilute solution of sodium acetate in water.[/quote] [typography font=”Cantarell” size=”12″ size_format=”px”]Experiments By Students For Students[/typography]

Happy Parents, Happy Baby

laughing mother & baby

This is my friend Avi & her son. (Not the family in this post, but aren't they CUTE?) Go visit Avi at her blog, www.themamafesto.com!

[hr] I spend three full days each week with a baby who is, to paraphrase a family friend, the kind of baby who makes me want babies. More than I’ve ever wanted one before. I spend so much time smiling back at this fat and happy baby that my cheeks often hurt at the end of the day.

This baby’s schedule is a bit complicated, however, so I get a lot of questions about this family, sometimes impertinent questions. Yes, there are two nannies. Dad takes the baby one day a week. Grandma takes for one afternoon. Yes, mom works 9-6, sometimes more. Here are some of the more annoying things people say:

“Why did she have a baby now if her work takes up so much of her time?”

“I don’t understand why people have kids if they’re just going to put them in childcare all the time.”

“So it wasn’t a planned pregnancy?”

Note that the pronoun is always “she.” As if only one half of a married couple just decided to have a kid, all by herself. As if anyone outside that nuclear family has any idea what really happened around that pregnancy. (I also don’t want to know–I don’t want the set mental images that would come with those answers.)

So, I would like to state for the record that I have rarely seen any family do such a great job finding exactly the combination of childcare solutions to suit them. Since those questions usually contain thinly veiled hostility towards this child’s mother, usually because she works a lot, it’s also important to me to advertise how creativity keeps everybody as happy as any I’ve ever seen.

About today’s featured mom: she who works very hard and, this week, travelled for work for the first time since her son was born. I totally admire this woman’s career and the business she started. I admire the fact that she had an idea that would actually improve this planet, followed through with it, hired employees to help her and committed to promoting the heck out of her business. I admire the persistence that is visible when she’s doing something as basic as asking her own mother for advice about a promotional email. She also happens to be a great mom. A great mom with a great partner who is a great dad. Together, they have assembled a team that is comprised of nannies (two), grandma (one) and, of course, Dad. With some help from a dog and two cats.

The genius of this family’s plan lies in the size of this team–the very thing that I hear criticized most often. I’m thinking of making flyers, so that I don’t have to keep repeating myself:

  1. Why not put the kid in day care? Because she runs her business from an office that is located just yards from her own parents’ home. If a nanny cares for the baby at the grandparents’ home, Baby and Mom can enjoy breastfeeding every two to three hours. You know what’s really awesome to see? Mom and baby taking a few minutes out of a busy day to bond. I just sort of stand back and let them have their moment. It’s so beautiful. That’s not available to moms who put their kids in group childcare; they don’t suffer irreparable damage or anything, but I’m sure lots of those moms would love a setup like the one this mom has! [FYI, the plan is to put the baby in group childcare when he’s older because they understand that socializing with other children is healthy.]
  2. Why hire someone outside the family? This one is obvious to me, but whatever. First, because this is my JOB, I have a lot of training in current thoughts about infant safety, how to put the baby to sleep, infant nutrition, child development, etc. And no matter how much they know, Grandma and Grandpa don’t want to give their entire week over to providing free childcare. I wouldn’t! And Mom doesn’t want to give them free reign. She has thought a lot about what this baby will eat, wear on his adorable little tushie and, especially, how to put him to sleep consistently. She has a lot more control over what her nannies do than she has over what her mom does. If you don’t understand that, you clearly have never seen a mother and daughter argue.  Also, the nannies carefully record our entire days with Baby, so mom gets a detailed record of what happened, when he ate, what we played, time outside–you name it, we write it down. And that’s just more reliable when you’ve paid someone to do it! Grandma does a good job, too, when it’s her turn, but I still think the system works best when the employees do it on most days.
  3. Why are there are two nannies? I am there most days and a student spends time with the baby one day a week. If I get sick, Mom has someone else she can call. (And, for the record, Dad is in charge one whole day a week.) Oh, and if Mom goes out of town, Dad has two different people to call to help while he teaches a night class at a local university.

The point: There is NO RIGHT ANSWER when it comes to childcare. Mom staying at home is not always the right answer. Dad staying at home is not always the right answer. Take this family’s effort to heart: they looked at their priorities–not just what Baby “needs” but what Mom and Dad need, too. Everybody in this family is happy whenever I see them! Mom and Dad love their jobs. They are passionate about what they do. They are so passionate about being parents. They miss Baby when they’re gone, which means that they give him their full attention when they come back. Baby loves his playmates. And, in case you missed it the first time, I’ll repeat this: I spend so much time smiling back at this baby that my cheeks actually hurt.

It doesn’t bother me that people in general are especially curious when it comes to families. It’s the one thing everybody has in common, so we’re obviously interested in how other people’s families work. It definitely bothers me that so many people are so quick to judge, as though a woman becomes public property the minute she conceives a child. Example: complete strangers fascinated by a pregnant women often feel compelled touch her belly. Is there any other time when people feel comfortable asking if they can touch a woman’s body? Or worse, they might not ask and just put a hand on her! And why is it ok for strangers to ask me when I’m going to have kids? To give me advice about when to have kids? How many kids to have? What gender to wish for? They never ask Nathan!

I know that it’s going to be hard to brush off this kind of criticism when I am a mother. But I really hope that I can learn to look at our choices and ask: are we happy? If everyone is happy, more or less, then we are doing just fine. If I stay home, I will eventually cry about money and wonder if I should have worked full-time. If I work full-time, I will cry about missing a milestone and wonder if I should have stayed home. I hope that I remember to ask, “Am I happy?” Because chances if I am happy in my day-to-day life, my kid(s) have a much better chance of being happy themselves.

Let Them Eat Yogurt!

The point of this post is that if you want to do something to improve the quality of what you put in your body, just read the list of ingredients on the things that you know in your heart should be simply healthy. Like yogurt. It applies to everyone, but especially to children, pregnant women and couples who want to conceive a child.

Yoplait makes this stuff called Go-Gurt that really makes me angry. Why should yogurt make me angry? Because Go-Gurt not yogurt; it’s adulterated yogurt. I encountered this stuff most recently during playgroup while babysitting and, not being a parent, felt that I shouldn’t say anything. So I’m saying something here. I hate this stuff. My friends at Fooducate hate it too. Get this. “A friend was strolling through her local supermarket when she came upon the yogurt section. A mom was there with her kids, and she gave them choice of several yogurt flavors. They picked cotton candy Go-Gurt. Cotton candy ?!!? As if all the stuff put into kids’ yogurts isn’t enough, now we’re encouraging them to look for spun sugar in their yogurt.” Seriously. Cotton candy. Can I just repeat this author’s ?!!? and add my own #@%^ you, Yoplait! As Fooducate cleverly points out, if this were in the “treats” section, rather than the “yogurt” section, everyone would be much clearer on what this stuff actually is. Sugar. A treat. Something your body can probably handle once in a while. It is not the same as yogurt.

Don't even get me started on how I feel about putting commercials on FOOD or about kids sucking on plastic. I hate this product in every possible way.

(A note on the incredibly useful Fooducate iPhone appit uses the camera on your iPhone to scan any bar code in the grocery store and then tells you important things like “NOT 100% whole grain!” or “Minimally processed food!” It also gives each product a letter grade based on how the nutritionists they asked would rate it as well as the entire range of grades given to the products in that category. In “potato chips” a B might be as good as you’re going to get. In “dried fruit” just keep looking for an A or an A+! LOVE THEM.)

While Fooducate objects, rightly, to all the sugar, including high fructose corn syrup, and all the artificial flavors and color that go into making yogurt taste anything like cotton candy, I’d like to add my own objection: it’s got carrageenen in it. My nutritionist told me to avoid anything with carrageenen in it, and, overwhelmed by things to add to my diet, I didn’t get around to researching why until today.

What is carrageenan? It’s a bit like gelatin. For many years, probably centuries, the Irish made it by boiling a certain type of moss to get out the stuff that made the plant cells so strong. Sounds better than most ways of getting gelatin-like ingredients! Unfortunately, most companies don’t use that method. It is now chemically extracted. I want to believe Tom’s of Maine that what’s in their toothpaste is safe, but I don’t eat toothpaste, I spit it out. Plus, the other toothpaste brands scare me more. Props to the company, by the way, for going into each ingredient in such detail on their website! But that’s a side note. Point is, I don’t believe that all “food-grade” carrageenan is safe. [You can read more about that and how the extraction process/production of carrageenan changed in this (technical) paper I found in the UN Fisheries and Agriculture Dept. archives–thanks for being awesome, Google.]

Why do I think it’s unsafe? There are just too many doubts, and when the evidence is inconclusive at best, why not just avoid it? It may cause cancer. It may give you stomach aches. One researcher is looking into a link to breast cancer. It’s not a necessary ingredient in anything unless you are a 19th century Irish lady trying to make a specific kind of desert. It’s easy to avoid the stuff–the name is easy to remember, and it’s listed on anything you might consume, from supplements like multivitamins to almond and soy milk to, well, “yogurt.” This is a concise explanation with good sources for why it’s best to avoid carrageenan. I’m not a big Dr. Weil fan (the beard kind of creeps me out… but in this case his evidence is good.) Supplements, almond milk and, now, Go-Gurt, which is specifically marketed to children and parents, are the products I have personally come across that sometimes include this additive. It makes me angry that the box tells me that this is “all-natural” and/or “healthy” while the ingredients list tells me that companies like Yoplait and Blue Diamond are adding this unnecessary stuff that just might be unhealthy or, at the very least, uncomfortable, if it gives you a stomach ache.

But I wouldn’t write an entire post that’s just about one food additive I find objectionable. The point is this: food is good. By itself. Yogurt already comes in single-serving packages that only contain real food! Don’t let companies convince you that you can’t handle carrying a spoon. Don’t let them convince you that kids won’t like yogurt unless it tastes like cotton candy. Don’t let them convince you that you should want yogurt that tastes like cotton candy. (Or pie, for that matter–why are there so many pie flavors? As this smart post points out, if you’re not careful you could end up with yogurt as sugary as a candy bar.)

You know what’s great? Yogurt with raw honey. Maple syrup. Agave. I have a sweet tooth, so I don’t like it plain. But I don’t want high-fructose corn syrup! Honey is delicious. Raw honey is more delicious (to me, anyway). Let’s teach our bodies and our children’s bodies to crave real food. Please. Vote with your hard-earned cash until Yoplait stops trying to pass chemicals off as food. And think about what’s in the package before you put that brightly colored box into your cart.

 

Body Image: Remember the Future

Let’s talk about body image. It’s come up a lot, lately, and I went to the beach yesterday wearing my yellow polka dot bikini and could not help but bask in my own enjoyment of my body. I won’t lie–I did compare my body to the very thin body of the friend next to me and long for smaller thighs. But I smashed that thought like an ant at a picnic. I wouldn’t trade this hour glass for anything! And any kids I end up having will benefit from that hard-won attitude.

Take a look at few things I’ve come across just this morning (I did not google “body image”–this all showed up in my Facebook news feed):

Moms pass on body hatred to daughters: Your kids are listening.

Moms buy a children’s book about going on a diet for their daughters. No, I haven’t come across this in any of the homes I work in. If I do, I’ll be having a conversation with the parents, ASAP.

Yesterday:

Photoshopping Phoniness: Beauty altered out of reality and, often, out of beauty.

Fighting Childhood Obesity: The fight to improve childhood nutrition.

First, one unusually great thing about my childhood: my parents served really healthy food, and I’m now glad that I never won my campaign for white instead of brown rice and/or bread. Partly for financial reasons, we never had soda, sugary cereal or salty snacks just lying around the house. Treats were treats. You know what? I don’t want to spend my money on junk, either. So my body is thin and my skin healthy in part because I have always eaten healthy foods.

I didn’t manage to have a great body image, though. Not even a good one. I didn’t believe that I was pretty, not really, until I was about 19 years old. I was convinced that I was probably fat from the moment my body started changing; growing from a lanky, athletic, into a curvy woman was miserable for me. I didn’t know that there would be an awkward phase. I thought it was all supposed to happen so gracefully. Wearing the clothes that I thought I should fit into instead of clothes that actually fit me meant that I wore a B cup bra when I was already a D–in the eighth grade. To be perfectly honest, I still haven’t forgiven the boy who said, “Anne-Marie? Is she the one with the huge boobs?” I’d really rather never see him again. The point is that I didn’t look in the mirror to see how I looked, I looked at Seventeen magazine to see how I should look. I had days when I felt pretty, and I did not have any type of eating disorder or disordered eating. But I was most definitely hiding.

I directly my compulsive energy towards school. I did homework the way other kids played sports. I talked about colleges like other girls talked about boys; no really, I started researching colleges at age fourteen. Once I chose Barnard College in New York City, I wore my sweatshirt almost every day. It was too big and very comfy. I may have also stopped washing my hair… not entirely, just not every day or even every other day. To put it simply, I was unhappy. With myself, my body, my surroundings, my family, boys–you name it, I was angry at it. I didn’t feel like I could tell anyone, so I hid.

I was still hiding when I got to college, but I made friends. The best friends. They saved me. They helped me knock down some of the walls I had built around my real self. And they pretty much forced me to buy clothes that fit my actual body. Not the one I thought I had–not the overweight body that didn’t actually exist or the tiny, skinny body I had so wanted–but the body that I really had. I also became pretty active and ate less ice cream because, well, I got happy. So I lost a lot of weight. I bought a whole new wardrobe. And please, if you meet my friends from college, don’t mention “polo shirts” or “khakis” because they still enjoy laughing (with me, of course, not at me) about the over-sized polos and khakis I was wearing when I met them.

Here’s the big bad body image trap I sidestepped–I did not ignore my body enough to have sex too young or take too many crazy risks. I knew that there would be emotional fall-out from sex, so I waited. (It helped that, like I said, I hid under a hoodie during high school.) I made mistakes, but I knew they were mistakes while I was making them.

Here’s why I think it’s related to body image and therefore to self-esteem: if young people don’t like themselves, they don’t like their bodies and they don’t think that it matters if they take these risks. I suspect that this is true because when my self-esteem was at its lowest (oh, say, around the time I went to the psych ward), I stopped taking good care of my body. I ate sporadically because I just didn’t care. I stopped doing laundry because I just wore my pajamas. I know it’s gross. I didn’t shower often enough. I really just didn’t feel that it mattered. And my future? That seemed really, impossibly far away.

So, this morning, I saw a discussion on the Pigtail Pals Facebook page about young women’s attitudes about casual sex and unplanned pregnancy, and I read that Melissa Wardy finds it “Shocking in how cavalier they are towards their bodies, health, and futures.” I felt like I was zooming back through my own sexual experiences and my friends’ stories about their sexual experiences.

Let’s pause for a minute: I have always been shocked at a cavalier attitude toward body, health and future, in my peers, in younger women, in older women, in men of all ages, but the reason for this is odd. You see, I was raised by a puritanical father to believe I could control any and every sexual impulse. He liked to lecture. “What would people think of me if I wore a short skirt! What would people think of me if they knew that I had spent time alone with a boy!” He actually made sure that I knew he would be sleeping on the couch for the few weeks we lived with my stepmother before he married her. I was eighteen at the time. I believe that my reaction to that was “Daaaaaaaddddd! I don’t want to know!” In my house, before I left for college, any conversation about sex was pretty over-the-top. I swallowed, hook, line and sinker, my dad’s line about sex being this peripheral, almost unnecessary thing we don’t really need to talk about. I thought as a teenager that I would become a Self-Realization Fellowship nun so I talked to quite a few. (SRF doesn’t have much in common with the Catholic church, but our nuns do practice celibacy.) For the record, my dad’s craziness is not even similar to anything you would ever come across in any official SRF text or in any conversation with a monk or nun. Fortunately, I did finally realize that all of my dad’s nonsense was, well, nonsense, to put it mildly, partly through talking to actual nuns about why they practice celibacy and why “householders” deserve equal respect to “monastics.” But. Back to the real topic.

Let’s just say that eventually, I got around to exploring my sexuality. The sheer force of sex and my own desire knocked the wind out of me. By that time, though, I was mature enough to handle all those emotions and to take care of my body. I had the bad habit of thinking of my body as something that I couldn’t really trust, but I didn’t have the bad habit of using sex to feel beautiful or valuable. As you might imagine, I am still working through some serious Daddy Issues, and I looked for Daddy’s approval via proxy in plenty of my past relationships. For many reasons, though, I did not go out and look for casual sex in order to feel good about myself. I’m lucky, because the risks I did take never resulted in a sexually transmitted infection or an unplanned pregnancy.

Fast forward: my high school and college classmates and I are going to turn 27 in the course of the next year. More of us are getting married. More of us have kids, or like me, are preparing to have kids. And I can’t help but wonder. So many of us took such poor care of our bodies. So many of us did not really believe that our futures would really, truly, catch up to us. We punished our bodies with alcohol, cigarettes (my vice of choice), unprotected sex, eating disorders. For most of us, it was just for a few years. I quit smoking. I don’t know many friends who still binge drink. For most of the people I’m close to, unprotected sex was not ok, even when casual sex was fun and frequent. But it really is just anecdotal knowledge taken from a small sample of just the people I know well enough to hear such intimate details. Do I know someone whose body is haunted by a mistake she made? Do I know a woman who got an STI when we were young, still has it and must factor that in to current relationships and future plans? Do I know someone who will not be able to become pregnant because she contracted an infection or suffered complications after aborting an unplanned pregnancy? Do I know a man who has become infertile as a result of an early encounter? I don’t know. I don’t know if I want to know. It’s painful to think about consequences actually having stayed with anyone this long after one of our parties or nights out.

It still doesn’t seem real that the cigarettes I smoked could mean cancer later in life. And if I’m honest, that knowledge is not what got me to quit. I quit because I could not be around babies and small children if I smelled like smoke. I don’t just mean that no one would hire me; they wouldn’t. But I couldn’t bring myself to carry that into their worlds. Why could I do it for them, but not for me? The really bad choices–the ones we can only make after silencing the voice that says “Use a condom!” or “You’ll get cancer!”–would anything short of a snapshot of the future stop us from making those mistakes?

Kids Are Smart: How I Learned to Love Science Again

Somewhere along my own path from girl to woman, I got the impression that I was not good at science. My talents definitely lay in the humanities, but I got darn good grades in IB (International Baccalaureate) Chemistry and Physics. I even got a decent grade on my IB Physics exam, which took about half a day, included only a fraction of multiple choice questions and almost always had us show our work. English, history and even economics came easily for me, so I somehow got the idea that I should focus on the humanities. Recently, that all changed. It started with feminism.

This is my first summer working in child care. Obviously, I spent a good chunk of every day outside and, obviously, I was bound to encounter bugs and other “creepy crawlies.” As a feminist who wants children to see women participating in all aspects of life, even the exploration of slug slime, I felt bound and determined from day one to show no fear.

I am lucky–I have no hangup about bugs. Never have. I grew up in the woods in Northern Minnesota, so it was mandatory that all children learn what’s actually dangerous and what’s not. If you’re going to be encountering garter snakes on a daily basis every summer, it’s good to know that they’ll never bite you. I am terrified of wood and deer ticks, but they do actually bite and carry disease. I’m not afraid of snakes, spiders, worms, slugs or even leeches. I put leeches on hooks during fishing trips. Puh-leeze!

My new scientific interest started with bugs, but expanded during my time with the preschoolers at the child care center. I try to take their “Why?”s seriously and answer the question if it is a genuine question (not just reflexive). When they ask about how the world works, I like to give the scientific answer. I have a good memory. It’s really fun to see their faces. They love physics. I am good at explaining stuff. And, one more time, I want them to know that women are good at science. From bugs to dinosaurs to the solar system, I have been re-learning, learning and passing knowledge along every chance I get.

Along the way, I discovered that I love science. I have read, for fun, books on genetics, chemistry, medicine and evolution. Among my favorites are The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, for telling a darn good story and clearly explaining both the history of growing (culturing) cells in lab as well as the history of ethics in medicine, and The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. I’m currently enjoying The Poisoner’s Handbook, which explains the history of the chemistry of poisons and how the fields of toxicology and forensic medicine came to be. I also love murder mysteries, so the Flavia de Luce series wins tons of points for teaching me more about chemistry, yes, specifically of poisons, and for starring an eleven-year-old girl with some serious scientific talent and know-how in both the lab and in the crazy situations she gets herself into and out of with remarkable problem solving skills.

Thank you, dear children, for rekindling my interest in how things work, even down to the cells in my body. And now, They Might Be Giants, singing Science is Real.”

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Babysitting as Birth Control? Not for me!

Yesterday, a mom was telling me about what she did to prepare for having kids. She had a specific timeline because, unlike me, she wanted to and did finish her graduate degree in English. But she had the best phrase to describe the months counting down until she and her husband could start trying without jeopardizing their chances of finishing their respective programs–“My uterus was growling!” Well, my uterus is growling, people! And it will not be ignored!

It’s almost fall, so it’s time to prepare for a change in schedule for everyone in the child care world–parents and providers. That means that I have met some incredible new families in the past month as I’ve looked for “full-time” work for the coming year. (I use quotes because I ended up with at two regular jobs that add up to almost full-time.) I spent this morning working for a family from Finland with the chubbiest, cutest infant. Everywhere we go, people stop and smile at this baby boy. I spent yesterday afternoon with two other boys, aged 17 months and 4 years, and I want two just like them for my own. The little one walks up to me and holds out his pudgy arms until I pick him up–just for a cuddle! And he is one great cuddler. The big brother made “plasma cannons” out of cardboard brick blocks so we could make lightning on a sunny day! I’m about to start working with an infant whose eyes are so blue and whose smile is so big I just can’t help trying to make him smile all the time. And speaking of infectious smiles, I’m really going to miss H, a toddler with the most infectious laugh I have ever heard from anyone. Everything seems funny to him, too, so it’s pretty awesome to spend time with that kid. I’ve known the family for months, but it feels like forever, and they are moving away! And finally, just before he turns two, the toddler I’ve spent two days a week with since February has started saying “bye-bye Ammareee”! It just brings tears to my eyes. Oh, and on Saturday night, I briefly fell asleep while comforting an toddler who woke up looking for his pacifier. Then his soft little knee connected with my face, and I woke up… But his little hand held onto mine until he was fast asleep and willing to let me leave the room.

The Plasma Cannon, after C and R kicked it down.

My husband’s friend had a baby this year, and she describes him as “The kind of baby who makes you want to have more babies.” Well, lately, all the kids I meet are the kind of kids who make me want to have kids. On a particularly great interview (their babysitter decided not to leave, so I didn’t get the job), I acted out We’re Going on a Bear Hunt with three incredibly imaginative girls. I want some of that in my house! I want noise and toys and even tears, so long as they belong to my family. I love other people’s kids but, gosh, I want some of my own. I want it so much it hurts. I’ve heard people refer to babysitting as the best form of birth control. Maybe it was, before I had this much experience with tantrums, messes and fussy moods. No matter what they throw at me now (literally, sometimes) it just does not scare me anymore. And it just cannot outweigh the sweetness of tiny hands, little cuddles and small voices.

Can you hear it? The growling? It’s getting louder!