Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Everyone is the Perfect Parent...

Back when I knew it all!

And now!

A cyber friend of mine (because we now live in the era where we can have what seem like legitimate friendships with folks we've never met in real life) once wrote the following: "Everyone is the perfect parent...until they have kids."

No truer words were ever spoken. Or, um, written on a forum for expectant and new mothers.

As a teacher, I had years to practice being the perfect mom before I gave birth. Ah, the afternoons I spent shaking my head, a bemused grin on my face, telling a fellow teacher about all the things some other mom or dad was doing wrong. I could write a novel of my naivete.

"That kid needs a regular bedtime. She should have started him out on one when he was a baby."

"That child has never heard 'no' in her life. How can she ever be expected to deal with disappointment if she can't handle me taking her candy away?"

"The LAST thing that kid needs is a video gaming system. Like he doesn't forget to do his homework enough as it is?"

"I just want to take a hairbrush to that mop! How can you let your kid leave in the morning looking like that?"

Perhaps I should not write about this here, because I'm sure many parents will be appalled, offended and enraged to find that their kid's poised, friendly and organized teacher has such a snarky side. But really, should they be surprised? Any service job and/or job where you work with the public is sure to make you whine and moan in private. Teaching is the ultimate example of that.

But, as is par for me, I digress. Back to my original point.

While some of the comments slung while cleaning the dry erase board were valid, in all frankness, I really had no clue how insanely difficult being a parent is. Lest I would have held my tongue a bit more.

What's funny is now I feel that same scrutiny from people who don't yet have kids. I think most of my friends, family and acquaintances appreciate the job I'm doing and respect how diligently I try. However, the knowing twinkle in their eyes when I explain how Stella wanted a 10th nursing session last night or how she's crabby because she missed her nap belies their true sentiment: "I will never make THAT mistake when I have kids!"

Here are some of the plans I had for parenthood before giving birth, immediately followed by my amendments now that Stella is here.

1. My baby will sleep through the night early on. Hee hee. Oh, ha ha ha ha ha. Wait, let me gather myself. That was just TOO funny. You see, because I'd been around babies in my life, i.e. babysitting them for 45 minutes to 2 hours at a time, I thought I knew all about them. And I thought all a baby needed to sleep was a dark room, a regular bedtime, a full tummy, and parents who weren't so weak that they would pick her up every time she cried. What I didn't realize was that some babies just have trouble sleeping, period, no matter what type of training you employ, and that I, as a mom, cannot handle hearing my baby scream. It makes my boobs spray and my gut ache.

2. My baby will be able to nap anywhere and everywhere -- whether or not it's quiet. One of my favorite pieces of useless advice we've received is: "Make noise during Stella's nap so she can nap anywhere." Oh, that's just so quaint. Because when you make noise during her nap, she wakes up. Every time. How is it that she's napping pretty well these days, you ask? Because I employ a white noise machine turned up to full volume, I shut the door to her room tightly, and I STILL make as little noise as possible during its entirety. And, really people, do I want my daughter to have the ability to nap during an earthquake? That doesn't seem like the best ability to have.

3. My child will comprehend the word "no" and will not be one of those annoying toddlers running between people's feet in the coffee shop. Stella's not yet a toddler (although we got our first official crawl tonight -- YAY!), but I can already tell this will be a challenge. I do want her to understand boundaries and I don't want her to run hog-wild in public places. I do say "no" to her, although I know as an educator that constantly barking "no" isn't as effective as redirecting and using positive reinforcement. Still, no matter what my master's degree says on it, I can tell that Stella will revel in testing her boundaries. And come on, that's a sign of intelligence, isn't it? Also, getting a toddler to sit quietly on your lap is next to impossible, because they're wired to explore and disrupt and destroy. I've always known that, so I assumed I would just never bring my toddler to public places. Seeing as that would make me as crazy as Jack Nicholson in The Shining, though, I know I will have to find a common ground. So Stella might get in your way a bit as you're buying your latte. But I promise to be right behind her!

4. I will pass my baby off to others early on so she isn't clingy with me. Well, two things prevented this from happening. I physically could not separate myself from Stella for the first 6 months of her life. This baby I had longed for, worked for, dreamt of -- I couldn't imagine trusting her life with anyone else. I knew I needed a break, everyone knew it, but it actually hurt my body to be away from her for any amount of time. The other problem was that we waited WAY too long to introduce her to a bottle, so for many months she only took her milk from its original container. Meaning I couldn't go anywhere. Now that she's older, we do pass her off as much as possible, and thankfully she likes others. However, nobody trumps mama and dada, and she will ask for us by name when unhappy.

There are many, many more, I assure you. But as much as I thought I knew back when my loins were fruitless, there was much more I didn't know. The main one is this:

My daughter will be the most incredible person I've ever met and I will do everything in my power to help her become the best person she can be. That means I might have to change my mind about parenting as I go along to make it work for this individual for whom I'm responsible. Because babies don't come out of a mold.

Oh, and I will be wary of Stella's teacher and what she thinks of me. Especially if she doesn't yet have kids.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Feel Free to Put a Blanket Over Your Head!

Ah, precious!

So adorable!

Well, that just melts my heart!


Stella says, "YOU CRAZY!"

Warning: You are about to witness what Randi is like when she's fed up with something. This is not for the faint of heart. Beware of snarkiness, sarcasm, lack of humor and overall pissiness.
Coming back from Kentucky recently, Dave, Stella and I were hanging at the Louisville Airport. Stella began to say "nee nee" and look longingly at my chest, so I did what any good mother would do and feed the child. I lifted my top shirt, unhooked my nursing tank, situated my daughter on my breast, and watched her eat -- peacefully, happily, easily, wonderfully.
Then I felt THE STARE. I looked up to see a woman around my age, sitting pretty far away from us, in a chair facing the other direction, turned full-tilt around and watching me with her mouth agape, her eyes full of disgust.
It actually took me a moment to figure out what she was so upset about. Living in a very progressive part of the country, I'm used to nursing in public constantly and nobody bats an eyelash (mainly because most people around me are too busy breastfeeding their own kids to care). Also, as you can see from the picture above, my style of nursing is not exactly to let it all hang out. In fact, many people do not even realize I'm nursing until I say something about it.
But I digress. I tried to ignore her, but soon her husband joined her from the bathroom, and she actually pointed at me (I felt like I was in a Lifetime Made for TV Movie about a woman dealing with scrutiny and ridicule) and he craned his neck to take a peek. In fact, by the way he was craning his neck, it really did seem he was trying to sneak a peek, if you know what I mean. Meanwhile, their two toddlers continued to run amok, screaming their heads off and throwing their Cheetos everywhere. I guess my disgusting act of public nudity was much more important than actually parenting their children.
Lately, breastfeeding seems to be all over the news. From Facebook banning photos of breastfeeding moms to the recent and expansive article about the modern-day legal implications of expressed breast milk in the New Yorker, everyone seems to be talking about boobs, and not in the usual way.
We are at a strange crossroads in mammary history. For the longest time, breast milk was it. You had no alternative. That's what you fed your child. Then modern science came up with a formula that did its best to mimic mother's milk, which was a miracle for women or babies who had issues nursing. But then, of course, formula became "the norm" and women who chose to breastfeed were poor, hippy, disgusting, uneducated. Because, in America, we have to take everything to its freaking extreme. Baby and bathwater and all that jazz.
So now we're starting to realize that my great-grandma living in Kentucky was right all along -- trust your body. This woman gave birth to all her children at home with a midwife, some clean towels and a hot pot of water. She breastfed them all, without La Leche League or websites devoted to helping you form the perfect latch. When they got sick, she ran out to her garden and found the herbs she knew to calm, heal, or soothe. This lady did not have the conveniences of modern medicine, yet her children turned out to be strong, healthy, amazing individuals.
So how did we get from there to here? My great-grandma was born before the turn of the century. She didn't think women should wear pants, she thought whistling at the table was bad manners, and she really thought idle hands were tools of the devil. This lady was as traditional as they come. And yet when her babies got hungry, her tit came out, and NOBODY SAID A WORD.
Now the new traditional folks are fighting a battle. And somehow women like me are their enemy. It's confusing to say the least, especially for someone like me who doesn't shove her lifestyle down others' throats nor think others have to adhere to the set of morals/values by which I live my life. If you're not hurting anyone, I say, do as you please.
So, if you are someone who is offended by breastfeeding, grossed out by breastfeeding, intolerant of breastfeeding, and/or hostile towards breastfeeding, please read the following list and think about it. I'm not even going to discuss how modern studies show how much better breast milk is for babies, because that tidbit of common knowledge has obviously done nothing for you.
To go along with the status quo without ever questioning it is pretty weak in my opinion. So this is you questioning it, and when you're done you'll either agree with me or continue to hate us booby mamas. The decision is yours.
1. Humans are mammals. Mammals produce milk. We learned this in 6th grade. (Probably sooner if you didn't attend public school in Kentucky.) If you're scientifically-minded, how can you argue with what our bodies were meant to do? If you're more spiritually-minded, you believe God created our bodies in all their majesty. Why would he make my breasts lactate if he didn't want me to use them?
2. Breasts were not always fetishized to the point where boob=sexual object. This evolved over time. Throughout history, breasts were seen as a means of nourishing a baby. Go to an art museum. Look at lovely old paintings and sculptures of mothers nursing their babies. These were not porn, my dear. These were representations of life. If seeing a flash of my breast as I go to feed Stella either excites you or freaks you out due to your sexual trigger being pulled, that's your problem, not mine. Go deprogram yourself and grow up, OK?
3. Some people are OK with nursing until a child reaches a certain age. (Cue the Youtube video about the nursing 8 year old girl.) Suddenly, the minute your baby is 1 year old, the vision of him/her eating from the breast is JUST GROSS! Um...may I ask why? Did the cat in the picture above shove her kittens off because the calendar told her to? No. She let them nurse until it was biologically time for them to stop. In most countries in the world, children nurse until the ages of 2 or 3. WE'RE THE WEIRD ONES, FOLKS. Breast milk is tailor-made for each child. Cow's milk is extremely hard to digest. Soy milk is expensive. Just because a child can ask for it, does not make it wrong. Many babies ask for their bottle, their binky, a hug! Do we deny it to teach them a lesson?
4. Do me a favor. Try this out for me. When you get hungry tonight or tomorrow or whenever, take your delicious, savory meal into the bathroom stall and eat it there. Mmmm...sounds nice, right? Or, if that doesn't suit you, drape a blanket over your head and eat that way. Lovely, right? Suffocating and isolating -- the best way to eat a meal. If you can give your kid a bottle of formula wherever you please, I can give Stella her "nee nee" wherever I please, too.
Did I convince you? No? You just think I'm a crazy hippy Eastern elite know-it-all? Too bad. I've got the law on my side, sweety. Now pull your pants up. Your asscrack is showing and it is seriously GROSSING ME OUT!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

9 Months In, 9 Months Out

Disclaimer: Blogger is giving me a hell of a hard time. It won't let me choose the order of my pix and is getting all screwy with my layout, and I'm too worn out to futz around and figure it out. So please consider the following photo essay "avant-garde" in its lack of chronology. Thank you.

Bath time is always a hit!

Naked Play Time

Meal time was meh today...

All bundled up for our walk!

"Mommy -- why do you make me crawl?"

" I think I can, I think I can!"

Playing with her rings

Before the crankiness...

Stella Rae is 9 months old today! The Brooklyn Baby Daddy and I were talking about this the other day, and he said he thought this should be a major celebration because now Stella has been developing OUTSIDE of the womb as long as she developed INSIDE. (Give or take a few weeks for those of you who are all technical and such).
It's funny how 9 months of pregnancy seemed endless, but 9 months of having a real-life baby that I can hold in my arms has simply flown!
So, for your viewing pleasure, I have presented a mini-photo essay of our day today. You'll see meals, play, bath, walks, and the like. What you won't see are morning activities (because I forgot to take pictures), me rushing to clean because her naps have been really short lately, me scarfing down food for the same reason, me working out on the wii fit for the first time (may you never see pictures of that, for your own sake), and me having a minor breakdown after Stella got super cranky from her defunct naps and teething and threw fit after fit.
(On the topic of teething, how is it a baby can begin the teething process at 4 months but still not have any teeth at 9 months of age? Can I sue the Tooth Fairy for false advertising?)

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Dr. Sears, pediatrician and acclaimed author of books about Attachment Parenting, has written that he believes that God gives a baby with the explicit goal of helping you overcome your flaws. I'm completely paraphrasing and might be quite off, as I haven't slept in about 3 weeks.

For example, if you love schedules and routines, you might be granted a baby who refuses such order and wants his own way. If you're easy-going and free-spirited, you might give birth to a girl who requires a 7pm bedtime preceded by an evening bath preceded by a completely regimented dinner.

You get the idea.

I firmly agree with Dr. Sears. On the one hand, Stella is a gift far beyond any merit I have, and I am grateful for her every day. She is delightful, sweet, hilarious, brilliant, adorable and everything I ever hoped and prayed for the minute my biological clock began ticking.

On the other hand, she tests the parts of myself that I have always known to be shortcomings. Parts of myself that have jeopardized relationships, made certain jobs difficult, created unnecessary drama and paid the salary of many a therapist.

So, for your consideration, a rundown of my faults as a human being and how Stella Rae Serchuk, the light of my life, the sweetest child in creation, is working to test, taunt, poke, prod, and ultimately destroy each and every one of them.

Patience -- the biggy. I was born without this particular trait. I used to cry in line at Disney World (especially when I'd finally make it into the building only to find that the line snaked around even more inside than out). I get pissy when the older woman in front of me at CVS pays in pennies and questions the price of her toilet paper. I almost sued my ovaries when it took 8 months to conceive Stella.

Well, it's pretty obvious that Stella was heaven-sent to insure that I developed some patience. When she screams and fights the entire time I try to put her in her snowsuit, when she throws a fit when I put her in her exersaucer for 45 seconds so I can pee, when she's woken up for the 15th time in a night and can't decide if she wants to nurse, pinch me, toss and turn, or all three -- I'm having to exhibit patience.

Letting Go of Expectations -- I can't tell you how many times my mother told me, "don't get your hopes up." Not because she wanted me to have low expectations, mind you, but because I was always so devastated when things didn't go my way. I've always concocted a plan in my mind of how things should go -- a cake I'm baking, a dinner I'm hosting, a trip I'm getting ready to embark upon. Not only do I make a plan, I envision the event, down to the smallest detail. I really live it out before it even happens. And when something goes awry, as it's wont to do, I don't handle it well. If the cake doesn't rise, if our guests cancel last minute, if I miss a flight, I've been known to, er, let's just say I don't take it well.

Enter Stella. I might be looking forward to a quiet dinner with Dave or a fun playdate with one of my mommy friends. Stella may have other plans. She might want to scream and cry all night, meaning Dave and I eat in shifts to the soothing sounds of "NEE NEE NEE NEE!" Stella might crash and take a beautiful nap -- at the precise moment that I was due to meet a friend to hang out.

This doesn't stop me from making plans. It's just that now I find myself making backup plans, like "Ideally Stella will go down and I can start the rice and hopefully finish dinner before Dave gets home. However, if she doesn't go down, I'll start the rice when he gets home and can take her, and then we'll just be eating 45 minutes later than usual..."

Look, it's a step in the right direction, alright?

The Obsessive Need for Schedules -- I've already touched upon this a bit, but there's more to add. As a kid, I hated summer. I mean HATED summer. Why? Because there was no structure to my day. Meaning most days were wasted in an eddy of sloth and gluttony and boredom.

Now that I'm a teacher, I still hate summer. I don't schedule myself well, and yet I require a schedule to feel like a human being. Dave would start to notice the change in me around July 15th and I'd watch him stalk the calendar, waiting for that beautiful day in late August when I'd return to teaching and stop hounding him at work, asking him what he wanted for dinner or if he heard the news about Brittany Spears or why he didn't answer my previous 4 phone calls.

Well, Stella doesn't like the schedules so much. I still try -- I must! I must! We have a general flow to our day that revolves around non-boob meals, naps (or the hope for naps), walks, and play. I even have a bedtime routine that would make the authors of all the baby sleep books drool -- quiet dinner, calm "naked play time" (to air out her sensitive bottom) in a darkened room set to classical music, a soothing bath, a baby massage with the same sweet lullaby, the same bedtime story every night, nursing, and bed in her room with a lovey and a white noise machine to drown out the sounds from any baby-hating upstairs neighbors who obsess over crappy techno music and move furniture at 10pm at night.

Some days, Stella loves the schedule and abides by it enthusiastically. Other days, she decides she wants a nap 30 minutes after waking, doesn't want to eat any non-boob meals, then psychs me out by acting sleepy at her usual bedtime but then staying up an extra 4 hours before finally drifting off.

Am I learning to go with the flow? Yeah. But, jeez, it's stresses me out.

My Bizarre Need to Sleep More than 2 Hours at Night -- I guess someone up there is trying to get back at me for routinely crashing until 2pm in college, forcing my roomate to wake me up to see if I was alive. If sleep had a bank, I would have had a nice little bird's nest from which to draw. Sadly, it doesn't. So now I'm sleep bankrupt.

So, I will try to look at our more challenging days as life's way of helping me become a more well-rounded, wonderful, incredible person worthy of the blessings I have received.

I only have one teensy problem with this philosophy: what are the lucky parents who receive babies who sleep through the night early on and are totally independent and easy-going during the day being taught? That they're already awesome anyway?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Momzilla Strikes Again!

Oh boy. When I haven't slept, I just completely lose my filter. I don't know if y'all believe in astrology (and I don't know if I do, either), but we Sagittariuses are renowned for putting our feet in our mouths. Well, it's an excuse for my behavior, I suppose.

I reread my last blog, written after a grand total of 10 minutes sleep the night before, following several nights where a 1 1/2 hour stretch was a miracle. I was, shall we say, not myself.

So, I certainly didn't mean to offend anyone who's offered me advice. Everyone was trying to help the Brooklyn Baby Family who has suffered these past 9 months from severe lack of sleep. Your advice was not "crap," and if it worked for you, I am very happy for you.

I guess I just sometimes get peeved when people tell me about this one little adjustment they made with their kid that helped them sleep for 12 glorious, uninterrupted hours from that point forward, when I've tried every trick listed in every book and suggested by every parent I know, only to find that it doesn't work.

So, sorry I was a Momzilla. Your advice continues to be appreciated, for the altruistic intentions even if has no merit for us.

(Dave let me sleep in until 8am this morning so I'm back to my sugary-sweet Southern self. Thanks, Dave!!!)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Insult to Injury

Can't you just hear her singing, "na na a boo boo?"

I was working on another post, one describing the myriad trips we've taken recently. However, in light of recent events, that post will just have to wait.

Stella. My darling, brilliant, adorable, sweet, INCREDIBLY SENSITIVE Stella. I've resigned myself to the belief that I will not sleep through the entire night until that child goes off to college. Even then, she'll probably want to call me in the middle of the night when she can't sleep so I can sing her her favorite lullaby, "Hey There, Stella Girl." (Ask Dave and I to sing it for you the next time you're around -- it's lovely.)

Everyone has advice for new parents with a troubled sleeper, and I have to blunt and say most of it's crap. (Lack of sleep sucks the Southern sweetness right out of me.) Every child is different, every parent is different, there's no magic formula that will make my daughter sleep. If there were, it would have happened by now, because, and you must trust me on this one, I've tried everything.

I've even inadvertently let her "cry it out," even though I'm morally opposed to it, because there have been more than one occasion when I was either too busy crying on the floor myself or dead asleep after nights spent awake to attend to her. I'm not proud of this fact, but it's also not something I can help. And let me just say, I've heard the stories of babies who cry for 30 minutes one night, 15 the next, and then magically sleep 12 hours straight from that point forward.

That is not Stella. She cries until you get her. Period. End of story. 10 minutes or an hour. I've never gone over that, but I think I can predict what would happen.

And, as a teacher, I believe that it just teaches her to stop trusting me and hate bedtime. You may argue with that point of view and that's fine. She's my baby, that's the way I see it, you're free to do with yours what you like.

Jeez. I'm in a mood, aren't I?

So, no crying it out, which is the most common advice I receive. What's the second most common, you ask? "Have you tried a pacifier?"

Not only do people ask this, they continually give us pacifier after pacifier. BPA-free, designed to feel like a real nipple, pink, purple, with elephants, hearts, giraffes, with handles, without, hard, soft -- it doesn't matter. This girl won't take them and never has. We've never been opposed to pacifiers. We've tried to get her to like them from day 1. And from day 1 she's gagged on them and cried when we offer them. I ain't lying.

Until recently, that is. Call us hopeless optimists, but we always keep pacifiers around. In the diaper bag, in her box of toys, on her exersaucer, we've always had them about in the hopes that through osmosis she might change her mind and begin to use a pacifier to pacify herself, rather than my red, raw nipples.

The other day, she picked up one of these said pacifiers and turned it over in her hand. She giggled at it, and I figured she was just chuckling to herself about what suckers other babies are who would use such a thing when human flesh is infinitely more satisfying. However, moments later, she actually plopped the pacifer in her mouth. It was right side up and everything. And then, miracle of miracles (I actually heard the angels singing) she began to suck.

She looked over at dada, who was sitting next to me, and beamed at him as if to say, "look what I figured out!" It was honestly as if she thought she was the first baby to invent the possibility of sucking on something other than a nipple for comfort.

Dave and I held our breaths. I remembered a specific Christmas morning past, when my mom handed me a present and was certain I knew what it was from the shape of the box. That tilted front, the sturdy back, the soft thud when I shook it. It was that Care Bear I had asked for, finally mine. Lovely little Cheer Bear. The pink one with the rainbow on front. The one I had dreamt about for months, the one my stupid, snotty best friend had and wouldn't let me play with.

Then Stella spit the pacifier out. I picked it up and tried to stick it back in. She pushed it away with her hand and looked at me as if I'd just offered her a joint.

So, she will suck on the pacifier, as evidenced by the photo above, but it has to be her idea, on her terms. And by no means will she suck on it at night when it might actually soothe her without my assistance. We've tried that and let's just say it didn't work.

Oh, and my Christmas story? How did it end? I did get a Care Bear, but it was Funshine Bear, the yellow one with the sun on the front. The red-headed step-child of Care Bears.

I was so disappointed I wanted to cry, but then I saw my mom's face, expectant and excited. I beamed and told her I loved it. And I did. This bear was sunny and happy, so soft and sweet. It wasn't his fault that he wasn't pink with a rainbow.

From that moment forward I worked my butt off to show Funshine Bear how much I loved him. And soon he became more beautiful to me than all the Cheer Bears put together.

Wow. Lack of sleep makes me all rambly and nostalgic, doesn't it? I guess I'm just trying to say that I didn't get what I thought I wanted concerning Stella and the pacifier. But what I got is pretty adorable. I got a girl who does things on her terms in her own way. Someday, when she's a best-selling novelist or the scientist responsible for reversing global warming or the inner-city school teacher making a huge difference in kids' lives, I won't give a crap that she didn't use a binky at night.

For now, I'm seriously considering a third cup of coffee...