Weaning

One of my parenting books (it might have even been Dr. Sears) explained that all of parenting is one long weaning process. There’s birth, which is a weaning of a sort, then weaning from breastfeeding, weaning from the family bed, then sending a child off to school, to sleep-overs, to college…

We are now at the weaning-from-breastfeeding stage of weaning. It’s a bit late, I think: Sophie is 23 months old, but in my mind my own deadline was to wean her by age 2 at the latest, so I figured I should start this month, before Ben leaves for Britain (my pending six weeks of single-parenthood is a subject for another post). I was getting a bit embarrassed to be still breastfeeding, and a bit tired of the hours of my day that it soaked up, and really ready to let Ben do some of the parenting in those hours.

Most of Sophie’s friends just naturally weaned themselves, somewhere between 7 and 15 months. One of the holistic fathers from our birth-class saw me nursing Sophie at 16 months and said, “Wow, that’s amazing, congratulations. How long are you going to keep this up? What’s your goal? I’m so impressed.”

My goal was to get my body back, really.

Sophie’s goal was to keep her world as consistent as possible. She wants to wear the same purple pajamas every night, and she wants no deviation from our routines, and that included nursing.

It’s not that she’s immature. She’s eager to put on her own clothes and almost too eager to be helpful around the house. Just tonight, after dinner, she insisted on carrying all the bowls to the sink herself. She’s been drinking from a grown-up cup since she was seven months old. She’s just also a bit clingy, a bit conservative in her routines, and not ready to give up nursing on her own.

So now I’m forcing her to give it up. This means I’m feeling guilty and uncharacteristically stern, but also determined to see this through. I’ve been trying to slowly reduce our nursing frequency, for months, with little success, and finally faced the inevitable: we had to go cold turkey.

We started last night, with a little explanation: “You’re a big girl. We’re not nursing any more.” Instead, we read Good-Night Gorilla, with all the cuddling we could possibly fit in. I had stocked up on weaning supplies: vanilla ice-cream, chocolate milk, strawberry kefir, whole-fat cottage cheese, and other foods she likes that might fill her up. I had warned Ben that he would have to do the night-time parenting for a few weeks, because nighttime wakings are especially when she wants to nurse. I had prepared myself for a lot of tears and a little more sleep-loss than usual.

I’m probably jinxing it by describing this here, but so far, it’s going okay. Last night, she cried for six minutes at bedtime. When she woke at midnight, I decided that I could night-time parent one more time. I brought her strawberry kefir, hugged her, held her, and sang her favorite lullaby, but refused to sit in the nursing chair. When she understood that I was leaving without nursing her she howled in pain, but that lasted only five minutes. This morning, waking up and getting no nursing caused maybe two minutes of crying.

I purposely started on Sunday night, knowing that she’s in daycare all day Monday through Wednesday, which makes it easier to not-nurse. But being picked up from daycare is another routine time when she likes to nurse. It’s our reconnection time. It was almost harder to not-nurse this evening than at bedtime.

I had tried to cook foods she liked: mushroom-rice-pilaf, fried fish, slices of cheese, slices of apple, and even a glass of chocolate milk. But when she understood that there would be no dinnertime nursing, there was a giant break-down.

We finally distracted her by offering a car-ride, which calmed her down enough for her to decide to eat all the mushrooms out of the pilaf (she’s on a mushroom kick, lately — I just keep hoping that other foods cling to the mushrooms enough to balance out her diet). Then we drove down to the local frozen-yogurt place we’d never been to, as a distraction tactic, and discovered a whole family scene we didn’t know about.

Sophie’s best friend from daycare was eating frozen yogurt too. The thrill of that is indescribable. Thirty minutes of giggling ensued. All thoughts of nursing were forgotten. When daycare-friend left, there were still stairs to climb, balls to throw, babies to meet, pizza to long for, and aloe-spears to examine in this little grassed-patio area in a pleasant outdoor nook of the mini-mall that I hadn’t realized was the perfect place to parent at dinnertime. We met two other moms we knew from the park. We’re going back soon for a pizza dinner.

My breasts feel ready to burst. This is the hard part: I am denying Sophie what my body is longing to give her. It hurts to even type this, to think about the times when we regularly nurse.

But Sophie went down to sleep tonight with no crying. When we got home from the frozen-yogurt outing, she announced she was still hungry, ate two hardboiled eggs, a half-bowl of hummus, a glass of milk, and a quarter-bowl of cheerios. And that was that. No need for nursing.

I won’t count this a success till we’ve gone three or four days with no nursing — but so far, it’s not as dreadful as I anticipated. She keeps patting my breasts, peering down my shirt, asking for nursing, but I think she’s beginning to understand my “sorry, no, we’re not doing that anymore.” I hope.

I’ll find out in a few days whether this is only the calm before the storm, or whether getting through the first 24 hours means we may have actually finally weaned.

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Pumps suck

I think the zeitgeist may have just crested the wave of all-absorbing parenting, turning over to something more sanely balanced. I hope so, anyway. In January, Jill Lepore wrote in the New Yorker a great history of the breast pump, concluding that breast-pumps get promoted while the harder policies of flexible work and decent parental leave get ignored. Then this week, Judith Warner wrote in the New York Times the “heresy” that breast-pumps are over-rated, and a little formula once in a while will liberate mom without destroying baby. Hanna Rosin upped the ante, writing in The Atlantic The Case Against Breastfeeding.

Maybe that’s not a trend; maybe it’s just seeming like a trend because my facebook friends keep forwarding it.

But I for one am happy to see the general parenting-trend swing away from the obsessive, guilt-inducing, mother’s-needs-ignoring tenets of attachment parenting. Attachment parenting is a philosophy that seems liberal (always go to your child when she cries) but ends up being conservative (women should ignore their own needs for the sake of their children).

These recent articles are about breast-feeding and breast-pumping, which is just one part of attachment parenting, but to me the reasoning in the articles leads to questioning much of the overly-baby-focussed, mom-ignoring recent trends, in which mothers assume their babies need constant stimulation and support, when actually babies sometimes need to be left alone. I don’t want to be misunderstood: I love my baby sling, but I also refuse to judge others who don’t love theirs, and I am trying to reject the guilt and pressure that gets piled on to motherhood.

Breastfeeding may increase a baby’s i.q. by a few nonconsequential points. It may do nothing. It certainly keeps moms physically tied to their baby’s sides, keeps parenting from being shared equally between mothers and fathers (especially at night, at least in our household), and keeps a few moms who can’t breastfeed feeling like failures.

I enjoyed breastfeeding, but we gave Sophie other foods at 4 months instead of the recommended 6 (she was just so hungry, and pumping was so hard, and honestly we didn’t realize that 6 months of exclusive breastmilk even is the recommendations). Then I stopped pumping around 12 months, even though I have only today stopped breastfeeding, at 23 months. (I’ll let you know how the weaning goes in another post. )

I’m no model for sane and balanced parenting. But I’m trying to be a good parent while still being good to myself — so I welcome the recent feminist articles about not pressuring every mother to do any one thing.

Next on my reading list: Amy Richard’s Opting In: Having a Child without Losing Yourself. As soon as I decide what else to fill up my amazon.com cart with in order to qualify for free shipping.

Sorry, No

At the park, a dad was struggling to get a bratty three-year-old to leave. He didn’t do any of the conflict-avoidance strategies I usually see, forewarning the children and giving them a false sense of control with the parenting-stalwarts: “We’re going in two minutes, choose one last slide to slide down, say good-bye to your friends now…”

Instead, he got right at her eye level and asked, “Who’s in charge? Who’s in charge here?”

She squirmed and screeched but she knew the answer: “Daddy’s in charge.”

“That’s right, daddy’s in charge. And who’s my good listener? Who’s my good listener?”

It was a bold approach. I’ve been thinking about it ever since: does Sophie know that I’m in charge? Do I even want to ask her, or is this Park Dad inadvertently causing his daughter to realize eventually that he’s actually not fully in charge?

The whole scene left me uncomfortable, really.

Sophie knows that I’m in charge of driving the car and using the stove. Sophie is so helpless that it seems arrogant to throw that fact in her face. Still, we have had a few too many battles lately where Sophie hasn’t accepted me telling her something. There have been too many instances lately where Sophie thinks that she gets to push me off the kitchen seat just because she’s decided she wants that particular kitchen chair right now immediately.

So I’ve been reading Miss Manners Guide to Raising Perfect Children. I know that sounds wimpy, but, I swear, Miss Manners is the most graciously aggressive woman I know. She is quite insistent that good manners does not mean being a doormat.

Does the neighbor ask for too many favors? Just tell her, “Sorry, no.” If she wants to know why, then add, “I just can’t do that for you this afternoon.” That’s all. It’s surprisingly simple advice.

Does an out-of-town relative show up unannounced, expecting you to drop everything? Greet her with open arms, exclaiming, “It’s great to see you! What a shame that I didn’t know you were coming, so I didn’t have a chance to rearrange my schedule for you. It’s just not fair; I wish I did have time to see you. Oh, I’m so sad I can’t spend more time with you. I’ve got to go now.” Then go.

It’s ballsy, you see, but gracious.

But those examples aren’t particularly about toddlers, and it’s the toddler politeness that I need to learn now. The chief tools of parenting, Miss Manners says, are nagging and modeling, and even with those tools, nothing happens quickly. It takes about 18 years to make a child presentable enough that someone else will want to take that child off your hands.

Okay, nagging and modeling. We have some of that down, and Sophie is actually getting quite adept at wielding “Please,” “Sorry” and even “Excuse me” to get what she wants — but even with those polite words, she’s still quite bossy, and we still have tantrums. Saying “Excuse me, please” still doesn’t allow her to push me off my kitchen seat for no good reason.

The proper response to a tantrum, Miss Manners advises, is to pretend it’s not happening. This works well for me in private, but not so well in public. That may be because I cave in too often in private, actually, reasoning that whether Sophie gets to climb on my chair hold the tube of toothpaste is not an issue worth fighting over, and hoping that too-big chair or too-sticky toothpaste will be an object lesson in why she should have listened to Momma in the first place. But that object lesson doesn’t always work, and even in the best-case it creates more work for me and danger for Sophie. Lately, I am thinking that the ability for Sophie to accept a “no” may truly be an issue worth fighting over.

The sensible response to many children’s requests, Miss Manners says, is, “Sorry, no” — with a few exceptions thrown in now and then, thrillingly. I think “Sorry, no” is going to become my new mantra, along with, “As long as you’re kind and honest, you don’t have to feel badly about saying what you want.”

But here’s one great obstacle to good parenting: “A belief in the arguability of every premise.” Darn. There goes my entire liberal education, my career, and my own childhood models. Miss Manners, always gentle, admits that my belief may help me raise a little lawyer — but she doesn’t recommend it as a pranting style. I think she’s right. And I think it may be too late to change my entire worldview.

So I’m just going to work on, “Sorry, no.”

Subsuming

Today, one of the older feminist professors in my department asked me, “How are you? I don’t want to hear about Sophie: tell me about you.”

And I couldn’t think of a single story about me that didn’t also involve Sophie.

Frighteningly, I’ve allowed my daughter to swallow me up.

What can I say about me that’s not about Sophie? It all seems comparatively trivial. Yesterday I resolved to do yoga every day for 30 days, because I’m looking forward to how that makes me feel. Today I realized I’ve finally hit the point in the semester when my classes are starting to gel, when the new crop of students are starting to rise to the challenge of my quirkiness and delight me with their insights. Lately I’m worried about moving to Britain for three months this summer, because what’s going to happen to my carefully-constructed mommie routine? — and there, you see it, I can’t go very long talking about me without talking about Sophie. I think I need to work on changing that.

Headbanging

For about a month, Sophie was letting me sleep through the night. Then she got sick and I went to her in the night, since she was coughing and snot-covered. And then she didn’t want to let go of my nightly reassurances. So, instead of just crying boo-boo and uh-oh to get my attention at night, Sophie has escalated to actually hurting herself.

She bangs her head against the side of the crib.

All week, she has had a bruise on the center of her forehead, growing nightly. All week for Sophie has been Ash Wednesday.

The sleep-books actually say that head-banging is a normal sleep-strategy used by many toddlers, so it shouldn’t bother me. But it does bother me. My daughter is in such distress when she wakes up at night that she physicalizes her distress.

Sara says I should not go to Sophie at night; It only encourages more headbanging. But I can’t listen to Sophie injuring herself and not respond. I’ve been going to her, all week — and she still has this growing bruise, because she keeps summoning me with violent headbanging.

Wednesday, I wrapped a fleece scarf around the top rail of the crib, so that she would at least be banging her head on something soft. But the scarf was black, and her crib is white, and she was fiercely, screamingly opposed. We relented and removed it. I don’t think she would have gone to sleep with that scarf on her crib.

Today, Thursday, I wrapped plastic bubble-wrap around the top crib-rail. She has accepted it so far. It’s probably dangerous to leave her sleeping so close to plastic, but it seems dangerous to allow her to cause herself this giant bruise, too.

Dear blog-readers, if you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

UPDATE: Dino suggests a crib-bumper, or involving Sophie in picking out fabric for a quilted crib-protector. My mother suggests that, since the crib is hurting Sophie, it might be time to move to a plain mattress on the floor.  Wayne suggests involving Sophie in trying to solve the problem of what to do when she wakes up at night. It’s a challenge, since she only knows 75 words or so, but we might play-act some scenarios tomorrow and see how it goes. Terri suggests giving her alternate ways to express distress. Karen L. suggests not letting her control me by her own self-injury. My friends are wise.

Last night, I didn’t have enough bubble-wrap to cover the whole crib-rail, so I had left six or eight inches exposed. Sophie moved to those six inches and banged her head there. Her bruise this morning was heart-shaped and giant. Tonight, I put the fleece scarf back on the exposed part of the crib and this time she didn’t make a big deal out of it. Tonight, I’m hoping, may be bruise-free. But that’s because I’m an optimist.

I thought that I wouldn’t be facing a self-injuring child until age 12 or so, but she’s self-injuring now, and we will work through it. Or she’ll grow out of it. I’ll keep you all updated. Thanks for your concern.

Can you do me a Sara

Sophie tends to overextend any new vocabulary word that she learns, so that “ball” means anything circular, “moon” means anything white in the sky, “kitty” means any four-legged creature. Lately, “Sara” means anyone who is about to help her.

Sara is the name of Sophie’s daycare teacher. When Sophie wants to say, “Can you please help me with this?” what she actually says is “Sara?”

I answer, “My name is Mama.”

So Sophie re-phrases her question: “Sara, Mama?”

Ben keeps laughing at this. He has started saying, “Can you do me a Sara?” He even tries calling me “Sara-Mama,” trying to take the sting out of that phrase.

I am trying to tell myself that it’s a wonderful thing that Sophie thinks of her daycare teacher as nurturing and helpful. It IS a wonderful thing. But it also hurts my feelings. Fortunately, I assume Sophie will grow out of it soon enough.

I mentioned this to another friend, a stay-at-home-mom whom we were visiting. “Well, that’s the choice you made,” she said. As if choosing to put Sophie in daycare three days a week meant choosing to lose my name.

I actually had trouble responding. I haven’t really talked to that friend since. It was a Friday, she had had a long week home alone with her kids, and was snapping at them, too. I think I just changed the subject. I tend to take a while to express hurt feelings, and even to question whether I should even be hurt.

So on Saturday I asked T, another mother who happens to also use daycare. “Are you sure that mother you saw on Friday was really your friend?” she said.

I had hoped that the supposed “Mommy Wars” had ended, that there was no need for jealous competition between moms who work outside the home and moms who stay at home. I had assumed that we respect each other’s choices and recognize that each choice contains its drawbacks. But I was wrong. Partly because my feelings can be hurt so easily by someone blithely announcing that putting a child in daycare means being replaced in your child’s affections by the daycare teacher. Partly because anyone would ever presume to say that.

I know that for both Sophie and me, her thrice-weekly daycare is a terrific arrangement. She has learned so much, felt so nurtured, made such close friends, and given me the chance to rejuvenate myself with other adults, not to mention earn a paycheck and do a job I love. But there is guilt, there is defensiveness, and it’s a strange thing.

So I keep telling Sophie, “My name is Mama, not Sara.”

And I tend to gravitate towards other mothers who also use daycare, in a self-segregation that has nothing to do with schedules (I’m home with Sophie on Thursdays and Fridays, so I could easily have playdates with the stay-at-homes) and everything to do with avoiding trampling on overly-senstitive feelings.

Choo choo

I’m afraid I’m forgetting how to speak to adults. Sophie and I chat about what’s happening now: there’s a bird, there’s a flower, there’s the distant sound of a choo choo train.

What do adults chat about? I have forgotten. After we’ve exhausted the possibilities of discussing the present moment, sometimes Sophie and I discuss her needs (she wants an apple, but she doesn’t want it sliced like that). Usually, we just invent new games of chase.

In the past week, I have found myself in far too many lackluster conversations with friends. I’m afraid I’m regressing. I’ve become that kid on the playground who thinks that adult conversation is boring.

Tomorrow, Ben has a bicycle race. It’s probably going to rain, so Sophie and I won’t go to the race. I was starting to feel sorry for myself, having to spend Valentine’s Day alone, until I realized there’s no cause for self-pity, since I’ll be spending Valentine’s Day with Sophie, and Sophie is absolutely my favorite person to hang out with right now.

But maybe that’s not such a good thing, either.

Sophie’s friend

Here’s Sophie making faces at the backdoor, with her new friend M.
Sprout on the Left

M is one of those friends whom I foisted on Sophie. The first four or five times they played together, Sophie just hung back, intimidated. M is only a month older, but she’s got a joyous energy, incredible verbal felicity, and an awesome mom. You can see M’s mom reflected in the background of that photo, and that glimpse is probably enough for you to understand why I kept hanging out with her, blatantly ignoring the fact that our daughters didn’t yet get along.

I like M’s mom. And let’s face it: at this point, playdates are more about me than about Sophie. It’s kind of selfish of me, I guess, to be imposing my friendships on Sophie — but, as M’s mom says, we want to encourage our kids to be friends with people we trust, so that when our kids are nine years old and going on sleep-overs, we won’t be worrying too much. I wasn’t actually planning that far ahead. I just like talking to M’s mom now.

Finally, this weekend, Sophie started to share my taste in friends. She and M chased each other in toy cars, blew bubbles at each other, ignored the pancakes and bacon and fruit salad together, clambered all over our patio, dashed through the toy tunnel, and managed to postpone naptime by clearly having such a thrilling time. Sophie doesn’t say many other kids’ names, but she said M’s name.

Here’s Sophie allowing M to try on her hat.
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And here are the two of them kissing through the back door.
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So, I guess, for now, I do get to keep imposing my friendships on Soph.

Let the games begin

Sophie has reached the age where she invents new games. Three new games in the bath yesterday alone: a look-up-the-drain-spout-game, a splash-hands-while-humming song, and a submerge-one-toy-inside-another challenge.

She’s especially intrested in make-believe, lately. One of her favorites is make-believe peek-a-boo, in which she half-hides something (for instance, draping a blanket over her daddy), then asks me where it is with a dramatically exaggerated shrug (“Where daddy?”) and when I pretend ignorance and concern, she gets to pretend to discover the hidden object, revealing it with a flourish. She  has played this game in many variations: pretend-hiding herself, her doll, her marble. This morning, she even managed to pretend-hide the cat, despite many disgruntled looks from that cat, who didn’t appreciate being hidden over and over again.

Another favorite: she cooks pingpong balls in her toy pan, declares the balls “Hot,” then waits for me to blow on them, to cool off her pretend-food. She can keep up the ask-mommy-to-blow-on-fake-food game for almost an hour. It’s adorable and tedious.

And that’s the hardest part to write. I love Sophie ferociously, I scare myself with my love for her, I love even her smell (she smells like sunshine and cotton and cream and a very light whiff of ginger). I’m delighted by her, obsessed by her (as this blog probably reveals) and yet also exhausted by her, sometimes bored by her. Motherhood is less boring now that she’s become more able to talk and create and express her independence, so I love all these new games that she’s inventing — but I also become bored after forty-five minutes of peekaboo.

That part is hard to write, because I don’t want to imply that I dislike motherhood, or Sophie herself.

I think my blog-readers understand. I hope. Recently, two older women have separately told me that the biggest difference between my experience of motherhood and theirs is that I can say, out loud, “Sometimes motherhood is boring.” In a previous generation, that sentiment was too transgressive to admit to.

I’m glad I can say it, and blog it, even if some other people probably still misunderstand.

Sleep Update

After posting about Sophie’s terrible sleep patterns, we decided we had to let her learn to put herself back to sleep on her own, whenever she wakes in the middle of the night. Apparently, according to all our sleep-books, everyone wakes every few hours at night. Most adults just toss their pillows, turn over, fall back asleep, and forget all about it by morning. Babies, on the other hand, yearn for whatever put them to sleep in the first place, which in Sophie’s case is usually rocking in the rocking-chair with me. She had to learn to put herself back to sleep like a big person. Getting up to soothe her six times in one night wasn’t doing any of us any good.

She is brilliant. We know this because, when she wakes at night and her crying doesn’t bring me running, she sometimes switches to giggling, to see if that will lure one of us. Then she tries her words: “Ma-maa, Ma-maaa, Ma-maa.” Usually, I hear her slowing down sleepily while she says that.

The real evidence of Sophie’s brilliance is that if she manages to stay awake, she’ll experiment, trying out other phrases that she thinks might lure one of us. “Daddy.” “Uh-oh. Uh-oh.” “Mamaa?” “Boo-boo. Baby boo-boo.” Baby Sophie is not actually experiencing a boo-boo injury or an uh-oh accident, of course. Sophie is simply cleverly attempting to see what words will best get our attention.

I had hoped for a clever daughter, but I’m already beginning to regret what I wished for.

We have stayed firm, for the past week, not going to her until we hear panic in her voice. And for six of the past seven nights, she has managed to make it through the night without us. Lately, her sheets aren’t even tangled in the morning. Lately, she doesn’t even stand up in her crib, just shifts, sighs a few gentle “Ma-maaa”s, and gets herself back to sleep. She wakes up in the morning more cheerful than ever.

Knock on wood. I hope this lasts.

The next step, I think, is weaning her from breast-feeding. I always insisted on not judging parents who breastfeed toddlers (up to 2 years, maybe two-and-a-half. Honestly, I did judge anyone who breast-fed a five-year-old, except in circumstances of dire emergency when there’s no other food available.) Anyway, Sophie is still a few months away from her second birthday, but I’m starting to want my body back to myself.

This evening, Sophie was playing with her Dad’s old cell-phone while breastfeeding, and, you see, that’s just a little weird. Picture it: a little person, pretending to talk on a cell-phone, but also sucking away, and occasionally accidentally banging that cell-phone on my bare chest. It’s just wrong, you see.

Maybe I’m secretly more judgemental than I thought I was. In any case, no longer breastfeeding Sophie in the middle of the night has been the first step. Second, I’ll stretch out the time between breastfeeding in the day. “Don’t offer, don’t refuse,” is the breastfeeder’s mantra for kids over age one, but not refusing with Sophie would mean feeding her every hour, sometimes — so I’m starting some gentle redirecting, giving her lots of other foods and other things to be interested in.

I think this will take some time to do gently, but it’s slightly less urgent than the sleep issues. For now, I can report, I have gotten to sleep through the night for almost a week. I accomplished more at work today than in a whole week of the sleep-deprived time. It feels good. I hope I haven’t jinxed it by posting about it here.