Ewwww! Cooties!

July 23, 2009

As I was standing around at the playground the other day one mom mentioned how much she had enjoyed the public library’s storytime.  She said that she had been reluctant to go before now- her kid was around a year- because of all of the germs left on the books by other kids.

Now I know I should be generous and give her props for getting over the fear and taking her kid anyway.  And I know I shouldn’t be judgmental of other people’s anxieties and, for the most part, I’m not.   But this one blew my mind.  In part, I think, because she mentioned this fear without any humor or awareness that this might be a little over the top- her fear of germs in this way was, she assumed, completely and utterly normal.

I don’t know, maybe I am the weird one.  Maybe I am being reckless and exposing my kid to germs in all kinds of dangerous ways.  But I really feel that kids not only need to be exposed to germs and dirt and grime, but that they also need to be exposed to the world.  Keeping them sanitized isn’t doing them any favors.  If anything, it just teaches them to be scared of the world around them.  And, honestly, that just makes me kind of sad.


Saturday Night

July 15, 2009

Last weekend we left our son with F’s parents for the night for the first time.  I found that as the time to drop him off drew nearer I became incredibly anxious and sad.  I wasn’t worried that something bad would happen, I knew he would be fine.  But just the idea that neither of us would be there if he woke up in the middle of the night was gut-wrenching.

So late in the afternoon we headed over to their place.  We stayed for a little while, playing with him, spending time with the family.  And then when it was time to leave we each gave him a small kiss and snuck out of the room.  When we got to the car F, who had failed to understand my anxiety throughout the day, turned to me and said, “Ok. I get it. I’m sad, too.”

But we went home, made a nice dinner together, relaxed for a while and then went out dancing.  Being at home was definitely strange- we kept thinking that he was upstairs asleep.  But once we were out in the city, it was awesome.  Going to a bar, being around grown-ups without kids, and not having to worry about how drunk I got was a truly exceptional feeling.

The next morning we woke up bleary-eyed and slightly hung-over (we hadn’t gotten to bed until 3am) and headed over to pick M up.  Seeing the look on his face when he saw us was absolutely wonderful and I was so glad to pick the little guy up and give him a hug.

But the whole night made me realize how it is possible to have both worlds, at least to a certain extent.  Being a parent does not negate being someone who goes out and dances until 2 o’clock in the morning.  And not only is is possible, I also think it is important to have nights like that.  If we don’t make space for ourselves and our marriages, we are going to be left not knowing how to be anything but a parent (and an overly involved parent, at that).

Would I like a night out like that every week or even every month?  To that extent? No.  But to know that there is that space, that opportunity to be my 28-year-old self again is really nice…

Yet another story in the news about the rising number of food allergies among kids has got me thinking that living in sterile environments is bad, bad, bad.  While the news of the story is actually good, that exposure therapy for kids with peanut and milk allergies has promise, the part that really struck me was this: 

The reason for the [increase in the number of kids with food allergies] is the subject of intense research and debate. There are several theories, including changes in how food is processed and children’s not being exposed to certain foods early in life. Evidence has also been mounting for the “hygiene hypothesis,” which blames growing up in increasingly sterile homes, making the immune system overreact to ordinarily harmless substances, including food.

So two out of the three possible reasons on the table- not exposing them to foods and raising them in sterile environments- are tied to sheltering our kids too much.  We are hurting our kids by protecting them so much!!!

And this all goes back to the same anxiety provoking information that I have blogged about before.  When you think about what we grew up with, not to mention what our parents experienced, all of this paranoia is just laughable.  But perhaps even more importantly, all this worrying and hovering and sheltering takes up a ton of energy that we could otherwise use to enjoy time with our children.

So bring on the peanuts, the dairy, the dirt, the pets, the alcohol, and all those other things that make life fun.

Rules, rules, rules

May 28, 2009

The Institute of Medicine has put out a new set of recommendations for how much weight pregnant women should gain over the course of their pregnancy.  And, if that wasn’t enough, they added to the expectations by recommending that overweight and obese women lose weight before getting pregnant.

Now I understand that this is all with the best of intentions and promotes healthy babies and I am a big fan of healthy babies, but I am also concerned that this contributes to the already overburdened expectations that are put on women of child bearing age. 

I remember completely freaking out when I was first pregnant with M and looked at the food section of What to Expect.  The dietary recommendations were so complicated and hysterical, causing me to worry that I was going to permanently damage my child if I didn’t eat the perfect amount of grains, proteins, legumes, fruits, etc.  I was so worried that I started making an excel spreadsheet to get myself organized.  Luckily the sane part of my brain kicked in quickly and I never opened the spreadsheet again.  But the pressure was real.

Already the list of what you should and shouldn’t do as soon as you find out you are pregnant is incredibly long: no alcohol, no smoking, change your exercise regimen, avoid certain fish, no soft cheeses, etc., etc., etc.  And once you’ve had a kid, if you are breast feeding, you continue to watch your diet carefully.  But now, if you think you might become pregnant and you fall into certain weight categories, you need to jump on the overly conscious eating bandwagon even earlier.

It just seems like this is yet another addition to the list of things that women need to do in order to be “good” mothers and it just doesn’t seem fair.  I mean, if you are going to add something to that list of expectations, at least take something else off. I’ll take a glass of wine here or there, sushi, or stinky cheeses.

Pressure to Perform

May 20, 2009

M turned 13 months today.  And it is like some switch got flipped.  All of the sudden it feels like the fact that he isn’t walking on his own yet and the fact that he has a bunch of words but none of them are “mommy” or “pai” (what F will be called) are causes for concern.  This morning, F started asking a bunch of questions about developmental milestones and then confessed that he is worried that M is falling behind.  I told him that he was silly to worry.  But the truth is I have been fighting these “my child must perform” impulses like crazy recently.

I feel like suddenly I am constantly looking at other kids at the playground and in stores wondering how old they are, I am asking more parents how old their kid was when s/he started walking, I feel possessed by the anxious parent bug.

So how do I let that go and trust that M is developing just fine?  How do I let go of the desire for my kid to be “advanced”?    He is a happy, funny, kind, loving, and smart kid.  And if these milestones are getting to me, what is it going to like when he is learning to read or play soccer or play an instrument?  How do I stop myself from going down this dangerous road?  As a post-modern parent who is fighting against those pressures to raise him in a protective bubble, I also desperately don’t want to succumb to the need to have my child perform just so I can feel better about myself as a parent.

Glimmers of hope?

May 5, 2009

Between the rain and the swine flu panic, my life has been seriously homebound.   It has been making me seriously grumpy and I am not alone… Over the past three rainy days M had taken to pointing towards the door and saying “ditty,” which we think means I want.  Heartbreaking.  But the rain did stop this morning.  And we did get outside for a walk.  And I have been able to set up his little jungle gym in the backyard so that we can, hopefully, play there later.  So there are glimmers of hope (and freedom) on the horizon.

I have to say, though, this whole swine flu panic needs to end.  The anxiety and all of the “what ifs” have paralyzed me and my ability to rise above the helicopter parenting pressure.  Of course I don’t want my kid to get sick, of course I want to protect him from the flu, but sometimes I feel like yelling at everyone, “IT IS JUST A FLU!!!”  But then the “what ifs” take hold and I know that I would feel excruciatingly guilty if something were to happen, and so I stay homebound in the baby bubble, betraying my post-modern parenting ethics.

So until the panic dies down I guess I will be trying to hold onto the little things- like a walk after three days of rain…  Is it dinner time yet? I am ready for a drink.

What If…

April 27, 2009

Lenore Skenazy has a great post on the Post’s parenting blog today about the power of the words, “what if.”  She describes an interaction with a police officer who tried to convince her that she had put her son in danger by letting him ride the subway alone.  The cop’s tactic?  To use a whole barrage of “what ifs”- What if he had been kidnapped? What if he had been kidnapped by two huge men and no one could save him? etc., etc.  She argues that the real danger of “what ifs” is that if we listen to them too much, we become terrified and then don’t let our kids be kids.

“What ifs” are something I have come across not only in terms of parenting but also with my belief in nonviolence.  In the case of my pacifism, people often think that the most convincing way to persuade me that I am wrong is to give me an impossible scenario in the form of a “what if”:  what if you and your child were in a dark alley, gagged so you couldn’t scream, being held at knife point, with no one around for miles, would you use violence to protect your child?  What I try to explain is that nonviolence is about doing all that you can to avoid the need for violence and that an impossible scenario isn’t the point, the point is how I live my life and what I strive towards.

And I think the same is true for post-modern parenting.  We should be doing all that we can to create the space for our children to explore and be independent, to reduce the “need” for hovering.  There is a lot we can do so that our kids are safe but are able to enjoy more independence- teaching them things they can do if they don’t feel safe, being clear about expectations and street smarts, making sure the breakables and choke-ables are out of reach, etc., etc.- by taking such steps we are then taking away many of the occasions for harm and opening new and exciting worlds to them.