Monday, February 27, 2006

getting off the couch

First warrior, second warrior, triangle pose. Downward facing dog to plank (plank???) to upward dog, then downward facing dog again to child pose. Breathe oh-so carefully, feeling my right shoulder spasm in protest.

Yes, I was at the gym. After years of being the official family couch potato, a mere two months before a positive pregnancy test, I had joined a gym. Yes, I was seduced by the women-only atmosphere, the whirlpool (mmm), the in-house masseuse. But I stayed for the sweat.

Going to the gym while pregnant was the ultimate in ego massage: for doing a rather easy workout (30 minutes on an elliptical, 10-20 on a bike) I would humbly accept admiring comments from the staff and other members. Going post-baby, however, was infinitely lower on the good vibrations scale - now I was merely one more woman with a nice, healthy tire slung around my somewhat saggy middle.

So why do I go? Admittedly, I don't go to get thin. Getting thin would mean giving up the pleasures of food, of Barbra Streisand's "perfect bite," and that I stubbornly refuse to do, even as my menu options recede, thanks to my offspring. (sigh) But the feeling of the strong, capable body is one I learned to love while pregnant, and that I am loathe to set aside. Thus, of course, the post-workout soy Aztec hot cocoa at Cafe Zing. (zing, indeed! Fabulous stuff. Who knew chilis and chocolate were so good together?)

And so I go off to the gym, two, three times a week. And I wish, surprising myself, for a fourth gym-time. I like the focus and determination of my workout, the solitary splendor (sort of) of the shower afterwards. And no, the numbers on the scale haven't changed much this month, but I find myself rather comfortable with that. After all, with this second pregancy I had a very clear lesson in where my influence ends and my body's begins. With my first child, I put my feet up and ate cheesecake. The gain? 52 pounds. With my second son, I bought a pair of sneakers and hit the gym three times a week, eschewing cheesecake. The result of virtue? 52 pounds. Ya can't beat mama nature, even with a good treadmill. But you can work with and learn to love the results - so long as your only point of comparison is yourself.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

what the mama learned this month

yes, month. It's been a slow winter, what can I say? And we authoritarian folks make a point of learning as little as possible, lest it remind us that we actually have that which we might learn. shudder.

* while you might let your partner sleep through some of early labor, the same courtesies don't apply when the baby's febrile and cranky. Share the joy!
Note: letting one's partner sleep during early labor allows a certain heroic aspect to gild the lily. Plus, admittedly, it is one of the few remaining private moments between mama and internal passenger. Those are to be cherished - especially before the roaring pain hits. There aint nothin' special about a febrile, cranky kid in the wee a.m.

* nobody, but nobody can rush the Oven Guy. He worketh in his own time, despite the desperate woman who raileth at him from behind. But a Mama scorned is one who leaves grumpy reviews on Angie's List... and calls to complain about the broken glass oven window. For it all makes work for the workingman, hey?

* neighbors who live in glass houses...will grow trees that scrape up your own. And then play dumb when this is pointed out. But the Mama, she is cunning, and knows a good lawyer - who will tell her that a tree limb that hangs over on her side of the fence, lo it is her own. Oy.

* she who purchases the bulk diapers is not guaranteed that they will fit by the time you finish the box. But she who makes dinner for a new family will have someone to give the diapers to... Chesed or good move? You be the judge.

* dare to nibble, oh-so gently on your partner's ear, and the baby will awaken. What is that, sonar?

* dare to share a blog with the uninitiate and they will assume that you have oodles of spare time. Wazzup wit dat?

*Support your wonderful, impossible to find nanny and she will feel like you also support her attempt at a career move. Consider sitting shiva.

For those of you who have read this far, I offer a vignette as reward:

squeal, gurgle, gnaw, THUMP. Bweaaah! (maternal sigh)

I look up from my post at the dryer to see the baby, face flaming brighter than his hair as he roars his fury over whacking his head on the floor. I cuddle, soothe, then replace him on the floor. He balances on his bottom, and reaches for the toy I've set between his legs. Happy gnawing, drippy drooling, and I give in to temptation and carefully set cushions around him, in anticipation of another impact.

I return to the dryer and the unfolded laundry. Sure enough, soon the baby begins listing to starboard, as he attempts to reduce his toy to a flattened remnant. Swish, THUMP. Bweaah! And I look over to see that Murphy's Law of Hemophilia* holds true for the clotting, as well. I pick up the indignant young sir and soothe him again. And I wonder.

At what point will he give this sitting thing up as a bad job, bound only to cause headaches? (literally - he falls in such a way as to reliably whack his head) An adult would walk away after two or three attempts, writing the skill set off as a potential pyrrhic victory. But babies are absolutely determined. Just as, I suppose, he really feels that he might just manage to flatten that hard wood rattle into pulp. I recall his older brother, when as a new crawler, he crawled into the couch and spent some time trying to crawl through it. Surely the immovable object will yield to the irresitably cute force? Um. Perhaps we adults are already too pulpy, having lost that absoluteness, that stubbornness somewhere along the line. But when did we trade fear, reluctance for determination? Today, I feel like I want a do-over. Tomorrow, however, I may have relapsed into my habitually maturely mushy state.

*Murphy's Law of Hemophilia has two elements: 1. if two boys are on the sofa, and one is reading a book and the other is climbing up to the back, then leaping off, laughing and doing it again, which has hemophilia? 2. if you pad every hard edge and corner in your house, the kid will find the one minute spot you missed and whack his head on it. Hard. Preferably right before/during a family gathering, or, if he's particularly talented, right before picture day at school.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

bully for you! for, um, her?

There is a bully in my older son's class. And he's a she.

Yes, there are small boys at school who hit my child, some out of boyish energy, at least one out of a frustration at his inability to communicate in a shared language. These produce brief tears, possibly a return punch, and certainly require a little Mama detoxing and comfort. (Yes, that was a sad-making thing, yes, here is a cuddle, and no don't you do that back to him.)

'Two wrongs don't make a right' is a mathematics that is lost on my child. I think. He does grasp that hitting is not okay, is never okay, and I will occasionally find him standing, hands on hips, and shouting, 'I am so mad at you! I feel like I want to hit you!' To which the appropriate answer is not, by the way, applause and happy mama faces. It is necessary to respond with a serious, respectful acknowledgement of the child, although he is occasionally receptive to happy giggles and hugs from his mother. Yup, kids will imitate the behaviors they see, turning them over and over, trying them on to see what fits. And when the behavior is one that is clearly hurtful, it is easier to teach them the consequences of that particular action. But when it's subtler, well, then it's a real problem.

Give me a hitter any day. Even a biter. But the girl in my son's class is a manipulator, and a fairly sophisticated one, at that. 'V- was not my friend today,' I am informed. Or, 'today, V- invited everybody to her house, but said that Malene can't come.' And, most cleverly, 'today V- was my friend, but not Daniel's.' I watch V stroll through the class, selecting the favored one of the day - a favorite who is rarely Malene, who as the youngest of four knows well the value of independance and refuses to be bought with temporary love. V makes the children feel either special or rejected, exterting control over them by what Alphie Kohn would call 'conditional love.'

Why does V feel the need to do this? I know her mother, who shares many of my own beliefs about child-rearing, and has recommended books such as Playful Parenting and a nanny whom I almost hired. Does she talk the talk but not so much the walking? Maybe, maybe not. Bottom line: does she realize what her child is doing?

One day, I was walking my oldest to our car (with baby in the sling) while this mother was also picking her children up from the school. The mother first went to put the wriggly toddler in the car, leaving the older daughter on the curb. V looked at her mother, busy with the smaller child, and called her. 'Mama!' No response from the mother. V called again,' mama! I need you!' The mother asked her to wait a moment, but V squared her shoulders and walked toward the edge of the curb. Suddenly, I realized what V was about to do. Anxious, I broke the cardinal rule and tried to parent someone else's kid.

'Sweetie,' I said, 'don't go in the street.' V looked at me defiantly, and stepped into the street, then looked again to make sure that I was watching. I was. I opened my mouth, but V ran to her mother - just as a car was coming.

So. Is V acting out to get attention? Manipulating other children to get the love which she somehow feels denied at home? Or is she simply out of control? If her mother was uninvolved or simply uninterested as a parent, then this would be a simpler matter to understand. But I do think that this is actually a caring mother with a child who is, regardless, right out of control. And so I'm sitting here, unwilling to tread on the all too sensitive question of another mother's parenting. Yes, I'll try to give my son the tools to understand that he can protect himself, emotionally, from this child. And I'll help him identify when a hurtful thing is simply untrue. And I have faith that his teachers will do the same.

Will I talk to V's mother? Dunno. From all I see, this is a woman with her hands full, and doing her level best. Do I have a right to interfere with that, f her child is in no real danger? If mine is in no real danger? Presumably, the teachers at our children's school have kept her aware of her child's behavior, as they do for me in regards to mine. Perhaps my hesitation is not just a desire to respect boundaries, but a social cowardice. And so I ask myself: what if that car had been a little faster? The child a little slower? And then I look at the toddler, and I remember many instances in which this younger sibling has cried at school, has been difficult for the teachers to manage...trying, in his own little way, on his older sister's behaviors, turning them over and over to see which will fit him, as well.

See Aish Mama here for her take on bullying and power, and how it plays out with adults.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

the mamas and the papas

Recently, I read an article about involved fathers. Apparently, this was such an exciting topic that some freelancer sold the concept to a paper. Big frigging deal. Yes, deadbeat dads are a national problem, and why oh why is funding being cut from the agencies who find them? More to the point, involved dads aren't news - there are lots of daddies quietly and lovingly spending time with their children. Not enough, I grant you, but more interesting to the media than the number of dads playing their paternal role is the concept that they aren't, couldn't and why would you ever trust them to get it right?

Consider this item, from the mommyshop, described as follows: " Our Daddy Diaper Duty is the perfect gift for dads and grand-dads, because it has all the "tools" needed to handle changing that perfect new baby. Contents include: Protective goggles, nose clip, face mask, rubber gloves, baby powder, Dr Boudreaux's Butt Paste, anti-bacterial wipes, baby wipes, 2 disposable size one diapers, and monogrammed canvas tool belt (reads 'Daddy Diaper Duty')."

Face mask? Goggles? Tool belt? Why not just paint a picture of a man out of his depth? I find this item funny, because it panders to the stereotype of the Mr. Mom, but I would never give it to my partner, veteran of almost as many diapers as moi.

Consider also this irritated post: 'How Not To Market'. How gullible are we, exactly? Is an involved dad an automatic easy target, as if there are only two paternal options - uninvolved or easy target. On a side note, I'm with this guy - don't try and sell me something because otherwise my kid won't get into Harvard (which would probably be a good thing), or because otherwise they'll get broken, misshapen, or picked last for dodgeball. Oh, please. Now you are just ticking me off.

The stereotype of the incapable father is funny and, face it, here to stay. And it sells nicely. But lost in the humor and the marketplace is the guy who spends Sunday with the kids not because it's his job, or because he's helping out (quick tip: guys, if you are 'helping,' then you are not a full partner in the task at hand), but because they are his kiddos, and he loves them. The fact that the wife gets then to sleep in/go to the gym/breathe and is subsequently a happier and less scary person is just gravy.

If this were politics, I'd be suspicious: is the stereotype just a way of setting low expectations? Dads are incapable, therefore a competent father is a triumphant figure? Equally standard is the maternal gripe about double standards, irritable because a father with his child is admired, sweet, even attractive, while a woman with her child is just plain vanilla. Biochemistry plays a certain role, roping women into the maternal state, but there are two, poorly known bits of evidence against the theory that women, and only women, are wired to parent.

Dr. James McKenna, a researcher specializing in sleep, has long since noted that the sleep patterns of a nursing mother-child dyad will come to match, so that the mother shifts into a lighter sleep state alongside (and even slightly ahead of) an infant, so that when the baby is waking and ready to nurse, the mother is not rousing her befuddled self from a deep sleep. What Dr. McKenna noted, however, is that a father who shares a bed with his baby will come to do the same thing. Hmm.

But men still can't lactate! After the actual gestation and delivery of the child, lactation comes to be the ultimate distinction between the parents, should the family eschew formula. Well, gentlement, I hate to point this out, but yes, you can. Not only can men lactate, but their nipples can provide comfort to a baby wanting to comfort-nurse. Do you need a breast to suckle? It seems not.

Having these two bits of information has not noticeably changed the parenting dynamics in our home, with the possible exception that the semi-guilty, semi-triumphant, 'if only I could nurse him' has faded from our conversation. But then again, I know very few fathers as deeply involved as my partner, for all that I cannot persuade him to read parenting books.

Consider: if love were more powerful than humor, then what would the stereotype be? In the meantime, I invite you to look at the world of daddy blogs. Go, daddy, go!

Editor's note: magid (see comments) offers a really good link. I agree with Jeremy about the "heaven and hell of parenting." Yesterday, I went to a class on alternative methods for discipline. We were all asked to list our kids and share something positive about our parenting. I introduced myself as the parent of X and Y, and said that my older son is both my hero and my nightmare. Immediately, I was fixed with a glare by the moderator. Wha? Is this a class on parenting, or on parenting myths? People, if you can't take the rollercoaster, get out of the gene pool, because nobody can push your buttons like your kids. To misquote Alfie Kohn, author of Unconditional Parenting, "Forget rocket science or brain surgery. When we want to make the point that something isn't really all that difficult, we ought to say, "Hey, it's not parenting...""

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

sit down and write!

Last Friday, I watched a faint interest bloom into full-fledged fad. I say 'fad,' because I remember the great Infant Room craze of 2003, when seven very small children were interested in no book but the Foot Book, by Dr. Seuss. So yes, fad.

We were in the midst of what my brother has, alas, accurately described as his annual drawing. It was the avuncular birthday, and my older son was enthusiastically drawing his uncle a celebratory picture. 'So what's that,' I ritualistically asked. 'Oh, that's Uncle M- in his house, with his computer. And these are birthday balloons.' I dutifully noted this on the drawing, and my son elected to sign his own name, arranging the letters into a tidy square. Then, fired with inspiration, he pulled down a fresh bit of paper from the roll and started to draw. 'Mmm,' I said, noting in passing that he is no longer drawing potatoes with eyes and limbs. 'And what are those?' 'Men made of clay,' the child explained. This gave me pause. I considered, and then inquired, 'Huh?' 'Like the dreidel, Mummy,' he told me, helpfully. 'And I want to write it.' And so, with me spelling out the letters, he did.

And continued to do so, for the rest of the day. On paper, on the crums on his plate, on the mist on the windows. In fact, I spent part of shabbat morning services reminding him that no, he couldn't write on the sabbath. I'd assumed that he was all fired up from the praise of the employee at our local hardware store, who'd asked for one of the umpteen pictures he'd been drawing of a single man and the word, 'CLAY.' (She knew us from a Childrens Miracle Network event, where she'd entertained a tired boy with lanterns.) But no, this was the start of a fad. He can now draw his own name, my name, my partner's name, and his great-grandmother's nom de famille. And, apparently, this phrase. But this morning he decided to branch out.

'I want to write MEN MADE OF CLAY in a square, not in a line, Mummy.' I laughed and agreed. Square, spiral, pentagon - who am I to argue?

Friday, February 17, 2006

that's ma hooch, that is!

A joyful cousin sent this rather serious link, asking, can vegans drink wine? It seems that some wines use eggs in processing. Refusing to panic, I've sent the link along to my beloved allergist, and asked him to shed some wisdom on the situation.

However, this is a tune I've heard before: maple syrup. Yup, maple syrup may have dairy used as a processing aid. As it is a processing aid and not an ingredient (i.e., it is used to prepare the syrup and then is removed), it does not need to be listed on the label. Nor is the use of the dairy in processing required to be noted on the label. But if it's removed, to what extent is this removal trustworthy?

This brings me to the murky world of kashrut. After my elder son had hives from homemade waffles and maple syrup (provided by a very anxious guest, alas), I learned that even a moderately dairy allergic kid can respond to the traces of dairy proteins left in the syrup. Some kosher certifications will list an item as 'DE,' or dairy equipment, if dairy is used in the process or on the machinery. Others will simply list the item as 'D' or dairy. Yet others will not mention the dairy issue at all, unless dairy is an ingredient. Which certifications do which? I'm still trying to figure it out.

When it comes to wine, well, it's messy, as you can guess. Here's a quote from the Vegetarian Journal:
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations (OU) stated that of their Kosher certified American-made wines do not currently use either gelatin, isinglass, or egg whites. They cannot vouch for the status of the international Kosher wines. The Orthodox Union also claimed that a wine could theoretically be certified as Kosher if it contained egg whites or if the gelatin were completely removed from the final product. They did not reveal any general rule for certifying wine as Kosher and claimed that each certification agency may use different criteria for certifying wine. Star-K, another certification organization, also showed no aversion to the use of egg whites. Kof K claimed that Kosher wine is not clarified with either gelatin or isinglass in America. Egg whites, a Kosher item, would be a permissible agent. Kof K mentioned that paper is sometimes used to clarify Kosher wine, as the paper adheres to the impurities.

Me? All I have to say is, thank God there's some good single malt in the cupboard. And if any of my readers wishes to break cover and run down the list of dairy notifying vs. silent Sam hechsherim (certifiers) for me, thank you, thank you. The Comments button awaits your wisdom. Yup. FALCPA or no FALCPA, a Mama's work is never done - but tonight, she rests regardless.

Shabbat Shalom, all.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

the fifth month round-up

Yesterday, our wee baby sat up for the first time. Or, to be precise, I sat him up and he balanced, determinedly if drunkenly, until he slowly toppled to one side. We conferred, and decided to try again. With each effort, he sat for longer periods and was more stable. And with that as a catalyst, it is clearly time for my semi-monthly parenting review.

So, the hair is still a deep red, the smiles are still enormous, the dimples still there score! but the wee voice is growing and deepening. (yes, I know I'm talking about a baby, and not an adolescent.) Our little man is learning to speak up, to express himself with his sighs, coos, grunts and - especially - roars. That's fine, though: I ddn't grow up in a family of shrinking violets, so this seems normal to me. My poor partner occasionally seems overwhelmed, but he's a more delicate spirit in some ways. Excepting of course, the ways in which he is oxen, dig your feet in stubborn..

No longer can I cart around a sweet little person, relaxed and happy in his car seat. Now he's straining at the straps as he tries to sit up, working furiously to shove his feet into his mouth, or gnawing on anything within reach. Dinners are now truly a family affair, as the baby sits on his father's lap, and chews along with the rest of us - on his father, his bib, or anything he can snatch off his unwary parent's plate. Go, bibba, go. I tip my hat to your tiny self and the determination and energy that suffuses you.

And my eldest? Today I am in awe of his four-year old competencies, as he supplies himself with tissues, offers to read his brother a stoy, clears away his own cereal bowl, and says 'please' and 'thank you' until the cows come home. To be fair, I should have suspected something - he's never so polite as when he's under the weather, but who needs Mama intuition? "I'm a tad off my usual mark," he told me, composedly. And the thermometer agreed. My clever boy, who today amused himself while his mother cast inventive curses upon those who still have not, will not fix her oven....apparently we learn from our mistakes.

Today, there is harmony and good will in my world. Is this a side effect of having a sick kid? Ah, fuggedaboudit - I'll take what I can get. Muchas gracias to Autumn, who came over last night and helped entertain boys as we fed and juggled them in and out of the bath. And my love to my partner, who is in the midst of his 3-day business trip and sounds joyous. He's earned this escape, and I can only cock an amused eye at his timing...

Monday, February 13, 2006

flash! goes the camera

Today has been a very scattershot day. We rode the emotional rollercoaster, we bought the cotton candy, it made us sick, we're going back for more. Here are a few quick snapshots:

flash! The oven smelled of gas when I turned it on. No, lady, we can't come see you until Wednesday. No, don't use the stovetop until then, either. I snarl at my hapless four year old about cleaning up his toys. Minutes later, he will survey the situation and attempt to placate his mother with a sweet, if fake smile. I feel immediately guilty re:my coping skills, but know I'll fall into the same trap again.

flash! I realize that the baby's skin, which had been recovering from allergy-induced eczema, was looking pebbled and rough again. Why?

flash! My four year old draws endless pictures of me: Mummy with four babies in her tummy, Mummy with the four babies coming out of her tummy, following a line as they exit on the right and left, Mummy with the four babies outside of her tummy, and one is a big brother (he has long hair, long arms and legs), Mummy with all of the babies, who are now big brothers, too. And finally, Mummy over and over again, drawn simply as a squarish circle with eyes, a smile, and tiny legs and arms. We discuss the possibility of hair, and how to draw squiggly hair.

The part of my brain that won't shut up asks: what does the young social scientist see? His object of interest is clear - his mother - but what is he trying to understand? His attempts to make me happy are obvious and a little sad, and I see him trying the same tactics on his baby brother, when that individual lets out a rare roar of complaint. Is this how the over-responsible eldest is shaped?

flash! The allergist calls: the baby is very allergic to dairy and eggs, but not to soy, mold, wool, dust, peanuts and tree nuts. In one of my rare good-parenting moments of the day, I call a family meeting, and we talk about the baby's allergies and how we'll keep him safe. I remind the four year old that we already protect each other from allergies, so now we can do it for the baby, too. It's surprisingly positive, and we all beam at each other.

I'm feeling less flattened by the allergies today. Another hemophilia mama called and reminded me that having another child with allergies is a lot like having another baby with hemophilia: at least you know what you are getting into. And that's true. But I do mourn for my baby, for the potential that his life will be circumscribed as his brother's is, and of course I grumble selfishly, for myself and the loss of my beloved dairy.

flash! We break out the ice cream maker, and start making cranberry-strawberry-ginger sorbet. The ice cream maker was a daddy gift to my partner, when the baby was born. Okay, so it was a gift much in the same way that the waffle maker was a Chanuka present to me last year...but still. With rare exception, dairy free ice creams are made on machinery that also manufacture dairy items, or in factories that also manufacture items with nuts. No, they are not required to note this on their labels, as the FDA has not yet determined what quantity of nuts/dairy/etc qualifies as possible allergic risk.
Hello? What quantity? Do you people know nothing about food allergies? There is no real quantity that is safe, as there's bound to be someone, somewhere who will react to it. I'm willing to cut companies some slack on the level of 'my employee had a pb&j sandwich for lunch,' but if you have one of the Big Eight being processed in your plant and especially on the same machinery, then yes, that qualifies as a risk. And please note: this is me being nice. Frankly, I think Europe was right in expanding the Big Eight to the Big Twelve...
So we're making our own sorbets, just like we make our own breads, sauces, etc - it's actually rather fun!

Ah, the rollercoaster ride of the day. And just think: tomorrow we get up and do it all over again. Only this time, alone, as my partner escapes (giggling quietly) to Atlanta for "work." Um, right. Ah, well. Time to kiss the baby's head as he grumbles in his sleep, and to tuck myself in.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

at the heart of a debate, a scribe is working

I've been digging deeper into the world of Jewish blogs (it's easy - they all link to each other), and found this blog by a female ritual scribe, or soferet. I especially recommend the posts on "Tonight's Vision Television" and "Delight," where she discusses the tangle of Judaic law regarding the problem of the female scribe.

The soferet is at the heart of the problem confronting Modern Orthodoxy: what is the role of the woman? Judaism is a patriarchal religion, and is rather unabashedly so, and with the slant towards male primacy has come the inevitable reduction of the female as having intellectual value. This has changed dramatically in recent years - when I went to grade school, girls were taught different classes in religious law than the boys, who had a more technical, in-depth study than we double Xers did. Now, institutions such as Drisha and Ma'ayan place value on women's learning, and raise the debate as to women's role as Judaic legal authorities (not to be confused with rabbis). Their aftr-the-fact approach is being followed by a trend in modern Orthodox schools to educate the boys and the girls in the same way, on the same subjects, and even not to separate the genders for the religious studies half of the curriculum.

Which then creates a problem: what is a learned woman, whose education in Judaic law and practice matches that of a rabbi? In Conservative, Reform Reconstructionist Judaism, this woman is the rabbi. In Orthodox Judaism, well, she's a question mark - even a problem. M.O.W. has an interesting take on this, arguing that if we are going to encourage young women to have the same freedom as the men to follow their noses into the study of Judaic law, then we should compensate them accordingly, offer them role models. Otherwise we risk losing them as the hypocrisy of the current situation is revealed: women can learn as a hobby, as a personal passion, but are unlikely to be paid for it. But if there was a job for this educated woman scholar, it would be as what? Non-rabbi? Rabbinic legal consultant? The RenReb would be apopleptic if her complex, unpaid role included that of a halachic (Judaic law) consultant - as if she didn't have enough to do. And she does - and it does, alas.

For an ancient culture/religion (for the two are indeed intertwined here), moving into new space like this is unsettling. Kudos to JOFA for handling it as they do, and so making this almost a matter for academic-cum-practical debatem rather than panicked/scornful shrieking. Yup, props to those who are handling this debate gracefully. But what do I think? I think the yoetzets are right: there is a lot of space in the role of rabbi-as-halachik-adviser. Some issues, such as the color of the fluid on my undies, I'd rather not discuss with a rabbi, and community-encouraged modesty would, more likely than not, land my poor partner with the job. To discuss the issue with a woman would be infinitely better. There are many aspects of a rabbinic job, officially or otherwise that could benefit from being shared, particularly with someone whose gender may (I said, may) offer them a different, complementary perspective. But should women be rabbis in an Orthodox coimmunity? That's a blog for another day...

it's a white, white world

...and I'm talking lingerie here, people.

While the news about the baby's potential allergies has rocked me, it has only dented - but not daunted - my intention to continue breastfeeding him. The cushioning nature of breastmilk will protect his little GI tract from the proteins that I eat, and will be much easier on his system than formula (and don't talk to me of 'cushioning proteins,' o Nestle. Get ye some immunoglobulins and then we'll chat). For a food allergy kid, breastmilk actually makes an enormous difference, if the nursing mum is willing to tailor her diet to her baby's needs. IF.

But there are worse fates in store for the nursing mama. For example: people on the street who see you nursing and whisper oh-so loudly about the woman doing THAT. Or worse, people who tell you to feed the kid in the bathroom. (Would you eat in the bathroom? I think not.) Or little kids on the playground who come up and ask questions until their embarrassed caregivers haul them away. (I especially like those - it's fun to warp young minds.) So: do you hide your baby and apparatus under a blanket that screeches 'don't look, breast-things happening?' Or do you invest in those more expensive nursingwear shirts that have double layers with holes cut in them? Wear a regular shirt and tell yourself that the baby covers everything? Mine like to wiggle - and while they're big enough to cover the breast, they aren't kind enough to cover the stretch marks on my sad tummy. It's a toughie. But worst of all, the nursing mama must confront the great indignity of the nursing bra.

The beauty of breastfeeding is that the girls have never looked so perky and round. The downside is that my bras have never looked so industrial. What happened here, people? It is one of the Mama's great mysteries: just because an object of pleasure is suddenly an object of use, why should it be treated as such? Celebrate the roots, people. Most nursing bras are pragmatic affairs, like this one, but might branch out into fun prints like this one, trying to conceal the jogging bra aspect with style. Doesn't really work (but they are comfortable), and they'll give you the silhouette that comes with a jogging bra, alas. Anything with an underwire is a cruel joke, as it can press on milk ducts, and risks blocked ducts (shudder). So where does that leave the Mama? Maybe with this compromise? Hmm.

I wonder, sometimes, how my partner manages the shift between objects of pleasure and objects of use. I have a mental image of him sitting down with each child, as the subject becomes relevant, and talking turf:
father: I was here first, ya know.
baby: ya, well, I'm here now.
wildly inappropriate joke about thems as swallows versus thems as don't suppressed here.
father: she picked me - you are just what we got with the genetic roll of the dice.
baby (complacently): yup. And I've got you beat for cute, hands down. Plus, I've got pheromones wafting up from the top of my head. So don't come all up in ma face until you've got her under your biochemical thumb, man.
father: (sighs and takes the little tyrant off to change his diaper)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

wig, ya dig?

In an attempt to steer clear of the Hamas-wins-the-election post, I'm choosing instead to indulge in a rare Judaic post. I recently stumbled upon this, in which a young woman discusses her choices regarding the practice of covering the head once married (kisui rosh).

As a former practitioner of kisui rosh, I'm very sympathetic to her choices. I covered my hair for a year and a half before I finally stopped. I believe that I began covering my hair for an excellent reason: looking at the standards of my community, considering the kind of religious observance that I wished to maintain, it became clear that kisui rosh was an appropriate choice. Orthodox Judiasm supports a variety of kisui rosh behaviors, not to mention that the hats were kind of cute. However, when we left that community and I went to graduate school, I found myself in a secular environment to which I was the representative of all things Jewish (bagels and lox excluded). I began to revisit my choice. Was it a matter of community or philosophy? Now that the community was gone, what was left? And what did it say about me that my choices were peer-driven?

I decided that a religious choice is one worthy of revisiting, daily if need be. That religious motivation should be considered, reconsidered and constantly queried or else it risks growing reflexive. And that community is, in fact, a valid reason for making a religious choice - if it is one already intrinsically appropriate. Was this convenient philosophy on my part? Maybe. The damned hats did give me headaches...

Like the burka, kisui rosh is a very, very difficult choice for someone who is living and working outside of the protective arms of the religious community. It is a visual reminder of difference in a manner even more striking than the kipa (a better comparison would be to payot, or the curled earlocks that chasidim wear) - unless the woman wears an expensive and rather uncomfortable wig.

Kudos and best of luck to Shanna in her choice. It is one that I have made my peace with, and have much respect for.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

a variant on a familiar tune

Eggs, soy, dairy, wool, mold, peanuts and tree nuts. Overall IgE.

I briskly accepted the lab slip from the allergist, letting momentum carry me forward while my brain stood still. Will stand still, I hope, until we get the results. I'm too easily guilty of planning damage control in advance, and it can take up to a week and a half to get the results.

Did I say that I felt like mama roadkill at our last allergy appointment? Well, yes. But this time I mean it. Oh, my sweet patooties, this is just about too much. I can handle most of that list, but the eggs and the soy - the very idea of checking for just one more ingredient is overwhelming. Sigh.

Oh, I know, it'll settle itself in. As we always do, there's the new rule for a child's care, followed by the initial shock/rage/grief reaction, which I know so well that I can manage it in hours rather than days, then adjustment. Eventually, we look up one day to realize that hey, we've been managing just fine under the new regime. Huh! Would ya look at that.

But today is not that day. mumble grumble rumble grrrrr Food is a wonder and a comfort to me, and I adore exploring flavors, textures, and sharing those pleasures with my lover, my sons. Food is love, pleasure, comfort - and complications. Eschewing the temptation to unpack the metaphor of food and parenting, I give you instead

The Mama's wish list for today:
a peanut butter sandwich
anything chocolate, preferably from Burdick's
a personal chef (I read about this - they come to your home and make you dinner!)
Matt James to fix up my yard
a full night's sleep

Monday, February 06, 2006

overheard conversations

Child: I have to pray to God so that he won't send the lightening and thunder.
Mama: really? Might you pray to God for other reasons?
Child (scathing): No. And I need the very big book way up there.
Mama (sensing a ploy): Nope. You can use your little one.
Child: That's okay - God's not a real person, anyway. Everybody is just making him up.
Mama: what makes God not real? Just because you can't see Him doesn't mean He's not there.
Child: He's hiding in the clouds, up where I can't see him. But he's not real because He doesn't have bones.
Mama: Ah.

scene: child at school with nurse, who is giving the infusion of clotting factor, while the mama is home sick. Other children are watching with tremendous interest.

Child: And this is the needle, and this is the gauze, and here is the alcohol, which you need to clean the skin.
Nurse: If you want, we can do this where your friends can't watch us. Are you alright with all of the kids watching?
Child: Yup. It's okay.
Watching Child: XXXXXX, are you getting medicine because you are sick?
Child: No. The medicine keeps me healthy.
Nurse: (silent explosion of pride)


And as a reward for those of you who have read the entire post, here's a blog that I'm currently looking at: http://The Kosher Blog

Saturday, February 04, 2006

out of the woodwork

Some Fridays ago, I was exercising my new Snap N Go (hideous name, useful stroller) and decided to drop in at the supermarket for some pre-shabbat groceries. I walked into the produce section, where a woman was interrogating the staff on the best apple for apple crisps. She settled on Macintosh, and walked past me, clutching a bagful. As she passed the stroller, she craned her neck to look inside and smile at the baby.

[Note: there is something about a baby that makes it public property. The mere presence of one in a tummy removes all hope of personal space, and encourages perfect strangers to talk about episiotomies and hemorrhoids. Once the infant has emerged, the mother fades into the background, only to look on in horror as strangers touch, breathe upon and instruct her in the care of her child. In our town, we have three supermarkets: the ruinously expensive one, the standard one and the wanna-be grandparent one. Alas, that last is also the one with the cheap produce. So, once a month I go there to protect my budget while being instructed that the baby is too hot, too cold, hungry or requiring sleep training by horrifying method du jour. Ah, the sacrifice that our bean counter will never truly appreciate....]

So there she was, Apple Crisp Lady, peering into my stroller. 'He's beautiful,' she cooed. I happily agreed. 'And you are a wonderful mother,' she informed me. I cocked an eyebrow, waiting. There was a pause and then: 'My daughter can't have children.' She stopped, looking surprised. 'I haven't told anyone that before,' she said. I suggested, gently, that perhaps it is sometimes easier to tell things to a stranger. Relieved, she agreed. And then it all came pouring out: her daughter's fertility issues, whether or not she should talk to them about donor eggs, adoption, and of course, her daughter's recent miscarriage. 'Turns out,' she confided, 'there was something genetically wrong with the baby. Better it should have ended than there to be a baby with something genetically wrong, you know?'

Internally, I sighed. I weighted my options and considered smiling and nodding. But then I remembered all the well-meaning people who commented on my pregnancy, telling me to hope for a healthy child. But in my family, we know that the body's health is less important than spirit's. And I remembered the man I met on a plane once, who admired my older son, then 8 months old. He'd been with Medecins Sans Frontieres, and he confided his belief that carriers of genetic conditions should not be allowed to reproduce. So easily can caring turn to a kind of euthanasia, or ignorance lead to a fear or misunderstanding of what imperfect health, chronic conditions can mean.

I looked at Apple Crisp lady, and began, 'let me tell you about my older son. He's four years old...'

Thursday, February 02, 2006

when needs be...

A time comes in a woman's life when she must wonder: can I detach the nursing baby, gently place him somewhere safe and still make it to the bathroom before my stomach contents stage their exodus?

Luckily for me, thus far today the answer has been yes. Even luckier for me, said baby has been fascinated by the unusual sounds his mama had been making, and was quiet while I was so occupied.

'Virus,' said the doctor, as my two boys bounced around her office. 'Virus,' said my dad, whisking out the door to his airplane. 'Oh, no,' said my partner, thinking of hours of worktime at risk. 'Aarrghmph,' said I.

The Mama's lesson for today: there are unexpected benefits to cleaning the toilet regularly.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

quote of the month

"Mummy, why is the police officer giving you a consequence?"

The story: our inspection sticker was, apparently, from August 2005, and I was pulled over on January 2006 by a sharp-eyed young policeman. He asked me about the sticker, and I admitted that yes, we'd let things slide a bit since the baby was born. The cop gave me a quick, sympathetic glance, and then I saw my opportunity: I could play the gimp card. After all, in August my older son had been hospitalized unexpectedly and then had had his sixth surgery to boot. Complications followed, with a certain merry infant hard on their heels. It was a sob story that surely would get me out of a ticket...

Glancing in the rearview mirror, I saw my older son, fascinated, watching his mama getting her 'consequence' for not doing what she was told. And I realized the lesson I'd be teaching him if I begged my way out of the ticket - and especially if I begged my way out with a tale of woe, based on his medical needs. So I accepted the $50 fine, and thanked the officer. The officer in turn apologized for the ticket, and we parted on good terms.

As I drove away, I found myself peeking at my older child and wondering. Who learned what lesson today?