Shortly after M was born my husband's mom dug out of her storage room a big metal wash basin. It has some deep family history that I've forgotten. Three generations have bathed in this thing as babies? Four generations?

Anyway, the M had two baths in it last summer ... one good (staring up at the leaves in the backyard and cooing) and one bad (screaming, me crying, both of us soaked, lots of grass clippings, no one especially clean or happy), and then it went unused for many months.

Today I got it out, threw in a few stacking cups and a toy watering can, let the hose run in it at a trickle, and turned the Monkey loose with it. She elected to sit IN the washtub, getting totally, totally soggy and thorougly enjoying the running water, the splashing, the general fun of being out in the backyard and all wet.

And I sat ten feet away and picked a big colander full of red currants, which were on the verge of being too ripe.

I chatter at the Monkey a lot during the day, but while we did this I was quiet and it felt like we were both content, just soaking in the colors and sensations of a not-too-humid midwestern summer day in the backyard.


I S S T T N Y ?

Hah. Most times, I say, “mmhmm” and change the subject.

On a good night, the Monkey goes to sleep at 7:30, then wakes up to nurse at around 11 or 12, again at around 3:30, and sometimes around 6, and then is up for the day at around 7.

She sleeps on a pack-n-play mattress on the floor in our bedroom until the first wake up, and then we bring her into bed with us.

She naps twice a day, still. A half hour in the morning and maybe an hour in the afternoon. Naps, too, are on the floor of our bedroom.

Going down for naps or for the night entails either my lying with her, nursing off and on, for between 15 minutes and an hour (lately, closer to an hour a lot of the time, especially at night), or Dada or the babysitter holding her while she screams her head off, mad about the lack of nursing, then falls asleep.

We did not set out to be co-sleepers, but here we are. And while I am glad to have given the M the nighttime closeness that she seems to have needed for this long, I am ready—have been ready for a while—for a change.

However, I cannot stomach the blood-curdling screaming that ensues when the Monkey’s drive to nurse is thwarted. Nor does my first choice of sleep solution (me checking in to the Hilton for a month or two while the mister and the Monkey sort this all out) seem very realistic. There must be a happy medium. I’m open to suggestions.


Extended Breastfeeding on the Prairie

Since the Monkey turned a year old, no fewer than four people in my office (with a total staff of ten people) have asked how much longer I’m going to breastfeed her.

By and large, people ask this in an even and pleasant tone, as if they are simply curious about the content of my daughter’s nutritional intake and how it might be changing over the next few months. Some are even skillful enough to phrase the question as if it were purely theoretical rather than an inquiry into an area of my life that, while not exactly intimate or secret, they otherwise aren’t really a part of. “How long does breastfeeding take?” they say. “I mean, how long do most people do it?”

The zinnias are blooming, the humidity is low, and I am feeling optimistic and willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. So I’m refraining from assuming that my coworkers are horrified at my decision to keep nursing this long, or that when—having answered their (in almost all cases, nosy) question with, “I don’t know. I don’t really have a schedule for when I want to wean her,”—I leave the vicinity, they are giggling together behind my back. I’m assuming they’re really just curious.

But how funny that everyone’s curiosity about this topic should rise all at once like this. I don’t recall a single person asking me this before a month or so ago, and now suddenly the duration of our breastfeeding is sufficiently fascinating to cause half of my coworkers to find ways to work the question into conversation. You’d almost think there were some kind of cultural norm that kids shouldn’t nurse beyond one year of age.

Something tells me that if I lived several hundred miles closer to one ocean or the other, I’d be having very different sorts of conversations with my coworkers, indeed.


In My Grocery Cart This Afternoon

six bananas
one package frozen waffles
one package brown rice cakes with tamari and seaweed
three cans Orangina
one jar peanut butter
one half gallon hormone-free milk
one loaf multi-grain bread
one package Newman's Own oreos

Guess which items I walked in planning to buy and which were the impulse buys. Bonus question: Which will the M and I have consumed by the end of the week?


Things to Carry

The M and I spent the middle part of the day (between naps) doing errands. Well, errands of the sort that you invent to get yourself out of the house.

We went to a fabric store—a fancy one with racks and racks of beautiful silks and batiks and things that people with actual sewing ability use to make gorgeous outfits. We went there to buy a couple of yards of oilcloth. The bright colors and 1950s-style flower prints had caught my eye before, and I wanted to get a big piece to use as a table cloth to keep art messes contained. (We aren't that far from the day of art messes!) So I bought a yard and a half of red with yellow and pink and blue flowers, and it turns out the Monkey is as enraptured with the design as I am. The woman rolled it on a 46-inch cardboard tube for me to take home. The M is thrilled with her new ability to carry things, the larger and more unwieldy the better, and this was her ideal object. She helped me carry the rolled up cloth out to the car and then could barely stand to be separated from it for the three seconds it took to maneuver her into the car seat. A match made in heaven: a girl and her oilcloth.

And we needed a birthday gift for some friends' baby's first birthday, so we hit the nearby somewhat fancy toy store and picked up one of these, for which I hope my friends will forgive me. It seems to have quite a pleasant sound.

I'm not usually a big shopper and never have been one to covet baby items much, but before the Monkey came on the scene I kept encountering these little suitcases in various gift shops, and I resisted buying them, not wanting to have a lot of stuff around reminding me of the lack of baby. Today I bought one—a red one that's yellow inside—for the Monkey. She has a gazillion toys and is entirely happy carrying around the watering can or an empty grocery bag, so I'm putting the suitcase away until an especially rainy day. It's fun to know I have this sweet surprise for her tucked away.


Not Complaining Either

This post makes me wonder why I've been surprised in the opposite way.

This is hard for me to think clearly about, because I have to work hard to keep the "because I'm a bad mother" sirens from going off.

I am shocked, almost every day, at how immensely I love the Monkey. Things that, pre-baby, I anticipated would feel like hellish drudgery, are simply not. And I find myself reacting with nothing but empathy for things (i.e. toddler frustration turned whining / screaming) that, pre-baby, I feared I'd have no patience for.

But I'm also surprised at how heavy the life of taking care of her sometimes feels and how intensely I sometimes wish that I were not the main person on that job all day and night all the time. I didn't expect this at all.

I expected to hate going back to work. And it is always difficult to spend a day at the office, away from her (which I do two days per week). But at the same time, my hours at the office feel refreshing: a break. That surprises me.

I attribute my perspective on this to: high expectations (somehow thought I'd love every second?); parenting style (attachment-ish—still lots of night nursing); spouse's work schedule (lately, insanely demanding—we both hate it); and something else. Introversion? Intense need for down time?

And I don't know whether this feeling means something needs to change. I have the sense that working more is not the answer. I think I would hunger for more baby time. Division of labor is, as I have mentioned, a topic of discussion around here and something we're still figuring out. Maybe coming to a new understanding, if not a new arrangement, will help. As will getting, someday, more sleep (do I keep mentioning sleep?)

How do your expectations from before baby line up with how you feel now about how you spend your days? Why do you think it happened that way?


She Toddles!

She'd been taking a few steps at a time for weeks, but last weekend, overnight, the Monkey suddenly switched from mostly crawing to mostly walking. Before, she'd take a few steps, lose her balance, fall, and continue crawling to her destination. Now when she falls (which is suddenly more rare) she gets back up (via the downward facing dog position) and keeps walking.

Her pace is really slow and deliberate. A friend's baby, who's a few months older, started walking a couple of months ago and he looked like he was constantly dancing/falling as he walked, and he bopped along so quickly it looked like he was pretty much doomed for a skull-cracking fall every two feet or so. The Monkey, she takes one little shuffle at a time.

Fun. Also, now I have an easy answer for the grocery store people. What's the next question everyone asks, I wonder, after, "Is she walking?" Probably, "Are you trying for another one?", right?


Worse than an Easter egg?

A couple of weeks ago, while I was carrying the Monkey in the backpack and getting a few little things done around the house, I ran across a half full little (capped) bottle of breast milk. It had been in the diaper bag (sent with her back from the babysitter's) since the night before, so I would have just thrown it out. But the Monkey is fascinated with milk in bottles and so, thinking it would buy me a few more minutes of peaceful backpack time, I handed it up to her and continued to putter around the house and the backyard.

When I took her out of the backpack, I realized she no longer had the bottle. I've looked everywhere and not found the thing.

So if you're curious about what happens to breast milk after long periods at room temperature and above, stay tuned. I'm sure we'll find it one day.

Time Theft

What I've done since 1 p.m.:

  • Eaten lunch at a quiet place all by myself, while reading this book.
  • Wandered around Target looking for a basket to contain small items in the dishwasher. Did you know they keep them in the baby bottle section?
  • Came home, sent the babysitter away, and put Monkey down for a nap.
  • Finally bought some of these on line, despite qualms about plastic product near boobs (my bra is part polyester anyway, right?)

What I should have done since 1 p.m.:

  • Eaten hummus and pita at my desk.
  • Started new and daunting project at work.
  • Come home in time to accomplish unsavory tasks (e.g. dispose of two roadkill bunnies found right next our car this morning) before Monkey woke up from nap.

Ah, well. Six of one, half a dozen of the other, right? Now I will write for a while, drink iced tea, and find my dad a fathers' day gift. And, oh shit! find my husband a fathers' day gift! instead of beginning the daunting work project, dealing with the bunnies, doing situps, and mopping the kitchen floor.


More on That

If there were a scorecard, I'd lose points today, because she seems to be taking a decent nap.

Obsessing a little over our division of labor angst, I fished around some on a message board where I used to spend a lot of time, and right away found a thread where poster after poster (independent, smart women, all) was complaining about the exact same thing: I am doing all the work, or I am doing more than my share, or, My partner does a fair amount but I resent always needing to be the one in charge.

How can this be?

I'm a dropout from a graduate program in a social science department too smart for its own good, so I'm no stranger to the idea that we participate in systems we don't necessarily understand, and that free will may have far less bearing on how our lives turn out than we think it does.

But it confounds me that so many of us who thought we were getting into really egalitarian parenting situations are feeling so overburdened and sometimes so resentful of our partners.

And I am too deep in it to figure out what's real unfairness and what's my perception. Do I just feel like I'm doing too much because the night nursing is, well, too much? Do I need an unusual amount of downtime to feel sane? Where have we gone wrong?

One possibility is that a lot of this comes from the unnatural way that so many families (including us, so far, dammit) raise kids: pretty isolated. Without extended family really nearby to give us breaks. Without neighbors we know well to share our days with. If one thing has become clear from our family's recent discussions about this, it's that we need more community to take some of the stress off of both of us.

And then there is the larger sense in which ... hey, we are so well fed, so well clothed, and have such a delightful little Monkey in our midst. Who cares if all we can do is lie on the cat hair-matted floor while she uses our bodies as a jungle gym ... we are as lucky as can be.


Division of Labor

The mister and I have been talking a lot lately about who does what around here.

We're both feeling pretty stretched: He works full time (and lately a lot more than full time); I work part time and have a number of big, stressful deadlines approaching all at once. It's clear we've each got to hold down our own jobs; it's the sorting out of baby- and home-related tasks we're hung up on.

Somehow, I feel like I'm doing, oh, 90% of it. And he feels like we're pretty close to a fair fifty-fifty.

It mystifies me. I don't consider my husband any sort of traditional, patriarchal, housework-shirking guy. Nor do I consider him particularly clueless about what constitutes a fair division of labor. So why does he pretty much feel things are ok, while I sometimes feel so overburdened?

The night parenting (which—long story—falls pretty much entirely to me) is a particularly heavy part of it, and I do think the constant inadequate sleep is keeping me from being very charitable about much of anything. I think that bit actually is quite unbalanced and unfair. But beyond that, it's hard to say what's really a "fair" scheme. How would we quantify it, if we wanted to make a score card? How does a half-day in the office plus ten hours of baby play / diapers / bath / meal planning / laundry balance against 12 hours in the office? Does the value change if the person at home is too tired to even throw together a meal and we end up ordering pizza? Are there extra points for vacuuming?

My latest answer is that of course it can't really be quantified, and that the only thing that's going to make it feel right is constant respect, from each of us, that the other one is doing the absolute very best they can.


"If you could do anything in the world right now, what would it be?"

I wonder when my answer to that will stop being, "Sleep."