Technological Blessings: building e-bridges to bring families together


Gzzzzzzzzzzz – we interrupt this MamaBlog to bring you the words of… NinjaDad (Nica’s papa). These are his thoughts about bringing up a baby in a technological era and how that affects relationships. It may be interesting to note that thought Gauri (Nica’s mommy) is a confirmed hippy, NinjaDad is a programmer and works in technology for a living.

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As I sit in my New York hotel room reading Dr Seuss to Nica 2,905 miles away at home in San Francisco I reflect on how different her life will be compared to mine growing up in an age of technology. Modern technology is a wonderful thing. I can look up how far San Francisco is from New York in the blink of an eye. I can show Nica a picture of a Yak right then and there when one is mentioned in one of her songs. Technology has also helped us stay connected.

Nica and I share the fact that our Grandparents live continents away. Growing up I had very little contact with my grandparents who lived in Hong Kong (while I was growing up in London, UK). I loved them all dearly, in the way that one can’t help loving their family, but I never managed to find a comfortable way to really connect with them. We never played together, never or had any meaningful conversations. This was in part due to the “children should be seen but not heard” mentality I was bought up under but also, I suspect, due to the infrequency of our interactions. Our one main socializing event would be the annual (forced and often laggy) phone call on their birthdays. We would talk about the weather, how their health was and generally try to end the awkwardness as fast as possible.

Conversely, Nica’s grammy video-Skypes her several times a week. They sing, read books, and chat to each other. Sure its a far cry from engaging with someone in person but despite being an ocean and continent apart they have managed to form a far richer and intimate relationship than I ever had. To the extent that Nica didn’t have any problem hanging out with her Grammy when she came to visit. Normally it takes Anya a while to warm up to and be herself around people she’s never met before but with her grammy this just wasn’t an issue – the love fest continued in person. I wonder how my relationship with my grandparents would have been different if I we had had access to video conferencing…

Nica is no doubt a techno baby. At 2 she was able to answer incoming Skype calls as well as send ‘smilies’. For some reason this concerns me but I’m not sure why. Maybe it is because we tried so hard to keep her away from all screens in her first year or the potential health implications of all this electromagnetic pollution (I hear a woman is suing Santa Monica for wifi parking meters making her ill: http://consumerist.com/2012/08/woman-suing-city-of-santa-monica-for-1-7-billion-claiming-new-wireless-parking-meters-are-affecting-her-health.html). And we still keep her TV/YouTube viewing down to a minimum so that it doesn’t interfere with her budding imagination and ability to create her own entertainment.

Still, these concerns aside I am grateful for the technology we have. I Skype Anya almost daily from work and we have each other in the background as we work and play. To be able to share in my daughters morning activities – be it 25 or 2905 miles away – is truly a blessed thing and I am grateful.

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How about you, how do you use technology to build bridges to span the distance between family members?

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Guest Blogger: On Going Back to Work

A few weeks back I read on my friend Jen’s facebook status that she was going back to work after staying home and caring for her daughter Awynn for nearly four months. Jen sometimes writes me little notes and I love the way she writes, fluid with sentiment and poetry. I asked her if she would write a guest blog about her experience of going back to work, as a new mum. She accepted. Her story is below.

Kai and I met Jen and her husband and life-partner Jon when we were travelling in India some years back. We took to them instantly. We met them on a train platform on our way to Goa and then travelled with them down to Gokarna. We were light travelling companions who shared the road for some time and then went our separate ways to continue on our journeys in different directions, we went North, they went South.

Jen used to teach pre-school children following the inspiration of the Reggio Emilia model, a child-led approach centered on trusting and supporting the child’s innate curiosity as the thrust for learning – which I found super compelling. Now, Jen teaches school art 9th to 12th grade, concentrating on design, drawing, ceramics and photography.

Here is Jen’s account of returning to this work, while leaving her little one in the care of her grandparents:

Going back to work is easily the most difficult challenge I have faced.
I spent each moment leading up to my first day back with my sweet girl, Awynn, close to me as she had been since she emerged into my hands three and a half months earlier. I became emotional on my walks with her as I observed her wide eyes taking all in and knowing I would be missing such moments of wonder and growth. I could not reconcile that I would be leaving her in order to work with other people’s children who were having equally amazing moments of wonder and growth away from their own parents. It felt so unnatural.

All that my daughter knew up until the point of my departure to work was going to transform. All that soothed her would change, all that excited her would change, the daily rhythm that we developed as mother and child would be recognizable, but void of one important factor, me. And it is this absence that caused such grief within…the thought of my daughter’s isolation from the foundation of trust that we had established and that going back to work meant loosing that somehow.

So many questions emerged at that time: Can I continue to be present for my daughter and her needs while I am away from her? Will our connection remain as deeply strong? Will I be able to continue to understand her evolving language? Will she shift her love for me to my mother and father who will be caring for her?

And while I was in the vulnerable state of diving into this process of inquiry, I made a mistake. I looked outside of myself. At the time, I saw it as research, seeking the advice of another experienced and informed being who may provide insight and who may even provide me with a bit of validation…that all would be okay. I decided to read about going back to work in Dr. Sear’s The Baby Book. To his credit, I find Dr. Sears‘ advice quite relevant and informed and usually non-judgmental…all reasons why I sought his advice in the first place. The pages that I read in my vulnerable state have since morphed in content, but went a little something like this…He suggested taking time off from work, extending one’s leave, quitting or going back part time. Yes, I would love to, but I am not in a situation where that is possible. Then I read on, that once distance starts to develop between a child and her parents, that it can trigger a sort of domino effect. That one day away becomes two and then dinner without baby becomes a weekend getaway without baby which leads to an extended vacation without baby which leads to a lifetime of distance between parents and child which leads to adolescent rebellion.

What have I done?

By choosing to buy a house with the intention of creating a sacred space, a home for my child, I put myself in a financial position that required me to work. Wouldn’t my daughter be better off living in a smaller rented space to allow for either my husband or me to be present on a daily basis? This dilemma was unsettling and occupied my thoughts and heart for some time. Eventually, the interior dialogue began to wane and clarity settle…the conclusion I drew was…Trust. Surrender. Awynn was born within the walls of the home we created for her and it is here that the magic of our new family dwells. We will stay where her father has harvested the first voluptuous vegetables of his gardening efforts, we will stay where we have planted fig, apple and pear trees, we will stay where rooms have been mindfully created with intention for a small being’s first explorations….we will stay.

And so the inevitable consequence of this decision began. Work, meaningful work, but work nonetheless. Trust. Surrender. On the first day I returned, I kissed my sleeping girl goodbye and left her with my dear parents. I welled up with emotion on my drive to school imagining her cries upon waking without me there to soothe her, to feed her. She had not taken a bottle up until this point despite over a month of attempts, many types of bottle and nipple combinations, many scenarios of my presence/absence in the room… I checked in before lunch…all was fine…I checked in at lunch…all was fine…I checked in after lunch…she had taken a bottle!!! Well…with a lot of coaxing and being lulled into a sleepy state with rattle on the part of my patient mom. When I got a report that she read books, listened to multi-cultural music, played with scarves and instruments…I knew that my baby was going to be fine. In fact, she was going to thrive!

And so began the unexpected….First, the smile. The smile of recognition and bliss given by my daughter to me, her momma, as I come walking on the porch where she and her grandmother are swinging melts the heart. Secondly, the grandparents. My parents are wonderful. I am infinitely grateful and blessed that they have chosen to stay home with Awynn. But the unexpected is the depth of their love and the capacity of growth for their relationship with her. Awynn has gained, not lost in this new rhythm. I am her mother. My husband and I are her parents. This connection will deepen and grow organically and our strong foundation of trust established from the moment she emerged into the world is unchangeable. Her world is expanding with the presence of her grandparents. My parents create a wider circle of trust in their love and commitment to her. Her circle has grown to four individuals who understand her cues, who listen to her needs, who expose her to exciting new experiences. Which brings me to the third unexpected aspect, healing. I am now able to observe, firsthand, what my parents were possibly like with me when I was a baby. There is something incredible about seeing my father put on a special straw walking hat that signals to my daughter (who squeals and kicks her legs in delight) that she will be taking a walk soon. And to see my mother lie down next to my sleeping daughter in the morning as I kiss them both goodbye knowing that my daughter will know her grandmother this intimately forever. Awynn is my gift to them…a new beginning with a radiant new being.

The understanding and clarity gained from this process of returning to work is that the challenge was about me, my identity as a mother, not Awynn’s. She is fluid in her adaptation, clear and present in her body as it is exposed to this amazing reality in which we live. I have learned that she is capable and aware of who I am and how I fit into this reality. It was me who needed defining by me. I am an individual who needs the stimulation that my work with my students brings. I could gain new stimulation by being at home…trying on that identity, but I would not be affecting the lives of my students and they would not be affecting mine. I would miss that as well. As far as the isolation I was grieving for in my earlier state of uncertainty…I was grieving for my isolation from my daughter, not hers from me. It is still very difficult some days, especially when my students are not choosing to put energy into their work, but it becomes easier and easier each day to balance my identities. I dive into my work at school more deeply knowing that my daughter is thriving at home and motivated by the fact that if I am away, I am going to make it worth every moment! I have challenging mornings leaving her and there is not a moment when I do not miss her while I am away (especially pumping while looking at a photo of her…so unnatural…a full topic in and of itself!) But coming home….oh the sweet, sweet moment of returning home and snuggling up with my girl…overflowing with love.

Guest Blogger: Baby-Led Weaning

[photo: Madie at 7 months, feeding herself a chunk of broccoli]

After first hearing about Baby-Led Weaning [see my first musings here: ] I asked my friend Ang, who has been experimenting with it with her daughter Madie since she was 5.5 months old (she is now 8.5 months old) what the main advantages are. Below is her response:

“With baby-led weaning, the main advantage for the mother is: no purees!; for the baby: feeding herself from the start. Afterall, the baby is feeding herself, managing her own nutrient and liquid intake from the breast so it makes sense for that independence to carry on with food. She chooses what to eat and takes the amount she wants etc. That’s what the book’s [http://www.amazon.com/Baby-led-Weaning-Helping-Your-Baby/dp/0091923808/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1278096645&sr=8-1] view is.

My view is: when first introducing foods, why not let them touch your food if/when they want to. It’s more of a game at first and less stressful, I think, than suddenly cooking lots and giving purees.

However, I would say that a mother who chooses baby-led weaning because it sounds easier is in for a surprise! The mess caused is more work to clean up than cooking batches of pureed foods. Well, I think it is. I don’t know for sure because I haven’t pureed anything! I’m mashing stuff now. We gave pre-prepared purees to Madie when we started supplementing the cooked finger foods.

The other advantages in theory is that they learn to enjoy their food from the start whereas purees can be hard to feed to babies and they can end up not enjoying meals and becoming fussy eaters. I don’t buy that. The mothers I know who feed purees stop trying feeding the purees the babies don’t like and give them something else. However, the baby-led way says that you’re supposed to eat each meal with the baby which means there’s a social side for them to enjoy as well. That I can understand would help them enjoy the meal. However, it’s not always logistically possible to do that!!

Finally, with baby-led weaning the baby learns what the veg looks like from the start rather than everything looking the same with a slighly different colour. I guess I enjoy seeing Madie choose which veg to eat knowing what it is going to taste like. That is nice. With the puree it’s always a surprise for her and by the look on her face, not always a good one ;) It’s nice to see her feel so autonomous already!

That’s all I can think of in terms of baby-led vs spoon-fed. My answer: do what works for you, trust your intuition, and maybe avoid reading the books as they seem to always stress the mothers – whether it’s purees or baby-led!!”

Ahh, I have wise friends. Thanks for your thoughts, Ang!

NB Don’t try this at home without consulting with your pediatrician and reading the book (so you are sure you know how to do it safely). Thank you.

Guest Blogger: the daddy’s perspective on this whole having a baby thing

Today I am barging in on Gauri’s blog as a ‘guest writer’ partly out of “hey that looks like fun” syndrome and partly because, well I wanted to express some stuff and thought perhaps you the audience would appreciate some fatherly views.

14 months ago I discovered I was going to be a father. When I first found out I went through a mixed bag of thoughts and emotions. From the practical: ‘Where is it going to sleep?’; car-seats and schools; to the fretful: ‘Am I ready and mature enough to be a father?’; ‘Can we afford a baby?’ Amongst all those questions was also a feeling of great excitement. All of which lasted for about a day. Why? Because above all else it didn’t feel real. The combination of me having a strong denial of fears, the lack of anything substantial to hold on to and the fact that we were keeping it a secret till the end of the first trimester, all helped fade the thought of parenthood into the background of everyday life. I’m pretty sure there were days when I comepletely forgot that Gauri was pregnant. That is until the first doppler test almost two months later. That moment of hearing the baby’s heartbeat for the first time I can honestly say was one of my happiest (along with the day I got married) – a moment of pure joy. And it was also a moment where the reality of it all comes snapping back, but without the fears. The questions of money, schooling and housing were still there and I would be lying if I said that I haven’t thought about them since but in that moment the thought of ‘Am I ready to be a dad’ became moot eclipsed by the realization that I already was one.

Of course this didn’t change the fact that the baby was still pretty much intangible. Yes, the belly got bigger, we got the occasional ultrasound view and I could feel her kick and hiccup. While these were always awesome and filled me with joy each time, sadly with her being in her cosy little room within Gauri meant, for me, Anya was always one step removed. So, for nine months while Gauri was focused on the well being of our baby and the eventual big day, I would have to say my primary concern was actually Gauri, supporting her in anyway that I could (it was a shame that it turned out she had no midnight cravings for pickles and ice-cream which I was totally stoked to go get). I wanted to make sure that she could have the pregnancy and birth she wanted (well we know how that turned out….and if you don’t go read her first post here: https://blessingtree.wordpress.com/2010/03/06/anyas-birt/).

Seeing Anya for the first time, freshly plucked from her mother’s womb, certainly made her real. Cutting her cord doubly so. For that first hour in the nursery I was afraid to touch her for fear of breaking her. But Anya had no such reservations grabbing hold of my finger tight. And since then she has been very tangible and a very big focus of my life (although I try to squeeze in some love for Gauri, too). Every new thing she does fills me with joy. Every cry fills me with sadness. Every giggle makes my heart sing. I purposely carry her in my arms (rather than say the buggy or carrier) when we go shopping so I can show her off. As I watch her rolling over I see her becoming more real and more herself. One day she will be completely her own self: walking running and dancing, but for now she is mine, my darling little angel.