Yes, I defend my child’s right to say ‘no’

If  I only had one word, if I was laid up in bed or something, couldn’t talk, couldn’t sign and for some reason my brain could only put together one word and if I could chose that word, now, I would chose the word ‘No’. It is a very powerful word. If I were (God forbid) unable to communicate or move I am expecting other people would be making a lot of choices for me. They would probably be doing things unto me, over me, around me… making decisions that I wouldn’t make for myself. The word ‘no’ might be the only word I need. Whenever they are doing things that I can live with, things that are loving and aligned with who I am and what I want, I could comfortably continue saying nothing and letting them do what they do. But if a line were crossed into something I really didn’t want to have done to me, then I could use my word to confidently assert that !

If I had just one other expression, I would chose ‘Thank you’ so I could express gratitude for all the work and care these grace-filled helpers were putting into maintaining my wellbeing.

Now I wonder if being a toddler is not a little like this. So much happening to them, decisions being made for them, they are physically picked up and moved and taken (sometimes expressly against their will) to places they don’t want to go before they were ready to leave. No wonder one of their first words is ‘NO’!! No wonder it is my child and so many children’s favourite word. That word is power.

I have said already my kid is not even 18 months old yet, but what I see in her is that word is freedom. It puts her for a second on an equal pegging – ‘I get a say, too. I am not just something to be moved and plopped somewhere else. I am a person and I deserve respect and choice!’ and most often when she uses the power of this word it is not to tell me ‘no, never’ it usually just means ‘not just yet, mom’ or ‘let me think about it for a moment while I finish what I am doing, mom’ but she is not quite articulate enough to say all that yet, so I fill in the words for her by looking in her eyes, feeling into her energy as it shifts through the day, as we do our dance.

Every ‘no’ I hear, I try to listen into it. Honestly sometimes I laugh. It is still fresh enough that it is cute. In fact my daughter doesn’t actually say ‘no’ yet, she signs it. I modified the sign from ASL to be easier for her, I gave her a proper, cool finger waggle and I love when she gets that finger out. ‘No, mommy’ (waggle, waggle). ‘I don’t want to put my PJs on yet. Thank you.’ And I remember, I probably wouldn’t want to be told what to do, when to do it and how to do it all the time, either. I might still have a lot to learn about this (the ‘terrible twos’ lay still ahead of me laughing… or is that screaming and banging their fists on the floor at me?!) but for now, I let her have some ‘nos’. I let her have as many as possible.



lions for boys, butterflies for girls? why gender-specific apparel is so last generation.

My baby doesn’t know what gender she is and I am sure she doesn’t care. This point was brought home to me when I saw her, the other day, trying on my shoes and then trying on her dad’s shoes. She has no concept (at 16 months) of girl-shoes and boy-shoes. They are just shoes.

Today, I read this article and it got me going again! It really bugs me how ‘gendered’ everything is. The cheap stuff (the stuff in my budget) is all very pink or very blue. More than that it annoys me that animals have been gendered, too. Kittens, bunnies and butterflies for girls; dogs, dinosaurs, lions and monkeys for boys. What is that all about? Like the lion as a species doesn’t have females – strong, elegant females, I may add? And it turns out Anya loves monkeys – again there is such a thing as female monkeys.

I get where the stereotype comes from: animals which display the characteristics which we currently, in our society, label as male (like playfulness, assertiveness/aggression, strength, hunting prowess, etc.) most often adorn boy clothes; and animals which are seen as cute, sweet and harmless are plastered on pink girl clothes. Aaarrgh. Still it irks me, what if my girl wants to grow up to be an amazing, strong ‘hunter’ type?

Don’t get me wrong, I love pink and am happy for her to wear pink – mostly fuchsia, rather than demure, sweet ‘baby pink’. But she also wears blue and green and even (*gasp*) clothes with lions and monkeys on it – which, by the way, she looves.

She also loves cars, trucks and tractors so we have those around, too. My approach is to follow her lead – give her variety and let her chose. I am not about inverting the stereotypes which some parents seem to want to do: pink and dolls for boys, cars and dinosaurs for girls. Neither do I resonate with gender-neutrality meaning no pink and no blue in the house – only green and yellow for everyone. I think gender neutrality means freedom. It means you can wear pink – you just don’t have to (otherwise you are just replacing one tyranny or bias with another, surely). Above all, I think it is respectful to allow children to find what they like, as unique individuals – regardless of what them being of one sex makes it most likely they will be drawn to or, worse, what society says ‘good girls’ (or strong boys) should be drawn to.

I studied developmental psychology (a life-time ago). I remember that no matter how gender-neutral you make an environment, most girls are drawn to more social play, most boys start rough-and-tumble play early on. I don’t even want to get in the way of that. I think it is fine that our brains and bodies are structured differently… I am a ‘difference feminist’ afterall (as in ‘vive la diference‘) so let us each enjoy and celebrate our differences, as individuals, each our own personal mix of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits, likes and hobbies.

Of course, I am a product of my time and my education… and of my location (I live in San Francisco). We now know that sexuality, for example, is almost completely (if not completely) determined at birth. It is nature not nurture. I think, the more and more I observe little Anya and other babes grow up, that the same goes for so much of their character. So maybe our grandparents believed they could shape a baby, make a girl more girly by putting her in pink or a boy more manly by clothing him in blue… but I don’t think her temperament is mine for the shaping. I think it is hers for the discovering.

Green foods for the win – how we kicked Anya’s anemia

Woooohoooo! Anya’s anemia has been resolved (for now, at least).

After 6 weeks of taking the iron prescribed by the doctor we went for another appointment at the pediatrician’s and did a finger prick hemoglobin test. Anya’s hemoglobin level was 10.8. You will remember when they first tested it , it was 10.1. ‘Normal’ is 11 to 14.

I was happy with this new reading – her iron levels were going up and were almost normal…. the doctor was not. He said the levels weren’t raising fast enough. So he sent us to do more in depth blood analysis to rule out any possible conditions belying the anemia (such as Thalassemia, for example).

We could have gone straight to do the test that day but I chose instead to delay it by another week or so, to see if an extra push at home could bring Anya’s iron levels up. I was really unhappy with the iron the doctor prescribed. It is the standard pharmaceutical one – which is basically an inorganic form of iron which is very hard for the body to utilise. On top of that they add artificial sweetners and preservatives – why??? That is the first time I put such unhealthy stuff into my baby and prescribed by a doctor, no less. I mean, I really like our pediatrician he is a nice guy and very supportive but I think, like many doctors, he is not so much into reading the minucea of drug labels – as long as the iron is in there, he is happy. The ‘details’ matter to me. This is my daughter’s health we are talking about.

Normally, I would just march down to the health food store and buy a natural equivalent. That is what we did when the doctor told us, at birth, to supplement Anya’s diet (well, her breastfeeding) with Vitamin D. We followed his advice but went and got an all natural one. Unfortunately, I asked at the pharmacy and they didn’t have an iron supplement without additives (or at least without sweetners) and neither did Wholefoods – not for babies under the age of one! The closest I could find was a kids version of Floradix which clearly contains iron (based on the list of green veg and other ingredients) but does not disclose how much and is more centered on the vitamin content of its ingredients [I am assuming this is because toxicity from iron overdose is one of the leading causes of infant death – touchy subject, really]. In any case it says not to give it to children under the age of one. That is, I am guessing, because it contains honey which can carry the botulism spore. Adults high-acid digestive system will destroy this spore but babies’ under the age of one, will not. Anyway, the upshot is that there was no off-the-shelf, all natural, easily absorbable iron I could find for a young baby.

Why does this matter? The issue with the cheap form of iron the pharmacy’s will give you is that it is not the kind that is naturally occurring in food. The kind they give you is not easily recognised by the body as a food stuff/ nutrient and consequently is very hard to absorb, from my understanding. It causes constipation and the feces go very black – what is that doing to the poor little digestive system of my pure little baby? Naturally occurring iron is found in great concentration in foods that are absolutely not constipating like green leafy vegetables beans and avocado, for example.

So, I spoke to my dad (the natural medicines practitioner) and he suggested I give Anya a green food supplement. We went for Dr. Brock’s Power Plants. It is designed to be not only super-absorbable but also extremely alkalising to the body. This was perfect as, so far, Anya has been raised vegan (though neither of us, parents are – we just feel she is pure and should be given the chance to chose whether she wants to eat the flesh of animals who have been killed for this purpose and often raised for this, too – but that is a whole other post, really…)

We shifted to giving Anya much more of the green food supplement and pretty much phased out the pharmaceutical iron (which clearly wasn’t working that well, anyway). Then, onto the blood test about ten days later.

I have got to tell you the actual blood drawing was probably the most traumatic thing Anya has experienced since her birth. It was really horrible. It took 3 nurses to try and find a (tiny baby’s) vein and with me holding her down so she wouldn’t hand undo all their work. They had to stick a needle in her three times and it left humongous bruises. It was all rather stressful (I know much worse things can happen… but it felt like a bit of an ordeal – I am very blessed that this is our biggest challenge to date).

The results? Anya’s doctor phoned back a few days later to say she was completely in the clear. Her hemoglobin levels were now 12.5 and all other indicators were normal. What a huge relief. But wait, let’s do the math: so in six weeks of taking the pharmacy’s iron her hemoglobin level went up from 10.1 to 10.8 – that is 0.7 points. In about 10 days of taking the green food supplement it went up by 1.7. That means that in ten days it went up more than twice as much as it did in the previous six weeks.

Honestly, I haven’t researched the biology of iron absorption – perhaps it is cumulative and the horrid-iron did all the good work first and the supplement just came in at the last moment and stole all the glory… but it does not look like that. It certainly seems like it was the green supplement that did it, not least because the doctor clearly wanted it to have gone up faster in the first place and then seemed surprised it had gone up so much in that final stint. I have not had a chance to speak to him in person yet. It might be interesting to see what he has to say on the subject when we next meet.

In any case, my mother’s heart is now (temporarily at least) at rest. The doctor’s words were that ‘she no longer needs to take iron’. That is huge and a huge comfort. I can let out a big sigh and stop worrying so much about getting enough iron-rich foods in Anya’s diet, etc. I was becoming almost obsessed, focussing on a single nutrient above all others – which is clearly not good, either.

I am sooooo happy Anya is better, is responding to the natural iron and, all-in-all, as far as we know (knock on wood) healthy. Phew.

We have, of course, discontinued the iron-filings-style-pharmaceutical-concoction; we are, however, continuing to give Anya the green supplement albeit at a slightly lower dose. I can tell you her digestive system is certainly reacting a lot better now. I am taking it, too, as afterall the most likely cause of her anemia is that I am anemic too (and hence had little or no iron to pass on to her in my milk). Ironic (or symbolic, somehow) that Anya may have got sick because I am not taking good enough care of myself. If ever I needed a reminder… I need to stay well to care for my baby – both my and her health and wellbeing depend on it.

Friendly disclaimer: this article is meant only to describe my personal experience and is based on my opinion. It is not meant to replace proper, professional medical advice.

And sometimes the opposite is also true…

children playing

Image by Gakige via Flickr

“And sometimes the opposite is also true” as Suzuki Roshi used to say.

Yes, I think the research and recommendations of Dr Sally Ward seem sound and worth trying out but that doesn’t mean I think I should follow my daughter round and point at things and name them, all day. I just wanted to be clear about that. I think half an hour is quite enough, unless indeed the kid has a language delay or the like.

And I guess that is the beauty of a blog. I get to redress any issue I want and I always get the last word.

Meanwhile, I am navigating my way through this sea of parenting advice contradictions and finding that when I look up close they are not opposite but complementary. I still love Jean Liedloff’s admonitions to not become child-centered in our every day dealings to the point that the kids, who crave to learn by example, by seeing what we do, find they have no role-models but a bunch of people staring and making funny faces at them. Am I exagerating? Sure… but you get the point. Children learn best by copying what we do, at this age – they don’t reason, yet.

The old advice to leave playing kids to play is also a blessing. If your baby is okay, she is entertaining herself, then let her be. It is important for her to learn to amuse herself and to be allowed to follow her own interests, intuitions and curiosity.

Balance (yep, sorry if you wanted a sensationally biased blog, you came to the wrong place – today at least)… balance is the key, she says as she wavers on the tight rope, with half a world a-watchin’.

TFI Friday!

I wrote this yesterday… but was too tired to post it.

Here’s the good news: Kai has a new job! Hooray. I am really happy for him and super proud. Here’s the not so good news: I am burned out from a week with no support.

My mom has left so it is all me, again, but before mom was here Kai was working very near by. He could leave home as late as 9am which meant he often took the morning shift with baby which let me sleep in. He occasionally came home for lunch which broke up my day really well and then he was home by 6pm at the latest most days (although he often brought work home – but at least he was here!). And, added bonus, he worked from home most Fridays. Super! So my week only extended 4 days of solitude.

Okay I am being dramatic. In those days I go out to mommy-and-me groups, I meet up other mums and sometimes I have extra baby and me classes like Music Together or Sign Language (which I am yet to start). And I always try to get out of the house at least once a day, even if it is just for a walk…

Still, this week stretched on and on. Kai now leaves home at 6.30am and doesn’t come home till 6pm. Hey I know that is pretty good compared to many dads and I also know as he gets deeper into his project he’ll be bringing work home a lot, again, but for now, after the shock of my mum leaving :p it really does feel like the day drags on. There are some amazing highs in the midst of it all, of course.  But at the end of the week I am just… exhausted!

Doing the dance of joy!

The phenakistoscope – a couple waltzing

Image via Wikipedia

On Thursday I did the ‘yeah-yeah-yeah’ dance all through the house. My daughter learned how to crawl! Hoorah! She did a proper, if wobbly big girl crawl – on all fours, belly off the ground. It was a thing of great beauty. I was so happy and proud I just had to pick her up and bounce her up and down while singing ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah’! Well, wouldn’t you?!

I am often amazed at how baby’s development just unfurls, like a seed grows into a tree. It seemingly automatically knows what to do and where to go with little or no involvement from us grown ups (if all is well). It is like watching a miracle in slow motion. Or is it a series of little miracles happening on a daily basis. Either way: Amen.

NB Photo or video to follow…?

Attachment Parenting – does it deliver?

Namibie, une femme Himba et son enfant

Image via Wikipedia

I have often wondered what attachment parenting kids turn out like. I mean it is all very well saying this is what we should do – be loving, emotionally-available, responsive parents – but does it work?

I tend to forget, of course, that I myself was, effectively, ‘attachment parented’ even though my parents had never heard such a term. I slept in my parents’ room on adjoining futons until I was 5 and a half. I was breastfed until I was three (not two as I thought and said in an earlier post). I was ‘worn’ in a sling and then a carrier by both my mum and my dad. And overall the kind of parenting I received was responsive, respectful of my needs as a full human being (from birth) and compassionate. So, I guess I should know… but how I turned out is hardly representative in itself. So, what is the norm?

I have met a few older kids that have been brought up this way and the ones I met are super-articulate, intelligent, engaged and empathic. Then again it is good to remember that many of those attracted to attachment parenting as a philosophy are highly-educated, middle-class, relatively well off grown-ups. So how much of the outcome is down to just that – having smart parents, going to good schools, etc.

I went to the ‘guru’, Dr. Sears. He says based on his experience (i.e. empirically… for lack of a proper study). Attachment parented kids are:

1- Caring
2- Compassionate
3- Connected (capable of deep relationships)
4- Careful (less likely to take physical risks because they are well aware of their own capabilities and limitations)
5- Confident

That is nice to hear. It is certainly borne out from the few kids I have met that are ‘attached’ (ie strongly bonded) to their parents from birth. Dr Sears does warn about the dangers of going too far and becoming smothering, overly permissive or indulgent, not to mention just obsessed with their kids with their own lives revolving around that of their children. Yes, there are pitfalls… but then no parenting style is free of challenges and potential flash points.

I know I am really into this topic at the moment, so bear with me. I am processing it, somehow. Situating myself in relation to the philosophy I seem to have chosen. My heart led the way.

Let me quote this same online article:

“Besides these “C’s” for children, there is an important “C” for parents. The attachment parents developed confidence
sooner. They used the basic tools of attachment parenting, but felt confident and free enough to branch out into their own style until they found what worked for them, their baby, and their lifestyle. (…) These parents used themselves and their baby as the barometer of their parenting style, not the norms of the neighborhood. [emphasis mine]

I am not trying to ‘convert’ anybody to attachment parenting. I wouldn’t even presume that I could if I tried. I find people are drawn to that with which they resonate. I was already into what I thought of as natural parenting before I found out it was called ‘attachment parenting’ and when I read about it, it was just spelling out what I already felt. I am guessing all you mamas out there find the same: something feels right so you do that… but just in case somebody isn’t resonating with the options being presented to them, then finding out about this alternative might be just the echo your voice was seeking as a whole or part answer to a question in your soul.

Or it might just be about me finding out how to do things for me, for Anya, for our family. That is okay, too.