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.

 

I only need to check in once: Mothering from the Heart

Sometimes I find that I question everything. I ask myself what I want to do… then start second guessing myself – ‘but is that the best thing for Anya?’, ‘Is that what will make her happy right now?’, ‘what will my mother/brother/aunt/neighbour think if they see me?!’, ‘what would my husband want me to do?’ Grr!… it is enough to make your head spin and make you really doubt yourself. In the end, I find I don’t know what I want anymore. This can affect big decisions but it can affect very small daily choices like what music to put on, whether to take Anya out in a stroller (once, just that once, to the grocery store) or whatever. I worry about everything: long-term impact on the social, emotional, physical and mental wellbeing of my child as well as how others will judge me and eventually I’ll factor in my own enjoyment. It is crazy-making.

Then I remember. Slowly, quietly, the little voice within takes over. There is only one truth (with many faces, perhaps – but only one, at its core). I only need to check-in once. The best way to access this truth is to go within. Be still. Listen. When I check in my heart, all the other voices harmonise, somehow. Does this make sense? I am no longer looking to find out what is ‘right’ or what I should do, I am only checking in to find out my truth right now – what feels good to me in the moment. Then I trust that when I do that I am tapping into something bigger than myself, actually. I stop trying to use my mind or my left brain to solve the ‘problem’ and I give over to intuition, to Heart. Every time I do that, switch from ‘manual to automatic’ (to quote Mooji, way out of context) everything starts to go smoothly again. In fact I am no longer trying to ‘solve’ the problem, I am just going to move to doing what feels right to me and trust that, as we are all one, that same movement is what is good for Anya, too.

This is tricky stuff to talk about. I am not, of course, saying – ‘be selfish and do whatever you want to do with no regard for others’ feelings or the impact on your child’ – quite the opposite actually. What I am saying, though, is that your logical brain is not always the best at making these decisions. Your own inner light, your mother’s intuition is a much better guide than any book will ever be – and your mind’s propensity to weigh up pros and cons (ad infinitum, in my case) may lead to some interesting philosophical conclusions but will not tell you what is best for you and your baby as unique souls – your Heart can. Trust that.

Is my toddler’s gluten-free, dairy-free diet ‘restrictive’?… or a start to a life of passionate, conscious, healthy eating?

I wonder what other people think when I tell them what my daughter eats. Please don’t give her (*deep breath in*): wheat, milk, yogurt, cheese, sugar, sweet treats, citrus, apples, tomatoes, meat…

I grew up eating differently. I was certainly made to feel that I was weird because I didn’t eat what other people were eating – this in conservative, Catholic Portugal in the 1980s where conformity was all there was, it seemed. Eating a diet of ‘brown rice and veg’ was not mainstream – far from it. I remember, poignantly, being laughed at for eating brown bread at school; or kids turning their noses up at the homemade, whole-wheat carrot cake served for my 7th birthday party. That was then. The world, the mainstream of it even, has come a long way. What is more, I live in California now where consuming a diet of whole foods is positively de rigeur. Even in Portugal, when I go back now, I have to chuckle when some friend (easily one of the ones that would have laughed at me when I was young and made me feel ‘different”) invites me to go to the hip new macrobiotic restaurant, like it is the new ‘in’ thing… ‘you are joking, right?!

Yet perhaps it was not what I ate but what I didn’t eat that most made me (makes me?) stand out. Today, my eating has gravitated much to the healthy diet my parents (blessedly) gave me when I was a kid – thanks for that again, by the way. I eat whole-grains, veg (salad, soups, stir-frys, etc), legumes (beans, chickpeas, peanuts, soy), nuts and seeds, some fruit and some fish. I don’t eat gluten (especially wheat – save on rare occasions), dairy or meat.

Anya is eating very similarly to me nowadays for various reasons – even though her dad was brought up on a traditional Chinese diet (lots of fresh, home cooked veggies, rice, fish and, notably, meat) and he certainly makes more ‘exceptions’ for things like fun-food (read junk food) than I do – although less and less so, it has to be said. One of the reasons Anya’s diet was originally so selective was due to the fact that she was clearly reacting to things in my milk – according to what I ate. Eggs, soya, tomatoes were all things that made her less than 100% well. Eggs made her come out in a pimply-rash on her face; soya made her spit up, tomatoes gave her diaper rash. Other foods, like apples, were put on a suspect list – to be watched.

I also chose to keep Anya away from such challenging foods as wheat and dairy which are known to be very acid forming, harsh on the gut and mucus producing – I want to let her digestive and immune system mature fully before introducing these, which means waiting until she is at least two. I am not a super-crazy-stickler about this. She has had little tastes of bread if somebody else was eating it and she wanted to try it, I just  make sure I don’t stock these foods at home or rely on them as a mainstay of her diet.

Now, a good nine months into eating solids, I think Anya is an amazing eater. She likes everything – really, everything – we have given her so far. Some things need to be introduced a couple of times, but even that is pretty rare. Things she has been eating, include (among others):

  • whole grains: rice, buckwheat, millet, quinoa (technically a seed but treated for all intents and purposes like a grain), etc.
  • vegetables including: chard, spinach, carrots, asparagus, onion, garlic, sprouts (like radish or broccoli sprouts), corn
  • legumes including: peas, kidney, white and pinto beans, chickpeas (garbanzos), broad beans, lentils and, her absolute favourite: peas
  • root vegetables: sweet potato, yam (which she loves!), potato, ginger (this could be in a spice section instead… she does love all kinds of spices, too)
  • some fish: she has only really had little tastes of fish – white and dark – but has enjoyed it all
  • tofu: she seems to be fine (now, at least) with traditionally prepared soya (a legume, in fact) and really likes it
  • Some fruit: avocado (another big fave), pomegranate, blueberries, blackberries, pears, papaya, etc. We steer clear from the acidic stuff (tomatoes, apples, citrus) as they seem to produce a rash. We do try and eat local and seasonal, especially when it comes to fruit as it is very clear the body likes it better this way and can handle, for example, bananas better when we are in hot a climate (challenging, I know, unless we move to Ecuador!). But again, the occasional banana is a great treat for Anya.
  • Dried fruits: raisins, mango, etc.
  • Gluten-free alternatives to wheat-based products, including: rice cakes, rice, quinoa or corn pasta, gluten-free bread, crackers, etc.
  • Good fats: olive oil, flax seed oil, coconut fat and the like
  • Seaweeds: Anya loves, loves, loves nori and also eats other seaweeds like hijiki or wakame when cooked into rice, etc. These are great sources of many minerals including iron, iodine and calcium.

She gets most of her protein from combining whole grains with legumes, at the moment, as you can see. Her iron comes from leafy greens, sea vegetables, avocados and beans, mainly – and fingers crossed her hemoglobin levels will still be nice and high when we next get them tested, following the anemia episode (I was anemic during pregnancy, with low iron stores so why, oh, why did I think my breastmilk alone would get her own iron stores up??).

So, here is my question to you, is Anya’s diet ‘restrictive’? I mean she appears to be happy enough with it, by and large – as I say she is a pretty good eater. We are lucky and blessed with that, I know! I am not worried about it from that angle. I also think nutritionally speaking she has a pretty good diet (well, even if you disagree with some of my food-beliefs, we will doubtless agree that her diet is all the richer and healthier because of what it does not contain: sugar, processed foods, hydrogenated fats, etc). But here is the crux: I suspect, actually, that her diet may be considerably wider than many-a-toddler. I mean she eats quinoa and buckwheat quite regularly and soup and…

My thought is that the very people who may be moved to feeling her diet is restricted are people whose kids’ (or their own) sustenance relies arguably too much on wheat/gluten based products and dairy. So for them, a diet without those things would appear ‘lacking’, somehow. Perhaps their kids eat sandwiches nearly every day… and/or pasta, and/or cakes, cookies, crackers, pizza, bread, pastries, pies, cherios or any of the other other gluten-filled goodies we find so easy to load up on, often unthinkingly. Is that good for the body? And what about dairy? Are they loading up on yogurt, cheesy goods and milk everyday?

I know dairy is a controversial one. It goes like this, you either buy wholesale the ‘got milk’ type campaigns that tell you milk is a life-giving source of easily utilisable Calcium or… you don’t. Do your own reading on this, please. And hey, I am not unsympathetic to the movement for organic, whole, raw milk – yes if you gotta do it that is a better way to go, for sure – but for many people (depending on your constitution and all) milk just means trouble – gut trouble, skin trouble, sinus trouble and on and on. And, fyi, the calcium from milk isn’t that easy for the body to use because milk also contains casein, a protein that (… wait for it) inhibits the absorption of calcium. You gotta laugh, right? But again, the point is, if their kids eat dairy based products every day, then to them, they might be left wondering what they would give their kids if two of their mainstays were taken away (wheat and dairy) and maybe within some people’s food knowledge and repertoire a diet without milk and bread stuffs would just be barren. I don’t find it so. On the contrary, I think we have a vibrant, diverse and colourful diet… but still, I find myself wondering (and sometimes even caring) what others think.

And, yes, there are days I wish I could cook my full repertoire of recipes for Anya and introduce her to the stuff all the ‘normal’ kids are eating and though that would be the easy option and probably would make her happy (hey who doesn’t like cake or ice cream) I am most likely going to continue doing the best I can with the knowledge I have, sticking to basics like ‘fresh is better than processed’, ‘whole is better than refined’, and ‘home-cooked is better than store-bought’. A little bit of me will still wonder also, at times, whether those kids with their bags of cherios and cheese sticks are, at home, getting a wider, healthier and more varied diet than my kid (and I am guessing the answer is some do, some don’t) but I don’t think I’ll be seduced into thinking that different is necessarily bad. I am making strong, conscious choices for my child’s health and wellbeing, laying down a blueprint of flavours she will probably enjoy for life based mainly on traditional ways of eating in pre-industrialised societies. I, the mother am guiding this process – not the ‘food’ manufacturing companies, the marketing agencies or the media. I am not perfect. I am learning new things about diet – which sometimes contradict everything I thought I knew, all the time, but I am trying and I am going into it consciously, rather than walking supermarket isles like a zombie (well, okay… sometimes I am part-zombie, but most days not).

And a cute little upside of this is… Kai and I have been looking forward to blowing Anya’s mind and her taste buds by introducing her to her first taste of ice-cream – an experience she might even be able to remember when she grows up! Incredible. So the idea is not to restrict, but to eat consciously and yes, still have fun. Indeed, we want her relationship with food  to be natural and effortless; for food to be viewed not just as fuel or comfort but as health-giving, nourishing, uplifting and for her to value the opportunity for social connection that comes with it.

Still, a healthy relationship with food is at least as important as a healthy diet, per se, in my view.  I hope Anya’s nutritional life will be driven by the heart, by a passion for fresh, home cooked food; not just by a rational understanding of what is good for you or a fear of what is bad for the body. Hmm… perhaps I need to do some work on this myself, after all she will learn first about food by watching us, so I need not to preach this stuff but to live it. I want to eat foods which make me feel alive, full of vitality and rearing to go and to re-kindle the joy of cooking. Lived like this, motherhood is good for your health.

NB The photos are vintage Anya… but convey the whole ‘happy eater thing’ quite well, no?

I have a new name and my name is Mama!

Woohoo! So, pretty much the day after that last post about Anya calling both of us ‘dada’ Anya did it, she called me Mama

with a point and everything. She has been at it ever since. It is like her new favourite word and if she doesn’t see me she toddles around the house looking for me saying “mama, mama”.

I can see, from looking at some of my friends with older kids, how this could get old. She could actually wear my name thin by using it and wanting me tooooo much… but for now, I am enjoying every ‘mamamama’. I just love it! It brings a smile to my face, joy to my heart and a hug to my daughter every time. Yay, hooray and hazah!

 

Old photo ‘cos, well, I don’t have that many photos of Anya and me, together. Must make more :)

The other dada (or: when, oh, when will she call me Mama?)

On the other hand, at 14 months, Anya still doesn’t call me Mama! For the last six months, I have been dada (along with the other dada). She knows the difference, she’ll point at the right one of us in response to our ‘names’ but she calls us both dada. If she sees a photo of the two of us together, she we’ll point at K. and say ‘dada’ and point at me and say ‘dada’ while signing milk. She gets it… she just doesn’t bother using the other title. To be fair she also calls random people on the street dada, quite often. We figure it is just her word for person… although I will say she says it with way more zest and enthusiasm when greeting her dad from work. ‘DAADAAAAA!!!’

play

This is quite an emotional subject. I mean we all melt (I can only assume) at the sound of our own child calling our name, especially for the first time. Apparently it is common for this to happen, for a baby to pick one name (either mama or dada) and call both parents that for a time. Thankfully I have met plenty of other moms who say the exact same thing happened at their house – it was dadadada all the time. Once, I even ran into somebody I didn’t know at the shop and her kid was saying ‘dada’. I said that is my daughter’s favourite word, too. She got really quite upset as she told me her baby only said ‘dada’ and not ‘mama’ yet. I rambled off something about evolution and the necessity to ensure the baby bonds with the father first, hence why most moms encourage their babies to say ‘dada’ early on, not to mention that in all languages the word for father is composed of some of the first sounds that babies naturally babble by themselves – even deaf ones – such as baba, papa, dada. Most dads I know will gleefully claim any of those as their ‘name’ if they hear the baby saying it… or at least the mom will claim it for them. There is also research that proves (?) first babies look more like their fathers, again, an evolved trait biologically engineered to keep dads around for longer – especially when things get tough and mothers really need their support. Anyway, I digress, the point is it kind of hurts when your kid doesn’t say your name. Does he/she love dada more?  I got over it. I have rationalised it away, as you can tell, and I figure she’ll say mama sooner or later and in the meantime her dada gets to enjoy all the attention, fun and closeness of hearing Anya shout for him when he arrives home from work everyday.

I’ll share an early secret with you, though, Anya has started saying mamamama a lot (a bit like when she was first learning to babble it) and she looks at me for a reaction (maybe ‘cos she knows that sound will get a reaction) but it fills my heart with joy and my spirit with hope. Could it be soon?

A great ‘natural parenting’ resource: Hobo Mama’s blog

Newborn cuddled in wrap with mama

I love me a bit of synchronicity, I do. Yesterday I sourced a photo from a flickr account called HoboMama of a mother breastfeeding a toddler. Today I stumbled across this: Hobo Mama, the blog. And I am so glad I did – her writing is clear, honest and well researched. She is a mine of information and links to other great bloggers. Gotto check her out.

Also, I noticed she has replaced the term ‘attachment parenting’ with ‘natural parenting’ which sounds so much better and really resonates with me – finally, a  title for this approach I love that I can really get behind.

1 Award, 7 Secrets I Have Been Keeping and 15 Mommy and Photography Blogs

I have been nominated for a Stylish Blog Award by the lovely Rachel of Racheous, bless her. It seems like this ‘award’ is one of those happy-viruses that gets you to play a game (which in this case involves answering some questions) and then tag other people, whose work you admire, to do the same. Here is the scoop on this one, to accept the award I must:

  • Thank and link back to the person who gave me this award.
  • Share 7 things about myself.
  • Pay it forward to 15 recently discovered great bloggers.
  • Contact those bloggers and tell them about the award.

So, first and foremost: thank you Rachel you are gracious as well as Racheous and I think everybody should go over and give you some blogging love. You deserve it truly.

7 secrets revealed:

  1. I suffer(ed) from postpartum anxiety. The symptoms are much eased now and, though they were scary to me, never interfered with the practical skills of mothering or indeed with my bond with my beautiful daughter, they just somehow cast a shadow of self-doubt over my inner being. More on this to come, no doubt, as I  have been meaning to blog about it forever but finding the words just didn’t come.
  2. We have not vaccinated Anya. We may or may not do so in the future. I was not vaccinated myself except for immunizations I had to have for school in Portugal (Tetanus) and some for travelling to exotic destinations. So far, at least, I chose to treat Anya naturally, only. For me this is a decision based in love. I know this is super controversial which is partly why I have not blogged about it yet, either. Again, consider this a teaser of posts to come.
  3. I hate sleep training.  Many people I know have done it and this is no judgment of them – you did what you had to do for your family. I can understand mammas that sleep train their babies as a last resort, because they have to, for themselves, for their sanity. I really get it. Honestly, nothing has brought so much empathy and understanding to me as motherhood. However, I don’t get it when it is defended as a good thing for babies or as a given for all families. I mean, I understand that it might be necessary for families to function, for mother’s (especially working mothers) to finally sleep. I don’t at all buy into the whole ‘getting babies to sleep on their own early helps them become more independent and better sleepers in the long run’ or the converse argument that ‘co-sleeping leads to soft, spoilt, dependent babies’. For one it doesn’t make sense that doing what at least 80% of the world does in bringing up kids leads to dependency and adults who can’t sleep properly. Clearly they can. And, for two, I was brought up like this myself and am perfectly good at ‘self-soothing’, thank you very much. In fact I have always been a great sleeper. My mum just trusted that when I was ready to sleep alone I would and guess what, it worked. I feel the same and am inspired to trust nature, biology and my baby’s own sense of inner timing in finding when she is ready to sleep on her own. [I wasn’t going to quote science ‘cos I think you can always distort or pick at research to make the point you want, but then topically the Times just published this: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1083020.ece with some of the arguments from neuroscience as to why co-sleeping is best for babies. So, there it is, one reading of the science on this.]
  4. I am drawn to unschooling. Alas, I am not sure it is for me, the whole home-schooling thing. I mean I think it is awesome and yet my feeling is that for it to work the parent doing the homeschooling has to have a real passion for it. After all, that is the point you are trying to impart to your kid. Unschooling is all about letting your kid follow their interests and trusting that they will be thus driven to learn what they need to, not only to further their hobbies but to get on in life. Now, surely, the best and highest way to ‘teach’ this is by example, no? So while I heartily embrace the principles of unschooling and totally want to encourage my kid to freely follow her passions, I need to follow mine too and see where they lead, and being a home-teaching (un-teaching?) mum may or may not be it. But then I still have time to see how that develops within me. In the meantime, I would say that my every interaction with my daughter has been in the spirit of unschooling or child-led learning and we are both the richer for it. I don’t force learning on her but I do watch closely and support her need to explore whatever is catching her interest at that time. Again, this may turn into a post in its own right. Watch this space.
  5. I have a guru. Yep, I am sure that sounds bizarre or unusual to many of you. I usually substitute it for the word ‘spiritual teacher’ which seems a bit more palatable, nowadays. Guru, in the original hindu, means ‘remover of darkness’. This points to the fact that a guru does not teach, they only remind you of your original essence by ‘removing’ what is not you, whatever doubt or insecurity is clouding  your vision. It is very sad to me that the word ‘guru’ has become synonymous with all kinds of crazy things, especially in the US. It is unfortunate, too, that most people automatically assume that those who have a guru are weak and dependent or something like that. For me having a spiritual teacher or guide is freeing – it is somebody who a) provides a living example of effortlessly being in the Now, not of human perfection – a contradiction in itself – but of living comfortably, harmoniously and effortlessly with imperfection, if that makes sense; and b) somebody who knows ‘me’ well and can catch my ego-mind at its tricks. Many very spiritual people don’t have a teacher. They say they don’t need one. That always sounds a bit like a paradox to me. If they think they are above teaching is that not a likely sign that their ego is in charge? Some people are at ease and done with ‘searching’ – that is another matter. But if they are in some sense still seeking some kind of relief or self-development and convinced they are better than those who turn to a guide… uh-oh: alarm bells. Only the ego would think it is above teaching and guidance, no? I do think we are in a new era where the role of the guru is much changed from the traditional role it had, mostly in India. Many people are waking up, becoming self-realised or enlightened through their own life-trials with no guru to guide their way… then again many people are not. But when the student is ready the teacher will come. No need to force it. I, too, used to think I didn’t need a teacher, now I am very grateful for the presence of Mooji in my life. The inner-guru still reigns supreme, of course, always. Your ultimate guide is God… or some may call it their inner voice or intuition but sometimes an outer voice of reason, that keeps us grounded and catches us out – especially when we think we have got ‘it’ – can be super useful.
  6. I like reality TV. I know, from the sublime to the ridiculous, ei? Well, there it is, I do. I have always been a people watcher and I consider my love of reality TV (things like Wife-Swap or The Apprentice) as a kind of extension of that. Many of my friends are surprised by this. Many of my friends don’t even own a TV and when they do watch a screen it is a documentary or a French film. I obviously attract that kind of intellectual friend… and yet as soon as they find out my own viewing habits, well… but it is all good fun to me and all about balance.
  7. I love my husband and my daughter dearly. I guess you already knew that, if you have been following this blog, but I just wanted to throw that in again, for good measure, ’cause you can never say that too much!

Blogs that I love:

On birthing and mothering:

  1. There’s a baby out there, that’s the reality – makes me laugh
  2. Uninteresting::Amo-isms – real, insightful, personal account of a journey through mommyhood
  3. Freechildhood –  opens my mind to birthing and mothering alternatives (but no activity on there of late… has she moved?)
  4. I’m unschooled. Yes I can write. –  lovely to learn about unschooling from the perspective of the (grown) kids
  5. Attachment Parenting – the title got me first but I keep reading for a ‘daddy’s perspective’
  6. Natural Mama –  kindred spirits, producing a blog full of insight and practical tips
  7. Erin Ellis Homebirth Midwife – strong on the politics of homebirth
  8. My Funny Bunny – cute, funny and linked to an ethical store
  9. Classic Mommy – down to Earth, human and easy to relate to
  10. Women in Charge – beautiful, healing and inspirational birth stories
  11. Journal of a Mom – touching, honest and with great, original photos, too
  12. Raising Kvell by Mayim Bianik (aka ‘Blossom’) a clear, passionate and articulate advocate for attachment parenting

For photographic inspiration:

  1. Beth Armsheimer – wowee! I love her tones and textures, they really capture a mood
  2. Becoming Mom – a mommy blog with GREAT photography
  3. Robyn Russell – OMG you have got to check out her newborn photos!!

And for good measure, one bonus slightly off-topic blog:

  1. Food Politics – interesting and informed commentary on, well, the politics of food :)