Inheriting the Fun-damentals

13 12 2009

When I was a kid the whole “Reading is Fun-damental” campaign was pretty much unnecessary for me, as were the summer reading programs where kids could earn a pizza or some other treat for reading a certain number of books. Or any of the other incentives adults came up with to teach children to make reading a habit. I loved to read. I still do. By the time I was in high school I would sometimes read up to 2 or 3 books a day. Yes. I meant “per day.” I’m not exaggerating.  One of my coworkers insisted that I must be lying about this statement. I’m not. I know you’re doing the math right now — how many pages per hour?

Well, I can read pretty fast. I actually read slower now than I did in high school and college. But I read so much because I quite simply couldn’t put books down. Once I started a book I had to finish it immediately. This means that I was frequently walking around with my nose in a book, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to stay up in bed reading only to discover that the sun was once again rising. Luckily, I have  always been able to survive on very little sleep (a trait that has been very handy to me as a mother).

One of my sisters also loves to read as much as I do. We both still read constantly, and many of our conversations revolve around what we’ve read recently. My other sister is so very different from us, however. She does not enjoy reading. In fact, she’s not really very good at reading and was nearly illiterate for most of elementary school. It is this fact that breeds internal conflict in me.

See, I love reading so much that this is the one trait of mine I deeply hope Azita will inherit. If she has no interest in science and math, I won’t care. I won’t mind if she does not inherit my musical ear or artistic capabilities. I could care less if she looks like me. I want her to be a reader, and I want her to love it. I want her to be intensely curious about the world around her and to want to read everything there is to know about it. It is this trait of mine that has not only made it just about impossible for me to ever get bored, but it has made it possible for me to learn quickly and adapt to almost any situation.

I once had a professor who professed admiration for the fact that I learned new things by throwing myself into the deep end and learning as I did. It is true that I do this, and the only reason I am able to do this is because I feel confident that whatever I don’t know (and I don’t know a lot) I can learn from what someone else has written. I lack confidence in myself so frequently, but it is my confidence in learning that holds me together and brings me any success I may have in life. I want Azita to always feel secure in this way. To know that the great unknown is not so scary, because it is learnable.

I desire this so much that I obsess about it. I watch her every action around books. How can I tell if she will love reading as my sister and I do, and not dislike it as our youngest sister does? I mean, we all grew up in the same  household, and yet we are so very different in this aspect. How much of the love of reading and learning is nurture?

I frequently talk to my sister about my fear that Azita will not love books. Considering that Roger and I both love to read, it may seem irrational. But until very recently Azita would not let me read to her. Books were things to rip up and throw and chew on. On rare occasions I could make it through a couple pages of Goodnight Moon or Olivia before she would lose interest, but those occasions were very rare. My sister assured me that my worrying was for naught. “Just exposing your daughter to books will teach her to love to read,” she said. I had my doubts.

Then, this morning as I was feeding Azita her breakfast, she leaned over the side of her booster chair and pulled her “Colors” book over so she could flip the pages as she ate her mangoes and waffles. She was actually eating with her nose in a book. Just like I did at the dinner table when I was a child. Maybe all is not lost after all. We may yet be a family that reads together.



12 12 2009

Being a mother means that you are constantly a purveyor of TMI. Get two mothers in the same room, and it won’t be long before they are discussing the color and texture of the mucus they aspirated from their baby’s nose, the degree of their tears from labor and delivery or the ins and outs of their placenta. It’s true. When someone finds out you have a baby, they want to know how old the baby is and that leads to a discussion of how they sleep and how many diapers they go through in a day. Next thing you know, you’ve divulged that your baby’s last poop was green and was dotted with what appeared to be chunks of spinach and carrot.

This happens to every mother. I guarantee it. I am an extremely private person generally, but even I have fallen prey to this phenomenon. Maybe this is due to the fact that being a mother means you are completely responsible for taking care of another human being’s body. Maybe people who take care of ill and/or aging parents exhibit the same behavior. I can’t really say why this is the case, but I do know that I spent a good half hour last night at holiday party discussing with a woman I just met the position and length of umbilical cords in our pregnancies and the number of times we each vomited when giving birth to our children. And I am afraid this might happen again.

I don’t do this. I talk about music and politics and history and art and science and technology and other intellectual topics. I swear. But now there’s some woman out there who believes that I know nothing about anything outside of bowel movements and the physiology of a pregnant uterus. Next time I go to a party I’m sitting in the corner with the latest issues of the New Yorker and Scientific American and a copy of Atlas Shrugged, and I will only talk about their contents. I’m a smart and cultured woman, damn it. Hear me roar!

Say “Bye-Bye”

11 12 2009

Every weekday since I first dropped Azita off at daycare I have the same drop-off routine. First I get her out of her carseat. Roger opens his window and waves goodbye and blows kisses at Azita. Then I carry her into daycare. I talk to her daycare provider for a few minutes — tell her whether she ate breakfast, slept the night before, and basically anything else that might help her gauge Azita’s mood and behavior for the day. Then I hand Azita over and try to get her attention. “Bye-bye, Azita. Bye-bye. Can you say bye-bye to mommy? Say bye-bye. Please. Pleeeease. Say bye-bye. Can mommy have a goodbye kiss?”

Usually all of the other kids there say “bye-bye” to me about 20 times while I stand there making an ass out of myself. Azita never says bye-bye. She knows how to say bye-bye and hello even. She says it to her dad, and continues waving to him as I walk up to the door. She waves hello to Miss. Gail, her favorite caretaker at daycare. She waves bye-bye to Miss Gail when she is leaving daycare. She waves hello and bye-bye to guests visiting our home and to people whose homes we are visiting. She waves hello and bye-bye to perfect strangers on the street. She’ll even say “bye-bye” or “hi”, or at least her cute little baby version of the words. She basically says it to everyone but me.

It’s a little disheartening, but then I remember that her face lights up for me more than it does for anyone else. So, who cares if she won’t wave to me or give me even a little hello or goodbye? Not I.

Then there’s this morning. She waved goodbye to Roger as usual and even said “bye-bye” this morning. She waved hello to Miss Gail when we walked in and gave her a winning smile. Then she turned around and looked at me before I’d even removed her hat and coat and started to wave. “Bye-bye bye-bye bye-bye bye-bye…,” she said. Before I’d even really dropped her off.

She’s not even a year old and she already doesn’t want me hanging around. I know I asked for it, but does she have to be so enthusiastic about sending me off? I tell you, motherhood is one harsh blow after another.

And I love every minute of it.

Ending the Cycle

10 11 2009

Lately I’ve returned to my pre-pregnancy early morning workout routine. While it may suck to wake up at 5:30am and it definitely sucks to be physically active at that time, it is great to be able maximize my time with Azita in the evenings. This means that I have been able to go for walks with Roger and Azita in the evening after Roger is done with his run.

Tonight, we combined our casual evening walk with a chore and walked to the supermarket to pick up some items that were missing for dinner. It was a pleasant walk. The weather was beautiful and not too cold or hot. All of the street lights were working, so we could actually see where we were walking. Azita was in a good mood. Then the night turned sour.

We heard a child scream and start crying. When we looked towards the racket we saw a man with a little boy, and something in his behavior was clearly not kosher. He was just a little too rough with the child and his tone of voice was just a little too malicious. Both Roger and I had the same thought. We needed to keep an eye on this situation. And, I was glad that we did, because not two minutes later when we had gotten about halfway down the block, the man smacked the child on the head. Not just once, but a few times. The child’s crying just agitated him more and culminated in him yanking the boy by the arm so hard that the boy fell forward onto the ground.

That was the last straw for us. Roger was already calling 911 before I could even ask him to get his phone out. Luckily another good citizen — a man biking home from work — noticed the distressed child and also stopped. He talked calmy to the man and explained that we were concerned about the child and just wanted him to wait until the police could talk to him and clear things up.

Long story short, the police came. They explained to the man, who said that this was how you handled children in his native Honduras, that this was not acceptable treatment of a child in the state of Virginia — “You can spank a child, but you cannot hit a child.”

It wasn’t long before we were back home just a block away from the incident, feeding Azita dinner and drawing her bath. Yet, even after an evening of cuddling and playing with Azita and relaxing conversation with Roger, I am still shaken by the whole ordeal. I mean really shaken. As in, my insides feel like they are being rattled about in a rock polisher.

It is an upsetting situation and one that hits close to home. See, when I was growing up, I was the kid who sometimes prompted people to say something to my mother, but I was usually the kid that people tried to ignore rather than cause a scene. In hindsight looking back on things as an adult, I know that somebody should have stopped and paid attention and done the right thing.

I say this as a person who can understand both sides. Because as much as I still feel the shame and hurt of being the recipient of this kind of treatment, I don’t think my mother is an evil person. And I really don’t think the villain of tonight’s saga is really an evil person either. Some of this behavior may be cultural — different levels of physical violence are accepted forms of discipline in many countries — and some of it is borne of the frustrations of being a stranger in a strange country with very little to your name and a life of very hard work ahead of you. Much harder work than I will ever know. And, I will never really know how hard it is to make it in that situation, because my parents took that on themselves for our sake. I have empathy for them and their situation in life.

Still, sometimes all it takes for someone to realize the very real ramifications of their actions is for someone else to give them a little wakeup call. I hope that tonight we were the wakeup call this man needed.  I hope that I was able to do for that boy what no one did for me or my sister.

Because I really just can’t bear to think otherwise.

Wondering About the Wonder Years

28 10 2009

Years ago I clicked through on an email from and out of curiosity I signed up for an account. Since then I receive an email just about every day with updates on my former classmates. They write notes, they upload pictures, they post new events, they update their bios. They do lots of things, and I get emails letting me know that I can login to and see what’s going on.  Here’s the thing. I have no idea who most of these people are.

I was not exactly a popular person in high school, and it went beyond being a member of the freaks and geeks. I was so beyond freak or geek that even they didn’t really accept me into their crew. As a very young child I was painfully shy, and I wasn’t much better as a teenager. So I hung out alone, and I phoned it in. I really just wanted to get out of high school and get started with college already, so much so that I registered for the summer session and got started with my first couple college classes a good month before I graduated from high school. You can’t be more eager to leave a place than that.

I’m not saying I had no friends. I just had very few, and I’m not in touch with any of them now. But hey, life goes on, and I can’t say I have any deep regrets over my high school experience. In spite of this I can’t help sometimes seeing these emails and wondering what my life would be like if I was popular or if I did make friends that I’m still friendly with today. If I wasn’t such a geeky loner, maybe I’d know how to work the system a little better now and make more money. And maybe I’d have more friends as an adult. On the other hand, I probably would be so…well let’s just say I probably wouldn’t be such an “individual.” After so many years I’ve kind of grown to like my “individuality.”

Really, no regrets, but I was always a sucker for those Choose Your Own Adventure books and I do have a very geeky obsession with the time-space continuum. So I wonder almost obsessively at times how the different decisions and actions we make in our lives ultimately affect the outcome.

I think what I mostly wonder about however is what Azita’s high school experience will turn out to be. I know she’s not even a year old, and I’m already thinking about her teenage years. This is the point where Roger usually rolls his eyes at me, but I swear I’m not worrying or being compulsive in any way. I’m just being curious. Will she be a nerd like me? A cool kid like her baba? A jock? A theater geek? Maybe she will defy categorization.

I don’t know, and I don’t know if I wish for any of the above. When I think about Azita in high school, I hope she has a different experience than mine. I hope she’s well-liked, but doesn’t feel or give in to the pressure to be popular. I hope she can enjoy high school and make some life-long friends but continues to form lasting friendships afterwards. I hope that those years are just the launching point for a wonderful life and not the high point. I hope that she learns to love learning but that she also picks up the skills to be comfortable in social situations. I hope so many things, but most of all I hope that when she reaches the ripe old age of her maman she can look back on her youth with fondness but so very glad to be exactly where she is.

Cold, Friday Nights with a Newborn

24 10 2009

Azita was born just when winter started to turn frigid. The day she came home from the hospital was also our first snow of the season. In the first couple days together as a family in our home, life was so cozy. We were snuggling inside, bundled up in blankets while the wind whistled and swirled the snow and sleet around the treetops outside our window. It may be the most comfortable I’ve ever been. But, I’ve never been one to sit at home for very long, and neither is Azita it turns out. She soon became fussy unless I took her out for a walk, and I was pretty grumpy unless I had the same. The issue of course was that it was way too cold outside for a newborn, even one swaddled in several layers of fleece. This is how the habit started.

When Roger would come home from work, we’d bundle up and head out to Target where we would walk up and down the aisles. It was missing the ambience of the outdoors, but it was warm and bright. On Friday nights, we’d venture out to the mall where we had more indoors to walk.

I still remember the first Friday night. Azita was 2 weeks old. It was snowing outside. The mall was nearly empty. Nearly. It seems that the only other people there with us were new parents just like us. I was still in that stage of motherhood where I was constantly scared. Scared that I would mess up and somehow hurt her or worse. Leaving the house was an exercise in facing my fear, but I really couldn’t stand to stay in the house for another minute longer. So, I got out and faced it. It was there at the mall that I realized the world is not the scary place that it seems for the first-time mother of a newborn. There were others there just like me, and this put me at ease.

I know it’s cheesy, but I came to love the mall. I came to love walking about indoors on a cold, inclement night. I still love it, and I think Roger does to. We call it our Friday night date. After dinner, we head out to Target, grab a Venti coffee, and walk up and down the aisles. We talk about the past day, the past week, the next year, the rest of our lives, while Azita sleeps in her sling. It’s completely boring to most, but to me it’s cozy and safe. It takes me back to those first nights when I was gaining my footing as a mother. When life seemed like an adventure, and the future was wide open. And it reminds me that thanks to Azita, this will always be true.

Uncovering the Truth About Cosleeping

9 10 2009

This post is part of the Attachment Parenting Month blog carnival, hosted by Attachment Parenting International. Learn more about how you can stay “Attached at the Heart Through the Years” by visiting API Speaks, the blog of Attachment Parenting International.

When I became a mother I didn’t subscribe to any one parenting philosophy. I read all the books and formed my opinions when I was pregnant, but the minute Azita was born all of that went straight to the medical waste can. Suddenly I just knew what to do and how to do it. I’m not pretending that I am still not a slave to every parenting site and book out there when I’m up at 2 am with a sick baby, but in general I’d have to say that much of my parenting thus far has followed the approach of doing what feels right.

And, I’ll confess. Sharing a bed with my baby feels right.

Up until now I’ve been pretty vague about this fact. I’ve hid it from people. I’ve even twisted the truth a little. I’m well aware that there are about a million trillion people out there who would read this and think that I’m a horrible mother who is endangering the life of her baby. But hear me out.

When Azita was born, the nurse brought her to my room in a bassinet. Since I had a c-section, I had not been able to hold her until then. When they took her out of that bassinet and put her in my arms, it was as if she knew she belonged there. She never wanted to leave, and honestly, I never wanted her to leave either. And, I really do mean never, at least for the next couple months of her life. At one point she was clearly tired, and I tried and tried and tried some more to put her in the bassinet to sleep. Let’s just say that she cried long enough and loud enough for the night nurse to make a comment about how Azita was waking everyone up in the unit. To compound matters, I had dreadful insomnia. I just couldn’t sleep, but when I held her I would suddenly feel content and drowsy. So, I did what brought on the much-needed sleep and what stopped the crying. I held her.

And when we went home I held her some more, and the Pack ‘n Play and cosleeper and crib stayed empty. Then I had to go back to work a month later and return to the office just two months after she was born. I was unprepared for the depth and enormity of the anguish that I felt. Even 7 months later, it still hurts. A lot. I drop her off at daycare, and I immediately cannot wait to return and hold her again. And it really, really hurts now that she goes to sleep at 7 and doesn’t wake up until the morning. I mean, I basically have just an hour or two of time with her when she’s awake. I can’t possibly imagine spending the 9-10 hours she’s sleeping with her in another room, apart from me. The pain would be too much to bear, for both of us.

Night time is our time together. It brings us closer. We bond and love each other more when we wake up in the morning. I know this even though she can’t express this verbally. Sometimes in the night, she nuzzles into my chest or she reaches up to touch my face. When she opens her eyes, she searches for me and smiles when she sees me, just before she drifts off to sleep once again.

I know what people are thinking. I’ve already heard it all. I’ve heard the story about the parents rolling over their baby or the baby who just stopped breathing in the middle of the night. I understand these risks, and I take precautions to bedshare safely (read the work of Dr. McKenna or Dr. Sears if you want to learn more).

I’ve heard the arguments that my daughter will never be able to sleep on her own. I just haven’t read convincing anecdotal evidence to support that statement, and quite frankly I’d much rather pull the plug on sleeping together when she’s old enough for us to have a conversation about it than to do so now when she can’t understand and might think that I am punishing her, denying her of my love.

I’ve heard that I’m coddling her and raising her to be dependent on me. I’d counter that I’m giving her the love and attention and physical closeness that she needs at this age, and that she is learning that I am here for her no matter what. That she can be secure enough to go out and find new adventures, because she has someone she can rely on to help her when she needs it. And, I will say that so far I can provide anecdotal evidence that this is true.

I’ve heard that this will drive my husband and me apart. I won’t speak for him, but I’ll say that I’ve never felt closer to him. When I open my eyes at night and in the morning I see the two people I love most in the world right there with me, and I feel even more like a family unit.

I’m aware of all the arguments, and I’m aware of all the techniques to get my baby to sleep on her own in her own room. But, I’m not interested. I’m doing what’s best for my family, and before others judge, I hope they’ll consider that there are other points of view. That some people, myself included, think that Ferberizing a baby is as evil as they think bedsharing is. That there is substantial research to show that sleeping with one’s baby is beneficial to the baby, as much as there is research to show that it is dangerous.

When it comes down to it, all parents can do is to do the research and make an informed decision about what they feel is best for their children — what feels right to them — and that’s what I am doing. So, yes, I’ll not hide this anymore. I’ll come out and say that I share a bed with my baby, I think it’s what’s best for her, and I have no plans to stop anytime soon. And I’ll go toe to toe with anyone who wants to tell me otherwise.