Mamas and Papas, Embrace a Little Mess…and Play Instead

Yesterday evening I sat on our back porch, with an unrelenting, cheek-aching smile as I surveyed the scene of our townhome’s postage stamp-sized backyard. There was my husband, work pants rolled up to his knees, and our son, in a soaked cloth diaper sagging from his toddler frame, splashing and jumping in a pint-sized pool. An arc of water rained down on them from a nearby sprinkler. I’m not exactly sure why my husband bothered to roll his pants up, or why my son was still in a diaper; both articles of clothing looked uncomfortably saturated, but my boys could have cared less.

There were many chores I could have been doing while my son was cheerfully occupied–chores I’d been unable to tackle to completion all day–and yet I couldn’t peel myself away from my perch. I simply couldn’t walk away from my kid’s delighted squeals and gut giggles or from watching my husband’s unrestrained, big-hearted goofiness. I’ve discovered this to be a common theme since becoming a mother, this forgoing of household obligations for the sake of fun and play. Y’all, mothering has made me embrace messiness.

I didn’t always feel this way. In the first few months of my transition to stay-home motherhood, I felt such a weighty, badgering obligation to DO things around the house. A loaf of no-knead bread everyday? Why not? Scouring the grout between the bathroom tiles while my infant napped? Of course! Vacuuming, loading the dishwasher, weeding the garden, folding laundry, and a meal from scratch every night? On it! I felt like I needed to prove my worth and household contribution, like I needed to justify bidding adieu to a really solid salary to be home with my baby…as if mothering him wasn’t justification enough.

It is perhaps a needless confession, especially to those of you who’ve been there, but this pace wasn’t sustainable. Or, rather, it wasn’t compatible with my hope to give my baby calm, attentive nurturance. And it didn’t jive with my deep desire to be present with him. I shared this frustration with my husband one day, and he replied with a caring shrug, “Why stress? Do what you can, don’t worry about the rest. We’ll get it done.” And from that moment on, I relaxed both my standards and myself.

I’ve written here on TOBB before about play,  how vital it is for our little ones, how little you really need to stoke your child’s creative, playful spirit. But you know what else I’ve discovered about play? It’s perfectly okay–awesome and fundamental even–for play to come first. The laundry will be there. The dishes can sit. Taking time away from household chores to play is not an act of indulgence or negligence; it’s a worthwhile investment in your child’s development and spirit. Taking time to marvel at your child’s imagination and discoveries is one of the highest joys of parenting, I’ve found. And aren’t we all in this for the joy?

Sharing and engaging in play with our babes is another way we parent them, not an act to get around to when we have a convenient, free moment (which sometimes doesn’t come). Sometimes I need to be reminded of this when I’m doing the dishes and my toddler takes my soapy hand and pulls me over to his toys. When I see the yogurt-y handprints on our stainless steel fridge (seriously, y’all, stainless steel appliances and toddlers are not a good combo); when I see the crushed Cheerio graveyard that is the floorboard of my car; when that bulging wet bag of cloth diapers beckons, I have to remind myself, This can wait for a little bit. (Have you been reading One Perfect Day’s nifty weekly series “10 Simple Ways to Connect with Your Child?” I love Ness’s suggestion in week 4 to Begin Each Day with Play. It’s not something that I have been able to do every day, but it’s something I am now more conscious about, and something I now strive towards. Check it out!)

I understand that we, as parents, have much competing for our attention, like a never-ending tug-of-war of our time. I imagine this competition for priority is especially challenging for those with multiple children or for   those who work at home or outside of the home. I suppose I simply want to give a little permission–if I could, as someone once gave me–to lighten the load and lessen the pressure for perfection. Don’t feel guilty for delaying your chores to enjoy playtime with your child. If your experience is anything like my own, a little chunk of time spent  snuggling, singing songs, stacking blocks, or galloping through the park is just the needed tonic for righting your day and reminding you who is most important in your life.

Do you struggle to balance household obligations and special time with your little  ones? What are some of your tips in striking a cozier balance? What are some of your favorite ways to play with your tots?

Rhianna is a mess-making, rump-shaking stay-home mama to a mighty spunky 20 month old. They live in St. Louis and have been discovering all kinds of cool play activities worthy of chore avoidance.

We Came, We Latched, We Conquered

It was looking a bit gloomy for the St. Louis gathering for The Big Latch On last Saturday morning. We woke up to thunder, lightning, and buckets of rain. Were it not for the recent unrelenting, blistering triple-digit heat wave, I would have been outright grumpy for the inclement weather.  I had so been looking forward to this public celebration of breastfeeding! As I checked the Facebook feeds for both the La Leche League of Greater St. Louis and The Big Latch On-St. Louis, participants were slowly bowing out with regret. We happen to live just a handful of blocks from the park where the event was being held, so we were thankfully able to wait the weather out and still arrive for our NIP-fest on time.

The rain had relievedly slowed to a soft drizzle. While we waited for our 10:30am latch-on time, my toddler decided to capitalize on some serious puddle-splashing opportunities.

Like many of you, this wasn’t the first time, nor will it likely be the last time, I’ve nursed my spectacularly sodden child. Around 10:20am, I headed over to our designated latch-on rendezvous point in the park, soggy toddler in tow.  We chatted with friends, waited for the clock to strike 10:30am, and then…

We joined the rest of the world in celebrating babies and boobies! (And raised our hands to signal that we were latched on and could be counted.)

In spite of the damp and dreary weather, 25 St. Louis-area little ones came out to be counted amongst the 8,862 other nursing tykes across 23 countries in 626 different locations to honor of World Breastfeeding Week, to raise awareness of breastfeeding and promote its positive presence in public places, and to advocate for access to adequate breastfeeding support services. It was an impressive Big Latch On indeed, and it was not a bad way to pass a drizzly Saturday morning, y’all–muddy toddler and all.

Over the last week we’ve been working on night-weaning in our house (forthcoming post on that), and though it’s been going well, it has also churned up some serious sentiment for me. I can’t even begin to write about what breastfeeding means to me, about how it restored a sense of empowerment about my body; about how much I relish those upward gazes from my son; about how the weight of his body in my arms has changed so much from then to now; about how much I treasure the cheeky upturn of his mouth when he smiles as he nurses; about this new respect for and relationship with my breasts as a nursing adult woman.

Our breastfeeding relationship is far from over, but it is changing. From 10:30am-10:31am on Saturday morning, during our internationally shared moment of nursing, I meditated on my boundless gratitude for being a mother; for the ability to nourish my son both nutritionally and emotionally through the act of nursing; and for the women in my life who supported me and inspired me during our breastfeeding journey. We may not have broken the world record on Saturday, but my breastfeeding relationship with my son has far surpassed my every expectation in innumerable, heart-stoking ways.

Did you attend a Big Latch On gathering? How did it go? What are/were your breastfeeding goals? Did you break your own personal world record?

Rhianna’s 19 month old son is known to give her a spontaneous fist bump when he nurses. Nothing in her mind quite says “Breastfeeding kicks ass!” like the nursing toddler fist bump.

Aurora On My Mind

Like many of you, I’m sure, I am struggling to wrap my brain around the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. And, also, like many of you, I feel saturated by the news coverage, the blog posts, Facebook updates and tweets. I hesitate to add more chatter here, but I hope you’ll understand my need to further digest this cruel event by plucking out a few words here on TOBB. Bear with me, mamas and papas, friends and Facebook fans.

While I’ve always found these kinds of senseless acts of violence heart-dampening and mind-boggling, it wasn’t until I became a mother that they left me feeling breathless with inquietude and helplessness. The morning I gave birth to my son, my heart swelled immeasurably, straining at its seams to contain the flooding love and devotion for this tiny, perfect creature. It’s at those very seams that my heart has ached deeply again over these last few days. I sometimes wonder if motherhood has changed me, or if it simply has punched up the way my life feels, like the way salt accentuates the sweetness of chocolate. There is no question that motherhood has made me feel these tragedies more acutely and intensely.

As parents, we make so many choices with the aim of protecting our babies, of insulating them from harm, of providing them a well-nurtured start in life. We meticulously inform ourselves so that we can influence and cultivate what we feel is best for our children.  I think of the choices I have made in this direction in my son’s last 19 months: babywearing; breastfeeding into toddlerhood; bedsharing; cloth diapering; vaccine discrimination and staggering; buying organic, whole food and trying to avoid processed foodstuffs; adopting gentle discipline approaches. I am continually educating myself about these ideas, continually practicing them to the best of my abilities on any given day. But none of these things would protect or insulate my son should a disturbed, dangerous person walk into room and begin firing a weapon at him.

And that’s precisely what leaves me so deeply unsettled in the wake of these kinds of tragedies: they make me feel powerless as a mother. It’s a paralyzing thought.

I think of the gunman’s mother, and I wonder, empathetically, if she feels a similar sense of powerlessness in all of this. I imagine she questions her role in this, wonders what she might have done differently to protect her son from his deadly decision. As I nursed my son down for his nap this afternoon, I stared with awe at his blond curls, his delicate eyebrows, the fine peach fuzz on his ears–all of which feel like tiny little luxuries to me. And as I watched adoringly while my son comfort nursed, I wondered if the gunman’s mother ever did this, too, this affectionate accounting of the ethereal gifts in her arms.

Yesterday morning I took my son for a long walk through our neighborhood’s park. We talked about the runners, cyclists, dog-walkers, robins and squirrels we passed. We stopped into the park’s farmers’ market, perused a rainbow’s colorful bounty of fresh produce, and purchased a mid-morning snack to share. We sat together, elbow to elbow, on a stone bench  while we split a crusty, artisan grilled cheese sandwich and munched on juicy sun gold tomatoes. My son leaned into me in that spontaneously affectionate way that makes a mama’s heart skip a beat. When I leaned back into him and said, “Arlo, I love you,” with a tender inflection he responded, “I know.”

And perhaps that is what we should remember in the face of these stunningly sad tragedies: the greatest  power that we can wield as mothers is ensuring that our children understand–without doubt, come what may–the immense strength and depth of our uncompromising, boundless love.

Rhianna lives in St. Louis with her husband and toddler, both of whom she’s been hugging a little tighter these days.

Photo credit: rosmary, Flickr Creative Commons

Lessons Learned From a Robin’s Nest

Earlier this spring  a shaggy sculpture of twigs, reeds, and string appeared on the outer brick ledge of my bedroom window. Shortly thereafter, four Tiffany blue eggs were deposited in the nest, and that is when I learned that the nest was the quaint handiwork of an industrious robin. I’d involved my toddler son in the daily filling of our bird feeders since he was a chubby-thighed infant tucked snugly in his Moby, and I hoped that introducing him to the nest and its future inhabitants could be a shared and fun learning experience.

Before leaving our bedroom after we woke each morning, I’d open the window’s blinds and we’d greet the nest (sometimes startling the mama robin, oops!) and count the eggs together. Before he rocked our son to bed at night, my husband would peek in on the nest and the two of them would bid it goodnight. The nest became part of our daily routine, and it was not uncommon for my son to disappear down the hall, only for me to find him standing below our bedroom window, enthusiastically gesturing towards the nest, asking for a peek.

When the babies–four bizarre little creatures with sparsely tufted, translucent skin and ginormously splayed, eager beaks–finally hatched, the real excitement began. They really were quite ugly, to be honest, and my son watched with curious, wide eyes when they’d thrust their hungry, disproportionately large beaks into the air when mama robin arrived to stuff their gullets with nosh. The mom seemed to appear every 15 minutes or so with fresh food for her clutch of babes, and I felt a tender connection with her as I recalled what it was like to attempt to feed and comfort my own helpless, hungry, and spazzing newborn in those early days.

We raptly watched the babies grow from naked, big-beaked oddities to fluffy, alert fledglings. Like my own little chick, they appeared to grow, strengthen, and change overnight. They remained such an interesting part of our day: we woke up to their lively chorus of chirps each morning; we spied on them as they napped in a downy heap during the day; we whispered sweet words and waved goodnight to them.

One afternoon I was nursing my son down for a nap in our bedroom when we were both startled by a loud flap of movement on the windowsill, punctuated instantly by the distinct shuffling sound of the nest toppling from the window’s ledge. Worried about the fate of our family of fledglings, I went outside and searched for the commotion’s source. There, ten feet or so below the window, was the toppled nest and scattered around it were four dazed and disoriented baby birds. In the canopy of tree branches above were two parent robins, hopping anxiously from branch to branch in a distressed dance of panic, calling wildly to their babies. 

This was a very hard afternoon for me. Okay, yes, I tend to be a bit anthropomorphic at times. I’ll admit it. I had a particularly intense reaction to this unexpected nest upheaval, and I was quite worried that our robin babies weren’t going to survive their too-early ejection from their twiggy refuge. With teary eyes during my son’s nap I began searching the internet to see what, if anything, I should do to help.

And it was during this reading and some reflection afterwards that I learned a little about myself as a parent.  How I should conduct myself as a member of the mothering community. Who I want to be as a parent.

Our family of robins reminded me:

Partners do uncredited work, too. In my reading I discovered that not only does the male robin help construct the nest, he also takes his share of turns feeding the chicks. So, when I saw the mother robin at the nest every 15 minutes or so? About half of those times it was the father robin. As a stay-home parent, I often feel like I do the heavy bulk of the caregiving in my household, and while I likely do most days, my husband also does his share of work here. When my son was about 8 months old, we went on vacation with our extended family, and several family members commented with awe that my husband was quite helpful, attentive, and involved with baby care. I recall thinking, “Uh, yeah. He better be! This is how we roll!” I mean, like me, he should be helpful, attentive, and involved. Still, his work deserves to be recognized, too. He deserves acknowledgment and appreciation.

Don’t assume you truly understand another mother’s needs. I had been filling a feeder near the nest with nuts and seeds for our mother robin, only to later realize that robins don’t really eat this kind of food. They thrive on worms, grubs, insects and the like. However well-intentioned and pure-hearted my “help” was, it entirely missed the mark. This is a very black and white example, but I think this idea carries over into how we interact with our fellow mothers. Sometimes our statements to each other entirely miss the mark; sometimes our “support” is not support at all. Perhaps it’s not a bad idea to honestly assess our intentions before we say something. Are the things we offer as support designed to make our mother counterparts feel better?  Or to make ourselves feel better?

Model compassionate behavior for your children, even when they’re not watching or don’t have the capacity to understand it. I believe what happened to our nest was this: a parent robin arrived with food, the fledglings jumped up, and their combined weight and the grade of the sill caused the nest to flip from the shift in balance. I watched, engrossed and impressed, as the parents coaxed three of the nestlings to safety. They left the fourth–the runt–behind. I watched for four hours as it sat there alone and bewildered. I called a naturalist at our local conservation center, who explained that this fourth fledgling was likely determined by the parents to be either injured or determined to be too difficult to move, placing the rest of the family in danger. Basically, she told me they cut their losses. She also gave me a gentle lecture that concluded with, “That’s nature.” I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving the poor runt alone. Sure, my toddler had hardly a clue of the implication of “That’s nature,” nor would he recall the afternoon’s events, but I thought, How would I handle this if my son was old enough to really understand this situation? And so, I pleaded for the contact number of a wildlife rehabilitator, and a few phone calls later I was bundling up our teeny bird friend and transporting him across town to a local vet’s office. It’s what I would have liked for my son to do if he were older.

These early years with my son are finite, fastly passing and precious. This happened at a point in my motherhood where I was considering with a serious heart if I should begin weaning my son. The fourth fledgling’s unintentional ouster from the nest before he was ready helped me to understand what a gift it is to be able to nurture my son through the act of nursing. It helped me to understand that what I truly wanted was for my son to leave the breast when he was ready to do so. Gently, with patience, and with respect for his needs.

 Rhianna, her husband and their 18 month old son still continue to watch birds together. They live in St. Louis, where people are absolutely crazy about their cardinals, but the bird her son most loves is the common red-breasted robin.


*Photo credits: (1) Changhai Travis, Flickr Creative Commons; (2) lincoln-log, Flickr Creative Commons; (3) timparkinson, Flickr Creative Commons; (4) Sapphireblue, Flickr Creative Commons

Time to Get Your “Big Latch On” On!

World Breastfeeding Week is almost here!  August 1 – 7, 2012 marks twenty years since the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action introduced this week-long call to global advocacy for breastfeeding education and support. There are abundant global, regional, and local events planned to honor and promote this world health initiative, but there is one local community level event I am particularly stoked about: The Big Latch On.

Breastfeeding mamas from over 11 different countries and 218 locations are gathering together on either August 3 or 4 (depending on your location) this summer to rock some serious NIP (nursing in public) and hopefully break a world record for most women breastfeeding simultaneously while we’re at it.  I enthusiastically signed up for the St. Louis The Big Latch On event, which is actually being held in my ‘hood this year.

The Big Latch On describes its aims this way*:

  • Support for communities to identify and grow opportunities to provide ongoing breastfeeding support and promotion.
  • Raise awareness of breastfeeding support and knowledge available in communities.
  • Help communities positively support breastfeeding in public places.
  • Make breastfeeding a normal part of the day-to-day life at a local community level.
  • Increase support for women who breastfeed – women are supported by their partners, family and the breastfeeding knowledge that is embedded in their communities.
  • Communities have the resources to advocate for coordinated appropriate and accessible breastfeeding support services.

I mean, who can’t get behind that? You can find your local event location here. Don’t see an event listed in your area? You can host one! The Other Baby Book’s own resident breastfeeding badass, erm, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Molly deGroh, is hosting one in her area. Pretty nifty, right?

I would love to know how many of friends of TOBB are planning to attend their own local latch-fest.  Molly and I both plan to take pictures and share our experiences here on the blog, and we’d love it if you’d join us! We’d love to hear about your experiences and even share some of your pictures in the blog space, if you’re open to that. We’ll send out a call for your stories and pictures on Facebook after the event!

Will you be there? Ever attended The Big Latch On in the past? Tell us about it!

Follow The Big Latch On on Facebook here. Follow World Breastfeeding Week on Facebook here.

*Information copied directly from The Big Latch On website.

Breastfeeding totally handed Rhianna her ass that first month, but she and her 18mo son are still nursing strong. She thanks the stars for the breastfeeding badasses, erm, lactation consultants, who gave her the strength and hope to keep latchin’ on.

When Life Gives You 100 Degree Days, Make Lemonade.

No, seriously. Make some lemonade, y’all.

photo credit: Muffet, Flickr Creative Commons

Has it been disgustingly hot in your part of the world this last week? We’ve been hunkered indoors for the last several days, setting up and adorning little shrines of gratitude for our air conditioning! One recipe I turn to for a bit of zippy refreshment during these hottest months of the year is my homemade lemonade.

It’s incredibly easy and inexpensive to make, requiring just a handful of ingredients. My recipe is so simple that it feels silly to even call it a recipe, honestly. I often play loose with the measurements, too, depending on how sweet or tart I’m feeling. I sweeten it with a basic simple syrup, and I’ve also included my two fave spins on simple syrup: rosemary simple syrup and ginger simple syrup!

Homemade Lemonade

  • 10 lemons (or so)
  • 10 cups of water (more or less, depending on your desired tartness)
  • 1 cup simple syrup

Juice your lemons. I like to start  by giving my lemons a good, firm roll on the counter (pushing down on them as you roll them–it makes the lemons release their juice more easily). I cut them in half and squeeze them by hand. I often will use a fork as well, twisting it around the inside the lemon half, because this helps the lemons to give up a good amount of pulp. I love pulp in my lemonade (and even an errant seed or two as well!) I think little lemony bits make your lemonade feel more rustic and homemade and, therefore, totally special.  I’ve used juicers, both manual and electric, in the past, and they are fast and efficient. Use ’em if you like ’em!

Mix all of your ingredients and chill!

Basic Simple Syrup:

  • 3/4 to 1 cup of raw sugar
  • 1 cup of water

Combine raw sugar and water in a sauce pan over moderate heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Remove syrup from heat and allow it to cool.

Rosemary simple syrup variation (my FAVE!): add several springs of rosemary to your simple syrup once your sugar has dissolved. Allow to steep for at least a half an hour. Remove the sprigs before incorporating your simple syrup into your lemonade. Garnish your pitcher with additional fresh sprigs of rosemary once chilled. Dudes, this looks and tastes so fancy and impressive, I promise. Yum.

Ginger simple syrup variation: grate about two inches of peeled, fresh ginger into your sauce pan with your sugar and water. Follow the same instructions for basic simple syrup above. Allow your ginger syrup to steep for at least a half an hour. Strain your syrup through a fine mesh sieve to remove the ginger bits, and then incorporate. I found super gingery lemonade to be a refreshing and soothing tonic for morning sickness when I was pregnant with my son, and I made ginger lemonade many, many times that summer!

How are you staying cool during this blistering heat wave? What are you doing to celebrate Independence Day (besides making some kick-ass lemonade, that is)? Do you have a fave summertime drink recipe? Do share.

Rhianna lives in St. Louis, where temps topped out at a yucky, sweltering 109 degrees this past weekend, with her husband and their 18 month old son. When summertime has been especially gnarly, she likes to spike her lemonade with a good dose of sweet tea vodka–the perfect backyard cocktail.

Just Be You: On Cultivating Our Children’s Sense of Self-Worth

Nothing you become will disappoint me; I have no preconception that I’d like to see you be or do. I have no desire to foresee you, only to discover you. You cannot disappoint me. ~Mary Haskell

In the library last week, I parted the covers of a Naomi Aldort book to find this quote. It moved me so deeply that I stood motionless amongst the other library patrons, riveted in my tracks. It’s a beautiful declaration of acceptance and love, one that is so profound in its simplicity. It’s exactly what I hope to impart to my son as his mother.

Over the weekend our neighborhood hosted  St. Louis’ annual Pride festival. The festival’s theme this year was Be You. Under Sunday afternoon’s broiling sun, we squeezed in, shoulder-to-shoulder with other excited festival-goers along the parade route, and clapped and sang and cheered for what there can never be too much of in this world:  acceptance and authenticity.

What I remembered as I celebrated acceptance and authenticity this past weekend is this: Our children are unique little creatures. We are constructing their confidence and sense of self-worth every day. It is often ridiculously easy to get caught up in what parenting media tells us our children need to be “the best” in life. “Best” is subjective, frankly. And, ultimately, “best” will be up to our children. But for now, when we honor their communication, when we respond to their cries, when we feed on demand with love, when we wear them close, and when we use gentle discipline approaches, we are surrounding them in another message so profound in its simplicity: You matter.

And I full-heartedly believe that an adulthood filled with Be You is grounded in a childhood filled with You Matter.

I will consider it my most tremendous success in motherhood that my son feels valued and empowered enough to simply be himself, to walk proudly and confidently in this world, no matter what the smallest minds in this universe may think of him.

Be You, my lovely child, whatever that looks and feels like. I have no preconception of you. I am so eager to discover you. To support you. My love is unyielding and boundless, kid.

*Looking for interesting reads on cultivating your tot’s self-confidence? Try here and here.

Rhianna feels her pride and admiration for her 18 month old son swell a little every day.  She loves her rainbow-bedecked St. Louis neighborhood a little more every day, too.

How Important is Time Away from Your Child?

As our toddlers played together at the train table in our neighborhood’s coffee shop, another mother and I were talking about summer vacation plans. She was sharing details about a spectacular 10-day  vacation she and her husband took to a resort in Central America last fall. Instantly, my daydreams ferried me to the shade of swaying palms, where I sat on a picnic blanket sharing sweet drinks made from local fruit with my husband and our tyke, adorably clad in a bucket sunhat and buttered up with sunblock.  My husband and I traveled a good amount before we welcomed our son into our lives, and we often talk about what kind of trips we want to take with him when he’s old enough to have fun memories of family travel.

Photo credit: mmsea (Flickr Creative Commons)

I turned to my coffee-swigging mama acquaintance and replied, “I love your sense of adventure–packing up your little one and trekking out of the country like that!” Questions about the logistics of international travel were bubbling up in my brain–infant passport? lengthy air travel? vaccines?–but before I could ask, she responded, “Oh, we didn’t take her. She stayed with grandma.”

Wait, whaaaa?  I quickly did the math, realizing that her daughter was 9 or 10 months old at the time of her parents’ tropical trek out of the country.   Ten whole days? Outside of the country? Without their babe? But…why? How?  I hoped my face belied my shock and confusion. I thought back to my son at that age. In the span of a week around that stage, my son took his first steps. He was nursing every 3 hours or so.  I couldn’t imagine being away from him for one night at that age, let alone a solid week and a half. My chest tightened at the thought. The mama went on to say that it was, indeed, a bit hard being away from her daughter at first, but she and her husband relaxed into their vacation and had a stellar time. Her daughter had a great time bonding with grandma, too, she said, adding with a laugh that her daughter didn’t want to leave grandma’s  when it was time to come home.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve left my son in the care of someone else while my husband and I went out. Our friends’ rehearsal dinner; a fancy dinner out and a movie as an early wedding anniversary celebration; and just this past weekend when my husband and I went out to see a late movie. Sprinkled amongst these big events and date nights are the random long solo walks for coffee or a child-free errand jaunt, but seldom has it been, in these almost 18 months, that we’ve gone out without our son.

I’m not judging, complaining or glorifying. It’s what it is: we simply do not feel the need to go out often without him. We’ve never felt the desire to travel without him (in fact, we’d hate that). The first ten years of our marriage were filled with travel (domestic and international), parties with friends,  expensive meals out, and regular concerts and shows. We enjoyed our share of excess. We waited a long time to become parents, and, right now, we simply want to just be with our son.

We have felt pressure from others, though: You guys should go out more! You need time to yourselves!  Don’t feel guilty for going out without him! You’re more than parents, you know! It’s healthy and necessary for your child to develop relationships with other adults!  It’s good for your child to see that you have a social life! The implications and undertones of these kind of statements are irritating at best. We’re not helicoptering. We’re not sheltering. We’re not excluding other adults from our son’s life. Dudes, we just like the company of our kid.  Sue us.

When I do go out, I don’t feel guilty for going out without my kid. But, sometimes, other people make me feel guilty for NOT wanting to go out more without him.  Am I somehow neglecting a part of myself or my marriage by not going out more? I do wonder, but I always come to the same conclusion: nope.

A couple of weekends ago, after I had a particularly trying week at home with my toddler,  my husband took him to a festival in the park, and I took a long shower by myself, blow-dried my hair (a very rare occurrence in my motherhood), put on a cute skirt, grabbed the just-delivered issue of Food & Wine, walked to our other neighborhood coffee shop (the one without a kids’ area), ordered a very large iced Americano, propped my feet up on the shady patio, and read my magazine cover to cover. It was a glorious couple of hours, just what I needed to recharge.

It was enough for me.

What about you?  How often do you spend time away from your child? Would you ever go/have you ever gone on a long vacation without your little one? Has anyone ever made you feel guilty for spending too little or too much time away?

One of Rhianna’s all-time fave vacations was a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway with her husband. She gets lost in daydreams about making the same trip with little ones buckled in the backseat. She faithfully renews her subscription to Budget Travel magazine every year.

For Father’s Day: Musings from an Attached Dad

Like many of you, I’m guessing, I found myself feeling particularly pinchy in the wake of Time magazine’s attachment parenting (AP)  issue. Much of my discomfort and defensiveness stemmed not so much from the lead article itself, but more so from the outpouring of uninformed and judgemental comments in response to it.*  And then there was that cantankerous and divisive little column, The Detached Dad’s Manifesto, tucked amidst the pages of the lead article; I was irritated when I first read it, and hours later I realized my irritation was still  there, steadily ramping.**  I felt it made AP mamas sound like blind,  attachment-at-any-cost harpies. But more? It thoroughly demeaned and dismissed AP dads.  Boo.

For Father’s Day, in the spirit of appreciation and celebration for all that AP dads feel and do for their families, here are a few snippets from a recent email conversation I had with my husband, who, without reservation, describes himself as an attached parent; who doesn’t equate AP with intense, helicopter parenting; who has never rejected AP as suggested in that absurd “mainfesto”; and who reaps the joy of AP every day.

On attachment parenting:

I feel that attachment parenting is simply an extension of our personalities. I’m unable to see any other way to parent. It’s funny, I don’t think I would have known there was a name for the way we parent if you hadn’t read so many baby books before Arlo was born. All the questions you asked me about sleeping arrangements, baby wearing, discipline etc. just made me think, “Yeah, of course.”

On birthing preparation and birth bonding:

At once I could see myself at each stage of Arlo’s development and immediately thought of how I needed to prepare to give Arlo what he needs to grow. Emotionally, I was ready for him. I thought I would be more nervous than I was. But, everything just felt natural….nature was taking its course, literally.  … And the birth. I remember everything about the birth. There is not one moment I could call a “favorite” because the entire experience is one of my all time favorite moments of my life. From the moment your water broke while laughing along to National Lampoons ‘A Christmas Vacation’ to the moment he took his first breath on your chest….just incredible. You were so strong, so determined throughout the birth experience. I was in awe. Completing the experience was naming our son. I remember we both looked at each other, and there was no question in either of our minds that this baby was an Arlo.

On sharing sleep:

Sleep deprivation is part of new parenthood.  However, I think bedsharing has made this an easier,  more pleasant experience for us because I would fail miserably at having to get up and soothe him. As it is now, there is minimal crying (score) and he goes back down easily with us right there (double score). I never hide that Arlo sleeps with us and have never felt the need to. When we go to bed in the evening, and he rolls over an puts his arm around me, all of the stress in my life is immediately forgotten.

On making sacrifices so that one parent could stay home:

Arlo became my number one priority. We made sacrifices–really tough sacrifices–for one of us to stay home with Arlo, but it’s has been worth every single sacrifice, every change big and small. Making these choices has emotionally enhanced my relationship with Arlo, if that makes sense. I love knowing that he is happy and home with you while I am at work. I love coming home to his smile.

To all of the attached papas out there–those of you feeding with love (and supporting mama while she does so), sleeping with your half-pints, wearing ’em close to your hearts, valuing their communication, responding with love and gentleness, and striving for balance in it all–  we here at TOBB salute you! We wish you a joyful Father’s Day!

*Have you read guest TOBB blogger Jessica’s smart, insightful response? It’s worth it, promise.

**Rebecca touched on this “manifesto,” too, recently.

Rhianna lives in St. Louis with her husband and toddler, who plans to ply his doting papa with caffeine-themed gifts this Father’s Day. One of these days he’ll sleep through the night, but until then he has to help power the parental units with an alternative fuel source.

It’s Easy Being Green with Your Toddler

If your toddler is anything like mine, he turns nearly every foray into the great outdoors into a goose turd and cigarette butt scavenger hunt.  My 17mo has sharply-honed radar and eagle-like visual acuity for garbage. Y’all, it’s impressive.  His curiosity and affection for litter is, I believe, rivaled only by a certain trashcan-inhabiting muppet’s. Not too long ago, my son eagerly pawed a piece of trash at the park, and I habitually offered my usual response, “Ooooh, yucky. Please don’t pick up that trash.”  But for some reason, at that particular moment, I gulped, wide-eyed, at a sudden realization: Am I inadvertently teaching my son that litter belongs on the ground? That it’s okay to toss trash in the park? Littering sucks!

From that point on, whenever he palmed a bit of garbage I offered a different response, “Ooooh, yucky. Let’s go put that in the trash can.” I have to admit that I am still squeamish about his trash handling. I mean, I want to encourage him to responsibly dispose of trash, but at the same time I don’t want to encourage him to pick up really questionable items.  I try to scan around for those kinds of items now with the hopes of beating my rubbish-loving half-pint to the nearest receptacle. Three cheers and cartwheels for hand sanitizer!

There are so many ways to be green with your little one. Yep, there are lots of practices that many of us have adopted with an eco-friendly aim: breastfeeding, using cloth diapers/cloth wipes/elimination communication, purchasing natural/organic/sustainably produced baby and household products, buying or borrowing second-hand clothing and toys, etc. These practices are laudable and awesome, no doubt, but I want to discuss things we can do with our tots, practices that actively engage them in green living and stoke their sense of stewardship for the Earth and its creatures.

Litter pick-up is one effective and free (and, heck yeah, disgusting) way to instill a bit of eco-consciousness in our tykes. These are some of the other things we do in our family with that green goal in mind:

  • We grow stuff together! I planted flowers, herbs, and vegetables with my son this spring. (I welcome dirty hands of that variety any ol’ time.) I also let him pick out the flowers for our front-porch container gardens.
  • We water our plants together every day. And, instead of buying a watering can (made out of who-only-knows-what), we made our own by reusing items we already had on hand. (Inspired by this kick-ass pin.)
  • We feed little creatures together. We have several bird feeders and have even set up a few small squirrel feeders. We spend time watching the birds and squirrels together.
  • We visit nature nature conservation centers and animal sanctuaries.
  • We visit and support our neighborhood’s weekly farmer’s market. Can my toddler understand the value of giving money directly to the person who collected the eggs/picked the veggies/harvested the honey we’re purchasing? Of course not. But he sees this nourishment just one step removed from its origin, in all its freshness and vibrant color.
  • We recycle together. Several times each week we walk out to the giant steel recycling receptacle in our street’s back alley and take turns tossing in our recyclables.
  • We play outside. Almost every day.
  • We walk. To the library. To the coffee shop. To the park. To the gelateria. To the grocery store. And on our walks we pick and smell flowers; we feel the textures of different leaves and compare their colors.

These are small, inexpensive, yet meaningful practices. We’re far from perfect.  But we hope that by enfolding our son in the practices bulleted above, by modeling an active appreciation for the natural world, by making du jour these acts of kindness and respect,  we’re creating a lush springboard for our son’s eco-consciousness.

Tell us how you are green with your little ones!

Rhianna is off to take her toddler on his post-dinner, pre-bedtime walk through the park, where she hopes to successfully steer him far from goose turds. Seriously, what is with toddlers and goose poop? Somebody, explain it to her.