Music and communication

This post was written as a submission to the monthly All About Parenting Blog Carnival hosted at About.com. This month’s theme is music and submissions are due March 3rd.

Dalia and I just enrolled in a Music Together class. Actually, it’s a class inspired by Music Together, but the songs are in Hebrew, and it’s called Share A Shirah.

As an American who is raising her daughter in her second language, it’s been wonderful to both connect with native speakers and with fellow crazy Americans who see the value in raising their kids in Hebrew.

Music has been called many things over the years, as generations innovate and create new norms. Noise, garbage, incomprehensible, radical. But, as we move past types of music and perceptions of music, we can look to the power that is inherent in music. The power to connect.

For me, most of all, I seek to connect my daughter to her family. Then to her community. Then, her people and culture. Finally, to the peoples of the world. Introducing multiple languages has been one way for me to build those connections on her behalf.

As we show up each week to sing, pound on drums and laugh, I’m beginning to see another dimension to music. It’s not only a means to an end – the goal being language acquisition.

Music is a language. And it’s one that surpasses vocabulary. For those of us raising pre-verbal babies, it’s second only to the language of touch, of energy.

Music is something we can enjoy together. It is how we can learn about each other and communicate. And years from now, these same songs will transport us back to these magical days of Dalia’s childhood.

Otherness

Other (adj)
a. Being the remaining one of two or more
b. Different from that or those implied or specified
c. Of a different character or quality
d. Of a different time or era either future or past
e. Additional; extra
f. Opposite or contrary; reverse

During a discussion about the mounting pile of clothes, blankets, and toys on our hope chest, my husband Mark dropped the ‘H’ word – housewife. He wasn’t degrading me, but rather wondering, seemingly innocently, why I couldn’t pick up more during the day, since I was a housewife, after all.

There’s something about that word that makes me think of June Cleaver and elaborate pot roast dinners. And lack of education or opportunity. And sparkling kitchen floors.

My floors are covered in roasted turnips and cat food that Buddy flings around when he eats, so happy he is that I’ve remembered to feed him. I’m educated, and I feel as though I have a bright, limitless future ahead of me. So really, the only thing that screams housewife is my mean pot roast dinner.

But still, I was indignant. The power of language – especially a term laden with cultural baggage and social misunderstanding – can hardly be underestimated. I didn’t want to be considered “just a housewife.” I know Mark meant no harm. Plus, he was right. I do have plenty of time to strap Anabella in the Ergo for a few minutes and do a power clean.

It was the label that I didn’t like. I didn’t want to be boxed into a role. It occurred to me that parenting is much the same way. You got an epidural? Forget being consider “natural.” You wore your baby in a carrier til they were two? You’re squelching their independence. Let your baby cry-it-out? Cruel, mean-hearted. You must not love your baby.

Instead of encouraging each other and trying our best to listen and empathize and avoid quick judgment, the American default has generally been to label, and throw the baby out with the bathwater. Admittedly, we do have preferences, which we believe are backed by both science and experience, here at The Other Baby Book. But we want our book and our Facebook community to be welcoming, gentle, and respectful of individual freedom of choice.

The “Other” part of our book is just that – other options for birth than you may be familiar with, other ways to respond to your baby’s cries, and other ways to care for your baby’s needs than what your traditional parenting magazine may provide. We believe that education is empowering. We want you to know the “other” side, before you make decisions. Take what you like – though we hope it will be everything! – and don’t worry about the rest. We won’t label you.

Another way to say it is what I hope we will convey in our book: be gentle. Most parenting books talk about being gentle with your new babies. Green parenting books discuss being gentle on the earth. I encourage you to also be gentle with yourself.

Even if you are a housewife.


Tips for Cold Season

I’ve been fortunate that Anabella has only had one significant cold in nine months. But man, it was a doozy. She woke up one Sunday morning with what seemed like a bottomless fountain of clear liquid pouring from her nose. Over the course of a week, the thin liquid morphed into an Elmer’s glue-like substance, but ten days later, there’s not a trace of illness left.

Since colds are viral, we’re often told there’s not much you can do except wait them out. That can be very difficult, especially with a non-verbal, nursing baby. I wasn’t content to wait, and pulled out all the stops. Here are a few of my best baby cold remedies.

Steam, steam, steam. After realizing Anabella wasn’t going to sit quietly with a towel over her head and breathe in the steam from a bowl of hot water like I do, I had to rethink this option. Instead, we took baths nightly (and daily when things were really clogged). We kept the shower curtain closed, and jumped in as soon as there was an inch of water. I put a few drops of Eucalyptus oil in the water while the tub filled, and we both breathed the benefits, no towel needed. Eucalyptus is known for loosening congestion and improving lung function. You may notice your bathroom smells like Vicks Vapor Rub, only natural.

Steam is important to keep the congestion runny. In order to rid the body of the virus, you need to expel the congestion. If things get blocked up, it can lead to ear infections, difficulty breathing, and even vomiting. (I did notice that Anabella spit up more times during the week she had the cold than in the rest of her 9 months combined!) A warm mist vaporizer at night can also help with congestion.

Stand tall. I tried to keep Anabella vertical for most of her waking hours, and often let her sleep with her head resting on my arm, to help clear her nasal passages and speed up drainage. She also nursed upright in the ERGO which was a total lifesaver during this time. When energy is low, and babe’s not feeling well, carrying her close is a valuable remedy in itself.

Clear it out.
If you don’t have a Nosefrida Snotsucker Nasal Aspirator, they’re a worthy investment. We must have used this 10 times a day. I can’t say Anabella enjoyed it (the screams were my first clue), but I felt like I was able to “suck” out far more snot than I could with the bulb. I know it seems unhygienic, and gross. You’re probably thinking you could never use a tube that connected your mouth to your baby’s nasal passages, but it works. There are even YouTube videos that demonstrate. The difference in nursing after removing mucus from Anabella’s nose was remarkable.

Eat, drink, and be merry.
Keeping baby hydrated is key. Nursing is best, but sometimes Anabella was so congested she could barely latch. I tried hand expressing some milk into a cup, and that was a little easier. She also preferred water at times. I ate as well as I could, and included lots of raw garlic in my diet, as it’s a potent anti-viral. Anabella had a tiny bit too, but it’s pretty strong, so a little goes a long way. We cooked with onions almost every night, too. Onions contain sulphur, which breaks up mucus and increases circulation. Avoiding dairy is often recommended, because of its mucilagenic properties.

It can be stressful to have a sick baby (especially one that wakes up every 40 minutes screaming because breathing is so difficult), but our babies mirror our emotions, so it’s important to stay positive and remember that this too shall pass.

Do you have any tips to share?

What’s the Problem with Plastic?

Plastic has become public enemy #1 for new parents in recent years. Tupperware parties are a thing of the past, and BPA-free is the holy grail of baby items. But do you really know why so many are eschewing plastic? Without getting too technical, here are my reasons for saying no to plastic.

What’s in ’em. Polyvinyl Chloride, or PVC, is a chemically unstable substance found in plastics with the recyclable symbol and #3 on them.  Phthalates, substances often added to plastics to make them more flexible, have been linked to a host of problems, including endocrine (hormone) disruption and obesity, and are especially dangerous to male reproductive growth. PVC and phthalates are cheap and versatile, so manufacturers use them in everything from furniture to shoes to credit cards. You know when you step into a car and get hit with that new car smell? Phthalates are responsible. It’s off-gassing of the materials within the car.

Bisphenol-A, or BPA, is a chemical used to make plastic. It’s durable, lightweight and heat-resistant. Because of this, you’ll find it in CDs, DVDs, cars, reusable food and drink containers, and as protective liners in metal food cans, such as tomatoes, beans, and fruit. BPA mimics estrogen in the body, which means it wreaks havoc on female reproductive systems, and has been linked to miscarriages, endometriosis, infertility, and breast cancer. The Center for Disease Control found BPA in 95% of adult urine, and 93% of children’s urine!

Environmental Repercussions
. Even if you buy PVC, phthalate, and BPA free, plastic is plastic. It doesn’t just disappear. It’s resistant to bacteria, so throwing it in a landfill will do nothing but…fill our land. Though recycling has been enjoying more favor recently, sorting, washing, and recycling plastic actually puts great stress on our resources. The Public Interest Research Group based in India, actually stated that recycling plastic was dirty, uneconomical and dangerous! Plastic can clog our sewage systems, and leak into rivers, streams, and the sea, contaminating our water supply and marine animals as well.

But plastic is everywhere
, you say! It’s true that it’s hard to avoid. Here are a few tips to help you move toward freedom from plastic.

1. Take stock. Where are you using the most plastic? Is it food containers? Baby toys? Packaging? If find you buy yogurt weekly, consider making your own in glass mason jars. All it takes is a spoonful of premade yogurt, some milk, and time! You don’t even need a yogurt maker – just leave the yogurt in your oven with the pilot light on overnight.

2. Baby steps. Can you buy in bulk and bring your own paper bags, instead of grabbing plastic tubs of rice, grains, or dried fruit? Could you bring your own canvas bags to the grocery store? (Make sure you leave them in your car or you may forget them.) Maybe you need to buy some stainless steel water bottles instead of hitting up the vending machine for your Poland Springs. Don’t be overwhelmed with a plastic overhaul. Take it one choice at a time.

3. Be creative. Think you can’t do anything about the shampoo bottles? Consider shampoo bars. Rose of Sharon Acres sells some great ones, but you may be able to find them at your local health food store too. What about cleaning supplies? Do you really need a dedicated counter top spray, mirror spray, bathroom spray, etc? Probably not. A box of baking soda , a glass container of vinegar, and some essential oils will likely do the trick for even the toughest jobs. The Naturally Clean Home: 150 Super-Easy Herbal Formulas for Green Cleaning is my favorite resource!

4. Buy used. Local thrift stores, eBay, and Craigslist likely have great alternatives for a fraction of the price.

Again, go easy on yourself. Does your baby have a bag full of plastic toys? Maybe you keep them for rainy days, or a long car trip. Do you store all your food in plastic containers? Try using the containers as jars for mixing baking soda and vinegar, or other cleaning concoctions while you slowly build up your glass container collection. While the dangers of plastic are numerous, becoming obsessed with ridding your life of plastic is equally as toxic!

What are your tips for life without plastic?

Independence vs. Interdependence

I’ve been reading Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent, a fascinating book that explores anthropological perspectives on baby-rearing.

In comparing American and Western baby-rearing with other cultures, what’s striking is that Americans raise babies with independence as their primary goal, whereas more traditional cultures tend to emphasize social integration.

Because we start with entirely different goals at the outset, the baby-rearing process looks entirely different.

American parents, for the most part, begin their children in separate beds, whether co-sleepers, bassinets, or cribs.  They focus on milestones that help the child to become less dependent upon their parents, such as sleeping through the night.

In American society, a “good baby” is one who requires little soothing from his/her parents, who cries little and needs comparatively little attention. A “problem child,” on the other hand, is one who infringes upon the independence of its parents by requiring more than its fair share of attention and coddling.  American parents are taught to respond more slowly to their children so as to teach their children to become more independent.

On the other hand, Japan, an industrialized country like the US, has citizens who value collectivity over independence. Japanese babies sleep between their parents as a symbolic act in which the baby is seen as a river lying between two riverbeds.

Rather than viewing babies as having the ability and desire to manipulate their parents, Japanese parents see babies as pure and good, and meet their needs quickly and with little fuss. Japanese babies, as a result, are happier and cry less than their American counterparts.

If we look through the lens of science at the effects of early parenting on behavior, we learn that children who were in close physical contact with their parents more, and whose cries received quick responses, become more empathetic and caring individuals. In contrast, those babies who received less attention early on became more aggressive individuals.

Assuming most American parents would prefer to have empathetic children, maybe it’s time we question the relative value of independence as a parenting goal.

Rather than wishing our children to view themselves as an isolated individual with sole responsibility for themselves, perhaps we may consider shifting to a model of interdependence, in which each child is part of a collective, and shares in responsibility for their friends and family members.

What kind of world would we create if our fellow adults were kinder and more compassionate?

Welcome!

Writing non-fiction can be like reading your high school biology textbook. Sometimes you’re fascinated by the discoveries you make; other times you find yourself three paragraphs down the page with no recollection of what you’ve just read – or written. The journey of writing The Other Baby Book has challenged me, forcing me to dig deeper into more scholarly writings and research so that I can both fully articulate and fully support the information I’m presenting to you, Reader.

My research and writing isn’t in a vacuum though. I’m constantly talking to other moms about exciting studies that confirm what I intuitively feel, and hearing stories from moms who emit a sigh of relief learning they’re not alone, and the things they do aren’t “strange.” But one piece of the puzzle I feel is missing in this project is my day-to-day experience. Anabella isn’t some experimental baby that I’m hoping will turn out perfect as long as I ascribe to every tenet in our book. She’s a smiley, verbal, squirmy baby who only stays still long enough for me put on a new diaper if I give her the TV remote control.

Anabella loves touch-and-feel books. She’s mesmerized by Sandra Boynton’s “fuzzy, fuzzy, fuzzy” and “rough, rough, rough.” My hope is that as I share some of the minutiae of our life as we live out the principles outlined in our book, this blog will be like a touch-and-feel book, helping you put some texture and real life to the articles and research we share on Facebook and Twitter.

Are there any topics or areas of our life you’d like to hear about?

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