16 June 2011

A Word of Advice

Monday was preschool graduation day for the Senior Agents. In September Agent J will return to the same preschool and attend the three-year-old class. Agent E will be moving on up to the Big K at the school on base. 
Coincidently (or maybe not?) we've watched Toy Story 3 at least five times this week. Pixar movies notoriously make me weepy anyhow, but now that I have my own "Andy" this particular movie gets me even more. And it got me thinking about my own kids going off to college (although light years away at this point). And then it got me thinking about when I went off to college, and what I wish someone had told me beforehand.
My preschool grads . . .
So, if I could go back and offer my seventeen-year-old, preparing-for-college self some sage advice, it would go something like this:
People are going to tell you a lot of things about what college will be like. Most of it will be horrible advice. Here's how it will really go down:
You will start college as a biochemistry major (yes; seriously) and later change to biology. Not that it matters . . . you will lose interest in both quickly and won't be very good at either. You will only major in science because you feel pressured to do so. Well-meaning people will try to convince you that you are too smart to study XYZ and you should choose something "harder" and science-y. But the truth is, you hate chemistry and you suck at math.  To major in the biological sciences, you kinda need to be good at those things. Really.
Anyway, everyone will make a big deal about what you are going to school for . . . as if your choice of major will determine your future career and job security for the rest of eternity. Tip: It will not. The best advice I could give is to start college without declaring a major. Give yourself a chance to figure out what *you* want to do. Take classes you are actually interested in and that you will excel at . . . not courses you think you "should" take or that someone else thinks you would be "good" at. If you want to spend your first year at college taking electives in languages, anthropology, literature, basket weaving, and yes, even biology, by all means do so. Don't let anyone convince you that if you don't fill up your freshman year with core classes for a specific field of study you will be woefully behind. That's why college takes at least four years to complete. There's lots of leeway.
Me (right) and my BFF, 1990
If you want to major in English, and focus on your writing, do it. If you want to major in some obscure liberal arts subject because you find it fascinating, even though you don't know what you will do with your degree, do it. If you have no idea what you want to do at first, that is fine, too. You will figure it out. But if you waste precious time in classes that are over your head and you hate, by the time you finally do get a clue and change your major, your GPA will be shot.
Eventually you will discover your passion lies with psychology, specifically social psychology. You will have grand ideas about earning a PhD, working as a counselor, and and then becoming a college professor. You will come up with a plan for all the fabulous education- and career-related things you are going to do before you grow old. You know, like thirty.
This will not happen. You will work paycheck-to-paycheck jobs for a while, a long while. Someday you will start grad school and never finish it. You will give up when you are just a few credits away from your master's degree.  You will move across the country to marry a man you shouldn't be with and will later divorce. This will all be very expensive and emotionally painful, and you will have nothing to show for it.
Me with my loves in Pisa, Italy
Eventually you will find your niche: writing and copyediting. This has nothing to do with psychology, per se, but you will need a college degree to secure this job, so you won't feel as though you "wasted" those years. Then you will find Prince Charming, pop out three kids, become a stay-at-home mom (by choice) and really start putting that psych background to good use. Unlike some of your peers, you won't regret giving up a career to be with your children. You will regret never having established a career in the first place. 
So, please . . . enjoy your college days; you can't get them back. Do something you love, not what other people think you should be doing. Now that I think about it, this is probably good advice for life in general.

09 June 2011

A Better Way

The following copy-and-paste post circulates around Facebook with some regularity:
My promise to my kids: I am not your friend . . . I am your mother. I will stalk you, flip out on you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare, and hunt you down like a bloodhound when needed because I LOVE YOU! When you understand that, I will know you are a responsible adult. You will NEVER find someone who loves, prays, cares, and worries about you more than I do! Repost if you love your children!
Well, clearly I must not love my children, because I would never repost this. It’s awful on so many levels. I must admit I have no idea where or with whom it originated, so I don’t know who to blame credit for this gem.
Let’s rip it apart review it line by line, shall we?
I am not your friend . . . I am your mother.
I believe it is possible for someone to be both. I would challenge those who think parents and children cannot share a true friendship (1) to consider what your definition of a “friend” really is, and then (2) to check out this article at Parenting Science.
I will stalk you, flip out on you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare, and hunt you down like a bloodhound when needed because I LOVE YOU! 

Stalking, lecturing, spawning insanity . . . yes, that sounds good. And why would you want your child, at any stage of development, to consider you a “nightmare”? I cannot see how this would improve their behavior, although I can definitely see how it might teach them how not to get caught.

With Agents J and A outside the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari 
When you understand that, I will know you are a responsible adult. 
I’m not sure how a distant mothering relationship, being told what to do and hounded, and fear-based parenting magically leads to responsible adulthood. However, it seems this might lead to compliant, blindly obedient children who appear “good” but lack the self control to moderate their own behavior. Every parent’s dream, right?
You will NEVER find someone who loves, prays, cares, and worries about you more than I do!
Probably the most benign statement in the whole thing. And likely true . . . no one thinks about you, prays for you, and yes worries about you like your Mom.
Might I suggest a rewrite?
A message to my children: I am blessed to be your mother and honored to be your friend. I will always be there for you, supporting you and providing a secure, loving base. As long as your safety is not compromised, I will trust you to make decisions, even when I disagree. I will offer my advice when appropriate, but always remember in any conversation listening is more important than talking. I promise to be one person in your life on whom you can depend unconditionally. I know that you will grow into a content, responsible adult who respects others because you have been shown respect. I will care for your needs and pray for you daily because I love you. Repost to show how much you care about your children.

06 June 2011

Innocent Question?

When I took Agent A to the pediatrician for his six-month check-up a few weeks ago, I expected the usual well visit banter. But this question took me by surprise:
How long do you plan to breastfeed? 
Before I replied I cringed a bit, because in my mind I heard:
When do you plan to stop breastfeeding?
I don’t think he liked my answer: I nursed A’s two older sisters until they were ready to wean, and intended to do the same with A. He immediately went into a spiel about the “negatives” of breastfeeding longer than a year. What if he’s not getting sufficient calories? What if it affects his iron levels? What if he doesn’t want to try new foods because he’s nursing “too much”? I think he said more, but I tuned out at that point. I didn’t like being asked to consider an expiration date on my breastfeeding relationship with my last baby.
(Of course this wasn’t nearly as bad as the anesthesiologist who, because he wanted to put me under for a simple outpatient procedure rather than give me a breastfeeding compatible med and monitor me, asked (of my four-month-old, never once even took a bottle, baby) Can’t you just give him formula for 12 hours?)
Me and Agent A at the botanical gardens in Florence, Italy.
So, anyway . . . why ask a mother this when her baby is meeting every milestone and thriving? Why even bring up, for instance, “not getting enough calories from breast milk alone” when in the company of a chubby, 21-pound six-month-old? Why jump to “this might be a problem and here’s why”?
My son is a happy, healthy, plump little guy (see adorable photo below) who breastfeeds on cue and enjoys a variety of foods. (I posted on starting  baby-led weaning last month and added this update just a few days ago.) I will continue to breastfeed him as long as we both want to. 
I suppose I should mention we LOVE our pediatrician. Agent E is leery of the medical community in general, and even she thinks he’s fabulous. When we left her last appointment, she kept going on and on about how nice Dr. P is. Agent J is the model patient for him. Unlike with other doctors we have seen, I have never felt the need to defend my parenting choices. He doesn’t typically offer unsolicited advice. He actually has copies of both the CDC and WHO growth charts. Not once has he inquired about where the baby sleeps. He is a great doctor with a great bedside manner. 
My beautiful boy.
I suppose I should also mention I am One of Those People Who Is Very Into Breastfeeding, both for myself and as an advocate for others. I have no professional experience or credentials—just successful breastfeeding relationships with my own three children and a love of reading/researching the topic—but I find it fascinating on many levels. I would venture to say I’m more up-to-speed than average.
And I said nothing. That’s the real problem I’m having here: Should I have extolled the benefits of extended breastfeeding? Said something pithy? Does everything need to be a teachable moment?
What would you have done? Would you have also remained silent, secure in your knowledge you are doing what’s best for your child? Or piped up with a comment? And does it really matter? (Maybe I am just being neurotic about the whole thing, which is entirely possible.)

01 June 2011

Baby-Led Weaning (Update)

I posted recently about trying baby-led weaning with Agent A, who turned 7 months yesterday. (See Food, Yummy Food for the initial post.) This is an update about how it’s going one month later.
First, I must admit something I simply could not get on board with: handing him a large chunk of food (stick-shaped for grabbing onto) and watching him go at it. I know some folks may say that’s kind of the whole point of BLW and I might as well turn in my membership now, but I tried this a couple of times and it scared the bejesus out of me. A doesn’t have teeth, but his gums are strong, and he can chomp off a huge chunk of carrot or banana or whatever. Seeing him with a mouthful of a big lump of food was not something this Momma could watch.

French toast and bananas . . . yummy.
Other aspects, however, I embraced readily . . . we will not be purchasing jarred baby food nor making our own. (Although I did break down and buy a container of those puffs . . . softer than Cheerios and fun pincer grasp practice.) We simply offer him appropriate pieces/servings of whatever we are eating. We will be skipping purees and only spoon-feeding foods meant to be eaten with a spoon (e.g., applesauce, yogurt). We do not go out of our way to prepare anything “special” for him or attempt to “feed” him . . . we just take whatever we have and cut it up or mush it, set it in front of him,  and let him put it in his own mouth. (Well, sometimes I help to hold it a little if he’s getting too ambitious.)

Some foods we have tried so far: bananas, carrots, peas, green beans, applesauce, the aforementioned puffies, turkey meatloaf, spaghetti, bread, French toast, and rice.

This pizza rocks

But by far his favorite seems to be pizza. (We live in Naples after all, and A is one-quarter Italian.)

I do not try to spread out foods over a couple of days, and sometimes (gasp!) even offer two new foods at the same time. Ooh . . . I just gave my baby two different fruits without waiting out the “mandatory” three-day allergy watch. Someone call CPS, quick. 
Of course it’s mostly for play right now, as A gets at least 90% of his calories from breast milk, and this will be true for many months to come.