Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Worst Vice Ever Invented

"Good taste is the worst vice ever invented." - Edith Sitwell

Zephyr and I have embarked on adventures in culinaria. It's as much fun for me to think up what to make for him as it is for him to taste so many new things. Every day at dinner I feel like I'm getting another chance to blow his mind. And so far, he's shown a great appreciation for everything I've prepared for him. What can I say? The kid has good taste.

New foods this week:

Carrots with fresh-grated turmeric, ginger and orange zest
Sweet potato with curry and cinnamon
Millet (cooked very soft and pureed with breastmilk)
Banana with walnut oil and nutmeg
Baby taku choy (a greener version of bok choy) with coconut milk, galangal, lemongrass and lime juice, served with rice
Grilled cheese and tomato-roasted red pepper soup (I sprinkled rice cereal and grated cheddar into the soup)

I cook his dinner while we wait for Scott to come home, and then freeze leftovers in an ice cube tray. Now we have bags of delicious dinner cubes in the freezer for lazier days (like this summer), or for when Scott's in charge, or for when Zeph starts really teething - I can just pop a food cube into his mesh teether and let him at it. Tonight will either be fresh favas with butter and mint or kabocha squash with shiso and sesame oil. Then I'll chill out on the feeding frenzy.

I've been reading a lot about various recommended first foods for babies and about complimentary feeding. There is actually no scientific evidence that shows that babies should not eat protein foods, classically allergenic foods in particular, and the AAP has changed their recommendations based on a 2008 study. Keeping babies away from peanuts does not reduce their chances of developing peanut allergies (same goes with wheat, dairy, eggs, or fish) and they can actually handle meat, dairy and vegetables just fine (only really acidic foods should be avoided). Babies who are allergic will show signs of their allergy via breastmilk (though breastfeeding can reduce the severity of reactions). Turns out, rice cereal is a first food out of tradition only. I wonder if Gerber had anything to do with that?

It's funny, the traditional first foods (rice, applesauce, bananas) are not really ideal at all because they can cause constipation - three of the four foods in the so-called "BRAT" diet, meant to stop diarrhea, are bananas, rice and applesauce (toast is the T). I notice a difference right away when Zephyr eats only apples, rice or bananas. He hadn't crapped in three days before I made him the greens in an attempt to flush him out, and it worked! A big smudge of cud just scrubbed his little colon right out and showed up in his diaper looking nearly identical to how it did going in.

I believe firmly that exposing infants to different flavors and textures is the easiest (only?) way to develop a young palate. Too many parents treat babies like they're stupid, unadventurous or dull, and then complain when they won't try anything new. One of my biggest pet peeves is a picky eater, and I'll be damned if my own spawn turns his nose up to my cooking! (The greatest irony is that I am eating a bowl of boxed mac and chee as I type this.)


Today is Zephyr's 6 month birthday. What is that, a hexamester? Things are putting right along - he's *this* close to sitting up by himself, which is exciting news for his playtime options. Right now he spends most of his waking hours upright in the exersaucer or on the belly or back on his play mat, so it'll be really cool when he can sit up and play with blocks or whatever strikes his wee fancy. This morning he lunged for his toes and toppled forward. He's unfazed by these minor setbacks, and just keeps trying.

Speaking of setbacks, he has this new thing where when I try to put him down for his nap he starts crying. Really angry, guttural crying. It kills me to hear it, but as soon as I pick him up to comfort him he just starts grinning, "Yay! She's back!" So I have to just let him protest, even though it's the hardest thing in the world to hear. I think he's starting to hit his attachment peak, and even though I stay there for awhile, rubbing his back, he just gets so pissed that I'm leaving him alone. That, or he's just not interested in sleeping (even though I can tell by his droopy eyes and slowed movements that he needs a nap). Maybe I need to get him a bit drowsier before I put him down.

A couple days this week he's gotten up at 6:30, throwing off the nap schedule for most of the day. This means he wants his first nap at 8:00, wakes at 10:00 or so, and then I have to squeeze in two shorter naps instead of just one long afternoon nap. It's annoying to watch the clock and have to wake him to keep him on schedule, but I really think he needs to stay on schedule at least until he shows me he can stay awake for more than two hours. Hasn't happened yet. I'm looking forward to being able to spend a little more time with him, taking strolls that aren't hurried or task-oriented, or just hanging out. Being home with him is really starting to get fun.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

All Through the Night

Natasha warned that I'll jinx it: "the first rule of Sleep Club is don't talk about Sleep Club!" But by gum, this sleep-training thing has some merit after all. At the risk of jinxing it I'm feeling brave enough to talk about it, so maybe some of you who are still struggling can try out the routine that works for us.

We keep to a pretty strict schedule: go fetch him in the morning at 7:30 (maybe closer to 8:00 on weekends), open up the blinds to let in some daylight, have a nurse and some playtime, then when he starts winding down at around 8:30 we read some books or might watch a little Yo Gabba Gabba (I know you're not supposed to let them watch TV before age two, but it's ad-free and he loves that show, so a big fat whatevs).

At 9:00am he goes down for his first nap. I usually nurse him in our bed with him laying in the crook of my arm, then I slip out from underneath him and tiptoe out. Often, he wakes when I do this and will cry for a minute. I used to pick him back up and nurse a little more, but then he would get too full and barf all over the bed and I'd have to mop everything up and we'd have to start over. Now I just let him fuss - once he finds his thumb (takes less than a minute now), he settles right down and closes his eyes. He usually sleeps until noon, maybe waking once and fussing for a second before falling back to sleep, but the last couple of days he's been fussing a little more and waking up at 11:00.

Once he's up, he can only stay awake for up to two hours before he starts getting fussy. We try to get in a good long stroll during this time, maybe lunch with a friend, but I always feel like I have to hurry before he starts melting down. Zephyr's version of a meltdown is still pretty benign: cluster-feeding, squirming, then full on back-arching as if to say, "Bitch, let me lay down! Why you keepin' me up?" That means I need to get him home, stat. Sometimes I nurse him and lay down with him just to get my snuggle on, but sometimes he just wants his lovey and for me to GTFO.

The afternoon nap usually goes pretty long, especially if he's been up for three hours before he goes down. He will often sleep 3.5 hours before I finally go wake him up (5:30 is the cutoff point, or else he gets too close to bedtime). I like to wake him up by planting kisses all over his little cheeks, and he slowly blinks and smiles to wakefulness. It's the sweetest thing.

Weissbluth says the afternoon wakeful period is supposed to be the longest, but this hasn't been true for us since Zephyr takes such long naps. His late afternoon wakeful period is usually only long enough for a walk to the park next door to touch leaves and swing for a bit. He is mesmerized with his shadow on the ground, and laughs when I grab his toes and kiss them before giving him a gentle push. Then we shuffle back home and I start preparing his dinner: rice ceral mixed with breastmilk and the seasoning of the day: usually a scant pinch of cinnamon, sometimes a little finely minced basil, or some mashed banana, or yesterday, homemade applesauce (seasoned with ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon, and sweetened with a tiny drop of agave nectar - he actually made a happy sound and laughed when he tasted it).

After he eats dinner (Scott and I alternate days feeding him), he has a warm bath with a drop of lavender bath milk added. He sits in the tub for about 5 or 10 minutes, then I give him a massage (to relax him and for the opportunity to get some moisturizer on his skin to stave off another eczema outbreak). Then we get him into his jimjams (and a disposable diaper instead of cloth, so he doesn't need to be changed in the middle of the night) and we quietly walk him upstairs.

We have blackout panels on his windows (one actual blackout panel and another window has blinds, thermal drapes and a dark brown bedsheet draped stylishly over the top) to darken his room completely. We settle into the comfy rocker and I nurse while we recite his bedtime story (it's too dark to read in there), then I sing the theme from Moulin Rouge and Marla, two unlikely lullabies that I picked specifically for Zephyr when he was still living in my body.

Sometimes he falls completely asleep in my arms, but usually after he pulls off the nipple I pass him to Scott, who finishes the job. Scott walks and rocks him for a few minutes, quietly singing along to the Rockabye Baby lullaby version of OK Computer. I think it's important that Scott and I each have our own individual bedtime rituals so either one of us get cue Zeph that it's bedtime. This has already paid off: last Sunday I had a free ticket to Cochon 555 and had to miss Zephyr's bedtime for the first time. Scott was easily able to get him to bed on time without me.

Once he's laid down in his crib, lovey in hand, he will usually go right to sleep (though sometimes he will babble to himself for a few minutes before succumbing). Then, our new breakthrough: he sleeps for 8 straight hours, minimum. Over the past week, he's been generally sleeping from 7:00pm straight to 3:30 or 4:00am, wakes to nurse, then goes back to sleep until 7:00 or 7:30 (we're not sure if he's been waking up earlier, because if he is, he's staying quiet in his crib and just staring at his mobile or stuffed elk).

Twice in the past week, he slept twelve straight hours. That's right, 7 to 7. The first time he went past 3:00 without waking, I freaked out a little. My breasts started becoming engorged, and I lay there awake for an hour before I finally just went into his room, scooped him up and nursed him while he was still asleep just to get the milk out. Once I realized that he won't starve (and that my milk won't dry up just because I no longer need to nurse every four or five hours), I've decided to leave well enough alone and I got the first complete, uninterrupted full night's sleep I've had since I was in my second trimester.

So, there it is. I don't know if other babies can fall into reliable patterns so neatly or quickly as Zephyr has - he is probably the easiest among all the babies we know - but I really think there's something to the whole sleep training thing. It took a couple weeks, but it didn't require any weird methodology. We did have to let him fuss a little here and there, but it really didn't take him long to figure out that his thumb is part of him and that he can suck it whenever he wants. (He only sucks it during sleepytimes and at dinner - he likes to pop it in between bites, maybe as part of him learning to feed himself?) But the take-home lesson is that babies really do need routines that they can count on. I think that my strict adherence was required for at least a few weeks until it became engrained, but now there is a little more flexibility (like having lunch and wiggling around nap time here and there). Granted, I still need to pick up and leave if we're out and he starts letting me know that he needs to sleep. But I don't mind this trade-off.

Babies learn quickly. If we can create predictability in their lives, they behave predictably. It's science. And you know what they say about science.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Avoiding My Tragedy

"All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his."

~Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

A first Mother's Day is different than any other first holiday. When I gave birth to Zephyr, I, too, was borne into motherhood. I know it sounds trite and corny, but motherhood really does change everything, especially my identity as a woman.

Motherhood is different for every woman, obviously, but I think that motherhood is particularly poignant for the motherless. My own mom passed away 5 years ago, and never did I feel her absence more than on my own first Mother's Day. There's so much I wish I could ask her, yet at the same time I feel a slight sense of relief that this journey really is all my own, and I can venture in head first, unabated by tradition, or unwanted advice. I'm free to ace it with flying colors or completely fuck it up, all on my own.

I still have mixed feelings about my mother. I haven't yet decided if I admire her strength for sticking it out in the bad times, or if I judge her for being too weak to leave someone who was so irresponsible and cruel to her and her children for years. No woman I know wants to turn into her mother, but for me, I don't see how it's even possible.

I frantically try to remember what kind of mom she was, but find only fragments: dust-specked Sunday sunbeams through the windows of our apartment along Johnson Creek, comparing the relative merits of each of the Beatles (Ringo was her favorite); almost superstitiously paranoid of the dangers of children being out after 5:00pm, or of meat that is cooked any amount less than "to leather"; a lover of crafts, living simply (or the the idea of it), and Jim Croce; a crier at Hallmark cards and Humane Society advertisements (an embarrassed "don't look at me!" when caught); her distance (both spatial and emotional) from her own family. In some humble ways that are as much nurture as nature, I am just a bit like her after all.

Scott made delicious berry waffles gilded with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, sausages and mimosas for breakfast. After Zephyr woke from his morning nap, we went to the rhododendron gardens near our house. I thought it was free on Mother's Day, but instead they were having a plant sale so the place was pretty packed (in addition to there being a $3 admission). It was worth it, though - the rhodies were at their peak. The rhodie gardens also afforded Zeph his first close-up view of ducks. He thought they were pretty funny.

Firsts this week: Zephyr drank water from a glass, and when given his spoon of cereal, actually put it into his mouth all by himself! I had to put his hand almost all the way to the bowl of the spoon so he wouldn't gag himself on it, but he really seemed to get what it's all about.

Zephyr has really taken to his fingers and thumbs. This afternoon I went in to check on him when his nap was going long (I am serious about this schedule thing, and this article from Zero to Three backs me up), and he was blissfully sleeping with his little thumb in his mouth. This means that I never have to worry about a binky falling out of his mouth or getting lost, but it does mean that I might eventually have to break him of the habit. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, I guess.
The rice cereal has been going really well. I've started adding the scantest touch of cinnamon to it to give him some new flavors. It makes his shit so garish, but I guess that's inevitable. He really does sleep in longer stretches when he's eaten solids before bed - the longest he went last week was almost 6.5 hours. The cutest thing is that when he eats something he likes (a blob of banana out of my crepe is a recent favorite), he grins and laughs with delight. I love that he's getting so much enjoyment out of food, but I'm also wary that he may still go through a picky phase. I'm reveling in it while I can. Seeing him get so happy over his first taste of something reminds me that the best things in life really are the simple things.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A New Dawn, A New Day

...and I'm feeling good.

Zephyr's sleepytime "oh no you di'int" face

So we ordered a copy of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child (after reading as much of it as Amazon allows in the preview, which is surprising lot). It came highly recommended by several well-rested non-child abusers, and I figured we needed to try something, anything different. But during the two days while we waited for the book to arrive, I ended up finally hitting my limit (the night I wrote last week's blog post, I think). It was 3:00am, and Zephyr was waking up for the third time, only 30 minutes after being nursed. "That's it. That's it." I brusquely scooped him up and marched him into his room and put him down in his crib. I closed his door behind me and got back into bed, trembling justifications under my breath. "I just can't do this anymore. I don't know what to do." Scott sleepily mumbled something supportive, as I lay there, ears wide open.

Zephyr was quiet. He stayed quiet. I eventually fell back asleep. Cut to 6:00am, Scott's alarm going off. Suddenly remembering, I panic: "go check on the baby!"

Zephyr was still asleep. He stirred a moment later and I rushed to retrieve him, planting apologetic kisses all over his tiny head. He was perfectly fine; in fact, he even appeared well-rested and happy to see me.

The book arrived the next day and I speed-read it, then started implementing the techniques that night. I followed Weissbluth's recommendations to the letter that day, moving all of Zephyr's naps to an earlier time, even running him home in the stroller (almost a mile) from a quick coffee date with Beth to make the 1:00pm nap time slot. We got Zephyr into bed at around 6:30pm (an hour earlier than we had been), and after about an hour of minor fussing he quieted down and went to sleep. He slept four hours before waking to eat, and I gladly nursed him and settled him back into his crib. It was almost too easy.

Four more hours go by, and he wakes again. Weissbluth assures us that babies his age don't need to eat that much, and to let him fuss for a bit so he can learn to settle himself back down. Everything else was going so well that Scott and I decided to stick with the program.

Cut to 40 minutes later, when I finally cave because Zephyr has still not stopped crying.

After that 3:00 waking/feeding, Zeph slept the rest of the night. Scott and I decided we could live with two wakings (abandoning the pointless cry-it-out bullshit) and haven't fucked with it since. We're all back to sleeping in 3-4 hour chunks (the last chunk sometimes goes almost 5 hours) and we're okay with that. Zephyr sleeps 12 hours or so before waking up for the day at around 7:30am, and coos to himself quietly for awhile in the morning until we come to greet him (and he wakes from naps babbling and smiling instead of crying). We're still streamlining the bedtime routine so Scott can be more involved (Daddy is Zeph's #1 Funniest Person right now, not Mr. Soothing Bedtime Man), but otherwise we're just pleased as punch.

So basically, the kid just needed some space. We were the ones responsible for his frequent wakings, simply by being too close, making all of those tossy-turny night noises. Once I figured out that this is what he needs, I got over my guilt about not co-sleeping. We gave it the old college try, but the family bed (including the sidecar) just isn't a long-term sleep situation for us. I am glad, though, that we ignored so many of the warnings and did it while Zephyr was a newborn. It was so great while it lasted. (I still like to bring him into bed in the morning for a snuggle and a nurse, and he still goes down for naps this way.)

Another plus, we get our bedroom back.

After much vigilance, his eczema has finally cleared up (twice-daily applications of Triamcinolone cream and four daily applications of Weleda Calendula Baby Cream finally worked after a couple weeks), further helping his sleep situation. No more "scritch scritch scritch" of tiny fingernails to keep him awake.

Oh, also, we started giving him rice cereal recently (mixed with warm breast milk), and he seems to like real food! He takes after his mom, I guess. He also likes mushed banana and avocado, delivered to his eager maw via my fingertip. I picked up one of those baby teether-feeder things and will probably start stuffing it with cold apple chunks for him to gnaw on (still no teeth!). I guess we'll need to start eating dinner at the table soon, instead of in front of the TV. Yet another good habit having a baby has forced upon us.

Let the messy-face photos begin.