Working with wood for kids (Holiday gifts part 3)

Today’s answer is from a guest expert–my brother, who is a carpenter in a midwestern US city. You’ll see where my "let’s figure it out by talking through it" style must be a family trait.

Wren writes:

"I am very crafty and have all the tools to make my 15 month old a set
of lovely wooden toys, but am a bit wary of which woods to use.  I’d
like them to be a set of stacking blocks that is pretty primitive, with
bark still on parts of the pieces, but don’t know which woods would not
be advisable for a toddler that still likes to put toys in his mouth.
My preference would be to make them from a native (to our area in
Texas) pecan or cedar, as I have much of that lying around waiting for
my projects.  I tried googling, but didn’t get any helpful info. Do you
have any ideas of where to look?  And what kind of oil/finishing
treatment to use if any?"

My brother (should I give him a pseudonym?) answers:

"Wren (and Moxie),

I did not have much luck with internet searches for kid-safe woods either, other than people who were selling wooden toys of mostly unspecified species of woods, so I am going to have to turn to my own experience, anecdotal evidence, and picturing my intended block user.

As to the specific woods the question mentions, I don’t know enough about them to be definite that they are baby safe. The cedar I have worked with here in the Midwest tends to be soft, and splintery, and something in the cedar oils that make it rot- and bug-resistant tends to make the slivers it produces much more irritating (they burn!) than other woods, so I suspect there may be something sort of toxic in cedar. I would be willing to assume the same about redwood and any other naturally insect- and rot-resistant woods. Also, in ALL cases steer clear of pressure treated woods, a la the wood used for decks. This exterior grade construction lumber is regular SPF (lumber industry jargon for an unspecified coniferous softwood that could be either Spruce, Pine, or Fir) that has been treated with chemicals that kill fungus, microorganisms that lead to rot, and insects. But anything that is killing bugs and germs is probably not good for kids, and in fact, up until a few years ago the main treatment was a chemical stew called CCA, chromated copper arsenate, three things your kids should not be touching, gnawing on, or inhaling. The copper gives treated deck wood a greenish tint, so you can fairly easily see it when you run up against it. Also not good for kids are railroad ties, as they have been treated with all sorts of rot-resistant chemicals, like creosote, and while they are all over in landscaping, they are full of nasty things. The sawdust these treated woods produce are a toxin that makes your nasal passages sore and it is nasty stuff.

I have no firsthand experience with pecan, but thinking about it, here are the qualities I would
generally look for in wood for blocks: fine grain, and relatively
unlikely to produce splinters. Mahogany, walnut or oak would be
examples of grainy wood prone to making splinters.  Maple, birch,
cherry (although cherry is somewhat toxic, if I remember correctly from
my campfire cooking days), and even slow-growth pine, fir, and spruce
tend to have finer grains that in my experience are less splintery. If
you do choose to work with woods similar to the first group, make sure
your tools are sharp to minimize chatter, tear-out, and splintering,
and pay special attention to sanding them extremely smooth before
letting your child handle the blocks.

I would think twice about keeping the bark on the blocks, for a couple reasons. First, if your young builder is like I was, eventually there will be tall towers to build, and with the irregularities of shape that the bark would leave, that Empire State Building might come out more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or simply topple over before it was appointed toppling the tower time. But more importantly from a safety standpoint, as wood naturally ages and the moisture levels change, the bark layers tend to separate from the rest of the wood. Knocking blocks around, tumbling down structures, and chewing on edges would tend to accelerate the bark falling off, and would leave small pieces of bark loose to be put in the mouth or nose, or ear, or anywhere else kids stick small objects.

All that said, the blocks I played with and drooled all over for years and years of my childhood were a lovely tight grained pine or fir, and a few maple ones thrown in for good measure. The only finish was hand sanding to a very smooth finish (probably with at least 240 grit sandpaper. FYI, in sandpaper the higher the number, the finer the grit and the smoother the resulting finish, so for kids toys I would sand as high as 320 grit if possible) with the edges relieved, and oils from my fingers and face and whatnot as the only preservative.

If you do want to put a finish on the blocks, linseed oil, which is the original oil base in oil-based paint, is an excellent natural oil for wood. It is simply non-foodgrade flaxseed oil. (linen=flax fibers, lin-seed = flax-seed) In hardware or art supply stores you often find "boiled linseed oil," but as the wikipedia article mentions, if you are not careful in checking the label, you may be getting some metallic and petroleum content in your flaxseed. Plain foodgrade flaxseed oil would probably be very good for treating kids’ blocks. Olive oil is good and safe, but I don’t think it has the longevity of linseed oil so to keep the same sheen you would have more frequent reapplications. (I think there is a chemistry reason having to do with the eventual breakdown of fat molecules in oils, and the tendency of foodgrade oils to eventually become rancid. I looked for some Alton Brown references to oil/fat chemistry, because I remember him doing a good explanation of cooking oils, but I couldn’t find it.) Another foodsafe option is mineral oil (a.k.a. baby oil), which has been used as a preservative on butcher blocks and cutting boards, and as a sealer of stone food surfaces, for generations. Kids playing with blocks would probably give them a natural low luster even when the oil dries out, but reapplying oil as the blocks dry out will keep a low luster finish when no kids are polishing them up with their little hands.

Again thinking back to my trusty childhood blocks, I suspect the set was made from 2x building material cut and sanded by someone into some fantastic, cheap modular blocks. I would still use SPF construction lumber softwoods, but in the intervening 30+ years, construction grade lumber, as in all wood products, has had a marked decline in quality. We have used up all the old growth trees. SPF construction lumber is a farm system now, growing hybrid trees that grow fast with many knots and wide splintery grain. Slow growth makes for tight, stable, generally less splintery grain. Every year it is harder, and consequently more expensive to find good quality wood. Luckily, for blocks we are not talking about large pieces of wood, so we can cut around knots and bad grain. Knots can be aesthetically lovely in wood, but in pine, fir, and spruce they tend to be where the sap and tar accumulate (they are sticky), are harder than the wood around them (that makes sanding them difficult), as the wood ages they change moisture content differently than the wood around them (so would be prone to falling out, and would be hazardous the same way bark could be in a set of blocks) and knots resist any oil treatments for finishing.

So choose your wood carefully, especially if you are buying it at a big box store like Lowe’s or Home Depot, where the price is low because the grade of wood they sell is the bare minimum required for construction. If you are not interested in cutting around imperfections, you might go to your local (I mean local, not part of a large national chain) lumberyard and asking them about obtaining a better grade of softwood, or a decent grade of hardwood (big box stores have very poor hardwoods generally) if you are interested in working with something more elaborate than pine. The price may be higher than a construction grade SPF 2×4 at Lowe’s, but because blocks are small sections of wood, you can probably negotiate for scraps and cutoffs local lumberyards often have left over from large orders others have already paid for. They may even give it away to you if the pieces are small and they want to get it out of their warehouse or yard. Along that line, you might even try local manufacturers who use wood. Where I work right now we use thousands of board-feet of low grade wood every day, and in the milling process we have thousands of board feet of scrap we can’t use in a week. Consequently, we have scavengers who stop in weekly to fill up trucks for local reuse as firewood, my coworkers take home scraps for various projects or bonfires, and the rest is eventually shipped off to be recycled as any number of forest industry products. Because kids’ blocks are small, it would be very easy to find enough usable pieces from the scrap of most wood-using businesses to make a great set of blocks. All you need to do is ask nicely and there is a good chance your material could be free.

I’m not sure if that answered your question adequately, but I hope somewhere in the large quantity of response you find some quality info you can use."

There you have it–more than you thought there was to know about making kids’ toys with wood.

Book review up this evening.

Holiday gifts part 2

Today can we talk about things we can make?

I knit and sew and cook, so the handmade gifts I give are all of the knitted, sewed, or baked variety. I know what I’m going to knit for my friends from college this year (some of whom read this every once in awhile, so I won’t say it here). I’m going to sew a long furry snake (don’t ask) for my younger son.

A really nice gift is teaching someone else how to do something you can do. Not only do you get to show someone how to do something they want to know how to do, but you also get to spend time together during the lessons.

Alice jumped the gun yesterday in her comment about making their Christmas tree each year, but I think that’s an amazing idea. If I wasn’t so addicted to the smell of pine I’d steal it and pretend it was my own idea.

What else are the rest of you going to make?

Holiday gifts pt 1

The rest of this week is going to be a series about holiday gifts. Today we’ll talk about things you can buy, tomorrow about things you can make, and then Friday we’ll have a guest post from my brother, a carpenter, answering a question someone sent in about making wooden blocks.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that we’re all looking for more meaningful gifts than just going to the local big box store and picking something up. It seems like we’re also concerned about too many gifts, and finding gifts that are produced safely and in ways that help (or at least don’t harm) the workers who make the items. The obvious first stop is fair trade.

I’m going to plug my own favorite fair trade catalog, A Greater Gift, one more time. Don’t forget that they have fair trade chocolate Hannukah gelt and also fair trade chocolate Advent calendars.

Deanna, who works with the Fair Trade Federation, wrote in to give me this amazing list of fair trade catalogs and online stores that sell gifts. There’s an entire store that sells beads handmade by women with HIV in Africa, one that sells Vietnamese folk art, another one that sells shea butter and African black soap, one with fair-trade olive oil and other foods from Palestine, and dozens of others. Absolutely worth a look.

Rudyinparis (who’s really in MN–who knew?) writes:

"I would love to give and receive magazine subscriptions this year. After Brain, Child I run out of good ideas. What magazines does this community absolutely love that would be great to give or receive?

I am on the rampage about reining Christmas in (i.e., the amount of stuff we accumulate). What suggestions does this community have that would help make the holidays really meaningful and not just about getting a bunch of items? What holiday memories do you remember from your own childhood that really stand out? Are there specific rituals that you do that are very meaningful to you and your family?

As we gear up for the holiday season, I would love ideas and suggestions from this always brilliant community."

I can tell you the magazine subscriptions I’m getting. My older son is getting Sports Illustrated for Kids, because he loves to read and he’s crazy about sports. My brother is getting Outside Magazine, so he can turn into a mountain man and teach me how to snowboard next year. My mother and I will be renewing each other’s subscriptions to Interweave Knits. (To whoever asked a few days ago if I was a CEO and a knitter: Yes, I am. I am the CEO of, and a knitter.)

As for alternate ideas and traditions, how about this amazing one Jan left in the comments of the Halloween post a few weeks ago:

"I’ve got three brothers, all married, which makes eight of us that
really don’t need anything for Christmas all trying to shop for each
other. We tried drawing names, but that didn’t really feel any better
to us.

For the last few years, we’ve done the same thing. We go to a local
organization that has an Adopt-A-Family program at Christmastime and
ask for a family of four. Each couple in our family is assigned a
member of the adopted family to shop for. We don’t tell each other what
we’re buying.

We have a get-together in early December. The eight of us (and our
kids) get together and WRAP the presents for the adopted family. It’s
amazing how much this feels just like Christmas gift unwrapping.
There’s seeing what everybody got. There’s showing everybody what fun
gifts you found. There’s gift wrap and ribbons everywhere. 🙂

We also buy a gift certificate for a grocery store and usually one
other family gift (zoo membership, passes to movies, depends on the
ages/interests of the family). All told, we usually spend about $300 —
$75 per couple, which is about the same as we were spending when we
were drawing names (two names for each couple).

We still do gifts for the kids at Christmas, but we grownups are so
much happier with this setup. I highly, highly recommend it."

I just love that.

So, any other ideas? We’ll be doing things we can make tomorrow, so hold off on those for now.

Q&A: 3 1/2-year-old reverting to wetting the bed

Kecia (another pretty name) writes:

"I need HELP!!!! (please)

My son is 3 1/2.  He has been potty
trained since he turned three.  At about 37 months, he told me that he
didn’t not need a diaper during the night.  I was reluctant, but
decided to give it a try, as his diaper was often dry in the morning.
For nearly two months this worked perfectly.  Not one accident!!

He would drink a 6 oz yogurt smoothie
during his bedtime stories and I would give him water when he went to
bed.  He would sleep for 9+ hours and wake up with a very full bladder
(and pee in his potty).

In late August, we were traveling and he
wet the bed (two nights in a row).  When we returned home, things
improved for a few weeks and then he had several nights of accidents
again.  The situation has continued to deteriorate.  In the past month
he has had an accident every few nights.

I am so tired of waking in the middle of
the night to change his clothing, his bedding, etc.  I want to help
him, but I don’t know how.  The strange part is he seems to have these
accidents without a full bladder.  Some nights his pajamas and pants
are only very damp – not soaked. On nights when I limit liquid
consumption and have him pee before going to sleep, it seems he is more
likely to wet the bed.  This can happen as early as midnight, maybe 3
hours after he last urinated.  I have also tried to wake him during the
middle of the night and have him pee, but this doesn’t seem to help.  I
usually find that he is already wet.  Now when he wakes up in the
morning he doesn’t even need to use the potty!  What is going on?

He has only had one daytime accident over the past few months.

What do you think?

Do I go back to diapers?  Do I continue
to do three loads of bedding every time this happens (comforter,
mattress protector, sheets and pajamas)?"

Aha. It’s the 3 1/2 thing. Did you by any chance read my review of the
book Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy from a few weeks ago? The part of my review that’s salient to your problem is here (Isn’t it just so classy when I quote myself? Sorry about that.):

Ames and Ilg observed that for kids this age, things seemed to run on a
6-month cycle of equilibrium and disequilibrium. So for awhile children
would be fluent and cheerful, coordinated, learning new things all the
time, and happy little kids doing things smoothly. Then they’d go
through a period of being physically clumsy, stuttering, being in foul
moods, and just having things go wrong a lot of the time. According to
them, this is normal, so knowing that will help you wait out the
periods of disequilibrium, and not get freaked out by things that are
developmentally appropriate but seem like regressions (like stuttering).

It sounds to me like that’s exactly what happened, that he was in a
smooth state of equilibrium when he got out of the diapers at night,
but has now moved into the stage of disequilibrium and he just can’t
control his body like he used to. The pendulum will swing back to
smoothness in a few months.

So the question is, what do you do in the meantime? I think I’d ask
him what you should do together. Explain to him that it’s just normal
that he’s going through a stage in which his body isn’t stopping the
pee like he wants it to, and he’ll be able to stay dry again in a few
months, but not right now. Ask him if he wants to go back into PullUps
at night (that would be my vote if I were you, but I think you really
need to make this as easy emotionally on him as possible, so giving
him a vote will help a ton) or if he can get up and change his own
pajama pants in the middle of the night. If he wants to stay out of
diapers, you should try to put as much of the clean-up on him as is
reasonable (maybe give him a layered bed with towels and protective
pads layered so he can just take the top one off after he changes
his pajamas, and no comforter).

I’m going to guess that faced with the alternatives he’ll chose
PullUps for the next few months.

Don’t worry that going back into diapers means that you failed and it’s forever and you’ll
send him off to college with a pack of jumbo size PullUps. It’s just
part of the ickiness of being 3 1/2. And yeah, you could try all the treatments for bed-wetting like the alarms, acupuncture, chiropractic, biofeedback, etc. But all those things are really for bigger kids who are still wetting the bed, not kids his age. Besides, by the time you messed around with all that stuff he’d probably have grown into the next stage of equilibrium anyway.

So just know that there’s nothing wrong with him, and this is a laundry problem instead of anything else, so treat it accordingly. You’re doing a good job.

Assorted thoughts

Today’s post is going to be a mash-up of a bunch of stuff going through my head.

Before I start with my braindump, let me posit this:

pomegranate and chipotle : 2007 :: roasted beet and goat cheese : 1998.

Now, the items of importance, in no particular order:

1. Time change and how it’s screwing up your sleep, your child’s sleep, your pet’s sleep, or any combination thereof. Complain away. Also muse on whether we should just switch to daylight savings time permanently.

2. XO laptop computers available to order today. I’m not quite as excited about them now as I was when I first heard about them. They’re very cute, but honestly, I’d rather wait until the second version comes out, or at least until a few have been manufactured so we know what the bugs are. If $399 wasn’t an issue for me I know I’d be getting one for my older son, but it is a significant chunk of money for me, so I think I’m going to hold off and see what happens   

3. WHO growth charts for breastfed babies. Someone emailed to ask me about them, so I figured more of you might appreciate the link:

4. Do any of you have any magical solutions for kids with chronic ear infections for one of my friends? He was breastfed as a baby, and is now a toddler who has tubes and still gets ear infections all winter. They’re giving up dairy soon. There’s got to be something that works to stop the ear infections.

5. Do any of you know how to do podcasts? I feel like I should know more about this than I do.

Book Review: The Daring Book For Girls

(To whoever bought  copy of The Wonder Weeks for $137, please return it! It’s not worth that much money. I feel horrible because I’m sure my recommendations have contributed to this insane arbitrage of the book. I’m figuring out a workaround for the shortage of copies, and will keep you updated.)

Book review of The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz.

Remember back when we were talking about* The Dangerous Book For Boys and speculating that the book for girls wouldn’t be as cool?

Wrong, wrong, wrong. The Daring Book for Girls is right, right, right.

This book covers so many topics, from essential gear to pressing flowers to being a spy to karate moves to negotiating a salary to Latin and Greek roots to making a lemon-powered clock to queens of the ancient world. Stocks and bonds? In the book. Peach pit rings? In the book. Building campfires? In the book. Slumber party games, rules of basketball, math tricks, making friendship bracelets, book lists, and tons more.

Don’t tell my sons, but this book has more cool stuff than the boy book does.**

Honestly, the only essential thing I can think of that isn’t in the book is rolling your own tampon from toilet paper in an emergency. (The target audience for the book is 8 and up, though, so tampons aren’t an issue for the younger end of the audience.) Even wearing high heels is in the book, in the section on dangerous things. With a note that once you get good at it, you can even run and do karate moves in high heels.

I was lucky enough to go to the NYC reading the authors gave last week. One of the things they said was that they think it’s vital to preserve so many of these "girl skills" that have been passed down from generation to generation, but have fallen out of favor because girls now are supposed to be tough. That really resonated with me. If I can be a CEO and also a knitter, then why should girls not learn how to braid friendship bracelets? By ignoring these traditional things that girls have done for fun, we’re reinforcing a message that girls are only supposed to like certain things.

The other things Andi and Miriam said that was a big zing right to my solar plexus was that when they were looking around at other books for tweeners, so much of what they found was about makeup, and boys, and their bodies. So they specifically wrote a book that didn’t deal with sex and makeup and bodies, but about being smart and capable and fun. They have a page about boys in the book that’s remarkably sensible and human. I don’t have a daughter, but this is a book I would have loved as a tween and would give to a hypothetical future daughter. I’ve already recommended it to at least a dozen people.

My mom called as I was writing this. I’d sent her the book after I finished it, because she’s sort of the ultimate Girl Scout, and was always doing projects with me when I was a kid. Her review:

"I’m surprised at how much it looks just like one of the old Girl Scout manuals! It has that same look and feel, and encouraging tone that makes the girls feel like they want to do all the projects and learn all the facts. The disclaimer at the beginning that girls should do the projects exactly as written, and with an adult’s help, was also important, because then they’re spending time with an adult who can pass down the knowledge and tradition. I find the whole book fascinating, and you knew I would, [insert her embarrassing nickname for me here]."

Then she told me which ones of her friends she was going to show the book to today.

Buy the book. Did I mention that you should buy the book?

* I think it’s fascinating that this discussion about gender and roles and toys and books is the most heated, vicious, and offended we’ve ever been on

** In all fairness, I think that may be because the authors of the boy book are British and restrained, while the authors of the girl book are American and prone to excess. Ha. Kidding.

Q&A: adjusting to naps with caregiver

Apparently this is "sleep problems and single parenting" week. Here’s a question that combines both. Kay writes:

"very soon i’m going to have to go back to work (sigh. sigh.).  my daughter just turned a year old, and to say sleep isn’t always her thang would be an understatement.  i’ve gotten used to our schedule/routine for sleep, but soon she’ll be taking her naps with someone else.  the only thing that works for us is for me to nurse her down in bed, then roll away.  almost like clockwork, she wakes after 30 minutes, and if i’m close by i can nurse her back down to sleep again.  i’ve tried rocking, patting, pacifiers, etc. – she wants the real deal, nipple action!  she only takes one nap these days (1-2 hrs when i’m right there), so naptime is a one-shot deal now. if this matters, she does something similar at night, with frequent wakings to nurse (we co-sleep).  and i’m not into CIO, though i say that with NO judgment to others.

okay, so my point is….  how is someone else, someone who she doesn’t even know well, going to get her to sleep???  i feel like i need to establish a new routine BEFORE i just throw her into this kind of mix, but don’t know where to start.  i’ve read previous posts about sending in the other parent, etc, but i’m a 100% single parent.  i seriously lay in bed (while she’s asleep!) thinking about this over and over.  it’s bad enough to feel like i’m leaving her with someone else, much less knowing that she could be crazy sleep deprived.  she is SO active (started walking at 9.5 months and now just goes and goes), but she does not konk out when she’s super tired – she just gets more ramped.

in respect to the tension-releaser vs builder, she is a very determined (and lovely) toddler who seems able to cry for long periods of time (the couple of times i’ve sat in the room and tried to get her to sleep in her crib).  aaaaahhh, it just makes me want to rack up my credit cards so i never have to go back to work until she’s in preschool!  i would be so grateful for any suggestions you or your readers (especially single parents) have."

Your guys know I always say "You’re the best parent for your child." I mean it, and if it’s the one thing I hope anyone ever takes away from this site that’s it.

But there’s another half to that. Which is that you’re the only you there is. Your child is going to react to you in a way that s/he doesn’t react to anyone else in the world. That’s great in some ways–you’ll be the one who gets hugs and kisses and a special kind of love. But sometimes it can feel like you’re the only one who can do things.

Your child, though, knows who you are, and that no one else is you. And your child doesn’t expect anyone else to be you. Your child can form meaningful rituals and bonds with other people.

At moments of big change, like starting day care, it can feel like you’ll be helping everyone if you become the facilitator of those rituals. But it’s not your job to create a relationship between your child and someone else, just to set the stage to allow it to happen.

What I’m saying is that whoever cares for your child will come up with a way to get her to nap. She may not like not being able to nurse to sleep anymore, but she’ll adjust to going down for a nap with her caregiver, and she’ll probably still want the nurse-and-roll-away from you on weekends. But it’s not your job to come up with a new routine for your caregiver to follow. Your daughter probably wouldn’t accept it from you anyway, and why make tension between you right before you have to change something in her life?

Let the new caregiver come up with the plan that works for them. You stay you, being the mother and doing the mothering that you do when you’re with her.

And it’s going to be OK going back to work. Unless it’s not, in which case you’ll figure out something that you can live with. At this age everything changes so quickly that what doesn’t work now could be perfect in three months, and vice versa.

Now, in the comments section I need tales of children who will only sleep one way for you, but can go down a different way with someone else. I’ll start: My younger son does not like to take a nap when I put him down, and will keep making excuses for me to come back (the whole "I need some water" routine). But he goes down easily with his babysitter, who created a routine involving a "tuck-tuck" (which I assume has something to so with tucking the blankets in around him) that he sometimes requests at times when she’s not there.

Anyone else have anything to share? We’re assuming she’s getting a competent caregiver who’s got her own bag of tricks to get Kay’s daughter to nap.

Reader call: Tips for single moms

Rachel writes:

"I’m due with my first at the end of Dec.  I have a decent support
system of family and friends, but of course it isn’t the same as having
a partner here with me through all of this.  The father decided to go
on his own way when I was about 3 months along…sooooo…I was hoping
you’d ask your readers for some reading suggestions for a single
mom-to-be.  I’m happy with my current ‘understanding
your pregnancy’ type books, but I’d love to hear recommendations for
books geared toward single moms about everything after the birth…"

One of my good friends from my older son’s playgroup is a single mom (adopted her daughter as a baby and was single from the beginning). Her summary of what she perceived the differences between being on her own and what she saw in two-parent household was that that she had all the help she needed for the daily stuff, but didn’t have anyone to defer to or fight with about the important stuff. She saw it as a tough ramp-up to realize that she was the only person ultimately responsible for this other person. But once she’d gotten into that mode she was happy not to have to compromise with anyone else. (We used to talk about whether she thought she’d meet someone someday, and her joke was that it would have to be someone with his own kid to make decisions about, since she wouldn’t be good at compromising with someone else when it came to her daughter. BTW, if any NYC-area single dads looking for a hot, funny, smart, independent secular Jewish mom in her mid 40s with a brilliant and funny 6-year-old daughter are out there, email me and I can set you up.)

Your support system of family and friends is going to be crucial. But I wonder if sometimes women with partners actually get less care and help after the baby comes because the partner is assumed to be filling that role? So you may actually end up with more help for the first month or so than you would have had if you’d had a partner.

I assume you’ve read Operating Instructions, one of my favorite "parenting" books of all time, which is Anne Lamott’s memoir of the first year of her son’s life. The father denied the baby was his while Lamott was pregnant, so she had and raised Sam "on her own" with her motley and loyal cadre of friends and family to help her. It’s the most real, honest portrayal of motherhood I’ve read, and I think a lot of that is because Lamott could focus so much on her relationship with Sam and not have to worry about a relationship with a partner at the same time. (Full review here.) It’s not going to give any practical instructions for being a single mom, but it will help you keep things in perspective about parenting in general.

But that’s the limit of my knowledge of being a single mom to a baby. So please, readers, jump in. What can you recommend for Rachel, in terms of resources for single moms and arranging help?

Q&A: How long can the swaddling go on?

If you live in the US and can, please vote today!

I still don’t know why it’s happening, but I keep getting questions in clusters. I’ve gotten a few recently about how long you can swaddle a baby. A couple of the parents are wondering if they can still swaddle because there’s nothing else that gets the babies to sleep, but the parents are worried that the babies are too old for swaddling at 4 months.

(Are we surprised that a big sleep dilemma is rearing it’s ugly head at four months? How convenient that that’s both the time kids are having sleep problems leading up to the 19-week leap, and also the time when popular culture tells us our kids are supposed to be sleeping perfectly after going down awake and if they’re not it’s our faults. Sheesh.)

There was also a note of confusion in two of the emails because the babies were still calmed by swaddling, but would then work their ways out of the swaddle in the middle of the night. Without the swaddle, the parents had a hard time getting the babies back to sleep, but the swaddle didn’t take. It was a big conundrum wrapped in a Catch 22.

I don’t really have much about swaddling. My older son was an anti-swaddler. I think he was just so happy to have room to stretch out finally (he was 9 1/2 pounds at birth) that there was no way he’d have submitted to a swaddle. And my second one was OK with the swaddle, but it just kind of faded away after a few weeks.

It’s my gut feeling, though, that nothing bad is going to happen if you continue to swaddle your baby until s/he stops responding to it. Assuming your baby gets plenty of time on the floor with his or her arms and legs free during the day, swaddling isn’t going to prevent them from developing physically. And if it gets the baby to sleep at night, hop on it.

One of the writers said "Right now I feel like he will need to be swaddled until he
is 3 years old" and that made me laugh, because when kids have that three-year-old sleep refusal thing (we could call it a sleep regression, but that makes it sound all babylike and genteel, which it’s not) wouldn’t it be awesome to just swaddle them in a big blanket and have it actually work? Maybe I’ll add that to the list of Kid Products That Would Sell In The Millions If Only They Worked.

Now, that doesn’t help the parents whose kids are wiggling out of the swaddle. That, to me, seems like the signal that the swaddling days are over. But how to transition to something else. My suspicion is that it can take weeks or even a few months, like some kids waver between one nap and two for weeks or months and are miserable nappers during that time. But, again, I’ve never lived it.

So, swaddlers and former swaddlers of the internet, give us some data points. When did you stop? Did your child fade out of it? Did you make a deliberate decision to stop? What did you do instead?

Q&A: Sleep problems on a regular cycle

Hey, I completely missed the time change! I use my cell phone as my alarm clock, and it switched automatically, so I didn’t have any idea it had happened until I’d been awake for three hours. Duh.

After two years, no one asks me anything about sleep that I haven’t heard before. Except for this question from Katriona (love that name, BTW), which would surely win an award if I had any awards to give:

"Ok, here’s my weird sleep question.  It seems that every month DS’s sleep goes wonky (he’s 9 months old).  By wonky I mean waking every 45-ish minutes, crying a lot in his sleep, having a tough time settling.  He’s not a great sleeper to start with, up every couple of hours to nurse or cuddle, so we co-sleep.  No biggie, I really love co-sleeping.  Anyway, I started to notice that his wonky sleeping always occurs about 2-3 days before a full moon and settles back down 1-2 days after the full moon.  I don’t think it’s food related (he’s still almost exclusively breastfed) and I don’t think it’s anything in my diet that’s effecting him via the breast milk.  In your experience, or anyone else’s experience, has the full moon really affected your child’s sleep?  Or am I just grasping at straws trying to explain why my son’s sleep gets all weird?"

You know, the moon shouldn’t be able to affect a child’s sleep by the logic of our 21st century world. And yet, if it is, then it is. Just because we don’t understand it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. The map is not the territory, you know?

Are there any ER doctors/nurses reading who know if it’s actually true that there are more injuries around a full moon? Because if there are more injuries then, then whatever aspect of the moon’s phase that causes more injuries could certainly be keeping Katriona’s son up.

The only other explanations I can think of are that 1) if Katriona has her menstrual cycle back and her cycle falls around the full moon time the quantity of her milk could be affected* and that could cause the extra wakings, and the timing would just be coincidental, and 2) the full moon could be causing something else to happen in the environment that’s waking up Katriona’s son (maybe her neighbor has his men’s drum circle meeting during the full moon every month and the drumming and howling wakes up the baby, or the moon makes all the dogs in the neighborhood go nuts and bark all night and that wakes him up, etc.).

But if it’s neither of those things, then personally I’m totally willing to just accept that the full moon is making her son’s sleep wig out. Anyone want to agree or talk me out of it? Happy Monday.

* Some women experience a drop in milk supply each month right at the beginning of their menstrual periods. The fix for this is to supplement with calcium (preferably a calcium and magnesium mix) for a few days before and into your period each month. I don’t think enough women know this, so please pass it on.