Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: The Mighty Queens of Freeville

This is a review of the book The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson. It was part of a MotherTalk blog tour, so they sent me the book and an Amazon gift certificate for reviewing the book.

The reason I took this book to review is that it's written by Amy Dickinson, who writes the syndicated advice column "Ask Amy." And since I write an advice column, I thought it might be an interesting glimpse into what the life of a different advice columnist (read: one who gets paid for doing it) is like.

But it's not really about that. What it is about is bumbling your way into a happy life after your Plan A–getting married to someone you love and having a family with him–goes south.

Amy is an engaging writer, and makes all of her misadventures (and she had a ton of them as a single mom) sound simultaneously pitiful and picturesque. I think some people have this idea that anyone that's decent at giving advice must have it all together and be perfect. (If you've been reading this site for any length of time you know that's seriously NOT TRUE, but some people still think that.) Amy exposes all her weaknesses, but in such a charming and self-effacing way that you really do just want to be her friend. I mean, who wouldn't want to hang out with someone who writes this deadpan passage:

One time my mother and I were talking on the phone about our cats–one of our favorite topics. We liked to trade anecdotes about themand then decide which movie stars would be best suited to playing them in a movie.

I mean, really, that kind of unselfconscious geekdom just delights me. And she's just as open about dating misadventures, jobs, housing, the doubts she felt as a parent, and general existential crisis stuff.

The running thread of the book is the town of Freeville, New York, and Amy's extended family, mostly women (the "queens" in the title). I have to confess that I wish she'd write a sequel to this first book that would be exclusively stories of these women. They reminded me a lot of the women of my own family (we are a truly formidable group when all sitting around in the kitchen solving the world's problems), and made me homesick for my people and the Midwest.

I enjoyed this book because it gave me faith that people can recover from failure, even if it takes a few years, and end up doing meaningful work and having a happy family and finding love. Maybe I should reread it every few weeks just to stay on track, until Dickinson writes the next book that's only about her relatives.

Book title for a reader?

This just in, from Laura:

"My question/plea of the day is….can you help with the name of a bookI know I read about on your site? At some point over the last 12
months, a book on one post — somewhere–at some point–by
someone…..(you are starting to see my dilema)….i know i got the
info from your site but can't seem to pull it back out of the archives!
The book sounded wonderful but I can NOT remember the details like name
or what topic to search your site under. I tried the book reviews but
nope….so is there another step to searching for a title linked within
your reader's posts or might you just off the top of your head remember
such a book?

I think the book in question was actually suggested by another
poster who had experienced loads of trauma herself and was 'relearning'
what was 'normal' functional behaviour/boundaries and integrating the
book into balanced parenting for herself. Then again…perhaps it was a
book you had reviewed and people were commenting on it….argh! The
subject was learning what normal looks like and how to get there…or
something to that effect."

I have no idea what she's talking about, so it must have been in the comments section. I know one of you must have posted it, so please post it again to help a sister on her road to mental health and better parenting.

Book Review: The Stay-At-Home Survival Guide

Review of The Stay-At-Home Survival Guide by Melissa Stanton. This is a Mothertalk review, which means they sent me the book and I get an Amazon gift certificate for putting up a review.

I loved this book. There are a couple books I recommend without reservation, and this is one of them. I don't think you'll get much out of it if you're not a SAH parent and don't plan to be one, but if you are or have been or want to be or are planning to be a SAH mother, you will get something out of this book.

The first strength of this book is that the author had a big career, then was home for a year with her first child, went back to work more-than-full-time for a few years, and is not back at home with her (now) three kids (including a set of twins, one of whom has special needs). So she's seen the gig from a lot of different angles. There were things I took for granted about being at home before I went back, and I know I'd have a different view of being at home now if I could go back to thatom and I think the book does a good job of picking out things that are unique to the at-home gig, but also universal to at-home moms.

The second strength of this book is that it hits the correct topics. The central tension of being at home, IME, is that tug-of-war between wanting to be with your kids all the time and feeling like you're missing something by being at home. (I think the flip side is the central tension of WOH–being out in the working world, but feeling like you're missing something with your kids.) And that's one of the central themes of this book. It is not at all one of those "yes it can be tough but SAH moms are riding along on a cloud of rainbows raising the future of the world" books. It acknowledges that there are many reasons women stay home to care for their children, and that sometimes it's not because that's what they'd choose if the choice was really possible. It gives equal weight to the joy and also the tedious nature of being at home, and discusses the very real sacrifices women make to stay home.

The chapter on finances, in particular, is strong. I've seen other things about finances for SAHM, and they all seem to be about how to economize on paper towels to stretch your family's money. Stanton's chapter on SAHM finances stresses knowing what your finances are, different ways of dividing the labor and responsibility of keeping track of money, and making sure you are not left in the lurch if your partner dies or you separate.

Another big theme of the book is laying on the table the idea that being a SAHM sometimes ends up being a 24/7 job, and one that your partner devalues because you aren't contributing any money. That's something that causes tons of pain for lots of women (as seen in the comments on yesterday's post here, for example), and there doesn't seem to be an answer. The right thing, clearly, is for a partner to look around and realize that forcing one person to be on duty all the time while the other's work hours are limited to 40-60 hours a week is patently ridiculous. But there are still partners out there who seem to think that they deserve a break while their wives do not. Stanton doesn't have an answer for that (neither do I, for that matter), but she discusses it and gives examples and commentary from a bunch of SAH women on the way it works in their households.

This book doesn't tell you what to do (except to keep your resume updated). It explores the light side and the dark side emotionally and logistically of being at home with your kids. It gives a bunch of data points. It doesn't blow smoke up your skirt about how great it is, or how horrible it is. It acknowledges that you're a person–not just a role, not "just" a mother, not just a political demographic. In short, it's a lot like you guys do for each other here.

Now for the bad parts: Honestly, I only have a couple of teeny minor points with this book: She uses the word "gal" a lot, she assumes most SAHMs have cars, and the only reason she acknowledges for divorce is adultery. (It seems like I know half a dozen women getting divorced right now at the same time I am, and only two of them–neither of them me–has adultery as a factor in the divorce.) But those are really, really minor points, and I'm only mentioning them so you know I actually read the book. Overall, I thought The Stay-At-Home Survival Guide took on the major emotional topics involved in being a SAH parent. I highly recommend it for anyone considering doing it or who's in the middle of it right now.

Product Review: Cranium Bloom toys

I was asked to review the new "Bloom" line of toys, made by the Cranium people (the same people who make Balloon Lagoon, possibly the most fun game for 4-year-olds ever).

I got to review the "Let’s Play: Count & Cook" game and the "Seek & Find: Let’s Go to the Zoo" puzzle.

The Count & Cook game is a board game with a playing board, a bunch of little discs with different foods on them, a die, and a recipe book. You put the food discs on the board in any order you want to be the path the tokens follow. Then you open the recipe book to a recipe that takes four different foods. Roll the die, and move the tokens. If you land on one in the recipe, take it off the board and put it on the recipe. The person who adds the last ingredient to the recipe wins that round.

There were a couple of things I liked about the game. One was that the kids arrange the path themselves and can switch around the order the food discs are in, so there’s none of the board-memorizing and cheating that can happen in games with static paths. Also, even though there’s a winner, the game was mostly cooperative and not competitive.

The game is rated for 3+, and I think the ideal age for the game would be 3-5-year-olds.My kids are 2.5 and almost 6. It was a little too simple for my older son, and a little too tough for my younger one. But still, they played happily together (with several reminders from me to "help your brother move his guy") for about 15 minutes. The last 5 minutes of that time they completely abandoned the rules and just moved their guys around the board pretending to eat the food discs, but this game seems to encourage that kind of exploration.

They asked to play the game again a few days later.

The Seek & Find puzzle is a puzzle with 24 pieces with a scene on it (we had the zoo one) and a picture of the puzzle, a dry-erase pen, and two little notebooks with elements from the puzzle picture. You put together the puzzle, then flip the notebook and take turns looking for the things in the puzzle that the notebook tells you to. When you find them on the puzzle, you circle them on the puzzle with the dry-erase marker.

They really liked this one. My older one put the puzzle together easily, and then he helped the little one find the different elements. They had fun doing the illicit drawing on a puzzle, and the picture on the puzzle was detailed and silly enough that they kept finding new elements and laughing at them. My only complaint about this game is that I got a paper cut on my knuckle while opening the box that still stings.

I think that these games are good alternatives to Candyland and Go Fish and the other beginning-level games, and are simultaneously simple enough and layered enough to draw 3-year-olds and 6-year-olds in at the same time. My 2.5-year-old was mostly fine with them with his brother’s cooperation, but you couldn’t have a couple of kids that young playing at the same time without many adult referees.

Book Review (fiction): The Thirteenth Tale

Book review of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

I don’t read enough fiction these days. Between the kids, work, this site, knitting projects for Christmas, and 8 million other things, I pretty much only have time for non-fiction, with some memoir thrown in for fun. So I was a little hesitant when the MotherTalk people asked if I wanted to review The Thirteenth Tale. It’s 400 pages, and I doubted I’d get very far in.

Well, I’m not quite to the end yet (which is good, so I don’t reveal the ending inadvertently), but the book really sucked me in, almost from the beginning. It’s good that I had you all contributing holiday ideas this week, because I was spending too much time reading this book. And my current knitting project is just lying there while I read.

It’s written from the point of view of Margaret, a British used-book-seller and reader who has written a small biography of two long-dead brothers. One day she receives a letter from England’s greatest living author of fiction, Vida Winters, whose books Margaret has never read. Winters has given false stories of her background and history to reporters throughout her career, and no one knows anything about her. But she claims that she wants to "tell the truth" and that she wants to tell it to Margaret. Winters summons Margaret to her house on the moors the next week.

So Margaret goes to the house. She and Winters have a little showdown, in which the pivotal event of the author’s life, and what led her to change her name and begin writing, is revealed. Partially. We know some of the end, but not exactly, and we don’t know how it all happened. So the rest of the book reels out the story.

If you’ve ever read and loved a Barbara Vine mystery, you will enjoy this book. Knowing the outcome of the story, but not how it transpired, allows for suspense but a more thorough, richly-layered storytelling pace. And the theme of the book is storytelling. Winters’ position is that story reveals more truth than truth itself. And that’s an interesting idea to consider.

Warning: One of a pair of twins has died in infancy as the background of the story (it’s revealed in the first chapter of the book, so no spoiler), so beware if that’s a sensitive topic for you.

Also, it’s billed as a "ghost story," and I don’t really get that. To me it was more of an eerie mystery, and a great book for reading while drinking cocoa or tea while it’s snowing or raining outside and someone else is entertaining your kids. You won’t be scared, but you will be sucked into wanting to find out what happened.

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 AskMoxie.org.

** 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.

Book Review: Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy?

Book review of Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy by Louise Bates Ames, PhD and Frances L. Ilg, MD.

I love all the books by Ames and Ilg, researchers who worked at the Gesell Institute of Human Development and wrote the series of books in the ’70s. (They’ve got one for each year up through age 9, and then one for ages 10-14.) This one is probably my favorite, though, because I think lots of us believe that we’re mostly out of the woods by the time our kids turn three–we’ve survived the newborn stage, the 18-month-old stage, and the Terrible Twos, so what else could be so tough? But then 3 1/2 comes along and smacks us down, and it can be bewildering and awfully demoralizing. And it’s hard not to think that it’s something that we’ve done that’s caused our kids to act like such intuitive little treasures one month and such unbearable beasts the next.

So while all the books are excellent, I’d say this is the one most of us will probably need to read just to keep our morale up for the adventure of parenting a three-year-old.

While I love this book, I also have to laugh at some of the assumptions it contains (it was written in the 70s, after all): All homes contain a married mother and father, the father works outside the home, the mother doesn’t work outside the home, and they have financial and emotional resources aplenty. Um, right. But if you can put those assumptions aside and read for the wealth of information about children this age, you’ll find lots to help you ease your mind.

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).

The book talks about socialization with other children, emotional leaps, routines, "how the child sees the world," and all kinds of other interesting topics. When I read this book for the first time, my older son was in the disequilibrium phase of being three, and I was so relieved to read that some of the things I thought were peculiar to him (like suddenly not wanting to go outside to play) were actually common. It was nice to be able to read about little details of the day, like getting dressed.

The suggestions for how to deal with some of the problems are hilarious, partly because they’re a little anachronistic, but also because they’re just unflinching and deadpan. My favorite quote from the book comes from the section talking about how a three-year-old can be completely adversarial with the mother, because the mother is the one the child is most emotionally engaged with:

"Recognizing this fact, you will if at all possible enlist the services of a good baby-sitter for as much of the time as possible…This advice may seem like the all-time cop-out. It remains our best advice."

How could I not love this book? Instead of telling you you’re doing everything the wrong way, it just flat out says that you can’t change the child’s reactions at a given stage, so instead just try to work around them. Or pay someone else to deal with your child for the six months of disequilibrium. (I guess my idea of Toddler Boarding School isn’t that original.) It makes me laugh, but also really made me feel better about things when I was in the thick of that stage.

This book isn’t going to be any kind of panacea for the problems you’re having with your three-year-old. But it will give you benchmarks to see that your kid is actually normal, and that is such an enormous help, one that’s actually better than giving specific techniques (which may or may not work on your particular kid anyway).

I don’t tell people they need to buy books all that often, but this one I think is really handy to own, so you can read it through every few weeks to get a reality check. It’s not expensive at $12 new, but it looks like there are tons of used copies available cheaply, so you could pretty much rent it for a year by buying it and then reselling it once your child turns four.

I know others of you out there have read this book. What did you think? Could you get past the anachronisms, or did they distract you too much?

 

Book Review: Mama Knows Breast

To The Parents of New York City: Please do not write your child’s namein big black letters on the outside of his backpack so everyone who
sees him knows his name. Writing his first name and your cell number on
the inside of the backpack is sufficient. Thank you.

Today’s post is a book review of the book Mama Knows Breast by Andi Silverman.

This book is cute. Really cute. The graphic design and
packaging of the book are irresistible, and it’s the perfect size to
read one-handed. The writing is breezy and in list form, so you can
read little chunks at a time when you get the chance, or sit and read
the whole thing in an hour or two. The tone strikes a nice balance
between confidential and factual, and she covers some situations other
breastfeeding books haven’t covered (the etiquette of nursing in
different kinds of public places, for example, and "sex and
relaxation").

But I think the subtitle of the book, "A Beginner’s Guide to
Breastfeeding," is kind of a stretch. It’s got a lot of lists and
helpful tips, but it doesn’t really dig into the meat of what could go
wrong, what you should do to help things not go wrong, or how to get
back on track if things are going wrong. It doesn’t cover the emotional
aspects of breastfeeding, or what to do if you think you aren’t
producing enough milk, or your baby’s cluster feeding, or all those
extremely common things that can make women feel like big failures at
feeding their children. Instead of a true guide, it seems to be an
introduction to several topics in breastfeeding for women who know
nothing about it and haven’t had any friends who did it.

And that’s fine. There’s a huge segment of the population who
gets pregnant without ever having taken care of a baby. In our culture
not many of us grew up watching anyone nurse a baby. How many of us
even knew that the milk comes out of a bunch of little holes in each
nipple? There are all sorts of things we don’t know that someone needs
to tell us, without freaking us out or making us feel bad for not
knowing it. And I think that’s the strength of Mama Knows Breast. It’s
a funny, gentle, hip-looking introduction to some basic concepts of
breastfeeding.

I do, of course, have a beef with one section, which is the part that
says that "many babies can sleep through the night by the time they are
three months old." Ha. Haha. Hahahahahahahahaha. See: yesterday’s post.
OK, yes, some babies can sleep through at three months, but "many"? I
think that’s a stretch, and by saying it she’s going to make moms whose
babies don’t feel like freaks. Plus, even the hard-core CIO pushers
don’t want people to start sleep training until four months. I think
that little section was a misfire, and I would have ignored it except
that sleep is such a huge hot-button for our generation that I worry
that one paragraph is going to make women feel bad. Which is clearly
the opposite of the author’s intention.

But otherwise I liked
the book as a gentle intro to breastfeeding for someone who hasn’t
thought about it before, or who really isn’t sure she’s going to try it
or not. It humanizes breastfeeding in a nice way that doesn’t make you
feel like an ogre for not being super-committed or knowledgeable about
it. But it’s not going to be enough for women who have anything but the
simplest nursing experience. Most of us are going to need more
resources, in book form (The Nursing Mother’s Companion by Kathleen
Huggins is extremely factual and covers a zillion scenarios, while So
That’s What They’re For
by Janet Tamaro has a bunch of actual
information but also humor and commiseration) and on the internet (kellymom.com)
and in real life (an IBCLC lactation consultant, La Leche League
meetings
, breastfeeding support groups run by hospitals and women’s
centers, or even just another mom you see nursing at the bookstore).

I’d get this book for your friend who hasn’t really thought
about much past the delivery, because it’s cute and inviting and a
quick read, and will get her from zero knowledge to some knowledge
fast. But it would be an even better gift if you’d look up the number
of a IBCLC lactation consultant in her area
and write it inside the
cover of the book before you give it to her.

School lunch concern day, contains book review of Lunch Lessons

Today I’m posting a question and a book review all rolled into one, and the topic is school lunches and our problems with them. (Blossom is "helping" me by chasing the cursor on the screen. Kittens. Whee.)

First, a question from Emily:

"Hello — I’m anxious about getting plastic out of my life but I am completely stumped about what sorts of containers to use for packing lunches. I bought a metal bento-box-esque tin in Chinatown but 1.) it’s impossible for a small child to open 2.) it leaks and 3.) I think it might actually be aluminum, which — I think — isn’t great either. I’ve dorked around on the Internet looking for ideas but haven’t turned up much. Glass seems dangerous and heavy. Do you or your readers have any ideas? (possibly people don’t think it’s that dangerous to pack food in plastic, or certain kinds of plastic…happy to hear good reasons to support that thought too)"

Well, I think plastic is dangerous and scary, too, and am scared at how it’s absolutely everywhere. But it didn’t really seem to be as big an issue in my life until we started Kindergarten a few weeks ago. I’m kind of stuck at this point, because the choices seem to be a) let him eat school lunch every day, which I think may actually be plastic (actual quote from last week on the first day he asked to eat school lunch instead of bringing it: "I don’t know what it was but it was good and I dipped it in ketchup!"), b) keep putting organic "baby" carrots into ziplock plastic baggies, thereby putting lipstick on a pig, or c) spend $30 at ReusableBags.com on the Laptop Lunchbox set (more about that later).

[I thought I’d maybe solved the problem by considering getting a thermos-type food container to send hot soup or bi-bim-bap or something like that with him every day. But when I asked about that he uttered the cryptic "I only like cold foods at lunch because we only don’t go out to play when it’s raining." Um, OK. No hot bi-bim-bap for lunch. Got it.]

Which segues into my review of the book Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children by Ann Cooper and Lisa M. Holmes. The intro of the book was beginning to irk me, because we got a lot of statistics about how school lunches are so horrible for kids, and are contributing to both this huge obesity epidemic and the harmful consumer culture that’s sweeping over us like a tidal wave. And then they talked about how well the kids eat at a private school in the Hamptons (a very wealthy area of Long Island, NY) of which one of the authors is the chef. And I thought, "Fabulous. They’re scaring the crap out of us and then bragging about how their school is so great, but none of this is within reach of normal kids or parents." But then…

…they tell you how other schools and districts changed their crappy lunch programs into nutritious programs the kids are really into. Followed by a chapter on starting to break the cycle of crappy foods and choices that are bad for the environment. And then there’s a chapter about what kids’ actual nutritional requirements are that was helpful and realistic and doesn’t make you feel guilty. They talk a ton about farmers and making sure kids can participate in and understand about how food is grown, and that they really understand the life cycle of the foods they’re eating.

They have a whole bunch of nutritious, mostly-delicious-sounding recipes that you can make for breakfast or pack for your child’s lunch. But the book is really focusing on lunch programs that are nutritious and help teach kids about how food is grown, and how you can try to get some of those principles into the lunch program at your child’s school. It’s simultaneously raising a huge alarm about how important but minimized school lunch is, and giving you the ammunition and morale to start making good changes on small and bigger scales. I love this quote about why they’re working for change and encouraging us to, too:

"It may seem overwhelming to take on something as large as the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and it would no doubt be infinitely easier just to use the recipes in this book and cook more healthfully for your own children than it would be to take on the larger system.  But for us, there are two major reasons to fight this fight. First, we have a moral obligation…The second reason is that kids learn habits, both good and bad, around their peers….It’s not about changing the entire National School Lunch Program at once, it’s about changing one school and one district at a time, just as the early proponents of the NSLP did."
p.32

If you send your kid’s lunch to school, the authors recommend the Laptop Lunches bento box system.

Lunchlessons

(The photo on the front of the book is a Laptop Lunches box.) They go through the different kinds of plastic, and which are safest and least safe. The plastic the Laptop Lunches is made of is the safest kind. You pay a little more for that, and because they’re made in California. But I’m getting to the point* that I’d rather spend $30 once on something that I know isn’t leeching chemical into my child’s food, and which is super kid-friendly and might inspire him to actually eat all the stuff I pack, than just keeping on buying ziplock bags (spending way more than $30 a year) that get thrown away and aren’t good for us anyway. (You can buy one at www.laptoplunches.com, but I ordered mine from www.reusablebags.com because I also got another Sigg water bottle for my 2-year-old in the same order. The Sigg bottles are expensive, but are virtually indestructible, and are of aluminum with an inert lining so nothing leeches into the liquids in the bottle. Plus the kids think they’re way cooler than sippy cups. And I’ve never lost one, while I’ve lost more than a dozen sippy cups over the years, so financially I’m coming out ahead vs. sippy cups, and far far ahead vs. buying bottles of water on the go.)

Of course it’s easy for me to say that, since my Laptop Lunches set just got here yesterday, so this morning is our first day. He may come home from school not having eaten anything, or having thrown away half the set accidentally, or telling me it’s not cool so he ate the school mystery lunch again. If I’ve learned nothing else from this parenting gig, I’ve learned that we all just do the best we can at every given time, but the kids can screw up our well-intentioned work without even realizing it. (I can’t be the only one who’s had the thought that parenting would be so much easier if it wasn’t for the actual kids.)

And that’s what I liked so much about Lunch Lessons. It doesn’t go into it with the idea that anyone can feed their kids perfectly. It’s just a process of continuing to try to improve the choices we offer (all) our kids within our own personal set of constraints and resources. So Emily, the authors would probably tell you to try the Laptop Lunches set if you can afford it, but otherwise look for containers made of plastic types 2, 4, and 5. Avoid plastics type 1, 3, 6, and 7. Or try the stainless steel bento box set from ReusableBags.com.

I’ll report back in a week or two on how our Laptop Lunches experiment is going.

*This recent round of Thomas recalls is contributing to that feeling.

Book Review: Understanding Your Moods When You’re Expecting

This is a review of Understanding Your Moods When You’re Expecting, by Lucy J,. Puryear, M.D.

Puryear is a psychiatrist specializing in women’s reproductive mental health at Baylor in Texas, and she’s seen tons and tons of women at all stages in pre-conception, pregnancy, and postpartum problems. She says she initially thought she was going to be an ob-gyn, but found that she’d have no ability to help women with their moods and emotions during the pregnancy because of the limitations of the system, so she switched to psychiatry. Now she works with women before, during, and after pregnancy.

The wonderful thing about this book is that Puryear continues to emphasize that it’s normal and acceptable to feel depressed, scared, angry, and even hopeless during pregnancy. That, to me, is a huge step, that a mass-market publisher has published an entire book talking about women’s negative feelings in a way that validates us. Those of us who have been depressed during pregnancy know that it’s such a turbulent mix of mega-hormones, life changes, and emotional vulnerability that depression is a reasonable response from our bodies. But it’s still so important to hear that it’s normal from the medical establishment (which for years told us we should be happy and glowing, that serious nausea was "only morning sickness," and made us feel like we were going to be bad mothers if we didn’t absolutely love pregnancy). So I’m thrilled that this book is out there.

Puryear writes with an easy, authoritative tone. The book is full of anecdotes about her patients, most of whom she treats with talk therapy, some of whom she treats with anti-depressants. She emphasizes the need for family support, which could be critical for a reader who was trying to hide her depression from family and friends because she was scared of their reaction to it. She also covers some interesting topics, like how to process pregnancy body changes if you have a history of eating disorders and body dysmorphia. The section on telling postpartum psychosis (having persistent thoughts of harming your children) vs. postpartum OCD (having persistent thoughts that something bad is going to happen to your children and trying to prevent it) is extremely important and will probably result in hundreds of women getting treatment for PPOCD who otherwise would have thought they would be seen as monsters.

There are a few things I wish were different about the book, though. The most glaring things for me are that she doesn’t talk enough about alternate treatments for mood disorders and her section on breastfeeding is a big cop-out.

She does have a very brief section on St. John’s Wort and Omega-3s during pregnancy, but not postpartum. She also doesn’t mention any other treatment options for pregnancy or postpartum, even things that we know about–massage, B-complex vitamins, exercise, etc. It doesn’t really surprise me, since she’s an MD so her focus is on talk therapy and medical treatments, but it would have been nice to have this be a big book of what-to-do as well as a big book of you’re-normal-and-you-can-get-through-his.

My real beef is with the section on breastfeeding, which I just think wasn’t completely researched. There is evidence from all over the world that both mothers and babies do better when they are supported in their efforts to breastfeed. It should be treated as a normal part of the process, and we should be giving women all the tools and support we possibly can to help them have successful breastfeeding experiences. But Puryear seems to approach nursing as an expendable option, the first thing to go when a woman feel stressed postpartum. The anecdote she uses tells of a woman who comes in with a 6-week-old who isn’t breastfeeding very well, and she’s afraid she isn’t making enough milk. She’s tired and stressed out and her husband’s at work all the time. (Sound familiar? Growth spurt at 6 weeks, fear of low supply, worst phase of baby crying and fussiness?)

Instead of saying a) we need to get you to see a great, IBCLC lactation consultant right now to figure out why the baby’s not nursing well and whether you’re actually having supply issues, b) we need to get you some help at home, and c) your husband is going to have to take a night shift or two with pumped milk or formula so you can get some sleep, Puryear tells her to stop breastfeeding. Now of course it’s OK not to nurse your baby. But to me this sounds like a patient coming in with a broken toe and the doctor saying "Let’s amputate the foot." Why not deal with the core issue, which is lack of support, to help the mother get some rest and either get the nursing straightened out or know she had all the support she could have before stopping?

So. In general I think this book is great, and is a vitally-important step in having the medical establishment and society at large treat women’s mood disorders during pregnancy seriously. But if you’re entertaining any thoughts at all of nursing, skip that section in this book. Make sure you’ve done some research before you give birth and have the phone number of an IBCLC lactation consultant on your refrigerator and don’t hesitate to call if you’re having any nursing issues at all. It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be able to nurse successfully, but at least you’ll have a fighting chance. 

Link here to my series on Preventing PPD.