Category Archives: Yourself

Q&A: Taking a baby to see fireworks? (aka fitting your baby into your life)

Lisa writes:

"As a new mom I find myself now thinking hard about all kinds of thingsthat were once no-brainers, like whether or not to go see the fireworks
on the Fourth of July. I have gone out to see fireworks as long as I
can remember and enjoy them, but now I have a son who just turned 8
months I'm concerned going to the show and keeping him out late at such
a loud and stimulating event might be a form of "sleep suicide" for
everyone (and that is only considering the late bedtime…we have no
idea how he'll react to fireworks). In our area, the fireworks don't
start until 10pm, and usually last about 30 minutes. I would definitely
give him a really late nap if we did decide to brave it. But the closer
we get, the more I'm having second thoughts about attempting this. So
do I listen to my gut, or do I practice "you never know until you try"?
And what do families do when they have a range of kids…like an older
child and an infant? Do they have to split up the family so one parent
stays home with the infant or toddler and the other takes the older
kids, or just take everyone and bear any consequences? Does it only
matter how much I value seeing those firework shows? Maybe I'm thinking
about this way too much, but if you'd like to throw this out there for
everyone to discuss I'd be really interested in any experience or words
of wisdom in making this kind of decision."

Well, number 1: Always go with your gut.

And, number 2: Yes, you are overthinking this particular issue, but it seems to me that this is just a stand-in for the greater question of "How do you fit your baby in to the life you've loved without sacrificing too much of yourself or too much of your baby's wellbeing?"

Balance is really hard to achieve. We touched on it a few weeks ago when talking about weaning, but it's an ongoing process. There are some things that are clearly good for everyone: eating vegetables, sleeping, dancing around in the living room to your favorite album from high school. But there are so many other situations in which you have to make decisions, whether big or small, about whose needs are prioritized.

There's no way anyone else can make that decision for you. You have to come up with your own process for making these decisions. In some families, everyone does it or no one does it. In other families they split up so kids get alone time with parents and to do special things only they enjoy. Some families have kids in bed at 7 pm no matter what, while others let their kids stay up hanging out with the adults talking long into the night. Privacy, communication, schoolwork–the list of things that are going to need negotiation goes on and on.

It might be worth your time to talk with your partner and see if you can come up with some guiding principles. Is it more important to you to keep his sleep normal now? Is it more important to celebrate the holiday the way you always do (bearing in mind that you should come home if the sounds freak him out)? Do you want to make a blanket policy decision, or play it by ear every year as he gets older? There are so many variables, so if you can isolate a few things that are more important to you than the others, that will help you make your decision.

How do you all approach making decisions like this? And what are you doing for the holiday weekend (in the US)? And did Canadians get the last few days off, too?

Q&A: help for extreme hair loss after baby?

Julie writes:

"Not sure if I should see a doctor about this, but I'm betting there issomeone out there that can save me the time and co-pay of a doctor's
visit.  I'm breastfeeding my second son, and my hair is falling out. 
This happened to a lesser extent with my first, I had a couple bald
spots hidden underneath all my long hair no larger than the size of a
quarter.  I took some prenatal vitamins and it cleared up.  This time
I'm taking the same prenatal vitamin, and my hair is still falling
out.  Are there any additional supplements, or different types of
vitamins other than prenatals I could take to at least slow down the
hair loss?"

Hmm. I know losing hair for up to the first year after having a baby is normal, but this does sound extreme. I never had any hair changes during pregnancy or after having the baby either time, so I went poking around on the internet to see what I could find.

I didn't find much specifically about post-baby hair loss (they all said "it'll stop soon") but did find this article on WebMD with a doctor specializing in women's hair loss and vitamins. Turns out that some of the culprits are our usual suspects for PPD, low sex drive, and basically everything else that goes kablooey after having a baby: Omega 3s and B vitamins, along with iron.

It could also be hormonal, in which case doing the normal hormone-balancing things–sleeping enough (ha), getting exercise that works your core (pilates, T-Tapp, yoga), seeing the sun (if there is any in your area), and laughing–will help.

I'm wondering if any of you out there have experience with the same degree of hair loss that Julie's having. Or if anyone slowed or stopped the hair loss with vitamins or minerals. If so, what did you take? This is one of those problems that sounds minor, but is really demoralizing and could indicate a bigger problem.

Q&A: twins, anger after naps, and loving your kids the way they need it

Anonymous writes:

"My twin boys are turning three, but this is not about being three -because it's been an issue all year long.  Of all the things I've
grappled with, some have gotten better, some have gotten worse, but
this one stays the same: right after nap is the worst part of my day. 

One of my boys wakes up from his nap crying incoherently, and
nothing I do soothes him.  He wants to be held, but he doesn't actually
seem to derive comfort from me: he doesn't cuddle or even relax his
body – he thrashes around, or holds himself rigidly a little away from
me.  He doesn't want me to sing, he doesn't want me to ask him what's
wrong, he doesn't want me to offer him anything.

This can go on for half an hour or more, if all I do is keep trying
to comfort him.  Meanwhile his brother is a little groggy and cranky
too, and would love to be held for a minute in any case, but certainly
gets more anxious to be held when he sees his brother hogging my lap. 
If I try to hold them at the same time, they both get angrier.  If I
try to put one down and pick up the other, they both get angrier.  Even
though I know it will be over sooner or later, it's awful for me. 

Some of my most ridiculous moments as a parent have been in this
scenario.  Like the time we were at my in-laws, and the boys were
napping upstairs but I needed to bring them downstairs when they woke
up, and neither one would walk down the stairs OR let me carry the
other one downstairs first.  So I put one on each knee and bumped down
the stairs on my tush.  It took a long time.

Anyway.  Sometimes reading a book works; at first he's still
screaming, but as the book goes on he gets interested despite himself
and quiets down.  But often he goes right back to crying when the book
is over.  The only thing that really works to distract him is to ask
him a question where he really needs to think, either to remember
something, or to work out the answer.  He immediately stops crying and
answers in a normal voice. 

So my biggest question is <i>why don't I do that
first.</i>  I mean, granted, I can't always think of a good
enough question.  But the fact is, it's also not my first instinct.  I
want to comfort him, even though I know he won't accept it from me, and
I keep trying.

On some level, I should understand all this.  He has always been
intense, very reactive to distress, just wired in general.  Sleep has
been especially tough for him, and probably he's just disoriented or
doesn't feel good when he first wakes up.  And physically he's a bit
rigid too.  He was born with torticollis, and although it's gone now,
some overall stiffness remains.  It's not just me he won't relax
against.

He also had colic and undiagnosed reflux, and I spent most of the
first year of his life knowing I was powerless to comfort him.  I
actually started to believe I was the one making him miserable, because
he would be smiling or laughing with someone else, until he saw me and
cried to be held.  He always wanted me to hold him, but he would keep
crying in my arms.  At the same time, I felt so guilty for hardly ever
being able to hold his brother.

So I know these half-hour episodes bring back a lot of that anxiety
and sadness for me.  I'm guessing, also, that I've been interpreting
his rejection of physical comfort from me as a rejection of my love,
when it's really nothing of the kind.  If that's true, then what I'm
doing is to keep on trying to make him accept my love on my terms.  Not
what I want to do at all, and yet I can't help it.  Physical comfort is
a big part of the language of love for me. 

How common is it for a child to wake up inconsolable like this? 
How do I break free of this perception of my relationship with him that
was set in infancy?  And how do I learn to give and accept love in the
language my child needs, not the one I need?

p.s. I know this problem will probably go away when he drops his nap, but I'm
really hoping that doesn't happen anytime soon.  I don't think my son
is capable of sleeping more than 10 hours in a row, so it seems to me
he still needs the nap.  And in any case, I think the underlying
emotional issues will still be there, if not so blatantly."

Yet another problem that could be solved with a Trained Monkey Assistant. I'm just saying.

Seriously, though, it sounds to me like you've always been the one he could trust. He could cry and be sad and angry at the world or his intensity or his pain and know that it was safe to be upset in your arms. So you got the release while other people got the smiles.

And, you're right that the most immediate manifestation that's causing problems for you is the nap wake-up, but the emotional issues aren't going to go away just because he drops his nap. There's the issue of why he gets so upset in the first place, and also the mismatch you feel between what you're offering and what he seems to need.

I think it's super-common in our culture to want everything to be OK. And we're really, REALLY not comfortable with expressions of anger (or distress, but mostly anger). Especially from women and children. So you combine those things and we've been trained to try to comfort babies and fix things for them.

It sounds to me like your son is angry. And that he's got a lot of that anger stored in his body, and it triggers when he wakes up, because that's kind of a groggy, pooky time before your brain engages fully. Which is also why asking him a question to engage his brain then makes him forget about crying.

I think you don't think to ask a question first every time, because you're trained to try to comfort, because we all think a crying child needs to be comforted (emotionally, but also physically).

Maybe over the long-term, though, what would give him the most comfort is working at it from the other direction by letting him be angry and helping him express and release that anger. If he's encouraged to express his anger enough, eventually he'll get it out of his system enough that it doesn't overwhelm him physically when he wakes up.

Then, if he does have more anger temporarily and go into a post-nap crying jag, you can use the deep-question technique to stop his crying and get him some space by engaging his brain, but know that he needs more release.

I would also use this as a time to think about whether you were allowed to be angry when you needed to. If you weren't, maybe you can use your son's experience to help allow yourself to be, too. Maybe it's just my own experience with this exact issue (and my second son), but it seems like sometimes feeling such a strong disconnect and not knowing how to bridge it can expose needs in ourselves that were never met, and once those become obvious the connection takes care of itself.

Are there parents of multiples or closely-spaced siblings who could talk about dealing with the feelings that you're not meeting your kids' needs because there are two (or more) of them and only one of you? I feel this way sometimes as a mom of two, but know it's nothing like having had two from the get-go. Anonymous definitely needs some support.

Q&A: no, really, the swine flu

Sorry for getting this up late. I had it mostly written but then got distracted writing a song for next year's American Idol. If anyone can come up with a rhyme for "made it through the storm," I'll give you cowriter credit and 5% of the royalties.

We talked about the swine flu (or H1N1 or whatever the actual name is) a few weeks ago, and I kind of thought the fear was going to die down. But over the past few days I've gotten a couple of emails that basically said, "Aren't you terrified, living in NYC?" or "I was chill before, but there's one case in my town now and I'm finding that I'm lying awake at night worrying about it."

The short answer is, yes I'm terrified living in NYC. But not of the swine flu. There's so much else for me to be scared of, from being run over by a taxi to not being able to pay my rent to having a child get sick from possible mold in the walls of my crumbling apartment to having the tsunami we're due for hit to another terrorist attack to having the entire infrastructure collapse because of the recession and having riots in the streets to never finding the love of my life and living in noble loneliness for the rest of my days. Honestly, swine flu seems pretty tame in comparison.

(Hey, after I wrote that paragraph, they announced on the news that the first public elementary school in Manhattan is being closed today. Maybe this is going to be more extensive than I thought?)

OTOH, I don't blame anyone who's scared of it. Especially if you live in a place in which you have what I'd consider the "normal" set of worries. (Meaning not terrorism and taxis and other anomalous events.) It could stay at the level it's at, or something really weird could happen and it could get far more dangerous.

It's the unpredictability of it that makes it scary. If you knew what the path was going to be, or how serious it was going to be, you could stop worrying so much. If we knew H1N1 was going to be less lethal than the regular flu (100 deaths a day!) we could all just ride it out. But we don't know.

As a parent, it's your job to worry. We're hard-wired for it. Not worrying meant a dingo would have stolen your baby. And not worrying now means any number of things could happen to your child. The trick is to try to keep it in perspective so you don't become consumed with it. (If you find that you're having repetitive thoughts that are serious and make you feel out of control, tell your doctor immediately. If you find you're having repetitive thoughts that are annoying you but don't feel like a crisis, up your magnesium supplementation, because lack of magnesium causes anxiety and that repetitive thought/insomnia loop.)

So take the precautions you should take (wash your hands; eat, sleep, and exercise well; call your doctor if you develop flu symptoms). And then just do the best you can do to stay relaxed but alert.

Thoughts?

(I was at the burrito store the other day waiting for my order, and readin one of the Spanish-language newspapers (and I didn't bother to note
which one, which is unfortunate because I can't find the article again
online to cite) that in Mexico City, 98% of the relatives of those who
died from H1N1–the people who had been living closely with them during
the incubation period–did NOT develop any symptoms of flu. Which I
thought was really strange. And makes me wonder even more what's going
to happen with this disease.)

Q&A: fear of baby preferring dad over mom

Gah! Technology problems!

Anonymous writes:

"I am the mom of an 8-month old boy. I work full-time, and my husband ismostly a stay-at-home dad. Our situation is pretty great, although I
wish I worked 3 or 4 days a week instead of 5, but that's life, right?
The thing that has come up since I returned to work though is that I've
become surprisingly insecure about whether my son is more attached to
his dad than to me. I hate feeling this insecure and emotionally needy
with my own child and it isn't good for any of us, but I can't help
feeling really afraid that he will be way more into daddy than me. I
know toddlers often go through phases of strongly preferring one parent
over the other, and I'm worried that it's going to be his dad and I
will have a really hard time not taking that personally. I would love
to hear from working moms with stay-at-home husbands who either (a)
feel that their child is very strongly attached to them and can
reassure me a little, or (b) have been through their kid being more
attached to dad but got through it okay. If I'm really honest with
myself, I want more of the reassurance that our situation can still
lead to a very close mother-son bond, but I would like to hear both
perspectives."

I know you know you can have a close relationship with your son. You know he loves you, that he knows you're his mom, and that he's always going to know that.

I know you know plenty of families that have SAH moms and WOH dads in which the kids are very close to their dads.

So it's not about whether you can form a close relationship. It's about your fear of how you're going to handle the different emotional stages your baby goes through if you're not there all day long with him. This is an issue not about your son and his bond with you or your partner, but about your conflict with not being at home with him more.

So that's what you have to work on. Because the readers and I can give you hundreds of data points proving that it's possible (even easy!) to have a great relationship with your kids while working fulltime (and think about all those adults who talk about how close they are to mothers who worked three jobs to feed them and were hardly ever home, so it's clearly not just about facetime), but until you come to terms with how much you're home and how much you're not, you're not going to be able to accept it in your heart.

It makes me hurt for you that this is turning into such an anxiety point for you. I feel like I was lucky when I went back fulltime–it was the only way I could get a divorce, so I knew I had no choice (since divorce was the only way for me to get my kids out of the middle of our toxicity). It doens't sound like you have come to terms with it, though. Is it possible that you feel like there's something different that you could be doing? If there is, you might want to explore whether that's a possibility so you know you've maximized your options.

I don't think it hurts most kids to be apart from their parents all day while their parents are at work. I do think it hurts some parents, though. So you owe it to yourself to figure out a way to be OK (or as OK as you can be) with your home/not home ratio or else there's always going to be some worry point for you.

Any advice or sympathy for Anon? Any reassurance that her son will have a good relationship with her? And ideas for helping make WOH easier on her emotionally?

Q&A: talking and thinking about conflict

So sorry yesterday's only post was about laser hair removal! I had every intention of posting another one, but then got completely engrossed in the inauguration here in the States to the extent that I forgot to edit and post my inauguration-related post. So, now I'm a day behind. Here's what was supposed to post yesterday:

Jennie writes:

"This isn't a burning question, but it's causing me some stress. My third-grader has been coming home from school kind of upset because he's been hearing kids talking about some of the stuff we talk about at home–politics, religion, etc.–and the kids are saying things that are the opposite of what we teach at home. How do I explain that people can have different opinions so that he understands that the other kids not agreeing with us doesn't mean we're wrong?"

This is a tough topic. And I disagree that it's not a burning question. Especially on the day we get a new President here in the US, this question and how we deal with it is going to have way more impact on our children and countries in the long run than anything having to do with sleep, eating, pooping, tantrums, etc. All that stuff is going to end (even if we do nothing about it), but how we get along as people with diverse positions on important issues is something that never ends and affects every aspect of our lives, in big ways and small ones.

It seems to me like this is kind of a matrix, and if we could agree on the dimensions we'd be in business. On one axis I see issues that have an absolute value vs. issues that are subjective. On the other axis I'd put things that we need to have dialogue about to come to better understanding vs. things we can just agree to disagree about. So you'd have four squares: absolutes that we need to talk about, absolutes that we agree to disagree about, subjective things that we need to talk about, and subjective things that we can just agree to disagree about.

The problem, of course, is that there's no way to come to any common understanding about what fits into any one category. I think most of us would say that "basic human rights" are in the absolute category. But what's one person's basic human right is another's privilege or even frill. And what's worth talking about and what's OK to just leave alone and disagree about?

It seems to me that each needs to be able to stay meta enough in the process to realize that what's important to you may not be important to someone else. And that sometimes people just don't have enough information to make an informed decision, and sometimes they have made an informed decision and it's just not the one you came to.

Once you understand that disagreeing doesn't mean good vs. bad, then you can move forward and figure out what goes in which categories for you, and help your kids get to that point, too. Helping them figure out what they really believe (even if it's different from what you believe!) is a way of helping them develop both strong analytic skills and a strong moral code. And the way to do that is to talk and talk and talk. Let in information that conflicts with what you believe, and talk about that. Ask your son what the other kids are saying, and try to figure out how they came to that point of view. Understanding that side will help you see things from other angles and refine your own views (and be able to defend them intelligently without getting upset).

Disagreement and being able to assimilate and analyze new information is what creates sharp, layered minds. So don't be afraid of the conflicting views. Turn it into a game at the dinner table if you want to by talking about why a view makes sense and why it doesn't. (For those of you who've taken the LSAT, remember the section in which you read an argument and figure out where it's weak?) Let your kids know that information won't hurt them.

How much talking do you guys do about current events, religion, politics, ethical dilemmas, etc? (We've been having lots of discussions about Gaza right now, and were talking constantly during the 2008 elections.) Are there areas in which you feel like you get stuck? How affected do your kids seem to be by the things their peers say? Do any of you live in places where your views are the minority, and how does that affect how you talk to your kids? How old are/were your kids when you started talking about differences?

Laser hair removal?

Since the IUD question got such a great response, Melissa is wondering if you guys have opinions on laser hair removal:

"I thought I would ask if anyone in the NYC area has had a positiveexperience with laser hair removal.  I seriously want it for my upper
lip but am torn between one of these "laser spas" and a derm
office…any thoughts?"

I'm a waxer, although I'm going to try threading. But I'm sure some of you must have done the laser removal and have an opinion.

While we're at it, has anyone tried the $175 no!no! that's supposed to lessen the hairs that grow back the more you use it?

Mirena IUD

Meredith wrote asking for experiences with the Mirena IUD:

"I've been reading all the stuff the Mirena people put out about it, and I know the listed side effects, etc. I guess I'm just looking for experiences from women who have gotten one. Was it uncomfortable to have in all the time? Does it affect your periods? What about mood swings? And I think it's a dealbreaker for me if it lowers my sex drive or makes my skin worse."

So if you've had or have the Mirena IUD in, can you give your experience with all those aspects? Thanks.

Q&A: 4-year-old and death

Ally writes:

"My grandmother is dying of cancer, and I am conflicted over whether ornot it would be ok to have my 4 year old boy at the funeral home for a
little while. We've talked to him about death plenty, as my mother
passed away unexpectedly last fall although they were not close enough
for it to have a long-lasting impact. What I am unsure about is that
there will probably be an open casket. I have issues with that myself,
partly because I want to be cremated once I die because to me once
you're gone, you're gone and your body is just the vessel that is left
behind. But I also was very deeply impacted by my grandfather's passing
when I was 14. He and my other grandmother raised me, his death was the
most awful thing that could possibly happen at the time, and I was
completely freaked out by my grandmother kissing and touching his dead
body.

So, a 4 year old and an open casket – inappropriate? Or is it just me?

And
since I am writing about death and my 4 year old, I may as well toss
this in. We have a 13 year old dog that has cushings disease and at
some point we'll either no longer be able to afford to treat it or
we'll have to put him to sleep because the medication isn't effective
any more. A couple of years ago before he was diagnosed and there was a
good chance he'd die of old age my husband and I talked about what we
would do if he died at home. In that scenario we are both comfortable
with giving our son a chance to say goodbye before taking care of the
body. Now that we are facing euthanasia, I don't know what the best
thing to do is. I don't want to make up something and just have him
disappear. But I don't know how up front to be about the euthanasia
part. How do you explain to a preschooler that you are putting a pet to
sleep? Is it appropriate to do so?

I typically shoot for honesty above sugar coating things, but
again, I have a bad situation in my past where we had to put a beloved
dog down because she started behaving in a way that couldn't be managed
by us. So I can't think very clearly about this."

I completely think the open casket thing is cultural, nothing more. In my culture of origin, open casket is the norm, and to not do it would be disrespectful to the deceased person, and also everyone would worry that the survivors didn't get to have closure because they couldn't actually see that the person was dead.

I didn't know that everyone didn't do open casket until I was an adult, and my first reaction was that people who had closed casket were avoiding the normal grieving process! So it just goes to show that different things work for different people. One person's unbelievably creepy is another's normal, and one person's repressed and avoidant is another person's respectful.

Having said that, I can remember going to open casket visiting hours from a very young age (around 4) and not being creeped out by the body, but finding it interesting that it was so obvious that this was just Uncle Joe's body, but Uncle Joe himself wasn't there anymore. It made the difference between alive and dead really concrete for me as a kid in a matter-of-fact way. But that probably had to do with the fact that the adults there were all confortable with open casket themselves, and had grown up with it, too, so it was just a given.

So my answer is that it's not going to hurt your son to see your grandmother's body in the open casket, but if you don't think you will react well to it yourself, then you shouldn't be the one with him, or you shouldn't bring him. As to your question, it sounds like you think open casket is inappropriate in general, so this really doesn't have anything specifically to do with your son. If you decide you can deal with it, bring him. If you think it'll be too strange for all of you, then don't come. He'll be fine either way, as long as you're honest about what happened to your grandma and he gets a chance to express and feelings about her being gone.

Oh, the dog. It's so hard to lose a pet, and anticipating how your kids will react to it makes it even worse. But kids seem to be way better at accepting the circle of life than adults are.

When I had to put my sweet, elderly cat down a few years ago, my older son was 4 and my younger one was still a baby. I told my older son that Siggy was in a lot of pain, and that we had to "help her die" by giving her some medicine that would make her die. I believe in heaven so I added that in, but the "help her die" angle works pretty much universally, I'd guess. Euthanasia is an act of kindness, so approaching it that way is going to let you be honest about all angles of it. You can still be sad that the dog is sick and in pain, and that you'll miss the dog, but you know you're doing the thing that's best for the dog.

Anyone want to share what you told your kids about putting down a pet? What have your experiences been with death rituals for humans–open casket, closed casket, cremation, kids at visitation/wakes/shiva, etc.?

Q&A: eye candy

Dudes, why did I not try upping my calcium for the clumsy PMS? I know calcium helps if a nursing mom's milk supply drops right before getting her period, so it's worth a try. And thanks to all the other people who admitted to the clumsy thing! I thought it was just my mom and me…

Today's question is from a male friend of mine. He asked me this verbally, so I'm paraphrasing:

How do your readers feel about the who eye candy issue? Specifically, my wife has started exercising to a DVD every night after the kids are in bed, and I'm totally supportive of her feeling good about her health. But the guy in the DVD is very attractive, and I don't know if I should be bothered by that or not. In general, what do we think the borderline is between appreciating a good aesthetic, and inappropriateness?

He was posing the question to me as a philosophical issue, and I don't think he thinks his wife's DVD boyfriend is a problem at all. I don't think so, either, as I know enough about their marriage to know that sometimes a downward dog is just a downward dog.

But I do think it's an interesting question. Where do you cross the line from "Jason from The Bachelor has abs I'd lick Nutella from" to sending naked photos of yourself to members of Maroon 5 and going on online forums to pretend you know them?

I'd argue that it's really all about your emotional health and the health of your primary relationship. If your relationship is good, then things won't go too far. But if focusing on this other person (whether real or famous or a fictional character) is a way of hiding or blocking yourself off from your primary relationship, then it's bad. No matter if it's actual porn or watching too many episodes of "Good Eats."

There are all kinds of ways to escape if your primary relationship is bad. Too much time reading or writing blogs, reality TV, cross-stitching, drinking wine, exercising, pouring all your energies into your kids so you're SuperMom–all these things can let you escape from something that's going off the rails. But if everything's fine, then things probably won't get out of balance.

Opinions? Anecdotes? Favorite eye candy?