July 23, 2014
I remember my first yoga class. I was intimidated. I was excited but I thought I was the only one who didn’t know what to do. I placed my mat on the wood floor and listened with open eyes and ears. I assumed everyone knew some secret yoga handshake.
I remember stretching my hamstrings and calves. I remember opening my hips. I learned child’s pose quickly. I felt sore, challenged, invigorated and humbled.
I remember when my first baby was born. I was definitely sore! I remember my hips opening too! When I saw other mothers I thought they had some secret handshake. They all looked so confident and sure of themselves.
There were times I know I should go to my yoga class but I just didn’t want to. When I pushed through in the end I felt good. I felt like I had invested in myself to get to a new level of peace and strength.
There have been times in my mothering when I wanted to quit. When Phoebe was about 13 months old Rob came home. She was asleep across my body on the sofa. She looked peaceful but when Rob saw my face he said: “You want to quit don’t you?” I started crying. She had been so challenging that day. It was hard. I didn’t quit. I invested in my children. I always will.
I learn something new from each yoga teacher. Sometimes I learn something as simple as pressing into the index finger knuckle for more balance or using a strap around my arms to get up into bridge pose. Sometimes it is a philosophical way to look at the world, to give in to the heat outside or the bitter cold. Sometimes I learn to let go of anger. Sometimes I learn not to worry if my poses aren’t perfect or if I cannot go up on my head. I learned that it is ok if I do not do a headstand.
I learn different things from my children as well. They tell me the truth and sometimes it hurts but I usually learn something. From watching my children I have learned to be compassionate. I have learned to advocate for them and through this experience I have learned to advocate for myself and for others. I have learned that I am not a perfect mother. And I learned I do not have to be.
Once on the playground when Phoebe was swinging and I was across the park nursing Chloe she came running and told me I needed to talk to that other mom. I am not fond of confrontations with other moms but this woman had insisted that Phoebe play with her daughter. I approached the mom. I need to advocate for my six year old who wanted to swing alone and not have the responsibility of caring for another child. I understood this but how could I communicate it.
I walked over to this mom and told her I was the mom of the little girl who did not want to play with her daughter. She told me that a girl her age shouldn’t be mean to five year olds. When I explained that Phoebe was only six and she has a new baby sister the woman softened. My children are big and are often mistaken for being older. It wasn’t painful. Phoebe will not put up with disrespectful behavior and has the language to communicate it.
Chloe is not happy to sit idle. She needs to be challenged nearly constantly. When she was a toddler I had a small baking business. She wanted to bake too. And toy bake ware and play food would not cut it for her. I had to let her help. I learned to set up some baking supplies and equipment that she could handle. I had small metal cake pans, measuring spoons, sprinkles, a bit of sugar and a bit of flour. No wet ingredients!
When I let her help me for real she sat on the counter. I let her crack eggs into a bowl in case there were shells. I let her pour vanilla into a teaspoon. She loves to bake now and is great at it.
One morning when Finn was a bout two and half I was trying to get out the door. I was rushed. I started to yell “HURRY, WE ARE GOING TO BE LATE!!!!” Instead of moving toward the door he stopped, crossed his arms across his sweet body and with a tear dripping onto his cheek he proclaimed, ”You have to be patient.” He is patient with other children and with me.
In yoga I learned to listen to my body. In mothering I learned to listen to my children.
They are both hard work but the investment is so worth it. I feel good. I have a strong body.
My children are growing into courageous, confident and generally happy human beings.
Today in class as we opened our hips in pigeon pose after countless down dogs and chaturanga, sweat dripping down my cheeks, my hair soaked and my body starting to shake a bit the teacher had us move into child’s pose and she said “The work is hard but the moments in between are precious.”
Yes! Phoebe, who is now 19, called me today and just talked. Cuddles, heart to heart talks, giggles, mom-dates. These are the precious in betweens of mothering. They are the reason we say “No” 278 times to the ridiculous requests. They are the reasons we wake in the middle of the night to a fever. They are the reason we carry a big kid with a skinned knee ten backbreaking blocks. They are the reasons we pace the floor when they are teenagers who do not answer their phones after midnight. They are the reason we go to the other parents and tell them you do not appreciate the insulting way you spoke to your child.
As in my yoga practice, as a mom I am challenged, humbled and invigorated.
July 10, 2014
Early in my parenting a wise woman told me: “if you meet your child’s dependency needs she can grow independent easily.” Those words echoed in my head every challenging and every joyous and every ordinary step of the way.
Rob and I left earlier than we had planned as Finn asked us to leave after he met his counselors and his bunk mates. The older two have been going to this camp for some time but this is the first time they are all together. Typically we linger enjoying a communal lunch with the other families but not this year.
We sat on the hill outside the cabin where Phoebe is a counselor having patchwork conversations between new campers coming in and meeting her.
We spied Chloe as she and a friend high-fived in celebration of having their parents depart pre-lunch – ah, freedom!
As we pulled away on the gravelly road and left behind the scents of fresh grass and summer we felt a sense of accomplishment and freedom – if only temporary. We were brought back to our twenties being young and in love with little responsibility. We wondered if we had time to stop at a bike shop in Western Massachusetts or where we could stop for lunch that would accommodate a family of five with different needs and tastes. Then we laughed out loud. “We can do whatever we want!”
We both took the week off from work. We laughed. We held hands. We stopped for lunch at an old diner. It didn’t matter what time we got home.
I had conversations with two different moms who are in the thick of parenting young children. It was nice to share the outcomes of committing your attention to your children. I recall the intensity of young children and their physical and emotional needs. There were days when I wondered if I would ever be my own person, if I would ever sleep without someone attached to my breast or without getting kicked in the face. I wondered if I would ever need to stop buying tissues for snotty noses and if I would ever stop changing diapers. I wondered if I was doing the right thing in my mothering.
All along I kept trusting my instincts and blocked out the noise of all those voices: “when are going to wean that kid?” “how can you let that baby sleep in your bed?” “are you still carrying that kid?” “you are coddling that kid” “that child will never learn to sleep on his own” and on and on.
Our children are confident young people. They sleep on their own, they weaned and I no longer carry them – two of them are bigger than I am! They do love to cuddle though and that is an amazing gift when a thirteen year old wants to cuddle!
Of course we miss them. I had my neighbors little boys give me extra hugs because I longed for my little Finn who, like a koala, likes to hang on me, who holds my hand crossing streets. I miss the texts from Chloe, her lanky body hugging me and her giggle as she looks down on me because she has a couple of inches over me. I miss Phoebe’s beautiful smile and her joyous shout of “Mama!” when she sees me.
Ah, but not to have to worry who needs a bath! This freedom is so sweet because it is finite. After four weeks it is all hugs, cuddles and conflict about who needs a bath, when to go to bed, what to make for dinner.
For now, instead of date night Rob and I are having date month!
June 26, 2014
Yesterday was my birthday. Today was the last day of school for NYC Public School children. This weekend all three of my children will begin their summer at camp in the Berkshires and Rob and I will be alone for four weeks.
My oldest child has one year of college under her belt. My second child will be researching high schools in the fall. My youngest will begin fourth grade.
This summer many friends are leaving New York. They are going to Portugal, Massachusetts, Portland (both East and West) Israel, and Phoenix. The list goes on.
Change is hard. I have trouble with change. I have a hard time packing. I am challenged to move things around like furniture and art on my walls. I am a creature of habit.
But I also have change envy. I am envious of all those friends starting out on new adventures. I feel a little left behind.
Working with breastfeeding moms and babies I get to relive those early challenges of motherhood, the dramatic changes in the body and the heart. As someone who advises about weaning I get to relive the emotions of that milestone.
I was talking to Finn on the way to school this morning and he told me he wishes he could perform magic. The first thing I imagined I would do if I was magic would be to bring back my mother. This year in October it will be ten years since she died.
If I was magic . . .
Oh, the possibilities.
For now, I will remain in New York. I will continue to mother my children through all of the changes they experience. I will nurture my relationship with Rob. And I shall seek change that is positive. I will embrace each day, each challenge, each wrinkle and gray hair.
You see, this is about getting older. Yesterday was my 49th birthday and I am thinking deeply about 50. It is such a milestone. When I was a kid I used to imagine a grownup being 35 years old. I am past that quite a bit. I have to consider what this means.
I walk down the street and I look at other women. I try to figure out how old they are. I try to analyze their state of mind. I try to figure out if they are happy and healthy.
I will take in this final year of my forties. I am happy and I am healthy. And I know deep down I do possess some magic!
June 4, 2014
I often play a game with myself to protect my children from potential angry outbursts from their mother – these outbursts are not unprovoked – no one can push your buttons like your offspring but it is my responsibility, my job, to model appropriate behavior. However, I am only human so I must enable strategies to guide my babies into functioning adults.
The game is that I pretend that I am the subject of a documentary or television show and I am supposed to demonstrate good parenting. Maybe this comes from being a Southerner who gives a damn what others think – though this aspect of my psyche is fading with my youth – but this idea had to spring from somewhere.
My children are growing (and so is my body) so I am finding less of a need to “act” like a decent mother. Or perhaps I acted like it so much that as a Method actor I became the Decent Mother!
I have had a new epiphany. You see, I noticed back at Thanksgiving that I was bursting out of my clothes as I gobbled up turkey and gravy and pecan pie and this wine and that cocktail and this cheese and that Pernil.
Something had to give besides my seams. So, I joined Weight Watchers in early December.
It is now June and I am within five pounds of my starting weight. I could celebrate a pound a month but at this rate I may be retired before I hit goal. In December my membership was truly a preemptive act to avoid more weight gain – let me hold steady through the holidays then come January I will slim down. Ha!
I know how to do this as I am a Lifetime Weight Watchers Member but the last time I lost any weight on the program I was nursing a baby into toddlerhood and let him suck the calories right out of me. I don’t know how large the wet nurse market is and I do not need another baby!
So, today I decided that I would use my parenting strategies in my weight loss journey. I will pretend that Weight Watchers has a film crew following me around and I am the epitome of the model Weight Watchers Member. I will make smart choices. I will choose smaller portions, more nutrient dense, high fiber foods. I will eschew my beloved gluten free brownies. When I make my children buttery eggs in a hole I will eat a boiled egg and a half a grapefruit. I will leave morsels behind on my plate. I will choose mangos over cookies.
I will be the envy of those humans bursting at their seams as I begin to swim in my clothes.
Weight Watchers will make me their new spokes person and I will be voted Mother of the Year!
As an active member of the breastfeeding community for nearly two decades I have seen so much marketing of formula from a personal place and for new parents. The marketing gets more and more clever and nefarious each day.
I was once helping a mom and baby in an apartment building in New York City where one has to be buzzed in. I was with this family for about an hour and a half. The buzzer never buzzed and the doorbell never rang. Upon my departure I nearly fell over a box of formula. The mom had not ordered this.
Currently infant formula manufacturers make formula specifically for breastfeeding moms. Why? Is it really different? Breastfeeding is the biggest market competitor for formula companies.
It was very exciting for me when, in 2012, Mayor Bloomberg took the marketing of formula out of New York City hospitals. Many people were upset by this action. They claimed that they were being bullied into breastfeeding. They were angry that they were not getting their “free” gift from the hospital. This was not the case at all.
What they did not realize is that by giving these “free” gift bags the citizens and patients were actually paying for these goodies.
When a hospital gives away promotional items they are endorsing this product and they are using human power to handle these items. These “free” gift bags are taking up precious real estate in our already crowded hospitals. This is FREE advertising for the pharmaceutical industry. FREE advertising. Those guys have plenty of cash to buy advertising but why spend it when the hospital will do it for free?
In May of 1980 the 27th World Health Assembly endorsed the WHO/UNICEF recommendation that “There should be an international code of marketing of infant formula and other products used as breast-milk substitutes.”
This is important because we know that breastfeeding rates decline where formula is marketed.
This is not an anti-formula campaign rather it is a recommendation to support healthy outcomes both long term and short term. The campaign is designed to take an ethical approach to promote breastfeeding as the normal way to feed babies.
Unfortunately the United States has not agreed to this recommendation.
On this anniversary the Public Citizen’s campaign to End Infant Formula Marketing in Healthcare Facilities is firing up to bring awareness to the continued marketing of formula in the US.
They are encouraging participants to use social media to get the message across by making signs that say “No Formula Ads in Hospitals” or “Follow the WHO Code.”
As an advocate for breastfeeding families I will join this day of action. What will you do to promote breastfeeding?
May 16, 2014
I have seen the documentary Breastmilk twice.
The first time around I was happy to see the diversity of the subjects, the inclusion of gay families and the normalization of milk sharing.
I came away knowing that Dana Ben-Ari is a true documentarian in that the viewer is brought into the scenes unobtrusively. We observed real life situations and outcomes.
The second time around I was sitting next to woman who nursed her child a decade earlier. She squirmed in her seat and whispered to me, “If I had seen this before having my son I would’ve been afraid because it seems so hard to nurse.”
Certain elements were left out that I believe only a seasoned eye would catch. Missing from the film: physicians trained to support breastfeeding, pre-natal education, support for the mom and baby and extended work leave. Were with these elements missing from the film because they are missing in real life?
There were a handful of subjects followed from pregnancy through the first birthday of the baby. In the end only one of those babies was nursing.
The moms who experienced premature weaning talked extensively about how was “really okay”, that “the doctors were right”, they “had their baby’s health in their best interest” and “thanked goodness that their baby was healthy.” What I saw behind those words was grief, defeat and lots of justification for their unplanned weaning.
The producers, Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein, say the outcomes of the subjects of their film align statistically in the United States with breastfeeding rates.
I believe documentaries are made not only to show real life but to affect a change or to educate or to inform.
There were experts talking about the cultural anthropological aspects of breast-feeding in the Western world but there was no real information on how to make breast-feeding easier or even pointing out what got in the way. We did see a bit on how our culture gets in the way: the boyfriend who not wanting to be patient as his baby nursed, the nurse not wanting to be patient as the parents wanted to baby to self attach, the moms who had to go to work and could not keep up making milk. Once again women, these new mothers, are at the mercy of the system, a system that does not support women or children.
In my documentary I would show women all of the world breastfeeding. I would show statistics on breastfeeding rates in different countries. I would show how birth practices impact breastfeeding, how working outside of the home impacts breastfeeding, how education and lack of education affect breastfeeding.
But I am not a filmmaker. I am a lactation consultant, a La Leche League Leader, a mom, a friend. I am working in the field daily to support mothers and babies one by one.
The longer I work in this field the more obstacles I see. What do you think? How do you see breastfeeding? Do you see it as easy? Do you see it as a privilege? Do you see it as impossible? How does a baby see breastfeeding? What if we asked babies? Would that change our outcomes? Would that change our culture?
May 3, 2014
Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:
I received a tweet from Alexander Nazaryan, the author of the Newsweek piece rebuking Louis C.K. and defending the Common Core standards, asking me for a substantive critique of his article.
OK, here goes.
He begins by saying that Louis C.K. has a professional habit of being angry, which I suppose is meant to scoff at his anger and say that he should not be taken seriously.
But then we get into Alexander’s views about Common Core.
The Common Core is “loathed” by Left and Right alike, for different reasons. This is true.
Then he makes the claim that the teachers’ unions oppose the Common Core, which is untrue. Both the NEA and the AFT accepted millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation to promote Common Core, and both have been steadfast supporters. The leaders began to complain about poor implementation only after they heard large numbers of complaints…
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