Little Girls’ Swimsuits

I read this article by Pigtail Pals (which eventually made a stir at Blog Her, etc, etc), and it got me thinking. I don’t like the idea of a little girl in a “sexy” swimsuit, and I’d never buy W a string bikini, but what really got my gears turning was the argument for such swimsuits that I saw in the comments sections of the articles. Among them, the idea that a pedophile is a pedophile, and dressing one’s daughter in a specific way doesn’t increase or decrease the likelihood that a pedophile will think bad thoughts and/or do bad things. Regarding this, I heartily disagree.

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W at 9 months old, enjoying the pool with Grandma.

I want to share a story about a friend of mine. He’s a really good, stand-up guy with a moral compass that points due north, is in his late 20s, and is in a committed relationship with a great woman. I saw him at a social event a few years back, and as we were talking, we both noticed a very pretty young woman of about 18 or 19 walk by. She wasn’t dressed inappropriately for the event or for her age. Her clothing was attractive and stylish but not particularly revealing; her hair and makeup were impeccable. Still, despite all the appropriateness, she was one of those people who just sort of radiate a sexy vibe. My friend noticed her. Took another look. Really noticed her. Shortly thereafter, as he and I were still talking, we saw her walk up to a couple around my age and address the man as “dad.” Turns out, she was the couple’s (very tall) 12-year-old daughter, who — when all dolled up — managed to look completely legal. More

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Another Unusual Milestone

Do you ever look at your child and feel amazed and honored that someone so wonderful came out of your body?

I wrote here about unusual mothering milestones that aren’t often celebrated or discussed in parenting books, but that are nevertheless very meaningful. Well, we’ve just reached another. This morning, W and I were sitting on the couch hanging out together. I was checking my email, and she was watching cartoons. She was dressed already, even though normally she stays in pjs until after breakfast and email/cartoon time. Getting dressed was her decision; after I changed her diaper, she marched over to her dresser, opened the drawer with her shirts, and picked one out. She carefully closed that drawer and opened the one below it, which contains her shorts. She picked through them and selected a pair, and I provided (minimal) help as she got dressed. The outfit she selected wasn’t one I would have picked, but the combination was really cute. A few minutes later she decided to add a necklace, and asked me if she could pick one out of my jewelry box. Once again, her selection was not what I would have gone with, but it was adorable. It was perfect, actually, and not in an oh, how cute, she dressed herself kind of way. No, when my daughter dresses herself, she looks perfect in an oh my gosh, you look really put together kind of way. She has a great sense of style, hence the unusual milestone: I realized this morning as I sat on the couch next to my very well-dressed daughter that I really admire her. 

Realizing that I actually admire W — not just love her, not just think she’s cute and fun — represents a huge step for both of us. For her, it means she’s become capable of doing more (and thinking more) independently than ever before. For me, it means I’ve recognized her growing independence. She’s becoming her own little person, and more importantly, she’s becoming a person who doesn’t always do things exactly the way mama would do them. Even though that may mean clashes of will and arguments in the future, it also means that our relationship can start to develop in a whole new way, because she’s not just an extension of me anymore. How exciting.

 

What unusual milestones have you celebrated?

 

 

Only Child, Lonely Child?

But I HAVE a friend! See, right here!

Now that W is almost 18 months old, many of the mommies who gave birth at the same time I did are pregnant again, or at least trying again. I increasingly find myself fielding questions — sometimes from complete strangers — about whether and when we’ll try for #2. While I’m not offended by these questions, I do find them a little personal. Further, it is interesting to me that in a society so puritanical that we dislike the notion of a mother feeding her infant from her breast in public, we nevertheless find it appropriate to inquire about the procreational inclinations of someone we’ve only just met. But hey, I stopped trying to make heads or tails of social mores a long time ago.

In any case, W is it for us; we won’t be having a second. She’s not truly an only child, as she has an 18-year-old half-sister. Still, for all intents and purposes, she’s the lone chick in the nest; her sister is off to college this fall. Not only is W a mostly-only child, she is also cousin-less (or, at least, she has no first cousins). There are a few second cousins scattered around the country who are close to her age, and there’s a third cousin* who is close to her both geographically and in age, but my little girl is pretty much on her own as far as same-age family goes.

*Third cousins are, in reality, barely related. Their grandparents are cousins; their great-grandparents are siblings. She probably has a lot more third cousins than I realize, given the distance of the relation. Heck, she’s probably third-cousins with half of the Western U.S.

I wonder how this will affect her as she grows up. During my childhood, for instance, I had so many cousins who were close to my age — not to mention a brother — that I spent more time playing with family than with little friends. Will W “need” friends more than I did at that age? There are some psychologists who suggest that only children grow up feeling (and acting) like “little adults”; this, the experts claim, makes them both precocious and a bit socially awkward. I do worry about that a little; our family tends to be precocious and a bit socially awkward even when we grow up surrounded by lots of other kids. Need proof? See here.

Last year, rather than enroll W in daycare, I did a lot of working from home, and used family and a mother’s helper to pick up the slack. This next year, however, I think we’ll start daycare a few days a week, just to get her some social interaction. That’s my long-term plan, I guess; simply to make sure that she always has the opportunity to interact with other kids through school, sports, and activities. Still, though, I do worry sometimes. It bothers me a little that she’ll need to play alone so much of the time. I worry that without having to share and cooperate with other kids all the time, she’ll lag in those skills. I worry that she’ll identify more with adults than with children, and won’t fit in when she starts school (but then again, maybe “fitting in” is overrated). Regardless of these worries, I know we’ll work it out. I know I’ll do everything I need to do to make sure she has the social contact she’ll lack at home.

That said, while it doesn’t bother me when people ask whether we’ll have another, it definitely does chap my hide when, in response to my answer, they argue that she “needs” a sibling. They list all the reasons above, as though trying to change my mind. As though generating a playmate for W is a reasonable justification for bringing a human into the world. There are arguments that can be made for having two (or more) children. There are arguments that can be made for having only one…or none. The decision to have (or not to have) children is, in my view, as intimate and private as the act that produces them, and if it’s (marginally) socially appropriate to ask whether a couple is planning to have a(nother) child, I would like to submit that going on to debate that decision is entirely gauche.

 

Do people ask you whether you’re going to have another? Do they question your decision?

Attachment Parenting, Ideology, and the Mommy Wars

It doesn’t matter how I feed her, how I transport her, where she sleeps…we are attached.

The Atlantic recently published an article online titled What Everyone’s Missing In The Attachment Parenting Debate. It made many excellent points, including mocking that abhorrent, desperate bid for attention of a recent Time Magazine cover that tried to throw fuel on the fire of the “mommy-wars.” From a personal standpoint, however, I found it helped me crystallize my thinking about attachment parenting (in the sense that the term is used these days).

Before I was pregnant with W, I had absolutely zero experience with babies, and had essentially no parenting philosophy whatsoever. During my pregnancy, I began to develop some feelings about how I wanted to mother. These notions arose from my burgeoning maternal intuition, and initially weren’t influenced whatsoever by the myriad books, magazines, and websites that attempt to mold our mothering (or, more accurately, shame us into doing things their way). For instance, I liked the idea of carrying my baby around in one of those Baby Bjorn things that everyone seemed to have, so I purchased one (I later returned it and bought a different baby carrier after reading that carriers that allow the legs to dangle are thought by the International Hip Dysplasia Institute to negatively impact hip health). My mother gave me a crib, and advised me to put it in the nursery as opposed to my bedroom. My baby would sniff, snuffle, and make all kinds of normal baby noises at night, she said, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep. My husband and father dutifully installed the (very heavy, very cumbersome) piece of furniture in the nursery, but I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with the arrangement — this was all while I was still pregnant, mind you — and asked them to move it into the bedroom only a few days later. With regard to the feeding of the baby, I’d long intended to breastfeed until 12 months of age, because that was the recommendation of the AAP.

Around the time W was a few weeks old and purely by accident, I found out about attachment parenting (or, more accurately, the Bill and Martha Sears brand of attachment parenting). This happened because W was a very, VERY high-need baby and I was losing my mind. Someone in my breastfeeding support group suggested I look at the Sears’ writings on high-need babies, which are based upon their personal experience with one of their children. I found strength and hope in these writings, if only because they offered reassurance that it’s possible to survive parenting a really intense child. Prior to finding the high-need baby writings, I’d had no use whatsoever for the Searses, purely on the basis of their son (Dr. Bob Sears) and his ridiculous, unfounded-in-data, alternative vaccine schedule. Still, after reading about high-need babies, I decided that perhaps I’d judged the Searses prematurely. I went on to read their other writings and some of their other books, including their work on attachment parenting, a term with which I was wholly unfamiliar.

I guess I got interested in attachment parenting because I fit part of the description of what, per the Searses, an attachment parent is and does. I breastfed. I “wore” W. We co-slept (we never intended to, but we sort of fell into it when, the third night she was home with us, she wouldn’t sleep in her crib for more than 20 minutes in a stretch without crying for me). I guessed that I “believed in the value of her cries,” — another of the Searses criteria, whatever it means — because I figured she was crying for a reason, rather than to irritate me or manipulate. As to the other so-called “Baby B’s” of the Sears’ style of attachment parenting — Birth Bonding, “Beware the Baby Trainers,” and Balance — well, I figured they probably fit my style. After all, W and I had spent lots of time bonding after birth, I wasn’t planning to do a cry-it-out with her (since I was happy enough with her sleeping in my bed), and…who doesn’t want balance?

As a result of my reading, even though I’d never before heard of attachment parenting, I started to identify as “AP.” And boy, did I identify. I was I glad I was an APer in those early days. After all, according to Dr. Sears, babies raised by the AP method don’t cry much; babies in cultures where AP is the norm, he says, cry for only minutes a day as compared to the hours a day of crying we so often experience in our culture. Babies raised by APers grow up with empathy. They become less needy. They’re less prone to SIDS, he claims. They’re smarter, even! Hooray for AP, I thought to myself.

I’d like to take a time-out right now and explain that, for those of you looking for a shred of evidence-based decision-making in my behavior as I describe it here, don’t trouble yourself to look further; there is none to be found. I was swept away on a tide of hormones and promises, of new-mommy fears, hopes, and dreams. I was, in short, not my normal evidence-driven self.

Back to our story. Fast-forward, say, 6 months, and we find me meticulously following the AP regimen, identifying even more strongly with the label of “attachment parent.” As I look back, I wonder if I clung ever tighter to the AP label as I felt it start to fail me; as I wondered in a place deep down inside — a place I didn’t consciously acknowledge — if I’d done something terribly wrong. Cognitive dissonance, anyone? Because far from being an easy-to-please, happy baby (as W should have been, according to the AP promises), she was becoming more and more demanding. She’s a smart little stinker, and she was learning to work the system. In short, she became a tyrant. She cried for hours every night, because she’d only sleep with a breast in her mouth, and I couldn’t sleep while nursing her (no matter what AP said I should do). I went almost a year never sleeping more than 2 hours in a stretch. She forced me to carry her in my arms or in a carrier at all times, protesting angrily and ceaselessly if I put her down. Other mothers’ 6-month-olds would play for 5 minutes by themselves with a new and exciting toy. Not W. W required physical contact with mama — ideally with mama’s boob — at all times.

I started to become resentful. I started feeling like she was sucking the life out of me. I wrote in a journal entry that I later tore to pieces, fearing she’d see it one day, that it felt like the only way for her to be happy was for me to be miserable. On my better days, I wondered if our happiness was simply mutually exclusive. On the hardest days, I literally felt that she fed on my misery, like some sort of freakish swamp-dwelling mold. I talked to support group members who I knew were also committed to AP about my experiences. I said it felt like we (my husband and I) were operating as though W was the only family member who mattered. This bothered me for two reasons; first, because we were getting worn pretty thin. Second, because I worried that it would set a bad precedent as she grew (in her mind, in ours, or in all of the above). These folks were absolutely the wrong choice for moral support; they told me to stay the course. They more or less scolded me for being selfish, saying that this amounted to a very small portion of both W’s life and ours, and that we needed to give her EVERYTHING right now to ensure that she grew up securely attached.

Looking back, can I just say…BULLSHIT. That was an utter load of Bull. Shit.

Because this post is more about my failed AP experience than my road to recovery (12 steps…hello, my name is Kirstin, and I’m an AP addict…), I’ll spare the details, but suffice it to say that it took many months and finding a new group of supporters for me to turn the corner. It also took Zoloft, but that’s a story for another day. Two people in particular were responsible for the bulk of me finding my way out of my AP hole. The first told me that being a mama was a little like being on an airplane when the pressure drops unexpectedly and the oxygen masks fall: you’ve got to put your mask on first. It’s not selfish to take care of mama, because if you don’t take care of mama, mama can’t take care of anyone else. The second person who really made a difference was in the same boat as I, with a smart kid who was (at nearly the same age as W) also learning to work the system. She — let’s call her “A” for the sake of anonymity — and I sent lots of emails back and forth, and sometimes I’d read her latest message with tears running down my cheeks just because it helped me so much to know I was not alone, and that while AP might work for some, it doesn’t work for everyone.* In short, “meeting” her and her very W-like child (I put meeting in quotes because to this day, we’ve never met in person; she’s an online friend) helped me to forgive myself for “failing” at AP; it helped me to understand that some kids just need a different sort of parenting.

*I know Dr. Sears talks about balance, and says “If you resent it, change it,” but he also talks about how important AP is in general. Because I basically resented the whole damn thing, I figured it was me — not the parenting style — that needed changing. I assumed that I was being selfish (as other APers told me I was being), or that I was somehow lacking the mom-gene, or that I was hormonal. This post is not meant to be an indictment of all aspects of Sears-style parenting; after all, I still breastfeed, co-sleep, and so forth. There’s a big difference, though, between using parenting techniques that work and subscribing to an ideology. I wonder if some of the Sears’ writings — particularly combined with AP cheerleeders on Internet fora and in support groups — don’t have a tendency to push some of us into ideology. I can’t speak for others, but I know that’s the effect they had on me.

To return to the article I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I found it a fascinating read because it explained the origin of the term attachment parenting, which was not at all developed by the Searses. Instead, attachment parenting originally came from researchers Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby, who suggested in the 1950s that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to take the advice of early 1900s child psychologist John Watson. The latter had cautioned women not to interact fondly with or “pet” their children too much. He called mother-love “a dangerous instrument.” Even when I identified as a Sears-style APer, I found the term a little short-sighted and insulting; surely women who don’t breastfeed, who don’t “babywear,” who don’t co-sleep are still attached to their babies. Maybe not physically, but emotionally. Learning about the origin of the term helped me to understand that, at the time of its inception in the 1950s, attachment parenting WAS defining an emotional attachment (as opposed to the previously-recommended emotional detachment). It was the Searses who sort of hijacked attachment parenting, added additional layers of meaning and requirements, and spun it into something it was not originally. For instance, Ainsworth and Bowlby didn’t talk at all about bedding arrangements or feeding. They didn’t warn parents to “beware the baby-trainers.” They didn’t equate letting a child cry-it-out with emotional neglect, if not abuse. No, Ainsworth and Bowlby simply suggested that it was better to be emotionally attached than not to be.

While I harbor no illusions that my writing these words will have any impact upon the prevalence and ferocity of the horrid “mommy-wars,” I nevertheless submit this: These wars have been fought and won. Regardless of how we handle the day-to-day logistics of child-rearing, we have come a long way as a culture. We no longer treat our children as though they should be “seen and not heard.” We no longer worry that holding them close and covering their yummy faces with kisses will make them spoiled, or weak. True attachment parenting — Ainsworth and Bowlby style — is so much a part of our culture now that we don’t even have a term for it. We are, all of us, attached to our children. Whether we feed our babies from bottles, breasts, or a combination of the two, whether we push them in strollers or wear them in slings or balance them on our hips like so many generations — and even our evolutionary ancestors — have done, whether we allow them to cry for a bit in their room or put them down in our own beds, we are all so deeply emotionally attached to our children that we sometimes can’t feel where they end and we begin. In a great irony, many months after shedding the last of my identification with AP — sure, I still co-sleep and W sometimes rides around in a carrier, but these no longer define my parenting; they’re just things we do — I have realized I’m an attachment parent after all. We all are.

Dirty Feet, Skinned Knees, and the Spices of A Million Flowers

Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers. -Ray Bradbury

We spent some of this past week visiting my aunt and uncle. They recently retired to a small rural community in northern Arizona, across a dirt road from the cabin my grandfather built in the 1960s. During my childhood, I would spend weeks of each summer in that cabin with my grandparents and any number of cousins. While it’s been somewhat improved in recent years, “rustic” may have inadequately described the place in those early days; there is a period of time within my memory during which the call of nature was answered in an outhouse. The only bed was a fold-out couch in the cabin’s single room, upon which my grandparents slept. Kids piled into sleeping bags and lay clumped together on the floor like so many puppies or, more often, slept out on the deck under the stars. We’d tell each other jokes and ghost stories each night, growing rowdier and rowdier until my grandmother issued a frown and a stern Hush! Chastened, we’d burrow deeper into our sleeping bags and, bending our heads close together, we’d whisper the secrets of our childhood hearts late into the night.

Those were the summers of skinned knees and dirty feet. The summers of waking with the sun and throwing clothes onto our bodies and food into our mouths as we ran out the door into the forest. Those were the summers of going barefoot and eating sun-warmed berries from right off the brambles. Of bathing in the outdoor shower my grandfather built — the cabin’s only shower for most of my childhood — while looking up at the wind-rustled pines. The cabin had no television, but we never cared. There were few, if any, toys; I remember a partial set of dominos and an old and beaten train case. These we repurposed in any number of ways, and never wanted for the fancier playthings of our city lives. We made swords out of sticks, and pretended at being knights. We brewed a magic potion from leaves and creek water, and went looking for bugs with ailments we could cure. My grandfather helped us make bows and arrows, and we spent hours trying to hit a cardboard box from 20 paces. When both my grandparents were at the cabin, we confined our boundless energy and the vast majority of our chaos to the outdoors. If ever my grandmother left for a few days, however, the rules went with her. Cream cheese and jelly sandwiches became a nutritional staple. We caught dragonflies and brought them inside, the better to observe them. We moved our extensive collections — lizards, plants, rocks — indoors, and made a museum of the kitchen table.

During those summers at the cabin we were free, my cousins and I. Free as only children can be, with no jobs, no nagging concerns, and no charge other than to be home before it got too dark, if only to collect a flashlight. As childhood flowed seamlessly into adolescence, summers at the cabin began to change. I cared less about ensuring my butterfly collection was complete, and more about whether the cute boy staying in the nearby rental was close to my age. I grew too old — or at least too self-conscious — to make believe with wooden swords, and joined the adults to play cards more often than I ran barefoot through the pine litter. Eventually the last vestiges of those carefree days fell away, replaced first by summer work and college applications, and later by jobs and mortgages and car payments. Visiting the cabin became something I did rarely — an only intermittently tolerable interruption to the flow of everyday life — and then didn’t do at all, until recently.

While this past weekend wasn’t W’s first visit to my aunt and uncle’s house, it was the first since she’s been walking. Watching her respond to the cabin area has been like stepping back in time. She wakes early and hardly has the patience to eat her breakfast before she starts to demand OOS! OOS! OOS! (Shoes!) while racing for the door. She’s learning to run on the same dirt roads upon which I learned to ride a bike. My aunt feeds the birds and squirrels in the yard, and W squeals in delight to see the animals and waves to them as they come and go. She rolls in the grass and runs her fingers over the bark of the trees, feeling their different textures. When I try to hold her hand as she tackles a steep hill, she pushes it away. No, Mama, I hear her thinking, I do it myself. I get that. This is a place to be free.

The memories here, even though it’s been so long, swirl all around me. We sit on my aunt and uncle’s porch, and I can see the clubhouse my cousins and I built out of salvaged siding and plywood. The nextdoor neighbor is a girl — of course, she’s a grown woman now — with whom I used to play sometimes; one summer, we built a boat and carried it over our heads down to the creek. It was tippy and leaked like a sieve, but we laughed the whole time. W and I go for a walk, and pass the spot where I once tripped and fell, skinning my upper lip so that I spent the rest of the summer wearing scabs like a mustache. I punctuate our walk with intermittent observations and explanations. This is the house where the mean dogs used to live, I tell her as we go by; they chased me every day. This is “Poison Ivy Lane”; it’s a shortcut to the creek, but you have to be really careful picking your way through. This is the place I caught my first fish. The woman who used to live in this house was an amazing cook, and always used to invite me in and feed me. I don’t know how much of what I say she understands, but underneath the stories is simply this: I was once a little girl, W, just like you. Where we live now isn’t where I lived when I was little — it’s not even in the same town — but this place was a big part of my childhood. Maybe the biggest part. And I am sharing it with you.

Getting W undressed for her bath the last night of our visit, I notice the dirt on her toes and the scrapes on her legs. She’s only just come in from outdoors, and her hair is still warm from the setting sun. She smells like water and dust, grass and little kid sweat. I breathe in deeply, filling my nostrils and filling my heart. Last summer, W was a baby in my arms; this is the first true summer of childhood — the first of many — full of skinned knees and dirty feet, of fun to be had and memories to be made. I’m grateful I have this place to share with her, this place where the anthem of her childhood will ring loudly in her ears, and her pigtails will stream behind her as she runs free.

 

What of the summers of your youth will you share with your child?

 

Attitudes About Breastfeeding — A Tale Of Two Doctors

I wrote this during a quiet moment when W had hand-foot-mouth, after our first visit to the pediatrician but before she was hospitalized. In the craziness that followed, I didn’t get around to publishing it right away.

Do I have to stop nursing just because it's my birthday?

My poor W is sick. It started on Wednesday with vomiting, and then a high fever by afternoon. The next morning, she had some suspicious-looking sores on her lips and chin, so off to the doctor we went. Apparently, she has hand-foot-mouth disease, which I’d never even heard of. Having a toddler is a crash course in microbiology. Anyway, she has blistering sores all down her throat, which makes it painful for her to swallow. The pediatrician said that we were looking at about 5-7 days of high fever and difficulty eating and drinking, and that dehydration was the major concern. I mentioned that I was still breastfeeding, and her response was, “Oh, WONDERFUL! That will be so soothing to her. She’ll be able to nurse even if she can’t get anything else down.” The doctor was right; nursing is about all W has been able to do, so I’m very thankful we have that option available to us.

Yesterday, I had to leave my sick baby at home so I could go see my orthopedic surgeon for a pre-surgical consultation. Thanks to a skiing accident a few years ago, I have a torn labrum in my shoulder and a capacious capsule. The repair he’ll be doing sounds like a combination of woodworking and dressmaking; he needs to screw the labrum back on, and “take up” the extra capsular space with — as he described it – pin-tucking. Anyway, as we were discussing how the surgery would proceed, I asked if it was a problem that I was still breastfeeding. His response was “You’re STILL breastfeeding? {Insert appropriately horrified face here} At 13 months? WHY!?” It went downhill from there. He told me I needed to wean her because of the general anesthetic during the procedure and codeine afterward, but when I countered with the resources I’d found that stated otherwise, he said he didn’t really know, and to ask my pediatrician. He essentially told me that he didn’t want to talk about it anymore; he’d had enough of talking about breastfeeding. Alrighty then.

Part of me is annoyed by the orthopedic surgeon’s response; after all, nursing is not only still important to W, it’s probably the only thing keeping us out of the hospital for dehydration right now. I thank my lucky stars we’ve got this available to us. Part of me is hurt. I’ve been really lucky to have had no negative interactions as a result of my breastfeeding. This is the first time someone’s made me feel like a freak about it, and it stings. Part of me is scared. I really, REALLY want to do what’s best and safest for my baby. There’s enough information out there for me to know intellectually that it’s ok to keep breastfeeding despite my surgery…but emotionally, I still worry.

I was pretty frustrated yesterday, and kept thinking I felt so good about nursing after seeing the pediatrician; why did the orthopedic surgeon have to make me feel so awful? Last night, though, I rocked my hot-as-lava baby, pushing her damp hair off her forehead and listening to her rapid, shallow breathing. She opened her tired eyes and looked at me, opened and closed her little hand in our sign for nurse. With her first swallow of milk, she sighed. Her whole body relaxed. The peace of that moment swirled up around us both. I no longer feel the sting of the second doctor’s words; in fact, I know now that nursing is how I’ll help explain to W that everything’s ok after my surgery. It’s how I’ll comfort her even though Mama won’t be able to bathe her or carry her, and even though Mama will be sleeping away from her for the first time ever.

That I’m still nursing my baby is not me trying to make a “statement” of any kind, or fit into a particular parenting philosophy. I’m not a “lactivist.” It’s just something we do when she asks, which isn’t often anymore, unless she’s sick. In answer to the second doctor’s question — WHY!? — I now have a response. We’re still nursing because it’s a phase of development that she’s still in. It’s like babbling, or crawling, or thumb-sucking. It’s something she’ll do for a while, but won’t do forever. I won’t push to extend this phase, nor will I try to curtail it. For now, it is something she needs, and that’s enough.

 

Post-Script — As I review this post before publishing, I am amused at how worried I was about nursing W despite my surgery. The general anesthetic won’t affect her at all; if it’s still in my system, I’ll be asleep. If I’m awake (and able to nurse her), it won’t be in my system anymore. With regard to the codeine…well, as I write this, W is sleeping on my lap, narked out on Vicodin because her blisters from hand-foot-mouth disease have gotten so bad. Before the Vicodin, they tried codeine. She’s been on the drugs for three days so far, and I expect we have at least another day of them. So, am I worried about the bit of codeine she’ll get via my milk for a few days? No.

 

What sorts of responses to breastfeeding have you had from healthcare professionals?

 

 

Kids and Peer Pressure

W and a little friend

Last weekend, W succumbed to peer pressure for the first time (that I know of). See, she’s been walking pretty well for about a month now, but she’s had herself convinced that she has to hold my hand to do it, even though I can tell she’s not relying upon me for help. Last weekend, though, we went the birthday party of one of W’s little friends, and there were lots of toddlers there. She started off walking the way she always has — holding my hand — but I could see her watching the other little ones. Oh, I could almost hear her thinking, is that what we’re doing now? And she let go of my hand and started walking on her own.

This got me thinking about two different things. First, even though W is closest emotionally to her daddy and me, she clearly identifies with other toddlers. After all, it wasn’t watching US walk solo that led her to take the plunge. Used to be, she thought she was a part of me (or I was a part of her); somewhere along the line, that changed, and I’m not sure precisely when. She’s clearly her own little person now, and what amazes me is that she knows she’s a little person. Not a big person, not a dog, not a unique life form. A little human. How amazing is it that she’s figured that out, even though she’s never been explicitly told, “You are a small human, and these other toddlers are also small humans. You are like them.”

The other thing W’s experience made me think about is how commonly we associate the term peer pressure with something negative. You know, the whole all the cool kids are doing it phenomenon, where the “it” is something they shouldn’t be doing, like having sex, or smoking, or consuming entire tablespoons of cinnamon at once.*

*Yes, this is apparently the new(ish) thing. And while I would be somewhat remiss if I didn’t mention that there’s the (remote) potential that trying to swallow a whole tablespoon of cinnamon could cause choking, lung irritation, or suffocation, I will say that as stupid, peer pressure-related behavior goes, this sort of amuses me. And for added parental convenience, engaging in The Cinnamon Challenge is its own punishment.

Anyway, humans are social creatures, so it doesn’t really make sense to talk about peer pressure as though it’s limited to isolated incidences, or to adolescence. In fact, much of the behavior in which we engage on a daily basis and throughout life is determined by social pressure to act in particular ways. Even within the confines of the more traditional definition, peer pressure exerts a positive influence on kids and teens just as much as or more than it exerts a negative influence. Among the various findings that demonstrate the positive power of peer persuasion (hooray for alliteration): “popular” kids feel peer pressure to perform in school and engage with family (Clasen et al); peer monitors are effective at helping to maintain order in the classroom (Carden Smith et al); peer-led education improves attitudes about asthma and compliance with treatment protocols (Gibson et al); peer pressure pushes adolescents to conform with socially-acceptable behavior (Urberg et al).

A major task of W’s infancy was learning that she had a body (and how to control it). I see very clearly now that as she enters toddlerhood, she’s learning that she has a self, a personhood, an identity that goes beyond the corporeal. Watching her develop a personal image and start to identify peers is delightful from a maternal perspective. From a scientific perspective, too, it’s fascinating. It’s amazing to me that we (humans) are at once so caught up in our own identities and the desire to stand out as individuals, and yet are so shaped — literally from our first steps — by observing and imitating the behavior of others.

 

What aspects of social development do you find fascinating?

 

References:

Carden Smith et al. Positive peer pressure: the effects of peer monitoring on children’s disruptive behavior. J Appl Behav Anal. 1984 Summer;17(2):213-27.

Clasen et al. The multidimensionality of peer pressure in adolescence. J Youth Adoles. 1985; 14(6):451-68.

Gibson et al. Peer-led asthma education for adolescents: impact evaluation. J Adolesc Health. 1998 Jan;22(1):66-72.

Urberg et al. Peer influence in adolescent cigarette smoking. Addict Behav. 1990;15(3):247-55.

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