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Archive for February, 2009

What we REALLY need for baby

Around the time I gave birth to Beans (our first child), we began receiving a magazine in the mail called Parents.  We were in such a daze, so utterly sleep-deprived, blue (I was, anyway), and psychotic, that we actually thought this was a serious magazine.  But after a couple of months, it became clear to us that the articles were much more about products parents should buy than about mapping the choppy waters of first-time parenting.  (Parenting, it should be noted, is the name of another magazine, and one longer on substance than on product-pushing.)

We have come to the conclusion that first-time parents in America must be one of the most sought-after market shares in the commercial world.  They’re ignorant, vulnerable, stressed out, and looking for help wherever they can.  (At least we were.)  In short, First-time Parents = Suckers.

Seven years and three kids later, the Cap’n and I consider ourselves a little older and a little wiser.  In that time, we’ve moved twice, given away most of our baby things, and now only have a handful of odds and ends with which to furnish Bill’s babyhood.

We don’t miss all that stuff, and looking back now, realize how little of it we ever needed in the first place.  Here is a catalog of the stuff we had then, followed by what we actually think we need now:

Had then:
Carseat. Gotta have one of these.  It should meet minimum standards of safety, and that’s it.  Fancy brand names, upholstery, or other whistles-and-bells don’t matter.  For the forward-facing kind, we can probably get one without the cup-holders next time.
Crib. Tried to get the kids to sleep in it, with no luck.  There was no substitute for that warm piece of mattress next to Ima.  Besides, Dave Barry accurately states that cribs are for crying and going to the bathroom (and vomiting).  The car is where baby sleeps.
Bassinet. Borrowed one of these and returned it a few months later, practically unused.  Beans outgrew it before we could ever get her to sleep in it.
Baby-carriers. I wore our newborns in a sling, which made them feel squeezed together in the dark—a familiar feeling to a newborn.  But the Cap’n never got the knack and preferred the Baby Björn.  Once baby could hold her head up by herself and face out, she usually preferred it too.  From the time baby could sit up by herself, the backpack was the preferred mode of transportation for baby, with a sun/rain cover (very important in Massachusetts) and under-seat storage for diapers and wipes.
Stroller. Anyone with back problems is going to want one of these.  Ours was a fancy Italian one with pram option and a warm snap-on boot for winter.  As luxurious as it was supposed to be, it snagged on every blade of grass or crack in the sidewalk.  Something a little simpler and sturdier would have been better.
Play mat. This is a mat with arches over it from which to hang toys.  For a first child, or a second child whose elder sibling is not a good entertainer, this can keep baby occupied for anywhere from a few minutes to an hour (if baby manages to fall asleep playing).  It’s not necessary for Bill, who has three elder sisters to coo and dangle toys in his face.
Bouncy-seat. This was a good investment for us and was used by all three girls.  It was a metal frame with cloth covering holding a baby in a reclining position. It came with a toy bar and a vibrating feature to lull a fussy baby.  It took Beans and the others a while to get used to it, but it was usually good to plunk them into while we did dishes or a load of laundry.
Nursing pillow. This is a back-saver for the nursing mom (and probably of use to bottle-feeding parents too).  The more popular nursing pillow in my early nursing days was the C-shaped polyester-stuffed kind, but mine has loose filling which can be shaken to fill one end or the other of the pillow, elevating baby’s head on the side on which he’s nursing.
Changing table. I got one of these for free from another family in the States.  At the time I liked the formality of a place to change baby where baby was just the right height and I had storage space reserved for diapers, wipes, etc.  But we passed it on when we moved to Israel and wouldn’t have had room for it anyway, since there is barely enough room in a typical apartment here for closets (which are not built in as separate “rooms” as they are in the States, and therefore take up entire walls) and necessary furniture.
Baby bath tub. The kind that fasten onto the kitchen counter top with suction cups.  We used this once.  I found it more efficient to sponge bathe baby on the changing table until she was old enough to sit up in the bathtub.  This thing took up space and worse yet, it’s one of those things one really can’t pass on in the hygienically sensitive Western world.
Portable crib. As infants, the kids never had any interest in cribs, but when they were toddlers, the portable crib took on a whole new cache, and each in turn enjoyed sleeping in one either when we were on the road or when we had house guests and the child would give up her bed for someone else.
High chair. The Cap’n and I invested in what my parents called the Cadillac of high chairs when Beans was a baby.  It adjusts height-wise, tilts back for when baby falls asleep at the table (a breach of manners which happened with shocking frequency), and collapses to fit in a narrow space, out of the way.  But it also takes up about a square yard of floor space, is easily tripped over, and needs to be almost completely disassembled to be cleaned well.  If we had it to do over again, we would have bought a much simpler model, easier to clean.  Or even just a booster seat.
Baby swing. We borrowed one of these with a hand-crank for use on Shabbat.  It was great for a few minutes of entertainment, and sometimes for getting a fussy Beans to sleep, but when we returned it after she was done, we never borrowed it again for the other girls.  It took up too much space in our small condo, and we didn’t really miss it.
Booster seat. This is a great invention.  We got the kind that comes completely apart, straps and all, and when I want to clean it well, I disassemble it and throw the pieces in a warm, soapy bathtub for a good soak.  They come completely clean, reassemble in minutes, and it’s also extremely portable.  The tray isn’t as big as that of the high chair for playing with toys or crayons and paper, but it’s very serviceable nonetheless.
Diaper disposal system. We had one that took any garbage bag that fit.

Need now:
Carseat. This time around, we bought a rear-facing infant seat/carrier that clips into a stroller.  I’m not sure when we’ll use them together, but they were good-quality, second-hand and cheap.
Nursing pillow. I still have my faded-but-trusty one.
Baby rocking seat. Our old bouncy seat is long gone, but the Cap’n insisted we get something similar for Bill.  There are a couple of chain stores in Israel for baby things, one of which is called Doctor Baby.  The two baby chairs we had to choose from were the typical rectangular-shaped seat that reclines (separate adjustments for back and feet), or an oval-shaped seat that was displayed with the back upright and the footrest lowered, looking eerily similar to Dr. Evil’s chair in the Austin Powers movies.  We chose the rectangular chair, but the Cap’n has still dubbed it the Dr. (Evil) Baby seat.
Booster seat. We hung on to this and are glad we did.  A friend who had twins fed the babies in booster seats on the kitchen floor rather than investing in two high chairs.  Easy clean-up, easy on the budget.  (We still have the fancy high chair, too–not because we need it, but because it was so expensive.  I’ll eventually bring myself around to getting rid of it.)
Stroller. This is more so the Crunch girls can take Bill for walks and give me some relief.  The Cap’n and I wear Bill in the Björn when we take him anywhere, but the stroller will also be nice to have when he’s too heavy for the Björn.
Portable crib. This remains in storage for the time being (see my post on co-sleeping), but at some point perhaps I may transition him into it, then into the kids’ room to sleep.

For us, that was 15 items reduced to six.  (Clothing and diapers are non-negotiable, though the Cap’n likes to hold our newborns over the toilet several times a day.  He thinks it gets them used to the idea of using the toilet and saves the occasional diaper.  Infant potty training is big with him.)

There is very little that parents need to invest in, and some things on the market can be improvised with common household items.  We’ve created a bassinet by folding a blanket and putting it in the bottom of a rectangular laundry basket.  We’ve replaced the baby bath tub with a plastic laundry tub.  We’ve placed diaper changing kits on two of our four floors, containing diapers, wipes, and changing pads.  (Changing can take place on a bed, couch, or floor.)  Diapers can be thrown in a covered garbage bin which should be emptied frequently.  (Solid diaper waste can be dumped in the toilet before throwing away soiled diapers to spare the rest of the family from lingering noxious fumes.)

My overall message here is for parents to be conservative about what they spend on baby equipment.  It’s astounding the number of products invented and marketed to befuddled parents.  Rather than running out and buying the most elaborate equipment available, think about what you really need in a high chair, for example: What is it for?  What features are really necessary?  Where will it be used and stored (i.e. how much space does it take up?)  How easy is it to clean?  Is there anything simpler that could do the job just as well?  What do you think is a reasonable amount of money to spend on it?  Do you know anyone who has one to lend or sell for less money?  Ask a skilled veteran parent what they think of the model you’re considering and see what he or she says.

Children are expensive enough.  Better to put the money away for day school and college than to blow it on unnecessary baby equipment.

This post is based only on my experience and what I’ve seen other parents do.  Do you have any suggestions to help simplify the early child-equipping years?

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English rant #11: Possession

In my post entitled “Thank you,” I made an annoying grammatical error.  Did anyone catch it?  I wrote, “[T]hank the person for their gift and don’t mention what you did with it.”  See it?

The word their is a plural possessive pronoun, as in belonging to them.  The word person is singular, and calls for a singular possessive pronoun, i.e. his or hers.  Now do you see it?

I was once a barmaid in a pub in England (a long story for another time.)  I had a gay manager who would sometimes confide in me his romantic woes.  Since he wasn’t “out” to everyone in the pub, he would talk about his relationship partner using they and their rather than the person’s name.  Since this was to protect his privacy, I consider it an excusable grammatical infraction.

But under normal circumstances, one should choose a side of the gender divide and stick with it when using possessive pronouns for an unknown person.  I understand that gender in English is limited to masculine and feminine, and that there is no neutral ground.  This being the case, I recommend to all speakers of English to come up with a plan for possessive pronouns and stick to it.  Here are two suggestions:
1. Stick with (sexist) tradition and treat masculine as neutral (using his for all unknown persons) and feminine only for known females.
2. Let the sexes sort themselves, with men using him and his for all unknown persons, and women using her and hers.

One person remains one person and needs the singular.  Work it out, people.

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Sleeping with…Baby

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’m not a terribly crunchy person.  I stand by this, though I recognize that there are certain choices I make in regard to mothering that might give one a different impression.

I have chosen to stay home as long as I had babies and toddlers in the house.  This has put me out of the work force for nearly a decade, but since I’m not in a fast-paced career field, I’m not worried.  Baruch Hashem, the Cap’n’s salary is enough to keep us fed, housed, and clothed, they’re panting for English teachers in Israel whenever I choose to go back, and my children are more important to me than other people’s.  Call me selfish.

I nurse my children exclusively.  While this means no formula, it doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally make a desperate effort to get an infant to take pumped breastmilk in a bottle, always with zero success.  I also nurse discreetly in public.  Women in the modesty-obsessed Orthodox world go off to other rooms, drape blankets over their shoulders, and turn their backs to company when they nurse.  While this is okay, I think it calls unnecessary attention to the fact that one is breastfeeding.  With appropriate clothing, one can nurse a baby without looking like one is nursing a baby, and keep right on living without interruption.  I was once holding baby Beans in the cloakroom at our shul in America when a man came up to talk to me.  We chatted for a moment, then he looked down and started to stroke Beans’s head gently.  “Is she sleeping?” he asked.  “No, she’s nursing,” I answered.  The man’s smile disappeared, he colored slightly, then excused himself.  (Note to self: When someone asks if your nursing baby is sleeping, you say YES.)

And my babies sleep in my bed.

This last one is a controversial issue.  In America, I was scolded by Beans’s pediatrician for doing Beans a “disservice” and not sleep-training (aka Ferberizing) her.  Here in Israel, too, co-sleeping seems to be rare.  The children’s health clinic nurse asked at what temperature “his room” is kept, making the assumption that Bill sleeps in a different room.  She gave us a SIDS talk in which she stated firmly that he should sleep on his back on a hard mattress, NOT with his mother.

In my opinion, the people who should sleep on their backs on hard mattresses far away from any comfort are convicted murderers.

Given my experience of nighttime parenting, I’ve never understood having baby sleep in a crib in another room.  My newborns wake up every two hours to eat, and somehow the room in which I sleep is always the coldest room in the house (great if I’m in bed, not great if I’m having to get out of bed multiple times per night).  If the baby is in the bed with me, I don’t have to get up at all; I simply plunk the little runt on the breast and go back to sleep.  Baby’s fed, warm, comfortable, and happy, and I’m not making regular trips in the cold to a crib somewhere to fetch a hungry little malcontent every few hours.

People ask all the time, “But don’t you worry about rolling over onto the baby and crushing it?”  No.  I’ve slept beside another human being for nearly nine years, and the Cap’n can attest that I have yet to roll over and crush him.  Don’t most adults know where the edge of the bed is, and successfully avoid falling out at night?  A baby is the same.  My friends who co-sleep with their babies agree with me that our awareness of the baby in the bed compromises the quality of our sleep to a degree, but isn’t that part of the experience of being a parent of a newborn?  Show me a mother who has crushed her baby in bed and I’ll show you a mother who went to bed inebriated.

This post is not intended to persuade people who are sold on cribs to give them up, but there are certain advantages to co-sleeping that are worth noting.  Babies breathe better when sleeping next to someone else who is breathing.  (This can help babies with apnea jump-start their own breathing.)  They settle down and go back to sleep faster.  They sleep on their backs and sides more often than babies who sleep in cribs and can roll over onto their stomachs.  And for mothers who work and are away from their babies for much of the day, co-sleeping can be a way to share closeness with their babies during the time they’re together.  (These ideas are articulated on the website of my own parenting gurus, the Sears family.  The article about co-sleeping is here.  Google “co sleeping baby advantages” for more information about the benefits of sleeping together for mother and baby.)

In the interest of full disclosure, I never planned to co-sleep with my babies.  When my in-laws came to visit before Beans was born, they took us out and bought a lovely cherry crib.  But the night Beans was born in the hospital, the Cap’n and I watched her, swaddled but wide awake, gazing at us with her large navy-blue eyes through the glass side of the bassinet, and couldn’t bear to have her sleep alone in a hospital-issue Pope-box.  The Cap’n lifted her out and gave her to me to cuddle in my capacious hospital bed, and the rest was history.

Whenever I encounter someone who tries to tell me that I’ve done something seriously wrong as a parent, that I’ve screwed up or was irresponsible (and believe me, co-sleeping has earned me lots of raised eyebrows and scoldings), I remember my American OB-GYN who gave me heaps of good advice in the years he cared for my health.  Perhaps the greatest thing he told me was that “The best parenting book you can read is the one you write yourself.”

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Mashiach now?

The Jewish people know that the long wait for the Mashiach is full of hopes and disappointments.

There was Shabtai Tzvi, about a dozen just like him.  But he wasn’t the one.

There was the year Oreos became kosher.  No Mashiach.

For those of us from Newton, Mass., there was Julie’s Kitchen, a restaurant/takeout joint with scrumptious, gourmet-quality meat, dairy, and fish options.  Still no Mashiach.

All of these heralded new hope that our redeemer was nigh.  Yet he continues to tarry.

My latest hope comes with the Israeli deli meat brand Tirat 123: beef prosciutto.  Most Jews, especially those who eat only traditional Jewish cuisine, probably don’t fully appreciate the import of this.  Allow me to explain.

My earliest acquaintance with prosciutto was purely rhetorical.  My father, who had done a stint in the U.S. Navy, had had an Italian American friend who shared with him all kinds of Italian culinary wisdom, such as the fact that pasta e fagioli should be made thick enough for a spoon to stand in upright, a colander was called a macaroni-stay-water-go (according to his grandmother), and prosciutto should be sliced “so thin it’s only gotta one side.”

The first time I tasted prosciutto was at a Monterey, Calif., restaurant called the Whaling Station Inn.  The restaurant’s Italian menu had a number of appetizers, but my favorite was the wedge of cantaloupe melon served with a slice of prosciutto on top.  The combination of sweet and salty flavor was irresistible.

The problem, of course, is that prosciutto is ordinarily made from ham, and thus off limits for the last quarter of my life.  I cannot count the number of recipes I’ve purged from my pre-kosher days, or ruefully passed over, because prosciutto was an essential ingredient.

But no more.  Melon and prosciutto is back on the menu for summer Shabbat appetizers, Italian pasta salad (with basil and cherry tomatoes) now has a new ingredient, and deli sandwiches will never be hum-drum again.  I can’t wait to see what the latest edition of The Joy of Cooking suggests for prosciutto recipes.

Makes me want to burn a candle in the window.  Mashiach’s gotta be out there somewhere.

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Inspired by the recent report of a spousal beheading in Buffalo, NY, I hereby present a double-post on a related theme:

I’ve only written a handful of letters to the editor in my life.  Something has to really bug me to get me to sit down at the computer and set out to prove someone else wrong.

One time when I actually sat down and went to town was after the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl z”lThe Boston Globe had crassly referred to his “decapitated head.”  I and everyone else know what they meant—the head without the body.  But it’s not only grisly, it’s wrong.  You can’t take the head off someone’s head.

When the head and body are separated from one another, the head becomes disembodied and the body is decapitated.  Thus, the fiery head that appears to Dorothy and her friends in the film The Wizard of Oz is disembodied, while the Headless Horseman that haunts the pages of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is decapitated.

I haven’t found an expression that describes the unhappy situation of Nearly Headless Nick in the Harry Potter series.  If anyone else knows one, please chime in.

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A tough job

The Cap’n called my attention to a recent news item about a Muslim television executive who set out to combat negative images of Muslims in the media through programming on his Buffalo, NY, station.  It seems that since 9/11, Muzzammil Hassan was distressed at the stereotypes and bad press Muslims were getting in the West.  Supported by his wife Aasiya Hassan, this couple hoped to pave the way to a kinder, gentler image of Islam in the United States and Canada.

That is, until the other day, when he reported to the police that his wife was dead at the TV station.  Police arrived at the station to find his wife’s body on the floor, with its head nearby.

So much for THAT project.

In the restrained early press releases, no one is pinning this murder on culture or religion.  Law enforcement is limiting itself to calling this an extreme case of domestic violence.  One Muslim interviewed says that this sort of behavior is strictly forbidden by Islam.  The fact that Mrs. Hassan had recently filed for divorce and a protective order against her husband is being seen in a Western light (he was upset) rather than an Oriental one (he was pissed off and wanted to save face).

That this was very likely an honor killing was ignored or denied by everyone mentioned in the articles except Marcia Pappas, New York president of the National Organization for Women.  Plenty of people will look at Pappas’s statement and think, “She’s a Westerner.  She doesn’t understand Pakistani culture.  She’s a hysterical feminist.”

But one doesn’t have to be a hysterical feminist to point the finger at barbarism practiced by Muslim men against women.  From where do female suicide bombers come?  Out of the midrasas?  There are no women studying in midrasas.  What would inspire a woman to strap explosives to her body and blow herself up?  Two possibilities that come up in recent articles about women suicide bombers include depression and rape.  The BBC and the Huffington Post report on a woman arrested recently for her work cooperating with Islamic militants in Iraq, recruiting young women to act as suicide bombers.  Seeking out women suffering from depression, or counseling women who had been raped and then sent to her for “matronly advice,” she would try to persuade all of them to become suicide bombers—to give their lives deaths meaning, or to reclaim their lost honor.

These stories, combined with the abuse of civilians by Hamas in the recent Gaza War (i.e. booby trapping their homes, using them as human shields, dragging screaming children to the front with them in the hope of producing “collateral damage” at the hands of the IDF), show that it ain’t easy to make Muslims look good in the press.  But it would be a lot easier if they actually WERE good.

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Babies: The universal language

The Cap’n and I had some shopping to do in Jerusalem today, so we packed up Bill, a few baby supplies (roughly equivalent to the volume of Bill himself) and drove off to the Big City.  In the course of the morning, we had four interactions centering around our newborn that are both universal and uniquely Israeli.

We had browsed for about twenty minutes in a lighting store, and by the time we left, the heat of all the lights was starting to get to Bill and me.  (I felt as though I had a roasting turkey strapped to my front.)  We were both relieved to get out into the fresh air on this pleasant, not-so-wintry (mid-50s Fahrenheit) day.  It took all of 30 seconds for an Israeli woman to approach me with a solicitous look on her face.  “Do you speak Hebrew?” she asked.  I answered yes.  She asked, “Don’t you think he needs a hat on his head?  It’s so cold out…”  (People often catalog this among a handful of quintessential Israeli conversations.)

Trolling down the frozen food aisle, an elderly woman came up to the Cap’n (who had assumed his turn carrying the turkey) and said, “I’m sorry, it’s just too much.”  Prepared for another tongue-lashing for dressing my newborn inappropriately, I asked, “What is just too much?”  She beamed, reached out, and gently grasped Bill’s hand.  She asked how old he is, if we were Jews (so she could wish us mazal tov), and told us she has great-grandchildren.  She wished us a long life of nachas from him.  (We don’t ordinarily like to encourage strangers to touch our baby’s hands without washing theirs first, but she got to him first.)

Waiting in line, there was a young man who asked how old Bill was.  Once we had corrected him on Bill’s sex (like most people, he took Bill’s supposedly gender-neutral purple fleece and his sisters’ hand-me-down hot pink hat as evidence of Bill’s femininity), we went through the usual baby conversation.  He told us he has a five-month-old, asked where we’d given birth, was interested to hear Bill had been born at home, etc. etc.

Also waiting in line were a half dozen Arab women, one of whom was holding a baby perhaps six months old.  Smiles were exchanged, I nodded approvingly to their very cute boy and said, “HE has a hat!”  They cooed and murmured in Arabic, indicating Bill.  It drove home the point that I often sense living here: that on an individual basis, most people co-exist fairly amicably here, with Jews and Arabs working and shopping in the same places.  It’s just the big picture that gets troublesome.  I looked at these two little boys, only a couple of months apart in age, and the thought occurred to me that they could someday end up on opposite ends of a battlefield.  (One of my first thoughts when Bill was born was, “We have a soldier.”)

But for now, at least, we can ooh and aah over them, and relish the small things like standing in line together at the grocery store.

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