I’ll have a cuppa

Last night was a tough night in the parenting trenches.  We’re waiting for little A-Rex to sleep through the night and last weekend he almost did it, going from 10:30 to 5:30am without a feed.  If you don’t have kids, this probably sounds awful.  If you have kids, this is bliss.  But then, probably because he’s only just turned 8 weeks old, he realised he probably still needs food at 3:30.  Waking up in the middle of the night every night is tough, and it’s even tougher when your little dinosaur likes to spend an hour snorting and stirring in his sleep.

So last night, MR said he would have A-Rex, and I could have a blissful night of uninterrupted sleep–until the Feliciraptor woke up as early as 6.  Still, as I’ve covered: bliss.

Except I got insomnia.  Despite being exhausted, my body is trained to wake at freaking 3 am, and when I heard my 8 week old dinosaur crying and snuffling, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I should be doing something.  Worse still, A-Rex was very fretful, and MR wide awake too.  Needless to say, we were exhausted.  My very kind sister-in-law agreed to have the kids this afternoon, but still, after they were asleep, I needed something warm and comforting to unwind.

So I reached for the kettle.

Growing up in America, my knowledge of tea was that the English were obsessed with it.  I didn’t really get it.  I liked iced tea, especially sweet tea, but hot tea I could take or leave.  My parents would sometimes make pots of loose leaf tea with a fancy infuser pot, and they would drink it black.  Sometimes I would have a cup, with some sugar.  I can still taste the watery, anemic blend Lipton uses.

Note: This is not tea. When you can drink it iced, something is wrong. If this is America’s favorite tea, no wonder Americans don’t get the tea thing. They don’t even have electric kettles.

On my second trip to England I had afternoon tea at the Savoy.  As it was a very posh hotel, the waiter pours your tea for you, and he offered to pour milk in my tea.  I put my hand over the cup, equal parts mystified and repulsed by the idea (remember, all I knew of tea was Lipton).  I sipped at my black tea for formality’s sake, but I was far more interested in the food.

Even when I got to know British people and was taught the correct way to drink tea (i.e. with milk, and proper tasting tea), I was a bit weirded out by the dipping of chocolate covered things in tea, like Tunnock’s caramel wafers, or chocolate covered digestives.  Surely chocolate and tea was a strange combination?  So I ate my digestives dry and didn’t think much of them.

A perfect tea accompaniment.

For a long time, I completely underestimated tea.  I didn’t have any good stuff, and so I couldn’t understand why tea was such a comfort when you’re tired or wet or cold or in need of a pick me up; warming and cheering all at once.  Now I drink Yorkshire Gold and know better than to order tea in the US–it’s either some herbal nonsense or Lipton.  When I go home, I pack my own teabags.  Obviously I drink it with milk–now I equate drinking black tea with drinking black coffee.  It’s certainly possible and sometimes done, but only by a select few who have particular tastes.

I’m becoming assimilated.  Tonight I reached for the kettle, brewed my tea in my tea-stained mug, and happily dipped my caramel wafer in it.  The warmth of the tea melted the chocolate and softened the wafer and caramel, and the sweetness of the treat was set off by the mellow, rich tea.  Coffee’s bitterness is stimulating, but tea hits a more calming note, particularly as I was drinking decaf.  I get why the English are happy to live up to this stereotype.

 

 

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Source: Underestimate

On the Shelf: parenting advice from Louisa May Alcott

Man, I love Little Women.  Ok, that’s an obvious statement, rather like saying ‘I enjoy breathing.’  I have yet to meet someone who’s read Little Women and not absolutely loved it.  Even Joey loves it:

What’s so great about the book is not only are the characters completely endearing, but the titular women in the story are way ahead of their time.  Ok, Meg, Jo, and Amy all end up with a guy, but their choices are theirs, and often unconventional.  Meg could have married Ned Moffatt and become a rich man’s wife, but she goes for John Brooke instead.  And one of the best moves in literature is Jo turning down Laurie.

I always loved the chapter ‘On the Shelf’, and it resonates even truer now that I am a parent.  In it, Meg is fretting over her twins playing mother-martyr and ignoring her husband, who looks for company (of a very platonic kind) elsewhere.  Meg eventually starts to miss him and get resentful, and Marmee tells her that John should have a hand in raising the kids too.  So Meg turns bedtime, which has heretofore been a struggle, over to her husband.  There is a battle of wills, but she wisely stays out of it, and ultimately Demi (their son) learns to go the f*ck to sleep, John gets more involved and stays at home more, and Meg is a hell of a lot less strung out..

We have a very skewed view of dads today.  They’re treated as secondary parents.  On sitcoms, even the progressive Modern Family, they’re the buffoons of the family who can’t do anything right (to be fair, I didn’t come up with that–I read it in an article once).  Then there are products like this:

Har har, Dad is so dumb he can’t do anything right!  He doesn’t know anything about childrearing.  You’re drunk, Dad.  Go play golf.

Except this becomes problematic for everyone.  Dads are marginalised in the family unit, and that’s a bad idea in general and especially when both parents work.  It leaves the mother playing the martyr role, taking on too much and trying to be superhuman when she is clearly a very regular human. (For the record, I absolutely see single moms as being superhuman because they have to play both roles.) Meanwhile, the kid never gets to feel the benefit of having both parents around and the family doesn’t come together as well.  I’m not sure why we treat dads as inept, but it’s a dumb idea which is seriously impairing the quality of family life and the equality of the sexes.  It implies that only women can rear children, and that’s problematic for a whole host of reasons.

Turns out, good ol’ Louisa May had the answer 150 years ago.  Let Dad help–he knows what to do.  It may not be exactly what Mom does, but it’ll get the job done, and just as well.  Then you can be a parenting team and make some serious strides for equality to boot, instead of being a martyr.  And being a martyr sucks because you work your butt off but no one thanks you for it anyway.

 

Postscript: For the record, MR is much more a John Brooke kind of dad.  He’s very involved, and it makes my life a lot more awesome.  Plus it’s super cute to see the Feliciraptor bond with him.  When his relatives comment in surprise about how involved he is, I stare at them in bemusement.  Of course he’s involved.  He’s her dad.

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Source: Shelf

The Doom Squad

The past month or so has been full of intense preparations for giving birth.  My nesting instincts kicked in, and I meticulously organized all the baby clothes and created a spreadsheet for all the things we need to buy.  MR and I attended a round of birthing classes, and I started hypnotherapy in an effort to calm down about the impending labor.  I have to say, the efforts have paid off well.  I was nervous about giving birth (honestly, who wouldn’t be?), but now I feel much more equipped for it.  Plus, the subsequent conversations with MR all this preparation inspired have made me feel even better.

By the time our last NCT class (or birthing class, for those of you in the States) rolled around, I was feeling downright cheerful about the whole thing.  I had labor in hand, I felt–I had an arsenal of pain relief techniques, and if those didn’t work, I had an epidural.  Whenever I went to appointments, the midwives always said I was doing really well, and I didn’t even have gestational diabetes, which I was sure I was going to get.  Things were going to be ok.

Except.

I’ve planned to breast feed for awhile, really for as long as I’ve been planning to have kids.  It just seemed like the best alternative.  I don’t pass any judgment at all on women who choose to bottle feed, but as they keep saying how breast milk is best, it’s something I thought I should do.  Also, nature seems to have over-endowed me in that area to the point where it’s a bit annoying, so I thought it would be nice to put the things to their natural use.

What I didn’t know was that apparently, it’s not as simple as it looks.  This seems a bit unfair as other milk producing mammals don’t seem to have issues.  Heck, humans make use of cow, sheep, and goat milk on a daily basis, which says they can produce enough milk for their offspring and then keep going.  As I learned more about breast feeding, though, I learned that humans, for some reason, don’t have it so easy.  On top of that, because we are self conscious, perhaps too much for our own good, there are all kinds of theories about it.  Science says ‘breast is best’ which makes sense, but then some people take it to a whole other level and say that those women who say they have production problems simply don’t want it enough.  That kind of language weirds me out, because it’s the kind of phrasing they use in the Olympics.  “She’s extraordinarily gifted, but you just don’t see her wanting it enough.”  But the last time I checked, there was no competition for breastfeeding, and it doesn’t get your face on a Wheaties box.  (Sidenote: Are Wheaties still around?  They tasted an awful lot like cardboard.)  So then there are all these levels of superiority, and judging, and the implication that women who breastfeed are better mothers and much closer to their babies.  It’s all a little too intense.

Admittedly, most of this I’m getting second hand, from a friend who struggled to feed and couldn’t manage it, and was subsequently subsumed by guilt and saw accusations towards bottle feeders everywhere, especially internet forums (never the place to go when you’re having a personal crisis).  I can’t say I blame her for getting upset over what she read and heard and perceived–this post is essentially the same thing.  Nonetheless, her reports were enough to start making me nervous, although I tried to say to myself that my experience may be very different, even when she was talking about how much you have to feed to keep your supply up.  Maybe I wouldn’t have issues with supply?

But then other reports started to come in.  Other women I knew who just had babies reported how hard and tiring breastfeeding could be.  Then our NCT classes confirmed: pretty much for the first twelve days, the baby wants to eat every two hours, and will take a long time to do so, so you barely get a break between feeds.  There are a vast number of scientific reasons for this: the baby is learning, the mother is learning, the milk supply has to balance out and meet the demand, but none of this reassured me.  Instead raw panic gripped me.  I was essentially going to be a cow, existing only to milk.  I couldn’t type on my computer, or sew, or crochet, or do anything but stare zombie-like at the television and hope to catch half an hour of shut-eye in between feeds.  Of all the things about motherhood, this is the one that actually terrified me.  MR said I was having an existential crisis about it, which I think is pretty accurate.  That description of barely sleeping and constant feeding made me feel like I would lose every ounce of who I am.  Maybe I would get it back as things started to even out, but a fortnight of losing all sense of self is a rather terrifying prospect.  For the first time I began to worry about getting post partum depression.

In thinking about it, I realized there’s a certain amount of betrayal in that description.  I need some hope at the moment, something to look forward to.  Labor is not an exciting prospect, however prepared I feel for it, and now that I’m counting down these last four weeks and three days, pregnancy is really getting old.  I’m constantly uncomfortable, and can’t really walk anywhere.  I’d like to be able to stand up without a monumental effort, or crouch down without my knees singing out in pain, or eat without having ferocious heartburn.  I can’t remember what it was like to have a normal body.  But the baby was going to be the payoff, and that was what I was hanging on to.  To hear that the first couple weeks with her will turn me into a zombie was crushing, especially as I do not like anything zombie related.  (No, I haven’t watched the Walking Dead, and I don’t plan to.  It’s really not my thing.)

MR has mentioned before how new parents *love* to give advice and get all wide eyed as they impart dire warnings of impending misery.  He also points out that despite this misery, people seem willing to subject themselves to parenthood multiple times over.  This is something of a paradox.  Except it’s not–people in general love to complain and feel uncomfortable gushing.  And so I don’t even know if ‘experienced’ parents realize what they’re doing to people who are about to become parents.  I mean, I know it’s not going to be a bed of roses.  I’m going to have to deal with a lot of crap, both literal and figurative in just over a month, and that will continue for the rest of my life.  But in a way, that’s kind of beautiful–this little person is coming into my life, and she’s never, ever going to leave it.  No matter what happens, no matter how much she or I screw up, I will always be her mother and she will always be my daughter.  It’s irrevocable.  Early adulthood is full of fragile human bonds that seem to break so easily–fights with friends, relationships ending, and there’s an amazing security of parenthood.

Which brings me to my point–this isn’t going to be a horror movie.  Yes, it will be hard.  I’ve never done anything like it before.  But I have been sleep deprived.  I’ve pulled all nighters to finish papers; I’ve been on many, many transatlantic flights where sleep was impossible.  And breast feeding is probably a lot easier to pull off on no sleep than making incisive points comparing the depiction of childhood in Dickens and Twain.  I just wish people would *say* that.  A little encouragement would go such a long way.  Not the grim “You’ll get through it” that people seem to espouse as some form of motivation.  It shouldn’t be that way.  Tell me it’s hard, that’s fine, but also tell me that there’s some magic in there, something good.  No, I may not be able to write, or do much of anything, but tell me that really seeing your baby’s face and seeing your own features or your partner’s reflected in it is incomparable.  Tell me how happy all the relatives will be to meet the baby.  Tell me that somehow it brings you and your partner closer.  Tell me something good, for Pete’s sake.  Don’t you think I need to hear it?

Ultimately it was MR who got me realizing that there would actually be good stuff in the midst of the two week haze.  He said that whenever he announced a happy change, it was always met with an exhale of air and some dire warning.  When he got engaged, everyone who was married said “There goes your independence.”  When we bought the house, all the homeowners said “There goes your money.”  I don’t know if this is a British thing, or just a people thing, but it made me realize–getting married was stressful (and was made more so by certain Departments of Immigration which may or may not be shut down by government crises at the moment), but even with all the planning and rushing around the two days before the wedding, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.  The best to date, really.  Moving house was again very stressful, and packing wasn’t much fun, but setting up our new house as distinctly ours was.  We bought all this great furniture and painted things how we liked them, and it felt really good to do that and build a home with someone.  And now I get to walk around the house and know that it’s *mine* (well, half of it anyway), and that I’m not answerable to any landlord.  So clearly the same is going to happen when we have this baby at last…isn’t it?  If you have any words of encouragement, I’d really like to hear them.