April 28, 2010

Cloth Diapers

Here at casa SuperMommy, we use cloth diapers. We subscribe to a service, which I will explain in a minute. Just know to start- a diaper service is amazing. And affordable.

We put a lot of thought into whether or not to do this, as it seemed like a pretty big deal. After all, disposables are easy. Very, very easy. However, they are wasteful and expensive and we were going to be using a lot of them.

After all, the average newborn uses about 80 a week, and we were having twins.

In the end, we settled on cloth for a few reasons. The first was that I really care a great deal about the amount of garbage we create- it's amazing how much you throw away! The second was that I had no idea how much cheaper it would actually be. Best of all, there are a few really big perks to cloth diapering.

Cloth diapers are pieces of folded cloth. And you have no idea how useful it is to just have a cloth around. To wipe up baby's butt, her nose, her vomit... Yeah, rags are good. And the service doesn't care what you use them for. Just so long as you don't destroy or lose them.

Cloth diapered babies get fewer rashes. This is for a few reasons, they let you know sooner when they're wet, so they don't get as irritated. Also, you can leave the cover off if a rash is forming, allowing the skin to breathe very well, and letting it heal faster. You don't get that kind of option with a disposable.

Biggest perk perhaps of all? Cloth diapered kids toilet train faster. They are constantly more aware of their bodily functions, and as a result learn to control them sooner. We're not there yet, but I'm looking forward to it!

Cloth diapering is not carbon neutral. Nor is it particularly great for the environment. After all, you're using soap to clean the diapers, you're using bleach to sterilize them, and you're using water to rinse them. All of that creates waste, and most of it uses electricity. This is one of the reasons I like the service so much. The volume of diapers cleaned at once reduced the impact of each individual diaper. Yes, that's slightly offset by the delivery driver shuffling diapers from place to place, but the route is well organized and essentially works out to one big loop each day. Far less than the trip to the laundrymat for each participating family, or even the added volume of a vast number of washers and dryers running constantly.

We pay significantly less than a dollar a diaper. Most of the investment in cloth diapering is in the covers- known by our parents as "plastic pants." Plastic pants they are not, they're much more breathable and comfortable than the versions from the '70s, but they do tend to get pricey. You'll need as many as three a day, so when considering how many to buy you should decide how often you do baby laundry. We do it about every other day, so we like to have at least 10 covers for the two girls.

There are a lot of varieties, and they all have perks. There are covers that are more flexible, that are more waterproof, that adjust to fit more sizes... you can get all-in-one diapers that you can also use as covers, and then when you go on vacation use as whole diapers. There are covers that withstand multiple washings admirably, and there are some you have to wash very carefully. There are really plain covers, and there are really cute ones. You can spend anywhere from $10-$20 on a cover, but it's worth it. Each cover will last the baby more than 3 months, like a VERY flexible article of clothing. And of course, if you have another baby you don't need to buy additional covers- you're already got it... well... covered.

We LOVE our service! They come by on Sunday, pick up our soiled diapers, and drop off fresh ones. We get more than we need, because our personal laundry loads can go down. If we use service diapers for wiping up big baby messes, our personal load goes down, and we're still saving a ton of money. Our diapers run us about twenty cents apiece, so if we use an extra ten or twenty, we really hardly care. That's an extra load of laundry we're not doing at home, and anything that makes our lives easier generally makes us better parents.

If you let your friends and family know, they can order your service for you as a shower gift, or for baby's birthday, or any old reason.

Disposable diapers still have their place. We keep them in the diaper bag for when we're out of the house. It's much easier to be able to toss them on the go than to cart a bag of poop and wet cloth everywhere in the car. But going on a long vacation, you can bring cloth diapers with and clean them at a laundrymat. It's still cheaper than disposables, and so much better for the environment.

We also use disposables at night, for the time being. It keeps the babies asleep a little better, because they feel dry longer. Once in a while we let them stay in cloth for the night, but these days our sleep is too precious to give up that daily disposable.

Our service is called Bottoms Up, and it covers the entire Chicagoland area as well as southeast Wisconsin. I can't recommend them highly enough.

April 22, 2010

Naked Babies

My children love being naked. Honestly, six months and going on seven, and they're never happier than when they're nude.

Unfortunately, it's been winter and spring in the midwest, and that means that a naked baby gets kind of chilly before too long. So the opportunity to spend more and more time without clothes has been a very happy development.

Along with the nicer weather has come an unwelcome friend- diaper rash. Poor little SI has very sensitive skin and sleeps like a log, so the other day she woke from an 11 hour nap with the nastiest diaper rash I have ever seen. Cracked, bleeding sores on her rear. As you can imagine, she was not happy. I spent half the day trying a few different ointments, changing her CONSTANTLY, and attempting to distract her from her pain, before the cure presented itself.

It should have been so obvious... remove the diaper.

She's been completely pantsless for nearly two days, and I have never seen her this happy. Not only happy, but active! Generally she couldn't care less about things like rolling over or collecting her toys into a heap. But without pants?


I'm inclined to put her back into a diaper once it's all healed, but I might abandon the rest of her clothes for the season. After all, she is so freakin' happy.

Such a simple thing- you take away the clothes, and life becomes so much more peaceful...

April 19, 2010

Complete and Utter Failure

Yesterday was to be my new beginning. I would rise from the ashes of my former mediocrity, splendid and clean, and be a perfect person.

I had a perfect schedule, and it looked precisely like this:

Nurse babies, start making baby food, start soaking beans
Spend 1+ hours in the garden
Make breakfast, clean up after breakfast
Do 2+ loads of laundry, meanwhile clean ferret cage and cat box
Make lunch, clean up after lunch, nurse babies, start ice cream
Finish bar mitzvah dress, start next occasion dress
Spend 1+ hour in garden
Make dinner, clean up after dinner
Bathe babies, shower
Nurse babies and put them to bed
Do homework
Eat dessert/clean up after dessert
Brush teeth
Go to sleep

Good day, right?

I am learning something about the best laid plans of mice... Life is more complicated every year. I woke up with my glands so swollen I could hardly turn my neck, so of course I nixed the first part of my morning to get a little more sleep.

I managed to make all three meals, and clean up after two of them. I got the laundry done. And that is all.

In the middle of the afternoon, some friends stopped by unexpectedly, and we spent the evening entertaining.

And that was my day. No shower, no baby baths, no time in the garden, homework undone, dresses unfinished and unstarted, and a sink full of dirty dishes at the end of the day.

Today I'm feeling a lot better, still achy and swollen glanded (if that's a word), but I feel that I'm capable of a lot more in the stuff-accomplishing department.

So today I'm still resting so as not to get actually sick. And tomorrow I have class, so I won't be attempting my grand day of living up to my expectations then either. Not to mention that it's my birthday, and who the hell wants to spend their birthday WORKING AS HARD AS THEY CAN?

Maybe Wednesday will be better. Maybe Wednesday I can finally do everything. Perfectly. And look beautiful doing it.

...thus continues the vicious cycle of my self abuse. And now, off to remove the feces from my daughter's rear.

April 16, 2010

Guilt and Expectations

I had insomnia as a kid. And my family had cable. This shaped a great deal of my deepest psyche. When you're eight years old and you can't sleep for days on end, you enter a state of semi-consciousness wherein experiences seem to completely bypass awareness and just sort of become fact. The problem with cable in the early nineties and... well... always, is that the programming is lousy. But we had one amazing channel that miraculously didn't shift over to paid programming in the wee hours of the morning. Nick at Night. Not only did it not shift over to paid programming, there were the EARLY Nickolodeon shoes starting around 4:30am, Mr. Wizard and whatnot. CLASSIC children's television.

I had the schedule of shows memorized. And by the time I was twelve, I yearned for the days of previous syndicated programming- I missed F Troop and The Dick Van Dyke Show when they switched over to Taxi and I Dream of Jeannie.

I still have the theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show memorized, despite the fact that I probably haven't seen a full episode in well over a decade.

So as I lay on the couch, not asleep or awake, I watched classic television. I wanted to be Patty Duke. I wanted to be Elizabeth Montgomery. I wanted to grow up and be just like Susanne Pleshette.

I have a feeling that these absurd heroes are responsible for my insane expectations for myself.

What kind of mother actually manages to keep the house clean? And not just superficially clean, TV clean. What mom actually manages to make dinner every night? What mom looks beautiful and smells great and has a delicious meal on the stove that you can eat off the sparkling floor?

That said, my house shouldn't reek of animal feces, right?

We have acquired a babysitter. I adore her- she's great with the babies, she really loves them, they love her, and she's almost always available.

She is rapidly becoming our money pit. I can leave the babies with her, and DO things! I can clean the dishes! I can clear the table! I can throw away the accumulated garbage all over the living room!

Of course, aside from the fact that our babysitter is now making more money than we are, there's the guilt. I have the overwhelming sensation that I need to do these things all on my lonesome. That for thousands of years women have successfully run their households without hiring additional help.

Then I remind myself that the conventional middle class family unit has only existed for a handful of decades. I don't have my mother or in-laws living with me to help me out with this stuff, and I have lot more stuff to take care of. Like keeping up with the ol' blog, eh?

I'm not a fancy-pants landowner with a house full of serfs to do my bidding. Neither am I living in the woods making annual pilgrimages to the general store for calico. (When not watching classic TV, I read the Little House books. Surprise!)

I've cultivated all of those skills, though, so I feel I should be capable. I should be able to start soaking the beans first thing in the morning, work in the garden for a few hours, do the laundry, cook lunch, do the dishes, mend and alter the family's clothes, go back to the garden to collect dinner ingredients, make dinner, clean up after dinner, and then tidy up the house before bed. And there's no reason I shouldn't find time to blog or whip up a painting once or twice a month. Or get my homework done for class. All the while, having my husband aid and abet me in the lugging of things to the places where they live, the shuffling of garbage to the dumpster, the changing and feeding of babies, and the distraction of said children as all other tasks are accomplished.

Yeah, my expectations aren't high at all.

As an experiment, I'm going to have the day I've described above on Sunday. I would say that I'd do it tomorrow, but I have other commitments outside the house tomorrow. I'm helping a friend make the favors for her wedding.

Yeah... my modern life and my ideal of housewifery don't at all add up, do they?

So I ask of the universe, what does it mean to be a mother anymore? Am I a failure for letting the cat box go another day without being cleaned? Surely not. Surely success is a vaguer concept than that. Surely I'm not failing in my maternal duties by watching dust bunnies accumulated behind my toilet.

I'm sure you've gotten to the root of this rambling by now. I am riddled with guilt for not meeting my absurd expectations. I am wracked with self loathing for my undone to-do list. I go to bed each night clicking my tongue at myself. I walk down the hall mentally pointing to things as if to say, "And you didn't do that either, did you?"

Donna Stone would have cleaned the catbox. Laura Petry would have bathed the kids. Emily Hartley would have made dinner. Samantha Stevens would have cleaned the house- WITHOUT magic! And they all would have looked beautiful doing it.

Tomorrow I'm not going to get most of the things done that I need to do, and I accept that about most days. Am I going to write an email to my professor about the extra book he wants me to read? Am I going to clean the ferret cage? Am I going to put away the laundry? Am I going to finish the sample painting for a prospective client? Am I going to put any work into my dresses for my slew of summer weddings? Am I going to make dinner?

I'm going to guess that tomorrow I'll be 0 for 6. But I'll give that Sunday schedule a shot.

If I survive it, I'll let you know how it went on Monday.

April 13, 2010

Black Eyes and Bumped Heads

At six and a half months old, my two daughters have had a combined total of 4 falls. And by falls, I mean that a grown-up in charge wasn't entirely paying enough attention, and as a result a baby got bonked.

After the first time, my parents reassured me that no matter how careful you are, your baby is going to get thunked once in a while. And that chances are very high that they'll be just fine.

Today, poor DD and my poor husband had a bit of a rough day. DD has been bouncing like mad, throwing herself around in a comical and nerve wracking way. Today, she managed to throw herself completely out of daddy's arms while he was trying to seat her in her swing.

She gave herself a bit of a black eye, and poor daddy... I can't tell you the last time I saw him that upset.

Oh wait- I can. About five hours later, he was trying to pick up both daughters at once (a feat that is just as difficult as it looks on most occasions) and the front of her overalls unsnapped, dumping her onto the floor from the very same swing. As if that's not bad enough, she hit her head DIRECTLY onto the metal base of the swing.

Of course, she's fine. But that didn't stop her poor father from having a near total breakdown. It would really have been quite sweet, if it weren't for the sobbing baby and husband part.

I did the only thing I could do. Give both parties a nice big hug and kiss, provide the husband with a simple task to perform as a distraction, and feed the baby.

Yes, my Jewish upbringing comes to the surface again. Any wrong can be righted with food. DD got a banana, but I have a feeling that in a few years I'll have to up the ante. I have this lofty goal that I won't just pass out candy like... well... candy. But my "here-feel-better-now" snacks all fall into the carbohydrates and sugar end of the spectrum.

Therefore, I have constructed my grand solution. A cup of tea, and then we MAKE cookies. Because then what makes us feel better isn't so much the food, as the doing. Who knows? Maybe someday we'll evolve to making salads instead.

DD is sitting o my lap now, as it happens. gleefully pounding the space bar. All of the spaces in this sentence? Those were hers.

April 12, 2010

"Breast is Best" v. Hysterics

I went into parenthood DETERMINED to nurse my children. I didn't know how long I would do it, and I still have no real concept of when that will end. We're going strong at 6+ months, and the pediatric recommendation is a full year, but my understanding is that children generally self wean between 8 and 18 months old. Yeah, big window.

The global average for length of nursing is actually four years, but that's the GLOBAL average. By most accounts, a majority those children would have been long weaned if there was anything else to feed them. Or any other available method of birth control. Breast milk is amazing, and has health properties that we're only just beginning to uncover. Did you know that you can use breast milk to treat throat cancer? I digress...

I had set myself a six month goal for nursing my babies. I figure, six months is pretty damn good, and nursing twins is HARD, right?

Good lord... I had no idea.

You see a little cat with a litter of six kittens just serenely laying there while the babies nurse away and you think, "That's the simplest, most natural thing in the world!" No. Absolutely not. Nursing is HARD, nursing is COMPLICATED, and human babies- unable to hold up their heads, roll over, or smile at you in thanks, can hurt your poor breasts more than you can possibly imagine.

One word. Suction. Suction is amazing. Using suction, you can life massive weights. You can clean your carpets. You can cause hematomas.

Babies develop the sucking instinct around 35 weeks gestational age. That means that if your baby is born full term, they shouldn't have too much trouble sucking that milk out.

The thing is, new babies are not patient. And they don't empathize (yet). And they have no concept of their mother as a human being. No, to a newborn baby, mommy exists for baby's warmth, comfort, and food. And baby will take what's theirs.

A newborn will latch hard, badly, and start sucking. If they're not getting enough, they might BITE you. HARD. And the fact that there are no teeth in that little jaw is irrelevant. That's the strongest muscle group in their bodies.

So imagine for a minute that you have a vice, attached by suction, clamping on your VERY tender nipple. Because you get all sore just for this very special moment. Now imagine that they're PUSHING YOUR NIPPLE AWAY as hard as they can, while maintaining that amazing suction. Oh yes, you'll survive. But never forgetting this ominous phrase- "Permanent nipple damage." Because pulling out your nipple without breaking suction? Oh yeah. Bad.

And there's always insult to the injury. When your nipples are black and blue, swollen and sore, that's when you're most likely to get an infected or clogged milk duct. And the best way to fix that? Yeah, more nursing.

From most of the moms I talk to, my assertion that it takes 4 months to "establish nursing" is just about right. You got that, four months of this. And they'll lull you into a false sense of security. You'll think that two weeks of perfect nursing means that you're finally through it all, that now you can lie back like the little kitty and let nature do it's beautiful thing. And that's when the growth spurt kicks in and the little bugger starts mutilating you again.

Then you have your loved ones weighing in. They hear you scream with pain, or see your breasts swollen with mastitis, and they tell you that it's okay to stop. This is what formula is for, and you've done your best but it's okay to just go ahead and give the baby a bottle. But you don't. Because you're going to be the best effing mother ever, and god damn if you're going to let something like half an hour of agony eight times a day stop you. And all that tension makes it impossible for you let let down, and you just get hurt more and more and more, and then you start to cry.

And crying will save you. Because those hormones that make you cry also make the milk come. And starting one kick starts the other. So you sob, weep, wail, and curse, and then the baby eats. Oh, it still hurts, but at least you're fulfilling your biological duty.

You will freak out your co-parent. You will freak out your baby. But hell, what do your tears matter? The tears of a mother are irrelevant- you cry so that baby doesn't have to. You brought that baby into the world in pain, and with pain you'll keep it here so help you.

...I understand Jewish grandmothers more every day.

But it ends. Nursing becomes established. And the clogged ducts and the purple nurples cease. And you're left with the weaning question.

I had decided that "at least six months" was a good goal. But if it takes four or five months to get good at it, why stop right away? I mean, a four month investment for a two month return? Screw that. I'm nursing until either they self wean, or they can walk up to me and ask me to nurse them. Because that's when things will start getting awkward.

And now, when they're teenagers and I won't let them borrow the car, I can tell them it's because I nursed them through all the pain and mastitis and that they can go ahead and give that a shot if they want to go to Julie's cabin in the woods.

April 11, 2010

Parenting Hurdle- Sleeping

I've been a parent for a solid six months plus, and during that time I have had two infants. Therefore, I feel it safe to claim that I have been parenting infants for over a year.

And of course, this makes me an expert.

Before becoming a parent, I had one great fear. One that I am sure is shared by all parents-to-be world over. That is, the fear that one will never have a full nights of sleep again, will never feel well rested, and will never wake up leisurely in their beds with nothing but the morning sun in their eyes and the sound of chirping birds in their ears.

To be fair, that last part will probably never happen. I don't know about you, but just having stuff to do on a regular basis kept me from having those lovely luxurious mornings. But hey, there's always Mother's Day, right?

As for feeling well rested and actually getting that full night's sleep on a regular basis- it can happen. Hell, it WILL happen. And I have learned that with a few tricks and a little flexibility, there's no reason it shouldn't happen AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. So without further ado, my prescription for a sleeping baby for a whole night.

To start, you keep your expectations for those first two months as low as you can. Babies don't like coming out of the womb, in my nigh year of experience, and they're going to wake up. Viciously, as though they know that you're finally having a nice time without them. But this is a short lived phenomena. From the time they weigh about ten pounds, or are two months old, there's no reason they shouldn't sleep through the night.

Keep them in your bedroom at night for the first two months. You'll get to know their patterns, you'll get to know their noises, you'll get to keep checking on them to make sure they're breathing (you know you will, you crazy-ass mamas). Keep them in the room with you for those two months, and you'll feel more and more confident that they're still breathing when you're not looking, that they're not going to wake up, and that they're not missing you while they're sleeping.

A key to getting babies to sleep in the first place- learn to swaddle your baby. Swaddling will save you over and over again, and until the baby is routinely kicking the swaddle off in the night, it is safe to lay them in their crib wrapped in a blanket. A small, thin, swaddling blanket. Not an afghan or comforter.

Whenever you put them in the crib, turn on some white noise. A radio tuned to static, a constantly running El outside the window... we like a sound machine playing the sound of the ocean. That white noise will save your life.

Decide on bedtime based on THEIR patterns. Which brings me to my first General Rule of Parenting: You are not in charge of your children. You got that, you're not in charge. You might get to be someday soon, but until you have ANY way of genuinely communicating with them, the only thing you can do is respond. So get over it, and learn to bend over backwards for a few months. And yes, this General Rule will be absolutely contradicted in the future.

The chances are very good that your baby will want to go to sleep for the night between 8pm and 10pm. And anytime in that window is fine. I don't recommend going too much earlier, because you'll be awake that much earlier, but whatever works for you is what will work.

Now that you know when you two month old's bedtime is, your baby is swaddled, you have your white noise, and you know that your baby will sleep peacefully for at least a few minutes, you want to stretch that few minutes into a full night.

Start by feeding the baby until they will not eat any more.

Before the shout-down begins, hear me out.
Infant eating habits do not dictate lifetime eating habits. What is good for an infant might not be good for a grown up, but you must keep in mind the second General Rule of Parenting: Whatever keeps you functional is by default good parenting. So yeah, you're going to stuff your baby silly.

If you're nursing exclusively, you might find this an odd bit of advice. How can you keep offering food if you can't actually control what you're producing? Ah, but you can! In the evenings, you must pump after each feeding! Your breasts accommodate the demand placed on them. Most women find that they produce less milk in the evening to begin with, so from the get-go, if you want that early sleep, you should be pumping after each post meridial feeding. This way, you'll be producing more and more in the evenings, giving you the opportunity to stuff that baby silly come bedtime.

The controversial part. Consider adding a bottle of formula anyway. Formula is harder to digest, meaning that babies feel fuller longer. Yeah, I know, 100% formula is best. But you know what's better? Having a full night of sleep that lets you deal with the screaming and vomiting and diapers the next day. Because you're not hurting your baby by giving them a bottle. When they ONLY get a bottle at the end of the day, they're not associating it with giving up the breast, they're associating it with a full night's sleep.

Yes yes yes, breast is best. But better than ideal nutrition for your baby is a mommy who can be SuperMommy all freakin' day the next day, because she's had enough sleep. Because it doesn't matter how nutritional your food is when the grown up taking care of you is huddled in a corner sobbing and eating cheese curls because they have no idea why they thought they could be a mother. The more functional you are, the better off your child is. Period.

Really don't want to do formula? Go ahead and offer expressed milk. In a cup or in a bottle, but either way- get a bottle that's as breastlike as you can. Stay away from Dr. Brown styles, it's wrong philosophy entirely. I would recommend the Adiri company's Natural Nursers, but they sadly succumbed to the poor economy a few months ago. There are similar styles out there, though, and there's always overstock.com.

In my nigh 12 months of parenting, I have found that these bottles cause no nipple confusion with infants. But more on nursing and nipple confusion later.

You've stuffed your two month old baby silly, swaddled them, laid them in the crib, and turned on the white noise. Now just let them sleep. If they wake up, pick them up and put them back to sleep. Sing a lullaby, walk them around the white noise filled room, or just shush them gently for a while. I have found that, unless the baby is sick, covered in feces, or wet all the way through, they will fall asleep again within 20 minutes. Usually less than 10. And you can go to sleep. In my experience, this waking up again will also occur within the first three hours of being laid down. If they wake at the tail end of this three hours and WILL NOT SETTLE, nurse them. they're not going to eat much, but nursing is sort of like baby Xanax. It rocks- and once again, expect a nursing entry or twelve in the near future.

The big question will raise its ugly head- do you let the baby "cry itself out?" Let's face it, you're going to try once in a while. And that's fine. But don't make it a general rule. Again, revert to the priority list of baby/mommy health- a functional parent is paramount in child rearing. If you NEED to let that baby scream for 20 minutes (it will not take any longer if they are going to "cry it out"), doing it once in a while isn't going to hurt them. It will hurt the bedtime routine though. The more they trust that you're still there, the better they'll sleep the next night.

You will feel guilt. You will feel shame. You will feel relief. And you will probably cry and eat a block of baker's chocolate.

And then you will get a good night's sleep and wake up ready to be the best damn mommy ever.

Following this system, you should be getting a solid ten hour block of sleep from your babies by the time they're 10 weeks old.

Impossible? Never- nothing is impossible for SuperMommy.

April 9, 2010

Becoming Supermommy

I always knew I wanted to be a mom. As a very small child, my parents feared that my preschool teachers were brainwashing me. IT got so disconcerting, my assertion that all I wanted was to be a mommy, that they finally resolved to have a TALK with my teacher. When they arrived, the first words out of her mouth were, "I'm concerned that your daughter doesn't understand all of her options..."

Yes, I knew from day one. During my wild early twenties, my friends used to joke that I ran a halfway house for wayward orphans. I collected homeless or otherwise needy young people and gave them food, shelter, and the occasional medical treatment.

So when my husband and I decided to go ahead and start a family... well... it was the most natural thing in the world.

Except when it wasn't.

So here I am, the mother of six month old twin girls. Determined to be a 21st century post-modern feminist Donna Reed. Impossible? Perhaps. So here is my grand experiment- turning babies into people I can admire and respect.

And in the meantime, trying desperately to keep my house semi-sanitary, compose my cookbook, and strike it rich with my brilliant costuming and painting.

...that is, if I get enough of a break from changing diapers and wiping noses.


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