here’s the latest thing to hate yourself for

Did you ever leave your baby to cry it out? Ever? Brain damage. Yep. Good job, Mom.

Baby expert Penelope Leach– who’s been around since SuperNanny was in nappies herself- recently told the BBC that leaving young babies to cry themselves to sleep “may be toxic to their brains.” Her new book, The Essential First Year, apparently has more details (it’s not out till next week). 

If a baby cries too long, she argues, the brain stem releases cortisol, a hormone only seen under extreme stress, and which could damage further brain development.

This has, of course, lit up traditional press and the internet, and led to the usual “mother load” of guilt: any crying it out, the headlines say, will damage your baby.

I haven’t read Ms. Leach’s book. Neither have most of these people stoking the flames, I imagine. But if you read what she says in the BBC article closely, it is clear: she’s talking about letting infants cry. For over an hour. Night after night.

Now that the message is out in the world, though, it of course gets blown up to mean all sleep training, even for a moment, is child abuse.

As usual, there’s no gray area allowed for, only absolutes- which means every single mother reading this will feel bad.  I think everyone lets his or her baby cry in the crib eventually– even the most dedicated of co-sleepers need their beds back, even if they wait till their child is three or four years old for the tough love. There are nights when a six-month old baby will cry, and you just fed her, and you just changed her, and she wants to play, and she needs to learn that it’s three a.m. At those times, a parent needs to feel okay about letting her baby cry for a few minutes.

There’s a difference between letting a six-week-old cry for ninety minutes and letting an eighteen-month-old yell “Hi Mommy!” for ten. There’s a difference between letting a sick baby cry and letting a baby briefly disturbed by a car alarm down the street cry.

But that doesn’t make good headlines, or good finger-pointing, and so Ms. Leach’s message has been twisted to make every single one of us a bad mother. I don’t think that was her intent. And we shouldn’t accept the blame.

(If, on the other hand, you’d like to read a well-written article on the controversy, Heather Turgeon at Babble has a great, balanced viewpoint.)

Looking for a great Mother’s Day gift? Might I suggest When Did I Get Like This? I promise… any mother who reads it will feel a lot better about herself!

that’s not a treat, that’s a SNACK

At school pickup yesterday:

SEAMUS: Mom, did you bwing me a snack?

MOMMY: Yep. Here’s some pretzels.

SEAMUS: Did you bwing me a tweat?

MOMMY: I just said yes! Pretzels. Here.

Seamus regards them, warily.

SEAMUS: Mommy. Pretzels are not tweats. They’re SNACKS.

MOMMY: What’s the difference?

SEAMUS: Well. A tweat? Is somefing you love to eat. A snack? Is somefing you WIKE to eat. But not SO much.

Actually, I totally get it.

keeping someone company

If you haven’t already read it, you should definitely check out this article from the New York Times a week or two back: Surprisingly, Family Time Has Grown. Journalist Tara Parker-Pope discusses a new study and its unexpected finding: despite today’s increased work hours and crazy schedules, parents today spend more time with their children than past generations did, not less. The survey only tracked times in which a parent was actively involved with his or her child:

“It’s taking them to school, helping with homework, bathing them, playing catch with them in the back yard,” said a co-author of the leisure-time paper, Erik Hurst, an economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “Those are the activities that have increased over the last 15 to 20 years.”

For me, the takeaway from the article was a refreshing dose of you’re-not-so-bad-after-all-Mom. Then I read this letter to the editor a few days later, and Ms. Maggie McGirr has a point:

I was a little sad but not surprised to read that time spent “around” one’s children was excluded from the category of “family time”… When I was a little girl, it was called “keeping someone company” and it was always a comfort… Maybe one day the experts, too, will count it as time well spent.

My grandmother always called it “keeping someone company,” too, and when we were little, it was enough. I played with my Barbies while Gram did her needlepoint. I practiced the piano while my mother made dinner. The presence of an adult was always pleasant and reassuring, but I never expected the adults in my life to figure out what I was going to do next, or to facilitate my good times.

These days, apparently, it’s not good enough to be in the same space as our kids- if we’re not digging in the sandbox with them, it doesn’t count. I don’t think our mothers thought this way. And I think they were better off for it. 

(on a side note: apparently, Maggie McGirr has gotten no less than 35 letters to the NYT editors published in the last decade. This was suspicious enough to the Washington Independent that they launched an investigation last year. But in the end, it seems like she just has a way with words. You go, Ms. McGirr!) 

picky eater fix: who’s your favorite Yankee?

I thank God daily for my two children who are NOT picky eaters, so when I read (as I often do) that the picky eater I do have is my fault, that I’m just coddling him, and that I have to be persistent, I don’t have to feel bad about myself. My middle child eats anything you put in front of him, and I do mean ANYTHING. My youngest eats anything, as long as it has either fruit or meat in it. But my oldest began his life with reflux, and ever since, has had a complicated relationship with what he eats.

And a few things have come to a head lately. Connor’s growing like a weed, spring is here and he’s running around outside more, and lately, his diet has grown even smaller. He’s skin and bones, and when he comes to the dinner table he MUST be starved, but that’s when the problems start. “I don’t like leftover penne with sauce,” he told me two nights ago, lip quivering, rejecting the one thing I can usually count on him to chow down. “It tastes different after it’s been in the refrigerator.” The notion that “he’ll eat when he’s hungry” is a kettle of nonsense; the lower his blood sugar is, the more likely he is to not eat, and grow crankier, and not eat, and so on. “You will SIT THERE until you eat!” proved similarly unhelpful; he sat there for twenty minutes, sniffling, and not eating, and saying “but I’m just not hungry” over and over again under his breath.

Finally– and I’m not sure where it came from– I had an inspiration.

MOMMY: Who’s your favorite Yankee?
CONNOR: CC Sebastian.
MOMMY: (counting on my fingers) S-E-B-A-S-T-I-A-N.  What’s your favorite holiday?
CONNOR: Christmas.
MOMMY: C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S. That’s nine. Sebastian is also nine. Nine plus nine is eighteen. You have to eat eighteen pieces of penne.

Connor considers this.


And he counts out eighteen penne and eats them cheerfully.

The next night, I got him to eat seven green beans and twenty-seven grains of brown rice, using a similar method. He is now asking me, every night, to play this game, and I can’t believe it’s working but it is.

Last night, I thought he had figured out how to game the system.

MOMMY: Who’s your favorite Harry Potter character?

Oh well, that’s it, I thought. It was nice while it lasted.

CONNOR: Mom! Keep asking me.
MOMMY: Oh, okay. Um. What’s your favorite fruit?
CONNOR: Pineapple.

Which meant nine bites of eggplant. I don’t  know how long the “favorite Yankee” method will work, but I’m loving it.

Dora the Potty-Trainer

Maggie was two-and-a-half yesterday. She got “big girl underwears” from Santa almost four months ago. She is not wearing them.

Since she is my third child, I have been thinking: wait until she’s ready, and it’ll take two days. Start before she’s ready, and it will take… until she’s ready.

Still, two-and-a-half seems like a good age to get one’s potty act together, does it not? So I have started the gentle and positive reminders. Unfortunately, Maggie seems to be moving quickly in the opposite direction.

Yesterday morning, when Maggie arose and asked for her morning Dora fix:

MOMMY: Maggie, I have an idea? Why don’t I get the potty–
MOMMY: –and you can sit–
MOMMY: Look, you can sit right here on your potty and watch Dora at the same time!
MOMMY: (quickly lowering my standards) How about you sit on it with your diaper on, wouldn’t that–

I was beaten into submission.

MOMMY: OK, Maggie. Maybe another day.

I went to put the potty away.

MAGGIE: Wait. Mommy, you put the potty right there.

I turned, delighted.

MOMMY: Are you going to sit on it like a big girl?

MAGGIE: No, I not sit on it. But when Dora looks out… her will see it.