The Great Replacement

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“No matter how hard you try,” a well-meaning person told me some time ago, with the air of delivering an eye-opening statement, “you will never be able to replace a kindergarten teacher for your children.”

I was rather short-tempered, but I wanted to be kind. I also knew that a long explanation would be futile, and would lead to yet another argument. What I said was simply, “it is the kindergarten teacher who will never be able to replace a mother.”

But going back to the original statement… two things are implied here:

1. Small children need preschool/kindergarten, and the preschool/kindergarten program is without doubt the absolute ministry-of-education-regulated best.

2. If you teach/keep your children at home, you must be trying to imitate the preschool/kindergarten/school setting, with yourself acting as the teacher.

Even people who are prepared – very cautiously – to admit that maybe learning at home isn’t a very crazy idea, are most reassured by the sight of children with workbooks, working with timetables and being graded for their work. Because of course, without daily drills and grading, there is no learning… right?

Once, a mother confided in me that she is going to put her 18-months-old child (her only child, so far) in daycare, even though she doesn’t work outside the home, because several family members insist that the boy needs more “stimulation” and “socialization”; since she looked so obviously dejected when she spoke of it, and since I was certain she knows my opinion already, I allowed myself to gently say that as far as I can see, a 6-hour-long daily period in a daycare center would be overstimulating, tiring, and overall pointless for her son.When we are talking of a baby who can’t even speak properly yet, all the needed “socialization” is covered by a daily walk to the playground where he can see and interact with other people.

Since women entered the work force en masse, the question of what to do with the young children became highly relevant in almost every family. A home can be left alone, but not a child – and so day care centers, preschools and kindergartens became a widespread solution. This is now so normal that a mother who is raising her children at home is allegedly “replacing” a preschool teacher. Let us not forget it is the other way around.

The period of having small children at home is very intense, physically and emotionally demanding; it is also finite. It may a few years if you have just one child, or a couple of decades if you have many, but either way it will come to an end some day. Some day, I will not have anyone barging into my room shouting, “Peepee!” – nor will I need to interrupt an adult conversation in order to say, “please get your finger out of your nose”. Life will be calmer, perhaps, and more rational – and a little duller as well.

So let us, mothers, savor this time with our children, and know that we are exactly where we are needed at the moment, and that no one – no one – can replace us.

The photo above is from our old home, taken when our two eldest were little. We lived in an isolated little corner with a beautiful view and raised goats, chickens and a dog. The demands of such a lifestyle were many, but there was much joy in the journey, and the memories are sweet.

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Starting solids: our experience

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Image source: stuff.co.nz

I got a question about starting solids with babies; and while there are several ways to approach this, here is what has always worked for our children so far.

First off, we always introduce solids very gradually. Pushing solids is a bad idea, as is abrupt weaning/restriction of nursing to get baby to eat solids. Breast milk is a lot more nutritionally balanced than almost every kind of typical baby food.

We never bought ready-made baby food. I don’t see why anyone would buy those tiny, overpriced jars (unless you’re going on a long trip with poor refrigeration facilities). We never thought to look up recipes, either – we simply improvised. As you dive into it, you’ll see making baby food is easy and fun.

We usually start giving tiny tastes of mashed or blended fruit and veggies at around five months, though solids don’t make a full meal until around 6-7 months. Mashed banana makes a good first food, and babies love it (though a few years down the road, they don’t believe me when I tell them they once did!). After introducing each new food, we wait several days to make sure there’s no adverse reaction. After we try an array of foods, we start making mixtures and smoothies using a blender.

I know it is often recommended to give the baby cooked fruit, but generally, we gave it raw (apples, pears, plums) and only cooked/baked veggies (sweet potato, zucchini, pumpkin). I never saw that it disagreed with our babies.

Many grandparents and pediatricians think that cereals are a good choice for baby’s first food at 5-6 months, but at that point, the amylases in our digestive system aren’t fully mature yet and it doesn’t do good to overload baby with starches. Fruit and vegetables are far better as first foods.

As our babies grew older, we felt more and more comfortable to simply take a fork, mash whatever is on our own plate and give it to them. However, up to one year, we avoid foods that are considered allergenic (such as fish, eggs, peanut butter, etc).

When I make baby food, I don’t add salt or spices, but when we feed babies off our plate we don’t avoid salt, though we steer clear of very spicy foods and artificial taste additives. As much as possible, for as long as possible, we avoid giving foods with added sugar, and fake foods such as morning cereals. Sugar is addictive, and once kids have a taste of it, they grow into sugar junkies.

Gradually, our babies grew out of baby foods. Bit by bit, they moved on to soft finger foods, learned to use a spoon and cup, and joined the family table as equal members. I look forward to the expression of pleasure and interest that will appear on Hadassah’s face when she first tastes solids, but I do so love this special time of exclusively breastfeeding her.

Expecting Expenses

There is a whole industry built around anxious new parents (and grandparents!) of baby “must-haves”, the sole purpose of which is to make people shell out money. We’ve been lucky enough, so far, to spend remarkably little in our babies’ first year, compared to what is considered average. Here is how we did it.

I would strongly encourage you, before you buy anything new, to look at baby stuff people are willing to pass on, or sell after a brief use at the fraction of  its cost. Most baby things only get a very short and gentle use anyway, if we’re talking about a small family. We got a lot of things from family, friends, and off online swap lists/second hand shops.

If you know people are planning to give you gifts for the birth of your baby, make a list of what you need and pass it around, or simply tell them what you need – otherwise you might be stuck, for example, with a myriad of toys your baby won’t look at for another year or so, but without things you’d find truly helpful to have right now.

I stay at home and breastfeed, which automatically eliminates the costs of daycare and formula. We don’t use bottles or pacifiers, and I comfortably do without all the nursing-related accessories such as specially designed nursing clothes, nursing covers, nursing pads, etc. I do love my nursing pillow, which I got from my sister-in-law, but I wouldn’t buy one otherwise.

Some more specifics:

Car seat – if you have a car, of course. That’s something I wouldn’t get used, because of safety reasons, unless you’re absolutely sure it wasn’t involved in anything that could cause it damage. We chose something very simple, straightforward, and inexpensive. It does its job just fine.

Someplace for the baby to sleep – we got a used baby bed (if you do that, make sure it’s safe – no nails sticking out or something like that). It came with a mattress in very good condition, with a washable cover. We paid a fraction of what we would pay if we bought it new. But with our two youngest, so far, we have co-slept most of the time.

Baby bath tub – I know some parents wash their babies in the sink and/or shower with their babies, but I personally have found the bath tub to be tremendously helpful. However, when I’m at my Mom’s, I bathe my babies in a large old pail that I place on the bathroom counter. Mom bathed me in it when I was a baby, so that pail has served as a bathtub for 5 babies now!

Entertainment – Very small babies don’t really need much in the way of entertainment. Mobiles, in my opinions, are hugely overrated – my babies always preferred to be placed wherever they can observe real people doing real stuff. Even later on, you won’t need that many toys. Better keep a few and rotate them. A large number of toys is an insane waste of storage space, since little ones get bored with them so quickly.

Prams/strollers – Not strictly necessary but I’ve found it to be very helpful. We never bought a new one. Sign up to giveaway boards and look for people looking to pass theirs on, or spread word to friends and family. For older babies, it’s even easier. Some months ago, we actually found a perfectly good lightweight folding stroller someone had just thrown out for some reason.

Slings/carriers – Some people say they can’t do without their slings or baby carriers, some say it’s a waste of money and space. It’s very difficult to know in advance what will work for you, so it would be ideal if you could borrow a sling/carrier you consider purchasing, and try it to see if you like it. Again, this can be bought used, and you could make your own baby wrap from simply a very long, wide and stretchy piece of fabric (you don’t need to sew for it, just hem). I love my carrier and take it whenever we travel, but the downside is the summer heat – it can get uncomfortable with a little one pressed so close for a long time.

Oh, and of course, everything is passed on from child to child around here! We didn’t have to get a single new item for Hadassah, because we have so much stuff left over from her three older siblings. She doesn’t seem to mind. :o)

The photo above is of Shira as a baby. It’s hard to believe she is 9 years old now!

The gift of today

As time passes, it is clearer and clearer to me that the most important work we have to do upon this earth is in loving, and showing love to, and caring for the people around us, starting from the people closest to us.

I am very privileged in this sense, at this season of my life. I have many people to love. I have little children at home, who need me many hours out of each day, and therefore I have no lack of opportunity to give love and care in a thousand practical ways. I also get to stay home and do all those things myself. My children never had a diaper changed by anybody else but me and their dad, except perhaps occasionally a grandma.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not some kind of perfect person. I have low tolerance for whining. I snap if a child shows open disobedience. I have all these hobbies and projects and things I like to do on my own, and like every mother of young children, I sometimes desperately wish for a good long restful stretch of quiet time.

But then I look back at the time when Shira was a baby and motherhood was new and overwhelming and I cried because I felt as though I’d never sleep again. Now she’s a 9-year-old who reads, writes, learns, works on her own projects, has her own friends and folds her own socks. She can do the dishes, wash the floor, and fry eggs. I have no idea how this happened, but facts are staring me in the face. It’s bittersweet, really. Seasons chase seasons, and as much as I’d want to stop time, even for a day, I can’t.

All I can do is enjoy. Enjoy the little downy head that is resting on my chest. Enjoy the playdough art and creative spelling. Enjoy the child who is small enough to sit on my lap, because someday soon he won’t be. Enjoy the full house, because one day these little birds will fly out to make their own nest.

Live, love and enjoy the gift. The gift of today.

Nursing on demand and parental authority

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There is a lady who writes in an Israeli magazine, whose articles on parenting I always look forward to. She speaks a lot about parental authority, delegating responsibilities to children, resisting worldly influences and other subjects I find instructive. Her most recent article was no exception. She lamented the fact that so many parents are encouraged to choose the so-called “child-centered” lifestyle, becoming slaves to the child’s choice of friends, clothes, toys, extra-curricular activities, and… nursing on demand.

Nursing a newborn on demand? Why, yes. “In the past,” she writes, “new mothers were told to breastfeed according to a schedule. Now it is recommended that you do it whenever the baby feels like it.”

I felt compelled to send this lady a personal email, in which I pointed out that all the examples she used in her article were good ones, except nursing on demand, which in no way “spoils” the baby or harms the mother’s authority. Quite simply, the fact that the recommendations in hospitals changed is due to finding out that nursing on demand (or rather, on cue) is actually the easiest and most intuitive way to establish successful breastfeeding – which is important not only for the baby, but for the mother’s health as well; try skipping a feeding for the sake of a schedule and you may end up with painful engorgement, complete with a plugged duct and high fever.

She wrote back. Her response was polite but self-assured. “Our mothers breastfed on schedule,” she said, “and we turned out a lot better brought up than the current generation of children.” True? Perhaps. Cause and effect? Not in the least.

I responded and said that, indeed, our mothers were told to breastfeed on schedule – and not coincidentally, it was a generation of formula-feeders. My mother-in-law, for example, was told to breastfeed her newborns every 4 hours. No more, no less. Baby is crying? Let him cry until the set hour. Baby is sleeping and you are thinking of taking a nap yourself? No way – wake him up to nurse. Unsurprisingly, her milk “just ran out” after 1 month, after which she had to give her children’s cow’s milk (as formula wasn’t readily available), and  many years later told me how she “was one of those women who just couldn’t produce enough”.

I also heartily recommended this lady to discuss the matter with a lactation consultant, and to consider all the facts. After all, it is a pity if a new mother who threw feeding schedules out of the window reads her article and thinks, “what if I’m spoiling the baby? What about my ‘authority’ as a parent?”

Imagine the following situation. It’s nearly evening, and I’m busy making dinner. A five-year-old is hanging around and says, “Mom, I’m hungry.” “Dinner will be ready in an hour,” I say. “But I’m still hungry,” she insists. “Alright, then,” I say, “if you feel you really need to eat something right now, you can get yourself an apple.” She proceeds to do so, and settles down with her little snack while I continue making dinner in peace.

Does the exchange above make my household “child-centered”? No. Does it make me less of an authority figure as a parent? No. Would it be better if I barked at my little child, “wait for dinner!”? Again, no. By the way, those who have been reading this blog for a while know I’m very much in favor of regular family meals. But if I get myself an unscheduled snack, sometimes before dinner or right before bedtime, and find it acceptable, why should I refuse when it comes to my children? I’m not speaking about things like sweets and cakes, of course, but about an apple before dinner or a slice of cheese before bedtime.

So what is the difference when we’re talking about a baby? A baby is completely dependent. She cannot get up and get her own snack. She cannot communicate her needs in words or negotiate. All she can do is signal to me that she needs to be picked up and fed – which, if the baby is exclusively breastfed, can only be done by me. So there is no getting around the fact that I must, indeed, nurse when the baby needs it, not when it is most convenient for me. This has nothing to do with authority, and everything with meeting the most basic need of a tiny human being.

Think of a novel concept: scheduled diaper-changing. After all, why must we be slaves to the baby’s whimsical schedule of bowel movements or wet diapers? Why must we hurry with a new diaper in hand every time? As parents, we are the leaders, and thus the baby must follow. She must learn that she is part of a family, and adapt to the family schedule. Thus, from now on, diapers will be changed – regardless of how wet or dirty they are – five times a day, at set intervals, and once at night. Try this for a few days, and you will see how your baby soon stops crying because of a messy diaper!

Sounds ridiculous? Of course. But in my eyes, this concept really is no different from feeding on cue vs. feeding on schedule. Some day, your baby will be able to go to the bathroom without your help. Some day, she will open the fridge and make herself a sandwich. But babies need their parents to provide those primary needs, and it is the parents’ job to do so.

What to do while breastfeeding

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Having a newborn means breastfeeding… a lot. Several hours a day (cumulatively), and during the night as well. I love this, because it allows me to sit back, relax, and take things slowly with the best excuse ever. Keep a snack and a bottle of water handy, because making milk for a baby means expenditure of both liquid and calories.

Breastfeeding doesn’t mean neglecting the other children. On the contrary, it’s a great time for uninterrupted conversation, word games and, of course, reading. We’re really getting through chapter after chapter in the last few days!

I have many favorites among children’s books, most of them classics – Winnie the Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, the Narnia books, and everything by Astrid Lindgren. Revisiting Pippi Longstocking is always a pleasure:

“But don’t you understand that you must go to school?”

“Why?”
“To learn things, of course.”
“What sort of things?” asked Pippi.
“All sorts,” said the policeman. “Lots of useful things—the multiplication tables, for instance.”
“I have got along fine without any pluttifikation tables for nine years,” said Pippi, “and I guess I’ll get along without it from now on, too.”
“Yes, but just think how embarrassing it will be for you to be so ignorant. Imagine when you grow up and somebody asks you what the capital of Portugal is and you can’t answer!”
“Oh, I can answer all right,” said Pippi. “I’ll answer like this: ‘If you are so bound and determined to find out what the capital of Portugal is, then, for goodness’ sake, write directly to Portugal and ask.'”
“Yes, but don’t you think that you would be sorry not to know it yourself?”
“Oh, probably,” said Pippi. “No doubt I should lie awake nights and wonder and wonder, ‘What in the world is the capital of Portugal?’ But one can’t be having fun all the time,” she continued, bending over and standing on her hands for a change. “For that matter, I’ve been in Lisbon with my papa,” she added, still standing upside down, for she could talk that way too.”

Hadassah

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Just a little update on how we are doing…

After lots of thinking, and staring at the baby’s precious face, asking, “how shall we name you, little one?” we’ve chosen the name Hadassah. She is one of the calmest, most peaceful babies I have ever seen. She can be just quietly settled in my arms for a long time, looking at me, and all around, with a beautiful and intelligent stare.

Life around here is settling into what I call the happy newborn mess stage. Everything is going in many directions, and days and nights are almost equally chaotic, but this is a happy time.

I look forward to writing more here (and elsewhere) soon.