Friday, September 30, 2011

cows, and piglets, and germs, oh my!

I remember my bestest friend Annie telling me once how my sweet, blonde, curly-haired little goddaughter Iris had once eaten cat poop.  Inwardly, I cringed and realized how my mother used to leave food out overnight on the stove, only covered with a lid, to be served again for lunch the next day (ugh...the public health student in me just vomited a little bit).  But you know how the old adage goes..."I did (insert bad action here) and I turned out just fine!"

No masks in my house! 

I'll be the first to say that I'm not the cleanest person that ever walked this earth.  My aunt Martha, who lives in Colombia and has the luxury of having help, has her house cleaned every single day.  When she found out that I do a full house cleaning only 2x a month, she about toppled over in shock.  "Hell," I said, "if I had 'help,' I'd also have my house cleaned every day."  It's not that I don't like cleanliness...I do!  I'm happier when everything is clean and in its place (I get anxiety when I see Desmond's toys on the floor), but I can tell you that I hardly every mop my floors and I never clean my toilets (I just hope Billy gets to them within the month).  Needless to say, Desmond's been exposed to lots of dirt and bugs in our house, and I'm A-OK with that.   

I'd like to think that I was more careful when Desmond was a newborn, what with his immature immune system and all, but I think I didn't really sterilize or antisepticize everything because I knew he was getting my robust immunity from the breastmilk.  So, when I read a report that babies that had been exposed to farm animals (i.e. goats, cows, chickens, etc) had lower incidence of skin reactions or allergies, I looked for a local petting zoo.  St. Louis' most famous petting zoo just happens to be owned by Purina (of Nestlé/Purina infamy).  So, we went to Purina Farms to look at their animals.  It's out a ways (about 40 minutes) from St. Louis, but it's a nice drive (unless you are driving with a child who hates being confined in a car seat).

Reaching out to touch the "oveja."  When you ask Desmond, "Que dice la oveja?" he says "Baaaaa."  But then he started calling his grandma "Baaaa."  So, who knows if he really understands my questions?

As soon as the sheep turned its face to him, Desmond retracted his hand.

This kid is not Desmond, but I think that little pink piglets are the most perfect little things.  Right after Desmond, of course.

Look at this chicken!  It's got bell bottoms!

They had a whole upstairs for smaller kids.  The truck is sitting on a bed of corn kernels.  God knows how many kids' mouths these kernels have been in.

So, I didn't even think about making Des wear shoes.  At this point, he was barely just walking and although I'm a pro at packing a diaper bag, I was just started to get accustomed to the fact that he needs shoes to walk around in.  Mom FAIL.

In awe of this kid's physical prowess and dexterity.

So, farm germs are great.  Just make sure it's not factory farm germs.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Disciplining your child

I am not an expert at anything (except giving myself a double french braid on the sides of my head), but I do know what feels right to me when it comes to disciplining Desmond.  He's almost 14 months old and he is in (what I hope is) a phase where he thinks it's the funniest thing ever to defy me every time I tell him "NO!"  For example, he is not allowed to go around the couch and get into the outlets and play with the curtains at Grandma and Grandpa's house.  But the minute Grandma Donna or I come over and say "NO!" in our most stern voice possible, he just looks at us and giggles hard.  Tonight, we must have physically removed him from potentially dangerous situations about 50 times.  I'm not even remotely kidding.  We physically picked him up, usually while he's still giggling, and set him down in another, safer area of the living room more times than I can remember.  The only person who can enforce the rules is Grandpa Bruce: one look from Bruce and Desmond starts to slowly inch away from behind the carpet/outlet/curtain.  It's frustrating to have to keep constantly reminding him and scolding him and it seems like it's an uphill battle somedays, but I can't ever imagine lifting my hand and striking his tiny little body for doing something that he finds pure and simple joy in doing. 

I realize that as a 14-month-old, Desmond is really curious and wants to get into and play with everything around him.  What would hitting him do to that curiosity?  What would spanking him do to that love of playing?  Really, the world you surround your child in is one that YOU create and are responsible for, so when you feel the frustration and anger bubbling up to the surface when you see the books from your bookshelf spilled on the floor, you're the one at fault for putting books at a level where he can walk up and take them.  I firmly believe that hitting children will not accomplish much besides instilling in them a fear of their parents and I, for one, don't want to live Desmond's life out knowing that he's terrified of me or doesn't trust me.

So, when I read about all the media attention that was focused on spanking (and its support by Christian fundamentalists), I started gritting my teeth and shaking my head.  Here was yet another example of how awful actions or sentiments were condoned because the Bible (or insert other holy book/legal loophole/etc) said it was OK to do. 
Proverbs 22:15: "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him."
Proverbs 23:13-14: "Withold not discipline from the child, for if you strike and punish him with the (reed-like) rod, he will not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell."
First of all, discipline of children should begin at an early age, whenever a child begins to defy the parent. Remember the old saying, "He who spares the rod, spoils the child." Notice that the Bible says that all children have foolishness in their hearts.  The Bible definition of a fool means one who is a rebel, so this is saying that all children have rebellion in them and when it surfaces, it is our duty as parents to drive it out of them.  We are to do this by punishing them with a whack on the buttocks with a small reed-like rod. This rod could be a switch from a fruit tree branch or a willow tree branch or a small wooden spoon. It is not to be a large heavy rod or anything that would cause permanent physical damage.   The purpose of a spanking is not to cause any lasting bodily harm, but to cause spiritual correction. A spanking should be swift and cause short lived pain that makes a point.  That point is that the small pain they feel now will prevent them from feeling great pain by the act they are committing, which could cause them loss of their lives in some cases. (For instance, if a child tries to run across the street, they could be run over and killed.)
Some people say that all spanking is child abuse, but this is totally wrong. The real abuse to the child is not to spank them when they need correction.  Of course, some parents, who themselves are out of control, can abuse their children by beating them in angry rages. This is child abuse, however, it does not justify doing away with spanking children if it is done properly, and for the right reasons. Parents who beat their children, need help themselves. They are sinful people and they not only will abuse their children by beating them, but will hurt them in other ways as well. Many times, these same children are left to go hungry and uncared for. They have no love. These kind of homes need the love of Christ so that the whole family can be healed. We are not to spank our children with uncontrolled anger, and thus hand out unjust punishment.
 From  There are those that believe that the bible should be interpreted literally, so for those, they may interpret the passages above as the writer did.  But c'mon, really?  These are the same people that probably believe that evolution is some wacky theory ("I never came from no apes"), that brave soldiers died in the field because they were homosexual, and that women are "unclean" when they're menstruating.  I find it hard to find common ground with people who harbor these types of outdated, lieteralist beliefs.

Who are these people that actually believe that corporal punishment of a child, much less a baby, is OK?  Certainly not women?  Certainly not mothers?

But, much to my chagrin, I was wrong.  As I was happily reading through the articles in my Google Reader, I came across one from Peaceful Parenting (if you couldn't already tell by its name, this website does not condone any physical abuse of a child under any circumstances) about how Amazon carries books that promote child abuse (i.e. books that promote spanking or corporal punishment, among others).  This paragraph in particular stuck out to me:
Amazon currently stocks several parenting manuals that promote the physical and emotional abuse of children and babies.  The main player in the pack, To Train Up a Child, was recently drawn to my attention by two Facebook groups, The Mom: Informed and The Dangers of Baby Training.  The Mom: Informed published the following advice given by Debi Pearl. Debi is one of two authors of To Train Up a Child, along with her husband, Michael. When they were asked on their website, No Greater Joy, what they meant exactly about using a "rod on babies under 12 months of age." This is her reply. (Please be warned that the content is disturbing):

We never used the rod to punish a child younger than 12 months. You should read No Greater Joy Volume One and Volume Two. We discussed this subject several times in those two books. For young children, especially during the first year, the rod is used very lightly as a training tool. You use something small and light to get the child’s attention and to reinforce your command. One or two light licks on the bare legs or arms will cause a child to stop in his tracks and regard your commands. A 12-inch piece of weed eater chord works well as a beginner rod. It will fit in your purse or pocket.  
Later, a plumber's supply line is a good spanking tool. You can get it at Wal-Mart or any hardware store. Ask for a plastic, ¼ inch, supply line. They come in different lengths and several colors; so you can have a designer rod to your own taste. They sell for less than $1.00. A baby needs to be trained all day, everyday. It should be a cheerful, directing training, not a correction training. If a 10-month-old plays in the dirt in the flowerpot, a simple swat to the hand accompanied with the command “No,” said in a cheerful but authoritative voice, should be sufficient.  
When your 6-month-old baby grabs sister’s hair, while he still has a hand full of hair, swat his hand or arm and say “No, that hurts sister.” If he has already let go of her hair, then put his hand back on her hair, so as to engage his mind in the former action, and then carry on with the hand swatting and the command. If you found your baby trying to stick something in the electrical receptacle, keep his hand on the object and near the receptacle while giving him a few swats on the back of the offending hand, and this to the sound of your rebuke—“No, don't touch, No, don't touch.” This time he needs to cry and be upset.  
If your 10-month-old is pitching a fit because he wants to be picked up, then you must reinforce your command with a few stinging swats. You are not punishing him; you are causing him to associate his negative behavior with negative consequences. Never reward bad behavior with indifference. Tell the baby “No” and give him a swat. If your response is new, he may be offended and scream louder. But continue your normal activities as if you are unaffected. Wait one minute, and then tell the baby to stop crying. If he doesn’t, again swat him on his bare legs. You don’t need to undress him, turn him over, or make a big deal out of it. Just swat him where any skin is exposed. Continue to act as if you don’t notice the fit. Wait two minutes and repeat. Continue until the baby realizes that this is getting worse not better. Most babies will keep it going for 3 or 4 times and then slide to a sitting position and sob it out. When this happens, it signals a surrender, so give him two minutes to get control and then swoop him up as if the fit never happen and give him a big hug, BUT don't hold him in the manner he was demanding. Now remove yourself from the area so as to remove him from association with the past event. 
 Don’t ever hit a small child with your hand. You are too big and the baby is too small. The surface of the skin is where the most nerves are located and where it is easiest to cause pain without any damage to the child. The weight of your hand does little to sting the skin, but can cause bruising or serious damage internally. Babies need training but they do not need to be punished. Never react in anger or frustration. If you lose it, get your self under control before you attempt to discipline a child.
Further reading led me to discover that in the Pearl's book, To Train Up a Child:

  • Thumping, smacking and hair pulling are promoted as a way of training a child to obey instructions.
  • Children are compared to dogs.
  • The use of a rod is promoted, which the authors describe as a "divine enforcer." 
  • A meter long branch or a belt is recommended for use on an older child and a smaller object on a younger child.
  • "Any spanking to reinforce instruction, must cause pain."
  • "If you have to sit on him to spank him, do not hesitate... hold the resisting child in a helpless position for several minutes, or until he is totally surrendered."
  • Michael Pearl says his wife trained their daughter to stop biting during breastfeeding by pulling on her baby's hair. "Understand, the baby is not being punished. Just conditioned."
I can't imagine any parent feeling comfortable with this method.  Why is it that we are able to cry "animal abuse" and have tears well up in our eyes when we see poor dogs and cats kicked and pushed by their human owners, but look away when we see a mother or father hitting or spanking a young child in the name of discipline?  Furthermore, all that a baby, especially one under 12 months of age, wants is the love and affection of his or her parents.  Babies are incapable of manipulation, incapable of having "foolishness in their hearts," and incapable of rebellion. 

I hope that one day we will understand that physical punishment, on any living, sentient being, is not only uncalled for but unlawful and reprehensible. 

But, like I said, I'm not expert...just a mom who knows that hitting her amazing, happy baby boy with a reed rod in order to "condition" him to be a better baby is complete and utter BS.  All you need is love, people...doo, doo, doo, doo, doo....

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bilingualism and your baby

Notice how I mentioned only a baby and didn't bother to say bilingualism and your toddler or bilingualism and your kindergartener.  That's because the prime time to get your little one to learn a language is RIGHT NOW (that is, if you have a baby who is of the under 12 months variety).  This means that little Miss Mama-To-Be has to start brushing up on her high school/college Spanish, take that Japanese class at the Community College, or start making the rounds with the Rosetta Stone package.  Or, if you have a baby and the extent of your bilingualism lies in knowing that "unagi" means eel in Japanese (you love sushi) or that "camarones" means shrimp in Spanish (because you love shrimp burritos), then it's best that you get yourself a nanny/tutor/family member whose prima lingua is the language you want your little peanut to learn and who will have the time to speak to them often.  Seriously.

This won't work as well as having a real-live person speaking to your child often in Spanish. 

Here's an excerpt from published authors over at the Journal of Phonetics:

Our results suggest that bilingual infants’ brain responses to speech differ from the pattern shown by monolingual infants. Bilingual infants did not show neural discrimination of either the Spanish or English contrast at 6–9 months. By 10–12 months of age, neural discrimination was observed for both contrasts. Bilingual infants showed continuous improvement in neural discrimination of the phonetic units from both languages with increasing age. Group differences in bilingual infants’ speech discrimination abilities are related to the amount of exposure to each of their native languages in the home. Finally, we show that infants’ later word production measures are significantly related to both their early neural discrimination skills and the amount exposure to the two languages early in development.

 But don't get upset if you haven't been on top of your bilingual game and have been raising a monolingual child so far.  Overall, the younger children are when they learn a language, the better they are able to retain the language.  (Think about dogs.  What language are they born hearing (most of them)? Dog, right?  But by constantly talking and conditioning your dog in English, it will start to "understand" basic commands in English.  Or French or Spanish.  Although I must say I'm doubly impressed when a dog knows words in languages that I don't.)  Plus, you get the added bonus of having other people remark ("Oooohh...that little girl/boy is so smart!  S/he knows how to speak English AND (other language)!") about your child's language abilities.  I know I do.  And the feeling I have of innate intelligence superiority over children diminishes when I meet a child who is able to speak fluently in Russian and in English. 

Read a great article about this study over at the Freakonomics Blog.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What a 1-year-old likes to do: Hats and Sunglasses

Desmond is kind of a weird child.  He doesn't like for certain body parts to be constrained.  For example, he will let me force a hug on him (for a few seconds or so) and he doesn't mind being in a sling or carrier.  But the second the shirt goes over his head, his hands get caught in the sleeves, or you put a blanket on his legs, he'll start freaking out.  Seriously.  He used to be that way, too, with hats and sunglasses.  I'd try to put them on him, he'd scream and pull them off.  I'd try to wear them around the house and out and about, but it didn't seem to persuade him one way or the other.  Finally, I just gave up and hoped that the light brown/blonde/red hair he has provided enough protection to his scalp from the UV rays.

Now, after a 3 or so month hiatus, he has begun to show an interest in hats and glasses.  Finally.  Just in time for winter.  ha.  He loves putting them on, walking around for a few minutes, then taking them off.  He also likes putting them on me or Billy.  Sometimes, we'll put a hat on our knee or the glasses on our hands and show him and he'd get that it was something funny and start giggling.

Glasses that were a gift from his Aunt Kaip.  We were in the process of showing him how to put them on, but he was only interested in taking them off.
Taking the hat off of Billy.

Billy giving him just the right amount of tilt to give him an air of "soul cool."

Giving a new hat to Billy.

Both wearing hats.

How freaking cute is this picture?  I just wish my mirror wasn't so dusty and fingerprinty.

Inside joke, I guess.

This makes me secretly hope that he will enjoy playing dress up with me.  I don't care if it's girl clothes or boy clothes that he chooses...I'm just excited about putting on different crazy outfits and parading around the house with him.  Back when we were both young(er) and madly in love, I would put Billy's pants, jacket, and fedora hat on and pretend I was Michael Jackson.  

I'm already thinking of the best (home-done) Halloween costumes for all three of us.  Suzi, if you ever read this, I'm getting my inspiration from you!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Tattooed mamas and treks in Bhutan

I had started thinking about getting a tattoo when I was about 17.5.  I was goaded on by my brother George who said that he would gift me a tattoo for my 18th birthday, the date I could go and get a tattoo without parental consent.  My best friend at the time, Jessica, turned 18 a week before I did and wanted to get a tattoo, too.  We made a decision to get one together.

Me, Jessica, and our friend Alissa our senior year in San Francisco.

Jessica, me, and our friend Carlie.  We've known each other for 15 years now.  They seriously look the same as they did when they were 16.  Except that now, all our front lady bits have been altered since having children.

Me on the right and my friend Rachael on the left.  I've known Rach since I was 12 years old.  She decided to get a butterfly similar to mine.

In the 3 or so months since we made that decision, I kept throwing hints at my mom that I was thinking about getting one.  "You better not.  Tattoos are tacky, for low-class people," my mother would say.  I would just roll my eyes at her outdated notions of what was tacky or not (seriously, my mother still thinks that women should wear matching purses and shoes and have their nails buffed, shined, and preferably colored at all times.  Love you, mama.  You have the most beautiful nails.) and her stern disapproval only made me want the tattoo even more. 

The week of my birthday, we were wracking our brains trying to come up with the perfect tattoo.  We were sitting in Jess's room and she pulled out some tissue paper that had come with one of her gifts.  "What about this?"  She pointed to the butterflies printed on the paper.  "I read that butterflies are a sign of friendship, like, in Japan or something."  I loved the idea and was secretly happy that she didn't suggest to get a Nick Carter Backstreet Boys tattoo or something (she was OBSESSED). 

The day of my birthday, my brother George took us to the tattoo parlor and we got matching butterfly tattoos on our lower left back: mine was orange and red and hers was purple and blue.  I'm not sure how Jess feels about hers now, but even though so many people make fun of me for it, I'm proud of the tattoo.  I think it's pretty, albeit a bit faded, and didn't get it because it was de rigeur at the time.  It meant something to me and reminds me primarily of my friendship with Jess and what it was like to be that age at that time.

I have two other tattoos.  I waited 11 years to get the next one, which is etched onto my right ribs and and says "ad vitam aeternam", which means "life eternal" in latin. A few months before I got pregnant, I got another tattoo on my arm: l'amour fou (crazy love in French).  Both of them are super special because they aren't just some fonts that I chose on the computer or in the tattoo shop.  They're actually Billy's handwriting.  Cheesy, right?  I love them.

I'm now contemplating a fourth tattoo: Desmond's name in Dzongkha.  Here's a bit of background: I visited Bhutan on a class study-abroad trip in 2002.  We were slated to go to Pakistan to study the Natural History of the Himalaya, but after 9/11, we were forced to either cancel our trip or change our plans.  We, as a group, talked about traveling to the Andes, Chile, I think, or to China.  I wasn't as excited about either option, but was committed to going and ticking off "trekking through the mountains" off of my bucket list.  However, somehow, our Professor started communicating with the Secretary of State (the equivalent of Colin Powell in Bhutan).  None of us had ever heard of Bhutan, but once Denny started describing it, it captured all of our imaginations: an enclosed theocratic monarchy nestled in the Himalaya, bordered by India, China, and Tibet.  It is a reclusive country, only allowing tourist access for about 2000 tourists a year.  If you're lucky enough to go, you have to travel around the country with one of their government-sanctioned travel agencies and a travel guide.  This is simply because the government want to preserve the unique flavor, culture, and pristine(ness?) of the country.  Its motto is "Gross Domestic Happiness."  It is the most beautiful country I've ever been to and the most exotic.  I completed an 8-day trek to the base camp of one of the tallest mountains in the Himalaya; had a brief, but terrifying, encounter with a yack; learned how to weave a basket; and slept in a tent for the first time in my relatively sheltered life (by the way, this experience is exactly the reason why I don't tend to hike and camp anymore.  Those 8 days were hard: 8-10 hours of hiking and sleeping in freezing temperatures, showering with lukewarm, smoky water...not my general idea of fun.  It was a great experience, but once in a lifetime is enough).

In our kiras and ghos.  All the citizens of Bhutan have to wear the national dress: kira for women and gho for men.

Outside of a Bhutanese school.

Of all the places in the world, in one of the most remote countries, the USA still makes its presence known.  Also, these kids were chewing Betel nut...a stimulant. 


Jovial monks.

What I woke up to one morning.

I mean, it doesn't get any more beautiful than this.

Excited to start the trek!

And then it started snowing on the first day of hiking.  Click on the picture to enlarge it so you could see how miserable my face looks.

When we reached the base of Mount Jomolhari.  I definitely was not in a celebrating mood, hence why I'm behind the camera and not smiling in front of it.
Bhutan's only traffic light.

This is one of their temples/seats of government in Punakha.

We camped here for a festival.  It was beautiful...

Drunk monks leading me to the store of Arra (their homemade liquor) at the festival.

Carrying cow dung in a homemade basket.

Adding the cow dung to the fields.  Using a real plow or whatever the tool's called (hoe?  Pickax?)

This guy taught me to make my very own basket.  To carry American cow dung, he said.  hahaha! 

Yes, this is what you think it is, folks.  A flying penis.  Painted on the sides of several houses.  It's supposed to offer protection (something about a legend of a guy who came in on a flying tiger and drove away all the witches using his peener as a weapon.)

Over camping.

Anyhow, I asked a local St. Louis Bhutanese man to write out Desmond's name in Dzongkha.  It is this that I will be have put on my back:

This is phonetic for DA-SA-MO-NA.  They don't have the "sm" and "nd" sounds.

I'm so excited and can't wait for the inspiration to come for more tattoos.  Although I don't think I'd ever like ending up with several tattoos covering significant parts of my epidermis, I value the artistry and always find myself appreciating the handiwork, craft, and artistry of SOME tattoos.  I was lucky enough to have lived in Salt Lake City, UT, where tattooed women aren't out of the ordinary (at least not in Salt Lake City proper).  Unlike the Midwest or the Eastern part of the states, Utahans have a lax approach to what is considered "dressed up" and I routinely saw several professors at the University of Utah come to work in hiking gear and some even had tattoos peeking out of their long-sleeve shirts at the wrist. 

I guess St. Louis isn't as used to or as tolerant of tattoos as some other parts of the country.  Especially when it comes to women.  And even more so when it comes to mothers.  I was sitting in my usual seat at the coffee shop waiting for STATA to load on my computer and in walks in this adorable little boy wearing a skater shirt with a bandana tucked into the back of his jeans.  His parents walked in right behind him: his father (I assume) looked like a model out of a J Crew catalog, complete with all of the clothes.  The mother (I assume) had a nice white dress on, long brown hair, glasses, and was wearing ballerina flats.  She also had a full set of sleeves (tattoos that cover the entirety of her arms) and some on her upper chest.  I noticed that I was staring and caught myself.  I smiled to them and looked away.  However, some other people in the coffee shop were openly gawking at what I'm sure was a striking picture to them: why in the world would someone want to do that to themselves?  Why would such a pretty girl ruin her arms like that?  That poor kid, having to deal with a mother that has tattoos like that (seriously overheard a few tables away from me).  I shook my head and put my headphones on.

But it got me to thinking: why do other people assume that because a mother has a few tattoos that she must either be a) weird, b) crazy, c) not a good mother, or d) all of the above?  I could just imagine what other moms must say to their children about so-and-so's mother with the tattoos.  I imagined what Desmond would do or think if other kids would make fun of him for having a mother who had tattoos. I started to rethink having my Dzongkha tattoo.  "I should stop getting them.  No more from now on.  No way am I going to put Desmond through having a 'crazy' mom with tattoos."  But then I read an article on my Google Reader from the blog Offbeat Mama about tattooed mothers and they recommended a book, Mommy Has a Tattoo, that is geared specifically for young children.  I perused the pictures of "offbeat," tattooed mothers and their beautiful, happy kids.  And I realized that what mattered most was that if Desmond saw that I was content and proud of the way that I looked, that he would hopefully pick up on it and be happy and satisfied with the way he looked, no matter what anybody else said. 

So, the tattoo is still a go.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Diaper wedgie

As you may know, we're a cloth diapering family and proud of it.  We go through maybe a pack or 2 (depending on how lazy we are with the washing or how much traveling we're doing) of disposable diapers a month.  We do it primarily for the cost savings and second for the environment.  Although I heard from a friend recently (hi Layah!) that the costs to the environment from using plastic diapers versus the cost from washing cloth is equal in different ways.  I'm not sure about this, but I don't have anything to back up the assertion either way.

Anyhow,our washer broke the other day.  Here's the backstory: We moved into the house in Maplewood, which is really quite lovely, but really needs an update.  We were just happy that the house had a washer/dryer.  Our first apartment we lived in, there was a W/D in the fourth floor of our apartment building.  We lived there for most of one summer and it was TREACHEROUS going up those four flights of stairs carrying a load of dirty, summer-boy-sweat laundry.  gross.  and then sometimes, I'd forget the $1.50 or whatever it was to wash it and have to go down and back up again.  So, needless to say, we were super excited to have found a house with an en suite W/D, if you will.

I wish I would've taken a picture of the washer and dryer.  My oven is about as old as the W/D was: it's that creamish color that signals it's straight from the late 70s and the digital clock on there is borderline analog. Wow...tangent.  So, the first time we put clothes in the washer and it went into the spin cycle, it made the most god-awful noise, like it literally was going to blow apart, and shook so hard, the addition of the house (where it's located) shook, too.  One day, our really nice landlord Christian was over here fixing a door and I just "happened" to be doing a load of diapers.  I was on the second rinse cycle and it started moaning and groaning and then shaking (hahaha!) and Christian and I stare at each other until it's done.  "Does that happen all the time?"  I nodded, and started laughing.  He fixed something on the bottom and said, "well, I don't know.  If it gets worse, let me know."  It didn't bother me much and the machine worked, so we let it be.

Until one day, in the middle of the dreaded rinse cycle, it just died.  There were still sheets in there and water up to the middle of the basket.  So, we had to wait a few days until Christian brought over our new one and hope that mold didn't grow in a foot of watery clothes.

So, for a few days (or week or so) we had to use disposables solely for all of the diapering, which led me to take this beautiful picture:

Look at that wedgie!  I would've never, ever thought that you could get a wedgie with a diaper.  This never happens with his cloth diapers, although they do naturally form a crease, a crack if you will, right where his little buttcrack lies underneath the diapers. 

Oh, and to those who are scared about rinsing off cloth diapers?  Desmond poops once, maybe twice a day, at most.  Most of the time, I only deal with pee diapers (just spray a little bac-out on them, and throw them in the bin) and out of the two poo diapers, I usually leave one for Billy to clean off when he gets home (hey, fair's fair.)  However, I will not lie and say "Oh, it's my kid's POOPIES and it doesn't bother me."  Yeah.  Right.  Shit's shit, whichever way you paint it, although I prefer to clean off shit that came from breastmilk than shit peppered with undigested dry fruit.  Oh, the joys of motherhood.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

baptism, naming ceremony, dedications, etc...

What do you do when your partner is not of the same faith as you?  After you get over that hurdle, what happens when the baptism (or insert other religious baby dedication ceremony here) is denied to you because you're an unmarried couple with a child out of wedlock?

I was raised Catholic.  I did the whole nine yards, almost: I was born to Catholic parents, was baptized when I was 6 months old, had my first communion at 7 years of age, and was confirmed in the faith at 15.

My beautiful mother at her own first communion in Dominican Republic, circa 1964.

 As most every teenager, I fell off the religion wagon, but came back to it after college full force.  I guess, at that time, I was more interested in trying to arm myself with the information necessary to prove to myself that what I believed was right.  Looking back, I know realize that it was more important to prove to myself that it was the right fit for me, because I could not rationally think through and assess that Catholicism was RIGHT.

However, coming from a very Hispanic family, Catholicism is not something that you do on Sunday; it is imbued into almost every aspect of family life, at least any aspect wherein morality could dig its claws.  I certainly never grew up to think that I would have a "bastard" or "illegitimate" child and I never thought that Catholicism could one day stop playing such a pivotal role in my life.

The turning point came one day when I was told, flat out, by a priest, if I would be willing to live as brother and sister with Billy until we were married, or at the very least, until Desmond was baptized.  For several months before Desmond was born, we had talked about my desire to have Desmond baptized as a Catholic.  Billy's mom was raised Methodist and still attended a Methodist congregation in Salt Lake City.  Billy's dad was raised a Catholic, but wasn't practicing anymore (he was raised as a Catholic in the 60s, when the sound of the rosary beads clacking together down a school hallway was enough to terrify any small child.  I don't blame his decision to not practice anymore...Catholic educators back then gave children nightmares.)  However, Billy himself was not raised according to any particular faith and therefore, had no inclination to baptize his child.  But, since it was important to me, he would do it.

I remember that he kept on asking me why it was so important to me to have Desmond baptized in a religion where I was feeling lukewarm at best.  The only clear answer I could give him was that it was important to my family and part of the Hispanic culture.  Plus, it was the only thing that I had ever known.  He let it go and acquiesced.  I wanted to have Desmond baptized by the time he was 6 months old, just like I was and just like my mother was before me.  I decided to have the baptism at a Catholic church in New Castle, where my uncle Angel (also Desmond's godfather) lived.  Additionally, all of his godparents lived in the vicinity or a quick flight away, so for them to come and congregate for the baptism would be easier than trying to do it from SLC.

When I called the first few churches in town, they turned me away simply because I wasn't a member of the parish or because the dates they had available didn't coincide with the dates that I had wanted.  When I finally found a church that was willing and able to baptize Desmond, the receptionist asked if both my husband and I were Catholic.  Used to having people refer to Billy as my husband, I didn't correct her and said no, only I was Catholic.  She then asked if Billy was a baptized Christian, and I answered in the negative.  There was a long pause.  Then she asked if we were married in the Catholic church and I said, "No, ma'am, we're actually not married yet.  We're engaged."  There was a long silence.  I could just imagine this older lady sitting in front of a desk, surrounded by religious iconography, wearing the requisite cross on her chain, and having her head ready to explode at what she was hearing.  She brusquely said, "Well, then, you're going to have to talk with Father so-and-so about baptizing your son.  I can't make that call for him.  Here's his number."

I left the conversation feeling slightly embarrassed and a little bit sad.  I know that I don't fit the model Catholic vision of an adult woman in a relationship with a child, but I believed that this church, MY church, was understanding and didn't turn away babies from its community because of the so-called sins of his parents.  I dialed the priest's number.  I explained our situation once again, this time coming clean at the get-go of what our situation entailed.  "Would you be willing to live as brother and sister until you got married in the Catholic Church?"  "Um, no, I don't think that would be feasible, since our wedding isn't for another year and a half."  "Well then, would you be willing to live as brother and sister until the baptism?"  I thought about it and seriously considered lying to him and telling him that yes, oh yes, Father, I would try my hardest to live in a state of grace with my boyfriend, father of my son, until you baptize Desmond and his sin slate will be wiped clean.  But then I thought about it and decided that #1, what he was asking us to do was REALLY easy for a priest to say, #2, I am not embarrassed about my "situation" with Billy, and #3, why am I fighting so hard to make my church accept my child when my heart and soul wasn't really into it to begin with?

"I don't think that's going to work, Father.  Thanks for your time."  Click.  There.  You just lost a potential member of the church.

As you could probably tell, I'm still pretty hurt and resent what that particular priest asked of me.  I know that for every one priest like him, there may be several others who would have welcomed us with open arms, but it was just the kick in the ass that I needed to reassess my spiritual state and to assess the role that religion will play in my life and in the life of my family.  Did I want to blindly follow the Catholic religion just because my family did it and it's a huge part of my culture?  Did I want to be a part of something that didn't want to be a part of me?  I decided that I wanted to make my life more meaningful and, although I still needed and wanted the community and order that organized religion gives, it wasn't with the Catholic church anymore.

I knew that I wanted to be a part of a community that accepted me (unmarried, with child) and everyone else (gay, lesbian, Muslim, Atheist) into their fold.  I found that with the Unitarian church.  It's a creedless church and teaches you to just be a good person and make positive change and leave a wonderful impact during your time here on earth.  That appealed to me.  I enjoyed the sermons PLUS they offered a nursery for Desmond!  We decided that this was the perfect "church" to have Desmond grow up in and therefore, had him "dedicated" as a Unitarian. 

The Unitarian minister was really nice and wrote a whole service centering on Desmond's personality and abilities.  It was really lovely.

The ceremony was held in the backyard of my aunt and uncle's house in New Castle.

Desmond kept eating the candle and rose petals.

I had my closest family and friends celebrate with us.  Even though the majority of them were Catholic, I feel that they supported my decision and were happy to share in and commit to the spiritual and physical growth of Des.

At the start of the post, I hesitated to write about religion; I don't want it to seem that I'm bashing or praising any particular religion over the other to get you to convert or think badly about Catholicism or Unitarianism or anything else.  I respect all faith, especially Catholicism, since I've seen how happy it's made my mother and other friends.  However, it makes me feel good to know that if there's any one single person out there trying to make the same decision that I had to make, they wouldn't feel alone and that any decision that makes you feel happy and good is the right decision for your family.

My brother John, his girlfriend Katie, me, my uncle Gabriel (he flew in from the DR), Sherrie, and Jen at the after party.

This is right before we all watched, me in embarrassment, as my crazy mother began her dancing spree.

Monday, September 12, 2011

What a long, strange trip it's been...

Ever since I got pregnant, I feel like our lives have been this hectic accomplishing of things on our to-do list.  Classes, tests, papers, GMAT, family obligations, birthdays, travel for work, etc.  I always kept saying, "don't worry, Scarlett, things are going to get easier after (insert activity here)."  Once we knew that Billy would be applying to Business school, we focused all of our energies on getting him in.  Once that happened, we sighed a breath of relief and then dove headfirst into wrapping things up for our eventual move.  Our light at the end of the tunnel was the iconic summer roadtrip that we were planning for the summer before Billy started business school.

This is how I envisioned our road trip would be like:

Besides the hair color reversal, I loved the idea of an open road, the top down on a rented convertible, me smoochin' on Billy (while wearing a cute scarf around my head to keep my frizzies in place), all while eating strawberries dipped in chocolate.
In my road trip fantasy, we'd have a picnic packed in the backseat, ready to be brought out the moment we notice a beautiful, wildflower-strewn area alongside the road.  We'd drink champagne and watch the sunset or something treacly romantic.  Of course, my rational brain stomped that fantasy to pieces and instead, forced me to realize the truth of our situation: from here on out until the last crow's feet have etched themselves onto my face, we will not be able to have a romantic roadtrip like I longed for.  Instead, I realized I had at least 18 years left to do this:

Minus at least 3.  There's no way in hell that I would ever take more than 2 kids on a road trip.  If they want road trip, they'll have to ask Grandma or Abuelita.  

Coming from a family with 5 brothers, we took 1 long road trip in my entire life.  I bet my parents hated it as much as we did.  We all packed in to our family's gray Mitsubishi van, and since my brother John and I were the smallest, we were relegated to the back of the van in the seats that were equivalent to the seats in the last row of an airplane.  We drove all the way from Miami, FL to Connecticut and back again.  All while listening to the same crappy tape of elevator music.  or Diana Ross.  or 80s Salsa.  Reliving it is enough to make me not want to speak to my parents or siblings for the next week.

However, even though we had a slightly temperamental almost-one-year-old boy, I was still committed to the idea of a road trip, so that we could at least DO something with the precious free time we had left before Billy started school.  We decided that the day after I moved to St. Louis, we would be on the road on our way to my aunt and uncle's house in New Castle, PA (about a 10 hour drive away).  We met there with several members of my family and extended family (including our crazy, but lovable, Dominican cousins).  We had Desmond's dedication ceremony (more on that in another post) and several of my close friends came to witness it.  It was really lovely.  We were able to sit back, relax and enjoy being taken care of by family.  Plus, we hardly held Desmond at all...everybody wanted a little piece of him.

Since we didn't want to overtax Desmond on day 1 of B+S+D road trip 2011, we decided to drive only 5 hours the first day and finish the 5 hours the next day, which meant we had to stop in Cincinnati for the night.  We left St. Louis at around 2pm and no joke, Desmond slept 3.5 out of the 5 hours that we drove.  I was astounded since he NEVER liked being in his car seat.  The kid would wake up and stir for a second, look around, notice that we were still driving, and fall back to sleep.  Once he did wake up, it was a different story.  Either Billy or I would have to sit with him in the backseat and play games or read to him to pass the time.  The 5 hour road trip ended up taking us 7 hours since we had to get out a few times to let Desmond run around (the trick is to get off at exits where it doesn't lead you to another exits with the name of a street.  Names like Main Street or something like that are always promising.  Take the exit and then look for a park (9 times out of 10, we found a nice grassy area where he could play and eat.  Also, going off the beaten path and taking the time to look around may lead you to wonderfully eccentric and eclectic eating spots.  Places you wouldn't have known to look for if all you were doing was getting off at places where there were tons of fast food restaurants).

hahaha!  Desmond's looking at Bill like he's such a dork.  And would you have imagined Billy would have chest hair?  I didn't when I met him.  :)

Dinner in Cincinnati at Dilly Wines: part wine/craft beer store, part restaurant.  Pretty decent fish and chips.

Our first morning in Cincinnati.  Isn't this the most beautiful picture ever?  Their hair is exactly the same color. 

The next day, we got an early start towards New Castle.  I've always told Billy what a wonderful time I had at Hiram College, where I did my undergraduate studies, and since it's kind of on the way to New Castle, I decided that it would be a good time to go visit.  It's located in Hiram, Ohio, out in the middle of nowhere.  Seriously.  It's surrounded by 2 small towns (Mantua and Garrettsville) that are each about 15 minutes away and the closest grocery store is at least that far away.  However, it was such a special time in my life and I met some of my best friends there.  I had an amazing education and really loved living there.  Plus, it's such a beautiful campus.  So, after years of telling him all about how wonderful it is, here was an opportunity for him to experience a bit of what I experienced.

This was the dorm room that I shared with my forever roommate, Annie (also godmother to Desmond and whose daughter, Iris, is my goddaughter).  We spiffied it up a lot more, but, you can't deny the fact that it seems like, what Billy said, a "Soviet-era bunker."  Beautiful views of the Cuyahoga Valley, though. 

Billy and Desmond in my old dorm room.  Craziness.  Made me nervous about having Desmond there...God only knows what kind of pot debris is leftover in the air and dust.  We got out of there fast.

In the swing in front of Bowler Hall.

That's me in the middle!  Dance Team also included my dear friends Carrie, Nicole, Annie, and Jennifer.  P.S. We got rid of those outfits after my freshman year. 

This is the coolest park near Hiram Township: Nelson's Ledges State Park.  You drive for a few minutes down a typical rural Ohio road and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, come out these huge (for Ohio at least) rock formations (ledges).  It's all green and quiet and cool (as in temperature). 

At the waterfalls.  Or what's left of them after a hot summer.
 Desmond enjoyed walking around Hiram and wanted to walk around the ledges so badly, but, silly us, we forgot his shoes.

After Hiram, we went on to New Castle and stayed for about 5 days.

We initially were just going to turn around and head back to St. Louis because of financial reasons (not working for the entire month of July will do that to you), but we decided to make it a priority to spend time with each other and visiting friends.

Desmond and Jennifer and her baby Malcolm.  Desmond showed such an affinity for Malcolm.  He can take or leave our dogs, but he loved, loved, loved Malcolm.

Interspecies bonding.

My brother, John, his girlfriend, Katie, Billy, me, and my dearest friend Sherrie in front of Pittsburgh.

P.S. road trips are not advised if you're still trying to lose "baby" weight.

Church converted into a brewery in Pittsburgh.

Visit to my second family, the D'Angelo's house, in Youngstown, OH.  This is my beautiful goddaughter, Iris.  She makes the craziest faces.
We decided to go and visit Billy's sister Kseniya who lives in Carlisle, PA (middle of the state) and our friend Michele, who lives in State College (she's a grad student at Penn State).  We thought 4 hours wasn't anything big since we've done 5 before, so we decided to go ahead and keep on truckin'.  and let me tell you, rural Pennsylvania is GORGEOUS.  There's a reason why the Amish choose to live out here.  Gorgeous, gorgeous country. 

At one of our many stops...

To let Desmond run around...

and get thrown in the air several times by his more muscular-than-me pop.

This is when he was just starting to learn how to walk!

This was one of the parks we found on our road trip.  This was also the first time that Desmond rode on a swing by himself and enjoy it.

Fresh from a loooong nap on the road; visiting his Auntie Kseniya and Carol Ann in Carlisle, the cutest little town.

At Kseniya's work: Thomas Printers.

Yes, those are actual letterpress machines in the background.  Pretty awesome, eh?

Having treats and drinks al fresco in Carlisle.
We considered making the 4 hour drive to go to NYC to visit my little brother John, but decided that Desmond wouldn't enjoy NYC as much as an 11-month-old.  That and my brother's lovely girlfriend, Katie, was visiting family that weekend.  So, we decided to keep on with our original plan to visit my friend Jennifer in West Virginia.  Jen, also Des's godmother, owns a store, Mission Savvy,  in Charleston where she sells eco-fashion items (all way above my price range, but the price reflects the cost of the materials and all is made sweatshop-free in the United States).  She also has a sweet little slightly neurotic bird named Malcolm...

One of the bad things about our road trip is that Desmond's sleep and nap schedule was all messed up.  He was sleeping all day in the car, which worked really well for us, but would be awake sometimes until like 11pm at night.  This is a part of the day when naptime hit him hard...

Looking around for a comfortable spot on the dog bed on Jen's porch...

Aaaaahh...found it.
From Charleston, we drove to Louisville, KY.  What a nice surprise that town is.  I was expecting something totally different than what was actually there.  We stayed in a really cute home and the ladies gave us food recommendations and stuff to see.  Did you know that Louisville (I say it Lou-uh-vul, but I think Billy started off saying Loo-ee-ville, although now he says it the right way) has a thing for The Dude from the Big Lebowski?  They have entire carnivals dedicated to him.  And, like Louisiana (and St. Louis) the symbol of the city is the fleur-de-lis (King Louis the XIV's symbol)?  If you are ever in the vicinity, definitely stop by and check it out. 

Right outside of the main house for the Maker's Mark distillery.  Notice the bottle shape on the shutters.

Each Maker's Mark bottle is hand-dipped.

Billy hand dipping his own bottle.
 Aaaaand...that's the end of our road trip.  Sigh.  It was really a lot of fun to see the midwest and parts of the East as a family.  Desmond went above and beyond my expectations, as long as we worked around his naps, got him out of the car to blow off some excess energy, gave him delicious snacks to eat in the car, and interacted with him when he was awake. 

Now, 10 hours across a few states is like no big deal.  :)