Friday, May 30, 2008

Gettin' Dolled up for Baby

The Washington Post recently printed an article about the quickly expanding industry for pregnant women who want to be pampered: Greater Expectation: Luxury Services for Pregnant Women Are Booming by Monica Hesse.

I admit to having enjoyed more pregnancy massages than I can rattle off. I had two facials and one pedicure while pregnant. There's nothing wrong with getting support to look and feel good. What struck me about this article was how very unmotherly all the intentions sounded. People were talking about pampering the mom just like she was a bride-to-be and then splurging on a baby nurse to make the honeymoon smoother. It was all about this being some different time in your life, so you might as well use it as an excuse to spend a lot of money on self-indulgence.

What about the kid? The reason she's pregnant? I'd have liked to hear some talk about how a calm, focused mother can positively influence her baby. If a mom has pain, massage can certainly help, and it can assist with labor. A baby can also benefit from massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, and craniosacral work starting immediately after birth -- and even before via the work the mom gets. I got plenty and feel like it helped me connect to my child.

I'm all for women feeling good about themselves, but I'd like to think they are actually going to pay attention to the baby when it comes. Why not start now? If pampering is about setting a positive role model to take care of yourself -- to pause admit a hectic life to breathe -- the new family is going to get off on a good foot. If having a big belly is just an excuse to try a new spa service, I'm concerned.

I feel like the article made it sound like all this pampering was fitting into the mindset of folks who stick the baby away in a crib when it's brand-new and let it cry itself to sleep -- as if wailing in an enclosed box is a spa service anyone would pay for! If the majority of women are heading to the spa solely for self and not with a healthier bod and healthier home for baby in mind, I can't say that I'm thrilled about this trend -- even though I'm interested to see what more options might be out there when and if I have another pregnancy.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Grandma's here. Get busy!

Some people I know talk about going to the zoo or on other equally adventurous excursions when their parents or in-laws are in town. These visits are a time for fun shared activities across three generations.

For me, Grandma time is all about the babysitting.

Here's what I've done since EJ's mom arrived in town52 hours ago: went to yoga, went running, got a craniosacral therapy appointment, got a facial, went to dinner with my husband, went to couples counseling with my husband, and cleaned the basement (including posting lots of items on Freecycle). I also cooked, cleaned some more, and did laundry. Most times I nursed the boy I spent at the computer so I could read postings and provide feedback to other writers in an online writing workshop I'm taking through MotherVerse magazine. Grandma and my husband played in the park while got groceries at My Organic Market. From my perspective, there is no time to waste.

She claims she doesn't need any entertainment or special events. She's retired and spoils herself and her husband, she assures me. "I can go anywhere to eat when I'm home," she says. "I'm just here to play with E." He loves playing with her, even replying that he wanted to "hang out downstairs with Gramma" when I asked him if he wanted to come upstairs and hang out with me while I got dressed to go out tutoring (oh yes, another thing I did).

Tonight my husband fell asleep putting the boy to bed, so my MIL went to bed early too. I thought we'd all chat once the boy was asleep, but I got bonus solo time and almost felt a little guilty. We did all go out for a nice meal before the grocery store, so there was a little time to chat then. But Grandma also spent the post-meal, pre-dessert lull chasing after our toddler who was making friends with other children and the fountain in the adjoining square, so she wasn't exactly off-duty.

My own mom's health is such that she doesn't get out to visit us at all, and there's no other family closer than my sister four hours up I-95, a drive neither side wants to make more than a few times a year. I do have a sitter who comes for 3+ hours one morning a week while her kids are in school, and my son is in a preschool that gives me 2.5 hours free another morning a week.

But those childcare options will soon both come to an end for the summer, so I'm milking this MIL visit for all it's worth. Any spare second the boy is awake and she is awake is a moment I want to be doing something I can't do with a toddler on the hip or a mind that has to stoop down to 33 inches. Give me jogging time that doesn't come out of my weekend allotment (i.e. the precarious balance of free time for me vs. free time for my spouse)! Give me free reign to prepare food without my son pulling items out of the refrigerator or practicing his "pick up!" mantra! Let me get to an exercise class without having to line up the sitter days ahead or reserve a spot at the gym's childcare!

Part of me feels bad that I can't conceive of family time as family time and am instead counting the minutes I can squeeze out of my mother-in-law. But on the other hand, I think it's great that she and her grandson just enjoy simple play in the living room and the backyard, that she can get to know my neighbors while he climbs on their swingset, that he can enjoy a stroller ride that doesn't come with an agenda and a timetable -- groceries and back home to make dinner -- like it does when he goes with me. If I planned special excursions, she wouldn't get quality time with her grandson one-on-one in his element, and I wouldn't get quality time with myself.

Maybe someday she'll tell us she was lying and really felt like she was under house arrest. But I'm riding this train as far as it will take me. When can we book your next flight, Grandma?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Getting and Spending

I'm a consumer. There is no way to deny it. I certainly use Freecycle as much as I can, and Craigslist and consignment sales, but I also get into cycles where buying stuff online is so appealing, it honestly makes me feel accomplished to click until my shopping cart's item count hits double-digits.

As a very petite woman, I waste a whole lot of time shopping in stores trying on sizes that don't even come close to fitting me. I gained a full 35 lbs. during pregnancy, and still most of my clothes were XXS and pants size 2 Ankle from The Gap.

Now I have 1) a two-year-old and and 2) few clothes that fit right or look like they weren't from a year with a 19 in front of it. So I am loath to give up whatever childcare time I've cobbled together on shopping that would have been frustrating even if I weren't paying so dearly for it. And I don't really consider taking my son with me an option for more than a quick trip I have reason to believe will be reasonably successful.

So, today, after I'd worn the same stained capris to music class that I'd already worn twice this week, I followed a message in my In Box to J. Jill. I spent $600 even after the 15% off -- most of which I fully expect to return. I can't get the stuff in the store even if I had the patience; they just don't stock my size.

But this is just one example of how I rationalize big purchases. It's saving me so much time to order the toddler garden gloves and watering can online! Of course these will work better than whatever I might randomly find at the store, if I could even get there, and we can't have the boy drowning the rosemary with the hose again! The neat hardware stores aren't near any other errands, and I need to keep my my in-and-out of car transfers to a minimum or I have to wrestle a slab of granite into his Britax! If I go instead to Target I can get a lot done in one place, but then I get, well, a lot.

When I went to the Green Festival, I made the conscious decision that I would buy whatever I liked that fit because it was there, it was organic, and the people who made it were selling it to me. We did find some stuff; just today I wore a black t-shirt and EJ wore some $5 organic pants that we got at the festival. His size, though also petite, is less of a hassle than mine, so I could certainly buy more organic, free-trade stuff for him if I spent more time. But how much time do I really want to spend figuring out where to spend my money. I want to support green businesses, but I get sucked by the spend-a-lot bug no matter where I go, and it's certainly going to hurt my Mastercard a lot more to go crazy at those retailers than at a consignment sale or store, which I've also done. The fact that he gets his shirts so dirty so fast only feeds my fire.

I hope that in my J.Jill bounty I find a few pairs of pants that fit. Maybe before E's organic short johns (on sale now!) and all the other random stuff I bought from Hanna Anderson come I will get out to Marshall's or a garage sale and find the same things for super cheap. The closing twisted aspect of my spending frenzies is that when I do return things that didn't work out, I get an additional kick, feeling like I just earned money. I was glad to read at that people actually study the euphoric feeling that can come from shopping. Glad to know I'm not alone!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Birthday Party Quandary

When my son's birthday approached, I knew I didn't want a big party. I had been to a few that handed out plastic trinkets whose environmental footprint -- not to mention choking hazard quotient -- turned my stomach. I also knew my own limits for comfort when it came to putting on a show for kids who won't really remember it. The web site Birthdays Without Pressure advocates simplicity and low stress for child, parents and guests. "Well, if other people are bucking the carnivalesque party train, so can I!" I thought.

Having grown up without a whole lot of friends around -- my own or any my parents had -- I've been committed to maintaining and modeling good relationships for my son. I don't want him to be lonely unless he does a 180 from his current temperament and turns out to be an introvert. These days, he's clearly excited to be around people, asking for his friends -- and their mamas -- by name, and often. I figured the best way to celebrate a gregarious child's special day is just to have all of his friends over.

So I wanted to get together all his little buddies in one place. For his first birthday, I invited all the moms and babies I'd met from various groups and classes. Our tiny living room was packed, and that was before most of the babies were mobile, This year, since my two-year-old now knows who's who and since there are so many people we know and see often (and they all walk!), I decided not to invite other more distant mom-friends of mine just because I wanted to see them. Instead, though I felt a little exclusionary, I just included just the large-enough group of people that matter to my son.

With respect to food, it was important to me not to throw my nutritional beliefs out the door for a birthday, but I also wanted my son to feel special on the day and be able to look back on the day and see something that looked like the typical birthday festivities. I wavered between making sweet potato fries and kale chips for the group on one hand, and, on the other, offering mainstream snacks that would be familiar to the kiddos, and just sticking a candle in a bowl of fresh fruit. In the end, I decided not to offer anything I wouldn't let my son eat -- so that meant nothing with gluten or dairy (except for ghee and a little cultured butter). But I also decided it might be fun to experiment to make a healthy version of a cake that tasted good and seemed like a cake, rather than the hockey pucks I'd previously produced on some muffin-making attempts.

I bought two mixes from Namaste: one cake mix with sugar and one muffin mix with no added sugars. I combined those mixes to get a lightly sweetened mix, and then I divided that mix and added a lot of hazelnut flour to one half so that I could have one high-protein cake for those comfortable feeding their kids nuts. In the batter for the nut cake, I added grated zucchini and carrot. In both batters, I added cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

The other question was how cutesy to get. I struggled between wanting to keep it simple and just having some fun with the whole process. Since EJ had shown such a fascination with trains, I attempted to make one -- the regular white cake was the train (modeled after a train piggy bank my nephew painted for my son for Christmas), and the caboose was the nut train.

My fantasies of making different colored frostings with carrot, greens, and beets didn't exactly pan out. I ended up just using some cultured butter, coconut oil and powdered sugar for the "white" frosting and adding some carob powder for the brown accents and wheels. For the caboose frosting, I attempted to use juice from boiled beets, but it was late at night, and in my rush, I added too much liquid and got a big gloppy mess that looked ugly when inconsistently smeared on the cake. I skimmed it off, but it left a bit of a rust color on the darker brown cake.

Lots of folks stopped by for our Friday morning playgroup, and no one could believe the cake was gluten-free. We all enjoyed eating it, and though there was a little sugar, I felt like I'd struck a healthy balance of indulgence in special treats and not going overboard to saturation.

A few friends brought small gifts, which we opened later (I'd requested no gifts). When I wrote out the thank you notes and had EJ sign them, it imprinted on him who gave him what. Whenever he plays with his wooden car, he always says "Susan-Sawyer gave this to you" (merging the names of the mom and her son).

I hope our birthday playgroup set some decent precedents for balanced and gracious living. Now if I can just keep that up!