Just so you know

All right. I have ideas. I think about stuff. So here is the spot for stuff I'm thinking about and want to be able to share more broadly and possibly promote. Like I have time for this.

Everything is provisional at this point and subject to change in the future - as far as the blog is concerned. In real life some things will remain unchanged.

Also, our children are not really named Lenny and Linus. We are not that cool.

Feel free to share, rant, disagree, but please remember that I'm an actual person who tries to be respectful. I'd love it if you are and do to.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Good Baby

I wrote this a few months ago.  I'm re-posting it onto this site in case it's helpful to someone. 

It happens without fail some time in the course of babyhood and has already happened once in Linus's life.  Someone who sees this sweet little baby, finds him charming and wants to be friendly and find out more about him asks "Is he a good baby?"  I pause just a little.  People who know me probably recognize a "look" on my face.

When Lenny was a baby my standard response was "The best kind."  If they asked what kind that was I'd say "human."  The most recent time, since it was someone I knew a little better and was having a longer conversation with than you'd expect to have say, in the grocery store, I said, "I usually think of babies as 'easy' and 'not easy.'  And no, he's not an easy baby.  I don't seem to have easy babies."

Now how I can really know what kind of babies I have a few weeks into the second one is a question for a different discussion.  The point now is why it bothers me when a kind, friendly community member wants to know if my baby is "good."  And since my "not easy" baby is waking up with a series of screams,  grunts and writhing gestures I'll hurry and try to answer it.

First of all, I think that what they really mean is "Does he sleep and eat on a regular (and not too frequent) schedule?  Can you put him down when he's awake and walk away?  Is he comforted quickly when he does get fussy?"  What I believe they are really asking is if he is an "easy" baby.

But what they said was "good baby."  Which implies to me that if my baby nurses every two hours (max), wakes up even more frequently than that if I do something so strange as lay him down by himself, or screams almost every time he needs to move his bowels or pass gas, that he has already achieved a below average score on the "Good Baby Evaluation."  This is not, it seems, what any woman is hoping for when she pees on a stick and holds her breath while waiting for one line or two to appear in the little window.

Well, I'll admit that a baby who sleeps would be amazing and definitely easier!  But my baby's job is not, unfortunately, to make my job easy.  My baby is busy growing and developing and working his way through all the stages of babyhood in an amazingly short span of time.  He needs sleep and food and comfort, but unfortunately rarely on a schedule that's convenient for me.  That doesn't make him a "not good" baby.  Just a "not easy" baby.

My thinking on this has been influenced by a book called Our Babies Ourselves by Meredith F. Small.  It talks about how different cultures view and care for babies and small children.  I read it while I was pregnant with Lenny and before I knew what kind of babies I would have.  I read that other cultures hold or wear babies instead of laying them down - and how much less they cry per day than babies in American culture.  I discovered that research shows biological benefits for babies who sleep in the same bed as an adult (although I had no intention of trying it myself).  Even the role of a baby in society is viewed differently, as it turns out, by different cultures.  (Small has a website where she blogs about children and culture.  Good reading also.)

One study described in the book really stuck with me.  Parents in a conflict-torn area were asked to rate their baby's temperament, as I remember it, on a scale from more easy-going to more "difficult."  After a period of time the researchers returned to the area to do follow-up, but not too surprisingly they had trouble finding many of their original subjects.  When they did find the parents sometimes the child had not survived.  It turned out that the babies who lived were the ones that had been rated as "difficult."  Squeaky wheel babies were better at making it in tough situations.

So when someone asks me if my baby is "good" part of me wants to say "Yes!"  He's very good, after all, at reminding me that he relies on me to meet his most basic needs.  If rebel forces were hiding out in the bushes waiting to raid the village for already scarce food supplies he would be the one to make sure that his mommy remembered that she needed to get enough to eat so she could make milk for him.  If wild animals were lurking in the darkness beyond the edge of the fire he would be the one to make sure that at least one adult was awake often enough to scare the creatures away.  And he won't be the child who lays quietly in his car seat on top of the car while a parent who is tired and distracted drives away.  He will already be screaming at the top of his lungs.  He is good at being a baby.

Now you may argue that in modern life these "skills" are not so useful and may, in fact, put the baby at risk.  I agree.  But it doesn't seem useful to me to try to change the way my baby is hardwired.  It makes more sense to think about how I can change my life and my attitudes in order to care for him and meet his needs.

Before you say it, I know that I need to take care of myself too.  And believe me, I'm doing my best.  But I'm not sure that responding to my baby when he cries, or sleeping with him in my bed (yeah, I changed my mind about that one) or holding him instead of doing something else really leaves me more tired or stressed than I would be otherwise.  If you look back over the course of this blog you'll see that I'm mostly tired.  And if you talk to the parents of new babies you'll find that they're mostly tired and stressed.  It's hard.  And sometimes I struggle with feeling like it would be easier if I were just doing it "right."  But whether I'm getting it right or not I feel sure that my baby is very good at his job.

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