Archive for April, 2007

Against Villification

I’m about to write what will probably be a wildly unpopular blog post. It’s been brewing and stewing for a few days now, taking shape in the shower and on walks. I’m reminded of it when I’m nursing my tiny son, wishing sometimes I could put him back in the womb to keep him safe.

A lot of things have been bothering me about the V. Tech massacre: the students and teachers killed, the loss of a that sense of security and comfort you get in college when you live and work in the same place and brush your teeth with former strangers who have become like family, the notion that journalists shouldn’t have released very newsworthy and informative footage (that’s another post…).

What bothers me most, though, is the language that has been used to describe a very sick, very disturbed, very hurt young man. Let me state for the record: I do not believe in monsters. I believe in mental illness. I believe that some people allow evil to enter their lives, to give in to impulses that will hurt others. I believe that cultures co-create people along with genetics, upbringing, and individual encounters. I believe in the complex interplay of all of the aspects of a person’s life to bring about that person’s behavior at a given moment. I believe, with Hannah Arendt, that Hitler was more the inevitable expression of the progression of prevailing strains of Western thought (that are still with us, alas) than an isolated madman.

Madmen are easy to hate, easy to villify, easy to cast into our social hell because if they are madmen it means the rest of us are off the hook. If we were able to admit that we live, on a daily basis, in our everyday interactions, according to an inherently violent, misogynistic code, one that pits us constantly against one another; if we were to acknowledge that we have allowed children to be abused in every unimaginably horrible way, and certainly also adults as torture victims at our collectively national hand; if we were to recall how all of us at some point have been bullies as often or more than we have been victims of bullying; or that we have stood by as someone else has been bullied, than we would have to accept complicity in what happened at V. Tech. And that, my friends, is extraordinarily, incredibly painful.

So instead we create a monster, Cho, who was crazy and evil and bad. It helps us to see that he was emotionless, mean, sexist, weird, violent. It’s a relief to us that he appears so out of touch with the rest of the world. It eases our minds to see that he is not, was not like us.

But the truth is that everything that Cho was is us, and we are everything that Cho was. This is why I am a pacifist; I see that violence is the gift that keeps on taking and taking and taking. Allow yourself to lose your temper or give into a violent temptation and very likely you will create dozens, hundreds, thousands even of violent others, who create more…and generations of these strange sorts of children emerge. And before you know it it’s far beyond what anyone can control. Admitting that Cho, though certainly already predisposed to such behavior by what I perceive to be an inborn mental illness, is in many ways us, means that we have to take collective responsibility for what happened. We have to say, “my God, we’ve killed these children, these kids who were babies not so long ago.” We have to remember that Cho was a baby once, and see him as one of the victims in this tragedy. And that is hard.

Of course we are also the V. Tech students and teachers, the ones who barricaded the doors to save their friends, the ones who attempted to befriend a weird, silent kid, the ones who stood arm and arm at the memorial service chanting their school’s fight song. That is us, too, the best in us: the capacity for heroicism, for selflessness. Thank God we have this, too, alongside what is so dark in us.

But it is us, all of us. And we have to be brave enough to face it.


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I’m happy these days: spring has come, after more than a few false starts; my tulips and daffodils are about to burst; I am parenting an adorable, dynamic little almost-five-month old full-time; I’m reading good poetry, and now that said infant naps, getting ready to write some more about it; extended family relations are currently excellent; the dogs are at least predictable if not well-behaved, and given that Lenny spent his first year with us never, never napping, I am well pleased (thank you, dear pooch, for preparing me for the Snapper); adoption is a future endeavor so I can afford to contemplate from afar, which is far less damaging on schoolwork than preparing for an actual adoption; tonight we’re meeting with someone to pre-qualify for a mortgage, and within three months will most likely be home-owners for the first time; did I mention the sun is shining??

Notes on sleep-training:

-we’ve not made it a science. The Snapper is not on a set schedule; I merely put him down when he rubs his eyes and acts fed up with the world. Teething has thrown us for a major loop, but on bad nights I get up as much as he wants and nurse as much as he wishes.

-it’s made us waaaaaay more adept at interpreting his cries. We can now distinguish I’m Trying to Go To Sleep from I Need You Right Now, and the thousand variations therein.

-despite letting him cry for about 20 minutes total (3 naps + one bedtime of 5 min each), the Snapper’s overall crying has decreased rapidly and dramatically. He’s also smiling and laughing a lot more. Now don’t shoot me–I know it’s correlative only but it does mean the overall picture is good.

-sleeping babies are good for both marriages and dissertations.

-I know all sorts of things can change sleep (and already have in this case) but now we have more tools for the toolbox, and I don’t just mean super-modified CIO but stuff like the cry-interpretation and the detaily business of timing (nursing, car rides, noise, elimination).

-well-rested mama=sane, patient, calm, stable mama

-usual disclaimer: this worked for US and applies only to us. Other people can do it how they please.

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We’re Good

1. The Snapper is sleeping.  Three naps of one hour each.  In his crib.  After five minutes of mild fussing.  Five to eight hours at a stretch at night, shorter stint afterward.  If he gets hysterical I get him up and find that he needs more feeding or a change or Tylenol for teething.  Otherwise, all is very very well with sleep.

2. Great visit to PA to visit all four grandparents.  Turned out to be the best thing I could have done for my parents and our relationship.  Also, sleep training while traveling is not the worst thing you could ever do.  For us, it meant he could generalize across sleep environments.

3. Attic Man just reported from the living room that the Snapper had a major reaction to the old-school rap channel on xm radio.  Cypress Hill?  Loving it.

4. I’ll get back to writing about real stuff at some point.  Until then, enjoy the cuteness.

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*new content below

Your comments were awesome—thank you! I hope they keep a comin’.

Magicpointeshoe‘s comment gave me a lot of food for self-reflection.

I’m just not with you on this one. Not that I don’t get the exhaustion and all, because I do. It just seems to me that you are trying to re-invent the wheel so to speak which in essence is becoming your own worst enemy. Even if you managed to get him on a sleep routine, all it would take is anything (new development, growth spurt, the dreaded five o cock nap, weather change, etc…) and his sleep will go completely screwy again.

I chose not to fight biology. Nursing to sleep is biological design and nursing for comfort does not mean food equals comfort. I know that evening cluster feeding is a pita, but it is what he needs.

If only cluster feeding were a pita! I love Middle Eastern food! 🙂 JK. Seriously, though, I would continue to nurse to sleep if I thought it would work for the Snapper. It works in the sense that it gets him to sleep initially, but not in the sense that with his new awareness it is waking him up every hour. He really, really needs more than an hour of sleep at a time. When he was sleeping reliably about 10 hours a night, with six or seven at a stretch, he was one happy, thriving baby. This last week, though, when he started waking up (and also not napping, not even when being worn), he was one tired, miserable, cranky baby. So if he is waking every hour looking for the boob he is not going to sleep for any length of time. The only way to solve this problem without at least a little of sleep training is to co-sleep, which I have admitted in the past I’d do for the first six months if I had to do it all over. But I realized that it was too late to start for all sorts of reasons. On the other hand, if I thought the Snapper needed it, that it was essential for his emotional development, I would start cosleeping and just work with all the complications. But I’ve been listening to his cues, and one of them, one that is individual to him and has nothing to do with anybody’s theories, is independence. This is a new development in the last couple of weeks. I am committed to babywearing, but I now have a child who after five minutes (at only four months, mind you), actually wiggles to be let down so he can stretch out and kick and suck on his toes on the floor. As for scheduling, the only thing I’m enforcing is bedtime, because I do want to work him into a rhythm. My own sleep problems have reinforced the importance of good sleep ‘hygiene,’ which includes a regular bedtime. If I went with what my body seemed to want 100% of the time, I’d still be an incurable insomniac. A little structure is not a bad thing. At the same time, I’m not scheduling the day at all. He is nursing completely on demand, and I’m napping him when he shows signs of fatigue (yesterday he got tired after two hours of being up; today it was three). And as for comfort nursing, despite what I said way back when, I am now totally gung-ho for it. We went to a John Edwards rally last night (heck of a guy, though I haven’t decided) and though he looooooved it (lights! colors! other kids!) at the end he got over-stimulated and asked to nurse, even though I knew he could go longer. In my proudest nursing moment to date, I found an empty spot on the bleachers well within camera-shot and hooked him up, blanket be damned. The only time I’m not comfort nursing is when I put him down to sleep. I’m an incredibly responsive parent, to the extent that he barely whimpers before I know what he needs, be it a cuddle, a nurse, a toy, or a change in environment. I believe that for the Snapper this responsiveness on a regular basis, in addition to the responsiveness he’s gotten at night for four months, is enough for a good, secure attachment that a little CIO is not going to seriously undermine.

Have you read “Mothershock” at all? After Juliet was born what almost did me in was how I kept trying to fix every phase in an attempt to gain some sort of control over the chaos of having a new baby. Each time I would realize that she would do it in time and she would not go off to college doing that.

You really have me here, I have to say. I was certainly not prepared for the extent to which my life would change with having a baby. I have done quite a bit of foot-stomping in response. The important thing is not to let the mourning over the loss of life before a child motivate your parenting. Doing modified CIO with the Snapper is about responding to his needs for sleep, and his needs for a well-rested, productive, and responsive parent. I identify A LOT with Beanie Baby (thanks for the link, parodie! It sums up a lot of what I’ve been working through). The bottom line is that the Snapper let me know he was ready, and I’m so glad I listened.

RoundisFunny brings up another issue I’ve been thinking about, which is what to do about my future children, who I plan to adopt. I think attachment issues are so much more complicated with adoption because no matter how gently the process is carried out, there is always, always that initial separation from the very first caregiver, and it’s important to keep that in mind when choosing parenting strategies. It’s all theoretical, though, until you’re actually parenting, so I’m going to read and think as much as possible and do what’s best when the time comes.

It’s important to be prepared with values when you come into parenting but I am not and never will be a fundamentalist. It’s something I have to fight on every front, from religion to marriage to ethical issues surrounding consumerism to my academic work. Fundamentalism asks us to ignore intuition, unique circumstances, changes in environment, etc.—essentially a million contingencies, all of which you could never take into account when developing any system. In the Snapper’s case, AP has worked for a lot of his needs, but not for all of them. Same with Ferber, the Sleep Lady, and my net friends.

*We did look at teething as a possibility.  He’s chewing–not just mouthing–everything he can find and is a little fussier in general.  BUT the night disturbance seems to have more to do with rolling over and waking up.  If the teething were the only issue I would think that even sleep training would have him up every hour, and not sleeping through as he did last night.  I would of course change tactics if I saw him chewing aggressively on his hands when putting him in the crib.

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down at 8:20

mama goes in at 2, 3, 4, 5 minute intervals, touching and comforting

just as mama is about to go in after 6 min, baby starts to settle

baby fast asleep at 8:50

wakes up at 5, nurses for 15 min, goes down partially awake (mama has to pee), wiggles to sleep

up for the day at 7:15.

8 hours continuous sleep for the Snapper, longest ever.

this helped us decide to try it.

thanks for comments! when I’m not nursing I’ll address.

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So…I jinxed the night with my upbeat post. The Snapper woke up screaming at 11 and was up until 2, alternating frantically nursing and screaming everytime I put him down, even when I thought he was fully asleep. After finally settling at 2, probably from sheer exhaustion, he was up again at 6. Since I hadn’t been asleep for more than five minutes before he woke up the first time, I awoke understandably whipped. His problem seems to be that now that he is rolling over vigorously, he snaps himself awake, discovers he is on his belly, which he hates, and proceeds to howl so I can put him back to sleep, which as you know, can take an hour or more.

But then I discovered something today, and not because of careful thinking and calculation, but because of frustration and fatigue. The Snapper started fussing and showing signs of sleepiness at about 8. Having just polished off the much-maligned Ferber text, I decided to see if he could handle the going-in-to-check-periodically-while-baby-weeps thing.

He could. He was asleep within ten minutes. I checked on him at two minutes and again and five and just as I was about to go in again he whimpered himself out and slept (as did I) until 9:10 (!). (Ferber says any graduated effort works; no need to do five and ten and fifteen and so on as he suggests; the program is pretty flexible–and I figured I’d start him off really easy) Operating on the two-hour principle instead of a set schedule, in which you put your baby down about two hours after waking, he went down from 11 to 12:45 and from 2:30 to the present with fifteen minutes of non-hysterical settling-type crying and minimal intervention.

So of course now I am wondering if he went down that easily because he was up half the night, OR if the disastrous 75-minute night had something to do with us being in the room. I mean, is it possible that it was HARDER for him to settle when we were right there, as if to say, “but you’re right here! nurse me!” whereas when I left the room he could focus on getting to sleep? At any rate, each time I’ve checked on him he’s been on his belly with his hiney in the air, fast, fast asleep. Actually, just now I found him with his little hand hanging out the side of the crib. 🙂

I spoke with Attic Man over lunch and we’re thinking about trying the same thing at bedtime. Here’s the thing–I’m beyond exhausted, near the levels of newborn time, and I just can’t do it anymore. The Snapper needs more sleep. (The ped was happy with his sleep when she thought he was still getting six or seven in a row most nights, which is not the case now that agressive rolling over is with us) I can’t tell you how wonderful it has been today to really work on a poem for an hour at stretch or to greet a smiling and well-rested child.

I’m still really conflicted about CIO because I don’t want to do any long-term emotional or physiological damage. On the one hand, I have respect for Ferber’s and Weissbluth’s degrees but I also know that scholars do not conduct research in a vacuum and that by the time the Snapper is having kids there will be an entirely different, scientifically-based, way of putting your kids to bed. I’m back to doing what is right for the Snapper, but I’ll admit to accepting some professional guidance.

I don’t think minimal CIO does any damage (oh, the studies that conflict with one another! one says brain damage, the other says better attachment, another says no difference…) but I still don’t think a long long crying jag is good for the Snapper, either, and it really kills us as parents.

The plan, so far, is to do tonight what I did at naptime and see how it goes. If it doesn’t work within an hour, I don’t know what we’ll do.

What do you think?? Bring on the comments. I’d love to hear from people who’ve tried it, people who haven’t, attachment people and CIO people and everything inbetween. Opinionated comments are fine, just don’t tell me I’m a cruel parent or something.


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75 Minutes

With Daddy on a spring day in Iowa

The good news is that we’ve made tremendous progress with the Snapper’s sleep, at least as it pertains to his physical arrangements. After a week or so with the laundry basket, we moved him to a slightly larger plastic storage container (sans lid, duh), both on an incline, then to the crib on an incline with rolled up blankets under the crib sheet, and now in the crib, flat. Hooray!

However, in an effort to ruin whatever progress we had made–after each container switch he’d do four and four, then slowly move to six or seven and three, hallelujah–I decided he should learn to sleep on his own. My motivation was actually entirely selfish, as 1) it’s getting warmer and a baby strapped to my bod for daytime naps is going to get uncomfortable; and 2) it takes anywhere from an hour to three from the time I start nursing until the time he stays in bed asleep, and frankly, I want my evenings back. Especially as I need to start dissertating seriously or it it will never get done.

I was uncomfortable with a total CIO, and for him the modified Ferber-style I knew would be too much. So we planned to get him ready at the usual time, nurse, and put him down awake. Then one of us would sit with him until he fell asleep. I imagined he’d cry for a little while, figure out how to soothe himself, all while having the security of a parent right next to the crib. Oh, how very wrong I was. The night started off all right. He cried and cried for about thirty minutes. I could tell he was not hysterical but working really hard at trying to figure things out. I hushed reassuring phrases and stroked his head. Eventually he found his hand and started mouthing it for comfort. He slowly worked it out and fell asleep.

For 90 seconds. Then he jerked awake and began howling. My emotions changed in an instant. All of the sudden it felt wrong and cruel. I called in reinforcements, got on the computer, and closed the door. Just as I was reading on Moxie about babies who increase tension by crying, Attic Man appeared with a very hungry Snapper, an hour and fifteen minutes after we had begun with no signs of calming down. So, wrung out with a confused and hungry baby, I nursed him to sleep.

Attic Man and I had a trouble-shooting session as he slept. We decided that going from a 10 p.m. to 7 p.m. bedtime was too difficult for the Snapper, and that he might be more ready to sleep between 8 and 9. We also think he’s a baby who, at least right now, does not have the ability to fall asleep on his own. I relayed the above to our pediatrician, who was in full agreement with our assessment.

So that’s what we’ve been doing for the past five days and it’s going really well, save last night, which was awful and bad because of temperature issues and diaper rash. Tonight, though, I started nursing him (after a short bedtime routine by Attic Man) at 8 and he was down by 8:45. I read one in the stack of books on infant sleep I checked out at the library as he nursed down, marveling at how simple it made sleep and at how much more it seems, at least to me, there is to the issue, and how individual to each baby it is.

So what’s next? I would still like to eventually move him toward being able to sleep on his own, not because I mind nursing to sleep, but because it takes sooooo long every night. I’m hoping that it will take less and less time. If it doesn’t, I’m thinking of incorporating a transitional object and gradually moving the sleep association from the breast to the object. For now, though, I think we’ll just work on making his bedtime really consistent. This is a kid that needs very very gradual change, and I’m cool with that.

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