Blog-o! Notes from

Fri, 31 Mar 2006
End of March

Jeez, I just typed out the names of the books I read since my last post, and it's clear I read too damn much. Honestly, I don't know where I find the time, so don't ask me.

(I remember when I was a kid I would say -- well, brag about, really -- how many books I read, and the mothers would look at each other and roll their eyes and say "Well, I guess you have a lot of time!" Hah! Take this, snarky mothers!)

Anyway, I have time to read them but not blog about them, so this is going to be short. Ish.

Akimbo and the Elephants by Alexander McCall Smith is also short, a little wee thing which I think took the author as long to write as it took me to read. It had a hurried feel, the characters were thin, it was all a little obvious. As if some elephant charity had called the author and said "Write a nice little book about elephants!" and he knocked it off in an afternoon.

I Gave My Mom A Castle by Jean Little is a wonderful collection of poems about families and gifts. Little has a knack for capturing children's thoughts and voices. I remember enjoying her stuff when I was younger; perhaps now is a good time to revisit it.

Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac is one of my New Year's Resolution books, because it has a character named Delphine in it. It might even be the character that my Aunt Delphine is named after, although naming your kid after this Delphine seems like asking for trouble. Anyway, Balzac is one pessimistic bastard and almost everyone in this book is scheming and dishonest, and those that aren't mostly get screwed in the end.

Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers by Nancy Mohnbacher and Kathleen Kendall-Tackett is an excellent book on nursing. I got it out so I could look it over and decide whether to recommend it to a friend, but I ended up learning a bunch of stuff myself. It approaches nursing from the perspective of what's going on and how you can make the natural process work for you, like growing a seed, rather than giving a series of steps on How To Nurse, like building an Ikea bookshelf.

I think this book should be recommended reading for every expectant or nursing mother.

It also has a fairly tacky website which might have some useful stuff in it. Check out that title! Now that's professional! (Ah yes: "<meta name="GENERATOR" content="Microsoft FrontPage 4.0">" Always a good way to make a crappy impression.)

The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid Of The Wrong Things by Barry Glassner is a nice, reassuring book, in the sense that you don't really have to be afraid of all the things the media would like you to be afraid of, but very unreassuring in that it give you the sense that people are very stupid and can't seem to think for themselves.

Sir Charles: Wit and Wisdom of Charles Barkley by Charles Barkley and Rick Reilly; Charles Barkley is a pretty funny guy, in that he says stuff that everyone else is scared to and he's usually right. What I would give for this kind of self-assurance.

Don't Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff. Apparently if you are a good enough writer you can get someone to pay you to do crazy stuff like visit a cryogenics lab, or fly the Concorde, or interview some dude at the Log Cabin Republicans, just so you can write about it. That's what this book is, and it's pretty funny and well-written and occasionally thought-provoking. (I liked the part about the faux-poverty.)

Understand Your Child's Growing Mind by Christine Healy is another interesting, science-based book about a parenting topic. It's pretty dense, covering lots of ground with respect to mental development, but readable. I would recommend this to anyone concerned with their child's intellect.

The book has lots of neatly sidebarred tips on how to help prepare your child's mind for reading, mathematics, etc. Unfortunately if you added up all the sidebars you would end up with about eight hundred bulleted items, and if you tried to follow them you would never have time to brush your own teeth, you would be so busy massaging your kid's brain.

Dress Your Best by Clinton Kelly and Stacy London is basically What Not To Wear in book form. It's divided up by body type with tips for each type, but there are general tips for everyone scattered throughout the book, so you have to read the whole thing to get maximum utility out of it. I managed to glean a full page of tips from it, but sadly there was no five thousand dollar credit card in the book, nor anyone to babysit for a week while I shop. I guess looking fabulous is going to have to wait.

[Posted at 19:25 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 25 Mar 2006
  1. Coco
  2. Coco Beware!
  3. Coco Puff
  4. Poop
  5. Little Poop
  6. Cordelia-Poop
  7. Cutie Poop
  8. Coco-Be-Poop
  9. and finally, the winner of the most ridiculous baby nickname ever: Ooodley-Poop
[Posted at 09:31 by Amy Brown] link

  • the oatmeal gun in that one Wallace and Gromit short movie
  • the angry people in Frog Goes to Dinner
  • the crying pirate in a Wiggles video (He's crying because no little ducks came back.)

She's so sensitive! On the one hand I love that she's not cynical and blase about everything, but on the other hand I hope she toughens up. She's only (almost) three, she has time.

[Posted at 06:33 by Amy Brown] link
Thu, 23 Mar 2006
A Useful Link

It's not a bad idea to go to the CSPC website and sign up for their email notifications of product recalls. Right now I am obsessively staring at the page about bracelets that came free with Reebok sneakers. They have high lead content and a four-year-old girl died from swallowing part of one. I mean, can you fucking imagine?

Incidentally there are lots of recalls for cheap dollar-store and vending machine jewellery containing lead. I think we will have a "no cheap tacky-ass jewellery" rule in this house.

If you are, perchance, looking for a hydrocortisone preparation, perhaps for a rash which has mysteriously appeared on your oldest daughter's hand, and you should happen to notice that of the three preparations available, "cream", "ointment" and "lotion", the lotion seems to be the best deal, you should know that said lotion is in fact largely composed of isopropyl alcohol. Whoever thought it was a good idea to sell ALCOHOL to put on RASHES deserves some kind of Stupid award, which they can share with me for buying it without reading the ingredients list. I am going to see if I can return it for a refund tomorrow.

[Posted at 21:26 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 22 Mar 2006
Miscellaneous Things

First I want to say that the idea of this unsolicited advice is to publish things that I have learned through my own experience that I did not read about elsewhere, in books or in magazines, or that I read so many conflicting recommendations about that I might as well have not read any. I'm trying to avoid all the really obvious stuff, or the stuff which is widely published. But what I've learned is that all babies are different, and what worked for me might not work for you, so take this for what it is; advice born from the experience of one (well-read, intelligent) mother of two (really easy) children.

Diaper cream is one of those things which everyone has a different recommendation for, which leads me to believe that different things work for different babies. All I have to say here is that diaper creams which contain fish oil will make your baby smell like a salmon cannery, and if you use cloth diapers they will continue to smell fishy even after laundering. Read labels carefully, and try all the other kinds of diaper cream first.

Okay, one more thing. Johnsons 3-in-1 Diaper Cream and Aveeno Diaper Cream have exactly the same ingedients and are made by the same company, so buy the one that's on sale.

Bathing babies is something that I have never quite figured out. They're too big for the kitchen sink (assuming your kitchen sink is clean enough anyway) and too small for the tub, and I can't stomach spending money on one of those in-bath baby holders (which Health Canada advises against anyway). They're slippery as hell, they hate being bathed, and how dirty does a baby get anyway? I resolved the problem by just not bathing my babies very often, until they're old enough to sit up and manage the whole process more-or-less by themselves, as Delphine is. And she still only gets a bath twice a week. Who has time for more?

This is probably too late for the unindentified target for this advice, but perhaps not for you: get yourself a BabyTrekker. They are so much better than the other comparable products I don't even want to go into it. They are way more comfortable, distribute the weight of the baby much more sensibly over your body, and they carry up to 40 lbs, which is considerably more than Delphine weighs at almost three years of age. (I don't let her go in the Trekker any more because I think it looks silly. I am so mean.) Plus you can use them as a front or backpack. I love my Trekker. I just wish they had come out with the Tasteful Taupe model when we bought ours; we have Fugly Forest Green.

You're going to need to get yourself a 5 ml medication syringe. Lots of medications for babies come with 1 mL rubber bulb syringes, which not only make it hard to get the right dosage into the syringe (and then into the baby), but are often too small to contain the whole dose at once. For example, I needed to give Cordelia some Tempra, which comes with a 1 mL bulb dispenser, but I needed to give her 1.25 mL. That means I have to go through the measuring part twice, AND the horribly traumatic squeezing it into the unwilling child's mouth part twice. She's no slouch, and once she's learned that the syringe means foul pink unction, the next part of the dose is going to end up in her ear.

The good news is that some medications come with the good kind of syringe (I think Tylenol is one of them) so don't throw that out after the medication is done, keep it in your first aid kit.

Something more metaphysical to end (because Cordelia's awake now). I had trouble, with Delphine, understanding that she is just a baby for a little while. Intellectually, of course, I understand that she's going to grow up, but in some more primitive part of my brain it seemed that every day of not enough sleep, too many diapers and no time to do housework, let alone read, was just the first day of thousands more of the same. I guess, having never watched a baby grow up before, I didn't really believe it would happen. And it makes sense; any changes in my life until now I have effected through my own labour: I took a course, or looked for a new job, or bought a new condo, or whatever. I'm not used to standing by and watching my life change outside of my own volition.

It's much easier with Cordelia. When I have a horrible day when all she wants is to be held all day, and I have laundry and vacuuming and cooking to do and nothing is getting done, I know that this is just temporary, that eventually she will be able to walk and talk and play by herself, and she won't need me every single minute. That makes it much easier.

Incidentally, it seems this is a hard lesson to learn; I still have moments which I think the Delphine is going to be a whiny, needy, contrary toddler forever, even though I know, logically, that one day she will be a pleasant and helpful three-year-old. I just can't see how it will happen, because I haven't seen it happen before.

[Posted at 11:16 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 15 Mar 2006

Yes, poor Delphine hasn't been getting much screen time here, we're too busy with the baby and books and unsolicited advice. But she's still here, very much so.

Delphine is... funny. Delphine likes to pretend. When she pretends to do something, like open a pretend suitcase or put on a pretend boot, she makes a "shhhick" noise, her own all-purpose sound effect. (She learned that from her Daddy, the master of sound effects.)

The other day Delphine and Daddy were going to the pretend beach, and Daddy had to put on a pretend wetsuit, so Delphine helped. She pulled it up over his legs and arms and zipped the pretend zip up the front. Then Daddy had to put on a pretend sunhat; Delphine patted it around his head as if she were encasing him in playdough, and then, with a flourish, tied it under his chin with a huge, pretend bow. It was at that point that I bust a gut laughing; Delphine didn't see the humour, and so left the room. Blake asked "Where are you going?"

"To the swimming pool."

"Should I swim to the pool with you?"


So Blake did the worm out of the room, oscillating along the floor. I think I actually died from laughing and I'm typing this from the afterlife. Kids are funny, and if your husband happens to be funny too, you've hit the jackpot. (Even if no-one else thinks he's funny, it still counts.)

Delphine's into fairy tales. She likes "Goldilocks", "The Three Little Pigs", "Little Red Riding Hood", "Henny Penny" and "The Three Billy Goats Gruff". Reading fairy tales to her has made me realize how common fairy tale references are; they're everywhere. I am so pleased and excited to be introducing her to this piece of our culture. This is why I became a mother: I get such pleasure from reading, from knowing about things, from recognizing things in unexpected places, from putting ideas together, from intellectual life in general, and I am so keen to share that with my children. I guess this is why athletic types like to take their kids out to play ball and stuff, and why it's so purturbing to have a child who doesn't share your way of thinking.

We've also started reading Dennis Lee poems, and she has a few of them memorized. "Mumbo, Jumbo, Christopher Columbo, sitting on the sidewalk chewing bubble gumbo; I think I catch a WHALE; I think I'll catch a snail; I think I'll sit around a while, chewing bubble gumbo." It's nice to have these things in your head so you have something to say to yourself while you're, you know, in the shower or walking around. She has an uncanny recall for text and poems; yesterday I caught her reciting entire paragraphs of "Henny Penny" to herself. I don't know if that's unusual or just part of the incredible learning machine that is a little kid's brain.

But I'm glad to be filling it with these things; what do kids who aren't read to talk about to themselves?

She's about, oh, eighty percent potty trained. How did we do it? I don't really know. We read lots of books about it, and talked about it a lot, and worried about it a lot, but we didn't reward her or coax her (much). In the end she has almost potty trained herself, just like the books said she would.

She still chooses to wear pull-ups some days, but she always poops in the toilet, and when she pees in her diaper it's because she has decided to do so. How do I know? Because she tells me about it. "Do we pee in diapers?" "Yeah, you can pee in your diaper. Do you want to go pee in the toilet?" "No, I will pee in my diaper." Waits... "I need a new diaper." Fortunately she can change her own diaper now. Hooray for pull-ups!

Incidentally, according to that history of childcare book I read, apparently the potty training of Louis the somethingth of France started when he was eighteen months, and ended when he was around three, so this timetable for toileting isn't some product of our degenerate times and diaper companies; it's just when the brain is ready. (Although I still think you can train, in the Pavlovian sense, your baby or young toddler to go in the potty if you work on it.)

What else? She dresses herself, although not usually as promptly as I would like her to. She loves to wear her yellow rain jacket and gets very angry when she has to wear her snowsuit instead. She eats, but not very much, and I am afraid I don't make fruit and vegetables enough of a priority. When you only eat (apparently) half a cup of food a day, it's easy to fill yourself up with meat and bread. I am trying harder.

This weekend we had our first bona fide scary toddler-running-into-traffic moment (and hopefully our last). There wasn't really any traffic, it was a little tiny street next to a park and there weren't any cars on it, but it was still very bad and there was angriness and a stern talking to. What happened was that she was wandering around the park with a friend, and neither she nor her friend were responding to me or the friend's mother calling their names. They got a little too far away from us and too close to the street, and just wandered out between the parked cars.

I'm not sure whether, at this age, I should expect her to respond to verbal commands (and I have just failed to instill that in her), or whether she's still young enough that I need to stay close and keep control over her physically. Either way, I will definitely stay closer to her from now on, in potentially alarming situations like that.

[Posted at 15:03 by Amy Brown] link

Cordelia is five -- actually five and a half -- months old, but she's growing out of nine-month sized clothes, and fitting nicely into twelve month clothes. She is freaky huge. Fortunately she is freaky strong, too; she can sit up for minutes at a time. And she's working on crawling, but she hasn't gotten much past the lying on her tummy, kicking and getting really pissed off stage yet. She shuffles her way around the living room quite effectively, though, usually ending up near the (moving) glider rocker ottoman, ready to have a leg broken or a head bonked. I have said it before, and I'll say it again: it's astonishing how quickly and how far a supposedly non-mobile baby can move.

All the reference books, and the doctor, would like to know if she is cooing. I don't know about your babies, but my babies don't "coo". Mostly she makes this noise which I haven't been able to come up with a word for, because nothing else on god's earth makes it; it's most like a groan, with some kvetch thrown in. Like, Heeeeeaaaaagh. And that's when she's happy. No-one could ever call it cooing.

(Does anyone's baby coo? My friend Ellen's baby Maxine makes these awesome hellmouth, troll noises: GRREEEAAAAUUuuuuch.)

We started her on cereal (even though they are saying now that you should wait until six months) because she was so desperate to be part of this eating thing that everyone else is doing. She's done rice, barley and oatmeal baby cereals so far, and she doesn't hate them. Once she passes six months I am going to start her on vegetables, and then she will see what the excitement is really about. Carrots! Parsnips! Oh my! (Oh, unless those are the ones with nitrates; I will have to look that up.)

I was kind of sad to start her on food; I thought, "this is the last time I will have a baby who exclusively breastfeeds". I expect I will have thoughts like that a lot. It was a brief moment, though; really I am very much looking forward to having two little girls, rather than a little girl and a baby. Babies are nice but little girls are better.

We're tiptoeing around the bedtime thing, thinking about it. Right now Cordelia's sleep, especially in the daytime, is pretty disordered, and I know she's old enough now (and definitely big enough!) to have a proper two-nap schedule, rather than the three or four mini-naps she's taking now. I also think she's old enough (and again, big enough) to go through the night without nursing; the trick now is to teach her that.

Last night we put her in the crib (already asleep) in the evening, and we had the evening mostly to ourselves. She woke up a couple of times, and both times we soothed her back to sleep and then put her back in the crib. I expect at some point we will put her in the crib and let her cry herself to sleep (because we are SO MEAN! And because it worked so well with Delphine), but I want to get her used to the idea that the crib is safe, and for sleeping, first. (Until now she has mostly slept in the high chair or on my lap or in bed with us.)

Generally she continues to be a charming and sweet baby. She's not so ready with the smiles for strangers any more, but she still blesses Blake and I with the huge, gummy, ear-to-ear grin that I hope she never grows out of.

[Posted at 09:07 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 10 Mar 2006
March (of the) Books

Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy by Louise Bates Ames and Frances Ilg is useful, like the two-year-old version. They're pretty old (this one is from the mid-eighties) so they're weirdly time-capsulish. This one gives a suggested plan for your kid's third birthday, and it's all "you should be able to manage this with the help of two or three other mothers". Presumably Father is in the drawing room smoking his pipe?

Your Call Is Important To Us: The Truth about Bullshit by Laura Penny. It must be very hard to write about bullshit, because Don Watson tried to do it, and failed, and now there's this. It started off pretty well, but eventually turned into an all-purpose lefty jeremiad, with the usual anti-corporate, anti-globalization, anti-consumer (Evian is naive spelled backwards!) stuff. Not so much with the bullshit. She also handily ignores the great steaming heaps of the stuff generated by leftish groups like anti-GM protesters; as if conservatives have a monopoly on bullshit!

Me and Mr. Stenner by Evan Hunter. I was glad to find out that Evan Hunter is the pseudonym of Ed McBain (actually, vice versa, but I'm not sure what the latin for "real name" is) and that he's written a million books. This one is a book for young adults, and I really enjoyed it. Hunter is a genius at capturing dialogue, and this is no different, except it is set (and written) in 1976 so the dialogue is kind of quaint. I wish he had written more young adult books -- this is as good as Judy Blume.

Perfect Parents: Baby-care Advice Past and Present by Christina Hardyment is a book which chronicles the changes in advice given to parents from the 1700s until now. This is a lovely book because it makes you realize that despite all the crazy-ass things people have done with their children, society still seems to chug along. It was a surprise to me how much variation there has been in childcare practices; I had a vague idea that in the Olden Days everyone was really strict, and now everyone is really permissive, and that's all there is to it, but really there has been a lot more subtlety in parenting practices over the centuries. Hardyment is a historian, so there is a lot of discussion about how historical events like wars inform parenting.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is annoyed or bewildered by the variety of advice out there. I only wish it were newer, so I could hear what Hardyment has to say about the judgemental insanity that is Dr. Sears and attachment parenting. (Which is, like the curate's egg, good in parts.)

The Blackboard Jungle by Evan Hunter. Evan Hunter -- Ed McBain -- wrote The Blackboard Jungle! Cool! So I had to take it out of the library and have a read. It's really good. Can I just stop saying that Hunter/McBain books are really good? That would save some typing. It's about a novice teacher dealing with the, well, crap of working at an inner-city vocational school. There is an especially good rant in the middle about vocational schools and teaching and what does it all mean?

Obviously, I think this would be a really interesting book for Kathryn to read since she is also a novice teacher dealing with lots of crap, but I am reluctant to because if she didn't like it I would be very sad. So Kathryn, I recommend this book but if you don't like it please don't say anything!

[Posted at 16:00 by Amy Brown] link