Saturday, 18 December 2010

Baby dancing... one day

One of the great things about being snowed under and cut off from the world is that your mail gets delivered in piles. Once a week, true, but so many goods at the same time. Diana Suskind's wonderful book 'Baby dancing' arrived on the same day as The Pikler Bulletin, so all of us had something to read that day.

Letting our babies develop naturally, on their own terms and in their own pace requires tremendous patience, and a whole lot of letting go. Letting go of our expectations might be the hardest of it all, it is, after all, impossible not to have expectations when it comes to just about anything in life. But this kind of letting go has taught me to enjoy every moment much more, as I am not busy waiting for the next step.

It's intersting how we often want things right now, and loose everything that happens on the way - the whole amazing journey. We noticed recently the same applies to babies, and so many of the conversations about them involve the 'what my baby can already do' element. I don't know how many times in the past two weeks I've had to answer the question: 'Can he sit up yet?'. Well, no, but you know look - he can roll, bend his legs like this, laugh when he hides under the blanket... 'Oh, that's ok, he should be able to sit up soon, don't worry'. You know, I'm not at all worried. He'll probably (although hopefully not) spend too much time sitting in his whole adult life, I'm kind of glad he's not doing it now...

My husband has an interesting theory about why that is - he says motor development is the only area where we can have control over our babies' milestones. You can't force the baby to say his first word, but you can sit him up. And with so little information out there, that you can do things otherwise, I'm not surprised people do. We did. With all the reading about motor development somehow I ended up thinking that once our son is six months old he will sit up. Just like that, as if by magic, on the day he turns six months we will wake up and there he will be in his bed, sitting (I'm not even going to admit to all the bouncer and high-chair beliefs we had).

Here is what Emmi Pikler says about motor development: 'Let us not force the infant. Let us provide well for her, but let us not disturb the slow, steady process that has its own rhythm and course with every child. Every healthy child will get from the lying position on the back to walking freely. The period of time may vary, but it will alway happen in correlation with that child's physical and mental constitution, that child's limbs and use of moveability as far as possible.'

When my husband and I were travelling in Asia for a few months, we visited so many breathtaking places it's hard to count. But my clearest memories are not those places we ended up in, but the journey there. How we got lost, how we couldn't get a ride fo hours in the rain, how we had to sit on the back of a truck full of piglets... and I know my son will one day sit, stand up, walk, run and dance, whether I help him or not. But I want his body to have a chance to go through the entire journey. I want him to enjoy every moment of the ride, because once he gets there he's there, this part of the journey is over. And I want him to be ready to be there.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Since you can't have a pint, how about a diaper change?

Raising a person is hard work. I feel for all the mums, whose partners work long hours, have meetings, come home late and have little time to be around. But I also feel for all the dads who are, sometimes unconsciously, left out. Who want to participate but often don't know how. Who are afraid they will fail. And to all those dads I just want to say: we are scared too. And frankly, I think maternal intinct is a tad overrated.

I was lucky to be home not even 24 hours after our son was born. Not that I would do it again, or that I recommend it. But I was lucky, because as I could not move around too much and was just plain tired, I had absolutely no urge to control anything. For the first week I don't think I changed a diaper more than three times. I occasionally dressed my son. I really only fed him and tried to sleep. My husband did the rest. That's why I think I was lucky.

I can't imagine how hard it must be for a man to try and connect with his newborn baby - we are, after all, connected to them since day one. They are physically a part of us. And on top of that we get to feed them, should we choose to breastfeed. All of this we have naturally, as part of the package deal. Our attachment with the baby seems to be of a different kind, especially in the beginning. Sometimes when I think about it I think dads have it harder, in a lot of ways...

Connecting with a tiny person is hard. It's hard in a lot of ways, as we are (in our culture at least) somehow led to believe that it is not a full person in his own rights - just some kind of person-to-be. Potentially. And since we, as mums, on our maternity leaves take care of their basic needs, what are dads to do? It's not like they can watch football together. That's why I'm happy I was let out of the hospital and could watch my husband take care of our son as I was getting my energy back, bacause in all honesty - he didn't know what he was doing as much as I didn't. We both had no idea.

So my husband is the diaper-changing guy, and I am the feeding guy. I am the stay-at-home-most-of-the-day guy, but he is the bath-time guy. Sometimes I stand behind the door when they are engaged in the diaper-changing. They are so busy they probably don't even know I'm there. It's a serious business in our house, not just a quick deal. It's almost ike listening to two friends having a pint, in a way. At first I thought they were taking quite a long time, now I know that these are their quality moments, what Magda Gerber calls 'wants something quality time'. There is a lot of talking involved, and recently not just on my husband's side. It's really great watching the two of them together, each knowing exactly what the other one is doing, occasionally having a few laughs. As all is done, the conversation usually continues on the way to the playpen, where my husband stays in for a while, while our son slowly returns to his world.

So even if you, dads, are busy, tired, stressed and scared - it's ok, we are too. You don't have to be around all day. You don't have to build up the energy to constatnly entertain your baby. One good diaper change will do. Because I hope one day my husband will be having a pint with our son and I will see the connection between them that started on our changing table.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Do less, have less...

We have been snowed under. With the beautiful white silence outside and the thought of upcoming Christmas, I have decided to look through all the things we have accumulated when our son was on the way, and then never (or almost never) used. As always - it turns out there is a lot to pass on to friends, family and fellow freecyclers.

My husband and I are (proudly) not ones to give in to the pressure of commercials, we usually laugh at the 'must have's of the day, and never go shoppping without knowing what we want. But somehow with a baby in the house it turned out we did exactly what we thought we'd never do - accumulate mountains of things. This time, however, things we really thoguht we would need...

I looked through all the things we diligently put in boxes and under Antek's cot: there are two (!) playmats, baby mobile, a bouncer... the list goes on. Most of it we got as presents. And yes, we took them out of their boxes, we put them on the floor, we loked at Antek playing on the mat, looking at the baby mobile. I admit - we did it all. Three months down the road we realised we never needed any of it, and are now glad we put it away fairly quickly. I don't want to sound ungrateful for all the wonderful and no doubt thoughtful presents we received - we are incredibly lucky to have so many friends who are sharing with us the joys of raising our son. But I feel for all the newborn parents out there who are led to believe that without ... (here put whatever gimmick comes to mind) their child will not develop properly. So we give in and buy. We fill our babies' worlds with toys more stimulating we ourselves could handle, put them in, on and under things. And this is all because we are told our babies 'need' this to grow, to develop, to Obviously, the first logical question that comes to mind is - what about all those babies who don't have access to these gadgets? What about all those born before the times of babygyms, playmats, mobiles and bouncers? Well... as I know all to well, newborn mum is not one to think logically at all times.

We had known about the importance of observing a baby that Magda Gerber stresses so much, and tried our best to spend time observing our son. We wanted to get to know him, we wanted to see the unique person that he is, what he enjoys and what he doesn't, we wanted to see how he gets to know us. And soon we realised that all the wonderful things we surrounded him with were, well, in the way. Instead of letting him show us what he likes, we decided (unconsciously, but still) what to put around him, and what he should be looking at. For the first three months of our road to parenthood we believed the advice we heard much to often: he 'needs' this. Now that I again pack all those things to boxes to give them away, I know we will not need them for our second child, when we decide to have one. And I wonder if I should give these things to other parents, but then again - we all make our own decisions.

Today looking at my son playing happily on the floor, choosing what he wants to touch, what he wants to look at and where he wants to roll, I was talking to my brother about the importance of being with oneself. It's an important skill. When we are used to doing things, talking to people, listening to the radio, watching TV, reading, thinking...there's not much time for just being with oneself. I have a chance now - looking at my son as he is discovering the world, uninterrupted, on his own - to see how great it is to just be with oneself. So today when all things were done I took time to remember what it was like to just sit on my own, with my thoughts, staring out of the window on the falling snow - no radio, no talking, nobody asking me to do anything, showing me anything. It was great. I'm so glad I let my son do the same.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Dummy Debate

I never knew what a heated debate surrounds the use or non-use of dummies, pacifiers, soothers, or whatever else these are called. I never realised that it seems to be culture-dependant. I also never thought I would want to get one. Our son has a pacifier. Built-in. He uses it whenever he needs it. And it really is not our call.

Looking through parenting websites (an activity I have finally cut down on heavily) it occurred to me this is a very hot topic. Somehow it stirs arguments between people who have never met or seen each other. Interestingly, however, Polish websites abound in the 'do not let your child suck his thumb!' articles. I have not seen that many on English language websites, but maybe it's just that I stopped looking. Some time ago a woman on the bus looked at our son, who was happily sucking his fingers, and asked: 'Poor thing, did you loose your pacifier?'. We did not want to go into the debate. A few days ago someone, on finding out we do not own a pacifier, commented: 'You're going to have a nervous child'. We did not want to argue. So I'm really writing this post just to get it off my chest. Our son is a relaxed little man. He has a pacifier. You can see it on the picture.

He discovered his fingers when he was about three months old. Until then it was hard, at times. It was hard to hear him cry, when we didn't know what was going on. When we knew he wasn't hungry or wet. We made sure we have checked everything, but we still didn't know and he was upset. We knew that the only thing we had to offer were our arms, our presence. But then - that is what we would offer to each other. There are, and there always will be, bad days, moments of anger or frustration. I want my friends to be there for me. Not to try and stop me from crying - I feel really so much better after a good cry.

Then there were those familiar fingers, more controlled, his own. Sometimes our son has trouble falling asleep - then he uses his fingers to help him out a bit. Sometimes that's not enough, then he calls for us. Then we know that he needs us. But this is his amazing first step towards being independent - he can have some control over his feelings. It's not us who decide when to cry and when to stop.

A few days ago Antek rolled over and hit his head. A second later he put his fingers in his mouth, and before we knew it he was ready to roll around happily. I was bursting at the seams. It was pretty impressive to see his six-month old independence.

Of course he still cries sometimes. We try to look for the reasons, understand what is wrong. But if we can't...well, we all need to cry sometimes. So we give him what we think we would need in a moment like this - ourselves.

A beautiful post on this is here.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The art of falling down

Some time ago our son rolled off his blanket and hit his head on the wooden floor. Not hard enough to make him cry, but hard enough to make him look around a bit shocked. I was on the way to pick him up and put him back on the softer surface, when he rolled again and hit his head again. When he rolled for the third time he kept his head up and lowered it down very very slowly. Only then I understood that he was learning the art of falling down...

When I started learning how to ski and then snowboard I remember being taught how to fall down. I don't remember anymore if I enjoyed it or not, but I remember being told over and over again, that we had to know how to fall down, because whether we liked it or not we will, sooner or later, fall. And when we do, it's best if we know how.

I would love for my son always to be safe, never to worry that something is going to happen to him, but I know already that's impossible. I will worry. I already do. But I know that I will worry less if I know that he knows how to take care of himself. And one of the ways in which he can learn to take care of himself is learning how to fall.

There is a lot of exploring newborn people have ahead of them, and a lot of it in the beginning is focussed around their bodies and their closest environment. Our son has a safe place where he spends most of his time, constantly discovering. The space is big enough so he can roll around. But even in the safest of places there is a piece of wooden floor, a plastic toy, bars. And then there is all the movement to be discovered, movement that can potentially lead to falling down. But that's okay, because that is what the world out there looks like. There will always be unknown situations, unfamiliar street corners, new surroundings, and the best way to learn how to manoeuvre out there is to start from the beginning.

 Dr Emmi Pikler says this about falling: 'It is important that the infant becomes careful herself. When, out of fear that she might hurt herself, we protect her from every bump, and pad everything around her, we really are not helping her. We should let an infant try things out for himself. If he has bumped himself two or three times, he will instinctively learn to protect himself.'

With new movements comes new 'body memory'. So far our son has learnt that he can roll over without hitting his head. If we put pillows all around him, he would not know that. We would be putting him in danger of hurting himself more when, at some point, we would not be around to put pillows or catch him. And with new body memory, comes more secure movement. Less restricted movement. Because now he knows, that he will fall. And he knows how to do it.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The problem of sleep

I used to have a son who had no problem falling asleep by himself, woke only a couple of times a night, and went straight back to sleep after being fed. We were happy and oh-so-proud. Then something happened (that infamous something, if only I knew what it was...) and now at the age of six months we are working really hard to help him enjoy going to sleep, falling asleep and staying asleep. Some nights we work very hard.

Someone once told me that new parents complain about one of the two things when it comes to their babies: eating (or not) or sleeping (or not). Sleeping is our battleground. Our son is an active, happy little boy, who has incredible difficulty winding down, and even more difficulty falling back to sleep when we're not there. A while ago he started waking up in the middle of the night, not hungry, not wet, just needing company. We went, sat by his bed, he went back to sleep. We got up from the chair, he woke up and cried. When that 7 o'clock alarm rang, we were spent. 

I looked for answers, as all parents do, and realised there are as many answers as there are people providing them. There seems to be no pattern, no one cause, and no one solution. As those difficult evenings and nights continued, we were ready to try just about anything. I don't think there is a website out there I have not tried to look through. Finally, we realised the only way to deal with it was take it easy, know that 'this too shall pass' and have a plan. Knowing what the plan was, and reminding each other of it turned out to be very important, because you really tend to forget about everything when it's (again) three in the morning. 

The 'loud nights' were hardest. There are fewer of them right now, but sometimes they still happen. We didn't rock him to sleep, but we didn't leave him lying in the dark and crying all alone. I would not leave my husband alone in a room if he needed my help, and I do not leave my son. But I would not carry him around the room for hours on end either. Just because I will not continue doing this forever, and if I don't want to keep doing this, why even start?

We fought against putting our little one to bed later - a lot of people advised we should try, but we believe babies should go to bed early. We slowed down, thought about it, and followed the simplest of Magda Gerber's advice: 'To have a respectful approach to your child's sleep is to help her learn good sleeping habits.' We set a routine, told our son about it, and have been following it with him. We tell him what will happen. We try and make the house as peaceful as possible for his sleep time. But we also don't want him to fall asleep with our hand on his cheek, because we learnt that when he wakes up in the middle of the night he is looking for that hand. And if it's not there that's just not fair. So right now we are doing as little as neccessary reassuring him that he can do it, and that we are there in case he needed us. But we try not to put him to sleep. Some evenings are harder than others, but we are trying, and we know that eventually he will learn. And just knowing this has made all the difference.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Magda Gerber - the why and how

This should have really been the first post on this blog, as an explanation is due.
Six months ago I gave birth to a wonderful boy. Before he arrived while we were expecting him there were  numerous conversations about how we are going to raise him, and what our parenting philosophy should be. That's when a friend mentioned RIE approach. We looked it up and knew that this should be something we would strive to achieve in our parenthood. When our son was born I had many questions, so I ventured out and found millions of answers, approaches, lots and lots of advice. Six months down the road I am back to Magda Gerber, now more than ever convinced that this is the approach I will strive to adopt raising my son. So I'm back.

There are two reasons I decided to start this blog: there is so much information about all different methods, philosophies and ways you can apply when dealing with children out there on the web. There is not much about Magda Gerber, Emmi Pikler and the RIE approach. There is virtually nothing in Polish, which is why this blog will be both in Polish and English.

And the second reason is to keep myself on track with what I still believe is a good, healthy way of raising a child.

For those interested and wanting more information I recommend:

Baby-Led Weaning...the story of broccoli and carrots.

When we first heard about the 'common-sense, safe, easy and enjoyable' way of starting your baby on solids, we knew from the start this was what we wanted to do. And when our son first reached out for an apple my husband was eating, the most natural thing to do was let him have it.

Baby-led weaning is the way of introducing your baby to solids by letting him feed himself, at his own pace, with his own hands. Sounds unrealistic? Yeah, maybe. Sounds fun? For sure. But the thing that convinced us more than the fun (and the cleaning) we were about to have, was the principle behind BLW. We simply like the fact that our son will learn to chew before he learns to swallow. That he will get to know his food by smell, taste, texture and shape. That we will be able to enjoy family meals together. We loved the idea that our son will be the one who decides how much or how little he will eat.

To be able to do all that is necessary for eating the baby needs to be developmentally at the right stage. He needs to be able to sit upright with minimal (or no) help. He needs to be able to grab things and put them in his mouth (or, well, in the area). He needs to be able to chew or at least try. This basically means that a healthy baby can start feeding himself at about 6 months, which is the age we are advised to start feeding babies something more than breastmilk or formula (according to most pediatricians and WHO).

The advantages are said to be huge - which is why BLW is slowly becoming ore and more popular among mums and dads, or at least so we hear. A lot of mums say their babies are great eaters, not fussy and not picky - they simply eat whatever is put in front of them, because that's what they learnt to do from the start. There is no need for additional meal preparation - you simply give your baby whatever you yourself are having. We have given up (well, we were never really big fans of) fast foods, ready-made meals and the like, so we know whatever we are having our son can happily enjoy.

The biggest disadvantage, fo a lot of people,  is the mess. But since it is messy with our little one anyway, we just have to accept the fact that most food will fly about the room, and hope it will not end somewhere we won't find it and grow legs. It gets REALLY messy. We put a mat on the floor underneath the high-chair, and we clean it after every meal. This way whatever ends up on the floor can go straight back onto the tray, and hopefully into the mouth. At some point.

We realised, yet again, that the best thing we can do for our son (and ourselves)is slow down. Slow way down. BLW reminded us of it again. The meals seem to last forever.  So this is how it went with our first meal together, at the table, as a family:

We decided to go ahead and start when Antek turned 6 months. He had been interested in food (apples more than anything) for a few days, and once my husband gave him a big piece of apple he knew exactly what to do with it - the chunk went straight in the mouth and we heard happy sucking noises. Mat on the floor, small cute bib (oh how little we knew!) on the neck we were all ready to go. We put broccoli, long pieces of carrots (both boiled) and a piece of apple in front of him and waited. Did he eat? No, not even close. He made funny faces when he tried to put broccoli in his mouth, bit off a piece of carrot, gagged and spat it out, threw the apple on the floor. Maybe he eventully ate a bit of something, got some apple juice. It was definitely the most enjoyable meal we have had in a long time.

It might take time for him to properly eat something, but we're not in a hurry. I think that is the whole point though - he will slowly move on to 'real' food when his body is ready for it. I will continue breastfeeding him until he is completely happy with other foods. It might take time. But we really think time is the most important gift you can give your baby.

Tomorrow we are moving on to some proper breakfast-type food... I have a feeling we might as well leave him in his PJs for that :)