Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Birthing options: Doulas

We've come a long way from the 1950s, when my grandma was apparently so heavily sedated that she couldn't remember giving birth. We have so many options compared to generations that came before us. I asked my friend and doula Jenne Erigero-Alderks to give us the scoop on what having a"doula" actually means. You can read more on her blog, Descent Into Motherhood. Feel free to post any questions in the comments-- I am sure she would love to answer them. 

Time and time again, we continue to be amazed by how few people know what a doula is. There seems to be a varying level of misunderstandings as well, regarding what a doula is and what a doula actually does. In this post, we hope to introduce you to a profession and concept that is both ancient and has the potential to dramatically improve the modern birthing experience for every childbearing woman.

"A Doula is a word that has most closely become associated with a woman who provides nonmedical support during labor and birth, and also the postpartum period. The term can also be used to describe other supportive roles for other life events such as abortion, death and more." [1]

Let's start with the basics. Doula is pronounced DOO-luh (noun) and is a woman who assists another woman during labor and provides support to her, the infant, and the family after childbirth. There are two main types of doulas, Birth Doulas and Postpartum Doulas. Doulas are evolving to provide unique skills in other areas of life as well: Antepartum Doulas, Bereavement Doulas, Adoption Doulas, to name a few. I don't know any personally, but I've even heard of Divorce Doulas.

Doulas aren't anything new either. In fact, the word doula dates all the way back to ancient Greece, meaning "female slave." Greek labor supporters began referring to themselves as "labor companions" or "birthworkers" after deciding they didn't want to interpreted or treated as a slave, as the historical definition depicts. Even the word “gossip” derives from the Saxon women who were invited to attend  birth and support the laboring mother. Dana Raphael, an anthropologist, used the term for experienced mothers assisting new mothers in labor, breastfeeding and newborn care in Tender Gift: Breastfeeding (1973) It wasn't until Marshall Klaus and John Kennell, physicians and authors, conducted clinical trials on the medical outcomes of doula-attended births that the word doula was brought back to life to refer to those who provide labor support.

Not too long ago a woman contacted Angie inquiring about her services as a local Seattle
Doula. She said very little over the phone but wanted to schedule a free consultation as soon as  they could. The following day, She met her and her husband at a local coffee shop. Angie writes,

"At first I thought I was approaching the wrong couple because they had such a quizzical expression on their faces. As we began to talk and warm up to one another the husband sat back in his chair, crossed his arms across his chest and said to me "you're normal". Quicker than I had time to process his comment I had answered "Eh, only sometimes". It wasn't until much later that the husband elaborated on this. He said that he expected an older woman with warts and Birkenstocks. I couldn't help but laugh and it was okay because both he and his wife did too.

To this day I can only imagine that the he visualized doulas and midwives to look something similar to what Vincent van Gogh depicted in The Midwife."

On the topic of midwives, Doulas are not only for those that choose to have a midwife provide their maternity care. (Doulas don't provide any kind of medical or clinical care - we're here for emotional and physical support purposes - so if you're looking for someone to assist your midwife you should look for a midwife's assistant or monitrice.) We are not on strict reserve for those choosing homebirth either. For the most part, a doula will provide support to any woman who wants one. Of course individual doulas may have their own preferences limiting them to specific geographical areas while others may prefer not to cross any bridges or attend an unassisted childbirth. Just like deciding on their fees for doula services, it's all up to the individual doula. This is all part of the process of meeting your potential doula and interviewing her thoroughly.

When choosing a doula it is recommended that you consider what qualities you would like to have in a doula. You might find it helpful to make a list of these qualities, much like you would list desired amenities in a home you were looking to buy or rent. Although it isn't customary for a doula to come with a big yard, walk-in closets and eat-in-kitchens, doulas do come with an impressive resume of experiences, trainings and skill-sets. Don't be afraid to ask questions that you think will help you to determine if a doula is right for you. It's important to remember that a doula is there to support you and your family. You are inviting her into a private, sacred space that is only yours and your partner's. You want to be sure you're comfortable with your doula and that there is a connection between you both (or at least the possibility of one).

When it comes time for us (as a mamas) to find a doula to support us through labor and birth, we focus on just a few meaningful qualities: we make sure she's local because we want peace of mind that when we call for her it won't take too long to come to us. We make sure wecan afford her fee (and if we can't, we know we can ask if she has any discounts, a sliding fee scale or if she's willing to make payment arrangements). Lastly, and in my opinion most importantly, we make sure she's huggable. After all, who doesn't love a good hug?!

Our short three-quality-checklist may not work for anyone besides us and that's okay. You may find other qualities more valuable, like whether or not the doula is certified, how many births she has attended, or how many clients she books each month. It might be crucial that she offer other services as well, like placenta encapsulation, belly casting or childbirth education classes.

Lucky for us Seattle Mommas, we have the advantage of living in one of the most doula-rich areas in the U.S. making our search for labor support that much easier. Its a good idea to do a little research on the topic. The Internet (as well as the good ole' fashioned library) is a great resource to find out about Kennel and Klaus' research, specific statistical information on the benefits of having a doula, how having a doula can improve birth and things that you can expect from a doula. To get you started, take a look at this handout from Evidence Based Birth that summarizes The Evidence for Doulas

Written by Angie Valentin and Jenne Alderks, doulas with Doulaville Affordable Birth Services, serving the Greater Puget Sound region from Marysville to Olympia. 

Sources: [1] Wikipedia [2] The Free Dictionary, [3] The Online Etymology Dictionary. See gossip (n.). The Doula Book: How a Trained Labor Companion Can Help You Have a Shorter, Easier and Healthier Birth, Kennel and Klaus

birth doula, midwifery apprentice and advocate for a healthier more loving world
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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Summer Absence

Summer in Seattle is quite the distraction
I know we haven't posted in a while (summer calls), so I thought I would link to a few things we have written that were published elsewhere:

Taylor wrote an awesome piece on common morning struggles for Parentmap:

I wrote about my Brother's ADD diagnosis and a few misconceptions I realized I had after finding out:


I pin all of my published writing onto my Pinterest board, too, in case you are interested: http://pinterest.com/roryg/rory-graves-writes/

We've been busy taking our kids camping, swimming and enjoying the sunshine before the inevitable rainy season strikes. I also began working for Parentmap (which has been a dream job). Writing (and trying to do it well and not just posting our random musings) can be time consuming and since we have young children and busy lives, we apologize if we don't post consistently. School is upon us, and hopefully with school we will have more time to write some posts.

Please help us gear up for some more good content by writing suggestions in the comments. If you know someone who would be a good guest blogger, let us know. Also, feel free to send in more questions for Taylor's "Ask a Behavior Analyst" series.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Return of the Native American Playmobil -UpdatedMay29

*I knew this post would inspire controversy, but the first round of comments has made me realize I wasn't as clear as I could have been and that there were suggestions and approaches I should add.  The post has been updated to reflect this.  Big thanks to Debbie over at American Indians in Children's Literature for taking the time to comment, suggest resources and teach us.  
Playmobil®s first releases in 1974 - Indians theme 1/4

When I was little, I remember spending hours playing Indians with my Grandmother's Playmobil.  I would painstakingly set up each Tepee and headdress.  The Indian moms would wear their children on their backs, the little babies carefully holding their dolls and I would put  tomahawks and bows in the hand of each brave.  Sometimes, I would also let a girl hold an ax (I was a budding feminist after all).  When I was done setting everything up my cousin would come barging in and knock everything down with his Cowboys or He-Man or GI Joe or Dinosaurs and the game would be over.  As one-sided as it sounds, I absolutely loved it.   

As I got older, I cringed when I thought of those games.  I hated all the stereotypes we had based our play on and realized how few tribes the tepees and totem poles really represented.  When I was old enough to have kids of my own, and noticed that Playmobil no longer made the Indian line and I thought that made sense.  Way to finally be PC, Playmobil.  It's about time.  It turns out they phased out the Indian line in the late 1990s.  

But then one Thanksgiving, it happened.  I was telling my children (5 and 3) the story of why we celebrate Thanksgiving.  Because I am an over the top P-SAHM, I had prepared beforehand by looking up the actual name of the Indian tribe (Wampanoag) so that I would be PC and respectful.  And as I was trying to explain the whole thing, it dawned on me that my children had never heard the term Indian or Native American before.  Everyone we know tries their best to be PC.  Our one chance was Thanksgiving, but in preschool, no one dared mention Native Americans. Thanksgiving has become a day to give thanks without a historical context.  Not all bad of course (it is a tricky story to tell in a culturally sensitive way),  but my kids had no idea that Native Americans existed, not in the past and not in modern times.  I felt like in a quest to be PC, the pendulum had swung too far and people were afraid to even mention Native Americans.

That thought made me sad.  I remembered my childhood play again.  But this time I wasn't so hard on myself.  I remembered the awe and respect I felt for the Native Americans.  I remember the reverence for nature.  The tiptoeing through the woods.  Sure, our play wasn't perfect and yes, it was clearly stereotypical but I realized I would rather have my children KNOW about Native Americans than not know.  And children learn through play.  In our family, my children's toys inspire interest and that interest leads to researching and learning facts and figures.  I feel like I am doing parenting right when one of my children runs over to me and asks if we can check out a book to learn about X.  

So . . when I noticed Playmobil had started releasing a Native American line again, I bought it opening day.  I was disappointed that Playmobil called them "Native Americans" rather than a specific tribe but I was excited to have toys in my home that could inspire my children's interest.    

Playmobil - Native American Camp with Totem Pole #5247

Playmobil is not the only one braving Native American play sets.  With the Lone Ranger movie coming up, Lego has released Native American sets too.  

As excited as I am that it seems to be starting to be okay to talk about American Indians again.  I wanted to make sure to do it right.  So I did a little research.  First I found out that according to a 1995 Census Bureau Survey (there is not more recent data) 50% of American Indians prefer the term American Indians, while 37% prefer Native Americans.  I had no idea that both were acceptable.  I thought Native American was the only PC term but it turns out that even the Smithsonian calls their museum, the National Museum of the American Indian

I also found two wonderful articles for discussing discussing Native Americans with your kids,  here and here.  You should go check them out but here are the tips I found the most useful.  
  • Make sure your kids know that Native Americans are alive today and that they dress and act like us.  They are not just historical figures.  Point out that the Playmobil and Lego figures show how people of some tribes used to live and dress but that they are not accurate.   For example, no tribe that lived in Tipees also made Totem poles.  
  • Talk about different tribes with your children.  Make sure your children know that talking about the specific tribes is preferable to the generalized "Native American".    
  • Point out that not all American Indians lived in Tepees or built Totem Poless or paddled canoes etc.  
  • Make sure to read books to your children that show American Indians in modern times as well as historical times.  I have yet to read these books but I have them on hold at our local library.  And I am grateful for the recommendation.     
Most sites also talked about how headdresses and feather tend to be sacred in many Native American tribes and it is not respectful to dress up with those items. 

So there you have it, now you can let your child play with American Indian toys with confidence--okay, apparently not with confidence.  As the comments below indicate this is a very complicated and controversial issue.  I stand by my post though--it is better to do the best you can to teach your kids, than to be too afraid to broach the topic

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ask a Behavior Analyst: Anger Management.

Angry Miss M. (and yes, I am proud of my tiger face painting)
Several moms over the past month have asked me for advice on handling anger issues with their preschooler/school aged child.  I think we've all been there.  Just yesterday a plate of toast got shoved to the floor because I "didn't cut it right".   The parents I have been talking to have been concerned about a short fuse with siblings as well as melt downs in anticipation of transitions (leaving the park, getting read for school etc).

As with all behaviors, the first step is figuring out what the child gets out the behavior.  So let's run down our functions of behavior.

  1. Attention:  Is your child screaming because you pay attention to her when she screams?  This may seem like a silly question but I have seen it a lot.  Heck, I'm guilty of this scenario at least once a day:  My two kids are playing quietly, so I try and get some work done.  I completely ignore them until one of them screams, then I come over to intervene.  If my child is feeling attention-starved, I have just taught her that screaming is the fastest way to get me to interact.  The fix:  If you think this is the case, start making an effort to interact with your child when she is not yelling.  Catch her being good and shower her with praise and attention.  Also, try to minimize the attention you give when she yells.  
  2. Escape/Avoidance:  Maybe your son screams and throws himself on the floor every time you ask him to do his homework.  Because you have two other kids to help as well, you just tell your son he can play for 10 more minutes but then he "is doing homework for sure".  Sound familiar?  This is such an easy trap to fall into.  But letting a kid off the hook for screaming is just teaching him that tantrums work.  The fix: I know it's easier said than done but you cannot let your child escape a task because they melt down.  If you have been letting him off in the past, sit him down and explain that crying is no longer going to work.  But also explain that you want him to be successful.  So set the timer for 5 minutes and let him know he can get a break when it rings.  Start small and then increase the time.  
  3. Tangible:  I see this in stores all the time.  Your daughter really wants a candy bar, you say no and the crying begins.  People are staring and you are feeling judged.  You can't take it anymore and really need to just get through the shopping so you can get home in time to make dinner.  You give in and give her the candy.  Presto, you've just inadvertently taught your daughter that crying works.  The fix: Don't do it.  Ha.  Easier said than done, I know.  I admit I have given into tantrums in similar situations.   Here are some strategies to make it easier.  Prep the child before you enter the store.  "We are going shopping and we are not going to get any treats"  or, "we are going shopping and if you are cheerful you can pick out a treat at the end".  Make your expectations clear and then stick to them.  If it is an especially stressful/important trip, just give them a treat to begin with.  We get a churro at the beginning of every Costco trip.  Best dollar I spend all week.  
  4. Sensory:  Your son just gets upset.  He may be tired or sick or just overstimulated.  His meltdown has to do with something going on inside him.  The fix:  Give your child some tools to regulate emotions on his own.  I will talk about these in more detail.  
I'm hoping that if your child is melting down for attention or escape or to get something, you now have a good idea of what needs to happen.  Sensory is (as always) a little more tricky.  and the thing is, in my experience, all kids go through melt downs for sensory reasons at some point.  If I think my daughter is crying simply to get attention, I ignore her but I don't ignore when I know she is just overstimulated and upset.  The following are some general strategies to help your child learn to regulate some of those emotions on their own.  

The first thing I would suggest is talking to your child about what to do "when their feelings get too big".  I really like the above book, but when I read it, I always change "worries" to "feelings" (I want it to be all inclusive).  My favorite thing about this book is that it has a very visual scale of upsetness with 1 being calm and 5 being super angry.  I explain to my daughter that I can't be around her when she's a 5 (it's not safe) but I will come help her as soon as she's at a 4.  

The next thing that I love is the Mind Jars.  I learned about them from this site.  There are several ways to make them but basically you add glitter and water and a thickening agent.  You can use glue or corn syrup or glycerin.  The idea is that you want the glitter to take several minutes to settle to the bottom. You'll probably have to experiment.  I would also let your child pick the color of glitter.  The more involved in the process they are, the more likely they are to buy into it. You then explain to your child that shaking the jar makes the glitter fly everywhere just like what happens inside his head when his "feelings get too big." As he breaths and calms down, his thoughts settle just like the glitter.  The jar can also serve as a timeout timer.  You child should stay in his room until the glitter settles.   As a warning, if your kid is prone to throwing things, I would not give him a glass jar. 

The book Moody Cow Meditates is about an angry cow who's Grandpa makes him a mind jar and can be a good way to introduce the jar.

My last suggestion is one I just introduced for my 6 year old.  She was yelling at least 10 times a day, at either myself or her brother.  I explained to her what the problem was and we made a chart together.  (Don't you love the grumpy hearts?) This chart represents 15 minutes of computer game time before bed.  Every time she yells, she moves the magnet down one block and then only has 14 minutes of computer time etc.  It is really important to give them something that they can loose incrementally rather than all or nothing.  That way if they yell at 9am, they don't give up for the rest of the day.  You could also do this with minutes you can stay up past bedtime, or number of M&Ms or whatever you think would motivate your child.

The chart has worked wonders in our household.  It turns out just seeing the magnet move down is motivational enough.  We no longer do the minutes, she just doesn't like it to move down.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Guest Post: 7 Parenting Lessons Star Wars Taught Me

By: Cameron Graves
All of those hours geeking out about light sabers, Ewoks, and the Force—I have decided—were not void of spiritual growth. And now that I’m a dad, I’ve learned that Obi-Wan really has taught me well.

  1. “You must unlearn what you have learned”Master Yoda

Yoda, you are a Jedi genius. All of those years I spent prepping myself for adulthood were decimated the day I became a father. Parenthood is like a blank slate, in a way, or like starting from scratch. A lot of what you already think you know gets rocked like the Death Star and you find out maybe you didn’t get things quite as well as you thought. Unlearn and relearn. Good call, Yoda.

  1. Courage is Key R2-D2

If a large lunchbox could have a kid, R2-D2 would have been a great dad. Not because he could create holograms with his nostril, or spin his head in a complete 360, but because he always just jumped—or rolled, rather—right into battle. It didn’t matter what kind of challenge he was facing, R2-D2 always had the courage to go forth and conquer! The best part was that half the time he had no idea what he was getting into—he just knew what needed to get done and he did it. (And he did it all while whistling!) Thanks for the handy fatherhood tip, R2.

  1. Patience: Portrayed by any scene where there is dialogue between R2-D2 and C-3PO
Just keep rolling. R2-D2, you are my hero. C-3PO, shut your pie hole. This dynamic is ridiculously similar to fatherhood, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, R2-D2 is the dad, and C-3PO is the whiney kid. And sometimes this is what fatherhood is—taking care of business while toting along a perpetual whiner who says things in the realm of “No. I don’t like you either” or “This is all your fault” or “I’ve had just about enough of you. Go that way. You’ll be malfunctioning within a day, you near-sighted scrap pile.” At times, I would like to pull my hair out or turn and give them a happy little shock with my mechanical welding arm, but I settle for the quiet blessing of patience learned. Thanks for the lessons C-3PO, maybe you weren’t as useless as I first thought.
  1. Devotion: Han Solo and Princess Leia
Okay, so they’re not the best example in a lot of cases, but at least one thing can be gleaned from their
relationship devotion. I don’t care what kind of outfit she’s wearing or if her hair resembles two cinnamon buns, I’m always happy to see her and she’s always beautiful. Even when I’ve just come out of carbon freeze and can’t see all that well, the sound of my sweetheart's voice is enough to bring me peace. Sure we don’t always mix it up with calm voices, but we always work it out and end up getting our—(enter C-3PO/interrupting child)—almost getting our freak on in the engine room. Kids, pay attention. I love your mom and treat her with respect. As should you.

  1. How you get so big eating food of this kind?” –Yoda

The unknown. Seriously. How do you get so big eating crayons, stale goldfish crackers, and gogurts? Where did you learn that word? How do I console you? What were you thinking? Every single day is littered with these questions, and although I haven’t reached the end of my time as a parent here on Earth, I expect they will never end. Children offer us the opportunity of a lifetime that I don’t believe can be properly experienced elsewhere. That opportunity is to head into the unknown with a lot of heart and not a lot of armor. And is there actually a finish line?

6. Humility: Luke Skywalker

Luke Skywalker gave a few good pointers on humility. First off, if there is anyone more clueless and whined more than C-3PO it’s got to be Luke. Throw in a bag of humility and a few lessons from Master Yoda and you’ve got potential to do some great things. In the end, he pulled it off—patient, soft-spoken, focused, Jedi. If a father doesn’t accept his bag of humility with a grateful heart, he will never become a true Jedi. Without it, we are only boys and fathers. But with it, we become men and earn the much more noble title of Dad.

7. Sacrifice: Darth Vader vs. Darth Sidious
There are too many fatherhood lessons in this scene to quantify. Don’t abandon your kids. Taking over the empire will never be as important as taking care of your family. Forgive and forget. Don’t play with electricity. But the most important lesson—and in my opinion the tops on this entire list—is sacrifice. Do anything and everything for the benefit of your kids that you’re capable of. Whether you’re protecting them from evil or you’re adding some good to their lives, just keep going and doing your best. And if you need to, use The Force.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Throwing Stones

As I've read the latest research on parenting and childhood, I have reflected on how much of who my children become is intertwined with the circumstances they were born into. No matter how naturally bright or wonderful they are, given different circumstances, they could be selling gum to tourists in  Tijuana to help support the family, or digging through the garbage of an Indian slum for food. I sometimes wonder how much potential is lost to poverty, to addiction. The following experience,has had a tremendous impact on how I view childhood's role in who we become.

It was one of those scorching summer days when I could feel the soles of my sneakers turn sticky and soft against the concrete. I guzzled water and let it trickle down the neck of my shirt beneath my Kevlar vest. If I wasn't working I’d probably be wearing something light and breezy, like a cotton dress. Instead, I felt claustrophobic inside my uniform: Black, knee-length shorts and a utility belt that held handcuffs, pepper spray, a police radio and a collapsible baton that was meant to be used as a weapon for self-defense. My bulky white shirt buttoned over my ill-fitting bullet-proof vest made my upper body look huge and emphasized my skinny legs, “like an orange with toothpicks for limbs” is how Nick, one of the other officers, described me.
I often wondered what made those who hired me think I was suited to be a security officer. I was a scrawny, pale, 19-year-old girl, the one who blushed when someone used profanities. After many discouraging weeks looking for a summer job to fill the gap between my college classes, I ended up at Riverfront Park in Spokane, Washington, the sprawling acreage where most of the city’s major events took place. I was expected to work a job where I dealt with a very peculiar group of people; Drunk people, men who ran naked through the playground, women who picked fights and spat at people when they were angry. I was the only female working with seven men who all seemed to be on high-protein diets and aspired to someday become police officers or firefighters.
But I stayed. I worked that summer, then the next, and the next. My confidence grew as I found that I could do the work, and that the hours of bike-riding in the park made all of the other aspects of the job worth it. But I also began to feel jaded. Spokane’s meth epidemic ensured that there was a steady stream of drug addicts in the park boundaries, living under bridges and along the banks of the river like an infestation. My frustration with people who threw their lives away on drugs and bad choices mounted. I developed a smugness that overshadowed the compassion I might have shown. “Those people” made my job difficult.
Then came that sultry day in August  a day when my only reprieve from the heat was to ride my bike down all of the inclines along the river-cooled trails surrounding the park, creating my own breeze. It was the day I found Stephen.
Despite the relentless, muggy heat, the park was crowded with people. I’d taken a break from riding, parked my bike beside the carousel along the water, and began conversing with the other officers working the shift. The music from the carousel echoed across the river, mingling with the staccato of children laughing, and quacks of the ducks as they fought over bread crumbs on the waterfront. That’s when I first saw him, sprawled in the grass. Despite the stifling heat and incessant noise, he lay still, asleep. His forehead was heavy with wrinkles, his skin and hair the same shade of sandy brown except for the big, purplish circles under his eyes. His frame was small and thin and something about his face looked sad, even in his sleep. The sun was beating down on him and I wondered how long it would be before he was sunburned.
I rode on, made my rounds, and returned a few hours later. He was still sleeping in the same spot, his face now a deep red.
“We should wake him up,” I said to Nick, one of the other officers.
Nick walked over and nudged the man with his boot. “Hey man! Wake up!” he yelled. The man didn’t even stir. I tried rousing him by shaking his arm. Nothing. “Get the smelling salts,” said Nick. I retrieved the ammonia salts from the first aid kit in the carousel and watched as Nick held them under his nose. The man twitched, started coughing, then sat upright, squinting his eyes against the sunlight.
“You’ve been asleep for a long time,” I said. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he replied. “I’m just tired.”
I knew right away I was dealing with a meth addict. Half his teeth were missing, the other half black with rot. He had track marks up and down his arms and a faint cat-urine smell emanated from him. He was probably “crashing” when we woke him up- meth addicts can sleep for days at a time when coming down from a high.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
He shifted uncomfortably and answered, “Stephen.”
I asked him for his ID and he handed me his driver’s license. As I wrote his full name down in my notepad, a wave of recognition washed over me.
Suddenly I was five years old again, perched on top of a wood pile along my back fence, chucking rocks at a boy in the alleyway as I yelled all of the bad words that my five-year-old vocabulary held. I can’t recall why I decided to throw rocks at the poor boy in the alley, but I do remember how awful I felt when he started crying. He looked up at me with the saddest blue eyes I had ever seen and asked, “What’s your name?”
“I’m Rory,” I replied.
“Do you want to play?”
That’s how our friendship began. I was cruel and he was forgiving. It was the first of many days we spent playing in my yard  digging in the sand, climbing trees, picking dandelions. I was a bossy child, and he sweetly let me dictate our games. The only time I remember him ever trying to take charge was the day he tricked me into kissing him.
“I’m the mommy and you’re the daddy,” I said.
“If I’m the daddy, you have to kiss me,” he replied.
“No. I don’t have to kiss you.”
“It’s what mommies and daddies do!” he insisted.
I let him kiss me. And I liked it. When my brother came out and teased me about it, I punched Stephen in the arm and told him to go home.
I stand there for a moment with the first boy I ever kissed, slowly taking in the scars on his face, the dirt caked to his shirt. I close my notebook and slip it back into my pocket.
“Stephen? Do you remember me? It’s Rory.” My voice sounds broken and strained. His eyes are dull and his expression vacant for a moment, then the glow of recognition slowly spreads across his face and sparkles in his bloodshot blue eyes.
“Hey, yeah, how’ve you been?” he says.” Do you still sing? I remember you liked to sing.”
“Yes, sometimes.” I reply.
I recall the first time I went to his house and asked to see his bedroom. He opened a hallway closet and showed me a crumpled sleeping bag on the floor. His sister, who was only a few years older than us, made us Top Ramen. I was amazed she knew how to use the stove. His mom wore a lot of green eye shadow and smoked cigarettes that smelled like cinnamon. He told me he didn’t have a dad. As a child, I didn’t understand what all that meant, but now the memory makes my heart ache.
“Well, Stephen, it’s so good to see you,” I say, trying to regain my composure. My throat aches and I can feel the tears welling behind my eyes. I fumble to put my sunglasses on. “Next time you take a nap maybe find some shade, okay?”
He holds his hand out and I shake it. His hand feels like a dead fish- so cold.
I haven’t seen him since that day, but I’m haunted by thoughts of that little boy with the blue eyes and shy smile. It’s easy to overlook people, to brush them aside as someone who isn't worth the time or compassion. What would I have become, given different circumstances? None of us really know how close or how far removed we are from the sunburned man sleeping in the grass. Loving someone enough to see their potential, even when you have to squint to see it, is a gift. It’s seeing that shy boy behind the mask of drug addiction and filth. It’s asking the mean girl who threw rocks at you what her name is, asking her if she wants to play.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ask a Behavior Analyst: Finger Biting

Hi Everybody,  now that I have introduced myself and my field via a simple video I am ready to answer your questions*.   If you have a question for me, feel free to email me at paranoidstayathomemom@gmail.com.

And now for the first question.     

I have a 3 year old daughter who was addicted to her pacifiers from the day she was born.  We tried to wean her off her pacifier slowly, having her toss them as she chewed through them.  She threw the last one away about a month before her brother was born (6 months ago).  We decided to use a different type of pacifier with him to avoid tempting her (which has worked) but she has been chewing her fingers since the last pacifier was gone.  I can't get the skin to heal.  and one finger on each hand is not only gross but has missing skin and bleeds easily.  What can I do to break her of this habit?  We have tried asking her to sop, we have tried taking her hand out of her mouth and covering it but she just chews on the cover.  

Oh man.  I feel you on this one.  My daughter went through nearly the same thing when we weaned her off her pacifier.  Except she was a lip picker (scabby, bloody lips look darling in pictures, let me tell you).  So I am not going to sugar coat it, habits like these (thumb sucking, fingernail biting, lip picking) are hard to break.  You can't just take away her finger like you could take away her pacifier.

To start off with, I am going to make an assumption and it is a big one.  But first I have to digress a little into basic behavior analysis.  Bear with me.  In general, the reason behind a behavior can be broken down into one of four categories (behavior analysts call these "functions of behavior" because we like to sound fancy and scientific.
  1.  Attention:  Kids behave a certain way so that people pay attention to them.  Example :  Joe does his homework because he likes his teacher to tell him, "Good Job." 
  2.  Escape/Avoidance:  Kids do a certain thing to get out of a task.  Example:  When Suzy cries, her mom doesn't make her do her homework.  
  3. Tangible:  A kid does a behavior to get something.  Example.  Emily does her homework because her mom gives her a quarter for every sheet she completes.  
  4. Sensory:  A kid does a behavior because of something internal.  This behavior does not rely on the environment and thus is the hardest to change.  Example.  Tom does his homework because he likes the feeling of completeness.  
Anyway, back to the finger biting.  I am assuming that your daughter is doing it for a SENSORY reason (this is the most common function). So my advice only applies if that is the case.  If you think she is doing it to get attention, or get out of doing things, write back.  I'll give you a whole different approach.  

The first step is to limit the environments where she is allowed to bite her fingers.  If it were me, I would limit it to her bed.  Every time I saw her biting her fingers, I would say "Oh, you must be tired" and send her to bed.  Yes, this will be exhausting at first but you want her to have to choose between biting her fingers and doing something fun.  No watching her favorite TV show while nibbling on her fingers.  Just be matter of fact about it, and consistent. 

Second, I would try to think of something she could do instead of nibbling her fingers.  Replace the behavior.  You will have to experiment here.  Your job is to figure out if it is her fingers that need to be kept busy, or her mouth.  Is it that she likes the sensory experience of putting something in her mouth, or the sensory feeling of picking at her fingers?  Maybe try something to keep her fingers busy.  Silly Putty?  Or have her wear silly banz that she can fiddle with.  You could also give her something that is okay to chew on (teether?) or a satisfying chewy food.  You will probably have to try several things before you find something that sort of works.  And truthfully, it will never be as fulfilling to her as chewing her fingers but it might help break the habit.

Finally I would write her a little story.  I know it sounds weird but if your daughter likes reading she may be really receptive to a book about herself (a lot of kids are).  I am posting the one I made for my daughter to give you an idea.  As you can see, it is very simple and I let her color it herself.  And I am not an artist.    You could also use actual photographs instead of illustrations, if you prefer.

The one thing I wished I had had in my book was a page about how "sometimes it feels good to pick your lips".  Whenever I said that to my daughter, she really appreciated the validation.

Good luck!  and let me know how it goes.

*This probably goes without saying but since I only know what you told me in your one little paragraph, my answers are, by necessity, more general in nature and may not apply perfectly to your situation and child.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

What in the heck is Behavior Analysis?

Before we start an Ask A Behavior Analyst feature, I thought I should probably explain what Behavior Analysis is.  So here is a little video I made to help you understand the basics.

If you have a question for Ask a Behavior Analyst, please email paranoidstayathomemom@gmail.com or facebook us.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Guest Post: Becoming a Biking Family

“We spend how much on the car?” My wife asked in disbelief at the figure I had presented to her during a discussion of our family’s budget. She had already been bike commuting to work most days and the kids and I were doing the lion’s share of our errands around town by bike. Our car sat unused for a week or more at a time. When we added all the car expenses up (purchase price, insurance, maintenance, registration, and gas) it averaged out to over $500 per month. Car expenses had always been something we accepted. They were just something we took as part of life. We paid them and never questioned if they were necessary... until now. 

Let me back up-- about a year after our first child was born, I thought it would be fun to go biking with kiddo. I bought a $50 mountain bike and $30 kid trailer off craigslist. After a tune-up at the local bike shop, the bike ended up costing closer to $200, but that’s another story. A neighbor gave us a kid-sized helmet and we began using the bike/trailer for fair-weather errands around the neighborhood.

Almost immediately I realized, or more accurately, I remembered that I love to ride bikes. 

As youth my buddies and I rode our bikes all over our suburban southern California neighborhood. In high school we all got driver’s licenses and cars became our primary mode of transportation. I never disliked bikes, I just moved on to cars. I was suddenly re-discovering the joys I experienced as a kid riding my bike. As a kid I never thought about what I liked about riding the bike, but the adult me was instantly aware of all sorts of differences.

I like seeing my neighborhood at a slower pace. I like the feeling of being outside. I like being able to stop and chat with my neighbors. I like not looking for parking. I like finding the hidden little passageways that are only passable on foot or bike. I like having exercise built into my day. I like becoming familiar with the subtle variations in topography.

I especially liked that my daughter enjoyed riding in the trailer. If it was hot out, I’d leave the cover open so she got fresh air. If it was cool out I’d bundle her in a blanket. If the ride was going to be long (relatively speaking) I’d give her a toy or a snack. Mostly she just enjoyed looking out the window.

Over time the bike/trailer got used for more and more trips. Our second child being born put us back in the car until he was about a year old, but through that year we still did bike/trailer trips with kiddo #1 as often as possible. Once kiddo #2 was old enough to ride in the trailer, bicycling really got hold of our family. My wife bought a bike so she could ride with us. She also started to bike to work most days. One piece at a time we got outfitted with fenders, lights, and rain jackets. We never had any sort of goals to increase our riding. It happened naturally. Biking was/is more fun than driving. Our two cars sat in the driveway more and more.

I had seen a couple cargo bikes around, but had written them off as some sort of specialty thing... like recumbents... those bikes that the rider sits reclined with the pedals in front. My perspective changed when I saw a cargo bike set up as a family bike. Dad was pedaling and 2 kids were riding on the skateboard-sized platform on the back. Something inside of me clicked. That night at dinner I told my wife what I had seen and proposed that instead of repairing our car (one of our cars was facing a couple grand of maintenance if it was going to be on the road much longer) we could replace it with a cargo bike. 

The suggestion was met with hesitance at first but not resistance. We had noticed over the last couple years that we were filling up the gas tank less and less from all the biking. After a bit of discussion, it seemed reasonable that our family could get by with one car, so we did it. We got rid of the second car and bought a cargo bike.

For about 2 years pretty much all of our around town errands were done by bike. When weather was really ugly, we drove. When our destination was outside of town, we drove. The rest of the time we pedaled.  Then came that fateful day when we realized that even though we hardly ever drove, we were still sinking hundreds of dollars every month (on average) into our car. The car was getting up in mileage and was going to need significant maintenance in the foreseeable future.

Our family had evolved to not depending on the car for our daily transportation needs and we were at a crossroads. Do we commit to maintaining an aging car? Do we replace the car? Do we sell it while it still has resale value? Was the convenience of having a car waiting in the driveway worth the expense? Would that money be more useful to our family if put to a different use? Ultimately we decided that our family would benefit more if our “car money” were put toward other things. We sold the car and bought a second cargo bike... one with a rain cover. 


It’s been over a year since our family has owned a car. Our day-to-day world has gotten geographically smaller, but within that smaller circle we've bicycled thousands of miles together and have become intimately familiar with tiny details of our city that previously went unnoticed. Life isn't always day-to-day though. Every once in a while we take a vacation.

We could rent a car and drive somewhere, but we haven’t done that yet. We took the Greyhound halfway across the country. It was an adventure full of characters. The train was somewhat less “interesting” but an adventure in it’s own way. Perhaps our favorite family trips lately have been bike camping. The details are enough to fill their own article, but I can testify that pedaling 2 kids to a campground and spending the night is possible and is a lot of fun.

Being car-free has its downsides and may not last forever for us, but for now, when we’re out on the family bike, we are experiencing the world together. We see, hear, smell and feel things that we’d miss if we were in a car and our lives are richer for it. I wouldn't trade our family biking experiences for anything.

People occasionally ask me about my bikes. Most common are questions about how expensive a cargo bike must be or about how tired I must be from hauling the kids. If the cargo bike were a toy, I would consider it expensive, but it’s our primary mode of transportation and it’s significantly cheaper to buy, maintain, and operate than a car. I don’t know any parent who isn’t tired some of the time. I don’t think that I am any less or more tired than other parents I know.  

I suppose reading the tale of how someone else’s family went from two cars to two cargo bikes is nice and all, but what can you, the reader, get out of it? Have I learned anything that I can pass along to other families who are interested to get out on bikes? Yes. 

A few bits of family bike wisdom: 

  • Start with the basics. Make sure that everyone in the family has an appropriately sized and adjusted bike, trailer, or bike-mounted child seat. Having equipment that fits and is set-up correctly will help everyone to have a good time.
  • I never had a handlebar mounted child seat, but everyone I know who has or has had one says that they’re the bees knees. Kiddo is right there so you can communicate without shouting and you can see them... see what they’re looking at, how they’re doing, etc. If I could do it all over again, I would absolutely get a handlebar mounted child seat.
  • Gears and front+rear brakes are mandatory if you’re going to be towing kiddo in a trailer.
  • Find low speed + low traffic routes. MUPs (Multi-Use Paths) are nice but sometimes weekend warrior racer types treat them as a freeway, so quiet neighborhood streets might be better if kiddo is still learning how to keep right and ride a straight line.
  • Patience is paramount when teaching kiddos to ride. Once the teacher starts to get frustrated, find something else to do.  
  • Include destinations that are exciting for kiddos... park, ice cream shop, berry picking, etc. These can be sprinkled in between “real” stops at the places mom/dad needs to go.
  • Don’t be afraid to make impromptu stops. One of our favorites is stopping to look off the side of a bridge or overpass. I often ride onto the sidewalk if a bridge is coming so that we can stop mid-span. Even if it’s just watching the river flow under the bridge, it can be fun. Seeing a train or a interesting boat is top notch.
  • Let kiddo bring a favorite toy. Toys that can be tethered on are nice so young ones don’t lose them.
  • Give kiddo their own bike bell (assuming it won’t be too much of a distraction if they’re riding their own bike).
  • Give kiddo a small handlebar bag for their own bike. They can carry their own toy, gloves, treat, whatever fits. My kids like to collect pine cones and rocks in their handlebar bags.
  • Gloves or mittens for everyone. Never underestimate the comfort of gloves even on a kind-of-cool-but-not-really-cold day. Wind resistance is a key feature to look for.  
  • Join a family oriented group ride. Often rides are family friendly but they’re not really family oriented. There is Kidical Mass and similar groups in many cities across the country. The rides are designed specifically with children in mind. These are great places to meet other families who bike and see their set-ups.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Nursing Story that Doesn't Suck

Unfortunately, I mean that title literally.  My baby couldn't suck.  

I always planned to breastfeed. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me that breastfeeding could be a struggle or that there was a possibility it wouldn’t work out. After all, my mom breastfed all 6 of us until we were old enough say, “Breast milk, please, Mama”.

I was so confident in my inherent ability to breastfeed that when my dear husband suggested we take a breastfeeding class, I laughed at him. Child birth class, yes. Infant CPR, of course. But breastfeeding? People have breastfed since the dawn of time. How hard could it be?

As it turned out, pretty hard. M., although a practically perfect baby in every other way, did not know how to suck. Not only that, but she had zero interest in nursing. The nurses were pretty laid back about it at first. However, when hours went by and she still had no interest in food, they pulled out the pump.

Our hospital was very supportive of nursing, so no one suggested a bottle but they did have me give M. the colostrum through a syringe. The next day, the lactation specialist came to help but she couldn’t get M. to latch on either.

Finally, out of desperation, they gave me a nursing shield (a little silicone nipple that goes over your actual nipple). M. still wasn’t interested and still couldn’t latch. If we dripped some of the colostrum on the nipple shield, she would nibble a little bit but that was it.  "Just keep pumping and waiting for your milk to come in, " said my doctor.  So home we went.  

Well, my milk came in in abundance. But M. still wasn’t interested in eating. And (big surprise here) she wasn’t gaining weight. We went back to the hospital and the nurse showed us how to hold this tiny tube hooked to a syringe full of milk next to the nipple shield so that M. was getting milk while she was nibbling. The idea was that the supplemented milk would get her sucking. S. and I got pretty good at this system (although it took both of us to do it) and I was feeling more successful.  It seemed like she was getting it.  

At our next doctor’s appointment, M. was diagnosed with Failure to Thrive (heartbreaking) and still wasn’t gaining enough weight. The doctor told us that we needed to start giving M. a bottle and that we needed to feed her every 2 hours around the clock. I did ask about using a cup or a syringe but both my doctor and lactation consultants felt that M. needed the practice sucking only a bottle could provide.  The first time I gave Miss M. a bottle I burst into tears.  She gobbled it down so fast, she was gasping for breath.  It turns out she wasn't just a fussy baby, she was starving.  I felt awful.  I felt awful that I hadn't realized she wasn't getting enough milk and I felt awful that I had to give her a bottle.  I was a failure on two counts.  

My life became feeding. It consisted of an endless cycle of attempting to nurse M using the tube and syringe, bottle feeding, soothing, and pumping.  If I was LUCKY, I would finish the cycle in 90 minutes, leaving me 30 minutes of "down time" before I had to wake Miss M. for the next feeding.  I was so stressed about her weight gain that I even set the alarm to ring every two hours through the night.  We were all living in crazy town.   Somewhere I had read that the first 6 weeks were the most crucial for breastfeeding (who knows if that is even true?), so I was determined to last that long. But, after that, if it wasn’t getting easier, I gave myself permission to give up.

Not wanting to leave any stone unturned, we also paid nearly $200.00 out-of-pocket for a fancy lactation specialist to come to our house.  And although, she certainly tried to leave the impression that it was just me and everyone can nurse, the fact that she couldn't get Mad to latch on either undermined her point (and completely validated mine).   

After 3 weeks of living in bizarro feeding world (nurse, bottle, soothe, pump, repeat), M. actually started to get milk without the tube/syringe system.  By 5 1/2 weeks she would latch without the nipple shield and by 8 weeks, we stopped supplementing with a bottle.  

I was so thrilled. We ended up nursing until she was 18 months (and I was 3 months pregnant) and I loved every minute of it (except when she went through that biting phase). But, here’s the interesting thing. Although I am glad I fought the battle, when I hear of other mothers in similar situations, all I want to do is give them a big hug and tell them it's okay to stop and that they probably should stop and don't be bullied into doing something that isn't working for your family.  

There are so many other factors to consider besides the litany of “breast is best” research. For example, if I had had any other kids; there is no way I would have had the time to dedicate to feeding. Or, if I had had any postpartum depression. Or, if my milk supply hadn’t been so abundant. Basically, I feel lucky that it worked out for me and have nothing but love and admiration for women in similar situations who weren't so lucky.

When I was pregnant with my second baby, I didn’t plan to breastfeed. I was too aware of the possibility that it might not work out. I hoped to breastfeed.

*the orginal verson was posted over at The Motley Mom