Sleep is not a problem to be solved

I will post about all the goodness later today — I said I would, and I will. I just have to figure out a way to do it. So far all my brilliant ideas involve serious violations of privacy (in other words, not so brilliant). But I’ll figure it out.

In the meantime, my head has been buzzing about a book I haven’t even read yet — How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm. I first heard of it on the Science of Mom blog, and instantly became obsessed with one quote, which I’ll note below, after this boring preamble.

Parenting styles. The thing about parenting styles is that you don’t have one, until you become a parent. And that’s when you realize that all the baggage — er, cultural gifts? — that have molded and shaped you are powerful forces just waiting to be foisted upon — er, lovingly shared with? — the next generation.

The story of our sleep woes with Seve are long and long. The short version is that I hit the frustration wall sooner, and harder, and was willing to try sleep training — which my friend Jaimie coolly describes as “for suckers” — but P was not. And was uncharacteristically insistent on that point. I was placing a high value on sleep, so high that I didn’t care how we achieved it as long as it happened. P was focusing on process. Or, more accurately, on relationship. And he was right.

(And oh, for the record, it actually brought tears to my eyes to type that sentence: he was right. It’s like my body rejects the idea that I might have been wrong.)

This different approach is not rooted in the fact that P is a softie and I’m a hardass. Those are fluid roles and we wear them both. If anything, this baby-before-sleep approach felt like it was culturally derived. P was born in Europe, and many of his attitudes toward children are more inclusive than the North American norm: “Of course you take your children with you when you go to a restaurant … they’re not nuisances that need to be locked away. If you want your kid to be well-behaved out in public, you have to take them out in public.”

Again, I thought he was just thinking of this as a problem to be solved: we want civilized children; the means by which we achieve that end is to subject other restaurant-goers to their wails while we civilize ’em. I’m not going to type that tear-inducing phrase again, but you see where I’m going with this … it wasn’t about teaching our children how to behave, it was being with our children that was important. Because we were living this — at last! — we were living this quote, which has stuck with me for days:

Your child being valued enough by you and integrated in your life is more valuable than enforcing a rigid sleep routine.

(Sleep expert James McKenna, on the Argentinian practice of letting children stay up (very) late to participate in social outings with the family)

You can read an excerpt — introduction and first chapter, “How Buenos Aires Children Go To Bed Late” here — and you oughta. McKenna’s quote appears midway through the first chapter (page 27 of this excerpt).

In truth, our kids are very well-comported in restaurants. But this quote reminds me … that’s not because P insists that Seve use a napkin at home, or because I insist on an x-hour nap every afternoon. It’s because love and trust are (I hope) foundational elements of our relationships with them, not a preoccupation with routine, and certainly not a clock.

Afterthought …

This post may/will annoy the many mamas I know whose children are still struggling with sleep. To clarify … I don’t believe that good relationships are the key to good sleep, largely because the opposite proposition — that bad sleep is the result of bad relationships — is odious. This is more an explanation/justification of our own parenting practices. Not even our parenting practices, but our lifestyle, which is highly inclusive of our children. There will be people who are inclined to give you the stink eye because your child is out with you at the café after 8:00 p.m. There will be those who give you pitying smiles when you confess that your two-year-old still has trouble sleeping through the night. And not to give Spain too much credit, there will be grandmothers who are speed dialing “protección de menores” because it’s June and your baby isn’t wearing three sweaters (in further fairness: that’s a grandmother thing, not a Spanish thing). Those people are the problem to be solved. Ideally with a slap upside the head, though in a pinch, like if anyone else is watching, a reverse stink eye will suffice.

But what do YOU want?

You’ve doubtless seen it on Facebook, but there is an essay going around, Your Children Want YOU!, that is getting a lot of love from exasperated moms.

I am one of them … to a point.

Sure, I am fractionally bitter about getting scooped on this topic – my version had a much catchier title: Fuck You, Pinterest! – but where I disagree with the author is on a much less petty point.

She argues that moms are looking at the internet, at magazines and TV shows and feeling like they don’t measure up against the Pantheon of Pretty (cited items: alphabetized spice containers, accessorized garden parties, seasonal decorations, handmade flower-shaped soap).

I argue that this is nothing new.  Ask your own mother if she worried that your clothes weren’t as fashionable or new as the other kids in your class.  Ask her if she ever lost sleep over your birthday parties.  Cast your mind back and see if you can ever remember a time you saw her racing around the house, frantically tidying up before company came.  See?  This is nothing new.

The only difference is the ubiquity.  Points of comparison are much more in our faces, as our faces are increasingly spent staring at computer screens.

I say: if you can’t beat ’em, sure, don’t beat yourself up … but don’t run and hide, either.  And ask yourself: am I feeling bad because I am an inadequate parent, or am I feeling bad because my adequacy isn’t splashed all over the galdang internet?

If it’s the latter, heck.  Don’t waste your energy hating the moms who seemingly have it all together.  The next time you do something with your kids – and come on, you do stuff with your kids all the time – stop and take a picture of it.  It doesn’t need to be a professional-quality shot and you don’t need to take dozens.  Take one picture of your kid colouring something, and share it with your friends.  Or one picture of a dinner you made, and post it online.  You don’t have to do anything you’re not already doing … you just have to document it, and share it.  And see if that makes you feel better.

There was a mom in one of my online due date groups who felt much as the original article claimed so many do – like she wasn’t measuring up against all those other megamoms on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest.  My advice to her: “Fuck Pinterest.  Seriously.  Fuck it.”

And I was sincere when I said that.  If the existence of that website fills you with anxiety, you don’t need to be a part of it.  But if what you feel is more like inspiration tinged with overwhelm, well, give it a try.  Show us what you can do.  Be proud, immensely proud, of whatever you are able to get done in a day, because it’s not easy to get anything done, most days.  Take a picture of what you’ve done, and share it as your testimonial: “I did this.  I got this done.  We survived.  Here’s proof.”

And of COURSE you should sing to your kids and call your mom, as the article touchingly describes.  Know in your heart that the title is true: your kids want you.

If what you want is a little support, some kudos, some appreciation for all that you do, then let others know that you do it.  Don’t feel bad about needing that acknowledgment.  What you want counts, too.

The truth about before and after photos

This was originally written in April 2012 but updated in July 2012 for Story of Mum‘s Love Mum-Body project.  It should be obvious that if I wasn’t a mum, I wouldn’t have this tum, and that, most days, I wouldn’t trade my kids for any bikini-ready lumplessness.  I hope that mothers new and old can find some comfort in my “before and after” photos.  If nothing else, let the minute it takes you to read this serve as one less minute spent watching crappy TV and hating your body.  — Jeni

I watch a lot of crappy TV, including infomercials. Worse yet, diet/exercise infomercials.

And every time I see a before-and-after photo, I want to throw my expensive television out the window, because COME ON, PEOPLE, think about what you’re seeing.

You might be seeing legitimate weight loss. You could be seeing some muscle toning. Odds are pretty good that you’re seeing some “bloat” in the before, and less in the after. You might be seeing better posture, a more flattering outfit. You might be seeing some artful Photoshopping. You could be seeing the result of hundreds of hours spent exercising, or hundreds of “customized meal plans” consumed. You are almost certainly looking at thousands of dollars spent.

Or you could be seeing this:

This is me, this morning, in mah underpants.

The difference between the photo on the left — in which I could pass for first-trimester pregnant — and the photo on the right, is that in the first image I’m sticking out my gut, and in the second I’m sucking it in. THAT IS THE ONLY DIFFERENCE.

If you were to run into me on the street, and it was one of those rare occasions where I didn’t have a baby strapped to my chest, you’d see that the reality is somewhere in between the two. I do try to “suck it in” more often than not, because that tends to improve my posture. But sometimes, depending on the jeans, it also makes my pants fall down, so I choose my moments.

What’s my point?

In both photos, I weigh the same. The number on the scale didn’t change. In both photos, I can run 5, probably 10, kilometres without feeling like I’m going to die. In both photos, my body is capable of meeting the primary nutritional needs of a 10-month-old baby.

My point is that there is no substitute for being fit. And that fitness comes in many, many, many more shapes and sizes than you believe that it does, if you can be honest with yourself about how you view the world.

My point is that there is no substitute for self-love, and that the woman on the right — who is still too chunky to be a plus-sized model, by the way — isn’t any smarter, or funnier, or more interesting than the “before” version.

Which makes sense, since the photos were taken three seconds apart.

If you’ve taken the time to read this all, thank you. Please remember this post next time you pass by a mirror and say, or think of yourself, something unflattering. Remember, internet, that I got near-naked to make a point.

Suck it in.

Or don’t.

I like you either way.

Before, and after.

If you think I’m talking about you here, yeah, you’re probably right.

If you think I’m talking about you here, yeah, you’re probably right.