Friday, August 31, 2012

Skin On Skin

I love my children's bodies. They are so beautiful and authentic and whole. They are so at ease inside their skins. I am constantly reminded of this in the summer because, hippy children that they are, they spend most of their time at home sans clothing. Finally this year, at 5 3/4, we have convinced Brother-Bug to wear underwear outside most of the time.

My boy turns golden in the summer.

Sharing skin-on-skin contact with my family is something that I treasure. Baby skin is so soft. A child's graceful body is to be marveled at. The intimacy of skin is magical. When I remember all this, I feel deeply saddened that there are people in this world who don't share skin with their family. 

Family nakedness is a delicate, rarely talked about subject. We fear so much - judgement of others, endangering our family because someone misunderstands, repercussions of all kinds. I started thinking about this because I wanted to post a Facebook status about waking up on a summer morning after sleeping naked together on a hot night, and how very blissful that is. I didn't post that because I feared negative, judging, or even repulsive comments. But that doesn't make any sense.

Before I delve further, let's get a little clarity on what I mean; what we do and don't do with our kids.

*We allow our children to run naked most of the time they want to (weather and social situations permitting).
*We often bathe with them.
*We go to hot springs with them and soak naked with them and other adults present.
*We sleep naked on hot nights.
*We explain our adult naked anatomy if questions arise, as well as their youthful naked anatomy and talk about keeping our bodies healthy and safe. We do this in a matter-of-fact way with out shame or tension.
*We support genital play (if your kids run around with no pants they will discover these delights very early and it can get a little awkward) because everyone does it, but ask that they take that play away from other people - it's something we all do and we do it in private. Again, no shame here. It's a privacy thing.

-We do not engage in any sexual adult intimacy (beyond nice deep kissing and loving, but chaste, caresses) while they are around.
-We do not allow nakedness in unknown places or with unknown people. God-parents' house? Fine! Dropping in on the new neighbors? Pants!
- We do not publish any overtly naked pictures of them on the internet. Even "private" can be gotten into.

In this culture we are so touchy about touching that we tend to throw the baby out with the bath water, making sure we don't somehow mis-touch our baby. There are people out there who have dangerous and deeply wrong desires, and so we hide all nakedness from our children lest we are tarred with the same brush. There are men who are parents as well as perpetrators and therefore there are good and loving Fathers who aren't allowed to watch their daughters' friends without another person (preferably a woman) present.

But most of us love our children without these issues; we change their diapers, bathe their bodies, examine injuries and illnesses. We caress their soft baby butts and bury our noses in the folds of fat to smell their special baby or child smell. They trust us with their bodies and we do an excellent job with that trust.

But we hide our love, our tactile skin-on-skin love because we are scared and ashamed?

Well, I'm not ashamed. I love the feel of a sleepy toddler body snuggled next to mine, the way the baby skin reaches out to me. I love seeing my bathtub full of Papa-Bug and Little-Bugs as he gently helps them learn to care for and clean their bodies. I love the play of light on skin when my ever-lengthening son reads naked in a sunbeam.

Look at those lovelies. 

I refuse to teach my children to feel shame or fear around nudity. I will teach them awareness and to respect their intuition and the many ways they can keep their body safe and healthy. I will help them understand that their skin is their largest organ, as well as an extremely powerful sensory organ. I will explain discretion and appropriate behavior and why we have to keep our clothes on in public locations. I will show them that the human body is just a body and nothing to fear or blush at. When they feel a need or want to cover up I will support that need.

I want my children to live comfortably in their miraculous bodies, knowing that they are beautiful
and magical.

One recent morning, I woke up to birdsong. It was a hot night, so we all slept "in our nakeds". When I woke, our skins were all touching, sticking slightly from heat. I marveled at how much skin we have between us and how my skin seems to know the skin of my family, kissed sweet dimpled elbows on a two-year old, rubbed a long lanky back on my almost-six-year old, and snuggled into my husband's waking cuddle. He and I looked at our children's bodies, perfect in the relaxation of sleep, with adoration and disbelief. When Papa-Bug got up to get ready for work, Brother-Bug cuddled close to me, throwing one leg over my side and belly, as if to keep me there or include the new baby. Sister-Bug wrapped a chubby arm around my neck and sighed. Every cell of my skin reached out to them. I fell back asleep, wrapped up in their love and touch.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

First-Grade Launched!

Origami day! World culture, art, geometry, fun!
If Brother-Bug were in school he would be starting Kindergarten next week. But he's days from six and we've been doing Kindergarten level work for 2 years now. I asked him what he wanted - more Kindergarten or to move on to First Grade. He decided to go forth and First Grade it up.

I love our plan to teach subjects in month long blocks, but we are loosening that structure for the moment, to be more flexible with the beginning of our new baby's life. Instead, here are some of the up and coming adventures in our first grade plan:

1) Have a baby. Incredibly educational, and a good reason to put out usual plans on hold. Baby-Bug is coming in November so much of the autumn will be spent getting ready for that addition. It's been really sweet to see Brother-Bug get all excited and to help explain things to Sister-Bug. He remembers a lot from waiting for her and he's doing a great job of helping us all get ready for a new baby.

2) Daily school time. We are focusing on 10-40 minutes most week days on "school time" when we sit at the table and focus on an educational project of some sort. I believe that this daily practice is the lesson in itself.

3) Hand writing. This is how we start off our school time. I print out a d'Nealian worksheet for each day and he loves it. A longer post (rant) about hand writing will be posted eventually.

Working with patterns. Basic math. 
4) Lots of math exploration. I've mentioned my Dad's wife in previous posts - she was a teacher in an amazing school in North Carolina for 30 years. She shared her manipulative-based exploratory math curriculum with me. What a blessing! I'll write more about that later also.

5) Science Club! I gathered several families from our homeschool group and we are meeting once a week for our K-2nd graders to do an experiment together. Exciting! This will combine learning, socializing, and parental-networking all it two hours a week. It's a homeschool win!

6) Papa-Bug was a political-science major, and loves an election. We will be using the Presidential Election as a great opportunity to learn a little about how government works. Already Brother-Bug is fascinated by the electoral maps at 583.

7) Ballet, just like last year. And also working on more formal piano lessons.

It looks like a lot, all written out like that, but in reality we spend 1-2 hours a day engaged in "school". The rest of the time we are playing, reading, questioning, and exploring. And who knows what will change as we move through this third-trimester. Of course lots of other adventures will find us - hikes, explores, canning peaches (today!), reading aloud, story telling, drawing... We would have to lock ourselves in an empty room to prevent learning from happening!


I am keeping Sister-Bug involved also. Each day for school time she gets to select a coloring sheet and color it with  her special "school crayons" while I work with Brother-Bug. Sometimes we mix it up with beads to string, or other 2-year old appropriate activities. School time is her favorite time of day and I'm glad she is already getting used to the daily habit of sitting down together for some focused learning time.

Sea shell coloring. Special crayons. She's happy. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Anniversary Reflections

Eight years ago today I married my best friend. Or something like that.

Ten years ago right around this time of year we found a small house and moved in together. The monumental decision inspired by the move was whether or not we should shelve our books together, or keep them separate. Ultimately we combined our books, and with that decision our relationship subtly moved into something more committed. Our marriage began to evolve.

The evolution continued and a year later we were officially engaged, something which came as no kind of surprise to anyone who knew us. And after 2 years of living and loving and laughing, and the occasional fighting, together we stood up in front of our family and community and made it public and permanent.

But it was a slow and growing evolution, and it continues to be. Now, eight or ten years later and 2.7 kids into it, our marriage is still evolving. Our understanding of our commitment and relationship deepening and changing as we grow separately and together. That's the real marriage, the slow evolution of mutual love and agreements.

And I feel so very lucky to have such a wonderful person to grow and evolve and change with.

Happy Anniversary, Sweetheart.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sushi Math

Brother-Bug's all time favorite restaurant is SushiLand - one of those sushi places where we sit next to a conveyor belt and sushi rolls past us in limitless quantities. He tries it all, enjoying some things that I just can't stomach. At our last trip to the sushi restaurant, I realized we had an excellent math game right in front of us.

There are so many possibilities. The plates are 1.00, 1.50, 2.00, and 3.00 each. You pick your plates and the waiter adds up your total at the end of your gorging. On this trip, we kept it simple, just playing with some of the many numbers we encountered.

What to eat next? Tuna? Salmon? Octopus?

I kept my plates in one pile, he kept his in another pile. We estimated who was eating the most by looking at the two piles. At first we tried to keep track of how many of each plate, making hash-marks on our paper...but we got to excited about eating sushi to keep up with that.

It was just too good to track while we were eating...

At the end of our feast, we counted up. How many of each plate? How can we figure out the cost of that stack? Who ate the most? (He did - he out ate me by one plate.) About how much money did we spend? Which plate - 1.00, 2.00 - did we eat most of? Least?

Brother-Bug starts counting. I ate 9 plates. He ate 10. 

It was an awesome math game.

There are so many places it could expand as well. Multiplication, division, quantity of individual rolls...  Mental math as we add up the total... I could give him $15 and he could figure out some budgeting... And going the other way, we kept Sister-Bug involved by having her do some basic counting practice - how many rolls are on this plate? Everyone was really happy, full of sushi, and enjoying finding a new math game out in the world.

Bonus! Sister-Bug works on her fine-motor skills with her chopsticks....

What other things could we do with Sushi Math? I guess we will have to go back...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why No Ultrasounds?

I have never had an ultrasound during a pregnancy. Happily, my babes have so far grown perfectly without any need to check and make sure that they are okay. I have nothing against someone else having an ultrasound for whatever reasons they deem fit, but they just aren't for me.

I would have an ultrasound if the health and well-being of me or the baby were in question and I wouldn't hesitate. I am fully in support of using the magic of technology and modern medicine to prevent problems and save lives. In this writing I am considering only the routine ultrasounds done throughout a pregnancy.

There are a number of questions surrounding routine ultrasound, and you can read about them in Mothering's article here, if you are interested. I'm writing about why I don't ultrasound my pregnancies.

My superficial hesitation - those ultrasound images are kind of creepy and alien. The images of the standard ultrasound are odd enough, but the newer 3-D images look to me like someone has tried to sculpt Winston Churchill out of pudding and failed...I don't really want that to be a "first" visual of my baby.

Sister-Bug has a cuddle, hoping to be kicked in the head. 

I've been surprised at every pregnancy the amount of judgement extended to a family who chooses not to find out the baby's gender. You, random stranger in the grocery store, need to know the gender of my baby for what reason? We should know the gender so we...know what to buy? Additional judgement is extended when it's revealed that we don't have any ultrasounds, with or without gender. It's as though I am intentionally endangering my baby because of sheer pig-headedness, as though I'm a bad parent for not counting the baby's fingers and toes before it joins my reality.
I marvel as my belly grows each time. I wonder if it's a boy or girl...but even more I wonder what idiosyncrasies, what personality quirks and traits have manifested as this baby grows inside me. I wonder if it will have a secret dimple like it's sister, or the funny ribs that Brother-Bug inherited from me. These things won't be revealed by an ultrasound, and I wouldn't want them to be.

We do use an ultrasound doppler with our midwife to hear the baby's heartbeat, and without fail all three babies have, as soon as they were big enough, moved away from it's waves, deeper into my cavities. They don't like it (how I can tell they don't like it is a topic for another post). The doppler is a very low-level wave, much lower than the wave needed to see the outlines of a baby. If my babies don't like this little wave, if we can tell that they are distressed by it, how much more might they be distressed by the larger sonics of a visual ultrasound?

But ultimately what it comes down to is this: My body has made this dark and protected cave in which my baby takes its first movements, begins its heartbeats, and turns to the gentle stimuli that come through the layers of my skin and muscle. It is the quintessence of private and intimate. The idea of ultrasound penetrating this privacy just doesn't work for me; it violates something sacred.

There are lots of people in the world for whom ultrasound is an important part of their journey through pregnancy, and I applaud their decision and ability to choose what is right for their body and baby. But it's not a route I plan on taking - for a third time around.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Question of Dignity

This is ridiculous. I generally try to keep the political off this blog, but since this is a blog about my life-choice to stay at home with my kids...

I don't want the "dignity of work", Mr. Romney. I do work - 12, 16, 18 hours a day. A lot if my job is undignified - scrubbing the toilet, begging and bribing a five-year old to clean up, or chasing a toddler around playing growling bear are not "dignified" activities.

I have made a choice for me and my family. This choice means I earn no Social Security, no 401k, I am reliant on my husband's sick leave and health insurance. I have chosen to live at a lower income level, by a full-time adult salary, because I love my work and I believe that what I am doing is important.

This has nothing to do with access to day care. There are many wonderful and qualified and affordable day care options in my area. This has nothing to do with my ability to find work. I have a college degree, I am credentialed in a couple of fields, and would be willing to put my shoulder to the wheel.

I'm an educated, liberal, feminist. I'm not making this choice out of a religious or similar bias, though many women do and should be able to. I know many women like myself who believe deeply in having a parent at home. I know many employed women who envy my ability to stay home and who wish they could afford to "not work". I know many working women who love their jobs and for whom staying home would cause frustration and boredom. I know many women who struggle daily to do what they believe is best for their families, regardless of their state of employment.

I don't need "a job" and I don't need the "dignity of work". I love what I do and I have plenty of work, thank you Mr. Romney.

Mothers (parents) - those who stay home or those who work - need their lives and the choices they make in those lives to be supported. We do not need anyone, least of all some rich and smarmy politician, to treat our lives like they are not worth anything unless we are gainfully employed by the economic machine. That is an indignity, Mr. Romney. We do not need anyone pushing some "work requirement" upon us, making lives already difficult even more so. I do believe that I am living my life, celebrating my freedom, and pursuing that which makes me happy...and don't you dare try to take that away from me. I'm not putting my two-year old in day care, even of you foot the bill. How dare you treat my life choice as something undignified?

I - and parents making hard choices every day, all over this country of ours - need the awesome work we do, raising and caring for the future voters of America, to be treated with dignity.


Update: I do realize that this quote is a snippet and lacks broader context. I also realize that Romney is not actually talking about me. He's talking about poor women who utilize the welfare system. For the record, I don't think that I am any different, better, or more deserving than any other woman who is also making tough decisions for her family. I believe that everyone deserves the dignity of choice - and that means not being forced to work OR forced to stay home. I believe that people should be treated equally and that an attack on a family on welfare is an attack on my family.

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Importing a tradition, slowly, from Wooly Moss Roots. It's good to stop and remember to be thankful...even if the children are screaming while I write this note...

Recently I have been Grateful for...

*Listening to Sister-Bug sing along to 'Leaving on a Jet Plane' while Papa-Bug and Granddad played it on guitars together.

Spelling is magic.

*Watching Brother-Bug tackle the wonderful world of spelling through Bananagrams and Scrabble.

*A dear and wonderful friend who happened to be awake in the middle of a hard night, just when I needed her.

*The appearance of two new adult teeth in Brother-Bug's smile - and the related shudder that comes from kids growing up too fast.

Fresh eggs inspire such ideas of soon as we have enough...
*Papa-Bug's sick leave policy, so that I can have a little extra help when I really need it.

*Our chickens finally gifting us with wonderful eggs!

*Family that comes for wonderful visits.

*The peace that descends on our house when it's just the 4.6 of us.

*Watching my belly roll and shift as the baby dances. It really makes me wonder who this being will be???

*The quality of the light in August early in the morning. Something about it is especially golden. 

What are you grateful for?

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Tandem Nursing Story

Happy World Breastfeeding Week! Nursing a baby is magical - that the food I eat turns to rich milk, that my beautiful children thrive from that milk... It's really special. There is nothing like a baby or child looking up into your eyes as they nurse. That is beyond really special.

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I want to talk about Tandem Nursing.

What? Is that like extreme nursing on a tandem bike or something?

The definition of Tandem Nursing is nursing two kids at the same time. A mother of twins might be a tandem nurser. A mother who has one older nurseling and a new nursing baby is a tandem nurser. And so on. Tandem Nursing is somewhat controversial, especially in this culture that frequently frowns upon nursing past a year (despite the recommendations from the AAP and WHO). Nursing two (or more...some moms nurse more!) children, when one is able to sustain themselves with solid food is a whole other kind of cultural taboo.

Before we delve into Tandem Nursing, I want to talk a little bit about Extended Nursing - or nursing into the toddler or preschooler years. Nursing is not a mere mechanical food delivery system; babies and children nurse for food, for medicine, for comfort, for connection, and because it's really good stuff. There is a dance and relationship that develops between baby and mother. The choice to nurse a child is deeply personal, and the length of time that a mother chooses to nurse is also deeply personal. Because it is a relationship between two people, the choice to end or change that relationship must happen between those two people. It's not my doctor's business how long I nurse (barring some extreme medical situations), and likewise it's not relevant to my friends, family, or strangers on the bus. People can and will share their opinions with me, but at the end of the day the decision has to be between the two people in the relationship. Nursing should stop when either party in the relationship is done. If the child no longer wants to nurse - Done. If nursing is too much for the mother - Done. If the dentist says nursing past a year is highly questionable - Find a New Dentist. You wouldn't let your dentist decide if you should break up your relationship with your partner, or stop speaking to your best friend, right?

On to Tandem Nursing.

When Brother-Bug was almost three, I found out I was pregnant with the being who would come to be Sister-Bug. Brother-Bug was nursing 4-ish times a day and I still cherished that time with him. It felt especially important as I contemplated sharing myself bewteen two kids - it was a time to relish my first child and the ability I had for those years to lavish attention on him without distraction. And he didn't want to stop nursing anyway. So we didn't. We talked to our midwife, did some reading, and decided to take it one day at a time. At any point I might have been done, and we would have helped Brother-Bug with the transition to not nursing.

Eventually, Brother-Bug learned to curl his body around my growing belly, and we explored different nursing positions. He would pat and rub the belly while he nursed. I gave him more of a schedule of nursing times (waking up, nap time, going to bed) and we talked about how the baby would get to nurse whenever.

It wasn't all blissful. Brother-Bug's initial latch-on hurt my pregnancy-sensitized nipples. But it only hurt for a minute and it was something I decided I could live with. I gritted my teeth for the latch moment and breathed through it. It passed fairly quickly, and stopped almost entirely somewhere in my second trimester.

Eventually, Sister-Bug made her way into the world. Brother-Bug was present at her birth. When she was about half an hour old it was time for her first attempt at nursing. She latched on my left, Brother-Bug latched on my right, sitting next to me. I looked down at my two beautiful babes and Brother-Bug reached his arm to wrap it around his new sister, gently stroking her back as they nursed together. That one moment was worth every painful latch I experienced.

Sister-Bug is about 6 hours old here. I love the smile in Brother-Bug's eyes.

As they grew together they would hold hands while they nursed, smile at each other, and connect while piled up on me. There were a few moments in which I felt overwhemed, under my two nurslings, but for the most part it was wonderful. Brother-Bug had a very easy adjustment to being the older of two and I attribute some of it to Tandem Nursing - that they could share this special relationship helped him understand the link between he and his sister. I loved having an extra tummy when I was just making too much milk - he was always happy to help take some of the pressure off! As he grew, his nursing slacked off, and just before Sister-Bug turned one, I asked him to be done nursing. He wasn't remembering to nurse and then feeling frustrated because he had missed it. His brain still wanted it sometimes, but the rest of him had grown out of nursing. He had a last nurse, we celebrated with ice cream, and I continued to enjoy nursing Sister-Bug.

Fast forward to Sister-Bug's second birthday. I was newly pregnant with the current Fetus-Bug. Still nursing. Again, we are taking it one day at a time. Sister-Bug is a LOT less committed to nursing. Sometimes she skips whole days and doesn't even notice. But we are still nursing and I plan on doing so until she is done...or I am done. I won't be surprised if she stops nursing before this new baby is born. Latching on is still uncomfortable, but I know that it's worth it for me. I treasure these moments when I can right the wrongs in her world so easily; the moments where she snuggles up to me, gazing up as we nurse. She will be a big girl so soon. I'm watching curiously to see where she goes and when she stops. The differences between my children fascinates me.


Tandem Nursing will not work for every mother. Some women have intense nipple and breast pain and must stop nursing. Some just don't want to keep nursing. And they shouldn't. Every woman's experience of nursing is different and should be supported and honored. If it's something you are considering, check out these sites:

La Leche League - Tandem Nursing : A great list of all their posts and links to Tandem Information

Breastfeeding Basics - Tandem Nursing : A very informative FAQ

Also buy yourself a copy of Adventures in Tandem Nursing, by Hilary Flowers. Good stuff there, and an invaluable reference to flip though as you nurse...and nurse...and nurse...

I've loved almost every moment of my Tandem Nursing experiences so far. If Sister-Bug does entirely wean herself before the baby is born, I will feel a little sad not to see that relationship develop as the baby sits on her lap while they nurse together. I love the way my arms and body encompass my children and feed them.

It's the best magic I can do. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Recipe: Broiled Lamb Chops with Fresh Herbs

I concocted a recipe for broiled lamb chops the other night. It was wonderfully fresh for a summer night - but I did heat up the kitchen quite a bit with the broiler. When I pulled the packs of Deck Family lamb chops out of the freezer, I pulled a pack of goat chops too on accident. I cooked them both up anyway and found out that 1) this recipe works well with Lamb or Goat, and 2) a side-by-side comparison of the two meats was really interesting. The Lamb is super tender and rich, the goat is somewhat tougher but has a more complex flavor.

The measurement of the garlic is best determined by the cook. Our family loves garlic, so I put in the full 6 cloves. However, because of the way the herbs crisp during the broil, the garlic retains almost all of its fresh spice. One option would be to lightly saute the garlic before mixing it with the oregano, another would be to use less garlic. Also, because of the final broiling step, I'm not sure that this could transfer to the grill, but possibly someone with more grilling expertiese could figure it out.

Broiled Lamb Chops with Fresh Herbs

8 Lamb (and/or Goat) chops
Worchestershire sauce
Fresh squeezed lime juice
Salt & Pepper
2-6 cloves of garlic
3-4 tbl. fresh oregano

Defrost the chops and sprinkle them with the lime and Worchestershire sauce - I didn't measure this, but just made sure that each chop had a drizzle. Marinate at least 45 minutes, flipping them over and redistributing the juice about halfway through.

Heat your broiler for at least 5 minutes. Mince the garlic and the oregano and combine, setting aside for now. Spread the chops on the broiling pan. Sprinkle lightly with salt & pepper. Flip over and sprinkle salt and pepper on the second side.

Broil, close to the heat, until the meat browns and the fat begins to carmelize. Remove from the oven and turn over. Spread the garlic-oregano over each chop evenly and broil again for 5-7 minutes. Fully cooked (medium-rare) lamb or goat chops should register an internal temperature of 145F.

We served this with cous-cous, salad, and roasted sweet potatoes. Super tasty and super easy - my favorite kind of cooking.