Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why don't moms stop judging each other? #notmywar

 If there is something I really do not understand it is the judging that goes back and forth among women, and particularly, among moms. This episode brings you the Stay-At-Home versus Working-Mom war of snide comments. Ever since Yu was born, I have sporadically been on the receiving end of such comments.

One of the first friends that visited me, someone I took a class with told me, as I listened in shock:

"Well, it is better for you and for the baby if you work as soon as possible. It is good for your peace of mind and the best for the baby. Also,  the baby will get his germs out of the system earlier."

The key word here being better, because I believe there is no better, I believe there are particular solutions that work for each family and specific situation. Also, was my friend trying to convince herrself of her choice? As for the germs part, yes and no, either she gets them now, or she gets them later. We are not living in a bubble. We go to playgroups, to the library, to swimming class, music class, the health center. We take tramways and buses and walk. The germs are everywhere. She knows them (it is one cold after the other). Also, it's not like I haven't been looking for a job. It's not so easy to get a job, any job. And I do not necessarily believe in working for the sake of working. (And I am very aware we are very lucky / privileged to be able to live on one salary).

Then, there is also the classic:

"I went back to work because I needed to use my brain. Don't you miss the adult conversation? I don't know how you do it, I was not able to spend the day oohing and aahing and singing nursery rhymes". 

No, really? I did not get a brain transplant when Yu was born and I certainly did not stop being a bit of a smart ass. I like having opinions and if we are being all honest here sometimes I have opinions on subjects I have not fully researched and know barely nothing of. I can talk about all kinds of subjects. Even with friends who also happen to be moms the kids are not our only conversation topic. I did not lose my interests in becoming a mom. Sure, carving time out to do things like reading is hard, but it is about making the things you want a priority (and sometimes the dishes suffer while they wait to be washed). Also, when I worked at an office we did not exactly have super interesting adult conversations where we discussed foreign affairs and climate change and strategies for peace in the Middle East. We talked about birthdays, and weekends and holiday plans and life. Also, I don't spend my day oh-ing and ah-ing (though I do sing a lot). I read to the baby, I talk to her about what we are doing, where we are going, I explain things to her and tell her little stories. I do not treat her like she is stupid (Have you seen Dora the Explorer? "-This is a backpack. In the backpack we keep our pencils-". Wow. Unless this programs were designed for alien children who have never seen a backpack in real life I really do not get why babies and small children are referred to in such a condescending tone, as if somehow they were less capable of understanding how and what things are by experiencing them).

And then there is the implication that women who choose to stay at home will not be respected by their kids because they are not working. Wait what? I was taught to respect my parents, not to be all religious here but  respecting your parents is one of the 10 biblical commandments. That is how far in time the tradition of respecting your parents goes back. I hope to be the best version of myself, to be the best model for her and show her the world as I know it, to make possible her development in the best possible way and to let her be her own person. I hope one day she will respect me for it, for the things we do for her. Not because of my professional achievements, whatever great, at least not only, and not mainly.

On the other side of the spectrum you hear a lot that line about how "it is selfish if a mom continues to pursue her professional interests ". And that is also unfair. I can imagine it is always going to be hard to leave your children for the day, be it at daycare or at school. What is true is that children need love and care, and that taking care of children used to be a communal endeavour (where aunts, grandmas and other family or tribe members were involved). The notion of a nuclear, closed family unit where the woman does most of the work is a very new and occidental one.

Not everyone has the privilege to live on one income. Not everyone who would like to work can afford daycare. There are as many situations as there are families and we are all different people. Some can feel "trapped" staying at home, others might thrive and flourish. Some others might not have a choice. The rainbow has many colors and shades and nuances.

Maybe instead of judging each other and bashing each other down we should start asking more questions, like this one from Renegade Mothering: "What would happen if we stopped looking at individual choices of mothers and began focusing on the social and cultural conditions underlying those “choices?”.  (But really, read the whole article)

There is no better. Finding balance is hard, and there are no perfect solutions either. We are all juggling many balls, but we are all trying to do the best possible choice within our possibilities. And that choice can be different for all of us and that is just fine.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Baby & Toddler friendly cafés in The Hague and Amsterdam

Lately I've been having some trouble finding places to go with the kid. When she was a small baby and happy to be on my lap it was just a matter of finding a café where the stroller would fit. Bonus points for places where there is a baby-changing station available. For this, the major department stores have you covered: Bijenkorf, V&D and HEMA (the one in the Hague gets extra points because it was just renovated and they built a little wooden house, 'het winkeltje, complete with a station for watching movies, wooden memory toys and a cash machine). A favorite place, though, is the Marks & Spencer. It has a million high chairs, tons of space, a lot of light and the food is nice. I imagine I am taking a stroll in London while I'm there (a girl can dream). But what really makes the M&S win is their baby cleaning area. It is actually a whole room with a sink, diaper mat and a huge armchair for the mom (where you can breastfeed or soothe a small baby if needed); and it is clean. Oh and at Pathé film theaters (most unexpectedly, because who brings their baby to the movies? Who can do that?) have changing stations too.

However, having a mobile baby makes things more complicated. As soon as they can crawl babies want to be on the floor and discover the world. The problem is that more often than not the floors of the world are very dirty, hence the trouble. Libraries are an option, but even there people wear their shoes all over the place, including in the places designated for babies and small children. There are a few cafés in town that have books and a few toys for babies to play as well as high chairs (café Blossom, Mien Koffie en brood, Pim Coffee,  Paagman bookshops, some Bagels & Beans), but that will only do the trick for a quick stop to eat, the short amount of time that babies and toddlers will stay happy at the table. Of course there are also playgroups, but those are at very limited times of the day, often coinciding with nap times.

Blender (Ruysdaelstraat 9-11-13, Amsterdam)

Last weekend we discovered a Café and Concept store for kids and babies, Blender, in Amsterdam. It is the perfect place to go with babies and toddlers because they have a special playground area complete with slides, foam tiles and many toys. They even have a special menu for babies (though for babies on solids who eat fruit, cheese and bread, as there are no purées available and hardly any vegetables. I did not really appreciate that they would not allow parents to bring their own food but there is not even commercial baby food in jars available either). Attached to the café there is a shop that sells the nicest toys and hip baby clothing (for a price).

We really liked it, though, again, people keep their shoes on so it is not super clean. (If it was my business I would treat it like a veterinary clinic, have the floor cleaned at least 3 times per day, as necessary, and 2 sets of toys so they could be washed and disinfected every day).

Koffie en Kind (Laan van Poot 38, The Hague)

In The Hague there is a similar place called Koffie en Kind, in a way it is nicer because the whole thing is a paradise for toddlers. There is a train, a wooden kitchen, a little house complete with a crib so the kids will put their dolls to sleep (because we know babies will not sleep), a whole wardrobe of disguises, animals to ride, a doll house, and of course coffee and snacks for the parents.

The only downside is that it is only open on weekdays from 9:00 to 13:30 (and on Wednesdays only until 11:30). These places are nice to have available on weekends and afternoons as well... you never know when the kid will get bored and demand a change of scenery and some other kids as distraction.

We need more places like this! For someone looking to open a business / café, this is a total opportunity. The news would spread like fire and I can assure you such a place would be full in no time.

Bij Mijs, Laan van NOI 100, The Hague
Post edit: I just discovered a new place just like this. Bij Mijs (Laan van NOI 100, The Hague) is a shop/café with a really nice playground for small children and large tables and craft materials for the older ones. It really is just fresh out of the oven as it only opened mid-March, that is barely 2 weeks ago. I already went twice and I really really love it.

Bij Mijs

Monday, March 23, 2015

Walking around Amsterdam (and street art in Spuistraat)

Yesterday, as the weather was rather nice, we went to Amsterdam for one of our walks. We started the day having a late 2nd breakfast at a really baby-friendly café (we need more of those, but that's a whole other post).

After the kid had played to her heart's content (and was ready for her nap) we walked towards museum square, then turned at Weteringschans, passed Leidseplein and continued to  the Negen Straatjes and then Spuistraat (stopping for an Éclaire, which alas, was not as good as we hoped it would be).

Winter, crisp, sunny days are amongst mys favorite thing. You can smell the spring coming on every corner, the days are already so long it is 19:30 before you know it and there are flowers everywhere.

We saw the most colorful street-art and ended the day with an early dinner snack at the café of Hotel Die Port van Cleve where Heineken opened his first Heineken brewery, before driving home.

How was your weekend?

Friday, March 13, 2015

Attachment parenting, us?

 Parenting can be very confusing. You think you are going to do things in a certain way and you end up surprised at the choices that end up being best for your family or particular child.

I try hard not to subscribe to any parenting philosophy. I like to have my own opinions, discuss and parent according to our own mish-mash, that we make up as we go. And I reserve the right to change my mind as well. People can get very radical (they don't call the phenomenon "mommy wars" for nothing). But there are no black-and-white solutions, no "right" way to do things  and every kid is different.  What works for one child, does not work for another. We are all trying to do the same, raise happy, healthy, children. (Anna, said it best*).

Yet, I found myself shocked at our  'attachment parenting' tendencies. When I first heard about the movement, I cringed. Hippy, dirty-looking parents (because soap is bad), hanging out in a field of flowers with their 7-year-old kids that are still breastfeeding and don't study math because they hate it; the kind of people who will only eat fruit once and if it has fallen off a tree and don't believe in discipline or limits because it could harm the fragile feelings of their offspring**. To each its own, but I did not see myself like that. And I swore I was going to raise independent children. Then I watched that documentary, Rauw*** (Raw) about a mother who imposes her diet to her son, and continuously tells him "the others are wrong, one day they will realize", where perhaps, the most telling moment of the whole film is when the kid tells her mom something along the lines of "everyone can make their own choices and they should be honoured and respected".

I always thought our daughter was going to sleep in her own crib from day one. I thought it was just a matter of putting her there, oh naive me. Then she was born too early and we wanted to have her close to us, so she slept in her Moses basket, by our bed. And she slept fairly well. When she was 5 and 6 months she started sleeping through the night, mostly (well, from 11 pm to 6 am without any feedings or wake ups in between). At about the same time we went to Mexico for a month, where she continued to sleep (on one of those giant American-style cribs); but when we came back she had grown so much she did not fit in her Moses basket anymore, so we decided it was a good time to transfer her to her own crib, in her own room.

At the beginning it went well, for a few nights. But then, she started to wake up every 3 hours, then every 2 hours. At one point she was waking up  e-v-e-r-y   s-i-n-g-l-e    h-o-u-r. This happened gradually, the lowest point happened sometime around November, when after trying everything from sleeping on a mattress by her side, to rocking her, stuffing her with heavy food (like potato) and milk, we went to see a baby sleep coach. You can imagine how tired we were, from bringing her back and forth to her crib, soothing her, only to have her wake up, again, and again, and again.

We read, and read, and read. We concluded this probably had to do with separation anxiety and maybe teething, which took a long time for her and started around that time. In the end, in a moment of desperation, Mark took the baby and put her in our bed.  I started crying, left the room in desperation and told him that if we did this now, there was no going back. I was also still very scared of SIDS and did not want her to choke under a blanket, pillow, or be crushed by us like a tiny piglet by its mom. But we really had tried everything and we were both so exhausted we could not continue functioning as it was.

She started sleeping better, waking up less. I started enjoying it. I read some more, realized that maybe it was OK if she still needed the security of being close to us, that she would become independent at her own pace and time.

 Co-sleepers are extremely expensive so we ended up doing the famous IKEA hack... which is quite simple really: just the cheapest crib, without one of the fences which is then attached to the bed with rope.

We hope  and assume that when she is mature enough for the change she will let us know herself. (Or we will reassess in the future). In the meantime she knows her room and crib very well, as she sleeps her day time naps there without any problems.

Did you end up doing things way differently than you ever imagined you would?

* You should read the whole post, but I just had to quote this because it encapsulates these feelings very well:

"Yes, I worry, as any overly informed middle-class mother would, about their sleep, their appetite, the number of wet diapers, my breast milk supply, whether I’m giving them equal amounts of time and attention, whether we’ll crack the impossible equation that is childcare. Quite frankly, though, those concerns feel superficial. Below all this is a thick, solid layer of serenity. We’re ok. The kids are all right. We’re drilling down to the bare essentials: food, sleep, love, laughter. My daughters are healthy, happy children. My husband is an incredible, bright, loving father. Bath time is a party, playtime is hilarious, nap time is my fun time, their morning smiles are rays of sunshine."

** That is a caricature I invented in my mind, probably based on some documentary I watched sometime. I do not mean to be judgemental, I am just trying to illustrate a point.

*** The documentary (Rauw)  is in Dutch, but you can watch it here.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Warming up to electronic devices

For the longest time I used one of those really old Nokia phones that could take water and hard falls and keep on working. When Mark got an upgrade, I happily updated to his "old¨¨ Nokia C3. I use my phone to talk to people, send text messages, and recently, take a million pictures.

He tried to convince me to get a smartphone a million times, but I am against wastefulness and the phone I had was still working (even though it was starting to become very slow because of software issues / being old). To lure me into it he installed whatsapp on his phone and added my sister and some close friends, and slowly I started liking the interaction. Free, instant messaging to close-ones who live across the ocean? That was difficult to resist. Even then, I just used it on his phone and kept resisting.

Same story for an e-reader. In his endless battle against my love for (keeping) books and hoarding of sentimental junk I keep in pretty tin boxes, he had been trying to convince me to get an e-reader already and stop collecting books, which take storage space and gather dust. I still love books and hanging out at bookshops is one of my favorite activities. Well, for my birthday last year he surprised me with a pretty, functional one and though I was happy with it, it took me a long long time to start using it. I would look at it, pretend I had to read the manual before using it, found reading the manual of an electronic device pretty boring and ironically... had the thing gathering dust.

To make it more "appetizing" we ordered a very pretty cover that looks like an old book (from Klevercase) and we downloaded magazines, articles, a couple of books. He made me discover Pocket, a very handy website that is like Pinterest but for reading material.

I guess it took a holiday, but when we were traveling it was the perfect way to read during long bus-rides and I have slowly come to love it.

As for the smartphone... he chose and ordered one for me and one day a little box arrived with it. I have to say it is quite easy to use (one of my reasons to persevere on using Nokia phones was that I knew the system and I am very, very lazy when it comes to learn how machines and  new systems work) and I love being connected. If only the camera would be better and faster...

Are you crazy about technology or do you like your gadgets old-school and (a bit) outdated*?

* Though I do not think, and I certainly do not hope, that printed books will ever be outdated. What about the charm of a printed newspaper, the large kind, with a morning coffee and croissant, sitting at a sunny terrace, waiting for the day to start? Or picking up a glossy magazine at the airport? Smelling old books at a library that used to be a hospital? Those are real pleasures!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The winter of the cough (and reflections on the Dutch healthcare system)

Waiting for the doctor
On Monday December 8, right after the weekend of Sinterklaas celebrations, baby girl woke up with her first cold. A stuffed nose, extra clinginess, general malaise. And a stupid dry cough. At the end of that same week she got her first tooth, so I was confused as apparently, sometimes mucus + cough + crankiness (duh) can be symptoms of teething. After a week and a half the cold went a way, but baby Y. kept coughing, mostly at night and during her naps.

By then the December festive period was full on and at some point we went to a Posada. To which we forgot to bring her snowsuit. To top it off we made the  mistake choice of taking her out for the piñata, wearing only her jacket and a blanket over the baby carrier. The next morning the stuffed nose and the snot were back. And from then on I kind of lost track of what happened. The cold seemed to come and go, I am not sure if it was the same cold, or if she kept catching new bugs. She did not really have a fever, and the symptoms seemed to get better, except for the cough, that always remained.

The morning after her birthday party (mid January) she woke up feeling off again. During this almost 2 month period we went to the family doctor at least 3 times. All we got from the doctor was random advice and home-remedies like: "give her paracetamol if she seems in pain or uncomfortable", "shower with her so she breathes the steam", "put an onion under her mattrass", "incline her mattrass a bit", "get a humidifier", "use saline solution and a syringe to clean her nose" and my favorite"just pull through it and wait until the Spring comes, because kids are sick the whole winter".  We did all of those things and then some more*. At some point the cough became wet and she began vomiting phlegm during some of her night feeds. Her ears and lungs were checked, and luckily, though those were fine. Medical doctors here seem to go by the Mexican saying: "enfermo que come y mea, el diablo que se lo crea" (something along the lines of "let the devil believe a sick person who eats and pisses"). At some point her nose was so stuffed she was not able to breastfeed properly because she had to constantly stop to breath through her mouth. She was also not accepting solids, because her throat was hurting so much. All she would accept was very smooth purées and yoghurt, sometimes. This coming from a baby who was already happily eating pieces of all kind of food, by herself.  But her diapers were wet, and she was drinking milk, if with some trouble, so no, this situation was not deemed important.

 This awful cough that would wake her up in the middle of the night, that would sometimes be so strong it made her cry was supposed to just disappear by itself. By now,at some point, she did present a very high fever, for 3-4 days, but we were told, this is normal in infants. Once they even suggested we take her out for a stroller walk in the cold so she would chill. (Yeah chill, and get a pneumonia).

I know one of the most basic principles of Pathology is that every form of disease naturally tends to recovery. It is one of the first things you learn in Medical school. And yet, if you can make a patient more comfortable, if you can accelerate the healing process, why wouldn't you? I understand the advantages of conservative medicine. I know antibiotic resistance is a very big medical issue, one caused largely by the abuse of these miracles of science Fleming discovered. But this kid had been ill for 2 months, some of the symptoms had never disappeared, and we had tried all the home and over-the-counter remedies we had access too. At the end of it we begged the family doctor to please give us a pass to the hospital so a pediatrician could see her. The pediatrician did see her but it was more of the same. "Sit and wait and watch your sick kid suffer. Everything we can see is fine."

 We went to Mexico in February and obviously, one of the first things we did was set an appointment with a ped over there. Sit and watch the kid suffer I was tired of doing, and waiting it out for 2 months was enough waiting. It turned out she had a rinosinusitis. The difference in care was just unbelievable. Only at that moment did I realize that in 4 doctor appointments, not once was a tongue deppressor used. I am a vet, I should have noticed this, but I trusted the doctors and it did not come to my mind. We had been complaining of symptoms affecting the airways, including refusing food, and her throat had not once been checked. It turned out she was full with mucus (we could hear that all along from her breathing). Luckily her lungs and ears were still clear (I was worried about the latter after a transatlantic 12 hour flight with the kid). The mucus was becoming thick and she was on the verge of it getting infected. The doctor then took her time to explain the treatment that would be needed and why each of the steps was necessary, even the most seemingly simple things like: "she really needs to drink at least 4 ounces of water per day to fluidify all that mucus". She explained we needed to be systematic about things, she advised using a saline spray, as they did in NL, but clarified it specifically needed to be an aerosol because that way it can reach all the way to the lungs, even if it'd be uncomfortable. She told us this needed to be done twice per day. She also prescribed something for the pain and inflammatory process, antibiotics (necessary at this point, after waiting for so long), a decongestive to help her breathe (which we only used for 3 days) and something else to help her bronchioles dilate while she is asleep at night. Almost immediately after starting proper treatment she felt better. It was like having a different baby, she was smiling, playing and eating like herself again. It felt like magic. (She also discussed all kinds of things like her general behaviour, eating and sleep patterns, and so forth.)

After going through this, I really don't know why kids in Holland are forced to power through and suffer for so long just for the sake of  an all natural and conservative medicine. I am not saying every single ail must be treated in an aggressive manner, but a balance between the two could be found?

*mandarin and garlic tea, homeopathic cough syrup, Vick VaporRub on her chest, massage in her back.

**Our (bad) luck would have it that the Friday before coming back to NL, she got another cold at a playdate (most probably). It started with a high fever for 2 days and now we are back to snot and a wet cough. We did get treatment, the vomiting stopped and she really does seem to be getting better. I hope this time it won't extend forever. It was never clarified if her 2 months of cough were different infections every time, or one that came and went, that got better only to get worse.
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