Tag Archives: blog march

Listen (again)

This post was first published in September 2011, when Dash was five and Mabel was two years and ten months. I’m wheeling it out again as my contribution to the Irish Parenting Bloggers’ blog march for National Breastfeeding Week in Ireland – head on over to Mama.ie for a full list of everyone who’s taking part,and a great giveaway too.

——————–

This morning Monkey announced that he wasn’t going to cry today. He went off to school with his Dad and wished me goodbye with aplomb. Reports from school were good: he still wanted to be walked to his classroom, which we’re not supposed to be doing at this stage, but he sat down and permitted a hug with nary a wail. I’m so pleased. There may, of course, be a relapse on Tuesday after the long weekend, and others to come, but I think it’s a good sign.

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. Instead, let’s talk about extended breastfeeding. Here, let me drag out my soapbox. Comfy down there? Need a seat? Don’t strain your neck, okay? I promise it won’t take long.

I didn’t really even register that Mabel counted as “extended” for quite a while. When you’re still nursing the big one too, you have to assume that the little one is legit, and the big one is just along for the ride. And technically, I’m not even sure when extended starts – after one year? After two? Okay, well, we’re coming up on three in a few months (and the big one has stopped, you’ll be glad to know, if you weren’t sure about that), so we’re definitely there now. She hardly ever nurses in public, so though we don’t have set times, I think it’s all ramping down gradually and I’m fine with that. There are days when she drags me to the sofa every five minutes, and I kvetch about how she needs to eat real food and stop bugging me, but then it turns out that she was starting a cold, or had been awake half the night, and she just really needs it.

Thing is, if I wasn’t nursing her, I don’t know when I would take that time to just sit down and have a cuddle with my two-year-old. She’s a big girl – I keep telling her that every time I try to entice the underpants back on. She’s starting nursery school next week. She’ll talk to you till the cows come home and she knows that cheetahs are the fastest animal and that Iron Man has repulsor blasts. (Oh yes he does.) She can climb anything, run anywhere, reach every damn thing she shouldn’t. But she’s still two, and even when she’s three, there will be times when she needs to decompress by being close to her mama for a while.

If I wasn’t still nursing Mabel, if she didn’t hold on to me every now and then in the most vital (and painful) way possible, I’d get up and walk away far too much. I’d say “Just a minute” and “Hold on a sec” and “I’ll be there in a moment” and “I have to get this done” even more than I already do, and I’d expect her to be fully self-sufficient all the time. She’s canny, this one, and she knows how to get her own way. Cuteness works, asking nicely works, whining works sometimes even though it shouldn’t; but when push comes to shove and she needs what she needs, she knows how to get me and keep me.

Because she’s right. The babies know. They always know. Listen to your baby.

Because one day they’ll walk off to big school with aplomb, and they won’t let you kiss them any more.

Toddler on balance bike
She was just about this big, and/or this small, back then.

Back to school in America

This week the lovely Irish Parenting Bloggers, my soul sisters (and brothers) (but mostly sisters), have been discussing the annual financial burden of sending your kids back to school, even in a country where most primary (elementary) schools are state run and therefore “free”. I offered to talk a bit about our experience, for the sake of comparison.

This is our third year in the American public school system – something I never expected to encounter at first hand, and a prospect that felt very daunting when Dash entered kindergarten. (Kindergarten is the first year of elementary school for most children here, and they start when they’ve turned five.) Apart from the mystery that was the PTA – that’s the Parent-Teacher Association – I had to navigate the unknown perils of the school supply list.

It was all pretty easy, as it turned out. Of course. You get a list of things to buy before the year starts, and you go to Target or Staples or the supermarket and buy them. In Ireland, cynical me says, the shops would put up the prices of all these things in August, but around here they tend to have at least some of them on sale, and each state even has a tax-free week or weekend at the end of the summer when you can buy children’s clothes and school supplies without the usual added sales tax (that’s like VAT).

Our list this year, just out of interest, looked like this:

  • 1 large book bag
  • 1-inch white hard binder
  • 12 no. 2 pencils, sharpened
  • 2 glue sticks
  • 4 composition books
  • 1 pair of children’s safety scissors
  • 4 pocket folders
  • 1 box of crayons or coloured pencils (no more than 24)
  • 2 small pencil sharpeners with cover
  • 1 pack wide-ruled lined paper

There are other things they note would be nice to have donations of, such as copy paper, more crayons, index cards, tissues, and liquid hand soap, but that’s the basic list.

The first year I obsessed over whether we were meant to label each item with his name, and if so whether we had to label every single pencil and crayon or just the box, and so on. This year I just put them all in a bag and brought them in. I don’t actually know whether my son uses the specific items I bought or whether they are all stored together in the classroom and then doled out as the children need them – it doesn’t really matter. I bought the nicer crayons and the brand-name pencils because I like those, but if he ends up using someone else’s not-so-spendy supplies, that’s the luck of the draw.

As far as back-to-school costs go, that’s the lot. Done for about $50. I didn’t count.

Our school doesn’t have a uniform at the moment, though it is being considered. Several of the local public elementary schools do, and I assume it would be something similar – a simple outfit that I could buy in Target or from Land’s End (for instance) depending on the quality I wanted and how much I had to spend. They don’t have crests or whatever it is that made my Irish school uniform so terribly expensive and only available from the secret special room at the back of the second floor in Arnott’s of Henry Street.

Books and workbooks are all provided at school. They never even come home, so I don’t see them and know very little about them. There’s no extra photocopying charge, no not-actually-voluntary contribution, and no extra fundraising commitment. If you join the PTA you can volunteer some hours of work at the used bookstall at the upcoming Labor Day Festival, or help organize the 5k race they do every year, or help out at the Scholastic book fair later in the year, for instance, but it’s not mandatory and it’s easy to help without writing a cheque. (Though cheques are always welcome.)

I’m not counting things my son would need anyway, like new winter shoes and clothes and a coat. He’s pretty well set for the coming season as far as that goes, thanks to my affinity for the thrift store and my habit of stocking up on higher-end things (like a good coat) when end-of-season sales happen. I got him a really nice winter anorak last spring that will do him for the next two years, at least. His backpack is still fine, though he may need a bigger one by next year.

We are designated “walkers” because we live within a mile of the school. If we lived further out, he could take the big yellow school bus. During the year, the teachers will probably send out requests for additional supplies – last year they were always running out of glue sticks and pencils and whiteboard markers. The PTA will run a coat drive when the weather gets colder, and I’ll probably pick up a decent-quality kid’s coat at the thrift store and bring it in, to be donated to a child who might not otherwise be warm and dry all winter. The school provides lunches that can be bought at a reasonable price, and these are free to those who need them. Children can arrive early and eat breakfast at school if that’s arranged for them. There is a limited amount of before- and after-care available, but you have to be lucky and get randomly selected from all the applicants to benefit from that.

Schools vary from district to district, from county to county, and from state to state. You can decide to send your children to private school, of course, or you can choose the location of your home because of the school district it feeds into, if you’re in a position to do so. But our middle-of-the-road school has such luxuries – as any Irish state-funded school would probably see them – as a librarian (sorry, that’s a media specialist), a counsellor, several special education teachers, a psychologist, and dedicated music and art teachers.

There are many things that are far from perfect with the American school system, with my county’s school system, and even, maybe, with our school. But from where I’m sitting, I have to admit that it seems like a pretty good bang for my buck.

Boy at school desk

If you’re interested in reading more about the cash crunch many Irish parents find themselves in at this time of year, here’s a handy infographic. And take a look at the other contributions to this conversation (I’ll update this list as the week progresses, so come back again):

The Clothesline – It All Adds Up
Wholesome Ireland – School Expenses
The Mama’s Hip – Homeschooling haul and chatter
Learner Mama – Back to school – A costly business
Musings And Chatterings – Crests and costs – starting big school 
The Serious Wagon – Back to School Costs 
Dreaming Aloud – Changing Gear
My Country Girl Ramblings – Back to School The Hidden Costs
Jazzygal – Back to school costs (a lot)

The accidental extender

It’s World Breastfeeding Week (yay boobs!) and the Irish Parenting Bloggers, of which I am a proud member, are doing a blog march in its honour. This is my contribution, and I’ll add links to everyone else’s as the week progresses.

August 1st: Wholesome Ireland and The Happy Womb
August 2nd: Office Mum and Awfully Chipper
August 3rd: Wonderful Wagon and It Begins With a Verse
August 4th: Glitter Mama Wishes and Ouch My Fanny Hurts
August 5th: Debalicious and Mind the Baby
August 6th: My Internal World, Musings and Chatterings, and Mama Courage
August 7th: The Nest, Mama.ie, At the Clothesline, My Life as a Mum, and Learner Mama

*********

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you may be familiar with my breastfeeding story; indeed, you may be rolling your eyes and saying, “There goes Maud with her boobs again.” If so – well, sorry about that.

When I had my first baby, my husband and I were living in southmost Texas, which is not a place that most of you have even considered might exist. I certainly hadn’t, until we spent two years there. We didn’t have any friends with young children, we didn’t associate with any babies or children, our families were an ocean away, and my babysitting years were far in the past. But we’d been married a year and I was 32 and I reckoned it was time to have a baby.

I did put some thought into it. I researched getting pregnant, and read pregnancy blogs, and checked babycare books out of the library. Pregnancy was achieved pretty much according to plan, which was wonderful, and I tried not to buy All The Stuff, because we had a small apartment and would be moving back up north when the baby was four months old.

My breastfeeding plans went like this: I wanted to, if I could. I hoped to get to three months, six if possible. Having a baby older than six months was not something I could conceive of at that point anyway, so there was no point looking any further ahead.

Perhaps I owe some of my success with breastfeeding to my midwife, who was a very down-to-earth person. As soon as I’d delivered the young master, she unceremoniously leaned over me and squeezed a nipple, hard. Somewhat to my surprise, creamy yellowy stuff came out. “You’re fine,” she announced, and observed us as I brought him gingerly to my breast and saw him latch on like a pro. I was only in the hospital for 24 hours, and I don’t remember the nurses being either helpful or a hindrance, except for the way they had to wake me up every couple of hours to tell me to try to nurse my baby. We would both have preferred to stay asleep, thank you very much.

Nursing in the first few days was difficult because the baby was still very sleepy (duh, newborn) and a bit jaundiced, and my milk had not come in. The pediatrician told us to supplement with formula and wake him to feed every two hours. I was adamant that I would not have my breastfeeding plans derailed by a doctor I didn’t particularly trust anyway, so we alternated breast and bottle, and I let my husband do the bottle feeds so the baby only ever got boob from me.

On the morning of the fifth day we were at the pediatrician’s office for a check-up. As we waited to be seen, the baby latched on – and didn’t come off for 45 minutes. Apparently my milk had come in. I was pretty relieved.

Latching on was fairly excruciating for the first weeks. I found a lactation consultant, who took a look and said the baby had a perfect latch. She sold me a nipple shield and a manual pump, both of which were more trouble than they were worth. I just decided that the people who said “If it hurts you’re doing it wrong” didn’t have my baby, or my boobs, and kept on keeping on, wincing and swearing freely at the start of each feed. Gradually the duration of the pain diminished and after about six weeks it only hurt a lot on the left side. After another week I was relatively pain-free, and from there our nursing relationship took off.

I had no support, really, from the people around me; though I had invaluable help and advice and a cheering section on the Internet. But the corollary of that is that I had no detractors either. There was nobody telling me they thought I probably couldn’t do it, that I should just use the free formula I’d been sent home from the hospital with, that my nipples were too small, or too flat, or too pink. I was already a stranger in a strange land, so I felt no urge to conform to peer pressure and do what others were doing. The rates of breastfeeding in south Texas are not good, so I assumed from the start that I was an outlier – a rebel, if you like. It was sort of liberating. In fact, I never had anything but supportive comments from those who did go out of their way to talk to me about breastfeeding.

We got to three months, moved north to Maryland, and went on gaily to six months. I became brave and then brazen about nursing in public – the mall, the park, the bus; McDonalds, poker night, the supermarket; whenever, wherever. At six months there was no question of weaning: why would I make my life more complicated, with all those bottles and warming and measuring and mixing? Starting solids was a little daunting, and Dash was never a big eater, so it was reassuring to know he was still getting plenty of good nourishment straight from the source.

Coming up to a year, I began to wonder when my baby would begin to wean himself, and how he would magically start eating all the food he’d need to replace that milk and keep growing. Gradually it dawned on me that he wasn’t in any way ready to wean yet, and that there was no need to. So we didn’t.

I never intended to be an extended breastfeeder. I certainly never intended to tandem nurse. I didn’t think I could possibly nurse through a second pregnancy. If you’d told me in those early days that my baby wouldn’t wean till he was 4 and a half years old – well, to be honest, I might not even have started. But things don’t always turn out the way you think they will. It was always easier to keep going than it would have been to stop, so we just did. I also had the support of two of my best friends, one nearby in real life and one in the computer, who also found themselves nursing preschoolers without necessarily having planned to. Feeling that I wasn’t the only crazy person in the world doing this made a huge difference.

My first baby is seven now. His little sister will turn five in November, and she still partakes of the boob first thing in the morning. It buys me a few more minutes in bed, and apart from her habit of volubly declaring her love for the boobies in front of company, the fact that I’m still, technically, a nursing mother doesn’t impinge on my life at all. Mostly, I forget that it’s even a fact, until I have to check a box on a form at the doctor’s or something. We’ll probably stop soon.

Probably.

Nursing mother and toddler
Nursing Mabel at 22 months

————-

If you’re interested in reading more of my breastfeeding, extended breastfeeding, and tandem nursing story as it happened, click the links in the tag cloud.