Archives for category: research

Since Elinor’s birth, I’ve been reading like a maniac, which I love. I read while I nurse, mostly, which is often. When Elinor is finicky and doesn’t want to nurse, I sometimes miss my reading time. But that’s OK.

BUT I just finished a book and it has me all riled up: _Born to Love_ by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz. My review:

“I have a bias toward things that deal with empathy — it’s a very Christian (and generally religious) concept, and I stand by it. This book was great b/c it approaches empathy from a scientific perspective, using biological, sociological, economic, medical, and psychological studies to state that 1) empathy is biologically rooted in our bodies through our stress response (or the mediation of that response) and 2) that empathy must be triggered by our social relationships, most often in early childhood. There is much more to this book, but it is a quick, easy read and it kept making me harangue Chad about all of the interesting, great, and terrifying facts and theories that it brought up. Especially useful for a young parent like myself, but also for anyone who gives a damn. I would compare this to _Outliers_ by Malcolm Gladwell, though it was much more research- and experience-based (Perry is a renowned child psychologist). Highly recommended and it makes me want to work to change the world for better. Huzzah!”

Anyway, I was indeed haranguing Chad about the book, and three things really got to me. I will go in order from least important to me at this time, to most important.

1) Part of the reason I love our neighborhood is because it really is in a zone where a bunch of different classes could interact. We are solidly middle class, but down the block are some skeezy apartments and down the other way are some bona fide mansions. [NB – skeezy is a made-up word for my lower-income neighbors, while bona fide is a fancy foreign word — ohhh, language!] _Born for Love_ advocates more social interaction in our lives, period, as that triggers and allows for empathy. But the authors also stress more social interactions with people not “like” us, be that due to race, economics, political leanings, etc. They advocate this because, though we do biologically benefit from our tendency towards being empathic, we also rely upon our dear old “us versus them” tendency, as well. The more we interact with others who seem to be “them,” the less they will seem like “them” and the more they will seem like “us.” I’ve seen the need for this in the kids I teach, and I see it in my own life. I wish that there were more options for the folks in our neighborhood to interact more.

1b) The polarization of our political scene stems from this, as well. I hang out with more Republicans than most of my fellow Liberal friends, just because of my family ties, but the more we did associate with people from the other party, the less we might be at each other’s throats, which seems to be very important for this country right now …..

Which leads me to:

2) I went to grad school for teaching because of the Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound (ELOB) schools, which are charter schools (run by small groups for a purpose, run with public funds, accountable to their own charter, but not to much else). All through grad school I advocated for Choice in schools, which would mean that students have the ability to choose from more schools based upon specific ideas, like ELOB, or Math & Science, or the Arts, instead of just attending their neighborhood school. I thought this was a good idea since people seem to benefit from choice in their lives and control.

But then I taught in a public school, which also happened to be one of the worst public schools in our state. And now Choice to me is scary. Not only does it allow us to self-select into our own safe little groups, but it takes away chances for us to interact with those unlike us. This could easily lead to less empathy, according to Bruce and Szalavitz. And I agree with them. My school’s neighborhood was being gentrified and is probably at least 40% white, but our school, the local neighborhood school, is 95% minority. All of the white families have “choiced” their kids out of the local neighborhood school, which is the modern-day, politically correct equivalent of white flight, in my mind. Have it both ways — live in the city, but benefit from upper-middle-class education since you have the time, resources, and know-how to work the system and get your kid out of there, while the parents who lack the know-how, the transportation to get their kids to other schools, or the ability to even care about their kids’ education, send them to our school, which becomes, quite thoroughly, segregated by class, which so often correlates to race. Choice is segregating our schools by necessity and correlation. No wonder kids are lacking empathy.

I could (and should) say much more about this. Someday. It is complicated greatly in my own life by our own neighborhood, because Choice is an option here and our local elementary school is, truly, the worst elementary school in our district b/c parents like me choice their kids out of it. And Chad’s former boss was eloquent: “I don’t vote with my kids.” I do want to ensure Elinor has a great education. But I also want her to be empathic and exposed to different lives, and I worry about losing that if I choice her outta here. I am torn. And she is only five months old!

Which leads me to:

3) Chad began work at the high-falutin’ law firm this past week, and I was torn apart about it. He’s already working his ass off for me and Elinor, which allows me to stay home with her. I have been incredibly grateful for this opportunity, and staying home with Elinor is not all creamcakes and lollipops — it IS work. But it is work that I am privileged to enjoy. But, needless to say, I was feeling guilty about being able to stay home with her. Most of my friends cannot afford to do so, and I worry whether it make me less committed to my career and the rest of the world to do so. Since I worry so rarely about anything …..

This book actually made me more comfortable with the choice to stay home with Elinor, especially this first year. Empathy is triggered, according to the authors and their impressively noted studies, by consistent attachment to a primary caregiver, be that person a mom, dad, grandparent, or daycare provider, especially during the first year of life. But all babies benefit from as much individual attention as they can get, as their stress responses will be appropriately managed and empathy developed with that consistency and reassurance. I really, really wish I lived in Iceland, where all parents receive NINE MONTHS of parental leave, at 80% of their salaries, to be split however they wish between parents. (Chad: “You really are becoming a little socialist, aren’t you?” And YES — care for new mothers and babies in our capitalist society SUCKS. My school would not be in its current straits if we provided for those kids from the start.) But I live here, where the reality is that either Chad works so I can stay home with her, or we search for day care and spend most of my salary on it. I am really, really glad that I get to stay home with her, and hopefully I don’t stress her out too much.

Whew. I highly recommend this book. I love it when books get me all riled up, staying up late into the night typing up rants on my blog.

You can verify this with Chad: I am obsessed with diapers.

I liked the idea of cloth diapering. I thought it would fit my values well, especially after researching some, as I am wont to do. You can argue all you want about the environmental impact of disposable versus cloth, but for me it comes down to these two things: 1) I am not throwing out tons of plastic and poop into landfills, and 2) I know EXACTLY what I am putting up against Elinor’s cute little baby butt.

So I decided to try them. And they are not difficult, especially since Elinor is exclusively breastfed right now — everything is water soluble at this point, so I don’t even have to rinse the diapers. Cloth diapering does take some time, and there is definitely an art to folding a diaper, but I have found that the entire experience of changing Elinor’s diapers is beautiful and intimate and — dare I say it? — fun.

This process, of taking care of the most vulnerable part of my daughter, of attending to her in the best way possible, of providing for her as I will provide for few others, is heart-warming and poignant for me. A true hallmark of independence is being able to take care of your nethers and your excretory functions, and until Elinor is able to do this, she needs me. Every time I place her on her changing table or the floor, every time I disrobe that chubby little baby, I remember that I am her caretaker and that I must make sure that she is healthy and happy. It’s also a few minutes for both of us to just take a break from whatever we are doing and hang out with each other. I cannot multitask while changing her diaper; it’s me and Elinor, mama y bambina, and we have lots of fun as I sing silly songs to her and raspberry her perfectly round belly. Chad has changed many a diaper, too, and views it the same way I do — bonding time. There are studies that the more a dad changes diapers, the more his kid will turn to him when distressed. Makes sense.

That’s my philosophical justification for being obsessed with diapers.

Because, as I said before, I am obsessed. More with diaper covers than anything else. Cloth diapering entails two parts: something absorbent to move liquids off the baby’s butt (a diaper), and something waterproof or repellent to keep those liquids off me and anything else (a cover).

The first part — a diaper for absorbency. I use prefolds, which are squares of pure cotton or hemp, with an extra layer in the middle for even MORE absorbency, that you wrap around the baby and pin or snap together. Cotton and hemp are highly absorbent, which keeps the urine from leaking or remaining against the baby’s skin as much as any material can. But then, in order to keep that urine from getting on my shirt or the rug or her daddy’s tie, you must also swathe that baby in a diaper cover.

When I researched and bought my supplies, I was keeping it simple. I bought some cute polyurethane laminate (PUL) covers that can adjust size to fit the baby as she grows. Not too expensive, they come in cute colors and are easy to use. That might be another reason I am obsessed with diaper covers — they are so cute! And a baby in a cloth diaper with a cute cover — those dufflebutts are adorable.

As I began to love those covers, I researched some more — and found wool. Ah, wool. If you remember my obsession with sheep and camelids, this continues it. Though PUL is great at keeping moisture off my clothing and furniture, it just keeps it there — in the cotton diaper. And, the longer it stays in the cotton, the longer it remains near Elinor’s butt. This can lead to irritation, though if you change diapers frequently, that’s not a problem. But there are times when you don’t want to change diapers frequently. Elinor began sleeping long stretches at night fairly quickly, and I began to worry about her tush. And wool presented itself as a solution.

Did you know that wool is nearly perfect? That even if you think you are allergic to it, you are more likely allergic to the processing that manufactured wool often goes through for typical consumer use? Did you know that wool feels relatively cool against the skin in summer, but warm in winter? Did you know that wool can absorb 30% of its weight in moisture without feeling wet? Lanolin, the substance that those afore-mentioned chemicals strip away, is actually a wax that helps sheep waterproof themselves — and is naturally hypoallergenic? Lanolin left on, or added to the wool of a diaper cover, will neutralize the ammonia in urine. That means that you can use a wool cover that’s been lanolized over and over and over and it will stay, essentially, as clean as it was at the beginning until that lanolin is used up — or until poo gets on it. Lots of people make shorts and pants (shorties and longies) from wool that can double as a diaper cover AND pants. How cool is that? I pick Elinor up after eight hours of sleep, and the wool cover is damp — but the moisture stays with the cover.

I got some wool covers and soakers (what a great term — the cover gets soaked and nothing else gets very wet), and I was hooked. I even love the care you must give them, which is what drives most people away from wool. I love that you must handwash the covers, and I love that you must, every once in awhile, add lanolin to them. I do that once a month, and the process brings me this calm joy. All of that sheephair and sheepwax, prepped and ready for my baby and her wonderful nighttime sleeping.

So now, in these late-night extravaganzas of my personal time, or during Elinor’s infrequent naps, I cruise craigslist and diaperswappers and ebay and etsy for wool covers. They are so beautiful, and, sadly but understandably, so expensive …. I love them. I would buy millions if I could. The best ones are made in Germany and Sweden, or in the homes of WAHMs (WorkAtHomeMoms). There is an entire lingo for cloth diapering, a whole world unto itself, with acronyms and benchmarks and many more people like me!

Isn’t this just artwork? Artwork for a baby’s bottom that costs at least $30 …. :

This is a Wild Child Woollies, from


These are shorties, a cover that doubles as shorts for a baby, from littleleafboutique on

These are the creme de la creme of longies:

That is not my baby, but those are longies from

But instead of buying and buying and buying,  I am trying to make them. I have begun to take my old, hole-y sweaters and handstitch them together into soakers for my baby. If I had a sewing machine I would probably use it, but for now I enjoy the slow process of needle, thread, and wool.

NB: In middle and high school I liked to handstitch little things. I had plans to make a patchwork doll after I read _The Patchwork Girl of Oz_, but that was an eensy bit too ambitious for my 12-year-old self. Instead I made tons of pillows and, during high school, made obese mice for Emily, Aubrey, and Brett (you know, the obese mice from scientific experiments? there was a great picture in my high school psych book, and from there — history).

Example of an obese mouse. Mine were brown and white. Amanda arcana.

My first attempt at a soaker, with reinforced “wet zone”:

That's black cashmere. Bootylicious.

On Elinor:

She is always so surprised by the camera ....

My second attempt, which I haven’t put on Elinor because I just finished it 30 minutes ago and she is in the midst of one of those precious naps:

Lavender cashmere with black cashmere legs. I'm getting better.

I never expected to have so much fun with diapers. If you have unused or hole-y pure wool sweaters you want to send my way, feel free. I’ll send you a picture of Elinor’s butt.

Ugggh. I am cursed by my researching gene. This happened with strollers and with baby seats and it usually means one thing for us: more money. Grrr.

Elinor is almost four months old. At six months, we will start her on solid foods — which means we probably need some sort of high chair. So I began researching which high chair would work the best. And, of course, I want one that is exorbitantly expensive, and that is primarily because I researched and actually learned about the stupid thing. BUT it meets all of my criteria — quality construction, easy to clean, she can eat at the table, and it can transform into a toddler chair and then into a normal chair (no need to buy a booster seat in between!). I’ve heard about some people using them until they go to college. I LOVE the idea of a high chair that could perform for years and years and years, instead of some schlocky plastic thing that will serve no purpose in five years or less.

It’s this:

That is the same chair, by the way. 🙂

Blah, blah, blah. I cannot justify spending the money, even if the damn chair will last until she’s 20 (or longer — some reviews said that grandparents used the same chair for their kids and grandkids. HOW COOL!).

So I’ve been cruising craigslist and have signed up for all of these baby consignment lollapaloozas in town.

To complicate things even more, the sweet baby set (sold separately, of course) that allows infants to use the chair only works with models made after June 2008. So I email the craigslist people and ask when the chair was made, and by the time I’ve explained why I care and attached screenshots from the manual to explain further, someone else has bought the stupid chair.

And so … more work for me.

From _when Harry Met Sally_:

Harry Burns: There are two kinds of women: high maintenance and low maintenance.
Sally Albright: Which one am I?
Harry Burns: You’re the worst kind; you’re high maintenance but you think you’re low maintenance.
Sally Albright: I don’t see that.
Harry Burns: You don’t see that? Waiter, I’ll begin with a house salad, but I don’t want the regular dressing. I’ll have the balsamic vinegar and oil, but on the side. And then the salmon with the mustard sauce, but I want the mustard sauce on the side. “On the side” is a very big thing for you.
Sally Albright: Well, I just want it the way I want it.
Harry Burns: I know; high maintenance.