Tuesday, November 10, 2009

raising a little citizen of the world

There are so many dreams that I have for my baby girl and so much that I want her to know and see and experience. But my greatest wish for Ruby is that she feel comfortable in this world and, as she grows, makes personal choices that will bring peace, joy, and hope to the lives of others. Ruby is a Little Citizen of the World, and it is my job, as her mama, to help her embody what this means.

In the summer of 2008 during a speech in Berlin, Barack Obama famously called himself a “citizen of the world.” His leadership has breathed new life into the promises our country was founded on and he has been a role model for how far respect and humility can take you on the world stage.

I found out two days after Barack Obama was elected President of the United States that I was pregnant with Ruby. It made me so proud and unapologetically happy that I was bringing our first child into a world in which an African American man had become the president of the United States. She is an heir to a nation in its proudest moment.

They say it takes a village to raise a child and I am so glad that this is the village that will raise Ruby.

As I said before, Ruby is a Little Citizen of the World. As her mama, I feel a sense of urgency and responsibility to live up to the ideals of the wave of hopefulness that was sweeping the nation at the time she first made contact with this world. I want to teach Ruby to interact with the world, yet know that it doesn't revolve around her. I want to teach her to respect and admire other people and cultures and ways of life, and to always seek to understand before judging. I want to teach Ruby to give back and to feel blessed and humbled by, not entitled to, good fortune. I want to teach her to love and be loved, to smile at strangers, and to always help someone in need. I want to teach Ruby to fight with words and understand the power of her actions. I want to teach Ruby to be kind to the earth and rejoice in Mother Nature's bounty in exchange. I want her to experience all that is good and wonderful in this world and to continue to bring joy and laughter into it. I want to teach Ruby to be passionate and compassionate and to always strive to be the best version of herself that she can.

The hard part is figuring out how to do this. How do we, as parents, raise our children to be upstanding Little Citizens of the World?

My own parents raised four Little Citizens of the World. Sometimes I wish I could wrap up my childhood in a nice little bundle, tie it up with a big beautiful bow, and give it to Ruby as a gift. My parents were lucky enough to expose us to an amazing breadth of experiences. I was born in Singapore and grew up between there, Hong Kong, and La Crosse, Wisconsin. By the time I graduated from college, I had traveled to over 30 countries and much of the United States.

Although we were very blessed by our family’s ability to provide these experiences, my parents did not allow us to feel entitled. They taught us that hard work was the necessary exchange for any good fortune in life.

My parents were able to give us these experiences because of their personal choices, the right career circumstances, hard work, and their eventual financial security. They could have easily not taken the overseas assignments or chosen to stay home during the summers for a much simpler lifestyle and the elimination of a lifetime’s worth of logistical nightmares. But they chose to take advantage of every opportunity so that they could show their children the world.

Jude and I do not have the luxury at this time of jobs with overseas assignments, much less the flexibility or disposable income to travel the globe with our little family. With Ruby, we are going to have to be creative and find less obvious ways to expose her to the world and teach her the lessons we want her to learn.

Ruby is only four months old, but we have already been trying to show her the world. There is no time like the present--even if she is too young to consciously remember these things later in life, I believe that we are shaping her worldview with every day that passes.

We have brought her to museums to see art. We have taken her all over New York City to see new faces of strangers every day and experience all of the sights and smells and sounds of urban life. We take her to parks and gardens as often as we can so she gets constant doses of “tree energy” (as grandpa Victor calls it). We take her to street festivals, neighborhood gatherings, and community events like watching the NYC marathon. We read books and look at photos and talk and talk and talk with her.

As she grows older, we want to teach Ruby about different cultures and traditions and religions so she can learn from them and decide what is important to her. For example, Jude has a family tradition of celebrating El Dia De Los Muertos with a shrine to honor all those loved ones who have passed away that we have carried on in our own home.

We also want to instill in Ruby a sense of civic duty and social justice. I am excited to share with her my passion for community service and volunteering and finding ways to be the change that you believe in.

Jude will teach her to appreciate food, to cook fresh meals, and to invest in our future by buying locally and eating whole foods. I want Ruby to be the kind of person who thinks to write a thank you note to the farmer who grew the vegetables she cooked for a particularly delicious meal!

I want to teach her to think of the ethics behind her choices and to make informed decisions based on what is best for more than just herself. I can model this by supporting local businesses in my neighborhood and others that I believe in--like Tea Collection, a wonderful company that sells adorable children's clothing reflecting cultures around the world and that donates to organizations like the Global Fund for Children. Tea Collection's tagline is "for little citizens of the world," which inspired this post.

One year ago, on election night, my regularly quiet Brooklyn neighborhood was uncharacteristically exuberant and abuzz with joy. Jude and I floated with a sea of neighbors celebrating the strength of our fellow Americans. People were singing, dancing, hugging strangers, crying happy tears, and spontaneously chanting, in unison, “Yes we did! Yes we did! Yes we did!”

I know that someday, when Ruby is a grown woman with a strong moral compass and a humble heart full of compassion and passion, Jude and I will sit back and smile, happy that we--with the help of this village--raised a Little Citizen of the World. And we will look at each other and say: “Yes we did! Yes we did! Yes we did!”

Sunday, November 8, 2009

does this baby go with my outfit?

People were wearing babies well before they were pushing strollers, but parents' different lifestyle needs have a lot to do with how often they do it these days. If I lived in a place where I was zipping around in a car, then my car seat/stroller combo would be the logical choice for most outings. But here in NYC, I'm not going to lug my stroller around up and down the subway stairs or into the tiny corner store to pick up some groceries if I don't need to. People definitely have strollers here, but they can also really get in the way (cut to mom with a double-wide taking up the whole sidewalk while I was rushing to get to work the other day). I have watched many mothers patiently waiting on the subway platform for a train empty enough for them to squeeze in with her kid's stroller. The solution? Make your baby part of your outfit.

Even though my back has been killing me since the second trimester of my pregnancy (try walking around in Manhattan all day with a bowling ball and two milk jugs strapped to your torso) and it's only getting worse with how much I hold Ruby and wear her in slings and carriers, I LOVE TO WEAR MY BABY!!!

There are so many benefits to baby-wearing--parent-baby bonding, baby's feeling of security in a womb-like environment (Jude dubbed our Hotsling with the newborn cradle hold his "man womb"), mama being hands-free while getting stuff done, etc.

I'm not gonna lie. I have an absurd number of carriers. Partly because I received some as gifts and partly because I have gotten advice for my aching back that has led me to try new ones. I am actually glad that I have more than one, because at this point I like different ones for different reasons and use a couple of them pretty regularly. That being said, now that I know them each so well, I could do with 2 or 3.

Here's what I have and what I think of them.

Moby Wrap:
Pros: most comfortable, cozy, affordable, various holds
Cons: time & space for getting it on
Regular Price: $39.95

This is the best wrap when Ruby is sleepy...or it puts her to sleep when she's not! The newborn holds are just so comfy and cozy--for mama and baby. The real selling point for me is back comfort--this is hands-down the most comfortable of the carriers for my back because it distributes the weight throughout my entire torso, hips, and shoulders. It's so kangaroo-like that it feels a little bit like being pregnant again, too...which makes me believe that it feels a little bit like being in the womb again for Ruby. She has always been immediately calm and content in the Moby. The downside, though (and it can be a pretty big one) is that it is a little trickier than the others to put on and take off. If this were as easy to put on as, say, the Bjorn, I'd wear this one every day! But, alas, it's not. It's one looooooong piece of fabric that you need to have room to spread out and then tie around you and pull around your back and over your shoulders. It's not that it's actually hard to do conceptually--it's actually quite simple--but you need space and time for it. If you've taken the baby out of the carrier to feed her in a restaurant, for example, it's hard to manuever in tight quarters to get the thing wrapped again. I use it whenever I'm fairly confident she's going to sleep through the whole outing.

Pros: easy to take on and off, various holds, great cradle for newborns, lots of fabric choices
Cons: weight on one side, less "hands-free"
Regular Price: $44

For the newborn cradle hold, this is very cuddly and womb-like. My Hotsling was my go-to sling for longer outings while Ruby was newborn to about 2 months old when it got replaced by the Bjorn as they easiest to get her in and out of. Now it's still easy and quick to use, but since she's sitting up in it, it makes her feel less secure to me and I end up "holding" her anyway; thus, not "hands-free." Also, the weight of it really drags down one shoulder, so I always hold her up from the botton to relieve some of the pressure.

Maya Wrap (lightly padded):
Pros: beautiful fabrics, easy breastfeeding, pocket on "tail"
Cons: difficult to maneuver the rings, baby squirms
Regular Price: $59.99

I really, really, really want to love the Maya Wrap. The fabric is gorgeous and I love that it is built to make breastfeeding easy in public (baby can feed from inside the sling and you can toss the "tail" over the top for privacy). However, I always struggle to get the fabric pulled comfortably through the loops and to get the tension and slack correct around the baby. And, while Ruby loves to be in every other sling, this is the only one that she squirms and squirms in to get comfortable.

Baby Bjorn:
Pros: fool-proof & quick on and off, best for dad
Cons: overpriced, weight pulls on shoulders & upper back, boring fabrics and design
Regular Price: 79.99 (currently $59.00 on amazon.com)

The Bjorn is the one that I never felt particularly compelled to love, but it quickly became our most-used carrier as soon as Ruby was old enough that we didn't feel like we were doing permanant structural damage to her body by holding her up between the legs (something that looks so uncomfortable to me, but she has never seemed to mind). When she faces in she put her head down to the side and snoozes. When she faces out (started doing this at about 10 weeks) she holds onto whatever she can grasp (we usually give her our thumbs) and takes in the world with awe. It's not very cozy, but it's just so darn easy to get on and off that it's a no-brainer to grab it and run. This, however, has been to the detriment of my poor, poor back. This one is the worst of all of them on my back, but the best on Jude's. I think it is because it hold all the weight from the shoulders and upper back and pulls down in the front, which is where women carry all their weight anyway, much more so during pregnancy and early motherhood. Still, though...did I mention just how easy it is to put on?

BabyHawk (BabyHawk Mei Tai):
very comfortable, sleek custom fit with different options for ties, most choices for fabrics & design
Cons: expensive, there is an "in-between" phase for babies where neither hold seems right
Price: starting at $80

This is my new favorite carrier! I just got it recently after trying on a friend's and finally breaking down to take the $80 plunge in the name of pain relief! Not only is the BabyHawk similar to the Bjorn in terms of ease to put on and take off (though nothing is as easy as the Bjorn), but the base of the weight you're carrying is set down into the hips because of the waist tie. The first time I used it I was amazed at the comfort. I didn't think anything could match the Moby, but this does. The only thing I can say mildly negative at this point is that Ruby is at an odd age for it right now--she's not quite big enough to comfortably straddle my whole torso for the basic hold, but she's also a little big for the newborn hold at the moment. I think within a few weeks this will be the best of the bunch! As for buying options: you can buy basic designs ready-made on amazon.com, or you can customize your own by choosing from hundreds of gorgeous fabrics and accessories on their web site. This is what I did and it was so much fun, though you have to wait for the custom order (which is why some people prefer to order it ready-made).

I heart the BabyHawk.

Buy ready-made Babyhawks on Amazon.com.
Buy custom-made Babyhawks on the company's site.

Baby-wearing is a wonderful way to connect with your baby, even while you're getting things done--at home or out on the town. It's like a permanent hug. How can you say no to that?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

it's not called liquid gold for nothin'

The guy in My Big Fat Greek Wedding had his Windex. For my dad, the magic cure is SkinBracer. He calls it “good-all” (when I was a kid I always just thought of it as “green stuff”) and he puts it on anything that hurts. For me, an unexpected gift of motherhood has been the discovery of the Holy Grail of all healers—a chemical-free, perfectly natural fix for just about anything: human breast milk!

I first learned about the healing properties of breast milk during Ruby’s first week of life. She was latching on so hard and, when she finished her meal, pulling off forcefully with her mouth clamped down. This led to horrifically painful and raw skin. Even though you “train” your baby very quickly the correct way to latch and de-latch, there is still a period of time while you are healing (and the healing takes longer because you can’t give your boobs a “break”) that breastfeeding hurts. A lot. Pain makes people tense, and tension is not conducive to a pleasant feeding experience for mama or baby. I called my insurance company and talked to a nurse. I learned that this is a very widespread problem for brand-new mothers. Apparently, this period of severe pain that many women experience is a common cause for many women to give up on breastfeeding all together.

Anyway, the nurse told me various things that I could do (dip my breasts in a saline solution, use lanolin, etc.), but she said that the single most helpful thing—and she was right—was to rub your own milk over the sore areas. Mother’s milk is designed precisely for the purpose of healing the cracked skin and cuts that your poor boobs can go through during the start of breastfeeding.

When Ruby was about a month old, it was the end of the summer and we started getting mosquitoes in the apartment that drove me crazy during the night. I would wake up in between Ruby’s feedings scratching my arms and my legs, tormented by bites. I didn’t want to rub anything chemical-y (like cortisone) into my skin because I try to be as pure as possible for Ruby’s sake. So, one night, I had the idea to rub some of my milk into my mosquito bites. It was incredible how quickly it provided relief! Not only did the bites stop itching almost immediately, but—even more amazing—the itchiness didn’t return. It was as if the bites were gone all together!

I have gotten a few hormone-induced blemishes on my face since having Ruby…but they are no match for my magical, magical milk.

No matter how often I cut and file her nails, it seems like Ruby always grows new daggers overnight. She gets little scratches all over her face sometimes from her busy little hands. I dab milk on each one and they are so quick to disappear.

I will be sad when Ruby is done at the boob and my milk dries up for many reasons, not least of which is that my incredible good-all will cease to exist. I feel like I should freeze some just for future cuts and scratches!

Milk. It really does do a body good.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

an open love letter to life in the city

Dear Brooklyn,

It is times like this weekend that make me remember why I love you so much. Even if you sometimes make me angry ($1,800/mo. for a small 1-bedroom, really?!), or frustrated (like when your A express train stops at High Street-Brooklyn Bridge, even though barely anyone gets on or off), or annoyed (why do I have to wade through so many busted hipsters in Williamsburg to eat at my favorite breakfast spot?), deep down my love for you is unwavering.

It makes me so happy that you have so much to offer me and my family. It warms my heart that you have so many friendly neighbors that smile and hang out around the ‘hood. The trees that line your streets and give at least one side shade at all times energize me, especially in the spring when they explode into pink and white fluff. The sheer amount of babies you have grown inspires me every day. The richness of your history and the depth of your convictions make me want to be a better person. But, Brooklyn (or any other city for that matter), the thing that makes me love you the most is this: I can walk out my door, baby strapped to my chest, and be within a few minutes walk to such a wealth of opportunities for playing, shopping, eating, seeing, singing, smiling, and chilling.

This weekend was no exception. Yesterday--Halloween--I got Ruby packed up and put her on. Within a 10 minute walk, we were at the main entrance to Fort Greene Park, where we stopped at the weekly green market (NYC’s name for a farmer’s market) to grab a 50 cent apple cider sugar doughnut and a glass jug (returnable) of Ronnybrook Farm chocolate milk. Yum. Then, we entered the park--Ruby dressed in her pumpkin outfit--and walked around admiring costumes and all of the hard work that went into turning the park into a children’s Halloween festival with hay rides, a pumpkin patch, a bug exhibit, games and races, and a “cemetery” full of activities.

After leaving the park, we strolled over to Habana Outpost, the fun, seasonal outdoor Cuban place in the neighborhood. They were having a Halloween party for kids for their last hurrah before closing down for the winter.
On our way back home, we stopped by the Brooklyn Flea (a weekly outdoor flea market full of crafts, antique furniture, delicious foods, etc.) so mama could get herself something delicious to eat. I ran into friends who were waiting for their food at the Asian hot dog stand and debated with them whether or not to wait in the long line at the pupusa stand. I finally decided instead to get an open-faced sandwich from the people with the pig leg sitting out who slice your prosciutto off for you to order and serve it on slices of baguette with homemade ricotta, arugula, olive oil, and sea salt for $3. It was so delicious that I decided to buy a 1/2 lb. of their ricotta to bring home.

As we got close to home, I heard a band playing around the corner, so we passed our place to see what was happening. The street next to ours was blocked off and there was a band playing music for children, who were dancing--in costume--to the song: “Roly Poly Guacamole” as we walked up. Ruby and I danced for a bit and then stopped at Choice Bakery to buy a baguette for my ricotta (which I have been eating for the past few days with various toppings, including honey, kalamata olives, berry preserves, and sea salt).

Last night, when Jude got home from work, we packed up Ruby again and headed back out into the neighborhood for the annual Carnival of Carnage that neighbors on Clinton Avenue put on each year. They do an amazingly well-crafted play every half hour from five until nine. This year it had a freak show theme. Ruby loved the bright lights on the dark street and the crowds of people.

This morning was the New York City Marathon, which always brings New Yorkers out in droves to celebrate their city. Lucky for us, it runs right past our place. Each year, we wake up and open our window so that we hear the first cow bells going that tell us that the wheelchair marathoners are coming through. By a little after 10 a.m., the top women run by, followed shortly after by the top men. We always watch this from our window so that we get a good bird’s-eye-view. It’s truly amazing, at mile 9, to see how fast they are going!

We always love marathon day, but this year was especially fun with Ruby. We went down to the curb to cheer people on--we had various friends running--and she was absolutely mesmerized by the hustle and bustle of the street and the rhythm of the runners. She was wide-eyed and alert while we yelled and neighbors talked and rang bells and celebrated the day. Lots of runners smiled and waved at Ruby and a few even touched her as they ran by. She liked the attention and I’m glad she could be a tiny source of joy for them as they accomplished their amazing feat.

You know what, Brooklyn? There’s something in the air here that just feels right. Exciting, yet relaxing. Electrifying, but calm. Maybe it’s the changing leaves and the cool, crisp air…but I think, more likely, it’s just you, Brooklyn, in all your glory.

Oh, Wisconsin…How often we are tempted by the seduction of your promises…grandparents, siblings, cousins within a stone’s throw…fresh, breathable air…big, bright stores with all our household needs…parking lots…yards with room for swing sets…open areas for big wheels and cartwheels…space, space, and more space.

You might win some key battles, Wisconsin. But you’re losing this war. Your modest charms cannot compete with the kind of perfection Brooklyn gave us this weekend.

Thank you, Brooklyn, for keeping it real. Keep on keepin’ on.

Love always,
Annie, Jude, & Ruby