Friday, October 25, 2013


Williamsburg, 2013

Before I had Axel, I had a few notions about parenting. Some of them turned out to be pretty spot on, but some of them kind of make me laugh now. Here's what I thought, pre-baby, and here's how it turned out.

- I can't believe that family is letting their toddler run wild/make that terrible noise/throw food everywhere. Can't they control him? 

Ha! When Axel was first born, we'd occasionally go to brunch with family friends who had children who were 2 or 3, and who were throwing their pancakes all over the place and running around the tables. Or I'd take him to our baby boot camp classes in the park, and there would be runny-nosed 14-month olds toddling about, trying to poke him in his stroller, or drink from his bottle. Generally, I saw toddlers running around restaurants or making those insane screeching noises they make and think, "Really? Can't the parents do something?" Sure. They can not bring them to brunch. But if they do want to venture out in public, well, toddlers are kind of loose canons, and before they are verbal, there's only so much you can do without physically restraining them, or picking them up and moving them from place to place. And you are tired, and just want to drink your latte, you know? Axel now weighs as much as a large kettlebell, so it's a physical endeavor. Obviously, behavior, manners, and all the rest of it are all important, but to a certain extent, newly mobile, pre-verbal toddlers have such a drive to explore that you can't (and don't want to) tamp it down completely. So you pick and choose your battles and have to decide, on a case by case basis, whether you'd rather go out for a quick bagel than a sit down brunch, which may well challenge all of you and probably irk most of your fellow restaurant patrons. When we were in Palo Alto and in France, we generally had to take Axel out to restaurants morning, noon, and night. Sometimes he did okay, but there were plenty of times when it was a squirmy, frustrating experience for all of us. You do what you can. P.S. Toddlers are terrifying. Including my own.

- You don't need to change your lifestyle completely because of a baby. Hey, French people don't!

I'd say this is kind of true, at least in Brooklyn. There are obviously a few caveats. Among a lot of urban types we know, who tend to have children later in life, there's definitely a sense of pressure to keep up with your old lifestyle, plus baby. We were almost militantly determined to keep up with our friends and maintain our sense of spontaneity after Axel was born. We took him straight from the hospital to Enid's for brunch and, when he was under about 6 months old, we took him out to dinner a lot. We quickly figured out where we'd be welcome with a stroller, and where we'd get dirty looks. Fortunately, there were more of the former, and they had nice wine lists and good lighting too. We had dinner parties, we brought him to house parties with our pack 'n play, we got him his passport and took him to across country to Seattle when he was 11 weeks old and to a black tie wedding in Scotland and to London when he was four months old. We also went out, just the two of us, as much as we could. But sometime around Christmas, burnout started setting in, at least for me. I was also working full time, and I was so, so tired. Yes, you can do it all. You are just going to be pretty worn out. Obviously this pregnancy has forced us to slow down considerably, and it's given me the freedom to say no when I need to, and to dial back on the social occasions. Can we take Axel pretty much anywhere? Could I go out five nights a week? Yes. But as Axel has become more aware and his little personality shines through, I'm more and more conscious that what makes him happy, makes me happy. So a child-centric morning spent watching him on the playground doesn't feel like a sacrifice. I could tote him to museums and stores, but I know he'd be happier with freedom to play. And everyone fares a lot better when I'm in bed by 10:30. Every decision you make has consequences, even if it just means you're cranky and not at your best the next day.

- When people say they won't travel with small children, they are just being wimps.

True and False. Part of the reason I've felt that I should be able to travel with Axel is that Will's sisters, who each have three children and live in Singapore, have made the 24-hour trek to the U.S. every year, with their children at every stage of the game, from 3 months old to 9-years-old. If traveling without children can be arduous, traveling with them is obviously more so. There's just so much stuff. Still, it can be done. Flying with Axel at 11 weeks was actually very easy, and he slept on the tray table. Though I do remember my despair anytime his pacifier or whatever it was would fall on the airport floor because I had visions of him getting cholera or somesuch. At 14 months, he did pretty well, but it was more stressful for us, wondering if he'd freak out and want to run up and down the aisles. And everywhere we go, we seem to have forgotten or lost something along the way, whether it's a sunhat, or a bottle, or some other integral piece of gear. Once we're there, wherever there is, I'd say it's worth it, but obviously very different from the travels we did when we were younger. And with two, it will be logistically harder. I remember trying to disembark the TGV in Lyon this summer, holding Axel amidst a big crush of people, while Will carried like 5 bags, and thinking, "What happens with two kids?" I think the answer is that it becomes more expensive. Will's parents, who had four children and have lived all over the world, always joke that the family had to take two taxis, use porters for luggage, and it was a pretty chaotic scene. They did it anyway. Still, I'm relieved my pregnancy means we'll be in New York this Christmas.

- Babies don't have to be expensive. After all, they don't need 90% of the stuff you see on baby registries. Our budget won't change all that much, at least not until we are really in the kid phase.

This was true-ish while I was breastfeeding, in the very early days. We had a baby shower and received a ton of hand me downs. Once we switched to formula and eventually solid food, things started getting more and more expensive. This kid eats a lot. Those little organic fruit pouches are like $2.50 each around here, and half the time they eat a third of them before you accidentally leave them in the bottom of the stroller overnight and have to throw them out. Formula is crazy expensive. As is whole organic milk, at least in New York. Now Axel will practically only eat rasberries, at like $5 a tub. We were well equipped for a newborn, but then came the next stage, where we needed convertible car seats, stroller covers for winter, and he started growing like a weed. And we seem to lose a lot of things that need replacing (stray socks, bibs, etc. Where do you all go?) Plus there are all the things that you want for your child, like swimming classes or artful picture books or cute winter hats from little baby boutiques. I mean, yes, you don't have to buy all of this stuff, but it's dangerously tempting and when you are feeling guilty, say, about being away from your child because of work, buying them this or that feels like a salve. Then there's child care. In a big city, no matter which route you go, this is like paying another mortgage. I used to think I'd be able to freelance with a baby at home ("during naps"), but while this may have been kind of true with a three month old, with Axel now I'd be lucky to get an hour of work done a day, which is essentially fruitless. And don't get me started on nursery school. My conclusion is now that babies are frightfully expensive. Pretty much all of our disposable income goes to Axel.

- I don't think I am naturally inclined towards attachment parenting. Babies should sleep in their own beds and you won't find me nursing an 18-month old.

Yup. Attachment parenting was not for us, as suspected. I once heard someone joke that people basically read whatever baby rearing book affirms the philosophy they already hold. I read Bringing Up Bebe, and the like. I did go out and buy a pretty Sakura sling, but I think I used it exactly three times. The carrier was useful when we went into the city, but I found it pretty claustrophobic otherwise. Plus, a stroller can carry a week's worth of groceries! Axel slept in his crib, in his room, from six weeks old, and we all slept a lot better that way. I stopped breastfeeding at around six and a half months, mainly because pumping at work had become untenable and my supply had diminished dramatically. I do wish I had kept up a morning or evening feeding for at least another two months, but when I hear about people breastfeeding babies Axel's age...I don't judge, but I certainly don't feel wistful or wish that were us. The good news? Axel is incredibly happy, good natured, and seemingly securely "attached", whatever that means.

I'm sure I'll think of more as we get closer and closer to baby number two...

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