Monthly Archives: January 2013

My Kid Just Said (Part 10)

“Dogs are the best thing ever, you know why? Because DOG — GOD. It’s backwards God!” BB#2, 5 years old, apparently not as much of an atheist as I thought.

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Enough With the Teacher-Bashing

Even though I’m both a certified teacher (currently not employed in that capacity) and a parent, I have kept pretty silent on the current strife between teachers and the Ministry of Education in this province. In part, that’s because I don’t completely know what to believe or where I stand.

There just seems to be so much spin. The same newspaper article will quote the Minister saying the unions wouldn’t negotiate, and the union reps saying the Ministry wouldn’t negotiate. The Ministry claims it is all about money (and the media certainly focuses on that); the teachers say they agreed to a wage freeze long ago. And underneath the online articles are comments by teacher-bashers harping on about how teachers are “overpaid”, “get summers off” and “have cushy jobs”. Which apparently means they shouldn’t have the right to negotiate their contracts. Or something. And which also begs the question: why didn’t all these people go in to teaching if it’s such easy money and anyone can do it? But I digress.

No matter what you think led to the current situation, these kinds of comments make no sense and have little to do with the actual issue. Some people claim they “don’t feel sorry for teachers” because they could bank sick days, and “no one else gets to do that”. Regardless of my opinion on banking sick days, the fact is, this was a benefit that was agreed upon in the past. And I don’t care who you are: no one likes to have something that was promised to them taken away. Teachers work with kids, who are sick all the time and often have to be sent to school that way because their parents have limited sick days of their own. So perhaps instead of criticizing teachers for having lucked out in the paid sick day department, we should be asking ourselves if other industries can be doing better by their employees.

In my private sector job I often went in sick, exposing my co-workers to germs, so that I could reserve my days for when my children needed to stay home or to go to the doctor. As did my husband—and we still used all of our paid sick days, and went on to use vacation days for illness. And we had a nanny for some of that time! I can’t imagine what it’s like for a single parent with no back-up daycare, having maybe five days out of the year (if he’s lucky) to take for illness and doctor’s appointments between himself and his kids. Yeah, there’s a problem here, but I don’t think it’s with the number of sick days teachers have (or had).

I’ve also heard gripes of “I’m self-employed, I don’t get paid if I’m sick.” So, perhaps get a salaried job? Oh wait, being self-employed is probably a choice you’ve made for a variety of reasons. And no, there is no sick pay or employment insurance. Because if you are not paying into those benefits, naturally, you can’t draw on them. Perhaps set up your own savings that you can use when you are ill or out of work or wanting to take parental leave? But don’t blame it on teachers that your income and benefit structure is different. I had access to those kinds of benefits when I worked in a salaried position too. As a freelancer, I no longer expect them. But I can also drop off and pick up my children from school, do laundry while I work, set my own hours, work in my PJs, save time and money on commuting, attend my children’s school functions if I like…And looked at another way, because I’m a freelancer, no one is taking money off my pay cheque at the source. Like most things in life, it’s a trade-off. I’m pretty sure there are many, many, many things about teaching that non-teachers , both salaried and self-employed, would not want to take on in exchange for ten paid sick days, or even twenty, banked or not (otherwise, they’d be teachers, I suppose?)

Another good one is “in the real world, if you don’t like your job, you quit.” Really? I guess I don’t live in the real world, because for many if not most people, it’s not that simple. Many people dislike aspects of their jobs, and yet they stay because they have mouths to feed and bills to pay. Or maybe they’re just not quitters and don’t expect every moment of their professional lives to be unicorns and rainbows? Maybe the good outweighs the bad? Perhaps they hope to change whatever it is they dislike or disagree with, so they can get back to enjoying the actual work they do? Even if they want to leave and move on to something else, most people can’t just up and quit before another position comes along, especially if they would need to return to school or retrain first. Never mind the point of the contract talks has nothing to do with whether or not teachers like their jobs! Yes, I hope teachers that actually don’t like teaching will leave the profession, and yes, I know there are teachers currently in schools that probably shouldn’t be. That doesn’t mean most of those unhappy with the current situation don’t love and excel at their jobs.

My favourite is people complaining that teachers get summers off. Well, our kids get summers off so it makes sense teachers would too. There are definitely arguments for changing the school year, but I don’t think many include having kids go to school like so many of us work: 9-5 every day, year round, with only two weeks off for vacation. I, for one, don’t want that for my kids.

But maybe those commenters do think our kids should be going to school all summer long just so we can stop being jealous of their teachers? Or maybe only the teachers should have to go in during the summer, so we can all complain about “what do they do all summer that we have to pay them when our kids aren’t even there?!” (Psst, since teachers are only paid for the ten months of the current school year, if they worked summers, they’d get paid more.) Yes, summers off is one of the nice things about being a teacher—that said, many teachers I know work during the summer, sometimes paid (teaching a course, marking tests), sometimes not (planning their lessons for the upcoming year). Many go to school and pay out of pocket to upgrade their skills. I’m still not sure why they should be punished for a school calendar that’s been in place for probably over a hundred years by having their right to collective bargaining taken away?

Which brings us to teacher salaries. Frankly, I don’t think the starting wage is that outrageous, especially considering teachers must hold at least two degrees. Other professions requiring more than a Bachelor’s degree generally have decent compensation. Isn’t that sort of fair? Don’t you expect to be paid for your skills, education and experience?

I left my previous career knowing that my first teaching job would pay less than what I was making. After I spent money putting myself through school earning an additional degree. Clearly I didn’t do it for the money. Yes, there is a pay grid, which means teachers can eventually make an attractive salary, but they need experience and further education to get to the top of that grid. But what drives me crazy about this form of teacher-bashing is, why would we want poorly-paid teachers? Don’t we want professional, educated people drawn to teaching? Doesn’t the job they do–educating our children–deserve a decent salary? If you think not, if you have no respect for teaching, why on earth would you trust your beloved children to teachers all day?

Do I like that extracurriculars have been paused? No. Do I look forward to the disruption of walk-outs by my kids’ teachers? No. Do I have any idea what else teachers and school support staff could be doing to protest besides rolling over and letting their agreed-upon rights be eroded? No, I honestly don’t. Do you?

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Random Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Had Children (Part 2)

The boys will soon have a new cousin (yay!), so I guess I have babies on the brain these days. As a result, this edition of Random Things is brought to you by all things nursing! Here are just a few things I wish I had known about before my first baby was born.

1. Lanolin

If you are breastfeeding, you must have lanolin in the house. I used Lansinoh brand but there are others, and it’s easily found in the baby section of drug and discount stores. It’s great stuff. And in a pinch, a teeny tiny bit can be used on other dry skin—baby’s or yours. I have even used it on lips (since it’s safe to ingest).

2. Dr. Newman’s All Purpose Nipple Ointment

I didn’t use this when nursing my first, and afterwards heard another mom refer to it as gold. With my second, I feared nipple trauma in the early days might make me susceptible to thrush, so I asked my midwife to prescribe APNO. A.Maz.Ing. You may have to find someone willing to prescribe it, and you may have to find a pharmacy that can mix it, but it will be so worth it.

3. Nursing Tank Tops

Again, I only discovered these while nursing my second baby. I wore Bravado brand, but I’m sure there are others. The great thing about them is if you are nursing while out and about, a tank will leave your back and tummy areas covered (and warm!) They can also be worn alone in the heat of summer. Plus, they are comfy and available in a lot of colours. I may or may not still wear mine as layering tanks…

Related: While you’ll need a couple to get you through, I suggest waiting about six weeks before investing heavily in nursing bras. Some women will need a bigger size as long as they are breastfeeding, but some of us actually lose a lot of weight and end up needing a smaller size once nursing is established! Oh the irony.

4. LilyPadz

Another second-time-around discovery. These are great, reusable breast pads. With my first, I wore washable cotton pads around the house, but they were rather bunchy looking. So out and about I used disposable pads. I quite liked the Gerber and Lansinoh brands (Playtex stuck and left fuzz behind!) but, really, they are wasteful and expensive. LilyPadz aren’t cheap, but one pair lasts a long time. And they create a smooth line. They may not be the right choice in the very early days if you leak a lot, but for every day use once nursing is established, I highly recommend them.

5. Teeth are Not a Deal-Breaker

I’m a bit embarrassed to say that back in the day (i.e. when I was pregnant with my first), I swore I would wean my baby as soon as he got a tooth. And then after we had spent two months learning to nurse, BB#1 got his first teeth at four months old. He was much too young to wean, and I certainly wasn’t going to stop after all the work I’d put in. But I quickly learned teeth do not mean the end of nursing by a long shot—if baby is actively drinking, he cannot bite you. And if it is ever an issue (it never was for me), there are ways to deal with it.

6. Not All Professionals That Work with Moms and Infants Are Trained in Lactation

Yes, I’ve gone off on this before but it can’t be overstated. Beware doctors and nurses that are not certified lactation consultants, and seem reluctant to refer you to actual experts if you experience problems. The advice I got from the nurses in the hospital where BB#1 was born was inconsistent and unhelpful; the advice I overheard being given to other mothers in a different hospital with BB#2 was worse.

7. Be Prepared to Find Expert Help On Your Own

May you never need to seek out help. But if you do, and you experience #6, real help is out there. I think it’s best to be armed with contact information ahead of time rather than trying to find it in a moment of crisis. Here are some links to bookmark:

International Breastfeeding Centre (The Newman Breastfeeding Clinic)

www.nbci.ca/index.php

Kellymom (If you have a question, I guarantee you’ll find the answer here!)

www.kellymom.com

Best For Babes (Awesome info on beating “Booby Traps”!)

http://www.bestforbabes.org

Motherisk (What’s safe during pregnancy/breastfeeding. There is a hotline as well.)

http://www.motherisk.org

Infantrisk Center

http://www.infantrisk.com (Similar to above, but American. There is even an iPhone app! http://www.infantrisk.com/mobile)

8. Working Full-time and Breastfeeding Are Not Mutually Exclusive

While I can’t speak personally about going back to work before baby is a year old, I know from many other mamas that it can be done. But if like me, you live in Canada and are taking a year of maternity leave, continuing to breastfeed once you go back to work is incredibly easy. In fact, I found it easier than weaning (because my baby wasn’t ready and I had no idea how to go about it). I stressed about it at first—did I have to cut out daytime feedings in preparation? How would my daycare providers get him to sleep? But in the end, I did pretty much nothing to prepare. Older babies can be very adaptable, and they know they can’t nurse when mom is not there. So, in the day he ate solids and drank water or cow’s milk from a cup (while you could pump and leave your own milk, or introduce a bottle, I chose not to at this stage). He nursed when we were together. His caregivers had other ways to get him to sleep. That was it. It was really great to have that way to reconnect after being apart each day. And the best part: he got sick a LOT less than other kids at daycare. Which meant I missed a lot less work. Win-win.

Is there anything breastfeeding-related you wish you had known about before your baby was born?

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My Kid Just Said (Part 9)

“You know what I learned from my brain? You should always eat the thing that you don’t like first. Then, you’ll have the taste of the thing you do like in your mouth last.” BB#2, 5 years old, to his brother during breakfast.

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My Kid Just Said (Part 8)

“I’m declaring myself a vegetarian. But not for fish, I’ll still eat fish. And eggs and nuts. Also sausages and pepperoni and stuff.” BB#1, 8 years old.

Presumably because sausages and pepperoni and stuff are not real meat?

I don’t see this lasting very long.

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I Don’t Expect a Medal

When I was expecting my first child, during a conversation with some other pregnant women, I commented that of course I was having an epidural, because I didn’t expect a medal. These women took me to task a little, because they were both in fact planning natural births—and not because they expected medals, but because they thought it was best for them and their babies. I apologized, but the fact was, I really meant no judgment. It was merely a comment on my own very low tolerance to pain—natural birth was fine for other women, but I knew I would need medication.

I did have my epidural—after a shot of Demerol and labouring in the whirlpool tub no longer cut it. I experienced back labour with my first, and had intense contractions minutes apart from the get-go. None of that “mildly uncomfortable for the first few hours” stuff for me. In what I now know to be a fairly typical scenario, the epidural slowed my labour, so I needed Pitocin. I can remember one nurse looking at the monitor and commenting she’d never seen such intense contractions that did nothing. I no longer felt them, which was, I suppose, the point.

Because I was tied to the bed, I couldn’t walk around and help things along. With people coming in and out every few minutes to check on things, I wasn’t getting the rest I’d been promised. Finally the OB on call told me he was sure I couldn’t push the baby out. He said I could try, and likely end up with a c-section. Or we could just go straight to the OR. After so many hours, I hesitated—all that just to end up with a c-section? Finally I decided to go with the surgery. After all, I reasoned at the time, if I ever had another baby, at least I wouldn’t have to go through labour again!

But it was too late—the doctor’s shift had ended, my baby had finally budged, and the OB now on call declared I could push him out. With help from an episiotomy and foreceps. So that’s what we did. But after twenty hours, my baby had passed meconium. Which meant he was taken from me to be cleaned up. They gave him back to me, finally, all swaddled. Which meant no skin-to-skin as I’d read about. While they fixed me up, no one suggested I should try to breastfeed, so I didn’t until I was moved to a room and got the “helpful” advice of “you put him here, you put him there, then you’re done” from the nurse on duty. Which resulted in at least a week of struggling to keep my baby awake and get him to latch, feeding him pumped milk through a tube, consulting with nurses, doctors and a lactation consultant–and lots and lots of tears. And even once he latched, it was a good two months of struggle and pain before we finally got into a groove. It was worth it, but it wasn’t something I wanted to do ever again.

Which is the reason I decided NOT to have an epidural the second time. Not because I wanted a medal or to prove anything (except perhaps to myself). No, I just decided a day of purposeful pain would be worth avoiding the snowball effect that almost led to a c-section (clearly unnecessary, since I didn’t have one in the end), months of healing from the episiotomy, and weeks of breastfeeding issues. To achieve this goal, I knew I had to make different choices, the first one being going with a midwife instead of an OB. I kept my options open—I still signed the epidural consent form, because frankly, back labour sucks. But knowing my care would be transferred to an OB if I had one was good incentive to try other things first.

I did reach my goal, with the help of a supportive husband, experienced midwives, a blessedly short labour (and a baby who was facing the right way!) and a bit of gas during transition. And while there were other complications, breastfeeding wasn’t really one of them.

Look, I’ll never judge another woman for choosing an epidural. How can I? I had one. And even knowing what I know now, I can’t honestly say I would have made a different choice the first time around. What I do judge is a medical establishment that defaults to drugs—often even before a labouring woman requests them–in order to manage birth, without first explaining the risks as well as the benefits. What also drive me crazy is that every conversation about birth with a first-time mom-to-be includes comments like “you MUST have an epidural”. Imagine if I went around saying “you MUST NOT have an epidural”? Yeah, I don’t think that would go over too well either. I know from personal experience that each birth is different. And I couldn’t possibly know what another woman is going through. Her choices may not be my choices. But without knowledge, it’s not true choice.

So I won’t tell another woman not to have an epidural. But I will tell her to research it first—before labour begins. I will tell her to ask questions (and if the instructor at your hospital class says there aren’t any risks, as mine did, don’t believe it.) I will suggest she consider a midwife, or to hire a doula if she has an OB, to support her in her goals, provide other options, and help her make informed choices. I will tell her why it’s a good idea to labour as long as she can without an epidural. I will tell her she CAN do it. And I will respect her choice in the end.

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Raising Boys to Men

At 15 ½, my nephew towers over me. But when he was about 3 years old, and still much shorter than me, I used to catch him as he ran by and hug him. One day, he muttered “I hate it when you do that you know”. To which I replied light-heartedly, “I know, but I’m your auntie.”

While my bigger regret is that I’d let my relationship with him, and my nieces, get to the point where hugs and kisses were no longer freely given and received, now that I’m a parent I am also sorry that I so blithely dismissed his right to bodily autonomy. A hug from an aunt may not seem like a big deal, but if he didn’t welcome it, and I knew he didn’t welcome it, it was not okay for me to do it.

These days, I have frequent discussions with my husband about “encouraging” our own boys to hug or kiss relatives and friends. I say if they don’t want to, they should not be forced or nagged. It’s one thing to suggest it; it’s another to tell them they must. He doesn’t disagree—and he gets my point about how cajoling them to hug Great Aunt Agnes sets them up to be manipulated into touching “Uncle” Jake just because he’s a grown up and says so. But my husband also feels familial affection should be nurtured, and that lack of it can cause offense.

It’s also difficult for him to fathom that when I was a child—and really, even today—tickling felt like a sort of torture. So while our children seem to enjoy roughhousing and being tickled—ask for it, in fact—the moment they say “no” or “stop”, I believe it needs to cease. They may just be joking, but we need to take their words at face value. Not only do I want them to know their bodies are theirs alone, but the last thing I want my boys to learn from us is that the proper response to NO is more of the same. Or, “oh come on, it doesn’t hurt”; “we’re just having a little fun”; or maybe worst of all, “if you loved me, it would be okay…” We may not have ever said these things, but they could be implied.

I usually avoid reading or watching the news. I feel it’s biased and sensational, and that I don’t need to be haunted by horrible images of things I am helpless to change. But certain headlines and news reports filter through, and sometimes I click. I’ve been disturbed by a couple of stories recently (you can probably guess which ones), and found myself wondering, aside from giving up on the human race completely, what can I do?

And I think the most important thing I can do, as a mother of two boys, is to raise them to respect themselves, respect others, respect women. To protect them, of course, but to raise them not to hurt others, either. While parents of daughters will no doubt go on telling their girls how to protect themselves from rape, I’ll do my part in raising my boys—well, not to rape. Teaching them that forcing sex on another person is never okay, that joking about rape is never okay. And I completely agree with Avital Norman Nathman,  who writes here, “I will not have anyone excuse my son for being ‘too young’ or ‘just a boy.’ I will not devalue him like that.”

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