Baby Muffins

We’ve just survived a bout of eye infections, ear infection, runny nose, cough and last, but not least, gastro. In other words, he had the plague.

It’s been a long road back to health, and it’s also been difficult to find ways to tempt his appetite. I’m usually quite lucky on that front. Though he has a rough time sleeping, he is not a picky eater and most of the time even loves broccoli. There are days he eats so well, it looks like I’m shoveling coal into his mouth.

This time, it’s taken a while to regain his usual feeding frenzy. When he’s getting over an illness, I always make chicken broth from scratch. When he’s willing to slurp that up, I also bake him some healthy muffins. He devours them, and most of his baby friends do too when they come to visit. The parents love them too. So I thought I’d share our favorite muffin recipe with you:

Zippy Muffins are made with raspberries.

Banana Flax Muffins (makes about 12)

Dry ingredients:

1 2/3 cups unbleached flour

1/3 cup flaxmeal

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. nutmeg

Wet ingredients:

4 mashed bananas

1/2 cup of applesauce, or more if you need to add moistness to the batter.

1/2 cup of vegetable oil

2 eggs

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

A dash of whole milk, just enough to make it a little more wet when mixing into dry ingredients.

Simple instructions: Mix wet into dry ingredients. Don’t overmix. Bake at 350 for about 25-30 minutes. You can add raspberries or other fruit into the wet ingredients, but keep at least 2 mashed bananas.

For the vegan version, my Zippy muffins, see this post on my food blog. I assure you that unlike most vegan muffins, these are light and airy.

For simple chicken soup, here’s my remedy for the flu.

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My very first guest post!
After many, many months of sleep deprivation, I summarize here my basic philosophy on how to cope with frequent night wakings.

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The Proud Mama

I take a lot of pride in doing things myself without anyone’s help.

“I can do it myself!”

Mostly it’s because I’m fiercely independent. I want to prove to myself that I really can do it on my own. I want to give it a shot first before calling in for reinforcements. When it works, I feel great about myself and maybe I’ve learned a new thing or two. I am proud, in a good way I think.

Other times, pride goes before the fall. There are occasions when I should gratefully accept help and not see it as weakness on my part. I can’t help it sometimes. When someone offers to make supper, to give me a hand, I get all riled up. In my head, I sound like a 2-year old: “Me do it!”

Case in point: Halloween costumes. I can’t stand buying a pre-made one. The really nice ones are much too expensive for a one-night outfit. And I hate the cheap ones. Remember those plastic bags shaped as tunics with the logo of the superhero on the front? Not for my child’s first Halloween! Me do it!

So after going way over budget at the fabric store, I made a horrible-looking costume of Thor, the God of Thunder. (Yeah, I’m trying to instil humility in my son too.) I had basically a couple of hours during naptime to whip it together. The pressure of making it on time gave me a headache, like Thor’s hammer on my hippocampus.

The Littlest Viking

Even though the costume was amateur at best, I’m proud I did it myself. It’s ugly, I know it. But I’d rather see him in a silly home-made one than something without heart or without a funny story. I don’t know if he’ll ever forgive me for the blond braids.

Raiding the neighborhood for candy.

If you’re wondering, the helmet barely fits him because my husband overstuffed it. He thought it would otherwise be too big for him. Little does he know, my son has a big head. I know this because I gave birth to him. Moving along…

 

Arrg, matey! This is the last time this hat stays on my head.

Thor was his outdoorsy outfit. It gets really cold here on Halloween and I made it to slip right over his winter jacket. For his daycare party, I fixed a quick costume by making a pirate hat and dressing him in his skull bones pajamas.

 

He looked like a lost wild boy in Peter Pan’s island. Pretty cute!

So I’m working on my self-sufficiency issues. It can often be a good thing to take on challenges, but I also realize that it’s OK to ask for help, or to just buy a ready-made costume, and swallow my pride.

Unlike the hoard of candy my son pillaged from the neighbors, pride doesn’t have too many calories.

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New Direction

My life is a mess. A good, righteous mess.

This sums up the reasons why it’s been almost 20 days since my last post.

My relentless schedule, with work squeezing every drop of life out of my days, drained me of any energy to sit down a write.

I’m actually quite happy about work. It’s been hectic, working on a special project, but very satisfying, seeing the news reports finally on air this week. (If you’re curious, check out the videos here. It’s called “Dirty Little Secret”.)

When I get into this zone of research, I need a release for my nerves. This is how I keep my hands busy at the end of the day: knitting baby hats.

The more hyper I am about work, the more intricate the knitting designs. As you can tell by the results of the baby winter hat, I was a nervous wreck. But knitting really calms me down.

So for now, I’ve put my baby sleep issues on hold. And I think I’m going to leave it that way. Sure, there are times where I doubt the direction I’m taking, by co-sleeping with my baby, but I’m happy and he’s happy. Isn’t that what counts? I’ve grown immune again to little chiding comments.

My little sign of God telling me that all is well came during a playdate last weekend. The mommies were discussing the issue of children’s temperament and character. One mom related how her sister credited sleep training and a firm hand for her baby’s great sleep habits. Then, her second child came along, a strong-willed and energetic baby, and she realized how little influence she could have on him. I felt so good hearing that story, knowing that there’s only so much you can do to “train” a baby to do what you want. You can encourage them, you can set the right environment, but in the end your baby has to learn it by himself. Some learn it at 3 months, others when they reach 2 years.

So now that I’ve reached this stage of acceptance and peace with my sleep issues, I realize that I’ve painted myself into a corner with my blog. It started off with wanting to share my experience, for other parents to see they weren’t alone in this struggle, and hopefully help some sleepless mom with similar problems with my tips. Now, I’d like to keep those links up, but I also want to write about other stuff in my life and it feels weird doing it in a blog called Angels of Baby Sleep.

Maybe weird is OK after all. So expect new things here in the future. It feels good to move on.

Note: Just to be perfectly clear, I will continue my blog writing here. I realize that the post above sounds like I’m leaving for a long voyage and never coming back, but that’s not what I mean. Blogging has been a surprisingly satisfying activity, especially for connecting with wonderful parents from around the world. The only change is that I won’t be blogging only about sleep. I want to branch out a bit, even if it’s strange with a site called Angels of Baby Sleep.

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Operation Bad Mama

This week was my baby’s 18-month check-up, which comes with two shots, tears and screaching, and this time also a gentle lecture from his pediatrician.

Is he learning new words? Oh, good.

Is he eating well? Nice.

How is he dealing with daycare? Yes, that’s normal.

And how’s he sleeping? Oh. Really? Two or three times a night?

And here she began:

– This isn’t good for you. You need your sleep.

– But I’m sleeping just fine. I just roll over and comfort him. And if that doesn’t work, he breastfeeds for a bit.

She gave me the little pursed-lips look. The one that says, oh dear girl. Breastfeeding at night, apparently that’s a big no-no. My baby can get nursing cavities.

I thought that was just for bottle-fed babies who fall asleep with the rubber nipple in their mouth. A lactation consultant assured me that nursing a baby to sleep does not cause cavities, though many in the medical field have confused everything together. Now I don’t know who to believe about that. Oh, I hate conflicting opinions!

In any case, the doctor encouraged me to wean him at night. Really, I didn’t mind her opinion. I’m willing to hear anyone’s advice, just in case it might help. But she didn’t offer anything that I hadn’t tried before. No big revelation like, look there’s a special technique, sort of like the Vulcan sleep hold. Just the usual “remove the nipple before he falls asleep.” Tried it. It helped a little but didn’t go far.

I was ready to dismiss the whole thing, except she added this: “It’s important for him to learn to fall back asleep on his own and to be in his own bed. Otherwise, if he wakes 2 or 3 times a night, he’s not getting the sleep that he needs. And he’s not going to learn on his own. It won’t magically happen unless you help him.”

Anyone want to know my Achilles’ heel? It’s mom-guilt.

So now I’m working on Operation Bad Mama. Still not sure how or when would be best, but I’m working on a plan. I still like the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” technique. It’s been working well and he’s been nursing less and less and for shorter periods. So, what’s next? Should I wean completely? Will it actually help him sleep all night? Or will it somehow backfire in spectacular fashion?

The strategy begins…

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Conversation: Parental Leave and the Workplace

Here is the promised synopsis of the mommy conference we had at Melons coffee shop last week. Along with Samantha Cockburn, I was a guest speaker for Concordia’s University of the Streets Café and we were each chosen to speak about:

“The Parenting Profession: What impact does taking parental leave have on our ability to work and plan a career?”

We covered a lot of ground, considering issues of parenting and the workplace, which I’m dividing up here into the major subjects.

The Guest Speakers: Me and Samantha

We kicked it off with an intro from Samantha Cockburn, a successful entrepreneur and business-owner of Baby Auric, a cloth-diaper service in Montreal. Before embarking on this adventure, Samantha was climbing the corporate ladder at a pharmaceutical company. After her first baby, she realized that she just wasn’t the same person at work anymore. So she put her MBA to good use and launched her own business, giving her flex time to manage her family life, which now includes a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old.

What an incredible leap of faith! Leaving a full-time, well-paying job to start something new takes tremendous courage and I admire her for it.

On the other end of the spectrum, I am the mommy who went back to work full-time. That wasn’t a difficult decision. I’m a researcher for CTV News, producing investigative reports and daily news for over 10 years and I love my job. But at the end of the year-long leave, I didn’t feel my baby was ready for daycare. Having saved my money the moment I knew I was pregnant, I was lucky to extend my parental leave by an extra 5 months. Even so, returning to work was a difficult adjustment, despite having an understanding boss, quality daycare and flexible hours. Ultimately, leaving my 17-month old in the care of others for over 8 hours a day feels unnatural, like I’m neglecting my duties as a parent. And I miss him so much all day long. I’m still coping with these feelings, and it’s getting easier, partly in thanks to the daycare’s webcam. I can see he’s in a nurturing environment and that frees me to do my job without constantly worrying about him.

The Conversation Begins About Choices

Every mother has to face the decision eventually and we all handle the countdown to work differently. We were about 24 people, and only two dads, and the following were their thoughts as the conversation unfolded.

Hildy says she decided long ago how to handle her work life when she put all her cards down with her husband. Before having a baby, they planned what kind of lifestyle they wanted and calculated ahead of time how they could pull it off without a burnout.

Nicola had a plan too, but her maternal feelings took her by surprise so she adjusted by extending her leave. She says, “Women are in a difficult position and we’re not quite there in terms of equality. Plus we’re faced with the biological mechanism of being mothers.” She feels women end up making the concessions.

I noticed that we never know how we’re going to react until we’re there. The changes in our lives can’t be anticipated. There are the logical choices we think we’ll make and then our emotional response to motherhood.

Even before returning to the office, many women are feeling the impending doom of their parental leave coming to an end. A school teacher who came with her little baby confessed to feeling constantly stressed. Her time at home is slowly slipping away and going back to work is always at the back of her mind.

On the other hand, Nadine was looking forward to going back to work. “It’s nice to rediscover that part of your brain again.” But she still dreads leaving her daughter in daycare, not knowing what she is doing all day.

Work / Life Balance

Elizabeth pointed out how many of us grew up believing that we can do anything. Now we’re facing the traumatic realization that we can have it all, just not all at the same time. “And do we realize what’s at stake in the long run? How are we building this future generation? What do we want? We have to decide what’s important.” She adds, there’s a disconnect between what we want for the future of our kids and it doesn’t match our short-term vision.

Samantha agrees. As a mother now, she can’t think of anything else. “I don’t know how to make the shift in society. But if we don’t, there will be serious repercussions.”

For my part, I don’t believe in work / life balance. What really happens is you end up making difficult choices and then you need to accept the consequences. The brutal truth is you can only give 100% to a few things in life. For my part, I chose to let my house go to heck. Clean dishes and underwear is as close to clean as I get.

Where are the Dads?

I’ve also come to believe that we’d enjoy a better transition into the workplace when we include men in the conversation. It’s true; we’ve come a long way. My father never changed a diaper in his life, yet my husband is an expert at it. Stay-at-home dads are not an unusual trend anymore. And all this in just one generation. I think there’s hope for a lot more change.

Another mom brought up the example of Sweden, where paternity leave is extremely generous. This political policy has increased equality for women. It has also decreased divorce rates as men, increasingly primary caregivers, have more empathy for their partners when they learn how difficult it is to manage a newborn and household tasks like the never-ending pile of laundry.

Elizabeth cited a study from Concordia, how “hands-on” dads make for happier, more well-adjusted children.

In addition to the rewards for society and children, I think more-involved dads will also force employers to be more accommodating to parents in general. It can’t be just a women’s issue. (At this meeting, I think we only had two or three fathers present.) It has to be a family issue. Just by sheer numbers, we’ll get equality and respect for either parent, and bosses won’t be able to lump women in a category of problem employees.

Fathers Getting the Short End of the Stick

A mother brought up the example of her husband, who barely had time to be with his newborn. The irony is that he’s a lawyer, but the last man in his firm who made a stink about taking the full paternity leave was “unofficially fired.”

Another father shared his experience with parental leave. After returning from his due 5 weeks off, he was told “never to do that again” and got a lot of flack. And while he was gone, he could feel the nipping on his heels as two younger workers were eager to jump on his job. “I’m just a number, and I know it.” Without the support of his boss or his co-workers, one could understand why so many dads struggle to take the time off.

Social and Legislative Changes

One lady asked, “What will it take on a legislative level, something strong enough so dads don’t get flak and it becomes normative?”

Nicola would also like to see a change in legislation and believes there needs to be a shift in society. “We need to figure out how to get there.”

Though women still are discriminated when they are pregnant, as one mother explained her job being conveniently abolished, I think we were all surprised to hear fathers having a hard time too. Yes, we are luckier than families in the U.S., who get little to no time off. But that doesn’t mean we should be complacent. We need more family-friendly laws to support both parents.

Sarah also thought up of a couple of ideas to encourage employers to shift their focus away from the bottom line. Businesses that respect family values could be given a prestige symbol, a sort of certification label that could attract employees. And to denounce the worst businesses, she suggests the government set up an anonymous whistle-blower hotline, to report places not respecting the law.

Expecting More from our Employers

One woman says she has very little tolerance for companies and employers who can’t find a way to deal with parental leave. “Make it work. If you can’t, then you’re not good at your business. I think our definition of success needs to change.”

A mother, who has run her own business for the past 8 years, says “We have a lot of power to make demands that we couldn’t before.” If an employee says she has to leave at 5pm to pick up her child, an employer has to respect it, if they want to retain talented workers. “These are their values – take it or leave it.” And you can find a way to make concessions, such as agreeing to work later once a month. She thinks employees should be more demanding upfront. Employers will have to pay attention, whether they like it or not.

Someone else proposed that the workplace could do more to come up with creative solutions to help new parents, like work-sharing programs.

Freelancing

Not all of us are going back to 9-to-5 jobs. One pregnant woman who is a freelance artist explained how she’ll lose clients by taking any time off. “If I say no for a year, I won’t have a job,” so she can’t afford to pass up a gig. She’s even afraid to let contacts know that she’s pregnant because “they’ll think I’m off the radar.”

Samantha suggested using the government payments for parental leave for subcontracting. Another entrepreneur says she did all her work with her child strapped in a baby carrier. Sure it was difficult to have a toddler undo all the work in the store, but it was worth having her daughter around.

Changing our Careers to suit our Family Lifestyle

Many women are freelancing or starting their own businesses because they felt pushed out of the office where their values as a parent were not respected. It’s even more worrisome when young women, before even having children, downgrade their career choices so they can later “settle down” easily, but instead end up damaging their lives in the long run. I really don’t want to start a mommy war. Whether you decide to be a stay-at-home mom, or start a business, or go back to work, these are all good choices, but we shouldn’t have to limit ourselves.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO for Facebook, makes this important point in her speech recently for Barnard College. She also asks, how is it that after years of women getting university degrees, we don’t see equal numbers of them in the boardroom? Sandberg thinks that young women, even before having kids, are choosing jobs that remove them from high-level positions so they can have a better quality of life.

Case in point: Sarah, a young lady in her early 30s working on her MBA, says she worries about her future work-life balance, though she doesn’t have children yet. Concern for the future is affecting her present decisions, because she sees that the workplace doesn’t always relate well to mothers. At the same time, she notices that there’s a huge shift in men wanting to take on the role of caring for their children. But she was a little miffed when her ex-boyfriend told her he wanted to take the year-long parental leave. That was something she didn’t want to share.

Why share? Men should get a year-long leave too. I think that will revolutionize everything! When men are given a chance to nurture and women make their place at work, then we’ll get more accommodations for parenting life.

The Privilege of Motherhood

Towards the end of the conversation, a couple of moms wanted to point out that ultimately we are the lucky ones. “We are privileged as women to birth babies. We’re not emotional wrecks for nothing.”

Samantha definitely feels that way too. “Aren’t we lucky to have this role? I used to think I’m never going to pick up dirty socks. But at the end of the day, I’m the mommy. We play to our strengths. We don’t count hours to see who does more work. We’re trusting each other that we’re doing the best we can for the family.” It’s normal that we can’t cope with all of this. It’s tough. We should pat ourselves on the back.

Thank you Melons & Clementines for hosting and thanks Elizabeth for organizing a very interesting debate! It’s great to have these events to share knowledge. It’s one thing to find information online, but it’s really energizing to exchange ideas in our community. Two hours just flew by. Everyone that was there had something valuable to say. It was a great experience for me to hear we’re not alone in this. It really is an adventure.

Check out these links:

Concordia’s University of the Streets Cafe

Concordia’s study about dads

The Dark Side of Maternity Leave

Sheryl Sandberg’s speech at Barnard College

NY Times article about parental leave in Sweden.

The United States remains one of three countries that don’t mandate paid maternity leave.

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Woohoo!

Please play this song to best appreciate the importance of this post.

 

OK, it’s playing right? Here goes:

Last night, my little guy slept for 7 hours without interruption.

I put him down at 8pm, with the usual breastfeeding ritual, and he did not wake until 3am!

After 4 hours, I went to bed, convinced he’d wake up the moment my head hit the pillow, but not a peep. So I lay awake, waiting and waiting. At 1am, I heard a little cry and I sneaked into his room.  I would not have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes. My baby just rolled over and went BACK to sleep by himself.

I wanted to organize a block party and skip down the street in delirious joy!

OK, I was just delirious. And way too excited to fall asleep. So I wasted that precious time and got only 3 hours of sleep. I kept thinking this was the beginning of a new era.

Will the gods punish me for my hubris? Whatever! Let them try. I’m prepared for the inevitable setback, but I won’t despair because I know if he did it once, he can do it again.

But here’s praying he’ll do it again tonight, because I really need to sleep. Good night!

PS: I will be over-analyzing this moment in a later post. I’m wondering myself what I did differently, or what has changed in his life to achieve this momentous milestone.

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The Parenting Profession

What an honor! I’ve been invited to be a guest panelist for a public conversation by my university.

The talks are hosted by different cafés throughout the semester, to tackle a variety of “societal challenges”. Anyone can come and give their opinion, and it’s a great way to learn and exchange ideas.

The topic I will be tackling:

The Parenting Profession: What impact does taking parental leave have on our ability to work and plan a career?

That’s a bit of a stumper. Where to begin?

Well, my first thought is, “I’m grateful.”

I know that I’m lucky to live in a country where I can get a year of paid leave. But let’s face it. It’s not just about the money, right? So much changes in our life from the moment we hold a precious baby in our arms. And then the impending return to work looms and our careers take a turn… down where?

So I’m gathering ideas to discuss with the crowd showing up at my favorite mama-baby coffee shop, Melons & Clementines, and I need your help.

How has your career fared since you had a baby?

Working hard for our little munchkins!

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No, I didn’t jinx it.

Short update:

It looks like my little one is starting to get the hang of this “sleep thing”, only after 17 months of practice. (I gotta laugh about it, or else I’d start crying.) So I didn’t jinx myself by blogging about it.

Last night, he only woke up twice. Once at around midnight, upon which I transferred him to my bed, and again somewhere between 1am and 7am. I’m half-asleep when he stirs, so I have no clue.

Woke up twice? Some may think, wait that’s not progress. Well, it’s huge for me!

Not to be pessimistic, but I’m still holding my breath.

I’m not out of the woods yet!

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Will I jinx it?

Well, well, well… Should I wait and see how this new development pans out? Will I jinx it if I dare hope? I really should wait.

Nah! I have to share this good news immediately.

Last night, my little guy popped himself off the boob and fell asleep on his own. Such a small step for weaning, but it’s also a giant step for sleep independence!

Tonight he did it again. Before falling asleep, he stopped nursing and turned over on my lap. I caught him before he rolled onto the floor and carried him half-asleep to his crib. Then he rolled onto his belly, squirmed a bit (I held my breath) and then went to sleep by himself.

That’s all. Such a simple little thing. My brain is firing up endorphins, I hope not prematurely.

All mine!

 

OK, he still wakes up at night. And to maximize my sleep hours, I still bring him to bed after midnight. But I have a cute little story to go with this. Last night, he fell asleep by my side and started talking in his sleep. In a squeaky little voice he said, “Mine! Mine-mine-mine-mine-mine-mine-mine.” I stuffed my face in my pillow to keep from laughing out loud.

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