Archive | March, 2013

Baby stuff we actually use

25 Mar

Today is Daphne’s 9-month birthday — so she has officially been on the outside as long as she was on the inside. I remember feeling totally overwhelmed when I was pregnant, wondering what stuff we would actually need and what would be a total waste of money. Putting together a baby registry was a truly bizarre experience, as I tried to anticipate the future needs of a baby I hadn’t met yet. We were lucky to receive many gifts and hand-me-downs and we able to purchase a few things second-hand. Babies don’t need much when they are first born, and there is really no need to break the bank buying things they may only use for a month or so. Caitlyn and I had to shell out thousands of dollars for fertility treatments, so we certainly didn’t want to go into debt outfitting the baby with things she would not need. So here is a list of things that we actually find useful. I would have found this very reassuring when I was first encountering the Baby Industrial Complex and wondering which items were utterly ridiculous and which ones would turn out to be lifesavers.

1. Buckwheat nursing pillow. I bought one of these pillows when I was pregnant, in an effort to support my growing belly and take the pressure off the nerves in my legs. I slept with it for months. After Daphne was born, it proved to be the only way to get her to nurse comfortably. I schlepped that thing everywhere with me for four months. It also made an excellent bolster to prevent her from rolling off the bed or off of a couch. When she got older, we placed it behind her to help her sit up without toppling. And now Caitlyn has officially claimed it as her favourite sleeping pillow. Money well spent.

2. Baby carrier. When Daphne was first born, we were in the midst of a heat wave. So none of us had much patience to practice with a stretchy wrap. It was too darn hot and just the thought of all of that fabric sent me into full body sweats. For a couple of months, Daphne seemed to like a Mei Tai with her legs froggied underneath her. When she got a little older and wanted to let her legs dangle, a hand-me-down Beco Gemini was the magic elixir for getting her to sleep on the go. We still love that carrier, especially the feature that allows you to cross the straps in the back to shift the weight off your shoulders. We also recently purchased a Manduca — a carrier which is infinitely adjustable and more appropriate for bigger babies. That thing is magic. I was able to give Daphne a 45 nap on my chest in the midst of complete chaos at a charity bowlathon this weekend. When she is frantic and unable to settle due to teething, I pop her in there and either pace the halls or go for a walk. It’s my foolproof way of getting her to sleep. And though I adore our stroller, a baby carrier is much more practical in the midst of snowy Ottawa in the winter. Non plowed sidewalks are a nightmare for any wheeled vehicle. Baby wearing makes it a lot easier to get out the door, in even the worst conditions.

In Ottawa, there are two great stores with “try before you buy” programs. Your city may also have a local baby wearing group, where you can ask questions and try different carriers. You need to find the right fit for your body and your baby.

3. Sleep sac. Our baby never liked to be swaddled, but we swear by sleep sacs. Using one for nap time and bedtime prevents her from kicking off her blankets and getting her feet jammed between the bars of her crib. She is still able to flip over onto her side or tummy to sleep, but the sac helps curb the worst of the overnight crawling practice sessions.

4. Humidifier. Our house has electric baseboard heat, so it can be deadly dry in the winter. Running a humidifier in the baby’s room has significantly helped her sleep, especially as she’s been fighting the same cold for at least two months.

5. Snot sucker. If you had told me nine months ago that I would be sucking my baby’s snot out with my mouth at least three times a day, I would have thought you were nuts. But babies always have colds and don’t know how to blow their noses yet. When they can’t breathe, they don’t eat properly and they can’t sleep (makes sense!). This “nasal aspirator” was probably the most useful baby shower gift we received. Gross, I know. But necessary.

6. White noise machine. I was skeptical about white noise when Caitlyn first introduced it as a sleeping aide in our house. I thought, “who would want to sleep to the sound of a humming generator?” But we live near a busy intersection and I soon began to rely on the white noise machine to block out street sounds, especially in the summer when we leave our windows open. Now we have it in the baby’s room, so we don’t have to worry as much about waking her when we are unloading the dishwasher or speaking in a normal tone of voice while she is sleeping. We take the machine with us wherever we travel and it helps us all sleep better.

7. Fleece snowsuit. When you live in a cold climate, you master the art of layering. While we did receive a beautiful down snowsuit for Daphne from my aunt, this fleece suit got ten times more use. The primary reason is because you are not supposed to put babies in puffy coats while in car seats. This prevents the restraint system from working properly. So you are better to put the baby in a fleece suit with a blanket on top, or throw a little jacket over top when you step out of the car. A fleece snowsuit works for three seasons and is relatively affordable. They are easy to find in the off season at consignment shops and through online buy/sell ads.

8. Second hand baby containment devices. Don’t buy a new swing, bouncy chair or Jumperoo. Seriously. Put a note on Facebook and one will appear. Instantly. Babies use these things for only a few weeks at a time before they get bored. And once a family is done with one of these monstrosities/tripping hazards, they want it out the door. Immediately. We have cycled through a handful of these second (or third or fourth) hand devices. We bought an exersaucer (aka the Circle of Neglect) from someone down the street on Kijiji. These things are lifesavers if they can buy you five minutes to go pee, scramble an egg or take a shower. But they are large, unwieldy, ugly and expensive. There are enough of them floating around the universe and there is no need to encourage companies to manufacture more of them. Hook yourself up with the underground baby hand-me-down network and pay it forward when you are finished with that vibrating baby chair.

And in celebration of Daphne’s In/Out Day, here is a family portrait from this weekend’s bowlathon. Thanks to everyone who contributed! Our team raised over $5,000 and the event brought in over $40,000 for Camp Ten Oaks.

The family that bowls together, stays together

The family that bowls together, stays together


Why we need gay camp

20 Mar

I find it hard to think of summer camp without the racism and homophobia. Yet I still have fond memories of the summers I spent as a camper and counselor, covered in dirt and bug bites and staring at the stars.

While many of my friends have summer camp memories that involve inappropriate and stereotypical appropriations of aboriginal culture, the camp I went to as a kid had its own special brand of problematic traditions. My parents sent me to a Jewish sleepover camp in Cloyne, Ontario that seemed perfectly “normal” from the outside. It promised Israeli dancing and Shabbat dinner on Friday nights in addition to canoe trips and swimming in the lake. Designed to emulate a Kibbutz it even preached socialist and progressive values. I remember the day we elected representatives from our cabin to administer the collective pot of contraband candy and decide when the whole group got to indulge. The place was a bit of a dump because it had no maintenance staff. So every morning before breakfast, us kids put in half an hour of elbow grease, whether it was cleaning toilets, painting cabins or making decorations for Friday night celebrations. On Saturdays, we split off into earnest discussion groups where we discussed the images of women present in magazines and how this was emblematic of the patriarchy. Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it?

Except this particular camp was also a propaganda machine designed to convince teenagers to move to Israel and join the army. Instead of focusing on shared values and teaching compassion, counselors taught a warped and racist view of history. On one “special day”, we were encouraged to re-enact the Seven Day War in seven hours — with half of the (all Jewish kids) forced to play “Arabs” and run around with towels on their heads. I kid you not. Camp staff continued to refer to Canada as the “diaspora” and regularly brought in former members of the Israeli army to talk to us about how much fun it was to run around with guns and defend “the land.” But nothing caused my little self more anxiety and fear than the middle of the night wake-ups, where we were forced into the dark woods and told to find our way back to camp all by ourselves. We were told that we were Jewish resistance fighters trying to sneak into the Promised Land and had to evade potential torturers in an effort to protect the Jewish homeland. If caught, kids were taken to the mess hall and “tortured” by having old food poured on their heads. At the end of the night, all of the kids gathered to celebrate Jewish victory and eat cake at two in the morning. I am proud to say that I managed to fake a stomach ache all but one time and generally avoided this particular form of torture. But despite all of this, I still remember camp as being fun. I begged to go back year after year. Why? Because the independence and camaraderie that sleepover camp provided was too exciting to pass up. It was only when I was in my 20s that I started to unpack the problematic nature of my camp experiences and realize how racist and xenophobic that camp was.

Fast forward to the summer I was 17. Having escaped Zionist Nightmare Camp, I signed up to teach drama at an affluent sleepover camp in Haliburton, Ontario. While this place skipped the nationalist indoctrination, it was big on mandatory gender roles and compulsory heterosexuality. The place was divided into “girls’ camp” and “boys’ camp.” They made a Big Deal about how the kids were not allowed to cross into enemy territory. But then they widely encouraged 11-year-old children to go on “dates” and meet at the “kissing rock” that divided both camps. If that wasn’t bad enough, the rampant homophobia among the staff wasn’t just encouraged, it was celebrated. Every summer, the counselors would put on a talent show to entertain the campers. And at some point, the male camp staff would dress in drag, act “faggy” and prance around stage. This elicited laughter from children and adults alike. And it made me want to puke.

I wasn’t out as queer yet, but my brother had come out as gay the year before. And as the director of the camp musical, I was quite sure that at least one of my acting prodigies was gay (as it turns out, he grew up, came out and become an activist and student politician). The toxic nature of this homophobic “humour” finally drove me away from camp forever. This is not to mention the fact that the vast majority of the female counselors had eating disorders and passed on negative messages about food and body image to their charges. The camp directors made a few futile attempts to address this issue, but the fact that the female staff wasn’t eating much was the biggest open secret at the camp.

Many of my friends have similar stories about summer camp. We all recall camp fires and hikes with fuzzy glee, but have trouble reconciling these memories with the racism and homophobia that was so rampant at the time.

That’s why I am so passionate about The Ten Oaks Project. It makes me so happy to know that my daughter will have a place to go to where she can enjoy the thrilling independence of a week without her parents while avoiding the toxic norms that ruled my own camp experience.

If you have a few dollars to spare, please make a donation to Camp Ten Oaks today. Because camp should be all about the fun, without the taint of racism and homophobia to cloud her summer time memories.

Waiting it out

19 Mar

Once again, the long gap in posting is due to lack of sleep. Poor baby has had one cold after another since we returned from California and is now in the midst of hard-core teething. All of this has thrown sleep for a major loop again. While Daphne is doing quite well at soothing herself by rolling over, she has also been waking up in the middle of the night for 60-90 minute “crawling practice sessions.” She starts rocking on her hands and knees, backs herself up and gets stuck at the end of her crib and cries. We then have to rescue her and try to convince her to sleep again. Not easy. Generally speaking, I go “off the clock” at 9 pm and Caitlyn deals with any wake-ups till about midnight. On a good night, that usually means that I only need to tend to the baby once (around 3 or 4 am). If I can manage to get back to sleep without triggering two hours of insomnia, it means that I get the bare minimum number of hours of sleep that I need to feel like a functional human being. But one of two things has been happening lately. Either I am bolted awake by hair-raising screams at midnight, as Caitlyn tries to get Daphne back to sleep, or I am pulled out of bed repeatedly between 3 and 5 am, as the baby tries to master the skill of crawling forward.

Why must babies teach themselves new skills under the cover of night? Daphne has been scooting backwards for almost two months and seems relatively content to do so …. during the day. Apparently crawling is such an extreme sport, it needs to be rehearsed at four in the morning. To be honest, I am at a loss and convinced that we just need to wait this one out. If Daphne cries for more than a minute, it usually triggers a full-stomach vomit. I’ve become an expert at stripping the baby and the bed at ridiculous hours of night. She is still at an age where she needs to be “parented back to sleep” a few times per night. While sleep training works for some families, it’s just not the right fit for this kid. But when she wakes up with a smile like this on her face, all is forgotten:

Well, at least she appears well-rested

Well, at least she appears well-rested