Tuesday, January 31, 2006

EC Milestones

Today BabyG and I went to a nearby coffee shop, where I wanted to read John Winthrop's Modell of Christian Charity for an hour or so. BabyG slept soundly, and we lucked into a nice table outside, and escaping house was so restful that we ended up staying a few hours. Since she was dozing in her stroller or in my Sweet Pea sling it was easy to keep track of her little potty signs.

The first time she started squirming I ran her to the bathroom. It didn't have a counter, so it took finagling to get her diaper off & discover it wasn't yet soiled or wet. I figured if I went back to the table she would go in a minute or so...so for the first time since we started this EC adventure I held her over a real, big person's toiletbowl (instead of her plastic Bjorn buckets) and said "Psssst" -- and she smiled and peed. About an hour later she peed and pooed in the toilet -- and if you think you're embarrased for me now for all the gushing I've already done about my baby going potty at Brazil's, you would be absolutely mortified to know how proud and excited I was this afternoon when I heard poo shoot into the toilet. I'm guessing BabyG's either the only, or one of the few six weeks olds who has eliminated in the potty at Brazil (the restaurant). To top off the experience: we went to dinner at a restaurant and she continued her foray into the world of eliminating into public toilets with both me and her daddy.

For the record, a year ago I never could have imagined that I'd be holding my baby over a toilet; or that I'd be delighted when she pooed; or that I'd be convinced she waits for me to take her to pee and poo if she can, even at one and a half months old.

But here I am.

Monday, January 30, 2006


I remember when I was a youngster, and I would catch some sort of glimpse of the world that I knew I couldn't capture in just the way I saw it. My eye would be an inch from a blade of grass, maybe, and in the background I might see a man walking, and I would hear a motor revving, and somehow the man in relation to the grass and the motor were perfect. And I despaired because it was perfect and so small, something so full of mood and unsignificant life, this tiny scene slipping into my brain and nowhere else. I understood there was no way for me to preserve and to hand that vision to the world. You couldn't take photos of these moments, there isn't the right shaped lens, there is, in the end, no lens like the eye sees.

I had forgotten all about this sort of despair until BabyG was born. I spend so much time breastfeeding, watching her face and expressions. Nobody sees them but me, and even though I try to convince GreenDaddy he should stare at our daughter nursing, since he doesn't have to be there with her and isn't actually attatched, he doesn't have -- or need -- the patience/desire it takes to just watch her.

There are so many little movements of hers I want her to know about, to see, and again I'm despairing that they can't really be caught. I don't think even filming it -- even if I was Fellini -- would catch what I want her to have. I don't feel like the world needs to see these moments, I just despair that BabyG won't ever see how she was born into the world filled with desire, and with the lungs to protest when her needs went unmet.

I read that babies are vulnerable, adorable, cute, sweet, or maybe even fussy, but BabyG is confident and intent, especially in relation to eating. She looks like an expert just as soon as my breast appears: she's calm, she assesses it, she waits to take it. If anything gets in the way, even her own hand, it makes her so angry she can't calm down enough to suckle, which makes her angrier. She has a high pitched, girly scream of frustration she uses in this moment. She makes a little grunting/humming noise and shakes her head as she attatches. With all obstacles are out of the way, and she's calmed and suckling, she looks resolute & peaceful and purposeful.

At first she gulps so much that a tiny stream of milk escapes from the side of her mouth and soaks my shirt, or sometimes hers, if I forget to put a towel below her chin. Then she screams because she's eaten so much she can't eat more, and I burp her. Then she gulps a little more, and then takes five tiny, quick sips in a row, then none for five or ten seconds; then five or six more tiny sips. When she's done, sometimes she suckles herself to sleep and I have to decide whether I want to wake and burp her, or leave her to her dreams and risk a spit-up. Other times, as GreenDaddy has written, she throws her head back all at once, her neck is extended backwards, and she focusses on some point in the distance or closes her eyes to contemplate some unknowable vision.

All this describing gets me nowhere near the vision I wish I could give to BabyG. She is already a strong little being who knows what she wants and needs. I want her to know that the secret to her own contentment and desire lies in the very core of who she is, though time and experience might confuse and bury her ability to recognize it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Must Green Parents Be Poor Parents?

When I was twenty-one, much to the dismay of my family and friends, I quit medical school. I had just come back from working on a public health project in the poorest region of Peru. After two months among Quechua-speaking people in little Andean towns like Huascahura and Huayopuqyo, I made the break from medicine, a decision I had long considered but never built up the courage to do. Rather than spend my life focused on a particular disease or set of diseases, I wanted to devote myself to considering, encountering, and changing the way we think about justice, wealth, and living meaningful lives. Instead of studying a protein in a tapeworm, I wanted to ask why the native peoples of Peru didn’t have the kind sewage systems that would eradicate tapeworms? Why are they poor? What is poverty? Why did my life seem less meaningful than the life of a guy who makes less than $2 a day? I thought the writing life would be the best way for me to explore those questions.

The most common response to my decision from family and friends was, “How are you going to pay for your children’s college education?”

Maybe I wouldn’t be able to pay for my child to attend a private school, I thought. Maybe my future child would not want me to sublimate my ideals and desires in order to save up a three hundred thousand dollar college fund. Maybe my child would want a dad who was actualized, took risks, and lived fully. If I made my career choices based on the college-fund concept of parenting, I was worried that I would become too busy and well-paid to be physically and emotionally present. I asked myself, is a childhood good only if it culminates in attending a US top twenty college like Northwestern or Duke?

After quitting medical school, I worked for a year in publishing. Then I went to graduate school for writing and literature. I made about a thousand dollars a month teaching freshman at the University of Houston. My classes were about analyzing the language of advertising, war, colonialism, and trade agreements. I met my wife at that time and she did the same kind of work. I took a semester off to work for a feminist NGO in India. When I got back, MaGreen and I organized anti-war protests. I felt that I was doing my part in the struggle for global justice. I had to teach myself to live on an extremely tight budget. I bought clothes secondhand, scavenged for used furniture, and cook my own lentils, rice, and vegetables.

As soon as MaGreen and I started to think about having a baby, my mindset started to change. It’s all fine and good to subject yourself to poverty, but doing so to your children is another matter. Accumulating wealth is essential to weathering the big shocks that life inevitably throws at a family like illness, natural disasters, losing your livelihood, or whatever other unspeakable things. We don’t live in a country with a decent safety net. I absolutely don’t want anyone in my family to go through the humiliation and forced poverty of Medicaid, disability, or what’s left of welfare. Forget an Ivy League education without debt, what if we can’t even afford to help our child obtain a decent education at all? Also, I don’t want our child to be burdened with fiscally caring for us when we are elderly.

MaGreen and I, as parents, feel an obligation to build wealth, but at the same time we do not want to abandon our ideals. We will not buy mutual funds that include weapons manufacturers like GE, companies that attempt to patent seeds like Monsanto, or multinationals that rely on sweat-shop labor like Nike and Walmart. Investing in those types of companies will not help create the kind of world I hope our child inherits. We don’t want to hinge our family’s fiscal security on global inequality. Ever since I learned that the East India Tea Company was the first multinational company traded on a stock market, I have refrained from buying any stocks or mutual funds. The East India Tea Company impoverished India, reducing it from one of the wealthiest places on earth to one of the poorest. How can I willingly take part in that system?

We do have one strategy in place. My parents helped us buy a duplex with two apartments in the back. We live in one of the units and rent out the other three. We are providing decent housing to people who make steady, but limited salaries – an electrician, a caterer, a newspaper reporter, and a webmaster at a pipe company. The rental income goes towards our mortgage payments and helps us live in the center of the city. I can bicycle to work and build equity. But our entire financial security cannot depend on one piece of real estate.

My job at Rice University working for the journal Feminist Economics has allowed me to build some savings, but I’m not sure what to do with it. They’re sitting in a savings account that earns less interest than the inflation rate! MaGreen and I are reading Co-Op America’s Guide to Green Investing, which came with our membership to Co-Op America. It lists mutual funds like Domini and Calvert that have social justice and environmental criteria.

Green parents do not have to be poor parents. Some of the people I lived among in Peru were demoralized and resigned to their pitiful lot. Most of them, however, were striving for dignified lives. They tilled rocky desert soil, spun wool, wove rugs, and built their homes from mud. They organized as communities along political and religious lines. MaGreen and I are striving for the same dignity for our family and communities, but we refuse to get a leg up by stepping on those below.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

But For Lack of a Boob

MaGreen went to work today, only four weeks after giving birth to BabyG. She teaches writing to children at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. Normally, MaGreen works three hours twice a week. For now, she has agreed to go just once a week. My employer does not provide paid leave for paternity, but I am taking all my vacation days and I have not yet run out. So I stayed at home with BabyG and took care of her while MaGreen went back to work.

BabyG slept soundly – that is soundlessly – for the first hour and a half. I read twenty pages of a book, put the soiled cloth diapers in the laundry, and picked up around the house. Then BabyG started to fuss, which she usually does before peeing or pooing. I decided to catch her elimination. When my parents and my brother’s family came to visit last week, we stopped practicing elimination communication (EC). I couldn’t focus on BabyG’s signals and it felt awkward holding a bowl under her for several minutes at a time. Everyone vied for time to hold BabyG and EC just wasn’t going to happen. Today though, without any distractions, not even from MaGreen, I was able to catch everything – multiple pees and a two-squirt poo – and I did not have to wait long. I used our new bowl bought from the EC store that allows BabyG to rest her thighs on the curved top.

When BabyG cried for food, I popped a pacifier in her mouth. Then I warmed up breastmilk MaGreen had pumped that morning. When I gave the bottle to BabyG, she drank eagerly and with focus. I had to warm up a second bottle after BabyG drained the first one. I felt quite confident. I can care for BabyG just as well as MaGreen but for my lacking lactating breasts. I feel lucky that we can afford an electric, double breast pump.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Atoning for a Sin

We have fallen from the grace of the Goddesses of Green. Please hear me witness now. My parents flew in to see their granddaughter for the first time. They rented a little beach house on Galveston island for the week so that we could all stay together by the Gulf shore. MaGreen and I did our best to prepare, packing all of our gear into the car. Unfortunately, we couldn’t fit the wooden co-sleeper in the car. Even though we sleep with the baby in the bed, in our judgment we needed somewhere safe to keep BabyG. So we bought a huge portable, plastic, combo crib/changing table/play pen called the Graco Pack N Play…and we bought it at Walmart.

I knew it was a sin when we committed the act. We must atone for purchasing goods from Walmart, because it is an anti-union monster. By making the purchase from Walmart, we contributed to the erosion of workers’ rights here in the US and globally. It’s just that the local, non-corporate baby shops don’t sell Pack N Plays and the consignment baby store didn’t have one. The Pack N Plays at the other big box stores like Babies R Us and Target were an additional twenty dollars and on top of that price difference, their models did not have the features we wanted. In seeking atonement, MaGreen and I have decided that we will donate $40 to Walmartwatch.com which is helping coordinate efforts to defeat Walmart’s abusive practices. And we will redouble our efforts as consumers to support fair, ecologically sustainable trade.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

I May Be Ten Days Old, But I Wasn’t Born Yesterday

We’ve been parents for ten days, but I feel like we have existed outside of clock time since BabyG was born. I have to look at the calendar to figure out if it is a weekday or weekend. Time has largely become the interval between breastfeeding, poos, pees, and naps. We barely noticed New Years.

We have been fortunate to sleep for hours at a time at night. MaGreen has managed to breastfeed lying down in bed and fall asleep while BabyG suckles. We are not overwhelmed or exhausted. On the contrary, we have enjoyed ourselves. But we are consumed by caring for BabyG. It is all we do.

Each day, we try to learn some new parenting skill. Two days ago, we made the switch to cloth diapers. Yesterday, MaGreen set up her Ameda breastpump. Today we have been trying to use Elimination Communication (EC). So far, we have “caught” the majority her poos and pees in a little bowl (and she’s had a cloth diaper on the rest of the time). I have been amazed by the experience. The claims made by EC proponents about bonding between parent and child that I thought were outlandish have been true for me. Since I don’t have a breast and BabyG’s two activities are eating and eliminating, the EC bonding is what I've got to work with.

Switching to cloth diapers helped us study BabyG’s elimination patterns because we could actually tell if she urinated. That helped us prepare for EC. She pees about seven minutes after ever breastfeeding. She poos after breastfeeding around 10 pm, 4 am, and 7 am plus some other times. I have learned tell the difference between her rooting for MaGreen’s milk, general digestive distress, and straining to eliminate. When I hold over a little bowl and she needs to eliminate, she is quite calm in my arms. It is a tender moment. When BabyG kicks around and whines that means she is done and I know to put her down. I’m shocked that the communication part of Elimination Communication is real. My baby may be ten days old, but she wasn't born yesterday.