Friday, October 10, 2014

Taking a break

Lately a combination of factors has led me to be uninterested in or unable to handle most social media. I'm not saying goodbye forever or completely. I may lurk around the edges a little, but don't count on me to be around.

Maybe after a few weeks reflection I'll even be able to write more about the reasons for this decision, but for now I'll be a little harder than usual to find online. Email and texting will still work,  though.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Without a toddler in the house ...

... You do not wake up to the incessant call of "Mom ... Mom ... Mom!"

... You don't trip over blocks and cars and all manner of noisy toy on your way to the kitchen to blearily slice somebody's banana before you've even had the chance to make coffee.

... You can stare at your 2-month old for 5 whole minutes without being interrupted.

... You discover that said 2-month-old loves to smile and makes the most adorable gurgling and cooing sounds when you talk to her.

... You additionally find that said 2-month-old has just discovered her toes but only knows them as the wonderful wiggly things that fit in her mouth and not yet as appendages attached to her body.

... You can leave water glasses randomly strewn about the house without fear of someone deciding they look like a good toy and then spilling their contents on your phone.

... You can wash dishes without a little "helper".

... There's no Elmo.

... There's no potty training drama.

... There's no wrestling a little monster into pajamas and then convincing him it's time to sleep despite all the tears and whining to the contrary.

But there's also ...

... no one to help you load the washing machine and dryer (seriously, he loves to help with laundry)

... no games of "This Little Piggy"

... no surprise knee-level attack hugs that nearly knock you over

... no giggle-filled bedtime stories

... no slobbery little kisses that must last exactly as long as the toddler wants and be given to every person in the house before it's time for bed.

This list brought to you by my #toddlerfreeweek (thanks to my parents). As you can see, I'm mostly enjoying it, but by next weekend I'll be glad to have my little monster back.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Day in the Life of a Working Mom

Last Friday was quite a day for me. It had really been a long week and by Friday I was just shot. Unfortunately Friday is usually one of my busiest work days and this one was exactly that. Let's see if I can remember how to recap it.

Midnight: Infant awakens demanding food. (This is normal.)

2AM: Infant awakens demanding food. (Wait, didn't we already do this?)

4AM: Infant awakens demanding food. (You better be going through a growing spurt, otherwise this is just mean.)

5:30AM: Alarm goes off reminding me that I'm supposed to leave for work early this morning, so I need to hop in the shower before the husband and the toddler wake up. Hit the snooze button instead.

5:55AM: Toddler awakens. (Apparently I turned the alarm off instead of hitting snooze.) Force toddler onto the potty and decide to do a wet wipe sponge bath (one of the advantages of having small children) instead of a shower, since husband is now waking, too.

6:00-6:54AM: General chaos as everyone awakens and demands their various clothing, breakfast, and entertainment needs be met immediately. Eventually there is coffee.

6:55AM: Five minutes before I plan to walk out of the door the infant again demands food. Realize that if I feed her now I won't have to pump the minute my 8AM meeting is over, so decide to risk running late.

7:20AM: Finally in the car and on the way to work 20 minutes later than planned (toddler demanded my help - not his father's - putting on his shoes, even though his father was the one taking him to daycare.)

8:05AM: Arrive at work only 5 minutes late (I love Friday morning lack of traffic) and get into the monthly department meeting at which I'm supposed to talk with enough time to compose myself before it's my turn. But when it's my turn my brain is so mushy that the new products I'm demoing get explained with phrases like "Check it out yourself, it's pretty self-explanatory" rather than actually, you know, explaining how they work.

11AM: Am too busy making fun of the raving conspiracy rant that someone abandoned in our printer that I forget my first pump break of the day.

12:20PM: Finally realized that I forgot that pump break and frantically race to my other "office" followed by a rushed trip to the closest fast food joint to pick up lunch on the remaining few minutes of my lunch break.

4:45PM: Second pump break of the day.

5-6PM: Am so busy actually working that I forget to spend time on Pinterest meal planning for next week (I try to do a lot of my grocery shopping after work on Fridays).

6:15PM: stop at the Costco closer to work and slightly out of my way rather than the one closer to home because I'm running on fumes and need to fill up with cheap Costco gas as well as reasonably priced bulk items.

6:55PM: getting back into my car after the Costco trip and husband calls asking me to pick up C batteries for the infant's swing (does anything besides infant swings use C batteries?), so rather than head back into Costco, hit up the next mass merchandiser on my way home and grab myself a pop, because I need caffeine desperately, but know that if I have coffee this late I won't be able to fall asleep until the infant wakes up for her midnight feeding.

7:45PM: Arrive home to pandemonium. Toddler has been fed, but is cranky and ready to get ready for bed. Infant is hungry and tired. Husband is playing video games. Luckily, I get the infant. Husband wrestles toddler onto the potty and then into pajamas and bed.

8:30PM-midnight: For some dumb reason, both husband and I stay up insanely late doing nothing that I can actually remember now a few days later. I think I was on my computer. Facebook? Probably.

Monday, August 4, 2014

S@!t Toddlers Say

So, I heard my son swear for the first time. I should have known it was coming. He's started repeating everything I say directly to him, so it was only a matter of time before he repeated the word I muttered under my breath when I dropped something while breastfeeding his sister (making me unable to retrieve the item until she was done).

As much as I'd prefer my two-year-old didn't swear, I swear an awful lot in his presence. Okay, I swear an awful lot, period, but I come by it honestly. My dad's ability to swear creatively led my brothers and I to tell our confused friends that he was fluent in French. This more than anything recently has made me feel guilty about not setting a better example for my kids.

Speaking of my father, another thing my son has been saying lately that my father would believe is worse than swearing is mispronouncing "grandma" and "grandpa", both as something sounding roughly like "bama". Since my son says "uh" in front of everything it comes out sounding like "Obama". My father is of the political camp fiercely against our current President and my son is set to spend a week with him later this month. This should be interesting ...

Friday, August 1, 2014

Love and Discipline

Before I went on maternity leave I went on a binge checking out piles of books on both pregnancy and parenting. I blame the hormones. Of course, adding a new baby to a house that already contained a 2-year-old meant that I didn't get through most of those books before I'd already renewed them the maximum number of times. However, two really stuck out for me and I made the time to finish them.

These books address either side of what I've decided to call the parenting coin - love and discipline. Essential to parenting in my mind is that children grow up feeling safe, secure, and loved, but also have structure, rules, and discipline to keep them grounded and help them grow into responsible and independent adults. Both of these books are a response to fear-based parenting and teach parents how to create a vision for what kind of parents they want to be and gives them the confidence to go on in love and respect for their children's futures.

The first book, Grace Based Parenting: Set Your Family Free by Tim Kimmel, on the face of it focuses on the love part (which Kimmel refers to as grace). However, by parenting with grace, you also give your kids the tools to mature emotionally and handle the pressures of adult life, setting them up for strong futures.

Kimmel discusses the pitfalls of both authoritarian and permissive parenting, showing that parents who rigidly require their children to follow a strict set of rules grow up either unprepared for the temptations of the outside world or resentful of all authority figures, while children of parents who let them have whatever they want and only introduce but never enforce their values grow up with no respect for their parents' wishy washy belief system. Grace-Based Parenting strikes a balance, creating clear boundaries for children, but also inviting them into conversation about these boundaries so that everyone understands the values behind them. This also allows children to influence their parents' decisions, but only when it stays within the boundaries of the parent's previously defined values.

Often it seems that Christian parenting books are more focused on the discipline part of parenting, making sure your kids grow up as perfect examples of Christianity, so this focus on grace was a breath of fresh air for me. Instead of focusing on making sure that your children grow up learning to follow x set of rules "because the Bible says", it focuses on how you raise your kids to understand why the Bible choose to lay out these principles, attempting to show your children the bigger picture outside their little world, because, let's face it, all of us need a reminder to look outside our own bubbles every now and then.

It also speaks to a part of living a Christian life that has always bothered me. So many believe that part of setting a good Christian example involves avoiding temptation, which isn't all bad, but there's this misguided belief that the farther you separate yourself from temptation, the better Christian you are. And so you homeschool your kids to avoid them hearing bad words or learning bad things from non-Christians, you only listen to Christian music and only let your kids have access to Christian websites and watch Christian shows and read Christian books. But what happened to spreading the story of Jesus to all people? If you're not living in the secular world, how can you relate to those who aren't already Christ-followers? How can you spread the Gospel?

Kimmel points out that it's not things that are evil, it's intentions that turn you away from God that are sinful. For example, your kid asking to dye their hair a crazy color because they think it would be fun is a totally different thing than your kid huffing off in a rage and dying their hair because they know it will make you angry. In both cases it's not the hair dye that's evil, but in the second, the child's attitude is certainly not one of honoring their parents.

Finally, I loved that this was fundamentally a book about how every parent and every child is different and how what works for one parent or child may not work in another situation and that's perfectly fine because God allows us infinite ways to serve and honor him while still being true to ourselves. It so nice to hear a Biblical argument against peer pressure, especially when that pressure is sometimes coming from fellow Christians. But maybe it got me a little too focused on addressing the needs of each child individually because I started second-guessing my decisions and wondering if I should let my toddler do whatever crazy thing he was doing because he wasn't in danger of injuring himself, and maybe he just wasn't ready to sit on the potty yet.

Then I read Mean Moms Rule: Why Doing the Hard Stuff Now Creates Good Kids Later by Denise Schipani, and reminded myself that he's only two. All he knows is that sitting on the potty is something new and he likes nothing better than unchanged routines, so, really, it's my job as the parent to nudge him toward a new skill he is perfectly capable of mastering. And really, forcing him to sit on the potty when he doesn't want to isn't going to break his little soul.

By "Mean Mom" what Schipani really means is something more like an old-fashioned mom, one who didn't spend her life carting her kids from event to event, but instead told the kids to go outside and play until it was time to come in for supper. Granted, in many neighborhoods today parents wouldn't be allowed to let their children roam free like that anymore, but is it really so bad if the kids want to run next door and just hang out with the neighbor kids without having some sort of structured activity or parent hovering in the background?

Like Kimmel, Schipani is big on being intentional in your parenting, deciding ahead of time what kind of parent you want to be, so that when things come up, you'll be better equipped to stick to your guns and raise your kids the way you intended instead of letting their incessant demands run you.  As she says many times, your kids job is to push the envelope and see what you'll let them get away with; your job is to provide firm and consistent boundaries.

Schipani's main beef is with today's Helicopter Parents, but most of her issues could be summed up by saying that Helicopter Parenting is largely fear-based. We are now obsessed with keeping our children safe and with making sure they take advantage of every opportunity available to them and that every possible talent they might have is being nurtured appropriately. But really, why are we being so hyperattentive to our kids' needs? Is it because we're actually helping them or because we're afraid that other parents will judge us? Schipani would argue that many time it's the latter.

Basically I feel like a much stronger parent now after reading these two books that encourage parents to raise children with a balance of love and discipline so that one day they will become adults who can think for and take care of themselves.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Few Books on Natural Childbirth

I've tried writing this post a couple times and the gremlins keep eating it, so the final result may be a little more rushed than the first few.

As the birth of my second child approached, I started panicking that I couldn't remember anything from the childbirth classes I took the first time and, since I was going for a VBAC, only had limited knowledge from my first time around, so I did what any good librarian in this situation would do and I went to the stacks and grabbed a few books.

I found myself gravitating to the natural childbirth books, not because of some strong calling from my inner Earth Mother Goddess, but because they're the ones that have the most information on the actual mechanics of childbirth. Conventional books will tell you plenty about how your medical care will happen, but not a lot about what happens to baby and the parts of your body surrounding baby during this process, so with that goal in mind, I picked up these three books.

Book #1: Orgasmic Birth: Your Guide to a Safe, Satisfying, and Pleasurable Birth Experience by Elizabeth Davis and Debra Pascali-Bonaro

Okay, so the first one I really grabbed because of the title, but it seemed to be the epitome of natural birth, let's bask in the awesomeness of motherhood book, so I figured if nothing else, the positivity would be good to keep me from freaking out as my due date approached. Eventually I learned that this book was written as a follow up to a documentary about natural childbirth and the vital role it plays in women's lives as sexual beings, so we're pretty far down the rabbit hole of the natural childbirth movement here.

Final Verdict: This one was not for me. When I grabbed these books, I was looking for practical specifics and this one seemed more about basking in your awesome achievements as someone who'd given birth. I did finally get around to reading some after my daughter's birth, but the focus on natural birth above all else was off-putting to this woman who'd just had her second C-section. Hearing the implicit message that I was less of a woman for not only giving birth in a hospital but having a C-section and availing myself of 24-hour nursing care and all that modern medicine had to offer, etc. was very frustrating. Or maybe that was just the hormones talking. Anyway, the other two books were practical for pregnant women in many more situations.

Book #2: Childbirth Without Fear by Grantly Dick-Read

I read the 75th anniversary edition with all sorts of forewards and introductions to give this the correct historical context. Basically the early-mid 20th century was not a great time to give birth in a hospital. Women were generally sedated and restrained during birth, receiving episiotomes whether they needed them or not, and often requiring the use of forceps or other tools to deliver the baby. Women had little to no say on how their birth experience would play out. Dick-Read was one of the first voices to speak out against these practices and call for obstetricians to return to practices resembling those of midwives and others practicing more natural methods of childbirth, and this book has been a standard in natural childbirth literature ever since.

Final Verdict: Shockingly philosophical, this sounds like a book written by a man 75 years ago, yet is still very helpful today, and it's somehow comforting to hear even a man discuss the need to include women in their birth experiences and trust their feelings in regards to their own bodies. I think I would have enjoyed this more if I'd read it at the beginning of my pregnancy when I'd had more time to absorb the abstract concepts around pregnancy and childbirth that Dick-Read explores.

Book #3: The Yoga Birth Method: A Step-by-Step Guide for Natural Childbirth by Dorothy Guerra

I've been a mediocre yoga practitioner for years, but found myself relying more and more on my prenatal yoga DVD the second time around, so reading more about yoga and pregnancy was an obvious choice for me. Guerra spends a lot of time discussing the mental and emotional aspects of yoga before getting into poses and practices that are especially helpful throughout pregnancy and the various stages of childbirth. There is also quite a bit of discussion about the physiology of the pregnant body and all the various changes it has to go through in order to deliver a baby.

Final Verdict: This was by far my favorite of the three. I appreciated Guerra's detailed practical approach, explaining why poses were particularly helpful at each stage and explaining in much more detail than I found anywhere else, the changes your body goes through in each stage of labor before it can progress to the next. I felt much more informed about the changes that would precede my daughter's birth and came away feeling very confident in trusting the signals my body would send me as my delivery date approached. Her poses and routines were spot on in soothing my aching 3rd trimester body and easing the pains of early labor contractions. And since I did end up having a C-section I appreciated her realistic approach to medical intervention and the way she pointed out throughout the book where medical intervention may end up being necessary and why. Natural childbirth is great when it can happen, but in those situations where it can't, going in well-informed and confident in your body and your choices is just as good.

I may not have had an orgasmic birth, but after reading more about the process of childbirth, I was much more confident and calm when it came time for my daughter's birth. When contractions started I was able to work with my body rather than freaking out, and when the decision was made to have a C-section, I was confident that it was the best option available to us.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Zim's Birth Story

Since I've just returned home from the hospital with my second child, it seems like a good time to tell the story of my first child's birth. Now that two years have passed and I have another birth to compare it to I probably have a little better perspective of the whole process.

My pregnancy with Zim was pretty easy. Other than out of this world heartburn that made it nearly impossible for me to enjoy all my favorite foods (chocolate, tomatoes, chocolate, acidic fruits, chocolate) I didn't have much to complain about, but I still was pretty whiny about being pregnant and, by the end, wanted it to be over yesterday. Seriously, if you're on the fence about having kids, don't. It's a lot of work and only worth it if you're excited about being a parent, in which case, all the crappy stuff is totally made up for by the awesomeness of kids, but there's a lot of crappy stuff.

When I arrived at my 40-week appointment, I was greeted with surprising news. They were moving my due date back 2 weeks. I'd measured about that small all along and since their practice was to induce at 40 weeks, they wanted to make sure I was really 40 weeks. Since I'd already had my last day at work, this meant 2 weeks of sitting at home waiting for a baby who still wasn't ready to come.

Me, 40 weeks pregnant and ready to be done

At my real 40 week appointment I had to do all manner of testing to make sure there wasn't an excuse to rip this baby out of me immediately. Apparently doctors in my practice were very eager to have babies early or on time. Since I'd had such a quiet pregnancy I hadn't really asked many questions along the way, but this was very different from what we'd learned was standard practice at my childbirth class offered by the hospital we were delivering at, where they said "Babies come when they're ready." I knew all of my mom's kids were at least 1 week late, so I was surprised to learn that my OB thought passing an arbitrary date on the calendar was reason enough to induce labor. But since my child proved to be following in my footsteps everything came back normal and since it was a Friday, they decided to wait until the following week to schedule my induction.

I went in for my check up Tuesday morning, still not dilated, still not having much in the way of contractions (they registered on the monitors, but I barely felt them), so I had one of the most painful procedures ever done, and the doctor dilated me manually to the width of a finger tip in the hopes that that would get my labor started before I showed up at the hospital that evening for my induction.

It didn't.

My husband, my mother, and I arrived at the hospital that evening to check in for my induction. After taking my vitals and getting all the paperwork out of the way, I got to have a lovely cardboard tampon of cervidil inserted into my vagina and lay in bed all night to see if it softened my cervix any.

It didn't.

Then throughout the next day I got to get increasingly higher doses of pitocin introduced to my IV to see if that would start regular contractions that started dilation.

It didn't.

It did however start super painful contractions that made me lose control of my bladder and required some heavy duty pain killers to knock me out until the medication started to leave my system.

At this point I should mention my mom and husband had stayed with me the whole time despite there being only one semi-comfortable piece of furniture in the room that my mom refused to take a turn on, so by this time she was getting pretty loopy from sleep deprivation. Luckily my best friend offered to stop by after work to give my mom an excuse to go back to our house and catch a nap before the action started.

My friend also brought cards and so we played Phase 10 and watched the Cubs lose while my cervix continued refusing to dilate. Unfortunately our card playing got cut short when my best friend started having blood sugar issues and had to raid the vending machines to keep from passing out. So basically, I was bored out of my skull, my husband was exhausted, and my best friend was unexpectedly getting ill. Are we having fun yet?

Also I forgot to mention that the nurse who was on my shift that night was the only labor and delivery nurse I've ever met who didn't exude an aura of calm and caring competence. She was super flighty and kept saying things out loud that I'm sure they teach you in nursing school are the things you shouldn't be telling your patients. She seemed more nervous about this whole thing than I was.

Then the doctor was going to break my water to see if that would start labor, only we didn't get to see what effect that would have had because a few things went wrong all at once. Some blood came out with the waters, making them think my placenta had ruptured. It hadn't and it turned out to only be a little blood. But then the baby went into distress severe enough that a lot of people started moving very quickly and before I knew it I had been whisked into an operating room and was being prepped for surgery. This was truly terrifying, despite the anesthesiologist's best efforts to keep me calm as they prepped me for surgery (the nurse, of course, was no help here). I remember trying not to hyperventilate as they put the mask over my face.

And then I woke up in a dim room in excruciating pain. I didn't have my glasses, so it wasn't worth opening my eyes since I can literally see about 2 inches in front of my face without them. It hurt to breath. It hurt to do just about anything, and then the crazy nurse told me I had a son and he was perfectly healthy and the only problem had been the cord wrapped around his neck. I wanted to cry or say something, but it hurt too much to move, so as tears started rolling down my cheeks the nurse freaked out and ran to get my husband, who also can't deal with girls crying, so somehow I managed to croak out that they were happy tears and that I hurt and he got what was going on enough to know that I really just needed him to hold my hand.

Then I started shivering and my whole world became pain. I knew from the childbirth class that shivering after delivery was normal, but I didn't think I'd be doing it with a fresh wound in my belly. I discovered just how many muscles in my body are connected to my abs - all of them apparently.

Eventually I got into an actual room and because of the circus the floor had been that night, I got one of the super fancy rooms that you're supposed to pay extra for if you book it in advance, but they gave it to me because of the trauma I'd gone through. Unfortunately the reason I got a cool room was also the reason I didn't get proper pain medication right away and so they were still waiting on someone to get a morphine pump for me because they'd run out on their floor (I was the 4th unplanned C-section of the night).

They asked if I wanted to see my baby, and as much as I did, I couldn't even imagine sitting up, let alone seeing my son for the first time and dealing with the crying that was sure to bring on. Luckily, the teacher of my childbirth class had stopped by and when she saw how crazy things were, stayed with my family until they got everything sorted out. She made sure my husband and best friend (and eventually my mother, when she got back) got to see the baby in the nursery. She made sure they gave me the good room when they ran out of regular rooms. She made sure they got my morphine pump up and running and that I had a breast pump available in case they couldn't get my pain under control before I needed to start releasing some breast milk.

The first picture I saw of my son, screaming in the nursery, while I was in too much pain to move

My son's first meal was formula, but by the next morning my pain was under control enough that I could sit up enough to breast feed, with a lot of assistance from the wonderful nurses on the floor (Seriously, the one I had the night I delivered my son was the only dud in the batch. Everyone else was fantastic!). And I actually saw him for a few minutes in the middle of the night when I woke up all panicky and couldn't get back to sleep because I just had to see him, even if I could barely sit up enough to hold him. Thank goodness my husband took a picture of that moment. It's one of my all-time favorites.

a few hours later, pain starting to get under control, I meet my son face-to-face

The next day or two of my hospital stay is kind of a blur. I was in a lot of pain, but the nurses pushed me very hard to get up and go to the bathroom on my own, take a shower, and start walking around. They even made me do a couple laps around the ward pushing my son's bassinet. Mostly I remember staring at them in disbelief every time they gave me another seemingly impossible task to do.

Eventually, though, things settled into a rhythm and while I was still in a lot of pain, I was starting to get the hang of this mothering thing. I definitely recognized my son's cries whenever they brought him back from testing in the nursery. He seemed to be a natural at breastfeeding, which was a huge weight off my mind. He was just so tiny and perfect. I couldn't believe my husband and I had made him and that he was ours to take home.

And then it was time to take him home and like every first-time-parent, I freaked out a little, okay a lot, about everything. I rode in the backseat because I just couldn't believe that his tiny little head would be okay in that huge carseat. I was very worried that something would come up as soon as we got home that would throw us for a loop and we wouldn't know how to deal. Yet now, here he is, almost two, and we seem to have gotten along just fine.

on the way home from the hospital, even with rolled up blankets, we couldn't position his head right to keep it from flopping, so I rode in the back seat to keep his head from falling off, I guess

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Why I'm Glad My Mother-In-Law Is a Feminist

My mother-in-law and I don't see eye to eye on a lot of topics, but today I am so thankful she's a proud feminist and let her son know that. It makes me feel a lot better about how my husband and I will raise our son.

He will grow up knowing that a woman's body is her own and not a tool for men to use to prove their own worth.

When a young man thinks that killing women is the proper response to dating rejection, and he leaves a video that feels like a collection of bad pop culture cliches, you can't help but notice that while some of this may be mental health related, at least some of this is cultural. You can't help but notice how a confused young man who looks to the wrong places for dating advice can so easily come away with the idea that female affection is his right as a man. That if women reject him, it's because they're bitches, not because he's socially awkward or just hasn't met the right girl yet.

My husband's story started out a lot like Elliot Rodger's, with the lack of experience with girls and thinking that being a virgin in your early 20's is the most embarrassing thing in the world.

One big difference between him and Roger: he never blamed women for his problems or plotted revenge against an entire gender, like he was owed something from us.

The lesson that my husband and I hope to teach all of our children: When it comes to love and affection, you get to choose who you give that gift to or not, whether or not they think they deserve it. When it comes to other people loving you, that is a gift that they choose to give you or not, whether or not you think you're worthy of it.

Like most women I know, I've dated men who practice the more socially acceptable forms of misogyny - variations on the idea that if a man shows interest, but doesn't force you, you somehow owe him affection or countless other actions that devalue women. Thanks to my husband's feminist mother, he won my eternal respect by treating me with some from the beginning of our relationship, and, even before we had kids, was adamant about teaching his son to treat women the way his mom taught him to treat them.

I've struggled with the term feminist for a long time. Honestly, I'm still dealing with it. But increasingly, events like the one that happened in Isla Vista, make me see the importance of having strong female role models in a kid's life, ones who aren't afraid to call themselves feminists. I've seen first hand the positive impact it can have.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Magic Of Language

Until 18 months my toddler showed very little interest in speaking actual words. He babbled incessantly and occasionally said real words like "mama", "dada", "all done", and "uh-oh" but had very little interest in using them on a regular basis or to regularly mean the things they actually mean. He learned how to wave and would say "Aaaaaah" while doing it,  not while getting ready to go or when first arriving somewhere, but seemingly at random. He'd babble "Mamamamamama" nonstop for half an hour, but when I offered to give him a hug or ask him what he needed, he looked at me confused, like he didn't connect the sounds he was making with my arrival next to him.

I worried that my son wasn't going to get how spoken language worked. Like many parents of this generation, I was worried that my generally very social little boy was showing signs of autism, since lack of verbal communication is one of the signs, but he still communicated with me often in many other ways. He loved to goof around playing peekaboo and would yell indeterminate syllables to get my attention when he wanted me to watch him launch himself from another piece of furniture he shouldn't have been climbing (at least his need for an audience means I'm usually there to catch or pull him down from dangerous heights). He craved eye contact and attention, he just couldn't express it verbally.

And sure enough, right after Christmas spoken language started to make sense for him. He started using "all done" to more consistently mean he was done with something and "uh oh" to let us know when he'd dropped something (whether on purpose or not). When I leave the room he now runs after me screaming "Ma!" If his dad picks him up when he doesn't want to be held he screams "Nah! Nah! Nah!" (his version of "no") in addition to his usual head shaking and flailing. We play a game where he points to the different parts of his body and he's now started trying to say the parts as we do it (the "n" sound of "nose" being by far his favorite). Occasionally I even get a "thank you" out of him. And of course there are other words that are starting to come up more and more frequently, but you get the idea.

I owe a lot of my being able to find the words to write about this to a book called How Babies Talk: The Magic and Mystery of Language in the First Three Years of Life by Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek which is a really great overview of the research on the language abilities of babies and toddlers. Instead of selling a new fad of making your baby smarter, Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek simply let us know what science has been able to tell us about the language abilities of young children at various stages.

Even from within the womb, babies are learning important language skills. Does that mean you should be reading to your pregnant belly in a foreign language to give your child a leg up? Not necessarily. The authors do parents the wonderful service of explaining just how challenging understanding the concept of language and then going out and acquiring the skills to speak a language are and how the small, seemingly inconsequential milestones that our babies go through are really huge breakthroughs that our adult minds would struggle with, if they'd be able to achieve them at all.

They also show how many of the skills babies need to learn are hardwired into the parent-child relationship. It's nearly impossible to not make eye contact with a baby, and that's perfect, because babies are also hard-wired to seek out faces and making eye contact is the first way they learn to communicate.

While I picked this book up to ease my fears about my toddler's language abilities I also found it fascinating to learn the ways that the baby I'm currently pregnant with is learning to recognize my voice so that when it's born he or she will already know to find me by my voice.

Mostly I loved how this book reassured me that most of the instincts that came to me naturally, narrating my actions out loud to my child, talking more slowly and clearly to him so he could have a better chance to understand, going out of my way to make eye contact when I wanted to talk with him, are the best things I could be doing to help him develop language skills, and that while some toddlers start picking up spoken language as soon as they master walking, others take a little longer and both are perfectly normal. They also reassured me that while spoken language is the big goal for a toddler's communication skills, there are many other forms of communication that are important developmental milestones along the way (pointing being an especially big one) that are equally big achievements to first words and sentences.