Book Review — “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo

Tags

, ,

It finally came.

978-1-60774-730-7

It’s been well over a year that I’ve been trying to read this book.  I don’t remember exactly when I became aware of it, but suddenly, it seemed to be everywhere.  Everyone was talking about it and throwing out all of their stuff, and then raving about how miraculously their lives had been changed by 50 contractor sized garbage bags and the concept of vertical folding.

Now, I suppose, the moment has passed, but a person who is dependent on the whims of the library system may never be quite au courant with the latest and greatest blockbuster books, but I am going to review this book anyway.  I should probably admit up front that I have a huge bias against this book, and had long before I ever had the chance to read it.  In fact, I read it mostly so that I could have an informed negative opinion of it, rather than an uninformed one.

In fact, the book was a pleasant read, with some good advice.  It puzzles me that someone would need a book (or a consultant) to tell one that one does not need to keep and treasure forever every gift that was given to one, but it is certainly true.  I agree that other “rules” (such as, “if you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it”) are not really helpful, and that no magical storage system is going to solve all your housekeeping problems.  (However, I do think that it is also true that the same items present a problem over and over because they do not really have a home.)  Her advice that an item needs to be easy to put away, not easy to retrieve is something I will try to remember — it makes sense that you are willing to go to the trouble to get out something you want to use, but much less likely to go to extra trouble to put it away properly.

A lot of the book, however, seemed a bit arbitrary and not really practical, especially for a family.  The idea that you would only need to clear out everything once in your lifetime seemed unrealistic.  Children grow out of their clothes at least yearly, and even adults have interests and need that change over time. Much of the book seemed overly dogmatic, in a prescriptive and inflexible way, and it seemed to entirely overlook the fact that some people find great happiness in pursing creative pursuits that require “stuff” and make messes — baking, scrap booking, woodworking, sewing.

William Morris said “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”  I feel that statement is far more useful than the idea of “sparking joy,” which is, of course, Kondo’s famous concept.  (Made the more mystical by the requirement of touching each item before deciding if it sparks joy.)  I was particularly intrigued by this concept before I read the book, wondering what mental gymnastics were to be employed to justify many useful objects as “sparking joy.”   I suppose, when faced with an overflowing toilet, one might feel that the plunger sparks joy, but it’s just not the same as the way in which my favorite tea cup sparks joy. Later in the book, though, even Kondo herself admitted that certain documents, which must be saved for a time, do not spark joy.

But I want to be clear that I do not have a negative opinion of Kondo herself.  She comes across in the book as endearing, if slightly sad.  The book really made me want to go back in time so I could snatch the housekeeping magazines she was reading in kindergarten away from her, and shower her with attention and affection and show her how much fun a big mess can be, by decorating cupcakes or making a huge messy glue-y collage with her.  Throughout the book, she reveals in snippets why she is so fascinated by tidying and getting rid of material objects, which was far more interesting to me than the actual information on tidying.  I don’t mean this in a condescending or pitying way; she seems to have built a career that genuinely interests her and to find great happiness in helping other people.  She also seems to be very happy with the home she has created herself, using her method of tidying.

In the end, I think I am more interested in the thousands of readers and clients who have made her so famous.  Why do people feel this incredible need for someone else to tell them how to organize their homes, and give them permission to throw things away?  (Of course, it is always helpful to have another person’s perspective when cleaning out the closets; but having a friend who can remind you, “I’ve known you for three years and I’ve never seen you wear anything yellow; throw it out” is different from seeking out professional, impersonal advice from a book).  How is it a revelation that if you get rid of the things you don’t want or need, your home will be easier to keep tidy and more restful? Or at least, how is it a revelation on this scale?   There have always been magazine articles and books about keeping house, but why is this one so vastly popular?

But Kondo is far from the only sage giving out this minimalistic advice.  And here, I think, is the issue that bothers me so much about her book and the popular reception of it.  People have long sought happiness in the pursuit of “stuff”:  shopping, acquiring, collecting, stuff.  And while this materialism is still quite popular, there has been a general consensus that this is not what makes people happy.  Minimalism is seen as the cure to that:  if we get rid of enough stuff, if we downsize our storage and our homes, if we simplify enough, we can achieve happiness.  And so, this obsession with minimalism is not really different from materialism; it is just another way of obsessing about stuff.  This is the false note underneath all these messages.  Stuff cannot make us happy; and the absence of stuff cannot make us happy, either.  I daresay that, if we are already happy, we can enjoy “stuff” or we can enjoy downsizing and minimizing our “stuff”; a surfeit or deficit of stuff can make us a little more or a little less happy … but there is no amount of or proper storage of that stuff that will actually make us happy.

 

Advertisements

Book Review: “Why Can’t We Just Play?”

Tags

, ,

Now that we are home and (relatively) settled back in after our big trip (more on that later), I was able to spend some time searching the local library system for books I’ve been wanting to read. I’m always surprised by what they have in the system — and equally, by what they do not have. This title, Why Can’t We Just Play? What I Did When I Realized My Kids Were Way Too Busy,” by Pam Lobley, just happened to be sitting on the “New Books” shelf by the checkout desk, so I picked it up, and read it the same day.

9781942934578-2525copy

It is an easy-to-read and entertaining book; Lobley is a good writer and there is plenty of wry humor sprinkled throughout.  Her premise was to give her kids a “1950’s Summer” –one with no sports, camps, or other adult-structured activities –and the bulk of the book describes what they actually did that summer, and how everyone in the family reacted to it.   Mixed in are her musings on the pace of family life today and the frustration and futility of trying to do/be/have it all, reflections on what life in the 50s was really like, and her regrets about how childhood has become a race to the finish line.  I found myself agreeing with a lot of her points, although they weren’t particularly new thoughts.

Lobley did quite a bit of reading in her investigation into life in the 50s, and when she began investigating Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, I expected to disagree with her. However, interestingly, she focused on the role that advertisers played in trying to elevate and at the same time stifle the role of women, by making them professional consumers.  There is much in Friedan’s book that I do not agree with, but this point is certainly one that was true at the time, and has only intensified in the present day.  I appreciated that Lobley came to the conclusion that, if women were unfulfilled in the 50s, adding the demands of a professional career, to a plate already overloaded with domestic and personal responsibilities, has not exactly resulted in an epidemic of satisfaction.

Why Can’t We Just Play? is not particularly ground-breaking, but it addresses many current-day topics in an enjoyable and humorous way.  By attempting a 1950s summer (a concept I find strange, since all the children I knew in the 80s and 90s spent summer the same way), Lobley creates an interesting juxtaposition, encouraging the reader to look at things from two perspectives.  It makes a great summer read, while still addressing a meaningful issue, and provoking a thoughtful response from the reader.

 

Book Review: “The Whole-Brain Child”

9781780338378

I picked up The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J.Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson after seeing it everywhere.  Friends’ to-read lists, my you-may-also-like feed, and recommendations from a number of people.  I didn’t actually read any of the reviews or even know what it was about, but I had a number of mis-conceptions about the book before I even picked it up, none of which the authors should be faulted for, of course.

For one thing, it’s a really tiny book.  The actual text is only 149 pages, with lots of white space and illustrations.  For some reason, a book with the words “whole-brain” in the title sounds like it would be several hundred pages long, at least.  The subtitle, “12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind” had me thinking that this book was about enhancing your child’s intellectual abilities, but the book is actually about behavior (a topic I find more interesting and palatable anyway, so that was a good surprise).

The book was a much lighter read than I was expecting, and not just because it was short.  I am not a particularly science-minded person, and I don’t generally enjoy reading about brain science, which was a very popular topic for in-services during the years I was teaching.  (I’ve never been particularly curious about the neurological “whys” behind something that works, and am a bit mystified by the kind of people who are made giddy by a brain scan that demonstrates something is happening when a child is allowed to get up and take a break from schoolwork or the like.  Common sense and a bit of experience seem to back that up just fine, for my purposes.)  However, I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t really any science in this book; perhaps this was because I’d geared myself up for a boring, technical tome about intellectual development, and instead found a short, conversationally-written piece about techniques for getting children to cooperate.  It seemed odd to be that there wasn’t actually anything scientific in this book that I didn’t already know (maybe I retained more from those in-services than I thought I did) about the brain.

So far, none of this really reflects on the book or the authors, and it shouldn’t.  The book is pleasant to read and has a few good ideas, but it seems as if they take a simple concept, and labor the point at unnecessary length.  The fact that the book seems to repeat itself quite a bit, and yet still only is barely long enough to be a book, left me with the feeling that there just isn’t much content in here.  What content there is, is certainly not as “revolutionary” as the cover claims.  None of these strategies were particularly new or surprising, although their alliterative names for the techniques were original (with just a tinge of branding about them).  I can’t imagine that any parent of a 3 year old, in the midst of a temper tantrum in the grocery store, does not recognize that this is not a good time for a lecture about proper grocery etiquette.  The advice about meeting a child where he is, putting the behavior in context, taking a playful rather than confrontational approach — there are plenty of parenting books the already suggest this kind of advice.  As the brain science isn’t particularly technical, this book doesn’t seem to add much to a topic that is already discussed many other places.

The one unique part of this book is that the authors recommend explaining to children how their brains work, and why they sometimes feel or respond the way they do, as well as suggesting techniques that they can learn to help them through difficult feelings.  I liked this suggestion for older children, but I was surprised that the authors, while recognizing that younger children won’t fully understand, did seem to feel that parents can and should discuss this topic with even quite small children.  I don’t personally believe that young children should be encouraged to have that level of awareness (it seems incompatible with a Waldorf view of the young child), but I can see where some people might enjoy this aspect of the book.

 

 

Book Review: Einstein Never Used Flashcards

Tags

I was planning to do a full review of the book Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less.  Unfortunately, I had to return it to the library before I quite finished it, although I had more or less given up on it before then.

This really is a good book, packed with solid research, and if that is what you are looking for, I do recommend it.  The authors present plenty of compelling evidence, if you need to be convinced that children learn more from free play than from sitting still and memorizing.  And yet, while I was reading it, something was bothering me.

There seem to be several schools of thought when it comes to very young children and early childhood education.  Probably the most prevalent, in spite of evidence that undermines this view, is the idea that since the brain develops so rapidly in the first few years, we need to hurry up and cram it all in. The Common Core curriculum certainly seems to take this attitude, and since it is an alarmist perspective (any parent of young children is reminded a dozen times a week of how fleeting! how precious! this time is; and these reminders are accompanied by various obligations … take pictures/appreciate it/PACK THOSE LITTLE MINDS TO THE BRIM WITH FACTOIDS!), no wonder many people are frightened into believing that every waking minute of toddlerhood needs to be “productive” or else delinquency waits down the road.

The opposite school of thought, which seems to be gaining more interest, is that children are more or less pre-programmed to learn and develop, and as long as they aren’t seriously deprived of nutrition, affection, and a healthy environment, they will learn to read and write and count, just as they learn to crawl and cruise and walk.

Of course, this is vastly oversimplified, and there are plenty of ideas and opinions in between these two extremes.  But as much as the first, productive, mindset bothers me, I think I am most disturbed when the first mindset attempts to masquerade as the second.  And this is what I felt Einstein was doing, and why I lost interest in finishing it.  While the premise of the book seemed to be saying that children do not need to be forced into artificial learning scenarios, and of course they are not advocating flash cards, the learning activities they did suggest seemed to me to undermine the thesis of their own work.  Perhaps these are intended to reassure parents, who need to feel like they are doing *something,* but the rest of the book felt off, and I think it was because, ultimately, they seemed to be arguing for the same kind of “productivity” as their opponents, only they believe it is best/most effectively achieved in a different way.  In either case, childhood is seen as a unique opportunity to create a mini-learner who excels in literacy and numeracy, rather than as developmental stage that has purpose and value in and of itself.

St Brigid’s Day

St Brigid Day

Happy Feast of St. Brigid!  Above, celebrating with soda bread … which had to be transferred from the pan to a plate, because J was so eager to taste it that he burnt himself a bit on the pan.

In preparation for Candlemas tomorrow (we are planning to dip beeswax candles), I’ve been doing some reading on St Brigid’s Day / Imbolc / Candlemas, and the overlap between the three is very interesting.  Definitely more meaningful than Groundhog Day (although, as a Pennsylvania native, I will always have a soft spot for Punxsutawney Phil).  I have seen some indication that it is a good time to begin spring cleaning, and we could certainly use the six weeks start on that around here.  We are being treated to some warmer, softer weather this week as well — although, ironically, it appears that may be an omen that much worse is yet to come!

But there seems to be a universal theme of creativity and fresh start at this time of the year, and in a way it seems more fitting than designating January 1st as the beginning of our new resolutions.  January 1st is smack in the middle of the true Christmas celebration, it is itself a day of partying, with 5 more to come — and it almost feels as though any fresh endeavor that one undertakes with a January 1st start date is doomed to failure (although that may merely be my experience; others may be far more successful with their resolutions.)

So February feels like a more fitting start.  Here’s to St. Brigid, Candlemas, and Phil *not* seeing his shadow tomorrow!

(*Also, we will try to remember to take down the wreath on the front door tomorrow.)

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Quick Takes

I’m not linking up — not yet, anyway!  But I’m giving it a try.

  1. What we’re watching:  We are more than halfway through our movie challenge (to watch the Top 100 Movies, as determined by the AFI).  It’s been fun to get to this point, further than other people expected us to make it.  It also means that there shouldn’t be any real duds left (Last Pictures Show … Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe? … those sorts of movies).  So even if we both don’t like them, they at least shouldn’t be painful.  (Except maybe … Midnight Cowboy.
  2. What I’m reading:  Prior to the big storm we were expecting two weeks ago, we headed to the library to stock up on movies and books.  A got a handful, and I also managed to pick a few of interest from the New Books section up front.  Most notably, Home by Judith Flanders, which is good, but slow going due to the level of concentration required to follow it.
  3. What A is reading:  A now enjoys listening to longer stories, and doesn’t need pictures, either.  We have been working on telling/listening to stories orally, too, but we just started trying two chapter books.  He liked both “Wind in the Willows” and “Winnie the Pooh,”  but Wind in the Willows seems like such a Spring book, so far, so I think we’re going to concentrate on Winnie.
  4. What J is reading: J has just started to enjoy books in the conventional sense.  (He has long enjoyed them for their tastes and textures.) “Little Blue Truck” is his favorite, just as it was A’s first favorite book.  Although, he also
  5. What we’re doing: Fall.  Anything and everything Fall.  I am determined not to miss a second of this October!  Today we went to a Fall & Craft Festival in a nearby town, and just enjoyed walking up and down and taking it all in.  We’ve gotten outside every day, no matter what, and I want to keep that up!
  6. What we’re eating:  Apples.  See above. We are also apple picking tomorrow, so I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.  We are also baking a lot, as A has gotten into the habit, thanks to our co op, and often asks to help bake something.  “You want me help make something, Mama?” he asks hopefully, pointing to the mixer.
  7. What we’re making:  A has been enjoying experimenting with wet-on-wet watercoloring.  Both A and J love practicing with a pen or crayon.  I’m making wool hats for some of our dollies around here, now that it is getting colder!

Hello Again

Backpacking in Isle Royale NP

Backpacking in Isle Royale NP

We’re back.

This blog has been in the back — the way, way back, under a pile of other things — of my mind for awhile now.  I’ve been meaning to update and begin posting regularly, but things kept seeming too chaotic.  We moved — again — last year, and worked a lot, and I expected the summer to be a good time to revisit this space, but then, we worked some more and traveled a lot more.

So September 1st seems like a good time to start again.

I’m not sure if “refreshed” is actually the word for how we’re feeling after this past summer … We were away almost all of August, I worked full time most of June and July, and things were pretty hectic.  Although the end of summer is always a little sad, I’m actually really looking forward to this fall (which doesn’t officially start for 3 weeks, and certainly not today, as we’re in the middle of a heat wave — but it’s the first day of school around here for many, and that counts for something!).  Some new activities for A, a better work schedule for me, and hopefully a lot more family and home time, are all on the agenda.  I’m really craving routine, too, after the craziness of the past year.

The beginning of the school year has always felt to me like the most appropriate time for new plans and goals, whether any actual school is happening.  This year I’m hoping to get a household routine down (meal planning and a cleaning schedule — and stick to both!), and rework and stick to our budget, among other things.  A. and J. are still too little for “school,” but I’d like to get A. especially into a better routine as well — helping with chores, reading more books, and planned outings.

It’s supposed to be over 90 degrees today, but I won’t let the oppressive heat and humidity weigh down our First-Day-of-School optimism!

Newborn Days: Three Problems with the First 6 Weeks

First of all: now that 50 is the new 40, 30 is the new 20, and so on, apparently it works the same way for tiny babies: 6 weeks is the new 4 weeks.  My mother is certain that babies used to be newborns for the first 4 weeks, although it appears that now they stay newborns for the first  6 weeks.  Interesting, that while life in general, and childhood especially, is being sped up all around us, babies at least have an extended lease on newborn-ness.

Tangential curiosity aside (when did this happen? and why? and who decides, anyway?), we are well out of the newborn stage, by anyone’s reckoning.  J. is now a roly-poly 3 month old, acutely aware that is indeed HE HIMSELF who is in charge of kicking that ducky dangling from the gym, and determined to figure out how to roll back from his back to his tummy (he’s been going over the other way for quite some time).  And we are breaking out the 6 month clothes, because he is so incredibly long.  (It’s so strange that he’s really only 12″ inches shorter than his big brother).

I do feel a twinge of sentimental mush putting away the newborn things (that should have been put away ages ago) and the 3 months clothes that are getting short in the legs.  But to be perfectly honest, as precious and wonderful and special and treasure-able as that newborn period is, it also is really not all that awesome for the following reasons:

1) You are recovering.  It was the strangest thing to me, how, all though pregnancy, right up through labor and delivery, YOU, pregnant woman, are important.  Everyone offers you a seat (unless you have a terrible employer, like I did), water, asks how you are, etc.  Even as you’re pushing that baby out, everyone is cheering you on and telling you you’re doing great — and then the instant that baby slides out, BOOM.  You are no longer the patient (despite myriad tubes of various lovely substances, such as magnesium sulfate, that may be still be attached to you).  There is a BABY here, and you better get up and take care of it, lady!  It’s as if, just as you were sure you were approaching the finish line (the baby is the goal, right?  everybody keeps saying, “You’re almost there!”), and then, after breaking that ribbon, you realize that wasn’t the actual race, that was the qualifier, and that baby’s first indignant cry is the starting pistol for the Real Deal.

To be fair, you’re pretty distracted by that adorable, slimy, red, squished, screaming little person (who does not look like an alien to you, despite what your husband may suggest), too.  And he is a pretty awesome prize in the days and weeks and years to come.  But at some point, the euphoria subsides a tiny bit and you start to feel the rest of your body.  And how tired you are.  And then it slowly dawns on you that you are never, ever, ever going to sleep again; which is okay, it just would be nice if you didn’t start this marathon after 19+ hours of being awake.  This exhaustion (and pain, depending on the delivery) tends to skew your vision of the next 2-6 weeks, so that you feel as though you are watching your own life in slow motion.

This is not all a bad thing — there is a lovely dreaminess (wooziness?) to the ensuing weeks.  And I find those middle of the nights moments precious in their own way.  I’m just pointing out that it can sometimes be difficult to fully appreciate those early weeks, and then they’re over, and you think “Oh no!  He’s not a newborn anymore” and start getting upset because you need to pack away clothes that, to be honest, only fit for the first few days, anyway.

2) Because you may feel terrible, you certainly feel exhausted, and the only thing you really want to do is gaze and gaze and gaze (and feed, and occasionally, change) that amazing and wonderful perfect little person you just produced … you would like to like on the couch in your jammies and hold that baby for 24 hours for at least the first week, if not 3 or 4.  And this is actually GOOD for you and your baby.  But instead, you end up toting that baby (plus any other children) around … Driving him into the city hospital for blood checks.  Driving 30 mins to the pediatrician’s office for weight checks and well visits.  Over and over and over again.  Waiting in waiting rooms, waiting in doctor’s offices, waiting FOR the doctor.  Listening to the doctor dispense parenting advice and talk about sunscreen, of all things (do that many people take their baby to the beach before 2 weeks?  Could that particular lecture wait until you and baby are both awake?)  Listening to your baby scream in the car, feeling horribly guilty that your baby is sad, while you drive to all these places, and maybe even have to parallel park while listening to a screaming baby and worrying about bilirubin.

Seriously, watching Call the Midwife in the weeks after J. was born, made me cry … because I wanted so badly for one of those sweet women to come to my apartment and weigh the baby, instead of my having to trek out to the pediatrician’s office six times in three weeks.

3) In addition to the awkward logistics of all these appointments, you get to worry. I didn’t realize it until this time around, but they weigh the baby in GRAMS.  So not only do you get to worry about ounces and tenths of ounces (I didn’t realize that was really a thing, either), you can worry in increments as tiny as a gram!  Since feeding a baby is pretty much the only thing you can do in those first few weeks, and babies start out by losing weight, you actually get to start life as a mother by feeling like a failure, automatically, as the hospital nurses watch your baby get smaller and smaller.  If you are a slight bit obsessive, like me, this gives you lots of fun math calculations to do over and over to figure out how bad it is.  If you have the opportunity to weigh the baby on different scales (the hospital, the pediatrician, LLL, the grocery store produce section), this game becomes even more fun.

I don’t mean to make light of failure to thrive or serious problems.  But I have now had two infant who took a long, long time to regain their birth weight, and during that time, I did nothing but worry for 3-4 straight weeks.  A. nursed for 19 months (14 of which he pretty much didn’t really eat real food) and J. is now extremely plump and roll-y.  (We did have to supplement in the very beginning for both).  They were just slow starters and didn’t follow the normal charts.

In conclusion:  I do love the newborn stage.  It is a very special time, unlike anything else, really.  I just wanted to point out, for anyone else who tends to get overly-sentimental about each stage her children pass through, that while it’s easy to place a lot of emphasis on the first few weeks, it’s not quite the way it is sometimes described.  A rocky start doesn’t mean the rest of infancy will be so hard.  That whole thing where you can lay the baby on a blanket and he looks around happily but doesn’t move is pretty fun, too!  And so is every other stage.

But another thought on all this is that our maternal healthcare system and policies really need to be re-evaluated.  Is it really in mother and baby’s best interest to keep them on the go, leaving the house every few days for these appointment? Could there be a way to let them get more rest?  Isn’t establishing nursing so much easier when you can both just stay in bed half naked — as opposed to stuffing baby in a car seat and carting him all over the county?  (And maybe pediatrician’s offices should have a chair for BOTH mom and dad, and a decent place to feed Baby.)  Could more doctors look at the baby instead of the numbers on the chart on the computer? I understand that with a small baby, things can get worse very quickly.  But there must be a happy medium, there must be some way that those early days can be made more peaceful (aside from emergency situations) for mom and baby both.

 

Book Review: Bottled Up by Suzanne Barston

I may have mentioned before that our library has moved a selection of parenting books to the children’s section of the library.  This is useful to me, as now I have two places (this, and the new books by the front desk) where I can pick up books at the library with two babies in tow.  At our last story time visit I was looking through this small selection, and after putting back three other books, came home with Suzanne Barston’s “Bottled Up: How the Way We Feed Babies Has Come to Define Motherhood, and Why It Shouldn’t.”

I probably should not have checked this one out, as I could have predicted what it was about.  The author faced serious difficulties in breastfeeding her son, and needed to use formula.  Feeling guilt-stricken, she wrote a book defending formula feeding and, while striving to appear balanced, undermining the benefits of breastfeeding.

I know I am fortunate.  I have seen many, many mothers who start out with a desire to breastfeed end up using formula.  It wouldn’t occur to me to judge these people.  I have adopted siblings who were bottle-fed.  If I were a full-time working mother, or otherwise needed to pump exclusively, I wouldn’t do it.  I couldn’t — I don’t respond well to the pump, and I hate it.  I feel like it (for me) interferes with bonding with the Actual Baby I am trying to feed.  I’d probably resort to formula in that case, as well.  I appreciate the fact that, for the most part, nursing has been pretty easy for me and my babies, and that I have a schedule that allows me to nurse with a minimum of effort.  I admire people who go to great lengths to nurse their babies, and people who have to suffer through various difficulties to do so.  And I understand why in some situations, some people may not be able to breastfeed, or may decided that ultimately, it’s just not the right thing or the right time for them to do so.  Although formula is sometimes vilified, it seems clear that the blame lies with questionable marketing practices on the side of the companies — not with the people mixing the bottles.  When problems stem from poor quality water being mixed with it, or from people adding too much water because they can’t afford enough powder, those problems are quality of life/distribution of resources/economic problems that the individuals involved are not responsible for.

As someone who moves mostly in “alternative/crunchy/natural/holistic/AP” parenting circles, I’ve known only a few mothers who use formula, either as the major part of baby’s diet or as a supplement.  But outside of these circles, I see plenty of people bottlefeeding.  Sure, sometimes it’s one of those Medela bottles which you might assume is filled with pumped breastmilk.  But while nursing mothers are probably in the majority in my area, there are still plenty of bottle-fed babies out and about. It’s not so unusual to see a bottle that it attracts stares and gasps.

Yet, the author describes bottle-feeding as an experience filled with soul-crushing guilt and condemnation from other people.  I feel about this the same way I feel about people who claim that they have been vilified for babywearing/nursing.  It just seems a little … extreme.  The book very much comes off as if it were written to make the author feel better personally.  It addresses a few topics of interest — such as are laws mandating pumping rooms and time off to pump actually helping mothers, or making things harder by bolstering a work culture and larger society that doesn’t value parenting? — but mostly seems to just add fuel to the conflict among parenting choices.

The big question I come away from this book with, however, has little to do with any parenting or nutrition specifics.  I have to wonder, upon finishing this book, “Why can’t we acknowledge that something is better/best, without qualification so that everyone can do it?”  Not everybody is going to always be or have the best in every single aspect of life; but that doesn’t change the facts that one thing is better than another.  We make the choices we can in life, and trade off various things based on our available resources and capabilities and priorities.   Almost everything in life is a trade-off — and that’s true of parenting, as well.

What I Like About Two

Two can be really, really hard.  For the two year old, as well as for his parents! Recently I read something about how a two year old is continually frustrated that the world doesn’t work for him the same way it does for everyone else.  When I pick up A.’s sneakers and say, “Out,” we go out — but if he does exactly the same thing, it doesn’t usually result in a trip to the park!  When you look at it that way, it’s a wonder there aren’t MORE meltdowns in a day.  (Although, I am grateful there aren’t!)

But two can also be pretty delightful, for both of us as well.  Here are some things I like about two: (*apologies to The Romantics … although, come to think of it, two does like to dance, jump, and hold on tight … )

Image

*Two is big enough for the fun stuff — the real playground equipment, the big swing, splash pads, feeding the animals at the farm.  

*Two is advanced enough for conversation.  True, I don’t really understand his side of it most of the time.  But there’s a definite conversational tone and a back-and-forth.  Two is actually company.  Two is my tea-drinking, scone-eating buddy at home, and when out and about we can sit on a bench and talk and point to passers-by and their dog-dogs.

*Two is big enough for jokes.  Two has a real sense of humor.  “Moo,” when applied to the horse at the playground, is no longer a mistake, but a joke.  You can see the twinkle in his eye as he observes your reaction to see if you think it’s funny, too.

*Two can be helpful.  Two can follow multi-step directions … when it feels like it.  

*Two is empathetic.  Right now, Two is deeply indignant if Baby cries and you don’t pick him up right this instant because he needs you and what are doing washing that diaper when you need to pick this Baby up right NOW?

*Two is adorably independent (“I do this!”) whenever possible, resulting in interesting wardrobe combinations, but at the same time, sweetly needy.  He can get his pants on the right legs, but he can’t quite pull them up over his bottom.

In a way, two is great because he’s both a kid and a baby.  Sure, that sometimes means the worst of both — but just as often, it means the best of both.

Image