gorilla mama: not crying over spilled milk

We’ve had two months with Baby Pickles, and I haven’t been particularly chatty online about it.  It’s not that I haven’t wanted to.  It’s that my time with two hands and more than five consecutive minutes on the computer has been few and far between.  But it makes me feel like I’m going to explode when I don’t get a chance to write anything (stuff for work doesn’t satisfy this need, unfortunately), so the Beard is making a concerted effort to get out of the Wagen with Pickles more often.  It’s not that he doesn’t want to spend more time with Baby Pickles, it’s just that she likes to spend most of her time at the milk tap.  Go figure.

I really love breastfeeding.  The lazy part of me loves the ease and convenience—no equipment to wash or sterilize, no formula to prepare and warm to just the right temperature.  The thrifty part of me loves the savings—formula and bottles and things are expensive.  The foodie part of me loves the health benefits it allows me to pass on, and the knowledge that I am not feeding my baby anything artificial or funky, no label-reading required.  And the rest of me loves the soul-wrenching, mind-numbing level of beautiful, serene, forever bonding that it facilitates.  An adorable teeny tiny baby who, while having a drink, is suddenly so overcome by happiness that she feels the need to stop for a second and smile goofily up at you?  Oh. My. God.  Janitor to aisle four, another customer has melted.

That being said, you then might be able to imagine how I felt when we took Pickles to her third doctor’s appointment, and the pediatrician looked at her weight (which was low) and said: “You need to give her formula.”

A baby being labeled as “underweight” is one of those sort of wishy-washy things.  The charts the doctors in the west use tend to be on the high side (as in, expect high weights), while the WHO charts include a lower range of weights under “healthy.”  But individuality complicates the issue (ah yes, the complication of every medical issue, ever, and the one our current medical system seems to have lost the time for dealing with) as a baby with small parents might be smaller than one with bear-sized parents, for example.  It is hard to say which baby’s low weight is a result of a problem and which baby’s low weight is a result of genetics or individual timing (some babies having growth spurts at different ages than expected, for another example).  And doctors these days don’t often have the time to figure out the difference.

Those three words felt like a sledgehammer in the face: “give her formula.”  No, no, no!  This wasn’t the kind of doctor I wanted to work with!  The kind of doctor who would recommend formula before asking me one single question about breastfeeding.  The kind of doctor who would rather throw the easiest solution to the problem at her patients than take a few minutes to see if the healthiest choice for Pickles diet—i.e. human milk–could be sustained with a little tweaking of tactic or technique.  Then again, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a doctor who had the time for that kind of relationship with his or her patients.  The system just isn’t designed that way.  So I told her I would get a second opinion from a lactation consultant and my midwife, thankyouverymuch.

I’m still wondering if the pediatrician thought I actually wanted a second opinion on Pickles’ weight.  Though in my head I was thinking “well, we’ll see what the WHO charts say,” as well as “we’ll see what the midwife’s scale says,” it was the need for formula supplementation that I wanted a second opinion on.  The stuff isn’t pure evil or anything, but I knew that feeding babies formula carries certain risks (you can read all about them here if you are interested), particularly at this age, before Pickle’s intestines are completely finished developing.  I would give Pickles formula if she needed it, but I wasn’t going to believe she needed it until I talked to someone who had the time and the training to talk to me intelligently about breastfeeding.

The doctor, meanwhile, seemed a little rattled that I wanted a second opinion at all.  But maybe she’s just not used to having people question her advice.  Doctors, after all, enjoy a rather haloed position in society.  I was 25 before I realized that they don’t actually know everything, that a lot of the time, they don’t have a fucking clue what’s wrong with you or what to do about it.

So we went home, and I went into hyperdrive.  I went to the pharmacy and had them order fenugreek capsules (an herb known to help increase milk supply), bought nursing tea, and combed the internet.  Then I called the leader of my La Leche League group (a breast feeding support group that I have been going to since I was a couple of months pregnant).  Incredibly kind, she helped me cool off, and then popped a package with blessed thistle capsules (another herb alleged to help boost milk supply), The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding book, more fenugreek, and domperidone (a medicine available only in Belgium, strangely) that might help in the mail.  (Fenugreek, blessed thistle, and domperidone are the combo of supplements that LLL adoptive mothers hoping to breastfeed might take, but don’t ever take domperidone as a first response to breastfeeding problems!  Read up on it, and  for the love of cod don’t base any of your own medical decisions on my blogular anecdotes.)

We talked about boosting my supply, about making sure I was eating and drinking enough, and about options for the case that I really did need to give her formula, among other things.  Talking to her was fantastic, calming.  Because despite all the information I have about breastfeeding and supplementation (and how the supplementation is often not necessary), despite the fact that I know that doctors don’t always know everything or have time to discuss more time-consuming options with their patients, hearing a doctor express worry about my baby was scary.  And the knee jerk reaction to fear is to do whatever the loudest voices are saying you have to do to fix it.  Even when we know better.

To read part two in this series, click here.  For part three, click here.

Monday April 30th 2012, 9:00 am 15 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,gorilla parent (year one)


dirty laundry

Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember the au pair chronicles—a serial about how it is that I ended up in Germany and what it was like spending 10 months au pairing for a insanely rich family in Frankfurt am Main. Well, I’ve been busy writing new installments to share with you during operation whirlwind baby. But since a hell of a lot of new readers have become regulars since I first began the series a year ago, I thought I would start by re-publishing the series thus far—both to buy me baby time and to get everyone caught up before continuing the saga. You can find an index of the entire series here. This segment was originally published on February 4, 2010.

October, and two months in Germany when a high school friend emailed to tell me that he would be in Frankfurt for the night. My mother would be arriving in a few weeks, but this would be my first visitor since moving.

We met at the train station and headed to a pub. I don’t remember where we went or what we drank, but I will never forget how, between drinks and pubs, we came past the Cole’s house. “Let’s go in for a second,” I suggested, excited at the chance to show someone from back home around the set of my strange new life. “I’ll give you a quick tour and we can use the bathroom.”

I showed him the stainless-steel kitchen and the pink-chaired dining room. “Can you believe these chairs?” I asked pointing at the plastic-backed, pink-velor upholstered seats surrounding the long wooden table. “Janet had them specially made.” Lodged in the (plexi?) glass chair backs were fake pink feathers. I had never seen such ugly chairs in my life, and it hurt my head when I thought about how much Janet had probably paid to have them custom made. They seemed to scream “I want you to find me avant gaurd and edgy,” but the execution was sloppy and tasteless, just like the stainless steel faux antlers she’d commissioned for the stairwell we were now walking up.

On the second floor we met Janet and Jens. In bathrobes. Lurking. Angry. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Who is that?” Jens yelled. “No strangers in the house!”

“What?” I shook my head no. This was news to me.

“NO STRANGERS IN THE HOUSE.” The yell had become a threatening bellow.

“You never told me that before. Besides, this is an old friend of mine. I’ve know him for seven or eight years. I just wanted to show him where I live, he’s not staying, we just wanted to use the bathroom…”

“NO STRANGERS IN THE HOUSE.”

Eyes wide, we turned and scuttled back down the stairs and out the door.

“What the hell was that about?”

“Apparently I”m not allowed to bring friends over.” So much for the affectionate monologues Janet held when she was in a good mood about me being “part of the family.”

**

The next morning Jens found me in the kitchen. He wanted to talk. “It’s very important that you don’t bring anyone into the house.”

“Ok, that’s fine,” I conceded, “But it would have been nice if someone had told me that before embarrassing me in front of an old friend. I’ve known him for years. He wasn’t just some guy that I picked up at the disco. And he speaks German, so he understood everything you two said. You didn’t exactly make him feel welcome.”

“Well, maybe I should tell you a story. I used to be in banking. A few years ago I was hired to run this bank, and, well, once I had a look through the books it seemed clear that something fishy was going on. I called the police. Twelve people went to jail, and I get worried sometimes…”

He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and pulled up the speed dial directory to show me the first number. “That’s why I have the police on my first speed dial. For a while we were worried that someone would try to kidnap the children. I’m sure you don’t know what it’s like to walk down a dark street and fear for your life every time you see another person coming in the distance, but that’s how I feel every night.”

Sure, Jens. No woman has ever felt that before. I nodded, wondering why a man with so much to lose would hire a complete stranger to drive his Porsche and take his 4-year-old twins to the park. Maybe I had been hired to kidnap them, Mr. Jens, ever thought of that? And even if I hadn’t been, what was one apathetic, underpaid au pair going to do to stop someone who did?

“Now I can’t get a job in the banking world anymore,” he admitted sadly. “I’ve been working for Janet’s father ever since.”

Later I Googled the case in search of more details. I had Googled the family name before coming to work for them, but without banking-specific keywords I hadn’t found anything about the Cole’s dirty little secret. There wasn’t much to find, but there were a few articles about a sketchy court case involving suspected embezzling, a tattling CEO, and some leniently interpreted Swiss banking laws.

After that, the drama of daily life in the Cole house started to seem absurd, hilarious. A Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, live-action afternoon soap broadcast right to my living room, dining room, bedroom, and kitchen.

Friday April 27th 2012, 9:00 am 2 Comments
Filed under: au pairing,conspiracies,expat life


wordpress is fucking up blog comments

Is this happening to you, here?  (Not that you’ll be able to tell me if it is.  Sigh.  How annoying.)  I’ve been having problems commenting on a lot of blogs I read lately, and I finally did some research on what’s going on.  Turns out, WordPress changed their commenting system so that if you try to leave a comment with an e-mail address tied to a WordPress account, you need to sign in in order to leave a comment.

But what I’m hearing is that sometimes that doesn’t work.  And that maybe they are going to require everyone to sign in, either with WordPress or Gravatar, in order to leave a comment on a WordPress-run blog.  I think this fucking sucks.  Why make communication even harder, leaving comments even harder?  That is kind of against the point of blogs.  My blog isn’t hosted by WordPress, but I use WordPress to run it.  And now I’m thinking maybe I need to switch to something else.  But what?  Thanks for nothing, WordPress.

If you can leave comments (as some people have been able to—though I did notice a huge dip in comments right when this started happening) what hoops did you have to jump through to do it?  Or were there no hoops?  I’d really appreciate it if all of you just gave it a shot.  Just click on leave a comment, and if you encounter the sign-in and don’t want to deal with it, then don’t.  I will assume that mass silence affirms the issue.  If you are able to leave a comment, let me know if you were signed into WordPress at the time, or needed to sign in, or whatever.  Much obliged!

Thursday April 26th 2012, 1:39 pm 17 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies


the wagenplatz stands on the edge of a knife

Every couple of years the university, which owns the land on which our community stands, comes along and starts making threats.  We have to leave, they say.  They need this parcel of land, they say.  But it has never panned out.  Bluffs?  Maybe.  At least a couple of times the money for their proposed project has run out.  And once about four years ago, just when I was moving in, they relocated half of our Wagenplatz to a plot of land in the middle of a field about a kilometer away.  But this year they were serious. And it looks like we might be moving.

At the beginning most of the group was skeptical.  The uni had threatented so many times before, why should we get our panties in a bunch this time?  But after a number of meetings and negotiations we are working on a pre-contract for moving the Wagenplatz.  I don’t know exactly when, but it appears that sometime in the next year or so our community will be moving to a spot in the field next to what used to be our other half.  After over twenty years of successful squatting of this parcel of land we will be entering into a much more rigid (it is assumed) agreement with the university about our rent, about what we can and cannot do with out little piece of green.  What will happen to Haus Mainusch is still uncertain.

One of the biggest issues is that the land they want to move us to is not green at all.  Currently a field, it will take years before any trees grow big enough to provide any shade.  The first spring we’ll be living in a puddle of mud.  A windy, shadeless frying pan.  It was one of the reasons that a lot of people were (are) so adverse to the offer in the first place.

Yet I find myself looking forward to it.  I’ve always found change cleansing in that “new start” sort of way.  I was one of the few who was ok with the idea of moving from the beginning, and I’m glad that we are being offered a replacement parcel of land, that the Beard and I won’t have to leave entirely because I wouldn’t feel comfortable living with Baby Pickles with the threat of eviction hanging over our heads.  Police have compacted people’s Wagens right before their eyes in the past.  I don’t know if I am strong enough to handle that kind of wait-it-out situation alone, but I am not strong enough to handle it with a baby in tow.  Nor do I want to be.  So there’s that.

But when I think of leaving this parcel of land, of the university building yet another one of their borg-ship constructions on it, I feel sad.  We can move. but what about the snails, the birds, the hedgehogs?  They won’t be offered a new parcel of land, and whoever survives will be forced to squeeze into the ever decreasing bits of greenery.  When we move, I will mourn the walnut tree who has taken so many years to reach such majesty, whose fruits have fed us, could feed us in an emergency, and which they will cut down as if it was just a bowling pin to be struck down in sporting whim.

 

Wednesday April 25th 2012, 9:00 am 8 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,tiny house livin',wagenplatz


teaching english in germany: frequently asked questions

A lot of Click Clack Gorilla readers want to know more about moving to Germany.  About to take the same journey themselves (or trying to match dreams with realities) they (you!) write to me with questions about visas and salaries and job oppurtunites.  I’ve done a FAQ about moving to Germany to answer all of the questions about how I got here and how I got a visa and a job and a place to live.  And here comes the FAQ for the folks who want to come over to teach English.

How did you find a teaching job?

I came back to Germany after a two-month visit to the States, and I started throwing resumes at everything that moved.  Which is to say that I looked up English-language schools in the yellow pages and sent a resume and cover letter (in English) to every single one.  In a big city like Frankfurt, that turned out to be somewhere between 20 and 30.  Two called back: a language school at which I got an interview but no job and inlingua, where I taught for some time.

Before returning to Germany I also had a lead on a job at a start-up language school that I also taught at briefly, but which turned out to be a waste of time with more classes canceled than taught (and paid for).

What kind of experience do you have?  Do I need a TEFL to get hired?

Attention all native English speakers with a college degree: you will not need TEFL, or any other certificate, to get hired.  You need to be personable and a meticulous speaker of English.  Seriously.  That’s all.  (While this is probably not true for every language school, it seems to be true of all the franchises.)

My personal English-classroom-door-opening qualifications include my BA in English Lit and a few years spent tutoring college kids in writing at my college’s writing center where I ended up the head tutor of the ESL division during my senior year.  See?  No teaching certificates, no relevant degree (though it may have English in the title, I promise, being able to analyze a novel will get you nowhere in front of a business English class), and no real teaching experience.

Do I need to be able to speak German?

Absolutely not.  In fact, since most language schools encourage the trial-by-fire method (aka teaching students only in the target language for ultimate furstration, I mean absorption), you will be strictly forbidden to speak it.  Although I occasionally bent the rules with true beginners and students who were utterly lost on subjects of grammar, which was admittedly helpful.

What was the job like, day-to-day?

Most English classes, particularly those of the business English variety, are held before or after office hours.  Which means you’ll usually have to get up early for an 8 o’clock class, and then will have the day free before teaching a second class at 5 or 6.  This irritated the hell out of me—I prefer to get all of my working out of the way at once instead of having it drag me out of bed far too early only to spit me back out after an hour and a half with eight more hours to feel anxious about my next class.

Once in a while I taught daytime numbers that involved four hours with the same group of apathetic adults.  And those irritated me even more.  My favorites were one-on-one classes where I would either go to a student’s home or meet her in a cafe and spend the hour and a half chatting, correcting, and role playing.  You’d be amazed how many people are interested in practicing small talk.  Usually classes were in student’s homes or offices, but once in a while I would teach in the company’s classrooms.

At inlingua, teachers are supplied with all the course material, so all you have to do is figure out a vague lesson plan and follow the dotted lines.  It’s a method that leaves a lot of room for both laziness and creativity.  (And also means you can teach someone how to talk about accounting in English without having a clue about accounting yourself.)

Was it hard to make ends meet?  How much do you get paid? 

Not at all, though of course you should remember that I am a pretty lo-fi person.  I was a very dedicated dumpster diver at the time, though not because I didn’t have the money to buy food.  My main expenses were my apartment (300 euros/month including utilities), health insurance (126 euros/month), and beer (a beer in a bar in Frankfurt is expensive at between 2.50—if you’re lucky—and sky’s the limit, which is why I usually bought mine at the supermarket and drank with friends in the park).  I worked about 20 hours a week and had money to spare at a rate of 18 euros/teaching hour (a teaching hour is actually just 45 minutes).  But!  Don’t forget that as a freelancer, which is how most English teachers are billed, have to foot their own insurance and taxes, so we are talking a pre-tax number here.

Pros?

A sweet hourly rate for talking to what usually turned out to be very interesting people (and seeing their homes and offices) and a lot of free coffee.  Every day was totally different, which kept things from getting too ho-hum.  Oh, and when a student cancels a class same-day, you don’t have to work, but you get paid anyway.

Cons?

Weird hours, Saturday classes (four hour blocks blarg!), dress code, apathetic students.

Do you still teach English?

Hell no.  While I loved teaching one-on-one lessons, I don’t have the energy to stand in front of rooms full of apathetic adults who expect to learn English and be entertained on a regular basis.  I much prefer freelance writing, where I don’t need to be “on” ever and can work at home in messy hair and dirty pajamas.

If any of you have any more questions, include them in the comments and I’ll answer them there (and include them in future FAQs).

Monday April 23rd 2012, 9:00 am 6 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,expat life,germany,teaching english


beware the typewriter, for she shall smite thee

Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember the au pair chronicles—a serial about how it is that I ended up in Germany and what it was like spending 10 months au pairing for a insanely rich family in Frankfurt am Main. Well, I’ve been busy writing new installments to share with you during operation whirlwind baby. But since a hell of a lot of new readers have become regulars since I first began the series a year ago, I thought I would start by re-publishing the series thus far—both to buy me baby time and to get everyone caught up before continuing the saga. You can find an index of the entire series here. This segment was originally published on January 27, 2010.

Eight months had passed before a question started to form in her mind, becoming more and more urgent as she met each of my parents in turn and, while playing at the role of kindly host mother, started learning more about my life. And the question was this: what the hell is this woman doing working for me?

One afternoon in the kitchen she asked, delicately avoiding the fact that this was really a question about class, about privilege. It was a question she never would have asked Maria— who she knew would have been fucked without her job cleaning Janet’s toilets—or Anna—who had spent her entire working life raising Janet’s children.

Anna and Maria might have fit neatly into Janet’s idea of “hired help” because neither had been to college or had any “professional” work experience. But I came from middle-class privilege, she knew now, and had a college degree from a fancy schmancy college. This meant that I had the qualifications and the connections to be working at what she would have called “a real job”—and yet I was playing hide-and-go-seek and wiping four-year-old ass. Neither did my story mirror the stories of her previous au pairs or those of her friends, many of whom had taken the job in hopes of finding a permanent way out of a bad situation at home.

But me? I was, as far as she could tell, doing this for fun, and this must have been confusing: after all, these were her children, and she wasn’t even raising them “for fun.”

“So why is it you wanted this job anyway?” She was wiping down the stainless steel counter tops when she asked, and I was picking at the leftovers from lunch.

“I’m a writer,” I told her, a little surprised at the question, sure we’d discussed this during both of my interviews. “I wanted to get into travel writing and improve my foreign language skills, and in order to do that I needed to travel. I thought this job would be an interesting way to get to know a new country. I know a lot of people who got their fix studying abroad, but I think you experience a lot more of a culture’s nuances when you live with a family.” (Admission: there is no way that this is what I actually said because I still have no clue how to say the word “nuance” in German, and my German now is a trillion times better than it was then. But I said something like it.) Never mind my political and philosophical reasons for abandoning corporate life. That wasn’t a conversation I felt Janet and I’s relationship was ready for.

She nodded slowly, absorbing the words. Writer. Writer? “Have you been published?” She sounded like she was trying to sound nonchalant, but something like fear was creeping into her eyes.

“Yeah I have actually. I co-authored a little guide book about the college I went to, did some newspaper articles, a few things on the internet.” She stopped wiping and looked at me. Recognition flashed in her eyes, and for the first time since we’d met it felt like she was actually looking at me. It had never occurred to me that someone might feel unnerved by my profession. But writing is about communication, and maintaining one face for private use and one for public use is about keeping secrets.

“But you’d never write about us would you?” Suddenly she was slathering every syllable in the syrupy, artificial tone she used for socializing, for her public face. Suddenly she was remembering ever soap-operatic family story she’d ever told me.

But I have a syrupy “social” voice of my own, and I lied right to her face, just as she had when she’d told me that of course I would be paid for overtime. “Of course not,” I said. “Never.” Liar, liar pants on fire.

I have a few words of advice for you, dear readers, and heed them or be damned: never trust a writer who you’ve just spent eight months treating, well, let’s just say “not as an equal.” Then again, maybe I didn’t lie, but just avoided the question with a shrug, and left the room. Memory changes details. There is no such thing as non-fiction.

Today, thinking back on that conversation, I wondered what Janet would think if she were to read the things I write about my year working for her (extremely pissed off). And for the good times, because there were a few of them and it could always be worse, I’ve changed enough names and details to keep them anonymous. Perhaps they wouldn’t even recognize themselves. Because Janet could be so many people, really, and my story is one of thousands just like it.

Friday April 20th 2012, 9:00 am 5 Comments
Filed under: au pairing,conspiracies,germany


gorilla mama: the nutshell eight week update

Wow. Wow. Wow, wow, wow. How can you have so much time and get absolutely nothing done? I don’t feel like I’m doing a lot. Even though I am, and every time I lament my feelings of uselessness to the Beard he reminds me that I’m doing something really important. Feeding another human with my flesh and blood, for example. But, shit, it still just feels like laying around in bed most days. This blog post pretty much sums it up.  And as the House of Flurfel writer  points out in that post, in part it’s not that you’re not doing anything when you’re mama-ing, it’s that you’re never, ever finished.  Because kids are never “finished,” and their constant interruptions mean everything else has to happen in three to five minute increments.

So, umm, sorry about all those comments on blogs that I haven’t responded to.  (To the person who keeps asking about how we wash our cloth diapers, and who I think assumes we are way more badassly off-griddy with that sort of thing than we are: We have a washing machine.  It has a cycle called “baby clothes.”  And I am so glad.  Hanging up the laundry is a task that I can only accomplish over multiple days, so I can’t even frickin’ imagine having to actually scrub the goo out of every one of those little scraps of fabric by hand.  I know people who have done it.  But I remain foreign to their numbers, green as it might be.)  There are blog posts and ramblings and rantings backed up in my head to fill this space every day for months.  But instead you’re probably going to be facing a lot more empty space than I’d like.  I just hope you all stick around to find out what sort of blog rhythm I manage to settle into here, post baby Pickles.  And I also just hope that my head doesn’t explode beforehand, unwritten words oozing out of my ears.

Stay tuned.

 

Tuesday April 17th 2012, 9:00 am 6 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,daily life,gorilla parent (year one)


black diamond express train to hell album preview

Having become used to the instanteneousness of blogging—of putting something out into the world and receiving almost immediate feedback—projects that need more time unsung have started making me twitchier than usual.  But what is that saying about good things and those who wait?

We’ve all had ants in our pants about finishing the second Black Diamond album.  It took us forever to find a date to record, and despite all that forever we spent finding dates, we were still frantically finishing songs at the very last minute.  Luckily, last minute is how I roll, and some of our new songs are my favorites yet.  The album will include ten original songs, give or take one that we royally botched in the studio and might not include.

A friend of ours is going to be putting out the tenatively titled Around My Grave Sing Songs of Joy on CD and vinyl, and everything should be all finished by summer at the latest, fingers crossed real tight.  Thing is we haven’t finished mixing and mastering just yet.  But a few songs are polished just enough to share, even if they aren’t as they will be when the dinner bell rings.  I’d love to hear what you think.

If you like what you heard, you can also catch us live at the following dates and places in the next few months:

April 16 // Kultur Kafe, Mainz Uni Campus with Reverend Shine Snake Oil

April 17 // Schlachthof, Wiesbaden with Joey Cape (of former Lagwagon fame), David Hause, and Nessi

May 10 // Geo Wiese, Uni Campus Mainz, Campus Invasion

June 7 // JUZ, Mannheim with Lycka Till

July 4 // Walhalla, Wiesbaden with Morgan O’Kane

July 22 // Holzrock Open Air, Schopfheim

For updates and further concert dates, visit helltrain.info.

 

 

 

Monday April 16th 2012, 9:00 am 5 Comments
Filed under: black diamond express train to hell,conspiracies,music


the cookie monster

Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember the au pair chronicles—a serial about how it is that I ended up in Germany and what it was like spending 10 months au pairing for a insanely rich family in Frankfurt am Main. Well, I’ve been busy writing new installments to share with you during operation whirlwind baby. But since a hell of a lot of new readers have become regulars since I first began the series a year ago, I thought I would start by re-publishing the series thus far—both to buy me baby time and to get everyone caught up before continuing the saga. You can find an index of the entire series here. This segment was originally published on January 19, 2010.

Once she got over the shock of the “I’m going vegan” announcement, Janet alternately interrogated (“And you really don’t miss cheese?”) and taunted. She seemed to love to eat, but she didn’t have a particularly healthy relationship with the food on her plate. Every few weeks she would announce—over a bowl of broth and a glass of water—that she was going on another diet. First it was the cabbage diet, then Weight Watchers, then starvation. She would give up in hunger after a few days of each and eventually cycle back through the list after several months.

She wasn’t supermodel skinny, but I thought she looked good. She wasn’t as thin as her daughter (and as she, presumably, once was), but who is after giving birth to five children? There was even a treadmill on the fourth floor, and it sat silent and unused while she fought her way through bowls of cabbage soup. But I was the one with the strange eating habits. Me, the crazy vegan.

In December holiday cookies began appearing around the house. A rare fit of motherly feeling and a promise to bake cookies with the twins got me an afternoon off. In the kitchen again the next afternoon I was trying to decipher a German newspaper when Janet came in to snack on the previous afternoon’s results. She picked up a butter cookie and took a big bite. “Ha ha ha! You can’t eat any of the Christmas cookies!” I have a vague memory of her holding a handful of cookies toward my face while doing a little hopping dance and chuckling. She took another handful and left the room. On the days when she wasn’t taunting me, she would ask me how it was I stayed so thin.

Friday April 13th 2012, 9:00 am 3 Comments
Filed under: au pairing,conspiracies,food


boba wrap use for the awkward and desperate

I didn’t want to get a wrap carrier.  I took one look at the instructions and ran for the kind of carriers that, while also pressing your baby to your chest for some hands-free time, only require the slipping of two straps over your shoulders and the closing of two plastic fasteners.  But Pickles turned out picky.  While she occasionally put up with the carrier, it wasn’t really made for simultaneous breast feeding and that, my friends, pissed her off.  When we asked our midwife about it, she said (despite the infant attachments is has) we shouldn’t put her in it until three months because it could fuck up her back, which put the Beard’s paranoia antennaes on hypertwitch.  And me, I’m depending on this carrier business to make normal life with a baby possible.

So I turned to the internet and ordered a Boba Wrap (formerly know as the Sleepy Wrap).  Aka I paid 44 euros for a very long piece of black stretch jersey fabric.  I’m sure there was a better (cheaper) DIY way (like, umm, just buying a long piece of fabric and hemming the edges, doh), but I didn’t want to take the time to find out—or the time to find and go to a fabric store, or to borrow, figure out, and use an unfamiliar sewing machine.  DIY fail, I know.

But the faster I could get Pickles in a carrier that would allow me to do fucking anything, ever, the better.  With every day the scar was hurting less and the cabin fever was growing, yellow-wallpaper style.  Mostly I’d been ok with spending my days under a sleeping/nursing/gurgling Pickles, but there had been a few moments of “fuck-I’m-trapped!” panic, and I wanted to kick its ass before it turned into full-on insanity (and/or postpartum depression).  I needed an acceptable carrier fast.

choosing a wrap

My decision to get a Boba wrap was simple and highly unscientific.  It was five euros cheaper than the Moby Wraps on amazon, and it came in black.  Once I’d pinpointed the one I wanted, I searched the internet for mom blog reviews and read a bunch of things about how much various people liked using the Boba.  I was sold on the pros of it being stretchy (rather than woven, which apparently means you don’t have to adjust it as often), and as for ease of use, I figured that that was going to be about the same no matter what label was sewn on the front.  Sold to the lowest bidder!

first attempt

I was right to run in the other direction the first time I saw these wraps.  I am not made for these fucking things, I thought after trying to follow the directions in the manual that came with the wrap.  Having read that it was helpful to tie the Boba Wrap super tight, I did, and then couldn’t figure out how the hell the baby was supposed to get into the tiny space between the fabric and my chest.  Five minutes in and I was already frustrated.  And then Pickles started crying for boob, so I did what anybody with a computer and only one free hand would do: I turned to YouTube for help.

I am embarassed at how often I’ve already had to turn to YouTube for parent-gadget advice.  (Twice.  But still.  Learning from a real person would be preferrable.)  But daaamn.  In the absence of a diverse community to show me how to do shit, YouTube is top.  I only just formulated the thought the other day (I know, I was late to notice), but wow, I love the internet.  And until we all live in tight-knit communities whose elders teach each new generation the traditions that will help them get shit done, I am so glad we have it.  Thanks internet.  Thanks YouTube.  Thanks mom bloggers who write reviews of things.

Anyway, I watched these two videos:

And having watched them, my advice to you is this: throw away the printed instructions that come with your wrap and watch them too. The printed instructions simply don’t have enough pictures to get a few key points across, like how to elegantly get the fabric wrapped around your shoulders, how to jimmy the baby in, and where to put his or her feet once you have.

second attempt

This time putting the wrap on was much easier.  Aka I actually managed to get it on and to get the baby into it.  But then she wanted to nurse, and she was much too high for that.  So I shimmied the wrap down my waist until she could sort of reach the milk bar, and she drank for a second and then drifted off.  I went outside and had breakfast in the sun with some of my Platz-mates with her waking to nurse for a second every once in a while and then falling back asleep.  But when she woke up and was ready for a real meal, I retreated back inside to take her out of the wrap to breast feed as I was having trouble getting her positioned so that she didn’t immediately lose her grip on the tap (haha, the tap).  She seemed to be a bit too low in the wrap, and I wasn’t really sure I’d gotten her into it the way that an infant should be in there since the video shows an older child.  Which led me to two more YouTube videos.

So I still don’t know how to effectively nurse a baby wrapped in in the infant hold, but as she’s pretty easy to take in and out, maybe this will have to be a case of remove baby, stop to nurse baby, re-insert baby until she’s big enough to sit differently (another thing the mom bloggers said was that Boba Wraps are awesome because they make taking the baby out and putting her back in much easier than with woven Moby Wraps so this shouldn’t be a problem).  Otherwise, I’m amazed.  I was awkward, I was desperate, and I’m already starting to kind of love this thing.  It really isn’t as hard to use as it looked.  And so far, Pickles seems to like it too.

and after a month?

I am in love. Though I still wish the Boba wrap was quicker to get on (aka it is no damn fun oragmi-ing yourself in a really long piece of fabric while your kid is screaming herself red in the face on the bed next to you), I finally got nursing while carrying her down. It means I usually wear her much lower than is recommended, and doing that makes my back hurt a little more than it should, but nope, I don’t give a damn. Because it allows me to go into town and to the fleamarket and hang up laundry and go to the bathroom and cook and, you know, have a normal daily life. (Did I mention that Pickles hates the baby carriage so far? I have tried to use it as an outdoor bed for when we’re sitting outside, but even when she’ll lay on my lap all content, she hates being put in the carriage in the same position.)  At first I thought the Boba advertising slogan “Freedom Together” was pretty cheesy.  But by cod, it’s so true.

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Monday April 09th 2012, 9:00 am 7 Comments
Filed under: conspiracies,gorilla parent (year one)